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Unionists await inspections of IRA’S weapons dumps

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

BELFAST — There are fears of a new crisis brewing in the peace process as demands are stepped up for the IRA’s promised "confidence-building measure" of arms inspection, which apparently have been delayed by the British government’s failure to implement the Patten Report on policing.

The election this week of hardliner David Burnside to run in an upcoming by-election in South Antrim has done nothing to quell the fears. Burnside, a tough, abrasive PR executive who served in the UDR and was a member of the hard-right Vanguard Party in the 1970’s, beat off a challenge from David Campbell, chief of staff to the Ulster Unionist leader and First Minister David Trimble.

Burnside’s victory showed that anti-Agreement unionists are still in the ascendancy at the grass roots. The 160 voters at the UUP convention would have known Campbell was Trimble’s preferred candidate, but he lost 90-70.

Trimble, meanwhile, says he expects the independent inspection of IRA arms to take place soon, but the Police Bill, that should put Patten’s recommendations into place, will not be completed before the autumn.

The IRA arms statement of May 6 was predicated on the British government’s promise, in its joint statement with the Irish government of the previous day, promising to implement the Patten Report in full.

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When the Police Bill was published two weeks later, however, it differed significantly from the Patten Report, so much so that the SDLP, Sinn Fein, the Catholic Church hierarchy and even the Northern Ireland Police Authority condemned it.

Sinn Fein spokesmen have been careful not to say the IRA will not deliver on its side of the deal if the Bill is not reworked, but there are bound to be pressures to that effect within its ranks.

Trimble said this week that failure to deliver on the confidence-building measure would make it very difficult to sustain confidence in the resumed devolved administration.

There were other signs, however, that the UUP might not take such a hard line, with its security spokesman, MP Ken Maginnis, saying last Friday that he was satisfied the International Independent Commission on Decommissioning was doing its best.

Maginnis said he didn’t want to create deadlines or ultimatums and there were signs also that Trimble had been surprised by the question put to him about decommissioning and had not intended to be as hardline as he appeared.

After the Hillsborough deal was agreed on May 6, the IRA said it would begin a process of "completely and verifiably" putting its arms beyond use. It added that "within weeks" it would carry out a "confidence building measure to confirm that our weapons remain secure."

Six weeks have passed and so far there has been no sign of either, or of its pledge to resume contact with General John de Chastelain and the IICD.

Trimble, at a business launch in Hillsborough last Thursday, said he expected the promised confidence-building measure to happen very soon but warned that if the IRA did not move it could have serious consequences.

"I think the general expectation is that this will be done," he said. "The corollary of that is, if it is not done within weeks, then, of course, there will be a serious problem with regard to whether confidence can be sustained in the operation."

Later on Friday, following the weekly meeting of the Executive, Trimble indicated that there was no implied threat in his remarks, rather that he was anticipating the IRA would quickly act on its pledge.

Britain’s Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Mandelson, has said the British government will listen to "justified concerns" from all sides about legislation to reform the RUC.

Mandelson is widely blamed within nationalist ranks for the dilution of the Patten Report into the Police Bill. He said there would be "no secret deals or crumbs thrown to one side, then another."

He rejected criticism that the British government had "diluted, binned, or gutted" the Patten report on policing, and said he "shares the goals" of its architect, former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten.

"The overwhelming majority of Patten’s recommendations have been accepted unchanged," he said. "Others do not need legislation for their implementation. A few remain open to debate."

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