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25 October 2001 Edition

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Seize the Time

IRA liberates peace process

The IRA this week made a courageous and momentous move "to save the peace process and to persuade others of our genuine intentions" by putting arms beyond use.

The leadership of Óglaigh na hÉireann took this decision, like its decision to call a cessation in 1994 and all its other initiatives throughout the Irish Peace Process, from a position of strength.

As its statement avows, the undefeated People's Army has now put it up to "those within the British establishment and the leadership of unionism who are fundamentally opposed to change".

There are many republicans who have genuine and deep-seated worries. These concerns are valid, especially given the previous failures on the part of the British government and the unionists to stand by commitments made.

But only the IRA was brave enough to act decisively to save the process and the new future it promises.

That future will be a united Ireland. Republicans will see to that. The road to liberation is mapped out. It is a road the IRA is confident to take.

The British government and Tony Blair must now play their part and finally live up to the commitments made in the Good Friday Agreement back in 1998.

The future for this island is too important to be left to political parties. It is up to each of us to play our part in the struggle, now as much as at any point during the last 30 years.

This is a time for republicans to remember what we have achieved, to be acutely aware that there is no going backwards, and to use our ever-increasing political strength to bring about Irish unity.

Historic week in peace process


On Monday Evening, republican activists gathered in Conway Mill, off the Falls Road in West Belfast, to hear what would later be rightly described, however clichéd the phraseology, as an historic speech from Gerry Adams.

The Sinn Féin leader stated that he and Martin McGuinness had held discussions with the IRA: "...and we have put to the IRA the view that if it could make a ground-breaking move on the arms issue that this could save the peace process from collapse and transform the situation".

Republicans in Ireland and elsewhere would have to "strategically think this issue through", he advised. "I would appeal to republicans to stay united. I would particularly appeal to IRA Volunteers and their families, and to the IRA support base, to stay together in comradeship. This is the time for commitment to the republican cause. It is a time for clear heads and brave hearts."

It was also time for the British government to build on "the dynamic created by [the IRA initiative]," he warned. "The British political leadership has to show by deeds, not just words, that they also want to take the gun out of Irish politics and they accept the imperative of politics and the imperative of peace making."

Martin McGuinness, speaking on the same day in New York to US republicans, used language that was almost identical to Adams in describing the current state of affairs. He said, in a room above Rosie O'Grady's Saloon on 52nd Street and Broadway, that US and international support was vital if what he termed a "new and transformed situation" was to succeed in implementing the Good Friday Agreement. It was necessary that "the rejectionists and opponents of peace, unionist, republican and the British establishment, are faced down".

The following day, Tuesday, at 5pm, the IRA issued a statement. In it, the Army said that it had decided to implement the scheme, on putting arms "completely and verifiably" beyond use, that it had agreed with the IIICD in August.

The IRA statement emphasised that demands for republican decommissioning had been used by the British government and unionism to frustrate progress and that the difficulties faced by the IRA leadership should not be underestimated.

"Our motivation is clear. This unprecedented move is to save the peace process and to persuade others of our genuine intentions."

At 8pm that evening, the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning issued a report to the British and Dublin governments. It said that it had witnessed an event, which it regarded as "significant", in which the IRA had put a quantity of arms "completely beyond use". The material in question included arms, ammunition and explosives, it said. While the IICD said that it "would not further the process of putting arms beyond use were we to provide further details of this event", it did specify that the actions carried out by the IRA were in accordance with the scheme and regulations agreed in August.

On Wednesday, the British government released a statement from Downing Street in which it proposed to dismantle four 'military installations' in the Six Counties. The chosen installations are in South Armagh, Magherafelt and Newtownhamilton. They will be dismantled, the statement said, "as quickly as is logistically possible". The dismantling was agreed as part of the Weston Park Summit earlier this year. The statement also said that the British government would conduct a review of its Policing Bill, with a view to bringing it more in line with the Patten Proposals. It also spoke of a "continuing threat from dissident republicans".

IRA Statement

The following is the full text of the IRA statement issued on Tuesday, 23 October.

"The IRA is committed to our republican objectives, and to the establishment of a united Ireland based on justice, equality and freedom.

In August 1994, 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 was for this reason that decommissioning was introduced to the process by the British government. It has been used since to prevent the changes which a lasting peace requires.

In order to overcome this and to encourage the changes necessary for a lasting peace the leadership of Óglaigh na hÉireann has taken a number of substantial initiatives.

These include our engagement with the IICD and the inspection of a number of arms dumps by the two International Inspectors, Cyril Ramaphosa and Martii Ahtisaari.

No one should doubt the difficulties these initiatives cause for us, our Volunteers and our support base.

