Disarmament Monitor: I.R.A. Weapons Destroyed

The Irish Republican Army has deactivated or destroyed its weapons, according to the chief of an independent commission overseeing the disarmament process. Madeleine Brand gets the latest from reporter Suzanne Rodgers in Derry, Northern Ireland.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

They say no news is good news. Well, today the exception that proves the rule: In Northern Ireland, there is news and it is good. The IRA has turned over all its weapons, ending decades of bloody conflict against British rule. Retired Canadian General John de Chastelain is the chairman of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning and he made this announcement today.

General JOHN DE CHASTELAIN (Retired, Canada): We have now reported to the British and Irish governments that we have observed and verified events to put beyond use very large quantities of arms which we believe include all the arms in the IRA's possession.

BRAND: With us now from Derry, Northern Ireland, is reporter and columnist Suzanne Rodgers.

Hi, Suzanne.

Ms. SUZANNE RODGERS (Reporter and Columnist): Hi, Madeleine.

BRAND: So is it now certain that all the IRA's weapons have been destroyed?

Ms. RODGERS: Well, as certain as you can ever be. John de Chastelain has said very clearly that he is confident that all of the IRA weapons have been put beyond use. But, of course, to know that for certain, we'd have to know what they started with and we don't know what they started with. We can only go on what they have told us. We have to take their word.

BRAND: And how many weapons are we talking about?

Ms. RODGERS: We haven't got the exact quantity. John de Chastelain has been very guarded about that. I mean, he's obviously anticipating any questions that might trip him up in the future. What we do know is what was involved. We're talking about quite a lot of ammunition, very large quantity of ammunition, smaller quantity of guns. We're also talking about a quantity of Semtex, which was the favorite explosive, and various types of detonators capable of detonating bombs from some distance and capable of detonating bombs on timers.

BRAND: So I imagine the Protestants are happy.

Ms. RODGERS: There's been a mixed reaction from the Unionist community. And the Ulster Unionist Party, which would be the more moderate Unionist grouping, have welcomed to some extent what's happened but have said until we know for sure, it's a kind of a `suck it and see' situation. We'll have to have a period of time when there is no IRA activity so we can be absolutely sure.

As you might expect, the more extreme loyalist groups, the more extreme Unionist groups, including Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party, have dismissed this latest announcement as nothing more than a stunt. They, of course, wanted to see photographic evidence of decommissioning, partly they say to verify that it actually did take place, but there's also suspicion within Republican and Nationalist communities that it was because they wanted to see this as an IRA surrender, which patently they weren't going to get. They have also criticized the people who actually witnessed the decommissioning. They were a Catholic priest who has been very much involved in the past in negotiations between Republicans, IRA and the British and Irish governments, and a former Methodist minister. The more extreme DUP, Ian Paisley's party, weren't happy with that. They had nominated someone they wanted to go along and see it, but again, that was rejected, presumably on the grounds that the IRA did not want to be seen to be surrendering to a DUP-nominated person.

BRAND: Well, presumably, that's why there is an Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, and yet you're saying that both sides are not completely happy with that.

Ms. RODGERS: Not that they're not completely happy with that, but there's always this dimension that people on the ground who have been part of this process for so long also have a right to be a part of the ending of the conflict in Northern Ireland. But it also has to be said that the IRA spawned a number of dissident groups which we know and which are still not on cease-fire. And the interesting question from here on is going to be: What happens with them? Can they now be brought in from the cold as well?

BRAND: Suzanne Rodgers is a free-lance journalist. She's based in Derry, Northern Ireland.

Thank you.

Ms. RODGERS: Thank you.

BRAND: DAY TO DAY returns in a moment. I'm Madeleine Brand.

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