IRA’s only ‘cause’ now is pursuit of gain through criminal rackets
Godfathers are content to go on lining their own pockets
Published 24/08/2015 | 02:30
In her oration yesterday afternoon at the annual Béal na mBláth commemoration, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald borrowed a line from a character in the G K Chesterton book, 'The Man who was Thursday'.
The character says: "If you don't seem to be hiding, nobody hunts you out."
She made the reference at the site of the ambush and killing of the then commander-in-chief of the Irish Army, Michael Collins, in County Cork on August 22, 1922.
Ms Fitzgerald said the sentence changed Collins's understanding of intelligence work and lay behind the apparent bravado of his movements during the years when he was a target.
The same sentence could well be used, though in a totally different context, when examining the morphing of the Provisional IRA from a terrorist to a criminal organisation.
The reasoning is very different, of course. While Collins devoted his life to what he deemed to be a noble cause, the Provisional bosses dedicated themselves to their own goal - making money and lining their own pockets.
When the IRA was officially disbanded as a republican murder machine, the godfathers were faced with two options.
After a lifetime of funding themselves and their families from illegal activities, it was not going to be possible for most of them to break the link irrevocably.
They could either slink back into the shadows and operate on a smaller scale in a parallel world - thus running the risk of arrest and conviction on either side of the Border - or move full-time into a life of "ordinary" crime while openly posing as "retired" republican activists.
The latter was an option that was also the best of a bad lot for the politicians as they negotiated desperately to nail down the peace process and end the sectarian warfare.
While nobody turned a blind eye to their crimes, particularly if there was firm evidence of an IRA connection to an offence, at the same time intelligence suggesting a possible link was not being broadcast from the rooftops.
It made some sort of sense to those in power in the two parts of the island. But it meant that the gardaí and the PSNI had to walk a tightrope when declaring publicly what organisation might have been behind a particularly serious crime.
PSNI chief constable, George Hamilton, explained his force's assessment that some Provisional IRA organisational infrastructure continued to exist but had undergone significant change since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
He pointed out that some, primarily operational-level, structures had changed and that some elements had been dissolved completely since 2005.
But some current and former Provisional IRA members were continuing to engage in a range of criminal activities and occasional violence in the interest of personal gain or personal agendas.
There has been much comment in the past few days on the different views expressed by the PSNI and the assessment delivered by Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan last February that her force had no information or intelligence to support the assertions that the Provisionals still maintained their military structures or involvement in criminal activities.
This has been pounced upon by some Northern politicians, who have cast doubts on the ability of the gardaí to monitor IRA activities.
The truth is that the Garda Special Branch and its crime and security section are fully aware of the activities of the Provisionals, as well as known members of the dissident splinter groups, and have been monitoring the movements of suspects, with a high degree of success, since the ceasefire.
They know the heavy involvement of leading IRA figures in border smuggling as well as extortion and racketeering, while there is also clear evidence of the efforts being made by the Criminal Assets Bureau to seize the ill-gotten assets of some former terrorist bosses.
The difficulties in bringing those suspects to court on charges such as membership of an illegal organisation is the lack of evidence that is necessary to secure conviction.
Instead, they face criminal offences in the 'ordinary' courts.
The letter written by Commissioner O'Sullivan to Sinn Féin's justice spokesman Padraig Mac Lochlainn regarding the Provisionals underlines the need for better communication within the top ranks of the force and the importance of tapping into the knowledge and experience of all of her senior officers when dealing with such a sensitive topic.
However, any political advantage which Sinn Féin might have hoped it could gain at election time from the letter has been blown out of the water by the events of the past five days.