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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 October, 2003, 17:09 GMT 18:09 UK
Q and A: Northern Ireland peace process
Northern Ireland's peace process has experienced more drama after the announcement of elections and a decommissioning move from the IRA. BBC News Online explains what it all means.

What's going on in Northern Ireland?

Northern Ireland's peace process has been paralysed for the past year.

But many thought it would receive a shot in the arm following the apparent successful conclusion of talks between the pro-agreement parties.

At each stage of the peace process, the parties supporting the Good Friday Agreement have made progress with carefully sequenced events, allowing them to move into power-sharing devolved government through a series of conciliatory acts.

So take us through the events

Early on Tuesday 21 October, the British Government announced there would be elections on 26 November which would restore devolved power-sharing.

Within hours, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams made a speech declaring Sinn Fein's position was one of "total and absolute commitment to exclusively democratic means of resolving differences".

He added: "We are opposed to any use or threat of force for any political purpose."

That speech was quickly followed by a statement from the IRA saying Mr Adams "accurately reflects our position" - and revealing that another act of arms decommissioning had commenced.

What did the IRA do?

Within hours, General John de Chastelain, the head of the arms decommissioning body, reported he had witnessed the act of decommissioning.

He said he could not give details because of a confidentiality agreement with the IRA - but stressed the event was larger than the previous one.H he could not say how much weaponry was left but said the IRA contact made clear the organisation wanted to finish the process "at the earliest opportunity".

His assistant Andrew Sens said the weaponry decommissioned "could have caused death or destruction on a huge scale" had it been used.

How did this go down?

This was the crucial issue - how would Ulster Unionists react?

If UUP leader David Trimble accepted the decommissioning event as a sign that the IRA had started disposing of arms again, then the signs were he would seek to lead his party back into power-sharing.

But within an hour of the report, he said he could not yet do this because there had not been enough openness - despite what he says was an understanding with the republican movement.

"What we needed was a clear and transparent report of major acts of decommissioning that would demonstrate we were in a different context," said Mr Trimble.

"Unfortunately we have not had that."

So what happens now?

David Trimble has stressed "the sequence is on hold" rather than over.

Electioneering is due to begin but whether there will be a power-sharing executive remains to be seen. David Trimble says he will be piling the pressure on the decommissioning body for details.

But this has inevitably angered republicans who say they have been frank and made clear statements unequivocally backing the peace process.

How important is trust in this process?

Trust and transparency has become a key issue in the process for the past year.

Northern Ireland's assembly was suspended after a complete breakdown in trust amid allegations of alleged IRA spying in the heart of government.

The British and Irish governments attempted to break the impasse in the spring. But the IRA's response was not judged good enough by their critics. The enormous hope that built up this autumn has come on a breakthrough in relations between David Trimble and Gerry Adams.

Mr Trimble has revealed the men developed an understanding and shook hands for the first time this summer during face-to-face talks.

And this trust is now gone?

David Trimble said the manner in which the decommission event had been reported meant he had less confidence in the scheme than before it had happened.

But at the same time, both he and Gerry Adams have tempered their language in contrast to previous crisis points.

This suggests the two parties are talking to each other behind the scenes - rather than at each other in front of the cameras.

But not everyone supports what is going on?

Unionism is deeply divided over the peace process and Good Friday Agreement. David Trimble's own party has huge internal problems with some of his own MPs publicly opposed to his strategy.

Secondly, the anti-agreement Democratic Unionists continue to oppose any deal with Sinn Fein and are hoping to mount a strong electoral challenge to the UUP.

Away from mainstream politics, many loyalist paramilitaries have drifted away from the peace process, with sporadic violence continuing both within and outside of their communities.

Dissident republicans opposed to the Sinn Fein strategy have also renewed their activity, most recently in targeting members of the district policing partnerships.

IRA statement in full
21 Oct 03  |  Northern Ireland

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