Commission on paramilitary violence shut down
A watchdog set-up by the British and Irish governments to monitor paramilitary violence in the North is to be shut down, it was announced today.
Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson said the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) will file a final report for the governments on the lessons it has learned after six years spent studying the dismantling of armed factions.
The organisation filed its 25th study of paramilitary activity today, and warned of the continuing threat from dissident republicans, but Mr Paterson said progress in the peace process meant the IMC was no longer needed.
Following the publication of a final summary document by the watchdog, Mr Paterson said: "We will bring the IMC arrangements to an end."
He said: "The IMC was established to help in the process of making the transition in Northern Ireland to a peaceful society and stable inclusive devolved government.
"The IMC have played a crucial part in supporting and enabling the historic changes that we have seen in Northern Ireland over nearly 20 years.
"Although there remain those who have rejected peace and politics and who actively work to undermine it, Northern Ireland has made the transition to stable, local democracy and the job of the IMC is nearing completion."
The IMC was created to provide independent assessments of the state of all paramilitary groups, but at a sensitive period in the peace process, it was also seen as a mechanism for reassuring unionists that the decline of the Provisional IRA was being achieved.
The organisation has also shed light on the actions of loyalists. It recently blamed the leadership of the Ulster Volunteer Force for the murder of Bobby Moffett in a gun attack carried out in front of shoppers on Belfast's Shankill Road earlier this year. The IMC, however, stopped short of ordering a government sanction on the group, despite that fact that it is supposed to be on ceasefire.
But despite the loyalist murder, and the continuing gun and bomb attacks by dissident republicans, Mr Paterson said major progress had been made in ending large scale violence.
"The IMC has consistently assessed that, with the exception of some residual terrorist groups, the leaderships of paramilitary groups remain committed to the political process and to transforming their organisations," he said.
"The IMC have commented in previous reports on the 'implications for the continuation of the IMC of the peace process drawing to a close and more normal arrangements for security and the administration of justice taking over, since when we have had the devolution of policing and justice'.
"The British and Irish Governments have, therefore, asked the IMC to prepare one more final report on their work, including lessons learned. After that, we will bring the IMC arrangements to an end.
"I would like to place on record my thanks to the IMC for their work and their contribution to the developments that have taken place over the last six years.
"There is a continuing public interest in ensuring that the public are informed about the threat of Northern Ireland-related terrorism. Once we have received and considered the IMC's final report, the British and Irish Governments will do what is necessary to ensure that that need is met."
Justice Minister, Dermot Ahern, paid tribute to the IMC for carrying out its function in an exemplary manner.
He said the latest report detailed the activities of so-called dissident republican groups, who he warned will not undermine peace on the island of Ireland.
"These supposed republicans, the so-called dissidents, continue to ignore the wishes of the people of Ireland," said Mr Ahern.
"We have all had our fill of violence on this island. They need to learn that bravery is not pointing a gun at your neighbour, or planting a bomb in the middle of a busy town and running away - it is working with those around you to create a better future for all.
"Even as these individuals seek to drag us back into the past, we can see the benefits that peace has brought and continues to bring to Ireland.
"The Government's message to those who choose to cling to their weapons is clear - we will not be turned back from the progress that has been made, and the Garda Siochana will continue to work hand-in-hand with the PSNI to stop you undermining that peace."