Once again the IRA has made a last minute gesture on decommissioning of weapons in order, this time as its statement said yesterday, “to save the peace process and persuade the other parties of our genuine intentions”. The independent commissioner on decommissioning, General John de Chastelain, has been able to verify that the IRA has started putting weapons “completely and verifiably beyond use.” Yesterday evening Tony Blair said that the IRA's move was “a significant milestone” and this view was echoed from Dublin. Reaction from Ulster Protestants was, predictably, less sanguine but it would be a tragedy if their usual grudging attitude were to lead once again to a failure to respond positively to an IRA move. In particular David Trimble's Ulster Unionists should not insist on seeing evidence of decommissioning for themselves - there is no provision for this in the Good Friday agreement, and General de Chastelain was the Unionists' own choice as independent commissioner. It is easy to see the formidable difficulties still ahead even if the IRA's announcement enables the power-sharing Northern Ireland Executive to resume its work with full membership. However, these difficulties pale into insignificance when compared with the situation that would obtain if all co-operation and progress were brought to a standstill. Last week Tony Blair spoke in the context of the Israeli/Palestinian problem of the imperative need in peace negotiations to keep moving forward - because to stand still is, in fact, to move backwards. The same applies to the Northern Ireland peace process - it must move forward, however slowly and uncertainly.

Ray Fleming

Company accountability

That nothing succeeds like failure sometimes seems to be the principle by which some British companies operate.
The recent huge payoffs to two retiring Marconi directors who had helped to preside over the collapse of that once proud company is merely the latest and worst of a series of such scandalous cases.

Of equal concern is the practice whereby directors of companies routinely vote themselves large increases - up an average of 28 per cent last year - without any related improvement in their company's performance. The government has finally recognised that something must be done to control these affronts to public feeling about “fat-cats”.

New proposals taking effect in 2003 will require companies to publish a report on board pay policy, including details of each director's income, and to obtain a resolution of approval at their annual general meeting.

This is a step in the right direction, but a relatively small one; the reports will be retrospective and small shareholders are notoriously reticent in making their feelings known. Nonetheless, companies would be wise to take the proposals seriously.

The public backs the Blair government's supportive attitude to business but believes that too many boards of directors are stuffed with people who are appointed on the ”you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours”principle and who evidently do not pull their managerial weight.