Sat, Jul 30, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Ulster unionists skeptical about IRA's words

NO TRUST Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionists, said the IRA would be judged on their deeds and not their words if they say they have ceased operations

THE GUARDIAN , BELFAST

A pedestrian passes flags hung outside a shop selling Loyalist memorabilia on Thursday in the Protestant Sandy Row area of Belfast, Northern Ireland, after the IRA called on all its members to stand down.

PHOTO: AP

As the world welcomed the Irish Republican Army's (IRA) words, the people whose reaction most mat-ters -- Ulster's unionists -- greeted the statement with a mixture of skepticism and hostility.

Ian Paisley, the leader of the now dominant Democratic Unionist party, said he would judge the IRA on their deeds, not their words.

"Even on the face of the statement, they have failed to explicitly declare an end to their multimillion-pound criminal activity and they have failed to provide the level of transparency that will be necessary to truly build confidence that the guns have gone in their entirety," he said. "We treat with contempt their attempt to glorify and justify their murder campaign."

But hardline as his words were, the unionists' reaction was much more muted than might have been expected. Fire and brimstone usually accompanies such events, but even the new Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey, who now has to beat the "no surrender" drum that Paisley has played so effectively for decades, could not dismiss the IRA statement completely out of hand.

He said "actions speak louder than words," suggesting he would wait for the ceasefire watchdog to judge whether the IRA really had ceased its activities.

Empey claimed the statement left fundamental questions unanswered: "Where is the confirmation of the disbandment of the IRA? What evidence will the unionist community see that all weapons have been destroyed?"

Even south of the border -- where the statement was greeted very warmly, although not unconditionally, by Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern -- skeptical noises were made. Amid a general mood of celebration and relief, the Irish justice minister, Michael McDowell, who has become something of a hate figure for republicans, sounded a sour note.

Addressing young Garda recruits at their training center, he said if the IRA were sincere, they had to give back the ?26.5 million proceeds of the Northern Bank robbery in December.

He said the issue of their "criminal assets" would not "go away" and the IRA was still an illegal organization.

"Fundamentally, it is subversive of our Constitution and as long as that is the case it will remain proscribed," he said.

He was going to beef up the investigation into money laundering.

John Hume, the former leader of the moderate nationalist SDLP and the chief architect of the peace process, said: "Seven years after the Good Friday agreement it is about time that all violence ended so that all our people can live free of fear."

A source from the Ulster Defence Association, the largest loyalist paramilitary group, insisted: "If people think loyalism is just going to follow suit, it's a non-event. There's an awful lot of dialogue to get through."

The reaction from many of the IRA's old comrades was equally as hostile. Tony McPhillips of Republican Sinn Fein, the political wing of dissident republicans, said the statement was a sellout.

After 800 years, the British were still in Ireland, there was still partition and Sinn Fein had entered into government and turned themselves into "Uncle Toms for the British," he said.

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