Wednesday 21 March 2018

How the commissioner subtly altered PIRA line

Nóirín O'Sullivan
Nóirín O'Sullivan
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

The problem with dancing on the head of a pin is that there isn't much room for manoeuvre.

You can, with some effort, maintain your balance, but it's not a comfortable position.

It's where Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan landed herself in recent months as the Provisional IRA came back into the public consciousness.

Last February she wrote a letter stating that her force had no intelligence to support assertions in the media that "the Provisional IRA still maintains its military structure and confines its criminal activities to fuel laundering, cigarette smuggling and counterfeiting".

The letter was used by Sinn Féin to 'shame' those who dared to question the activities of Provos in border regions.

TD Pádraig Mac Lochlainn said it ripped apart "slurs" against republicans by some journalists and politicians.

A few weeks later Ms O'Sullivan appeared before the Oireachtas Justice Committee and took a diplomatic line when asked whether she really believed the IRA had left the stage.

"We will investigate any allegation of criminality," she said.

The issue slid off the agenda until the murders of Gerard 'Jock' Davison and Kevin McGuigan brought the spotlight back on the Provos' activities.

After the PSNI said "some Provisional IRA organisational infrastructure continues to exist", Ms O'Sullivan was forced to issue a statement standing over her original letter - while taking a step backwards to clarify that she never denied the existence of the PIRA.

The separate assessments of the PIRA released by the PSNI/MI5 and An Garda Síochána this week made for interesting reading.

One states frankly that the PIRA continues to operate, complete with an army council that PIRA members believe oversees Sinn Féin.

The Garda one couched its language, saying that an army council isn't functioning in this jurisdiction and talked about "a particular political party" without naming it.

Yesterday Ms O'Sullivan adopted a new approach when asked why the army council is limiting its activities to the six counties.

She said that it doesn't 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," she said.

It's hard not to imagine that the commissioner wishes she left herself more wriggle-room in her February letter.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section