London, Dublin and the power-sharing government in Belfast warmly welcomed news yesterday that the IRA had carried out a second act of decommissioning.
The IRA's announcement was verified by the Canadian general John de Chastelain, who confirmed it "has put a varied and substantial quantity of ammunition, arms and explosive material beyond use."
Although the event was dismissed by unionist politicians opposed to the Good Friday Agreement, it was viewed elsewhere as a significant step that strongly suggested the IRA saw the shedding of its arms as a continuing process. The IRA described the widely anticipated moveas a unilateral initiative aimed at ensuring the peace process can be stabilised, sustained and strengthened.
The move was particularly welcomed by the Ulster Unionist leader and First Minister David Trimble. He taunted his opponents within unionism, saying: "Those anti-Agreement unionists who said it would never happen – gentlemen, where are you now?"
Last October, General de Chastelain described the first IRA decommissioning as significant. Yesterday he went further, declaring: "We have quantified it this time to say we believe the amount that we saw put beyond use was substantial and it was certainly varied." As with the first move, however, no details were provided on how much material was involved or on exactly how it had been put beyond use.
The move brought calls for similar action from loyalist groups, though few hold out real hope on that front. The main Protestant organisation, the Ulster Defence Association, was only last week involved in bomb and gun attacks on police during north Belfast rioting.
Among the sceptics was the Ulster Unionist MP David Burnside, who declared: "I find the whole thing totally hypocritical when it appears the Provisional IRA have recently been up to their necks in the Castlereagh Special Branch break-in." The IRA however also issued a categoric denial that it had been involved in the Castlereagh incident.
Tony Blair welcomed the move, calling it "immensely significant". The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, John Reid, added: "It shows that last October's historic act wasn't a one-off. There are people who will never be satisfied ... because they've spent their whole careers saying it couldn't possibly happen."
Quentin Davies, the shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, welcomed the move but said Sinn Fein had yet to prove "beyond doubt" that it was committed to democracy.
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