The IRA has “gone away”, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams has insisted.
Despite an assessment by Northern Ireland’s police chief the organisation still exists, Mr Adams suggested its volunteers had been stood down as part of the peace process.
The Sinn Féin leader also reiterated those behind the recent murders of two leading republican figures in an apparent feud were not the IRA.
“The killings of Jock Davison and of Kevin McGuigan were wrong,” he said.
“Those involved do not represent republicanism. They are not the IRA. The IRA has gone away – you know.”
His remarks were chosen to contrast with his infamous retort to a heckler outside Belfast City Hall in 1995 in which he said the IRA “haven’t gone away, you know”.
IRA volunteers were ordered to take part only in “purely political and democratic programmes” and no “other activities whatsoever” since ending its campaign in 2005, he said.
Speaking at the National Hunger Strike commemoration in Dundalk, Mr Adams said the recent murders were being used “opportunistically and cynically” to attack Sinn Féin.
Referring to political opponents in Stormont, which is threatened by the PSNI chief constable’s assessment, Mr Adams said those who threaten action against his party have no basis for it.
“We will not be lectured to by those who have failed to honour their obligations time and again,” he said.
PSNI chief constable George Hamilton said yesterday the Provisional IRA still exists but is not engaged in terrorism.
Individual members co-operated in shooting dead Mr McGuigan in east Belfast but there is no evidence the killing was sanctioned by the organisation, he told a press briefing.
Some structures from the 1990s remain in place although their purpose has changed radically from violence to promoting peaceful, political republicanism, he added.
Mr Hamilton said: “They are not on a war footing, they are not involved in paramilitary activity in the sense that they were during part of the conflict.”
Unionists have claimed Sinn Féin's credibility is in tatters and threatened to exclude the party from the devolved government at Stormont following the murder of Mr McGuigan as part of a suspected republican feud.
The killing of the ex-IRA member and father-of-nine last week in the Short Strand by suspected members of the Provisional movement in co-operation with a group styling itself Action Against Drugs has threatened Stormont power-sharing.
Mr Hamilton said in the organisational sense the Provisional IRA (PIRA) does not exist for paramilitary purposes.
“Nevertheless, we assess that in common with the majority of Northern Ireland paramilitary groups from the period of the conflict, some of the PIRA structure from the 1990s remains broadly in place, although its purpose has radically changed since this period,” he said.
“Our assessment indicates that a primary focus of the Provisional IRA is now promoting a peaceful, political, republican agenda.
“It is our assessment that the PIRA is committed to following a political path and is no longer engaged in terrorism.
“I accept the bona fides of the Sinn Féin leadership regarding their rejection of violence and pursuit of the peace process, and I accept their assurance that they want to support police in bringing those responsible to justice.
“We have no information to suggest that violence, as seen in the murder of Kevin McGuigan, was sanctioned or directed at a senior level in the republican movement.”
He said some current and former PIRA members continued to engage in criminal activity and occasional violence for “personal gain or personal agendas”.
Mr Hamilton added: “They are little more than an organised crime group, in my view, and we assess that Action Against Drugs is an independent group that is not part of or a cover name for the PIRA.”
Defence Minister Simon Coveney said the Government needed to be “very cautious” when responding to the claims.
While he was concerned by part of the PSNI assessment, the government did not want to add to a very difficult situation while the force has yet to conclude its investigations, he added.