Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Prime Minister Tony Blair were expected to reach a decision today on whether the latest IRA statement could advance the peace process.
Officials in London and Dublin last night scrutinised the new IRA statement on its future to see if it provided a basis for the two leaders to travel to Northern Ireland to release their blueprint on the future of the Good Friday Agreement.
Earlier the IRA announced last night it had “closed on a statement“, which would be released soon and dealt with four issues.
The Provisionals identified these as: “The current disposition of Oglaigh na hEireann (the Irish Republican Army) and the status of our cessation; Our future intentions; Our attitude to a re-engagement with the IICD (the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning) and engagement in a process of putting arms beyond use; A third act of putting arms beyond use to be verified under the agreed scheme.”
Mr Blair and Mr Ahern had hoped to travel to Hillsborough Castle last Thursday to announce proposals for implementing the Agreement.
These covered the scaling down of the British army presence in Northern Ireland, the stability of the political institutions, policing, justice, equality, human rights and a scheme to enable IRA fugitives who fled Northern Ireland to return home.
However, when the two leaders decided not to travel, the IRA was accused of drafting a statement which fell well below unionist expectations.
David Trimble’s Ulster Unionists wanted the IRA to make a significant decommissioning gesture and declare an end to recruiting, training, intelligence gathering, targeting, weapons importation and all violence.
The Provisionals last night insisted they had “shared concepts and draft elements” with the governments and were now ready to issue publicly the final statement once the governments had responded.
Sinn Fein’s Alex Maskey welcomed the IRA’s move, claiming it was an “important development“.
The Belfast Lord Mayor confirmed Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness had “acted as a conduit for the two governments with the IRA” in recent days.
“The onus is now on the two governments to publish their joint declaration,” the West Belfast MLA said.
Reaction from unionists and moderate nationalists was more sceptical.
Ian Paisley Junior, security spokesman for the hardline Democratic Unionist Party, branded the statement as “meaningless, rambling waffle that was not worth holding breath for“.
Progressive Unionist leader David Ervine insisted the only statement that mattered was: “one declaring the IRA’s war is over.
“That is all we want to hear. When is their war over?” the loyalist East Belfast MLA asked.
Ulster Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson said it was clear the IRA was under a lot of pressure.
The Lagan Valley MP insisted: “The IRA know what they need to do and that is to disarm and disband their illegal organisation”
The rival nationalist SDLP made it clear they were waiting to see the next IRA statement which they said would be judged against only one standard - whether it was the clear and certain end to paramilitarism the prime ministers had called for.