The British government has formally acknowledged that the Provisional IRA’s military campaign is over.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair was responding to the latest report by the Independent Monitoring Commission, which monitors the activity of the IRA and unionist paramilitary groups using information supplied by government intelligence agencies.
In a widely predicted assesment, the IMC said the IRA had moved from being a “sophisticated paramilitary threat” to an organisation committed to peace. It also said it now believes that the Provisional IRA has instructed members to desist from all military training and what it described as “criminal activities”.
The Irish and British governments quickly supported the “clear-cut” finding saying that it is not credible to suggest the IRA is not committed to a political solution to the North’s problems.
“Sinn Féin and the IRA are following the political path and a commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means.” Mr. Blair said. “The IRA’s campaign is over.”
He added that the door was now open to a final settlement.
By contrast, the report also found the threat from unionist paramilitaries had abated but had not gone.
The report said the IRA did not believe a return to war was viable and had disbanded military structures including the departments responsible for arms supplies, weapons manufacture and training.
The IRA had also ended all intelligence-gathering against members of the British forces and was rejecting community appeals to carry out punishment attacks against anti-social elements in republican areas.
Senior personnel played a key role in ensuring that the summer marching season in the North was peaceful, it added.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern also regard the reported as an ideal kick-start to talks on the restoration of local power-sharing between Sinn Féin and unionists at St Andrews in Scotland next week.
However, the IMC said the Provisional IRA was still monitoring unionist paramilitaries, republican opponents, as well as suspected informers. It failed, however, to make an assessment on whether there was IRA involvement in the murder of former Sinn Féin official and British agent Denis Donaldson.
It also alleged that the leadership was no longer able to discipline its membership, alleging the existence of an unknown faction in the north-west calling itself the “Republican Defence Army” was evidence of this.
Mr Ahern said: “We are greatly encouraged and warmly welcome the Report’s conclusion that there is convincing evidence of the Provisional IRA’s continuing commitment to an exclusively political path.”
“These positive and clear-cut findings are of the utmost importance and significance. They are evidence that the security landscape in Northern Ireland has been radically altered.”
DUP SEEKS CLARIFICATION
However, DUP leader Ian Paisley is still refusing to accept that the IRA has moved in a political path.
He said today that the DUP would be seeking talks with the IMC to ascertain if the measures taken by the IRA are “permanent and irreversible”.
The party is continuing to resist pressure to engage in talks with Sinn Féin ahead of the November 24th deadline for agreement set by the two governments. Without a deal, Dublin and London have said they will cease funding members of the Belfast assembly and revert to a ‘Plan B’ which would see the two governments joint involved in administrative functions in the North.
The DUP leader insisted republicans do not support “policing and the rule of law” and must “demonstrate in a practical and convincing way that their days of criminality and terror are gone for good”.
In response, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said today that the DUP could slow down but not stop the process of change in the North of Ireland.
Arriving at Stormont Castle for talks with British Direct Ruler Peter Hain he said: “What this is about is trying to ensure the process of change continues and we are very, very much part of that.”
He said they had to be patient but quietly assertive. “The fact is the DUP don’t have anything other than very limited options.”
He said the question of what happened next was not for him. “A deal could be done tomorrow morning, a deal could be done tonight.
“The question is for Ian Paisley, does he want British direct rule from ministers who are not accountable whatsoever to this part of our island or the different political groups with a mandate who can at least be sacked by the electorate?”
Mr Adams asked how long were other parties going to “cast about for some straw to stop them from coming forward and taking up their rightful position of administrative rule in this part of our island?”
He warned the DUP: “If they don’t participate they are condemning people here, particularly their own constituents, to second class public services run by second class fly-in, fly-out British ministers.”
Mr Adams said he that, even without the IMC report, “it is very, very, very clear that republicans have kept all of the commitments that republicans have made”.
Former Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble has said he doubts whether the “fundamentalist bedrock” of the DUP would move towards doing a pragmatic deal.
“It may be that there is a shift in the popular mood in that direction and that the pragmatic wing of the DUP is inclined to move,” he said.
“But will the fundamentalist bedrock of the DUP move? I doubt it. For them this is a matter of good versus evil. Do not expect a debate within that party.”
Meanwhile, Ruairi O Bradaigh, President of Republican Sinn Féin said that that nothing short of total British government disengagement from Ireland would provide the basis for a genuine settlement of the conflict in Ireland.
“That [Good Friday] Agreement was concerned merely with restructuring British rule in Ireland and nothing beyond that. The conflict here from 1969 on was not simply about civil rights and a civil rights solution will not resolve the situation.
“Those who ignore such realities have blinded themselves as to the way forward.”