By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — In a clear statement of no confidence in the British Northern Ireland secretary, Peter Mandelson, the IRA said in its New Year’s message that the arms issue will not be resolved unless the British prime minister himself takes personal political responsibility.
In the traditional message to mark the new year, the IRA said the British government had failed to seize the opportunity created by IRA initiatives, but that its leadership remains committed to the resolution of the issue of arms.
"As we enter 2001", it said, "we reaffirm our commitment to the achievement of our objectives and the creation of a national democracy through a united, independent and free Ireland.
"More than six years have elapsed since our first cessation of all military operations. In the interim, we have honored all commitments given. The search for a durable peace has presented many challenges for Irish republicans.
"In the course of recent times the leadership of Oglaigh na Eireann has taken a number of unprecedented initiatives to enhance all genuine efforts to realize a just and lasting peace."
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Anti-Agreement unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson criticized the statement, saying the IRA were the only group who had dishonored its commitments under the Good Friday agreement.
"If they continue to refuse to decommission, then the Ulster Unionist Party will have to review its approach to the situation, as we said we would do last October at our Council meeting," he said.
Meanwhile, in its New Year’s message, the 32 County Sovereignty Committee, widely believed to be the political wing of the dissident Real IRA, said that "Irish national sovereignty is a basic, non-negotiable right."
"Republicans have defended and will continue to defend [that] non-negotiable right . . . and also to continue advancing their peaceful challenge to end the long-standing, obvious impasse," it said.
New attempts to prevent the collapse of power-sharing and the Stormont executive are to be made by the British and Irish governments this week alongside talks with the Ulster Unionists, the SDLP and Sinn Fein.
The British prime minister, Tony Blair, and the taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, will only, however, become involved in the discussions if they believe a breakthrough is possible.
Ulster Unionist sources say David Trimble will resign from his position as first minister within the next four weeks unless the IRA resumes serious engagement with John de Chastelain, the chairman of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning.
Trimble promised his party’s ruling council meeting last November that it would be reconvened to review progress on decommissioning by the end of January. If there is no progress, in unionist terms, as seems likely, Trimble may pull his party out of the Executive.
It is difficult to see how that progress is possible, at least until Sinn Fein’s legal challenge against the exclusion of its ministers from the North-South Minister Council is concluded. Legal arguments in the case were heard two weeks ago by Belfast High Court, and Justice Brian Kerr is expected to issue his ruling within the next week.
Meanwhile, the notorious UDA leader John Adair may be released from jail as early as the end of the week despite efforts by Mandelson to keep him locked up.
Adair, who was allowed early freedom under the Good Friday agreement, was later blamed by many for instigating last year’s bloody loyalist feud in which seven men were killed and which only ended in a fragile truce last month.
It’s feared his release could lead to a return to violence. The Sentence Review Commission is expected to confirm its preliminary ruling that there are insufficient grounds for holding Adair in jail.
Mandelson had Adair returned to prison after loyalist feuding. He has no power to overturn the commission’s decision, although he believes that he has adequate evidence against Adair to change its mind.
If the commission rejects Mandelson’s argument, that Adair remains a danger to the public, then it will seriously undermine the minister’s capacity to return to jail other released prisoners suspected of re-involvement in terrorist-related activity.
Adair, who received 16 years for directing terrorism for the UDA, was one of the most high-profile of the 433 terrorist prisoners released under the terms of the Good Friday agreement.