The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Peter Hain) has made the following Ministerial Statement.
I have received the fifteenth report of the Independent Monitoring Commission. This report has been made under Articles 4 and 7 of the international agreement that established the commission and it reports on levels of paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland. I have considered the content of the report and I am today bringing it before Parliament. I have placed copies in the Library of the House.
The report reaffirms the IRA's continuing commitment to a political path. The IMC welcomes the decision of the Sinn Fein ard fheis to support policing as,
“clear evidence of the commitment, efforts and clearly expressed decisions of the leadership of the movement as a whole to pursue the political path and of their effective management of the strategy”.
At a practical level, there were a number of instances in which republicans had co-operated with the PSNI, giving further evidence that this commitment to support policing and the rule of law goes beyond words. The IMC concludes that there is no threat to the leadership's strategy from any dissenting opinion within the mainstream republican movement.
However, the threat from dissident republicans remains. Despite some notable successes by the police north and south, these groups are ruthless and dangerous, and their intent to cause harm and destruction is undiminished. They will not, however, deter us from achieving political progress and long-term stability.
On loyalism, the picture is mixed. Violence and criminal activity continue and the pace of change has been slow. The report sends out a strong message to loyalists: they cannot make any argument for paramilitary activity and the retention of weapons. The IMC recognises the efforts of the loyalist leadership and welcomes initiatives in support of community development. However, the time has come to,
“move beyond intentions and words to action which is overt and has an identifiable practical impact on the ground”.
The Government firmly endorse that message. Society is changing rapidly: there can be no place for violence and gangsterism in this modern, prosperous society. Mainstream republicanism has recognized the changing course of history and taken major steps in response. The last hurdles to political settlement have been overcome and devolved government will be restored on 8 May following the landmark agreement between the DUP and Sinn Fein to share power together. This is something that many people never thought they would see in their lifetime.
Loyalist paramilitaries must catch up with these transformations before the moment is lost. The onus is now on them to put words into action, place the interests of their communities first and seize this opportunity to secure a peaceful and prosperous future.
Once again, I am grateful to the commission for its submission of this report and for its careful analysis. The report offers a clear picture of both the extraordinary progress made and the challenges ahead to secure an end to paramilitarism in Northern Ireland.