The Ulster Unionist MP, Jeffrey Donaldson has criticised the Northern Secretary, Peter Mandelson for not suspending the early release of IRA prisoners. His comments follow a British Home Office report on the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which warned that paramilitaries in the North are making preparations to unleash fresh violence. Mr Donaldson said the Good Friday Agreement states that the early release programme should be halted if an organisation is preparing for acts of violence. In response, the Northern Ireland Office said that the Home Office report did not identify any specific paramilitary organisation as preparing for fresh violence. In a statement, Sinn Féin's Mitchel McLaughlin said the British Home Office report was typical of the lengths to which the British government would go in its attempts to justify retention of repressive anti-Irish legislation.
In his annual report on the Prevention of Terrorism Act, the Crown Court recorder, John Rowe, said he was convinced that there was still a need for the tough powers contained in the Act. The report found that not only have weapons seizures not dropped in number, but that paramilitary groups have been carrying out weapons and arms training. Mr Rowe did not identify which groups were planning attacks, but said his evidence was based on lengthy conversations with officials and members of the security forces of all ranks. Mr Rowe, a former chairman of the General Bar Council in England and Wales, said paramilitary organisations still exercised significant influence over certain sections of communities. He said there was plenty of evidence of extortion and counterfeiting because of the paramilitaries on-going need for money. He said, on this basis, the tough powers given to the security forces under Prevention of Terrorism legislation should be retained.
Ulster Unionist security spokesman Ken Maginnis has said that although the report was very disturbing, it was not surprising to people living in Northern Ireland. Speaking on BBC Radio today, Mr Maginnis said some of the finds of weapons and explosives of recent days have been very clearly tied to Provisional IRA. He said the language being used by Sinn Féin, particularly in the wake of the crisis in the Assembly when was suspended, indicates that they have not ruled out terrorism.
Meanwhile, the deputy leader of the SDLP Seamus Mallon has said that the British and Irish governments should get a grip on the crisis in the Northern peace process and inject some urgency into resolving it. He said his party had had only one cursory meeting with the British government since the suspension and complained there was no shape to the political process. He said it was three weeks since the devolved administration in which he had been Deputy First Minister was suspended and nothing was being done. Mr Mallon added that he found it incredible that the Northern Secretary Peter Mandelson and Irish Government ministers had spent part of the week at a conference on conflict resolution in the Middle East. He said instead of attending conflict conferences in Israel, ministers should deal with the conflict on their own doorstep.