If you were to judge by republican statements following misdemeanours by members of their own movement recently, you might be tempted to conclude that the IRA are merely an invention of British ‘securocrats’ seeking to undermine Sinn Fein. After all such inconvenient occurrences as Paul Quinn’s murder, the Northern Bank robbery, the murder of Robert McCartney, murdering Denis Donaldson etc. can either be ascribed to elements outside the organisation or British provocation within it.
More extreme versions of these conspiracy theories actually suggest that the IRA was so riddled with MI5 / Special Branch spies and informers that the organisation was little more than a British puppet all along. Conveniently this version of events can be used to disclaim the greater proportion of disgraceful deeds perpetrated by republicans during the Troubles.
Given these dark murmurings within the republican movement, and the fact that the political wing of their organisation continues to be hamstrung by its connections with criminals and thugs, wouldn’t the simplest thing be simply to wind up the “military” apparatus altogether? It would be considerably more difficult for the crime and thuggery republicans are keen to disclaim, to shelter under the cover of their movement if the IRA no longer existed.
If the actions ascribed to IRA members truly have no connection to that organisation’s structures and leadership, wouldn’t the best way to remove any ambiguity be to wind up the Army Council and disband the IRA altogether? If, as republicans consistently imply, the inconvenient murders, kidnappings, drug-dealing, fuel-laundering and robberies are only linked to them through a mixture of British / unionist innuendo and securocrat meddling, then this must be the surest way of wrong-footing their opponents and proving their commitment to constitutional politics. As an incidental, but significant benefit, the unionist objection to devolving policing would disappear.
It seems to me that if republican protests are founded in any kind of reality, or even if the simple truth is that elements within the IRA are letting down the leadership by continuing to be involved in criminal and violent activity, that the easiest and most logical course of action would be to dissolve the organisation. Of course the truth may be that republicans really do still need the IRA, to continue to exert influence in their communities and to retain an element of threat against their political opponents.