Did the IRA go away?

27 Aug 2015 Nick Garbutt    Last updated: 27 Aug 2015

Are there any politicians and commentators who seriously did not know that the IRA still existed? 

The security correspondent Brian Rowan has recently been citing the Independent Monitoring Commission Report of 2008's observations about IRA activity and post ceasefire status, a report which was, and continues to be in the public domain and raises questions about claims by politicians and others that they were unaware of the IRA's continued existence.  

We reproduce the relevant sections in full with no further comment: 

The remarks in our previous report were focused on leadership. We want to draw attention to the phrase we used, which in our view is key to understanding the transition of a paramilitary group to an entirely peaceful position: “relinquishing the leadership structures appropriate to a time of armed conflict”. By referring to the relinquishing of such structures we recognised that the process of change might not and need not necessarily involve their being formally or publicly abandoned.What matters is that the armed conflict is completely over and the leadership structures have definitely ceased to function in the way they did during the time ofconflict, by whatever means that end might be attained.

2.4 In our Twelfth Report in October 2006 we compared the position of all the paramilitary groups then and three years before in late 2003. We referred to the leadership of PIRA as having changed profoundly and adopted a clear strategy to follow a political path.. We said that no other paramilitary organisation had undergone this transformation..

2.7 Is PIRA committed to following an exclusively political path? We are convinced that it is. The leadership has consistently taken a stand on this, not only through public statements but also with the members of the organisation, which is arguably more persuasive as evidence of real intent and delivery. The strategy is firm and clear. Consistent with this strategy, significant numbers of PIRA members, including senior ones, have, at the behest of the leadership, moved to political roles in Sinn Féin. Others have moved to community work or have dropped out of activism entirely. The membership has backed the strategy and we can see no grounds on which it would or could be reversed.

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 organisation’s 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. 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. As we have said in successive earlier reports, we are unable to say what has happened to funds which PIRA previously illegally gained. There is no evidence that any funds are being used for paramilitary purposes.

2.11 There are three key issues so far as we are concerned. The first is the nature of the course that PIRA is on, whether it will stay on that course, and whether the organisation does now or will in future present any threat to peace or to the democratic process. We firmly believe that PIRA is set on and will remain on the political path. We do not believe that it presents a threat to peace or to democratic politics.

2.12 The second issue is the nature of PIRA as an organisation. We believe that for some time now it has given up what it used to do and that by design it is being allowed to wither away. There have not been and we do not foresee that there will be formal announcements about the disbandment of all or parts of the structure. 

2.13 The third issue is whether PIRA might re-emerge as a terrorist organisation. While in theory any organisation can be resurrected however long it has been dormant or non-existent, our answer in respect of the PIRA which existed when we first reported four and a half years ago is firmly in the negative. In our view the way in which the leadership has adopted an entirely different course, disbanded terrorist related structures and capacity and engaged in different activities, and members have moved on to other things, means that the PIRA of the recent and violent past is well beyond recall.

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