IRA Army Council still oversees Sinn Fein strategy - PSNI says 2015 assessment unchanged

Mairtin O Muilleoir was quizzed at a public inquiry on his communications with unelected senior IRA figures at a key time in the RHI saga
Mairtin O Muilleoir was quizzed at a public inquiry on his communications with unelected senior IRA figures at a key time in the RHI saga
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The PSNI says there has been “no change” since a 2015 assessment that the PIRA Army Council was still overseeing both Sinn Fein and the remaining structures of the terror organisation with an “over arching strategy”.

A government report, published in 2015, concluded that the second largest political party in Northern Ireland continues to be overseen by the deadliest terror group of the Troubles, which although much reduced in scale and “committed to the peace process”, still has “specific” departments and “regional command structures”, gathers intelligence, retains weapons and may engage in “isolated violence” including murder.

The PSNI affirmed the 2015 report which said the IRA oversees Sinn Fein strategy, retains weapons and members are still engaged in 'isolated' violence

The PSNI affirmed the 2015 report which said the IRA oversees Sinn Fein strategy, retains weapons and members are still engaged in 'isolated' violence

The PSNI confirmed its current assessment to the News Letter after the latest paramilitary monitoring panel, the Independent Review Commission (IRC), in its latest report, detailed ongoing criminality by the UVF and UDA, but failed to even mention the IRA or the INLA.

Unionists and terror victims queried how the largest terror group of the Troubles - responsible for 1,800 murders - could have disappeared off the authorities’ radar since the 2015 government assessment.

However, the PSNI apparently distanced itself from the IRC report in a statement issued to the News Letter last night.

“The IRC report is published independently by the Independent Review Commission and the PSNI does not determine the contents of the report,” the PSNI said. “With regards to PIRA, there has been no change since the Paramilitary Assessment in 2015.”

The fact that the PSNI has said that the 2015 assessment of PIRA is still relevant today, makes it all the more incomprehensible that the IRC failed to mention that organisation in its report.

UUP Justice Spokesman Doug Beattie

UUP justice spokesman MLA Doug Beattie responded: “The fact that the PSNI has said that the 2015 assessment of PIRA is still relevant today, makes it all the more incomprehensible that the IRC failed to mention that organisation in its report.”

Mr Beattie added: “Given the murderous history of the Provisional IRA, and the fact that the recent funerals of former members have been attended by firing parties, one would have expected it to be the subject of some scrutiny in any report. Its omission could be due to a number of factors, ranging from an oversight, to a deliberate and conscious decision to keep it out of the report due to the political sensitivities, given the IRA’s links with Sinn Fein.”

The government’s Paramilitary Assessment in 2015 - prompted by the murder of Kevin McGuigan by members of the IRA - found that “PIRA members believe that the PAC [Provisional IRA Army Council] oversees both PIRA and Sinn Fein with an overarching strategy”.

TUV leader Jim Allister asked why the IRC didn’t raise questions about PIRA and why police didn’t brief about it. He noted that Sam McBride’s RHI book ‘Burned’ details “how at a key point in the saga then Sinn Fein Finance Minister Mairtín O Muilleoir was in contact with a former IRA ‘Officer Commanding’ and a man regarded as one of the most influential figures in the Provisionals.”

IRC member Monica McWilliams and Sinn Fein's Sean Murray take part in a public discussion about the commission's previous report on paramilitarism. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

IRC member Monica McWilliams and Sinn Fein's Sean Murray take part in a public discussion about the commission's previous report on paramilitarism. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

The IRC responded that its role is to measure progress towards ending paramilitary activity and on related measures being implemented by the Executive, London and Dublin. “The IRC has no role in making assessments around security, and indeed has no expertise to make such assessments. Paramilitary assessment is a matter for the security authorities,” it added.

But Sinn Fein firmly rejected the PSNI assessment. The party’s MP Mickey Brady said: “The IRA is gone and not coming back. The focus of unionist politicians should be on bringing an end to the extortion, prostitution, drug-dealing, widespread intimidation and murders carried out by active loyalist paramilitary groups.

“Instead of cosying up to these group for electoral pacts, they should unequivocally condemn these threats and call for these groups to disband immediately.”

Loyalist Jamie Bryson has joined unionist politicians in querying why the IRA was not mentioned in the report by paramilitary reporting panel, the Independent Reporting Commission, this week.

He said that a paper in the name of the Unionist Voice Policy Studies was recently submitted to the NI Affairs Committee at Westminster, “expressing a feeling within the loyalist community that there was a two-tier policing system designed to ‘normalise’ the IRA whilst criminalising loyalism”.

He added: “The issue appears to be that low-level crime in loyalist areas is more visible, whilst IRA activity is high level white collar crime and therefore not as easily discernible.”

PSNI ACC Barbara Gray said the Paramilitary Crime Task Force, National Crime Agency and HM Revenue and Customs have to date carried out 523 searches and 245 arrests against paramilitary groups “assessed as not presenting a threat to National Security”. She added: “So far, we have secured 183 disposals, meaning that people have either been charged or reported to the Public Prosecution Service.”