Unionist angered by Sinn Feinwarning on weapons

Colin Brown adds: A warning by a Sinn Fein leader that the peace process would be doomed if the Government insisted on weapons being surrendered before talks began angered hard-line Ulster Unionist MPs last night.

The remarks by Mitchell McLoughlin, Sinn Fein chairman, contradicted the 'working assumption' by the Government that the IRA ceasefire would be permanent, Peter Robinson, a leading member of the Rev Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party, said. 'His remarks clearly indicated that unless the Government made concessions, the ceasefire was not going to be permanent,' Mr Robinson told the Commons.

Mr McLoughlin told the BBC: 'To insist as a precondition to any side that they must surrender their weapons before people will talk to them is to invite this very fragile consensus to collapse.'

An amnesty is expected to be declared in the new year to allow the IRA and loyalist paramilitary groups to hand over weapons. Officials from the Dublin and London governments were ordered to work out details on Monday at the Anglo-Irish summit at Chequers.