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2000: IRA weapons dump inspected

International inspectors say they have seen a large number of IRA weapons "safely and adequately stored" in bunkers.

After the first inspection of its kind, former president of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari, and former ANC general secretary, Cyril Ramaphosa, said they were satisfied the guns and explosives could not be used.

The two men met Prime Minister Tony Blair in Downing Street to update him on what they had seen.

After their meeting Mr Blair said the inspections represented "a very substantial further step along the road to a lasting peace".

He added that although there was still a long way to go in the political process, Northern Ireland "has never had a better prospect than it has today".

Genuine effort

The IRA agreed in May to allow the two international inspectors to verify that some of their arms dumps were secure as part of the package of proposals to reinstate Northern Ireland devolution and the power-sharing executive.

The inspectors plan to re-inspect the arms dumps on a regular basis to ensure the weapons remain secure.

In a statement, the men said they believed the move was "a genuine effort by the IRA to advance the peace process."

It is believed three dumps were inspected.

But the main unionist party opposed to the Good Friday Agreement remains deeply sceptical about the arrangement.

Democratic Unionist assembly member Peter Robinson said the IRA's move was nothing of substance.

He said: "It's an attempt by the IRA to give the pretence that they are doing something."

In Context
The successful inspection followed the IRA's offer, made in May 2000, to begin a process that would "completely and verifiably" put its arms beyond use.

Further inspections took place in October 2000 and May 2001, both verifying the weapons remained out of use.

In October 2001 the Independent International Decommissioning Commission confirmed that it had witnessed the IRA disposing of arms, and in April 2002 the IRA put a second tranche of its arsenal "beyond use".

But doubts remained and the issue of decommissioning was one of the major stumbling blocks in talks between all parties seeking to restore devolution after the Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended in October 2002.

Five years of direct rule ended in May 2007 when DUP leader Ian Paisley became first minister and Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness took office as his deputy for the return of devoution.

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