Mandelson hints at army pull-out

The Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson suggested yesterday that he may be willing to set out a timescale for demilitarisation of the province.

The move, the first sign that the Northern Ireland peace process could be rescued, along with a commitment to publish legislation on reform of the Royal Ulster Constabulary by Easter, may help drag the peace process back on to the rails following the suspension nine days ago of the power sharing Assembly. The British government suspended the assembly over the lack of firm IRA commitment to disarm and the IRA withdrew co-operation from the decommissioning process.

In an interview with The Observer, Mandelson sought to calm Republican anger saying he would be shortly publishing a review of criminal justice in Northern Ireland. He said: 'Its aim will be to ensure that the whole community, both unionist and nationalist traditions, can identify with the criminal justice system and have a sense of ownership of it. I want the appearance and feel of the system to make nationalists feel at ease.'

He also promised a Bill of Rights drawn up by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission by the end of the year. Mandelson's remarks will be studied with care by nationalists as they decide whether to reopen talks with the government in the wake of Mandelson's decision to suspend the assembly.

Some Sinn Fein sources have said the move has caused 'convulsions' inside the IRA, but Mandelson has been advised by the security services there is no sign the IRA ceasefire will break.

The IRA has been pressing for a scaling down of the British army presence and the removal of watchtowers along the borders.

In carefully chosen words, Mandelson said: 'I do not rule out attaching timeframes to demilitarisation, but that has to be in the context of the threat going away and politics working.

'The idea that the British government wants the military to hang in there and talk tough irrespective of the political process, is nonsense. There is no pressure to keep more battalions permanently based in Northern Ireland than are strictly needed for low-key patrolling purposes.'

Sinn Fein was bitterly disappointed that the security review announced just before December did not set out a timetable for troop withdrawals.

Mandelson may be hoping that further large-scale prisoner releases could draw Sinn Fein back into an effort to get a clearer commitment from the IRA on disarmament.

The Secretary of State said that releases would be kept in review alongside the ceasefires and progress on decommissioning. 'We still plan to close the Maze prison by the end of the year,' he said.

Commenting on criticism of his handling of the crisis, the Northern Ireland Secretary said he understood Republican and Nationalist anger at losing their government role.


Patrick Wintour

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

British Army ran second Ulster spy
The identity of a second British Army agent working inside one of Ulster's most notorious loyalist terror gangs can be disclosed today by The Observer.

Martin Bright, Kamal Ahmed and Henry McDonald

20, Apr, 2003 @2:29 AM

'Matyr' spurs teenage UDA army
Many are ready to follow Glen Branagh into the loyalist youth wing. Henry McDonald reports.

18, Nov, 2001 @3:29 AM

Deadly army plot to frame UDA man
British Army agents set up a loyalist terrorist leader for assassination to help their own informer penetrate the highest levels of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA).

Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent

11, Jun, 2000 @12:51 AM

Loyalist ceasefire is intact, says Mandelson
The Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Mandelson, yesterday insisted that the loyalist ceasefire is intact, despite growing evidence of a vicious turf war being waged between paramilitary organisations that has seen three murders and one attempted murder in less than a month.

Henry McDonald, Ireland Correspondent

27, Feb, 2000 @11:58 PM

Files 'leaked to loyalistsby Army'
Secret military intelligence files on almost 400 republican suspects that fell into the hands of dissident loyalists came from the British Army's central headquarters in Northern Ireland.

Henry McDonald

05, Dec, 1999 @1:28 AM

UDA threat to out top Army mole
The British government is resisting demands for a public inquiry into the military's undercover intelligence-gathering Force Research Unit, fearing that loyalists could reveal the identity of 'Steak Knife' - the Army's most important agent inside the IRA.

Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent

17, Dec, 2000 @12:26 AM

Drumcree honours a republican
Drumcree, the citadel of anti-Agreement loyalism, has now become a shrine for the Orange Order's republican enemies.

05, Mar, 2000 @12:22 AM

Strippers in RUC uniform delight Ulster
In their peaked caps and bottle-green uniforms they bring back old memories of Ulster's Troubles. They handcuff former IRA and loyalist prisoners, and threaten them with truncheons.

Henry McDonald, Ireland editor

30, Mar, 2003 @1:01 AM

Adair orders end to Holy Cross picket
Protests as new term begins 'would damage UDA cause'.

Henry MacDonald, Ireland Editor

31, Aug, 2002 @11:59 PM

'Garda knew of IRA mole in force'
Police on both sides of the border knew an IRA mole was operating inside the Garda before he set up two senior RUC officers for assassination.

Henry McDonald, Ireland Editor

14, Nov, 2004 @1:36 AM