Ed Moloney takes a fresh look at what the International Monitoring Commission has been reporting over the years of its existence. Ed Moloney blogs @ The Broken Elbow.
Flaws In IRA Decommissioning – Irish Govt To Washington: ‘Fr. Reid told Paisley Weapons “Rusty & Dust-Covered and none from 1990’s”‘; U.S. Believed IRA Kept ‘Not Just Small Arms’; IMC & De Chastelain Never Accounted For Un-decommissioned Arms.
At the same time the Bush administration in Washington believed the IRA had kept ‘not just small arms’ out of the reach of the international decommissioning body, suggesting that the IRA had held back heavier weapons than handguns.
Meanwhile a close reading of all the reports, post September 2005, issued by the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) and the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) shows that while both bodies acknowledged that the IRA had retained weaponry neither body ever reported that the withheld weaponry was recovered or destroyed, or explained what happened to it.
The IMC said that the material that had not been surrendered by the IRA went:
beyond what might possibly have been expected to miss decommissioning such as a limited number of handguns kept for personal protection or some items the whereabouts of which were no longer known.
This appears to be a strong hint that high-powered weapons, such as automatic rifles were held back, a judgement that accords with the U.S. view of the quality of un-decommissioned weaponry at the time. It is believed that one of the weapons used to kill Mr McGuigan was a semi automatic rifle.
The IMC’s estimation of the withheld weaponry was initially significantly at variance with the IICD’s, which consistently downplayed its importance and scale. While the IMC implied that heavy weapons had been retained the IICD suggested only handguns had been involved; the US government reportedly sided, significantly, with the IMC’s initial assessment, on whose panel a former senior CIA official sat.
Both the IMC and the IICD ultimately agreed that the retained weaponry was kept back without the consent or knowledge of the IRA leadership – although it took some time for the IMC to chime with the IICD – but both bodies failed to provide evidence to support this assertion in their various reports.
Given that it is now known, courtesy of former U.S. special envoy, Mitchell Reiss’s review of Jonathan Powell’s book, ‘Great Hatred, Little Room’, that Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams asked that the IRA be allowed to keep guns to counter any dissident threat – a request that was accepted by the Blair government but rejected by Dublin – this account begs the obvious questions: notwithstanding the formal rejection of Adams’ request, does the admission that some weapons were retained by the IRA mean this happened with the implicit approval and/or knowledge of the British, Irish and US governments and their security arms, as well as the DUP, and were some of these guns used to kill Kevin McGuigan?
The account, published in ‘Peace Without Consensus’ by American academic, Mary-Alice Clancy in 2010 has been overlooked during the furore that has followed the killing of Kevin McGuigan outside his Short Strand home in East Belfast last month. Dr. Clancy was an academic at Exeter University at the time.
Her book contains fascinating, controversial and intriguing material about the inter-party negotiations conducted against the backdrop of a controversial decommissioning process undertaken by the IRA.
Not least of the unanswered questions that leap out of her book is the source of her material. In the book she cites only ‘Private information or correspondence’ but it is clear she had access to a wide range of documents and actors in this drama.
When asked by thebrokenelbow who her sources were, she declined to answer.
By far the most contentious claim in her book concerns the DUP’s awareness that IRA decommissioning was flawed and that, implicitly, public assurances from at least one of the two clerical witnesses about the completeness of IRA disarming was, at the least, misleading.
Fr Alex Reid, a Redemptorist monk based in the order’s Clonard and Antrim Rd monasteries, and a major player in the development of the Sinn Fein peace strategy since the early 1980’s, was chosen, along with the Rev Harold Good, a former president of the Methodist church, to be witnesses to final IRA decommissioning.
An alternative proposal from Gerry Adams that a simple declaration from the decommissioning supremo, General de Chastelain, that the IRA had completed disarming was vetoed by the DUP leader, the Rev Ian Paisley who instead supported the idea of having clerical witnesses, one Catholic, the other Protestant, validate the process.
This they did and in a statement issued on September 26th, 2005 they attested to the accuracy of the claim from de Chastelain that full IRA decommissioning had occurred, adding:
The experience of seeing this with our own eyes, on a minute-to-minute basis, provided us with evidence so clear and of its nature so incontrovertible that, at the end of the process, it demonstrated to us, and would have demonstrated to anyone who might have been with us, that beyond any shadow of doubt, the arms of the IRA have now been decommissioned.
However, according to Mary-Alice Clancy’s account, a very different version was given to Ian Paisley and his DUP colleagues, particularly by Fr Reid, whose account, because of his perceived closeness to Sinn Fein, carries added weight. Paisley then gave his version of that meeting to Irish officials who in turn passed it on to Washington. Mary -Alice Clancy wrote:
…..there was also recognition that the IRA’s final act of decommissioning, whilst important, was imperfect. US sources contend that the IRA retained ‘not just small arms’; in its eighth report, IMC members alluded to this, stating that the ‘material goes beyond what might possibly have been expected to miss decommissioning’ (IMC 2006:20).Dr Clancy argues in her account that because of the pessimism engendered in the DUP by Fr Reid’s description of the decommissioning process, the DUP hardened its demand that Sinn Fein formally accept and recognise the PSNI before agreeing to enter the power-sharing government, a demand that the Blair government had been prepared to forego.
