President hails 'milestone on journey of peace'


REACTION:THE DECOMMISSIONING of weapons by the Ulster Defence Association was “a very positive milestone on the journey of peace”, President Mary McAleese said in a statement yesterday.

The move was also welcomed by the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Opposition parties in the Dáil.

The President said this latest development was “further testimony to the reality that we are witnessing the deconstruction of a culture of paramilitarism in Northern Ireland and that it is being replaced by a culture of consensus, democracy and good neighbourliness”.

The move also served to consolidate the “new beginning” heralded in the Good Friday and St Andrews agreements, she said.

“Violence and the weapons used in dispensing it have left a deep legacy of suffering and hurt and on this significant day our thoughts and prayers are also with the victims of that violence.

“The challenge now is to ensure there is no return to that cycle of despair that was the hallmark of the Troubles. Part of that journey is ensuring that the dividend of peace is real on the ground in the lives of people.”

She added: “The Office of the President remains strongly committed to a process of real engagement with Loyalist communities in Northern Ireland and I look forward to seeing continued progress in the development of a new era of peace and reconciliation.”

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said the move was, “a clear signal that Northern Ireland has moved on and that the democratic institutions established by the Good Friday Agreement are the means through which the entire community in Northern Ireland, and the people of these islands, can and will build lasting peace and prosperity.”

He added: “At a time such as this, while we welcome progress, it is also very important we remember all of the victims of the conflict. They are in our thoughts and prayers.”

He paid “particular tribute” to the President’s husband,  Dr Martin McAleese and those who worked with him, “for their outreach and confidence-building work”.

“I would also like to thank Gen John de Chastelain and his team for their patience and dedication over the years,” Mr Cowen said.

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin said: “I would like to express the Government’s appreciation to the loyalist leadership and all those who contributed to the courageous work which facilitated this decision for peace.”

He added: “The Government recognises the acute economic and social disadvantage which affects particular areas of the North, not least in certain loyalist communities. Tackling such economic and social disadvantage must be a priority, if the progress made is to be consolidated and built upon.”

Fine Gael foreign affairs spokesman, Billy Timmins, said the announcement was “one more step in the effort to ensuring lasting peace in Northern Ireland”.

Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore said: “This is a significant development given that the UDA was responsible for some of the worst atrocities in Northern Ireland during the worst periods of the troubles.”