Belfast Telegraph

Revelation the IRA still exists but isn't at war a nightmare scenario for Theresa Villiers

By Brian Rowan

When George Hamilton and Will Kerr emerged from that policing corridor on Saturday into a packed news conference, they were walking on political eggshells.

Every word is being listened to, dissected, scrutinised and analysed.

And Saturday's words from the Chief Constable and PSNI ACC Mr Kerr, in relation to the Kevin McGuigan murder, did not row back from what had previously been outlined by the senior investigating officer Detective Superintendent Kevin Geddes.

Hamilton described "connections and cooperation between Action Against Drugs as a group and a number of individuals who are members of the Provisional IRA".

Several days earlier, a senior police source called that cooperation a "joint enterprise".

The Chief Constable added: "We are currently not in possession of information that indicates that Provisional IRA involvement was sanctioned or directed at a senior or organisational level within the Provisional IRA or the broader republican movement."

He also described the IRA structure that still exists - the purpose of which has "radically changed".

The policing and intelligence assessment in the here-and-now is of a structure not on a 'war footing' but still managing a transition from conflict into peace.

But, the Ulster Unionist MP Tom Elliott has concerns about this assessment. "I thought the Chief Constable was trying to soften things - saying that the IRA are still there, but that their structures had changed and that both the IRA and Sinn Fein are committed to peace," he said.

"Everybody will want the IRA to genuinely go away. But I think that the past has shown they have no intention of doing that - the Frank Kerr murder, the Robert McCartney murder, the Paul Quinn murder and, now, the Kevin McGuigan murder.

"Is the Secretary of State going to ignore that or act on it?"

The Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams took issue with the police assessment for entirely different reasons.

"I do not accept the PSNI claims about the IRA," he said.

"The war is over. The IRA is gone and not coming back."

This is by no means the first time the issues of IRA guns, structure and activity have surfaced since the statement of 2005 ending the armed campaign and giving orders to dump arms:

Within months of decommissioning, MI5 and police intelligence challenged reports that all arms had been put beyond use.

In 2007, the IRA met in a convention before Sinn Fein endorsed new policing arrangements;

And arguments over IRA structures and an Army Council continued even after the deal leading to the Paisley-McGuinness Executive.

While the DUP demanded a statement publicly standing down the Army Council, the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) believed it would wither away or fall into disuse.

But the McGuigan murder and the assessment pointing to the involvement of current IRA members has brought an existing structure back into sharper focus.

There was some more explanation of police assessments when senior officers met with political parties on Saturday and in the news conference that followed.

But there are many more questions. Yesterday, addressing the Hunger Strike commemoration in Dundalk, Gerry Adams said: "The IRA has gone away - you know".

But it is going to take something more than those words to convince others.

That recent murder in the Short Strand has raised questions that won't easily go away.

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