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Thursday, July 28, 2005

I.R.A. Renounces Violence in Potentially Profound Shift - New York Times

I.R.A. Renounces Violence in Potentially Profound Shift - New York TimesJuly 28, 2005
I.R.A. Renounces Violence in Potentially Profound Shift

BELFAST, Northern Ireland, July 28 - The Irish Republican Army declared an end to its campaign of violence against Britain that claimed more than 3,500 lives over 36 years, saying there was "an alternative way to achieve" its goal of a United Ireland.

The announcement in a DVD released to reporters was taken in London as, potentially, a profound shift in Northern Ireland's destiny, reversing decades of Republican commitment to violence in the effort to end British rule.

"This may be the day on which, finally, after all these false dawns and dashed hopes, peace replaced war, politics replaces terror on the island of Ireland," Prime Minister Tony Blair said in a televised statement in London. He also said the announcement "creates the circumstances" in which Northern Ireland's power-sharing local government could be revived. "This is a step of unparalleled magnitude in the recent history of Northern Ireland."

The Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, struck a more cautious note, saying the I.R.A. statement would be momentous if the organization matched words with deeds.

Among the troubling issues is whether the I.R.A. will halt the criminal operations - such as armed robbery, smuggling and money laundering - that fund the organization. The I.R.A. said that its members must not engage in any other activities whatsoever, but skeptics worry that the organization may break up into small independent crime gangs.

The statement by the I.R.A. said: "Our decisions have been taken to advance our republican and democratic objectives, including our goal of a united Ireland. We believe there is now an alternative way to achieve this and to end British rule in our country."

"All IRA units have been ordered to dump arms," said the statement, which was read out on a DVD by a former prisoner, Seana Walsh.

Mr. Blair said Unionists - the I.R.A.'s foes - would want to ensure that the "clear statement of principal is kept to in practice."

The widely expected statement could mark the conclusion of the bloodiest chapter in modern Irish history, foretold in 1994, when an I.R.A. cease-fire began winding up the tradition of militant Irish republicanism. And it takes a step towards restoring Northern Ireland's local government, which was established under a 1998 peace accord but suspended in 2002 due to allegations of I.R.A. activity.Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the I.R.A., said at a news conference in Dublin that the announcement could "help revive the peace process" and said it was a challenge to the British and Irish governments as well as the Ulster Unionists to see that the peace accord is carried out.

Unionists, the province's largest political group who are mostly Protestant, are likely to insist on a delay of at least a year before returning to share seats in the provincial legislature with Sinn Fein. "There are still a number of areas of loose ends," Jeffrey Donaldson, a Northern Irish member of the British parliament for the hard-line Democratic Unionists, told RTE radio. "We'll probably need a period of time now over which we can judge whether what the I.R.A. says is what they actually do."

The statement came four months after Mr. Adams, who denies repeated reports that he has been an I.R.A. commander, called on the guerrilla group to embrace purely political and democratic activity. Top Sinn Fein representatives are in Washington, London and Brussels to brief international leaders on the I.R.A. decision.

The loose ends include the possible continuation of I.R.A. criminal operations. Police blame the I.R.A. for crimes like the robbery of $50 million from a Belfast bank last December, and the murder of a Belfast man, Robert McCartney, in January, but no prosecutions have followed in either case.

Mainstream politicians want Sinn Fein, and its I.R.A. supporters, to endorse Northern Ireland's fledgling police service, which has been revamped to gain the trust of Roman Catholics, who suffered from discrimination in the past.

Dismantling the I.R.A.'s massive stashes of weapons, which are mostly hidden in underground bunkers in the countryside, has been the most stubborn obstacle to a functioning power-sharing system between Roman Catholic and Protestant political groups in Northern Ireland.

The I.R.A. has destroyed arms dumps on three separate occasions with the cooperation of John DeChastelain, the retired Canadian general who heads a commission supervising disarmament. But Unionist parties withdrew from government on several occasions after the 1998 pact in protest at the slow pace of the process.

The I.R.A. said on Wednesday that it would complete "the process to verifiably put its arms beyond use", and that it invited Protestant and Catholic clergymen to serve as witnesses so that disarmament can be completed "as quickly as possible."

Analysts said that, based on Mr. DeChastelain's previous methods, the issue would likely be dealt with in a matter of days. Last December, the Democratic Unionists, led by the firebrand preacher Ian Paisley, scuttled an effort to restore Northern Ireland's government by demanding photographic evidence that the arms had been destroyed, which the I.R.A. refused.

Mr. Paisley's party, which favors continued union with Britain, indicated it would take months to negotiate a revival of Northern Ireland's power-sharing assembly.

Even before the I.R.A. statement was issued, Mr. Paisley told the BBC: "I am saying now the proof of the pudding is in the eating and digesting of it. We've heard it all before. You can wrap it up any way you like, put a new bit of ribbon on the package but we want the action, the proof this is happening."

Mr. Paisley's party refuses to talk to Sinn Fein and says it is indistinguishable from the I.R.A.

Brian Lavery reported from Belfast for this article, and Alan Cowell reported from London

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