The commission is reporting on security changes in NI

Troop levels in Northern Ireland are still three times higher than that envisaged in a peace-time situation - according to a new report.

The Independent Monitoring Commission - the body which monitors paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland - published its second report on Tuesday.

It found that troop levels in Northern Ireland stand at just under 15,000 which is still three times higher than the 5,000-strong garrison planned once the terrorist threat had been lifted.

The figure is half of what troops levels were in the 70s, at the height of the Troubles.

"The gap between current actual deployment and the envisaged peace-time level is still very wide," the report's authors said.

However, it found that 10 out of 19 Army observation posts in Northern Ireland had been demolished in the last five years.

And it stated that the government had shut down nearly 50% of Army bases needed to reach its peacetime target.

"The IMC operates outside the terms of the agreement and has played a negative role in this process."
Alex Maskey
Sinn Fein MLA

With helicopter operations cut by a third and soldiers withdrawn from many police stations over the same period, the IMC pointed to "significant progress" in normalising the security situation.

At this stage, the commission did not give its view on the pace of change.

--But it confirmed: 10 out of 19 towers and observation posts have been demolished.
--By September, soldiers will guard 12 police stations, compared with 20 in 1999
--Military bases and installations have dropped from 32 to 24, with the end target 14.
--Army helicopter use has been reduced by 33%, from nearly 25,000 operational hours in 1999 to 16,500
--Overall troop levels available in Northern Ireland are just under 15,000.

Its first report in April highlighted the levels of paramilitary activity by republican and loyalist groups and recommended financial sanctions on Sinn Fein and the Progressive Unionist Party.

Both parties vowed to challenge the move.

'Crucial element'

Speaking ahead of the publication of the second report, Sinn Fein assembly member Alex Maskey said the commission had no significance.

"The IMC is not part of the Good Friday Agreement," he said.

"It operates outside the terms of the agreement and has played a negative role in this process."

The four-man commission is a crucial element in the two governments' plans for restoring devolution which was suspended in October 2002 amid allegations of IRA intelligence gathering at Stormont.

The commission is comprised of Richard Kerr, a former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency; Commander John Grieve, former head of the Metropolitan Police's anti-terrorist squad; Lord Alderdice, the former Speaker of the Assembly and retired Irish civil servant Joe Brosnan.

Another function of the commission is to scrutinise the government's programme of demilitarisation and complaints about political tactics which threaten the stability of the devolved institutions.

However, only the British Government's nominees - Lord Alderdice and John Grieve - examine how devolved ministers and Northern Ireland parties are honouring their commitments under the Good Friday Agreement.

The commission arose out of discussions on the joint declaration involving London and Dublin and the political parties.

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