De Chastelain's task enters the last round
The long-delayed final report into decommissioning could create a headache for the Executive in the run-up to May's Assembly elections. Brian Rowan reports
The chance meeting was a reminder that the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) is still here - and that there is still one more piece of work to be completed.
It was in the run-up to Christmas that I bumped into one of the commission's staff; someone who has been in Northern Ireland for the beginning, middle and end of a very long decommissioning process.
But that end still requires a full stop, one last report to the British and Irish governments and the inventory that details the completion of the work.
There is no date for the report and no description of the type of detail that can be expected; how much of it will remain private, or secret, and how much will be revealed.
General John de Chastelain, Brigadier Tauno Nieminen and Andrew Sens will have had the sums done long ago; the adding up of the rifles, the counting of the bullets, the weighing of the explosives.
And the three commissioners will know how all of that compares with the security and intelligence estimates of the various arsenals - both republican and loyalist.
But can we really expect that type of fine detail and those very specific numbers to emerge in some public report?
"If it ended up that way, the people who did business with them [the IICD] would be disappointed - to say the least," a senior loyalist involved in the process told the Belfast Telegraph.
"I still consider them [the commissioners] as people of integrity - truly credible people. There will be no fine detail."
Others think the report could contain the numbers of weapons decommissioned, but not specific to any one organisation.
The INLA was one of the last of the armed groups to disarm, waiting until the last days of the decommissioning process in February 2010 before confirming what had happened. In the INLA's case, it was made possible by facilitators.
"We did talk with the facilitators about the final [IICD] report," said Willie Gallagher, of the Republican Socialist Movement.
"They weren't sure if they [the Commission] were going to itemise the weaponry.
"If they do itemise the amount of weaponry/explosives, they would do it in an overall sense - not by organisation. That's our understanding."
The Belfast Telegraph can reveal more detail of what exactly the splinter republican faction gave up.
"The INLA gathered all the weaponry and explosives under their control over a period of months and put it into one dump on the Tyrone/Donegal border," a senior source said. That dump was on the northern side of the border.
"Then the INLA handed the weaponry over to facilitators who put them into a number of vehicles and they transported them to a pick-up spot. A number of armed INLA volunteers escorted the facilitators to that spot and observed the handover.
"Once that weaponry was handed over [to the IICD], the armed INLA volunteers gave their weapons to the facilitators." The Belfast Telegraph understands that rifles, handguns, grenades, ammunition, detonators, a small quantity of Semtex, incendiary devices and 'factory-made' landmines were then destroyed or decommissioned.
Up to this point, the de Chastelain team has not put numbers and weights to the various acts of decommissioning. The process was only ever going to work if it happened secretly, quietly and without that type of detail.
Decommissioning could never be presented as some of type of surrender and, as far as the IRA was concerned, was not going to happen on a timescale and in a way demanded by the British Government and different unionist leaders. That is why the DUP was never given the photographic proof that was demanded.
The IRA needed to call on the reputation of veteran Belfast republican Brian Keenan to make this process happen; to move the organisation from the position of 'not a bullet, not an ounce' to the very significant acts of decommissioning that happened in 2005. Keenan has since died.
The British Government, in particular, will know the type of political scrutiny that will occur when the last de Chastelain report is eventually published.
Those who know the figures - that fine detail of the firepower that was available to the different organisations - will also know what is missing from the numbers and from the inventory. And that is the concern: that the last report will show, not just the success of the decommissioning process, but its limitations; what it could not achieve. This was highlighted just months ago when the UVF murdered loyalist Bobby Moffett on the Shankill Road.
No organisation will have given up every weapon. After a conflict stretching across decades, that would be far too much to expect. And, so, there is no point in further delaying the final report of the IICD. The IRA's war is over - so, too, the wars of the UVF, UDA, Red Hand Commando and INLA.
Many weapons have been destroyed - but some haven't. And that is the true story of decommissioning.