There has been a hysterical response in the 26 Counties to allegations in the North that the Provisional IRA continues to exist.
Goaded by warnings in the anti-republican media over the rise of Sinn Fein, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin (pictured) issued a string of high-pitched statements attacking the party. He claimed the recent developments in the North had exposed the “interchangability” of Sinn Fein members and Provisional IRA Volunteers, and that the IRA is involved in fundraising for Sinn Fein and ‘gathering intelligence’.
Mr Martin said there would be “absolute uproar” if it emerged that there was an armed wing attached to another party in the South.
It’s about community control,” he declared
The comments were an eccentric response to the relatively positive assessment made by the PSNI police chief that the Provisional IRA leadership had moved from military to peaceful political activity.
Sinn Fein TD Aengus O Snodaigh described the Fianna Fail leader’s comments as “outrageous and disgraceful”. He accused Martin of “putting Fianna Fail’s narrow party political interests before the imperative of the peace process.”
He said the Fianna Fail leader has chosen to attack Sinn Fein in “desperation” to distract from Fianna Fail’s poor showings in opinion polls and its “inadequate” policies.
In her first statement on the matter, the Garda police Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan said the force had “no information” that the Provisional IRA still maintains its military structure, but said it had never denied its continued existence.
Asked if the PIRA still operated in Ireland, 26-County Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said any evidence of it would warrant prosecution.
“The truth is they don’t exist as a terrorist organisation, as a military organisation in the South and the North. They are a proscribed organisation so if there was any evidence they would be prosecuted, they would be investigated,” she added.
This did not satisfy certain media commentators from bizarrely demanding the Provisional IRA issue a statement to affirm its own non-existence.
And Labour’s Minister for Environment Alan Kelly raised the bar higher again when he demanded a statement from Sinn Fein to assure the Irish public the IRA no longer exists and “will never exist again”.
Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty dismissed the controversy as a “fake crisis” created by parties with an eye on the elections.
“There is no basis on looking for the exclusion of Sinn Fein. Obviously there is an internal debate within unionism, each one trying to outmanoeuvre the other, but there are a lot more serious issues that need to be dealt with in terms of the Executive,” the Donegal TD said.
“It all needs to be resolved. Powersharing is a thing that is here to stay.”
The party’s finance spokesman said he was confident the structures of the Provisional IRA had gone away. He said there were members of the organisation who are still in contact with each other but insisted it had been stood down.
“Former Volunteers still exist, they didn’t all pass away, they didn’t all leave the island, they are still there involved in Sinn Fein, some of them are involved in the GAA, some of them are involved in community groups, some are getting on with their lives.
“I am sure on occasion they sit down and have a drink or meet at an event but is that a meeting of the IRA? No it is not. The IRA have gone, they have left the stage, they have disbanded, they have put the weapons out of use and that happened 10 years ago.”