BELFAST, Dec. 9 -- The Irish Republican Army declared Thursday that it was willing to get rid of all its weapons this month, but only if Protestants drop their demands for photographic proof.
The IRA also accused Protestant leader Ian Paisley of blocking wider plans for reviving a Catholic-Protestant administration, the central goal of Northern Ireland's Good Friday accord of 1998.
Gerry Adams, head of the IRA-linked Sinn Fein party, called the new Northern Ireland power-sharing plan and the IRA's response "a defining moment."
(Paul Mcerlane -- Reuters)
The governments of Britain and Ireland, which published those plans Wednesday without the necessary agreement of local parties, welcomed the IRA's pledge to disarm "speedily and, if possible, by the end of December." Previous IRA statements have been vague about when, if ever, the process would finish.
The IRA confirmed that it would allow two clergymen -- one a Catholic nominated by the IRA-linked Sinn Fein party, the other a Protestant nominated by Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party -- to serve as independent witnesses while disarmament officials destroyed IRA weapons.
The IRA dismissed the idea of publishing photos of the process as "an act of humiliation. This was never possible."
Britain and Ireland, which said they would lead more multiparty negotiations next week in Belfast, stressed that there was still time for both sides to strike a compromise and for the IRA to disarm this month. The disarmament issue has snarled negotiations for a decade.
Paul Murphy, the British government's secretary for Northern Ireland, told lawmakers in the House of Commons in London that Britain was insisting on photos because it was the best way to ensure that Protestants would support a resumption of power-sharing.
The IRA offered an unknown amount of weaponry to disarmament officials from 2001 to 2003, but it insisted on total secrecy, fueling Protestant suspicions that the IRA -- now seven years into an open-ended truce -- would never renounce violence.
Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader, called the Anglo-Irish plans and the IRA response "a defining moment in the entire process." Adams, 56, said the argument over photos could be solved if Paisley dropped his decades-old refusal to talk directly to Sinn Fein.
But Paisley, 78, said he would not treat Adams as a normal politician until the IRA disappeared as a threat to Northern Ireland's stability.
He said IRA commanders' refusal to let the public see disarmament was "proof that they cannot and will not be honest about the matter" and were "therefore not ready for the democratic process. Neither are they committed to peace."