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ireland, irish, ulster, ireland, irish, ulster, Sinn Féin, Irish America

Truth, secrets and lies about Sinn Féin and IRA

(Suzanne Breen, Irish Mail on Sunday)

The British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, this week told Parliament that the IRA Army Council still exists. She was speaking as a security report found that, all paramilitary groups supposedly on ceasefire, have been involved in serious violence. The Irish Mail on Sunday examines the report to see if it reflects the reality of life in the North.

The report says that IRA structures remain although in a reduced form. This includes an Army Council, some departments and regional command structures. Although at local levels, "some activity takes place without the direction or knowledge of the leadership".

It's spot-on to say the IRA has downsized, not disappeared, but to claim that the leadership has no knowledge of local IRA activity is a cop-out to get the Provos off the hook politically.

Down through the years, we've been repeatedly assured that the IRA exists only in hardline unionist fantasy. It's now clear we were sold a pup on that one. That so much of the IRA's military apparatus remains in place shows that it's far from being a harmless old boys' association. This is an organisation which retains the capacity to orchestrate violence and criminality at will.

While local IRA members have murdered without Army Council sanction – the killing of Robert McCartney in Belfast and that of Paul Quinn from South Armagh – the leadership retrospectively turned a blind eye. Former Belfast Brigade commander, Jock Davison, who gave the order to kill McCartney in 2005, remained within the bosom of the Provos. He was buried with paramilitary trappings in May.

Similarly, the IRA's South Armagh commander ordered Paul Quinn's murder in 2007 with the approval of the local Army Council member known in the media as 'the Surgeon'. The IRA leadership has taken no action against either man.

The Army Council knew that senior members were conducting an investigation into Jock Davison's murder in May, and they were aware that only one outcome was possible once Kevin McGuigan was 'found guilty'. They did nothing to prevent his murder nor have they since moved against his killers.

IRA members believe that the Army Council oversees both the IRA and Sinn Féin with "an overarching strategy".

The IRA ran Sinn Féin during the war, and it's no different during the peace. Despite the influx of young Southerners into the party, it's still the old Northern hands calling the shots.

Senior Sinn Féin figures like Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness have sat on the Army Council. Many party members, especially in the South, have no links with the Provos but, when it comes to directing party policy, they have zero influence.

Bobby Storey, for years the IRA's head of intelligence, is Sinn Féin's Northern chairman. He was arrested over Kevin McGuigan's murder, although he strongly denies any involvement in it and no charges are to be brought. Storey is taking legal action against the PSNI claiming wrongful arrest.

Another powerful force in the party is Sean 'Spike' Murray who is currently being investigated by the PSNI for gun-running from Florida, an allegation he denies.

Like Storey, Murray is a regular presence at Sinn Féin offices in Stormont. The idea that within Sinn Féin the likes of Mary Lou McDonald would ever hold sway over these men is nonsensical.

The IRA decommissioned much of its arsenal by 2005 but has retained some guns. A section of IRA members are involved in storing this weaponry "in order to prevent its loss to dissident republicans".

Oh please, this is ridiculous and sounds like an excuse for the IRA retaining guns. There is one simple way for the Provos to ensure dissidents don't get their gear – hand it over to the PSNI.

The IRA decommissioned much heavy duty weaponry used to target the security forces but it retained a substantial number of handguns in order to continue 'policing' its own community.

Mike Logan, a Florida stock-broker turned gunrunner, bought 200 handguns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition for the IRA post-ceasefire. He says he was working directly for Sean 'Spike' Murray, a claim Murray denies.

Logan told me: "I asked if the IRA wanted AK-47s. They didn't. It was pistols the IRA were most keen to get hold off. They wanted to use these guns in their own community, to control any opposition, to intimidate and eliminate any threat." The guns Logan sent have been used in at least three post-ceasefire murders.

The IRA is committed to the peace process and achieving a united Ireland by peaceful means. It is not planning terrorist attacks on the state.

That's totally true. The days when the IRA wanted to kill British soldiers and police officers, and bomb town centres across Northern Ireland in order to challenge London's policy of normalisation, are well and truly over. The Provos have ditched the baggage of militant Irish republicanism. They've de facto accepted partition and now agree that unionist consent is needed for Irish unity.

Garda Commissioner, Noirin O'Sullivan, says border counties are not a "twilight zone" of policing where criminality flourishes. She insists the rule of law is prevalent.

This is a preposterous statement. Long before the Troubles, the border area was a haven for smuggling and other forms of criminality, and that remains the case today. Despite some prosecutions, the vast majority of fuel laundering, tobacco and alcohol smuggling, and money laundering goes unchecked. Mainstream and dissident republican paramilitaries, as well as ordinary criminals, are up to their necks in such activities. The Provos have made billions from these rackets.

The most serious current terrorist threat in Northern Ireland is posed by dissident republican paramilitaries who reject the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Their activities represent "a severe threat to Northern Ireland's security and stability".

Nonsense. While dissident republican groups remain an irritant to the British, they're incapable of waging a sustained campaign of violence. The threat of the new IRA, Oglaigh na hEireann and the Continuity IRA is regularly over-played by the security services in order to secure bigger budgets.

Last year, there were 22 dissident republican attacks from rudimentary letter bombs to assaults on police landrovers. None caused injuries or fatalities.

After the 2009 gun attack at Massereene British Army base in which two soldiers were killed, it appeared that dissident republicans were about to launch a high-profile campaign. However, that never materialised.

Since then, dissidents have killed two policemen and a prison officer. While an absolute tragedy for the victims, such a low death toll over six years represents a military failure for dissidents.

Through sophisticated new technology and infiltration, the security services have scored massive successes against them with many of their leaders in jail.

Of the three active groups, the new IRA represents the biggest threat by far. It will try to up its campaign in the run-up to the 1916 centenary. It is clearly capable of inflicting the odd fatality on the security forces but it represents no danger whatsoever to the Northern Ireland state.

October 27, 2015

This article appeared in the October 25, 2015 edition of the Irish Mail on Sunday.

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