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Final IMC report ends but one chapter in peace story

Over the next number of days, the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) will finish writing its story on its role in the peace process.

This will not be one of its usual reports on paramilitary activity but a look back over the years of its work since its first report that dates back to April 2004.

The commission had several key functions - among them to report on the continuing activities of paramilitary groups and to report on security normalisation.

As it stepped onto the stage, we were told: "The objective of the commission is to carry out [its functions] with a view to promoting the transition to a peaceful society and stable and inclusive devolved government in Northern Ireland."

That first report gave an assessment of a beating and abduction of a man in Belfast - an incident the commission said had been "planned and undertaken by the Provisional IRA".

This is only one example of those many occasions when the IMC was asked to put a label on a particular incident: the IRA and the Northern Bank robbery, the UVF and the killing of Bobby Moffett. In these assessments, the commission relied on information provided by the police.

And in other reports, which suggested that decommissioning by the IRA did not add up to the destruction of all weapons, the IMC was reporting an intelligence assessment from the Security Service (MI5).

Republicans dismissed the commission as a kind of loudspeaker for the securocrats. That criticism was more or less laughed off by the commissioners - Lord Alderdice, Dick Kerr, John Grieve and Joe Brosnan.

There is even a suggestion that, after a particular criticism by Martin McGuinness, one of them had a T-shirt made quoting the McGuinness description of them as "three spooks and a Lord". Loyalists also objected when they were under the commission's spotlight. But there was more to the work of the IMC than just reporting on specific incidents and attributing them to the different republican and loyalist groups. At times, they also explained the reality of a transition out of conflict and towards peace.

Why it was not possible for organisations to simply dismantle and disappear, why they needed a leadership - in the IRA's case, an army council - to manage a change process. There was no magic wand that was going to make those groups disappear; process equals time.

This explanation of the complexities of a transition was also part of the commission's work. In the days ahead, when it presents its report - its valedictory - it will create something of a dilemma for the British and Irish governments.

Another of the peace commissions - the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) - has not yet left the stage, even though the IRA, INLA and the main loyalist groups have gone as far as they are going with decommissioning.

The last report by the IICD is meant to contain an inventory - the sums and numbers of decommissioning.

But that adding-up may not match the figures in the security and intelligence assessments of the different paramilitary arsenals and that will bring some questions.

So, as soon as the governments have that last report from the IMC, there will be an expectation that an IICD document should also be published. One is more difficult than the other - the one that will leave lingering doubts.

As the IMC prepares to take its bow, the devolved government is now much more stable.

The IRA has melted into the background, though there is work still to be done by the loyalist groups to prove their commitment to the peace and the dissident republican threat is assessed as 'severe'.