The IRA was expected to confirm a significant disarmament act today, part of a series of choreographed moves to boost the Northern Ireland peace process.
Sources close to peace process negotiations suggested an IRA weapons gesture would follow an official announcement from the British government that Assembly elections would take place on Wednesday, November 26.
One talks source said: “The choreography has been agreed with the British and Irish governments, Sinn Féin, the Ulster Unionists, the IRA and the international decommissioning body all having roles to play.
“Things are expected to move very quickly but at this stage, it is looking like an election announcement followed by a Gerry Adams speech with the IRA, the de Chastelain Commission, David Trimble and the two prime ministers (Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern) all delivering their end of the bargain.”
Northern Ireland’s Assembly and power sharing government was suspended last October amid allegations of IRA spying at Stormont.
Republicans have faced demands over the past 12 months for the IRA to issue an historical declaration that it is ending all paramilitary activity.
David Trimble’s Ulster Unionists had insisted power sharing could not be restored without it.
However in a speech to his party conference in Armagh last Saturday, Mr Trimble said republicans needed to give a sense that paramilitarism was coming to an end.
In recent weeks talks sources have also suggested a third decommissioning act was more likely as a demonstration of the IRA’s commitment to the peace process.
As parties waited for the choreographed moves to unfold today, it was rumoured the IRA had carried out “significant” decommissioning acts in three locations over the past 24 hours.
There was considerable interest in how decommissioning had taken place.
Unionists have been critical of the IRA’s two disarmament acts which occurred in 2001 and 2002 because of their lack of transparency.
Three weeks ago, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness acknowledged those concerns and suggested republicans would look at ways of providing more confidence in the process.
However Sinn Féin has insisted any move would be overseen by Canadian general John de Chastelain, the head of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning.
Another talks source said today each participant from the IRA to the governments would have a key statement to make on what they were prepared to do to boost the political climate for an Assembly election on November 26.
“Everybody has to provide reassurance,” he said.
“This is what this is all about. Everybody has commitments they need to honour.
“Obviously there is understandable nervousness about how all this plays out.”
Hardline Ulster Unionists were expected to criticise any deal if, as they suspect, it falls short of their demands for total decommissioning and the disbandment of the IRA.
Internal critics of David Trimble have suggested the Ulster Unionists could go into a November Assembly election badly divided, with the party facing the awkward problem of whether it could house among its field of candidates two of the three rebel MPs who have angered their leadership by resigning the party whip.
One of the rebel MPs, Jeffrey Donaldson yesterday accused his leader David Trimble of “watering down” the party’s demands on decommissioning, disbandment and the transfer of policing and justice powers from Westminster to Stormont.
The Lagan Valley MP suggested all the party’s candidates would be forced during the campaign to declare their position on whether they believed any deal with Sinn Féin was acceptable.