IRA vows to step up disarmament to save accord
Ahead of a crucial weekend, the British and Irish seek ways to limit damage to the peace accord.
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For more than five years, the IRA said that it had ended its campaign undefeated - and no undefeated army surrenders its weapons, it argued. It would not decommission "either by the back door or the front door," said its spokespeople, claiming that the issue had never been raised in any of the secret talks leading to the ceasefire.Skip to next paragraph
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The Irish republican tradition, even after an end to hostilities, has been to hold onto its weaponry, "just in case." After the bloody and unsuccessful 1798 rebellion against the British government, in which 20,000 peasant-soldiers died, survivors put their pikes into the thatched roofs of their cottages. The "pike in the thatch" mentality is still an underlying assumption mitigating against decommissioning - as is a belief in the powerful deterrent and defensive powers of a greased-up and intact arsenal of explosives and high-quality weaponry.
Some republicans also strongly suspect that their opponents' true priority was never decommissioning itself. They say unionists knew it was the single demand that would never be conceded and was being used to destroy the process by proxy.
Many of the IRA's most devastating weapons were not guns but arms, engineered using "low-tech" components such as farmyard fertilizer, fuel oil, icing sugar, and bottled gas canisters.
The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), under leader David Trimble has not wavered in demanding that republicans decommission in return for its ministers continuing in the government with Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein says its electoral mandate is the only qualification for sharing power and insists it has no control over weapons - an argument dismissed by unionists who say the party is inextricably linked to the IRA.
Under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, unless sufficient progress has been made by tomorrow to reinstate Mr. Trimble as first minister, the British government must either suspend the agreement or order new elections.
The IRA has moved significantly in the past two years, agreeing to do what many had thought would never happen, to put its weapons, it says, "completely and verifiably beyond use."
Since last summer, the IRA has allowed repeated inspections of a number of its arms dumps by two independent examiners, one South African, the other Finnish. It has agreed in private, with the independent commission, on a method of decommissioning its weapons.
This leap forward took a battering when the British government re-imposed direct rule from London for 24 hours six weeks ago, but most analysts believe the IRA will reinstate its offer.
This is not enough for the Ulster Unionist Party, however. In their view, the IRA has not even reinstated its offer on the methodology of disarming, and still gives no date for the beginning of disarming. Dr. O'Hearn says that while pressure is mounting on the IRA, decommissioning alone will not resolve the conflict, which requires material political change.
Without decommissioning, however, that political change will prove elusive, says IRA historian Coogan, who adds that, irrespective of the political pressures now being exerted by Washington, decommissioning is the only way for the IRA to advance its ultimate target of a united Ireland.