SINN FEIN, the political alter-ego of the "military" IRA, overtook the Social Democratic and Labor Party (SDLP) in the June 7 election to become the pre-eminent political voice of the Catholic nationalist minority of Northern Ireland.
Was this a reward for coming into constitutional politics, or for intransigence against the disarmament that was promised?
Post-election polls suggest that most Sinn Fein supporters want the IRA to disarm. This it has refused to do.
The Good Friday agreement requires parties to use their influence to persuade affiliated paramilitaries to disarm. Given the interlocking leadership of Sinn Fein and the IRA, this ambiguity was taken by others to mean the IRA must disarm, and by the IRA to mean it need not.
David Trimble, embattled Unionist first minister of the provincial government, plans to resign effective July 1 if the IRA does not begin acts of "decommissioning weapons." The institution could probably carry on without him until Aug. 12, then collapse.
The people of Northern Ireland - and the British and Irish governments - have had too many benefits from the accord to allow this to happen. Finally, if belatedly, the Irish government and the SDLP have put public pressure on the IRA to begin destroying weapons.
If it were just about Mr. Trimble, his bluff could be called. But the moderate larger half of the Protestant unionist majority opposes being governed by a Sinn Fein that remains, through the IRA, armed and menacing. Mr. Trimble speaks for them.
Small wonder John Hume of the SDLP, chief architect of the agreement, and Bertie Ahern, prime minister of the Irish Republic, both called on the IRA to begin decommissioning now.
With the Protestant marching season under way, "loyalist" paramilitaries have fomented more violence. The British rightly jailed a leader of the Ulster Defense Association, Gary Smith. Vigilance is still needed against the "Real IRA," a terrorist offshoot.
But the gains of the past year, including a stronger economy, can last only if the IRA stays in from the cold and subscribes fully to electoral politics.