New measures to scale back security likely within 24 hours


British government, army and PSNI figures are expected to confirm within 24 hours new measures to redraw the security presence following last week's IRA declaration that its campaign was over.

Sinn Féin chief negotiator Martin McGuinness said yesterday he was encouraged by the changes undertaken so far in south Armagh.

These are expected to be followed soon by further "normalisation" or demilitarisation in Derry city and in the Divis area of west Belfast where a British army lookout post scans Gerry Adams's constituency.

The expected British announcements should be in line with stated objectives agreed with the Irish Government at summits but which have been on hold because of political uncertainty.

The IRA is also expected to put the first of substantial amounts of its arsenal beyond use in the near future.

Sources differ as to when this will happen, but there is a general expectation that a move will be made before many senior political figures go on holidays later this month.

Mr McGuinness said yesterday he welcomed the dismantling of the British army presence in south Armagh within 24 hours of Thursday's IRA statement.

Speaking after his three-day trip to the US to brief political figures on the IRA statement, Mr McGuinness said: "That clearly shows that, if you like, the soldiers, whether it be soldiers of the IRA or the soldiers of the British army, are prepared, to some degree, to trust one another.

"I think that if soldiers can do that then it is incumbent on the politicians and on the people to support that effort.

"This means that the Irish and British governments need to push forward with the implementation of the Good Friday agreement and the restoration of the political institutions.

"It also means that the days when the DUP were allowed to prevent progress have come to an end.

"It is time for the DUP to step up to the plate and represent the interests of those who vote for them. It is time that they sit down face-to-face with Irish republicans."

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said his party was mandated not to press ahead with anything until unionist confidence had been created by concrete decommissioning moves by the IRA.

"The evidence is crucial. We have made clear that we will not move into government unless the unionist community can be confident that the IRA has ended its campaign of violence and decommissioned its weapons."

Further political initiatives are expected in the autumn, including moves to allow Northern elected representatives speaking rights in the Dáil.

Northern Secretary Peter Hain has also told The Irish Times that there will be an announcement concerning moves to set up some form of truth and reconciliation commission.

He said this would not be along the lines of the model that operated in South Africa, but confirmed that consideration of a policy to address the legacy of the Troubles, announced by his predecessor Paul Murphy, would continue.

Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey has signalled strong opposition to any moves to permit Northern representatives to address the Dáil.

"I'm hearing talks will start in Dublin in September about the mechanics of bringing speaking rights about," he said.

"There will be a consultation process with parties in Dublin by the Taoiseach. When the deal with Sinn Féin was not completed last December, I said this was outside the terms of the Good Friday agreement and it was a breach of the principle that the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland would be required before there is any change to our constitutional status."

In a warning to Mr Ahern not to proceed with any "embryonic all-Ireland parliament", he said: "When the idea was first mooted two years ago, the UUP opposed it. We told the two governments then, and have repeatedly since, that if it is pursued by Dublin we will no longer be obligated to our support for North-South institutions."

Dr Seán Farren of the SDLP criticised Sir Reg's remarks as "intolerable madness". Accusing the former industry minister of undoing the good cross-Border work he had done while at Stormont, Dr Farren said: "Again and again David Trimble threatened the North-South agenda.

"Again and again he undermined work which had the ability to transform the lives of everyone on this island. It is a serious mistake for Reg Empey to attempt to do the same."