Neutral body to see IRA put down arms

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The Independent Online

Chief Political Correspondent

An international body to oversee the decommissioning of IRA arms is emerging as a key part of a package of measures to kick-start the stalled peace talks on Northern Ireland, Whitehall sources say.

The package, to include transfers of IRA prisoners to Ireland and 50 per cent remission for those serving life, is expected to be announced at a summit between John Major and John Bruton, the Irish Prime Minister, in September.

Peter Temple-Morris, a Tory MP and leading member of the British-Irish parliamentary body, said: "I would welcome any progress ministers have made in particular to get round the decommissioning issue, which has led to the impasse."

The outline of the package was settled at the meeting at Hillsborough between Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and Dick Spring, the Irish Foreign Minister. Irish sources said progress was made on a mechanism for allowing Sinn Fein to enter the all-party talks.

Both governments have received a report on the mechanics for decommissioning, and the body, likely to include eminent people from "neutral" countries such as Canada and Norway, could oversee destruction of weapons.

Both sides are expected to engage in intensive contacts with Sinn Fein during the run-up to the first anniversary of the ceasefire at the end of August, to secure movement on the vexed arms issue. The British Government has been insisting on progress over IRA arms before allowing Sinn Fein to enter the substantive all-party talks on the future of Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile, an Irish delegation to IRA prisoners who ended a "dirty" protest demanded that IRA prisoners be taken off category A security wings. The Home Secretary, Michael Howard, insisted the rules would not be changed, but he left open the door to more transfers of inmates to Ireland.