Northern Ireland trying to picture peace – ISN

DERRY – The latest attempts to forge a breakthrough in Northern Ireland’s peace process appear to have failed this morning, with the verification of IRA disarmament the remaining stumbling block.

Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader, Reverend Ian Paisley, said while “we’ve never been closer to a settlement”, the IRA must “surrender.” However, it appears that the IRA will not consent to giving photographic evidence that their weapons have been destroyed – a key DUP demand.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, whose party is regarded as the IRA’s political wing, said last night the IRA would not “submit to humiliation” by giving photographic evidence of disarmament.

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 into Northern Ireland but were viewed by many nationalists as a hostile occupation force.

Paisley’s comments to a party gathering in Ballymena on 26 November, stating that the IRA “must wear sackcloth and ashes” in repentance for its campaign of violence, have apparently mitigated against the possibility of the IRA allowing photographs to be taken of weapons decommissioning.

Sources say IRA grassroots and Sinn Féin supporters fear that the DUP will use photographs as propaganda in the impending UK general election, likely to take place next May. There remains the possibility that verification could be provided by two clergymen, one Catholic and one Protestant, who would witness decommissioning taking place.

Irish and UK government proposals aimed at restoring Northern Ireland’s devolved institutions of government were presented to all parties, including the DUP and Sinn Féin, less than two weeks ago. Since then, an intensive series of negotiations involving both governments and all Northern Ireland parties have taken place, with a view to reaching a deal based on the proposals.

The governments intend to publish the terms offered to the parties today, with both British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern due to meet in Belfast. The deadline was intended as a veiled threat to the DUP and Sinn Féin to accept the proposals or face the scrutiny of their voters and the rival nationalist and unionist parties in a local election that could be spurred by any collapse of the negotiations.

Speaking to the Dáil (Irish parliament) in Dublin last night, Ahern said that another opportunity to restore Northern Ireland’s institutions would not arise for some time.

Devolution is a core aspect of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that ostensibly ended 30 years of civil conflict in Northern Ireland. Comprising an elected assembly and an executive, albeit with limited powers, the institutions were suspended in October 2002 due to allegations of IRA spying.

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