THE DUP yesterday turned the screw on Sinn Fein with a warning that the IRA Army Council must be closed down before any consideration of policing and justice powers being devolved to Stormont.
"The Sinn Fein leadership must finish the business of ensuring their private army is dismantled," said MP Jeffrey Donaldson after the party's Assembly group met Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde at Stormont.
Flanked by fellow MPs William McCrea and David Simpson, he gave notice that the DUP is reiterating a tough stance on the IRA issue and law and order as 2008 beckons.
Decommissioning has taken place, support for the PSNI followed, now the final step of closing down the IRA Army Council must happen.
"Let there be no doubt whatsoever that the Army Council has to go," said Mr McCrea.
The DUP also again vowed "we will not sweep the murder of Paul Quinn under the carpet".
And if any level of IRA involvement is proven, appropriate action – with consequences for the Stormont government, if necessary – will be taken.
First Minister Ian Paisley hopes to meet representatives of the Quinn family soon.
The meeting also discussed concerns that the PSNI budget is set to be cut in 2008.
MP David Simpson told the News Letter "there is no room for cutting the budget. That cannot happen".
"The PSNI feels there is a mood in Whitehall that all is normal in the Province and so policing resources must be slashed.
"Yet he argues that while things have progressed substantially, in other areas of the UK police are not being actively targeted, do not need to be armed, have 7,500 officers or face regular riot situations."
But a key focus for the DUP is that policing and justice now looms large as republicans want the powers transferred by May 2008, as hoped for in the St Andrews Agreement.
But Mr Donaldson said: "Let me make it very, very clear. There will be absolutely no question of the devolution of policing and justice powers to this Assembly, in circumstances where there are private armies operating in any part of Northern Ireland that are linked to parties that are in the government of Northern Ireland.
"That is a bottom line for this party and it is up to the Sinn Fein leadership to finish the business of ensuring their private army is dismantled. That has to be done."
The police chief and DUP also discussed the Quinn murder.
Mr Donaldson said: "We have made it absolutely clear that this is an issue which we will not sweep under the carpet.
"At the moment, Sir Hugh is very clear that there's no evidence or information to suggest this attack was authorised by the leadership of the IRA.
"Nevertheless, he acknowledges there were IRA members involved in this murder.
"In a Northern Ireland that is about peace and democracy we cannot have people who think they control and run areas and think they are the rule of law. They are not.”
The newly formed Traditional Unionist Movement last night responded: “The ‘removal of terrorist structures’, including the Army Council, was among the conditions for Sinn Fein’s entry to an Executive in the now infamous DUP Party Executive Resolution of November 2006.
“The removal of the Army Council was apparently a line in the sand until the winds of political expediency and party interests blew and the line disappeared.
“What remained and still remains is the Army Council and a complete lack of confidence in the unionist community that the DUP mean anything they say.”
See Morning View – page 14