Minister for Foreign Affairs says nobody believes IRA has gone away

Charlie Flanagan says North’s parties must focus on principles of Belfast Agreement

Minister for Foreign Affairs  Charlie Flanagan: “A collapse of the institutions will undoubtedly result in a vacuum.” Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan: “A collapse of the institutions will undoubtedly result in a vacuum.” Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

When it was scheduled, the interview with Minster for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan was meant to be about other issues.

Then a political crisis erupted after PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton said his force’s assessment was that individuals associated with the Provisional IRA were involved in the killing of Kevin McGuigan in Belfast last month.

Flanagan quotes Harold Macmillan’s famous dictum, “Events, dear boy, events”, at the outset of the interview in Iveagh House in Dublin.

Shortly beforehand, he concluded a meeting with Northern Secretary of State Theresa Villiers. He had also spoken on the phone with Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness and was due to talk by phone to First Minster Peter Robinson later that night. The Cabinet’s security committee also met that morning to discuss the complex issues arising from the latest controversy.

“There are very serious issues to be decided over the coming short period of time,” says Flanagan. “The Assembly is due back next week. It’s important that all parties refocus on the Good Friday Agreement, its gains, the principles and its institutions.”

Independent body

That includes, he says, a form of monitoring commission which might be formed. This independent body might look at aspects of the structures of both loyalist and republican paramilitaries that did not form part of the remit of the original – now disbanded – Independent Monitoring Commission.

“It is too early to talk about the detail. It’s an issue that does form part of an agenda but of which we did not reach a conclusion.”

In relation to Robinson’s efforts to have the Stormont institutions suspended to allow space for talks, Flanagan says his reading is that British prime minster David Cameron does not have the power to suspend the institutions.

He says he welcomes Robinson’s desire to find time and space to examine the issues without collapsing the institutions.

However, he says the time frame might only be days and says he would like to see an avenue identified and in place by Monday, when the Assembly is due back.

In an implicit criticism of the Ulster Unionist Party and its leader Mike Nesbitt, Flanagan says that while he respects the right of political parties to order their own affairs, it is important “all parties focus around the table rather than opt out”.

“I note that the DUP have not tabled an exclusion motion; it has been hinted at but it is premature in my view,” he says. “An opportunity must be given to other parties to get around the table.”

Flanagan says nothing will be gained by collapsing the institutions and the “hard-won positions” under the Belfast Agreement.

“A collapse of the institutions will undoubtedly result in a vacuum. They are most unhelpful and in Northern Ireland they are very dangerous,” he says. “They will be filled by people who don’t have a democratic means as part of their agenda. It will be the return to the old days.”

Playing politics

Gerry Adams

In response, Flanagan says: “Nobody believes the IRA has disbanded and gone away.”

His stark assessment is later qualified with a comment that he believes the IRA is no longer active as a paramilitary force threatening the State. Essentially, his view is that structures remain in place for the pursuit of other agendas.

“I read the statement of Chief Constable George Hamilton. Aspects of the statement were gravely worrying. It’s important that the entirety of the statement be taken into account,” he says.

“There have been selective quotations from his statement He did acknowledge the commitment of Sinn Féin to the peace process and its co-operation in relation to policing.”

He nonetheless says there is an obligation on Sinn Féin “to act by deed” on its calls on those with information to co-operate with the PSNI.

“They can follow those calls by active deeds.”

Flanagan says the focus must be on moving matters forward in a way that ensures the integrity of the process.