IRA allowed continue to prevent vacuum, says Ahern
Former taoiseach appeals for ‘cool heads’ to ensure Stormont survives current crisis
Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern: “People should keep it calm.” Photograph: The Irish Times
Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern has said it was envisaged the Provisional IRA would continue to exist as an unarmed group to prevent a vacuum emerging that could be filled by dangerous dissident groups.
In an interview with The Irish Times, Mr Ahern, whose main achievement is the Northern Ireland peace process, said it is “time for cool heads” and a calm focus to ensure the Stormont institutions do not collapse.
His intervention follows days of increased political pressure and heightened rhetoric in the aftermath of the killing of republican Kevin McGuigan in Belfast.
Tánaiste Joan Burton spoke of a risk to democracy from “the development of a mafia- style organisation with codes of silence”. Meanwhile, Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald, accused Sinn Féin of being responsible for an “inevitable legacy” of the most serious crime left behind by the Provisional IRA.
“The bigger picture is the ongoing peace process,” Mr Ahern said. “It is always delicate. Cool nerves, think this through. It is terrible there are atrocities, but are those atrocities being done [by people] who might have been on the inside but are now long since on the outside?
“Unfortunately, there are always fringe players in the organisations,” he said. “People should keep it calm. We should never get lax about the bigger picture, and we should just keep that to the forefront and not talk ourselves into crisis. There is a bigger picture; the bigger picture is the ongoing process.
“These peripheral things, which I can only assume are not sanctioned, are going to continue to be a difficulty. That is something that has to be addressed.”
Mr Ahern also agreed with the assessment of former minister for justice, Michael McDowell, that the Irish and British governments allowed the Provisional IRA to continue as an “unarmed and withering husk” rather than risk a dissident group filling the void left by its disbandment.
Mr Ahern said it was envisaged that the Provisional IRA would develop along the lines of the old IRA and continue holding peaceful commemorations.
Writing in The Irish Times on Wednesday, Mr McDowell said: “The analogy that was used at the time was that it would become like the ‘Old IRA’, a harmless grouping.”
Asked about this description, Mr Ahern said: “That is a correct assessment and putting it to what happened in the old days in the IRA. They continued on commemorating things until 60 years after. It didn’t offend anybody . . . once all these things are peaceful.”