The Independent Monitoring Commission’s threat to expose Sinn Féin members as IRA leaders has “polluted” the peace process, Sinn Féin said today.

In an angry attack on the commission, whose first report yesterday called for financial penalties against Sinn Féin on the basis of police briefings that the IRA remained active, party chairman Mitchel McLaughlin warned it had the potential to “put another nail in the coffin” of the process.

Although the IMC report accepted that Sinn Féin did not control the IRA, it declared that some leading members of Sinn Féin are also leading members of the IRA. It called for the political subvention paid to Sinn Féin on the basis of its participation in the Belfast Assembly to be cut.

The IMC declared that all the North’s main paramilitary organisations were engaged in punishment attacks and criminal activities. It said a republican group, which it hinted was the Provisional IRA, carried out the abduction and murder of missing Armagth man Gareth O’Connoor, It also blamed the breakway ‘Real IRA’ for killing Belfast man Danny McGurk.

On the unionist side, it blamed the UDA for six murders since January 2003 and accused other unionist paramilitaries of killing another three, including Michael O’Hare, who they claim was killed by loyalists in a house fire in March 2003.

It also said one IRA man, Keith Rogers, was shot dead in South Armagh, but does not specify which paramilitary group was responsible. At the time, March 2003, the IRA blamed a criminal gang for killing Rogers.

If the IRA remained active, the IMC warned that the salaries of Sinn Féin Assembly members could be cut, that the party could be excluded from the Executive, and the senior members could be ‘named and shamed’ as IRA chiefs.

Mr McLaughlin said: “Engagements between parties are needed but reports like this pollute the atmosphere of this process.

“Let us just look at this commission. It was set up at the behest of David Trimble to give spurious credibility to the same daggers which members of the police Special Branch have been pointing in our direction for some time.

“All the British and Irish governments have done by establishing the IMC is to find another microphone, another voice box for the securocrats, but there is no new evidence.

“This process has been about getting everyone involved, including ex-combatants, in finding political solutions instead of military ones.

“Sinn Féin devised the strategy and has invested a lot but it now seems others have abandoned it in favour of a strategy aimed at stopping our electoral growth.

“This report will not affect the republican base but it has the potential to put another nail in the coffin for this process.”

In their only political initiative in recent years, the IMC was set up last year by the British and Irish governments to check if all sides were honouring their commitments under the Good Friday Agreement.

However, it was clear from its inception that the body was designed to implement ‘sanctions’ against Sinn Féin for political purposes. Its report is based on briefings from the PSNI police and British military intelligence.

Its members are former Belfast Assembly Speaker Lord Alderdice, ex-London anti-terror police chief John Grieve, retired Irish civil servant Joe Brosnan and Richard Kerr, formerly deputy director of the United States CIA.

The body’s first dossier was brought forward following an incident in which the Provisional IRA was accused of beating up and trying to abduct dissident republican Bobby Tohill from a Belfast city centre bar in February.

Its recommendation that thousands of pounds should be withheld from Sinn Féin and the Progressive Unionist Party, which has links with the unionist paramilitary UVF, was adopted yesterday by British Direct Ruler Paul Murphy.

Lord Alderdice said he was ready to ‘out’ Sinn Féin politicians he was told were also IRA leaders.

The commission member said: “Those that we believe are likely to be in positions of senior leadership in various paramilitary groups should expect to receive direct communications from us so that they have an opportunity to respond to the views we are developing.”

Mr McLaughlin accused Lord Alderice, a former leader of the cross community Alliance Party, of being “a pet poodle” for the British government’s Northern Ireland Office throughout his career.

The Foyle Assembly member said: “At the end of the day, it is difficult if republicans across the board are trying to make this process work and others are trying to slow this up.”

Hardline unionist Ian Paisley, of the DUP claimed that fining the parties cited in the report amounted to little more than a “murder tax”. The Ulster Unionist leader, Mr David Trimble, urged the British government to reconsider its prisoner release scheme.

The SDLP’s Seamus Mallon voiced support for the IMC and their report, but demanded higher fines be imposed on Sinn Féin.

Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy later accued Mr Mallon of ‘supporting the British government in discriminating against the majority of nationalists in the six counties who now vote for Sinn Féin’.

As Murphy and Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen met in London today for the first time since the release of the IMC report, all sides criticised the decision to cancel multi-party talks next week.

Mr Murphy insisted progress could be made despite the tense atmosphere.

He said yesterday’s report simply revealed issues that people were already well aware of.

“It doesn’t mean to say that we stop progress,” he said.

“It tells us that there are obstacles to be overcome, which are difficult ones. But I think there is a will there amongst all the political parties and the two governments to make progress.

“It is not going to be easy, we never thought it was going to be easy. But nevertheless we intend to carry on. We are not standing still.”

Mr Cowen said: “We all know where everything is at. We have to get into a dialogue, get into a political discourse, which will address these issues.

“We are all committed to making this process work. There is a problem with one side of the community about whether paramilitary activity can be brought to an end and whether we can see partnership government put in place to everyone`s satisfaction.”

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