BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in:  UK: Northern Ireland
Front Page 
Northern Ireland 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Tuesday, 23 October, 2001, 19:28 GMT 20:28 UK
IRA in arms breakthrough
The IRA has said it has put some weapons "beyond use" in what will be widely seen as an historic breakthrough for the Northern Ireland peace process.

The de Chastelain commission confirmed on Tuesday: "We have witnessed an event which we regard as significant in which the IRA has put a quantity of arms beyond use. The material in question includes arms, ammunition and explosives."

Confirmation of what the IRA called an "unprecedented" move came in a statement on Tuesday.

The IRA leadership confirmed that a scheme agreed with the decommissioning body in August to put weapons "completely and verifiably beyond use" had been implemented.

We have witnessed an event which we regard as significant in which the IRA has put a quantity of arms beyond use

Decommissioning Body

This is the first time that a republican group which has violently resisted the British presence in Ireland has ever disposed of weaponry in this way.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair paid tribute to the Sinn Fein leadership for "the boldness of this move".

"This is a peace process that despite it all is working," he said.

"We are a long way from finishing our journey but a very significant milestone has been passed".

He called on all paramilitaries to hand in their weapons and warned against the actions of loyalist and republican dissidents.

The move - long demanded by unionists - seems certain to breathe new life into the troubled peace process.

Irish Premier Bertie Ahern said there was "no doubting the significance and importance of this move".

"I know that taking this step has meant a lot to the leadership of the IRA and I fully acknowledge that this was not an easy decision for them," he said.

"I believe that we can now move forward on the basis of this development."

'Process in jeopardy'

The IRA statement referred to a political process on the "point of collapse" and said such a "collapse would certainly and eventually put the overall peace process in jeopardy".

The IRA said its motivation was "to save the peace process".

If the move is acceptable to Northern Ireland's largest unionist party, the Ulster Unionists, led by David Trimble, it could lead to the restoration of Northern Ireland's power-sharing executive.

The UK government is expected to respond swiftly to the move, possibly by scaling back on some controversial military bases in south Armagh.

John de Chastelain: Head of the decommissioning body
John de Chastelain: Head of the decommissioning body

The move by the IRA to begin decommissioning had been widely expected after a statement from Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams on Monday that he had recommended a "ground-breaking" step on the arms issue.

The absence of decommissioning of arms has been a key stumbling block to progress in the stalled Northern Ireland political process.

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness said it was a courageous decision by the IRA.

"It is unprecedented and it is truly historic," he said.

Party president Gerry Adams said the IRA announcement was a "huge, liberating leap forward".

"Many people who don't want change have used the arms issue, or at least the IRA arms issue, as a reason for not embracing the peace process," he said.

Anti-Agreement Ulster Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson said: "If it's a one-off gesture then that presents a problem for unionism. I think it would be wrong to make a judgment in advance of getting answers from the general."

Gregory Campbell of the Democratic Unionist Party said people needed to "look beyond IRA rhetoric" and called for all of the group's weapons to be destroyed.

'Positive response'

The leader of the nationalist SDLP, John Hume, said he hoped the move would lead to a positive response from Mr Trimble and his party in putting the institutions back in place.

Tony Blair:
Tony Blair: "Process is working"

David Ervine of the Progressive Unionist Party, which is linked to the loyalist paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force, said: "The leadership of the UVF and Red Hand Commando - in their own time and their own space - will give whatever answer to the question of whether they will or will not reciprocate."

The latest crisis was precipitated by David Trimble's resignation as first minister in July, a move designed to put pressure on the mainstream republican movement.

In September, the IRA said it would "intensify" its engagement with the de Chastelain commission after it withdrew an offer to put arms "completely and verifiably beyond use".

Then, in October, David Trimble said he intended to bring the political crisis to a head by withdrawing the rest of the Ulster Unionist ministers because his party could no longer sit in the executive with Sinn Fein.

BBC NI's chief security correspondent Brian Rowan
"Since the Gerry Adams speech this statement has been expected"
Sinn Fein's Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness
"Gerry Adams and I have worked flat out to remove guns from Irish politics"
Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble
"This is the day we were told would never happen"
Gregory Campbell of the DUP
"We have to test this [announcement]"

Assembly back

IRA arms breakthrough


Loyalist ceasefire





Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Northern Ireland stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Northern Ireland stories