& Book Forum
Search / Archive
Back to 10/96
Hitchhikers' guide to decommissioning
8 years of the decommissioning debate
15 December 1993. The Downing Street Declaration issued by John Major and Albert Reynolds says "the achievement of peace must involve a permanent end to the use of and support for paramilitary violence" and "in these circumstances, democratically mandated parties which establish a commitment to exclusively peaceful means and which have shown that they abide by the democratic process, are free to participate fully in democratic politics and to join in dialogue in due course between the Governments and the political parties on the way ahead". Dick Spring says these conditions include at least some decommissioning. Sir Patrick Mayhew expresses a similar view.
1 June 1994. Spring tells the Dail: "The key to Sinn Fein-IRA being part of the political discussions is a permanent cessation of violence. It has to be permanent and there can be no equivocation about that. There will have to be verification of the handing over of arms. As I said publicly on many occasions, there is little point in attempting to bring people into political dialogue if they are doing so on the basis of giving it a try and if it does not work returning to the bomb and the bullet . . . I assure the Deputy that neither Government will attempt to bring them into discussion and dialogue until they are satisfied that the violence has ended permanently."
31 August. The Provisional IRA announces "a complete cessation of military operations". Reynolds and northern nationalists take this as implying a permanent ceasefire. The British Government and unionists press for a more explicit statement of permanence. The IRA statement does not mention violence and the IRA continues to carry out punishment beatings and expulsions from Northern Ireland.
12 October. The Combined Loyalist Military Command declares a ceasefire whose permanence would be dependent on "the continued cessation of all nationalist/republican violence". Loyalist beatings and expulsions continue.
12 December. Reynolds says it is not a "sensible precondition" to require the IRA to hand in weapons before multilateral talks begin.
30 December. Major repeats that there must be "significant progress" on the question of arms before the Government and other parties would join Sinn Fein in round-table talks.
22 January 1995. Spring says that decommissioning should not be allowed to become an obstacle to talks on the future of the North and that steady progress is being made towards the inclusion of Sinn Fein in negotiations.
January. The Ulster Unionist Party presents a plan to Major for an internationally led disarmament commission. Sinn Fein and the SDLP reject this plan when it is made public in March.
1 March. Gerry Adams says decommissioning would happen at the end of negotiations, not the beginning.
7 March. Mayhew puts forward a three-point plan for the decommissioning of IRA weapons that would allow Sinn Fein to join political negotiations: a willingness in principle to disarm progressively, agreement on the method of decommissioning, and a start to the process.
9 March. The White House announces that Adams has been invited to the President's St Patrick's Day reception and will be allowed to raise funds in the United States. At the reception, President Clinton urges those who had laid down their arms "to take the next step and begin to seriously discuss getting rid of these weapons."
4 April. Clinton says: "I was very clear when the Adams visa was granted with permission to fund-raise that there must be an agreement, a commitment in good faith, to seriously and quickly discuss arms decommissioning".
15 July. John Hume expresses the belief that the IRA would get rid of its weapons if the republicans were included in political talks.
2 October. David Trimble suggests a Northern Ireland Assembly as a way of enabling Sinn Fein to take part in debates with unionists even though it had not fulfilled all the requirements of the Downing Street Declaration and therefore was not yet able to move into formal all-party talks.
3 November. The British Government publishes a document, which had been circulated to all the political parties and to the Irish and US Governments in the previous week, proposing a twin-track approach: "all-party preparatory talks and an international independent body to consider the decommissioning issue will be convened in parallel by the two Governments".
8 November. Trimble says that the British Government's proposals were not acceptable in their current form and "there is no question of any negotiations without decommissioning". The SDLP publishes suggestions made, with Sinn Fein's support, to the British Government in mid-October, for the preparatory phase of all-party talks to be launched not later than 30 November and for an international body under Senator George Mitchell to report on "whether it has been established that a clear commitment exists on the part of the respective political parties to an agreed political settlement, achieved through democratic negotiations, and to the satisfactory resolution of the question of arms". The two main unionist parties reject these proposals.
28 November. The British and Irish Governments issue a joint communiqué embodying the twin-track approach: all-party talks by the end of February 1996; an international body to be set up and to report by mid-January 1996.
