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The Provos and its 'loony chief' who still dictate to SF

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Mary Lou McDonald, Pearse Doherty and Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein

Mary Lou McDonald, Pearse Doherty and Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein

Mary Lou McDonald, Pearse Doherty and Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein

A Belfast republican source, asked recently about the Provisional IRA - the supposedly defunct organisation from which modern Sinn Fein has emerged - mentioned the name of a fellow Belfast man, at present a low-key office holder in the party, who he described as 'chief of staff'.

This figure, a man in his late 50s who served a substantial amount of time in the Maze Prison, is known in Belfast but very little beyond. He has made a few public appearances in recent years but these were confined to local 'community' issues. Sinn Fein describes him as a community 'activist'.

Other republican sources have also told the Sunday Independent that this man is the Provisional IRA's current chief of staff. They also say the Provisional IRA is very much a live organisation.

Only last week four men in south Armagh received summonses to appear before a 'community' court, very much along the lines of that which interrogated Mairia Cahill about her rape by an IRA man. The men, according to local sources, are in utter fear for their lives.

What the men fear, according to Garda sources, is "being taken to a shed", a reference to the fate of the 21-year-old south Armagh man, Paul Quinn, who was lured to a disused shed in Co Louth by a team of up to 15 Provisional IRA members in October 2007 and beaten to death.

One of the figures who have summonsed these men is close to a south Armagh figure who Gardai also believe to be a member of the IRA's seven-member 'Army Council'. One of this Army Council man's roles in recent times has been to impose order on internal disputes among members of Sinn Fein in the Republic. He is described by Garda and republican sources as an "enforcer".

According to Garda sources the IRA Army Council still dictates the role of what it regards as its political wing, Sinn Fein.

The 'Chief of Staff' carries what he, apparently, believes to be the mantle of the 'First Dail', the one convened in 1918 which set the historical trend for anti-partitionist terrorism and other anti-State activities by various incarnations of the IRA over the century.

As such he regards subsequent 'partitionist' parliaments in Leinster House and Stormont as illegitimate. According to IRA and Sinn Fein philosophy the 'real' government of Ireland resides in the embodiment of the 'Chief of Staff'.

According to former republican figures who know this man, he actually believes this. One described him as a "loony" but there is consensus that he is held in considerable respect and fear among members of the Provisional IRA and those Sinn Fein members who know him.

One said the 'Chief' had a disquieting habit, when senior in the IRA but not on its Army Council, of sitting silently at command meetings taking notes, leaving without making any comment. This used to "scare the shite" out of others at these meetings, the source said.

It is said he was brought onto the Army Council in the 1990s by Brian Keenan, the hard-line IRA Chief of Staff among whose policies was the genocide of Protestants living in Border areas. In a speech at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast in 2000, Keenan also referred to the Republic's Government as "those bastards in power in the Free State".

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It is understood the current 'Chief' assumed the role on Brian Keenan's death in May 2008 and is very much in his vein of thinking.

Surprisingly, relatively little appears to be known about the current Chief's activities by the Garda which has had a tradition of knowing exactly who is on the Provisional IRA Army Council and what they are up to.

Sources say this is because of a Government diktat during the post-1998 Belfast Agreement years to stop spying on members of Sinn Fein who they also believe to be senior figures in the Provisional IRA.

Possibly for the first time in their history, Garda and Army Intelligence don't seem to have a firm grasp anymore on what exactly the Provisional IRA has been doing or even exactly who is directing it anymore. The same, it is said, applies in Northern Ireland where such intelligence gathering is, post Agreement, in the hands of the British MI5 and not the PSNI.

The concentration of the security forces north and south has been almost entirely on the republican micro-terror groups like the Continuity and Real IRA.

The belief among senior security figures is that the secret and deniable directive to stop the Garda Special Branch and Army Intelligence from spying on the Provisional IRA has allowed the IRA to evolve into a Soviet-style commissariat whose main non-political function is to raise money and direct Sinn Fein's advance.

