Here is a puzzle for my readers.
Put a date on, and identify the source for these two, separate extracts from British government-sponsored reports on the status of the Provisional IRA.
First this one:
The first quote dates to September 2008 and came from the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC); it was carried in a special, one-off report on the state of the Provisional IRA that had been asked for by the British and Irish governments so they could make a final judgement on the absorption of the Provos into peaceful politics.
It was considered at the time to be the final and definitive word on the IRA, so much so that subsequent IMC reports on paramilitary activity barely mentioned the Provos.
That September 2008 IMC report said that the IRA’s Army Council had ‘by conscious decision’ been allowed to fall ‘into disuse’ and ‘by deliberate choice was no longer operational or functional’.
So, no doubt about it, the Army Council had gone away, the war was over.
It is no accident that the widespread belief in Ireland that the IRA had ceased to exist – a belief rudely shattered by the killing of Kevin McGuigan by the IRA three months ago – can be dated to the publication of this IMC report.
So what about the second quote?
Well that’s an easy one.
It comes from the PSNI/MI5 assessment of the IRA published today in response to the political crisis precipitated by the McGuigan killing.
And so we fast forward by seven years or so from that landmark 2008 IMC report and what do we now read about the IRA’s Army Council?
Well, to begin with it has experienced a Lazarus-style resurrection. It is back in action, no longer languishing in ‘disuse’, but back to being ‘operational’ and ‘functional’, albeit ‘in a much reduced form’.
But then we discover what this ‘much reduced form’ consists of. Well on top of the Army Council there is something called ‘a senior leadership’ – the PSNI/MI5 are coy about what this means but it sounds like a Chief of Staff to me – and below it some ‘departments’ whose functions we are not allowed to know and then something called ‘regional command structures’.
Could these possibly be Brigades, as in Belfast Brigade? We don’t know, because neither the PSNI, MI5 or the three wise monkeys chosen to endorse this report will tell us. If all this sounds familiar, that’s because it is basically the old Provisional IRA structure, albeit somewhat diminished: a Chief of Staff, an Army Council, Brigades and Departments.
(For information: The IRA was [or maybe is, should be the word?] divided into functional Departments like Operations, Intelligence, Finance, Training, Engineering, Internal Security and so on. The commanders of these Departments, grandly known as Directors, were known as the GHQ, or General Headquarters staff. IRA volunteers were assigned to a department which operated on a geographical basis. So, the Belfast Brigade Intelligence unit would work both with the Brigade leadership and the GHQ Intelligence Department to further the IRA’s war aims.)
But we then find that IRA members continue to gather intelligence on dissidents and possible informers (why would you care about informers if you weren’t doing anything illegal?) and the ‘storage of remaining weaponry’ continues, which we are told is done only so as to prevent it falling into the hands of dissidents and not, of course to shoot people like Kevin McGuigan. (It strikes me, that a better way to ensure such weapons don’t make their way to dissidents would be to hand them in, or throw them in the river!)
(This part of the report seems to confirm something that the IMC was loathe to admit, that some IRA weaponry was not decommissioned and was kept back to use against dissidents. Tony Blair had approved such a plan, according to former Bush envoy Mitchell Reiss, but that was vetoed by Irish Justice Minister, Michael McDowell. Gerry Adams then had a chat with Blair’s Chief of Staff, Jonathan Powell and was content with what he heard. I think we can now guess what the two men talked about and what happened subsequently.)
And then we are told: ‘PIRA members believe that the PAC (Provisional Army Council) oversees both PIRA and Sinn Fein with an overarching strategy’. Why the ‘PIRA members believe’ bit? What do MI5 and the PSNI believe? Do they also believe this but cannot bring themselves to admit that a significant part of Irish politics, North and South, is under the control of a small, un-elected military, or military-like conspiracy?
But here’s the kicker:
Individual PIRA members remain involved in criminal activity, such as large scale smuggling, and there have been isolated incidents of violence, including murders….however we judge that the assessment put forward by the Chief Constable in his public statement on 22 August remains accurate.
And what did PSNI Chief George Hamilton say about such murders, including that of Kevin McGuigan?
We have no information to suggest that violence, as seen in the murder of Kevin McGuigan, was sanctioned or directed at a senior level in the Republican movement.
So, the Army Council that the IMC told us had faded away into insignificance is back with a bang, there is a ‘leadership’ behind it, and IRA Departments as well as ‘regional command structures’, intelligence gathering and weapons storage.
