Now is the time for the IRA to disarm

Northern Ireland: Britain makes time for resolving crisis by doing what was agreed.

February 07, 2000

THE BALL is in IRA-Sinn Fein's court. They can comply with the obligation Sinn Fein undertook in the Good Friday Accord of 1998 that its Irish Republican Army "decommission" its weapons by May 2000. Or they can forfeit Sinn Fein's standing as a political party fit to participate in governing Northern Ireland.

The British government's formula for suspending the embryonic home rule regime rightly takes David Trimble, Unionist Party leader and first minister of that regime, off the hook. Judging whether the terms of the Good Friday Accord have been met is the reponsibility of the British and Irish governments, not of one provincial political party. London is allowing a week for the IRA to get its act together.

In the words of Seamus Mallon, deputy first minister of the Northern Ireland government representing Catholic nationalists, the questions to be answered are: "One, will you decommission? Two, if yes, when will you decommission?"

In the words of his colleague in the Social Democratic and Labor Party (SDLP), Sean Farren, minister for higher education:

"Will they cross the threshold into democracy and leave their weapons behind them, so that the rest of us can get on with living normal lives-- or will they hang on to them and condemn us to more uncertainty, more worry, more fear? Their day has come. It's up to them."

The British and Irish governments must make every effort to retain the benefits of the accord already achieved. One is the cease-fire that exists. Another is the North-South and Anglo-Irish institutions of cooperation.

American friends of the Irish peace process can help only by showing solidarity with the principles expounded by SDLP leaders. Decommissioning is essential to Sinn Fein's place in responsible government.

Without it, a way must be found for the SDLP to play a larger role in a power-sharing Northern Ireland with an "Irish dimension" linked to Dublin. If Sinn Fein and the IRA won't play by the rules, the game should go ahead without them.

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