UUP seeks inquiry into arms crisis and arming of the IRA


A leading member of the Ulster Unionist Party has urged that a new inquiry should examine the Irish government's alleged culpability in arming the IRA at the start of the Troubles.

Mr Reg Empey, UUP vice-president, said his party had asked British Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, to press the Government into reopening an inquiry into the 1970 arms crisis with a specific focus on how the importation of weapons led to the arming of the Provisional IRA.

"I raise this issue now because I feel that it is outrageous that an event, the arming of the Provisional IRA, by our supposedly friendly neighbours, is swept under the carpet, while vociferous efforts are being made to find the truth to the Bloody Sunday tragedy," he said. "Surely if one matter is to be reopened, then so should the other," Mr Empey told the annual conference of the Ulster Young Unionists in Belfast on Saturday.

Just as the emergence of the truth about Bloody Sunday was viewed as a confidence-building measure for nationalists, the truth about how the IRA was armed was equally viewed as a confidence-building measure by unionists, he added.

Mr Empey, to opposition from some conference delegates, defended the UUP's continued presence at the talks.

He said it was essential that the message must be relayed that it was now widely accepted, even by nationalists, that any settlement "must be one firmly based within the Union".

"Not the Union for a transitional period, but the Union, full stop!" he added. During the conference, Mr Nelson McCausland, a UUP councillor for Belfast, criticised party leader Mr David Trimble, saying he had failed to deliver the "new vision" expected of him. He was also critical of the UUP's team of negotiators and said his "gut reaction" was that the party should withdraw from the process.

Mr Jeffrey Donaldson, a member of the UUP talks team, said if Mr McCausland had criticisms he should have made them at a recent party executive meeting where it was agreed to give negotiators a free hand in discussions.

Mr McCausland should focus his criticism on "the real enemies - Sinn Fein/IRA", he added.

In a BBC interview at the weekend, Mr David Ervine, chief spokesman for the Progressive Unionist Party, warned that the talks would collapse if more concessions were made to Sinn Fein.

"I have to say this loudly and clearly to Mo Mowlam - if you are going to give the Provos anything you had better give it before Monday because if you give concessions upon issues which are to be governed by the negotiating process then the whole thing will come down around your ears." Meanwhile, the Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr Patrick Walsh, has stated that "bully boys" must not be allowed destroy the talks. The peace process must be supported, he told a congregation who attended the re-dedication of St Patrick's Church, Donegall Street, in west Belfast which was badly damaged in a fire in October 1995. The church was restored in a £2 million project in which the cash was raised by Catholics and Protestants.

"We must not allow the hotheads, the wreckers, the professional agitators to call the tune. The bully boys must not be allowed to set the agenda," said Dr Walsh yesterday.