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Friday, July 2, 1999 Published at 10:40 GMT 11:40 UK

UK Politics

Unionists demand proof of disarmament

David Trimble: "Fine words, butter no parsnips"

The leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, David Trimble, says his party will not share power with Sinn Fein until the IRA announces that it is committed to arms decommissioning.

The Search for Peace
Mr Trimble's comments came as political leaders returned to Stormont in an attempt to find an agreement before UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart, Bertie Ahern, make a statement on the progress of their talks at Stormont.

The statement from the two will be delivered in the early afternoon, according to a Downing Street spokesman.

They have now received an independent report on the readiness of paramilitary groups to disarm from the head of the international decommissioning body in Northern Ireland, General John de Chastelain.

He dismissed suggestions that the UK and Irish governments had influenced his report in any way and said he hoped it would provide "a helpful contribution" to the peace process.

Four days of intensive negotiations were adjourned on Thursday after the opposing sides, the Ulster Unionists and Sinn Fein, failed to reach an agreement on terms for disarmament by paramilitary organisations.

[ image: General De Chastelain hands over his report to Tony Blair]
General De Chastelain hands over his report to Tony Blair
As political leaders started to arrive at Stormont, Mr Trimble told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Fine words butter no parsnips. What we want to see is the proof."

He said Sinn Fein had to offer more than "fancy verbal footwork" and "sanctimonious prattle" before unionists would accept them onto the executive of the new Northern Ireland Assembly.

David Trimble: "We've had years of fancy verbal footwork from Sinn Fein"
Negotiations broke up just before midnight on Thursday after politicians again failed to reach agreement on the terms for a power-sharing executive.

They resumed on Friday morning, but the Ulster Unionists and Sinn Fein still remain divided over the main sticking point - the timetable for the handover of paramilitary weapons.

Looking for unequivocal commitment

On Thursday Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said he was prepared to make a declaration that terrorist weapons should be handed in by next May - that Sinn Fiein "could succeed in persuading those with arms to decommission them in accordance with the [Good Friday] Agreement".

[ image:  ]
It was a commitment that amounted to one of the "seismic shifts" referred to by British Prime Minister Tony Blair in a speech on Thursday.

But Mr Trimble remained unconvinced by Sinn Fein's latest position.

"They have moved a bit but what they have to do is not just produce some fancy formula ... what they've got to do is commit themselves clearly and unequivocally and carry out their obligations."

[ image: Gerry Adams: Proposal rejected]
Gerry Adams: Proposal rejected
He added: "What we're looking to see is whether those obligations are honestly and clearly accepted and whether there are procedures in place that will ensure that they be carried out.

"We've had years of fancy verbal footwork from Sinn Fein but we haven't seen any obligation carried out and we've seen far too much violence from the republican movement and from other paramilitaries."

Waiting for IRA decision

The Ulster Unionist leader said he expected peace talks would adjourn on Friday, perhaps for several months, while the IRA decided whether or not to disarm. But, he said, the Unionists were prepared to wait.

[ image:  ]
"It's better than the alternative," he said. "I know it will cause a lot of disappointment to the community that we don't have an instant solution. We believe that we are going to have to wait for a while to hear from the IRA."

He added: "I very much regret the delay. If necessary we will wait. We will wait until we are sure and have the evidence that they are going to [decommission]."

The former Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds told BBC News 24 that he was disappointed the Ulster Unionists rejected Sinn Fein's offer.

"Sinn Fein have gone further than anyone expected them to go," he said.

"This latest rejection is very disheartening indeed."

Meanwhile, the UK Government has increased to 17,000 the number of soldiers now in Northern Ireland as the traditional Protestant marching season approaches.

Sinn Fein attacks 'spoilt children'

Before the latest round of talks resumed, Sinn Fein's chief negotiator Martin McGuinness said the next hours in the talks would be critical for the future of Northern Ireland.

[ image: Martin McGuinness:
Martin McGuinness: "We have jumped"
He said the unionists had been calling for them both to "jump together".

"We have jumped. If I look behind me I see the spoilt children rooted firmly in the past.

"That is not good enough, it is not good enough for the nationalist community and I don't think it is good enough for the unionist community."

He said there were those within the Ulster Unionist Party who were simply not prepared to share any power with nationalists and that party must choose between "the builders and the wreckers".

He added that "parking" the peace process through the summer would be a "serious blunder".

In an appeal for the republican offer to be accepted by unionists, he said: "I know that there's a massive gulf of distrust between the Ulster Unionist Party and Sinn Fein, but I really do want to work with them, to build a new future not just for my children but their children also."

Irish leader's legislative offer

In the Republic of Ireland, the leader of the largest opposition party said he would seek the recall of Ireland's parliament next week to put in place legislative guarantees on weapons decommissioning in Ulster.

John Bruton, heads of the Fine Gael Party, said he believed legislative commitments that would not be altered by the two governments could break the talks deadlock.

"There is an impossible problem in that Sinn Fein says it doesn't speak for the IRA, but unionists believe they are inextricably linked."

"Sinn Fein says it is not able to give commitments on decommissioning but that is not good enough for unionists. I think there has to be some external guarantor of what the two sides can expect if various commitments are not met."

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