BBC Radio 5 Live
Stephen Nolan speaks to former Seanad Éireann member, Máiría Cahill, who comments on recent reports that Sinn Féin is overseen by the IRA Army Council.
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Stephen: Meanwhile, the Sinn Féin leader in the Irish Republic, Mary Lou McDonald, says the IRA no longer exists. She has reacted to comments by the Irish Chief of Police, Drew Harris, who says the party, Sinn Féin, is overseen by the Army Council of the IRA. That’s the important part of this story. Today you’ve had the Chief of Police in Ireland saying that Sinn Féin is still overseen by the Army Council of the IRA. He told Ireland’s Virgin Radio that his view of the IRA’s rule was in line with the conclusions of other police forces and security services.
Drew Harris: We have contributed and continue to contribute to the IRC (Independent Reporting Commission) report on status of various paramilitary groups and we would hold then with their opinion in these matters but also I’m aware of the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) and the British security services assessment and we have, we do not differ from that view.
Reporter: Would it create an issue for you then with Sinn Féin, that government with a Sinn Féin for Minister for Justice?
Drew Harris: Well, in the end I’m a public servant. I will work with the government we have. In law, I have heavy responsibilities in terms of protecting the people of Ireland, preventing and detecting crime and we will work with whatever minister to achieve those aims.
Stephen: I’m speaking to former Irish Senator Máiría Cahill. Máiría, Good Evening to you.
Máiría: Good Evening, Stephen.
Stephen: So, you’ve got the Chief of Police in Ireland saying that the Army Council of the IRA still controls Sinn Féin which is trying to form a government in The South and is part of the government in Northern Ireland.
Well yes, that’s effectively what he is saying because he has pointed to a previous statement by the previous Chief Constable in Northern Ireland, George Hamilton, who, in 2015, said that the Provisional IRA still existed and some of its members were involved in the murder of a local man, Kevin McGuigan, although it wasn’t officially sanctioned. So that’s where that original statement came from. But this statement from Drew Harris today, in response to a question, in fairness to him, has come just on the back of an election in which Sinn Féin did particularly well on and yes, government formation talks are ongoing and it is significant because of the fact that just yesterday in the Dáil Micheál Martin, the leader of Fianna Fáil, stood up and ranged off a litany of reasons why his party should not go into government with Sinn Féin and this was one of them.
Stephen: You have the leader of Sinn Féin, the current leader of Sinn Féin, Mary Lou McDonald, saying the IRA does not exists.
Máiría: Yeah, and she may well believe that. I’m not sure that particularly very many other people do. We have reason to believe, obviously, and this is publicly documented, you know, in 2007 for example, a young man, a twenty-one year old man, was beaten death (Paul Quinn) in Co. Monaghan and at that point in time the now Finance Minster for Sinn Féin, Conor Murphy, said that he had received assurances from the IRA in the local area that they weren’t involved and that was contrary to the view of other people again. In 2013, a man, Austin Stack, was taken in the back of a blacked-out van by Gerry Adams and another Sinn Féin official to meet an IRA member who admitted in a statement that the IRA had been involved in the murder of his father, a former prison officer, Brian Stack, some thirty years earlier. And again, we had the Kevin McGuigan murder in 2015 where the Chief Constable said that some members of the IRA were involved so I mean there are public utterances in relation to that which would say or suggest that the IRA does exist in some form…
Stephen: …Yeah, but that’s it though, isn’t it Máiría? – ‘In some form’ – because what the current assessment is of both the security forces in Northern Ireland and indeed in The South, that current security assessment is while the structures of the IRA still exist and the Army Council still has a degree of control over Sinn Féin they are on a ‘peace footing’.
Máiría: Yes, well it says they’re not on a war footing but what it did also point to was that there were units that were still there to gather intelligence and raise funds. And I think it really does send shock waves through anyone in terms of looking to build a proper democracy in Ireland and that is the whole point about the discussions around Sinn Féin in government. I mean, can you imagine if this was in England? – and I’m not suggesting in any way that this would be the case – but can you imagine if this assessment was made by the Chief of Police in England about the Labour Party or the Conservative Party which effectively stated that a very small group of people who had been members of an Army Council, a paramilitary council, were directing an over-arching strategy in relation to a political party? I mean, there would be absolute outrage and some people in Ireland seem to expect people to turn a blind eye to this…
Stephen: …and yet the reality – let me just call this as it is, Máiría – here we are on a network radio station that broadcasts throughout the UK, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the reality is people in England, Scotland and Wales, the vast majority of them, will be shrugging their shoulders to this saying: Why are they doing that story? They won’t really care about this story. And this story is that an organisation which has tried to bomb 10 Downing Street, that fired rockets into 10 Downing Street, which strapped bombs around human beings and turned them into human bombs, the current assessment of the security forces in Northern Ireland and the Irish government is that the IRA still has a degree of control over Sinn Féin who are trying to form a government in The South and are in the government in part of the UK, namely Northern Ireland. Now why would people throughout the rest of the UK not be more interested in that story?
Máiría: Well some people may not be interested, Stephen, but I’d hazard a guess that the victims of the IRA and other paramilitary outfits in England will be such as those who were affected by the Birmingham or Guildford pub bombings, for example. You know, those people will be deeply concerned around issues like that and indeed have campaigned for truth and justice for their loved ones for quite some time. You know, but my own assessment of this, I mean I believe that people, if they are committed entirely to peaceful means, should actually play a proper role and its much more welcomed than people who were involved in the IRA in the past or in political life or trying to at least to make their society better but where I differ from other people’s assessment, such as Sinn Féin’s in this, we still are in a situation here where the IRA have failed to take proper responsibility for the deep, deep hurt that they have caused to victims, both living and the relatives of those who have been killed. You know, we have people – I mean recently I mentioned the Paul Quinn case earlier – last week and the week before this case came to prominence again in the local media and the response from Sinn Féin was, shall we say, less than adequate in relation to that family. And the Quinn Family have been going through deep distress for the last thirteen years in order to try and get a smear lifted against their son.
So if those people who were involved in the IRA took proper responsibility and recognised that there was deep hurt caused and disbanded their organisation I think the Irish people would be having a different conversation in relation to this but it is hugely significant today – the statement from the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris.
Stephen: Máiría Cahill, thank you very much indeed.
(ends time stamp ~1:50:59)