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SF/IRA must 'surrender' all weapons, says former Irish justice minister Michael McDowell

By Jody Corcoran

Published 25/10/2015

Former Irish justice minister Michael McDowell. Pic: Sunday Independent.
Former Irish justice minister Michael McDowell. Pic: Sunday Independent.

Former Irish Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell has made a serious charge that if the Provisional IRA has access to arms then Sinn Fein/PIRA is in "clear breach" of a deal that led to the devolution of power to Northern Ireland.

Mr McDowell yesterday released to the Sunday Independent the original two-page report in which it was determined that the Provisional IRA had "put all its arms beyond use" in a manner called for by legislation.

The Independent International Commission on Decommissioning report, dated September 26, 2005, was first sent to Mr McDowell, the then Justice Minister, and Peter Hain, the then Northern Secretary.

The report said the Commission had "engaged" with "an IRA representative" in previous weeks and said it had "observed and verified" events to put beyond use "very large quantities of arms" which the IRA representative said were "all the arms in the IRA's possession."

But last week it emerged that the Provisional IRA "continues to have access to weapons".

Now Mr McDowell has accused the "Provisional movement" of "serious deception" of the British and Irish governments, and political parties in Northern Ireland if, as reported, it has access to arms.

In a statement that will strengthen the position of DUP leader Peter Robinson in crisis talks to address paramilitary activity in the North, Mr McDowell told the Sunday Independent: "It has to be rectified. The IRA has to be disarmed and surrender all of its weapons or consequences must flow."

Mr Robinson has returned to the role of First Minister - but has warned that paramilitary revelations must be addressed urgently to "save Stormont". He also wants the IRA Army Council to be disbanded.

An assessment carried out by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, published last week, concluded that Provisional IRA members believe the IRA Army Council oversees the PIRA and Sinn Fein with an "overarching strategy."

The assessment on the structure, role and purpose of paramilitary groups also states that the Provisional IRA took part in decommissioning between 2001 and 2005 but "continues to have access to some weapons".

Crucially, it judged that the IRA "has not conducted organised procurement of new weaponry in the period since the last International Monitoring Commission (IMC) report of 2011."

Last night, Mr McDowell, who recently revealed that as Justice Minister he resisted Sinn Fein pressure to allow the IRA retain arms, said the assessment seemed to confirm that the IRA did not fully decommission in 2005 as stated.

He is now adamant that the IRA must decommission all weapons or be in breach of the St Andrews Agreement between the British and Irish governments and the political parties in Northern Ireland.

That October 2006 Agreement led to the restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the formation of a new Executive and a decision by Sinn Fein to support the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), courts and rule of law.

In December 2004, disagreement between political parties over the transparency of the decommissioning process had derailed progress after three earlier acts of decommissioning by the Provisional IRA.

Also that month, the IRA carried out the Northern Bank robbery in Belfast. In February 2005, Mr McDowell accused Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and Kerry TD Martin Ferris of being members of the IRA's Army Council, a claim denied by the men.

In the Sunday Independent today, the current Justice Minister, Frances Fitzgerald, says "the incontrovertible truth" is that if what the IRA were fighting was a war "their leadership would be standing in the dock for war crimes".

In the Dail last week, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin also highlighted the case of the Northern Bank robbery which, he said, had involved Sinn Fein members.

He asked if people were absolutely certain that funding from organised crime by alleged individual republicans "is not finding its way into the political project".

In a recent newspaper article, Mr McDowell revealed how he had come under pressure to allow the Provisional IRA keep some weapons.

He said would-be participants to the St Andrews talks were required to demonstrate they were totally committed to the pursuit of political objectives by exclusively peaceful and democratic means, and that they were committed to uphold the system of law and order and, in particular, the courts, the criminal law and the PSNI.

Mr McDowell wrote in the Irish Times: "For the Provisional movement, this meant that Sinn Fein would have to conduct itself as a conventional political party. Up to then, it had been subject to the will and control of the Army Council and played a subordinate, uncritical role to the IRA, which all members of the movement regarded as the legitimate political authority on this island.

"Obviously, a party which aspired to inclusion in an all-party Executive could not be linked to a paramilitary group with a vast illegal arsenal. That is why the decommissioning process was required. The Provisional movement resisted the concept of total, verifiable decommissioning (Remember: "Not a bullet, not an ounce"). Painfully protracted negotiations took place regarding the method and witnessing of putting the Provos' weapons beyond use.

"As Minister for Justice, I had to take a hard stance against any back-sliding on the issue of decommissioning. I warned against the tolerance of even a lightly armed defensive group of Provo members, which I dubbed a proposal for a political 'Praetorian guard'. It was absolutely non-negotiable as far as I was concerned that the only weapons on this island would be legally held weapons and that the only armed security services would be the gardai and PSNI.

"When General John De Chastelaine reported that he had witnessed the decommissioning of the Provo arsenal, his report recited the statement by the IRA representative that this decommissioning included all the weapons and explosives in the possession of the IRA.

"While that statement could not be totally verified, it amounted to a statement and undertaking by the IRA that it had totally decommissioned and no longer possessed any arms or explosives. Absolute proof that nothing was held back was illusory. But any subsequent proof that total decommissioning had not taken place was a political sword of Damocles hanging over the head of the Provisional movement."

Mr McDowell's version of events has been confirmed by Mitchell Reiss, the peace process ambassador of then US President George Bush.

He has said that Gerry Adams demanded that some weapons not be destroyed so that the IRA could arm itself against possible attacks from dissidents. Unless this was allowed, he threatened, decommissioning would not proceed: "The Blair government conceded, but wanted to check with Dublin. Irish Minister for Justice Michael McDowell refused to acquiesce in the backsliding, despite enormous pressure. Tony Blair's chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, told Adams of the problem, and Adams gave way. Decommissioning took place as planned," Mr Reiss said in a book review.

Source: Sunday Independent

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