End of the IRA offered to Unionists in peace deal

By Thomas Harding, Ireland Correspondent
(Filed: 18/09/2004)
Daily Telegraph

An offer that could lead to the IRA's demise was made by republicans
as part of a deal to restore devolution in Northern Ireland,
political sources said yesterday.

Talks to find a solution to the province's two-year political impasse
continued last night.

Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader, offered to decommission most of
the IRA's arsenal and a form of guarantee to end all paramilitary
activity was put on the table.

Before the summit at Leeds Castle in Kent started Mr Adams prepared
republicans for an end to the IRA by saying that the terrorist group
had to be removed as an "excuse" for Unionists refusing to share
power with Sinn Fein.

More pressure was put on republicans yesterday after Albert Reynolds,
the former Irish premier, told a conference in Belfast that the IRA,
which was responsible for more than half of the 3,600 deaths in the
Troubles, should become "a commemorative organisation".

Tony Blair tried to put pressure on Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist
Party to accept Sinn Fein's offer and agree to go into power sharing
with Mr Adams.

If he succeeds, Mr Blair would have achieved something unthinkable a
few months ago because the DUP refused to share government with a
party tied to terrorists.

But the DUP might agree to a series of steps towards restoring
devolution, which collapsed amid allegations of IRA spying two years
ago, at some point next year, possibly after the next general

The hardline Unionists are thought to want to wait until the
Independent Monitoring Commission, a watchdog of paramilitaries,
provides at least two reports, scheduled for next month and in March.
If the commission gives the IRA a clean bill of health, the DUP might
agree to power sharing.

But Sinn Fein has refused to be "sanctioned" by the commission
believing that any minor transgression by elements within the IRA
could lead to the party being thrown out of Stormont.

Negotiations continued at a "slow" pace yesterday with offers being
made verbally and nothing as yet committed to paper.

Mitchell Reiss, President George W Bush's envoy to Northern Ireland,
has also put pressure on both parties to do a deal. DUP politicians
hinted that some progress had been made but there were
still "significant stone boulders in the way".

Ian Paisley junior said: "It took three years to get something to
work that collapsed [the Good Friday Agreement]. So it's going to
take more than three days for another deal that will last."

If no deal is struck between the DUP and Sinn Fein it is possible
that Mr Blair might still make an announcement on substantial troop
reductions in return for an IRA announcement on its future.

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