30 September 2005

Belfast Telegraph

By Noel McAdam, Political Correspondent
30 September 2005

THE DUP has said concerns remain following its face-to-face meeting with the two clergymen who witnessed IRA decommissioning.

But Ulster Unionists said it was time to "move on" from a sole focus on the decommissioning issue after a similar meeting with the independent witnesses, the Rev Harold Good and Fr Alec Reid.

The UUP also said it had emerged that the two witnesses began their role last November, shortly before the collapse of the political negotiations between Sinn Fein and the DUP in the so-called 'Comprehensive Agreement'.

UUP deputy leader Danny Kennedy said there was a danger of unionists getting themselves into a corner.

Former UUP leader David Trimble said today it would be "foolish" to disbelieve the evidence given by the former Methodist President and Redemptorist priest and unionists should not "get stuck in a self-defeating argument" over arms.

In an article for the News Letter, Mr Trimble said it would be a good idea if the inventory of IRA weaponry taken by the International Independent Commissioning on Decommissioning (IICD) was published, saying there was no legal requirement for it to remain confidential.

Unionists should, however, focus on the issues of tomorrow such as whether paramilitary activity and racketeering has ended; if Sinn Fein is unequivocally committed to supporting policing and if the integrity of the police and criminal justice system is being maintained.

DUP MP David Simpson, who ousted Mr Trimble from his Upper Bann seat at the last General Election, said his party was not questioning the integrity of the witnesses but questions remained.

Mr Simpson, who attended the meeting at Parliament buildings, said if they had not been appointed by the Government or the Decommissioning body, they must have been appointed by the IRA - a claim the two clerics have explicitly rejected.

Mr Kennedy said the UUP was amazed the witnesses were in place ahead of the failed deal of 2004.

"It questions the political influence of those who were negotiating fair deals and comprehensive agreements. Are we to believe that Dr Paisley and the political leadership of the DUP were so far out of the loop that they were unaware of the choreography of these events?" he asked.

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