Ian Paisley Snr also appeared to be aware of this, as in a US copy of Irish officials’ meeting with the DUP, Paisley stated that when he asked Fr Alec Reid – one of the individuals who witnessed IRA disarmament – whether or not he had seen any weapons that appeared to be from the 1990’s, Reid said no, and that the weapons he saw were ‘rusty and dust-covered’. According to Paisley, Reid continued with his negative assessment until the other witness, Rev. Harold Good, intervened.
(Source is given as: ‘Private information provided to the author. p. 157)
Dr Clancy does not explain why Ian Paisley was so exercised about IRA weapons from the 1990’s, especially since the Libyan arms shipments of the mid-1980’s would be regarded as larger and deadlier. Most of those shipments, supplied courtesy of the Gaddafi regime, were unloaded near Arklow and then hidden in dumps around Ireland.
Once Gaddafi mended his fences with the West, in the late 1990’s, he handed over a full manifest of weaponry supplied to the IRA, so the British could have checked whether all this had been decommissioned. Consequently, it would have been difficult for the IRA to hold any of the Libyan material back.
However it is now known that in the 1990’s the IRA shipped in weaponry from the U.S., allegedly with the help of a Florida-based gun-runner, Mike Logan, who reportedly is now ready to testify in court against his alleged IRA contact, former Northern Commander, Sean ‘Spike’ Murray. It is possible, but not known for sure, that Ian Paisley had these shipments in mind when he questioned Fr. Reid.
There had been media reports about the Florida consignments in the late 1990’s and 2000, some years before IRA final decommissioning, so it is likely the DUP was aware of them.
The Belfast Telegraph this week reported:
Logan claims he sent Murray hundreds of weapons during his five-year gunrunning career which began after the IRA ceasefire and continued following the Good Friday Agreement.
Add on to all this the IICD and IMC’s admission that some IRA weapons were not decommissioned in 2005 – nor, it seems, at any stage – and an awkward issue raises its head, namely that the major players in the process may have been aware that the IRA had unofficially retained weapons to counter dissidents, that they had accepted this as a disagreeable necessity but could not officially or publicly acknowledge it.
If so, then the display of political anger in Belfast & Dublin following the McGuigan murder and the IRA’s involvement in it, may be contrived, to put it mildly.
Here is a chronology of key events in this episode:
1. Gerry Adams asks the Blair government if weapons can be held back from decommissioning for use against any dissident threat. This is Mitchell Reiss’ recollection of that event:
In July 2005, the IRA had finally agreed to decommission all its weapons. At the last minute, [Gerry] Adams called No 10 to demand that some of the weapons not be destroyed so that the IRA could arm itself against possible attacks from dissident members. Unless this was allowed, he threatened, decommissioning would not proceed. The Blair government conceded, but wanted to check with Dublin. Irish Minister for Justice Michael McDowell refused to acquiesce in the backsliding, despite enormous pressure. Powell told Adams of the problem, and Adams gave way. Decommissioning took place as planned.
2. September 2005. The IRA completes the decommissioning of its arsenals and statements from the IICD and the two clerical witness, Alex Reid and Harold Good claim that the process was complete. The IICD said it believed that the weapons destroyed were consistent with estimates of IRA weaponry given by security forces on both sides of the Border and represent “the totality” of IRA weapons.
3. January 26th, 2006. The IICD admits in a statement that not all the IRA’s weapons were destroyed but claimed they were small in number, included handguns, were retained for personal protection and area defence and that retention was not authorised by the IRA leadership. The IICD appeared to accept IRA assurances that not all weaponry was under the leadership’s control and might have gone astray when those keeping weapons had died or memories faded.
3. February 1st, 2006. Eighth report of the Independent Monitoring Commission
Three days later the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) published its eighth report which inter alia repeated the IICD’s claim that IRA weapons had been retained but there was a significant difference in tone. While the IICD had minimised the retention, the IMC went in the other direction, saying that “….the material goes beyond what might have been expected to have missed decommissioning, such as a limited number of handguns kept for person protection or some items the whereabouts of which were no longer known.” The IMC noted that this retention raised questions about the IRA leadership’s knowledge of this. Reading between the lines the IMC appeared to be echoing that anonymous U.S. source quoted by Mary-Alice Clancy that the IRA had kept back ‘not just small arms’.
The IMC was by now fully backing the official line on the retained weapons, that it was nothing to do with the IRA leadership and might even have been carried out by a dissident group:
By this stage the un-decommisioned weapons didn’t even rate a mention in the IMC report. Instead the IMC said it was so confident of the veracity of the Provisionals journey into peaceful politics that it would limit from now on what it had to say about the IRA:
By this point the IMC was ready to declare that the Provisionals had ‘all but’ completed the transformation into a wholly peaceful and politically-oriented organisation. Most of its war-oriented structures had been dismantled.
In no report, either by the IMC or the IICD, is there any indication of what happened to the un-surrendered IRA weapons and in particular whether this material was ever destroyed.
10. August 27th, 2015. Former Irish Justice Minister, Michael McDowell told The Irish Times that the Irish and British government had allowed the IRA to continue to exist in order to counter any threat from dissident republicans opposed to the Good Friday Agreement. The IRA was to be ‘an unarmed husk‘, he said. Mr McDowell did not explain how an unarmed IRA could counter armed dissidents.