By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The May 2000 target date for decommissioning IRA arms and explosives may not be met because of slippages in the timetable for the implementation of the Good Friday agreement, the taoiseach has warned.
"I think it is an issue that is going to arise," Ahern said at the weekend. "It is, in my belief, a view that republicans would have, that if the agreement had moved in the way it originally was to after the May 22, 1998 vote, they had a period of two years to deal with this issue.
"They would say because of procrastination by others and not them, an enormous amount of that period is already gone and probably another period, hopefully not too long, but another certainly of several months more is going to be gone."
The taoiseach said, however, that one of the principles that all of the parties signed up to was decommissioning by the target date.
In an apparent difference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, he said the matter was best left to the International Decommissioning body under Canadian General John de Chastelain and no attempt should be made to interfere.
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"It is not appropriate for others to be doing bits and pieces of that," Ahern said. "The International Decommissioning body is the only organization that can deal with it and it is wrong for any of the rest of us trying to either legislate for it or to pin it down.
"It should be left to General John de Chastelain. It is unfair on him, and probably impossible in its implementation, if it is not left to him."
Ahern said that despite the setbacks in the peace process last week there was still "plenty to build on." It was the people’s agreement that had been backed by an overwhelming majority in the first all-Ireland vote since 1918 and no one had any right to change it.
The taoiseach said not enough attention had been paid to the decision by the ruling executive of David Trimble’s Ulster Unionists on July 9 in favor of power-sharing.
"It is the first time they have made that decision," Ahern said. "We should note its significance."
It gave him confidence that Trimble would make the necessary steps to move forward. "It is difficult for them, but I think the Unionists want to make the decisions, and I think they are going to have to," he told RTE.
The taoiseach, who is due to meet Blair and former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, this week said: "We have to try to get to the endgame on this eventually. Last week was a setback, but we have to keep on at it. There is too much agreement on the Good Friday deal to go back on it. We have to try and find a way around, through or over the difficulties."