Ahern lays down law on IRA weapons

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The Independent Online
SINN FEIN has a responsibility to ensure the IRA decommissions its weapons if the party is to hold executive office, Bertie Ahern, the Taoiseach, warned yesterday.

Rejecting a hard-line IRA refusal this week to lay down arms, he insisted there could be no changing of the terms of the Good Friday Agreement by either government or any party, "or the erection of new or old preconditions".

At a private meeting later, Mr Ahern is believed to have told Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams of his anger at the IRA statement. Under the agreement all parties agree to "work constructively and in good faith to achieve decommissioning all arms within two years".

Launching his Fianna Fail party's campaign for a "yes" vote in the 22 May Northern Ireland Agreement referendum, Mr Ahern repudiated IRA claims that the poll did not amount to an act of national self-determination. To encourage purely peaceful moves to unification by consent, he said the option of "a further act of self-determination at a future date" remained.

He pointedly criticised the British Army's continuing high profile in South Armagh, saying it was unfortunate, nearly 12 months into a ceasefire, that people there "should still be treated as if they were living in occupied territory". He said it contributed nothing to the peace that they were facing "unacceptable" levels of harassment within a landscape where the numerous watchtowers were "reminiscent of the former Iron Curtain countryside".

Rejecting hard-line republican opposition to the peace process, Mr Ahern said no one could presume the hunger striker Bobby Sands would have opposed the peace initiatives of republican leaders today.

This was aimed at Sinn Fein dissidents led by Mr Sands' sister, Bernadette Sands-McKevitt. Urging armed groups "to accept that the war is over," he cited the recent disbanding of the German Red Army Faction. "Fundamentalism is sterile and leads nowhere except to pointless grief," he said.

The chairman of the multi-party Stormont talks, former US senator George Mitchell, said yesterday that the IRA's stance came as no surprise. "That has been their position all along." A time-frame lay within the Agreement for dealing with arms, and people should not be deterred by such statements. Mr Mitchell was in Dublin to receive a honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Trinity College university.

South African government ministers Mac Maharajand Matthews Phosa, of the ANC, yesterday joined Sinn Fein vice-president Pat Doherty and executive member Martin Ferris, a former gun-runner, in discussing peace processes in both countries with republican inmates at Portaloise Prison. Similar discussions were held at the Maze Prison, near Belfast, on Wednesday.