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February 03, 2005

02/04/05 - White House Invite For SF Unlikely

Overall Table of Contents
Table of Contents – Feb 2005

IT 02/04/05 White House Invite For SF Unlikely
GU 02/03/05 Comment: Who Gains From This Breakdown?
EX 02/03/05 Anger Has Been Building For Some Time
IT 02/04/05 McGuinness Says Robbers 'Didn't Give A Damn'
UT 02/03/05 Ahern Wants Talks To Continue
IO 02/03/05 Mansergh Urges IRA Not To Be 'Foolish'
IT 02/04/05 Mansergh Questions SF's Ability To Control The IRA
GU 02/03/05 Ulster Standoff After New IRA Threat
IT 02/04/05 Govts Do Not Believe IRA Signalling A Return To War
IT 02/04/05 On & Off Table: What IRA Offered & What It Withdrew
IT 02/04/05 Contact W/ Decommissioning Body Ended 3 Times Prevsly
SM 02/03/05 Sinn Fein Risks Place In Talks, Says PM
IT 02/04/05 Where To Now As Belfast Agreement Seems Over?
EX 02/03/05 Mongrel Force Should Be Muzzled & Not Allowed Patrol
IT 02/04/05 Orde's Assessment Unchanged After Statement
IT 02/04/05 Peace Process Since Belfast Agreement

PT 02/04/05 Peace Process Stalled In Fallout From Bank Raid -VO
RT 02/04/05 IRA Releases Second Statement To Govts -VO
RT 02/04/05 Tommie Gorman Reports On Comments By Gerry Adams -VO
RT 02/04/05 Chas Bird & Tom Gorman Assess Gravity Of Situation –VO

Peace Process Stalled In Fallout From Northern Bank Raid

IRA Releases Second Statement To Govts - Charlie Bird, Chief News Correspondent, reports on the latest IRA communication warning the governments to consider the seriousness of the situation

Tommie Gorman, Northern Editor, Reports On Comments By Gerry Adams at a Belfast news conference today

Charlie Bird And Tommie Gorman Assess The Gravity Of The Situation


Adams & McGuinness
Sinn Féin Mr Gerry Adams and Mr Martin McGuinness at a news conference at Stormont in Belfast yesterday. Photograph: Paul McErlane/Reuters

White House Invite For SF Unlikely

Conor O'Clery, in New York

US reaction: The statement from the IRA withdrawing its proposals to get rid of weapons is likely to tip the balance in the White House against holding a St Patrick's Day reception to which Sinn Féin leaders would be invited.

"It certainly won't help those seeking to have the usual invitation to the St Patrick's Day reception," an Irish Embassy spokesman said.

There was no reaction from the US State Department to the IRA statement, and it is believed US officials are waiting for the visit of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Dermot Ahern, to Washington next week before reacting to the latest IRA statements.

Mr Ahern, who will have discussions in Derry with Mr Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin before leaving for the US, will meet President Bush's Special Envoy on Northern Ireland, Dr Mitchell Reiss, in Washington, as well as Irish-American members of Congress.

The White House is now said to be leaning towards cutting back on St Patrick's Day celebrations and restricting it to the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, and leading Irish-Americans, to avoid any meeting between President Bush and Sinn Féin leaders.

For the last 10 years the reception has always included Northern Ireland party leaders, but the scale of the reception has been scaled back since the Clinton era, when it involved lavish dinners and dozens of guests from Ireland, North and South.

© The Irish Times


Comment: Who Gains From This Breakdown?

The British and Irish governments have reason to undermine Sinn Féin

Niall Stanage
Friday February 4, 2005
The Guardian

The Irish peace process, which just two months ago seemed inches away from a final settlement, is in turmoil. The current downward spiral began in late December, when a raid on a Belfast bank netted its perpetrators £26m. Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern wasted no time in declaring that the IRA was responsible for the heist. They have stuck with that position since, though they have not produced a shred of evidence to back up their claims. The two premiers this week characterised the IRA as "the sole obstacle" in the way of progress.

The IRA responded in kind on Wednesday, declaring that further decommissioning was now "off the table". While reaffirming its desire to see the peace process succeed, it also warned, ominously, that current circumstances had "tried our patience to the limit". That statement, in turn, provoked an outcry from Irish republicanism's opponents. Ian Paisley, the leader of the hardline Democratic Unionist party, said that the IRA had "never had any intention of giving up their criminal empire".

The peace process has passed through moments of peril before, of course. But now, all forward momentum seems lost. Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness spoke yesterday of a "deepening crisis".

Two things have remained true of Northern Ireland since the worst years of the Troubles. First, things are rarely as they appear. Second, it is always vital to ask whose interests are served when unsupported allegations are flung about.

There are three possible explanations for the bank raid which precipitated the current mess. It could have been carried out by the IRA with the approval of the Sinn Féin leadership; or by freelancing current or former members of the organisation; or by someone else entirely, possibly someone who would like to see Sinn Féin ostracised and republicanism's political progress halted.

The British and Irish governments clearly favour the first explanation. Their vehemence has fuelled the notion that they must have cast-iron evidence. Perhaps they do. But why, then, have they not produced any of it? In order to believe that the likes of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were complicit in the bank robbery one must make a series of assumptions that make no sense.

