The Devolution of Ulster: Decommissioning remains to be seen

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THE IRA appointed an unnamed interlocutor to do business with the International Decommissioning Commission last night, amid widely differing opinions on whether the IRA will actually disarm.

The theory is that, having made this move, and with Sinn Fein now ensconced in government, decommissioning will follow. But some argue that, having managed to get Sinn Fein into the new executive, republicans may calculate that neither David Trimble nor Tony Blair will be prepared to pull the plug and put yesterday's developments at risk.

Mr Trimble and Mr Blair, as well as the Irish government and the SDLP, have all said that they believe the IRA will decommission. The two governments have pledged to suspend all the new institutions if this does not happen.

Mr Trimble has apparently promised to resign as chief minister if there is no decommissioning. A meeting of his party is arranged for February to consider the issue.

Republican sources have said that a new context would exist after the executive's establishment, but have never promised that decommissioning would happen.

It has always been understood, however, that if decommissioning did come about it would not take the form of a handover of guns to the government, or even to the commission. Republicans would view this as both an act of surrender and an implicit admission that their campaign of violence was wrong.