Disarming Irish politics

Reversal: Last-minute IRA move should save shared government, diminish sectarian strife.

October 25, 2001

THE IRISH Republican Army's first act of disarmament, confirmed Tuesday, saves the Good Friday Accord of 1998 and enables the revival of the multiparty elected government of Northern Ireland.

The amount, location and means of putting arms "beyond use" remain secret. But it was convincing to the commission on decommissioning, to the British government and to the Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble.

It is a vindication of Mr. Trimble's brinkmanship in pulling out of executive government that included Sinn Fein, political alter ego of the IRA, until disarmament had begun.

Another few days, and Britain and Ireland would have had to go back to the drawing board for a new peace plan.

Now it is Mr. Trimble's task to bring his party's endorsement Saturday, and to win over the Protestant loyalist majority that it represents.

If they believe that an end to the gun in their political life is truly at hand, most will approve.

Despite assurances to loyalists that the Good Friday Accord included decommissioning, the IRA had sworn never to do it. Without Mr. Trimble's ultimatum, this reversal might not have happened.

Other factors intruded. One is the ambition of Sinn Fein to become a player in the parliament of the Irish Republic after the next election. It risks ostracism by other parties so long as its private army holds arms illegally.

Then there was Colombia's arrest of IRA-Sinn Fein representatives training narco-terrorists. Sept. 11's events have made many American funders of Sinn Fein-IRA uncomfortable with its international terrorist links.

The IRA has, as it claims, saved the peace process. That is not the same as concluding it. The IRA must still end murders and intimidation in Catholic communities.

Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, who led the Sinn Fein-IRA evolution, face their own challenge in preventing further defections to the so-called Real IRA, which remains committed to terrorism. Three "loyalist" paramilitary organizations remain armed and harmful.

So while the British army has begun scrapping watchtowers near the border as a quid pro quo to the IRA, its role is not over while unlawful violence persists.

Rather, sectarian strife should diminish as faith in democratic institutions revives. This is what almost all people in both parts of Ireland demand.

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