The decommissioning of paramilitary weapons remains a challenge for the peace process in Northern Ireland.

The role of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning has been central to achieving the goal of putting all paramilitary arms beyond use.

Under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, all paramilitary weapons were to have been decommissioned by May 2000.

The delicate task of overseeing decommissioning was assigned to the former head of the Canadian armed forces, General John de Chastelain, a challenging role in an often difficult political atmosphere. Despite pressure from unionists, the only weapons to have been destroyed in public are a handful of Loyalist Volunteer Forces (LVF) guns in October 1999.

In February 2000, the Northern Assembly was temporarily suspended by the then Northern Secretary Peter Mandelson in the face of a resignation threat by First Minister of Northern Ireland and Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader David Trimble over the failure to make progress on decommissioning. The IRA subsequently removed its cooperation with the decommissioning body.

In May 2000, the IRA issued a statement declaring their commitment to putting arms beyond use and agreeing to the inspection of some of their arms dumps by a third party.

Former Finnish President and Balkans mediator Martti Ahtisaari and former African National Congress (ANC) General Secretary Cyril Ramaphosa were accepted by Northern Ireland political parties as independent inspectors. They issued two reports in 2000 stating they had visited IRA arms dumps and weapons remained secured. In May 2001, a third inspection was confirmed but still no actual decommissioning has happened.

Political pressure for decommissioning on the unionist side culminated in the resignation of David Trimble as First Minister of the Northern Assembly on 1 July.

In a significant breakthrough today, the International Body on Decommissioning says it has agreed proposals which would lead to IRA weapons being put completely and verifiably beyond use.

An RTÉ News report broadcast on 6 August 2001. The reporter is Robert Shortt.