Northern Ireland

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt 'not seeking vengeance on DUP' over power-sharing

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Mike Nesbitt said he took a "principled stand" to pull his party out of the executive

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt has said he is not seeking vengeance on the DUP for its previous criticism of his party's power-sharing with republicans.

This week, a security report said the IRA's ruling army council still existed and has influence over Sinn Féin.

DUP ministers who resigned last month returned to the Northern Ireland Executive after the report's release.

Mr Nesbitt said the report's findings vindicated his party's decision to pull out of the executive in August.

He will address his party's annual conference at a hotel on the outskirts of Belfast later.

Speaking at the conference on Saturday, former UUP leader Sir Reg Empey said that after the report on paramilitary activity stated that PIRA members believe that the provisional army council exists and oversees both PIRA and Sinn Féin with an overarching strategy "[First Minister] Peter [Robinson] goes back to business as usual sending the clear signal to Sinn Féin that they can get away with it again. How awful".

He also said Sinn Féin's denials about the IRA were "sapping credibility out of politics and must be reversed if we are to create effective and acceptable devolution at Stormont".

Sir Reg added: "It is true that Stormont has taken some good decisions, but conference, the present administration is the worst so far and is failing on nearly all fronts. This cannot be as good as it gets."

'Never set out to be the avenger'

The Ulster Unionists withdrew from government during the current political crisis at Stormont after allegations that IRA members had been involved in the murder of Kevin McGuigan Sr, one of its former members, in August.

Party leader Mr Nesbitt said he "never set out to be the avenger of David Trimble", his predecessor, who was the first person to hold the position of first minister in Northern Ireland.

But he added that if Mr Trimble had been avenged, "maybe that's no bad thing".

The story of Stormont's crisis

Mr Trimble faced criticism from the DUP over sharing power with republicans.

When the DUP agreed to the restoration of devolution in 2007, it insisted Sinn Féin should accept the police and the IRA should completely decommission its weapons.

But the findings of an assessment of paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland earlier this week indicated that the IRA still has access to weapons, although its focus is wholly political.

Mr Nesbitt said he had "set out to do the right thing" by removing the UUP from the executive, and the report had shown his decision was justified.

"I took a principled stand, I took an unambiguous stand that everybody understands, but having said all that, has David Trimble been avenged?

"People seem to think that he has and perhaps that is no bad by-product."

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