Democratic Unionist leader Peter Robinson has resumed his duties as Stormont first minister and his resigned ministers have returned to office following the publication of a review of paramilitary activity in the North.
The DUP last month disengaged with the power-sharing administration in Belfast amid a crisis sparked by a murder linked to the IRA.
The independent assessment of paramilitary structures, which was commissioned as Stormont lurched towards collapse, found that all the main republican and loyalist groups, including the Provisional IRA, still exist; that members have committed murders since the ceasefires of the 1990s; but that their leaders are now committed to peace.
While Mr Robinson said his party was returning to the executive, he warned that Stormont’s problems were not over and insisted talks aimed at resolving a raft of disputes besetting powersharing only have two weeks to find resolution.
“We really are only back for a couple of weeks while the talks process is concluded because unless we can resolve all of these outstanding issues we won’t be able to have a sustainable Assembly and executive,” he said.
“We are at the sparring stage still but I think today marks the beginning of intensive discussions.”
The review, ordered after the shooting of ex-IRA man Kevin McGuigan in August, said an IRA “Provisional Army Council” remains in place, and IRA members believe that ruling body “oversees” Sinn Féin’s strategy.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin rejected those claims, insisting his party was the “only organisation” that represented the mainstream republican movement.
“As far as I am concerned Sinn Féin is the only republican organisation involved in the peace process, in democratic politics, and in political activism,” he said.
“We take instructions from no one else.”
The report found all the main paramilitary groups had committed murders since the ceasefires of the 1990s but stressed that they were not engaged in or planning terrorist activities.
In regard to the IRA, the three-member independent panel which assessed police and security service intelligence, found that “the structures of PIRA remain in existence in a much reduced form”.
These structures include “a senior leadership, the ‘Provisional Army Council’, and some ’departments’”, the report states. The panel does not think the IRA is actively recruiting or rearming.
The report states that IRA members believe the Army Council “oversees both PIRA and Sinn Féin with an overarching strategy”.
However, it says this strategy has a “wholly political focus”. The report found members of the IRA were engaged in criminality for personal gain, such as smuggling. “The PIRA of the Troubles era is well beyond recall,” the report adds.
“It is our firm assessment that PIRA’s leadership remains committed to the peace process and its aim of achieving a united Ireland by political means.
“The group is not involved in targeting or conducting terrorist attacks against the state.”
Mr McGuinness said the IRA leadership had successfully delivered a transition from conflict to peace.
“There are of course enormous and urgent issues to be dealt with around the existence of armed groups, paramilitaries, and criminality,” he added.
“We all have a responsibility to deal with these issues to tackle criminality and bring paramilitarism to an end and Sinn Féin will play a full part in this important work.”
The primary focus of the report was on mainstream paramilitary groups that announced an end to violence in the 1990s, not the renegade dissident groups that have emerged since. Nevertheless the panel did stress the severe threat continued to be posed by dissident republicans opposed to the peace process.
The main loyalist paramilitary groups — the Ulster Volunteer Force, Ulster Defence Association, and Red Hand Commando — last week denounced all violence and set up a body to address problems in loyalist areas.
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