Thursday 29 September 2016

Garda chief feels heat over IRA statements

O'Sullivan told to carry out urgent report into IRA threat

Published 26/08/2015 | 02:30

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has demanded that the IRA threat be reassessed
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has demanded that the IRA threat be reassessed
Victim: Kevin McGuigan was shot dead in east Belfast

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan has been ordered to carry out an urgent report into the activities of the Provisional IRA - just months after she denied the existence of the IRA's structures.

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The commissioner's credibility is now on the line after Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald demanded that the IRA threat be reassessed.

Senior gardaí admit that the commissioner's claim that the force has no "information or intelligence" on IRA activity was a grave mistake.

But despite the deep unease her stance has caused within political and garda circles, Ms O'Sullivan last night said her position "remains the same".

The extraordinary events of recent days came after PSNI chiefs confirmed IRA involvement in the brutal murder of Kevin McGuigan in east Belfast.

Credibility

The revelation by the PSNI's Chief Constable George Hamilton has left the future of the Stormont power-sharing executive in serious doubt and the reputation of senior Sinn Féin figures in tatters.

But in a fresh twist, the Justice Minister was forced to abandon her soft line on the Provos as a result of the tough stance adopted by Labour Party ministers.

Yesterday, Ms Fitzgerald issued a 900-word statement on the IRA's re-emergence.

While insisting that its military capabilities have been "lost", Ms Fitzgerald finally admitted that people connected with the IRA "continue to be associated with serious crime".

"There is no doubt that people who have been associated with PIRA have been - and continue to be - involved in the most serious crime and neither Gerry Adams nor Sinn Féin can wash their hands of responsibility for that. It is an inevitable legacy of the brutal campaign which PIRA waged," Ms Fitzgerald said.

She also challenged Mr Adams, who denies ever having been an IRA member, to apologise for its legacy.

But in one of her most significant moves since being appointed Justice Minister, Ms Fitzgerald ordered Commissioner O'Sullivan to conduct a "fresh assessment" of the IRA's status.

She said: "I have asked the Garda Commissioner to liaise closely with the PSNI and carry out a fresh assessment of the status of the PIRA in the light of any new evidence emerging during the PSNI investigation into the death of Mr McGuigan."

Such a move has placed enormous political heat on Ms O'Sullivan, whose credibility as the country's most senior garda is now in question.

Senior Garda sources have admitted their belief that Ms O'Sullivan displayed a serious misjudgment by releasing a letter last February, which completely denied an IRA existence.

The letter was released to Sinn Féin's justice spokesperson Padraig Maclochlainn, who took issue with an article by 'Sunday Independent' journalist Jim Cusack which claimed IRA structures remained in place and that its figures were still involved in criminality.

In response to Mr MacLochlainn, Ms O'Sullivan said: "An Garda Síochána hold no information or intelligence to support the assertion of Mr Cusack that "the Provisional IRA still maintains its military structure and confines its criminal activities to fuel-laundering, cigarette-smuggling and counterfeiting".

The Irish Independent yesterday sent a series of questions to the commissioner's spokesperson in order to clarify her position on the back of the remarks by the PSNI.

In response, the spokesman said: "Position remains the same - An Garda Síochána has nothing to add to assessments which it has made previously about PIRA insofar as this jurisdiction is concerned and as there is an ongoing Police Service of Northern Ireland investigation into a killing in Belfast does not consider that it would be helpful to make any further comment at this time."

Meanwhile, Ms Fitzgerald yesterday moved to deflect some of the political heat onto Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams. She challenged Mr Adams to apologise for the legacy left by the terror group.

She asked: "Will Gerry Adams apologise for the dreadful legacy of crime and lawlessness left in the wake of the brutal campaign which PIRA waged and say what steps he takes to ensure there is no place in Sinn Féin for people who engage in serious crime?

"What steps does Sinn Féin plan to take to ensure that they do not benefit in any way from the proceeds of crime?

"Will he apologise for the fact that people who PIRA trained to kill may be continuing to do so in whatever capacity?

"And will he explain what parts of smuggling and money laundering ever honoured the legacy of 1916 which his party wishes to hijack?"

Calling for "calm and measured judgments", Ms Fitzgerald also warned against causing political difficulties for the Northern Assembly.

Irish Independent

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