Paisley attacks 'IRA-nominated' arms witnesses

Almost all points of the spectrum have accepted that the putting of IRA guns beyond use was a highly significant act which, though widely criticised as belated and imperfectly carried out, may signal a new era.

As if to reinforce the point that the IRA is trading its guns for ploughshares, Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein's president, spent the day in Co Cork at the National Ploughing Championships. Meanwhile, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness has flown to the US to brief Irish-Americans there.

Sinn Fein called on the Rev Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to meet republicans for talks, saying the party had responded with a "predictably negative knee-jerk reaction" but should be given space to absorb "what has taken place". But Mr Paisley maintained a determined resistance to the proposition that decommissioning might profoundly alter the situation.

Instead, he questioned whether the entire republican arsenal had been put beyond use and disparaged the priest and Protestant minister who watched the decommissioning as "IRA-nominated witnesses".

Speaking after meeting the head of the decommissioning commission, General John de Chastelain, the DUP leader said he was "shocked" to learn of the decommissioning procedures. "We discovered the witnesses turned up in the presence of the IRA. None of the commission heard from the Government who the witnesses were. Nor did the Government certify them - they were not appointed by Government."

Mr Paisley declared: "The more the searchlight is put on this, the more we discover that there is a cover-up. The gun is not out of Irish politics."

Mr Adams said that the DUP reaction was "all delaying stuff, all negotiating".

The smaller Ulster Unionist Party said it believed a significant act had taken place. Its deputy leader, Danny Kennedy, said he would never question the integrity or honesty of the Protestant witness, the Rev Harold Good, a former Methodist moderator .

Alex Attwood of the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party said after meeting General de Chastelain that his party was "more reassured". He said: "Anybody who thinks they can make a fool of what those three men are trying to do and what the witnesses saw happen is ... misled and misguided."

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