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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 October 2005, 07:04 GMT 08:04 UK
IRA arms debate 'now a dodo'

By Mark Devenport
BBC Northern Ireland political editor

The last few days have been spent, inevitably, going over the entrails of IRA decommissioning.

IRA mural
Political debate is moving on from IRA decommissioning

The DUP expressed doubts about who nominated the clerical witnesses and how the two clergymen could be so sure that all the IRA's guns had been destroyed.

The UUP defended the honour of the Methodist witness Reverend Harold Good.

The secretary of state refused to reveal the confidential security force estimates of the IRA arsenal which General John de Chastelain had relied upon to carry out his work.

All very interesting but a week on the debate about IRA decommissioning is already resembling a discussion of the dodo's flying abilities.

Whether happy or unhappy about what occurred, all sides are moving on to their own diverse concerns whilst they wait for progress on the bigger political picture.

Ahead of talks at Downing Street next week, the DUP have forwarded a 50-page document detailing confidence-building measures to the government.

Its East Londonderry MP, Gregory Campbell, says talks cannot be convened until the areas highlighted in the document are addressed.

The two witnesses, Rev Harold Good (left) and Fr Alec Reid
The UUP defended Methodist witness Rev Harold Good
Some measures, such as the de-rating of Orange Halls, are already agreed in principle and will be announced in due course.

Others, such as the appointment of a victims commissioner, appear to be working their way through the system.

The DUP were unhappy about the appointment of both the former Women's Coalition MLA Monica McWilliams as human rights commissioner and former RTE executive Bob Collins as equality commissioner.

So the government is bending over backwards to keep them on board with the victims job.

It is understood a candidate acceptable to the DUP, with first-hand experience of what it is to be a victim, is under consideration.

Other DUP demands, such as the reconstitution of the Policing Board to give them more places, or the end of the current 50/50 recruitment to the police, may take longer to address.

But they are all likely to be in the melting pot in the months ahead.

Sinn Fein have already crossed some important items off their shopping list, with the removal of border watchtowers and the disbandment of the Royal Irish Regiment's home battalions.

They will now be looking forward to seeing the legislation on "on-the-runs", which the secretary of state has promised to put through parliament in the autumn.

They will also want to see, at least in draft form, the government's plans for devolving policing and justice.

The Irish parliament, the Dail
Speaking rights in the Dail for NI politicians are an issue for Sinn Fein
South of the border, they will continue to press for speaking rights in the Dail for northern politicians.

Sinn Fein are also due into Downing Street next week.

The joke is that if the DUP walk in with a 50-page document, then Sinn Fein will come carrying one 60 pages long.

Justice issues could keep republicans busy as they ponder what price they might extract for signing up in the future to the Policing Board.

Watch for continued debate about whether the state should provide funding for community restorative justice projects which have, so far, operated in republican or loyalist areas without co-operating with the police.

Embarrassment

There are also rumours about the possible "certification" of past cases, a system which it is implied might block the re-examination of "cold cases" which could cause embarrassment either to security force assets or to former paramilitaries now playing a leading role in the process.

On the loyalist side, there seems little chance of any positive response to the secretary of state's demand that the UVF and UDA should follow the IRA's example on disarmament.

But at the time of writing, the UVF-LVF feud appears to have abated, and it's possible the IRA move could provide the LVF with a pretext to stand down.

This could in turn help bring the feud to an end.

So while the pace of progress on the wider front remains glacial, there should still be plenty to talk about in Downing Street next week, even if IRA decommissioning now looks like a dodo.




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