Francis Murphy, a bartender at the Shamrock Sports and Social Club in the Catholic community of Ardoyne, is not happy the Irish Republican Army has put away its guns. "I don't agree with it at all," said Murphy, 20, about Monday's report by an independent commission that the IRA had disposed of all its weapons.
He said that just a few streets away from where he stood in North Belfast, Protestant paramilitary members were still armed: "Why should we give up our guns when they haven't given up theirs?"
It is a question many Catholics in volatile areas like Ardoyne are asking a day after the landmark announcement that Northern Ireland's most powerful paramilitary group is now unarmed. While political leaders from Washington to London and Catholics generally hailed the move, many people along the streets of Ardoyne, a working-class enclave of 2,500 Catholic families that is set tight against larger Protestant neighborhoods, said they felt conflicted and unsure.
Ardoyne is one of the flash-point areas in the British province that has been a scene of frequent violence during the 35-year conflict. Many analysts here contend that the ultimate success or failure of the Northern Ireland peace process depends on calming the fears of people such as the residents of Ardoyne.
In this neighborhood, where sectarian tension remains an everyday reality, there is "a sense of unease" about the IRA putting down its guns, said the Rev. Aidan Troy, a Catholic priest. "A lot of people are wondering who will defend them."
Catholics in Ardoyne have little trust in the British police and for years have relied on IRA members to mediate disputes and impose order. Now there is uncertainty about who is going to fulfill that function.
For example, said Murphy, if a car is stolen, people might report the theft to the police for insurance purposes, but they "would know that the police would never help them recover it."
Others listening to the conversation in the Shamrock club agreed: The best way to recover a stolen car is to ask the local IRA man to intervene. But now, many wonder, will he wield the same authority without his gun?
The IRA's "rough justice," as it is often called here, has by no means been universally popular, many people interviewed here were quick to add. But they said it had been the system for decades, and some worried that small splinter groups from the IRA would try to fill the void.
Many Catholics said they hoped that the British and Irish governments, which have invested much in the peace process, would now focus hard on the police.
"The key issue now is to get a police force that everyone accepts," said the Rev. Alec Reid, a Catholic priest and one of two clergymen asked to witness what is known as the "decommissioning" of IRA arms.
In an interview, he said Catholics who want Northern Ireland to become part of the Republic of Ireland need to join the force so it is no longer seen as representing people who want the majority Protestant province to remain under British rule.
The 1998 Good Friday accords between the two sides provided for reform of the police force. But people in Ardoyne say much more reform is needed before it will be fully trusted.
While many Protestant leaders said this week that they did not believe the IRA had truly disarmed, Reid said he firmly believed that the group had turned over all its weapons and that "history will prove that this is the end of the IRA."
That news can be unsettling for those living on the front lines. In Ardoyne, Troy said, Protestants and Catholics live so close to one another that "they can see the whites of each others' eyes."
Brenda Griffith, 44, a shop assistant in the neighborhood, with its Irish flags flying and IRA murals painted on brick walls, said she had mixed feelings about the IRA packing away its guns.
"I am delighted because it means less are going to be killed," she said, adding that she was "no advocate of the IRA." But she also said she was very conscious that the Protestant paramilitary groups who live so close by -- and who police have said were responsible for a spate of killings and riots this year -- were still armed and still hostile to her Catholic community.
"You thought you had a little defense," she said, "and now you don't."
Gerard McGuigan, 51, a former city council member from Ardoyne who said his house was bombed twice by Protestants, said many people in the neighborhood risked their lives to hide weapons for the IRA and at least 100 people from the area lost their lives in the conflict. After so much work went into getting the weapons, he said, it was not surprising that people had conflicted feelings over the announcement that the weapons had been given up.