The political process is now on the point of collapse. Such a collapse would certainly and eventually put the overall peace process in jeopardy. There is a responsibility upon everyone seriously committed to a just peace to do our best to avoid this.

Therefore in order to save the peace process we have implemented the scheme agreed with the IICD in August.

Our motivation is clear. This unprecedented move is to save the peace process and to persuade others of our genuine intentions."

P O'Neill


IICD Statement

The following is the text of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning's report to Secretary of State John Reid and 26-County Minister for Justice John O'Donoghue on Tuesday, 23 October.

"1. On 6 August 2001, the Commission reported that agreement had been reached with the IRA on a method to put IRA arms completely and verifiably beyond use. This would be done in such a way as to involve no risk to the public and avoid the possibility of misappropriation by others.

2. We have now witnessed an event - which we regard as significant - in which the IRA has put a quantity of arms completely beyond use. The material in question includes arms, ammunition and explosives.

3. We are satisfied that the arms in question have been dealt with in accorance with the scheme and regulations. We are also satisfied that it would not further the process of putting all arms beyond use were we to provide further details of this event.

4. We will continue our contact with the IRA representative in the pursuit of our mandate.

Signed: Tauno Nieminen, John de Chastelain and Andrew D Sens.


Two days that shook the republican world


At 5pm on Tuesday past I heard the dramatic news I never thought I would hear and I didn't want to hear but for which I had been arguing for inside Sinn Féin for some time. The newsreader announced that the IRA had put arms beyond use. From 5pm until 6pm, when my brother Damien rang to 'see if I was alright', my mind was preoccupied with those comrades of mine who lost their lives in the struggle for freedom and their families.

I thought of Joey Fitsimmons, a 17-year-old youth yet an IRA explosives expert, of Eddie McDonnell, who sang beautifully 'Mary of Dungloe', of Martin Englen, who produced cars out of thin air for IRA missions, of Jackie Mc Mahon, 18 years old, who loved wearing bright flashy shirts to impress the girls. They were in the IRA and died in Andersons Street in the Short Strand in the early hours of the morning in May 1972 in a premature explosion. Four other people died with them, in a two-up two-down house. Their mission was to protect a small Catholic population being attacked by loyalists at Willowfield on the Wood Stock Road close by.

Some months before, on a cold February afternoon on the Castlereagh dual carriageway, a car disintegrated. Inside, dead, was Gerard Bell, whose dander took up the whole of Seaforde Street when he walked along it; Rab Dorrian, whose infant son was run over and killed yards away from his door by a British Army Saracen (he left a wife, Betty and other children behind him); Joe Magee who stepped into that operation at the last minute because another IRA Volunteer couldn't make it (he too left behind a wife, Mina and children); Gerard Steenson also lost his young life that day. Mina was to lose her brother Francis some years later in an IRA operation that went wrong. It also claimed the lives of Joey Surgeoner and Paul Marlowe. Joey and Francis were in the Short Strand IRA.

The smiling face of another comrade, Brendan O'Callaghan, entered my mind. The British Army shot him dead in 1976, one of the first 'shoot to kill' operations. He was armed and on his way to deal with a British Army agent, a Catholic, who had been bombing Catholic homes and bars. The agent was in the Hunting Lodge bar. Brendan was shot dead in the car park. He left behind a wife, Ameila, and two sons. Before his death Brendan with others smuggled guns into the Six Counties. I wondered were any of these guns 'put beyond use'. I also thought of the republicans captured on the Eksund, the Marita Ann, and the Claudia.

When the IRA called their first cessation in August 1994 I sought refuge and strength from the republican plot in Milltown cemetery. On Tuesday I sought emotional comfort from those IRA martyrs I knew and worked with in my early years. And I know many other republicans, in dealing with this massive move by the IRA, will do the same.

The IRA blood in my veins told my heart that the IRA did not need to do what they did; that the British government and David Trimble were not worthy of such a huge move from the IRA; that they were not entitled to it because they had failed the test of the peace process.

But my head told me something entirely different. My head told me the IRA was right; that no matter how difficult it was for republicans, and it is more difficult than the IRA's ceasefire of 1994, the IRA had to save the peace process and only they were brave enough to do it.

In saving the peace process, the IRA would also save the Good Friday Agreement and the new future it promised for us all but particularly for the next generation. I thought of Maibh Tres, my mate's newly born child, and said to myself it was also done for her so that she could grow up in an Ireland free from the oppression that her grandparents and parents experienced.

The IRA's decision when it came took me by surprise by its speed.

