Letter: Lament for Ulster

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The Independent Culture
Sir: According to David McKittrick ("IRA says no to weapons handover", 12 December), David Trimble insisted in Oslo that the IRA must decommission its arms before Sinn Fein could be admitted to the new cross-party Executive in Northern Ireland. In fact, what Mr Trimble asked for was "a serious beginning". In the light of the history of this issue, his comment that "that is not too much to ask for" seems restrained.

In December 1993, at the time of the Downing Street Declaration, both governments said that decommissioning would have to take place before Sinn Fein could enter all-party negotiations. This requirement was progressively watered down in the face of Sinn Fein's and the IRA's insistence that they would decommission at the end of the negotiations but not before. In January 1996, the International Body chaired by Senator Mitchell suggested the compromise that some decommissioning should take place in parallel with negotiations. In the event the negotiations took place without decommissioning and Sinn Fein/IRA were not even held to their original position of decommissioning on their conclusion.

The policy of making concessions to republicans in the hope of a response has not worked. Here is a suggestion.

General de Chastelain's Commission should draw up a timetable for decommissioning such that the process would be complete by 23 May 2000 as required by the Agreement. Sinn Fein would be admitted to the Executive on the day that the first arms were handed over or destroyed. The British, Irish and American governments would give a solemn undertaking that if there were any slippage in the timetable, or any failure on the part of Sinn Fein to co-operate fully with the Commission (the Commission itself would be the judge of that), Sinn Fein would immediately lose its place.

STEPHEN PLOWDEN

London NW1

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