BELFAST, Northern Ireland – International weapons inspectors have supervised the full disarmament of the outlawed Irish Republican Army, a long-sought goal of Northern Ireland’s peace process, an aide to the process’ monitor said Sunday.
The IRA permitted two independent witnesses, including a Methodist minister and a Roman Catholic priest close to Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, to view the secret disarmament work conducted by officials from Canada, Finland and the United States, the aide to retired Canadian Gen. John de Chastelain said on condition of anonymity.
The office of de Chastelain, who in recent weeks has been in secret locations overseeing the weapons destruction, scheduled a news conference for today in Belfast.
The aide told the Associated Press that the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning news conference would detail the scrapping of many tons of IRA weaponry this month at a confidential location in the Republic of Ireland. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
Both witnesses – the Rev. Harold Good, a former president of the Methodist Church in Ireland, and the Rev. Alex Reid, a Catholic priest – also will state what they saw.
Statements from the British and Irish governments, Adams and the IRA’s command were expected within the next 24 hours.
“I am confident that tomorrow will bring the final chapter on the issue of IRA arms,” said Martin McGuinness, the deputy leader of the IRA-linked Sinn Fein who plans to travel Tuesday to Washington to seek U.S. political support for the IRA’s actions. “I believe that Ireland stands on the cusp of a truly historic advance, and I hope that people across the island will respond positively in the time ahead.”
Unfortunately, most politicians and analysts agree, the IRA move is coming years too late to kickstart the revival of a Roman Catholic-Protestant administration, the central dream of Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace accord. That complex landmark agreement required the IRA to disarm by May 2000.
The Rev. Ian Paisley, whose uncompromising Democratic Unionist Party represents most Protestants today, has dismissed the coming IRA moves as inadequate. Paisley insists on photographs, a detailed record and a Paisley-approved Protestant clergyman to serve as an independent witness.
A senior Democratic Unionist, Jeffrey Donaldson, said the IRA’s apparent refusal to provide photos and its refusal to use a Protestant minister nominated by his party as a witness meant that many Protestants would not fully believe the IRA moves.
“I don’t think we’re going to get that level of transparency tomorrow, and I think that’s most unfortunate,” Donaldson said. “People want to see what has happened. … The witnesses have been appointed by the IRA,” he said. “It does diminish the credibility of whatever is going to happen tomorrow.”
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