The achievements of the multi-national team which oversaw paramilitary disarmament in the North were hailed today as its final operational report was published.
Northern Ireland Secretary of State Shaun Woodward paid tribute to the work carried out by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) in the 12 years since it was jointly set up by the British and Irish authorities.
In that period the commission, led by retired Canadian general John de Chastelain, facilitated the destruction of arsenals belonging to all militant organisations on ceasefire, including the Provisional IRA, the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force.
“Northern Ireland is a much different place from what it was 12 years ago when the IICD was established and General John de Chastelain and his team have played an important role in that transformation,” said Mr Woodward as he published its last six monthly report.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern also paid tribute to the work of the IICD, saying: "I want to pay tribute to the IICD and thank them for the 12 years of hard work and patience it has taken to get us to where we are today. No-one has done more than the Commissioners and their staff to remove the gun from politics in Ireland. We owe them a great debt of gratitude."
Last month, only hours before the commission was due to be officially wound up and an associated amnesty from prosecution ended, the remaining three groups to put their guns beyond use confirmed they had done so.
The announcements from the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), the Official IRA and the break-away south east Antrim faction of the UDA tied up the loose ends facing the body.
That came weeks after the mainstream UDA finalised decommissioning and loyalist paramilitary elements in north Belfast linked to the notorious Shoukri family also put their weapons beyond use.
Although a marginalised band of extremists continue to target the peace process using terrorism, the IICD’s job was to facilitate disarmament among those groups which had renounced violence, not persuade those still intent on waging their wars.
Mr Woodward said the last six months of the team’s mandate had been very fruitful.
“This was an extremely productive period for the IICD with the decommissioning of weapons by both republican and loyalist paramilitary organisations,” he said.
“The historic acts of decommissioning witnessed by the IICD over this six-month period were the culmination of years of painstaking work.”
In total the IICD cost around £10m (€11m) to maintain during its existence.
General de Chastelain and fellow commissioners Brigadier Tauno Nieminen from Finland and American Andrew D Sens confirmed they would now compile an all encompassing report assessing their 12 years’ work.
“At the direction of both governments, the commission’s mandate has been terminated with effect 9 February 2010 in the British jurisdiction and 25 February 2010 in the jurisdiction of the Republic of Ireland,” they noted.
“Accordingly this is the last operational report we will submit to the two governments.
“We will now review with the governments the measures they wish us to take to close our offices in Belfast and Dublin and to complete the final report they require from us prior to our standing down.”
Mr Woodward said he would discuss with his Irish counterparts to make arrangements for the preparation of the commission’s final overall report.