IRA will remain illegal, says McDowell

THE IRA will remain an illegal organisation even if it ceases its armed struggle and lives up to its commitment to pursue exclusively peaceful means, Justice Minister Michael McDowell said yesterday.

In a stance which seems materially at odds with that of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern - who intimated that the IRA may evolve into a form of veterans’ and commemoration body, Mr McDowell yesterday insisted that IRA members would still be prosecuted under the Offences Against the State Act 1939.

“The IRA remains an illegal organisation because its constitution is treasonable under the laws of this State,” Mr McDowell said in an interview with RTÉ’s This Week programme.

“(Its constitution) suggests that the IRA army council is the legitimate government of this State. It suggests the Government of which I have been elected is illegitimate.

“As long as those ends remain, it will not be the subject of a revocation by the Government as long as its rules and aims are as they stand,” he said.

Mr McDowell also disclosed that he expected that the final act of IRA decommissioning - expected since its statement four weeks ago - will take place very shortly.

Speculation has mounted over the weekend with the return of decommissioning body head, General John de Chastelain, to Ireland.

“I believe that John de Chastelain will supervise a process that will begin, middle and end in the near future,” said the minister.

He agreed that it will be impossible to verify if all IRA arms have been destroyed. He said the Government had provided an inventory of its estimate of the size of the IRA’s remaining arsenal.

Mr McDowell went to some lengths to portray the IRA’s continued retention of its arms cache as a “negative” and not an asset with which it could gain political leverage.

He said the arsenal was a political “dead duck” and described it as “their loss-making hardware division that they just want to close down.”

The difference of approach between the PDs and FF on the Northern question has become more evident in recent weeks, especially in the wake of the return of the Colombia Three to Ireland.

Mr McDowell yesterday denied that he and the PDs were indulging in political posturing over the Colombia Three, given the widespread consensus that extraditing the three men will prove to be nigh impossible, and that other legal alternatives look remote.

“That is not the case,” he said.

“The gardaí have arrested one individual and they are investigating one line of enquiry as I understand it.

“It’s not true to say that there’s nothing left to look at... Ireland will not become a haven for people who engage in activities abroad that are very damaging to this country’s interests,” he said.

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