29/07/2005

Demilitarisation begins as IRA statement sinks in

The Army has begun dismantling a number of security posts and bases in south Armagh as a result of Thursday's announcement by the IRA that it is to end its armed campaign.

The Army's general officer commanding, Lieutenant General Sir Reddy Watt, said in light of yesterday's developments, he and PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde had decided that a further reduction in security was possible.

The move will see a base at Forkhill close alongside a watchtower at Sugarloaf Mountain and an observation post at Newtownhamilton police station removed.

The government also plans to introduce legislation in the autumn to allow paramilitary fugitives to return home.

Meanwhile, as news of yesterday's announcement continues to sink in across Northern Ireland, local political figures have reacted further to the statement.

SDLP Leader Mark Durkan described the IRA declaration as "clear and clean - but

long overdue".

"We have stressed that the IRA's break with its past has to be clear, clean and complete. This statement appears to be that," the Foyle MP said.

"The SDLP hopes that, as promised, all IRA paramilitary activity and all IRA

involvement in organised crime will end now and for good - as well as the culture of

cover-up and community control. That is the only way we can get the Agreement up

and running and make progress for all the people of this island."

Speaking in Washington, Sinn Féin chief negotiator Martin McGuinness commended the IRA for its "decisive initiative".

"There is now an inescapable responsibility on the British and Irish governments to push urgently ahead with the implementation of the Agreement and, also, on the leadership of unionism to finally accept the principles of power sharing, equality and human rights," he said.

However, unionism continues to be sceptical of the news. Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey said as far as his party was concerned "actions speak louder than words". "Since the IRA has killed thousands and injured thousands more, it is inexcusable that the statement claims that its ‘armed struggle was entirely legitimate’ but fails to express a single word of remorse," the east Belfast MLA said.

"It also leaves fundamental questions unanswered. Where is the confirmation of the disbandment of the IRA? What evidence will the Unionist community see that all weapons have actually been destroyed?

"Republicans should realise that, having eroded Unionist confidence to such an extent, we will only judge this statement on the basis of what happens next."

Sir Reg's comments echo the views of DUP leader Ian Paisley who said the history of the past ten years in Northern Ireland had been littered with IRA statements "which we were told were ‘historic’, ‘ground-breaking’ and ‘seismic’".

"These same statements were followed by the IRA reverting to type and carrying out more of its horrific murders and squalid criminality," Dr Paisley said. "The unionist community feels no obligation to cheer the words of P O’Neill.

"We will judge the IRA’s bona fides over the next months and years based on its behaviour and activity."

In its statement, the leadership of the militant republican organisation said it had instructed all IRA units to dump arms and "assist the development of purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means".

The order took effect from 4pm on Thursday.

(MB/KMcA)

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