The IRA Is No Longer A Threat, Report Says

By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, September 4, 2008

LONDON, Sept. 3 -- The Irish Republican Army's once powerful military leadership group, known as the army council, has been abandoned and no longer "presents a threat to peace or democratic politics" in Northern Ireland, according to a report issued Wednesday by an independent monitoring group.

The IRA "has completely relinquished the leadership and other structures appropriate to a time of armed conflict," said the report from the Independent Monitoring Commission, which the British and Irish governments established in 2004 to assess outlawed paramilitary activity in the province.

The report was widely interpreted as an important step toward the easing of political tensions between Protestant and Catholic political parties sharing power in the province's fledgling local government.

Protestant politicians have demanded to see proof that the IRA has fully dismantled its military structures before they will agree to allow the British government to hand over responsibility for police and the judiciary to the provincial government.

That development is considered key to creating a lasting peace in Northern Ireland, where more than 3,600 people died in sectarian fighting during three decades of strife known as "the Troubles."

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown hailed Wednesday's report from the Independent Monitoring Commission, whose four members include Richard Kerr, a former deputy director of the CIA.

"I believe that this will provide reassurance and hope for everybody who wants to see this chapter of Northern Ireland's history closed," Brown said in London. "It is now time for all the political parties to work together to complete the final stages of the peace process -- to complete the devolution of policing and justice."

The report had been requested by the British and Irish governments to clarify the commission's statement in its previous report, issued in May, that the IRA's abandonment of its military structures was "all but complete."

Peter Robinson, the co-leader of Northern Ireland's power-sharing government and head of the Democratic Unionist Party, the province's largest Protestant political party, had said publicly that the commission's earlier finding did not offer proof that "the IRA is out of business for good."

On Wednesday, Robinson issued a statement that was largely positive about the commission's latest findings, saying, "Confirmation that the organization is 'being allowed to wither away' will be something that people across the Province will regard as a welcome advancement."

He added, however, that "while it is marked progress that the IRA is no longer 'doing business,' the Unionist community needs to be convinced by the republican leadership that the IRA is out of business for good."

In Dublin, Irish government officials said the commission's report was unambiguous.

"This report demonstrates not only that PIRA has gone away but that it won't be coming back," said Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, using the acronym for the IRA's widely used name, the Provisional Irish Republican Army.

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