WHEN THE International Monitoring Commission was suggested, some hoped it would deliver a reassuring report that paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland was on the wane.
Instead, it has depicted a society where illegal organisations remain active, with some areas dominated by groups of men meting out paramilitary "justice" in beatings and other activity.
The Commission's report shows clearly that most of the violence is the work of loyalist paramilitary groups, who readily resort to murder as well as "punishments". Some are deeply involved in drugs, racketeering and even racist attacks.
Minor republican groups are also still active and dangerous. But almost all the political charge centres on the IRA, for various reasons. It remains the most formidable of the illegal armies and, unlike the other smaller groups, it has a vital role to play in the peace process. It has unmistakeable connections with Sinn Fein, whose entry into politics has been central to the process.
The devolved administration in Belfast, now in suspension, will be revived only if Unionists agree to return to government with Sinn Fein.
Leaving any moral questions aside, the pragmatic reality is that Unionists will not do so unless republicans take decisive steps from their violent past. The republicans have had seven years, since the IRA ceasefire of 1997, to make the transformation from their violent origins to conventional politics. Many have been prepared to commend them for the distance they have travelled, and to recognise the peace process has brought huge improvements and saved many lives.
But the decision …