A positive step toward Irish peace

IRA guns: Inspection rather than scrapping is offered as the way out of impasse.

May 11, 2000

POWER-SHARING in a "devolved" government of Northern Ireland should be back, May 22. With it will come cross-border institutions linking both Irish states in practical matters, and British Isles arrangements putting Irish lawmakers in touch with British, Scots and Welsh counterparts.

All that because the IRA found a design for disarmament -- previously "decommissioning" but now "deactivation" -- that meets its own scruples against surrender while making the gesture Unionists require.

The IRA will show arms caches to two international inspectors: former President Martti Ahtisaari of Finland, who supervised disarmament of the Kosovo Liberation Army, and Cyril Ramaphosa, former secretary-general of the African National Congress, an old friend to the IRA. The IRA pledge that this will "initiate a process that will completely and verifiably put IRA arms beyond use," seems to promise effective disarmament in a year, or roughly a year behind schedule.

David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist leader who heads the shared government, must sell this to a bare majority of his party. After that, this experiment must succeed in the eyes of the Protestant majority, or fail.

Nor is the last crisis of confidence put behind. New terrorism may be undertaken by any of three dissident IRA splinters that are no part of the new arrangement. So may reprisals by loyalist terrorist organizations that were not consulted. Suspicions of borrowings from the IRA caches will arise.

Police reform, Catholic minority participation in it, and an end to intimidation and criminal activities by paramilitary organizations must follow. The IRA is not the only group that must give up crime, and this announcement is the beginning rather than the end of its obligation.

In the long run, the blessings and prosperity that flow from peace and security must sell the Northern Ireland regime to its people. Given a chance, and continued solidarity of British and Irish governments, they will do so.

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