SF, DUP to see devolution proposals

17/11/2004 - 07:16:00

The British government is due to present proposals to Sinn Féin and the DUP today aimed at restoring devolution as soon as possible.

One of the proposals under consideration is the suggestion that Catholic and Protestant churchmen could be present at any future act of IRA decommissioning.

It is understood that republican leadership would agree to them being present provided that disarmament was part of an overall package to restore and guarantee power sharing government in Northern Ireland.

Dublin and London are looking for a decision before the end of the month and sources in Belfast have confirmed that one of the proposals under consideration is that two churchmen, one from either side of the community would be present if there was to be another act of decommissioning.

But it was made clear that this would have to be in the context of an overall deal, hammered out by all sides. Unionists have described the proposed moves as a step forward.

The Rev Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party has been pushing hard for transparency in any disarmament process.

The East Derry MP Gregory Campbell said: “If churchmen were present it would represent some progress towards what we wanted to see.”

But he insisted: “We need to have credible and viable decommissioning and there needs to be a visual aspect to it if we are to give confidence to the community.

The Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, Doctor Robin Eames, head of the Church of Ireland, said: “There has been talk of this nature for some time but I have no comment to make.”

A Sinn Féin spokesman described the claims as speculation and refused to comment further. He said: “We have consistently refused to comment in any way on the detail of discussions with the Government.

“In particular we have refused to get involved in any speculation that has existed around the issue of arms.”

Ulster unionist negotiator Michael McGimpsey said the proposal was a step in the right direction. “Where the process failed this time last year was on the basis of transparency and a timetable for complete disarmament.

“The question now is who the churchmen are and what is their expertise and whether they are able to report what has been decommissioned and the nature of the decommissioning process.”

SDLP leader Mark Durkan said: “The approach of using clergy as witnesses has been mooted before and may take us forward now but the reality is that previous acts of IRA decommissioning haven’t been done in a way that maximise confidence.”

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