The Taoiseach has said last night's statement by the IRA of its intention to engage with the De Chastelain body does not go far enough. Bertie Ahern told journalists in Ennis that, while he welcomed the statement, it was only a step. He called on the IRA to put their proposals for putting weapons out of use back on the table.

An earlier Government statement welcomed last night's IRA announcement. The IRA said in a statement that it intended to renew and intensify its engagement with the International Decommissioning Body.

A Government spokesman said that it looked forward to an early and comprehensive resolution of the arms issue through that engagement. The Northern Secretary, Dr John Reid, also welcomed the statement.

In the statement in today's edition of An Phoblacht, the IRA says its re-engagement with General De Chastelain's decommissioning body is within the context of its commitment to deal satisfactorily with the question of arms.

Sinn Féin Assembly member Alex Maskey said the IRA statement was very significant and important. On the question of Colombia and the comments by US envoy Richard Haas, Mr Maskey said Sinn Féin was satisfied with the IRA's explanation and he believed Republican bona fides was intact.

However Unionists dismissed the IRA statement as a cynical stunt. The DUP deputy leader, Peter Robinson, said the IRA was making it clear it still would not hand over their weapons, unless they get something in return.

Ulster Unionist Michael McGimpsey said the IRA defence about Colombia was puerile. He said the IRA had panicked into issuing a statement because of the worldwide anti-terrorist feeling following recent attacks in America.

Meanwhile, David Trimble held a fifty-minute meeting with Gerry Adams at Stormont this morning. Sinn Féin said the discussions had been private. Speaking afterwards, the Ulster Unionist leader declared Republicans no longer have any credibility among Unionists. Mr Trimble insisted that the IRA must act to settle the decommissioning issue.

Mr Trimble said that several factors had dealt severe blows to public confidence. He highlighted the failure by the Provisionals to disarm after the Weston Park talks, the furore over the three Irish men being held in Colombia and Sinn Féin's visit to Turkish hunger strikers' families last week.

"If the political process is to continue as it is, then Republicans must act now to create the necessary credibility," said Mr Trimble. "I must also say that the mountain Republicans have to climb is only increased by the inclusion in yesterday's IRA statement of assertions about their Colombian adventure which are simply false," he added.