IMC backs IRA leadership

The official body set up to report on IRA and unionist paramilitary activity has said the IRA is committed to following a peaceful political path.

Sinn Fein said the latest report from the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) showed it was "patently clear" that the IRA had delivered on every commitment it had given last year.

The party insisted that Ian Paisley's DUP had no more excuses for refusing to share power in the North.

The commission's 11th report said the maintenance of the command and control structure of the Provisional IRA was helping rather than hindering the peace process. The DUP has insisted that the IRA be disbanded.

As was widely predicted, the IMC said the Provisional IRA was not engaged in planning attacks, arming or training members. It also said the Provisional IRA leadership had "taken a stance against criminality and disorder amongst the membership, and has been engaged in successful dialogue to prevent violence during the 2006 parades season."

Senior members were taking on roles in Sinn Fein and encouraging other members to do the same or to engage in community work, the report added.

"The fact that PIRA retains a command and control structure does not, in our view, detract from this.

"Indeed, this structure is an important element in maintaining the organisation on its chosen path."

It said that, following statements and decommissioning by the IRA and given the strategy directed by the leadership, "we do not think that PIRA presents a threat to the security forces or impediment to security normalisation".

Sinn Fein Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew said the time for the DUP to engage with her party had long since passed.

"Well before any pronouncement from the IMC this afternoon, it has been patently clear to everyone objectively looking at this situation that the IRA had delivered to the word on every commitment it entered into this time last year," she said.

"The IRA have dealt decisively with genuine issues of concern put forward by unionists and it is very clear that the time for the DUP using this issue as an excuse not to engage and move forward has long since passed.

"The DUP stand alone as the only party still unwilling to commit to sharing power on the basis laid out in the Good Friday Agreement."

The DUP last night said it was not convinced by the commission's report.

Deputy leader Peter Robinson said: "If, as the IMC indicate, IRA discipline is needed to maintain 'the organisation on its chosen path', then this is a clear indication that republicans have not yet reached the stage where their natural tendency is to opt for exclusively peaceful and democratic means. The transition is not complete."

The commission's report, released yesterday, said dissident republicans posed a continuing threat and continued to engage in activity.

"It remains the case, however, that they have been hampered in what they do both by their limited expertise and capacity and by the continuing efforts of law enforcement agencies North and South," said the report.

The commission said unionist paramilitary groups remained involved in violence.

They found that the groups remained "strongly entrenched" and their refusal to respond to appeals on decommissioning was "worrying".

However, the IMC noted the groups did not pose an active threat to British forces.

The report also said British forces had met provisions on demilitarisation.

The remaining watchtowers had been removed from south Armagh, troops had been withdrawn from two more police stations and overall troop levels reduced as British forces were moved to Iraq.

The number of military helicopter flights has also been sharply cut, it noted.

The IMC is due to make another report next month.

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© 2006 Irish Republican News