Deadlock over arms issue may be broken shortly, Ahern says

 

The Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, has predicted that the impasse over decommissioning may be broken shortly.

Speaking at the annual Fianna Fail commemoration at the grave of Wolfe Tone in Bodenstown, Co Kildare, yesterday the Taoiseach also said that the Sinn Fein MP and Assembly member, Mr Martin McGuinnness, was "diligently working" in co-operation with the chairman of the independent decommissioning body, Gen John de Chastelain.

"Hopefully that will lead to a breaking of the logjam which will allow us to set up the executive in shadow form and the North-South ministerial bodies in shadow form as soon as possible. It may take a few weeks more, but I think we are certainly moving that way," Mr Ahern said.

Today's meetings between the British Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, and Mr McGuinness would prove useful and "we are very close to being able to move forward on this issue", he said.

In his formal address to a 200-strong crowd, including a number of his own Cabinet, the Taoiseach urged republican and loyalist paramilitaries to adopt a generous approach to decommissioning.

Stressing that the current impasse must be broken, he said they had everything to gain in terms of public esteem and political advance by such an approach and by removing any doubts about their commitment to all aspects of the Belfast Agreement.

The task of uniting the people of Ireland or the people of Northern Ireland would not be assisted by "holding on to every weapon", he said.

"There are of course questions of timing, questions of good faith, and the fulfilment of obligations needs to be reciprocal and balanced over time.

"But the impasse must be broken, so that all the good work done up till now in preparation for the implementation of the agreement can be put into effect and produce beneficial results," he said.

Paramilitary organisations were the beneficiaries of many confidence-building measures by both governments, "particularly since the changes in government in mid-1997", he said.

They must now try and distinguish the legitimate fears of wide sections of the public from "deliberately impossible demands".

A way must be found before the end of this month by all concerned to proceed with the further implementation of the Belfast Agreement. Every party has entered into obligations which they must honour, Mr Ahern said.

"They do not have the luxury of reinterpreting the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. It would be perverse if a deep concern about the retention of weapons were to destroy the agreement, which is the only instrument that can bring about decommissioning, as loyalists have not ceased to point out", he said.

People would readily distinguish those who were prepared to act as statesmen and those who were intent on undermining peace. The Belfast Agreement was essential, not only to peace, but to the North's future prosperity, he said. It was a viability plan that had to succeed.

"There are no political or other alternatives that have not been tried over and over again and failed. Over this past period and over the next fortnight, we will try to bring all the parties into a closer and mutually acceptable understanding of how the various obligations under the agreement will be implemented", he said.

Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen were convinced of the bright future that lay before the Irish people "if a bad system of government and sectarian dissensions could be got rid of, and reform, liberty and equality introduced", Mr Ahern said.

Two hundred years on, the same bright future was even more convincingly in prospect for the whole island, he added.