Time to decommission the Commission

  • 7 December 2005
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Although Gerry Adams expects the January report of the Independent Monitoring Commission to declare the IRA has kept its commitments to decommission, he believes the IMC's time is up, as it is inherently undemocratic, unaccountable and incompetent


Last week the Newry and Mourne MP and MLA, Conor Murphy, began proceedings in the High Court in London against the so -called Independent Monitoring Commission* (IMC). Conor  is challenging the procedures of the IMC, its inherent political and other bias, its failure to apply any standards of proof in its considerations, conclusions and recommendations and  the validity of its reports. He  is also challenging the reliance of  the British Government on these reports as the basis for sanctions against Sinn Féin.
Sinn Féin opposed the establishment of the IMC from the outset. When the Irish Government first raised the idea with me, I made it clear that I had no problem with the activities of armed groups being monitored. I also pointed out that the Good Friday Agreement had processes to monitor the behaviour of political parties and procedures to take action against them if they were in breach of the Agreement.
I told both governments that I would not accept the British government being given additional powers to take sanctions against any party. I said at that time that for me this was a matter of political principle. This remains my position. The two governments ignored these objections and established the IMC in January 2004, in breach of the Good Friday Agreement and as a concession to David Trimble.
The IMC is not independent. Its four members are all political appointees who bring  their own political baggage to their task. How can IMC chair, John Alderdice, a former leader of the Alliance Party in the North and an avowed political opponent of Sinn Féin, be presented as independent?
Another member, John Grieve, is a former head of the London Metropolitan Police. At one stage he expressed a desire to become an Assistant Chief Constable in the RUC, a force he apparently held in high regard. Richard Kerr is a former Deputy Director of the CIA; and Joe Brosnan is a former senior official on the Irish Department of Justice.
The IMC's sources of information are drawn from the unsubstantiated accusations of political opponents of Sinn Féin. In the main, these sources are from within the ranks of the PSNI, the British Army, the Northern Ireland Office and others within the British Intelligence and security establishment .
And what about the IMC's standard of proof? The IMC has stated that it does not apply any standard of proof. When asked  by Sinn Féin representatives, the IMC said “We are not bound by the strict rules of evidence applicable in a court of law”. In fact, the IMC's procedures are fundamentally flawed. The IMC's conclusions are based on untested and unpublished information from unidentified sources which are inherently unreliable and are incapable of verification.
When Sinn Féin asked the IMC which international standards of proof they employ to reach their conclusions, they wouldn't tell us. They could only suggest that we should not approach them as we would a court of law, or a tribunal. The IMC regard themselves as “unique”. The “uniqueness” of the standards of proof they apply can be gauged from their liberal use in their reports of phrases  such as “we believe”, “we are persuaded”, “may be attributable”, “we are convinced”, “we are satisfied” etc etc, without ever presenting a single shred of evidence to back up their assertions.
Moreover, while the IMC  accepts that Sinn Féin is not in a position to determine the policies or operational strategies of the IRA, the IMC has in the past, on the basis of alleged activities by the IRA, recommended sanctions against Sinn Féin which penalised our electorate and the party and benefited our opponents. This is entirely undemocratic.
Quite apart from the political bias inherent in the remit and membership of the IMC, it has also displayed a degree of incompetence, which, given its political power and impact, is entirely unacceptable. For example, they wrongly attributed the death of Michael O'Hare in a fire in Bangor in March 2003 to unionist paramilitaries. This was subsequently found to be untrue.
The Commission also wrongly said that the INLA was made up of “disaffected members of the Official IRA and the Provisional IRA following the 1972 ceasefire.” Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of these matters knows that the INLA was a breakaway group from the Official IRA, which was formed in 1975.
In its October 2005 report, the IMC made a series of allegations against the IRA, with in-built consequences for Sinn Féin and the wider peace process. For example, they refer to two assaults which they attribute to the IRA. Martin McGuinness asked for information from the British government on these two assaults. It has been unable to provide any evidence that these incidents ever occurred.
The Commission's reports and recommendations are clearly discriminatory. The Good Friday Agreement  provides a basis for sanction of those parties which breach the Agreement. Sinn Féin supports the use of sanction within the terms of the Agreement. We reject all sanctions outside the terms of the Agreement.
Conor Murphy's  lawyers will argue that the IMC should be declared unlawful on the grounds of bias and lack of any application of standards of proof.  They are seeking the reports of the IMC to be  declared void and the reliance on these reports by the British secretary of state declared unlawful. Next spring, the two governments tell us, there will be a renewed effort by them to get Ian Paisley's DUP into the powersharing political institutions with the rest of us.
The two governments have quite wrongly played up the importance of the next report of the IMC, due in mid-January, as part of this. It appears that London and Dublin are putting the short-term future of the Good Friday Agreement into the hands of the so-called IMC.
For what it is worth, I expect the Commission to uphold the fact that the IRA has kept all its commitments. However, that should not hide the other fact: that the IMC  is undemocratic and  unaccountable. Conor Murphy's court case should highlight this. Whatever Ian Paisley does in response to the IMC report, if the two governments are to return to the Good Friday Agreement, they need to decommission their IMC.
*The IMC was set up by the Irish and British governments in  January 2004. Its purpose is to help promote the establishment of stable and inclusive devolved government in a peaceful Northern Ireland. It does this by reporting to the governments on activity by paramilitary groups, on the normalisation of security measures in the province, and on claims by Assembly parties that other parties, or ministers in a devolved executive, are not living up to the standards required of them
∏ More: www.independentmonitoringcommission.org