CAIN Web Service

Transcript of Press Conference given by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD), 26 September 2005

[Key_Events] [Key_Issues] [Conflict_Background]
PEACE: [Menu] [Summary] [Reading] [Background] [Chronology_1] [Chronology_2] [Chronology_3] [Article] [Agreement] [Sources]

Text: Transcript ... Page Compiled: Martin Melaugh

Transcript of Press Conference given by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD), 26 September 2005


The Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) report [PDF; 93KB] on the final act of decommissioning of IRA weapons was read to a press conference in the Culloden Hotel, Belfast, at 2.00pm on Monday 26 September 2005. Following this the three members of the IICD - General John de Chastelain, Brig-General Tauno Nieminen, and Ambassador Andrew Sens - answered a series of questions from the assembled media.

Question: Inevitably, unionists are going to be sceptical about this. Can you say confidently, hand on heart, that the IRA has not kept a stash of weapons secreted somewhere else for what they would call the defence of nationalist areas?

De Chastelain: We put the question to the IRA, "Are we getting everything". We did so because in the estimates that we received there was a range of items. We had to be sure for ourselves that what we got was what they had. They assured us that that was so.

And we believe that for a number of reasons. One, we said the arms we saw put beyond use and which we catalogued relate to the estimates that we had been given.

And there is another reason. There was a lot of ammunition and for the most part the ammunition was still in the manufacturers' boxes, with the seals intact. But a lot of the ammunition wasn't. It was loose, either in belts, or in individual rounds of a wide variety of sizes and apertures.

It seemed clear to us that this ammunition had been collected over a period of time from individuals, perhaps from caches, perhaps from active service units, perhaps from places that people had put them in anticipation of use many years ago and brought to us in that loose form. And not only ammunition like that, but a large number of items like time power units (TPUs), ballistic caps. That sort of thing."

Question: Have these been done away with in a way that they can never be used again?

De Chastelain: All the arms that we have seen have been decommissioned in accordance with the legislation which renders them permanently inaccessible, or permanently unusable. So from our point of view, the answer to your question is yes.

Question: General de Chastelain, can I ask you if the amount that you saw decommissioned corresponded exactly with the inventories given by both governments. Secondly, the acts that you have seen in recent times, in terms of proportion, how do they compare with the previous acts that you witnessed?

De Chastelain: I will answer the last part first: greatly more. We made the point during the first three events that we had still a great deal more work to do and that became evident during these past few weeks, and particularly during this past week.

We have said that the arms decommissioned are consistent with the estimates. The estimates covered broad ranges. They are that, they are estimates. They take account of a number of factors, the fact that much of this stuff is very old.

Much of it came 20 years ago. Some of it has gone to paramilitary groups that have broken away from this organisation. Some may have been lost in terms of an individual who was given responsibility having died and the location never having been found.

But we are convinced that the arms we saw put beyond use are both consistent with the estimates and that they are gone.

Sens: Just to add to the point, a vast amount of material has been taken out of politics and put beyond use. It's gone. It is really an immense amount.

Question: What were the British and Irish estimates? Secondly, aren't you totally dependent on the IRA, without any independent evidence, to know whether guns have been retained for defensive purposes?

De Chastelain: The estimates prepared by security forces took account of a possible range, if you follow me. They did not say that there must be 'X' of this, but between 'X' and 'Y' of this. Our point is that what was put beyond use is consistent with that. I am not going to go into the detail of the estimates. They were given to us by the security forces in confidence.

Perhaps they will make them available to you, perhaps not. Of course, we have no way of knowing for certain that the IRA hasn't retained arms. But it is our understanding from discussing with them and our belief in what we have done that they were sincere when they said that.

Let me make the point - arms in their possession - it could be, I suppose, that a number of years from now, somebody could stumble across a field and there are some arms and they belong to PIRA and they could say, "Well, you were told that you had everything, and you don't. You were wrong." Is that possible? Of course it is.

Question: Would it not be more helpful for you to say that the British and Irish governments believe the IRA had three tonnes of Semtex and that you destroyed three tonnes of Semtex? Would that not be more visible, would that not be more proof?

