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Last Updated: Saturday, 29 July 2006, 08:48 GMT 09:48 UK
Baby steps follow 'giant stride'

By Mark Devenport
Political editor, BBC Northern Ireland

Stormont
The future of the assembly remains unclear

There were no cavalcades and no rallies in west Belfast to mark the first anniversary of the day the IRA decided to call off its campaign.

Instead, as the humid weather alternated between sunshine and showers, a couple of rather damp-looking foreign tourists stood on one side of the Falls Road, their thumbs out, holding a sign asking hopefully for a lift to the Giant's Causeway.

If last year's move was a giant stride for the IRA, then the politicians seem to have been taking baby steps ever since.

Some IRA members might be forgiven for asking what payback has been achieved, both for the stand-down and the subsequent decommissioning of the organisation's weapons in September.

True, the British Army was quick to dismantle more border bases.

But if last year's initiatives were intended to unlock the doors of the Stormont Executive, then so far they have failed.

If the IRA had ended its campaign when David Trimble's Ulster Unionists were still in the ascendancy, they might have shored up power-sharing for a considerable time
If the IRA had ended its campaign when David Trimble's Ulster Unionists were still in the ascendancy, they might have shored up power-sharing for a considerable time.

But they did it when Ian Paisley was in the driving seat and he is in no hurry to be convinced.

If the progress achieved to date is less than Gerry Adams might have hoped for, then he's not letting on.

The loyalist paramilitaries have yet to respond in kind, but Mr Adams insists the IRA move has had a deep and lasting impact on unionism and loyalism, the ripples of which are still being felt.

He won't write off the chances of a deal by 24 November.

The Sinn Fein president won't say whether he believes the DUP leader must leave the stage before there is a chance of a deal.

He does say, however, that he believes the DUP has conceded the principle of both power-sharing and dialogue with republicans.

'Playing for time'

What we are seeing right now, in the Adams analysis, is just the DUP playing for time.

Questioned on Inside Politics over whether Sinn Fein may - if there's no deal - give up on Stormont and concentrate on the Dail, Gerry Adams says it's not a question of either/or.

However, he adds that his party will work to secure more advances on the north-south axis and if the DUP waits until 2010 to do a deal, then they could find Ireland is a changed place.

What will be more significant than this week's low-key anniversary will be the verdict of the Independent Monitoring Commission on the IRA stand-down.

That is due to be delivered in October.

Not for the first time, we got a little dress rehearsal of the likely debate around that report when both Peter Hain and the Irish Justice Minister, Michael McDowell, emerged from talks at Hillsborough Castle to say that the IRA is sticking 100% to its promises.

One presumes that for an avowed sceptic like Michael McDowell to talk like this, the intelligence picture must be fairly clear.

However, the DUP is having none of it, accusing Peter Hain of living in a fantasy world.

Some politicians wonder why British and Irish ministers bother "spinning" the IRA's inactivity, given that unionists will always discount their comments.

Within hours of the ministers' statements, the police visited the home of the sister of the IRA informant Martin McGartland, who is now in hiding in England.

Officers told the woman her details were in the hands of republican paramilitaries.

The former Special Branch agent blames the Provisionals, but both Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness say they don't believe there is any threat from that quarter to Martin McGartland's family.

That said, the IMC has been informed and the incident has been picked up by a number of DUP politicians.

Some politicians wonder why British and Irish ministers bother "spinning" the IRA's inactivity, given that unionists will always discount their comments.

After all, wasn't this why the IMC was created in the first place - to provide a more "neutral" voice on the vexed question of ceasefire breaches?

The truth is that ministers are politicians, not trappist monks, and given the combination of intelligence information, political motivation, reporters hungry for a story and microphones switched on, this kind of comment will always happen.

Whether it achieves anything, come November, is another question.




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