From Irish Political Review: February 2006

Will The Real IMC Stand Up?

The IMC issued a report on IRA decommissioning etc. and gave a clean bill of health, but the IMC report was repudiated by the IMC, which reported that the Republicans were still armed and engaged in criminality.

In Northern Ireland people easily distinguish between the two independent monitoring commissions They know what is behind each body, and they know which report to discount. But elsewhere there is bewilderment—if people take enough interest in the Northern Ireland peace process to be sufficiently informed even to be bewildered.

Channel 4 News made sense to itself about the conflicting IMC Reports by assuming that what had happened was that the IMC investigators disputed the conclusions which the IMC leadership drew from the results of their investigations.

The BBC, in the form of Newsnight, reported that "the group that monitors their activities" said they had given up those activities, but it made its own investigation by going out with night-time patrols in Catholic areas which, it told us, were undergoing "policing without the police". By this means paramilitary groups ruled working class communities, keeping them in such fear that victims were afraid to show their face on BBC television when complaining. On the other hand, it did show the faces of some people who complained of certain incidents, but the reporter did not supply sufficient information to enable one to grasp what it was about—probably because she herself didn't have a clue. Anyhow, the message was that the IRA was actively engaged in oppressing people, even though somebody—God knows who—had given it a clean bill of health.

Persistent and studious readers of this magazine will know about the confidence trick being played being played by the Governments by means of the initials "I M C". There are two IMCs, the second being deliberately set up to do things that the first was too conscientious to do, and to be mistaken for the first in the doing of them.

The formal title of the first is Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, and it is part of the Good Friday Agreement. It is headed by a Canadian General, John de Chastelain. It has its own investigative team, is independent of the Governments, and acts strictly in accordance with the remit given to it by the Agreement which was ratified (as we used to be told) by two referendums.

De Chastelain refused to play politics for the Governments. The Governments therefore set up a Committee to play politics for them. The IICD was colloquially known as the International Monitoring Commission long before its rival was established. The Governments called the new body the Independent Monitoring Commission. Its members are Government appointees. It has no investigative apparatus of its own. All it knows is what Governments tell it. And it issues reports to serve the political purpose of the moment.

The IRA made its statement of final decommissioning last Summer. The decommissioning was supervised by De Chastelain's team, with two clergymen as observers.

The political situation in Northern Ireland was that the Democratic Unionist Party had won the Protestant Election and was refusing to form a devolved administration with Sinn Fein, which had won the Catholic Election, because the IRA had not engaged in final disarmament.

The IRA had agreed the previous December to engage in final disarmament as part of a deal to restore devolved government, but rejected the DUP demand that the destruction of arms should be filmed and the film made public. The IRA therefore engaged in what might be called unilateral disarmament—unconditional disarmament that was not part of any negotiation, and that was supervised by the Monitoring body set up for that purpose by the Agreement. This angered the DUP, which felt it had been swindled out of a trump card. And the 'Independent' monitoring body had no part in the process, which was carried out strictly under the terms of the Agreement.

The Dublin Government felt, like the DUP, that the Provos had cheated it by this un-negotiated and unconditional act of final decommissioning. It became more difficult for it to play the blame game in its own internal party-political electoral conflict with Sinn Fein. (And that was when the Minister for Justice, belonging to a party with minuscule electoral support, was given his head to become an inquisitorial Minister of the Interior.)

And so, with Paisley and Ahern both chagrined by the final decommissioning carried out by the Provos without regard to them, it was agreed that there should be a six-month delay to see if the decommissioning held, before it was put to the DUP that its reason for refusing to form a government had been met.

The authentic IMC delivered a report at the end of January, saying that the Provos had met their obligations. But it was evident that the DUP was no more willing to take part in the formation of a Government under the terms of the Agreement than it had been six months, or twelve months, before. And Paisley was no Trimble. He is an elemental force on the Protestant side on which the Government can gain no purchase.

So, with the Provos having met the terms of the Agreement—and in fact having gone far beyond the letter of those terms—and the major Unionist Party refusing to participate, where does that leave the Agreement? Dead? And if it is dead, what is to be done with it? And what comes after it? And what happens to all those referendums?

This is where the subordinate IMC comes to the rescue. It reports differently from the authentic IMC.

It saw De Chastelain's report before drawing up its own. And, seeing that De Chastelain offered no escape clause to the Government, it offered one. That is why it exists.

Lord Alderdyce's report—for it is he—is verbose and foggy. In substance it goes along with De Chastelain's report—without mentioning it, though having seen it—but with a few minor reservations. But those reservations are the only bit that counts. The rest of it is eyewash, and was rightly ignored by the media. (A summary of the two reports appears in this magazine.)

Lord Alderdyce gave the Governments a little crack to creep into if they cannot get Paisley to play, and want to keep the Agreement suspended on the pretext that the Provos have not quite met its terms.

Lord Alderdyce is a weak, pompous character who needs to be important, and can only achieve this by having importance conferred upon him by serving the power structure. (He probably has a neat name for this complex as found in others as he used to be a psychiatrist.)

There was a time when his name was John and he was the leader of the Alliance Party. In his hands the Alliance Party became a wafer-thin camouflage on Unionism. He led the Alliance Party into the doldrums and then jumped ship. He resigned from it in 1998 to become Speaker of the Assembly. When the Assembly was suspended, he was given the job of running the spurious IMC as an antidote to the genuine one. It would seem that by doing this he has burned his boats, so far as returning to the Speakership is concerned.

The Alliance was founded in 1970 with the object of establishing a new ground of politics in Northern Ireland. We were engaged in the same object at the time, and we got on rather well with early Alliance leaders, Oliver Napier and Bob Cooper. We got on less well with John Cushnahan—who emigrated and was till recently a Fine Gael representative in Europe. But it was under Alderdyce's leadership that Alliance declined into mere Unionism.

Perhaps this was inevitable. Alliance based itself on the ground which it aspired to transcend, and was determined by that ground instead of altering it. But it had something to it in the days of Napier and Cooper which ceased to be there under the leadership of Alderdyce and Ford.

The finding of Alderdyce's fake IMC enables the Government to keep the Agreement on a life-support machine for another period, at a moment when forcing the issue with the DUP would probably only lead to a death certificate.

Of course the Government cannot simply reject De Chastelain and adopt Alderdyce. De Chastelain has the credibility that goes with conscientious independence. What it needs is a degree of confusion, and that is what Alderdyce has supplied.

Northern Ireland Office leaks indicated that the Government expected both the authentic IMC and its own dummy version to find that Provos had met their obligations. So has the dummy rebelled against the ventriloquist? It is conceivable, though not probable, that Alderdyce acted in disregard of Government expectations, and issued a report to serve the interest of the DUP, and that it is coincidental that this serves the interest of the Government too. It is more likely that he gave the Government what he knew it wanted, so that it could play the situation either way.

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