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Wednesday, November 17, 1999 Published at 16:53 GMT

UK: Northern Ireland

IRA statement signals new approach

Mechanism in place to dispose of weapons - if delivered

By BBC Northern Ireland chief security correspondent Brian Rowan

Wednesday's statement from the IRA is the latest piece to be slotted into a jigsaw which, when complete, will show the planned way forward in the Northern Ireland peace process.

The IRA's main contribution to the developing situation is a promise to appoint a representative to enter into discussions with General John De Chastelain's Decommissioning Commission.

This would happen within days of the institutions negotiated as part of the Good Friday Agreement being put in place.

By then two Sinn Fein ministers, Martin McGuinness and Bairbre de Brun, would be sitting in a new executive.

No promise on arms handover

But the statement does not promise to handover weapons and for many unionists this is the major flaw in the deal negotiated behind closed doors at Castle Buildings over the past eleven weeks or so.

The unionist demand had been "no guns, no government".

[ image: General de Chastelain: IRA to appoint mediator on arms]
General de Chastelain: IRA to appoint mediator on arms
But the IRA statement makes clear "no government, no contact with General De Chastelain".

The statement doesn't respond to the unionist demand to state "the war is over".

Instead the IRA says it is committed "unequivocally to the search for freedom, justice and peace in Ireland."

In the past it has described the Good Friday Agreement as "a significant development".

This is repeated with the IRA adding that its full implementation will contribute to the achievement of a lasting peace in Ireland.

Sinn Fein leadership "acknowledged"

The IRA also "acknowledges" the leadership given by Sinn Fein throughout this process.

Unionists would have much preferred the IRA to have used the word "endorse". This statement, read alongside the one from Sinn Fein on Tuesday, signals a new approach from republicans.

The message coming through is that the politicans must make the Good Friday Agreement work and then it will be up to armed groups to decide what to do with their weapons.

The unanswered question is: How long will it take for the IRA to make a judgement on politics working?

Sinn Fein have repeated that IRA guns are silent. They will have to remain so if David Trimble is to have any chance of selling the deal to doubting unionists.

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