No organised ‘from the centre’ criminality any more…

Less than a month after the cross-party group of MPs on the NI Affairs Committee delivered their report on Organised Crime in Northern Ireland, and the OCTF report, and a week after his MacGill Summer School lecture in which he suggested that Sinn Féin should co-operate on the ground with the police while withholding constitutional endorsement – a lecture described, in this report, by the SF leader Gerry Adams as “patronising republicans” – the Secretary of State for Wales and Northern Irleand, following his previous noting of a certain commitment, has given his assessment of PIRA involvement in organised crime[not the headline – Ed] Updated links

“There probably is still some localised individual criminality by former and maybe existing Provisional IRA members for their own private gain,” he said.

“What there is not is organised ‘from the centre’ criminality any more.”

“To that extent the IRA are delivering on their commitments made last July, not just in respect of shutting down paramilitary activity but also shutting down criminality.”

Press Association reports also remarks on the Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell comments, although those comments seem to fall slightly short of the backing claimed:

Claiming the IRA had brought a halt to both its paramilitarism and crime, he told how leading members of Sinn Fein had called for the police to investigate a recent vodka robbery in the Irish Republic when it was alleged that two members of the Provisional movement were involved.

Mr McDowell said: “I believe that`s the first time remarks of that kind have been made in relation to a matter of that kind.”

Asked if he believed the IRA`s war was now over following its declarations and disarmament last summer, he added: “The Irish Government and British Government are working on that assumption, based on the evidence we have.”

They certainly do not go close to the previous statement on PIRA involvement in organised crime from Taoiseach Bertie Ahern at the end of June:

“On criminality I’m glad to report there is no link whatsoever that we have traced in a long, long, long way back of IRA involvement in criminality of any kind in the Republic of Ireland.”

However, given their previous report in April which warned that…

We have no reason to amend our earlier view that money is a strategic asset and that the organisation [PIRA] will look to the long-term exploitation of discreetly laundered assets which were previously gained illegally.

.. whether the forthcoming September October IMC report concurs will likely be a more telling factor in any attempt to put pressure on the DUP or others. And there will remain the argument asked, and answered, previously by Denis Bradley, and a question that, perhaps notably was not put to Michael McDowell – “Is Sinn Féin fit for government?”

It’s also worth noting that the statements from the Secretary of State and the Irish Justice Minister came following a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, and a couple of paragraphs from the Joint Communiqué are also worth looking at:

Security Issues

The Conference reviewed the current security situation. The two Governments reaffirmed their belief that the PIRA leadership is committed to exclusively peaceful means. The two Governments condemned the continued activities of loyalist and dissident republican paramilitary organisations and stressed that such activities will continue to be tackled robustly by the relevant criminal justice agencies in both jurisdictions. In this context the Conference reiterated its expectation that all paramilitary groups, from both sides of the community, will cease their paramilitary and criminal activities, fully commit to the peace process and take the necessary steps to put their arms beyond use.[added emphasis]

and…

Loyalism

While noting with concern that loyalist paramilitaries continued to engage in a variety of violent and other criminal activities, the Conference commended the efforts being made within loyalist paramilitary organisations to move away decisively from such activities and to steer the organisations towards positive community development. The Governments reiterated their commitment to support these efforts at transformation.[added emphasis]

Of course, both statements in the communiqué tally completely with the actual approach being taken by the two governments in regard to the UDA… or by others in regard to the UVF.. and they are not, at all, being snookered by the rhetoric..

The question that keeps cropping up, in my mind at least, is do the governments believe that this really is the best we can hope for?

MoreThe Alliance Party’s David Ford has responded:

“This statement is unhelpful and it will not change the minds of those sceptical about IRA activity ending.

“We have suffered in the past, when Ministers have acted as cheerleaders for paramilitary organisations, and made positive comments when they have not been justified.

“This is yet more soundbite politics from Peter Hain.

“Whatever the motivation of Minister, it is time he realised that the sceptics are not listening to him.

David Ford concluded: “Mr Hain should not undermine or second-guess the work of the IMC. He needs to leave such statements to IMC, as it is their role, and their role only, to report on paramilitary criminality.”