Publication of a report on paramilitary activity by the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) is to go ahead after a High Court challenge failed on Monday.
The IMC is reported to recommend that the British government suspends the wages of Sinn Fein Assembly members because of alleged activity by the mainstream IRA.
Sinn Fein said it would “resist” any move to impose sanctions on members. South Belfast Assembly member Alex Maskey described as “ridiculous” suggestions that the British government would deduct Assembly salaries from Sinn Fein and the Progressive Unionist Party over allegations of activity by the IRA and unionist paramilitary UVF.
The commission was set up last year at the behest of Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble. Ostensibly monitoring whether all sides are honouring commitments under the Good Friday Agreement, its main role is undoubtedly to provide cover for government-inspired sanctions on Sinn Fein.
In a court challenge, counsel for the IMC successfully argued that the Commission was immune to any legal challenge as it was constituted as an international body, not a public authority.
Lawyers for Thomas Tolan, one of four west Belfast men charged with the attempted abduction of republican dissident Bobby Tohill from a city centre pub in February, had pointed out that the report would prejudice his trial, in an application for a judicial review.
Mr Maskey, a former lord mayor of Belfast, said his party refused to recognise the IMC.
He said it was “little more than a tool of British securocrats to be used to discriminate against Sinn Fein and our electorate”.
“The IMC’s role from day one has been about providing the British government and the securocrats within the British system the political cover to exclude Sinn Fein, the largest nationalist party, from the process.”
He said it had been established outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement as a lifeline to (Ulster Unionist leader) David Trimble and is being used purely for political reasons.”
“Sinn Fein does not accept the validity of financial penalties or any other sanction on us or anyone else for something somebody else may or may not have done. It is a ridiculous idea. We have always said that Sinn Fein is not responsible for anyone else other than ourselves. If financial penalties are imposed, we will resist it and oppose it.”
The report would be based entirely upon briefings given to this body by the Special Branch and the other ‘securocrat’ agencies -- “the very same people who stand indicted for organising and carrying out a campaign of state sponsored murder in the six counties.”
Some form of official sanction against Sinn Fein has been on the cards following a high-profile attack on dissident republican Bobby Tohill at a Belfast city centre bar in February.
PSNI police Chief Hugh Orde has blamed the IRA for the incident, as did Mr Tohill initially. Mr Tohill has since withdrawn the allegation, and has since described it a personal dispute, accusing the British government of using him as a “pawn” in the peace process.
The IRA denied it had authorised any action against Mr Tohill.
Following the release of the IMC report, the British and Irish governments are planning intensive all-party talks in London later this month to deal with paramilitarism and other problems in the peace process.
Hugh Orde said he hoped the report would turn the screw on Sinn Fein and the IRA. He said: “If it puts people under pressure and says we found you out, you have got to stop, you have got to go away, that’s a good thing for policing. It enables us to go forward.”
The report is said to say the IRA breaches are sufficient to merit “remedial action”, which could include the suspension of Sinn Fein members from any power-sharing executive.
However, with the entire assembly operating only intermittently since 1998, and with it in suspension since October 2002, that sanction is not open to the government.
The IMC is instead believed to have recommended financial sanctions against Sinn Fein rather than exclusion from the political institutions.
Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel McLaughlin predicted the body will “major on alleged republican activity, slow-pedal on the activities of unionist paramilitaries and ignore entirely the British government breaches of the agreement up until now”.
“It will be interesting to see what the IMC have to say about the British government policy of state-sanctioned murder recently exposed by Judge Cory, or the series of murders carried out by unionist paramilitaries over the past year, many of which are reportedly linked to British agents working within the unionist paramilitaries,” he said.
A meeting in London today on findings of collusion by retired Canadian judge Peter Cory between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the nationalist SDLP was postponed on Monday to allow the media to focus on the IMC report.