Arms inspectors say IRA is serious about peace process

 

The international arms inspectors have expressed their conviction that the IRA is serious about the Northern Ireland peace process. They insisted that the IRA weapons they examined recently were "usable" and "secure" and had not been tampered with.

The inspectors, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa and Mr Martti Ahtisaari, who met the British Prime Minister, Mr Blair, in London and pro-Belfast Agreement parties later in Belfast yesterday, said they expected to make their third examination of IRA dumps in the "first quarter" of next year.

They made their announcement as the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Cowen, and the Northern Secretary, Mr Peter Mandelson, were meeting in London to discuss the political difficulties following Mr David Trimble's decision to ban Sinn Fein Ministers from North-South Ministerial Council (NSMC) meetings.

Mr Ramaphosa's and Mr Ahtisaari's comments about the "substantial" nature of the arms inspection were welcomed by Ulster Unionist Party security spokesman, Mr Ken Maginnis.

Their reassurance about the IRA's engagement with them may also have helped steady political nerves ahead of today's contentious meeting in Enniskillen being attended by Mr Micheal Martin, Mr Seamus Mallon and Ms Bairbre de Brun. The meeting is to discuss North-South health and food safety issues but falls outside the NSMC structure. Mr Ramaphosa and Mr Ahtisaari, contrary to a recent London newspaper report and claims by some anti-agreement unionists, insisted that the IRA weapons they examined were not obsolete - a comment particularly welcomed by Mr Maginnis.

"We are even more convinced about their intentions after going back for a re-inspection and finding that the arms dumps had not been tampered with and that they have remained secure," said former African National Congress secretary Mr Ramaphosa.

"We have formed the distinct impression that the IRA are serious about the peace process. The discussions, the interactions we have had with them, including being allowed to carry out these inspections, have convinced us that they are serious," he added.

In London, Mr Mandelson and Mr Cowen pledged the British and Irish governments would do all they could to ensure the stability of the political process.

"We are both agreed on what we need in this situation. We want any ban on any Minister participating in the North-South framework lifted and the IRA to re-engage with Gen de Chastelain's decommissioning body," Mr Mandelson said.

Mr Cowen said the governments would work "to resolve these matters quickly" so the people "can have the institutions and the working of the institutions in a way that is to the benefit of all".

The Sinn Fein president, Mr Gerry Adams, said the IRA would not re-engage with the decommissioning commission until the political context meant this re-engagement would further the peace process. "That context is not here at this time," he said, and called on Mr Mandelson to "compel" Mr Trimble to lift his ban on Sinn Fein ministers.