By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — The IRA has renewed discussions with General John de Chastelain’s international decommissioning body in a bid to inject new life into the faltering peace process — but initial responses from both the Ulster Unionists and British government are that its move has failed to break the deadlock.
In a surprise statement issued on Thursday morning, within two hours of the taoiseach and the British prime minister arriving in Northern Ireland for talks, the IRA said that London was not prepared to uphold commitments made last year on policing and demilitarization, which, it said, was "totally unacceptable."
Despite this, the IRA leadership said it remained committed to the quest for a lasting peace, but that could only be achieved if everyone played their part. The statement warned: "For this engagement to be successful, the British government must deliver on its obligations."
The IRA said the British government must deliver on public commitments made last May when London said it would deal with a range of matters, including human rights, equality, justice, demilitarization and, most important, the full implementation of the Patten report on police reform.
The statement added: "The record shows that the IRA have honored every commitment we have made, including the opening of IRA arms dumps to inspection by the agreed international inspectors.
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"We have done so despite the abuse of the peace process by those who persist with the aim of defeating the IRA and Irish republicanism and the obvious failure of the British government to honor its obligations."
The resumption of talks between the IRA and the Decommissioning Body was at first dismissed by the Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, as a "publicity stunt" and a "pre-emptive strike" to avoid being blamed for a failure to make progress.
Later last Thursday, however, at the end of inconclusive discussions at Hillsborough Castle, Trimble moderated his tone into a grudgingly welcoming one, saying that if the IRA became involved in "substantive" talks with the body, then he would be willing to lift his ban on the two Sinn Fein ministers attending cross-border meetings.
On Sunday, Trimble indicated he would soon lift his ban on Sinn Fein ministers attending North-South meetings if the IRA kept its promise to reopen "serious" talks with the international disarmament body.
Trimble, the Dublin government and London are all drawing a critical differentiation between the IRA merely resuming talks with the Decommissioning Body and the IRA’s involvement in "substantive" talks over the modalities and methods of decommissioning.
In the absence of evidence, in the form of a written statement from the Decommissioning Body, giving assurances that the IRA has been involved in "substantive" talks, the other parties and the two governments are deeming the talks are worthless.
Trimble said that even if he lifted the veto over Sinn Fein involvement in cross-border bodies, he could still reinstate the ban if progress stalled. "The sanction is flexible," he said, "and we will look carefully at what is done both with regard to lifting it, but also with regard to reimposing it if there is not a continuation of progress."
The Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, admitted two days after the IRA statement that many republicans had been were "shocked and confused" when they heard of the IRA’s pledge to reengage with the Decommissioning Body.
Speaking to a special conference in Dublin (replacing its ard fheis because of the foot-and-mouth emergency) Adams appealed for "the utmost unity and commitment in the face of what appears to be perpetual rejection of initiatives by republicans to resolve difficult issues."
He also warned that the political process "could still fall if the British government remains fixated on the arms issue" and that London should not take for granted Sinn Fein’s willingness to exhaust itself over decommissioning.
Responding to Adams comment, the Northern Secretary, John Reid, rejected claims that the British government was fixated with IRA decommissioning. "Gerry Adams is an intelligent man; he knows that to argue that I and the British government have been exclusively fixated with decommissioning is just plain wrong," he said.