Irish Independent

Statement-in-waiting set to declare end to IRA activity


WHAT is being called a "significant statement" on the disposal of IRA weapons and a formal announcement that the organisation's military campaign will be wound up is expected this week.

Participants in talks at Leeds Castle chaired by the Taoiseach and the British Premier have been advised to expect a significant development from the IRA which will meet the demands of unionists.

It is not clear if the statement will be made by the IRA or through SF but participants to the talks have been told to anticipate a statement of "major significance" from the Republican Movement.

Yesterday, however, the DUP leader, Dr Ian Paisley, said he was "too long in the tooth" to believe the content of a statement from the IRA, but added he would hold judgment until decommissioning was achieved.

Members of his party have been told that agreement has been reached between the two Governments and the IRA for the delivery of a formal announcement from the terrorist organisation which should satisfy unionist demands for a clarification that the IRA will cease to exist.

One DUP party source said: "It's not clear when the statement will actually be made but we have been told it will be delivered very shortly and that thereafter events will move very quickly and that we will see major disarmament by the Provos.

"Other matters relating to ministerial accountability in the Assembly, which are outstanding, will be addressed through other discussions and we expect they can be resolved without enormous difficulty."

The DUP source said optimism was being expressed that all outstanding issues discussed at Leeds Castle could be resolve by Christmas with a restoration of the Stormont Assembly pencilled in for January 2005.

"A lot depends on what the IRA is prepared to say this week and, more importantly, do, but we have been given certain indications which if fulfilled will resolve the most difficult political issues raised in the Castle," he said.

Meanwhile, the DUP last night denied there had been a stand-up row between its leader, Dr Ian Paisley, and the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, after it became clear that yesterday's peace talks would fail over the issue of holding Northern ministers to account.

"Dr Paisley had good discussions with Tony Blair and there was no cursing or shouting as some elements of the media suggested.

"Dr Paisley and the rest of our delegation were resolute on this issue, but when it became clear that neither the SDLP nor the Unionist Party would budge to make ministers more accountable, then it meant for us that the talks couldn't reach a successful conclusion," the DUP spokesman said.

The Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, and Mr Blair had pinned their hopes on breaking the political impasse during the talks.

Unionists were demanding an end to the IRA before agreeing to revive the Assembly and Cabinet in Belfast, which were suspended two years ago amid claims of republican spying.

During the negotiations a major offer by the Provisionals to empty their arms dumps was made.

But Ian Paisley's DUP also wanted sweeping changes to the Good Friday Agreement, including a system of holding ministers to account.

That could not be resolved during the discussions. "If agreement cannot be reached when it's clear it should be reached we will find a different way to move this process forward," Mr Blair said.

The Prime Minister insisted that IRA disarmament was in sight.

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