July 26, 2005

Irish justice minister warns IRA on weapons

By Kevin Smith

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell
warned the Irish Republican Army on Tuesday that it had to put
all of its illegal arsenal of weapons beyond use if there was
to be a political breakthrough in Northern Ireland.

As speculation mounted that a statement from the guerrilla
group concerning its future was imminent, McDowell said there
could be no partial disarmament.

"There is no position whatsoever between being armed and
being unarmed for the IRA," he said.

"There is no question of there being some quota of arms
being held back or whatever. If the IRA are decommissioning
they must decommission all their weapons in their entirety,
every single pistol, every single bullet -- the lot." The IRA
has been locked in internal debate about the way forward since
April when Gerry Adams, leader of its political ally Sinn Fein,
called on it to lay down its guns and embrace peaceful and
political means to achieve its aims.

Speculation that a response could be due later this week
has been spurred by intensified contacts between Sinn Fein and
the British and Irish prime ministers in recent days.

The outlawed group in 1997 called a cease-fire in its
campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland but its
opponents, and the British and Irish governments, say its
continued existence -- and retention of arms -- has blocked
efforts to forge a lasting political settlement.

Protestant unionists, who support British rule, refuse to
share power with Sinn Fein, as envisaged by a 1998 peace
agreement between Protestants and Catholics, until the IRA is
stood down.

McDowell said the IRA had to be clear in its intentions to
abandon paramilitary activity and crime, but words would not be

"Put it this way, there will be no breakthrough unless all
those elements are there. And the other thing I want to
emphasize ... (is) that it is actions not words that count ...
We are no longer in the business of fudge or equivocation."

More than 3,600 people were killed in three and a half
decades of Northern Ireland's "Troubles," with the IRA
responsible for around half of those deaths.

The bulk of its arms are believed to be hidden in bunkers
on the southern side of the Irish border.