IRA army council still exists but no longer a threat, watchdog to report

THE INDEPENDENT Monitoring Commission has found that the IRA's army council still exists but no longer poses any paramilitary…

THE INDEPENDENT Monitoring Commission has found that the IRA's army council still exists but no longer poses any paramilitary threat, in a much-anticipated report to be published tomorrow.

The British government is to highlight the findings of the latest IMC inquiry when Northern Ireland Secretary of State Shaun Woodward holds a press conference before the four-strong body publishes its report. Both British and Irish sources indicated that the IMC report - which was commissioned by the two governments in a bid to break the impasse over the devolution of justice and policing powers to Stormont - is confident the IRA's leadership structure is withering away.

A British government spokesman said the findings of the report, which was delivered to Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern and Mr Woodward, were "very significant". It is understood the four commissioners have found that while the army council still exists, it poses no paramilitary threat.

The governments have accepted that the IRA's ruling body did have a role in the transformation of the paramilitary organisation after the standing down of all IRA units and the decommissioning of weapons in 2005.


In its May report, the IMC said the IRA had almost completed the transformation from a paramilitary organisation.

The DUP has insisted, as recently as last week, that the very existence of the IRA army council was "a threat" which compromised any chances of the transfer of justice and policing powers to the Executive - a key demand of Sinn Féin.

The DUP has said the IRA's ruling army council must cease to exist before policing and justice powers can be devolved. Peter Robinson, the DUP leader and First Minister, met the IMC last week and said the very existence of the army council was a threat.

The DUP has not commented on the latest IMC report in advance of tomorrow's launch, but it is unlikely the party will be happy with any report which finds the army council still in existence, if largely inactive.

Assembly members returned to Stormont yesterday after the summer recess for a series of committee meetings. The Assembly is not due to meet in plenary session until September 15th and the Executive is to hold its first meeting in three months on September 18th.

Relations between Sinn Féin and DUP Ministers have deteriorated with threats of legal action by the First Minister and warnings of dire consequences if the next meeting is postponed.

SDLP leader Mark Durkan yesterday accused Sinn Féin of contriving to keep the post of justice minister out of nationalist hands.

"Forty years on from the start of the civil rights campaign, there is a concerted campaign to ensure that no nationalist need apply for the justice ministry," he said.

"[Sinn Féin] are using their numbers and DUP numbers to deny us the second ministry to which we are very clearly entitled. This is an abuse of power, party-political discrimination and a return to winner-takes-all majority rule.

"The DUP has never tried to hide its intention of tearing down the protections we wrote into the Good Friday agreement - the new element is that Sinn Féin is now seemingly ready to help them.

"Early devolution of policing and justice could literally spike the guns of the dissidents who thrive on the political uncertainty which has been introduced once again by the Sinn Féin-DUP standoff," he concluded.