The enemy within won't allow the IRA to go awayRepublican reaction to the threat to Seamus Finucane showed the Provisionals may have left, but their ghost has the power to intimidate, says Brian Rowan
In the republican community, you can see how the IRA is developing and changing in the political and peace processes. You see it in those who now have much more public roles; see it in Jim McVeigh, now leader of the Sinn Fein group on Belfast City Council, in Pat Sheehan, now sitting in the Assembly, and in the community and political work of others, including Bobby Storey, Sean Murray and Seamus Finucane.
You can also hear the change; hear it when someone such as Finucane - a one-time senior IRA figure - explains his role in community safety, which includes trying to protect young people under threat from those armed factions that still exist.
"We work with all the agencies," he said. "And whatever information the families give to us, we supply it to whatever relevant statutory agency is required."
Including the police, I asked. "Including the police."
In Finucane's comment you hear how an enemy relationship is changing; that relationship that once existed between the IRA and the RUC.
But in Finucane's community there are those who are still at war with the police - with the PSNI.
Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH) is one such group and, last week, it warned it would not tolerate "acts of treachery" - meaning any information passed to the police that could lead to the arrest of its members. Its statement did not name individuals but, later, police warned Seamus Finucane his life was under threat.
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Even today, peace exists on a very thin line. We can see that with a changing IRA, but that doesn't mean that organisation has disappeared, or that it would allow a group such as ONH to attack a senior republican figure.
So, when Seamus Finucane stood beside junior minister Gerry Kelly at a news conference at the Felons Club in west Belfast last Friday, they were doing a number of things.
They were exposing the threat - and providing an opportunity for it to be withdrawn. And they also put a name into the public domain - Carl Reilly, national chairperson of Republican Network for Unity (RNU).
In the way that Sinn Fein was pursued for years to answer for the words and actions of the IRA, RNU and Carl Reilly have now been put in the same place when it comes to the threats and activities of ONH. He was named both by Gerry Kelly and Seamus Finucane and also in a Sinn Fein statement. It was a deliberate outing and every time that ONH now speaks or acts, Reilly will be asked to explain. At its recent ard fheis, RNU sent 'comradely greetings' to the armed dissident group. "We don't speak for, or explain, the actions of Oglaigh na hEireann," Reilly later told this newspaper. "That is a matter for that organisation."
Not anymore. Now that his name is out there, things have changed.
Reilly has been the target of much security and intelligence activity; his home searched, others around him approached in attempts to recruit them as agents.
All of this has been happening in the background, but now he has been put on a very public stage - and put there very deliberately.
ONH moved to clarify the statement it made last week, making clear it had not named any individual, and addressing specifically the threat to Seamus Finucane - brother of the murdered solicitor Pat Finucane.
"The man is not under threat - never has been - and the question must be asked: why would Seamus believe that statement is directed towards him?"
All sorts of thin lines were being walked. One source, commenting on the likely implications of any attack on Seamus Finucane, or any other mainstream republican figure, commented: "They [the dissidents] would be swatted like flies." And that comment tells you that the IRA could be resurrected. No mainstream republican is suggesting this is what they want to see happen, because they know it would be hugely damaging to the political process. So, it is, and always will be, the measure of absolute last resort.
This story was developing at the same time as the announcement of a multi-million pounds package to counter the dissident threat. But in all the angry words, Gerry Kelly acknowledged that security "is not what will sort it out". Nor will more police officers. It doesn't matter whether there are 7,000 or 17,000.
So what could work? "We are prepared to talk to them anytime," Gerry Kelly said. "I have made efforts to talk to these organisations and I will talk about anything they want to talk about." In that 'Brits Out' world in which they live, the dissidents may not want to talk - not yet and not now. But they listened and they heard last week and they took a step back. Why?
Maybe they knew they were in danger of crossing that very thin line and perhaps they paused to consider the consequences of, What if?
What would happen if they attacked a senior republican? They know the answer to that question. "The gear [guns] would be out," one of them told me.
If you look closely enough, you will see that the IRA has changed, but you will also see that it is not far away.