Executive on the brink after Dodds warning
Stormont's future was looking increasingly precarious last night after the DUP warned it as ready to pull the plug on the power-sharing executive.
Deputy leader Nigel Dodds yesterday emerged from a meeting with the secretary of state to say there was enough evidence of Provisional IRA activity to force the exclusion of Sinn Féin from government.
The North Belfast MP said it "cannot be business as usual" until the controversy surrounding the August 12 murder of Kevin McGuigan is resolved.
Ahead of Theresa Villiers's meetings yesterday with the DUP, SDLP and Alliance, former taoiseach Bertie Ahern said it was a "time for cool heads".
The ex-Fianna Fáil leader made his remarks a day after the Republic's former justice minister Michael McDowell said the British and Irish governments had agreed that the IRA could continue as a "unarmed withering husk" rather than risk a dissident group filling the void left by its disbandment.
Mr Ahern said he agreed with the former tánaiste's assessment, adding that it had been envisaged the Provisional IRA would develop along the lines of the old IRA and continue holding commemorations.
Wednesday's Ulster Unionist walk-out from the executive has increased pressure on the DUP to act against Sinn Féin over the PSNI's revelation that IRA members played a part in Mr McGuigan's killing.
The DUP's stance appears to have hardened over recent days though it remains non-committal on what exactly will happen next.
"We are determined that, one way or another, we will have a government in Northern Ireland consisting of people totally committed to peaceful and democratic means only," Mr Dodds said.
The DUP is due to have further meetings with Chief Constable George Hamilton and is seeking face-to-face discussions with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Mr Dodds said the meeting with Theresa Villiers was "constructive" and that the DUP wanted to put pressure on Sinn Féin to deal with continued IRA activity.
"And if they don't, they are excluded or devolved government does not continue on that basis – that is our priority, that is our objective." " he said.
So far the SDLP and Alliance have appeared reluctant to force republicans out of government.
SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said that while the IRA had moved away from paramilitary activity he believed many communities were still "held in a Mafia-like grip" by the organisation's "rump".
Asked whether he would back a Sinn Féin petition of concern to block the DUP's efforts to exclude republicans from government, Dr McDonnell said he believed such a move by unionists was premature – though he did not say the party would sign the veto.
"We need to behave in a mature fashion here – knee jerk reactions to a difficult situation are not the answer," he said.
"We want to see our society move towards normality but there's no point in throwing the toys out of the pram."
Alliance minister Stephen Farry said people deserved a system of government based on "trust and partnership, and underpinned by the rule of law".
"At present, we have an almost zero-sum challenge, where if one leading party of government isn’t excluded, the other one will potentially walk out," he said.
“We have indicated we will respect the independent police investigation into the murder of Kevin McGuigan – any decision we take regarding an exclusion motion will be based on the prevailing evidence at the time."