Why Provos' Army Council must disband
Sinn Fein is still hand-in-glove with a paramilitary organisation that claims to be the legitimate government in the Republic.
Published 30/08/2015 | 02:30
In August 2003, five years after the Good Friday Agreement and two before the Provisional IRA was said by Sinn Fein to have "left the stage", the then Sinn Fein MEP, now deputy leader, Mary Lou McDonald addressed a rally at Fairview Park in Dublin to commemorate a faintly ridiculous figure from Irish history called Sean Russell.
Depending on your perspective, Russell was a Nazi sympathiser, a communist, a "political naif" or the embodiment of a true Irish patriot.
The 2003 commemoration was also addressed by the late Brian Keenan, a member of the Army Council of the Provisional IRA from Belfast.
Among other things, Keenan is remembered for a speech at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast in 2000 in which he referred to the government in the Republic as "those bastards in power in the Free State."
On August 21 2003, An Phoblacht, the Provo newspaper, reported on Keenan's oration at the Sean Russell commemoration in citation of Padraig Pearse, the 1916 leader: "There are things worse than bloodshed."
Russell came to mind last week, not because there is a statue in his honour in sight of where I take a bus each morning, but following the publication of an article by the former minister for justice, Michael McDowell in which he referred to the "IRA creation myth."
These events are more relevant than ever after a declaration by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) last weekend that the Provisional IRA still exists.
To understand the relevance, we need to refer to what is commonly known as 'the second Dail', that is the Dail Eireann from 1919-1922.
That was the parliament of a self-proclaimed Irish Republic, one of the most important acts of which was to bring an end to the War of Independence by ratifying the Anglo-Irish Treaty.
As I said last week, the general election in 1922 was the first ever to be held in the independent Irish State, the first to be held under the PR electoral system, and the first to be contested by parties which, in modified forms, were to dominate subsequent politics, that is, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.
You may think these events are best left to history, but their importance is central not only to the centenary of the 1916 Rising next year, but also to the current motivations of Sinn Fein and, beyond that, to the real significance of the PSNI declaration last weekend that the Provisional IRA still exists.
Within Irish republicanism there is by now an entirely bogus argument that the second Dail continued to exist after the establishment of the Irish Free State.
The argument goes that the second Dail was the last to be democratically elected by all the people of Ireland rather than those within the newly partitioned 26-county state.
As such, it is regarded by more fanatical republicans to be the last legitimately elected Dail.
As Michael McDowell pointed out last week, seven people who had been elected to the second Dail in 1921 subsequently met with the IRA Army Council 'chief of staff' Sean Russell in December 1938.
During the period 1922-1938, all seven had stood for re-election in the Irish Free State, but by 1938 none was successful.
At that meeting, the seven signed over what they believed to be the authority of the Government of Dail Eireann to the IRA Army Council until such a time as a new Dail could once again be democratically elected by the people of Ireland in all 32 counties.
Then on 17 December 1938 a body calling itself the Executive Council of the Second Dail published a statement under a headline 'IRA take over the Government of the Republic'.
From that bizarre, not to mention undemocratic, decision all of those decades ago, the IRA Army Council has perceived itself to be, no less, the legitimate government of the Irish Republic.
Subsequent splits in 1969 and 1989 notwithstanding, the Provisional IRA Army Council - that is, the leadership of the military wing of the current Sinn Fein - still perceives itself to be the legitimate government of the Republic.
That is one of the reasons the PSNI statement that the Provisional IRA exists is so relevant.
In response to the PSNI statement, the Department of Justice said information available here had not called into question the general status of Provisional IRA as set out in a series of reports by the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC).
In her controversial letter to the Sinn Fein TD, Padraig Mac Lochlainn, last February, the Garda Commissioner, Noirin O'Sullivan also referred to those IMC reports to play down concern related to Provisional IRA activity and general criminality.
I have examined the IMC reports concerned, up to and including the final 2004-2011 report. Nowhere do they state that the Army Council of the Provisional IRA no longer exists.
In fact, as the Sunday Independent reported last weekend, a key 2008 IMC report expressly pointed out that the Provisionals' ruling body, the Army Council, had not dissolved.
At the time the Guardian newspaper reported that Republican sources had warned the Northern Ireland First Minister, and DUP leader, Peter Robinson against setting down an absolute condition that the IRA Army Council be disbanded. "He would be very silly if he did" set down such a condition, these sources were quoted to have said.
Last weekend the PSNI assessed that some Provisional IRA organisational structures continued to exist, that some of the structure from the 1990s remained broadly in place.
I would contend it more likely than not, therefore, that the main structure in place is indeed the Army Council of the Provisional IRA.
Last November Jim Cusack, the security writer with this newspaper, referred to a low-key office-holder in Sinn Fein, who was described as the then new 'chief of staff' of the IRA.
This man was said to be in his late 50s, to have served a substantial period of time in the Maze Prison, to be known in Belfast but very little beyond.
It was said by Republican sources in Belfast that this man was brought onto the IRA Army Council in the 1990s by none other than Brian Keenan.
Yes, the same Brian Keenan who in 2000 referred to the Irish government as "those bastards in power in the Free State" and who reiterated in 2003 that "there are things worse than bloodshed" at that commemoration of the faintly ridiculous Sean Russell also addressed by a younger Mary Lou McDonald.
More recently, there has been a mounting body of evidence to show that the Provisional IRA in Belfast continues to exert huge influence, if not total control over the political direction of Sinn Fein.
For example, as Michael McDowell also said last week "as a party, it brooks little if any dissent. What Adams and Belfast says goes."
This was never more evident than during the controversy related to Mairia Cahill.
Last October, the Sinn Fein President chose to retreat to Belfast to launch an attack of Ms Cahill during the course of which he described as a "vile slur" her assertion that Sinn Fein was engaged in a cover-up of child sex abuse.
After that speech, Ms Cahill, who is from Belfast and of notable Provo stock, accused the Sinn Fein President of "cowing down" to the IRA in Belfast.
This was something, she said, which "tells me he no longer has control over them - and that's a very dangerous situation."
She said: "These are scary individuals. They are not decent people and they have the weight of an armed movement and a political machine behind them."
To put it mildly, that dangerous situation would be surely made exponentially more dangerous were Sinn Fein to be elected here at a time when it is still hand-in-glove with a paramilitary organisation - that is, the Provisional IRA Army Council in Belfast which to this day perceives itself to be the legitimate government of the Republic of Ireland.