'IRA arms don't rule out talks'

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THE INTERNATIONAL commission attempting to break the arms deadlock in Northern Ireland will hear submissions in Dublin today and tomorrow, after two days in Belfast.

It will be told by Fianna Fail, Ireland's largest political party, that there is no basis in the Downing Street Declaration for paramilitary arms to be handed over before all-party talks on the future of the province begin.

The hearings of the new body, headed by former US Senator George Mitchell, come amid growing nationalist concern that moves to convene a new internal Northern Ireland assembly, instead of all-party talks with a clear agenda, may undermine the existing three-strand peace process.

The three-strong arms commission is receiving submissions in Dublin Castle today and tomorrow from parties in the Irish Republic, after two days in Belfast hearing views of British and Northern Ireland parties.

The submission from Fianna Fail, Ireland's largest party, will strongly reassert the insistence of former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, that the Downing Street Declaration, the basis of both governments' Northern Ireland diplomacy, intended that decommissioning be dealt with in the process of reaching a negotiated political settlement.

The Fianna Fail leader, Bertie Ahern is concerned that London seems set on limiting the potential of the Mitchell commission.

He told the Independent on Sunday it would be a serious mistake for London to try and "fence in" the decommissioning body's recommendations even before they have been developed.

The Mitchell hearings have come amid growing fears among nationalist parties that any progress on arms may simply be followed by a new impasse on another issue designed to prevent John Major's precarious Commons' majority being jeopardised by any initiative not fully endorsed by the Ulster Unionists.

The Irish government allowed the reference to a possible Northern Ireland assembly in last month's joint Major\Bruton communique. But ministers are concerned that any such body should not become a delaying tactic or means to exclude Dublin.

Irish government parties share Fianna Fail's dismay at the apparent "auction" emerging around the assembly proposal, fearing that the Liberal Democrats and Labour may now be seeking to match any offer on this made to the Unionists by Mr Major.

Labour Northern Ireland spokeswoman Mo Mowlem, the RUC and the fringe Loyalists were among those making submissions to the Mitchell body yesterday in Belfast. Not all senior RUC officers are thought to believe requiring an IRA arms surrender before talks is helpful.