De Chastelain: It might be more visible and it might be more proof. But we can't say that and they can't say that because they don't know exactly how much they have. They believe that there is a certain range of stuff. Items have been used. Rounds have been used in training.

Some ammunition was found after the estimates were made. I think there was something quite recently about 10,000 rounds of ammunition found in Belfast and somebody was accused of having it. That was in October 2003 and these estimates were produced in September 2003.

So what I am telling you is that I don't think anybody knows for sure. I don't think, frankly, that some of the paramilitaries know for sure exactly what they have in all places. But they have told us that they believe they have given us everything that they have, and we believe them.

Question: There has been considerable doubt cast on this process amongst unionists, particularly the Democratic Unionist Party. Do you feel that they are questioning your integrity and effectively calling you and your colleagues liars?

De Chastelain: I would say for myself, no. We have had, as I said, a long-standing relationship with the Democratic Unionist Party as we have had with other political parties and I would add also that we have welcomed their advice. I can certainly understand why they are concerned that we have had to work in such secrecy.

As I said not just the DUP, but a whole bunch of people in this country, particularly those who have suffered at the hands of paramilitaries, on both sides of the divide, want to know that this stuff is gone and why take the word of these three foreigners.

I would tell you that if we didn't have confidentiality I don't think that we would have had any events, let alone this one. What would you have had? I don't know. But we spent a lot of time since we started dealing with the IRA representative in 1999 trying to make the point that unless things were visible people were going to doubt us and a commission that is not necessarily believed is not one that is particularly helpful.

They have made the point to us, too, that they have reasons for wanting to do things in the way that they want. And we did make the point - I referred to it in my opening remarks - that the international body had made this point after discussing with people at the time, in the early days in 1995 and 1996, about how we could actually carry out decommissioning and it became clear to us that there were some [in the IRA] who in no way accepted the fact that they had been defeated, in no way accepted the fact that they would surrender, that they would give up their arms only if they could pursue their aims by other means and not in any way accept blame, or humiliation.

It is not for us to do that. Our task is simple and straightforward: deal with the arms.

Even though we have been suggesting that we get more openness - more openness would be better for us, you wouldn't be sitting there saying did it happen - they have made it clear to us that it wasn't going to happen, and it didn't.

Question: Why should anybody believe you and your colleagues?

De Chastelain: Because we are telling the truth. Why would we lie? We are not.

Question: Can you tell us anything about the method of decommissioning?

De Chastelain: No.

Question: Why are you and your colleagues so convinced of the IRA's sincerity? What makes you believe them?

De Chastelain: I gave you two examples. We had to ask them and they answered. In the second place we saw what we did, we compared it with the estimate, it was consistent.

Thirdly, our own judgement [based] on what we saw coming in. We had second-hand (intelligence) from the security forces. We don't get operational intelligence from the security forces. We are not supposed to. But we heard second-hand from the security forces that over the last month and a bit that members of the IRA were scouring the country to get this stuff and what we saw when we worked on it, over the days that we worked on it, and the condition it was in and the way that it was brought in, convinced us that they were telling us the truth.

Why would they lie? If it became apparent subsequently that there was a lot of stuff in their hands that would become apparent, that would undermine what I believe it is they are trying to do. Yes, we believe them. Could we be wrong? Yes, I suppose, but we don't believe we are.

Question: Did you try to persuade them to go for photographic evidence?

De Chastelain: No, no.

Question: How important do you categorise today for the overall peace process? Secondly, when do you think the loyalist paramilitaries will step up to the mark and decommission weapons?

De Chastelain: Our mandate has been very straightforward: get the arms. Now, I have personal views on what I think this could allow to happen, but I am not going to give them to you because it has been pointed out to us on many occasions by people whom I respect, and who are politicians, who have said to me, "Stick to your mandate. Don't get involved in editorialising about politics", so I am not. But from our perspective I think it is hugely important.

With regard to the loyalists, I don't know. We worked with the loyalists in the early years of this process, with the UVF right from the start. They [the UVF and the UDA] have both since broken off contact with us. Indeed, it has been a number of years since we have talked with the UVF.