24 January 1996. The Mitchell Commission report sets out six fundamental principles of democracy and non-violence and recommends that participants to all-party talks should affirm their total and absolute commitment to them. On arms, it says "there is a clear commitment on the part of those in possession of such arms to work constructively to achieve full and verifiable decommissioning as part of the process of all-party negotiations; but that commitment does not include decommissioning prior to such negotiations". It therefore suggests a compromise that some decommissioning would take place during all-party negotiations. It recommends that decommissioning should receive a high priority in all-party negotiations and that it should be complete, mutual (as between republican and loyalist paramilitaries), verifiable and carried out to the satisfaction of an independent commission. The process should suggest neither victory nor defeat and parties should be given the option of destroying the arms themselves. The Commission also says, "If it were broadly acceptable, with an appropriate mandate and within the three-strand structure, an elective process could contribute to the building of confidence". Major welcomes the report in the House of Commons but says that before all-party negotiations could take place either paramilitaries would have to make a start on decommissioning or an election should be held to secure a democratic mandate for such negotiations.
9 February. The IRA bombs London's Docklands.
16 February. In a public opinion poll 95 per cent of Protestants and 68 per cent of Catholics say that all or some weapons should be decommissioned before inter-party talks. A new elected body was supported by 70 per cent and opposed by 14 per cent.
28 February. The British and Irish Governments in a joint communiqué announce elections to a forum to be held in May and all-party negotiations to start on 10 June. All participants in the negotiations would have to make clear their total and absolute commitment to the Mitchell principles. Sinn Fein would be allowed to participate in the forum (a fact-finding and debating body), but to take part in the negotiations it would have to persuade the IRA to renew its ceasefire and if IRA violence resumed during the negotiations Sinn Fein would then be excluded.
End April. John Bruton, who had become Taoiseach in December, says, "prior decommissioning of arms would not be allowed to stand in the way of progress towards full negotiations".
16 May. Major says that Sinn Fein could be admitted to negotiations after a new IRA ceasefire but that decommissioning would need to be addressed at the beginning of the talks.
30 May. Elections to the Northern Ireland Forum for Political Dialogue. Sinn Fein obtains 15.5 per cent of the votes.
14 June. The Forum meets for the first time, boycotted by Sinn Fein.
15 June. The IRA bombs the centre of Manchester.
26 February 1997. The Oireachtas passes the Decommissioning Act, 1997 and the next day the British Parliament passes the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997. This legislation gives the Irish Minister for Justice and the British Secretary of State powers to set up decommissioning schemes under which holders of illegal arms would be able to decommission them within a specified amnesty period. Four methods of decommissioning were recognised. Three involved helping an independent Commission to be set up by the British and Irish governments, or some other designated person, to acquire and destroy the arms. Under the fourth, the holders of the arms would destroy them themselves.
29 April. Writing in the Irish Times, Major says that "some decommissioning would have to take place during talks" but that Sinn Fein would be admitted after a ceasefire.
1 May. Labour wins the British General Election. Tony Blair becomes Prime Minister and Mo Mowlam Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
16 May. Blair outlines the new Government's approach in a major speech in Northern Ireland. After discussing the political issues involved he says: "Many will share my frustration that (these issues) have not already been addressed. The parties have been unable to agree on a way of dealing with decommissioning. We continue to support the parallel approach proposed by George Mitchell."
6 June. Election in the Irish Republic. A coalition led by Bertie Ahern of Fianna Fail replaces the Bruton Government.
15 June. The British and Irish Governments give the IRA five weeks to call an unequivocal ceasefire in order for Sinn Fein to join the negotiations on their resumption on 15 September.
19 July. The IRA calls a ceasefire.
29 July. In a joint communiqué, the British and Irish Governments say they have decided to complete the work required to set up an Agreement which would allow an Independent Commission on Decommissioning to start work on a full operational basis "alongside the start of substantive negotiations on 15 September".
26 August. The Agreement providing for the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning is signed. The Commission is required to consult with the parties involved in the negotiations and others on decommissioning schemes; "to present to the two Governments proposals for schemes having due regard to the views expressed by those it has consulted"; to undertake the tasks that might be required of it to facilitate decommissioning, "including observing, monitoring and verifying decommissioning and receiving and auditing arms"; and to make periodic reports. It was envisaged that the Commission would begin the formal process of consultation during the negotiations starting on 15 September.
