Trimble sounds sour note on peace deal

Northern Ireland's political institutions were moving closer towards suspension and review today with the refusal of David Trimble to endorse the Anglo-Irish blueprint ahead of IRA decommissioning.

The Ulster Unionist leader confirmed today that he could not support a package aimed at breaking the deadlock without confirmation that the terror group had begun destroying its weapons.

"There is a world of difference between initiating a process and actually starting it, and it hasn't actually started," he said.

There is speculation that following the report from the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, the IRA could soon issue a statement confirming its commitment to "complete and verifiable decommissioning", followed by a beginning to disarmament next month.

But the UUP leader, who is due to meet his Assembly party, MPs and peers later today, told BBC Radio Ulster that the party would stand firm until this happened.

He pointed out that he had twice gone into government with republicans in the expectation that the IRA would make a start to decommissioning.

"We have done an enormous amount over the course of the last three years to implement this Agreement," Mr Trimble said.

"We have taken risks, we have gone forward and formed this administration, not once but twice, on the basis of expectations. On both occasions we were let down."

Republicans attacked Mr Trimble's dismissal of General John de Chastelain's report as a "mistake of enormous proportions".

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams responded angrily to Mr Trimble's refusal to endorse the Anglo-Irish governments' package because of the lack of actual decommissioning.

"His response has been to pocket this historic initiative by the IRA and to reject the Independent International Decommissioning Commission's determination of the IRA's proposal," he said.

Mr Adams accused the former First Minister of "upping the ante" on other issues such as an amnesty for fugitive republicans and called on the British Government immediately to disown his position.

"Those in the British political establishment and in other places who were trying to reshape the Good Friday Agreement on the basis that Mr Trimble was committed to the Agreement but had a problem only with the issue of weapons, need to review their position," he said.

Mr Trimble, who held a two-hour meeting with party officers last night, said promises of decommissioning were not enough.

Under pressure from the anti-Agreement wing of his party, Mr Trimble added that his party was strongly opposed to other aspects of the package on offer.

UUP members opposed to the process are preparing to convene a member of the 900-member Ulster Unionist Council if there any moves to buy into the process without the destruction of weapons.

"I think the council would definitely reject it. There would be no more pussy-footing around," said a source.

With the future of Stormont now hanging by a thread, the Government will have to review its options ahead of midnight on Saturday.

At that time, if there is no election of a First Minister and Deputy First Minister, then the institutions created by the Good Friday Agreement will collapse.

The Government is expected to suspend the institutions ahead of the deadline to buy more time for the process.

Sinn Fein has already said that it needs to see more detail on policing, demilitarisation and criminal justice before it can support the package.

It has called for publication of the criminal justice review, which is not expected to be in the public domain until September.

Meanwhile, the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party will meet later today to publish its detailed response to the proposals.

SDLP leader John Hume has briefed both governments on his response and is expected to give a largely favourable assessment of the blueprint.

The SDLP has been under pressure to endorse the policing reforms by agreeing to take its two places on the new Policing Board.

According to reports, the party is expected to state that remarkable progress has been made on policing but will delay its decision to nominate members to the board.

Sinn Fein chief negotiator Martin McGuinness said the political parties had to place their faith in the judgement of General de Chastelain.

The "huge breakthrough" had to be grasped by all sides but David Trimble had already rejected it in a "mistake of huge proportion", he suggested.

"I doubt if any of us is ever going to establish what the proposal is," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"What we need to be satisfied about is whether or not people are, at long last, prepared to allow General de Chastelain and the international body to deal with this issue."

If it was the General's view that decommissioning needed to done in a way in which political parties were not given the details, that was just something the Ulster Unionists, Sinn Fein and everybody else would have to live with, he said.

"If they are calling into question the credibility of General de Chastelain then they are calling into question the credibility of the entire agreement," he went on.

"Either he is allowed to deal with this issue in his own right or we may as well get him to pack up his bags and go home."

Mr Trimble repeated his insistence that the job of the commission was to oversee actions on decommissioning, not words.

He told the programme that if the continued impasse meant the Northern Ireland assembly had to be suspended, it would not mean an end to the process.

Arriving for the Ulster Unionist party meeting involving assembly members, MPs and peers, deputy leader John Taylor - now Lord Kilclooney - said that progress had been made yesterday but more would need to be achieved before his party could support the package aimed at breaking the political deadlock.

"We want to see the product from both the IRA and the SDLP. The SDLP are still dragging their feet, they will not recommend Catholics to join our new police service, they won't appoint people to the Northern Ireland Police Force and the IRA have still to produce their guns," he said.

Lord Kilclooney expressed concern about confirmation that the Government was introducing a new decommissioning scheme to allow more flexibility to the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning.

"That is going to be an issue we are going to have to pay some attention to," he added.

Liberal Democrat Northern Ireland spokesman Lembit Opik welcomed signs that the peace process was progressing but warned against over-optimism.

He said: "It is clear from the statements from both parties that Northern Ireland peace politics is on the move again.

"The parties are at long last tackling the tricky decommissioning issue head on, although prudence would suggest that we shouldn't get over-optimistic about a speedy result."

But while his party would do all it could to help the process move forward, the fate of the new proposals lay with the people and politicians of the province, he added.

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