28 July 2005 Edition
11 years of IRA support for process
ROBBIE SMYTH picks out the crucial events of the last 12 years highlighting the IRA's commitment to the Peace Process.
IN AUGUST 1994, the IRA announced a complete cessation of military operations: "Recognising the potential of the current situation and in order to enhance the democratic process and underlying our definitive commitment to its success, the leadership of the IRA have decided that as of midnight, August 31, there will be a complete cessation of military operations."
The IRA leadership said that they, saluted and commended "our Volunteers, other activists, our supporters and the political prisoners who have sustained the struggle against all odds for the past 25 years. Your courage, determination and sacrifice have demonstrated that the freedom and the desire for peace based on a just and lasting settlement cannot be crushed. We remember all those who have died for Irish freedom and we reiterate our commitment to our republican objectives. Our struggle has seen many gains and advances made by nationalists and for the democratic position."
The IRA also said that: "We believe that an opportunity to secure a just and lasting settlement has been created. We are therefore entering into a new situation in a spirit of determination and confidence, determined that the injustices which created this conflict will be removed and confident in the strength and justice of our struggle to achieve this."
The 1994 IRA cessation statement ends with an emphasis on what had to happen next. The statement says that, a solution to the conflict in Ireland "will only be found as a result of inclusive negotiations. Others, not the least the British Government have a duty to face up to their responsibilities. It is our desire to significantly contribute to the creation of a climate which will encourage this. We urge everyone to approach this new situation with energy, determination and patience."
Unfortunately in the weeks and months after the August 1994 cessation the British Government stalled and dithered. Dependent on the Ulster Unionists for votes at Westminster and unwilling to begin all party talks the Peace Process foundered and on 9 February 1996 the IRA announced with regret the ending of its cessation of military operations
The statement clearly highlighted where the blockage in the Peace Process lay. It said that: "The cessation presented an historic challenge for everyone and the IRA commends the leaderships of nationalist Ireland at home and abroad. They rose to the challenge. The British Prime Minister did not.
"Instead of embracing the peace process, the British government acted in bad faith with Mr Major and the Unionist leaders squandering this unprecedented opportunity to resolve the conflict.
"Time and again, over the last 18 months, selfish party political and sectional interests in the London parliament have been placed before the rights of the people of Ireland."
Faced with two new governments in Dublin and London, both displaying a renewed commitment to peace the IRA re-instated their 1994 cessation on 21 July 1997.
The IRA statement said: "After 17 months of cessation in which the British Government and the unionists blocked any possibility of real or inclusive negotiations, we reluctantly abandoned the cessation.
"The IRA is committed to ending British rule in Ireland. It is the root cause of divisions and conflict in our country. We want a permanent peace and therefore we are prepared to enhance the search for a democratic peace settlement through real and inclusive negotiations."
Good Friday Agreement
On Thursday 30 April 1998 an IRA statement made clear its annoyance with the fudging of the core issues in the Good Friday Agreement: "Viewed against our Republican objectives or any democratic analysis, this document clearly falls short of presenting a solid basis for a lasting settlement."
The IRA did state that, "the Good Friday document does mark a significant development. But whether or not this heralds a transformation of the situation is dependent totally on the will of the British Government.
"Accordingly, we will carefully monitor the situation. There appears to be yet another attempt to resurrect the decommissioning issue as an obstacle to progress."
On this topic the IRA said that: "This issue, as with any other matter affecting the IRA, its functions and objectives, is a matter only for the IRA, to be decided upon and pronounced upon by us. We are mindful of our responsibilities and of the need for continued vigilance during these challenging times."
In August 1998 the IRA again re-affirmed their April position.
Despite inaugural meetings of the Assembly, and the beginning of prisoner releases there was by the summer of 1999, more than a year after the Good Friday Agreement, still no substantial progress on its comprehensive implementation. An IRA statement on 21 July summed up the level of frustration within that organisation.
The IRA said that: "The argument that the present political process can deliver real and meaningful change has been significantly undermined by the course of events over the past 15 months.
"This culminated in the failure last week to establish the political institutions set out in the Good Friday agreement."
"The agreement has failed to deliver tangible progress and its potential for doing so has substantially diminished in recent months."
The IRA questioned the "credibility and motivation of unionist leaders who signed up to the agreement" saying that, "They have repeatedly reneged on the commitments they made in signing the agreement and successfully blocked the implementation of its institutional aspects" and that: "There is irrefutable evidence that the unionist political leadership remains, at this time, opposed to a democratic peace settlement".
