I.R.A. vows to end violence.
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I.R.A. Renounces Use of Violence; Vows to Disarm
By Brian Lavery and Alan Cowell
Published: July 29, 2005
BELFAST, Northern Ireland, July 28 - The Irish Republican Army declared an end on Thursday to a 36year campaign of violence against Britain that was aimed at unifying Northern Ireland with the Irish Republic.
The long-awaited announcement was viewed in London and Dublin as a profound turning point that could bring an end to a bloody and painful chapter, possibly shifting Northern Ireland's destiny away from the sectarian strife that accompanied the republicans' opposition to British rule and which claimed more than 3,500 lives on all sides.
"This may be the day on which, finally, after all these false dawns and dashed hopes, peace replaced war, politics replaces terror on the island of Ireland," Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain said in a televised statement in London.
Even as other leaders spoke of the need for actions by the I.R.A. to back up its declaration, Mr. Blair also said the announcement "creates the circumstances" in which the province's power-sharing local government, which was established under a 1998 peace accord but suspended in 2002, in part because of demands for disarmament of the I.R.A., could be revived.
"This is a step of unparalleled magnitude in the recent history of Northern Ireland," he said.
A statement from the White House said, "This I.R.A. statement must now be followed by actions demonstrating the republican movement's unequivocal commitment to the rule of law and to the renunciation of all paramilitary and criminal activities."
The group's statement said, "All I.R.A. units have been ordered to dump arms." It was read out on a DVD by Seanna Walsh, a member who spent 21 years in prison for his I.R.A. activities.
The statement also pledged "to complete the process to verifiably put its arms beyond use" - a reference to the reputedly vast hidden stockpiles of weapons kept by the group. It also invited two independent clerics - one Catholic, one Protestant - to "testify" to disarmament.
The move followed growing revulsion among its supporters, both here and in the United States, at its involvement in organized crime. The statement did not say the group was disbanding and did not specifically mention the issue of crime by its members, who are held responsible for a major bank robbery in December and a brutal barroom killing and cover-up in January.
Some skeptics, moreover, recalled previous I.R.A. statements that had failed to secure progress toward a revival of the 1998 Good Friday agreement, which established the province's power-sharing government.
But officials like Britain's Northern Ireland secretary, Peter Hain, said the wording of the latest statement was different. "The clarity of this statement is in contrast to its predecessors," Mr. Hain said. "It states in plain language that the armed campaign is at an end."
The shift was foretold in 1994, when an I.R.A. cease-fire began winding up the tradition of militant Irish republicanism, stretching from the back streets of Londonderry and Belfast all the way to England.
The statement by the I.R.A. said its leadership had "formally ordered an end to the armed campaign," as the organization calls its military activities, which are described by supporters as a legitimate armed struggle and by critics as terrorism.
The statement said: "Our decisions have been taken to advance our republican and democratic objectives, including our goal of a united Ireland. We believe there is now an alternative way to achieve this and to end British rule in our country," apparently referring to electoral advances by the group's political wing, Sinn Fein, in Northern Ireland and in the Irish Republic.
The statement said all I.R.A. volunteers had been "instructed to assist the development of purely political and democratic programs through exclusively political means."
"Volunteers must not engage in any other activities whatsoever," it said - language taken by outsiders to refer to its network of criminal operations.
Mr. Blair said that unionists, who want Northern Ireland to remain united with Britain and have always opposed the I.R.A., would want to ensure that the "clear statement of principle is kept to in practice." In addition, he said, the statement will be taken "as a forthright denunciation of any activity, paramilitary or criminal."
Unionists, most of them Protestants, are the province's largest political group. They are likely to insist on a delay of at least a year before returning to share seats in the provincial legislature with Sinn Fein.
"The history of the past decade in Northern Ireland is littered with I.R.A. statements which we were told would be historic," said Ian Paisley, a firebrand leader of the Democratic Unionists, the dominant Protestant political force. "These same statements were followed by the I.R.A. reverting to type and carrying out more of its horrific murders and squalid criminality."
The I.R.A.'s statement came four months after the Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, who denies repeated reports that he has been an I.R.A. commander, called on the guerrilla group to embrace purely political and democratic activity.
Mr. Adams said at a news conference in Dublin on Thursday that the move heralded a "new and peaceful mode" in Northern Ireland. "There is a time to resist, to stand up and to confront the enemy by arms if necessary," he said. "In other words, there is a time for war. There is also a time to engage, to reach out, to put the war behind us all."
Putting the war behind it took the I.R.A. more than a decade in part because Mr. Adams had to convince its members, who the Irish government says number more than 1,000, many of whom spent a lifetime fighting the British presence in Northern Ireland, that espousing a political strategy is not tantamount to admitting defeat.
Concern remains that its members may join militant splinter movements, much like the breakaway factions of the Palestine Liberation Organization. I.R.A. members who have felt compromised by political activities and peace talks have occasionally formed dissident republican groups like the Real I.R.A.
That group killed 29 people by detonating a car bomb in Omagh in 1998. The leaders of such dissident groups have been convicted in recent years after their ranks were infiltrated by undercover police.
Dismantling the I.R.A.'s huge stashes of weapons, hidden in underground bunkers in the countryside, has been the most stubborn obstacle to a functional power-sharing system between Catholic and Protestant political groups in Northern Ireland. To establish whether the group keeps its word, the British and Irish governments have asked an independent body that monitors paramilitary groups to publish reports every three months.
In August 1994, when the I.R.A. declared its cease-fire, the people of Belfast broke into wild celebrations. On Thursday the public response was more skeptical.
"I'm very hopeful, for the sake of our grandchildren," said Christine Nolan, 64, while shopping on the Falls Road in the I.R.A.'s west Belfast heartland. "But we have been hopeful before, and it's all fallen through."
Paul Burn, a 19-year-old Catholic, condemned the group because, he said, its members had shot one of his friends in the kneecaps for stealing a car, and he does not expect them to stop acting as vigilantes. "I don't think things will be any different," he said.
But Alec Reid, 56, a retired cleaner, offered a different view. "We don't want the kids coming through what we went through," he said. "It was 30 years of hell."
Brian Lavery reported from Belfast for this article, and Alan Cowell from London.