BELFAST (Reuters) - Some organizational structure of the Irish Republican Army still exists a decade after its public disbandment but there is no evidence it was involved in two recent murders, the head of Northern Ireland’s police force said on Saturday.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) held a series of meetings with the province’s political parties after Northern Ireland Justice Minister David Ford said on Friday that police were examining whether members of the group were involved in the recent murder of ex-IRA member Kevin McGuigan.
The revelation has threatened the stability of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government which is predicated on the dissolution of the IRA, the one-time armed wing of Sinn Fein who govern with former foes, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
However PSNI chief constable George Hamilton said the purpose of the IRA had radically changed since a 1998 peace accord that largely ended three decades of violence between Catholics who favored unification with the Republic of Ireland and Protestants wanting to stay British.
“Our assessment indicates that a primary focus of the provisional IRA is now promoting a peaceful, political agenda. It is our assessment that the Provisional IRA is committed to following a political path and is no longer engaged in terrorism,” Hamilton told a news conference.
“We have no information to suggest that violence was sanctioned or directed at a senior level in the republican movement,” he added, referring to the two recent murders of former IRA members.
Some former members have long been active in a number of small “dissident” militant groups that rejected the 1998 Good Friday accords, including groups using variants of the IRA name.
But the existence of the main IRA group raises questions about links to Sinn Fein. Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson of the DUP said that if the IRA turned out to be still active, he might seek the removal of Sinn Fein from government.
After meeting with the police, DUP MP Gregory Campbell said the party had not been surprised to hear “that the IRA is still out there” but that the political implications had to be dealt with now, and not until the outcome of any potential trial.
A Sinn Fein delegation, including assembly member and former IRA member Gerry Kelly, again rejected the suggestion that the IRA was involved in the killings, and said that the group had stood down over 10 years ago.
Editing by Padraic Halpin and Raissa Kasolowsky