I’ve been in the news business for more years than I care to remember but I still can’t be sure which stories take off and which stay firmly on the ground. Sunday newspapers like the old Sunday News were often vehicles of choice for stories that were flyers for internal squabbles, loyalist v loyalist or republican fragmentation of one kind or another, often extremely nasty. I wonder if we’re seeing a similar phenomenon about the supposedly defunct IRA? I’m too far away to make a judgment. Jim Cusack has been a remorseless observer of paramilitary doings for many years. On the face if it, this reads like straightforward story on an inside page not by any means hyped, no wider conclusions drawn. But it pulls me up short. This is an account of an organisation with some of the old reflexes in full working order, even though the overall command structure may not be operating. This story isn’t unique but the significance of accounts like this mounts with every official assurance that the IRA is out of business. People who point this out are often called wreckers or pedants – I plead not guilty m’lud. The account specifically contradicts some of the generalised findings of the 19th IMC Report of 3 September (extracts below). Can anyone come up with an alternative explanation? I’d like to hear it. Will this story languish or take off? What are the police doing about it ? Impossible to say – yet. Many people don’t want it to be true while others will rub their hands. Both are pretty tiresome. Newsrooms, please follow-up with more than one call to the PSNI. From 19th IMC REPORT
2.8 Has PIRA abandoned its terrorist structures, preparations and capability? We
believe that it has. The so-called military departments have ceased to function
and have been disbanded. It has been put to us that these structural changes
have had a profound and debilitating effect on the organisational capacity of PIRA.
We share that view and consider that the organisations former terrorist capability
has been lost. PIRA is not recruiting or training members and the membership
continues to decline, and there is some issue as to what membership means in the
absence of activity. In so far as gathering information or intelligence may continue
in any limited way not in itself improper if it does not involve illegal methods or
intent – we believe that it is mainly for the purpose of ascertaining the nature of any
threat from dissident republicans.
2.9 Is PIRA involved in other illegal activity? We do not think that it is. Members
have been instructed not to engage in violence and we do not think there have
been any recent acts of PIRA violence or intimidation, either internally as a means
of imposing discipline or towards people outside the organisation.12 We are
satisfied that it is not involved in exiling or in any form of sectarian activity and it
has made clear to members that such activities are not acceptable. We are
satisfied that PIRA as an organisation is not involved in crime and has instructed
its members not to be involved in criminal activity. Some individual members
remain criminally active but the organisation does not support those involved.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London