Belfast Telegraph

So, is it true that the IRA has not really gone away?

A ban on naming those before a judge begs the question: what are the Provos up to now? Alan Murray reports

The charging recently of three men and two women with IRA-related offences dating back more than a decade raises as many intriguing questions as the decision to impose a reporting restriction on publishing their names.

The directive by a judge at Laganside Courts a few days ago to keep from public knowledge the identities of the quintet is one of the most unusual reporting restrictions ever imposed here.

Witnesses have been protected both in terms of identity and appearance at inquests and at tribunals but seldom has the identity of an accused been banned from publication.

All of which adds to the intrigue surrounding the charges preferred which relate to events around 1999/2000 when the ink on the Good Friday Agreement had well and truly dried.

The IRA though was still active then and has remained so since the turn of the century which begs the question - why did the PSNI decide to process perhaps new information but certainly information relating to 'old' matters.

Proceedings in Laganside Court last week indicated that the five against whom charges were preferred deny committing the offences which include belonging to a proscribed organisation "namely Provisional Irish Republican Army" between specified dates.

They are also accused of arranging or assisting in the management of a meeting by PIRA and supporting a proscribed organisation on dates in 2000. Surely this was not to do with the organising of an Army Convention to confirm the disbandment of the IRA?

In security circles the answer to that is a resounding and emphatic 'No' which begs the question, what today is the IRA up to?

Martin McGartland, the Special Branch informant known as 'Agent Carol', was shot and seriously wounded by IRA gunmen dispatched to Whitley Bay on Tyneside where he was living in hiding in June 1999.

A man from Belfast and a man from Glasgow were arrested and questioned about the murder attempt but released without charge.

There is nothing to suggest that the five charged with IRA membership were in any way connected with the attempt to murder 'Agent Carol' but the episode does show that the IRA remained active then, despite pledges to eschew violence.

In 2007, while still 'on the run', leading Provisional Harry Fitzsimmons was sentenced to eight years imprisonment for attacking and kidnapping republican Bobby Tohill in 2004. Again there is nothing to suggest that the Tohill kidnapping has anything to do with the five being anonymously brought before a court last week. The IRA was extremely active in 2004 as the Northern Bank robbery proved.

But why the PSNI charged five republicans with IRA membership relating to a decade ago raises the wider question of where the IRA is now and what it is doing. One security figure put it this way: "The IRA may have been put to bed but it hasn't gone to sleep".

What that means is that the IRA is keeping a 'watch' on the matters it feels are of importance to it, namely, the activities of the dissident republican organisations and their memberships and ongoings within the PSNI, particularly its intelligence gathering activities.

And who would be surprised if it emerged in due course that the IRA was attempting to infiltrate those sections of the Police Service of Northern Ireland charged with gathering and collating that intelligence?

Today, fortunately, the Provisional hue of the IRAs appears to have no desire to explode bombs and maim civilians but it does harbour a continuing thirst for information.

We hear little officially today of its activities, although we are indebted to Chief Superintendent Roy McComb for a nugget of information when he recently told the Smithwick Tribunal that the IRA was concerned at areas of investigation that the Tribunal was exploring relating to its 'business', and that it had attempted to mislead the Tribunal.

His intimation at its least suggests some sort of troika structure plotting the IRA's current affairs. We'll learn more perhaps if further criminal charges are preferred against dormant Provisionals.

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