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Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid:
"General de Chastelain will determine whether progress has been made on decommissioning"
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Sunday, 25 March, 2001, 15:25 GMT
IRA guns 'still expected by June'

IRA has restarted contacts with arms commission
Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid has denied that the peace process has been put into cold storage because of speculation about the general election.

Speaking on the BBC's On the Record programme on Sunday, Dr Reid said that progress was being made on all "four absolutely crucial areas" of disagreement between the political parties.

Prime Minister Tony Blair admitted this week at a European Union summit in Stockholm that he only had days to decide on whether to go ahead with a 3 May election against the backdrop of the foot-and-mouth farming crisis.

But Dr Reid said that while speculation about an election made it less likely that the parties which signed up to the Good Friday Agreement "would take big steps forward," the government still wanted IRA disarmament by June.

The Northern Ireland secretary denied there was a standstill and said it would be up to General John De Chastelain, as head of the arms commission, to decide how much movement there had been from the IRA.

'Arms report positive'

Dr Reid said: "He has already said that the IRA have re-engaged, that they are acting in good faith and they are going to discuss again in the near future.

John Reid:
John Reid: "Progress is still being made"
"And he said that he believes that there is the basis for further substantial progress.

"But we have got a target date of June. We stick to that target date and we want to see decommissioning progress."

Dr Reid said the date of the General Election was "up to PM, and I can assure his whole concentration at the moment is on tackling foot-and-mouth".

But he denied that delaying the election would harm the Northern Ireland peace process.

No deal

At the end of the last major talks push at Hillsborough, at the beginning of March, to try to gain progress on the interlocking issues of decommissioning, devolution, demilitarisation and policing, no deal was agreed.

At that stage Mr Blair said progress had been made, but there needed to be more discussions.

Speculation about a general election makes it less likely that the parties to the Good Friday Agreement will take big steps forward. Nevertheless, there isn't a standstill

John Reid

But Dr Reid said that the movement of a general election date forward or back a few months would not have a major impact in the province.

"It took decades, indeed centuries, to get where we are.

"It is my view that if a general election occurs a few months earlier or later then in the broad sweep of history, it is not going to be a serious difficulty.

"Speculation about a general election makes it less likely that the parties to the Good Friday Agreement will take big steps forward. Nevertheless, there isn't a standstill."

'Achievements'

He added: "We are moving forward on four absolutely crucial areas:

"On the area of the establishment of new politics, we have a new assembly and executive which includes both traditions.

"On policing, we have made a start on a brand new policing service in Northern Ireland - one which we hope the whole community will participate in and respect.

"On normalisation, we have got troops down to far below the high levels of 26,000 to roughly 13,000 and have closed down over 33 military establishments.

'Actual decommissioning'

"On decommissioning, we have to have some movement of a substantial nature.

"I obviously welcome the fact that the guns of the IRA have been silent for four years.

"I welcome that IRA have re-engaged with General de Chastelain, but that must move on from the stage of talking about whether they decommission and actual decommissioning."

Jeffrey Donaldson:
Jeffrey Donaldson: IRA statements not backed up by actions

Ulster Unionist leader and First Minister David Trimble is coming under increasing pressure from within his party to increase sanctions on Sinn Fein ministers in the absence of IRA decommissioning.

He has banned them from North-South ministerial meetings in the absence of IRA decommissioning.

However, on Saturday hardline Ulster Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson called on Mr Trimble to table a motion in the assembly to exclude Sinn Fein's two ministers from the Northern Ireland Executive.

A meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council, at which further calls on the issue were expected, was cancelled this weekend because of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

However, Dr Reid said that if there was "substantial progress" on IRA decommissioning, this would "unlock a number of things including David Trimble's reaction, which would presumably in those circumstances be positive".

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See also:

24 Mar 01 | Northern Ireland
Uncertainty as election preparations start
24 Mar 01 | Northern Ireland
Call for more Sinn Fein sanctions
22 Mar 01 | Northern Ireland
Hope of movement in IRA talks
10 Mar 01 | Northern Ireland
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14 Mar 01 | Northern Ireland
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22 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Arms body reports no progress
03 Mar 01 | Northern Ireland
SDLP ups arms pressure
10 Feb 01 | Northern Ireland
Trimble threatens further sanctions
20 Jan 01 | Northern Ireland
Sinn Fein fears further sanctions
18 Nov 00 | Northern Ireland
Call to 'relax' Sinn Fein sanctions
09 Mar 01 | Northern Ireland
'Progress' in NI peace talks
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