An independent panel’s latest report on paramilitarism has come under fire for failing to give any update on the role of the IRA Army Council in overseeing Sinn Fein strategy.
The second report from the Independent Reporting Commission (IRC) on progress towards ending paramilitary activity gave extensive detail on UDA and UVF criminality but also failed to mention the INLA, despite a series of high-profile PSNI operations against it this year.
Well perhaps the Secretary of State would then want to do that [report on the IRA’s status].Monica McWilliams
In 2015 a government assessment said that the IRA Army Council was overseeing Sinn Fein strategy and while wholly political in focus, some regional structures remained and members were involved in a number of murders, intelligence gathering, finding agents, smuggling and storing weapons.
The latest IRC report was slammed by TUV leader Jim Allister and victims’ campaigner Kenny Donaldson, but was given a warm welcome by Sinn Fein.
Mr Allister said: “One would be forgiven for forgetting that the Independent Reporting Commission was set up in the wake of the PIRA murder of Kevin McGuigan in 2015.
“In 132 pages it doesn’t even manage to mention the PIRA, much less their Army Council, an organisation which we were told in the aftermath of the McGuigan murder has a key role in directing and overseeing Sinn Fein.”
“Quite frankly it is a whitewash. Small wonder that Sinn Fein have welcomed the publication of the report.”
Innocent Victims United spokesman Kenny Donaldson said that IRA victims from the 1970s onwards are “in despair” at the IRC’s “failure to report upon the status of the Provisional IRA and its role, connection and influence on its political wing, Sinn Fein”.
He added: “The IRC is proving itself to be a puppet of government policy; that policy is sadly about the continued down playing of the role of the PIRA as a proscribed organisation but also of the activities of a number of its members who have spun off and become embroiled with so-called ‘dissident’ republican groupings.”
However Sinn Fein MLA Linda Dillon welcomed the report, which she said outlined “key recommendations, which we would endorse”.
Asked why the UVF and UDA were named in the report but not the IRA or INLA, IRC member Monica McWilliams said “those are the reports provided to us by the PSNI”.
She pointed out that the Chief Constable Simon Byrne said last week that the 2015 assessment of IRA-SF links was by a previous chief constable and was four years old.
Mrs McWilliams said the IRC did not ask the PSNI to give assessments of specific terror groups, but rather asked them more generally what paramilitary concerns it has.
But commenting on whether her panel should be assessing how the IRA oversight of Sinn Fein detailed in 2015 was being resolved, she replied: “Well perhaps the secretary of state would then want to do that. But clearly there are those in power who believe that their focus should be elsewhere.”
The IRC’s role is reporting on implementation of anti-paramilitary measures and holding to account those tasked with doing so, she said. Its report focuses on who is arrested and charged.
Since February the PSNI have released statements about operations against INLA-linked criminalty, yet the group is not mentioned in the IRC report.
“It should have been there and I can’t understand why it wouldn’t have been,” Mrs McWilliams said, adding that the group “certainly will be in the next report”.