The Irish Republican Army has complied with its pledge to disarm, according to a report of weapons inspectors.
The Irish Republican Army has scrapped its vast arsenal of guns and explosives in a landmark step toward ending more than three decades of political and religious violence in Northern Ireland, according to a source close to the independent weapons inspection commission that witnessed the disarmament process.
The weapons inspectors will report their findings Monday to the British and Irish governments, said the official, who insisted on anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. The disarmament, which the IRA promised in a statement in July, was also confirmed by Martin McGuinness, a senior member of Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political wing. “The IRA’s decision on July 28th to formally end its armed campaign has changed the political landscape in Ireland forever,” McGuinness said in a statement issued Sunday night. “I am confident that tomorrow will bring the final chapter on the issue of IRA arms. I believe that Ireland stands on the cusp of a truly historic advance, and I hope that people across the island will respond positively in the time ahead.”
The disarmament announcement, scheduled to be made at a news conference Monday given by John de Chastelain, the retired Canadian general who heads the weapons inspection commission, would be a historic breakthrough in the conflict between majority Protestants and minority Catholics that has killed more than 3,600 people since 1969. The British and Irish governments hailed as momentous the IRA’s July announcement that it would disarm, but any such announcement is unlikely to completely convince the province’s majority Protestant community that peace is at hand.
The disarmament, which officials said took place at secret locations in the Republic of Ireland, was also witnessed by two members of the clergy: the Rev. Harold Good, a former president of the Methodist Church in Ireland, and the Rev. Alex Reid, a Catholic priest. They are also expected to make a public statement Monday.
The Protestant side has cited the IRA’s failure to disarm as the main obstacle to full implementation of the landmark 1998 Good Friday peace accords. British and Irish government officials hope that this step will enable a power-sharing government to be reestablished in Belfast, the Northern Ireland capital.
Protestant leaders, particularly the Rev. Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), have expressed deep skepticism about the IRA’s intentions. They have also harshly criticized British Prime Minister Tony Blair for responding to the IRA’s promise to disarm by dismantling some British military posts in the province and ordering sharp cuts in troop strength. “It would be naive to take the IRA at its word,” Ian Paisley Jr., a top official of the party headed by his father, said in a recent interview. The DUP has distanced itself from negotiations to implement the Good Friday accords, which outlined a power-sharing plan for the troubled province. Paisley said that no matter how many weapons the IRA gave up, it could still have more hidden or stored.
Quite so. The IRA is, after all, a terrorist group that has been in the murder business for decades; mere dishonesty is certainly not beyond it. Still, this is a hopeful sign.