By Jack Holland
Confidence is growing in North Ireland that the IRA will allow the inspection of its arms dumps to begin sometime over the next two weeks, in fulfillment of its commitment of May 6 to put its weapons beyond use, according to usually reliable sources.
It was also revealed that the IRA intended to allow inspection of its dumps to take place in May, before Unionist Party leader David Trimble met with the Ulster Unionist Council to vote on whether to rejoin Sinn Fein in the restored devolved power-sharing government. Such a confidence-building move would have immeasurably strengthened Trimble’s hand as he fought off those in his party who were opposed to a return to government without weapons decommissioning. But the IRA withdrew this offer when Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Mandelson began making concessions to Unionists on the Patten recommendations for reforming the RUC, which the British government had committed itself to implementing in full.
In the end, Trimble won the vote but by a narrow majority.
Since then, both Sinn Fein and the SDLP have angrily denounced the policing bill, which last week was introduced for debate in the House of Commons, as "parody" and a "pale reflection" of Patten’s original, sweeping recommendations — some 175 of them — aimed at making the police force more acceptable to nationalists. Sinn Fein spokesmen in particular have been warning the British government that the IRA gesture would only take place in a certain context — the implementation of the agreement of which Patten was a vital part.
"Patten is not negotiable," the Dublin-based Sunday Business Post quoted a "senior republican" source as saying at the beginning of the week.
Follow us on social media
Keep up to date with the latest news with The Irish Echo
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has gone so far as to call the bill a "travesty" and warn of a "real crisis looming" that could unravel the peace process if only minor changes are made to the bill.
Adams said 75 changes are required to get the bill back in line with the Patten Report.
"I am not persuaded at all by the protestations of the British government and Peter Mandelson," Adams said. "They have moved a huge distance away from the Patten recommendations and they still have a huge distance to cover to get back to them."
However, other sources believe that "things are starting to go Sinn Fein’s way" in relation to the controversy over the Patten recommendations. Both Sinn Fein and the SDLP are privately fairly confident, these sources say, that the British government will incorporate the changes to the bill that they have suggested to bring it back into line with the original report, published last September.
"They are more relaxed about it," one Irish government source said.
The two international inspectors are Cyril Ramaphosa, formerly head of the ANC, and the former Prime Minister of Finland Martti Ahtisaari. If the move goes ahead, they are expected to arrive in Ireland by the end of June. It is thought that their inspection, which will take place in secret, will be followed by a report to Canadian Gen. John De Chastelain’s International Body on Decommissioning, which will then confirm that it has taken place. Further inspections would take place verifying that the IRA weapons and explosives are "beyond use."
Flanagan angry at leak
Meanwhile, reliable sources have told the Echo that the RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan intends to "come down hard" on those responsible for telling anti-agreement Unionist leader Jeffrey Donaldson that the IRA killed drug-dealer Ed McCoy in a shooting in a loyalist bar in South Belfast two weeks ago. It is thought that Donaldson received the tipoff from a district commander who did not clear it through proper channels.
While many within the police accept that McCoy may have been victim of republican gunmen, one senior security source said that as of now "there is no concrete evidence to link the IRA to the shooting." Anti-agreement Unionists have used the allegation of IRA involvement to accuse Trimble of colluding with republicans, causing further political problems for the new government.
Family sources say that McCoy, though a Catholic from West Belfast, was close to former LVF leader Billy "King Rat" Wright, who was assassinated by the INLA in December 1997. After Wright’s death, McCoy placed a notice of condolence for him in a Belfast newspaper, it is alleged. There has also been speculation that McCoy was linked to the attempt on the life of loyalist leader Johnny Adair last summer after a dispute about the control of drug-running operations.
The car used by McCoy’s killers was bought in loyalist East Belfast, and later dumped in another loyalist area near Lisburn, just south of the city.