The SDLP has accused DUP leader Ian Paisley of being “disgraceful, reckless and inflammatory” after he suggested that Protestants should be “forearmed” to deal with an alleged IRA threat.
Dr Paisley also accused the British government of engaging in a “cover-up” in relation to IRA weapons decommissioning by the Provisional IRA last October, and claimed that the IRA has withheld some of its weapons to use against the Protestant people of Ireland.
He made the claim after he spoke to General John de Chastelain’s arms decommissioning body about the weapons destroyed in an act observed by the arms body and two clergymen.
“We have now a cover up,” the North Antrim MP declared.
Mr Paisley also insisted that the majority of people in the North were opposed to any political developments, with people on the street saying to him: “Big man, no change”.
Paisley’s intransigence was fuelled earlier this month when an official IMC report based on British Crown force briefings suggested that not all of the IRA’s guns had been destroyed.
However, General de Chastelain’s commission (IICD), the body legally tasked with monitoring the decommissioning process, said it was satisfied the IRA had put beyond use all the weapons under their control.
The Democratic Unionists has demanded the IICD release an itemised inventory of the arms destroyed. Last year, the party’s demands for a photographic record of the weapons, a demand linked to the “humiliation” of the IRA, caused the collapse of the talks process over a year ago.
Mr Paisley this week also called on MI5 and the PSNI to release any information on IRA weapons.
“They should tell the people what they know.
“They should tell the people what they know so that the people can be forearmed to meet what is going to happen because those arms are going to be used against the Protestant population of Northern Ireland.”
SDLP leader Mark Durkan said Dr Paisley’s comments were disgraceful, reckless, and inflammatory.
“They hark back to the 1970s when his wild hate-filled rhetoric fanned sectarian strife,” he said.
“On the one hand Paisley says that he raised loyalist decommissioning with the IICD. Then in the next breath he predicts sectarian warfare and gives them the excuse they need to hold on to their weapons,” said Mr Durkan.
He said Dr Paisley’s comments encouraged paranoia and hate. “His remarks must also prompt a total rethink by the two governments towards the DUP.
“It beggars belief that any government would be considering concessions to a party whose leader at the same time wilfully stokes the flames of hate,” added Mr Durkan.
Sinn Fein’s chief negotiator Martin McGuinness said Dr Paisley’s meeting with the IICD had nothing to do with IRA arms.
“The IRA have dealt decisively with that issue and the DUP know this. What [ the] meeting is about is part of the DUP search for excuses not to engage.
“It is time that the DUP began to live up to their political responsibilities and began showing the sort of political leadership they promised to deliver.
“The time for excuses is over and the two governments need to make this clear to the DUP,” he added.
Criticism by Mr Paisley of the irish President, Mary McAleese earler this week was also described by nationalists as an attempt to divert attention away from the DUP’s intransigence in the talks process.
“Paisley is just being Paisley and I don’t think anybody should take him seriously,” said Alasdair McDonnell, SDLP MP for South Belfast.
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams has accused the London and Dublin governments of ‘telling lies’ about attempts to exclude his party from round-table peace process talks in Belfast this week.
He said republicans would not be sent “to the back of the bus” after an attempt was made to exclude Sinn Fein from the talks on Monday at the behest of the DUP. The proposal was rejected by both the Ulster Unionist Party and the talks collapsed in acrimony.
Sinn Fein attacked the SDLP for agreeing to the proposal, which they described as “a highly retrograde step”.
“Both governments were involved in constructing a process or procedure to exclude Sinn Fein and this privately confirms our public position that the governments have been pandering to the DUP,” a Sinn Fein official said.
“For the governments to expect that Sinn Fein would collude in our own exclusion was mad stuff - the height of stupidity.”
Republicans pointed out the proposal set aside the “inclusivity” which they said was at the heart of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Sinn Fein President said he was “shocked at the stupidity and naivety of the proposition which was being put to us. Here we are 11 years beyond [former British Prime Minister John Major] and here’s the governments thinking that we would go to the back of the bus or go through a process of excluding ourselves”.
Mr Adams said both governments were engaged in “telling lies” in justifying the attempt to exclude his party from roundtable talks. Calling for a greater focus by Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair on the talks process, Mr Adams said:
“The Taoiseach has to take a personal interest now in this process. The British prime minister has to take a personal interest now in this process.
“That’s basically what I said when I spoke to the Taoiseach’s department on this matter, that they have to take responsibility for this. This is a project which both governments are obliged to drive forward.”
However, British Direct Ruler Peter Hain described himself as “pretty relaxed and quite encouraged by the way the day went”.
“There is a bit of turbulence around today. That’s no bad thing because people have to realise we’re for real,” he said.