Mandelson in weapons plea to Republicans

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The Independent Online

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson today called on the IRA to give a clear sign that it will act to decommission its weapons.

As efforts continued to rebuild the peace process, and as Sinn Fein held its annual conference in Dublin, Mr Mandelson sent them the message that "the ball is very much in the republicans' court."

Addressing the annual conference of the middle-of-the-road Alliance Party at Carrickfergus, County Antrim, he insisted that decommissioning was "essential and has to be addressed".

He said the question was how and said he believed people should think twice before linking decommissioning directly to the continuation of the political institutions and "end up getting neither."

Mr Mandelson said decommissioning was most likely to happen in the context of the implementation of the whole of the Good Friday Agreement, including the restoration of the institutions.

That, in turn, was most likely to happen if there was a genuine confidence on everyone's part that decommissioning will happen in good time, and that the threat had been removed for good.

"Only the IRA can create that confidence by making their intentions clear. An unmistakable signal of their peaceful intentions would be worth a lot more than a one-off gesture of token decommissioning," he said.

He said he had not given up on decommissioning but: "I do think we need to be more rigorous and imaginative in our approach if we actually want to achieve it, and that the ball is very much in the republicans' court."

* Tony Blair and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern should go to Belfast to inject their authority into efforts to kick-start the stalled Northern Ireland peace process, the leader of the Alliance Party said.

The British and Irish leaders should convene round-table multi-party talks as a matter of urgency, said party leader Sean Neeson.

He told the conference that the best way of getting through the political minefield was for all the pro-agreement parties to re-commit themselves to the full implementation of the Good Friday accord.

"In my opinion this would best be achieved in a meeting convened by the British and Irish Prime Ministers. They could inject the necessary authority to kick-start attempts to break this deadlock," he said.