Putting the IRA 'Beyond use'

The Irish Republican Army appears to have crossed a threshold other radical groups with a history of violence typically balk at. The IRA this week began putting its substantial supply of guns and explosives "beyond use," as its statement said.

An international disarmament commission set up by the 1998 Good Friday peace plan has confirmed that the arms are indeed being put out of commission.

This is an extraordinary turnaround for a group which has long held that any handover of weaponry would be an admission of defeat. But the IRA and its political wing, Sinn Fein, have for years been moving toward a realization that their goals can better be met through political, rather than violent, means.

It's a realization other groups locked in nationalist struggles - in the Mideast and in Kashmir, for example - could well emulate. The extremes of violence that strike at civilians, forever epitomized by Sept. 11, 2001, garner only abhorrence and more violence.

The IRA's first step toward actual disarmament will probably be enough to gain a corresponding move from the British government, such as removal of its troops from sections of Northern Ireland and accelerated reform of the provincial police force.

It should also be enough to bring the Ulster Unionist Party back into the joint Protestant-Catholic legislative body formed under the peace agreement. That body was due to be dissolved today by London, had the IRA not acted.

Some Protestant extremists will welcome neither the IRA's move nor the resumption of joint government. But they, too, have to recognize that any resort to violence on their part will only damage their cause.

Of course, there's still plenty of work ahead. The two sides in Northern Ireland have conflicting long-range goals: the republican desire to unite with the rest of Ireland versus the loyalist desire to remain united with Britain.

But both sides may now have a renewed opportunity to work together for the benefit of Northern Ireland's people - improving education, and developing the economy.

If they learn that lesson well, long-term political arrangements should naturally evolve.

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