Miriam Lord: War of words over IRA’s army council

Enda and Micheál stand together as Sinn Féin fumes

Do you remember Lola? She was a showgirl. She danced in the Copacabana, but that was 30 years ago when there used to be a show. Then times changed and disco took over.

But deluded Lola still turned out in that dress, faded feathers in her hair, still imagining she ran the show. A very poignant story. The members of the IRA army council must have great sympathy for poor Lola. They’re in the same position now.

You see, one thing is clear: there remains an IRA army council. Must be. Nobody in the Dáil was saying otherwise yesterday. Yet no IRA. This must be very confusing for the members, whoever they might be, living on past glories when there’s a new show in town.

Do they still wear faded fatigues when they meet? Do they still imagine they are handing down orders and directing operations? There's no point in asking Gerry Adams about how they might be feeling. He hasn't the foggiest.


“The IRA is gone and is not coming back,” he said a couple of months ago. Not a word about what happened to its all-powerful council. So understandably, the Sinn Féin leader is nonplussed by the contents of a British government-appointed panel’s report into paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland, along with a Garda report into the Provisional IRA.

They concluded that the IRA still existed, albeit in reduced form, and that the army council was still very much calling the shots, keeping an eye on the Provos and Sinn Féin with “an overarching strategy”. But more into the political theatre of war these days. Leaflets and the like.

Gerry’s reaction was to dismiss them as nothing more than part of “a contrived crisis”. The Taoiseach and the leader of Fianna Fáil were not so quick to write off the findings, implying they are more inclined to accept the bone fides of the authors than the Sinn Féin leader’s.

Umpteen occasions

Enda Kenny

said declarations that the IRA had gone away or left the stage were simply not credible. “The reports speak for themselves . . . I’ve said to Deputy Adams on many occasions that I’ve never accepted he was not a member of the IRA over those years or a member of the army council. He has denied that on umpteen occasions.”

Micheál Martin was worried about the “overarching” influence of the army council over paramilitary and political operations.

“Taoiseach, are people absolutely certain that any of the proceeds from organised crime that’s been going on by alleged individual Provo republicans is not finding its way to the political project?” he asked.

Across the floor, Sinn Féin deputies were fuming. "The Galway tent, you mean?" retorted Gerry. Pádraig Mac Lochlainn was incandescent. "That's shameful," he shouted at Martin. "You're a gurrier. A political gurrier."

Micheál mentioned the Northern Bank robbery and how an overarching influence might have a consequence, instancing three men who were found guilty in 2010 of handling the proceeds. “One is an unsuccessful candidate for Sinn Féin, the other was a fundraiser for Sinn Féin and the third pleaded guilty and described himself as a republican and Sinn Féin member.”

Blind eye

“ So there’s form, is my point . . . That happened, Taoiseach, and we can’t turn a blind eye.” Sandra McLellan looked across at him. “Sure everyone is talking,” she dripped.

Who would have thought, mused Micheál, that 17 years after the Good Friday agreement “we would essentially have an organisation, the strategy of which is overseen by an army council, in accordance with this report, overseen by the army council that retains access to weaponry, that has a military structure and an active intelligence-gathering department. That’s what we are up against in the Republic.”

The Sinn Féin members appeared to find all this highly entertaining. But their reactions to what Enda and Micheál had to say seemed out of kilter. Gerry and his deputy leader kept smiling, while Pádraig laughed out loud, a lot. There was a lot of laughing all round, but it sounded forced.

“This is what we are up against in the Republic. The situation has always been one of denial, denial, attack, attack,” said Micheál. “I’ve just been called a gurrier by Deputy Mac Lochlainn.”

“That’s because you are. You are. You’re the prime gurrier here,” came the reply.

“He is,” cried Pádraig’s colleague Jonathan O’Brien.

The Taoiseach came to Martin’s defence. While they have differences on many matters, “I have never descended to the level of what you’ve just been called from the far side”, he declared.

“Laugh it off,” snorted Pádraig. Enda insisted there was no need to descend to base name-calling. “Two peas in a pod,” said Jonathan.

“Two Mother Teresas,” spat Pádraig. Whereupon Independent TD Micheál Healy-Rae tried to get in on the act. “Two knees in a pants,” he cried, bafflingly.

Nevertheless, said the Taoiseach, the intelligence reports – based on reports from IRA members – about the army council overseeing the IRA and Sinn Féin posed serious questions for Adams.

“Very good” said Pádraig. “M15 would love that.”

Whatever else, said Enda, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil leaders “are not subject to direction from any army council”.

“They are only subject to bankers and developers,” huffed O’Brien.