IRA’s continued existence ‘shows failure of promises made repeatedly in deals’

News that the PSNI and MI5 regard the IRA as still being in existence shows up the failure of politicians to bear down upon paramilitaries, despite years of such promises.

By Adam Kula
Thursday, 3rd December 2020, 10:09 am
Updated Thursday, 3rd December 2020, 10:40 am

That is the view from Sir Reg Empey, reacting to the revelation – reported on the News Letter’s front page yesterday – that intelligence officers consider the IRA armed and active, albeit in a much-reduced form than in the 1990s.

It emerged as a result of a BBC Spotlight investigation broadcast last night, which cited a leaked police/intelligence assessment, compiled during the summer of 2020.

The security forces say the IRA still has access to some weapons and is gathering intelligence, said to mainly be information on dissident republicans and informers.

A mural in north Belfast for IRA man Martin Meehan

It effectively marks no change from the 2015 police assessment of the IRA, which – in a very carefully phrased statement – said “PIRA members believe that the Provisional Army Council oversees both PIRA and Sinn Fein with an overarching strategy”.

Sinn Fein denies that the IRA still exists in any form.

Spotlight also cited evidence that paramilitary factions are splintering, with no fewer than 26 criminal cabals describing themselves as loyalist or republican.

Former UUP leader Sir Reg, speaking to the News Letter last night, pointed to repeated mentions of “tackling paramilitarism” in the sundry deals which have been struck over the last several years.

The “Fresh Start” agreement of 2015 had an entire section dedicated to “ending paramilitarism”.

It said: “Our goal is the primacy of the democratic political process in Northern Ireland and the ending of paramilitarism. This Agreement represents a resolute commitment to complete this process once and for all.”

And this January’s “New Decade, New Approach” deal said: “The parties reaffirm their commitment to tackling paramilitarism. Ending harm done by paramilitarism will be a priority in the new Programme for Government.”

Lord Empey told the News Letter: “The fact these organisations continue to exist and operate is very distressing.

“And don’t forget – we’re supposed to have a strategy in the Executive for dealing with these things, and it’s been spectacularly unsuccessful so far. In fact, I can’t point to anything where progress has been made in that area!

“If the number of groups is growing then it means the strategy that’s supposed to have emerged from the various talks processes hasn’t had any impact whatsoever.”


In 2015, the UUP walked out of government due to two killings widely blamed on IRA men: Jock Davison and Kevin McGuigan.

Davison is believed to have been shot by McGuigan, an IRA man under his command – leading other IRA men to shoot McGuigan in revenge.

This led to the 2015 police declaration about the IRA Army Council still being in existence.

Mike Nesbitt, who was UUP leader at the time, was asked if the party should walk out again.

He said yesterday: “In 2015 we got it direct from the Chief Constable... By the sound of it, it might merit Steve, the current leader, seeking a briefing.”

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