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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 September 2005, 10:02 GMT 11:02 UK
Arms choreography is 'unmistakable'
Mark Devenport
By Mark Devenport
BBC Northern Ireland political editor

The choreography is unmistakable. The confirmation appears only days away.

The question now is will the announcement of the completion of IRA decommissioning mark the beginning of a new era, or just the beginning of a new period of wrangling as the DUP picks holes in the IRA initiative?

arms haul
Decommissioning is expected to happen soon

For weeks now, the whereabouts of General John de Chastelain, the head of the decommissioning body, has been a closely guarded secret.

A few days ago, the Northern Ireland Political Development Minister, David Hansen, told the BBC's Hearts and Minds programme he believed the IRA was beginning to make moves related to disarmament.

Gerry Adams and Martin Ferris briefed IRA prisoners inside Castlerea jail on the latest developments.

Sinn Fein activists prepared for a big Make Partition History rally in Dublin.

Martin McGuinness confirmed his plans to travel to the United States to brief the party's Irish American supporters - a trip across the Atlantic being a sine qua non for significant IRA announcements.

Sinn Fein's formal meeting with the Irish government seemed to go smoothly, with even the hawkishly anti-IRA Justice Minister Michael McDowell telling reporters that he had no evidence to suggest that republicans were being"two-face" about their latest commitment to peace.

The signs are that both Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair, who will be addressing Labour party members at the party's annual conference in Brighton on Tuesday, are preparing to give the IRA's move the warmest of welcomes.

Closer to home, senior DUP figures are already signalling their intention to do whatever they can to puncture the peace process balloon.

They appear angry that the IRA has overlooked their preferred clerical witness, the former Presbyterian moderator David McGaughey.

With no photos and no say in those present, the DUP are declaring that their conditions for transparency have not been met.

General John de Chastelain
The spotlight has been on the location of General John de Chastelain

The North Belfast MP, Nigel Dodds, has been voicing his suspicion that republicans intend to hold onto their side arms.

In an uncompromising speech at Dromore in County Down, Ian Paisley Junior denounced what he termed the "so-called decommissioning process" as secret and lacking in credibility.

"There is no appetite amongst unionists for a devolved government with Sinn Fein", he declared. Adding for good measure that the DUP "will live with direct rule".

Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein seems unfazed. He told the BBC's Inside Politics programme that the international audience was more important than the DUP.

'Inactive phase'

He described the Reverend McGaughey as an "opponent of the Good Friday Agreement and the political process".

Particularly given the loyalist violence of recent weeks, republicans don't feel under any great pressure to bow to the DUP's demands over witnesses to disarmament.

Irish republicans may well feel comfortable with a decommissioning move which further divides the government and unionists by impressing the former whilst leaving the latter cold.

Sinn Fein's chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness, says he doubts whether Ian Paisley snr will ever share power with republicans.

This may be his straightforward assessment, but equally he may just be piling the pressure on the DUP.

In truth, nobody expects meaningful dialogue this side of the IMC report scheduled for January, which is meant to verify the IRA's new inactive phase.

It's only then when we shall discover what progress can be made.

Despite his assessment, Martin McGuinness declares himself a "Plan A-er", but civil servants may soon have to start dusting off their Plan Bs.

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