The SDLP is surprised by the analysis provided by Henry McDonald in his recent article but welcomes an opportunity to put the record straight.
Regardless of the political consequences, the SDLP will not stand by when Sinn Fein deny that Catholics are being murdered by PIRA. No level of violence is acceptable, no-one can be beyond the rule of law and no political party can be in government and benefit from a criminal wing.
We have long raised our concerns about organised crime and its malevolent influence in the north. The only party that attempted to get the issue of organised crime into the Stormont House agenda was the SDLP. We have written correspondence with the Irish and British governments pointing to this, but we were resisted.
We did not give up and were successful in February when we negotiated to the 11th hour on accountability measures to govern the NCA, allowing it to tackle the scourge of cross border organised crime. Sinn Fein continue to oppose its existence here, perhaps we now know why.
The Chief Constable has told us now that this incarnation of the IRA is not a terrorist or military organisation but has other elements. The police have questions to answer. What are those other elements? Are we being asked to turn a blind eye to PIRA’s criminality because it is murdering its members or former members? Where the guns that were used to murder Kevin McGuigan from the IRA’s old stock or fresh weapons smuggled in?
Teresa Villiers has not been honest with the SDLP but more importantly she has not been honest with the people who voted for and believed in the peace process. She has admitted knowing that the IRA has existed all along. What more does the Secretary of State know that she is not telling us about – what of the side deals, was PIRA allowed to retain its criminal assets and why has it taken so long for criminal proceedings to begin against those charged with fuel laundering and property scams in Dundalk and Manchester?
Henry McDonald is right when he says that we do not want to see the institutions brought down and we will not bring them down based on innuendo and rumour. It is time for calm heads and transparent answers. Once we have those answers then it will be time to make decisions on the future of our position in government. We will meet the Secretary of State to pursue those answers, as well as the Irish parties who share our concerns over criminality.