DERRY — Northern Ireland’s largest unionist party has threatened to delay talks on restarting the stalled peace process.
Meeting British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Thursday in London, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) outlined its position on political talks aimed at restoring the devolved government to Belfast.
DUP leader Reverend Ian Paisley said the party would require a “prolonged period of assessment” to ascertain whether the Irish Republican Army (IRA) had truly given up its armed campaign. He called for “total decommissioning that everyone can be satisfied with”.
In contrast, Sinn Féin (SF) leader Gerry Adams, who met with Blair separately on Thursday, said he believed there was no reason devolution could not be reintroduced quickly.
Sinn Féin is the political party linked to the IRA.
Last week, the IRA, properly titled the Provisional IRA, announced an end to its 30-year campaign to end British rule in Northern Ireland.
In response, the British government announced a radical overhaul of military-security structures in Northern Ireland, with troop numbers to be halved to 5,000 by 2007.
These measures, particularly the proposed disbandment of locally based battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment (RIR), have incensed unionists, who view the moves as premature concessions to the IRA and Sinn Féin.
The IRA has pledged to dump arms and to engage with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD).
However unionists remain sceptical of the IRA’s intentions. The IRA has decommissioned some weapons in the past, but these efforts have been dismissed as politically-opportune gestures.
Unionists will also seek an end to IRA criminality, which was not referred to in the IRA statement last week, although volunteers were ordered to desist from “all other activities”.
The IRA allegedly stole €33.5 million from a Belfast bank last December, and is thought to control a large network of money laundering activities and front businesses.
Republic of Ireland Justice Minister Michael McDowell has described the IRA as akin to “a state within a state” in both the Republic and Northern Ireland.
Some fears exist that unionist opposition to talks could benefit small dissident IRA groups, such as the “Real” and “Continuity” IRA, who vehemently oppose last week’s Provisional IRA statement that the war is over.
Reports in a Derry/Londonderry newspaper suggest that the dissident IRA groups are gearing for assaults on police and army stations in the city.
It is unclear whether this will have any bearing on DUP reluctance to engage in talks in the immediate term. Talks will take place with Sinn Féin, which has no apparent links to dissident groups, sometime after the Provisional IRA disarms.
Northern Ireland’s three decades of civil conflict up to 1998 saw over 3,600 people killed, most of them civilians, as mostly Catholic Irish nationalists and republican paramilitaries, who want Northern Ireland to merge with the Republic of Ireland to the south, faced off against mostly Protestant unionists or loyalist counterparts who want to remain part of the United Kingdom. British soldiers flooded into Northern Ireland but were viewed by many nationalists as a hostile occupation force and were regularly targeted by the IRA, as were the police.Show