IRA deals final blow on guns handover - Trimble and Adams in talks

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The Independent Online

The IRA last night issued a defiant refusal to give in to British and Unionist demands to start the process of handing over weapons

The IRA last night issued a defiant refusal to give in to British and Unionist demands to start the process of handing over weapons

In a statement, the IRA said the arms issue would not be advanced by "British legislative threats".

It came as David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist leader, and Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein president, met in Belfast amid frantic efforts to save Northern Ireland's devolved government from collapse over the IRA's refusal to decommission its giant store of arms.

As the two men headed to Stormont for face-to-face talks, the terrorist group made it clear there was little or no chance of it acting in time to prevent the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly and recently-formed power-sharing executive by the end of this week.

However, the statement, made to the Irish state broadcaster RTE, accepted for the first time that the arms issue had to be dealt with "in an acceptable way" and that it was a "necessary objective of a genuine peace process".

The IRA intervention came as the new Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police warned that his service would not be able to cope if the terrorists once again target mainland Britain.

Sir John Stevens said that the Met was critically short of officers, saying low pay and lack of confidence after the Lawrence inquiry had caused a recruitment crisis. According to official estimates the number of officers is likely to dip from 26,400 to below 25,000 over the next year.

"Hopefully the peace process will continue," Sir John said at a special briefing. "If it doesn't, we will be a major target and we will have to be on our guard. We have been through an awful lot in London and I dread it returning. We need to say a few prayers."

Other extremist violence, for example from eco-terrorists, could put intolerable pressure on the Met, he added.

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