An active PIRA would be an appalling vista

IF it is established that the Provisional IRA is still a functioning, active entity, happy to murder to achieve its aims or protect its criminal activities, then the people of this island will have to come to terms with one of the greatest betrayals foisted on it by violent nationalism in many, many decades.

 It would be an absolutely unacceptable attack on our democracy and this Republic’s — and this entire island’s — rejection of violence as a means of realising political objectives.

If confirmed it would probably sound the death knell for the Stormont assembly as it is constituted today, threaten Anglo Irish relations and be a dramatic reversal for the peace process. It would undo the painfully slow process of “normalisation” in the North and damage the trust being built between once-divided communities. It is hard not to think too that the North’s economy, already disproportionately dependent on government as an employer, would find it harder to attract international investors. Inevitably, it, if established beyond any doubt, must have profound implications south of the border as well. It would, like it or not, cast a dark shadow over plans to mark the 1916 centenary next year.

However, the consequences of reaching such a seismic conclusion are so very great that only the very highest standards of proof will do. Circumstantial evidence or innunendo cannot be definitive at this critical juncture. It must be recognised too that if former Provos are active as individuals it does not mean that the organisation is again active. This is not to be ambiguous about the PIRA or the atrocities it was responsible for but rather a great hope that suggestions that the terrorist organisation was involved in the east Belfast murder of Kevin McGuigan ten days ago prove false. Senior Sinn Féin spokespeople have repeatedly asserted that they are incorrect since the issue was raised by PSNI Detective Superintendent Kevin Geddes.

There have been suggestions former Provos murdered the father of nine in a revenge attack. If it were established that the PIRA — which announced it had “left the stage” just over 10 years ago — is involved it might not be surprising but it would be deeply disheartening.

Sometimes, usually at very dark moments, we are prepared to believe things that may not, in another light, seem rational. That was the case all those years ago when the PIRA said it was turning its back on violence. Everyone on this island so craved peace that the statement was accepted even if the tradition of deceit that drove violent nationalism suggested it might be naive to do so. It is possible, maybe even probable, that the vast majority of Provos did stand down but it is just as probable a rump refused to turn their back on the great incomes generated by crime and they remain active.

Twenty years ago this month Gerry Adams cynically told a Belfast rally, when he was heckled about the PIRA, that “they haven’t gone away you know”. Let us hope that he could not make that claim today. This island had more than enough of the cowardly, criminal terrorists who ignored the democratic wishes of the majority of people on this island


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