29 July 2005

The day the Provos gave up the gun

Irish Independent

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THE IRA is expected to take the first step on a new path of peace within days by decommissioning its huge arsenal.

The Provisional movement, once described as one of the most efficient terrorist armies in the world, yesterday instructed its members to give up violence and embrace peace.

It called a halt to all paramilitary and criminal activity and promised to put its weapons verifiably beyond use.

All its units were ordered to dump their arms and become involved in the development of a democratic political process.

Following more than three decades of bloodshed which resulted in the deaths of over 3,000 people, the IRA took what could turn out to be an historic decision after three months of internal debate across the island.

The ground-breaking statement was widely welcomed in Dublin, London and Washington with reactions mixed in Belfast.

The IRA's new code came into force at 4pm and there were indications last night that it was moving quickly on decommissioning with its appointed representative in contact with General John de Chastelain who has been on stand-by for the past week. Preparations for decommissioning have been almost finalised since before the collapse of the peace talks in Belfast last December and the IRA is now expected to go ahead. Two clergymen, from the Protestant and Catholic churches, will act as independent witnesses to provide verification.

In return for the historic statement, Sinn Fein has gained some of its outstanding demands. The British government, which released IRA bomber Sean Kelly from prison on Wednesday night, will introduce legislation in the autumn to arrange an amnesty for up to 40 OTRs (on the run suspects) who are wanted for crimes committed prior to the Good Friday Agreement.

But sources in Dublin confirmed for the first time that the group will not include two IRA men wanted by the Garda for the murder of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe in 1996.

Earlier, Justice Minister Michael McDowell had ruled out an early release for the four killers of Garda McCabe and said this had been accepted by Sinn Fein.

The Government will press ahead in September with plans to reform the Seanad to include a guarantee that some politicians from the Northern Assembly would automatically become members of the Seanad.

Despite the IRA statement, the Government is to beef up the Criminal Assets Bureau in a fresh drive to seize the millions of euro built up in the coffers of the Provisionals over the three decades.

Extra accountants are being hand-picked for the CAB while personnel are being sent to the United States for special training with the FBI on how to recover IRA assets.

The IRA statement came in the form of a DVD which had an ex-prisoner Seanna Walsh reading out the organisation's declaration. It leaked into the public domain two hours before the IRA intended.

While unionists were sceptical about the IRA commitment, the Bush administration joined in the international welcome for the statement, describing it as "important and potentially historic."

But it also urged republicans to "sever all ties to international terrorist organisations."

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said he believed the statement meant that the organisation had finally called an end to all actions.

"The war is over, the IRA's armed campaign is over, paramilitarism is over and I believe that we can look to the future of peace and prosperity based on mutual trust and reconciliation and a final end to violence," he said.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair described the IRA statement as "a step of unparalleled magnitude" while Northern Secretary Peter Hain said the process of scaling back British military presence in Northern Ireland could be expected to begin within days.

But it was clear last night that the North's biggest party, the DUP, remains to be convinced of the IRA's bona fides and will take many months before engaging in talks on the restoration of power-sharing institutions, now almost three years in suspension.

DUP leader Ian Paisley said the IRA would be judged over the next months and years, based on its behaviour and activity.

Gerry Adams said the IRA statement was clear evidence of the commitment of republicans to the peace process and claimed it removed unionists' excuses for not engaging with republicans.

Catherine McCartney, a sister of murder victim Robert McCartney, said the statement did not go far enough. "The IRA has not spelled out where it stands on those within its ranks who indulge in criminal activity," she said.

"It tells them they have to stop it. But it does not say what happens if they don't," she added.

Gene McKenna
and Tom Brady

About bloody time this group of militant nationalists took this decision - they have debased the good name of 'Republicanism' for too long by (falsely) claiming to be associated with said tradition .

God speed their departure .

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