By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Assurances on the security of a quantity of IRA arms and explosives after secret visits to weapons dumps by international inspectors have been warmly welcomed by the taoiseach and the British prime minister.
A series of carefully orchestrated statements on Monday disclosed that former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa had made their first visit to IRA weapons bunkers.
They were appointed as inspectors following the IRA statement on May 6 that they would initiate a process that would "completely and verifiably" put their weapons beyond use.
In their joint report, the two inspectors said they had visited "a number of dumps." They gave no indication of when this happened, how many dumps were involved, or if they were located north or south of the border.
"The arms dumps held a substantial amount of military material, including explosives and related equipment, as well as weapons and other material," the report said. "We observed that the weapons and explosives were safely and adequately stored. We ensured that the weapons and explosives cannot be used without our detection."
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Taoiseach Bertie Ahern embraced what he described as an "unprecedented" inspection and said the bunkers would now be "sealed".
"The inspection has provided confirmation that the weapons and explosives are safely and adequately stored," he said in a statement.
He said the inspections confirmed that the armaments cannot be used without the knowledge of the inspectors, who will reinspect the arms dumps on a regular basis to ensure the weapons have remained secure.
Ahern also welcomed indications that the IRA interlocutor is resuming contact with the IICD. The IRA broke off contact when the fledgling Northern Ireland institutions were suspended by Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson earlier this year.
"These developments, which follow from the undertakings given by the IRA last month, represent an extremely significant, and indeed unprecedented, movement forward in the consolidation of peace and political accommodation," Ahern said. "Taken together, they amount to a major contribution to confirming our confidence that the weapons issue will be fully resolved."
Prime Minister Tony Blair described the inspections as yet another step along the road to a lasting peace.
"As a result of the peace process, Northern Ireland has never had a better prospect than it has today," he said.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said the initiative was "both courageous and imaginative."
Fine Gael leader John Bruton praised the IRA for keeping its word. "I regret that the loyalist paramilitaries, who are also very well armed, have not offered to have their arms inspected," he said.