Where I Live
A-Z Index
BBC News Front Page | World | In depth | Northern Ireland

The search for peace
Profiles Themes
• Gerry Adams
• Mo Mowlam
• David Trimble

• Loyalist splinter threat
• Republican splinter threat

• Peace Talks
• Good Friday Agreement

• Continuity IRA
• Orange Volunteers
• Real IRA
• Red Hand Defenders

Events Parties and paramilitaries
Piece together the puzzle of the Northern Ireland conflict by clicking the related subjects above.

• Report of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, 2 July 1999

(The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites.)

The decommissioning of weapons has been the key stumbling block to full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. Disagreement over the issue led to the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly on 11 February, 2000.

The basic problem is that David Trimble, the leader of Northern Ireland's largest party, the Ulster Unionists, refuses to sit on the executive with Sinn Fein, which has links to the IRA, until the paramilitaries begin to hand over their weapons.

On the other hand, Sinn Fein says decommissioning of weapons was not a condition of the original peace deal - and it maintains that it can not promise decommissioning on behalf of the IRA.

The deadlock eased during the Mitchell review when both political parties gave positive statements in support of decommissioning and a power-sharing executive. The IRA then said it would appoint a middleman to negotiate the handover or destruction of its weapons soon after the executive had been set up.

Ulster Unionists took an historic step on November 27, 1999, when its council voted to back Mitchell's peace plan by 480 votes to 349 - 58% to 42%.

The yes vote signalled the moves towards a power-sharing executive, but the new era was threatened when it became apparent in February 2000 that the IRA had not yet handed over any weapons.

The IRA insisted that it was not obliged to do so by that stage, but unionists felt betrayed. The crisis led to the suspension of the executive and apparent deadlock.

In May 2000, however, the IRA said it was ready to begin a process to put its weapons "completely and verifiably" beyond use.

The IRA's view in context

Since the Good Friday Agreement, the IRA has seen many of its prisoners released (as have the loyalists) and the security presence scaled back in nationalist areas. Nevertheless, giving up guns and Semtex explosive is extremely controversial for republicans.

The IRA's strength has always been founded on its arsenal. Throughout the Troubles, IRA doctrine has taught that only physical force and "armed struggle" could force the British out of the province.

Tommy McKearney, a former IRA activist served a life sentence for murder, says IRA members believe Sinn Fein has already made tremendous compromises. "Sinn Fein has accepted the Good Friday Agreement which in essence accepts partition. That can seem totally anathema to orthodox republican ideas," he says.

The result is that Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams is walking a tightrope between appeasing the unionists and hardliners within the IRA ranks.

The Unionist view in context

Unionists are disappointed and angry that the IRA has not already given up its arms.

The Agreement requires that all sides "reaffirm their commitment to the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations" and "use any influence they may have to achieve the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms within two years". But many argue that the spirit of the Agreement envisages a stronger commitment to the end of violence in the province.

Furthermore, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has given a number of personal assurances to the unionists, including one in October 1998 that it was his view decommissioning would begin "straight away".

"We've had years of fancy verbal footwork from Sinn Fein but we haven't seen any obligation carried out," UUP leader David Trimble said in July 1999. "We've seen far too much violence from the republican movement and from other paramilitaries."

To explore developments in the search for peace,
select a subject in a pull-down menu and click Go.

^^ Back to Top
 © MMV | News Sources | Privacy