The current republican leadership has invested two decades in the peace process. They have nothing to gain from its failure. Why, then, would they give tacit approval to a massive bank raid? Even if the perpetrators were not caught in the act, Adams and McGuinness would know that suspicion would fall upon them. And they would know that such suspicion would in itself be potent enough to wreck the project to which they have dedicated much of their lives.

It is more plausible to believe that individuals who are, or were, members of the IRA carried out the raid for personal profit. But if that is the case, why should the 300,000 Irish nationalists who vote for Sinn Féin be punished in response? One thing is not in doubt. It is Sinn Féin's opponents who can reap most benefit from pinning blame for December's robbery on republicans.

Attributing blame to republicans for the current impasse also gets Paisley off the hook. Many people believe that he kiboshed a possible deal on decommissioning at the end of last year: the IRA had offered to disarm fully, but Paisley demanded photographic evidence and made a provocative speech in which he demanded the IRA don sackcloth and ashes.

This would not be the first time a unionist leader has been saved from international condemnation by a flurry of allegations against republicans. Those who regard such talk as conspiratorial nonsense might recall that in late 2002, David Trimble was finally beginning to take flak for his intransigence - until sensational allegations of an IRA/Sinn Féin "spy ring" emerged. Almost all charges relating to that affair were eventually, and quietly, dropped. But Northern Ireland's devolved government has never been resuscitated.

The Irish government has good reasons of its own to blacken Sinn Féin's name. Adams's party is on the rise in the Irish Republic. It has five members of the Irish parliament and its first MEP from the south, and continues to threaten the establishment parties, Bertie Ahern's Fianna Fáil in particular. What better way to put a stop to Sinn Féin's gallop than to paint it as deceitful and nefarious?

Many Irish republicans were always suspicious of the peace process. They believed that the British government and the unionists were interested only in their defeat, not in genuine political progress. They believed they would be drawn away from the armed struggle, only to be frozen out politically. Recent events give them ample reason to say "we told you so".

Niall Stanage is a correspondent for the Dublin-based Sunday Business Post


Anger Has Been Building For Some Time

Danny Morrison

THE statement issued yesterday by the IRA is an ominous development and represents a major deterioration in the peace process.

Unlike Wednesday night’s lengthy exposition of the IRA’s analysis on what went wrong last December when a deal foundered, yesterday’s statement was terse and suggested the talking was over.

Republican frustration and anger has been building for some time. Where I live, in the heart of Gerry Adams’s constituency, there is a feeling that each time republicans have made concessions the goalposts are shifted by unionists, often with the support of the two governments.

The majority of Northern nationalists who voted for Sinn Féin, believe the governments are hypocritical and operate double standards. Elements of the two governments are hostile to SF for different reasons. Some, on the British side are out to destroy the Adams ’ leadership and would consider a split in the IRA and a return to conflict a success, allowing them to finish off the organisation.


McGuinness Says Robbers 'Didn't Give A Damn'

Sinn Féin's chief negotiator Mr Martin McGuinness has again criticised those who took part in the Northern Bank raid, describing their actions as a criminal robbery.

Mr McGuinness also said those involved in the robbery "didn't give a damn about the peace process".

He was highly critical of those involved, saying: "It's being used against us, the people who robbed the Northern Bank didn't give a damn about the peace process; didn't give tuppence for the work Gerry Adams and I and others were involved in over the course of many years; they were obviously people out for self-gain."

He was speaking yesterday on the Eamon Dunphy breakfast show on Newstalk106.

He reiterated his belief that the IRA were not responsible but said it would be an even more serious issue if the IRA were lying to him. "I don't believe that the IRA robbed the Northern Bank. But if the IRA had robbed the Northern Bank during the course of those critical negotiations, it would have been very serious indeed."

He had sat at several meetings with the British Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, and the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, and no evidence had been provided showing the IRA was involved. "And they haven't given us a smidgeon to work on," he said.

The Government's "flippant" and "cavalier" attitude to the current impasse in the North's peace process does nothing to ensure the future of the Good Friday agreement, Sinn Féin MEP Ms Mary Lou McDonald said last night.

© The Irish Times


Ahern Wants Talks To Continue

The Irish Government said in its first official response to last night's IRA statement that talks must continue between all parties.

By:Press Association

Irish premier Bertie Ahern called for a period for everybody to seek engagement on the outstanding issues of the Good Friday Agreement.

He said: "I don`t read the IRA statement in a negative fashion.

"They are saying what is a fact, that negotiations have broken down.

"Everything is off the table and that`s the normal course of negotiation."

Mr Ahern said the main objective was to bring an end to criminality and paramilitarism and resolve decommissioning, as specified in paragraph 13 of the Joint Declaration.

Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell demanded that the republican movement own up to crimes and abandon all criminality and paramilitary.

He said: "They claim that anything that they do on the authority of the Army Council is not a crime."

Mr McDowell said the Irish government needed a clear and unequivocal commitment from Sinn Fein and the IRA that they would commit to a exclusively democratic process from now on.


Mansergh Urges IRA Not To Be 'Foolish'

03/02/2005 - 22:03:36

A Government senator tonight urged the IRA “not to do anything foolish” to wreck progress in the Northern Ireland peace process.

Senator Martin Mansergh, who has been Northern adviser to three premiers, said he felt sorry about the current crisis but excluding Sinn Féin from power-sharing talks would be disastrous.

Mr Mansergh told a student debate in Dublin’s Trinity College, “with tonight’s statement, the IRA seem to be angry and frustrated.

