IRA’s ruling army council still exists, but has ‘wholly political’ focus

A report on paramilitarism in Northern Ireland has said the IRA’s ruling army council still exists.

The council oversees Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA but has a “wholly political” focus. However, the organisation still has access to weapons despite decommissioning a decade ago.

Individual members remain involved in criminal activity like large-scale smuggling and there have been isolated violence and murders, according to the review by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and MI5.

It said: “The PIRA of the Troubles era is well beyond recall. It is our firm assessment that PIRA’s leadership remains committed to the peace process and its aim of achieving a united Ireland by political means.

“The group is not involved in targeting or conducting terrorist attacks against the state or its representatives.”

The PIRA was the largest and most active terrorist organisation operating in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, the reviewers noted. It was responsible for 1,771 murders between 1969 and 1998.

The report said the structures of the IRA remained in existence in a much reduced form.

This includes a senior leadership, the Provisional Army Council, and some “departments” with specific responsibilities.

“At a lower level there are some regional command structures. At this lower level some activity takes place without the knowledge or direction of the leadership,” it added.

It said the group was not actively recruiting.

Despite decommissioning arms between 2001 and 2005 it continues to have access to some weapons. However, it has not conducted organised procurement of new weaponry since 2011.

The report said: “PIRA members believe that the Provisional Army Council oversees both PIRA and Sinn Fein with an overarching strategy. We judge this strategy has a wholly political focus.”

PIRA members have been directed to support Sinn Fein through electioneering and leafleting.

Some PIRA members are involved in gathering details of dissident republican activity and of state informers, the report said.

A small number are storing remaining weaponry to prevent its loss to dissidents.

The report also covered the activities of other paramilitary organisations.

The structures of the Irish National Liberation Army, a republican splinter group, remain in existence but there is little evidence of centralised control from the leadership. There are indications the INLA is attempting to recruit new members.

It continues to have access to some arms and is heavily involved in criminality, the report said.

The Ulster Defence Association (UDA) structures have become increasingly fragmented.

It has attempted to steer members into positive community-based activism but has been involved in drug dealing, robbery and other forms of racketeering, the report said.

The Ulster Volunteer Force’s leadership has attempted to steer its membership towards peaceful initiatives but a large number of figures are involved in organised crime including drug dealing, extortion and smuggling, the report added.

Members conduct paramilitary-style assaults on those they accuse of anti-social behaviour, it said.