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The IRA Disarms

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on September 26, 2005

I have to admit that I was skeptical when the Irish Republican Army announced on July 28 that its leaders had “formally ordered an end to the armed campaign” and instructed its military units to “dump arms”. While the Northern Ireland peace process sounded like it was on the right track, this declaration was hard to take at face value given that only seven months earlier, the IRA was implicated in a massive bank robbery. However, as the BBC reports, the independent committee overseeing the disarmament announced today that the IRA has completed its weapons decommissioning..

This important step cannot even begin to redress the tragic history of violence, repression, and recrimination in Northern Ireland. Protestant voters in Northern Ireland have made it clear that they will not simply trust the IRA to be on its best behavior. The rise of the Reverend Ian Paisley as the Unionist leader demonstrates that the Protestants are unwilling to continue to cooperate with the IRA and its political wing Sinn Fein without receiving something substantial in return. Unionists are right to be concerned that the IRA has not eliminated all of its military capabilities (the IRA destroyed the arms that it has stockpiled over the years, much of it purchased from the Libyan government, but IRA members can still construct improvised explosives or purchase new weapons). However, the IRA and Sinn Fein should be commended for taking a large step in the direction of peace. With luck, the disarmament of the (comparatively smaller) Unionist military outfits will follow later this autumn. Regardless of one’s sympathies regarding this contentious issue, everyone should be striving for a day when the question of Northern Ireland’s status can be resolved without the use of paramilitary groups. As British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in response to the disarmament report,

Today may be the day that peace replaced war, that politics replaced terror, on the island of Ireland. It is what we have striven for and worked for throughout the eight years since the Good Friday Agreement. It creates the circumstances in which the institutions can be revived.

Perhaps Blair is a little overly optimistic, but hopefully, he is not too far off the mark.

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