More recently, the Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG) has talked to us on behalf of the UDA to try and open up some dialogue, but not in terms of talking about decommissioning.

Question: General, are you aware that the IRA itself has undermined your integrity by briefing volunteers that no decommissioning took place, that it had manufactured dummy weapons and that you yourself know that the peace process is in jeopardy.

De Chastelain: I will start by saying that the IRA has never said that it surrendered its weapons. They put their weapons beyond use under our supervision. Those weapons from our perspective are gone and they won't be used again, but the word "surrender" never came into it.

The kind of weapons that came into it are the kind of weapons that you have been seeing on cameras for the last 24 hours in the museums of recovered weapons. Yes, there were improvised weapons that were put beyond use, but the vast majority of the stuff were commercial types of arms, heavy machine guns, AK (Kalashnikovs) and the like.

Question: General, in essence what you seem to be saying is that this has to be taken on trust, that the IRA has decommissioned?"

De Chastelain: "We can only do so much. We can do our job. We can tell you that we have done our job. If that is not good enough, and I can understand that some people might have difficulty with that, then there is nothing that we can do about it. The word trust is important.

Our relationship with the IRA representative from the outset has been a very focused one. And it has been professional from point of view. We have not varied into politics, about their views, or our views, or anything else.

You may recall that we first started meeting with them in 1999 and the first event was in 2001 and the third event was in 2003 and now we have had a whole series of events, and we think we have wrapped it all up. A lot of that time was spent in trying to engender a degree of trust between them and us. On our side, that they would do what they said they would do, and, on their side, that we would do what we said we would do. So far, we have both abided by that. When they tell me, "That's it", and I have the evidence of my eyes that supports that contention, I say I believe them. But do you have to take what I say on trust? Absolutely not, you will believe what you will believe."

Nieminen: "Republicans said they would not be seen to be defeated, or be seen to surrender, so you take their word when they said they had put their arms beyond use. Or, given the demand for more verification than that, you can take their word for it and our word for it, or [ if you seek] more verification than that, their word for it, our word for it and the two witnesses' word it. But at some point, there is an element of trust in it. We are satisfied that they have put their weapons beyond use.

Question: Notwithstanding the scale of the work that you say you have recently completed, do you accept that this afternoon you have suggested some doubt as to the totality of it?

De Chastelain: If I have, then, boy, I have been saying the wrong thing, because I have been trying to say very loudly that we have no doubt about it. The question put to me was, "We only have your word for it". Yes, but we wouldn't give you that word if we had any doubts about it. We have nothing to gain by telling you that this is done, except questions and doubts being thrown at us, which I understand. But we are not prevaricating, we are telling you what we think."

Question: Were any photographs taken at any time whatsoever during the decommissioning process, for publication, or not?

De Chastelain: Not that we are aware of.

Question: How many days did this take?

De Chastelain: The bulk of the work was during the past week when we were joined by the witnesses and we started the task of doing what was left. I can only tell you that we worked a number of days, and long hours. I am not looking for sympathy, but it was six in the morning, until late at night, with the three of us involved at each event.

Brigadier Nieminen and I have handled every weapon that was put beyond use, to examine it, to identify it, not to take serial numbers which we are precluded by the legislation from doing, counting, weighing.

Essentially, the three of us finished our work with the IRA representative on Saturday. We wrote reports yesterday and asked for meetings with the Irish and British governments, and alerted you folks.

Question: What do you hope will actually come out of this and why didn't you make any recommendations that photographs be taken?

De Chastelain: That photos be taken? The question had been asked and the IRA said there will be no photos. What was the point of asking again? I had been suggesting to them for many years that a more open process would be easier for us and more helpful but they were not able to do it. So why would I ask them to do photographs when I knew that they were not going to do it?

Question: And what do you hope will come out of it?

De Chastelain: I would hope that the loyalist paramilitaries will agree to decommission and that that can be the end of the use of the gun in Irish politics - or, at least, by the major groups that have been involved so far, and those that are still active presumably can be dealt with by the security forces and that people get back to politics which is what this is all about and I can go home.

