DERRY — On Monday the British government officially recognized the ceasefire declared by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), Northern Ireland’s largest “loyalist” (Protestant) paramilitary group.
The IMC is a British-Irish taskforce appointed to assess the activity of Northern Ireland’s paramilitary groups. The move followed consultations between Britain’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Paul Murphy and the Ulster Political Research Group, a think-tank affiliated with the UDA.
Northern Ireland’s three decades of civil conflict up to 1998 saw over 3,600 people killed as mostly Catholic Irish nationalists and republicans, who want Northern Ireland to merge with the Republic of Ireland to the south, faced off against mostly Protestant unionists or loyalists who want to remain part of the United Kingdom. British soldiers flooded Northern Ireland but were viewed by many nationalists as a hostile occupation force.
Last weekend, at the Ulster Unionist Party’s (UUP) annual conference, leader David Trimble accused the rival Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of ‘letting the Irish Republican Army (IRA) off the hook’ at the recent talks, which failed to restore devolution to Northern Ireland – a core component of the 1998 peace agreement that marked the end of a 30-year conflict.
Trimble, whose party has been succeeded by the DUP as the largest unionist party, said that the DUP had missed the opportunity to discover how committed the IRA was to decommissioning its weapons, a key unionist demand. Sources close to the Irish and British governments suggested that a serious IRA offer to hand over guns was made at the talks, as part of a deal to restore the power-sharing executive and essembly to Belfast. The IRA is linked to Sinn Féin, the largest nationalist party in Northern Ireland.
If devolution is to be restored to Northern Ireland, the DUP and Sinn Féin will have to cut a deal on power-sharing, the destruction of paramilitary arms, policing powers, and the nature of authority given to a Northern Ireland executive.
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams was in Washington, D.C., last week, to discuss Northern Ireland with US officials in the aftermath of George Bush’s recent re-election as president.
Northern Ireland was a key foreign policy success story for the Clinton administration, but the Bush presidency has taken a more laissez-faire approach to the peace process there, something Adams hopes to change.
Meanwhile, the Irish and British governments are to submit proposals on Wednesday aimed at restoring devolution to Northern Ireland. The main protagonists – the DUP and Sinn Féin – are expected to be given a week to respond. As things stand, the Irish and British governments are working to a 25 November deadline for the parties to reach agreement and move towards restoring devolution and getting Northern Ireland’s shaky peace agreement back on track.Show