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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 September 2005, 08:25 GMT 09:25 UK
Doubts cloud end of IRA guns
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News in Belfast

Headline says it: But do people believe it?
The IRA has decommissioned its arms, according to international observers - but why has there been such a muted reaction?

It's almost a decade since the IRA declared its first ceasefire.

But amid all the great leaps forward, devastating setbacks and terrible tragedies, hearing the Reverend Harold Good, a Protestant clergyman, tell the world that he had seen "minute by minute" the IRA give up all of its arms, was quite something.

An organisation that had declared after the Good Friday Agreement that it would never decommission - "not a bullet, not an ounce" went the graffiti in republican strongholds - showed that it was for turning. But how far had it turned?

Nobody around there in Sandy Row will believe they have decommissioned the lot - it's just not in the IRA's nature - if we're talking real decommissioning, that means taking all the terrorists out of government
Snooker Club, Sandy Row
If the story of Northern Ireland's peace process has been about anything, it is of trust. And what little trust that had built up between the parties in the seven years since the Good Friday Agreement evaporated amid prevarication, last minute collapses of deals and claims of double-dealing.

Mr Good and Father Alec Reid, his Catholic partner in witnessing the decommissioning, knew their job was to try to rebuild that trust - and their carefully chosen words were clearly aimed at doing so.

Earlier in September many Protestant areas of the city erupted with loyalist violence after an Orange Order march was prevented from walking the disputed Whiterock route: Loyalist paramilitaries fired on the police.

Today, there is new graffiti in some of these areas denouncing the Police Service of Northern Ireland: One fresh daubing near Albert Bridge, one of the seats of the violence, says "Police Serving Nationalist Interests".

Sandy Row

In Sandy Row, a Protestant area of Belfast where the power of the paramilitaries has historically been strong, any hint of trust in either the republican movement or the wider process is largely missing.

Sandy Row: Loyalist paramilitaries not gone away
At the Players' Lounge snooker hall, next to a loyalist ex-prisoner education centre, there was a great deal of scepticism.

"I don't believe they've got rid of even half of what they hold," said one young man. "We're supposed to believe they only had a few hundred handguns - come on - who do they think we are?

"Nobody around there in Sandy Row will believe they have decommissioned the lot - it's just not in their nature. If we're talking real decommissioning, that means taking all the terrorists out of government."

Another man said that the guns had only come thanks to "concession after concession" to the republican movement. What had happened to the investigation into the Northern Bank robbery, he asked. Why had Shankill Road bomber Sean Kelly been released? Why were the Army reducing their presence with so many unanswered questions?

Beyond the areas that have suffered the most, the mood is always slightly different. In Holywood, the town nearest to where the decommissioning announcement was made, the temperature was lower.

One Protestant woman said the guns were the symptom of the problem - and the problem was bigotry from both sides. Bigots could still buy more guns, she said.

Clubbing: David and Stephen fed up with all of them
Similarly, Belfast shoppers waiting for the evening bus home to Londonderry and the North West said they were willing to see what would happen.

Patrick Hugh, who works with young people and comes from a nationalist family, said he believed the Provisionals had done the right thing - but he wished that the loyalists had done the same.

This, he said, left a doubt in the minds of some nationalists who live in the areas that have experienced the most violence.

"I can see how the idea of defence of the community becomes an issue for some, such as the Markets or Short Strand. The same arguments can be heard on the Protestant side too.

"But if we want to get rid of that fear, then it's up to the local politicians to step up and deal with the social conditions in the interests of all. You can't just get rid of the guns - there has to be some kind of peace benefit for all."

World weariness

But there is also a world-weariness these days in Northern Ireland - a feeling that many people are just so sick of it all that they almost don't care what happens in the politics, providing they can get on with their lives.

David Doyle, 18, and Stephen Short, 20, were handing out stickers for a new nightclub, complete with comedy sailors hats. Like most young men of their age, they just want to have a good time and were fed up with the lot of them.

"There is always something that is going to prevent it ending," said David. "Just look at the last few weeks with burning buses and barricades. If one community doesn't like what is happening, they turn to this kind of thing."

"I just want to ask all these people, what's the point?" added Stephen. "We've supposedly had all these years of a peace process but sectarianism has got worse. There's just no need for it."

Hear General John de Chastelain speak to the press


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