Weapons monitor group threatened to quit over lack of progress by IRA and other paramilitaries

State papers: Canadian diplomat could not understand how ‘someone of Gerry Adams’s intellect’ failed to recognise benefits to Sinn Féin of decommissioning

General John de Chastelain and the other members of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning were on the verge of quitting in June 2001 because they believed they were no nearer to decommissioning by the IRA or other paramilitary groups.

In a frank meeting with senior officials from the Department of Justice and the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) on June 27th, the Canadian general gave a downbeat assessment of the likelihood of decommissioning.

He said the commission had met the IRA representative six times since it began re-engaging with it in March of that year.

“We are no nearer actually decommissioning than we were in March when the IRA resumed contact.”

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The account of the meeting by William Fittall, the political director of the NIO, noted that “more provocatively” the three commissioners – Gen de Chastelain, Cyril Ramaphosa from South Africa (now that country’s president), and Martti Ahtisaari from Finland – were proposing to be released from their duties that September, the fourth anniversary of their deployment.

“John de Chastelain stressed that he and his colleagues did not want to be irresponsible or walk away from their commitments. But they had personal lives they needed to get on with.”

The letters form part of confidential records which have been released by the Department of Foreign Affairs to the National Archive.

In a private report to both governments, Gen de Chastelain said the commission had been unable to meet either of its decommissioning target dates of May 2000 or June 2001.

“By September 24th our appointment to the commission will have been in effect for four years. Collectively and as individuals, we have concluded that continuing beyond that date would not be in our best interests nor indeed those of the process.

“Therefore, in the absence of a start on actual decommissioning by the end of September, we propose that the two governments release us from our commitments to the commission then.”

A week before the statement was issued, an Irish diplomat, Niall Holohan, had lunch with a senior member of Gen de Chastelain’s staff, Clifford Garrard, in Belfast.

Mr Garrard, a Canadian diplomat, told Mr Holohan the “waiting game” had been an exasperating experience for all members of the commission.

Decommissioning was the big stumbling block to progress in the peace process along with demilitarisation and policing

The Canadian would not confirm that the IRA representative was the veteran leader Brian Keenan, but did confirm that Gerry Adams was the contact person in Sinn Féin, having replaced Martin McGuinness once he was appointed to the Executive.

Mr Garrard said Mr Adams was a “more thoughtful and reflective individual” than Mr McGuinness.

However, he said he found it hard to understand that “someone of Adams’s intellect and statesmanship would not have recognised the benefits that would accrue to everyone – including to Sinn Féin – from an act of decommissioning by the IRA at the present time”.

“Garrard was of the view furthermore that nothing less than an act of putting arms completely and verifiably beyond use would be enough to save David Trimble’s scalp on July 1st,” wrote Mr Holohan.

Decommissioning was the big stumbling block to progress in the peace process along with demilitarisation and policing. Under intense pressure from his own party, David Trimble had threatened to resign as first minister of Northern Ireland on July 1st unless the IRA had decommissioned totally.

The note added: “If David Trimble proceeds with his threat to resign on July 1st and the [Belfast Agreement] institutions were to collapse as a result, it might prove difficult for de Chastelain to justify his continued presence in Belfast.”

Gen de Chastelain suggested a week later that he could be available “on call” from Canada in future, should an imminent act of decommission take place.

In the event, the commission stayed intact for a further four years and was in a position to verify that all of the IRA material was destroyed or verifiably “put beyond use”.

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