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Wednesday, July 21, 1999 Published at 22:48 GMT 23:48 UK

UK Politics

IRA leaders reject decommissioning demands

The statement will come as no surprise in republican areas

The IRA leadership have dismissed calls for them to start decommissioning weapons to kick-start the Northern Ireland peace process.

In a statement issued on Wednesday night the IRA said that people demanding the decommissioning of IRA weapons, are supporting the position of those who seek the defeat of the IRA.

The BBC's David Eades: "The IRA statement will come as no surprise"
It said: "Those who demand the decommissioning of IRA weapons lend themselves in the current context inadvertently or otherwise to the failed agenda which seeks the defeat of the IRA."

The organisation did not offer any hope that it may accede to unionist demands that it must start decommissioning before Sinn Fein joins a devolved Northern Ireland government. It did not threaten to break its ceasefire.

Blame put on government

In its first statement in response to the breakdown of the Stormont talks last week, the organisation blamed a British government "without the will to confront the unionist veto" for the lack of political progress.

It also questioned whether the current political process and the Good Friday Agreement would be able to deliver change in Northern Ireland.

It said: "The argument that the present political process can deliver real and meaningful change has been significantly undermined by the course of events over the past 15 months.

''This culminated in the failure last week to establish the political institutions set out in the Good Friday Agreement.

Unionists accused

''The Agreement has failed to deliver tangible progress and its potential for doing so has substantially diminished in recent months.''

The IRA also said unionists had reneged on the Agreement by blocking Sinn Fein's entry into the power-sharing executive at Stormont, which was scheduled to be set up last week.

It said: "It is clearly their intention to continue their obstructionist tactics indefinitely. There is irrefutable evidence that the unionist political leadership remain at this time opposed to a democratic peaceful settlement."

But the republican paramilitaries said the main responsibility for repairing the political process lay with the British Government.

'Nothing new'

The IRA said: ''Recent events at Stormont cannot obscure the fact that the primary responsibility for the developing political crisis rests squarely with the British Government.

''It remains our view that the roots of conflict in our country lie in British involvement in Irish affairs. Responsibility for repairing the damage to the argument that the current political process can deliver real change rests primarily with the British Government.''

Downing Street has described the IRA's criticisms as nothing new. A spokesman in the prime minister's office said the government remained committed to the Good Friday Agreement.

Government security sources say they believe that the IRA ceasefire is not under threat.

Trying again

Meanwhile former US senator George Mitchell has returned to Northern Ireland to meet the province's politicians in an attempt to break the deadlocked peace process.

Senator Mitchell, who originally chaired the talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement, held a series of meetings with representatives from nationalist and unionist parties at Stormont's Castle Buildings on Wednesday.

The Search for Peace
On Thursday, Prime Minister Tony Blair will hold further meetings with Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble and Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams at Downing Street.

The peace process has been put into review after it was thrown into disarray last week by the failure to set up a power-sharing executive and the resignation of Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister, Seamus Mallon.

The main aim of the review will be to get the parties themselves to initiate a deal to overcome the logjam on paramilitary arms decommissioning and the establishment of a power-sharing executive.

Speaking during a US visit, the Northern Ireland Secretary, Mo Mowlam, said the Good Friday Agreement was "very much alive".

She said: "The basis is still there, what we have difficulty in doing is trying to move it forward.

[ image: Senator Mitchell: Series of meetings]
Senator Mitchell: Series of meetings
"It is important for people to remember, even though we tried with the prime minister and the taoiseach, trying to do everything we could for the 15th, nobody walked away, nobody said they want to give up."

July 15 was the date set for nominating ministers to a power-sharing executive.

"They still want to keep trying, all the party leaders, to find a way forward," Dr Mowlam said.

Speaking after meeting Senator Mitchell, Sinn Fein Vice President Pat Doherty accused Mr Trimble, who is also the province's First Minister, and his unionist colleagues of being "in default of the agreement".

He also called for a timescale to be put on the review.

Mr Doherty, who was accompanied by Mr Adams and Martin McGuinness at the meeting, said: "We have to have a short time plan. We cannot allow the review itself to become a delaying mechanism for the unionists' refusal to implement the agreement."

Sinn Fein's ruling council will meet in Dublin on Saturday to reflect on the events of the last month and to consider its response to the review.

Senior Ulster Unionist negotiator Sir Reg Empey, who met Senator Mitchell in London on Tuesday, denied they wanted to delay the formation of the executive and avoid sharing power with nationalists.

He said: "We want this to succeed as quickly as possible. I do not see what advantage there is in stringing it out."

Senator Mitchell also met representatives from the Progressive Unionist Party and the Ulster Democratic Party as well as the nationalist SDLP.

[ image: Mr Blair and Mr Ahern announced Senator Mitchell's role on Tuesday]
Mr Blair and Mr Ahern announced Senator Mitchell's role on Tuesday
SDLP assembly member Mark Durkan called for a "more active and interactive" negotiating process.

But the anti-agreement DUP has objected to the appointment of Senator Mitchell as the review chairman.

Deputy leader Peter Robinson said: "The scope is inadequate and the outcome cannot be one that will be acceptable to the unionist electorate."

UK Unionist leader Robert McCartney, who also met Senator Mitchell, said Mr Mitchell was not an independent chairman and would be trying to limit the scope of the review.

Earlier, Northern Ireland Unionist Party leader Cedric Wilson urged both governments to accept that the agreement was dead and devise a new political settlement.

After Senator Mitchell has met all the parties, there will be a break over August and then the review will resume in September.

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