Category: Archive

IRA withdraws

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

BELFAST — The IRA has withdrawn its interlocutor to the paramilitary arms decommissioning body and has taken all the proposals made since November on disarmament off the table in a move that plunged the Northern Ireland peace process into a full-scale crisis on Tuesday.

The move came within two hours of Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness emerging from a meeting with British Northern Secretary Peter Mandelson saying it had been a "bad" meeting and a "backward step."

The IRA said in its statement on Tuesday that the Ulster Unionists and the British government had been trying to achieve a military victory, which, it said, will not happen.

The IRA accused Mandelson of reintroducing the unionist veto by suspending the political institutions set up by the Good Friday agreement and reimposing direct rule from London. Mandelson’s move late last Friday afternoon came despite a report by the decommissioning body that sounded a hopeful note that the arms impasse could be broken. The move has changed the context in which the IRA was prepared to speak to the decommissioning body, which is headed by Canadian Gen. John de Chastelain.

The IRA statement said the British government and the unionists had rejected its latest proposals and it accused them of having no desire to deal with decommissioning except on their own terms.

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In the light of all of this, the statement said, its leadership had decided to end its engagement with the decommissioning body and withdraw all the propositions put to it since November.

The IRA statement came on the same afternoon that Adams had meetings with David Trimble, the UUP leader and first minister of the now suspended Executive, and Mandelson at Stormont.

A senior Sinn Fein spokesman said Mandelson was "not focused" on the problems being faced by the republican movement internally.

"He seems to believe, naively, that Gerry and Martin can wave a magic wand and all republicans will fall into place," the spokesman said. "He fails to understand that republicans have their own views on what has been happening and it’s not a question of being told what to do by the leadership. Mandelson has no idea of the crisis we are facing within our own community.

"He only seems to be aware of the difficulties facing unionism and isn’t even prepared to listen to what we have to say. He won’t listen, he’s not focused on us. It was a bad meeting."

Responding to the IRA statement, Mandelson said he was disappointed and that what had been on the table had had real potential. People, he said, would be sad that those proposals could not be worked on and developed.

Irish government effort

Meanwhile, the Irish government is leading a frantic effort to rescue the Good Friday agreement from being plunged into a lengthy review, which, it is expected, the Ulster Unionists would use as a springboard to renegotiate.

The Republic’s new minister for foreign affairs, Brian Cowen, is having a baptism under fire in Belfast as he struggles to keep the process on track. Cowen had two meetings with Mandelson on Monday, during which, it is believed, few punches were pulled.

Republican and nationalist politicians on both sides of the border had reacted with a mixture of anger, despair and incredulity at the British government’s decision to unilaterally suspend Northern Ireland’s nine-week-old power-sharing executive.

A rift between the Irish and British governments was impossible to disguise in the hours after the suspension Friday, despite efforts by Dublin civil servants to paper over them as a "slight difference in emphasis."

A promised joint statement in the wake of the suspension failed to materialize Friday night and nothing could hide the dismay felt in Dublin at London’s decision to act unilaterally when faced with the threat of the UUP pulling out of the Northern Executive because of the failure of the IRA to begin arms decommissioning.

Although Sinn Fein insists the British government was kept fully informed of significant shifts in the IRA’s position on weapons decommissioning — and the UUP’s Trimble was briefed by McGuinness at 2 p.m. on Friday –Mandelson nevertheless pulled the plug at 5 p.m.

A second report from the decommissioning body, indicating a shift by the IRA, was by then available for Mandelson to read, but he apparently ignored it. Questioned on British TV about the one-page report, Mandelson admitted it was on his desk but said he had not had time to read it.

UUP threat

It’s known that the Ulster Unionist Party chairman, Sir Josias Cunningham, was preparing to put Trimble’s resignation on the desk of the Assembly’s presiding officer, Lord John Alderdice, unless news of the suspension was carried on the 6 p.m. news bulletins.

It’s believed Cunningham and Trimble were fearful of London losing its nerve and concurring with Dublin that the negotiations should be allowed a few hours longer, until midnight on Friday, to come up with a compromise over decommissioning.

Sinn Fein believes that Trimble, alerted by McGuinness to the possibility of a breakthrough, and fearing London might side with Dublin and postpone suspending the Executive, decided to threaten resignation unless the British government made a decision in his favor immediately.

Whatever the timing and sequence of events, Mandelson acted to suspend the Executive and efforts are now concentrated on preventing a new review, which Seamus Mallon of the SDLP, the deputy first minister in the Executive, said could last two years.

For his part, Trimble seems set on delay. On Saturday, his ruling party council voted to set up a working party to discuss what it wants out of the review, an agenda that is bound to include preserving the RUC name, which the British government said will change to the Police Service of Northern Ireland after a policing review recommended widespread reforms to the largely Protestant force.

Sinn Fein’s Adams accused Mandelson of reimposing direct rule under threat from the Ulster Unionist Party and in full knowledge of what he described as "a major breakthrough" on the arms issue.

"It’s quite bizarre that a British secretary of state, in order to catch a 6 o’clock deadline, would move to a unionist threat," he said.

McGuinness accused Mandelson of "lunacy," adding, "It’s absolutely crazy that a British government, which was party to the establishment of an independent committee on decommissioning, would now effectively tell it that it’s wrong, tell it that the work it has done with the armed groups, including the IRA, is not acceptable and is almost akin to telling it that it should pack its bags and go."

Mallon, the deputy first minister of the suspended Executive, said the reimposition of direct rule would make it "very, very difficult" to rebuild the institutions of devolved government.

"Why were institutions which were working well suspended in relation to this or any other issue?" he asked. "I think it was unwise of Mr. Mandelson and it would have been unwise of them [the Ulster Unionists] to ask him."

Unionist politicians have welcomed the suspension of the institutions but insisted they took no pleasure from the decision. Said Trimble, "The background to this was our decision at the end of November to jump first in the expectation that the republican movement would reciprocate."

A Trimble loyalist, Michael McGimpsey, who was minister for culture in the now-suspended Executive, said: "You have to persevere when you’re dealing with organizations such as the republican movement. You have to be very stubborn and you have to in effect never give up. We will not be letting them off any of the hooks. They are in a process and decommissioning is the inevitable outcome."

The anti-Agreement Democratic Unionist Party, led by the Rev. Ian Paisley, accused the UUP of betraying their electorate by acting outside their party’s manifesto. Nigel Dodds, the former minister for social development, accused the party of making concessions to the IRA and getting nothing in return.

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