IRA expected to give new pledge on arms

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The Independent Online

A fresh statement committing the IRA to decommissioning its weapons is still expected by the British and Irish governments as part of a plan to revive the suspended peace process in Northern Ireland.

Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister, remained cautiously optimistic yesterday after talks at Downing Street that the peace process could be revived before the deadline of 22 May in the Good Friday Agreement.

"Another statement by the IRA would be part of a sequence of events. Last night's statement didn't close anything off," a Dublin source said.

David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist leader, condemned as "deeply depressing" the IRA's failure to signal any intention of disarming in its traditional Easter message. "The IRA's Easter message ... has undermined the current round of negotiations," he said.

The Loyalist parades season starts over Easter but Downing Street denied that it would make the search for a breakthrough impossible.

Peter Mandelson, the Northern Ireland Secretary, is seeking to put together a package in which the suspended Northern Ireland Assembly could be revived before the end of May. But that would depend on the IRA making it clear that "the war is over" or that it is committed to disarming. In return, the British Government would announce it is ready to "demilitarise" Northern Ireland.

The two Prime Ministers agreed progress was possible, although bringing all the parties to the Good Friday Agreement together was difficult.

Mr Ahern signalled that he did not believe it possible to achieve decommissioning by the 22 May, describing it as "an important benchmark date". But the two Prime Ministers were agreed that there was enough progress in talks to intensify the negotiations in May.

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