The IRA also said that, "the primary responsibility for the developing political crisis rests squarely with the British Government. They have once again demonstrated a lack of political will to confront the unionist veto."
November 1999 finally a new deal agreed with the British and Dublin Governments that would all start the full implementation of the Agreement.
On 17 November 1999, the IRA responded saying that it was "willing to further enhance the Peace Process and consequently, following the establishment of the institutions agreed on Good Friday last year, the IRA leadership will appoint a representative to enter into discussions with Gen John de Chastelain and the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning."
By the end of November the Ulster Unionist Council had agreed to the new deal but put a February 2000 deadline on decommissioning, which was not in the agreement made between all the parties to start the executive and all-Ireland institutions.
Despite this the IRA still announced in early December that their representatives had met with General de Chastelain.
Faced with a unionist deadline for decommissioning by the end of February and a refusal to recognise the courageous steps taken by the IRA in engaging with the IICD, Northern Secretary Peter Mandelson turned the democratic process on its head by suspending the Assembly and restarting direct rule.
and full implementation of the Good Friday agreement and the government's measures, our arms are silent and secure. There is no threat to the peace process from the IRA."
"In this context, the IRA leadership has agreed to put in place within weeks a confidence-building measure to confirm that our weapons remain secure. The contents of a number of our arms dumps will be inspected by agreed third parties who will report that they have done so to the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. The dumps will be re-inspected regularly to ensure that the weapons have remained silent."
In June 2000 the IRA announces its re-engagement with de Chastlelain and allows inspection of arms dumps, in October 2000 the dumps are inspected again.
On 6 December 2000, the IRA again made clear the context in which arms would be put beyond use. In a statement they said: "The leadership of Oglaigh na hÉireann want to reiterate our commitment to the resolution of the issue of arms and our view that this is a necessary step in a genuine Peace Process.
The statement also said that putting arms beyond use "cannot and will not happen on terms dictated by the British government or the unionists. A British military/securocrat agenda will not work and should have no part in a genuine Peace Process."
The commitments made by the British Government but not yet honoured were: "The implementation of Patten, to progressively take all the necessary steps to demilitarise the situation, to deal with matters relating to human rights, equality and justice, to resolve issues which remain outstanding at this stage in the development of the Peace Process."
"The IRA re-established contact with the IICD and put in place a confidence-building measure which entailed the inspection of a number of our arms dumps by agreed third parties."
The statement also highlighted the IRA's annoyance at "attempts by the leadership of the Ulster Unionists, to set more preconditions on political progress". This they said "has only served to compound the impasse". Adding that: "The IRA has honoured its commitments and will continue to do so."
Talks drag on, as unionists attempt to set yet more preconditions on political progress all enabled by the British Government. In June Blair called Westminster elections which sees Sinn Féin win two new Westminster seats becoming the largest nationalist party in the Six Counties.
In March a third inspection of IRA dumps is carried out. In May and June IRA statements re-affirm their ongoing talks with the IICD and that: "We reiterate our view that the resolution of the issue of arms is a necessary step in a genuine Peace Process."
On 20 June an IRA spokesperson tells journalists that the IRA had honoured its commitments but that the British Government had reneged "on two major points in this agreement, policing and demilitarisation".
On 8 August an IRA statement showed yet again that when an impasse had been reached it was the IRA who showed initiative. The statement said that an "IRA representative has met with the IICD eight times" and, "as a result of these discussions we can confirm that the IRA leadership has agreed a scheme with the IICD which will put IRA arms completely and verifiably beyond use".
The statement also said: "We note the ongoing attempts in some quarters to prevent progress. They should not be permitted to succeed."
Arms beyond use
On 23 October 2001 the IRA moved unilaterally to give impetus to the Peace Process and put arms beyond use. In a move welcomed round the world the IRA said it was committed to "republican objectives and to the establishment of a united Ireland based on justice, equality and freedom".
The context of putting arms beyond use was an important element to the IRA statement in which they said: "In August l994, against a background of lengthy and intensive discussions involving the two governments and others, the leadership of the IRA called a complete cessation of military operations in order to create the dynamic for a Peace Process."
"'Decommissioning' was no part of that. There was no ambiguity about this."
"Unfortunately there are those within the British establishment and the leadership of unionism who are fundamentally opposed to change. At every opportunity they have used the issue of arms as an excuse to undermine and frustrate progress.
"It is for this reason that decommissioning was introduced to the process by the British Government. It has been used since to prevent the changes that a August.
"Our motivation is clear. This unprecedented move is to save the Peace Process and to persuade others of our genuine intentions."