29 August. Mowlam accepts the veracity of the IRA's ceasefire and invites Sinn Fein to join the negotiations, saying that she trusts that "all participating parties will commit themselves to negotiate a settlement based on consent".
9 September. Sinn Fein commits itself to the Mitchell principles.
11 September. The IRA says "the IRA would have problems with sections of the Mitchell principles" but what Sinn Fein did "was a matter for them".
24 September. The International Commission on Decommissioning is launched with the Canadian General John de Chastelain as its Chairman. At the plenary session of the Stormont talks, all delegations commit themselves to the compromise approach on decommissioning set out in the report of the Mitchell Commission.
8 October. The US State Department drops the Provisional IRA from its list of terrorist organisations, thus allowing fundraising to take place on its behalf in the USA.
10 April 1998. The Stormont talks conclude with the Belfast Agreement. The third paragraph of the section on decommissioning says: "All participants accordingly reaffirm their commitment to the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations. They also confirm their intention to continue to work constructively and in good faith with the Independent Commission, and to use any influence they may have, to achieve the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms within two years following endorsement in referendums North and South of the agreement and in the context of the implementation of the overall settlement." In a note to Trimble written before the Agreement is signed, Blair says, "in our view the effect of the decommissioning section . . . is that the process of decommissioning should begin straight away". The Sinn Fein delegates do not endorse the Agreement, saying that a party conference will be necessary.
12 April. Adams tells a Sinn Fein conference that Sinn Fein had the right to support parts of the Agreement but to reject others. Ahern says that he looks forward to decommissioning "later in the summer".
30 April 1998. In reply to a statement by Trimble that Sinn Fein could not enter the Executive to be set up under the Good Friday Agreement until the IRA had disbanded, an IRA spokesman says that the IRA remained committed to assisting the search for peace but "let us make it clear that there will be no decommissioning by the IRA. This issue . . . is a matter only for the IRA, to be decided and pronounced upon by us". Replying to this statement the next day, Ahern says that Sinn Fein has a responsibility to ensure that the IRA decommission its weapons if the party is to hold executive office.
10 May. The next Sinn Fein conference passes a resolution that successful Sinn Fein candidates should participate in the Assembly to be set up under the Good Friday Agreement, but its position on the rest of the Agreement is not made clear.
22 May. The Good Friday Agreement is endorsed by over 71 per cent of the electorate in Northern Ireland and by nearly 95 per cent in the Republic.
25 June. Elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
29 June. The Northern Ireland Office issues the detailed procedures to be followed, with respect to contacts between proscribed organisations and the Independent Commission, methods of recording and destroying arms etc. It was stated that, subject to Parliamentary approval, the Government intended to extend the amnesty period for dealing with arms by these methods from 26 February 1999 (the end-date set in the previous legislation) to 22 May 2000.
15 August. The Real IRA bombs Omagh. Adams condemns the bombing.
1 September. Adams repeats his unequivocal condemnation of the Omagh bombing and says "Sinn Fein believe the violence we have seen must be for all of us now a thing of the past, over, done with and gone". Shortly afterwards, Sinn Fein appoints Martin McGuinness to be its representative to liaise with the International Commission.
18 October. Hume tells the BBC Breakfast with Frost programme: "There is no disagreement by any party that the objective of this process is a total disarmament, a total removal of the gun from our society and that that should be done to the satisfaction of all sides, that it be done within the fixed timetable laid out in the Agreement of two years and that it be done to the satisfaction of an International Commission. And I believe that if we all now commit ourselves to working together to implement all aspects of the Agreement together that we can make substantial progress."
29 October. In an article attacking Trimble for delaying setting up the Executive because of the decommissioning issue, McGuinness says "Sinn Fein is committed to the wholehearted implementation of the Good Friday Agreement in all its aspects, including the provisions on decommissioning".
10 November. When it is put to him in a BBC radio interview that Sinn Fein spokesmen "never come up with a really good reason as to why some sort of handover of some kinds of weapons cannot take place", Martin McGuinness replies: "Well, I'll give you a good reason. The IRA won't do it. That's the reason."
