A key individual appointed to adjudicate on the status of the Provisional IRA produced a security report six months ago which made no reference to the existence of the IRA.
Lord Carlile of Berriew is one of three individuals appointed by Secretary of State Theresa Villiers as “independent reviewers” of the UK security agencies and the PSNI on the structure, role and purpose of paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland.
The panel also includes a former senior Stormont civil servant, Rosalie Flanagan, and a Belfast expert in civil law, Stephen Shaw QC.
But the Liberal Democrat peer is the only one of the trio with high level security experience, meaning that he is likely to have particular influence in drawing up a report which could prove critical to the future of Stormont.
The peer has an existing role as the independent reviewer of national security arrangements in Northern Ireland. In that sensitive role, he compiles an annual report.
A summary of the most recent report – which relates to last year – was presented to the Commons in March.
But, in the 1,500-word public summary of his report laid before Parliament, the only reference to the Provisional IRA was in a passing and historic context.
In the report, Lord Carlile said that Northern Ireland still faced “a very dangerous, unpredictable terrorist threat, though one which is much smaller than in the days of PIRA terrorist activity”.
Lord Carlile’s report is focused on how various security agencies are cooperating, rather than providing a comprehensive overview of paramilitary groups.
However, the peer chose to refer to several paramilitary groups and commented on the threat they posed, while making no reference to the IRA.
He referred to loyalist terror groups, saying “these are people and groups whose real interest is in making money from crime. The authorities are well sighted against these organisations”.
The peer also said that he had “enquired about violent Islamism in Northern Ireland”.
An NIO spokeswoman said that Lord Carlile’s role on the panel “differs from his role as the independent reviewer of national security arrangements in Northern Ireland, where he is responsible for examining the national security arrangements in Northern Ireland, as set out in Annex E of the St Andrew’s Agreement”.
When he was re-appointed by Theresa Villiers to the security watchdog role in 2013, Lord Carlile was described by the Secretary of State as providing “rigorous independent scrutiny of national security arrangements in Northern Ireland”.
Yesterday the panel’s appointment was welcomed by the DUP’s Arlene Foster, who said she was pleased that the panel has been appointed “because that means that the work can begin and that we can move on in that respect”.
When asked if she trusted the structure set up by the Government, Mrs Foster said: “Yes, we do trust this structure and we look forward to the assessment coming forward.”
As inter-party talks continued yesterday, Mrs Foster added that she expected the assessment, which is expected by mid-October, to be “fuller” than that of the PSNI and said she hoped it would be “helpful to the process”.
Until the announcement that a panel would be set up to reassess the current position of the IRA, unionist politicians had refused to participate in the all-party talks which are aimed at securing a workable budget and implementing the Stormont House Agreement.
Ms Villiers said the three appointees collectively had an in-depth knowledge of security issues, legal expertise, an understanding of Northern Ireland politics and political structures. She said they also had credibility and standing from across the community.
“I am very grateful to each of the reviewers for agreeing to take on this important work,” Ms Villiers said.
“They are all highly respected individuals. I am confident that they will bring rigour, integrity and independence to this important task.”
But Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy said the panel was “unnecessary” and added: “Nothing and no one can be allowed a veto over the democratic process.”
TUV leader Jim Allister said: “There is widespread scepticism within the unionist community about this panel and there is therefore an onus upon the appointees to demonstrate that they are not mere placemen.
“The panel must show that they are totally independent and are prepared to face the reality of ongoing IRA criminality, regardless of its impact upon the terrorist-inclusive Executive.
“It is also worth asking what unionists who sustain Sinn Fein/IRA in government will do if this panel is brave enough to expose what republicans have been up to.
“Remember – in 2007 the DUP manifesto said that ‘terrorist structures and weaponry must be removed before the bar to the Stormont Executive can be opened’.
“We now know that the IRA still exists, that it is armed and that it reserves the right to kill.”