Just hours before a report on paramilitary activity in the north that’s widely expected to clear the way for unionist ministers to return to the Stormont Executive, police have arrested a man in West Belfast in connection with the murder of Kevin McGuigan.
The 47-year-old was arrested on Monday evening and taken for questioning to Musgrave Serious Crime Suite.
There’s been widespread speculation that the ‘independent review’ of loyalist and republican paramilitary activity will confirm what Chief Constable George Hamilton said in August when Mr McGuigan was shot outside his home in Short Strand – that the IRA leadership did not sanction the killing.
Writing in yesterday’s Belfast Telegraph, DUP leader Peter Robinson said a repeat of that assertion in today’s report would mean an end to his party’s widely derided in-out Executive strategy.
“For the DUP to reconsider its present ministerial protest,” wrote Mr Robinson, “we need a report that categorically determines there is no organisational sanction for terrorist or criminal activity.”
Given that the report will be compiled using the same intelligence relied on by the Mr Hamilton, it would come as a major surprise if it does not give Mr Robinson what he needs to lead his party back into full government.
The review panel has three members: former senior Stormont civil servant Rosalie Flanagan; Liberal Democrat peer Lord Carlile of Berriew; and Belfast barrister Stephen Shaw QC.
It’s been almost six weeks since Sinn Féin northern chair Bobby Storey was released unconditionally after being arrested in connection with the McGuigan murder. In an interview in the Andersonstown News, Mr Storey claimed that during his 36 hours in Antrim serious crime suite no evidence was put to him and detectives admitted to receiving information referred to during interviews from the local media.
The arrest of Mr Storey ratcheted up tension and pulled Sinn Féin directly into the controversy, leading to a serious escalation of the unionist reaction. For their part, Sinn Féin claimed that elements within the PSNI remained hostile to Sinn Féin’s role in the peace process. Those concerns will be heightened by this latest arrest so close to the release of the report and after a long period of PSNI inactivity in the wake of the release of Mr Storey.