Chief Constable Simon Byrne confirmed to the News Letter in April that the PSNI still stands over a 2015 report for the Northern Ireland Office on paramilitary groups, triggered by the murder of Kevin McGuigan by the IRA earlier that year.
The report said that the Provisional IRA, while “committed to the peace process” still has members trying to identify informants and storing its remaining weaponry. They are also engaged in “criminal activity such as large scale smuggling, and there have been isolated incidents of violence, including murders” it added, citing that of McGuigan. In 2020 the News Letter named 26 people apparently murdered by IRA members since the Good Friday Agreement, a list which has not been challenged.
Following the murder of McGuigan in 2015, Stormont launched a crackdown on terror groups, forming the PCTF (including the PSNI, NCA and HM Revenue and Customs) and the Independent Reporting Commission (IRC). Both the PCTF and IRC have faced persistent claims that they ignore the impact of PIRA in society.
Now, in response to an FOI request by Jamie Bryson, the PSNI has revealed that from 2020-21 it issued 46 statements on operations against the UDA or UVF. However, asked about the number it issued about PIRA, the PSNI responded: “None. The Paramilitary Crime Task Force do not Investigate PIRA or the IRA.”
Asked to explain why, the PSNI said it makes a clear distinction in how it treats groups which are a threat to national security and those that aren’t.
“The PCTF’s remit has been defined to focus operational activity against paramilitary groups which are assessed not to present a threat to national security,” a PSNI spokesman said. “The identification and assessment of groups that do present a threat to national security, is made jointly by the PSNI and the Security Service. These groups are investigated by the PSNI Terrorism Investigation Unit (TIU) who work closely with the Security Service.”
Over the previous nine days the News Letter asked the PSNI repeatedly how many probes the TIU has conducted into PIRA criminality and how many arrests and prosecutions have been made. No response has been offered.
Commentator Alex Kane said it was “most extraordinary” that the PCTF does not investigate the IRA.
Are we to assume, he asked, that it is not investigated by the PCFT “because it has been decided somewhere and by someone that it might be unhelpful to the peace process if PIRA was put under any pressure?”
He presumes that most of the PIRA criminality listed in the 2015 NIO assessment would still be happening in NI and, if so, “then the PCFT should be investigating it”.
He is “pleased” the PCTF is investigating loyalists, he said, but the fact that it is not investigating the IRA is “very worrying, not least because it suggests that republican terrorists - whose sorts of criminality is probably not dissimilar to that of loyalists - is considered to be lesser and not as problematic for communities across NI.”
Former IRA prisoner turned academic and blogger, Anthony McIntyre said that if the Chief Constable’s assessment of IRA activity remains the same as in 2015, “then political policing is as alive as it ever was”.
He added: “There would seem to exist a situation where a particular group is not being investigated for political reasons rather than evidentiary ones - much the same as political considerations were at play in the refusal to investigate the police torture of the Hooded men in spite of the evidence that was there.”
Loyalist activist Jamie Bryson said the PSNI comments “simply puts into writing what many of us already know, that despite being set up in response to two IRA murders, and purporting to investigate paramilitary crime, the PCTF have contrived some artificial distinction between ‘paramilitary’ and ‘terrorist’, and conveniently label all loyalist groups under the former, whilst setting the IRA apart with some bizarre reasoning that they are a ‘terrorist’ group. That is utter nonsense. The UVF, UDA, INLA and IRA are all in the same category as a matter of law. To get around this the PSNI have invented an artificial distinction in pursuit of their agenda of ensuring complete immunity for the IRA from any investigation for their criminal activities.”
But UUP Policing Board representative Mike Nesbitt believes the PSNI explanation makes clear sense.
“To state the PCTF does not investigate the IRA - as the PSNI did in its FoI answer - is factually accurate but limited,” he said. “It would have been preferable if the response had gone on to fully explain that the PSNI is monitoring all terrorist groups with a presence in Northern Ireland and works with other agencies - including MI5 - rather than create the impression that because the PCTF is not investigating, nothing is being done.”
He added: “The PCTF is not the PSNI unit tasked with this role [of monitoring the IRA], rather it is the PSNI Terrorism Unit, who liaise with others, including the National Crime Agency, MI5 and HMRC, who work collaboratively to keep us safe.”
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