The British government is ready to declare that the Provisional IRA’s Army Council has disbanded to speed the transfer of policing and justice powers from London to the Stormont Executive in Belfast.
The official oversight body in regard to IRA and paramilitary activity, the ‘Independent Monitoring Commission’, has been asked to produce a special report clarifying the status and role of the Army Council, the top rung of the Provisional IRA’s leadership.
It follows the issuance of a joint letter by Sinn Féin and the DUP this week in which elements of a possible deal to finally allow the transfer of powers were outlined.
The IMC, which formally reviews intelligence reports from the British Crown forces and 26-County Garda police, is typically used to lend weight to governmental policy for public relations purposes. It has long been dismissed as a “puppet show” by republicans.
The body was this week asked to produce an ad-hoc report “on the future of the Provisional IRA” by British Direct Ruler Shaun Woodward and the 26-County Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern.
In its last offical report in May, the IMC stated that the process of the Provisional IRA disposing of its remaining capabilities was “all but complete”. However, the DUP have continued to insist that its military structures, particularly the Army Council, are still in existence.
British officials previously argued that continuation of the Army Council was necessary to help bring a smooth end to the Provisional IRA and to prevent Volunteers breaking away.
But the issue has been presented by unionists as a reason to delay the devolution of policing and justice powers under the 2006 St Andrews Agreement. The British government is now understood to be keen to declare an end to the Provisional IRA.
DUP Junior Minister Jeffrey Donaldson said this week: “There are still outstanding issues that need to be resolved to our satisfaction. The DUP will not be content until every last vestige of IRA structures has disappeared.”
The issue has continued to pose threats to political stability despite the ending of the Provisional campaign, the standing down of its units and the witnessed decommissioning of its arsenal. Last June it threatened to undermine the transition of leadership within the DUP and the election of Mr Robinson as First Minister.
The UUP is trenchantly opposed to the transfer of justice powers, with leader Reg Empey arguing that the devolution plan is both premature and “half-baked”.
European Parliament member Jim Allister, who quit the DUP over powersharing with Sinn Féin, said the request to the IMC for a special report was a “patently choreographed move to ease the implementation of the DUP’s deal with IRA/Sinn Féin over policing and justice”.
“Whatever the IMC agrees to say, no IRA acolyte, such as McGuinness, should ever be allowed to exercise justice powers, and, yet, this is precisely what the DUP is seeking to do.”
The North’s Deputy First Minister and former Sinn Féin negotiator, Martin McGuinness, dismissed as “silly” what he said were attempts to bring the IRA back into the spotlight.
“The IRA have clearly gone off the stage and have done so since 2005,” said Mr McGuinness.
“But there’s still attempts being made by some people to drag them back on and I think that’s silly.”
Speaking at the annual West Belfast Talks Back event this week, Mr McGuinness also said that the failure of unionist paramilitary leaders to consider decommissioning was “hypocrisy”.
Unionists were quick to focus on the IRA but need to turn their sights within their own community, the Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister added.
Mr McGuinness was responding to a claim by a representative of the unionist paramilitary UVF that there was no demand to hand over arms, despite years of unionist pressure for IRA decommissioning.
Mr McGuinness said: “That to me is rank hypocrisy.”