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New expert report on IRA to document group's commitment to Northern Ireland peace

New expert report on IRA to document group's commitment to Northern Ireland peace

The British and Irish governments confirmed Monday they are about to publish a new expert report on the Irish Republican Army that will document the outlawed group's deepening commitment to peace.
The report from the Independent Monitoring Commission, a panel formed by both governments to assess the activities of the IRA and other paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland, is expected to be published Tuesday as the prime ministers of Britain and Ireland, Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, meet in London.
The premiers' move follows a decisive vote Sunday by Sinn Fein, the IRA-linked party that represents most Catholics in Northern Ireland, to open normal relations with the police force in the British territory for the first time in history.
Both Blair and Ahern welcomed the vote as essential to reviving a Catholic-Protestant administration, the central goal of Northern Ireland's Good Friday pact of 1998. Such power-sharing has been on hold since 2002.
The Democratic Unionists, the major Protestant party supposed to form a Cabinet alongside Sinn Fein by March 26, emphasized Monday they would not move until they could see Sinn Fein activists actually begin to cooperate with a police force that the IRA long sought to destroy.
Several Democratic Unionist lawmakers said they feared that Sinn Fein had made a commitment to law and order in words only, while people in Sinn Fein power bases would remain afraid or unwilling to tell police about crime in their areas.
"We are prepared to share power in circumstances where all the parties in the government are upholding the rule of law," said Democratic Unionist negotiator Jeffrey Donaldson. He said Sinn Fein's pledge to work with police must be "translated into practical cooperation on the ground."
Britain's secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Peter Hain, said the Sinn Fein move had removed "a massive impediment to stable and lasting government." But he, too, suggested a power-sharing deal could crumble if real cooperation didn't quickly begin on the ground.
The British government is expected to dissolve the Northern Ireland Assembly, the 108-member body with the power to form or block a Catholic-Protestant administration, by Tuesday.
Its plan calls for all sides' politicians to hit the campaign trail for a March 7 election. The new assembly would be expected to nominate a full 12-member, four-party Cabinet the following week. Britain would hand over control of 13 government departments March 26.
But Hain warned he might call the whole thing off if either Sinn Fein or the Democratic Unionists appeared likely to continue the stalemate past the deadline.
"I don't want the voters of Northern Ireland to trudge down to polling stations in a pointless exercise," Hain said. "The point of having an election on March 7 is to trigger a power-sharing executive on March 26. We can't have another election to an assembly that might not exist."
The expert report to be published Tuesday appears certain to reflect the prevailing calm in most hard-line Catholic areas, where for decades the IRA was the major power-broker responsible for controlling illegal rackets _ and shooting criminal rivals in the limbs if they crossed the group's interests.
But so-called "punishment" shootings, which were designed to encourage Catholics to turn to the IRA and shun the police, have halted since mid-2005, when the IRA declared that its 1997 cease-fire would be permanent. The IRA followed that landmark statement by surrendering its stockpiles of Libyan-supplied weapons, although police say the group's members have retained handguns for personal protection.
The expert panel, which includes former directors of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist unit and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, has made broadly positive findings about the IRA's retreat from violence and crime since mid-2005.
But before that, their reports frequently sent shock waves through the peace process because they blamed the IRA for a string of outrageous crimes, particularly the December 2004 theft of 26.5 million pounds (US$50 million, euro38 million) from a Belfast bank. The IRA denied involvement.
That heist effectively ruined a previous diplomatic push by Britain and Ireland to coax the Democratic Unionists into government with Sinn Fein _ and made the IRA's involvement in crime a high priority for negotiations for the first time.


Updated : 2021-07-24 22:59 GMT+08:00