Mick Fealty: Silence on IRA overseeing Sinn Fein is ‘extraordinary’

The editor of a leading NI blog has said it is “extraordinary” how little attention has been given to the PSNI revelation that the IRA Army Council still oversees Sinn Fein strategy.

Friday, 22nd November 2019, 6:30 am
Updated Friday, 22nd November 2019, 2:18 pm
Mick Fealty, Editor of the Slugger O'Toole website.

Slugger O’Toole Editor Mick Fealty was speaking after writing about the recent leadership contest for Vice President of Sinn Fein which, unusually, did not result in the respective votes being published.

Writing in ‘The Critic’, he said the outcome was that “we know little about who is in charge [of Sinn Fein], never mind how decisions are made. What’s odd though is how SF’s odd state of affairs so rarely attracts attention from either the British or Irish media”.

Speaking to the News Letter after debating the matter on the Nolan Show, he said there is also an issue how little public attention was given to the recent PSNI re-affirmation of its 2015 view that the IRA Army Council still oversees Sinn Fein.

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An IRA gunman: the group is not mentioned in the IRC report.

“It is extraordinary,” he said, also noting that an Independent Reporting Commission (IRC) panel member told the News Letter that the reason the issue was not mentioned in its latest report because “that was a political issue”.

He added: “We have accommodated ourselves to profoundly undemocratic norms. And one of the ways this shows itself is a general unwillingness to subject certain groups to the norms of accountability... And the idea that some people can be excused from that accountability on the basis that it is too political to subject them to accountability is a perfect example of that departure from democratic norms.”

The “deep irony” was that the IRC was set up after IRA involvement in the Kevin McGuigan murder of 2015, which he noted threatened to collapse Stormont. However if this issue is not tackled “the IRA go back to being invisible again”.

This matters, he says, because it is assumed with political parties that “the person who says they are the leader are the leader”. After poor election results, as happened to Sinn Fein recently in the south, he noted, party members can then change the leadership, prompting “a renewal process” which can “refresh the party and give it new ideas and hints for new directions”.

Neither the IRC nor Sinn Fein offered any response to Mr Fealty. The IRC said previously that its role is to measure progress towards ending paramilitarism but that security assessments are “a matter for the security authorities”.

The Independent Reporting Commission published its second report on ending paramilitarism earlier this month. However critics complained that while it detailed UVF and UDA criminality, it also failed to mention the IRA or INLA.

Asked why the IRA was not mentioned, in spite of the 2015 government report which said its Army Council was overseeing Sinn Fein strategy, commission member Monica McWilliams replied: “Well that is a political issue....”.

The 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 confirmed its current assessment to the News Letter after the IRC 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 earlier this month.

“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.”

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.”

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.”