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Northern Ireland: Independent Monitoring Commission

Volume 696: debated on Wednesday 7 November 2007

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Shaun Woodward) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

I have received the 17th report of the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC). 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 confirms the IMC’s previous assessments that the IRA is fully committed to pursuing the political path and that it will not be diverted from it. Paragraph 2.2 of the report notes that, “Sinn Fein’s entry into the Northern Ireland Executive has meant that the provisional movement as a whole has been more closely engaged in the democratic process” and that, against this background, the IMC, “strongly believe that this position is now stable”.

On loyalism, I welcome the IMC’s assessment that the UVF’s 3 May 2007 statement, renouncing violence and committing to transform itself from a military to a civilian organisation, represents “a major turning point” for the organisation. The report notes that the position is not yet entirely transformed and there are some pockets of resistance but does not doubt that the leadership is clear on the direction in which it is taking the organisation, has briefed the message in the statement down to the grass roots and has started to take steps to reduce the organisation’s size.

I share, however, the concern of the IMC that the pace of real change within the UDA remains far too slow. The IMC recognises that internal turbulence within the UDA has been a key factor in this in the six months under review, giving rise to continuing incidents of violence. The report also notes the very recent progress there has been by way of contact between the UDA and the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. But the violent scenes in Carrickfergus and Bangor were a stark reminder of Northern Ireland’s troubled past. We must see an end to violence and criminality of this kind.

The IMC also calls on both the UVF and the UDA to decommission as a test by which any paramilitary organisation must ultimately expect to be judged. The report notes that in respect of PIRA the IMC did not consider it had embarked on a political path until after it had decommissioned arms in September 2005 and that it takes no different approach to the UVF or UDA.

In relation to dissident republican groups, the IMC makes it clear that these groups still pose a threat. Three paramilitary murders were reported, the first since February 2006. All three have been attributed to dissidents.  These groups are ruthless and dangerous, and their intent to cause harm and destruction is undiminished, but they will not deter us from achieving long-term political stability.

Once again, I am grateful to the IMC for its submission of this report and for its careful analysis. As ever, this report offers a clear picture of the challenges ahead to secure an end to paramilitarism in Northern Ireland.