18 January 2006

Minister clarifies 'IRA position'

BBC

The NI security minister has written to the Policing Board chairman clarifying his position on ongoing IRA activity.

Shaun Woodward's letter to Desmond Rea follows a confidential Policing Board meeting, details of which were leaked.

Unionists reacted angrily to a police assessment that the IRA was still involved in organised crime.

The comments by Sam Kinkaid, the PSNI's most senior detective, contradicted Mr Woodward, who last month said the IRA was not active.

However, in his letter to Sir Desmond, the minister said: "There is clearly a distinction to be made between the activity of individuals and the intention of organisations.

"The point I have been making is that government believes that the Provisional leadership intends to take the organisation in a different direction."

He added: "I am clear, as are the PSNI, that there have been significant changes in PIRA activity, including in the area of criminality, since July.

"But there are complex assessments to be made in distinguishing between criminality by individual PIRA members for their own gain and criminality carried out by PIRA members which is authorised by the organisation.

"It is the job of the IMC to comment on these difficult issues. We are all agreed, and have repeatedly said, that what is critical is the forthcoming independent assessment of the IMC."

The minister said he viewed the breach of confidentiality at the board with "considerable concern".

Paramilitary attacks

The DUP called for Mr Woodward to resign, while the UUP has said the police view was a "damning assessment" of his credibility.

Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams described the briefing as "a political intervention".

The SDLP leader, Mark Durkan, said that the contrast between the police assessment of IRA criminal activity and last month's comments by the security minister raises questions about the minister's credibility.

Mr Kinkaid, the PSNI's assistant chief constable in charge of crime operations, gave his assessment of the IRA's activities during a private briefing to the Policing Board on Tuesday.

It is believed Mr Kincaid said there had been significant progress in terms of ending some activities on the part of the IRA, such as paramilitary attacks and armed robberies.

However, he told board members that no paramilitary group, including the IRA, has ceased involvement in organised crime.

He said the police had seen no change in this for a year.

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