By Shaun Connolly, Political Correspondent
NORTHERN Secretary Pater Hain last night moved to downplay the row over whether the IRA had held on to weapons, insisting it was not possible to account for every single gun.
He said it was the "big picture" of Republicans abandoning the armed struggle that mattered.
During a visit to Dublin Mr Hain stated he did not expect Ian Paisley’s DUP to "gallop" into power-sharing with Sinn Féin, but yesterday’s Independent Monitoring Commission’s report laid the groundwork for constructive talks.
That document provoked an extraordinary public row when it suggested the IRA may have retained arms.
IMC commissioner John Alderdice said he could not share the confidence of General John de Chastelain that republicans had destroyed all their weapons.
However, Mr Hain dismissed the row as "spin."
"We are light years away from where we were five or 10 years ago - or even six months ago. The IRA has closed down its paramilitary activity.
"There is no dispute that a massive arsenal of weapons was decommissioned.
"You cannot ever be certain that every single handgun and bit of weaponry has gone," he said.
Mr Hain added: "I don’t expect Ian Paisley will gallop into power sharing with Sinn Féin.
"The DUP want to see the assembly up and running and are putting forward proposals because they accept the status quo cannot continue," he said.
Mr Hain added he was keen to set in place cross-Border energy and inward investment initiatives, as well as co-ordinating policy on child welfare to help crackdown on paedophiles.
Sinn Féin dismissed the IMC as a bunch of "anti-Republican cranks" and called for it to be disbanded, saying it was costing taxpayers in the Republic €1.5 million a year to fund.
TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh introduced a bill into the Dáil yesterday calling for the repeal of the legislation setting up the IMC. "Its farcical report yesterday is nothing more than a permit for prevarication," he said.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny claimed the Government is split over the IMC report. He insisted there was "clearly a divergence" between the Ministers for Justice and for Foreign Affairs over whether the report cleared the way for political talks.
He warned IRA intelligence gathering was now being used for political purposes.
Tánaiste Mary Harney agreed there were still issues to be dealt with over continuing IRA criminality and hoped the next IMC report in April would show progress in this area.