“But I would appeal to the republican movement not to do anything foolish. Not to damage anything that has been achieved by political leaders, some of whom are in Sinn Féin.”

Mr Mansergh was speaking after a second statement from the IRA in less than 24 hours tonight warned the British and Irish Governments not to “underestimate the seriousness” of current difficulties in the peace process.

The senator said he trusted premier Bertie Ahern when he claimed that Sinn Féin leaders had prior knowledge of December’s £26.5m (€37.8m) Northern Bank robbery. He said: “He is extremely careful. He doesn’t say things lightly without having a lot of information.”

Mr Mansergh said the record heist had brought trust in the peace process to an absolute nadir, and had a more destabilising effect than the bombing of Canary Wharf.

Democratic Unionist MEP Jim Allister told the debate that it was time to move on without Sinn Féin and to have a “coalition of willing democrats”.

He said: “You cannot have a mandate to play politics by day and play with terror by night.”

He insisted that the IRA had carried out the Northern Bank robbery and had been planning to do so for months.

Sinn Féin MEP Mary Lou McDonald accused the Irish Government of having a “cavalier and flippant attitude towards the very deep crisis” in the peace process.

She described Mr Ahern’s claims of Sinn Féin knowledge of the Northern Bank crime as “wild and baseless”, and claimed that he knew his comments would have “massively destabilising consequences”.

Another speaker, Progressive Unionist leader David Ervine accused Sinn Féin of building expectations of peace in Northern Ireland by playing “high politics”.

He questioned the level of control that Sinn Féin leaders now had over the IRA.

The speakers spoke for and against a motion before the college’s Literary and Historical Society that “this house believes that Sinn Féin is responsible for the current deadlock in Northern Ireland”.


Mansergh Questions Sinn Fein's Ability To Control The IRA

Liam Reid

Senator Martin Mansergh, the former Government adviser on Northern Ireland, has questioned whether the Sinn Féin leadership has the ability to secure decommissioning and a cessation of all IRA activity.

Speaking after Wednesday night's IRA statement - and before last night's additional statement - he said: "There has to be a question mark in the power of the political leadership of the republican movement to deliver." Dr Mansergh said political parties in Northern Ireland "should be relying exclusively on their electoral mandates, instead of bringing in the IRA and its statements when things get into difficulties.

"I would want to acknowledge . . . people like Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, and a whole lot of other people have made an important contribution, and worthwhile contribution, and worked hard in the peace process. It is all the more disappointing we are now in this situation."

Referring to reports of divisions within the IRA on some of the concessions offered before Christmas, Dr Mansergh said there were still "a lot of sceptics" within the republican movement.

"But I think there are also people in, or associated with, the republican movement, now that the armed struggle is over, who would be extremely unhappy that the image of it is being tarnished by association with things, bank raids, the human rights abuses we call punishment beatings and shootings and Mafia-type activities. I mean is this what republicanism is about?"

Speaking on Morning Ireland yesterday, Dr Mansergh said he believed IRA activity was still the single greatest impediment to a comprehensive settlement. "To my mind republicanism is about uniting Protestant, Catholic and dissenter, and as long as the IRA exists the chances of converting any significant number of people among the Protestant unionist population in the North is absolutely nil." He believed the Northern Bank robbery was comparable to the Canary Wharf bomb in 1996 in terms of its impact on the peace process. "I mean there's a huge loss of trust." Dr Mansergh said he did not believe Sinn Féin could become part of any government in the Republic while IRA activity continued. "It is simply not possible to continue with paramilitary activity and operate a normal democratic party. "The truth is that Sinn Féin, regardless of extra seats they might or mightn't win, they wouldn't come within an asses roar of power north or south of the Border until the IRA is off the pitch."

© The Irish Times


Ulster Standoff After New IRA Threat

Michael White and Angelique Chrisafis
Friday February 4, 2005
The Guardian

The renewed political crisis in Northern Ireland intensified last night when the IRA brushed aside British and Irish allegations of criminality and warned the two governments: "Do not underestimate the seriousness of the situation."

Twenty-four hours after the Provisional IRA withdrew its long-stalled promise to decommission weapons stockpiles, London and Dublin refused to be impressed. Convinced that the IRA and its political wing, Sinn Féin, are bluffing, they also insist that the IRA's ceasefire will hold.

There was some comfort for Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern when administration sources in Washington confirmed that that the Bush administration is considering excluding Sinn Féin's president, Gerry Adams, from the annual St Patrick's Day celebrations at the White House on March 17. The move would be a gesture of support for the tough Anglo-Irish stand against the IRA's alleged £26.5m robbery at the Northern Bank in Belfast on December 20.

Last night neither side was prepared to blink. London and Dublin insisted that the focus must be maintained on the real issue of paramilitary "criminality".

Sinn Féin again denied the bank robbery charge and the IRA appeared to hint at an end to the ceasefire.

In a menacing two-line statement, a senior republican source said: "The two governments are trying to play down the importance of our statement because they are making a mess of the peace process. Do not underestimate the seriousness of the situation."

That statement echoed comments by Mr Adams yesterday that the peace process could be "as transient as Tony Blair's time in Downing Street." Asked whether the IRA ceasefire would last, Mr Adams had refused to interpret the IRA's overnight statement. Instead he and his deputy, Martin McGuinness, accused his critics of seeking confrontation.

Unionists called their tactics a "temper tantrum". They appealed to voters to stop supporting a political party that threatened to "embed" criminal violence in their society.

