The Ninth Independent Monitoring Commission report has been published online here – as the accompanying press release notes, “This report gives an assessment of progress in the implementation of the British Government’s normalisation programme which was published on 1 August 2005 by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The period covered in this Report is from 1 August 2005 to 31 January 2006.”However the report also states –
3.9 So far as security normalisation is concerned, we draw the following general conclusions:
– There remains a certain level of threat to the lives and safety of members of the security forces, though it bears little relation to the level of threat that the full abnormal security arrangements were originally designed to meet. The threat is sharpest from the dissident republicans, and in this respect is mainly in certain parts of Northern Ireland, though dissident attacks elsewhere cannot be ruled out. In the context of rioting however, the threat to the security forces could erupt suddenly and has done so; it has mostly come from loyalists;
– There remains a risk of significant and unpredictable public disorder; such disorder could lead to sudden and extreme violence. It can impose very heavy demands on the police, to the point where they require reinforcement;
– While PIRA’s control of local communities has loosened, on the republican side generally a level of control still continues. Loyalist groups have not dropped their control. Such control can hinder the normal operation of the criminal justice system. This is relevant to the question of counter-terrorist legislation and the use of non-jury courts;[emphasis added]
– The situation can change very fast.
And the report concludes –
7.1 We set out below our general conclusions in the light of our remit (which we described in Section 2), our approach to the report and our assessment of the threat (Section 3) and the material we have presented on the implementation of the security normalisation programme in Sections 4, 5 and 6.
7.2 The two aspects are to:
– Monitor whether the commitments in the security normalisation programme are being fully implemented; and,
– To do so in the light of our own assessment of the paramilitary threat and of the British Government’s obligation to ensure the safety and security of the community as a whole.
7.3 We are satisfied that the commitments in the first six months of the programme covered by this report have been met. This is because of:
– The removal or demolition of the specified towers and observation posts (paragraph 4.7);
– The closure of Forkhill Army Base (paragraph 4.10);
– The continuation of the review of the police estate as agreed by the Policing Board and in consultation with PSNI, and because it contains within it work to defortify some 24 police stations (paragraphs 6.7-6.9).
These are the only commitments in the programme that have to be implemented over the period 1 August 2005 – 31 January 2006.
7.4 We also understand that the plan for the phased reduction of troops to peacetime levels will be published as the programme requires by the end of March 2006 (paragraph 4.16). We will address this in our next report in 6 months time.
7.5 There are other signs of progress towards the normalisation of security. We have been struck by examples of how the PSNI is able to operate in an increasingly normal way, and how in many places it is receiving a very different and far more positive response from the public. We note too how officers in the PSNI are welcoming this and are in their turn looking imaginatively for ways in which it can be encouraged, thus themselves fostering normality. In addition we also note that during these six months progress has been made towards the normalisation of security in other ways more precisely related to our remit to monitor the programme:
– A reduction in the number of troops by nearly 900 to just over 9,200, 81⁄2% although no reduction is actually required at this stage (paragraphs 4.14 and 4.16);
– The withdrawal of the military from 5 of the 10 joint PSNI/Army bases (paragraph 4.10);
– The closure of 2 military bases, bringing the total to 22 (paragraph 4.13);
– A reduction in the flying hours of British Army helicopters by 28% (paragraph 4.18);
– The enactment of the Terrorism (Northern Ireland) Act 2006 in February 2006. Under the Act the counter-terrorist legislation particular to Northern Ireland will cease to have effect by the end of the normalisation programme in July 2007 unless it is specifically renewed by the British Parliament (paragraphs 5.2 and 5.12).
7.6 We have considered the programme in the light of our assessment of the paramilitary threat (paragraphs 3.6-3.7) and of the British Government’s obligation to maintain the safety and security of the community as a whole (paragraphs 3.4-3.5). We recognise that the programme as a whole represents a very major change, and that it is a complicated process which will take time to implement in an orderly and sensible fashion. We conclude that the measures required by the programme at this stage are entirely proportionate. We also consider that the measures are consistent with the obligation of the British Government, noting at the same time that the Government takes continuing account of the security threat, that it considers public safety to be its first and over-riding priority, and that it will halt the programme and reinstate security measures if at any time the circumstances make that necessary. We see no grounds for suggesting that the programme should be either slowed down or accelerated.
7.7 The requirement to continue the review of the police estate is different from other measures at this stage of the programme in that it involves a process rather than the delivery of specific objectives. We believe that this process will ensure a proper account continues to be taken of the association between security normalisation and investment in the police estate for other purposes. We note also the continuing role of the PSNI and the Policing Board in the management of the programme and of the Oversight Commissioner in assessment of changes to the estate in the context of the recommendations of the Patten Report as a whole.22
7.8 As regards the counter-terrorist legislation particular to Northern Ireland, we note that the statutory framework will remain in place until the end of the normalisation programme. It thus falls outside both the first and second periods of the programme. We will in due course look at the British Government’s plans for the repeal of Part VII. We will also be interested in the outcome of the further work the Government
is doing on whether special provisions are needed to secure effective trials in circumstances where the intimidation of jurors by paramilitaries might be a factor, and also on what powers might be needed for the army to give specialist support to the police, such as public order and explosives disposal.
7.9 We will present a further report in six months time. This will review the programme at its mid point, which falls four months into the second, twelve month-long, period of the three into which it is divided.