Paramilitary Groups Cling to Arsenals
David McKittrick, Ireland Correspondent, The Independent (London, England)
PARAMILITARY GROUPS have been asked if they would take part in round-table talks on arms decommissioning, but the issue appears no nearer resolution today than at any other time in the Irish peace process.
One widely held view, advanced most forcefully by the Deputy First Minister, Seamus Mallon, is that it is inconceivable that any issue, no matter how important, could be allowed to place the entire process at risk.
The more pessimistic view, however, is that the two warring elements in the debate - David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist Party leader, and the Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams - have painted themselves into corners so completely that agreement is difficult to envisage. At the heart of the problem lies the extraordinary number of guns held in Ireland, on both sides of the border, by paramilitary groups from both republicans and loyalists. The security forces estimate that the IRA has up to 1,000 rifles. To this can be added hundreds of revolvers and pistols, as well as a quantity of heavy weaponry that includes powerful machine-guns, anti-aircraft weapons and ground-to- air missiles. Most of this was imported to Ireland from Libya in the mid- Eighties. Libya also supplied Semtex; despite its intensive use between the mid- Eighties and mid-Nineties, the IRA may still possess up to three tons of the powerful plastic explosive. On the loyalist side, the extreme Protestant groups are thought to have perhaps 400 rifles and 300 handguns, with some dozens of machine-guns and a small quantity of explosives, which they show no sign of handing in. …