14 November. Seamus Mallon tells the SDLP's annual conference that nothing in the Good Friday Agreement requires decommissioning to begin before Sinn Fein accedes to the Executive and that he believes Sinn Fein intends to honour its obligations under the Agreement to decommission within two years. But should they not do so the SDLP "would rigorously enforce the terms of the Agreement and remove from office those who had so blatantly dishonoured their obligations". He believes that the fears of Sinn Fein supporters that whatever they do the unionists will contrive new demands and conditions to exclude them from executive office are also unfounded, but, if there were any such attempt, neither the SDLP nor he as Deputy First Minister "would confer any compliance, support or credibility on such a blatant contravention of the Agreement".
10 December. John Hume and David Trimble are jointly presented with the Nobel peace prize in Oslo. In his acceptance speech, Trimble says: ". . . I have not pressed the paramilitaries on the details of decommissioning. Although I am under pressure from my own political community I have not insisted on precise dates, quantities and manner of decommissioning. All I have asked for is a credible beginning. All I have asked for is that they say that the "war" is over. And that is proved by such a beginning. That is not too much to ask for. Nor is it too much to ask that the reformist party of nationalism, the SDLP, support me in this."
11 December. According to briefings to journalists by republican sources, the IRA rules out decommissioning for the foreseeable future.
18 December. The Loyalist Volunteer Force, a small paramilitary organisation with no corresponding political party, hands in some of its weapons for destruction by the Commission.
4 January 1999. The Irish Foreign Minister, Mary Harney, said that there was no distinction between Sinn Fein and the IRA and that it was now time for them to decommission.
7 January. Mallon said that sooner or later the UUP and Sinn Fein would have to sit together in an Executive and that it would be imperative for the IRA to hand in weapons if Sinn Fein was involved in power sharing.
8 February. An opinion poll commissioned by the Belfast Telegraph showed that 93 per cent of Protestants in Northern Ireland and 68 per cent of Catholics believed that decommissioning should start immediately.
18 March. Asked at a news conference what he could deliver on decommissioning, Adams said that Sinn Fein was trying to meet an accommodation on this issue which satisfied the Unionist Party and that he had made only one point of condition which he thought was very commonsense. "I want Mr Trimble in the loop, before I stretch the republican constituency once again . . . I want to make sure that Mr Trimble and I jump together. But I stress it has to be within the terms of the agreement and I cannot deliver from the IRA what the British government couldn't achieve in thirty years."
1 April. A joint declaration issued at Hillsborough Castle by the British Prime Minister and the Taoiseach said "there is agreement among all parties that decommissioning is not a precondition but is an obligation deriving from their commitment in the Agreement, and that it should take place within the time-scale envisaged in the Agreement, and through the efforts of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. Sinn Fein have acknowledged these obligations but are unable to indicate the time scale on which decommissioning will begin. They do not regard the Agreement as imposing any requirement to make a start before the establishment of the new institutions. The UUP do not wish to move to the establishment of the new institutions without some evident progress on decommissioning." Because of differences between Sinn Fein and the UUP over the relative timing of the start of decommissioning and the establishment of the new institutions, the declaration proposed that on a date to be set nominations would be made of the people who would take up office as ministers when powers were devolved; within a month from that day there would be a collective act of reconciliation, involving both putting some arms put beyond use on a voluntary basis and further moves on normalisation and demilitarisation in recognition of the changed situation on security; and around the same time as this act of reconciliation powers would be devolved and the institutions specified in the Belfast Agreement would be established.
3 April. The UUP decided to reserve its position on the Hillsborough declaration pending clarification on certain points. Some days later the UUP decided to accept the document as a basis for negotiation.
8 April. McGuinness ruled out IRA decommissioning before the establishment of an Executive and on 13 April both Sinn Fein and the PUP rejected the Hillsborough declaration.
15 May. Following talks between the two governments, the UUP, the SDLP and Sinn Fein on the previous day, Blair set the 30 June as the date for agreement on terms leading to the devolution of power to the Assembly and said the deadline was absolute. The latest package aimed at resolving the deadlock over decommissioning and the formation of the executive requires Sinn Fein and the other parties "to do what they can" to achieve decommissioning of paramilitary weapons by May 2000. The d'Hondt mechanism for nominating ministers would be triggered if General John de Chastelain, the head of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, reported that progress was being made.
17 May. The UUP rejected this deal saying that "every aspect of the Agreement has been implemented or substantially progressed. It is incredulous to expect that an executive can be set up while this issue has not been satisfactorily and finally resolved."
