ANALYSIS: Ambiguity gives republicans wriggle room

John Manley (1044097)
John Manley (1044097) John Manley (1044097)

WITHIN minutes of last week's shooting of Kevin McGuigan fingers were pointing at republicans, which in turn fuelled speculation about the future of the already vulnerable Stormont institutions.

What shade of republicanism the gunman and his accomplices represented was crucial to the political impact of the murder. DUP leader Peter Robinson warned there would be repercussions if it was found that the Provisional IRA was involved .

The statement from the PSNI yesterday, which came on the back of claim of responsibility made to The Irish News, said detectives suspected "members of the Provisional IRA were involved" but operating under the name Action Against Drugs.

Yet rather than clearing up speculation and drawing a line under the episode, the police statement creates more ambiguity – or what some may term 'wriggle room' for republicans.

Those questioned during the police operation are widely regarded as mainstream republicans and loyal to the Sinn Féin leadership. However, while in some people's eyes that equates to the PIRA – an organisation that is said to no longer exist – the shadowy group's aims are not the same.

Earlier this month Action Against Drugs told this newspaper it would "execute" anyone involved in the murder of Gerard 'Jock' Davison, saying the former IRA commander had been killed by drug dealers.

It also claimed responsibility for other shootings, all targetting people it claimed were involved in criminality.

The statement said that the leadership of the group was made up of former members of the Provisional IRA and Direct Action Against Drugs, which killed several drug dealers in the 1990s.

Links to the mainstream republican movement are so far just circumstantial and it's highly unlikely any link to any form of 'army council' sanctioning will ever materialise, meaning the political implications will be low level rather than nuclear. Unlike similar apparent ceasefire breaches in the past, such as the Northern Bank robbery and the killing of Robert McCartney, where heavy pressure was applied on republicans, the reaction of unionists to Kevin McGuigan Sr's murder has been relatively muted.

For now the political process has weathered this particular storm but there are those in the wings on both sides who may yet destabilise a fragile situation.