IRA Says It Will Abandon Violence

By Glenn Frankel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, July 29, 2005

LONDON, July 28 -- The Irish Republican Army formally declared an end Thursday to its three-decade-long armed struggle against British rule in Northern Ireland and pledged to pursue its aims of a united Ireland through "exclusively peaceful means."

British and Irish leaders said they hoped the statement, brokered in negotiations between the IRA's political representatives and officials in London and Dublin, would revive the province's stagnant peace process and bring a final end to sectarian violence known as "the Troubles" that has killed more than 3,600 Catholics and Protestants since 1969.

The IRA has never made such an affirmative commitment to long-term peace and reconciliation, though it declared a cease-fire in 1997. British Prime Minister Tony Blair called the statement "a step of unparalleled magnitude," and White House spokesman Scott McClellan called it "potentially historic." But both said it must now be followed by concrete action.

In Northern Ireland, Protestant politicians who have led the fight to keep the province part of Britain were less enthusiastic, calling the statement inadequate and stressing that the IRA's pledges were so far only words.

"All IRA units have been ordered to dump arms," read the message, saying the steps would take effect at 4 p.m. Thursday local time. "All Volunteers have been instructed to assist the development of purely political and democratic programs through exclusively peaceful means. Volunteers must not engage in any other activities whatsoever."

The outlawed paramilitary organization also said it would reactivate "as quickly as possible" the process of disposing of its weapons -- which it suspended when peace talks broke down late last year -- and invited Protestant and Catholic clerics to serve as independent witnesses to the disarmament. The IRA has amassed tons of weapons and explosives over the years, most of them hidden in bunkers in the Republic of Ireland.

Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing, called the declaration a "courageous and confident initiative" and challenged his political opponents in the Protestant community "to decide if they want to put the past behind them and make peace with the rest of the people of this island."

The Rev. Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionists, the province's largest Protestant political party, said that "we will judge the IRA's bona fides over the next months and years based on its behavior and activity."

His son, Ian Paisley Jr., used stronger words. "It would be an act of unparalleled stupidity to accept the words of the Provisional IRA and the words alone," he told the BBC. "We want to see peace, but we're not going to be taken for a ride like some people. Other people may not have learnt from the IRA, but we have got the wounds and the injuries to learn from them."

But Blair and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern noted the statement's unprecedented wording. "Today may be the day that peace replaced war, that politics replaced terror, on the island of Ireland," Blair said.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), a longtime supporter of the province's Catholic community, said in a statement that he hopes the declaration means "we're finally nearing the end of this very long process to take guns and criminality out of politics in Northern Ireland once and for all."

The IRA's armed campaign -- born out of civil unrest and police repression in the late 1960s and early 1970s -- has been largely on hold since the cease-fire of 1997. The following year, politicians from various factions signed a power-sharing arrangement that was supposed to ensure equal rights and full political participation for the province's Catholic minority.

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