UUP to withdraw from power-sharing executive

Charlie Flanagan ‘respects decision’ but says interests of NI best served by united approach

The future of the Stormont power-sharing institutions was cast into further doubt on Wednesday after Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt announced his intention of withdrawing from the Northern Executive.

The UUP's Assembly members, single MEP and two MPs unanimously endorsed his proposal that the party's single Minister, Danny Kennedy should quit the Executive because of the alleged involvement of IRA members in the murder earlier this month of Kevin McGuigan.

The UUP’s ruling executive meets on Saturday to endorse his proposal, which is considered a formality.

“We are in a bad place, but this can be fixed. But the IRA need to go away and stop terrorising their own communities. So do the UDA, and UVF and Red Hand Commando, and the rest,” said the UUP leader at Stormont.


Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said he respected the right of the UUP to make its own judgement on participation.

"However, I firmly believe the interests and welfare of the people of Northern Ireland are best served by an inclusive power-sharing Executive, as envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement," he said.

“I remain in close touch with developments and my officials are actively monitoring the situation in Northern Ireland. Minister [for Justice Frances] Fitzgerald and I will meet with Secretary of State Villiers early next week to discuss the serious situation in Northern Ireland.”

Mr Nesbitt’s decision puts considerable pressure on the main party in the Executive, the DUP, to similarly respond. A DUP delegation led by deputy leader Nigel Dodds is due to meet Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers to discuss the recent assessment by the PSNI chief constable George Hamilton that the IRA still exists and that some of its members were involved in Mr McGuigan’s murder.

The DUP will not want to be seen to be pressurised by the Ulster Unionists into making a precipitate response. Nonetheless, the prospect of the UUP and Mr Nesbitt standing against the IRA while the DUP remained in the Executive with Sinn Fein would cause great difficulties for First Minister Peter Robinson - particularly with Assembly elections due next May.

The British and Irish governments are carefully monitoring what is unfolding but there will be great anxiety in Dublin and London that Mr Nesbitt’s move could lead to the fatal undermining of the Executive and Assembly.

Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has accused the UUP of playing party politics.

On Twitter, he said the UUP decision was “more about inter Unionist rivalry” than “feigned concern” about his party’s “unequivocal commitment” to peace.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times