07 February 2006

IMC and IICD are united: minister


By Brian Walker
07 February 2006

Security Minister Shaun Woodward has dismissed claims of differences between the IMC and the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) over whether the IRA have held on to guns.

Addressing a Westminster committee session to renew, for a final year, the order granting an amnesty to paramilitaries who are decommissioning their arsenals, Mr Woodward said that both bodies were united in saying last week they had "no reason to doubt" the IRA leadership was committed to "eschewing terrorism".

"This order has become an annual event. Last year, just after the Northern Bank robbery, members were disappointed that so little progress had been made on decommissioning. This year we have to recognise the huge progress that has been made since last year, " said Mr Woodward.

In the absence of DUP committee member Nigel Dodds who was attending the Hillsborough talks, Tory MPs Laurence Robertson and Ben Wallace challenged the minister for glossing over the reports that IRA members were holding onto weapons, beyond " a limited number of handguns kept for personal protection, or some items the whereabouts of which were no longer known".

Mr Robertson who is a front bench spokesman, insisted there were "differences of interpretation" between the IMC and General de Chastelain's commission.

On prospects for a complete end to all IRA illegal activity he said: "I share the minister's sense of hope but not his sense of optimism."

In the dispute over IRA weapons, his colleague Mr Wallace pleaded with ministers: "Don't hoodwink us. Give it to us warts and all. Next year (when the amnesty period runs out for paramilitaries) "we will say enough is enough".

On Wednesday, the IRA's decommissioning record will come under further scrutiny by the full House, when MPs take the decision on restoring their parliamentary allowances.

In what is nominally a free vote, the Conservatives and the DUP have pledged to vote against the Government.

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