Fitzgerald insists Provos no longer exist as terrorist organisation
The Coalition is failing to face the threat posed by the re-emergence of the Provisional IRA head on, despite serious concerns raised across the border about the return of the terror group.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald claimed the Provisional IRA does not exist as a terrorist organisation, in the face of mounting pressure over the status of the PIRA.
Ms Fitzgerald also weighed in behind Garda Commissioner Noírín O'Sullivan, who has insisted gardaí have no intelligence to suggest the PIRA still maintains its structures.
The comments follow the shock statement by PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton that the PIRA still exists.
While no longer a terrorist organisation, he said some members are involved in serious criminality.
However, confusion persists over the status of the group and the level of intelligence available to An Garda Síochána and the Government.
Fresh concerns were raised last week after the Belfast shooting of Kevin McGuigan, thought to be in revenge for the earlier killing of former IRA man Gerard 'Jock' Davison.
While the Government here was slow to denounce the return of a potential paramilitary threat, in the North the controversy has brought the Stormont Assembly to the brink.
Crucially, Ms Fitzgerald did not go so far as to actually acknowledge the organisation still exists. In a statement to the Irish Independent, the Department of Justice said the position in relation to the status of the PIRA is complex, but "undoubtedly persons who had been associated with PIRA have been involved in criminal activities". The department insisted that gardaí and the PSNI were of the same view.
However, the PSNI has been far clearer in outlining its belief the structures of the terror organisation remain in place.
Chief Constable Hamilton said this weekend that the "Provisional IRA organisational infrastructure continues to exist but has undergone significant change since the signing of the Belfast Agreement in 1998".
Mr Hamilton said the PIRA was now involved in promoting a "peaceful, political republican agenda" but some members were engaging in a "range of criminal activity and occasional violence".
This statement is in marked contrast to Commissioner O'Sullivan's insistence that the force has "no information or intelligence" to support the suggestion the IRA still maintain its military structures.
But when asked yesterday about the PSNI's claims, Ms Fitzgerald said: "Let me be clear the security assessment by the Chief Constable and the Garda Commissioner is the same." She also said the idea that there are huge disparities North and South in relation to the PIRA "should not be overplayed".
But asked directly if the PIRA still operated in Ireland, Ms Fitzgerald said: "That's a question that can be answered in a whole variety of ways."
She added: "The truth is they don't exist as a terrorist organisation, as a military organisation in the South and the North they are a proscribed organisation so if there was any evidence they would be prosecuted, they would be investigated.
"If some people who were formerly members were involved in criminal activity and are organised in some way around criminal activity, clearly that would be the subject of ongoing investigation by the Garda Síochána."
Defence Minister Simon Coveney warned that the Government had to be "very cautious" not to exacerbate tensions in Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile, a senior DUP MP has warned that Sinn Féin must be excluded from the Stormont Executive. Ian Paisley also said his party should block meetings of the executive because the murder of Kevin McGuigan meant business could not continue as usual.