22 January 2006

Report ‘won’t clear IRA for power sharing’

Sunday Times

Liam Clarke

SENIOR security sources believe the report of the International Monitoring Commission (IMC) due to be released next week is unlikely to give the IRA a clean bill of health. A negative report will be a blow to the Irish and British governments, which are anxious to draw a line under the IRA’s activities and restore Northern Ireland’s political institutions.

The IMC has received assessments from the gardai, the PSNI, the Assets Recovery Agency (ARA) and customs officers. There is unanimous agreement that the IRA remains a significant force in activities such as money laundering, smuggling and other offences.

The IMC, whose members are paid £600 (€870) a day, relies on assessments from the security forces. It has the power to ask for and examine the raw intelligence underlying the assessments and to interview sources to check the security force analysis.

If, as expected, the commission accepts the security force assessment it will be a huge embarrassment for Shaun Woodward, the Northern Ireland security minister. Questioned last December, Woodward claimed that “the IRA is no longer involved in crime” and that the organisation was “keeping its word”.

He spoke as the police continued to pursue the proceeds of the £26.5m Northern Bank robbery in December 2004, which the IRA is still attempting to launder, and days after raids by the ARA and the Criminal Assets Bureau aimed at recovering funds.

Woodward has since been contradicted by Sam Kinkaid, Northern Ireland’s most senior detective, Sir Hugh Orde, the PSNI chief constable, and Desmond Rea, the chairman of the Northern Ireland policing board.

Kinkaid told a meeting of the policing board that the IRA’s criminal activity continued, though improvements had been made. In answer to questions at a Young Unionist meeting on Thursday evening, Orde said he supported Kinkaid’s assessment and called for the press and public to “hold the minister to account for what he says”.

Orde added: “There is no evidence to suggest that they (the IRA) are going back to an armed struggle. The people watching this will form their own view on how quickly any organisation, be it the UDA, the LVF, the UVF or the provisional IRA can move in that direction.

“You cannot be open for business one day and closed the next. The IMC report is so important. It will assess if the organisation is going in the right direction.”

IMC members have also told politicians in private meetings they will not be able to give the IRA an entirely clean bill of health but will be able to report progress and improvement.

All this makes it unlikely that unionists will move quickly into government with Sinn Fein. Instead the search is on for an interim arrangement that will allow the Stormont assembly to get up and running in the hope that power sharing can be fully restored after May 2007, when the next assembly elections are due to take place.

Both the UUP and DUP will this week give Tony Blair proposals for a legislative assembly that would not include locally elected ministers in the short term.

Sir Reg Empey, the Ulster Unionist leader, said: “There is a general concern that we really don’t know what is coming out of the woodwork next, and people want to wait and see how the republicans behave. That means interim measures.”

He suggested an assembly with similar powers to the US Congress.

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