» Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Northern Ireland

Asked about the proposition to fine Sinn Fein if IRA activity did not cease, the PMOS said that Paul Murphy had said that he would withdraw allowances from Sinn Fein and would consider the position regarding salaries, particular in the light of a further IMC report due in the autumn. The IMC report which had been published today was a painfully honest account of the current situation. It underlined the fall in violence and the dramatic drop in the number of murders since the Good Friday Agreement. Unfortunately, it also underlined the continuing level of paramilitary activity on both sides of the community divide that was creating new numbers of victims, in particular through punishment beatings, as well as the incident relating to Bobby Tohill. Asked what would happen next, the PMOS said that rather than focussing on sanctions, people should recognise where responsibility lay and understand that the political process would only be able to move forward if paramilitary activity was brought to an end. That analysis should sound familiar because the Prime Minister had first spoken about it in a speech in Belfast in 2002. Asked why paramilitary groups should start taking any notice of it now when they clearly hadn’t for the last eighteen months or so, the PMOS said he would disagree with the suggestion that it hadn’t had any effect. Given the reaction to the attempted abduction of Bobby Tohill, it was clear that the consistency of the view about paramilitary activity had grown over that period and that there was a much clearer demand on the paramilitaries to bring their activities to an end. Everyone in Northern Ireland recognised the dangers if they did not. Just because it might take time for a message to get through did not mean that it was not valid.

Asked about the IMC’s suggestion that senior members of the Assembly were directing some of the paramilitary activity we were seeing, the PMOS said that the IMC had stated that senior members of Sinn Fein were represented at senior levels of the IRA and that members of the PUP had influence in the UVF. That situation had not been stated with such clarity in the past.

Briefing took place at 15:45 | Search for related news

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