There was slow movement on the many aspects of the Agreement including the issues of, a bill of rights and all Ireland co-operation.
However the IRA took on 8 April 2002 another initiative to put arms beyond use following detailed discussions between the IRA and the IICD.
The IRA said: "This initiative is unilateral at a time when there are those who are not fulfiling their obligations. It could be argued that the IRA should not take such an initiative, but it is precisely because of this that an initiative has been undertaken, so the Peace Process can be stabilised, sustained and strengthened. We fully appreciate the difficulties this causes for republicans, however the IRA is a highly disciplined and committed organisation."
Once again the IRA said: "We remain committed to achieving our republican objectives. However, the securing of a democratic peace settlement is not solely a task for Irish republicans and we are mindful of the primary obligation of the British Government and of the Unionist leadership.
"This process can work if there is the political will to make it succeed, the IRA has once again demonstrated that will."
Despite positive initiatives by the IRA in 2002, Unionist and British lack of commitment to real democracy was being exposed.
Unionists had been threatening to withdraw from the Assembly but Northern Secretary John Reid spared them the need when he unilaterally suspended the institutions.
This left the IRA with no options other than to withdraw from the IICD, a decision they announced in An Phoblacht on 31 October 2002
The statement said that: "Recent events show that the leadership of unionism have set their faces against political change at this time.
"There is also a real threat to the Peace Process from the British establishment and its agencies, as well as the loyalist murder gangs."
The IRA said that their 1997 cessation remains intact, and they remained "committed to the search for a just and lasting peace".
The IRA said that: "We have also outlined how, in our view, the full implementation by the two governments of their commitments could provide a political context with the potential to remove the causes of conflict".
"Despite this, the British Government says that the responsibility for this present crisis and its resolution lies with us and there is an effort to impose unacceptable and untenable ultimatums on the IRA. At the same time the British Government, by its own admission, has not kept its commitments.
"The IRA therefore, has suspended contact with the IICD."
2003, "An opportunity not to be wasted"
On 17 October 2002 Tony Blair in what he described as a significant speech outlined a series of new demands on republicans claiming that we had now reached a "fork in the road".
Despite this provocation and the support of the British Government for an Independent Monitoring Commission which was not part of the Good Friday Agreement, Sinn Féin kept the talks process going.
In April 2003 the IRA published a statement of their position on the talks and the impasse in the Peace Process.
In their statement on 13 April the organisation said that it "committed to supporting every effort to make conflict a thing of the past. To this end the IRA leadership has previously authorised a series of unprecedented initiatives to enhance the search for a lasting peace.
"On occasions these have been undervalued or dismissed. Despite this, we are persisting in our endeavours. The initiatives outlined in this statement involve further substantive and additional contributions by the IRA.
"Both governments — and unionists and republicans alike — have now an opportunity which cannot and should not be wasted."
Despite the actions of the IRA in making clear their public commitments the British Government chose to deliberately fudge the IRA position. At the same time their conditional commitment to democracy was exposed when they postponed the 2003 Assembly Elections which should have been held in May 2003. It was against this background that the IRA released another long statement outlining their commitments and the purpose of the 13 April statement.
The IRA said that its previous statement and the commitments contained in it was "dependent on agreement involving the two governments, the UUP and Sinn Féin".
"With regard to putting arms beyond use our representative met, several times, with the IICD. In order, in particular, to facilitate the UUP and to enhance the process to achieve agreement we made preparations for a quantity of munitions to be put beyond use.
"In the event of agreement we were prepared to act immediately and our preparations were at an advanced stage.
"Regrettably the two governments and the UUP rejected our statement and our initiatives."
With the Peace Process in crisis, Assembly elections cancelled, 2003 could have been a year for a complete collapse in the Peace Process. Sinn Féin kept the pressure on the two governments and the unionists to return to the talks. The IRA remained resolute and disciplined despite the provocation of deliberate misrepresentation and heightened loyalists attacks on nationalist homes.
Throughout the early autumn talks continued and on 21 October it seemed that a new deal had been brokered with the two governments and the UUP.
Third act of putting arms beyond use
Once again the IRA agreed to re-initiate contact with the IICD and agree to a further act of putting arms beyond use. In its statement the IRA said it was committed to resolving the issue of arms: "In line with our stated position, we have authorised our representative to meet with the IICD with a view to proceeding with the implementation of a process to put arms beyond use at the earliest opportunity.
"We have also authorised a further act of putting arms beyond use. This will be verified under the agreed scheme."
