From Irish Political Review: February 2006

IMC Lies About IRA Decommissioning

The Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD), headed by General John de Chastelain, presented a report to the British and Irish Governments on 19th January 2006, the first since last September when it announced the decommissioning of IRA arms. The IICD document was held back to be published on 1st February 2006, on the same day as the 8th report of the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC). This devalued the impact of what the official body set up under the Good Friday Agreement had to say in favour of a report from a body which had no status under the Agreement.

The IICD report

The IICD document begins by reporting the continuing refusal of Loyalist paramilitary groups to disarm and holds out little prospect that this situation is going to change in the immediate future.

The document then goes on to give an account of the IICD's investigation of reports suggesting that the IRA had held on to arms. To be precise, the IICD says that, in the week beginning the 9th January, it received information, from what it describes as "security sources in Northern Ireland", that "some individuals and groups within the IRA have retained a range of arms including handguns". However, "there was no suggestion" in these reports that "these arms (purportedly kept for personal protection and area defence) have been retained with the approval of the IRA leadership or as part of a strategy to return to violence".

This information entered a question mark against the IICD's conclusion in its Report of 26th September last year that "the IRA has met its commitment to put all of its arms beyond use in a manner called for by the legislation". At that time, the IICD qualified this conclusion by saying that a small number of arms might have gone astray over the years as individual custodians died or the locations of some caches were lost.

The IICD says that it discussed this intelligence assessment with "senior officers in the Garda Siochana", who informed them that "what they regard as reliable sources in relation to the IRA and its weaponry, have produced no intelligence suggesting any arms have been retained". On the basis of this Garda intelligence, and after discussions with the IRA representative to the IICD, it concluded:

"We are re-assured by the fact that none of the various intelligence assessments suggest the IRA leadership is moving away from its July 28 commitments [to end their armed campaign and engage in exclusively peaceful activity]. We conclude that in the absence of evidence to the contrary our 26 September assessment regarding IRA arms is correct".

The final paragraph of the IICD report states:

"We have informed the Independent Monitoring Commission of the substance of this report so they are kept aware of developments in our area of responsibility."

So, by 19th January the IMC was aware that Garda intelligence did not confirm reports from "security sources in Northern Ireland" that the IRA had held on to weapons over and above what had previously been believed possible by the IICD. This is important in what follows.

The IMC report

To turn now to the IMC report, in Paragraphs 4.4 to 4.7: it paints a picture of ongoing Loyalist paramilitary violence, and very little Republican paramilitary violence (and none by the IRA), in the period under review (1 September 2005 to 30 November 2005).

For example, according to the IMC, 22 individuals were shot and 9 assaulted by paramilitaries in this period, and all the shootings and all but one of the assaults were by Loyalist paramilitaries. The IMC attributes the other to a dissident republican group, not the IRA.

The IMC attributes the one death in the period (of Jim Gray), to the UDA, and all but one of the 18 paramilitary killings in the nearly two years since 1st March 2003 to Loyalist paramilitaries. It attributes the other to the Real IRA.

Clearly, the paramilitary problem in Northern Ireland is, generally speaking, not Republican, although it would be difficult to glean this from media accounts of the IMC report. Loyalist paramilitaries are still hurting people in Northern Ireland, and driving people from their homes, to a much greater extent than Republican paramilitaries. And there is no evidence, from the IMC report or elsewhere, that the IRA as an organisation has been responsible for any activity of this kind since 28th July last year, when volunteers were ordered to engage in exclusively peaceful activity.

Indeed, contrary to many media accounts, the IMC seems to believe that the IRA as an organisation has lived up to its undertaking of 28th July last year to end its armed campaign and engage in exclusively peaceful activity. Here are some extracts from it about the IRA, which you may not have come across in media accounts:

"We are of the firm view that the present PIRA leadership has taken the strategic decision to end the armed campaign and pursue the political course which it has publicly articulated. We do not think that PIRA believes that terrorism has a part in this political strategy. It has issued instructions to its members about this change of mode, and has engaged in internal consultation to support the strategy." (Paragraph 3.16)

"We believe that the organisation as a whole is being deliberately restructured to something more suited for the times and no longer designed for terrorist purposes." (Paragraph 3.17)

"We have no evidence of recruitment for paramilitary purposes or of paramilitary training, though non-paramilitary briefings appear to continue. We believe that currently there is no intention to target members of the security forces for the purposes of attack. We have no evidence that PIRA has carried out any authorised paramilitary attacks in the period under review in this report. The PIRA leadership has given instructions that members should not be involved in rioting." (Paragraph 3.18)

"PIRA members have been instructed to offer their services to Sinn Féin and to pursue political activities, as was indicated in the 28 July statement." (Paragraph 3.18)

"…we have no reports of PIRA sanctioned robberies in the period under review." (Paragraph 3.21)

All this indicates that the IMC believes that the IRA is doing what its leadership said it would do on 28th July last year.

