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Tuesday, September 27, 2005 

Unionists react to IRA disarmament with predictable scepticism.

Let's face it, we weren't going to have Ian Paisley dancing around the maypole hand in hand with Gerry Adams just because General John de Chastelain confirmed that the IRA had completed its decommisioning, not only in front of him but also two independent church witnesses. They had already demanded photographs of the IRA destroying their arms caches, a call which was rightly ignored. Even so, the attitude the DUP has taken to the completion of one of their key demands, and which the IRA had vowed it would never take, has been completely irresponsible and shows their utter political bankruptcy.

The leader of Northern Ireland's largest unionist party claimed today there had been a "cover-up" over the decommissioning of IRA weapons after meeting the man in charge of monitoring the operation, General John de Chastelain.

Ian Paisley, the Democratic Unionist leader, said he was "shocked about what we learned" in the meeting with Gen de Chastelain, who announced yesterday that the IRA's entire arsenal had been put out of action over the past few weeks.

The decommissioning of IRA arms is considered a crucial step forward in the Northern Ireland peace process because unionists refused to join a power-sharing government with the IRA's political wing, Sinn Fein, while the IRA maintained its weapons.

But Mr Paisley and his party have been sceptical of the process, claiming that the IRA has hoodwinked Gen de Chastelain and his International Independent Commission on Decommissioning.

Asked whether he could see himself joining a government that included Sinn Féin, he said: "We will not be doing it."

After an hour spent discussing decommissioning with Gen de Chastelain, he said there was a "very big question" over what had taken place.

"The more spotlight is put on this, the more we discover there is a cover-up," he said. "When we came to any question which could unravel what needs to be unravelled and could put some light on these things, they refused to give us any answers."

He specifically asked whether the intelligence estimates of IRA weapons had been revised, and why improvised weapons had not been included on the lists.

"Part of the weapons that should have been decommissioned have disappeared, and the security forces admit they are probably in the hands of dissidents," he said.

Sinn Fein's deputy leader, Martin McGuinness, was flying to Washington today to try to regain political support shaken by the killing of Robert McCartney in Belfast in January.

A campaign led by Mr McCartney's widow, and claims of IRA involvement in last December's £26.5m raid on Belfast's Northern Bank, led to Sinn Fein leaders being snubbed at Washington's St Patrick's Day celebrations in March.

However, the White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, called confirmation of IRA disarmament "very encouraging for all those who support the peace process, the rule of law and a Northern Ireland free from sectarian violence".

Senator Edward Kennedy, the leading congressional supporter of Sinn Féin, also welcomed news of the IRA's disarmament.

"Hopefully, this dramatic and historic step toward peace will be embraced by the unionist community and become a new dawn for the peace process, so that the all-important restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly can take place as soon as possible," he said.

The Northern Ireland secretary, Peter Hain, said today that if the Independent Monitoring Commission gave the IRA the all clear in a report next January, talks towards a resumption of devolution should take place.

No one is denying that the IRA still has a long way to go. Its treatment of the McCartney family was indefensible. They need to disband fully, and stop the intimidation of families on some estates. They need to renounce criminality and not take the route of loyalist groups in fighting amongst themselves over drugs. But this is a huge step forward and should be acknowledged as such. Does Ian Paisley truly believe that two ministers, one whose father was killed by the IRA, have been tricked believingveing the IRA has destroyed its weapons when it did it right in front of their faces and even helped them?

The DUP, as I previously mentioned in my posts about the loyalist riots has a see no evil hear no evil approach when it comes to their own community. It only sees the nationalist community causing problems for its brothers. It ignores the feuds between loyalist paramilitary groups, who have made no mention of their intention to disarm. While the IRA and Sinn Fein have took action, the unionists have sat back on their hands and watched, and then criticised the final results. They have become the epitome of someone who was previously the centre of attention and calling the shots - once removed from such a position, they have become bitter and jealous, resorting to plotting. This is not just the politicians, it seems to be the majority of the loyalist community, convinced that the nationalists are receiving home improvements and getting an easy ride, while they have been left behind. This is not only nonsense, but ridiculous nonsense.

As Peter Hain says, power-sharing will not be able to resume until January at the earliest. Perhaps then Ian Paisley will have had to consider what is facing not only him but the country he has declared he will never surrender. He can decide whether his political legacy will be a historic sharing of power with Sinn Fein, leading to an outbreak of peace -- or he can decide to reject what has been achieved, continue in his navel-gazing and die having left the situation as it was. If the peace process then falls apart, it will not be because of the nationalists. It will be because of his party.

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