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Michael McDowell: IRA allowed to continue as 'withering husk'

Former Tánaiste Michael McDowell. Picture by Niall Carson, Press Association

THE IRA was allowed to continue as an "unarmed and withering husk" by the Irish and British governments, a former Tánaiste has said.

Senior lawyer and former Progressive Democrats leader Michael McDowell claimed the two governments felt that allowing an "inert IRA" to continue would prevent dissident republicans from claiming themselves as the Provisionals' "legitimate heir".

Writing in the Irish Times, Mr McDowell said the governments decided an unarmed IRA would be the lesser of two evils.

He was the Republic's justice minister when the IRA announced in 2005 that it had ended its armed campaign.

"Past splits and schisms in the IRA showed only too clearly that the IRA could more easily metastasise rather than wind itself up," Mr McDowell wrote. "That was seen, and I think rightly, as being the greater evil to be avoided.

"The governments took the view that an inert, freeze-dried husk of the IRA was preferable to passing the ideological torch to the dissidents.

"The analogy that was used at the time was that it would become like the 'Old IRA', a harmless grouping. That is what [Sinn Féin president Gerry] Adams warranted would be involved in the IRA 'going away'."

Mr McDowell's comments come after the Republic's justice minister Frances Fitzgerald asked gardaí to carry out a fresh assessment of Provisional IRA activity.

Ms Fitzgerald made the call amid a political row following the murder of Kevin McGuigan (53) in Belfast earlier this month.

The shooting was thought to have been in revenge for the murder of IRA commander Gerard 'Jock' Davison, shot dead in the Markets area of south Belfast in May.

Last week Chief Constable George Hamilton said be believes senior Provisional IRA members were involved in the McGuigan killing.

He added that the IRA still exists as an organisation, but not on a "war footing".

Mr Adams has again insisted that the IRA no longer exists.

Mr Adams said Sinn Féin has no responsibility for those who killed Mr McGuigan or Mr Davison.

He added that his party has no "specific responsibility to respond to the allegations made about the IRA, above and beyond what I have outlined here".

He accused other political parties of being "self-serving" and claimed Ms Fitzgerald had "uncharacteristically undermined her role as Minister for Justice to politically smear Sinn Féin".

"There is no basis for the charges made against Sinn Féin by our political opponents and if this descends into a political crisis it is a direct result of their stupidity and party political opportunism," he said.

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