Latest Stormont talks like ‘Fawlty Towers’, says UUP chief

Issue of existence of IRA army council was elephant in the room, says Mike Nesbitt

UUP Leader Mike Nesbitt at Stormont Parliament in Belfast. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

UUP Leader Mike Nesbitt at Stormont Parliament in Belfast. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt has described the first session of the Stormont talks since Tuesday’s report on the status of the IRA and other paramilitaries as being like an episode of Fawlty Towers.

The all-party talks on Wednesday which were also attended by Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan and Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers dealt with the issue of paramilitarism, with the parties convening again on Thursday to discuss the legacy of the Troubles.

A British government-appointed panel which reported on Tuesday concluded the IRA army council still existed.

Mr Nesbitt expressed frustration, saying Wednesday’s talks did not address the panel’s findings that the IRA army council was still operating.

“Today’s talks were like the episode of Fawlty Towers where everyone is told ‘don’t mention the war’. Three times I attempted to bring up the issue of the existence of the IRA army council,” said Mr Nesbitt.

“The first time I was admonished for doing so and on the other two occasions I was just ignored. There was not a meaningful discussion about the fact that the report says that the IRA exists. Nobody wanted to address that, particularly not the Irish Government, ” he added.

‘Toxin of paramilitarism’

Mr Nesbitt said this was “a once in a lifetime opportunity to finally rid this country, and this island, of the toxin of paramilitarism, but that can only happen if everyone is going to get real”.

“We will not be signing up to an agreement built on a lie – built on the single transferable speech of denial which Sinn Féin have trotted out for decades now about the IRA. The panel report underlines our position,” he added.

“You cannot hope for a successful outcome if you’re going to build this by ignoring the elephant in the room and having on your foundation stone a lie,” said Mr Nesbitt.

While there has been some speculation the UUP might quit the talks, Mr Nesbitt said his party would “try to stay in and argue the case because we know we are right”.

One senior talks source said the panel’s report was discussed “in the round” at Wednesday’s roundtable session involving the parties and the two governments.

Loyalist paramilitaries

Sinn Féin Assembly member Conor Murphy accused Mr Nesbitt of failing to properly tackle the issue of loyalist paramilitaries. “Sinn Féin opposes all criminality regardless of where it emanates from, and will continue to do so,” he said.

SDLP negotiator Alex Attwood said that “grave issues should not be reduced to comedy by some unionists or denials by Sinn Féin”.

“What is required is war on organised crime, the pursuit of criminality to the four corners of Ireland and for the IRA, UDA, UVF influences, control and structures to be gone and gone for good,” he said.

“That is the collective will of Irish democracy. It has ever been. It must not again be denied or flouted,” added Mr Attwood.

DUP MLA Gregory Campbell said the three-member panel’s report must be used as a basis for action. “What we’re saying is that report now provides the basis for which everyone has to get those vestiges of paramilitary activity removed,” he said.

“They have now set the benchmark and everyone then has to say, ‘Right, what do we do to get rid of that army council, what do we need to do to dismantle those structures?’ ”