Stephen Shaw, the senior barrister who is one of three people appointed by the British government to assess the status of the Provisional IRA following the killing of Kevin McGuigan, is a born-again Christian with strong links to the evangelical wing of the DUP.
He is a lay preacher at the Scrabo Hall Fellowship near Newtownards, Co Down – which gets its name from the distinctive Scrabo tower overlooking the town. His church is a branch of the Plymouth Brethren movement.
Mr Shaw, who was called to the Bar in 1980, where he specialised in civil law, and got silk, i.e. was made a QC, in 2001, has also preached at the NI Assembly Christian Fellowship, a group of fundamentalist and evangelical Assembly Members and Stormont staff which is dominated by the DUP.
According to one account of Mr Shaw’s sermon: “…..he invited us to approach the gospel and the resurrection of Christ from a juror’s perspective, weighing the claims, the counter claims …to consider the ‘evidence’ of the gospel.”
The DUP Assembly member and former Minister in the power-sharing Executive, Nelson McCausland is a leading member of the group. Mr Shaw’s church website carries links to his various sermons, which were available until today when the link ceased to function.
Mr Shaw’s church, part of the Open Brethren movement as opposed to the stricter Exclusive Brethren, believes in the literal truth of the Bible. The Scrabo Fellowship’s website defines its attitude to the Bible in simple terms:
The Bible, as originally given, is inspired by God and every word is infallible. Through it God speaks to us today. It is the only authority for what we believe and practice.
Services at the Scrabo Fellowship Hall, are, to judge from the videos and photos available on its website, characterised by much singing and clapping, accompanied by guitar music and drums. It is a style of worship that is often known as ‘happy-clappy’ Christianity.
Mr Shaw’s curriculum vitae, accessible on the Bar Library official website, shows that he has done legal work for Castlereagh Council in East Belfast, which is dominated by the DUP. Castlereagh Council was the springboard for the Robinson family’s political career in Northern Ireland. Both Peter Robinson and his wife, Iris were leading members of the body for many years.
All these aspects of Stephen Shaw’s career and background would strongly support the proposition that he is effectively the DUP’s nominee, if not Peter Robinson’s, on the three person assessment body appointed by NI Secretary Theresa Villiers.
They have been charged with making a judgement on the security force assessment of the Provisional IRA in the wake of the killings of IRA members ‘Jock’ Davison and Kevin McGuigan and the PSNI claim that IRA members were involved in the latter death.
“He is very highly thought of by fellow evangelicals”, one well placed Christian source told thebrokenelbow.com.
As a much respected figure in the North’s evangelical circles, the verdict that Mr Shaw delivers on the IRA would give Mr Robinson all the cover he needs in the community that to him and his party really matters: the evangelical Christian wing of Unionism.
If Mr Robinson has these people on his side, the Paisleyite wing in other words, he should have little difficulty bringing the bulk of Unionism with him.
A betting man – of which there would be none at Scrabo Hall Fellowship – would thus put his money on the Assembly and Executive returning to normality before long.
That is if the welfare business is also taken care of………