Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald insists 'the war is over' despite Garda Commissioner Drew Harris’s comments linking the party to the Provisional Army Council.
“The war is over and I run the party,” she told reporters questioning her about PSNI intelligence which claims the party is still being run by the army council.
Speaking at an event in Dundalk, Co Louth, she was asked if the IRA still exists.
“The war is over, the IRA has gone away and democracy is the order of the day and there's no dispute around that,” she said.
"Republicans are absolutely committed to democracy and to the peace process. The war is over and the IRA is off the stage.”
Martin Ferris, a former hunger striker who has convictions for IRA membership and gun-running, dismissed Commissioner Harris’ comments as “pure rubbish”.
The former Sinn Féin TD, who has always disputed claims by former Minister of Justice Michael McDowell in the Dáil in 2005 that he was a member of the IRA Army Council, said: “This is absolute rubbish. The IRA went out of existence 15 years years ago.”
Asked why Commissioner Harris said what he said, he added: “It’s amazing. I don’t want to speculate but it stinks like a deliberate attempt to keep Sinn Féin out of government.”
Answering questions about PSNI intelligence reports into paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland, Commissioner Harris hinted he has the same intelligence the PSNI claims to have. He said: “On national security matters and matters around security of the State, it is my obligation to report those to the government. We have contributed and continue to contribute to the Independent Reporting Commission — reporting on the status of various paramilitary organisations groups. We would hold with their opinion in these matters."
“But also I am aware of the PSNI and the British security services assessment and we do not differ from that view.” He was asked if this would create a problem for him in a Sinn Féin-led government in general, and with a Sinn Féin Minister of Justice in particular.
He replied: "I am a public servant. I will work with the government. I have in law heavy responsibilities in terms of protecting the people of Ireland, preventing and detecting crime and will work with whatever Minister to achieve those aims.”
Outgoing Justice Minister, Charlie Flanagan, who attended a graduation ceremony at the Garda College in Templemore with Commissioner Harris, stopped short of agreeing with him. Asked about the PSNI’s analysis, he said he is satisfied about “facts within my own knowledge”.
And he reiterated that Fine Gael would not be part of any government involving Sinn Féin.
He said: “I’m not satisfied with the disposition of that party towards the democratic process. I believe it’s important whatever ministers serve in the next Government that they do so in accordance with the Constitution and laws of Ireland and are not subject to any direction from outside forces. I don’t believe any members of any Government in Ireland at any time should be subject to direction from people whose engagement with democracy is questionable.”
The row centres around a 2015 report written by the PSNI and British intelligence service MI5.
It stated that the Provisional Army Council still existed, as did the Provisional IRA, though in a smaller form and committed to the peace process. The report further stated that the Provisional Army Council still supervised both the IRA and Sinn Féin.
The PSNI has recently reiterated its view set out in the 2015 report and — according to a report by Irish Times Crime Editor Conor Lally — stated that its analysis has not changed in the five-year period since the report was drawn up.
Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, said: “As I told the Dáil recently, there are substantial issues that Sinn Féin needs to categorically address. These are genuine issues that the party needs to address. But rather than addressing these issues, Sinn Féin continues to dismiss them and continues to dismiss anybody who dares to raise a question about them.
People have not got the considered response they should have got from Sinn Féin. All that one gets instead is aggressive attacks and denunciations, personal attacks and trolling."