Hain ducks challenge on IRA

PETER Hain, the new Northern Ireland Secretary, yesterday refused a Unionist challenge to call for the disbanding of the IRA.

David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist leader who lost his seat in parliament at the election, has taunted Mr Hain over ministers’ failure to seek the final dissolution of the paramilitary group.

Mr Trimble’s moderate UUP lost out to Ian Paisley’s hardline Democratic Unionists at the election because, Mr Trimble says, unionist voters have not seen British ministers doing enough to put pressure on Sinn Fein and the IRA as part of the peace process.

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In a BBC interview yesterday, Mr Hain repeatedly ducked the issue of Mr Trimble’s challenge.

"David Trimble has made that demand.

"Let’s see what happens in the next couple of weeks," Mr Hain said.

"I don’t think we should get hung up on particular phrases."

The effective political destruction of Mr Trimble’s party - the UUP now has a single MP, while the DUP has nine - has led to speculation that the government could be forced into a radical change of policy in Northern Ireland.

The 1998 Good Friday Agreement commits London to seek a power-sharing executive in Belfast, but there seems little chance of Rev Paisley sharing power with Sinn Fein while the IRA continues to exist.

But Mr Hain insisted there could still be progress within the current framework.

"From the discussions I have had already, I think we can do that and we can move the peace process forward," he said. "There is no other direction for Northern Ireland to go. There can’t be a reverse gear on this peace process."