Letter: Ulster's guns

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The Independent Culture
Ulster's guns

Sir: As the 10 March deadline approaches for the setting up of the new executive in Northern Ireland, I wonder how long the Government is prepared to wait while David Trimble reinterprets the section on decommissioning in the Good Friday agreement to bolster hardline Unionist intransigence.

Why is he not also addressing the issue consistently ignored by the British media - the thousands of licensed weapons in the homes and gun clubs of his own community? As Albert Reynolds recently remarked: "The North is awash with weapons."

It is hypocrisy to demand the decommissioning of IRA weapons when according to RUC figures in 1997 there were 138,727 legally held guns in that province - the majority in Unionist cupboards - for which 83,500 firearms certificates have been issued, many for several guns held by one person.

Equally worrying was Mo Mowlam's written reply to a parliamentary question last year referring to the handgun ban in Britain after Dunblane: "After much thought, I am not persuaded of the need to prohibit the possession and use of target handguns in Northern Ireland. I realise that my decision may disappoint some people who feel strongly, as I do, about firearms control and safeguarding the public."

If there is to be any future agreement on decommissioning, common sense dictates that the 12,771 legally held handguns in Northern Ireland should be the first weapons to be decommissioned, to comply with the legislation applicable to the rest of the UK. Perhaps then the owners of the 111,014 shotguns and airguns, 13,736 smallbore rifles, 326 full-bore rifles and 880 "miscellaneous" weapons could be induced to surrender them.

I suggest as a matter of urgency Mo Mowlam's office meet with the gun clubs of the Orange Order, the Black Preceptory and the Apprentice Boys to put these points so as to gain at least some credibility as a persuader.

It is illogical to require republicans to hand over their weapons while their Unionist neighbours a few streets across town are permitted to retain their massive private licensed armouries, not to mention the thousands of unlicensed weapons in the hands of Protestant paramilitaries.


London W14