Culture of racketeering is hardly decommissioned
Alan Murray THEY'RE very good at it and have been for three decades.
In what now seem the distant days of the 1970s and the 1980s the IRA spied on and stalked victim after victim using a seemingly indefatigable intelligence-gathering base. An inexhaustible supply of information kept the guns almost unerringly targeted on the "right people", as they saw it.
The Shankill Butchers' psychopathic leader, Lenny Murphy, came a cropper after the IRA exploited information supplied by a scheming Loyalist rival Jim Craig.
Careful surveillance based on initial scraps of information resulted in the deaths of other leading Loyalists while the trawling of telephone books, electoral registers and other logs pinpointed security force targets.
In its last report presented last October the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) revealed that the IRA's intelligence-gathering expertise had been redirected to political spying in the North, just as it has been redeployed in the Republic.
By tomorrow evening the public will have an insight into what extent the IRA has begun to dismantle its huge racketeering arm or, more accurately, to what lengths it still has to go to neuter the profitable scams which have kept the organisation and Sinn Fein financially afloat.
We know that the assessment will be along the lines of "work in progress but much more to do" and only an eternal peace process optimist like Albert Reynolds would believe that by the time the next IMC report is due that that situation will have greatly changed.
Racketeering, or financial "procurement activities" as the IRA would prefer to call them, are as ingrained into the Provo psyche as spying on the enemy.
Years of work and years in jail in some cases went into making the Provisional IRA the most formidable, albeit progressively compromised, terrorist organisation in western Europe.
The exposure of Denis Donaldson before Christmas as a major Special Branch/MI5 spy confirmed the depth of the deception within Sinn Fein, just as the exposure of Freddie Scappaticci last year demonstrated the degree of control the British intelligence services exerted within the IRA.
And we should be grateful that the depth of penetration of Sinn Fein and the IRA was as vast as it is - because while it appears not to have brought to a halt PIRA activities entirely, the volume of agents continues to keep the Provisional movement heavily compromised.
It's why the IMC Report we will see tomorrow is so useful for the two democracies on this island and why the IRA and Sinn Fein so loathe its existence.
Without the IMC, journalists like me would be scratching and scraping to elicit scraps of genuine intelligence that would paint a picture of the true extent of continuing IRA activity, but would be unable to present anything like a complete assessment or even an authenticated snapshot.
Fed by the intelligence services on both sides of the border and composed of men of various allegiances (British, Irish and American), the IMC can paint a canvas that we can plainly see and safely base our political assessments upon. It will hopefully tell us in public that the IRA and Loyalist paramilitaries are beginning to engage with the demands of democracy and are compelling their memberships to cease the deep-seated racketeering that feeds some relatively opulent personal lifestyles. A deal that would see Sinn Fein committed to the North's Policing Board is being hinted at by the British government. Tomorrow's publication will help Tony Blair's spinners in their efforts to cajole Ian Paisley into a governmental arrangement with Sinn Fein, but it will also help the "Doc" to say no.
Alan Murray is a security analyst