The final obstacle to the restoration of stable power sharing in the North has been cleared by the ceasefire watchdog, Peter Hain claimed today.
As speculation mounted that the Irish and British governments will press ahead with plans for a fresh Stormont Assembly election, the Northern Secretary said the latest positive assessment of the Provisional IRA by the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) meant the pressure was now on the North's politicians to deliver devolution.
“Today’s report is further proof – if proof is needed – that Northern Ireland is a much different place to what it was only 18 months ago,” said Mr Hain.
“This report removes the final, major impediment to the restoration of stable and lasting devolution in Northern Ireland.
“It is now up to the politicians to show courage and grasp the historic opportunities before them in the coming weeks. It will be a tragedy if this opportunity is lost.”
The Independent Monitoring Commission was set up in January 2004 to report to the Irish and British governments on the activities of republican and loyalist terror groups and on how other aspects of the Good Friday Agreement are being implemented such as demilitarisation.
Its members consist of former Northern Ireland Assembly speaker Lord Alderdice, retired Irish civil servant Joe Brosnan, ex-Metropolitan Police anti-terror chief John Grieve and the former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the United States, Dick Kerr.
Today’s publication is the 13th report produced by the commission.
Since the Provisionals’ declaration in July 2005 that its armed campaign was over and the completion of their disarmament programme, the IMC has reported that the organisation has been making significant headway in its efforts to become a purely political movement.
The commission has continued to express concern about hardline republican and loyalist paramilitary activity.
However, it has also noted the desire of some loyalist leaders to move their organisations away permanently from paramilitarism and criminality.
Mr Hain said the North had come a very long way from 18 months ago when the IRA ended its armed campaign.
“That commitment to peace was reinforced when it decommissioned its arsenal of weapons,” he said.
“Since then, the IMC has published a series of reports and has given its assessment which charts the process of peace being followed by the republican leadership and records the seismic shift which has occurred.
“Only a few days after the Sinn Féin ard fheis (party conference) gave its support to policing and the criminal justice system – a decision which the IMC has itself described as a 'very major development' – it is important for everyone to remember just how far we have come in such a short space of time.”