Decommissioning team closes offices in the North

The multi-national team given the formidable task of overseeing paramilitary disarmament in the North ended 13 years of work in the region today with its task broadly complete.

The multi-national team given the formidable task of overseeing paramilitary disarmament in the North ended 13 years of work in the region today with its task broadly complete.

The Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) closed its offices in Belfast on a high note, having secured the destruction of three illegal arsenals on its last day in operation north of the border.

Yesterday's decommissioning announcements from the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), the Official IRA and a break-away faction of the Ulster Defence Association tied up the loose ends facing a body that had already seen the majority of loyalist and republican weapons put beyond use.

While the IICD's operation in Dublin will not be wound up until the end of the month, the mandate given to it by the British and Irish governments in 1997 is effectively at an end.

And although a marginalised band of extremists continue to target the peace process using terror, the IICD`s job was to facilitate disarmament among those groups that had renounced violence, not persuade those still intent on waging their wars.

There was no farewell appearance from the three commissioners in Belfast today but with the two governments expected to ask them to compile a final report on their work, they will be set for one final public outing later in the year.

In total the commission cost around £10m to maintain during its existence.

Led throughout by retired Canadian General John de Chastelain, its work has been arduous and seldom straightforward.

That three organisations waited until the very last day of its mandate - 24 hours before an inter-connected amnesty from prosecution was due to expire - to finally announce they had stumped up their guns is proof positive of that.

The long road to achieving the decommissioning of the mainstream Provisional IRA in 2005 saw the powersharing government at Stormont collapse on a number of occasions and the disarmament of the main loyalist groups - the UDA and Ulster Volunteer Force - only came to pass within the last nine months.

Sir George Quigley, an independent witness called in to validate the IICD's engagement with the UDA, said the commissioners had proved what could be achieved through perseverance.

"A great element of the equation was simply their patience and willingness to talk and engage with people over long periods of time," said the respected businessman.

"That has paid off. This was never going to be a quick fix overnight. They stuck at it and they got their rewards. In many ways they were rewarded for their endurance."

Sir George, who saw in person how the weapons were disposed off, said he was struck by how hands-on General de Chastelain and fellow commissioners Brigadier Tauno Nieminen from Finland and American Andrew D Sens were.

"I must confess I was extremely impressed by the sheer workmanlike approach of whole operation," he said.

"This was no walk through exercise, it was real getting down to work, sleeves rolled up and in the end nobody was left in any doubt that these weapons were indubitably put out of use for all time."

Senior trade union official Peter Bunting, who acted as a go-between when the INLA signalled it wanted to engage with the IICD, said despite the commissioners high ranking military background they had an everyman quality.

"Although they were generals, there was never any sense of them acting like they were in command or making orders when engaging with people," he explained.

"That was crucial. Trust was also very important. They held many discussions with these groups and through those they built up a degree of trust. It was vital that everyone bought in on the basis of trust."

Crediting the IICD with making one of the most significant contributions in the history of the peace process, Mr Bunting also acknowledged those who had employed them.

"A lot of praise must go to those who selected the commissioners, they couldn't have picked any better," he said.

More in this section

Puzzles logo
IE-logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day.

Puzzles logo
IE-logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day.