IMC misleads on IRA decommissioning

  • 8 February 2006
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The Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) challenged the conclusions of the Independent International Commission on De...commissioning (IICD) in its 1 February report and suggested that the IRA had held on to significant amounts of arms. The IMC did so without taking into account Garda evidence to the contrary, evidence that was in their possession since 19 January or earlier.
The IICD, headed by General John de Chastelain, concluded in its report of 26 September last year that “the IRA has met its commitment to put all of its arms beyond use in a manner called for by the legislation”. It reaffirmed this conclusion in a report to the British and Irish governments on 19 January.
The February IMC report has been a party to misleading the public on this vital question of IRA arms decommissioning, which has been at the centre of political debate in the North since the Good Friday agreement.
The story is as follows. In the week beginning 9 January, the IICD received information, from what it describes in its 19 January report as “security sources in Northern Ireland”, that “some individuals and groups within the IRA have retained a range of arms including handguns”. However, “there was no suggestion” in these reports that “these arms (purportedly kept for personal protection and area defence) have been retained with the approval of the IRA leadership or as part of a strategy to return to violence”.
This information entered a question mark against the IICD's conclusion last September that “the IRA has met its commitment to put all of its arms beyond use in a manner called for by the legislation”. At that time, the IICD qualified this conclusion by saying that a small number of arms might have gone astray over the years as individual custodians died or the locations of some caches were lost.
The IICD says it discussed this intelligence assessment with “senior officers in the Garda Siochána”, who informed them that “what they regard as reliable sources in relation to the IRA and its weaponry, have produced no intelligence suggesting any arms have been retained”. On the basis of this Garda intelligence, and after discussions with the IRA representative to the IICD, they concluded:
“We are reassured by the fact that none of the various intelligence assessments suggest the IRA leadership is moving away from its July 28 commitments [to end its armed campaign and engage in exclusively peaceful activity].  We conclude that in the absence of evidence to the contrary our 26 September assessment regarding IRA arms is correct”.
The final paragraph of the IICD report states: “We have informed the Independent Monitoring Commission of the substance of this report so they are kept aware of developments in our area of responsibility.”
So, by 19 January at the latest the IMC was aware that Garda intelligence did not confirm reports from “security sources in Northern Ireland” that the IRA had held on to weapons over and above what had previously been believed possible by the IICD.
The IMC had also received these reports from “security sources in Northern Ireland” suggesting that the IRA had held on to arms.  In Paragraph 3.23, the IMC states: “We have since received reports that not all PIRA's weapons and ammunition were handed over for decommissioning in September. These reports are not able to indicate precisely what is the nature or volume of any remaining weapons but suggest two things: first, that there is a range of different kinds of weapons and ammunition; second, that the material goes beyond what might possibly have been expected to have missed decommissioning, such as a limited number of handguns kept for personal protection or some items the whereabouts of which were no longer known. We recognise that if these reports were confirmed the key question would be how much the PIRA leadership knew about these weapons.”
The IMC report does not mention the Garda intelligence to the contrary, even though it was known to them by 19 January at the latest and the report wasn't published until 1 February.  
As a result, there are now very few Protestants in the North who don't believe the IRA retained significant amounts of arms last September – and that the IICD's assurance to the contrary was unwarranted.