Impasse On Decommissioning


Sir, - Some commentators should consult the Good Friday Agreement before making sweeping generalisations about its provisions on arms decommissioning. For example, Myles Dungan on RTE's Five Seven Live on Friday February 12th blithely asserted that the "spirit" of decommissioning rather than the "letter" was contained in the document. Rather startled, I consulted a copy of the agreement for which I had voted last May. I found the following:

Decommissioning is accorded a section of the agreement to itself, just like policing, prisoners and equality.

The agreement reiterates that decommissioning is "indispensable to the peace process".

All participants reaffirm their commitment to the "total disarmament of paramilitary organisations".

It sets a target for decommissioning of "within two years".

Most important of all, two aspects of the decommissioning section of the agreement have been either overlooked or ignored by commentators and politicians alike. Firstly, decommissioning clearly applies to the illegal weapons of paramilitary organisations, not to the legally held arms in the hands of many unionists. Secondly, the term "decommissioning process" is used in subsection 6, thus defining it as something to be achieved by stages, not in a single dump that could be two years away. The only milestone reached so far is General de Chastelain's talking shop, which hardly meets the definition of a process.

From the agreement text, it can be deduced that decommissioning is an essential part of the dynamic of the peace process. It is something that must happen in parallel to the political developments, to the "equality agenda", to the release of prisoners, to the reform of policing, etc. It is not a precondition for anything, but it can be argued that there are no preconditions for anything in the agreement, or that everything is a precondition. To use an American political analogy, each "plank" in the agreement "platform" is of equal length and all are parallel. Decommissioning stands out because it is the single area on which no real progress has been made. Those who argue for decommissioning to begin as soon as possible have the spirit and the "letter" of the Good Friday Agreement on their side. - Yours, etc., Toby Joyce,

Carragh Hill, Knocknacarra, Galway.