- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 2006

DUBLIN — The Irish Republican Army is no longer engaged in terrorist activity and has shut down key units for weapons making, arms smuggling and training, a panel of specialists reported yesterday in findings designed to spur a revival of Catholic-Protestant cooperation in Northern Ireland.

The British and Irish governments warmly welcomed the 60-page assessment of the Independent Monitoring Commission, which also concluded the IRA has begun reducing its membership.

The four-man panel, including former directors of the CIA and the anti-terrorist unit of Scotland Yard, reported the IRA had recently shut down three command units and “run down its terrorist capability.”

Last year, the group declared a formal end to its campaign to end British control of Northern Ireland by force and handed its weapons stockpiles to disarmament chiefs.

In a surprise development, the specialists said the IRA “has disbanded ‘military’ structures,” including its headquarters units that direct weapons smuggling, bomb making, training and recruitment. They said IRA commanders also had begun cutting their rank-and-file membership and had stopped making payments to them.

“We do not believe that PIRA is now engaged in terrorism,” it added, using the group’s full formal name, the Provisional IRA.

The commission said the leadership of the IRA does not consider a return to terrorism as in any way a viable option.

“These positive and clear-cut findings are of the utmost importance and significance. They are evidence that the security landscape in Northern Ireland has been radically altered,” Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair lauded the IRA moves as likely to spur a new power-sharing agreement between leaders of Northern Ireland’s Protestant majority and Sinn Fein, the IRA-linked party that represents most Catholics.

He said negotiations in Scotland Oct. 11-13 involving all Northern Ireland factions would determine whether a Catholic-Protestant administration — the central aim of Northern Ireland’s Good Friday accord of 1998 — could be revived.

“The IRA’s campaign is over. … The door is now open to a final settlement,” Mr. Blair told reporters at his Downing Street office in London.

And in Belfast, Secretary Peter Hain called on Protestant leaders “to recognize that the paramilitary situation, in particular the situation of the IRA, has changed absolutely fundamentally and radically.”

“Is there now a security threat from the IRA? The answer’s no,” Mr. Hain said.

Both governments have given Protestants and Sinn Fein a Nov. 24 deadline to revive power sharing in line with the complex Good Friday pact. Otherwise, Britain says it will dissolve Northern Ireland’s legislature and instead intensify cooperation with the Republic of Ireland.

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