Saturday 16 December 2017

Justice Minister: Sinn Fein has 'questions to answer' following reports on paramilitary activity

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald.
Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald.
Caroline Crawford

Caroline Crawford

JUSTICE Minister Francis Fitzgerald has said Sinn Fein has "questions to answer" following the publication to two separate reports into paramilitary activity.

Speaking in Athlone this morning, the Minister also insisted that the Republican party must address suggestions it continued to be influenced by the army council, describing the revelation as "disturbing".

"Those are the questions that Sinn Fein has to answer and it's for other parties as well to reflect on it and no doubt a range of political parties will have questions on that. I think the serious follow on question is what is the impact on the South in relation to that activity that happens in the North," she said.

The Minister also stressed that Mr Adams must now address long standing questions about his own past. Asked if it was credible for the Sinn Fein leader to now insist he was never in the IRA, the Minister replied: "Well that's a question a lot of people ask on an ongoing basis and we always get the same answer. And I agree with the Taoiseach that the point for ambiguity is long gone. It's well over ten years now, we really need this paramilitary legacy to be finished once and for all".

Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan said the report proved that "some persons who had been associated with PIRA are now involved with political groupings".

However, she added: "We’ve found no evidence in this jurisdiction that the Provisional Army Council continue to meet or continue to exist in the form that was once assumed. So in other words, they do not meet to direct military operations and I think that’s a very important distinction to make."

Asked if the army council meet in the Republic for reasons other than military, she replied: "There is no doubt that people who have been associated with PIRA continue to associate, and it’s like any group of people who have been members of an organisation or association, if they continue to associate. However the fact is that when they associate, they’re not associating in the capacity as operating as an Army Council".

She added that the report also showed some members of what were known as the Provisional IRA remain involved in criminality. However, she stressed this was now "for personal gain".

The Justice Minister said the two reports raised " very disturbing questions" and insisted there was "absolutely no question of turning a blind eye" to the concerns raised.

Asked if she agreed with Micheal Martin's assessment that the border counties had become a 'twilight zone', she replied: "That's one way of putting it, the way I would put it is to say that the legacy issues are very concentrated in the border areas."

"What I'd like to see now is a focus on this issue in the talks and the acceptance of the reality of the descriptions that are in both of these reports by all political parties including Sinn Fein. And attention to them and action taken," she added.

The Minister and Commisisoner also addressed recent allegations that an IRA mole had been operating from within An Garda Siochana.

Ms Fitzgerald described it as "a most serious allegation" but said she had been presented with no such evidence.

"Obviously if anybody has evidence in relation to that it should be provided. That would be a most serious allegation, but at present I have no evidence that has been brought to my attention. But of course the Garda Commissioner will investigate or is always investigating any report of that nature. But to date there is no specific information that that is the case," she added.

Commissioner O'Sullivan insisted every allegation of criminality, or suspicions of any wrongdoing or corruption on behalf of the members of An Garda Siochána is a "very very serious offence"

"We take it with the utmost seriousness and I would urge anybody that has any information or suspicion of such wrongdoing that they should come to us and I can reassure them that their suspicions will be fully investigated and that appropriate action will be taken.

"I would be satisfied that if there was any suggestion in that review of any suspicion that any of our senior officers had any place around the country, that it would have been brought to our attention. However I am aware of current commentary and we are examining that and will fully explore it," she added.

Meanwhile, Environment Minister Alan Kelly said he believes the Army council link referred to in the report represents a “shocking revelation”.

The Labour Party deputy leader said the report, commissioned by Northern Ireland’s Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, illustrates the apparent “linkages” between Sinn Féin and the IRA.

"But certainly it would make you think in relation to Sinn Fein and the IRA and it renews views that certainly (there are) linkages there that may not seem apparent up front."

"If this report is saying (the linkages) are there, then that’s something we all have to bear in mind."

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