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The BBC's David Eades in Belfast
"The only issue which matters is the IRA's intentions on its weapons"
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The BBC's Denis Murray
"The Prime Ministers believe devolution can be restored by the end of the month"
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BBC NI chief security correspondent Brian Rowan
Reports on the governments' proposals
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Prime Minister Tony Blair
"There is a genuine desire to work this thing out peacefully"
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Saturday, 6 May, 2000, 11:12 GMT 12:12 UK
IRA arms deadline extended
Blair and Ahern: Continued drive for new progress
Parties consider PMs' plan
The British and Irish governments have extended the deadline for paramilitary disarmament in an attempt to break the Northern Ireland impasse.

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson announced on BBC Radio 4 that the target date for decommissioning would be moved from 22 May - the date set down in the Good Friday Agreement - to June 2001.

The IRA's refusal to hand in weapons led to the suspension of Northern Ireland's political institutions in February when the Ulster Unionists refused to continue sharing power with Sinn Fein, which is closely linked to the paramilitary group.

The Search for Peace
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The two governments now expect a positive statement from the IRA within a few hours, which would enable them to restart devolution by 22 May.

When asked if the decommissioning deadline had been pushed back, Mr Mandelson said: "In that sense you're right. I think we have a much clearer understanding amongst all the parties and potentially the paramilitary organisations about what they need not just to say but what they need to do."

He would not speculate on how London and Dublin expected the IRA to respond.

Northern Ireland Secretary
Mandelson: Response needed from republicans
But he said it was essential that republicans gave unionists a clear confirmation of their intentions to disarm.

"Even if it is not said with the prescribed language that others demand, nonetheless the meaning, the sense has got to be unambiguous.

"We have got to know exactly where republicans are going from, and where the IRA is going to in relation to arms and the use of violence," he said.

Plan to break deadlock

Mr Mandelson's announcement that the two governments have abandoned the Good Friday Agreement decommissioning deadline came as Northern Ireland's political parties considered the two governments' latest proposals to move the peace process forward.

Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern announced on Friday that a plan for progress had been drawn up after intense negotiations with the Northern Ireland parties this week.

David Trimble to put proposals to his party
David Trimble to put proposals to his party
It sets out a timetable for the implementation of the other outstanding elements of the Good Friday Agreement by June 2001.

A joint letter from Mr Blair and Mr Ahern outlining the proposals has been sent to the party leaders.

The letter makes it clear that the two governments are determined to press ahead with elements of the agreement, which nationalists and republicans have felt were being delayed.

Policing reform to go ahead

It also confirms that the controversial change to the Royal Ulster Constabulary name - opposed by unionists - is to go ahead.

Legislation to implement the policing changes - recommended by Chris Patten, head of the Independent Commission on the future of policing - will be in place by November.

A new policing board will be appointed by January next year and will begin its work in April. The board will include 10 politicians including two from Sinn Fein.

The letter says a new independent police recruitment agency will be established and the first recruits will join the new Police Service of Northern Ireland in April next year.

Legislation and a detailed timetable for implemention of the Criminal Justice Review will also be published by April next year.

Remaining prisoners to be released

It also confirms that the remainder of prisoners qualifying for early release under the agreement will be freed by 28 July this year. The letter also says measures will continue to be taken to facilitate the reintegration of prisoners into the community and to address related issues.

The two prime ministers also say that both governments will continue to take measures and develop programmes to support the victims of violence and their families.

The International Commission for dealing with the arms decommissioning is also to be told it can develop possible new methods for dealing with the arms issue.

In response to Mr Mandelson's statement and the new political proposals the IRA is expected to signal a willingness to restart contacts with the decommissioning body and to address the subject of putting weapons completely and verifiable beyond use.

The Ulster Unionist Assembly team will meet at noon to be briefed on the details of the two governments' proposals by David Trimble.

In an internal vote the party recently decided to make retaining the RUC's title a precondition to political progress.

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See also:

05 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland deal in sight
06 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Assembly statement in full
04 May 00 | Northern Ireland
'Genuine desire' for NI progress
04 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Pace gathers in NI process
02 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Q and A: Northern Ireland talks
28 Apr 00 | Northern Ireland
'IRA weapons rethink needed'
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