Ian Paisley’s demands on decommissioning will fall on deaf ears unless his party engages in direct talks with Sinn Féin, Martin McGuinness has said.
Sinn Féin’s chief negotiator invited the Democratic Unionist Party leader to enter talks as speculation mounts that the Provisional IRA is preparing for a significant act of weapons decommissioning in the coming weeks.
A move to deal conclusively with the weapons issue has been expected since the IRA statement of July 28 announcing the end of its armed campaign. The statement also ordered volunteers to dump arms.
Mr McGuinness extended the talks invitation after unionist politicians had raised concerns about the process involved in what could be the IRA’s final act of decommissioning.
Reports that the retired Canadian general John de Chastelain, the chairman of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, has recently returned to Belfast has heightened speculation that the next round of decommissioning is to begin.
Speculation was further fuelled this week when Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said he believed a third act of decommissioning was imminent.
The reappointment this week of the Finnish brigadier Tauno Nieminen to the international commission has added to expectations.
John de Chastelain and the commission’s third member Andrew Sens met an IRA representative in July to discuss decommissioning issues.
Two clergymen are to witness the act of putting arms beyond use. DUP leaders had voiced concern over who would fulfil this function, according to reports. The party is understood to favour hardline preacher Rev David McGaughey.
There is also speculation that the Catholic cleric will be Father Alec Reid, who has already played a significant role in the peace process.
The DUP had initially asked for a complete photographic record to be kept of the decommissioning process, but the IRA has not agreed to this.
“If Ian Paisley wants to try to influence this issue, then Gerry Adams is prepared to meet him or to authorise a senior Sinn Féin delegation to meet with the DUP,” said Mr McGuinness.
“If the DUP are concerned about this issue, then they should have no problem explaining their position first hand. Otherwise, this is an issue for the IRA and the IICD.”