The devolved administration in Northern Ireland is in danger of total collapse. A crisis erupted in the aftermath of the killing of ex-IRA member Kevin McGuigan, in Belfast on 13 August. His murder is widely assumed to have been carried out by the Provisional IRA in revenge for the killing of one of its prominent commanders, Jock Davidson, on 5 May. Days later the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland stated that IRA members were involved in the McGuigan murder and that “the Provisional IRA still exists”. From this, a political storm erupted.
Prior to his statement there was a widespread belief that the PIRA exist in some form but an admission from a figure from the state that not only do the PIRA still exist but that it is armed and is prepared to use its arms, lead to a sharp reaction. The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) quickly pulled out of the Assembly’s Executive in response. After an opinion polled showed that 80% of Protestants supported the UUP move, Peter Robinson, First Minister and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), announced the resignation of all of his party’s ministers but one. He has stepped aside from the First Minister position but another DUP minister, Arlene Foster, is acting in the role for the next six weeks.
The Executive was already in crisis before the recent events. Over the summer there were clear indications of behind the scenes talks however, and an agreement to break the impasse on so-called “welfare reform” was likely in September. The indications are that both the DUP and Sinn Fein would prefer the Executive to remain in place.
A solution to the crisis is likely to centre on the establishment of a new body to make assessments about alleged PIRA activity, similar to the “Independent Monitoring Commission” which oversaw the status of all the paramilitary ceasefires between 2004 and 2011.
If the talks fail, and the Executive collapses completely, what happens next is uncertain. The Secretary of State, Teresa Villiers, has the power to call an immediate election but will hesitate to do so. She no longer has the power to suspend the Assembly, and return to direct rule, as she once did but emergency legislation could be passed at Westminster to allow this to happen. The most likely scenario is a long period of prolonged negotiations between the DUP and Sinn Fein continue.
Whatever happens next the latest crisis only serves to underline the plain fact that the peace process has not delivered on any of its main promises. None of the key problems facing working class people in the North have been solved, including the dominance of paramilitary groups in working class areas. The working class is also the only force which is capable of challenging the paramilitaries and the sectarian political parties. The establishment of a new mass left political party, seeking to unite Catholics and Protestants in a common struggle for a better life, is necessary to provide workers and young people with a real alternative.
More analysis of the Stormont Assembly crisis will be be posted soon on socialistworld.net