IRA 'no nearer to giving up arms', says Maginnis

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The Independent Online

Ulster Unionist MP Ken Maginnis today poured cold water on reports that the IRA might be about to give up some of its weapons in a bid to end the deadlock in the Northern Ireland peace process.

Ulster Unionist MP Ken Maginnis today poured cold water on reports that the IRA might be about to give up some of its weapons in a bid to end the deadlock in the Northern Ireland peace process.

Former US Senator George Mitchell has returned to Belfast for crucial talks to try to broker a deal between the UUP and Sinn Fein over devolution and decommissioning.

Mr Maginnis said: "I don't find any evidence at grass roots level that the leadership of the IRA/Sinn has been conditioning people to move into the real world of politics.

"That Rubicon has yet to be crossed. It appears to us members of Sinn Fein may be very good propagandists but we have not found them able to grapple effectively with the reality of what is democracy."

The UUP refuses to sit in a power-sharing executive with Sinn Fein unless the IRA commits to giving up its terrorist arsenal. Unionists insist no democratic party can keep a private army.

The IRA has never given any indication it would be prepared to decommission but some reports suggest it may now be considering a "tactical" move to break the current impasse.

Sinn Fein chief whip, Alex Maskey, refused to comment on talk of disarmament, except to say there had been a lot of speculation in recent days, most of it inaccurate.

He said the peace process was at a "defining moment" and Sinn Fein thought there was a "slim chance of progress", but was determined to do all it could to make it work.

"We are seeking to end this crisis by the establishment of the political institutions", he said.

Senator Mitchell, who has spent nine weeks at Stormont conducting a review of the workings of the Good Friday Agreement, is expected to produce a report very soon.

But it is not clear whether this will contain the bones of a deal, his own proposals or simply an account of a "work in progress".

He has spent the past week briefing US president Bill Clinton, Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish premier, Bertie Ahern.

He will also talk to the head of the international decommissioning body, General John de Chastelain, who could play a key role in assuring unionists on the weapons issue.

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