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Wednesday, 24 October, 2001, 07:26 GMT 08:26 UK
Security response to IRA arms move
The British Government is expected to announce a series of measures aimed at bolstering the Northern Ireland peace process on Wednesday.

It comes amid urgent moves to rescue Northern Ireland's political institutions following confirmation of the first act of IRA decommissioning.

A number of security installations in south Armagh are scheduled to be dismantled, including controversial hilltop watchtowers.

Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid said his government's response to the IRA's move would be swift.

"By improving the whole situation it enables me to take immediate steps and measures and to look forward to try and normalise Northern Ireland society and carry forward the pledges that we have made in the Belfast Agreement," said Dr Reid.


John Reid: Swift response to IRA move
"But most importantly it enables us to get stability to the executive and the assembly because that is the bedrock of the future - local politicians from both sides of the community making decisions about Northern Ireland."

Unionists meeting

Meanwhile, the assembly faces collapse at midnight on Thursday after Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble withdrew his ministers from the executive last week.

He has called a meeting of his party's executive on Saturday to ask it to approve the reconstituting of the Northern Ireland Executive.

The international body charged with dealing with paramilitary weapons confirmed on Tuesday that it had witnessed the IRA put a quantity of arms beyond use which it described as "significant".

The material included arms, ammunition and explosives, it said.

Confirming its move, the IRA described its decision as an "unprecedented" decision to save the peace process and a demonstration to others of its genuine intentions.

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

Three hours after the IRA's announcement, David Trimble left a meeting with General John de Chastelain, head of the international arms body, and said he would be recommending that his party return to the power-sharing institutions with Sinn Fein.

John de Chastelain: Head of the decommissioning body
John de Chastelain: Witnessed IRA move

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair paid tribute to the Sinn Fein leadership for their "boldness" in guiding the IRA away from violence.

"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".

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

Long-awaited move

The move - long demanded by unionists - seems certain to breathe new life into the troubled peace process which had reached a crisis-point over decommissioning, rising tension and full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.


Our motivation is clear. This unprecedented move is to save the peace process and to persuade others of our genuine intentions.

IRA statement
Mr Trimble quit as NI First Minister in July in protest over a lack of IRA decommissioning.

The final Ulster Unionist ministers followed this month, setting a final deadline for a deal before the institutions - and potentially the Good Friday Agreement - collapsed.

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".

Its motivation in disposing of some weapons was "to save the peace process", the statement said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Greg Milam
"This is a first step"
Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid
"We've got the opportunity to get the two communities together"

Assembly back

IRA arms breakthrough

Background

Loyalist ceasefire

FORUM

SPECIAL REPORT: IRA

TALKING POINT

TEXTS/TRANSCRIPTS

AUDIO VIDEO
See also:

23 Oct 01 | Northern Ireland
Tony Blair's statement in full
24 Oct 01 | Northern Ireland
US congratulates IRA on 'historic' decision
24 Oct 01 | Northern Ireland
Bush welcomes IRA arms move
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