I reject comments to the BBC by Jonathan Powell about legalising the IRA if they exist as a veterans organisation. There never was and never will be any need for a paramilitary group. There should not now be an attempt to justify them – whether they be republican or loyalist. All groups should commit to move away from violence and display that commitment through actions, not easy words.
We cannot escape the reality of the assessment from the Chief Constable in relation to Kevin McGuigan’s murder which is that members of the PIRA were responsible. We will not pretend that the PIRA is not currently involved in drug dealing, extortion, fuel laundering and coercion in communities across the north. The pressures and strains on people living under threat of violence cannot be ignored.
Jonathan Powell’s idea displays a naivety of the impact such a move would have on those people.
The IRA should not be involved in any criminality and whatever is left behind – if it acts within the rule of law such as tending graves – should be able to do it as Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein must accept it has a responsibility to deal with this and if it does not, it must be asked why. There is no need for an old boys’ network of paramilitaries and nor should anyone attempt to elevate them.
We need realism on the ground. Confronting the truth of paramilitaries in the North is the only way we can move forward and make a lasting difference to our society.