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Peter Robinson is back from his holidays and he's taking aim at the UUP

The first minister’s back on the scene – and he’s had a thing or two to say about the raging IRA debate.

Image: PA WIRE

Updated at 6.30pm

THE UUP’S DECISION to leave the Northern Ireland Executive is all about playing politics, so says First Minister Peter Robinson.

Writing in today’s Belfast Telegraph, the DUP leader says that the UUP’s decision was “not one of principle but of political expediency”.

“Playing party politics in these highly dangerous circumstances is irresponsible. Doing it in a ham-fisted manner is both irresponsible and illogical,” he said.

The UUP voted unanimously on Saturday to withdraw its one member from the 13 man executive.

Party leader Mike Nesbitt cited his party’s “disgust” at Sinn Féin’s reaction to the potential involvement of the Provisional IRA in the murder of Kevin McGuigan.

And responding to Robinson’s article today Nesbitt said the First Minister’s stance was “remarkable”.

‘Fleeing the battlefield’

Robinson wrote today that republicans had indeed “precipitated the crisis” but argues that the UUP’s decision has the potential to benefit Sinn Féin.

“It should be republicans and not unionists who pay the price for the misbehaviour of the IRA,” he said, later adding that “this is not the time to flee the battlefield”.

In the course of the piece, Robinson accepted the PSNI’s assessment that some IRA structures remain in place. He notes, however, that it is unknown if the murder of McGuigan was sanctioned by the leadership:

“It is the Chief Constable’s view that there is no evidence thus far that the murder of Kevin McGuigan was approved by the republican leadership.”

This, he said, could point to a “horrifying scenario” where the “leadership of the republican movement cannot control the organisation they lead.”

Robinson says that it could be argued that no sanction could be applied to Sinn Féin if the killing was not sanctioned.

He does say, however, that Sinn Féin is in denial about their responsibilities towards IRA activity.

“The Sinn Fein leadership indulges in hand-wringing and lives in utter denial,” he claims.

As for the timing of the UUP’s decision, Robinson notes that it comes less than a year out from elections at Stormont.

“One would have more respect for the decision if there were even a degree of honesty about the motivation behind it,” the First Minister adds.

Robinson’s return

Leaders north and south of the border are set to step up efforts to resolve the crisis in Stormont in the coming week, following Robinson’s return to the scene after a holiday break.

The First Minister is set to travel to London tomorrow for talks with Prime Minister David Cameron. Foreign Affairs minister Charlie Flanagan will also be meeting with Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers.

Responding to Robinson’s op-ed today, Mike Nesbitt said it was remarkable that the DUP leader “cannot agree with me that enough is enough and take a principled stand”.

With reporting by Daragh Brophy.

Read: UUP to withdraw from Executive: ‘We will not stay while Sinn Féin ignores IRA murders’ >

Read: Flanagan warns against “car crash politics” as IRA debate rages on >

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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