LIES AND PROPOGANDA
A conflict has appeared in the political establishment over a report on IRA and unionist paramilitary activity by the government-mandated ‘Independent Monitoring Commission’.
The IMC, set up outside the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, contradicted recent conclusions reached by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, a more respected body created as part of the Agreement.
The IMC claimed the Provisional IRA had not fully disarmed, allegations which the IRA rejected as “politically motivated”.
While the hardline unionist DUP predictably seized on the accusations to place further obstacles in the way of the peace process, republicans were apoplectic. They accused the body -- composed of three former security chiefs and a British Lord -- of blatantly rehashing the propoganda of the anti-republican Special Branch police and British military intelligence.
Sinn Féin’s chief negotiator Martin McGuinness angrily rubbished the allegations. He said the IMC received its briefings from “people within the process who are hostile to it”.
“I think it is, with respect, bullshit of the highest order,” he added.
Following last September’s process of putting all IRA weapons beyond use, General de Chastelain expressed confidence that the IRA had completely discharged its commitments.
However, the IMC challenged the decommissioning body’s conclusions.
“We have since received reports that not all PIRA’s weapons and ammunition were handed over for decommissioning in September,” the IMC said.
“These reports are not able to indicate precisely what is the nature or volume of any remaining weapons but suggest two things -- first, that there is a range of different kinds of weapons and ammunition; second, that the material goes beyond what might possibly have been expected to have missed decommissioning, such as a limited number of handguns kept for personal protection or some items the wherebouts of which were no longer known.
“We recognise that, if these reports were confirmed, the key question would be how much the PIRA leadership knew about these weapons,” the IMC said.
The IMC report, which also contained allegations of continuing IRA “criminality” and “intelligence gathering”, deepened concern for the prospects of peace talks, due to begin this week.
In a later statement, General John de Chastelain’s decommissioning body strongly contradicted the IMC’s allegations of IRA bad faith.
The decommissioning body attributed the source of recent questions about the IRA’s disarmament process to “security sources in Northern Ireland”.
“Last week, we were informed by security sources in Northern Ireland that they had intelligence to the effect that some individuals and groups within the IRA have retained a range of arms, including handguns,” it said.
“If substantiated, this assessment would be at variance with the statement we made last September that we believed all IRA arms had been decommissioned commensurate with our remit. Accordingly we undertook to examine whether, in light of the assessment, we were misinformed or had made a misjudgment in September.
“Over the past week, we have discussed the intelligence assessment with senior officers in the Garda Siochana... the Garda informed us that what they regard as reliable sources in relation to the IRA and its weaponry have produced no intelligence suggesting any arms have been retained.”
The decommissioning body said two meetings had taken place last week with the IRA representative who was responsible for overseeing the process of putting the organisation’s weapons beyond use.
“In our first meeting last week, the IRA representative... assured us that no IRA arms had been retained or placed in long -term hides,” the decommissioning body said.
“In a meeting later in the week, the representative told us that, following our earlier discussion, the IRA leadership questioned each of their commanders about the intelligence assessment. These have confirmed that all the arms under their control were decommissioned in September, as we stated.
“We conclude that, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, our 26 September assessment regarding IRA arms remains correct.”
The London and Dublin governments were at pains to point to other “positive” findings of the IMC report, and played down the apparent schism between the independent bodies. However, some claimed that Dublin was distancing itself from the IMC.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the IMC had drawn attention to its belief that there had been a strategic decision taken by the IRA leadership to abandon the armed struggle.
Mr Blair said he wanted to make it clear once again that all criminal activity had to cease.
In a more upbeat statement, the Dublin government said the absence of Provisional IRA activity since last July is “of particular note”.
However, the DUP leader Ian Paisley said that, far from being given a clean bill of health, the IMC’s report reaffirmed that the IRA was “riddled with illegality”.
“It is particularly perturbing that the IRA continues its intelligence gathering operation and is apparently predominantly directing its spying at furthering its political strategy,” Mr Paisley said.
At a later press conference, Sinn Féin chief negotiator Martin McGuinness was asked to give his view on the IMC allegations of IRA bad faith.
“Those who supply the information for the IMC reports include DUP supporters in Special Branch and are the same people who collapsed the political institutions and who ten years ago were controlling and directing a murder campaign against Sinn Féin members and the wider nationalist community,” he said.
“It is unacceptable that the entire political process is being held to ransom by these people. Sinn Féin have challenged the IMC and the two governments to produce evidence to back up allegations contained in other IMC reports. They have all failed to do so,” Mr McGuinness said.
“The individuals who make up the IMC and the group collectively are absolutely hostile to Irish republicanism,” he added.
“It’s like the white man talking to the natives.”
PROCESS MUST CONTINUE - ADAMS
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, speaking at a press conference in Belfast, said the IMC had “set aside every democratic principle known”.
“The IRA have dealt decisively with the issue of arms. It cannot be done again,” he said. “Those opposed to this process are attempting to bring all of us down a cul-de-sac.”
Mr Adams claimed “the process of change” was going forward, but he wanted to see it “accelerated and developed”.
“We want to see the political institutions put back in place.
“We want to see further progress on the all-Ireland agenda.
“We want to see the other outstanding matters including policing, human rights and equality issues resolved.
“The two governments have stated that they wish to see rapid progress made in the time ahead. This is possible, if the two governments display the necessary political will and the primacy of the political process is asserted. They need to match their rhetoric with action.
“The IMC has set aside every democratic principle known. People have democratic mandates, the IMC has none. The IMC is a child of the governments and they have to now deal with this reality.
“Sinn Féin remain committed to seeing the promise of the Good Friday Agreement developed. But we are not prepared to simply wait on the DUP or anyone else grasping the new political realities which exist.
“The situation has been transformed in recent years. The potential for political progress and stability is there. Challenging and crucial months lie ahead but whatever happens it is clear that the process of change will continue.”