By Brian Feeney (for the Irish News)
You didn't notice our proconsul saying that his puppets, the so-called Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC), would be bringing forward the date of their next report to present findings on the murder of LVF man Brian Stewart?
As a matter of fact, did you notice our proconsul saying anything about the murder? No, he left it to one of his district commissioners who had a two sentence statement issued on his behalf. We don't even know if he was in the north at the time. Sure it was only a murder.
Contrast that with the joint statement issued by Dublin and London four days after the assault on Bobby Tohill on February 20. Now we know that the British administration here has always viewed loyalist violence as less reprehensible than republican and indeed actively conspired with loyalist paramilitaries throughout the Troubles.
Still, to have an open feud in loyalism between the UVF and LVF involving murder and bombing but not involve their beloved IMC does make you wonder.
Obviously its April 20 report didn't have the slightest effect on the UVF who redoubled their violent activities. It doesn't seem to have changed our proconsul's attitude either, since he announced on Sunday that he would be meeting the leaders of the loyalist organisations the IMC report condemned to try to persuade them to behave themselves over the summer. Curiously the IMC concluded in paragraph 3.12 that as far as paramilitary groups were concerned "involvement in riots is not a present issue".
So our proconsul thinks that bit of the report is rubbish?
He would do well to think again about the whole concept of an IMC and not just because its first report was shoddy, over-written, patronising, insufferably pompous (guess which member of the commission that points to), but worst of all, error-prone.
There's no space here for a proper dissection but for example, in paragraph 3.27 the IMC inexplicably accepted the canard put about by the UVF that it has a "no first strike policy against the Catholic community". In the same paragraph it refers to the bomb the UVF planted outside a Belfast bar on St Patrick's Day this year. Who was that aimed at? It also accepts the lie that the UVF only retaliates for republican violence. Its description of the origin of the LVF is wrong.
Several political parties have attacked the IMC for including a case in a list of paramilitary murders despite the police treating the case otherwise. It didn't know about a recent large shipment of arms and explosives to the LVF. In short, amateur night out. Not a very competent performance from a body the British administration uses as its proxy for sanctioning republicans and long-fingering political talks. Make no mistake that's what our proconsul has done which is not what the original intention of a monitoring commission was.
If you remember, in 2002 it was to provide a fig leaf to save Trimble from his own party.
John Reid had the wit to realise no secretary of state should give away the power to take a decision about when political talks should happen and in what circumstances. So he stalled.
It says a lot about the present proconsul's political nous that he has handed his power to a body with no credibility whatever.
Not only does it lack credibility after the errors and tone of its first report, it shows a dangerous propensity to take upon itself airs and graces to enhance its role. There may well be a need to employ a shepherd's crook to 'wheech' Alderdice off the public stage where he's prone to create a part for himself voters were never willing to give him.
The SDLP's John Dallat used to object to the bells and whistles and flummery that Alderdice hung on his mundane position as assembly presiding officer.
The simple fact is this. In an act of unpardonable political folly, our proconsul has handed the IMC, and through it the DUP, his position of deciding when it's OK for Sinn Fein to be involved in talks. It was made clear at the DUP conference that the party will not talk to Sinn Fein before the IMC gives the IRA a clean sheet.
Even then the DUP will await subsequent IMC reports to decide whether it is satisfied there has been a sufficient period of quiescence.
That was never to be the IMC's role. It's not in the Good Friday Agreement that any entity other than the Irish and British governments should decide when political negotiations to restore an executive would begin. For our proconsul to let the IMC usurp that role and thereby present control of the political process to the DUP is a colossal blunder.