The IRA act of putting arms beyond use was done, the British Government set a date for the delayed Assembly elections, but the UUP backtracked at the last minute and refused to sign up to the new agreement.
In a November statement the IRA responded to the UUP duplicity:
"After protracted and detailed discussions, the leadership of the IRA recently made decisions to take initiatives with the objective of facilitating political progress.
"These decisions were made after the UUP and the two governments had agreed to make their contributions as part of an agreed sequence. We had sight of their stated positions and they had sight of ours.
"Our initiatives, in line with our stated position, related to our commitment to resolve the issue of arms and our view of remarks made by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams. It was part of an agreement and an agreed sequence which involved:
o The announcement of an election
o A statement by Gerry Adams
o A statement from the IRA leadership
o An act of putting arms beyond use
o A report by the IICD
o A statement by David Trimble
o A joint statement by the two governments
As part of this we:
o Met with the IICD with a view to implementing a process to put arms beyond use at the earliest opportunity
o We, in line with that, carried out a further act of putting arms beyond use under the agreed scheme. This involved the largest amount of arms to date
"The political process these initiatives were designed to facilitate has been halted without a credible explanation from those who stopped it.
"The leadership of the IRA honoured our commitments. Others have not fulfiled theirs. This is totally unacceptable. "When we give our word we keep it. We expect others to do the same. Until they do so there can be little prospect of progress on the issues they profess concern about."
2004, "We will not submit to a process of humiliation"
September 2004 saw talks in Leeds Castle and yet another initiative from the IRA. This time however it was the DUP and UUP representing unionism for the first time ever at all party talks. An Agreement was reached but the DUP like the UUP a year earlier pulled away at the last moment, fulfiling republicans fears that they had only engaged in talks as method of buying time before the 2005 Westminster elections.
Again there were breaches of protocol with leaks of alleged positions of the IRA on the talks. Below we print in full the IRA position and commitments as of 9 December 2004 which have not changed since.
It is clear from this statement that the IRA was prepared to move in an unprecedented way to liberate the Peace Process and in a way that deals with the genuine concerns of all reasonable people.
The IRA statement said:
"More than ten years ago, an IRA cessation publicly heralded the onset of the Irish Peace Process. Since then, the IRA has, time and again, demonstrated its commitment to sustaining and developing that process through a series of very significant and substantive initiatives.
In the context of the work to conclude a comprehensive agreement, the leadership of Óglaigh na hÉireann decided:
o to support a comprehensive agreement by moving into a new mode which reflects our determination to see the transition to a totally peaceful society;
o all IRA Volunteers be given specific instructions not to engage in any activity which might thereby endanger that new agreement;
o the IRA leadership also decided that we will, in this context, conclude the process to completely and verifiably put all our arms beyond use;
o we instructed our representative to agree with the IICD the completion of this process, speedily, and if possible by the end of December;
o to further enhance public confidence we agreed to the presence of two clergymen as observers during this process.
"The IRA leadership decided to contribute in this way to a comprehensive agreement to resolve all outstanding issues, including those of concern within unionism. For his part, Ian Paisley demanded that our contribution be photographed, and reduced to an act of humiliation.
"This was never possible. Knowing this, he made this demand publicly as the excuse for his rejection of an overall agreement to create a political context with the potential to remove the causes of conflict. As the IRA leadership has said before, this is a context in which Irish republicans and unionists can, as equals, pursue our respective political objectives peacefully.
"We restate our commitment to the Peace Process. But we will not submit to a process of humiliation.
"We commend our Volunteers and the wider republican base for their patience and discipline in these testing times. Our commitment, like theirs, to our republican objectives is undiminished.
"We thank those who have made genuine contributions to the efforts to find solutions to ongoing problems. While acknowledging these efforts, we reiterate our view that progress cannot be made by pandering to the demands of those who are against change.
"The search for a just and lasting peace is a challenging one. The IRA leadership has risen to that challenge. The British Government and the leaders of unionism must do likewise."
Irish Republican Publicity Bureau,
An Phoblacht Magazine
AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:
- Don't miss your chance to get the second edition of the 2019 magazine, published to coincide with Easter Week
- This special edition which focuses on Irish Unity, features articles by Pearse Doherty, Dr Thomas Paul and Martina Anderson.
- Pearse sets out the argument for an United Ireland Economy whilst Pat Sheehan makes the case for a universally free all-island health service.
- Other articles include, ‘Ceist teanga in Éirinn Aontaithe’, ‘Getting to a new Ireland’ and ‘Ireland 1918-22: The people’s revolution’.