Republican sources in Belfast suggest that their bluff is being called by both governments. As a result they are warning them that they are in deadly earnest, that their authority is not being respected, and that they must be heard as they were earlier in the peace process, rather than being grilled and ridiculed.

The Independent Monitoring Commission's report on the robbery, delivered yesterday and to be published next week, is expected to endorse the guilty verdict and may recommend that Sinn Féin be suspended from any power-sharing cabinet for six months.

Last night the IRA accused Mr Blair and the taoiseach of deliberate confrontation after mishandling the peace process before Christmas when the DUP leader, Ian Paisley, insisted on photographic proof that IRA stockpiles were being blown up. Yet ministers remain adamant that the advice of police and intelligence services in both countries is that the ceasefire will hold and that the IRA is not facing a split.

London is considering ideas being floated by the mainstream parties in the province that they should try to restore devolved government at Stormont, suspended two years ago, without Sinn Féin, now the largest nationalist party.

"We do not want to go down that road," said one senior official. "But if the IRA persist in criminal activity we may have no option."

After talks at No 10, the Northern Ireland secretary, Paul Murphy, said: "We told Sinn Féin that they are to go back and reflect upon the points that the governments have made to them - in many ways the ball is in their court - to stop the criminality which is associated with the IRA."


Governments Do Not Believe IRA Signalling A Return To War

The IRA's second declaration within 24 hours that the Irish and British governments are not heeding its warnings on the peace process does not herald a return to violence, the two governments believe. Mark Hennessy, Gerry Moriarty and Dan Keenan report.

The IRA statement, sent to RTÉ News at 6 p.m. last night, followed on the heel of bitter criticism during the day of the Government by Sinn Féin leaders, Mr Gerry Adams and Mr Martin McGuinness.

In its latest statement, the IRA said: "The two governments are trying to play down the importance of our statement [ on Wednesday] because they are making a mess of the peace process. Do not underestimate the seriousness of the situation."

Earlier, the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, had sought to play down the threat posed by the first IRA declaration, which warned that it would not "remain quiescent within this unacceptable and unstable situation".

In Dundalk, Co Louth, Mr Ahern said: "I don't read the IRA statement in a negative fashion. Quite frankly, they are saying what is a fact: that negotiations have broken down, that everything is off the table. That is the normal course in negotiations."

Last night, Government sources emphasised that Mr Ahern had repeatedly insisted over the past few weeks that lines had to be kept open to Sinn Féin, though he had faced criticism for so doing.

Unhappy with the Taoiseach's handling of the peace process, Mr Adams in Belfast warned Mr Ahern and the British Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, not to seek confrontation. "We have told them both that confrontation is not the way forward," Mr Adams said. "Otherwise the peace process could be as transient as [ Mr Blair's time] in Downing Street."

Last night, Irish sources privately said the IRA appeared to have believed that Wednesday's statement would have caused near panic in Dublin and London. "When it didn't, they got annoyed, so they issued a second statement to make sure that people got the message," one source told The Irish Times, although adding that he did not believe it amounted to a declaration of a return to violence.

However, the Fine Gael leader, Mr Enda Kenny, said: "The latest IRA statement is tantamount to a threat against the Irish people and our State. Such threats have no place in any process of negotiations. The democratic political parties must stand firm in the face of this attempted intimidation."

The Labour Party leader, Mr Pat Rabbitte, said the latest IRA statement was "a sinister development as it contains an implied threat to democratically elected governments and to the people of these islands. Democrats should stand firm in the face of IRA belligerence."

Meanwhile, the Independent Monitoring Commission report into the Northern Bank raid, received by the two governments yesterday, lays the blame clearly at the door of the IRA. Although the report will not be published until next week, the IMC says it would have recommended Sinn Féin's expulsion from the Northern Executive for six months had the Executive and Assembly been in place.

However, the four-person body, chaired by former Alliance Party leader Lord John Alderdice, does recommend that Sinn Féin MLAs should suffer a cut to their pay and allowances.

Meanwhile, both Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness separately warned that Sinn Féin would "no longer interpret" for the IRA or "be a conduit" between it and the two governments.

In Belfast yesterday afternoon, the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Mr Hugh Orde, said the IRA had "the capacity, the capability, but not the intent" to return to violence.

Asked about allegations that the IRA orchestrated the pre-Christmas Northern Bank raid, Sinn Féin's Mr McGuinness last night said the robbery was a criminal act" carried out by people "who do not care tuppence" about the peace process.

Rejecting Sinn Féin's charges that the Government was being confrontational, Mr Ahern said Sinn Féin and the IRA must realise "that there are a few realities" in the peace process. "We are not in favour of exclusion, we are not in favour of humiliating anybody. We want to engage. We are not getting into the old policies of blaming people."

He added: "We cannot make the peace process work and achieve the restoration of the institutions until we have a complete end to criminality, paramilitary activity and the decommissioning issue. Let's get on it. They are going to have to be dealt with. If it is impossible to deal with them somebody should say that, but nobody has said that."

© The Irish Times


On And Off The Table: What The IRA Offered And What It Withdrew

Dan Keenan

The means by which the existence of the IRA and its weapons were to be addressed were contained in two annexes to the British and Irish Proposals for A Comprehensive Settlement, published by Mr Blair and Mr Ahern in December.

That document contained a proposed statement to be issued by the IRA, and a second to be signed by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning.

