IRA's four tons of Semtex was sold to FARC narco-terrorist groups
Decommissioning was a trick of sorts as Provo arsenal remains intact and used in 40 murders, writes Jim Cusack
Last week's report, Paramilitary Groups in Northern Ireland, found that the Provos still have guns - including the two automatics used to murder Kevin McGuigan in August and over 40 other murders since the so-called 'ceasefire' of 1997.
The finding published by British Cabinet member with responsibility for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers, that the IRA still 'retain weapons' negates the almost euphoric media reporting of 'decommissioning' in 2005.
On September 26 that year, after eight years of work the International Independent Commission on Decommissioning (IICD), headed by Canadian ex-Army general John de Chastelain, stated: "We are satisfied that the arms decommissioned represent the totality of the IRA's arsenal."
British prime minister Tony Blair said IRA decommissioning had been "finally accomplished".
"The gun of the IRA is out of Irish politics", the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, stated at a press conference in Government Buildings the same day.
Last Tuesday's report from the three-member expert panel set up by the British government in the aftermath of the IRA murder of Kevin McGuigan, firmly stuffs those sentiments into the dustbin of history.
At the time, senior security officials knew that the IRA 'decommissioning' was a trick of sorts and that their usable weapons, mainly handguns, assault rifles and shotguns, remained intact.
They knew the identity of the IRA figure, an employee of a State-funded 'cultural' body at the time, who was one of the main 'gatekeepers', as they were termed, who oversaw the 'decommissioning' act. He lives in the Midwest and probably still holds the keys to at least one of the IRA's arms dumps.
They knew this but kept quiet. They knew that the 'weapons' that the decommissioning body had witnessed being destroyed consisted of the rusting parts of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), including variations of the IRA Mortar, Marks 4 to 16, under-car bombs (UCBs), booby-trap devices, circuits boards and other paraphernalia. These IRA weapons were replicated by the Middle Eastern Islamist group Hezbollah and subsequently, used with deadly effect against US and Allied forces, by Hezbollah and Iran's Shiite allies in Iraq. Versions of the IRA's mortars and pressure- plate IEDs also turned up in Afghanistan in the hands of the Taliban.
By the time the supposed decommissioning action had taken place these IRA bomb- making parts had been underground in damp conditions for more than 10 years and were in a poor state.
The estimated four tons of Semtex plastic explosive, a present from Col Gaddafi of Libya, had already been sold to the Medellin/FARC 'narco- terrorist' group in Colombia as part of a technology and training programme provided by leading IRA IED designers and manufacturers. Gardai believe the IRA provided 28 training modules at US$1m per module. Three IRA members, including former journalist Frank Connolly's brother Niall, were arrested in Bogota in August 2001.
The IRA's arms manufacturing operations had been largely stopped in the Republic by the mid-1990s with a series of raids culminating in the discovery of the IRA's main bomb-manufacturing bunker at Clonaslee in the Slieve Bloom Mountains two months after the murder of Det Garda Jerry McCabe in Limerick in June, 1996.
One of the those arrested but released without charge was a Belfast man living in Dublin since the early 1970s, was described as the head of the IRA's 'Southern Command'. Another of those arrested was Bryan McNally (57), an engineering company director from Foxrock, Co Dublin, who was subsequently an unsuccessful Sinn Fein candidate in the local government elections in 2009 and 2014. Four men in all were given lengthy jail sentences for operating the arms factory but were released as part of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
Ironically, it was Ian Paisley who spoke the truth about the whole decommissioning pantomime referring to "the duplicity and dishonesty of the two governments and the IRA. Instead of openness there was the cunning tactics of a cover -up and a complete failure from Gen John de Chastelain to deal with the numerics of decommissioning."
The second thing the Villiers report says about the IRA is that it maintains its Army Council leadership and some of its departments. This is true. The 'England' Department that plotted and carried out the big bomb attacks on the City of London and elsewhere has gone, as far as we know. The logistics department which oversaw arms importation and supplying IRA units outside the country is still in existence but its main activities are tobacco and fuel smuggling and money laundering. It is also involved in smuggling drugs into Britain but not Ireland, according to Garda intelligence reports.
The Army Council, for housekeeping reasons, operates under another name, known to the Sunday Independent but unusable for legal reasons. Of the six Army Council members from the North four are from west Belfast, Gerry Adams's home before he moved south to become a TD for Louth in 2009.
The line being put out by Sinn Fein in response to last week's report was that the 'only republican leadership' is the Sinn Fein Ard Comhairle.
The 'Army Council' term aside, this central committee arrangement is not unlike other political parties' internal machinery. The difference in Sinn Fein's case, as pointed out in the report, is that the 'overarching' group, which IRA members believe oversees SF activities, is made up of members of an illegal organisation which the report points out was responsible for 1,771 murders between 1971 and 1998, is still armed and faces questions for a very recent murder.
The other key finding is that the IRA also conducts 'criminal activity such as large-scale smuggling' - so the IRA is said to be involved in murder, the possession of firearms and organised criminality while supporting its strategy which the report says has a 'wholly political focus'.
As well as overturning the findings of the decommissioning body, the Villiers Report also flatly contradicts the findings of the International Monitoring Commission (IMC) in its assessment of paramilitary groups. In its 2009 report the IMC stated that the Provisional IRA "was not involved in illegal activity" and had "completely relinquished the leadership and other structures appropriate to a time of conflict", adding: "we do not believe that PIRA has engaged in terrorist or other illegal activity".
The four-member IMC and its secretariat considered paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland for nine years from 2004 to 2011 at a cost of over €10m. Its clean bill of health for the Provisional IRA in 2009 was cited by the Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan in February this year in a letter to Sinn Fein, saying the Garda 'hold no information or intelligence' that the IRA continues to exist and is involved in criminality.
Her letter was in response to an email from Sinn Fein's justice spokesman Padraig MacLochlainn, TD, complaining about a series of articles in the Sunday Independent on the pollution caused by IRA-controlled fuel laundering in the Border area around south Armagh. The Commissioner's letter was widely distributed by Sinn Fein as 'proof' that the Sunday Independent was lying in its reports, which included independent scientific analysis of water samples taken beside IRA- controlled fuel plants around the Fane water system, which supplies more than 40,000 people in south Armagh and north Louth.
Although not mentioned in the parallel Garda Commissioner's 'assessment' of the IRA, sources say the IRA's strategy includes the infiltrating and operation of moles inside the Government and other sectors like the media, unions, academic and cultural institutions of the Republic.
The view of several former and serving gardai is that the current Provisional IRA strategy is aimed at building political strength and using next year's 1916 commemorations as a springboard to launch them into becoming, at least, the main Opposition party in the Dail or possibly a coalition partner in government after the next election. Thereafter, a political party believed to be under the direction of the IRA would be in a position to influence or direct policy on issues of national security. It could disband or replace the Army, for instance.