PSNI assessment of IRA Army Council relationship with Sinn Fein remains unchanged says Chief Constable Simon Byrne

The Chief Constable has said the PSNI still stands over the 2015 Assessment of Paramilitary groups which asserts an ongoing relationship between the IRA Army Council and Sinn Fein.

Thursday, 1st April 2021, 11:16 pm
Updated Friday, 2nd April 2021, 8:08 am
PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne speaks during a press conference about prosecutions in relation to the Bobby Storey funeral in June.

Simon Byrne told the News Letter that the ongoing role of loyalist and republican paramilitaries in Northern Ireland politics is still “very relevant” and “a shame” in light of twenty years having passed since the Patten Report envisioned a fresh start to policing.

He was speaking as the PSNI comes under intense fire following a decision by the Public Prosecution Service not to pursue prosecutions against 24 Sinn Fein members who attended the funeral of former IRA director of Intelligence Bobby Storey, despite strict coronavirus restrictions.

Speaking to the media after the Policing Board meeting today, Mr Byrne was quizzed about the impact of paramilitary groups on NI politics and day-to-day policing, amid claims that authorities may be concerned about pursuing prosecutions in case it might upset the political process.

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Mr Byrne was asked about the Loyalist Communities Council’s recent engagement with government and the DUP and the repeated affirmation by the PSNI in recent years of their 2015 assessment of the IRA Army Council’s ongoing relationship with Sinn Fein.

This paper asked Mr Byrne if the influence of loyalist and republican paramilitaries has receded or increased since the 2015 ‘Assessment of Paramilitary Groups in Northern Ireland’, and how difficult the political dimension of this - including events of this week - make maintaining the normal rule of law?

Mr Byrne replied: “In relation to that 2015 assessment my judgement - our judgement - is that nothing has changed...as we sit here tonight we don’t see any departure from that assessment.

“In terms of the politics it is obviously very relevant - in that in the 20th anniversary year of our [PSNI] establishment many of us will go back to the Patten Report that sets in train this organisation. And at the heart of it was the desire to separate politics from policing and it is a shame that we are now in a situation where politics and policing have collided.”

But his job is to deliver operational policing, he added: “I am determined to keep doing that and to rebuild relationships because I am not a quitter.”

The 2015 ‘Assessment of Paramilitary Groups in Northern Ireland’ said that the PIRA Army Council was still overseeing both Sinn Fein and the remaining structures of the terror organisation with an “over arching strategy”.

The report said: “PIRA members believe that the PAC [Provisional Army Council] oversees both PIRA and Sinn Fein with an overarching strategy”.

The government report, published in 2015 and based on PSNI and MI5 assessments, concluded that the second largest political party in both Northern Ireland and – now the Republic of Ireland also – 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 has been involved in “isolated incidents of violence, including murders”.

The report was prompted by the murder of former IRA man Kevin McGuigan in Belfast in 2015. In the wake of the murder, then Chief Constable George Hamilton said the Provisional IRA still exists and that some of its members were involved in the killing.

The Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) is an entirely lawful body founded by Tony Blair aide Jonathan Powell in 2015. However it has representatives from the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando, all proscribed loyalist terrorist groups. Sinn Fein recently criticised DUP leader Arlene Foster for meeting the LCC to discuss the Northern Ireland Protocol. The Northern Ireland Office also faced stiff criticism after meeting the LCC on the same issue.

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