PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne pressed to reassess IRA army council links to Sinn Fein
Instigating a fresh assessment of the IRA army council’s links to Sinn Fein would be a decision for the Government, the PSNI’s Chief Constable has said.
Simon Byrne was responding to a call from DUP Policing Board member Mervyn Storey for a 2015 assessment of the structures and activities of paramilitary groups to be revisited.
Six years ago a panel of independent reviewers commissioned by the Government found that the IRA army council still existed, albeit with a “wholly political focus”.
The assessment said that IRA members believed the army council oversaw the overarching strategy of both the IRA and Sinn Fein.
Mr Storey pressed for another assessment as he accused Sinn Fein board member Gerry Kelly of hypocrisy after the republican asked Mr Byrne whether it would be illegal for other political parties to meet with paramilitary groups, if the purpose was anything other than to call on them to disband.
Mr Kelly’s question came amid recent controversy around DUP engagement with representatives of loyalist paramilitaries.
The North Belfast MLA also asked Mr Byrne for an update on the PSNI investigation into alleged UDA threats to supporters of Sir Jeffrey Donaldson in the recent DUP leadership contest with Edwin Poots.
Mr Byrne declined to be drawn on Mr Kelly’s question on politicians meeting with paramilitaries, insisting he did not want to comment on a “political” issue.
Deputy Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said he was not aware of a specific law that prevented such meetings taking place.
In answer to Mr Kelly’s question on the alleged UDA threats, Mr Byrne said: “We have commenced an investigation. So far there has been nobody approached to answer questions or has been arrested but’s that something that is now progressing through (Assistant Chief Constable) Mark McEwan’s work in crime operations.”
In response to the exchanges, Ulster Unionist board member Mike Nesbitt asked whether the PSNI still stands by the 2015 assessment of the IRA army council.
Mr Byrne replied: “We stand by that 2015 assessment, we said that on a number of occasions.”
Mr Storey said there is a need to look again at the assessment.
“2015 was the assessment, we need that assessment revisited,” he said.
“Because we need to know who is in the army council, what their associations are, because the smoke and mirrors and the denial and the shifting of blame needs to come to an end, and so does the hypocrisy of some who stand in this meeting today.”
The Chief Constable told the board that it would not be the PSNI’s role to commission a reassessment.
“I stand to be corrected but I think my recollection is that reassessment is a matter for the Secretary of State (Brandon Lewis),” he said.
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