Sunday Business Post

Mounting fears of IRA split over North deal

26/10/03 00:00

By Barry O'Kelly and Sean Mac Carthaigh
The Provisional IRA is facing the possibility of experienced volunteers leaving the organisation, according to republican and Garda Special Branch sources.

Detectives in Dublin alleged to The Sunday Business Post this weekend that their intelligence information suggested there was a serious possibility of "a split" within the Provisional IRA.

Republican sources revealed that a recent meeting of senior IRA members heard volunteers openly warning that they would leave the organisation over its change in direction.

The decommissioning of arms and the winding down of the IRA itself was signalled at the meeting.

Brigades in south Derry, south Armagh and Tyrone are believed to be divided on

the decommissioning issue. Meanwhile, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has described the IRA statement as a defining moment in Irish history, intended to usher in a new era for republicans.

In an article written by the Taoiseach for this newspaper, he said that Gerry Adams' statement last week, which was fully endorsed by the IRA, was "of key significance . . . and provides the context for the full and final closure of the conflict".

And he stressed: "We are still within an ace of success."

The IRA organisation is under severe strain because of arms decommissioning and its signal last week that it could no longer countenance political violence.

Special Branch detectives said the dissident Real IRA and Continuity IRA were both gearing up to embark on recruitment drives to exploit the vacuum within the provisionals.

However, Republican sources said there was no indication that disaffected members of the Provisionals would join either of the dissident groups. "They just said they would leave, but they did not say where, if anywhere, they would go," a source said.

"The meeting was told [by members of the army council] that there was no alternative, that they only had to look at what happened to Micky [McKevitt, of the Real IRA] and the boys down in Portlaoise," he said.

Special branch sources said the decommissioning act and the IRA's effective declaration that its war was now over had sent shockwaves through the organisation. "What we're hearing is that there will be a split," one source alleged.

Separately, republican sources said the IRA's arsenal was significantly smaller than reports suggested.The sources said one major dump containing Semtex could not be located because the man who buried it had died.

Meanwhile,Sinn Féin said it still had not received a credible explanation for the behaviour of Ulster Unionist leader David Tr imble. "We had an agreement with the UUP, the Irish government and the British government on Monday night," a spokeswoman said. "There were no surprises the next day - everything panned out as we thought it would pan out - until DavidTrimble's reaction to de Chastelain."

Last night, Sinn Fe in sources estimated there were "perhaps 48 hours to sort this out", before the North's politicians went into "election mode". There is "huge concern" at what party members see as the lethargic role of the Irish government, the sources said. "They should be leading Irish nationalism, instead of standing around briefing `we told you so'. They certainly said nothing on Monday night when we had a deal," a source said.

But in his article today, the Taoiseach says he is "deeply disappointed and frustrated that our efforts have stalled.

"I cannot believe that it will not be possible to resolve this issue,"Ahern continues. "Last week,we were within an ace of the success we have all been working for.We are still within an ace of success."

Stressing that the IRA move was "no token decommissioning," he argues that a way must be found to fully convince the Ulster Unionists of what has been achieved.

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