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The cause of our busted flush

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt's weekend description of the Northern Ireland executive as a `busted flush` was probably accurate but it is vital to carefully assess how we ended up in this sorry state of affairs.

While the cross-party administration has been in growing difficulty over recent years, and urgently needed a major overhaul, it was just about capable of limping on as far as the elections scheduled for May of next year.

The bitter dispute over welfare reform might well have provoked an earlier collapse, and the general public had largely lost confidence in Stormont anyway, but it was particularly unfortunate that some fairly blatant double standards over paramilitary activity ultimately appear to have taken us over the brink.

Although it is widely believed that the brutal assassination of Kevin McGuigan earlier this month was carried out by individuals with close past or present connections to the IRA in retaliation for the evil killing of Gerard Davison in May, police investigations are still at an early stage and have yet to result in murder charges let alone convictions.

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If the two main unionist parties had withdrawn from the executive over the equally appalling murder of Paul Quinn on the south Armagh border back in 2007, which was also strongly linked to IRA elements, they might have been seen to display a consistent approach.

Instead they accepted that the lack of convictions in the Quinn investigation meant that, despite all the suspicions, the devolved institutions could remain in place.

After prominent loyalist Bobby Moffett was shot dead on Belfast's Shankill Road in 2010, there were again no convictions but the Independent Monitoring Commission officially concluded that it had been the work of the UVF.

This did not prevent the Ulster Unionists and the DUP joining forces with the Progressive Unionist Party, which has never denied its close association with the UVF, in a `graduated response` over parading issues which was presented as a major initiative before it eventually faded without trace last year.

The PUP has no Assembly members, but it is very difficult to understand why sharing a platform with it should be regarded as completely different to sitting in an executive with Sinn Fein which, rightly or wrongly, insists that the IRA no longer exists in any form.

Mr Nesbitt, who firmly set out his views in his Irish News article on Saturday, effectively concluded that the McGuigan case was somehow worse than its Moffett or Quinn counterparts.

He then neatly outflanked the DUP by withdrawing from the executive and made it highly likely that a nervous Peter Robinson will force a suspension by following in his footsteps.

We need to reach a position where all paramilitary murders are regarded with the same level of disgust and none can have an impact on our democratic process.

If the judicial system can confirm the credible suspicions about the background to any of the despicable killings which have taken place in our society, then appropriate consequences must follow.

Until then, there will be a widespread belief that the actions of the main unionist parties are based mainly on electoral considerations.

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