Garda chief admits IRA still exists but stands by her letter to Sinn Féin
Embattled Garda Commissioner Nóirin O'Sullivan has bowed to political pressure and admitted that the Provisional IRA still exists.
Ms O'Sullivan is now to spend several months reassessing the activities of the IRA after confirming in a statement that the Provos remain at large.
Tánaiste Joan Burton wants to see that report before the General Election, but sources told the Irish Independent that its publication would depend on the PSNI's investigation into the murder of Kevin McGuigan earlier this month.
But Ms O'Sullivan has stood by a controversial letter which said the force had "no intelligence or information" to support claims that a military structure within the IRA was in existence.
The fallout from the chilling re-emergence of the Provisional IRA has pushed the Peace Process and the North's assembly towards the brink of collapse. A political crisis has now extended to both sides of the border after the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) announced it would walk away from power-sharing as a result of the serious threat posed by the Provos.
Government figures here are desparate to prevent Stormont's collapse. However, as the North's remaining political parties weigh up their next move, the events of recent days have had major ramifications for the Coalition and the Gardaí.
In her statement last night, Ms O'Sullivan said An Garda Síochána had been "reluctant" to comment on matters arising from the probes into the murders of Kevin McGuigan and Jock Davison in Belfast.
"However, it has been asserted by some that An Garda Síochána has denied the existence of the Provisional IRA. These comments appear to be based on a letter issued by An Garda Síochána to a public representative last February," Ms O'Sullivan said.
"It was stated in reply that An Garda Síochána held no information or intelligence to support that assertion. That reply was consistent with the findings of the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) and An Garda Síochána's own assessment of the intelligence. Indeed, the reply went on to cite other findings of the commission, including the fact that some former members of the PIRA engaged in crime for personal gain, but without sanction or support from the organisation.
"The IMC's reports concluded, amongst other things, that the so-called 'military departments' had been disbanded and the former terrorist capability had been lost. The IMC has not indicated at any time that the PIRA had ceased to exist; nor has An Garda Síochána."
She said the Garda position "is that there has been no evidence available in this jurisdiction to call into question the assessment made by the IMC".
The statement was released after Ms Burton said she wanted to see the report by the commissioner published in time for the General Election.
A senior garda source told the Irish Independent that such a deadline could be difficult. The source confirmed, however, that the official stance of An Garda Síochána in relation to the status of the IRA could change depending on the outcome of the McGuigan investigation.
"If it is found that there was military direction to carry out this murder - then the position on the threat posed by IRA would have to be reflected in our position," the source said.
Ms Burton said she personally felt a sense of "trepidation" about the potential devastating impact the IRA could inflict on communities.
"This is not about history. This is about Ireland here and now. This is about people who are being murdered, by people who have gone into some kind of shadowy existence. And what we do not want in this country is a shadowy organisation," Ms Burton said.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin yesterday called on Taoiseach Enda Kenny to hold urgent talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
A Government spokeswoman told the Irish Independent: "The Taoiseach is fully updated on all developments. The relevant ministers are meeting with Secretary of State Theresa Villiers in the coming days and the situation continues to be closely monitored."