DUBLIN, Ireland – The Irish Republican Army has halted violence but is still gathering intelligence on enemies and remains deeply involved in organized crime, according to a report published Wednesday by Britain and Ireland.
The Independent Monitoring Commission's 46-page report raised doubts about when the outlawed IRA will disband in support of Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord and its central goal: power-sharing between the province's British Protestant majority and Irish Catholic minority.
And in a surprise development, both governments also published a two-page report from retired Canadian Gen. John de Chastelain, who leads a separate disarmament commission that destroyed IRA weapons dumps in September. De Chastelain and his deputies said they stood by their original judgment that the IRA had fully disarmed.
Experts on the Independent Monitoring Commission, including a former CIA director, said the IRA remained committed to infiltrating and stealing documents from British intelligence agencies, government departments and political parties.
"This is an activity which we believe is authorized by the leadership and which involves some very senior members," said the report.
The commissioners said such activity undermines the long-standing public commitment of Sinn Fein leaders to "exclusively peaceful and democratic means."
They reported that some IRA units were "closing down criminal operations and clearing stocks of contraband goods," but in other areas "continue to be heavily involved in serious organized crime, including counterfeiting and the smuggling of fuel and tobacco."
The IRA's seven-man command quickly issued its own statement saying its rank-and-file members were fully observing the group's six-month-old peace declaration. That declaration called a formal end to the group's decades-old "armed struggle" to abolish Northern Ireland as British territory.
"Recent allegations that the IRA is in breach of its public commitments are false," the group said. "Any allegations to the contrary are politically motivated."
In a separate report on IRA disarmament, de Chastelain and his deputies, U.S. diplomat Andrew Sens and Finnish Brig. Tauno Nieminen, said they could not confirm claims by British anti-terrorist officials that the IRA had retained firearms "for personal protection and area defense."
The disarmament officials said an IRA representative denied this in two meetings, while senior members of the Republic of Ireland's police said they had "no intelligence suggesting that any arms have been retained."
Britain and Ireland welcomed both of the commissions' findings as positive and said the way should be clear for productive power-sharing negotiations starting Monday in Belfast.
The report on IRA activity "does not paint a picture of perfection, and frankly I did not expect it to," said Britain's secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Peter Hain. "It will take more than six months to see a closing down of the activities of such a complex organization."
But Protestant leaders have said they will not cooperate with Sinn Fein, the IRA-linked party backed by most Catholics in Northern Ireland, because of the IRA's criminal empire and Sinn Fein's hostility to the police.
The major Protestant party, the Democratic Unionists, for years has refused face-to-face negotiations with Sinn Fein officials, using intermediaries instead.
Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern said the IRA and Sinn Fein needed to take further steps to build Protestant confidence in power-sharing, particularly by renouncing involvement in crime.
"There is a huge sea change, but at the same time we do not underestimate the report of continued criminality. It's one of the challenges that face the leaders" of the IRA and Sinn Fein, Ahern said.
A four-party administration that included Sinn Fein suffered repeated breakdowns because of IRA-related arguments from December 1999 to October 2002, when the coalition collapsed amid an IRA spying scandal.