Monitoring panel quizzed on claim Sinn Fein-IRA links ‘political’

Monica McWilliams of the IRC and Sean Murray of Sinn Fein at a panel discussion on the first Independent Reporting Commission report last year. 'Photo: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Monica McWilliams of the IRC and Sean Murray of Sinn Fein at a panel discussion on the first Independent Reporting Commission report last year. 'Photo: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
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The fact that a paramilitary monitoring panel dismissed the IRA Army Council’s relationship with Sinn Fein as ‘political’ is ‘bizarre’ given that it has also detailed the impact of Brexit and devolution on terror groups, an MLA has said.

The Independent Reporting Commission published its second report on ending paramilitarism on Monday, however critics complained that while it detailed UVF and UDA criminality, it also failed to mention the IRA or INLA.

Asked why the IRA was not mentioned, in spite of the 2015 government report which said its Army Council was overseeing Sinn Fein strategy, commission member Monica McWilliams replied: “Well that is a political issue....”.

She added: “Well perhaps the secretary of state would then want to do that. But clearly there are those in power who believe that their focus should be elsewhere.”

However, critics have since claimed that contrary to her claim, the panel’s latest report does indeed delve significantly into politics.

The report details the view that the absence of devolution and Brexit are making the task of ending paramilitarism “immeasurably more difficult” and that Brexit has the potential to “add fuel to the fire of continued paramilitarism”.

Regarding the IRA Army Council links to Sinn Fein, TUV leader Jim Allister said Mrs McWilliams had tried to “palm the issue off” to the Secretary of State. “To say that the PIRA aspect is ‘political’ and beyond the remit of the IRC beggars belief,” he added, “particularly when one remembers that the body was set up following a PIRA murder. The defence is particularly bizarre given that the report manages to reference Brexit more than a dozen times - even devoting an entire section to the topic.”

Asked if IRA direction on Sinn Fein’s Brexit strategy might influence the reaction of dissidents and loyalists, the IRC responded that it has “no role in making assessments around security or connections to political parties” and that its focus is on measures needed to end paramilitarism.

“Our report flagged the uncertainty around Brexit and the vacuum created by the absence of political decision-making at Stormont as additional contextual factors impacting on ending paramilitarism,” it said.

The possibility of a hard border is being used by some as justification for paramilitarism, it said. The report also cited the Organised Crime Task Force view that crime gangs will expand into new sectors after Brexit, and that a ‘No Deal’ could lead to new criminal markets for previously legitimate commodities.