Brian’s weariness at another political crisis notwithstanding, it would be a mistake to dismiss reaction to recent events as a “kerfuffle”. There are legitimate concerns, and two men have been murdered. The Irish Justice Minister, Fine Gael’s Frances Fitzgerald, has asked the Garda Commissioner for a “fresh assessment” of Provisional IRA activities to take into account “what the PSNI have been learning about any PIRA structures as a result of [the rigorous investigation being carried out by the PSNI into the murder of Kevin McGuigan]”.
Although, given the Justice Minister’s comments at the weekend, and the Northern Ireland Secretary of State’s declared previous knowledge, how would that differ from the current, presumably up-to-date assessment…
As RTÉ reports
In a statement this morning, Frances Fitzgerald said: “Recent developments are of considerable concern but what we need to do now is establish all the current facts and that is what is happening in the rigorous investigation being carried out by the PSNI.”
Ms Fitzgerald added: “As was clear from what the Chief Constable said at the weekend there are no simplistic answers about the continued existence of PIRA.
“To simply say PIRA continues to exist as if nothing has changed would be quite wrong. To be blunt, making organisational judgements is complicated by the fact that many, if not all, members of PIRA were members of Sinn Féin.”
The leader of the coalition government’s junior partner, and Tánaiste, Joan Burton, has also commented
In a statement, [Joan Burton] said: “While I accept the assessments of the PSNI and the Garda that the Provisional IRA is no longer involved in terrorist activity, that is of little comfort given that members of the organisation are clearly involved in serious criminality.
“In that respect, while everyone acknowledges that Northern Ireland no longer faces the kind of paramilitary threat that the IRA once posed, its communities are still at risk from an organisation linked to murder and racketeering.
“This is an insidious threat to Northern Ireland’s future as a healthy, stable democracy, and therefore a threat to the whole of this island.
“It is therefore not good enough for Sinn Féin to deny all knowledge of Provisional IRA criminality and pretend it simply doesn’t exist.
“And it’s particularly reprehensible for Gerry Adams to be triumphalist about the IRA supposedly remaining ‘undefeated’ while communities suffer from continued criminality at the hands of members of the organisation.”
In the same RTÉ report, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin criticises the governments’ reaction
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has said the governments on both sides of the border seem to be implicitly accepting the existence of the IRA.
He said by saying it does not exist in the way it did in the past they are almost condoning it.
Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster, Mr Martin said he was taken aback by Ms Villiers saying it came as no surprise to her that the IRA still existed.
Mr Martin said the manner in which Ms Villiers responded to the crisis “left an awful lot to be desired”.
In relation to unionists considering their options in terms of the Stormont executive, Mr Martin said it is a very difficult situation for all of the parties in the executive.
He said the peace process belongs to everybody and that at times it becomes very frustrating when serious questions are raised that the response is “you are going to damage the peace process”.
In response, a still-in-denial Sinn Féin have claimed that Micheál Martin is, yep, “putting at risk” the peace process, the Tánaiste of deflection – “The reality is that the organisation [that] Joan Burton refers to no longer exists.” – and the Minister for Justice of breaching the code of conduct for office holders “and we are currently looking into this.”
Meanwhile, in the Irish Times Gerry Moriarty returns to a key element in the recent events under investigation, which I noted previously, the Provisional IRA investigation into the murder of Jock Davison that preceded the murder of Kevin McGuigan, which police have stated they believe involved members of the Provisional IRA.
As Davison’s body lay concealed inside a police forensic tent, a number of senior IRA figures arrived in the Markets. They were grim and hard-faced and determined. These were people you would see standing in the background at Ardoyne or in west Belfast during periods of tension over loyal order parades or at other times of sectarian trouble at the Catholic-Protestant interfaces.
They kept their counsel, not speaking to the press, leaving that sort of work to the local Sinn Féin representatives but you could see that their IRA pedigree gave them weight locally. They would have the ear of the likes of Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams.
In the Markets that IRA reputation and clout would have given them access to information about the Davison murder that never would have been available to the PSNI investigating detectives.
Not surprisingly the situation that day was very tense. Davison was a very senior republican who’d had a bad falling out with Kevin McGuigan. He’d been a longstanding member of the IRA. After the 1994 IRA ceasefire he was involved with McGuigan in Direct Action Against Drugs (DAAD) in the murder of about 12 alleged drug dealers, some of them very minor drugs figures.
It was another of those grotesque episodes of the Troubles – almost as if now that the IRA was on ceasefire some of its members needed an outlet for their bloodlust, so let’s have at the druggies.
Davison was also blamed for giving the order for the murder by IRA members of Robert McCartney close to the Markets in January 2005. He suffered some IRA censure for that killing but subsequently was rehabilitated back into the provisional republican movement and was a leading community activist in the Markets area when he was gunned down.
That day most people were reluctant to say much to the press, one man reflecting the general view: “Do I want to comment? The IRA! F**k no, there’d be trouble.”
Gerry Moriarty goes on to note
Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers, taking her cue from Hamilton, accepted that the IRA still existed but majored on the chief constable’s view that the murder was not “sanctioned or authorised by the Provisional IRA as an organisation”.
She believed Sinn Féin subscribed to the principles of democracy and consent, as is required to keep its Ministers in the Northern Executive.
She was also of the view that people hardly should be surprised that some IRA structures were still in place and that the IRA still existed.
Unionists, however, citing how the IRA formally ended its armed campaign in July 2005, did indeed express such surprise. They too know the names of the IRA figures who were in the Markets the day of the Davison murder. And they know too that they would be well known to Adams and McGuinness.
Yet whatever suspicions unionists might hold that does not criminally link these IRA people to the internal republican investigation of the Davison murder; nor does it criminally link them to the murder of McGuigan.
But if they are brought into the frame – even if it is by arrest rather than charge – then that could cause problems for the Sinn Fein leadership, to whom they would be linked. It would put pressure on unionists to respond.
Well, it could… And at least one newspaper has been given “the names of four people alleged to have carried out the [PIRA] inquiry“.
But we also know that Gerry Adams doesn’t like to ask too many questions [He “learnt a long time ago, if you don’t ask, you can’t tell”! – Ed], and he doesn’t like people asking “stupid” questions either…
In the Guardian, Henry McDonald notes one other potentially salient point
Over the last 24 hours there have been reports that McGuigan was spotted several weeks ago staking out the home of a prominent PIRA figure from west Belfast. A PIRA surveillance unit that was monitoring McGuigan’s movements observed him around the republican’s home a few weeks before the shooting, the reports said.
The individual being watched by McGuigan was part of an internal PIRA unit set up to investigate the Davison murder. This secret unit concluded that McGuigan had killed Davison in revenge over a longstanding vendetta between the two former PIRA comrades. However, McGuigan, through his solicitor, had denied any role in killing Davison.
One republican source told the Guardian that the sight of McGuigan stalking the senior PIRA figure just a few weeks ago was another reason why republicans were prepared to risk a fresh political crisis and kill him outside his home in the Catholic Short Strand district on 13 August.
This incident before McGuigan’s death was said to have convinced the internal PIRA unit that unless they moved against their former estranged comrade, he would eventually move against them.
Final word, for now, to Gerry Moriarty
Very few politicians want to see the collapse of the Executive and Assembly. But two men are dead. Some sort of moral imperative should apply regardless of the dictates of political pragmatism. What happens next is unpredictable but it is serious.