The IMC Report: Truth or Political Manipulation?

18 June 2004


The Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) was set up by the British and Irish Governments in April 2003 to monitor both paramilitary activity and progress towards security normalisation. There were strong reactions to its first report on 20 April and Sinn Fein went to court because they were fined, as also were the PUP.

It’s worth looking at what the Report said. Then we’ll summarise some of the reactions.

Part One: What the Independent Monitoring Commission said

1. What the Report said about paramilitary groups being centralised

  • The UVF, Red Hand Commando (RHC) and IRA have centralised command structures. Other loyalist and republican groups have units with a fair degree of independence.

2. What the report said about paramilitaries and violence

  • In the period 1999-2002 Loyalists killed 40 people, Republicans 15.

  • Between 1 January 2003 and 29 February 2004 the Commission believe 12 people were murdered by paramilitaries, 8 by Loyalists (5 by the UDA), 2 by Republicans, 2 others by unknown groups.

  • In the same period Loyalists shot 123 and assaulted 116 people, Republicans shot 66 and assaulted 56.

  • Loyalists are `now responsible for markedly higher levels of violence than Republicans: about three quarters of the murders, nearly twice as many shootings and over twice as many assaults since 1 January 2003’.

  • The IRA `are highly active in paramilitary shootings short of murder’. They are `not presently involved in attacks on the security forces’. The Commission believe the IRA can turn attacks on and off and that they turned them off during the Assembly elections. They also believe it was they who attacked Robert Tohill in Belfast on 20 February 2004.

  • The Real and Continuity IRA have separately attacked military targats, a Unionist’s constituency office and members of District Policing Partnerships.

3. What the report said about paramilitaries and organised crime

  • All loyalist groups are heavily involved in organised crime, including drugs in the case of the UDA, RHC and LVF.

  • The UDA has targeted Catholics and retired prison officers. The Commission believe that race attacks by UVF members in 2004 were not approved by the leadership.

  • The IRA `is a well-funded organisation deriving a substantial income from smuggling and other criminal activities’, in particular cigarette smuggling.

  • The INLA is `heavily involved in criminality, especially drugs and finances itself by extorting money from both legitimate and illegitimate sources’.

  • In 2001-2002 Customs seized 88.5 million cigarettes in Northern Ireland, the Exchequer lost up to £90,000 a week (£4.7m a year) on fuel duty, and counterfeit goods of up to £7 million were seized in 2002. These sums are only a small proportion of the totals gained from crime. `If paramilitary groups netted only a tiny percentage, their proceeds would be very significant’.

4. Some of the main conclusions of the report

  • The Commission believe that some individuals are senior members of both Sinn Fein and the IRA.`Sinn Fein, particularly through its senior members, is in a position to exercise considerable influence on PIRA’s major policy decisions’, even if it cannot determine what policies the IRA will adopt. However, `we believe that decisions of the republican movement as a whole lie more with the leadership of PIRA than with Sinn Fein’.

  • They believe that the PUP has not exerted `all possible influence’ to prevent illegal activity by the UVF and RHC.

  • All illegal paramilitary activity, including crime, needs to be challenged.

  • Had the Assembly not been suspended the Commission might have recommended excluding Sinn Fein and the PUP from office. They say that the Secretary of State should fine both parties.

  • Groups should vet members to ensure none are linked to paramilitary groups. If they suspect any then `the onus should be on the person concerned to show there is no basis for that suspicion, not on the organisation to act only if it is proved’.

Part Two: Responses from different groups

(i) People opposed to the Report

  • `The IMC want all community groups vetted. Are we going back to the old Hurd days when groups’ funds were cut because they were politically incorrect?

  • `Many paramilitaries hold back street violence, reduce interface tension, and block drug dealers. The Report lumps these together with those still involved in crime’.

  • `We worked to keep the peace last summer. The IMC can do it themselves this summer and then we’ll see how well they get on’.

  • `Why don’t the PSNI arrest drug dealers? The dogs in the street know them. Is it because they’re informers?’

  • `We’re in a transition. Conflict transformation experts know this will last as long as the conflict itself. The IMC ignore this’.

  • `The Commission threatened to name paramilitaries. This would put lives in danger. How is that justified?’

  • `The IMC say that SF and the PUP cannot decide what paramilitaries do. Yet they say these should be punished for what paramilitaries do. This is crazy’.

(ii) People in favour of the Report

  • `Northern Ireland is going to end up like Italy with the mafia. Paramilitaries have got away with murder. It’s about time someone called a spade a spade’.

  • `The two Governments have bent over backwards to paramilitaries in the so-called peace process. It’s time to end the concessions’.

  • `Just how much time do paramilitaries need before they go out of business?’ `Loyalists claim they are defending their own people. But most of the time they are either attacking their own people or engaged in crime’.

  • `Many Republicans deny the IRA are involved in crime. Who then is carrying out crime in republican-dominated areas?’

  • `How can we possibly have people associated with crime in government?’


  • What legitimate role can paramilitaries have if they are not involved in crime?.

  • How will fining SF and the PUP make paramilitary groups change their tactics?

  • The IMC say the onus should be on suspected paramilitaries to prove their innocence. How does this respect human rights?

  • What difference is there between political parties linked to the criminal activity of paramilitaries and corruption in ordinary politics?

  • The IMC report suggests there is a vast amount of money involved in paramilitary crime. Where does it all go?

  • Why not put £20m extra into the Assets Recovery Agency rather than issuing aspirational reports?

  • Why not give up the distinction between paramilitary and other crime?

What do you think?