24 June. The chair of the IICD, General John de Chastelain, issued all the Northern Ireland parties with a list of questions relating to decommissioning, including questions on timing and modalities, and gave them until Monday 28 June to respond.
25 June. Blair and Ahern flew to Stormont for talks with the parties leading up to the 30 June deadline. 1 July. Sinn Fein published a proposal in which they said " . . . we believe that all of us, acting in good faith, could succeed in persuading those with arms to decommission them in accordance with the Agreement. We agree that this should be done in the manner set down by the Independent Commission on Decommissioning within the terms of the Good Friday Agreement".
2 July. In a long report, the IICD said, "the Sinn Fein statement of 1 July offers promise that decommissioning by all paramilitary groups may now begin. The Commission expects that Sinn Fein's proposal will be endorsed by the IRA and reciprocated by loyalist and other republican paramilitary groups". The report also said "the Commission believes that to complete its mandate by 22 May 2000, the process of decommissioning should begin as soon as possible". A paramilitary group would be deemed to have started the process of decommissioning "when it (a) gives an unambiguous commitment that decommissioning will be completed by 22 May 2000, and (b) commences detailed discussions of actual modalities (amounts, types, location) with the Commission through an authorised representative".
2 July. At the end of the talks, the two Prime Ministers launched The Way Forward, which suggested that devolution should take place later that month; the parties should agree to decommissioning in a manner to be determined by the IICD, which would specify the time for actual decommissioning to start; in the event of commitments either in relation to devolution or decommissioning not being met, the government would suspend the operation of the institutions set up by the Belfast agreement. Unionists reacted cautiously, saying that it would be unfair for democratic parties to be penalised if the IRA misbehaved.
4 July. Writing in the Belfast Telegraph, Blair said, "I can ensure Sinn Fein aren't in the Executive if they default". Sinn Fein replied that excluding only them would breach the Good Friday Agreement.
10 July. A survey found that 65% of people in Northern Ireland, including 59.5% of UUP supporters, favoured the formation of an all-party executive, and 75%, including 65% of Sinn Fein supporters, favoured decommissioning by May 2000.
11 July. Trimble said that the UUP would reject the Way Forward proposals unless the Irish government and the SDLP vowed to specifically exclude Sinn Fein if the IRA defaulted.
14 July. The UUP rejected The Way Forward proposals.
15 July. The UUP members of the Assembly did not turn up as the Secretary of State, Mo Mowlam, issued an order triggering the d'Hondt mechanism for nominating ministers. The SDLP and Sinn Fein then nominated ministers, but as no unionist ministers were nominated, the executive was immediately ruled out under the terms of the Belfast Agreement.
20 July. Senator Mitchell was appointed by the two governments to chair a review of the Belfast Agreement. The review would be "tightly focused" and aimed at "a speedy conclusion".
21 July. The IRA issued a statement rejecting calls on it to disarm "in the current context", and blamed unionists and the British government for the impasse in the peace process, to which it gave its "definitive commitment".
6 September. Senator Mitchell started his review by holding a round of meetings at Stormont with all of the pro- and anti-Agreement parties.
12 November. Senator Mitchell adjourned the review of the Belfast Agreement to allow Sinn Fein and the UUP time to reflect over the weekend on the proposed 'sequence' whereby a statement by Sinn Fein would reject violence, the IRA would appoint an interlocutor to the IICD and the UUP would announce that it was ready to enter government with Sinn Fein ahead of actual disarmament by the IRA. A majority of the UUP Assembly members supported this deal, and all agreed that David Trimble would put it to a special meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council, the UUP's governing body.
16 November. Statements by the SDLP, Sinn Fein and the UUP emphasised the importance of both decommissioning and the formation of the Executive and the other institutions. The four smaller pro-Agreement parties issued similar statements. Trimble indicated that the path to an Executive would be cleared by the IRA's appointment of a representative to the IICD.
17 November. The IRA confirmed that it would "appoint a representative to enter into discussions with General John de Chastelain and the IICD".
18 November. Senator Mitchell issued his final report. He said that "the basis now exists for devolution to occur, for the institutions to be established and for decommissioning to take place as soon as possible", adding that all three events should start "all on the same day and in that order".
