Official IRA decommissions weapons

A second republican paramilitary group in the North announced today that it had decommissioned its weapons.

The so-called Official IRA, a relatively small organisation most active in the 1970s, confirmed it had destroyed its guns.

The declaration was made at a Belfast press conference which came only two hours after a separate republican splinter group, the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), confirmed it had disarmed.

The timing of the separate announcements is thought to be linked to the fact that the legislation which allows illegal groups to decommission weapons without fear of prosecution runs out tomorrow.

The Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD), formed 13 years ago, was empowered by the Government to oversee the disposal of paramilitary weaponry, but its mandate is set to end.

The IICD, led by General John de Chastelain, oversaw the most noted disarmament episode in 2005 when the mainstream Provisional IRA allowed its arms to be destroyed.

In a statement, the latest group to disarm said: "The Official IRA have confirmed that, in keeping with the long held position within the Official Republican tradition of promoting and pursuing the development of peaceful, democratic and inclusive politics on the Island of Ireland, a process of engagement was unilaterally entered into with the decommissioning body and has reached a successful conclusion.

"The purpose of this engagement was to ensure that all weapons which were under the control of the Official IRA or to which the Official IRA had access were accounted for and transferred to the control of the decommissioning body.

"We have emphasised our commitment to removing any doubts that may exist that there are any Official IRA weapons in circulation.

"To this end an extensive nationwide inventory has been completed to confirm and verify that all such equipment has been located, identified and transferred to the decommissioning body. Any other such equipment, which has not been submitted to the decommissioning process, has no association with the Official IRA."

The Official IRA emerged in 1969/70 when, at the start of the Troubles, the republican movement split into the Official and Provisional IRA, with the "Provos" becoming the largest organisation of its kind.

The Official IRA declared a ceasefire in 1972, but later became involved in bitter republican feuds, while there were also claims that remnants of the organisation continued to be linked to illegal activities since then.

It is understood to have killed around 57 people.

Today the group said it had abandoned violence and indicated that public support for the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 and the wider peace process should be recognised.

It added: "To those groups still intent on a violent agenda and who would declare themselves the protectors of the community against the oppressor, we say listen to the voice of that community.

"They spoke loud and clear in their demand for peace and, by ignoring that voice, you yourselves have become the oppressor.

"It is time for you to leave the past and catch up."

The announcement came after the INLA, which killed more than 100 people during the Troubles, confirmed it had decommissioned its weapons.