05 February 2006

DUP hides behind IMC report

Sunday Business Post

By Tom McGurk
05 February 2006

Considering what the IMC report said last week, there will be those who will continue the analogy and wonder if the IMC is a tug or a submarine armed with torpedoes?

Certainly, as all the political parties involved study the fallout from the IMC report, there will be few disagreements about how shark-infested the Northern peace process waters have now become. Perhaps the most controversial finding of the IMC report was its claim that some IRA weapons seem to have been retained.

This part of the report has been headlined and duly seized upon by the DUP. However, on closer inspection, the report doesn’t actually say this. In fact, the commission says it received intelligence that not all IRA weapons were handed over last September, but that it did not know the nature or volume of the weapons.

Importantly, it then goes on to qualify this statement by adding ‘‘if these reports were confirmed, etc...” So what is the IMC report actually saying? That the IRA has retained weapons or that it was told by sources unnamed and unspecified that it might have? Are we back to the farrago of what we all remember were once called ‘the intelligence reports’ about the so-called weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

To make the matter even more contentious, John de Chastelain’s International Independent Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) said the very opposite. Not only did he reaffirm his judgment of complete IRA decommissioning of last September, but he added that ‘‘the Garda informed us that what they regard as reliable sources in relation to the IRA and its weaponry have produced no intelligence suggesting any arms have been retained’’.

Given the nature of IICD reports, this statement by De Chastelain is significant in a number of ways. He is clearly and publicly disagreeing with the IMC report and, most unusually, he is publicly revealing his intelligence sources, the gardai. And then to turn the sword fully in the IMC report, De Chastelain added: ‘‘We conclude that, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, our September 26 assessment regarding IRA arms remains correct.”

Finally, he reminded the IMC in his last paragraph that the arms issue was his ‘‘area of responsibility’’. When one also considers that, in the opinion of the Northern security minister Sean Woodward, the IRA threat has now disappeared, one begins to wonder what the IMC is up to and where it is coming from?

The IMC was originally invented by the two governments as part of the ‘‘saving David Trimble from his backbenchers’’ operation. At that time, it was set up to provide regular reports on the distance that the IRA was putting between itself and the democratic process. That it was a useful crutch for Trimble then cannot be denied but, given the conflicting intelligence assessments it has unleashed, how credible is it now?

Since its reports are the sum of the intelligence it is receiving, questions are now emerging about the intent and veracity of that intelligence. One would have to be a fool not to imagine that there is a considerable section of the British and Northern Ireland intelligence community which will remain bitterly opposed to the republican movement.

Many of these people - both active and retired - feel that they fought a war against republicanism, lost many close friends and are now apparently expected just to sit back and let the republicans pick up the political gains they have made. Importantly, they believe that London cannot understand that, once Sinn Fein gets back in to government, it will move on the police.

Whatever about the whole business of power-sharing, there is still within that intelligence community a determination that, whatever else Sinn Fein gets its hands on, it will not get its hands on the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). Their nightmare is that, within a decade - after Sinn Fein enters the new policing structures and after a new executive is formed - the IRA would have largely infiltrated and possibly compromised large sections of what is the last security force bastion against republican intentions.

For all of its new happy-clappy image and its public positioning, the PSNI is still largely composed of members of the former RUC. Despite all the attempts to civilianise the North’s police, at its core is a considerable and significant body of opinion that its primary duty is still to maintain the NI state within the United Kingdom. For these people, it doesn’t matter how many votes Sinn Fein gets: it is still and always will be the IRA, which has now changed course from a failing paramilitary road for a much more effective political one.

This constituency now has, in the IMC, a route through which to cause mayhem. Given the credibility crisis that the latest IMC report has created - and given that its role is now itself part of the wider dispute - what further use has it? Why, for example, shouldn’t De Chastelain now be asked to join it? The governments have access to exactly the same intelligence that it has, so isn’t it time they began governing?

The notion that, one day, an IMC report will give the IRA full marks is simply farcical; even then, the DUP response would no doubt be that ‘‘one swallow doesn’t make a summer’’. Surely we are now abandoning politics to the dictate of gossip and rumour mongering from unidentified - and therefore unverifiable - sources?

I’m afraid that unionism - and particularly the Reverend Ian Paisley’s DUP - are determined to abandon power-sharing for the very good reason that it is the only sure way of stymying the extraordinarily efficient political machine that Sinn Fein has built in the North.

Politically uncertain, financially and educationally under-achieving and stripped of majoritarianism and its traditional oligarchical power-base, unionism now sees devolution within the UK as the IRA’s latest and most potent weapon.

They would rather have no loaf than half a loaf, and increasingly find the atmosphere of a political vacuum as their only secure political shelter. And with republicans and nationalists all politically dressed up with nowhere to go, this is - by any Northern historical standards - a very dangerous place to be hanging around in.

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