JIM CUSACK and ALAN MURRAY EXCLUSIVE INTELLIGENCE reports identify Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and Martin Ferris as still being members of the Provisional IRA's ruling Army Council despite their claims to the contrary, the Sunday Independent has learned.
Security sources say the three are part of a seven-member leadership council that includes south Armagh farmer Thomas 'Slab' Murphy and a man in his 40s who lives near the Border, the veteran Belfast hardliner Brian Keenan and another Belfast man who was in charge of the IRA's bombing campaign in the city in the 1980s and 1990s.
All except Keenan publicly deny IRA membership. Adams said he was "flabbergasted" when the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, recently said he assumed the Sinn Fein President had been a member of the IRA. Martin Ferris, a Sinn Fein TD, said recently that he left the IRA after being released from prison in 1994. Ferris had served a 10-year sentence for arms smuggling.
Despite repeated exhortations by the Irish and British Governments for the IRA to disband, it has continued recruiting and training new members.
The IRA leadership has also directed that there will be no recognition of the North's police service as to do so would also give de facto recognition to the British Army's right to
be in Northern Ireland. Discussion on the subject of joining the Police Board in the North has been terminated at the orders of the ruling Army Council. Instead the IRA has effectively set up its own policing force which is responsible for the continued beatings and kneecappings in Catholic areas of the North.
The Sunday Independent has also learned that the recent stern criticism of the IRA and SF leadership by the Government has stemmed from Garda reports at the growing level of criminality for which the IRA is responsible.
In particular, the IRA's hijacking of container-loads of cigarettes at the Border and Dublin docks has caused serious problems for cross-Border trade. There is now a no-go area along a stretch of the main Belfast to Dublin road north of the Border for
THE IRA BOSSES
the movement of shipments of tobacco since the IRA hijacked a lorry containing ?2.4m worth - including duty worth ?1m - in December. The main cigarette manufacturer in the North, Gallahers, now ships cigarettes to the Republic by ferry to Liverpool and then into Dublin Port.
This blow to free trade across the Border is in clear defiance of the aims of the 'Strand II' element of the Good Friday Agreement which seeks to improve cross-Border relations and, particularly, trade. Sinn Fein is one of the parties signed up to this element of the Agreement.
Elsewhere, gardai continue to find evidence of the IRA's growing involvement in crime in Dublin and along the Border.
A hoax bomb found in the toilet of a public house in Pearse Street on Tuesday night is now believed to have been part of an IRA campaign in the city to extort money from businesses.
Meanwhile, the Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, who is in Washington for the annual St Patrick's Day political gathering, called on Sinn Fein and the IRA to end its close links with ETA and other foreign terroristgroups.
Mr Trimble said: "It's not absolutely clear yet who perpetrated these terrible deeds in Spain but ETA is still the prime suspect for it. I say to Mr Adams and Sinn Fein that they must end all links with ETA and terminate the party's globe-trotting around the world to fraternise with similar revolutionary elements."
Mr Trimble added: "They can't continue to play games like that and demand political credibility."
Yesterday it was also learned gardai are waiting to see results from forensic analysis of the bombs used in Madrid. The remote-control systems used in the bombs, involving adapted mobile phones, was perfected by the IRA's top bomb-maker in Dundalk in the early 1990s. It was passed on to Middle Eastern groups and to ETA. The same types of devices have been used in several bomb attacks in Iraq.
It is also known that the IRA gave instructions to ETA on how to manufacture timer power units (TPUs) - the mechanisms that prime and detonate bombs and mortars. TPUs and mortars identical to those used by the IRA were found in northern Spain in the mid-1990s. Meanwhile, the Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell has stepped up his attack on Sinn Fein/IRA.
In a statement on Friday, Mr McDowell said he sought to distinguish between "genuine republicanism" and "bogus and fraudulent arrogation of the term 'republicanism' by people whose every act, deed and instinct demonstrate that they are in reality the very antithesis of republicans."
He said: "Let me say clearly that republicanism does not speak in muffled voice through a balaclava; Republicans don't break drug-addicts' legs with baseball bats; Republicans do not finance their political campaigns by organising major crimes: Republicans do not shoot car-thieves in their knees and ankles: Republicans could not plant bombs to kill civilians . . . And no true Republican could publicly lie and lie again about his involvement with all of those matters. No true Republican movement in modern Ireland would make common cause with the narco-terrorists of the Communist FARC in Colombia; or with the repressive Castro regime of Cuba; or with the murderous zealots of ETA."