A new report into the status of the Northern Ireland paramilitaries and criminality has stated that the IRA “remains in existence in a much reduced form” and added that they were involved in the murder of Belfast republican Kevin McGuigan.
The report was written by British Liberal Democrat peer Lord Carlile, a retired senior Northern Ireland civil servant Rosalie Flanagan, and lawyer Stephen Shaw. Their assessment of the situation endorsed claims made by Police Service in Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable George Hamilton. In August Hamilton had said he believed the IRA were guilty in the murder of McGuigan, a father of nine and former IRA prisoner.
Hamilton’s claims threw Northern Executive and Assembly into turmoil and lead to Ulster Unionist Party Mike Nesbitt withdrawing his single Minister, Danny Kennedy, from the Executive. Next Peter Robinson “stood aside” as First Minister and pulled all his Ministers from the Executive apart from Arlene Foster, who continues as acting First Minister and Minister of Finance.
Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers had commissioned the three-member panel to review Hamilton’s assessment. The report claims that the IRA army council is operating.
It states “The structures of [the Provisional Irish Republican Army] PIRA remain in existence in a much reduced form. This includes a senior leadership, the Provisional Army Council, and some departments with specific responsibilities.”
It continues by stating that the “PIRA of the Troubles is well beyond recall.”
“It is our firm assessment that PIRA’s leadership remains committed to the peace process and its aim of achieving a united Ireland by political means.”
“The group is not involved in targeting or conducting terrorist attacks against the state or its representatives,” they said.
The report's results were calculated by examining the information supplied by the PSNI, MI5 (British Security Services), and the gardai (Irish police).
Overall the report found that all main republican and loyalist paramilitary groups, which operated during the Troubles, being the IRA, the Irish National Liberation Army, the Ulster Defence Association, the Ulster Volunteer Force, and the Red Hand Commando, “remain in existence.”
They reported “Seventeen years after the 1998 Belfast Agreement paramilitary groups remain a feature of life in NI; the UDA, UVF and INLA continue to recruit and all of the paramilitary groups maintain a relatively public profile in spite of being illegal organizations.”
They continued “These groups still organize themselves along militaristic lines and still use labels familiar from the Troubles, eg brigades or army council.”
“These labels make the groups look more prepared for a campaign of violence than they are. Even in the highly unlikely event that the groups were minded to return to terrorism we judge they would be unable to resurrect the capability demonstrated at their peak.”
Back to work for the DUP but the shadows of the past hang over Stormont. Time for ALL paramilitaries to go. pic.twitter.com/68QJk0OMDr
— NI21 (@NI21official) October 20, 2015
Following the release of the report and Villiers statement in the House of Commons the Democratic Unionist Party said its ministers who had resigned will return to Stormont. Among them is the First Minister Peter Robinson. He told the BBC “After all this time there shouldn't be any structures and there shouldn't be an army council, but it really is a distinction without a difference to say there's something special about the army council being involved.
"Does somebody think the people in the army council have different fingerprints than the people who are in the leadership of Sinn Fein? I don't, never have."
Sinn Féin continues to insist that the Provisional IRA no longer exists.
Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said that Sinn Féin is now the only organization involved in the republican struggle.
“Republicans who support the Good Friday Agreement support the political institutions, support the peace process and don't represent a threat to anyone in the community," he said.
"There are, of course, enormous and urgent issues to be dealt with around the existence of armed groups, paramilitaries and criminality.
"We all have a responsibility to deal with these issues to tackle criminality and bring paramilitarism to an end and Sinn Féin will play a full part in this important work."
“They never did, and the future of the peace process depends on them being removed from the life of this island once and for all.”
Having been briefed on the report Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said it “presents a complex and challenging profile of unacceptable residual activities” and issues that “must be addressed.”
He also said that this report reinforces “the critical importance of the political Talks process currently underway in Northern Ireland.”
He ended saying that “All participants in the Stormont House Talks have a duty of care to the people of this island to bring an end to the remaining blight of paramilitaries in communities. It is incumbent on all political parties involved in the Talks to urgently engage on this critical issue and, together with the British and Irish Governments, to agree outcomes that provide lasting peace and political stability in Northern Ireland.”
The new report also states that lower levels of the IRA have “some regional command structures” and “some activity takes place without the knowledge or direction of the leadership.”
The authors state that the full IRA did decommission in 2005 but that the IRA “continues to have access to some weapons.”
They wrote “We judge PIRA has not conducted organized procurement of new weaponry in the period since the last IMC (Independent Monitoring Commission) report of 2011.”
The report adds that IRA members believe that the Provisional Army Council (PAC) “oversees both PIRA and Sinn Fein with an overarching strategy.”
“We judge this strategy has a wholly political focus. PIRA members have been directed to actively support Sinn Fein within the community including activity like electioneering and leafleting,” they added.
It states that IRA members had been involved in “gathering information of interest” to the organization, including on dissident republicans and on possible informers.
They added “A small number are involved in the storage of remaining weaponry in order to prevent its loss to DRs (dissident republicans).”
“Individual PIRA members remain involved in criminal activity such as large-scale smuggling and there have been isolated incidents of violence, including murders.”
“The investigation into the murder of Kevin McGuigan is still ongoing; however, we judge that the assessment put forward by the chief constable in his public statement on August 22nd remains accurate.”
Read more: Forget the “See No Evil” policy - of course the IRA still exists
IRA excerpt from UK Govt's independent report into paramilitaries pic.twitter.com/jv1CJxPMYl
— Gavan Reilly (@gavreilly) October 20, 2015