Friday, 8 August 2008

IRA Army Council no longer exists?

One would have thought that P O’Neill could have issued one more statement before exiting the stage. Perhaps the British and Irish governments feared that if the famous pseudonym for the IRA Army Council sent one last fax (or does he use email these days?), it could be construed as an ‘operational capability’ by some in the unionist community? But how does one substantiate that a secret, illegal organisation has ceased to be?

Hence the announcement that the British and Irish governments have asked the International Monitoring Commission to produce a special report clarifying the status and role of the IRA's army council.

One assumes the IMC will report back that, having looked high and low, they can find no trace of any secret, illegal organisation operating under the name ‘IRA Army Council’. After all, if the IMC were to say the Army Council still exists, but only meets for afternoon tea every second Thursday in the month, then some in the unionist community would say that that was enough to delay the devolution of policing and justice indefinitely.

For many unionist politicians it seems that the apparent absence of any paramilitary activity for many years and the decommissioning of its weapons is insufficient. For an organisation whose actions with the bomb and bullet very definitely spoke louder than words, the opposite situation was never going to be enough for many.

Some, such as DUP MP, Jeffrey Donaldson suggest that the disbandment of the Army Council is only one of a number of issues that need to be settled before policing and justice is devolved. The truth is that many, if not most unionist politicians, are still wary about the idea. Even the agreement between the DUP and Sinn Féin that neither party will nominate anyone for the position of Minister for Justice, has not removed concerns entirely.

Ulster Unionist Leader Sir Reg Empey has pointed out that the Executive’s failure to properly use the powers in current process is hardly a ringing endorsement or a strong argument in favour of devolving more, possibly controversial, powers.

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