After the Provisional IRA allegedly sanctioned the killing of Kevin McGuigan there has been a great deal of hand wringing and hysterical comment coming from journalists and politicians on both sides of the Irish sea. McGuigan was killed in retaliation for his role in the murder of former IRA commander Gerard 'Jock' Davison in the Markets area of Belfast last May. Davison was a powerful, although well liked figure within his home areas who had a colourful but contentious career both before and after the IRA cessation of violence.
Davison and McGuigan were at one time both involved in Direct Action Against Drugs,(DAAD) a convenience name which the Provos once used to remove what they regarded as anti social elements from within nationalist communities. It's members supposedly liaised with the IRA's Civil Administration Teams.
An enquiry into Davison's death was carried out by members of what used to be called the IRA Army Council and members of its GHQ staff. After which a group called Action Against Drugs (AAD) emerged, although reemerged with a slight change of name would be more correct, and issued the following statement:
If we find anyone had any role whatsoever, letting those who did it use their house, washed clothes or took the gun away, they are going to be executed.
This statement is said to have provoked a reckless response from McGuigan, who to add to his woes was being monitored at the time by people who were associated with the former head of IRA intelligence.
It's thought the outcome of this investigation and McGuigan's subsequent behavior finally led to the events which played out outside his home in the nationalist Short Strand district of east Belfast.
Pray tell how could they?
If anyone truly believed the PIRA had gone away they weren't listening when Gerry Adams when making a speech replied to a heckler who shouted "Up the IRA" with these few words "They Haven't Gone Away You Know."
If they had the peace process wouldn't have survived a week. All parties to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement understood that. And if you study the fine print the IRA, like the loyalist UVF have never claimed to be defunct.
It should be obvious to even the most dim witted without the threat of an armed wing behind them, the Provos' enemies would have made mincemeat of both the leadership and the rank and file. Their political and military wings needed to defend themselves against possible aggression from political opponents, and likely attacks from loyalist paramilitaries, republican armed dissidents and lone wolfs with a serious grudge.
Many commentators seem oblivious to the fact it takes a small army to run a guerrilla organisation like the IRA. Much paper work is involved and its easy for senior officers to slip into becoming bureaucrats.* Volunteers need to be trained, equipped, fed and housed, arms procured, imported and manufactured, prisoners have needs as do their families, solicitors need to be hired and paid, intelligence gathered and analysed, propaganda produced and distributed, discipline maintained, sources of wealth protected and extended.
Personnel have to be appointed, promoted, demoted, disciplined and stood down. The list is little different from a regular army in the field, the only difference is a covert guerrilla army like the IRA is not tax payer funded.
Some of these tasks either no longer existed or were placed on the back burner when the IRA ceasefire became final and hundreds of volunteers were stood down from active service. But many of them still have to be dealt with right up to this day. To do this it needs a cohesive leadership cadre and one only has to see how smooth the transition from war has been to understand the IRA staff is still at work.
When the activities of this leadership cadre breaks the surface during high profile cases, we gain a glimpse of who is manning the IRA back office. Far from being the godfathers, career criminals, or unthinking clones the media often portrays them as, one doesn’t have to be an apologist or supporter to see them as decent enough people, doing their best to maintain the peace process and working in tandem to move their political project forward.
Gerard Hodgkins a former IRA volunteer and hunger striker who is no longer a member of the organisation summed up how he believes the IRA now organises and operates.
I can't say if the battalions and other structures are fully maintained, I doubt if they are, but the organisation has a new role and it is smaller. It is not about fighting a military campaign, it is about moving resources into legitimate businesses which can fund a political campaign. It is also about self-protection and intelligence
Which just about sums up the current situation perfectly. Over the last few years a number of former Provo heavies like Mr McGuigan have been increasingly strutting their stuff by flexing their steroid enhanced muscles. The only problem with taking steroids in baulk is they can result in people loosing the run of themselves.
How long the latest blood letting will last will depend on whether those who wish to follow in McGuigan's footsteps have the stamina and back up to take on the IRA. I doubt they have if past history is anything to go on. Whereas the IRA will know its political capital and not inconsiderable assets will be seriously threatened by various predators if they come to believe they have become a soft touch.
Its worth remembering PIRA have a history of dealing with troublesome groups and individuals in a deadly way. In 1992 it eliminated the IPLO leader and knee capped members of the INLA splinter group in a Belfast wide operation which ended with that organisation being declared defunct, after having been forced on pain of death to turn its weaponry over to the IRA.
As to the British State, when Sinn Féin sent a delegation to see the PSNI over the McGuigan killing it consisted of Gerry Kelly, Alex Maskey, Carál Ní Chuilin, and Sean Murray, all 'former' senior members of the IRA. They emerged safely after there friendly chat with plod without sight or sound of the slam of a cell door.
* See Ernie O'Malley's The Singing Flame.