01 February 2006

DE CHASTELAIN REJECTS IRA WEAPONS-RETENTION ALLEGATIONS

IAIS

02/01/06 05:28 EST

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The IRA has ceased recruiting and training new members but the group is still involved in intelligence gathering and organised crime, the highly contentious International Monitoring Commission (IMC) alleged today.

Today's report follows the relevation earlier this week that the IMC's independence was being challenged in the courts with a claim that a company connected to one of its members receives payments from the PSNI.

High Court proceedings in London, issued on behalf of Sinn Féin MP Conor Murphy, argue that it cannot be seen as independent because of former Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Grieve's position as director of the John Grieve Centre for Policing the Community Safety.

Legal submissions obtained state: "The John Grieve Centre has confirmed that it receives payments from the PSNI for PSNI delegates who attend Commissioner Grieve's centre. The John Grieve Centre also confirm that PSNI officers deliver lectures to seminars and conferences organised by, and for the benefit of [the centre]."

Mr Murphy's lawyers argue that any direct or indirect financial relationship between Mr Grieve and the PSNI renders the IMC incapable of delivering "independent or fair" reports.

In its eighth report on the activities of paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland, the group said there was "no evidence" of recruitment or training for paramilitary purposes, although non-paramilitary briefings 'appear' to continue.

In July last year, the IRA announced that it had formally ordered the end of its armed campaign. This statement was backed up in September when the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) said the organisation had put all of its weapons beyond use.

But today's report implies that a certain number of arms may have been retained "such as a limited number of handguns kept for personal protection or some items the whereabouts of which was no longer known" .

"These same reports do not cast doubt on the declared intention of the PIRA leadership to eschew terrorism. For our part, we are clear that this latter is their strategic intent."

The reports on the retention of weapons emanate from "security sources in Northern Ireland", according to a letter from the IICD to the two governments, published in conjunction with today's IMC report.

Sinn Féin has accused securocrats of trying to wreck the peace process by providing the basis for the suggestions the IRA has not fully decommissioned its weapons.

The IMC, however, believes there is "no intention" by the IRA to target members of the security forces for the purposes of attack and there is no evidence that the PIRA has carried out any authorised paramilitary attacks in the period under review the report. The leadership of the group has given instructions that members should not be involved in rioting, the IMC reports.

However, the report goes on to allege that the IRA continue to engage in intelligence gathering and have "no present intention of doing otherwise".

"This is an activity which we believe is authorised by the leadership and which involves some very senior members," the report said. "While some of it may be for defensive purposes, it is predominantly directed towards supporting the political strategy."

The alleged intelligence gathering involves, among other things, the continued attempt to penetrate public and other institutions "with the intention of illegally obtaining or handling sensitive information", according to the Commission.

The Commission report also alleges there are indications that IRA units in some areas have been closing down criminal operations and getting rid of contraband goods.

But members and former members continue to be "heavily involved in serious organised crime, including counterfeiting and the smuggling of fuel and tobacco", the report says.

The PIRA also seemed to be using experts and specialists able to assist in the management of illegal assets, it adds.

In its last report in October, the IMC reported that, although it was too early to draw firm conclusions about the IRA ending all activities, there were encouraging signs to show the organisation was moving away from its armed campaign.

The Independent Monitoring Commission was set up by the British and Irish governments in January 2004 to monitor the activity of paramilitary organisations. Three of its four members are appointed by the British government and it bases its assessments on security force briefings from the PSNI and British Intelligence in Northern Ireland.

The IRA had been challenged over allegations that it held on to some weapons after claiming all its guns and explosives were dumped. But General John de Chastelain, head of the international decommissioning body, carried out an investigation when accusations by the security forces against the IRA were made to him in Northern Ireland last week.

Republicans questioned IRA commanders as part of their own inquiries and later stated that no guns had been retained and hidden in secret hide-outs.

At the same time, police in the Irish Republic also said it had no intelligence to back up the claims, according to Gen de Chastelain.

The report also said the IRA had made progress since last July, when it declared an end to its armed campaign, to transform itself from a paramilitary organisation into a peaceful one.

London, Dublin and Washington will see this report as confirmation that the IRA is showing clear signs of a commitment to the peace process, even though claims that some of their men held on to weapons are likely to raise Unionist suspicions that there are elements within the IRA prepared to return to violence.

Last September the IRA said they got rid of all their remaining guns and explosives, an act carried out under the supervision of Gen de Chastelain, who said he was satisfied that all weapons under their control had been decommissioned.

In his new report to the British and Irish Governments, he said in the absence of evidence to the contrary, the assessment remained correct.

But these new allegations by unnamed security sources are bound to anger the Sinn Fein leadership of Gerry Adams, which is due to have talks with the British and Irish Governments on Monday in a bid to get the troubled peace process back on track.

The Rev Ian Paisley`s Democratic Unionists, the Ulster Unionists, SDLP and the Alliance Party will be at Hillsborough Castle, Co Down, as well, but there is virtually no chance of getting the suspended Northern Ireland Assembly restored in the foreseeable future, even though Secretary of State Peter Hain said today`s IMC report was a positive one.

He said: "It shows that the IRA is moving in the right direction and is closing down, no murders, no recruitment and no bank robberies. There is enough progress in this report to make the process of talking meaningful, not an Executive up and running tomorrow, but the beginning of a process of genuine and purposeful engagement."

He added: "For the good of the people of Northern Ireland, we need to strive to get to where we want to go, and not get mired in where we`ve been."

Today`s IMC report also claimed:

:: The emergence of two new hardline dissident republican groups;

:: Concern that paramilitaries are using some neighborhood justice schemes as a cover to control communities;

:: The loyalist Ulster Defence Association, which shot dead one of its former leaders Jim Gray last year, may disarm if it feels the British Government is addressing socio-economic concerns in Protestant communities.

Irish foreign minister Dermot Ahern, who was with Mr Hain in London for today`s publication, will also be at Hillsborough on Monday for separate meetings with the parties.

Mr Hain said it was hugely significant that Gen de Chastelain`s IICD saw no reason to change its assessment of the IRA`s disarmament last September. But he said the picture painted in the report was not 'perfect'.

He said: "It takes more than six months for the closing down of such a complex organisation. Even so, there is understandable and justified concern about criminality. We have always said that there are complex assessments to be made to distinguish between the criminal activities of individual PIRA (Provisional IRA) members for their own gain, and criminality carried out by PIRA members which is authorised by the organisation."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair`s official spokesman said: "What the IMC shows is that most of the signals, most of the signs, are positive. What that means is a very significant change in terms of IRA activity. Just, therefore, as it would be unreasonable for us to say everything`s perfect, so it would be unreasonable for people to say something significant has not occurred in relation to the IRA. What we are not saying is that the Executive should be set up tomorrow, but the dynamic is very firmly in the right direction."

"There are issues in relation to organised crime and intelligence which have to be addressed, but the overall dynamic is very firmly in the right direction. The analogy which the IMC uses is of a supertanker which takes time to complete its turn and in doing so there is some turbulence in its wake."

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