LONDON – In an unusual show of agreement, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern (search) and the Rev. Ian Paisley (search), the top Protestant politician in Northern Ireland (search), called Wednesday for the outlawed IRA to disarm and disband.
Ahern and Paisley — a hard-liner who opposes Irish involvement in Northern Ireland and didn't begin meeting Ahern until last year — spoke separately after a 90-minute meeting at the Irish Embassy in London.
They said the Irish Republican Army (search) was standing in the way of revived Catholic-Protestant cooperation in Northern Ireland. Both emphasized that the IRA must demonstrate its voluntary demise in concrete ways.
Ahern said he was hopeful that the IRA would issue a declaration in the next few months spelling out whether it will disarm and cease all threatening activities.
"To move forward, we need a clear, unambiguous end of all paramilitary and criminal activity and we need to see the completion of (weapons) decommissioning," Ahern said.
But he stressed, "It is not just words, it is deeds. If we get a statement on the issues I have mentioned, we would be very happy with the statement. But we would, naturally enough, want to see that they happen."
Northern Ireland's Good Friday peace accord (search) of 1998 proposed the creation of a joint Catholic-Protestant administration involving Sinn Fein (search), the IRA-linked party that represents most of the province's Catholics. Power-sharing collapsed in 2002 following chronic arguments over IRA activities and weaponry.
Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party (search), which represents most of the territory's British Protestant majority, says it won't cooperate with Sinn Fein unless the IRA takes meaningful public action — particularly the publication of photos of its disarmament.
The IRA rejected those terms in December and since has been implicated in a string of criminal scandals, including a world-record bank robbery, the knife-slaying of a Catholic man and a money-laundering network.
Paisley emphasized Wednesday he would wait at least six months following an IRA peace declaration to see whether the group followed through with deeds.
The IRA was supposed to have scrapped all of its stockpiled weapons by mid-2000 in support of the Good Friday deal. Instead, it began a secrecy-shrouded process in 2001 and halted it in 2003, still in possession of much of its arsenal.
"Everybody has their tongue out waiting for a statement from the IRA. We haven't got our tongues out. ... We are looking for action," Paisley said.
Ahern was also meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair (search), who has worked closely with him since 1997 to broker compromise in Northern Ireland, which is a part of the United Kingdom.