Sunday, 7 September 2008

Focus on the IRA ‘Army Council’ avoids the crucial questions

This week the International Monitoring Commission reported. It had been asked by the governments of the UK and the Republic of Ireland to report on the status of the IRA’s ruling body – the ‘Army Council’. The report gave such a beneficent version of the situation it seems likely that the former ‘godfathers of terrorism’ are so busily employed in ‘good works’ that they really haven’t had time to do anything much at all.

This was predictable enough. Equally predictable was the appearance by key figures, such as NI Secretary of State Shaun Woodward, engaging in another round of superlatives about just what a crucial thing this was. Even Gordon Brown was wheeled out to attempt to increase the political pressure and to give momentum to the idea that policing and justice should be devolved as soon as possible. Their efforts have met limited success to date. Attempting to make a political event out of the non event of the Army Council, defeated the Northern Ireland Office hyperbole section. The Peace Process has worn them out.

First Minister Peter Robinson leapt forward and somewhat inexplicably focused on the continued existence – however inoperative – of the Army Council, as a reason to still hold back on the devolution of policing and justice. Bizarrely, the DUP maintain that the word of the IMC was not enough. They need reassurance from the leadership of the Republican movement.
A cynic might suggest such an approach has more to do with political choreography than genuine opposition. There is a case to be made that as the Executive cannot successfully operate the powers it already has, devolving such a controversial area is premature. There is also an agreement that the public – despite apparent NIO opinion polling – is wary of giving these powers to local politicians. The DUP have not made these arguments but merely argued about the existence of the Army Council.

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