IRA is armed and still gathering intelligence on opponents, says leaked MI5-PSNI assessment

The Provisional IRA’s Army Council is still in existence and is secretly gathering intelligence, according to a leaked security services’ assessment from the summer.

By Sam McBride
Wednesday, 2nd December 2020, 6:26 am
Sinn Fein leaders Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill at the funeral in June of IRA intelligence boss Bobby Storey
Sinn Fein leaders Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill at the funeral in June of IRA intelligence boss Bobby Storey

That directly contradicts the repeated public statements from the Sinn Fein leadership that the IRA has wholly disbanded.

Five years ago the alleged IRA role in the murder of Kevin McGuigan led to the government commissioning and publishing an assessment of paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland.

That document stated that the IRA Army Council remained intact and that “PIRA members believe that the Provisional Army Council oversees both PIRA and Sinn Fein with an overarching strategy”.

The PSNI and An Garda Síochána have endorsed that finding over recent years but Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald and other senior party figures have insisted that the IRA has been disbanded.

However, last night BBC’s ‘Spotlight’ revealed an internal government assessment of paramilitarism in Northern Ireland which was compiled in the summer by the PSNI and MI5 and which sets out new information about the secretive organisations.

Despite Sinn Fein endorsing the PSNI which jointly conducted the assessment, last night the party continued to insist that its report was wrong and that the IRA has vanished.

‘Spotlight’ reported that it said that the assessment of the IRA remains unchanged from 2015 report, with the IRA continuing to exist – although its structures are greatly reduced from the time of its terrorist campaign, it is not recruiting, training or targeting, and it has a wholly political focus in support of Sinn Féin.

However, it reported that the IRA still has access to some weapons and is gathering intelligence, said to mainly be information on dissident republicans and attmepts to root out continued informers in the organisation.

The government assessment also referred to a belief that there is continued criminal activity among some IRA members.

In February, Ms McDonald was asked if the IRA still existed. She replied: “No it does not, so far as I am aware, no it does not.”

In a statement to’Spotlight’, Sinn Fein again said “the IRA is gone, has left the stage and is not coming back”.

It added: “There is no place or support for any armed groups in our society either republican dissidents or loyalists.

“Sinn Fein has consistently called for these groups to disband and where they refuse to do so called for robust action by the police whose role it is to maintain public order, safety and the rule of law.”

DUP MP Gavin Robinson, whose party shares power with Sinn Féin at Stormont, told ‘Spotlight’: “There can be no naivety around that. We know that has been the situation for decades ... the security assessment highlighted a commitment to the democratic institutions and a whole commitment to politics but we have to keep our eyes wide open.”

The report also showed that loyalist paramilitiaries still maintain considerable resources – despite having repeatedly promised to wind down their operations.

‘Spotlight’ said that the report estimated there to be 12,500 members of loyalist paramilitaries. It also said that in an increasingly fractured paramilitary landscape there are seven dissident republican groups.

It also referred to 79 organised crime gangs, of which 26 are either loyalist or republican paramilitary in nature.

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