Annex C referred to a draft IRA statement which was to have said: "The all-Ireland nature and implementation on an enduring basis of this agreement by the democratically elected representatives of the Irish people enables us all to take political objectives forward by peaceful and democratic means." The draft continued: "This creates the conditions for the IRA to move into a new mode that reflects its determination to see the transition to a totally peaceful society brought to a successful conclusion. Consistent with this, and recognising the need to uphold and not to endanger anyone's personal rights and safety, all IRA volunteers have been given specific instructions not to engage in any activity which might thereby endanger the new agreement."

Referring to weapons, the IRA was to have agreed: "We have also made it clear that the IRA leadership will, in this new context, conclude the process to completely and verifiably put all its arms beyond use. Accordingly the IRA leadership has agreed with the IICD to complete this process in a way which further enhances public confidence and to conclude this by the end of December." In its proposed statement, contained in Annex D, the IICD was to have supported this. The IICD was also to state how the completion of IRA decommissioning was to be verified.

In Wednesday's statement, the IRA called off contact with Gen de Chastelain's decommissioning body.

© The Irish Times


Contact With Decommissioning Body Ended Three Times Previously

IRA statements and the 'ceasefire'

Dan Keenan,
Northern News Editor

One of P O'Neill's gravest IRA statements accompanied the ending of the IRA's first "complete cessation of military operations" in February 1996 and the bombing of London's docklands.

That ceasefire was restored in July 1997 to foster political progress, which ultimately led to the Belfast Agreement in 1998.

Yet at various points of crisis throughout the peace process, the IRA has broken off and re-engaged with the body charged with overseeing weapons decommissioning.

In 1998 the IRA insisted it would never decommission any of its weapons. A statement following the conclusion of the Belfast Agreement in April 1998 noted that the agreement marked political progress but "clearly falls short of presenting a solid basis for a lasting settlement".

It promised to monitor developments and said: "Let us make it clear that there will be no decommissioning by the IRA." However, in November 1999, after the conclusion of the Mitchell review of the peace process, the IRA committed to sending a representative to deal with Gen John de Chastelain, head of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD).

On that occasion P O Neill said: "The IRA is willing to further enhance the peace process and, consequently, following the establishment of the institutions agreed on Good Friday last year, the IRA leadership will appoint a representative to enter into discussions with Gen John de Chastelain and the IICD." The IRA withdrew co-operation with the IICD in February 2000 after the decision by the then northern secretary, Mr Peter Mandelson, to suspend the Stormont institutions in an attempt to prevent the total collapse of the Belfast Agreement.

P O'Neill said: "The British secretary of state has reintroduced the unionist veto by suspending the political institutions. This has changed the context in which we appointed a representative to meet with the IICD and has created a deeper crisis." Using similar language to Wednesday's statement, the IRA said: "In the light of these changed circumstances the leadership of the IRA have decided to end our engagement with the IICD. We are also withdrawing all propositions put to the IICD by our representative since November."

By May 2000, as intensive efforts were made to agree a sequence of events to restore progress, the IRA announced it would permit independent witnesses to inspect its arms dumps. It further signalled that full implementation of the agreement would lead to the IRA initiating " a process that will completely and verifiably put IRA arms beyond use". The statement promised to resume contact with the IICD.

Devolution was restored and IRA dumps were subsequently inspected in June.

However, following further political difficulties in which the IRA accused the British government of reneging on its commitments, unionists claimed IRA contacts with Gen de Chastelain were at a minimum.

In March 2001 the IRA referred to its contact with the IICD and warned: "For this engagement to be successful, the British government must deliver on its obligations." The following August the IRA said in a statement that a scheme had been agreed with the IICD to put arms completely and verifiably beyond use.

Nevertheless, unionists denounced what they saw as lack of progress on actual decommissioning. One week later the IRA issued a fresh statement saying: "The outright rejection of the IICD statement by the UUP leadership, compounded by the setting of preconditions, is totally unacceptable." It withdrew the offer on weapons it had made to Gen de Chastelain.

The following month, amid a political hiatus over the arrest of three Irishmen in Colombia, P O'Neill signed another statement which claimed that efforts involving the IICD were being intensified. This was followed in October 2001 by an IRA announcement that an act of decommissioning had taken place "to save the peace process" and "to persuade others of our genuine intentions".

In April 2002 the IRA again announced it had put a second consignment of its weapons beyond use and it demanded that the British government and unionists make the political process work. However, there was a new crisis. On October 14th, fuelled by allegations of IRA intelligence-gathering at Stormont, the Assembly was again suspended. This led to the IRA suspending contact with the IICD for the third time.

© The Irish Times


Sinn Fein Risks Place In Talks, Says PM

Gerri Peev
Political Correspondent

The Battle of wills between Tony Blair and the IRA intensified yesterday, with the two sides trading threats, and a permanent Northern Ireland peace deal looking further and further away.

By last night, there seemed little sign of an imminent solution to the crisis triggered by the IRA’s threat on Wednesday to cease its disarmament, angry at being blamed for December’s £26 million Northern Bank raid.

Apparently trying to call the republicans’ bluff, the Prime Minister warned that Sinn Fein could be frozen out of future power-sharing government in Northern Ireland unless the IRA stops its criminal activities.

The paramilitaries responded by stepping up their own rhetoric, warning in a fresh statement last night: "Do not underestimate the seriousness of the situation."

For all the latent threat implied by those words, the UK and Irish governments were holding firm. Neither believes the IRA is willing to return to violence in the post-11 September political climate.

