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29 June 2006 Edition

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Mitchel McLaughlin Column

Opportunity Knocks

As the first anniversary of the IRA putting its arms beyond use and announcing an end to its armed campaign approaches, both governments and all parties should reflect on how they have utilised that historic opportunity. Everyone should examine their comments, statements and reactions and ask if these have contributed positively.

Whatever one's attitude to the IRA campaign it cannot be denied that the IRA announcement on 28 July 2005 was a most significant contribution to embedding the search for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

I do not believe for one minute that it was an easy decision for the IRA. I'm sure it created great difficulties for the rank and file but the organisation decided that it needed to show leadership.

I do not expect the political opponents of republicans to jump in the air in praise of this decision. I do expect that the parties and especially the two governments would grasp the opportunity to demonstrate that politics is capable of delivering the change that the people of this island voted for. I don't expect others to give republicans credit for the initiative but at least they should be capable of capitalising on the opportunity provided.

All parties in Ireland and Britain, with the exception of the DUP, profess to be committed to the full implementation of the Agreement, including its all-Ireland composition. Political courage is required to move into the space that has been provided and using it to maximise political progress. Political leaders must take risks to consolidate the progress made so far and to drive the process forward. Perhaps there are political leaders who believe that they are doing their best and the electorate will ultimately adjudicate on their contribution. But there is no doubt that others are willing to sacrifice progress for short-term political point scoring. These leaders will eventually have to explain to their electorate their lack of ability to put the greater good above party political posturing.

The IRA decision of last summer created an unprecedented opportunity to resolve conflict and for all of us to move to a peaceful future. But that opportunity will only be turned into a reality if politicians do the job that they were elected to do.

If they fail or refuse to be part of this work it is imperative that the governments demonstrate their determination to move forward with all other elements of the Agreement including an accelerated all-Ireland dimension minus the Assembly.

What the IRA initiative last July provided was an opportunity for the pro-Agreement parties, including the two governments, to show the DUP that it cannot have a veto over the democratic majority of the people of Ireland.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1