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British watchdog: IRA no longer a terror threat

The Irish Republican Army, which fought a 30-year guerrilla war against British rule in Northern Ireland, is no longer a terrorist threat, the province’s cease-fire watchdog said Wednesday.
/ Source: Reuters

The Irish Republican Army, which fought a 30-year guerrilla war against British rule in Northern Ireland, is no longer a terrorist threat, the province’s cease-fire watchdog said on Wednesday.

But there is still a significant threat of public disorder, mainly from pro-British paramilitaries, the Independent Monitoring Commission said in a report on efforts to return the province to normality after the IRA formally pledged to end its armed campaign.

The IMC said it believed the IRA had taken a strategic decision to follow a political path: “It does not in our view present a terrorist threat and we do not believe it is a threat to members of the security forces”.

In its last report in February, the IMC said the outlawed organization was keeping to the disarmament pledge made in July last year but was still involved in spying and crime.

On Wednesday, the IMC said dissident Irish republicans, who like the IRA want to unite British-ruled Northern Ireland with the Republic to the south, were heavily involved in organized and other crime as were pro-British ’Loyalist’ paramilitaries.

“In the context of rioting ... the threat to the security forces could erupt suddenly and has done so; it has mostly come from loyalists,” the IMC said.

“There remains a risk of significant and unpredictable public disorder; such disorder could lead to sudden and extreme violence.”

Despite that warning, the IMC report was welcomed by Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, who met his British counterpart Tony Blair in London to discuss Northern Ireland.

'Clear decision'
“The IMC report certainly was positive today,” Ahern said.

“The IRA have made a clear decision. They have stopped violence and they’re moving to peaceful means. That’s a reality and we want to build on that reality.”

The 30-year conflict came to an end with the U.S.-brokered Good Friday Agreement in 1998 but deep-seated mistrust between communities still often bubbles over into violence and is hampering efforts to achieve a lasting political settlement.

Dublin and London had hoped that the watchdog’s findings last month would help build trust between opposing parties and kick-start talks on reviving a mothballed provincial government in which pro-Irish and pro-British opponents shared power.

But efforts to get the parties to agree a solution on reviving the Belfast-based assembly have so far come to nothing.

Ahern said he was still hopeful.

“We’ve listened to the parties now for six weeks and we have a good sense of where they’re all at,” he told reporters. “We’re still determined that during the course of this year we have to try to get the institutions up and running.”