The previous day at 3.30pm I gathered with other republicans from across the Six Counties in the Conway Mill to be 'briefed' on a speech that Gerry Adams was to make at 5pm. We all knew that something 'big' was about to happen.

We could detect it in the normally unflappable Mitchel Mc Laughlin's slightly nervous voice as he outlined the state of play. The IRA had received a report from Gerry Adams and Martin Mc Guinness in which they had said a 'groundbreaking' move by them could save the peace process.

We knew that the IRA would respond positively to Gerry and Martin.

This was a mould-breaking day, a day when Gerry Adams would make one of the most important speeches in his life.

I looked around the audience, a section of the people he had led from the front for his entire life. Beside me was Paul Butler, now a Sinn Féin councillor. From the age of 17, he spent 15 years in gaol, five of them 'on the blanket'. Beside him was Liam Shannon, ex-internee and one of eleven republicans selected by the RUC for specialised torture in August 1971.

To my right sat Paul Kavanagh, a lifer from numerous gaols in England, sitting beside his partner, Martina Anderson, also a former lifer and now a key figure at the Assembly. Dara O'Hagan, Assembly member, and daughter of the legendary late 'JB' and a close friend of the murdered solicitor Rosemary Nelson, flanked Joe Cahill, about whom nothing needs to be said. Michelle Gildernew, MP for Fermanagh/South Tyrone, fresh from a victorious court challenge to her seat was close by West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty.

Ex-internee, ex-blanketman, H-Block escapee and occupant of many prisons in England, Gerry Mc Donald waited patiently. As did Evelyn Glenhomes, republican credentials impeccable, and her father Dicky, ex-internee who also did time in England. Dessie Mackin, a survivor of an SAS murder bid, mingled as did Councillor Tom Hartley, Sinn Féin's first PRO in 1973.

Many others were there; PJ and Maria Carraher, whose son Fergal was killed by the Marines; Seamie Finucane, schoolboy internee and ex-blanket man whose lost two brothers in the conflict, John and Pat. Dodie McGuinness, who was out on Bloody Sunday and has stayed out, was at the front. Francie Molloy, Assembly member, and his son Councillor Oliver, sat in the middle row. Maureen Toland was there; her husband Tommy lost his life in the conflict, as did Margaret Adams's brother in law. Ex-prisoner Councillor Chrissie McCauley, partner, advisor and confidante of the irrepressible Richard, Gerry Adams's wordsmith, who himself stood behind the podium. Seanna Walsh, personal friend of Bobby Sands, who spent 23 years in gaol, looked on. Alex Maskey, Assembly member, a survivor of a loyalist murder bid whose friend Alan Lundy was killed by loyalists in Alex's living room, chatted with others.

There were many others from across the Six Counties. In this room were the men and women who fought the British crown forces; who absorbed the worst they and their loyalist allies could inflict and yet continued the struggle for freedom. In his speech, Gerry Adams rightly described them as ' the heartbeat of the struggle for justice and freedom'.

Ireland's freedom struggle is not for the faint hearted. Tested in the cauldron of struggle. This group were being tested in the cauldron of making peace and not for the first time.

Those who spoke at the meeting were not happy. They thought that republicans were being stretched, that Trimble was getting his way, that the IRA had done enough, that republicans should not be responding to pressure.

But their leader would tell them 'A leap of liberation is required'. The following day the IRA provided that leap. In doing so they saved the peace process.

Our world might be shaken but we now have to ensure that the republican struggle is strengthened as a result.



Looking to the Future

The following is the full text of the historic speech delivered by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams to a meeting of party activists in Belfast's Conway Mill on Monday, 22 October. He said that he and Martin McGuinness had held discussions with the IRA and had put to the Army the view that a groundbreaking move on the arms issue could save the peace process from collapse and transform the situation.

It is in many ways appropriate that I am making these remarks today in Conway Mill.

As many of you will know, the network of homes which used to nestle in the shadow of this mill bore the brunt of an RUC and B Special-led pogrom in 1969 against Catholics across this city - from Ardoyne in the north, through West Belfast, to the Short Strand in the east of the city.

Entire streets here in West Belfast and in North Belfast were burned to the ground, 7 people were killed and thousands of families fled the unionist mobs in what was, at that time, the biggest forced movement of civilians in Western Europe since the end of last world war.


A lot has happened since then.

In that time and indeed throughout the history of Ireland, there have been many defining moments. Sometimes these have been swamped and lost, not least in the last forty years because of the violent legacy of partition. But in the last decade or so the peace process has brought the people of this island to a series of crossroads.

These have uniquely offered up a choice, an opportunity to move forward to a better future, to stay stuck in the present or to slip back into the past.

