Gerry Adams defiantly ruled out any prospect of IRA decommissioning within the next six weeks last night and said republicans would not yield to pressure from Unionists or the Government on arms.
Addressing a rally in Belfast, the Sinn Fein president rejected the assertion by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, John Reid, that a deal was imminent. "If the British are saying that a deal is within reach, does that mean they are going to pull troops out of South Armagh, Tyrone, West Belfast and North Belfast? I hear also the patronising tone that the institutions have been stood down for only one day and now it's OK again. Well, it's not OK again."
His remarks followed a warning from his colleague Martin McGuinness that the IRA's contacts with the international body on decommissioning had been put in jeopardy by Unionist hostility and the Government's 24-hour suspension of the political institutions. Mr McGuinness said suspension had damaged his community's confidence in the institutions and could have implications for the IRA's plan, accepted by General John de Chastelain's decommissioning body, to put its weapons permanently beyond use.
"The Unionist rejection of General de Chastelain's determination and the suspension of the institutions may have caused a serious situation," he said. "Now we see a situation where there are questions being raised as to whether or not that initiative may be jeopardised."
London and Dublin hope the publication, probably this week, of a revised plan to reform policing will give new impetus to the negotiating process. Other documents will give details of sweeping changes to the criminal justice system. Republicans have linked the prospect of giving up arms to movement on these and other issues such as demilitarisation.
Most immediately there is apprehension that the IRA may take its proposals on decommissioning off the table, in protest at Saturday's one-day suspension of the Good Friday Agreement. The suspension made use of a loophole in the Agreement to create a six-week window for negotiations.
Mr Reid said suspending devolution had saved the peace process and was hardly an excuse to abandon the progress that had been made.
* Five people were arrested after weekend rioting in Ballymena, Co Antrim. About 60 people threw stones and paint bombs at police on Saturday night. Seven petrol bombs were recovered.
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