Unwritten policy has been to play down the Provos' crimes
Published 26/08/2015 | 02:30
Any perceived rift between the Garda and PSNI assessments of the current status of the Provisional IRA will be cleared up in the new report being prepared by Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan.
That report has been sought by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald as the Irish and British governments try to weaken the impact that the fall-out from the McGuigan murder investigation could have on the future of the Northern power-sharing executive.
It will show that the two police forces are working from similar intelligence briefs and conclusions as they monitor the activities of the Provisionals and their involvement in criminal activities.
It will also indicate that the Garda Special Branch are on top of their brief and are fully aware of what key IRA figures have been doing, or are suspected of doing, to punch in their days since the public disbandment of their military organisation.
The much discussed letter sent on behalf of the commissioner to Sinn Féin last February will be shelved as a clumsily worded response rather than a document indicating that the gardaí might not be fully aware of what was happening. But it will not solve the main problems confronting the two governments and the police forces. Until last week, the unwritten policy on both sides of the Border has been to publicly play down the involvement of the Provisionals in a range of serious crimes north and south as long as they did not re-engage in terrorism and kept themselves at arm's length from the criminal offences.
Both Mrs Fitzgerald and Northern Secretary of State Theresa Villiers have insisted that the information available to them has been consistent with the reports issued by the Independent Monitoring Commission up to 2009. Those reports, Mrs Fitzgerald pointed out, said that the Provisional IRA remained on an exclusively political path, the "military" departments had been disbanded and the former terrorist capability had been lost, the organisation was not involved in illegal activity, although, contrary to instructions and for personal gain some individual members were.
But that public position altered last week when the senior officer leading the investigation into the Kevin McGuigan murder, Det Supt Kevin Geddes, revealed that some members of the gang suspected of carrying out the murder were assessed to be still members of the Provisional IRA and this was one of their major lines of inquiry.
This was followed by the Chief Constable, George Hamilton, acknowledging that some of the IRA organisational infrastructure also continued to exist although it had undergone significant change since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Now that the republican cat is out of the bag, perhaps the gardaí will feel they can speak more openly about the operations controlled by IRA bosses down here, even if they are not at the level that exists in the North.
It will be interesting to see if the commissioner's report will cover some of those activities, such as their heavy involvement in various forms of smuggling, racketeering and extortion in the Border region. These are crimes that have an impact much further south as distribution outlets and networks are set up to boost the market for their laundered fuel and illegal cigarettes.
Will the report also include details about the continuing efforts by the Criminal Assets Bureau to make IRA activists, past or present, pay financially for their crimes?
Will it make mention of the internal IRA investigation, involving members north and south, into the murder of Paul Quinn?
Or of the decision by those same Provisionals to turn a blind eye and refuse to put pressure on those known to have been involved in the murder of Det Garda Adrian Donohoe in January 2013?
Mrs Fitzgerald reminded us yesterday that we maintain in our laws the strictest possible measures to deal with any manifestations of the IRA. But the public will now have to be told where it is suspected that the Provisional IRA, as much as the Real IRA or any splinter groups, are involved in crime.