Bobby Storey arrested as part of McGuigan murder investigation

Martin McGuinness states ‘surprise’ at arrest of Sinn Féin’s Northern chairman

Bobby Storey is the chairman of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland.

Bobby Storey is the chairman of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland.

 

PSNI detectives this morning arrested three men in connection with the murder last month of Belfast republican Kevin McGuigan, one of whom is Bobby Storey, the chairman of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland.

The men, aged 59, 58 and 45, were arrested in north and west Belfast. “The three males are currently assisting officers at the Serious Crime Suite at Antrim Police Station,” said Detective Chief Inspector John McVea.

Since Mr McGuigan’s murder in the Short Strand area of east Belfast last moth, 16 people have been arrested in connection with the killing. No one has been charged in relation to the murder, although one man was charged with firearms’ possession.

The arrest of Mr Storey, a close associate of Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, will be politically significant as he is one of the most senior republicans in Northern Ireland, with both a senior IRA and Sinn Féin pedigree.

There will be concern now that his arrest could jeopardise the prospects of the talks which began yesterday evening aimed at stabilising the Stormont powersharing institutions.

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said he had “grave concerns” following the arrest of Mr Storey, who he described as his friend, adding that he would be “shocked” if the party’s Northern chairman was not released.

Mr Storey was interned during the 1970s and also served a long sentence for IRA offences. In 2005 the then Ulster Unionist Party MP for South Antrim David Burnside said in the House of Commons under parliamentary privilege that Mr Storey was head of intelligence for the IRA.

Mr Storey was also involved at a senior level in the breakout from the maximum security Maze Prison near Lisburn in 1983 in which 38 IRA prisoners escaped.

When Mr Adams was arrested in May last year in connection with the murder of one of the Disappeared, Jean McConville, Mr Storey spoke in his defence at a rally in west Belfast. He notably told the crowd, “We have a message for the British government, for the Irish Government, for the cabal that is out there – we haven’t gone away, you know.”

The arrest is also likely to unsettle DUP politicians as they engage in the latest Stormont House talks prompted by the murder of Mr McGuigan and the PSNI chief constable George Hamilton’s assessment that some IRA members were involved, although not with the sanction of the IRA leadership.

First to challenge the DUP over its engagement in these negotiations with Sinn Féin, as well as with the British and Irish government, and the other main Northern parties, was the Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister.

He said that Mr Storey’s arrest brought the McGuigan “murder investigation to the very heart of the DUP’s partner in government, Sinn Féin”.

“It is time for the DUP to wake up and come out from among them,” added Mr Allister.

It was also confirmed by senior sources today that the two other men arrested were senior republicans Brian Gillen and Eddie Copeland.

First Minister Peter Robinson indicated today that he was expecting these arrests “These events were predicted in my statement on Monday. No one can be above the law. That is why we sought adjournment of the Assembly,” he said.

Mr Robinson said he would again seek the adjournment of the Northern Assembly pending the outcome of these latest Stormont House talks. “Hopefully the UUP will support us this time rather than voting with SF for business as usual,” said the First Minister.

The Sinn Féin deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he was surprised to learn of the arrest of Mr Storey. “Bobby Storey is a valued member of Sinn Féin’s core leadership,” he said.

“He has played a leading role in Sinn Féin’s core peace strategy and is a longstanding and loyal supporter, defender and advocate of the peace and political processes. We look forward with confidence to his early release,” added Mr McGuinness.

A spokesman for the Taoiseach said: “The Taoiseach contacted Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness directly after cabinet in relation to this morning’s developments to emphasise the requirement and responsibility of all parties in NI to support the institutions and engage in the current talks process. Peace has been hard won and must be protected.”

The Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt said the police must follow the evidence. He added however that for politicians it was a “question of the credibility of Sinn Féin” and it could “not be business as usual”.