The current crisis in the peace process has for many been a source of great frustration, annoyance and anger.

Martin McGuinness and I have held discussions with the IRA and we have put to the IRA the view that if it could make a groundbreaking move on the arms issue that this could save the peace process from collapse and transform the situation
Nationalists and republicans see the potential of the peace process being frittered away by a British government not honouring its commitments, and a unionist leadership obstructing the fundamental change that is required.

Unionists tell us that they are prepared to share power with nationalists and republicans. They argue that they see the issue of IRA arms as crucial to this. For this reason David Trimble says he has triggered this latest crisis.

The British government's suspension of the institutions, its remilitarisation of many republican communities, its emasculation of the policing issue, and the premature movement by others towards this inadequate position, along with the loyalist campaigns have all created difficulties which are coming to a head.

From this clash of positions and perceptions has emerged a threat to the peace process that risks undoing the advances of the last decade.

This must not be allowed to succeed.

Our aim is to Save the Good Friday Agreement

Sinn Féin's commitment to the process is absolute. The initiatives we have taken, the initiatives we have encouraged others to take, including the IRA, have contributed decisively to the peace process.

Our focus in recent times has been on seeking a resolution to this crisis.

Our aim has been to save the Good Friday Agreement.

As you are all aware, your party leadership has been involved in intense negotiations with the Irish and British governments and with the leadership of the UUP.

I recently travelled to South Africa and spoke to former President Nelson Mandela and later to the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki and others, about this crisis. I have spoken to President Mbeki again today.

Martin McGuinness has also been in discussions with President Bush's Special Ambassador Richard Haas. Martin is today in the USA in dialogue with political representatives there and with Irish America.

From South Africa to North America there are commitments and promises to support our efforts. I welcome these commitments. Sinn Fein have worked hard to secure them but while we recognise that international goodwill is crucial, on its own it is no substitute for good will and good faith efforts here at home.

Creating a New Context

So our approach has been to create a context in which politics work, in which institutions are stable, inclusive and sustained, and in which the process towards equality and justice is underpinned.

In our view it is not only possible but imperative that everyone committed to a new future play their part fully in bringing about the achievement of a lasting peace in Ireland.

The Sinn Féin leadership has been seeking to create a context in which all of the key players in this crisis can share in the effort to end it, and share in the effort to build trust and confidence.

If all the pro-Agreement parties genuinely have a vision of a peaceful future built on justice, equality and a respect for our diversity, then we must look to each other to find ways of realising that vision.

Republicans and nationalists want to be convinced that unionism is facing up to its responsibilities.

Most fair minded people on this island want to believe that a British government is prepared to usher in a new dispensation based on equality.


But Sinn Féin is not naïve. Our strategy is determined by objective realities. It is guided among other things by the fact that the democratic rights and entitlements of nationalists and republicans cannot be conditional. These rights are universal rights. They effect all citizens.

In the Good Friday Agreement matters such as policing, the political institutions, demilitarisation, human rights, the justice system and the equality agenda are stand alone issues. These are issues to be resolved in their own right.

The Army has repeatedly demonstrated leadership and patience and vision and I respect absolutely its right to make its own decision on this issue
We have put this to all of those we have been in negotiation with.

It is clear to the Sinn Féin leadership that the issue of IRA weapons has been used as an excuse to undermine the peace process as well as the Good Friday Agreement.

But at the same time I do not underestimate the emotiveness and confusions which arise at different phases in struggle and in particular the effects of media and propaganda spins. This is particularly so on the weapons issue.

Many republicans are angry at the unrelenting focus on silent IRA weapons. This is in marked contrast to the attitude to loyalist weapons and bombs in daily use, and the remilitarisation by the British Army of republican heartlands in the north.

The issue of all arms must be resolved. But not just IRA weapons - British weapons as well.

This is a necessary part of any conflict resolution process.

Talking to the IRA

Martin McGuinness and I have also held discussions with the IRA and we have put to the IRA the view that if it could make a groundbreaking move on the arms issue that this could save the peace process from collapse and transform the situation.

However, I do not underestimate the difficulties this involves for the Army. Genuine republicans will have concerns about such a move. It is to them that I address this section of my remarks.

The naysayers, the armchair generals and the begrudgers, and the enemies of Irish republicanism and of the peace process, will present a positive IRA move in disparaging terms. That is only to be expected.

Others will say that the IRA has acted under pressure. But everyone else knows that the IRA is not an organisation that bows to pressure or which moves on British or unionist terms. IRA volunteers have a view of themselves and a vision of the Ireland they want to be part of. This is what will shape their attitude to this issue.

Republicans in Ireland and elsewhere will have to strategically think this issue through.

