Provos could easily switch back to a military footing
The movement has never truly given up the gun and still retains the IRA 'Army Council', writes Jim Cusack
Published 30/08/2015 | 02:30
A former senior garda, involved almost all his life in fighting the IRA, outlined a few years ago what he thought the Provisionals' plans for assuming absolute power in Ireland would entail.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, he predicted that the Provos would have finally learned that terrorism generally - and bombs in particular - were no longer on the agenda, lest Sinn Fein lose all its wealthy supporters in the United States.
He pointed to IRA documents that had become public over a decade ago referring to what it termed "TUAS" - "tactical use of unarmed strategy". This, he believed, was what would be the "likely" way forward. They (the IRA), he said, will bring down the power-sharing government in the North, precipitating a crisis and, in parallel, undermining and replacing the existing party political structure in the '26 Counties'.
With power in the South and a crisis on its doorstep, this garda - who was held in very high esteem by colleagues - thought the Provos would then institute some form of 'emergency' government in the Republic, doing away with the need for elections and democracy and the establishment of a single-party state.
One of the things that this now retired officer thought of key significance was the deal both governments offered in return for the supposed IRA 'decommissioning' - an event which this senior garda said never really took place at all.
The deal, referred to as "security normalisation" was the disbandment of the RUC's Special Branch and the diversion of the Garda Special Branch away from anything to do with the Provisionals or Sinn Fein - on the grounds that they had become peace- loving democrats.
It is fair to say that if this officer had offered this as a likely scenario in the last few years, he would have been scoffed at or dismissed as an old-fashioned, Provo-hating crank. If he did put forward his views within the Garda, it doesn't seem to have received the slightest heed.
Up until last week, this view of the Provos' seditious plot to overthrow the legitimate government of the Republic would have been firmly placed by a large constituency of politicians, senior civil servants and media people as the fantasy of some kind of old-fashioned loony.
But a number of politicians in the Republic were last week no longer seeing the whole thing as fantasy. They are openly talking of a scenario where there would be a shaky Fine Gael-Fianna Fail coalition after the next election, and Sinn Fein leading the Opposition with 30 or more seats. The coalition, both FG and FF figures predicted, would not last and we could be facing a second election within two years - with Sinn Fein leading the charge to become the biggest party and next 'coalition' leader.
The IRA showed two weeks ago in Belfast how it can easily provoke a crisis in the North by murdering Kevin McGuigan.
One thing that has gone largely unnoticed in the coverage of events surrounding McGuigan's murder was an attack on the Palace Barracks military-intelligence complex on the eastern shores of Belfast Lough the morning after the murder.
A parcel bomb, apparently tracked online, exploded inside the complex - which houses the British Intelligence Service's (MI5) Northern Ireland headquarters - causing damage, it was said by the PSNI, to a number of vehicles.
The attack was, as usual, passed off as 'dissident' republican in origin. But, the timing, planning and skill involved in this attack at the heart of the British intelligence system in Northern Ireland must have set off alarm bells. The 'dissidents' have shown little such ability so far, confining their attacks to soft targets, mainly off-duty police and prison officers.
A republican source saw another incident as significant during the Queen's visit in May 2011. A very large bomb contained in three old aluminium milk churns was placed on an island in the little pond opposite the gates of Farmleigh House, where the Queen and Prince Phillip were staying. The planting of the device had entailed a considerable amount of logistical work, moving the heavy churns over the pond undetected under the noses of the Garda and Defence Forces, who both have their headquarters nearby.
It would appear the bomb was not designed to go off but was some kind of message to both States that the organisation capable of carrying out such an operation was still around. Gardai speculated it was probably the Provos. The matter was played down.
The view that the Provisional IRA retains a serious 'military' capability has been reinforced this year by a find made by the Garda Special Branch. It uncovered what appears to have been a very significant piece of research and development into a new weapon system, details of which cannot be disclosed for legal reasons. There are grounds for linking this to the Provisional IRA, though this was not stated by gardai.
The view, expressed by the PSNI Chief Constable last weekend, that although the IRA almost certainly murdered Kevin McGuigan there was "no evidence" to suggest it was sanctioned by the IRA leadership, is the line that a large number of politicians and civil servants who devoted so much of their careers to achieving a 'political settlement' in Northern Ireland continue to hold dear.
The Provisional IRA 'Army Council' continues to exist, Garda and republican sources have told the Sunday Independent, although it has a different name, known in the 'Movement' as the "Coiste" or "Committee". The Official IRA when it declared its ceasefire in 1972 maintained its army council in a very similar fashion and its military wing kept up its 'fund-raising' activities, mainly through major robberies, as a group known as "Organisation B". The Provisionals, one former Official said last week, were, in his opinion, working off the same script.
The Officials' plan was to subvert the Southern State by copying the example set by the post-World War II Italian Communist Party, infiltrating the democratic structures and using their power and influence from within to bring about a socialist one-party state.
The Officials eventually gave up on this, and opted fully into the democratic process, becoming the biggest critics of the Provisional IRA.
Unfortunately, 20 years after the Provos' first ceasefire and 10 years after they were supposed to have disarmed, they still haven't learnt to do the right thing and become civilised citizens.