22 November. Peter Mandelson, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, told the House of Commons that there was a fail-safe mechanism built into the Mitchell deal, whereby if the IRA did not disarm, the two governments "will take the steps necessary to cease immediately the operations of the institutions" of the Belfast Agreement.
23 November. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern told the Dail that if any party to the Agreement defaulted the two governments would "step in and assume their responsibilities, including through appropriate suspension arrangements". Martin McGuinness said "there is no default mechanism in the Good Friday Agreement".
27 November. The Ulster Unionist Council voted by 58% to 42% to accept the Mitchell deal, but on condition that the UUC met again in February 2000 to take a final decision and that the IRA started decommissioning by the end of January.
28 November. The Northern Ireland Assembly met to approve the nominations of the ten ministers to the Executive: three each from the UUP and the SDLP and two each from the DUP and Sinn Fein (in addition to David Trimble as First Minister and Seamus Mallon as Deputy First Minister).
2 December. Devolution came into effect. The Taoiseach ratified the new Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution, ending the Republic's territorial claim to Northern Ireland. The IRA said that it had appointed a representative to meet General de Chastelain; a meeting between this representative and the General took place two days later.
1 February 2000. The IICD reported that the IRA had failed to decommission any arms, Trimble said that the IRA were in default and that suspension of the Northern Ireland government was inevitable.
5 February. The IRA issued a statement saying that its guns were silent and that the peace process was under no threat from republicans. Trimble said that the statement contained nothing new.
7 February. John Hume wrote the following in an article in the Irish Times: "However, the Ulster Unionist Party feels that by setting up the institutions, as it agreed to do during the Mitchell review, expectations of greater progress on decommissioning had been created. That is why another voluntary act by the IRA could transform the situation . . . I have, on a number of occasions, suggested that such a gesture should take place . . . I believe that if the IRA were to arrange with Gen de Chastelain for an amount of Semtex to be left in a certain location, the current difficulties could be swiftly overcome."
11 February. Mandelson suspended the institutions of the Agreement at 6pm. Earlier in the afternoon, a second report from the IICD said the IRA had "indicated" it would "initiate a comprehensive process to put arms beyond use". Sinn Fein said that this had been communicated to the UUP and the British and Irish governments. Mandelson said that he had not seen the report at the time he made the suspension.
15 February. The IRA said that its engagement with the IICD had ended.
17 March. Trimble offered a restoration of the Executive "which probably will not involve arms up front". Bertie Ahern said that this "was a very helpful statement", and called on republicans to respond.
5 May. The two governments issued a statement saying they "now believe that the remaining steps necessary to secure full implementation of the Agreement can be achieved by June 2001 and commit themselves to that goal". A supplementary document outlined the steps, which included releasing all prisoners qualifying for early release by 28 July 2000, legislation to implement the Patten report on policing and "as early a return as possible to normal security arrangements in Northern Ireland consistent with the level of threat". The statement said that subject to a positive response to it, the British government would bring forward the necessary order to enable the Assembly and Executive to be restored by 22 May.
6 May. A statement by the IRA said "The full implementation, on a progressive and irreversible basis by the two governments, especially the British government, of what they have agreed, will provide a political context, in an enduring political process, with the potential to remove the causes of conflict, and in which Irish Republicans, and Unionists can, as equals pursue our respective political objectives peacefully. In that context, the IRA leadership will initiate a process that will completely and verifiably put IRA arms beyond use." The statement said that within weeks, as a confidence-building measure, "the contents of a number of our arms dumps will be inspected by agreed third parties, who will report that they have done so to the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. The dumps will be reinspected regularly to ensure that the weapons have remained silent."
12 May. Trimble said that he was calling a meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council for 20 May where he would recommend returning to the executive in the light of the IRA's decision to allow independent inspection of their arms dumps. The Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams, welcomed this move.
27 May. Trimble won the support of the UUC meeting by 53% to 47%. A leading republican, Danny Morrison, said in an article in Anderstown News that Trimble "foolishly chooses to interpret the IRA's offer of an inspection of its dumps as a precursor to actual decommissioning, which will never happen".
30 May. Devolution to Northern Ireland's political institutions is restored.
26 June. The IRA announced that it had re-established contact with the IICD and that a number of its dumps containing a substantial amount of material had been inspected.
