Pressure on Unionists to back down on IRA

The chief constable of Northern Ireland on Thursday said the latest security assessment of the IRA threat was “as good as we’re going to see”. The comments increased pressure on the Democratic Unionists to drop their demand for further proof that the military organisation was out of business.

His remarks follow publication on Wednesday of a special report by the Independent Monitoring Commission, an expert group set up by the UK and Irish governments to assess paramilitary ceasefires.

Sir Hugh Orde, chief constable for the Police Service of Northern Ireland, said the commission’s description of the IRA as “no longer operational or functional” was a “very fair and very accurate description of where that organisation currently is”.

“In the absence of someone standing up and saying it’s gone away this is as good as we’re going to see,” Sir Hugh said.

His comments will add to the pressure on the DUP to support the transfer of policing and justice powers to Northern Ireland – the issue that has dogged political progress since the re-establishment of power-sharing last year.

The four-party executive has not met since June. In an effort to end the impasse, Peter Robinson, DUP leader and first minister, held talks on Thursday with Martin McGuinness, Sinn Féin deputy first minister. Officials described the meeting as “useful” and said talks would continue “in the coming days and months.”

While both the Irish and British governments are being careful not to disagree with the judgment that the military threat from mainstream Republicans is now in effect over, there is concern that the personal tensions that have developed between the DUP and Sinn Féin leaderships during the summer is emboldening the dissidents to step up their activities.

“We are talking about experienced terrorists, who despite having little public support appear to have the methodology and the intent [to carry out attacks],” a Whitehall official said on Thursday.

According to security experts, the dissidents do not have the quantity of weaponry or the organisation of the IRA at the height of its campaign.

But recent attacks on police and other targets show they have obtained arms and bomb-making equipment, with further intelligence suggesting that the group is determined to disrupt the political process.

Over the past year relatively unreported shooting and bomb attacks have been thwarted by the police and the security service, MI5. No significant fatalities have occurred since the 1998 Omagh atrocity, when 29 people were killed by a Real IRA bomb.

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