24 September 2005

Row over nominee continues

The Irish News Online

By Barry McCaffrey

A row over DUP decommissioning nominee Rev David McGaughey will not be allowed to overshadow the IRA’s largest act of decommissioning, senior republicans last night insisted.

On Thursday, DUP leader Ian Paisley accused the British government of brokering a secret deal with republicans to exclude the presence of an acceptable Protestant churchman to witness the IRA’s expected fourth act of decommissioning.

Mr Paisley claimed that while the IRA had agreed to allow Protestant and Catholic churchmen to testify that weapons had been destroyed, they would not witness the actual destruction of weapons.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said the DUP should have talked to his party if it wanted to nominate its own witness to decommissioning.

“It’s a bit rich when unionist paramilitaries are using heavy-calibre shoulder weapons to shoot at British troops and PSNI officers, and profess to be loyalists, that the DUP would be concerned about IRA weapons which are silenced and, which we all hope and pray, are going to be put beyond use in the period ahead,” he said.

Republicans accuse unionists of attempting to move the ‘goal posts’ from actual decommissioning to public humiliation of the IRA.

When General John De Chastelain was appointed to verify decommissioning in 1998 it was thought by the British and Irish governments that his credentials would satisfy unionist concerns.

However, under decommissioning guidelines, General De Chastelain can be obliged to keep details private until all weapons, loyalist and republican, have been destroyed.

Unionists reacted angrily in October 2003 when the general was not allowed to give details of what IRA weapons had been decommissioned.

Privately republicans believe that the DUP is attempting to increase pressure on Sinn Fein in the event of an expected call from the British and Irish governments for political talks following IRA decommissioning.

“The DUP were offered an input into the decommissioning issue but for their own reasons they chose not to take it,” said a republican source.

“They know De Chastelain’s terms of reference and the verification procedures that have been agreed.

“They are trying to stretch republicans for their own political means.

“The danger for them is that decommissioning will go ahead without them and be accepted by all the other main players, namely the British, Irish and American governments.

“The question for the DUP is whether they want to see decommissioning or are more interested in trying to humiliate the IRA.”

However, it is still unclear whether the DUP’s decommissioning nominee, former Presbyterian Moderator David McGaughey, will be acceptable to the IRA.

The former RUC reservist, who is a strong anti-agreement unionist, is considered to be on the right wing of Presbyterianism when it comes to both politics and theology. In 1994 he was criticised after refusing to take part in ecumenical services.

He had previously complained when the SDLP’s Seamus Mallon had invited then Irish government minister John Wilson to visit his Newry and Mourne constituency.

“Is it right that our government should always be looking over its shoulder to see whether policies please states that should have no part in the running of our affairs?” he said.

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