Letter: Ulster weapons

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Your leading article "Now three cheers for peace are in order" (11 September) adds to the view that it looks as if paramilitary groups which entered the peace process as a more sophisticated way of subverting Northern Ireland, may themselves have been subverted and drawn into a democratic process.

It is highly likely, however, that there will be more deaths from terrorism as the Continuity IRA picks up hard-line recruits and seeks to prove its capacity. In essence, however, the deadly dynamic of "mainstream" terrorism seems to have been destroyed by the Omagh atrocity combined with the murders of the three small Quinn brothers. Yet an eye to history should remind one of the dangers of a "recurring IRA". It is why decommissioning remains the most important test of paramilitary intentions and a guard against the resurgence of violence.

The retention of paramilitary arsenals - particularly "offensive" weapons such as semtex and heavy machine guns - offends democratic politics, stultifies the development of a new political culture in Northern Ireland and probably makes it impossible politically for David Trimble to share an executive with Sinn Fein. Such illegal munitions could also be captured by ultra- republican renegades to fuel the "war" of a recurring IRA. After all, it seems that the detonators used by the Real IRA in the Omagh atrocity came from Provo arms dumps.

Decommissioning has been honourably fudged so far, but it must be delivered to consolidate the peace and enable the next big task of reconciliation between a people who have been bitterly divided by violence over the last 30 years. The worst thing would be for those who are anxious to normalise Northern Ireland to think it is all over and put Northern Ireland on the back burner where it could simmer until a later eruption.

HARRY BARNES MP

(Derbyshire NE, Lab)

Joint President, New Dialogue

House of Commons

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