herald

Saturday 3 December 2016

IRA has been told to 'actively support' SF, says PSNI/MI5 report

Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan
Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan
Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers

Members of the Provisional IRA have been directed to actively support Sinn Fein and believe the paramilitary group still plays a strategic role in the party, an assessment by the PSNI and MI5 has found.

Two separate reports have found the PIRA continues to exist and has access to weapons.

However, one completed for Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers goes much further than another completed by An Garda Siochana for Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.

The garda review states that there is "no evidence" that the IRA's army council is functioning in this jurisdiction.

However, Ms Villiers told the British parliament that the PIRA exists with a senior leadership and other "departments" with specific responsibilities.

While they do not pose a terrorist threat, Ms Villiers said members of the PIRA are involved in large-scale smugg-ling and incidents of violence, including murder.

A PSNI/MI5 assessment states: "PIRA members have been directed to actively support Sinn Fein within the community, including activity like electioneering and leafleting."

It also states that IRA members believe the army council "oversees both PIRA and Sinn Fein with an overarching strategy".

However it said this strategy has a "wholly political focus".

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness said his party was "now the only organisation involved in the republican struggle and in republican activism".

The garda report maintained the stance of Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan that the PIRA is not an organised unit here.

Earlier this year, Ms O'Sullivan refused to tell the Oireachtas Justice Committee if she believed the PIRA still exists.

However, in a letter to the Department of Justice, she now says it was never the position of An Garda Siochana that the PIRA had ceased to exist.

"There is clear evidence that a significant number of persons who have been associated with the PIRA remain criminally active, particularly in organised crime, and continue to associate together," the garda review states.

Ms O'Sullivan said: "It is inevitable that the detail of security assessments will differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction."

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said both assessments "raise deeply troubling issues about PIRA and the legacy of paramilitarism".

The Democratic Unionist Party said the report on the status of the IRA makes "depressing reading", but it is prepared to engage in fresh talks aimed at securing the future of the Northern Ireland Executive.

Recruiting

Party leader Peter Robinson has resumed his duties as First Minister and his ministers have returned to office.

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern challenged the Sinn Fein leadership to explain assertions in the report that the party remains influenced by the army council.

He said he welcomed the findings that the PIRA is no longer recruiting, adding that he saw no reason why the parties in the North cannot continue talks on power-sharing.

However, he expressed alarm at the assertion in the UK report that Sinn Fein remains associated with the army council.

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