Belfast Telegraph

John de Chastelain voices fears over Brexit border - and hits out at Lyra McKee killers

Canadian general John de Chastelain headed the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning
Canadian general John de Chastelain headed the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning

One of the key figures of the peace process has spoken of his "great regret" that paramilitary violence has continued in Northern Ireland, 21 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

John de Chastelain was the head of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning that was responsible for putting loyalist and republican paramilitary weapons beyond use in the years after the agreement.

Speaking to the Irish Times, the former soldier and diplomat said he was concerned about the political vacuum in Northern Ireland and urged for more work to be done to fulfill the potential of the 1998 peace accord.

"My great regret is that more than 20 years after the agreement was brought into effect there are still those who are seeking to use violence to change what is achieved, particularly when a whole new generation of people who weren’t alive during the Troubles are now voting," he said.

"What can they vote for if the Assembly is not in office, and it has been two years now that the Assembly has not been providing the government and the leadership in the North that the agreement was all about?”

The 81-year-old was speaking ahead of fresh talks between Northern Ireland's main political parties next week aimed at restoring power-sharing after more than two years without a functioning government at Stormont.

He described the current uncertainty surrounding Brexit as "troubling", in particular how it could affect one important aspect of the Good Friday Agreement - the border.

“Everybody is on edge because they don’t know how this is going to work out. Once the decision is taken, whenever that will be, then I think, hopefully, wiser heads will prevail, and it won’t affect the two-way movement between the Republic and the North," he said.

“One of the key aspects of the Belfast Agreement was in fact that the Border was open, and for those who chafed at the prospect of there being two jurisdictions – one on either side of the Border – that was much less of a problem since the Border was opened. I would hope that it would stay that way.”

Mr de Chastelain, who stepped down as chair of the decommissioning body in 2011, said the recent murder of journalist Lyra McKee in Londonderry was a "tragedy" and questioned the strategy of the dissident republicans that were responsible.

“The spokesman for the group [the New IRA] that were responsible for the death of this young woman made the point that they recognised they had no public support and that violence will never change the circumstance of the political divide, so I have to ask myself: what is the point of continuing?" he said.

“The continuation of violence hasn’t altogether surprised me, but I would have thought that this long after the agreement – 21 years – that those issues would have subsided.”

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