Having dropped its 'armed struggle' project it is now pursuing what is termed in the organisation as the "26 County project".

By the end of the Troubles the IRA was the most sophisticated terrorist organisation in the world. Its technologies have spread across the Muslim world and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) encountered in Afghanistan had their design origins in Ireland and arrived there via the IRA's associates in the Middle East, mainly Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The IRA also sold its technology skills to the narco-terrorist group FARC in Colombia. Over a period of five years up to 2002 it is believed to have been paid between US$20m and US$30m from FARC, money from the production and supply of cocaine.

It carried out the Northern Bank robbery in December 2004 netting £28m. Before Gardai and the PSNI were directed to stop investigating its financial activities, in the aftermath of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, there was evidence of a very substantial property portfolio operated through front companies. There were strong suspicions that the IRA had enlisted the services of significant figures in the finance world to advise and guide its investments.

There were, however, no major assets seizures or action taken over the IRA's finances. Some front companies were identified and settlements made by way of tax settlements with Revenue via the Criminal Assets Bureau, but details were kept secret.

Gardai did receive information that the IRA had diverted very substantial funds via off-shore accounts to major finance houses in the US where its portfolios were reportedly managed by sympathisers. One rumour which reached the Gardai in 2008 suggested that the IRA was hit for a $200m loss in the stock market collapse.

The organisation in south Armagh generates massive amounts of money through fuel laundering and other illicit activity. While many of the local IRA bosses have clearly benefitted and live behind electric gates in modern mansions there is still mystery over how they have managed to generate so much money for so long without state intervention or sanction north or south. Parts of south Armagh give the impression they are sitting on extensive oil fields given the amount of storage and refining plant on the surface.

Cigarette smuggling is also one of the IRA's main earners. Forbes magazine recently published a list of the 10 richest terrorist organisations, which included the 'Real' IRA which, the magazine suggested, earned $40m from cigarette smuggling. Figures claiming to be 'Real' IRA do run much of the Border-based tobacco smuggling but they operate only under the authority of the Provisional IRA and pay 'taxes' to the mother organisation, Gardai and customs believe.

The IRA and Sinn Fein also benefitted massively from the €2bn and more pumped into Northern Ireland and the Border regions of the Republic as part of the EU-backed special peace fund to support the process in Northern Ireland. Dozens of ex-prisoner centres, received millions of Euros as part of the Peace I and Peace II slush funds.

Some of the vast amounts of money that appear to have been flowing to the IRA in the past decades have been used for personal enrichment, Gardai say, but not on any lavish scale. Senior IRA figures have holiday homes, some abroad but mostly in Ireland. The south Armagh wives drive their children and grandchildren to school in luxury cars but, generally speaking, sources say that "comfortable" more than luxury is the rule.

The same cannot be said for Sinn Fein's public representatives, or most of them. The Party does not allow its public representatives to hold on to their full salaries - in most cases - and insist on most members taking only the average industrial wage and donating the remainder to the party. This austerity, it is said, is a cause of some tension in certain areas, notably along the Border where non-political members of the Movement have become noticeably richer during the years of peace.

What Gardai - and political opponents - believe, but have yet to prove, is that the Sinn Fein machine is powered by money that cannot be legitimately explained. It publicly raises money in the US but provides accounts to the US Justice Department showing it spends most of these millions on travel and accommodation for visiting party members and generous entertainment for supporters.

Its publicly acknowledged earnings do not explain the scale of its political expenditure but this has not been a matter for investigation by police or other bodies north or south for years. That would, apparently, be deemed to be spying on a legitimate political organisation.

An intelligence 'deficit' has been reached, according to Garda sources, whereby there is no clear picture any more of who runs the IRA and what it is up to, aside from the driving of the Sinn Fein machine.

That is what is now frightening other political parties.


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