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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 April, 2004, 18:18 GMT 19:18 UK
Paramilitaries 'named and shamed'
Left to right, John Grieve, Joseph Brosnan, Lord Alderdice and Richard Kerr
The commission arose out of discussions on the joint declaration
The names of people believed to be paramilitary leaders may be released, the body which monitors such activity in Northern Ireland has warned.

Secretary of State Paul Murphy announced on Tuesday that sanctions would be imposed on parties linked to paramilitary groups still involved in violence and other criminal activities.

The move came after the publication of a report which highlighted the levels of paramilitary activity by both republican and loyalist groups.

The latest crisis in the political process was triggered by the alleged abduction of dissident republican Bobby Tohill in February.

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The Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) report, published on Tuesday, recommended action against Sinn Fein and the Progressive Unionist Party in response to continuing IRA and loyalist violence.

Lord Alderdice, one of the authors of the IMC report, said that, in the future, the group may release the names of people it believed to be paramilitary leaders.

"Those who are involved at a senior level should expect to receive direct communications from the commission in the near future," he said.

"We will be asking them what they think about the directions we intend to take and then we will be holding them publicly and personally accountable for what they have been doing."

Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Mr Murphy announced that there is to be a cut in the funding which the parties receive from government.

"The commission finds that paramilitary activity is at a disturbingly high level on the part of both republican and loyalist groups," he said.

I am persuaded it would be right to remove for a period the entitlement to the block financial assistance paid to assembly parties in respect of Sinn Fein and the PUP
Paul Murphy
Secretary of State

"On the basis of reported figures, the scale of paramilitary violence since 1 January 2003 has been worryingly high, approaching one murder a month, some three victims a week both from shootings and assaults.

"The commission goes on to state that two parties, Sinn Fein and the PUP have links with paramilitary groups. It is clear from the report that senior politicians are in a position to exercise significant influence over their activities."

The commission also said "some members, including some senior members of Sinn Fein are also members, including, in some cases, senior members of PIRA".

Mr Murphy said the commission also expressed its belief that the incident in Belfast on 20 February was the responsibility of the Provisional IRA.

Mr Murphy said: "I am persuaded it would be right to remove for a period the entitlement to the block financial assistance paid to assembly parties in respect of Sinn Fein and the PUP."

He added that he proposed to do so on Wednesday 28 April. He warned that he could also act to reduce members' salaries, should he choose to do so, in the light of a future IMC report.

Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy
Paul Murphy addressed the Commons on the report

The secretary of state said, however, that in line with legal requirements, he would take into account representations received from the political parties by next Tuesday, before reaching a final decision.

The IMC report's authors said that, "had the Assembly been functioning, we would have recommended in respect of Sinn Fein and the PUP, measures up to and possibly including exclusion from office".

Tuesday's IMC report comes as intensive political talks, planned for London next week, involving all the Northern Ireland parties and the British and Irish Prime Ministers were postponed.

On the Tohill incident, the IMC reports that the material it has studied indicates that this was an operation "planned and undertaken by the Provisional IRA".

The IRA leadership has claimed it did not authorise any action against Mr Tohill.

'Partisan report'

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said his party would not accept "this partisan report".

He said: "Sinn Fein will not accept this attack on our integrity. We will not accept this attack on our electoral mandate.

"We will challenge it by every means at our disposal and at every door we go to in the upcoming election campaign."

Billy Hutchinson of the Progressive Unionist Party said the sanctions were illegal and could not be enforced.

"Once again, the British Government will go through all this and find out in a few years' time that they have to apologise to everybody because they acted outside the system," he said.

He said the government had "taken a hammer to crack a nut".

DUP leader Ian Paisley called the sanction on Sinn Fein a "murder tax". He told the House of Commons that if parties did not keep to the rules governing the talks, they should not be allowed to take part.

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble said that action on prisoner releases would be better than proposed financial penalties.

Weapons
The body reported on the state of paramilitary activity

"Does the secretary of state not have the power to act under prisoner release legislation and would not such action not be better than the proposed financial penalties?" he said.

The SDLP's Seamus Mallon described the "petty cash" sanctions imposed on the parties as "risible". He urged the secretary of state not to waste time "scratching at the surface" with meaningless financial sanctions.

The Irish Government said it accepted the recommendations of the Commission and the report spoke for itself.

It said the report "painted a disturbing picture in relation to paramilitary and criminal activity".

The report lists about a dozen paramilitary murders since the beginning of last year - the bulk of which are attributed to loyalist paramilitaries - five of them to the UDA alone.

These killings include the sectarian murder of James McMahon in Lisburn last November.

The PUP is aligned with the outlawed Ulster Volunteer Force, which has been blamed for recent racist attacks in Belfast and the murder of John Allen in Ballyclare, County Antrim, in November last year.

The commission, which began operation in January, was originally due to report on loyalist and republican paramilitary activity every six months.

This timetable was dramatically altered in February following an incident involving Mr Tohill, which Chief Constable Hugh Orde immediately blamed on the IRA.

The four-man commission is a crucial element in the two governments' plans for restoring devolution, which was suspended in October 2002 amid allegations of IRA intelligence gathering at Stormont.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Denis Murray
"The IRA, republican dissidents and loyalists are up to their teeth in violence"


BBC NI security editor Brian Rowan
"Step one has been a damning report from the commissioners, and it seems step two could be an even more dramatic move"


BBC NI political editor Mark Devenport
Looks at the reaction from the parties


BBC NI political editor Mark Devenport
"It's definitely a setback for the political process"



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SEE ALSO:
Reasons for sanctions outlined
20 Apr 04  |  Northern Ireland
Sinn Fein vows to fight sanctions
20 Apr 04  |  Northern Ireland
'Damning analysis' of paramilitaries
20 Apr 04  |  Northern Ireland
Report backs Orde over IRA
19 Apr 04  |  Northern Ireland


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