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Monday, March 22, 1999 Published at 17:55 GMT


IRA prisoners block arms progress

The Maze H-blocks still hold 82 IRA prisoners

IRA prisoners say they do not want the paramilitary organisation to move any further forward on arms decommissioning

The Search for Peace
Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly met the 82 IRA prisoners in Northern Ireland's Maze prison on Monday to discuss the peace process.

Speaking after six hours of talks, Mr Kelly said: "Not a single prisoner suggested that there should be any movement on decommissioning."

The peace process is currently deadlocked because the Ulster Unionists refuse to sit in a Northern Ireland Assembly with Sinn Fein unless the IRA starts to hand over its arms.

[ image: Gerry Kelly (left) with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams]
Gerry Kelly (left) with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams
The refusal of the remaining IRA prisoners to back the immediate release of weapons is a further blow to the peace process following a week of frustration for those hoping to move it forward.

Unionist and republican leaders failed to come up with a deal during meetings in Washington last week.

Peace process 'in crisis'

Unionist Party leader David Trimble told his party on Saturday that the people of Northern Ireland did not vote for an "armed peace".

But Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams accused Mr Trimble of bringing the peace process to the brink of collapse, saying he cannot force the IRA to decommission.

Following the Maze meeting on Monday, Mr Kelly said the IRA inmates were very supportive of the Good Friday Agreement and the Sinn Fein leadership.

But he said they were very worried that the peace process was in crisis.

He said they agreed with the Sinn Fein leadership that decommissioning was not a precondition for setting up the ruling executive.

Anger over refusal

Mr Kelly said: "The decommissioning issue was given to John de Chastelain [head of independent decommissioning body] to deal with.

"It was not a precondition. They cannot understand why the agreement is not being implemented as it is written down.

"There is some anger that there is the possibility that what took 30 years to put together could be brought down by David Trimble refusing to implement the agreement."

There are 82 Provisional IRA prisoners in the Maze out of a total of 233 inmates.

There have been 117 IRA prisoners out of a total of 248 paramilitaries released early under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

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