“We are monitoring these issues with some concern.”

The 17th report of the Independent Monitoring Commission has been published online. As this BBC report points out the period dealt with does not include the killing of Paul Quinn. But there are some interesting paragraphs on the standards they expect to be met and by whom.

4.2 In our Fifth Report, in the Spring of 2005, we set out standards which we believed should be observed by people in positions of leadership in political parties and groups associated with paramilitary groups18. We have applied those standards to all our subsequent assessments, and we do the same in this report. The standards said that those in leadership should articulate their opposition to all forms of illegality, should exert their influence against members of paramilitary groups who had not given up crime, and should give clear support to the criminal justice system. We set them out in full in Annex IV.

4.3 These standards are relevant to Sinn Féin in respect of PIRA, the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) in respect of the UVF, and the Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG) in respect of the UDA.

Also in the report [pdf file]

Sinn Féin and PIRA

4.4 In line with what we said in paragraph 2.2 above, we think it is necessary to refer only briefly to Sinn Féin. We expressed the firm view in our previous report that the leadership of Sinn Féin and of the provisional republican movement generally was wholly committed to the political strategy and that we did not see any threat to the continuing implementation of the strategy. The demonstration of its commitment to democratic politics which Sinn Féin gave in May 2007 by entering the Northern Ireland Executive in association with parties of other persuasions reinforces us in this earlier view, as does increasing Sinn Féin engagement with the institutions of policing and criminal justice.

Next Steps for the UDA and the UVF

4.5 Before turning to the loyalists we raise some general issues which touch both the UDA and UVF. This is despite the fact that during the six months under review the UDA, because of its internal tensions, has in some respects gone backwards, whereas the UVF has moved significantly in the right direction.

4.6 The political situation in Northern Ireland has been transformed. The devolved Executive and Assembly are functioning and it is the declared objective of the two Governments to devolve policing and justice in May 2008. The largest of the paramilitary groups – PIRA – is firmly set on a political path. What has not changed is that no paramilitary group can claim
any political justification for involvement in criminal activity.

4.7 The decommissioning of arms remains an issue for both the UDA and the UVF. To have arms is to act illegally, however inaccessible the arms may be. Decommissioning is a test by which any paramilitary organisation must ultimately expect to be judged. In our view it is hard to lay an entirely convincing claim to be irrevocably set on a peaceful path, or expect dispassionate observers to take a wholly benign view of their declared intentions, until it is at least clear that they plan to decommission and are taking active steps to that end with some prospect of success. In our earlier reporting on PIRA we did not consider it had embarked on a political path until after it had decommissioned arms in September 2005, and we maintained a close eye after that in case there were any indications that its declarations had not been matched by its deeds. We take no different approach to the UVF or UDA.

4.8 Given the fundamental importance of decommissioning and the changed situation in Northern Ireland it seems to us that there is an increasingly sharp question: are these paramilitary organisations still entitled to the continued comfort that if they were at some stage to offer their arms for decommissioning they could do so free of the fear of prosecution or in the knowledge that the weapons would not be subject to forensic testing?

There are two main factors to be weighed in answering this question. One is the extent to which the situation in Northern Ireland may be considered to be normal. The other is the extent to which an organisation such as the UDA has assumed the characteristics of an association of criminals rather than a terrorist group and its activities have become mainly criminal in nature.

The PUP and the UVF

4.9 In our previous report we expressed the confident view that the PUP was committed to the democratic process and to helping guide the UVF away from crime and towards activities which would benefit local communities. At that time however we expressed reservations about the UVF’s capacity to make further significant steps forward despite such useful moves as the issuing of a code of conduct to its members and its readiness to tackle the issue of hate crime, and we were concerned about the lack of pace. We concluded that unless the leadership could deliver more significant results in the very near future we would be forced to the view that it was unwilling or unable to bring about real change.

4.10 Since then the UVF has taken the significant steps forward to which we refer in paragraphs 2.26 – 2.29 above. We call the UVF statement of 3 May 2007 “a major turning point”. The leadership has a strategy which it is pursuing. It is being implemented, although not surprisingly there is some resistance to it. We do not doubt that the stance of the PUP has played its part in bringing the UVF to this position. The main outstanding question is when and how vigorously the UVF will be able to tackle the decommissioning of arms.

The UPRG and the UDA

4.11 In our previous report we said that we did not doubt the good intentions of senior figures in both the UPRG and the UDA. We welcomed the Conflict Transformation Initiative (CTI), whose leaders, we thought, had shown courage and determination. We also spoke favourably of the Beyond Conflict project being developed by the South East Antrim UDA. But we went on to say that it was essential to move much further, and to do so urgently.

4.12 In paragraphs 2.21 – 2.25 above we paint a mixed picture of the UDA over the six months under review. The eruption of internal tensions – above all between the so-called mainstream and the South East Antrim faction – has in many respects taken the organisation backwards. There has been some violence and some members are still deeply involved in crime. We know that senior figures remain determined to change the UDA’s direction and to promote the development of their communities. There has been some very recent progress by way of contacts between the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning but there is no sign that the decommissioning of weapons is an early prospect. So far however the pace of change has been far too slow and the leadership has not demonstrated its ability to deliver action which is anything like sufficient. It is to be hoped that there will be further developments. [added emphasis]

And there is also an interesting section on what are described as “Other Significant Issues”


The Consequences of Paramilitary Activity

5.1 With the exception of dissident republicans most of our reporting over the past two years has been of progress, sometimes modest and insufficient, sometimes transformational. The objective for which we were set up is progressively being achieved. But this does not mean that the effects and the legacy of paramilitarism have ended, or that it would immediately end even if the organisations entirely ceased to exist. Paramilitaries have had an immense impact, including over the time when they have not been engaged in terrorist activity as such. Much of the impact has been in the communities from which they have secured their support. Individuals and families have been traumatised, with the effects in some cases being so serious that they have passed to the next generation; the term “broken people” has been used in some cases, we think justifiably. There has also been enormous damage to the structure and functioning of many communities. We are aware of a considerable level of trauma and disturbance: the long-running series of incidents in West Belfast with damage to people and property; the physical damage by young people to themselves as well as within their community; and the problem of ensuring that local communities deal with local problems in a way which is both human rights-compliant as well as effective. We are monitoring these issues with some concern. [added emphasis]

Terrorism, Organised Crime and the Law

5.2 We have referred in previous reports to the distinction between terrorism and other forms of crime so far as paramilitary organisations are concerned. With the prospect of the devolution of justice and policing it becomes apt to consider the nature of the legislation which would be most effective against them. How far should it be founded in counter-terrorism law, reflecting the roots of these organisations? How far should it be based on the general criminal law, including the provisions dealing with organised crime, reflecting the fact that some are now largely associations for criminal purposes? We would welcome views on this.