Arms monitor is optimistic IRA is phasing itself out

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The Independent Online

A comparatively clean report on the state of play within the IRA yesterday boosted the Government's hopes of having a new Northern Ireland Assembly up and running in Belfast before the end of the year.

The report said the IRA was continuing to dismantle its military structure and had committed itself to following a peaceful path, working to refocus the republican movement on a political route away from violence.

A number of loose ends remain to be tied up, but the assessment was hailed in London and Dublin as encouraging confirmation that the IRA is phasing itself out of existence. The British and Irish governments hope a further, and even more upbeat, report later this year will pave the way for a new devolved administration to be established by the deadline of 24 November.

The Rev Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party, the dominant force within unionism, has made it clear that it will not go into government with Sinn Fein unless the authorities give the IRA a clean bill of health.

In its most upbeat report ever, the Independent Monitoring Commission, which makes assessments of terrorist groups in Northern Ireland, said it was not aware of any current terrorist, paramilitary or violent activity sanctioned by the IRA leadership. It said: "There has now been a substantial erosion in the IRA's capacity to return to a military campaign without a significant period of build-up, which in any event we do not believe they have any intentions of doing."

Ian Paisley said: "The policy of the united voice of the unionist people insisting that criminality must cease is taking effect and we welcome the effect it is taking."

Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein said the IRA had addressed unionist concerns and removed any further excuse for non-engagement. He added: "The DUP must now decide if they want to come on board the peace process."