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February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

BELFAST — Northern Ireland’s freshly minted government appeared to face a new crisis on Tuesday as the security forces said they believed the Provisional IRA had carried out the shooting of a Catholic man in a pub less than two weeks ago.

Two gunmen shot Ed McCoy in Dunmurry on May 28, just hours after the Ulster Unionist Party’s ruling council voted to return to power-sharing government with Sinn Fein.

Security officials at first privately said the shooting had been drug related. But a security forces source told the Echo that investigators now believe McCoy was killed by Direct Action Against Drugs, the cover name used by the IRA when punishing alleged drug dealers.

The shooting could spark renewed calls for decommissioning of paramilitary arms and pressure the Ulster Unionist Party on its decision to go into government with political representatives of the IRA.

Opponents of the Good Friday agreement may use the shooting to cast doubt on the validity of the IRA cease-fire and plunge the political process into another period of uncertainty.

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Speaking on condition of anonimity, an Irish government source said that if true the report would have a "chilling effect" on the position of the Ulster Unionists. The source said it would play into the hand of the anti-agreement DUP, which has been calling for Sinn Fein’s expulsion from Stormont.

But the source cautioned that the Irish government is still awaiting further details of the shooting.

Stormont returns

This latest news came as bad-tempered rows over policing reforms and the flying of flags overshadowed a new start to the power-sharing executive in Stormont.

Last week Northern Ireland’s politicians once again took up the reins of the limited power granted them in the Good Friday agreement after four months of suspension.

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble joined other pro-agreement party leaders, along with the British Northern Secretary, Peter Mandelson, in welcoming the restoration of local democracy at Stormont.

Speaking at Stormont last week, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said the people of the island had a realistic view of the difficulties they faced.

Despite the new start, voices of opposition were never far away.

The two Democratic Unionist Party ministers who boycotted full meetings before the Executive was suspended in February, are to continue this policy.

Nigel Dodds and Peter Robinson are to resign later this month, if they do not get 60 percent Unionist support in the assembly to exclude Sinn Fein. But the two DUP politicians will nominate replacements from within their party.

The strategy appears intended to produce maximum disruption to the Executive and other institutions while handing the DUP a financial windfall, which it says it will use as a "fighting fund" at the next general election to defeat the UUP.

Each DUP minister who resigns is entitled to three months’ severance pay, so that the DUP could be receiving eight ministerial salaries until the next Westminster elections, amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Robinson, the party’s deputy leader, denied that the DUP was attempting to disrupt the work of the Executive by rotating its ministers. But the DUP policy of being, in-effect, ministers in opposition is already creating problems for the Executive over debates on the funding of departments.

Other parties claim it is a situation that cannot continue indefinitely.

Beyond the DUP’s dispute, the executive has already run into its first major row.

Friday was Coronation Day, commemorating Queen Elizabeth’s accession to the British throne in 1953.

It was one of 13 so-called flag days when the union flag is flown from poles above all government buildings. Both Sinn Fein’s Bairbre de Brun, the minister for health, and Martin McGuinness, the education minister, ordered that the flag not fly over their offices.

Quickly, the Ulster Unionists said that Sinn Féin was in breach of the Good Friday agreement by refusing to fly the flag.

The UUP arts and culture minister, Michael McGimpsey, said the Sinn Fein ministers were denying "the consent principle."

Said Trimble: "There is no doubt about the very strong feelings that exist on this. If ministers proceed to act in a way which gives rise to hurt and concern in the community, it’s going to make it more difficult."

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