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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 November, 2004, 17:54 GMT
IRA 'is not winding down'
Independent Monitoring Commission
The Independent Monitoring Commission's third report is released

The IRA shows no signs of winding down its capability, the body which monitors paramilitary violence in Northern Ireland has said.

In its third report released on Thursday, the Independent Monitoring Commission said the IRA "continued to recruit, though in small numbers, and to gather intelligence".

The ceasefire watchdog said the loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), remained heavily involved in organised crime.

It said the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) remained a "ruthless organisation retaining a capacity for more widespread violence".

Paramilitary violence had "considerably reduced" in the last six months but remained "at a disturbingly high level", the commission found.

Criminal activity by paramilitary groups poses a significant continuing threat
Independent Monitoring Commission

It said dissident republican groups were the "most committed to continuing terrorism".

Most violence was attributable to loyalist groups, with a greater proportionate reduction by republican groups, the commissioners said.

It found paramilitaries on both sides were still "deeply engaged in serious organised crime".

"Criminal activity by paramilitary groups poses a significant continuing threat which the suspension of politically motivated activity by such groups will not of itself bring to an end.

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"A number of recent incidents give us cause to fear an increase."

The commissioners welcomed the increased focus on recovering the proceeds of crime, which they believed "has a key role to play in combating paramilitary crime".

The commission said links still existed between the IRA leadership and Sinn Fein, as well as the UVF and the Progressive Unionist Party.

It said that if the Northern Ireland Assembly was still functioning, sanctions against the two parties would have been recommended, including possible exclusion from office.

The IMC report was handed over to the British and Irish Governments last week.

Secretary of State Paul Murphy welcomed the IMC report and said it was very relevant in determining levels of paramilitary activity.

He said that the reduction in paramilitary activity by republicans and loyalists was welcome and defended his decision to meet with the UDA earlier this week.

Mr Murphy said the focus of all his discussions was to achieve an end to paramilitary activity.

The DUP's Ian Paisley Jr said the commission's report "vindicated" his party's stance.

Ian Paisley Jr
Ian Paisley Jr said the report vindicated the DUP's stance
"The IRA have not fundamentally changed, so we should not fundamentally change our position in blocking them from being in the government of Northern Ireland," he said.

He said continued IRA activity meant "these people are not fit to be in government, nor are their alter-egos Sinn Fein".

Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly said the DUP was using the commission as an excuse not to negotiate with his party.

"(The IMC) is of no assistance to the Good Friday Agreement, it is outside the Agreement and was set up to undermine the Agreement," he said.

"Once you are faced with that, the detail of their report, while I couldn't say it was irrelevant, it is certainly of no great interest to republicans and nationalists."

Ulster Unionist Sir Reg Empey said the commission was a "pressure point" on paramilitarism.

"The paramilitaries know they can no longer hide under a political blanket," he said.

"The straight-talking impartial nature of the IMC tells the situation as it is and reinforces our message that paramilitaries are going to have to go out of business."

SDLP leader Mark Durkan said Sinn Fein's criticism of the IMC was predictable but said republicans could not pretend that some of the events in the report had not happened.

Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly
Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly said the DUP were making excuses
"They are neither figments of the IMC's imaginations or other people's briefings," he said.

Mr Durkan added the commission had "again underscored the ongoing scale and nature of ongoing loyalist paramilitary activity".

Criticising the report, Billy Hutchinson of the Progressive Unionist Party said it did not offer a strategy to encourage paramilitary organisations to stop illegal activities.

The four IMC commissioners - Lord Alderdice, John Grieve, Joe Brosnan and Richard Kerr - met in Belfast last week to finalise their report.

The institutions in Northern Ireland were suspended two years ago amid allegations of IRA intelligence gathering at the Northern Ireland Office.

At the conclusion of intensive political talks at Leeds Castle in Kent last month, Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern said the thorny issues of IRA disarmament and future paramilitary activity appeared to be resolved.

However, the two governments were unable to get the Northern Ireland Assembly parties to sign up to a deal over power-sharing after unionists and nationalists clashed over future devolved institutions.

The sticking points in the political process have included the method of electing a first and deputy first minister, a date when the assembly can control policing, and whether or not 30 assembly members can challenge ministerial decisions.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
BBC NI political correspondent Gareth Gordon
"The report found continuing high levels of paramilitary activity"


The DUP's Ian Paisley Jr and Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly
react to the report



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SEE ALSO:
Report given to governments
28 Oct 04 |  Northern Ireland


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