Ahern: IRA link to Sinn Fein 'didn't come from out of the blue'
Former Taoiseach says claim that IRA still holds arms 'news to me'
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has said Sinn Fein needs to convince its "own membership and their associates in the IRA" that the IRA Army Council is not directing the activities of the party.
Commenting on the report into the status of paramilitaries in Northern Ireland which was published last week, Mr Ahern said its finding that IRA members believe that the IRA's Army Council still holds sway over Sinn Fein "didn't come out of the blue" and was in "line with the historical position".
While Mr Ahern noted the denials of Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy and others within the party in relation to the paramilitaries' continuing influence over its decisions, he pointed to the longstanding capacity of MI5 to gather high-level intelligence in relation to the IRA.
He said: "The report is saying that IRA members, and obviously they'd be very senior because MI5 would be talking to people who are relatively senior because they would have relationships with them, or they would be listening in on them.
"The report does say they have various ways of gathering information. It's up to Sinn Fein to answer that."
Mr Ahern - a key architect along with former British prime minister Tony Blair of the Good Friday Agreement - added: "If Conor Murphy says that's changed, then fine. But they [Sinn Fein] need to convince their own membership and their associates in the IRA that that is the case."
The three-time former Taoiseach said if Sinn Fein wanted to deal with the issue of the IRA and its links to it, there was a mechanism available to do this.
He said: "I don't join with the bandwagon which says the IRA has to vanish 100pc. I don't join with that. I think it is unrealistic to expect the people who fought in the struggle for 30 years to simply go away.
"What they should and can do is to use the 1939 Offences Against the State Act to move into a new mode, and that mode is one they say they're at, which is a peaceful one supportive of the political process and supportive of united Ireland in due course."
Under Section 21 of the Offences Against the State Act 1939 it is open to an illegal organisation to apply to the High Court for a "declaration of legality".
Were the IRA to apply for, and be granted legal status, Mr Ahern said it could then remain on as a purely commemorative organisation. This, he said, would allow its surviving members "to stay together as brothers and sisters that were in arms until the day they die". Mr Ahern said this happened in many other countries where there had been conflicts.
"If the IRA really are signed up totally to the political movement, and are not doing anything in the south, as the Garda Siochana have made clear, and I believe that, then why don't they look closely at the 1939 Act and see if they could move across that line? I'm saying that in a constructive way," he said.
Asked to comment on the report's finding that the IRA still maintained a significant cache of weapons, he said: "That's news to me because the independent monitoring group which did a major job on this, they were satisfied that that was over.
"I'd say what has happened is that those who are involved in criminality and who are no longer really in the IRA are trying to use the umbrella of the IRA to get out and get more arms.
"The report says some weapons were held back but the IRA keep a handle on those, and protect them, but I've never heard that and the gardai have never heard that," he added.