Britain to continue 'normalisation' process

 

The British government is to push ahead with further "normalisation" of its military presence in Northern Ireland, with additional measures expected in a statement next week, possibly Monday.

Dismantling of the controversial army watchtowers along the Border in south Armagh began yesterday following Thursday's IRA statement, amid vociferous criticism from unionists.

President Bush had phone calls with both the Sinn Féin and DUP leaders yesterday. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Mr Bush encouraged Gerry Adams to show leadership. The US president also called on Dr Ian Paisley to give the IRA an opportunity to live up to what it said it would do.

Plans to cut troop numbers and military installations to pre-Troubles levels will be pushed ahead as outstanding measures contained in five annexes to the Hillsborough Declaration agreed by the Irish and British governments in March 2003. Northern Secretary Peter Hain said: "We will be taking forward a process of political negotiation, engagement and normalisation of policing and withdrawal of military support."

In Dublin, the Government said it hoped that Thursday's IRA statement marked the beginning of a "transformation" process whereby the current order outlawing the Provisional IRA could eventually be lifted.

In a statement to The Irish Times yesterday, a Government spokeswoman stressed, however, that Thursday's statement was not sufficient to justify lifting the prohibition order at the moment.

Government sources also indicated that its lifting was "a long way off".

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern met the SDLP at Government Buildings to discuss the next moves in the peace process. Afterwards party leader Mark Durkan said any statement on normalisation measures should also be examined by the Independent Monitoring Commission to ensure that aims and timetables are maintained.

The commission is to produce three reports on paramilitary activity by Easter 2006. Dublin and London hope that reports citing no IRA activity will prompt unionist confidence to engage with Sinn Féin.

However, the DUP might insist on up to five clean bills of health from the commission. This could push back any date for the restoration of Stormont by some months.

Mr Adams yesterday said if the DUP employed delaying tactics then the two governments should push ahead with the Belfast Agreement.