A critique of the Chief Constable’s statement on alleged PIRA involvement in the murder of Kevin McGuigan

Before considering my analysis of specific excerpts from George Hamilton’s statement on alleged PIRA activity, readers – if they haven’t already – may want to read the PSNI Chief Constable’s statement in full.

Moreover, while I do feel there are a number of issues with what George Hamilton says in his statement, I am conscious that the political sandwich he finds himself in is far from enviable. Few European Police Chiefs are pressured into treading so carefully. The post-power sharing policing policy of not pursuing crime in a straightforward way must be frustrating.

“We assess that in the organisational sense the Provisional IRA does not exist for paramilitary purposes.”

First of all, the Chief Constable inaccurately equates “paramilitary purposes” with activities of a political nature. In other words, he is saying that because alleged PIRA activity is not part of an explicit campaign against the state, the PIRA is not acting for “paramilitary purposes”. Perhaps the Chief Constable ought to do more research into the nature of paramilitaries – or at least be less selective in his understanding – because “paramilitary purposes” extend well beyond the narrow framework of open war.

For instance, if members of the RIRA or CIRA were believed to be complicit in the murder of a former paramilitary figure, would their action not be viewed in paramilitary terms?

Could the Chief Constable explain how commitment to the Peace Process negates the paramilitary purposes of a paramilitary’s actions?

“Our assessment indicates that a primary focus of the Provisional IRA is now promoting a peaceful, political Republican agenda.”

The Chief Constable says here that “promoting a peaceful, political Republican agenda” is a primary focus of the Provisional IRA.

So what are its secondary and tertiary focuses?

And should these other focuses (which the CC clearly acknowledges) be overlooked for the sake of the primary focus?

“It is our assessment that the Provisional IRA is committed to following a political path and is no longer engaged in terrorism.”

Again, the Chief Constable’s interpretation of the relevant terms is questionable. He equates “terrorism” with the Provisional IRA’s armed campaign for the reunification of Ireland, but opts to describe alleged PIRA retaliation for the death of Gerard “Jock” Davison as criminal. According to Terrorism Act of 2000, terrorism is defined as follows:

“The use or threat of action designed to influence the government or an international governmental organisation or to intimidate the public, or a section of the public; made for the purposes of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause; and it involves or causes:

serious violence against a person;

serious damage to a property;

a threat to a person’s life;

a serious risk to the health and safety of the public; or

serious interference with or disruption to an electronic system.”

Was the murder of Kevin McGuigan – according to what the PSNI have revealed – not a coded message that Republican areas should be careful of the idea that members of the PIRA aren’t as deadly as ever?

How is that not violence of a political nature?

If what the PSNI say is accurate, the Provisional IRA continues – when it feels necessary – to enforce the fear factor that helps it to control Republican communities in Belfast.

That is political.

“Some current Provisional IRA and former members continue to engage in a range of criminal activity and occasional violence in the interest of personal gain or personal agendas.”

George Hamilton noted “the continuing existence and cohesion of the Provisional hierarchy” in his previous sentence, yet he suggests here that current Provisional IRA members are independently pursuing criminal activity. This would be believable if there wasn’t in fact a Provisional leadership, but the Chief Constable clearly indicates that there is. If current PIRA members were recklessly pursuing their own self-interests at the potential cost of their hierarchy’s political strategy, would they really be current members of the PIRA?

Is it really plausible that current members of the Provisional IRA – note: not former members, or active dissidents – would partake in a paramilitary operation without securing some sort of nod of the head from someone with authority within the movement? Particularly in the context of Belfast – Provisional Republicanism’s northern hub.

Have the PIRA ever taken kindly to rank and file flippantly defying orders?

“I want to comment on the connection, or lack of connection between the PIRA and the group calling itself ‘Action Against Drugs’. Action Against Drugs has emerged from within the Republican community from a range of backgrounds. Some are former members of the Provisional IRA, but others have links to Violent Dissident Republican groups and others are from a pure organised crime background. This group is intent on taking action against what it perceives as anti-social elements in Belfast but this is done in pursuit of their own criminal agenda. They are little more than an organised crime group in my view and we assess that Action Against Drugs is an independent group that is not part of, or a cover name for the Provisional IRA.”

How the Chief Constable views the broad nature of AAD is not really relevant. Last Thursday Detective Superintendent Kevin Geddes stated his belief that current members of the PIRA partook in the AAD-led paramilitary operation to kill Kevin McGuigan. The PSNI’s clear differentiation between former (dissident) and current members of the PIRA is key. DS Geddes did not talk about individuals that are “known to have been involved with the IRA” or something similarly past tense. What Geddes’ comments suggested was that rather than merely acting as a sort of shadowy advisory council to the Republican Movement, the PIRA also maintains an active membership beneath it.

Had the murder of Kevin McGuigan not occurred, did the PSNI plan on informing the public of its view that the PIRA not only exists at a hierarchical level, but maintains active personnel?

All of this seems to be a rather inconvenient admission on the part of the PSNI.

“… we are currently not in possession of information that indicates that Provisional IRA involvement was sanctioned or directed at a senior or organisational level within the Provisional IRA or the broader Republican movement.”

It’s important to note that while the PSNI are yet to uncover evidence indicating that the leadership of the PIRA were aware of the plan to kill Kevin McGuigan and didn’t object to its members’ involvement; the Chief Constable did not rule it out.

But moreover, how could he secure such information anyway? Obviously Sinn Féin are going to portray the entire incident as the work of renegades when asked; and with the PIRA presumably having a considerably scaled down structure due to the infrequent nature of its activity; the PSNI – in this instance – may not have very many informers capable of providing concrete intelligence (especially with the resources having to be invested in the more pressing dissident threat).

Anyone that’s read a book on Republican paramilitaries knows about the type of meticulous micro-managing that goes on.

Given the inevitable political fallout of the Belfast PIRA hitting the headlines, the current members of the PIRA that partook in the paramilitary operation to kill Kevin McGuigan would only have been given the go-ahead on the strict condition that they leave no trace of the organization’s top brass. The personnel involved would also have been told to expect to be strategically castigated by the Movement publicly if questions started being asked of the Provisional Republican Movement as a whole.

As I acknowledged earlier, it’s easy to disregard the intricacies of being the head of police in Northern Ireland; but at the same time, it’s difficult to ignore the dubious theme of the Chief Constable’s statement: that current members of the PIRA partaking in a paramilitary operation doesn’t really say anything about the PIRA.

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