Sinn Fein earlier told Mr Blair that he was endangering the peace process by treating the IRA as common criminals.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman responded by confirming that the government was in talks with other parties eager to take the peace process forward.

"We do not want to exclude them. If the republican movement can’t stop its activity, it is excluding itself," Mr Blair’s spokesman said.

If the IRA persisted with crime, he added, Sinn Fein would be barred from a devolved government formed by a coalition of nationalists and unionists.


Where To Now As Belfast Agreement Seems Over?

Analysis: Mr David Trimble offered us a tantalising glimpse of Tony Blair's current mood and disposition yesterday when he emerged from their meeting in Downing Street, writes Frank Millar, London Editor.

"The Prime Minister is clearly saying to us 'we are in a different situation to where we were before' - and I think there is a reality there," said the Ulster Unionist leader.

But how much reality? Indeed, which reality informs the thinking of Number 10 as it ponders the fall-out from the Northern Bank robbery, the implications of the latest IRA statements, and Mr Trimble's warning of further degradation of what remains of the political process in Northern Ireland?

Mr Blair and Mr Trimble might be agreed that they are now "in a different situation". But if the Ulster Unionist leader has moved to a significantly different place - and it seems clear he has - is he confident that the British Prime Minister is in it with him?

This is a serious question, as Mr Trimble later acknowledged to The Irish Times. The answer? The UUP leader readily admitted he did not know.

In fairness, the impression Mr Trimble took away yesterday was similar to that with which SDLP leader Mark Durkan left Downing Street on Tuesday night. SDLP sources said they formed the impression that Mr Blair was now seriously interested in finding an "alternative" political way forward.

And Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy appeared to leave all options open yesterday as he referred to the various ideas currently canvassed by the DUP, Ulster Unionists and the SDLP.

Yet Mr Murphy gave the impression of going through the motions. And it is almost certainly his calculation, and that of Mr Blair's advisers in Number 10, that there will be no unionist/SDLP consensus on any of those alternatives.

It seems clear that neither the DUP nor the Ulster Unionists will entertain the SDLP plan to restore the financial and legislative powers of the Assembly while giving the Executive function to Commissioners to be appointed by the British and Irish governments. Mr Trimble (unlike some of his senior colleagues) is equally opposed to the original DUP plan for a Corporate Assembly, which he believes was planned (and sold) as a way of bypassing the vexed question of IRA decommissioning.

Former Deputy First Minister Séamus Mallon has spoken equally passionately against an alternative DUP proposal to give the Assembly a consultative or scrutiny role in relation to Direct Rule ministers.

Like Mr Trimble, the SDLP would see this as reward for, and encouragement to, "the politics of opposition". The SDLP, in turn, seems set to resist DUP and UUP invitations to leave Sinn Féin behind and join them in a voluntary coalition at Stormont.

In an important speech last weekend, Mr Trimble argued that the existence in the Belfast Agreement of provision to exclude any party not committed to exclusively peaceful and democratic means, "shows that an inclusive Executive (i.e. with Sinn Féin) was not an overriding requirement". And in Downing Street yesterday he called for a renewed emphasis "on building-up the moderate centre ground", arguing that "the notion some people had that by bringing in the extremes they would somehow resolve the problems. . . that just has not worked."

However, the SDLP calculation is that a decision now to enter a voluntary coalition with either unionist party would be the way to guaranteed obliteration by Sinn Féin in the forthcoming British general election.

Indeed, not the least of Mr Trimble's problems in preparing for his party's own do-or-die battle with the DUP, is that the nationalist/republican contest may incline the SDLP to a policy of an ever-deeper "greening" of Direct Rule within the context of an enhanced Anglo-Irish framework. Time, as Mr Blair and Mr Trimble ruefully reflected yesterday, is not on their side.

"We are agreed this is not a situation that can be postponed or left until after an election," the UUP leader reported, adding that to do so "would be to see the situation degrade further".

Yet further degradation it seems likely to be. The lingering hope in London and Dublin will be that after the election the "pragmatic wing" of a likely victorious DUP will return to the pre-Christmas agenda.

But the conclusion of that failed negotiation, and the processes leading to it, confirmed that the Paisley party is still in charge and has had its distrust of republican intentions mightily reinforced. Moreover, even as it plots his destruction, the Paisley party will be watching how Mr Trimble positions his party for the election. And, barring some unforeseen breakthrough with the SDLP, that will not be to the left of the so-called DUP "modernisers."

While not saying "never", Mr Trimble has as good as said the all-inclusive Good Friday experiment is over, and explicitly that an agenda providing for the devolution of policing and justice powers is off the table. Those hoping for new windows of opportunity following the election should ask themselves - is it likely Dr Paisley will seek the final eclipse of the Ulster Unionist Party by offering the more moderate alternative?

Wherever Mr Blair is, and for all their rivalries, the two unionist parties are converging on that different place.

© The Irish Times


Mongrel Force Should Be Muzzled And Not Allowed Patrol The Streets

By Pat Brosnan

IT SAYS a lot when the country’s Human Rights Commission (HRC) is worried about Justice Minister Michael McDowell’s daft idea about recruiting wannabe gardaí.

With his announcement this week that he wants to recruit 1,400 volunteer

gardaí, the minister would appear to be planning to turn the Garda Síochána into some kind of FCA.

