The IRA is still involved in organised crime, according to a report by a top PSNI detective.
Police Service Assistant Chief Constable Sam Kinkaid gave his assessment at a behind closed doors in Belfast to members of the North’s Policing Board.
There he said that things were positive in terms of IRA activity on the terrorism front – there had been no punishment shootings or robberies in the months since the IRA announced it had called a permanent halt to its activities.
But Mr Kinkaid said that, on the criminal front, “all sides” – including the IRA – were still involved in organised crime.
The meeting was also attended by Alan McQuillan, the deputy director of the Assets Recovery Agency, and Northern Ireland Security Minister Shaun Woodward.
The ACC’s words contrast sharply with those Mr Woodward, who recently said the IRA was no longer involved in organised crime.
Assembly member Ian Paisley Jnr, the Democratic Unionist Party security spokesman and also a member of the Policing Board, said there had been astonishment around the table when Mr Kinkaid made his comments because it was so at variance with what Mr Woodward had been saying publicly.
He called for him to resign as Security Minister in the wake of the revelations.
He said: “The information which Shaun Woodward received was exactly the same as the Policing Board and from the same source yet the interpretation he has put on it is completely and unjustifiably different.”
Mr Paisley added: “When you have no confidence in a person’s judgment there is only one place for them to go and that is away from here.”
The Independent Monitoring Commission is due to report before the end of the month on whether the IRA has been inactive or not.
The British government is anxious for them to be given a clean bill of health and use that to kick-start a fresh push at a political settlement and the restoration of a devolved power-sharing administration at Stormont.
The DUP is already insisting there is not prospect of them going into government with Sinn Féin until they are convinced the IRA has stood down.
Mr Kinkaid’s words will have come as a total justification to the DUP’s stance.
A spokesman for the Northern Ireland Office said they respected the confidentiality of the briefing to the Policing Board.
He added: “It is for the Independent Monitoring Commission to comment on this issue and their next report is due very shortly.”
Sinn Féin was swift to dismiss ACC Kinkaid's comments as: “A blatant example of political policing”.
The party’s policing spokesman, North Belfast Assembly member Gerry Kelly said it was the latest in a series of serious efforts by anti-Republican elements to hold up progress in the peace process.
Mr Kelly said that British and Irish governments needed to “uphold the democratic rights of citizens and see off dissidents like Sam Kinkaid”.
He went on that the briefing to the Policing Board was “a blatant example of political policing and is the latest in a series of serious efforts by anti-Republican elements to prevent progress in the political and peace progress.
“Sam Kinkaid is a political detective. He is part of the RUC old guard and is expected to leave the PSNI in the coming weeks.
“It is no accident that his comments are made at this time just two weeks in advance of an expected report from the IMC. This is a last-ditch effort from securocrats who have opposed political and policing change since the start of this process.”
Mr Kelly predicted the DUP and others who had set their face against the democratic rights of citizens would seize on “these spurious allegations”.
The SDLP policing spokesman, assembly member Alex Attwood - a member of the Policing Board who received the briefing - said it was necessary and appropriate that confidentiality was maintained around exactly what was said at the meeting.
However, he said it was “absolutely essential that government, unionism and everyone else honestly face up to what is or is not happening in terms of paramilitary and criminal activity by illegal groups”.
Mr Attwood said politics had been badly served when the British government chose not to properly face up to the activities of the Provisional movement, including in respect to organised crime.
“If these activities end, and end for good, it must be welcomed and built upon. If this is not the case, it must be admitted and acknowledged,” he added.
“It was exactly the same for the loyalist groups – politics and government credibility had been damaged when the government was in denial and acted only after delay – in respect of the UDA ceasefire.
“Whatever was or was not said at the policing board today, the British government should stand by the facts, whether they are good or bad.
“That is the surest way to build up confidence between political parties and among the wider public. That is the standard against which the IMC, the government and everyone else should be judged in the coming weeks.”