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Eighty years after the founding of an independent Ireland and thirty-five years after the start of the Troubles in Ulster, the IRA will finally disavow violence and embrace electoral politics exclusively, according to an American businessman acting as a liaison between the IRA and the American government. The New York Times reports on this historic development, which may revive home rule in Northern Ireland if the IRA follows through:
The Irish Republican Army has given up its armed struggle for a united Ireland, agreeing to turn solely to political methods, an American businessman said yesterday after being briefed on a statement expected from the guerrilla group later this week.
The agreement, if borne out, would be a historic turning point in the violent history of Ireland and Northern Ireland. But there is still widespread official skepticism about I.R.A. promises, particularly when it comes to the issue of disarmament.
Indeed, it was not immediately clear whether the I.R.A. would address how several tons of arms, hidden in bunkers across Ireland, would be disposed of, according to the businessman, Niall O'Dowd, who brokered talks between the I.R.A. and American officials that helped lead to a cease-fire in 1994. The continued existence of those weapons, which were to have been destroyed under an agreement reached after the cease-fire, contributed to the collapse of the Northern Ireland government in 2003.
In truth, this won't be the first time the IRA and Sinn Fein has tried this tactic. It agreed to political action exclusively in 1994 for the Good Friday Agreement, but failed to meet its obligations to disarm. The assembly in Belfast continuously tried to pressure Sinn Fein to press for verifiable disarmament, but the IRA refused, preferring to use that as a political negotiating chip, until it eventually sunk home rule altogether and Britain had to step in once more.
The signs and portents appear more promising on this go-around. After having been exposed as IRA commanders, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness, high-ranking officials of Sinn Fein, have resigned from the IRA along with other SF officials. Irish PM Bertie Ahern has rushed back to Dublin from his vacation, and the Canadian general in charge of disarmament has also come back to Ireland. This does not look like a whimsical statement but a coordinated effort by SF to finally meet its obligations.
Bear in mind that this comes after two huge public-relations debacles that nearly sunk SF as a force in Northern Ireland's peace talks. The IRA pulled off a huge armed-car robbery, taking in more than $20 million but exposing itself as a criminal enterprise instead of a political-action group of freedom fighters. Even worse, their thugs brutally murdered a Belfast man and attempted to cover it up through threats and intimidation. Two SF politicians present at the murder refused to cooperate with the investigation. The brave efforts of the victim's sisters -- ironically sympathetic to the IRA -- to hold the paramilitary group responsible caught the attention of the world and turned the IRA and its Sinn Fein supporters into persona non grata around the world. That meant a huge drop in American donations to the cause, a welcome development and long overdue. Last month, the Belfast police finally arrested two men in connection with the murder, a sign that the IRA had stopped intimidating witnesses into silence.
Now the IRA wants to announce its intention to end forever the political terrorism it has conducted for decades. These recent events make such a renunciation more credible, but only when they reveal and destroy their arms caches should anyone accept their pledge. They have proven themselves untrustworthy in the past and must go the full mile to convince the world of their sincerity now.
UPDATE: I'm getting some heat from my readers about being one-sided in debating the IRA. (This is one of the reasons I avoided this topic for so long.) For the record, I think both sides have their nutcases, and the record more than demonstrates that. Ian Paisley is no peacemaker, and he represents the worst of the other side of the equation in Northern Ireland.
However, Paisley does not come to the United States to collect millions in funding from benighted Irish-Americans, or anyone else. Paisley's group has not (recently) committed armed robbery and covered up murders. Americans who believe that the IRA has some moral standing above that of the PLO, with whom they identify, need to hear more about the true nature of their activities. That's why I have been blogging more about their issues than the quasi-Protestant thugs who provide their mirror image.
I do understand that both sides have behaved very badly in the past thirty-five years, and I will endeavor to present that more clearly in the future, if those incidents continue to occur.Sphere It View blog reactions
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