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Friday, December 11, 1998 Published at 18:43 GMT

IRA move hits peace hopes

The IRA has been consistent in its refusal to disarm

The latest indication from the IRA that it "firmly rules out" any decommissioning will cause grave difficulties for the peace process. BBC correspondent Gary Duffy assesses its impact.

The IRA has been consistent in saying that it will not decommission any of its weapons, but that will not soften unionist anger at yet another republican refusal to budge on this issue.

Unionists regard the disposal of weapons as crucial. David Trimble made the point passionately at the award ceremony for the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo.

"Common sense dictates that I cannot forever convince society that real peace is at hand if there is not a beginning to the decommissioning of weapons," he said.

Unease over deadlock

As it is, the process is already in difficulty with unionists and nationalists unable to overcome differences on cross-border institutions and the shape of an executive to run the new assembly, both envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement.

[ image: The Good Friday Agreement was already in difficulty]
The Good Friday Agreement was already in difficulty
Some nationalists would argue that if the Ulster Unionists had reached agreement on these issues by now, the IRA would have been under far greater pressure to dispose of some of its weapons.

They believe it would then have been possible to say to the IRA that everyone else had lived up to their commitments under the agreement, and now was the time for republicans to fufil their obligations.

But republicans say their grassroots supporters are deeply uneasy and angry at the lack of progress that has been made since the Good Friday Agreement.

Privately they say they have already had to ask their rank and file to accept many political developments they would normally regard as beyond the pale - such as taking seats in a Northern Ireland assembly while it is still part of the United Kingdom.

Time running out

Republicans accuse David Trimble of being obstructive in blocking the formation of a new executive, and cross-border bodies, and say there is nothing in the agreement which makes these two developments conditional on decommissioning taking place.

The British and Irish governments are working hard to restore confidence to the peace process.

Talks between the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern in the margins of the Vienna summit were a sign of the personal commitment of both men to making the process work.

If more time is lost, the necessary legislation will not pass through Westminster in time to transfer power to the new assembly early next year as had been hoped.

However the Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam insists that while people are still talking the momentum is still there.

[ image: Mo Mowlam remains optimistic]
Mo Mowlam remains optimistic
But this latest indication of the IRA continuing to stick to its hard line on the weapons issue is undoubtedly a blow to the peace process.

Unionists will seize on it as what they see as another example of bad faith on the part of republicans. In particular unionist critics of the Good Friday Agreement will say it justifies their scepticism about the value of the deal.

Supporters of the agreement will prefer instead to try to resolve the current political difficulties and get the new assembly, executive and cross-border bodies up and running.

Their only hope will be that this might - just might - create the kind of climate that would make it possible for the IRA to look again at its decision in a more favourable light.

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