Belfast Telegraph

Brian Rowan: The Army Council and the way ahead

'Paul Quinn killing has poisoned the atmosphere'

Is it the next impossible demand - asked for only to be forgotten like the decommissioning photographs and the Northern Bank money?

How realistic is the prospect that the IRA Army Council will dissolve?

Is this the issue on which the DUP will dig its heels in? And is this really the barrier to the devolution of policing and justice powers?

If it is, what are the implications?

Up to this point the Independent Monitoring Commission has been prepared to offer an explanation for the continuing existence of the Army Council.

It is all part of that transition from war to peace - a leadership no longer directing a military campaign but acting in a kind of change management role.

That was the thinking of the IMC in the spring of this year as Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness were getting ready to enter a new Executive.

The Commission's next assessment will be in April - weeks before the Government's May target for the transfer of those policing and justice powers.

That date is important to republicans - all part of the internal debate and sell this time a year ago when the IRA and Sinn Fein began to open up a path into policing.

But will republicans be prepared to trade the Army Council to see another goal achieved?

Is that possible? Is it something that is do-able inside the frame of the IRA's constitution?

I don't know the answer to that question. I am not sure if it is possible.

But the Paul Quinn killing has poisoned the atmosphere; it's brought this question of the Army Council out into the open once more.

There is no suggestion that that leadership authorised the murder - no suggestion of a meeting beforehand.

But there is a belief that members or former members of the IRA were involved - and that there is local knowledge and information.

All of this creates a problem for Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness - and all of this adds weight to the unionist and security argument that the Army Council should disband.

But I am still not sure that is possible.

There is nothing surprising in that recent comment of the Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde stating that the Army Council "needs to go".

His position on the UVF Brigade Command and UDA Inner Council is exactly the same.

But when the arguments move into the political arena, then they become more complicated and difficult.

Think about all of those unionist demands setting deadlines and suggesting how the decommissioning process should be witnessed and photographed.

Remember how all of that was resisted.

Paisley did not get his witness or his pictures.

The IRA, directed and ordered by the Army Council, decided the how and when of decommissioning, and will decide the future of its leadership and its role.

I have never quite been able to work out this fascination about the devolution of policing and justice powers - other than putting it under local control.

Will any of that change the "operational responsibility" of the Chief Constable?

The answer is no.

The place where he and the police service will continue to be held to account will be at the Policing Board - where Sinn Fein is now represented, although there is the likelihood of some further scrutiny by a Stormont committee.

And the question of National Security is now the secret business of MI5 in its new headquarters at Palace Barracks in Holywood.

That is not going to change in the short term.

As for the Army Council and the devolution of policing and justice - those things are not going to be settled in the politics of demand.

They are more likely to be resolved in that developing and remarkable relationship that we are watching and beginning to believe on Stormont's hill.

Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness will answer the questions in their own way and in their own time.

It is they who hold the keys to all of this.

Belfast Telegraph


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