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Tuesday 16 January 2018

Army council oversees Sinn Féin and IRA, Provo members believe

Damning PSNI report says IRA leaders still involved in criminality, including murder

Commissioner Noirin O’Sulliivan, pictured with Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald
Commissioner Noirin O’Sulliivan, pictured with Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald
The letter written by Supt Frank Walsh on behalf of Commissioner Noirin O’Sulliivan to Sinn Féin TD Padraig Mac Lochlainn about the IRA
Letter: Sinn Féin TD Pádraig Mac Lochlainn

Kevin Doyle, Philip Ryan and Niall O'Connor

The Provisional IRA continues to be headed by an army council, has access to weapons, and has directed members to actively support Sinn Féin, a damning new report has concluded.

However, gardaí have maintained the stance of Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan that the PIRA is not an organised unit in the Republic.

Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers told the British parliament that the PIRA exists - with a senior leadership and other 'departments' with specific responsibilities.

While they don't pose a terrorist threat, they are involved in smuggling and incidents of violence, including murder.

The report by the PSNI and MI5 was commissioned in the wake of the murder of Kevin McGuigan in Belfast this summer. The aftermath of the killing brought the Stormont Executive to a standstill.

Its conclusions starkly contrast with Ms O'Sullivan's earlier assertions that the gardaí had no evidence of PIRA involvement in ongoing criminality.

Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has refused to say whether or not she knows who is on the provisional IRA’s Army Council. 

Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Ms Villiers has said it is a “concern that paramilitary organisations still exist” and that their members are “engaged in serious criminality”.

However, she refused to say whether she knew who was on the IRA's Army Council.

“I think it is quite difficult for me to share that level of detail. I see regularly reports of activities of this sort but at the moment, it would not be wise for me to move beyond the facts as set out in the assessment.

"Clearly now there is a need for the re-establishment of an independent monitoring body and charting a course to see these organisation disbanded.” 

According to the PSNI/MI5 assessment, members believe that the army council oversees both PIRA and Sinn Féin with "an overarching strategy".

Just hours after that report was released however, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald published the contents of a Garda review which states there is "no evidence" that the council is functioning in this jurisdiction.

While there are significant differences in the two assessment, they both raise serious questions about the Commissioner's decision to issue a 'comfort' letter to Sinn Féin TD Padraig Mac Lochlainn last February in the wake of articles by journalist Jim Cusack.

In it, she said there was no information or intelligence "the Provisional IRA still maintains its military structure and confines its criminal activities to fuel laundering, cigarette-smuggling and counterfeiting".

And in March Ms O'Sullivan refused to tell the Justice Committee if she believed the Provisional IRA still exists.

However, Ms O'Sullivan has now stated it was never the position of An Garda Síochána that the PIRA had disbanded or ceased to exist.

"There is clear evidence that a significant number of persons who have been associated with the PIRA remain criminally active, particularly in organised crime, and continue to associate together," the Garda review states. "They make full use of their 'legacy' reputations and in some cases their former terrorist tactics. However, gardaí have found no evidence that criminality is directed by leadership of the organisation."

Ms O'Sullivan said: "It is inevitable that the detail of security assessments will differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction."

The report drafted by the PSNI and MI5 also said that PIRA members believe that the army council oversees both PIRA and Sinn Féin with an overarching strategy.

"PIRA members have been directed to actively support Sinn Féin within the community, including activity like electioneering and leafleting," it says.

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern challenged Sinn Féin to explain assertions in the report of a belief that the party remains influenced by the army council.

"I thought we've moved beyond that, but maybe you'd best ask Sinn Féin what the answer to that question is," he said.

Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness responded by saying that his party was "now the only organisation involved in the republican struggle and in republican activism".

The DUP said the report on the status of the IRA made "depressing reading" but it was prepared to engage in fresh talks aimed at securing the future of the Northern Executive.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the "legacy of the Provisional IRA has poisoned society". Mr Kenny discussed it with British Prime Minister David Cameron during a 15-minute phone call.

Irish Independent

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