The Independent Monitoring Commission has found that the IRA army council is 'no longer operational or functional'.

In its report this afternoon, the IMC declared that the IRA has disbanded its terrorist structures and relinquished 'the leadership necessary to wage war'.

The watchdog's declaration today that the IRA campaign is 'well and truly over' comes ahead of crucial talks aimed at securing the future of Northern Ireland's power-sharing government.

Prior to the report's publication, DUP leader and First Minister Peter Robinson said his party would demand complete removal of the IRA's Army Council to secure political progress.

However today the IMC 12-page report said: 'We are aware of the questions posed about the public disbandment of the Provisional IRA's leadership structures.

'We believe that PIRA has chosen another method of bringing what it describes as its armed struggle to a final close. Under PIRA's own rules the Army Council was the body that directed its military campaign.

'Now that that campaign is well and truly over, the Army Council by deliberate choice is no longer operational or functional.'

The British and Irish Governments had asked the IMC, made up of security experts and politicians from the UK and Ireland, to compile a special report on the status of IRA structures.

Prior to the official release of the report, it was speculated that the IMC would conclude that the Army Council remained in place, but was not engaged in any illegal activity.

The IMC, which monitors paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland, said the IRA's redundant structures were gradually disappearing, but said it did not expect any announcements from the republican movement as that process concluded.

'We believe that for some time now it has given up what it used to do and that by design it is being allowed to wither away,' said the report.

'There have not been and we do not foresee that there will be formal announcements about the disbandment of all or parts of the structure.'