IRA now 'willing to disarm' by end of the year

20 Sept 2004

The IRA has effectively promised to put all its weaponry beyond use
by the turn of the year in return for firm DUP commitments to share
power with Sinn Féin, authoritative Irish sources have confirmed.
Gerry Moriarty and Frank Millar report.

At talks in Leeds Castle, the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, and the British
Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, outlined to the parties a sequence of
gestures by which the IRA could act to demonstrate its peaceful
intentions, talks insiders said. This could involve the IRA:

Issuing a "strong" statement saying it was decommissioning and ending

Following the statement with a major act of decommissioning;

Issuing a timetable of imminent acts of decommissioning.

The IRA may allow an act of decommissioning to be photographed to
help establish in a persuasive way the extent of the disarmament,
according to sources.

If a comprehensive deal can be worked out in the coming weeks,
sources believe the IRA would respond radically and positively and in
a manner that could convince "ordinary people" that its campaign of
violence was at an end. The disarmament would take place through Gen
John de Chastelain's decommissioning body.

There is huge sensitivity about what might happen in the coming days
and weeks. DUP sources refused to confirm the possibility of a visual
aspect to decommissioning with one senior figure warning that how
media reports were presented could wreck the possibility of a
historic deal. "The last thing we want is stories saying the DUP is
demanding this or that from the IRA because that's the one sure way
of ensuring it won't happen. We're being careful here," he said.

Other DUP sources said any emergent IRA text would be scrutinised for
evidence or ambiguity to challenge the belief of Mr Blair and Mr
Ahern that they can resolve what they described on Saturday as "the
issues to do with ending paramilitary activity and putting weapons
beyond use."

Republican sources would not elaborate on what the IRA was prepared
to do. But other informed sources said there was a real chance that
this time Gen de Chastelain would be believed by unionists when he
gave details about further IRA disarmament.

The governments and the parties viewed as highly significant the
measured and in many ways positive tone of comments from the DUP
leader, the Rev Ian Paisley, after the talks ended on Saturday.

He said he would not be "bluffed" by the IRA but indicated a
willingness to test its sincerity. He added: "I believe that a golden
opportunity has been available to realise a stable and entirely
peaceful future and I told the Prime Minister that in some respects
we have never been closer to solving the problems that have plagued
us for decades."

Mr Tom Kitt, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, and Northern
Secretary Mr Paul Murphy meet the parties at Stormont tomorrow to try
to resolve remaining procedural issues. The main stumbling block is
devising a system of ministerial accountability acceptable to pro-
Belfast Agreement parties and the DUP.

DUP MP Mr Jeffrey Donaldson told The Irish Times that the Prime
Minister and Taoiseach had been unable to provide specific assurances
about the timetable for the completion of IRA decommissioning, or
about the DUP's required "visual aspect" to the verification process.

Mr Donaldson confirmed that an important issue in the continuing
negotiation concerns the future status of the IRA. Mr Donaldson said
his party had pressed Mr Blair and Mr Ahern on the issue. "We asked
for clarity about their intention to stand down their private army
and whether after that they would form some sort of Old Comrades
Association. But we still haven't got an answer to that," he said.

© The Irish Times

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