Dissident republican groups active, monitoring commission warns


DISSIDENT REPUBLICAN groups have been "especially active" in recent months and are turning their efforts directly to trying to kill a PSNI officer, the paramilitary watchdog has warned.

The Independent Monitoring Commission claimed in its 20th report, published yesterday, that both the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA have been involved in a more concentrated wave of attacks than at any time since the commission began its monitoring more than four years ago.

Former head of the Department of Justice, Joe Brosnan, accompanied by Lord John Alderdice, said intense efforts by the PSNI and the Garda had been successful in disrupting dissident operations and arresting suspects.

They further suggested that simultaneous increases in Real and Continuity IRA activity may be linked to a perception "that the absence of progress on the devolution of justice and policing has created a political vacuum, or may have caused disaffection among republican supporters, which the dissidents think that they are able to exploit".

The commission said the INLA was responsible for the single murder committed in the six months under review. The victim was Emmett Shields, who was murdered in Derry in June.

Turning to loyalist paramilitaries, the commission restated its belief that the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) was genuinely committed to a political path, but that it was hampered by a serious split within its ranks.

The southeast Antrim "brigade" of the UDA, which broke away from the main organisation, was now properly regarded as a separate organisation.

The Ulster Volunteer Force was trying to downsize and to deal with the issue of illegal weapons, the commission reported. Decommissioning was the biggest issue for loyalist paramilitary leaders, Mr Brosnan said, but he admitted that progress was "disappointing".

The commission members suggested there may be a need to set a deadline in an effort to force the issue. They said the British government may question the extension of special powers that allow for the decommissioning of illegal paramilitary weapons without fear of prosecution. This power is due for renewal in February.

The commission also said the proposed devolution of policing and justice powers, currently at the centre of the stalemate between the leading parties in the Stormont Executive, offered fresh opportunities.

Identifying issues that could benefit from transfer of powers from London to Stormont, the report said: "The closer integration of law enforcement with other public services and the operation of the criminal justice system can then be viewed as a whole and policy can be tailored by the Assembly and Executive to meet the challenges which Northern Ireland will certainly still face."