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IMC report puts pressure on Paisley

(William Graham, Irish News)

The latest Independent Monitoring Commission report – which reiterates that the IRA's operational structures have been "disbanded" – is expected to put more pressure on Ian Paisley and the DUP to go into government with Sinn Féin.

The 14th report by the body yesterday (Monday) dealt largely with security 'normalisation' but also included a brief section giving an assessment of the level of paramilitary threat.

It stated that paramilitarism and violence has been abandoned by the Provisional IRA which does not pose a threat affecting the scaling down of security structures.

Commissioner Dick Kerr, a former deputy director of the CIA, said the report may not appear as dramatic as on previous occasions.

"But from the perspective of looking at this over a couple of years' period of time, what you have seen is a rather significant change in terms of government actions in police and military towards normalisation – towards a normal society," he said.

Asked if the IRA was moving towards disbandment, he said it would be very difficult to understand how the organisation could be reconstructed at this point in time.

"Major elements [of the IRA] have set off or broken up or disbanded. People have been sent away from the organisation," he said.

Fellow commissioner John Grieve, a former deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said it was difficult to say what the IRA's final form would take.

"In my experience this form of change in a paramilitary organisation is unique. I can't find another example," he said.

Former Alliance Party leader Lord Alderdice also said things were now clearly very different, and fellow commissioner Joe Brosnan – a former Dublin civil servant – said the crucial factor was that the PIRA paramilitary structures had been dismantled.

The report did point out, however, that dissident republicans remain a threat, both to the security forces and the community generally.

The IMC added that although loyalist paramilitaries were actively engaged in violence and other forms of serious crime and had decided against early decommissioning, it did not believe they posed a threat currently to the security forces.

In their latest study of the progress of a two-year security normalisation programme announced in August 2005, the commissioners recorded that another two army bases were closed in the latest six-month review.

The number of sites has fallen from 24 to 20 and a target of only 14 military installations by the end of the programme has been further reduced with the government confirming another four can go.

Demolition of towers and observation posts is almost complete. Compared with the 10 still standing at the end of July 2005, only two remain, and they are due to be pulled down within months.

Soldiers who were posted at 10 police stations now only remain at one – at Cross-maglen in south Armagh.

Troop levels have fallen by another 600 between last August and January this year to a total of just over 7,500.

The eventual permanent garrison will be 5,000.

The IMC also said helicopter use by the British army had also been cut by more than a third compared with the same period in 2005/06.

Seven vacated security sites have been disposed of, while another six are in that process.

A total of 59 police buildings will also been defortified by the summer.

March 14, 2007

This article appeared first in the March 13, 2007 edition of the Irish News.

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