As has been widely reported, the IMC qualifies this picture in a number of ways.

First and foremost, the IMC report challenges the judgement of the IICD, expressed in its report of 26th September last year, that "the IRA has met its commitment to put all of its arms beyond use in a manner called for by the legislation". Paragraph 3.23 states:

"We have since received reports that not all PIRA's weapons and ammunition were handed over for decommissioning in September. These reports are not able to indicate precisely what is the nature or volume of any remaining weapons but suggest two things: first, that there is a range of different kinds of weapons and ammunition; second, that the material goes beyond what might possibly have been expected to have missed decommissioning, such as a limited number of handguns kept for personal protection or some items the whereabouts of which were no longer known. We recognise that if these reports were confirmed the key question would be how much the PIRA leadership knew about these weapons."

(The report goes on to say: "These same reports do not cast doubt on the declared intention of the PIRA leadership to eschew terrorism. For our part, we are clear that this latter is their strategic intent.")

Clearly, these "unconfirmed" reports were what the IICD received from "security services in Northern Ireland" (see above)—reports which were not confirmed by Garda intelligence and led the IICD to conclude that its judgement of 26th September last year was not invalidated by the totality of the available evidence.

However, despite being informed of all this by 19th January at the latest (see above), the IMC went ahead and published a report on 1st February which suggested that the IRA had retained arms contrary to the IICD report of 26th September last year. The IMC did this in the full knowledge that Garda intelligence told a different story. Not only that, the IMC allowed this view to gain currency, without qualification, after the publication of its report, while knowing that there were contrary indications. Putting into the public domain, and publicly defending, what you know to be untrue is generally known as lying.

As a consequence, and with the assistance of the predictable DUP hype, there are now very few Protestants in Northern Ireland, who don't believe that the IRA retained significant amounts of arms last September—and that the IICD's assurance to the contrary was unwarranted. The reputation of the IICD has been undermined in the Protestant community on the basis of "unconfirmed" reports that don't even go so far as to say that the IRA leadership was responsible for the alleged arms retention. Thanks to the IMC, "unconfirmed" reports of arms retention have become facts in the minds of most Protestants, even though Garda intelligence told a different story.

You can take your pick as to whether the IMC broadcast this misleading information out of incompetence or bias. Either way, they should be composing letters of resignation.

Other "less satisfactory indicators both of the behaviour of PIRA as an organisation and of the conduct of some of its members" are described in paragraphs 3.19 to 3.22 of the IMC report.

One thing needs to be nailed at the outset: a paramilitary organisation, with a system of discipline up to and including the execution of members who step out of line, can reasonably be held responsible for the behaviour of its members. But, now that the IRA has ceased to be a paramilitary organisation, it cannot be held responsible for the behaviour of its members. It's like holding the Conservative Party responsible for the behaviour of Jeffrey Archer.

Critics of the IRA cannot have it both ways: they cannot demand that the IRA cease to be a paramilitary organisation, and at the same time demand that it discipline its members, let alone its ex-members. So, anything in the IMC report that makes allegations about the behaviour of members and ex-members should be discounted as irrelevant.

The IMC does make some allegations about the behaviour of the IRA as an organisation. We are told (paragraph 3.19) that it is engaged in "intelligence gathering". In the public mind, this phrase means activity with a view to paramilitary action. Since the IMC specifically rules this out in paragraph 3.19, its use of this phrase is grossly misleading. Insofar as one can make any sense of the MI5-speak that the IMC regurgitates in this paragraph, it seems to be that the IRA is gathering information for political purposes like other political organisations.

Journalists sometimes do something similar.

Then, there is the "accusation" that:—

"PIRA has used other methods of exercising community control such as ‘naming and shaming' and we believe the organisation has encouraged members to engage in community restorative justice as a means of exerting local influence". (Paragraph 3.20)

If another political organisation, or a local community organisation, was engaged in such activities, it would probably be generally approved of.

As for criminal activity by the IRA as an organisation, the IMC says that it has "no reports of PIRA sanctioned robberies in the period under review". The only hint of IRA sanctioned criminal activity is in paragraph 3.22, where the IMC says:

"… we also believe that it [PIRA] looks to the long term exploitation of the proceeds of earlier crimes, for example through the purchase of property or legitimate businesses. … PIRA also seems to be using experts and specialists able to assist in the management of illegal assets."

Prosecutions will do doubt come along shortly— together with the flying pigs.


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