Smuggling, robbery and murder happen but the leadership knows nothing about any of this; and we are expected to believe that a leadership renowned and notorious for its control freakery allows killings to happen without its knowledge and/or approval?
Remember what the late John Kelly, a Provo founder member, had to say about Gerry Adams:
Not a sparrow falls from a tree but he does not know about it.
But then, after repeating their belief that the Provos are committed to the peace process and political methods, the MI5/PSNI report concludes,:
The group (i.e. the Provisional IRA) is not involved in targeting or conducting terrorist attacks against the (British) state or its representatives.
So, that’s okay, then.
When one reads this document, it is difficult not to come to this conclusion: The British state has done a deal with the Provisional leadership in which an armed and organised IRA rump continues to exist to protect its leadership cadre, eradicate opponents and further the political ambitions, North and South, of the IRA’s political wing, and as long as no hostility or violence is shown to the British state then a blind eye will be turned even to murder.
That is a state of affairs the DUP seems happy to accept. But what about the South? It could be Dublin’s turn soon to entertain such people in government.
Here are the relevant documents, beginning with today’s PSNI/MI5 report, the PSNI Chief Constable’s statement of August 22, 2015 and the September 2008 IMC report.
Chief Constable’s statement – PSNI’s assessment of the current status of the Provisional IRA.
22 Aug 2015
I want to respond to the requests from various quarters for me to bring some clarification regarding my assessment of the current status and activities of the Provisional IRA.
We should all remember at the outset that the stimulus for this public debate has been the tragic murder of Kevin McGuigan following the equally tragic murder of Gerard ‘Jock’ Davison. At the outset we would do well to remember that there are grieving families today and there are ongoing murder investigations that I will not compromise or jeopardise by unnecessary public commentary or speculation.
At this stage we assess that some Provisional IRA organisational infrastructure continues to exist but has undergone significant change since the signing of the Belfast Agreement in 1998. Some, primarily operational level structures were changed and some elements have been dissolved completely since 2005.
We assess that in the organisational sense the Provisional IRA does not exist for paramilitary purposes. Nevertheless, we assess that in common with the majority of Northern Ireland paramilitary groups from the period of the conflict, some of the PIRA structure from the 1990s remains broadly in place, although its purpose has radically changed since this period. Our assessment indicates that a primary focus of the Provisional IRA is now promoting a peaceful, political Republican agenda. It is our assessment that the Provisional IRA is committed to following a political path and is no longer engaged in terrorism. I accept the bona fides of the Sinn Fein leadership regarding their rejection of violence and pursuit of the peace process and I accept their assurance that they want to support police in bringing those responsible to justice. We have no information to suggest that violence, as seen in the murder of Kevin McGuigan, was sanctioned or directed at a senior level in the Republican movement.
Although still a proscribed organisation, and therefore illegal, we assess that the continuing existence and cohesion of the Provisional IRA hierarchy has enabled the leadership to move the organisation forward within the peace process. Some current Provisional IRA and former members continue to engage in a range of criminal activity and occasional violence in the interest of personal gain or personal agendas.
I want to comment on the connection, or lack of connection between the PIRA and the group calling itself ‘Action Against Drugs’. Action Against Drugs has emerged from within the Republican community from a range of backgrounds. Some are former members of the Provisional IRA, but others have links to Violent Dissident Republican groups and others are from a pure organised crime background. This group is intent on taking action against what it perceives as anti-social elements in Belfast but this is done in pursuit of their own criminal agenda. They are little more than an organised crime group in my view and we assess that Action Against Drugs is an independent group that is not part of, or a cover name for the Provisional IRA.
That said, in the McGuigan murder enquiry the SIO is appropriately following a line of enquiry that has shown connections and cooperation between Action Against Drugs as a group and a number of individuals who are members of the Provisional IRA. As I have just said, we are currently not in possession of information that indicates that Provisional IRA involvement was sanctioned or directed at a senior or organisational level within the Provisional IRA or the broader Republican movement.
In conclusion, I want families and communities to have confidence in the murder investigations that we are conducting. These investigations will be conducted with integrity, professionalism, in a thorough manner and without fear or favour.
I will not sacrifice my operational independence, or allow the investigation to be influenced by political commentary or even political consequences. We will go where the evidence takes us. I would again appeal for information from the community in assisting us on bringing those responsible to justice. Thank you.