Sinn Fein using Provisional IRA cash to undermine democracy
Sinn Fein does not want the IRA in the headlines. It does, however, want people to know that what befell Paul Quinn and Kevin McGuigan could happen to them too, writes Sean O'Callaghan
So, the Provisional IRA still exists in some slimmed-down form and has access to some guns. Some of its members get involved in "criminal activity" but without the sanction or knowledge of the army council, which is elected from a 12-person executive which is, in turn, elected by an army convention, which is supposed to meet regularly in "peacetime".
We haven't been told if there has been an IRA convention in recent times or if an IRA executive still exists.
In fact, like the proverbial mushroom, we are normally kept in the dark and fed bull. It is only when the Provisional IRA steps reluctantly and briefly out of the shadows, as in the murder of Kevin McGuigan, that we are told something of what might actually be going on - and then only with great reluctance.
The real question is not that this goes on; most of us are not entirely stupid and it has been patently obvious. But what's the purpose, what's the point?
Does this Provisional IRA structure exist primarily to police the ceasefire, to keep us all safe in our beds at night? Why doesn't it just leave it up to the PSNI and the Garda, who, by all accounts, it supports?
The police seem to be making a fairly good job of it so far. All Sinn Fein - or is that the IRA? - has to do is dish the dirt on dissident activity. It knows more about what goes on in its communities than anyone else.
Truth is none of the recent events and subsequent focus on the IRA does Sinn Fein much good politically on either side of the border. In fact, it is potentially disastrous for its hopes in the next Irish general election early next year, so why continue like this?
I can advance a number of reasons, but always bear in mind that people with no experience of democratic accountability might just behave badly because they think - and have good reason to believe - that they can get away with it.
People who were strongly identified with the Provisionals during the "long war" must have some worry about dissidents and "rogue loyalists". The knowledge that an armed IRA would hit back is probably a deterrent, truth be told, but is hardly how a "government party" should behave.
I believe there is a bigger fear, particularly in Belfast. That is a fear of revenge from the many victims of Provo rule.
From those who had a parent killed to those who were kneecapped or mutilated for anti-social activities, or had it happen to one of their family.
There are an awful lot of people with an awful lot of grudges who might be quick to seek revenge if the IRA was not there. An armed IRA, I mean, not some old comrades' association. Why else did it murder Kevin McGuigan?
This is all of its own making, of course, because, since 1970, it terrorised those within its own community who fell foul of it in any way. And now it is frightened of the consequences - simple as that. I think that particular situation applies primarily and mostly to Belfast.
Then there is smuggling in south Armagh, which you can't really untangle from north Louth and Monaghan. Raising money from smuggling in border areas long predates the existence of the Provisional IRA. But it was its arrival on the scene, particularly in south Armagh, that transformed it into a multi-million pound conspiracy which, along with the drinking clubs in Belfast and various scams, robberies and kidnappings, funded much of the IRA activity in the lean years.
What is this money raised for? Is it, as some would suggest, simply a means to enrich "former" IRA men. Or is it, as I firmly believe, mostly used to fund Sinn Fein?
This point is absolutely crucial. If it is true that Sinn Fein, which is a central part of a devolved administration in Northern Ireland, is inextricably linked with a slimmed-down Provisional IRA and receives money which is raised criminally, then we are in a place which is deeply disturbing and dangerous.
To ignore it, for any reason, would be criminal and genuinely corrosive of democracy in Northern Ireland, but also in the Republic. Sinn Fein desperately needs, at the very least, to finish up as the official opposition in the Republic after the next general election.
Up to now it has hardly knocked on the door, and the hour may well be getting late for the present leadership.
To achieve that it will throw everything it can at it, including the money the IRA raises illegally north and south of the border.
I have never heard of anybody smuggling something from Newry to Crossmaglen, or Dublin to Dundalk.
Sinn Fein is, therefore, using IRA money to influence elections north and south of the border.
The truth is that smuggling would exist in south Armagh whether the IRA existed or not, so why not benefit from it?
I have no doubt that would be the judgment of republican leaders. And, of course, they have been getting away with it for years now, so why stop?
A power-sharing arrangement in Northern Ireland, with no official opposition, was surely not intended to be a long-term arrangement but rather a bridge to "normal politics".
Judged on that criterion, it has been a miserable failure. A cosy arrangement between the DUP and Sinn Fein which just entrenches sectarianism as they inevitably become comfortable, well-fed and estranged from reality is of no lasting benefit to the people of Northern Ireland.
For unionists, constitutional nationalists and the British Government to allow that to continue while Sinn Fein uses IRA money to subvert democracy in the Republic is particularly stupid, selfish and short-sighted.
It is perfectly clear that Sinn Fein is happy for things to continue as they were. Staying in Stormont helps to promote a "responsible" image in the Republic.
The republican leadership does not want the IRA in the news. It does, however, want people to know and be aware that what happened to Paul Quinn and Kevin McGuigan could happen to them. And, of course, it wants the money.
Above all, this leadership wants and needs power in the Republic if the project is to succeed. See how "responsibly" it would behave up at Stormont then.
James Connolly: My Search For The Man, The Myth And His Legacy by Sean O'Callaghan is published by Century at £18.99