IRA 'has changed radically'

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The Independent Online

The IRA has radically changed from the organisation it was three years ago, a report by Northern Ireland's ceasefire watchdog claims today.

The 12th report by the Independent Monitoring Commission reveals that the Provisionals have wound down some of their departments, including those responsible for bomb-making.

And while it acknowledges the continued involvement of individual IRA members in crime, the Commission highlighted the resolute line of the IRA leadership in discouraging criminal activity.

However, the report stops short of making a definitive judgment on whether IRA members were responsible for the murder of Sinn Fein official Denis Donaldson in the Irish Republic in April.

The IMC's findings are seen as crucial in the run-up to next week's talks to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland.

Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern hope the report will provide the right mood music for the negotiations in St Andrew's in Scotland and will help build unionist confidence in Sinn Fein's credentials as a future partner in a devolved government.

The Commission, whose report will also focus on the activities of loyalist paramilitaries and dissident republicans, is expected to show that the IRA has stopped recruiting members, directing those who want to join towards Sinn Fein.

It will also show that intelligence-gathering on security force members has stopped, training and the procurement of weapons has ended, and the organisation has resisted approaches from the community for it to punish anti-social elements.

The four-member panel will acknowledge the efforts of those in the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association to steer their loyalist organisations away from crime.

However, while it will encourage those efforts, the report will insist that loyalists have a considerable distance to travel before they emulate what the Provisional IRA has achieved in transforming its organisation.

The report will also claim that despite its efforts to wind down criminal and paramilitary activity, the UVF leadership sanctioned the murder attempt on leading loyalist Mark Haddock in a gun attack in May.

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain today that claimed people would see when the report was finally published at lunchtime today that the Provisional IRA had undergone an historic, seismic, irreversible change and was no longer a terrorist threat.

"What I do think now is an imperative for all the (Northern Ireland) parties is for them to recognise that the paramilitary situation, in particular the situation of the IRA, has changed absolutely fundamentally and radically," he said.

"The IMC is the judge of that - not me, not anybody else.

"You cannot second-guess the IMC. You have to take what it says on face value as it relies on a process based on absolute integrity."

Mr Hain said it was a matter for Northern Ireland's parties to reach their own judgments on the IMC report.

However, he warned them of the implications if they disputed the report's findings.

"On other parties and individuals making their judgment on the IMC, I think people are going to have to say that they really do not trust the IMC and they do not accept the integrity of their members and do not agree with the independence of its members if they dispute its conclusion," the minister told BBC Radio Ulster.

"I think that is a very serious development indeed."

Speaking later on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Mr Hain said he believed the IRA was now "absolutely locked in" to a move away from violence to democracy.

"People will judge for themselves from the IMC report, but I believe that trend is absolutely locked in and I think the DUP and Dr Paisley will want to recognise that that is the case."

He added: "People need to make their minds up.

"Has Northern Ireland changed fundamentally? The answer's yes. Is there now a security threat from the IRA? The answer's no.

"Is Northern Ireland now on the path to increasing prosperity and security? Yes.

"However, the politics is still paralysed.

"People will want to know in Northern Ireland, because there's a growing impatience with the politicians, whether they are up to discharging their responsibilities and doing their jobs or not.

"I do not believe anybody thinks that the IRA can come back as a war machine. That is over for them, they have chosen a different, democratic, path.

"The change in the IRA has been fundamental but we need to be certain that this is locked in and the parties will make their own judgment when the IMC report is published around midday of what it says."

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