Independent Monitoring Commission is a joke

The report of the Independent Monitoring Commission is an irrelevance. An irrelevance even if any independent credibility could be attached to its findings. On Thursday (10 February) it concluded the IRA was responsible for a series of robberies, including the Northern Bank robbery on 10 December and that senior Sinn Féin people, by which it means Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness, approved of these robberies in advance.



According to itself, the Independent Monitoring Commission acquires its information from the security agencies in the UK and Ireland and goes on to make quite a play of the range of other information it obtains from political parties, government officials, community groups, churches, charities, pressure groups, businesses, lawyers, journalists, academics, private citizens and families. We are invited to believe that the Commission's credibility is enhanced by the additional information it obtains from these sources.

What, conceivably, would community groups, churches, charities, businesses and academics know about responsibility for robberies? Or about whether the Sinn Féin leadership knew or did not know of robberies in advance? What would political parties know in addition to what security forces would tell them? What would journalists know or lawyers or businesses? Private citizens? Families?

The Independent Monitoring Commission is a joke and its findings and doings should be disregarded.

This is not to disregard the contention that the IRA was indeed responsible for the robberies mentioned or that senior figures in Sinn Féin knew of these in advance. As I have argued earlier, there is reason to be seriously apprehensive about the Northern Bank robbery for if the IRA did it, then it is likely they knew they were going to get a huge amount of money and, if that is so, they must have seen a need for such vast resources, which couldn't possibly encompass simply the demands of pension funds or election campaigns.

If the IRA did it, they must be planning on spending a huge amount of money on some project, which is what is worrying about it. And if that is true, then the likelihood is that the Sinn Féin leadership (ie Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness) were not in on it either before or after, for any such project would destroy what they have been about for over a decade.

The Dáil debate during the week and the reaction to the Independent Monitoring Commission report have focused on the issue of criminality, on the need to get an IRA declaration to abjure criminality. Some have wanted Sinn Féin to break from the IRA.

The demand for an IRA declaration that it will cease criminality is made at the same time as the IRA denial of involvement in the Northern Bank robbery is ridiculed. If, as is certainly the case, the IRA cannot be taken at its word on responsibility for particular operations, then why should any credence be placed on a commitment by it not to engage in criminality, even if an agreed definition of criminality were found? In any event, it is a distraction from a far more important issue, policing.

If instead of the hyperventilation over IRA criminality, serious efforts were made by the two governments and others into securing the agreement of Sinn Féin (and, by extension, the IRA) on policing in Northern Ireland and such agreement were obtained, the issue of criminality would become irrelevant. This is because once the republican movement was tied into support for the police service, then it would have to seek popular engagement with that service in the prevention and detection of all crime, including crime perpetrated by its own members. There would be, could be, no room for equivocation or evasion on the issue, nor could there be any semantic wrangling about what constituted criminality (criminality would be what the law says it is).

Were there agreement on policing there would be agreement on everything that mattered on what is known as the constitutional and security front (of course there would remain deep division on what constituted justice but that is part of the "normal" discourse of politics).

So if the northern peace process resumes some time after the Westminster elections in May – and there is no certainty that the "peace process" will survive the present hiatus, especially as there are indications of IRA division on the whole project now – the priority should not be total decommissioning or on declarations on criminality.

The focus and priority should be on policing, on securing total and unconditional commitment to support for the police service. Of course this will entail some further reforms to the police force in Northern Ireland (PSNI) and agreement on the devolution of responsibility for policing but that should not await a further agreement some time in the future. That has to happen in tandem with the other agreements on institutional issues.

As for the demand that Sinn Féin break from the IRA, do those who advocate that know what they are saying? Isn't the whole point of this "peace process" to neutralise the IRA by bringing them within the ambit of an agreement now and ending forever political violence here?

If there were a break by Sinn Féin from the IRA that prospect would be lost and, essentially, we would be heading back to square one, minus one.

Vincent Browne