IMC warns of dissident threat

 

Dissident republicans are dangerous and continue to pose a substantial threat, while the UVF may be out of control, the British and Irish governments' paramilitary watchdog has warned.

The Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) used its 25th and final assessment of all paramilitary activity to set out the levels of threat from various dissident groups.

The four commissioners said that of the two factions that make up the Real IRA, a group called Óglaigh na hÉireann was by far the more dangerous. They further warned that dissident capacity to plant and, more importantly, detonate explosive devices was markedly up during the six months under review.

However the IMC also called for a sense of perspective and contrasted the current paramilitary situation with earlier years.

"It remains our view, as we said in our report six months ago, that in terms of weapons, money, personnel and support, the present dissident campaign in no way matches the range and tempo of the PIRA campaign of the Troubles," it said.

"The high level of dissident activity would undoubtedly have led to many more deaths, injuries and destruction had it not been for the operations of the law enforcement and security agencies north and south and their ever close cross-border co-operation.

"In the North and South combined, some three times the number of dissidents have been charged with terrorist offences including membership, from January to October 2010 as in the whole of 2009, and the number of arrests nearly doubled."

Dissidents were also recruiting new and younger members, training them and seeking to acquire weapons, the report claimed.

Turning to the loyalist paramilitary groups, the commission warned that both the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force were continuing to recruit and claimed that this was inconsistent with any ceasefire.

Regarding the UVF, which it has held responsible for the murder of Shankill loyalist Bobby Moffett last May, the commissioners took the view the leadership may not be in full control and in a position to deliver on earlier commitments to run down the organisation.

"It needs to take positive steps to demonstrate that it is fully committed to the strategy, that this included becoming a civilian organisation (which means among other things standing down paramilitary structures and abandoning paramilitary methods,) and that it is resolutely pressing ahead with its full implementation."

The Irish and British governments have praised the IMC for its work as a paramilitary monitor over the past six years.

Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern praised the IMC commissioners for their steadfastness and contribution to the peace process. He also criticised dissidents, committed to violence for countering the public will.

"These supposed republicans, the so-called dissidents, continue to ignore the wishes of the people of Ireland," said Mr Ahern.

"We have all had our fill of violence on this island. They need to learn that bravery is not pointing a gun at your neighbour, or planting a bomb in the middle of a busy town and running away - it is working with those around you to create a better future for all. Even as these individuals seek to drag us back into the past, we can see the benefits that peace has brought and continues to bring to Ireland.

"The Government's message to those who choose to cling to their weapons is clear - we will not be turned back from the progress that has been made, and the Garda Síochána will continue to work hand-in-hand with the PSNI to stop you undermining that peace."

Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson also praised the commissioners.

"The IMC has consistently assessed that, with the exception of some residual terrorist groups, the leaderships of paramilitary groups remain committed to the political process and to transforming their organisations," he said

"The IMC have commented in previous reports on the 'implications for the continuation of the IMC of the peace process drawing to a close and more normal arrangements for security and the administration of justice taking over, since we have had the devolution of policing and justice'."

He concluded: "The British and Irish governments have, therefore, asked the IMC to prepare one more final report on their work, including lessons learned. After that, we will bring the IMC arrangements to an end."

The commission is working on a wrap-up report which is expected in late February or early March.