No, they haven’t gone away – IRA leadership still rules crime world
Provisionals are active and making money from crime
Published 22/08/2015 | 02:30
When is a terrorist no longer a terrorist and, instead, labelled as an 'ordinary' criminal?
It is an issue that has been raised at regular intervals since the Provisional movement declared that its military wing had been disbanded and its vast stockpile of weaponry and explosives decommissioned.
However, in the past, the police on both sides of the border have officially kicked to touch when asked to apportion blame if there were suspicions that former members of the IRA, whatever their current status, could have been involved in an unsolved crime.
Off the record, senior officers from the Garda Siochána and the PSNI have pointed the finger at the Provisionals if they had a substantial belief there was IRA participation in a serious crime.
But this is the first time since the peace process was bedded down that a high-ranking police investigator has publicly linked the Provisionals to a murder and the significance of that statement should not be underestimated.
Detective Supt Kevin Geddes, from the PSNI's serious crime branch, is in overall charge of the investigation into the murder of Kevin McGuigan and is not given to issuing wild statements or engaging in loose talk.
It was reinforced yesterday that Supt Geddes was expressing the view of his organisation when Northern Justice Minister David Ford disclosed that he had minutes earlier been handed a similar briefing by PSNI chief constable, George Hamilton.
Given the potential fall-out from the claim and the threat it poses to the future existence of the power-sharing Northern Executive, if it turns out to be true, it is clear the PSNI believes it has serious grounds for including the Provisional IRA in its short list of suspects.
Supt Geddes emphasised at his press conference that the PSNI did not indulge in speculation and he had to deal with hard information, intelligence and facts.
But he then went on to acknowledge that the group calling itself Action Against Drugs (AAD) formed part of the main line of inquiry and some of its members "are, or were, members of the Provisional IRA. One of our major lines of inquiry is that members of the Provisional IRA were involved in this murder", he said.
The views expressed by the PSNI conflict strongly with the contents of a written reply, sent on behalf of Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan last February, when she told the Sinn Féin justice spokesman Padraig Mac Lochlainn that the party's former military wing no longer existed.
She said gardaí held no information or intelligence to support any assertion that the Provisional IRA still maintained its military structure.
The directness of her response raised eyebrows among some of her senior associates, and also among those in more junior ranks operating along the border, who think that while the assertion is theoretically correct, there is no doubt the control of the IRA's most influential figures is still very evident.
The Provisional IRA's military departments and structures may well have been disbanded and its former military capability lost, as the Independent Monitoring Commission concluded.
But now, as then, those top Provisional figures remain in place and their influence on issues involving vast profiteering from criminality and other crimes to which their former colleagues are connected, can still be seen.
High-ranking Garda officers and former Government ministers on this side of the border are satisfied IRA figures were in the background giving the orders when a gang of republican thugs murdered Paul Quinn because he had earlier clashed with members of the family of a top Provisional activist in south Armagh.
And gardaí also say the mainstream republicans based in south Armagh could, if they wished, have used their influence to help ensure the murderers of Det Garda Adrian Donohoe were brought to justice.
His killers have remained at large since the detective was shot dead by a criminal gang at Lordship, outside Dundalk, in January 2013, largely because of an Omerta, or unwritten code of silence, the IRA has imposed in the border area.
It's no coincidence either that the republican fiefdom in south Armagh is at the centre of the multi-million-euro empire engaging in activities ranging from oil laundering to cigarette smuggling and other forms of racketeering.
Last December, the Irish Independent outlined how a former soldier with the Ulster Defence Regiment was now the chief enforcer for an oil laundering gang under the control of a notorious Provisional IRA family living close to the border.
That gang is reckoned to be the biggest oil laundering outfit on the island and its current boss is closely associated with a man who has held sway over his fiefdom for several decades. And those who challenged the man's influence and thought it was on the wane have paid the cost.
PSNI officers now obviously believe they have enough information and intelligence to come out openly and suggest that a similar command structure operates at some level in Belfast.