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What were we expecting? For all IRA members to lay down their rifles and work a 9 to 5?

The political establishment hopes connecting Sinn Fein with IRA criminality will help spoil Gerry Adams and Co’s chances in the upcoming election, but they should be careful what they wish for, writes Paul Allen.

TIMING, THEY SAY, is everything in politics. So with a general election due next year and Sinn Fein riding high in the polls, it is interesting that questions about the IRA’s continued existence and involvement in crime in Northern Ireland have surfaced.

The political establishment has been having nightmares about the rise and growing electoral strength of Sinn Fein. So they must have been rubbing their hands with glee once Northern Ireland Justice Minister David Ford said police had told him the murder of former IRA member Kevin McGuigan in Belfast on August 12th may have involved other members of the paramilitary organisation.

Tánaiste Joan Burton wasted little time in ordering a Garda report into the structures of the IRA to truly turn the screw on Sinn Fein. And with Labour’s support base highly vulnerable, it was of little surprise she demanded the report to be completed before the upcoming General Election.

The Garda Síochána’s belief is that “no intelligence or information” supports claims that a military structure within the IRA is still in existence. However, while they believe the IRA no longer exists “as a body”, they acknowledge that individuals and small groups connected to the Provos are involved in criminal activity, both north and south of the border.

Queen's reign in pictures File Photo MCCULLOU MCCULLOU

But there should be no surprise that, as Gerry Adams would say, “they haven’t gone away, you know”. It was unlikely that every IRA member would lay down their rifles and go work 9 to 5 in a bank. Indeed, even former Minister for Justice Michael McDowell has said the Irish, British and US governments agreed in 2005 that the survival of an “unarmed and withering husk” of an IRA was vital for the good of the process.

Nonetheless, the major political parties now smell blood and are focusing all their efforts to ‘expose’ what they see as Sinn Fein’s connection with the criminality being executed by this “withering husk” of the IRA. But this is a highly dangerous game.

Northern Ireland now needs stability. And while revelations about the IRA in Northern Ireland could be politically advantageous to the political mainstream, and especially Labour and Fianna Fail, it could also see devolution in the north ripped apart at the seams. This would be a high price to pay for the questionable political impact on Sinn Fein in the upcoming general election.

Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour have constantly tried to connect Sinn Fein to the IRA, terrorism and crime but they have never been able to land a knockout blow. Sinn Fein’s media machine is very impressive and coaches its politicians to box clever and to bob and weave to avoid sticky awkward questions. When things get awkward divert the topic and win the interview.

90386878 Sam Boal Sam Boal

Also, Sinn Fein’s voter base is unlikely to be overly surprised by the recent revelations so it is unlikely to push them away from the party. Whether the exodus of former Fianna Fail and Labour supporters to Sinn Fein can be stemmed by such revelations is also unlikely, as once again few people could be surprised the thought that some former IRA members are involved in criminal activity.

So while Joan Burton, Micheál Martin and even Enda Kenny will be looking to make political gains by slinging mud they hope will stick, it is unlikely, even though every political party has an Achilles’ Heel, that these revelations will ultimately prove to be Sinn Fein’s. The problem is once the dust settles the damage to the Peace Process North of the boarder could be irreparable.

Paul Allen is managing director of Paul Allen and Associates PR. Follow his blog.

Read: The Garda Commissioner has weighed in on the existence of the IRA>

Read: Gerry Adams: ‘Sinn Féin has no special responsibility to respond to allegations about the IRA’>

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