The question of whether the PIRA leadership ordered the murder of Kevin McGuigan is a red herring because internal rules freely devolve responsibility for such operations, a former senior PSNI officer has said.
Former Detective Chief Superintendant Norman Baxter - who now works with Colonel Tim Collins in private security - made the claim to the News Letter as the murder of the former PIRA man continues to threaten the future of the Assembly.
Senior roles Mr Baxter held in the PSNI included head of Organised Crime Branch, former Operational Intelligence Advisor for Northern Ireland (counter-terrorism) and Senior Liaison Officer with the security services.
The PSNI say that individual members of PIRA carried out the murder last month, but critics believe the order must have been given by the PIRA leadership, which they equate to Sinn Fein.
Mr Baxter said: “If IRA members committed the murder as IRA members - which the Chief Constable has confirmed - then they are doing so within the rules of the IRA.
“This is where the ‘smoke and mirrors’ of politics and policing emerge.”
He noted that ACC Will Kerr told the Policing Board on Thursday that IRA Active Service Units (ASU) don’t exist any more, but brands this “semantics” as they could be reinstated at any time.
A clear process would have been carried out for the murder, he says. First, someone would have assessed that Mr McGuigan had done something warranting ‘execution’; a decision would have been taken to ‘execute’ him; then another to organise weapons and another to assess the best time and location to kill him - and who would do the targeting. Another decision would have been taken as to who would carry out the killing.
“The group who carried out the murder would not have been an ASU but a select group of trusted IRA members with the access, knowledge and skills to complete the operation with minimal risk of detection.”
He added: “The most appropriate question is not ‘Did the IRA leadership give the order for the murder?’ Rather, it should be: ‘At what level of the IRA organisation was approval given?’
“Historically, the IRA Army Council devolved actions to local commanders. The IRA Green Book (1977) empowers local commanders to take action to further the aims of the organisation without higher approval: ‘The IRA volunteer, except when carrying out a specific army task, acts most of the time on his own initiative and must therefore shoulder that responsibility in such a way that he enhances our necessary stated task of ensuring that his conduct is not a contributory factor to the Brit attempt to isolate us from our people’.”
He painted a hypothetical picture where a senior Sinn Fein member/Army Council member is made aware by an ex-IRA prisoner that there is “a problem person...who is going to be sorted out...”.The Sinn Fein member/Army Council member “...has not sanctioned it but neither has he stopped it...thus he has given concurrence to the solution...”. Sinn Fein did not distance itself from IRA violence; continued to deny the IRA existed and provided “political cover” for the murders of Robert McCartney, Paul Quinn and Kevin McGuigan, he said.
Thus it should be held responsible because “the membership, philosophy, organisation and strategy of both the Sinn Fein and IRA organisations are so overlapped as to be almost indistinguishable”.
The PSNI and Sinn Fein declined to comment.