If it ever happens, they will probably be trained by the 2,000 full-time members promised before the last general election, who have so far failed to report for duty. In fact, they have failed to appear.

Not that there's anything wrong with the FCA. At least they can't arrest anybody unlike this proposed new unit on which the minister intends to bestow the same powers, duties, immunities and privileges as full-time gardaí.

The general population won't have this off-the-wall idea inflicted on them for another five years and given the Government's pathetic record so far on garda recruitment, it probably never will.

But if it ever does, it will present the frightening possibility of unleashing 1,400 gung-ho deputy sheriffs on an unsuspecting public; lads and lassies who want the uniform and power while hanging onto the day job.

It conjures up an image of calling out the washing machine repair man who then flashes a badge and demands to know why the car in your driveway isn't taxed.

It's no surprise that the garda associations are concerned because it is a transparent ploy to tell the public that extra gardaí are being put on the streets when they're not.

The Human Rights Commission is totally opposed to the volunteer force because it would be giving the exercise of police powers to 'non-gardaí'.

"We believe that individuals who have not undergone any serious period of police training and education should not be granted legal power to arrest and use reasonable force," said a statement.

But the minister did say something which makes such obvious commonsense he should really do something about it.

Mr McDowell said he wanted to make it very clear to both the garda representative associations and the public that in no way did he consider a garda reserve to be an adequate substitute for a professional, full-time police force.

So he shouldn't, because nobody else does either.

What he should do is forget about the volunteers until the gardaí get the extra 2,000 full-time members he promised before the election, but promptly forgot about when the Government was returned to power.

The likelihood is they will remain forgotten about, or else transmogrified into this new mongrel unit with the power, but not the standards, of a full-time force.

Had the minister confined his proposals to use volunteers only to steward major sporting occasions and parades, as well as processing traffic offences and other administrative functions, the idea would not be so attractive to wannabe officers.

But give them all the powers of a garda and suddenly it becomes more appealing as they confuse themselves with some macho TV character kicking down doors and slapping handcuffs on anything that moves.

People are always complaining that there's never a garda around when needed, but I still don't think people want to see the butcher, the baker and the candlestick-maker responding to their call for aid in the guise of volunteer gardaí.

This will happen if the provisions enabling the establishment of the force remain in the Garda Síochána Bill 2004, which is currently before the Dáil.

The public do not want a volunteer force pretending to be real gardaí. They want real gardaí.

If the minister wants to put more gardaí on the streets by employing civilians to do largely administrative work, that's fine. But he should not give them powers and uniforms and call them gardaí.

Meanwhile, before the volunteers are unleashed on the public, maybe the real gardaí or police will produce a scrap of evidence that the IRA carried out the raid on the Northern Bank before Christmas.

At this stage most people are inclined to believe they did if only because Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair have been convinced by what they have heard from their respective police chiefs and the Independent Monitoring Commission.

WHAT'S perplexing is that, so far, no evidence has been produced to back up their conviction and rebut the flat denial from the IRA and the one from Sinn Féin that they had any prior knowledge of it. Not a great example for volunteer policemen.

Then the IRA issued a statement from 'P O'Neill' to the effect that their offer of complete decommissioning was off the table. There was no immediate response from the Government.

It's intriguing to try to picture what would be the state of play in Northern Ireland today had Ian Paisley not been so adamant about photographic evidence of decommissioning and had not uttered his "sackcloth and ashes" comment.

Remember that the negotiations up to then were on the verge of transforming the North with the very real prospect of peace. On the table was an offer of complete decommissioning, an end to physical force by republicans, fundamental security changes, greater progress on policing and, ultimately, Sinn Féin power-sharing with the DUP.

Everything was looking so good that the North was going to get its best ever Christmas present the end of paramilitary activities.

Then came Paisley's photographic evidence demand, despite the fact that the IRA was prepared to have the decommissioning of its weapons witnessed by Catholic and Protestant clergymen, as well as the De Chastelain commission.

Paisley then taunted them with his inane remarks, obviously aimed at achieving the result which they produced. Everything was stymied again.

Then came the Northern Bank raid and the immediate assumption that the IRA did it. Maybe they did, but nobody knows for sure.

PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde eventually gave his opinion that it was the IRA and everybody else started singing from the same hymn-sheet.

From a public perspective, it's disconcerting that the IRA are automatically in the frame not because they couldn't do it, but because there's not a shred of evidence to show they did.

There's also the question of their absolute denial, and while it might be naive to believe them, their demeanour through years of negotiations and the ceasefire has brought tremendous progress in the peace process. Maybe we'll have to await McDowell's volunteers to find the Northern Bank robbers because the crime probably still won't be resolved in five years' time.


Orde's Assessment Unchanged After Statement

PSNI and Northern reaction: The British government and the PSNI say their position has not been affected by the latest IRA statement. Dan Keenan reports.

The Chief Constable insisted yesterday the IRA was not about to resume its campaign, despite having the capability and the capacity to do so.

At a public meeting of the Policing Board in Belfast yesterday, Mr Hugh Orde, indicated that Wednesday night's IRA statement withdrawing the offer to complete decommissioning within a timeframe had not altered the PSNI view.

"I read the statement from the Provisional IRA . . . and our current assessment stands," he told the 19-member board.

"We are clear the IRA has the capacity. We're clear it has the capability. I am not convinced it has any intent to go back to what they would call 'war' or 'the armed struggle'. We continue to monitor that - but that is my assessment and I stand by that assessment."

