The Irish and British governments deliberately 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, former minister for justice Michael McDowell has said.
Writing in today’s Irish Times, Mr McDowell, who was minister when the IRA announced it had stood down in 2005, says both governments had a “clear political calculus” when it came to the organisation’s disbandment.
The history of the republican movement showed it could be possible for dissidents to fill the void left by a “treacherously” disbanded Provisional IRA.
Allowing an “inert” IRA which would become a “harmless grouping” like the old IRA was the lesser of two evils, Mr McDowell adds.
“When it came to the issue as to whether the IRA should take some steps of formal disbandment, the governments had a clear political calculus.
“The choice was between an IRA that became an inert, unarmed and withering husk or an open goal opportunity for dissidents to reform an army council as the legitimate heir of the body which had been ‘treacherously’ wound up.
“Past splits and schisms in the IRA showed only too clearly that the IRA could more easily metastasise rather than wind itself up. 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’.”
PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton has said the IRA still exists as an organisation, but not for paramilitary purposes.
Mr Hamilton said individual members were involved in the recent killing of Kevin McGuigan in Belfast but the PSNI has no information to suggest it was sanctioned at a senior level.
Arrested in Belfast
A 47-year-old man was arrested in Belfast yesterday by PSNI detectives investigating the killing.
He was the 11th person arrested as part of the inquiry. No one has been charged in connection with the killing.
The Coalition yesterday significantly increased pressure on Sinn Féin over the killing, with Tánaiste Joan Burton speaking of the risk to democracy from “the development of a Mafia-style organisation with codes of silence”.
Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has asked Garda Commissioner Noirín O'Sullivan to carry out a new assessment of the Provisional IRA's status "in the light of any new evidence emerging during the PSNI investigation into the death of Mr McGuigan".
Ms Fitzgerald said there are no “simplistic answers” about the continued existence of the terrorist organisation.
“To simply say PIRA continues to exist as if nothing has changed would be quite wrong.”
Sinn Féin said the assessment of the Provisional IRA would prove it no longer existed as an organisation and Laois-Offaly TD Brian Stanley said the party had “no problem” with such an evaluation.