Question: The unionist voter is quite sceptical about this whole process. I think a lot of them would have been helped by an inventory of arms. When are we going to get that?

De Chastelain: When we started this whole process with the paramilitaries we were looking for a method that would be acceptable to them and that we could recommend to the two governments. What became apparent from both sides was the reluctance of one paramilitary group to be seen to be moving faster than another so that there would be an imbalance. So we agreed that the inventories from both sides would only be made available to the two governments at the completion of the process and the governments agreed with that and, as far as I know, they still agree. But they will be made available eventually and you can see for yourself."

Question: In October 21st 2003 you arrived late and tired and you were very limited in the information you gave. You were aware of the impact that that had.

De Chastelain: Do you mean that it wasn't my finest hour?

Question: What's the difference on this occasion, or is anything different?

De Chastelain: We were still in the process of decommissioning with the IRA then. We aren't now. Our ability to continue further acts with them was very dependent in not betraying the trust that I had with them that I shouldn't go into detail, so I had to go on about "light", "medium" and "heavy" ordnance. You guys had a field day with that, and I understand that. This time it is different. This time, when we said, "Is this everything", they said, "Yes, this is everything". That certainly wasn't the case two years ago.

Question: How long would it take to replace this scale of weapons?

De Chastelain: I have no reason to believe that they will do that, or that they want to do that. Why would they? If they needed weapons they don't have to go to arms sellers. Most of the activity in the last ten years has been with home-made explosives, sometimes improvised weapons, sometimes with small arms.

In the first place, I don't think that they would ever consider rearming on that scale. That's a personal opinion. Secondly, they wouldn't have to. If somebody really wants to be difficult and you can see it happening in Iraq and other places, a trip down to the agricultural store to buy fertiliser and a trip to the grocery store to buy sugar and you are in business.

How soon could they get to an arms dealer to get a ship that could slip past all the security measures that people in both jurisdictions have stepped up even more in the recent days of terrorist concerns? I think it would take a hell of a long time, but I don't know that for sure."

Question: You counted the weapons. Why simply not tell us the numbers?

De Chastelain: I said before that we are not going to divulge the inventory until this process is over.

Question: What kind of weapons?

De Chastelain: We are talking about flame throwers, surface-to- air missiles, we are talking about rocket-propelled grenades, both commercial and home-made; heavy machine guns, all of the things that you have seen in the papers.

Question: Did you see any weaponry manufactured since 1994?

Nieminen: Yes, there were some very modern weapons.

Question: Bought by the IRA post the 1994 ceasefire?

Nieminen: I can't say that, but they were very modern from the '90s. The date of the manufacture I can't say.

De Chastelain: But, of course, you understand that the IRA broke their ceasefire in 1996, February, I believe and then reinstated it in July of 1997.

Question: Did you see any arms manufactured after 1996?

De Chastelain: I didn't, no. I can tell you that a lot of the stuff we saw was manufactured . . . Well, there was a Bren machine gun. I grew up with a Bren in Britain in the 1950s.

Question: What about the 10,000 rounds of ammunition found in Belfast that was manufactured in 2002?

De Chastelain: I did not know it was manufactured in 2003 [sic].

Question: You say that you did not see weapons manufactured post 1996. Doesn't that mean that you didn't see weapons that were smuggled in from Florida in 1999?

Nieminen: You can't really say the date of manufacture. For example, with a modern calibre pistol, you can see its condition, its make, if it has been used before. But its date? You don't know.

Sens: Unlike sterling, it isn't hallmarked.

Nieminen: There is no date, or year.

Question: Given that this can be replaced, did you ever think that there wasn't any point?

De Chastelain: "Clearly, no. Otherwise, we would not have spent eight years doing it. Some have made the point that arms are a red herring, that the issue was dealing with the mindsets. But for us, arms are the issue. We want to see them put beyond use. We have never seen it as irrelevant. I hope nobody else does either.

Nieminen: It was a very large amount of weapons and those weapons will never be used again.

Sens: I am very proud to have had a hand in bringing that about.


Note: The above transcript appeared in the Irish Times ( on 27 September 2005.


CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.

go to the top of this page go to the top of this page
Last modified :