IRA still recruiting and robbing banks, says commission

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The Independent Online

The IRA is facing fresh questions about its commitment to the peace process after an official report said that it was still involved in paramilitary and criminal activity, including the recruitment and training of new members.

The IRA is facing fresh questions about its commitment to the peace process after an official report said that it was still involved in paramilitary and criminal activity, including the recruitment and training of new members.

The Independent Monitoring Commission, which includes nominees of the British and Irish governments and the US, recorded a continuing downward trend in IRA activity.

It concluded that the organisation remained active in a number of areas, including bank robberies, assaults, smuggling and money-laundering. Other illegal organisations continue to pose a threat, on both the republican and loyalist sides.

The report, though instantly rejected by republicans, is accepted in most quarters as a reasonably accurate picture of paramilitary activity. In recent years the death toll has fallen sharply, but other illegality persists.

Its conclusions are unwelcome to the authorities but by no means surprising or dismaying, in that the past six months have seen IRA involvement in a large Belfast bank robbery and the killing of the Belfast man Robert McCartney.

London and Dublin expect to see a major move from the IRA in the next few months, and are hopeful that at that point IRA illegality will cease. The most hopeful scenario is that such a transformation of the security situation will unlock the political deadlock.

Any such move could stop short of the actual disbandment of the IRA, but would have to be impressive enough to convince Ian Paisley, whose Democratic Unionist Party is now in control of Unionist politics, that a new era is possible.

The most hopeful scenario is that further reports from the Monitoring Commission would serve as verification that the IRA has gone out of violent business.

The expectation of an IRA move was created by Sinn Fein's president, Gerry Adams, who announced in April that he had appealed to the IRA to use only peaceful and democratic means.

The Monitoring Commission asked whether republicans "ultimately intend to participate fully in democratic politics" or to maintain "some form of slimmed-down military capability?" The report said that if Mr Adams delivered what had been suggested then "he will have delivered leadership of a high order."

Criticising the IRA's role in the McCartney murder, the commission said it did not believe the central IRA leadership sanctioned it in advance but added that those concerned "may have believed they were acting at the direction of a local senior PIRA member at the scene." The IRA had later protected its members and obstructed justice, the report said.

A Democratic Unionist MP, Nigel Dodds, reacted to the report by saying: "Short of actually murdering people, short of attacking members of the security forces, this report shows the IRA is doing everything else. If people expect unionist people to wait for further words from Gerry Adams or an IRA spokesman and accept their claim that everything is fine, we should forget about the Northern Bank, the McCartney murder and everything that happened in the past, then they are sorely mistaken."

The report said there was no present evidence that the IRA intended to resume a campaign of violence but said it had the capacity to do so. It described the "Real IRA" as a continuing threat, saying it had been responsible for attacks including robberies and letterbombs.

The commission said major loyalist groups, such as the Ulster Defence Association and Loyalist Volunteer Force, remained deeply immersed in the drugs trade. The UDA continued to be involved in other organised crime including robberies, it said.

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