Asked about the quality of PSNI intelligence which supports his assessments, as well as the inquiry into the bank raid, Mr Orde told members the police service was "utterly fit for purpose in terms of gathering intelligence. It is probably one of the most sophisticated intelligence-gathering police organisations in the UK without exception."

He also said he did not believe the IRA or any other paramilitary group was on the verge of a split. "I don't see any evidence of any split with [ paramilitary] groups."

Referring to the murder of Rab McCartney outside a Belfast pub last Sunday, Mr Orde said he was not blaming any particular group.

"I do not think this is a crime related to any particular group following its particular objective. We are still looking at the motive behind that crime."

The Northern Secretary, Mr Paul Murphy, endorsed Mr Tony Blair's assessment that paramilitary and criminal activity was blocking political progress. "They [ the IRA] have to accept that is what is dealing a great blow at the moment, both to the peace process and the political process in Northern Ireland."

Following the IRA statement, unionists called on the governments to move on without Sinn Féin. The Alliance party asked Dublin and London how they envisaged progress being made with the other parties while "they wait for Sinn Féin to sign up".

The SDLP accused the IRA of disregarding the wishes of the people of Ireland in their call for an end to violence and criminality.

Mr Mark Durkan said: "The reality is that the IRA carried out the Northern Bank robbery.

"Instead of facing up to that fact and the huge damage they have done to the peace process, they have thrown a huff at the two governments. They are outraged that the two governments have simply told the truth. That shows their arrogance."

© The Irish Times


Peace Process Since Belfast Agreement

The history of the peace process since the signing of the Belfast Agreement in April 1998.

April 1998: Belfast Agreement signed on Good Friday.

December 1999: Power is finally passed to Belfast from Westminster and the power-sharing executive meets for the first time after 20 months of wrangle and delay.

February 2000: Northern Ireland secretary Peter Mandelson signs an order suspending the devolved Assembly after a failure to reach a deal on IRA decommissioning.

May 2000: Devolution restored after Ulster Unionist leader and first minister David Trimble secures his party's backing to return to government without IRA decommissioning, but only following a promise from the republicans to begin a process that would "completely and verifiably" put its weapons beyond use.

July 2001: Mr Trimble resigns as first minister over the continuing arms impasse. A month later Gen John de Chastelain, head of the international arms decommissioning body, says the IRA has put forward a plan to put all its weapons beyond use.

August 2001: With no sign of the IRA about to decommission, and no hint unionists will accept anything less, Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid suspends devolution. It is restored 24 hours later, resetting the clock for a deal by six weeks.

September 2001: Dr Reid announces second technical suspension, saying it will be the last. The following month the IRA says it had started a process of putting arms beyond use and Gen de Chastelain says he has witnessed "significant" disposal.

November 2001: Devolution up and running again.

April 2002: IRA says it has put a second tranche of its arsenal beyond use.

October 4th, 2002: Sinn Féin's offices at Stormont raided amid major police investigation of alleged IRA intelligence-gathering at the heart of government.

Mr Trimble warns the Assembly may not survive if action is not taken against Sinn Féin.

October 14th, 2002: Dr Reid announces suspension of devolution and reintroduction of direct rule.

May 2003: British Prime Minister Tony Blair announces the postponement of Assembly elections until the autumn because of lack of clarity over IRA's arms position.

November 2003: Assembly elections take place. The DUP and Sinn Féin emerge as the largest parties in unionism and nationalism.

January 2004: A Trimble critic, Lagan Valley MP and MLA Mr Jeffrey Donaldson, resigns from the UUP and joins the DUP, taking two fellow MLAs with him.

February 2004: Review of the workings of the Belfast Agreement launched in Belfast. It was put on hold in May for the European elections, resumed in Belfast in June and moved to Leeds Castle in Kent.

September 2004: DUP leader Dr Ian Paisley has landmark meeting with the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, in Dublin. Northern Ireland Secretary Mr Paul Murphy says he hopes a breakthrough in the political process will come within weeks. Intensive talks continue in Belfast, London and Dublin.

November 2004: The British and Irish governments put their proposals for breaking the stalemate to the DUP and Sinn Féin. Talking continues. US President George Bush talks to Mr Paisley and Sinn Féin president Mr Gerry Adams to urge them forward.

December 7th, 2004: Mr Adams says political process has reached "defining moment". Mr Paisley insists on photographic proof of further acts of IRA decommissioning. Mr Adams responds that republicans will not be humiliated.

December 8th, 2004: It becomes obvious there will be no deal. Mr Blair and Mr Ahern travel to Belfast to publish details of what might have been.

January 7th, 2005: The Northern Ireland Chief Constable Mr Hugh Orde says the IRA was behind the £26.5 million Northern Bank robbery in Belfast.

February 1st, 2005: Mr Blair and Mr Ahern warn the IRA that it must give up all criminal activity if there is to be any return of power-sharing in Northern Ireland. Following talks in Downing Street, the two men say the IRA's continuing criminal and paramilitary activity was the sole remaining obstacle to a peace settlement in the province.

February 2nd, 2005: The IRA withdraws future co-operation on disarmament, saying the scheme to put all its weapons completely and verifiably beyond use is no longer on the table. It denies it is an obstacle to a lasting and durable settlement over allegations of criminal activity.

February 3rd, 2005: Second IRA statement emphasises "seriousness" of the situation.

© The Irish Times

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Table of Contents – Feb 2005
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