Martin McGuinness denounces arrest of Sinn Féin colleague

Bobby Storey, northern chairman of party, is one of three men being questioned about killing of Kevin McGuigan

Martin McGuinness, the deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, has denounced the arrest of a senior Sinn Féin colleague in connection with the murder of ex-IRA man Kevin McGuigan.

McGuinness said he was surprised that the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) had detained Bobby Storey in relation to the McGuigan killing. Storey is northern chairman of Sinn Féin and a close ally of the party’s president, Gerry Adams.

Storey was one of three men, aged 59, 45 and 58, arrested at their homes on Wednesday morning. Storey was named in the House of Commons in 2005 by then MP David Burnside as the IRA’s director of intelligence following the £26.5m Northern Bank robbery

The two other men arrested were veteran Belfast republicans Brian Gillen and Eddie Copeland. The trio were being questioned about the killing of McGuigan outside his house in the Short Strand district of east Belfast in August.

Expressing his concern over Storey’s arrest, McGuinness said: “Bobby Storey is a valued member of Sinn Féin’s core leadership. He has played a leading role in the development of Sinn Féin’s peace strategy and is a longstanding and loyal supporter, defender and advocate of the peace and political processes.”

The PSNI has said that individual Provisional IRA members were involved in the killing of McGuigan, whom they blamed for the murder of ex-Belfast IRA commander Gerard “Jock” Davison in May.

Although the PSNI chief constable, George Hamilton, stressed that the PIRA leadership did not sanction the McGuigan murder, his assessment that the organisation still exists has created a crisis in Northern Ireland’s power-sharing executive.

The PSNI’s conclusions over the McGuigan murder have already prompted the smaller Ulster Unionist party to leave the regional government and go into opposition.

Emergency talks aimed at saving devolution started on Tuesday at Stormont House in east Belfast. However, the UUP walked out because it wanted the allegations of continued PIRA violence to be top of the agenda.

The UUP leadership was due to hold talks with David Cameron at lunchtime on Wednesday about the crisis threatening to bring down the power-sharing settlement.

During prime minister’s questions beforehand,, Cameron told MPs that the Northern Ireland peace process had been one of the most inspiring things he’d seen “as a human being and a politician”.

“The appeal I would make to all of you is please have that spirit in mind. It was an amazing thing you did when you formed that administration,” he said, addressing the DUP MP Nigel Dodds.

Camerone added that there could be no justification for paramilitary organisations and structures in Northern Ireland. “They are a blight on our society, they are not wanted, they should be disbanded on every occasion and on every side.”

The PIRA was meant to have gone out of existence seven years ago as part of moves to build a power-sharing coalition between unionists and their one-time republican enemies. Both the UUP and the larger Democratic Unionists claim the McGuigan murder and the chief constable’s analysis breaks that deal.

The arrest of Storey is a significant development because of his membership of Sinn Féin and his close personal links to Adams.

When Adams was arrested in May 2014 in connection with the historic case of the kidnapping, killing and secret burial of west Belfast mother of 10, Jean McConville, Storey led a protest against his leader’s detention.

Addressing a crowd on the Falls Road in west Belfast, Storey told them: “We have a message for the British government, for the Irish government, for the cabal that is out there: we haven’t gone away, you know.”

The comment was an echo of a remark Adams himself made almost two decades earlier, after the 1994 PIRA ceasefire at Belfast city hall. Responding to demands from the crowd then to “bring back the IRA”, Adams answered from the podium: “They haven’t gone away, you know.”

Talks are continuing between the four other main parties at Stormont – the Democratic Unionists, Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Alliance – aimed at preventing the devolved institutions collapsing.

Among those who are expected to join the discussions, which are chaired by the Northern Ireland secretary, Theresa Villiers, and the Irish foreign minister, Charles Flanagan, is George Hamilton, the PSNI’s chief constable. Hamilton is expected to be questioned over his assessment about who killed McGuigan and why.


Henry McDonald and Frances Perraudin

The GuardianTramp

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