An official report for the Dublin and London governments on allegations of IRA and unionist paramilitary activity is the “most positive” yet about the Provisional IRA following a peaceful path.
The report is the latest by the so-called Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC), a body frequently dismissed by republicans as a convenient prop for governmental policy.
However, the IMC’s findings of further reductions in IRA activity generated a significant amount of upbeat media coverage this week which the two governments hope will encourage peace efforts.
DUP leader Ian Paisley welcomed the report only “in so far as it goes”. He insisted that “the IRA continues to engage in terror and criminal activities” and called for the seizure of alleged IRA financial assets.
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said the IRA had already “addressed unionist concerns and removed any further excuse for non-engagement and prevarication”.
There had been further dismantling of the IRA as a military structure in the last three months, the IMC said. It also suggested that some members or former members of the Provisional IRA were involved in illegal activities and that some may potentially still hold guns.
The IMC said the Continuity IRA was a continuing threat, but that it did not believe the group had been involved in rioting at the loyalist ‘Love Ulster’ march in Dublin earlier this year.
The IMC said that despite infighting within the Real IRA, the organisation’s “aspirations and readiness to use extreme violence are undiminished”.
Sinn Fein chief negotiator Martin McGuinness yesterday said he had no respect for the IMC body, which has until recently called for financial penalties and other sanctions on his party.
“In our view the IMC have no positive or constructive role to play in the peace process. In fact, they have provided the pretext for political discrimination against democratically elected politicians.
“As predicted today’s report from the IMC, like those before, is top heavy with allegations, but completely devoid of any evidence to back them up.”
McGuinness said the political spotlight needed to fall on the DUP and its leader Ian Paisley.
“Mr Paisley has a big decision to make,” he said. “Is Ian Paisley a leader or a follower?”
Mr McGuinness said that he was “absolutely satisfied” that the IRA had fulfilled its commitment to disarm, announced last July.
The organisation put its weaponry beyond use in a move verified by General John de Chastelain, head of the body overseeing disarmament under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. IRA arms decommissioning was witnessed by Belfast Catholic priest Father Alex Reid and ex-Methodist president the Reverend Harold Good.
DECISION TIME - HAIN
Speaking on Wednesday, British Direct Ruler Peter Hain said the time for decisions has come and warned that the November 24 final deadline set recently by the Dublin and London governments was “set in stone”.
“We can’t continue as we are and we won’t,” Mr Hain said, referring to contingency plans for joint government with Dublin.
He issued a call at the Westminster parliament for “mature politics” in the North as he outlined emergency measures aimed at restoring powers to the mothballed Belfast Assembly.
He was clear the alternative scenario would involve the assembly being scrapped for good.
Mr Hain told British MPs: “The public are heartily sick of taxpayers’ money being doled out to [assembly members] who won’t do their jobs by working together like all other elected politicians across the world.”
He insisted that the November deadline represented not a threat but a “great promise”, which should be seized on to build a “new future” for the North.
Mr Hain was opening the debate at the second reading of the Northern Ireland Bill, which provides for a recall of the Belfast Assembly.
Devolved local power in the North has been suspended since October 2002. All 108 members of the assembly are to attend on May 15 for the first of two bids to form an executive.
Assembly members are to be given six weeks to restore devolution. A second chance will be offered in September, followed by the November deadline.
Hain warned: “If we do not get an executive by 24 November, the Bill is absolutely unequivocal. The assembly members will go home. The May 2007 elections will not take place and, from November 24, the assembly members will receive no pay.”
Mr Hain said an election due in May 2007 would be postponed in any event, so that members did not have to focus immediately on “election positioning and campaigning”.
Mark Durkan, leader of the nationalist SDLP, took issue with the postponing of elections.
“I have a funny feeling that, whatever happens, the government will be revisiting this issue yet again,” he said.
The SDLP had never believed that the timing of elections should be “jigged about at will”, said Mr Durkan. “The fact is, in the previous experience of devolution, institutions actually worked,” he said.
Hardline unionist DUP leader Ian Paisley said he welcomed the proposed legislation. It could give assembly members an “enhanced role” in helping to shape legislation in the North, he said.
He was referring to the possibility of certain subjects, such as water rates and bin collections, being discussed by Assembly members in its “transitional” mode, with a view to recommending legislation in the London parliament.
Martin McGuinness, who held a meeting with Mr Hain earlier in the week, said his party would only engage in the Assembly “for the purpose of electing the first and deputy first ministers and the formation of the power-sharing executive.”
He appealed for the DUP to share power in the North. He said the alternative was “bad government” by direct-rule ministers.
Mr McGuinness said: “There is no alternative to the power-sharing arrangements set out in the Good Friday Agreement and endorsed by the people of Ireland, North and South.
“Sinn Fein will not be part of anything short of this and we will adamantly oppose any attempt to achieve unionist majority rule through a shadow assembly.”
He said the restoration of local government was a must for people across the political divide.
“This is the challenge facing the DUP. Are they willing to take responsibility away from British direct-rule ministers who know nothing about local issues and who care even less?”
DUP ‘UP FOR BUSINESS’ - AHERN
The DUP said earlier this week it plans a consultation process on power sharing with Sinn Fein but only if a case can be made that the IRA has completed a transition from “paramilitarism and criminality”.
It is expected that such consultation will include Protestant marching orders, Protestant church leaders and community activists.
Addressing the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body (BIIPB) for the first time, deputy leader Peter Robinson said yesterday that while considerable progress has been made, it would be dangerous to suggest the process has been completed.
“I cannot say if or when a judgment can be made that completion has been reached but if and when a prima facie case can be made, we have committed ourselves as a party to a consultation process within our community to ensure unionism is satisfied completion has been reached and that it is stable and enduring,” he said.
“The prime minister pledged that people had to be satisfied that the IRA had completed its transition before an executive including Sinn Fein could be formed. We pledge to use that yardstick to inform our decision-making process.”
The DUP delegation at the meeting in Killarney included MPs Iris Robinson, Nigel Dodds and Jeffrey Donaldson. However, the party has not ended its boycott of participation in the body, which was established in 1990 as a link between the London and Dublin parliaments.
Later Dermot Ahern, who met the group privately after their presentation, said he was very heartened. “The presentation was very good. They made it quite clear they are up for business,” he said, although he wondered “if we are going to have to wait until the last Provo shoplifter is caught”.