Sunday Life

85pc chance of deal
IRA will keep 15 per cent of arms

14 November 2004

The IRA would hold on to 15 per cent of its arsenal after decommissioning, to deter attacks from anti-Agreement republicans, the Government has told the UDA.

The 'deal' is understood to have been revealed to representatives of the UDA-linked Ulster Political Research Group, during joint negotiations with NIO officials.

And the Government is poised to give deprived loyalist areas a huge cash injection, in order to keep the UDA 'onside'.

Neither the precise number nor type of weapons to be "retained" by the IRA after two expected acts of decommissioning were discussed.

But it is expected the majority would be handguns and small, rapid-firing sub-machine-guns.

It's understood, however, that the vast bulk of the IRA's arsenal - including tons of Semtex, heavy machine-guns and assault rifles - would be destroyed.

The manner of destruction, and how it will be verified, remain sticking points, which won't be resolved until the British and Irish governments decipher Sinn Fein and DUP responses to new political proposals, due to be revealed on Wednesday.

The NIO's decision to bring the UDA back on board the peace process again from midnight tonight, is regarded as an important part of the choreography to strike a political deal.

While the restoration of the Stormont Assembly may be delayed until after the next General Election, the Government has decided to risk the UDA move in a bid to tie up loose ends on the unionist side, which could jeopardise such a restoration.

Dissident republicans remain intent on destroying the process - and there are concerns they may attempt to assassinate a top UDA figure, in order to provoke loyalist retaliation.

Secretary of State Paul Murphy took into account the "positive political engagement" of the UPRG before deciding to recognise the UDA's ceasefire, which was de-recognised by his predecessor, John Reid, in 2001.

The UDA is today expected to announce an end to extortion, racketeering and drug dealing, at a Remembrance Day commemoration, in Belfast.

Part of its deal with the Government includes the appointment of a 'prisoners' ombudsman'.

The new post - along with the huge cash injection into deprived loyalist areas next year - will help the terror group's 'inner council' stop the peddling of hard drugs, in areas where the UDA is strongest.

It's also understood that charges of UDA membership against men from south-east Antrim were dropped recently, as part of the deal to 'de-specify' the terrorist organisation.

Senior Sinn Fein negotiator Gerry Kelly said nationalists would remain wary of UDA pledges on violence, given the organisation's track record.

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