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Fitzgerald orders 'fresh assessment' of Provisional IRA activity

Published 25/08/2015

Frances Fitzgerald, right, told Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan, to investigate any new evidence about the Provisional IRA
Frances Fitzgerald, right, told Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan, to investigate any new evidence about the Provisional IRA

The Justice Minister has ordered a "fresh assessment" of the activities of the Provisional IRA.

Frances Fitzgerald told Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan, to investigate any new evidence about the supposedly defunct organisation's structures.

The security move follows remarks by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) that the paramilitary group still exists.

The PSNI also said some members of the Provisional IRA were involved in the murder of father-of-nine Kevin McGuigan in Belfast almost two weeks ago.

"Recent developments are of considerable concern but what we need to do now is establish all the current facts and that is what is happening in the rigorous investigation being carried out by the PSNI," said Ms Fitzgerald.

"I have asked the Garda Commissioner to liaise closely with the PSNI and carry out a fresh assessment of the status of PIRA in the light of any new evidence emerging during the PSNI investigation into the death of Mr McGuigan."

Fine Gael's Ms Fitzgerald said the current security assessment is that the IRA remains on an exclusively political path with "military" units disbanded.

That assessment also shows the organisation has lost its former terrorist capability and is not involved in illegal activity.

However, contrary to instructions, some individual members were involved in criminality for personal gain, she said.

"To simply say PIRA continues to exist as if nothing has changed would be quite wrong," Ms Fitzgerald said.

But she said security assessments needed to be kept under review in the light of the emergence of any fresh evidence in the ongoing PSNI investigation.

The justice minister said she backed an earlier call by Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers for parties in the North to get on with their work and allow the PSNI investigation into the killing of Mr McGuigan to proceed.

"This is a time for cool heads and measured judgments," she added.

Ms Villiers said on Monday it was no surprise that the Provisional IRA still exists.

"My understanding is, very much in line with that of the chief constable, that a number of the organisational structures of the Provisional IRA still exist but that there is no evidence it's involved in terrorism or paramilitary activity," she said.

The analysis - almost 20 years after the Provos' last ceasefire and a decade on from decommissioning its weapons - has triggered another political controversy at Stormont.

Unionists have threatened a bid to exclude Sinn Fein from the devolved powersharing Executive. Sinn Fein said there is no basis for the threats.

But Ms Villiers said she remained satisfied that all parties in the Assembly remained committed to peace.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said over the weekend the IRA has "gone away".

But Tanaiste Joan Burton said today she did not believe him.

"When people leave the stage, that leaves the question where do they go? Are they at the side of the stage or at the back of the stage?" she said.

Ms Burton said she accepted the security assessments by police chiefs on both sides of the border, but added the apparent existence of IRA structures is "deeply worrying for anyone who cares about democracy in Ireland".

The Labour leader, whose party is in contention with Sinn Fein ahead of an imminent general election in the republic, denied she was using the controversy for party political purposes.

Meanwhile, PSNI detectives investigating the murder of Mr McGuigan today arrested a man aged 47 in Belfast city centre.

Detective chief inspector John McVea said: "The suspect has been taken to the Serious Crime Suite at Antrim Police Station for questioning."

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