01 February 2006

IMC says IRA 'is gathering intelligence'

BBC

The IRA is still gathering intelligence according to the latest report by the Independent Monitoring Commission.

>>READ THE REPORT

In it, the commission says while some of this activity may be for defensive purposes, it is primarily for pursuing its political strategy.

It believes the activity has been authorised by the IRA leadership. It is also claimed some IRA members were still involved in organised crime.

The IRA denied an intelligence assessment it held on to some weapons.

The IMC report said the IRA seemed to be "moving in the right direction".

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain welcomed the IMC report as "positive".

"There have been no murders, no recruitments and no bank robberies. Compared to where we were 10 years ago, there has been a sea change," he said.

Mr Hain said there was "enough evidence of progress to make the process of political talks meaningful".

Referring to IRA intelligence gathering, the IMC said: "This is an activity which we believe is authorised by the leadership and which involves some very senior members.

"While some of it may be for defensive purposes, it is predominantly directed towards supporting the political strategy.

"It involves among other things the continuation of efforts to penetrate public and other institutions with the intention of illegally obtaining or handling sensitive information.

"This raises the question of whether the commitment to exclusively democratic means is full and thorough going, or whether there remain elements of a continuing subversive intent going beyond the boundaries of democratic politics."

Speaking in the Commons, Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "A fair summary of what the IMC has said is that they draw attention to their belief that there has been a strategic decision by the leadership of the IRA to give up the armed struggle.

"What they have also said, however, is that they are concerned about violence and criminality.

"Let me make it clear once again, all criminal activity has to cease. That is absolutely crucial."

The report comes ahead of talks next week with Northern Ireland's political parties which are designed to try to move the stalled political process forward.

In another development on Wednesday, General John de Chastelain's decommissioning body said it had submitted a report to the British and Irish governments.

It said: "Last week, we were informed by security sources in Northern Ireland that they had intelligence to the effect that some individuals and groups within the IRA have retained arms including handguns.

"There was no indication that the quantities of arms involved were substantial."

In July 2005, the IRA announced that it had formally ordered the end of its armed campaign.

This statement was further backed up in September when the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning said the organisation had put all of its weapons beyond use.

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.

It also monitors the "normalisation" of security measures in Northern Ireland.

Its four commissioners come from Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Britain and the US.

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