26 October. The IRA announced that these dumps had been reinspected.
28 October. A motion put to a meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council that the UUP would withdraw from the Executive if there was no decommissioning by 30 November was narrowly defeated after David Trimble said that he would begin to refuse to allow Sinn Fein ministers to attend meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council unless there was a "substantial engagement" with the IICD.
22 December. A report from the IICD said that there was still time for the decommissioning of paramilitary arms by June 2001 but "we believe it is crucial that we have substantive engagement with the IRA representative as soon as possible, followed by early movement on actual decommissioning by each of the paramilitary groups, if we are to meet the Agreement's decommissioning requirements".
8 March 2001. The British and Irish governments issued a statement after talks at Hillsborough failed to provide a breakthrough on decommissioning and the restoration of Sinn Fein's ability to attend meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council. The document stated the governments' belief that once the IICD had reported that the IRA would agree with the IICD a scheme to put its arms beyond use, and that it expected the agreement to be reached before long, "this will have helped to create the context in which the objectives set in the two Governments' statement of 5 May 200 can be secured". The IRA announced it had decided to enter into further discussions with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning but said, "for this engagement to be successful the British government must deliver on its obligations. It must return to and deliver on the agreement made with us on May 5th 2000".
22 March. A report from the IICD confirmed that a meeting with the IRA representative had taken place. It said "there has been no actual decommissioning but the events of the past three weeks lead us to believe that progress on it can be made".
23 May. Trimble lodged a letter with the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly resigning as First Minister with effect from 1 July "unless before that date the Republican Movement keeps the promise it made over a year ago."
30 May. The international inspectors confirmed that they had carried out a third inspection of the dumps inspected before and that the weapons remain unused.
31 May. The IRA confirmed that it had met the IICD four times since March and said that the continuing discussions were clear and irrefutable evidence of its commitment to decommissioning. David Trimble said "What we have not seen is any progress on putting weapons beyond use".
7 June. In the General Election for the Westminster Parliament, the UUP lost three seats; the DUP gained two; Sinn Fein also gained two, bringing its total to four; the SDLP retained the three seats it held previously.
30 June. The IICD issued another report. It said that despite the commitments given by the IRA, the UVF and the UFF (the two major loyalist paramilitary groups), no decommissioning by any of these groups had yet taken place. The UVF and the UFF had given commitments on methods of decommissioning, but the UVF representative had reiterated that the UVF would not consider decommissioning before they knew the IRA's intentions and heard their declaration that the war is over, and the UFF representatives had said that it would be difficult to discuss decommissioning further with the IICD while "members of the UFF were continuing to be interned". Since March there had been a number of lengthy meetings with the IRA's representative and the IICD had been assured that the IRA was committed to putting its arms beyond use, completely and verifiably, but only in the context of its statement of 6 May 2000. Taken in conjunction with the continued maintenance of the July 1997 ceasefire, and the opening of some IRA arms dumps to inspection by the international inspectors, the IICD believed that the IRA's conditional commitment was made in good faith. But no information had been given about the method of decommissioning that the IRA intended to use, and without such information the IICD could not judge whether the method would meet their remit. The IICD would continue to do what it could to implement its mandate through continuing contact and discussion with the three groups, and in doing so would be "mindful that this contentious issue must be resolved as soon as possible".
1 July. David Trimble's resignation as First Minister took effect, automatically triggering the removal of Seamus Mallon as Deputy First Minister.
2 July. In the Northern Ireland Assembly, Mallon said that Sinn Fein's effort to convince the IRA "has borne so little fruit, it is clear that the IRA does not respect that mandate and the obligations that go with it".
The document has been compiled in part from the primary sources, many of which have been reproduced in New Dialogue's monthly Bulletins, and from newspaper reports, often taken from the Newshound internet service. We have also drawn on Paul Bew and Gordon Gillespie The Northern Ireland Peace Process 1993-1996, A Chronology, Serif, London, 1996; Paul Bew and Gordon Gillespie Northern Ireland, A Chronology of the Troubles 1968-1999, Gill and Macmillan, Dublin 1999; the Chronology section of various issues of Fortnight; Sydney Elliott and W D Flackes Northern Ireland, A Political Directory 1968-1999, Blackstaff Press, Belfast, 1999; the article "Three years' effort to deal with arms" in the Irish Times of 27 June 2001.Back to top