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Illegal Arms

Volume 448: debated on Wednesday 28 June 2006

2. What recent discussions he has had with the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin on the whereabouts of illegal arms belonging to the Provisional IRA in the Republic. (79736)

Decommissioning is a matter for the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, which was established by the British and Irish Governments to provide independent oversight.

Is the Minister aware that a few weeks ago, 10,000 rounds of ammunition were discovered in the Irish Republic? That is despite General de Chastelain telling us last September that the totality of the IRA’s arsenal had been decommissioned, and the Prime Minister himself saying that there had been final and complete decommissioning. Will the Minister join the rest of us in keeping the pressure on Sinn Fein and the IRA to get rid of all the guns and weapons so that we can have a democratic Executive in Northern Ireland?

I agree that we need to get rid of all the guns and all the weapons. I am aware of the find on 1 June in County Sligo, to which the hon. Gentleman referred. The Irish Government have indicated to us that their initial assessment is that those munitions have been there for many years. However, the munitions have been sent for forensic examination and there will be a report in due course. I should add that the IICD has made it clear that it could not guarantee that a small number of weapons might not have gone astray or been lost over the years, but that that should not detract from the significant commitment to peace that the Provisional IRA has made.

Does the Minister recall discussions on the recent report by the commission, in which we heard that the southern authorities had said that they knew nothing about any arms in the south, and that the arms were all taken away at the time of so-called decommissioning? That has been proved to be totally and absolutely false: whether they are old guns or new guns does not come in to it; they are guns. We heard that those had all been done away with. Until the IRA does away with its guns, there can be no real democracy in Northern Ireland.

I simply say again to the right hon. Gentleman that initial indications from the Irish Government show that those materials may have been there for many years, but quite correctly, they will make a forensic examination to establish whether that is the case. I say again that the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning reiterates what it has plainly stated—that a find of that kind, which may occur from time to time, should not detract from the commitment that the Provisional IRA has made.