Key peace process figures have expressed a wide range of views about reports that IRA members have carried out 26 murders since Northern Ireland accepted the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
The rate of murders the provisional movement has been linked to has shocked some seasoned observers, and is reported here in the week when Sinn Fein’s Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy faces accusations of providing cover for IRA members involved in the murder of south Armagh man Paul Quinn in 2007.
Although it is not possible to give exact figures, a detailed examination by the Irish Independent in 2005 carried a detailed profile of 39 individual murders by members of the IRA from the 1994 IRA ceasefire up until that time. If accurate this would now equate to 26 murders since the Good Friday Agreement (GFA).
A common theme was of individuals who had challenged IRA members in their own communities and paid a fatal price. In 2018 researcher Paul Nolan, supported by Queen’s University, found that 38 catholic civilians had been killed by non-specified republican organisations since the GFA – a figure of similar proportions to the Independent’s.
Overall, Mr Nolan said republicans had taken 74 lives and loyalists 71 since the agreement which was expected to bring lasting peace.
In November the PSNI confirmed that its 2015 assessment was unchanged - the IRA Army Council still oversees reduced regional structures and departments – and Sinn Fein – and although committed to peace, “there have been islated incidents of violence, including murders”.
Other major events linked to the IRA since the GFA have been the Northern Bank robbery of £27m in 2004, the Colombia three bomb training in south America in 2001, and the Castlereagh PSNI station break-in of 2002.
Outgoing Taoiseach Leo Varadkar recently described Sinn Fein as “the greatest threat to our democracy” likening the party to “wolves”. He said the party does not respect Irish courts, police or any of the parliaments it is elected to.
Asked if the provisional republican movement’s track record since the GFA is acceptable as part of a ‘peace process’ and if any other democracy would accept 1000 days without government due to the actions of the official opposition, key movers in the peace process and others have offered a range of views.
Former First Minister David Trimble declined to give any personal reaction but suggested that the custodians of the GFA should respond.
“Questions [about these matters] should be addressed to U.K, Irish, and US governments,” he told the News Letter.
Rev Dr Harold Good, who helped oversee IRA decommissioning, took a very positive view of the current situation.
“On all sides, we all have a past!,” he said. “So let’s focus on the future. That is the clear message from the NI electorate in our most recent elections. Driving with our eyes fixed on the rear view mirror will take us nowhere. Potentially, it can also be hugely dangerous.”
And former Church of Ireland Primate Lord Eames, who has also been a supporter of the peace process, also took a positive line.
“The problem with comparing today with the Troubles is that we will accept as normal our current divisions and difficulties and be less urgent in striving for real reconciliation,” he said. “Of course today is better than the dark times of the past but our journey as a community has still far to go.”
But TUV leader Jim Allister gave a more critical response. “This list [of murders] is more than ample evidence to show that the IRA should be taken seriously and certainly not ignored as the Independent Reporting Commission have in their most recent report. Northern Ireland needs and demands a full and proper assessment of the current status of the PIRA and its Army Council, not just for the sake of their victims but for the sake of the safety of the public.”
Author and former Special Branch officer William Matchett, said: “Wow. That’s quite a lot [of murders]. I suspect nearly all of them were committed by ex-PIRA at the behest of the PIRA or as a proxy, both of which they deny.”
Former Det Ch Supt Norman Baxter said it was “quite stark that republicans terrorists, particularly PIRA, whether acting as small groups or for the organisation, have been executing and terrorising members of the community they claimed to be protecting.”
Kenny Donaldson of Innnocent Victims United said the IRA Army Council continues to run Sinn Fein and that IRA weapons are still in use.
“It would be inconceivable for other Nations impacted by terrorism to behave as cowardly as the the UK has,” he said. “Spain faced down a campaign of insurrection in its’ Basque Country - it defeated ETA. Spain has thus far not indicated a will to appease ETA nor its’ political mouth piece.”
Commentator Alex Kane said it is very clear since the late-1990s that the UK “will do and say anything to ensure SF remains in the existing peace/political process”. He is “increasingly drawn to the view” that UK governments have not used their “vastly superior” military and political power to destroy the IRA in “order to reach a solution into which the IRA and Sinn Fein would buy”.
Commentator Malachi O’Doherty was very pragmatic. “For all that the Provisional movement stretched peace processing to its own advantage, from procrastinating on decommissioning to occasional murder and robbery, it has held together better than any other paramilitary movement we have known,” he said. “This has imposed hypocrisy and appeasement on the rest of us, and the best we have been able to do about it is keep journalism and commentary candid and free.
“A contrasting strategy might be that of Israel which seeks to kill off Hamas leaders and avenge every strike. The result of that is just continuing warfare and the failure of any Palestinian leader to stay in place long enough to be able to learn to compromise. Politics is about practicalities over principles, galling as that might be.”
But former IRA prisoner Anthony McIntyre said the information was “not a genuine appraisal borne out of an attempt at deep understanding”. He added: “We will be better able to evaluate the IRA campaign when we access the information that shows the extent to which there was joint enterprise between many IRA members and the British state security services”.
But Mairia Cahill, a former Irish Labour Senator and grand-neice of IRA leader Joe Cahill, took a different view. “That’s quite a litany of how not to show ‘respect, equality or integrity’” she said.
Sinn Fein did not offer any comment.
MURDERS LINKED TO IRA MEMBERS SINCE THE GOOD FRIDAY AGREEMENT
Kevin McGuigan, 53, Belfast
Paul Quinn, 21, Castleblaney
Denis Donaldson, 56, Donegal
Robert McCartney, 33, Belfast
Gareth O’Connor, 24, south Armagh
Jimmy McGinley, 23, Londonderry
Mathew Burns, 26, Castlewellan
Brian McDonald, 51, Dungannon
Seamus ‘Shavo’ Hogan, 47, Dublin
Bobby McGuigan, 36, Lurgan
Kieran Smyth Curraha, Co Meath
Michael Magee, 34, Downpatrick
Paul Daly, 38, Belfast (DAAD)
Christopher O’Kane, 37, Londonderry
Mark Robinson, 22, Londonderry
Edmund McCoy, 28, Dunmurry
Nicholas ‘Mad Nicky’ O’Hare, 34, Dundalk
Patrick Quinn, 32, Magherafelt
Joseph O’Connor, 26, Belfast
Trevor Kells, 35, Belfast
Thomas ‘Tomo’ Byrne, 41, Dublin
Eamon Collins, 45, Newry
Brendan ‘Speedy’ Fagan, 24, Newry
Paul ‘Bull’ Downey, 37, south Armagh
Charles Bennett, 22, Belfast
Gerard Moran, 35, Dublin
(Source: Irish Independent / CAIN, Ulster University)