Rowan points to ‘inevitable’ deal…

AS we await the IMC’s next report on paramilitary activity, Brian Rowan points to an IRA in transition. The recently retired veteran BBC journalist, whose most recent book pointed towards an inevitable future deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein, writes that the IRA “is waiting for political progress and for the proof that there is a viable alternative to its “armed struggle”.” Rowan writes:

The men of the Independent Monitoring Commission have been in Belfast this week as part of the most important phase of work they have so far been asked to undertake.

At the end of this month, the commissioners – Lord Alderdice, John Grieve, Joe Brosnan and Dick Kerr – will produce their latest assessment on the IRA.

They will be in Belfast on January 30 and 31 to finalise that report.

It will not be a magic wand that makes the IRA disappear and sources are dismissive of suggestions that it will be an assessment that gives the republican organisation “a clean bill of health”.

What the Commission will report on is an organisation in “transition” – an organisation that has “fundamentally changed in its mode of operation”.

The IMC is listening to and will be reporting on “all of the complexities of that transition process”. And the tone of this latest assessment will be that things are “heading in the right direction”.

It would be unrealistic – unfair even – to expect anything more definitive at this stage.

The IRA is more than 30 years old in terms of its most recent existence, and 30 weeks have not yet passed since its statement of July last year formally ending its “armed campaign”.

“This is not an army that you can give a demob suit and a cheque and tell it to go home,” one source said.

What that means is that the IRA is still out there. It recently issued a New Year statement. It still has a structure, including a leadership, and it is, to quote a recent intelligence assessment, an organisation in “hibernation”.

The IRA in its new mode is waiting for political progress and for the proof that there is a viable alternative to its “armed struggle”.

It is a very different organisation – different because of the activities it has ceased and because of the decommissioning acts of last September.

These were hugely significant developments, but the DUP is not yet ready to do political business with Sinn Fein, although there now seems to be an inevitability that business will eventually be done.

The question is no longer if but when.

For the DUP and Sinn Fein to take joint power in a future Assembly means the two are interdependent upon each other’s good behaviour. Sinn Fein seems more attracted to devolved government, less so the DUP. But would the DUP really risk continuing Direct Rule with all the recent dictatorial moves by the remote control ministers that have been so heavily opposed by unionism (water charges and education reform spring to mind)? How much would clinging to hopeless Direct Rule antagonise the unionist electorate?