Garda chief: force has never denied IRA still exists
THE Garda Commissioner has weighed into the controversy over Provisional IRA activity by warning the force has never denied the paramilitary group still exists.
Noirin O'Sullivan insisted that a letter sent to a Sinn Féin representative only stated there was no intelligence to support claims that it maintains its military structure and confines its criminal activities to fuel laundering, cigarette smuggling and counterfeiting.
In a lengthy statement on the deepening scandal over recent killings in Belfast, she said the assessment was consistent with the views of the now defunct Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC), set up to analyse paramilitary activity during the peace process.
"Indeed, the reply went on to cite other findings of the commission, including the fact that some former members of PIRA engaged in crime for personal gain, but without sanction or support from the organisation," the commissioner said.
The Garda chief said the force had been reluctant to comment in the wake of the murder of Kevin McGuigan (53) earlier this month as it was considered that it may not be helpful to the PSNI.
But she point-blank rejected claims that the force ever gave assurances that the Provisional IRA was gone.
The commissioner said: "The IMC's reports concluded, amongst other things, that the so-called 'military departments' had been disbanded and the former terrorist capability had been lost.
"The IMC has not indicated at any time that PIRA had ceased to exist; nor has An Garda Siochana."
The letter referred to was sent to Sinn Féin justice spokesman in the Republic, Padraig Mac Lochlainn, last February.
The Commissioner said: "The position of An Garda Siochana is that there has been no evidence available in this jurisdiction to call into question the assessment made by the IMC."
Commissioner O'Sullivan said the force constantly reviews its security assessments, and she said it will continue to as it liaises with the PSNI in the McGuigan murder probe.
"Our security assessments will continue to be based on credible intelligence, hard facts and emerging evidence," she said.
Justice Minister in the Republic, Frances Fitzgerald, earlier this week asked for an updated Garda opinion on Provisional IRA activity in the wake of the McGuigan killing.
"Down through the years many members of An Garda Siochana paid the ultimate sacrifice at the hands of the Provisional IRA. It is wrong to suggest that An Garda Siochana would in any way turn a blind eye to the activities of any such organisation," the commissioner said.
"I am also painfully conscious of the plight of victims of crimes and I can assure them that An Garda Siochana will continue to combat and investigate crime without fear or favour, whatever the backgrounds of the people involved."