We have all been part of something very powerful. Each of us have struggled in difficult and hard times.

We are now in a good but challenging period for Irish republicanism. We have made significant advances this year. There is a continued need for all of us to stay connected and to keep fulfilling our roles. Our focus is on building the peace. Everyone of us have a role in that daunting task. We have to ensure that we have done our utmost to prevent the situation from slipping back into conflict.

Our activists have been the heart beat of the struggle for justice and freedom. It is the sum total of all our efforts that drives this process forward, that advances our struggle, and which builds the political strength to achieve our goals.

In my view the IRA is genuinely committed to building a peace process in which the objectives of Irish republicanism can be argued and advanced.

The Army has repeatedly demonstrated leadership and patience and vision and I respect absolutely its right to make its own decision on this issue.

I would appeal to republicans to stay united. I would particularly appeal to IRA Volunteers and their families, and to the IRA support base, to stay together in comradeship. This is the time for commitment to the republican cause. It is a time for clear heads and brave hearts.

The IRA must stand out as an example of a people's army, in touch with the people, responsive to their needs and enjoying their genuine allegiance and support.

Responding with generosity and vision

But building a genuine process of change is not only the responsibility of republicans. A positive IRA move must be responded to with generosity and vision. The Church of Ireland Archbishop Robin Eames made this point in a recent helpful intervention. Generosity and vision on all sides can turn

these current difficulties around and transform a crisis riven process into an organic and a people centred movement towards a democratic peace settlement.

None of this will be easy. Those of us who want the most change, who seek the transformation of society, are called upon to stretch ourselves again and again. Those who are against change or for minimum movement see no reason to embrace the current process. But unionism has to come to terms with the new realities and progressive leaders must embrace and be part of the new dispensation.

I have no intention of lecturing unionists on their responsibilities. Our collective responsibility at this time is to settle our differences and I appeal to the leaders of unionism to join with us in doing that so that all sections of our people can go forward on the basis of equality. I firmly believe that republicans have to listen and learn about how unionism views its relationship with the rest of the people of this island. I reiterate our commitment as Irish republicans to uphold the rights and entitlements of all citizens to civil and religious liberties.

Sinn Féin's strategy commits and compels us to be part of the effort to establish a fair and just society for all the people of this island. Our effort is to replace conflict and strife with genuine partnership and equality.

Irish republicans hold that the British connection is the source of all our political ills. The British government has inflicted and continues to sustain historic wrongs upon the people of this island and even today there are elements within the British establishment which are against the peace process. There are elements which against the changes that are necessary if new relationships are to be built within Ireland and between Ireland and Britain.

This is the time for commitment to the republican cause. It is a time for clear heads and brave hearts. The IRA must stand out as an example of a people's army, in touch with the people, responsive to their needs and enjoying their genuine allegiance and support
There is a responsibility upon the British Prime Minister to right the wrongs and to be part of building a new future. In fairness to Mr Blair, he has spent a great deal of time on the issue of Ireland but in my view this British government has been too tactical in its approach. It has pandered too much to conservative elements within its own system and here in the north. It has not driven the process with the vigour and assertiveness that is required.

The Good Friday Agreement is after all an agreement that the British government is part of.

The implementation of that Agreement is not secondary to the issue of IRA weapons.

It has been the consistent view of Sinn Fein that the arms question can be resolved as part of a collective move forward in which the issue of weapons is completely removed as a precondition for progress on all the other issues.

This how is the Good Friday Agreement deals with this matter. If the political process had developed as the Agreement demands much more progress would have been achieved on the arms issue and the peace process would have been consolidated by now.

So if the IRA takes yet another initiative on the arms issue, then the British government needs to build upon the dynamic created by that. The British political leadership has to show by deeds, not just words, that they also want to take the gun out of Irish politics and that they accept the imperative of politics and the imperative of peace making.

The Irish government too is a party to the Good Friday Agreement, and it has a particular mandate and a responsibility to promote and defend Irish national and democratic interests, and to uphold the rights of all citizens and the sovereignty of the nation. These fundamental positions are above and beyond party politics.

My appeal therefore at this crucial time, at this defining moment, is to all of the pro-Agreement parties and the two governments to work together to ensure that we put crisis politics behind us. It will not be easy but this it what has to be done.

It would be easier for all of us to dwell on the past but it is also futile. It is harder and more difficult to build a new future. But that is what we are collectively mandated to do.

We are in a time when world events are dominated by imagery and stories of conflict and violence and terror. At this time these events are replicated locally in provocative and deadly sectarian actions, both in the intimidation of little school girls and in bomb and gun attacks on nationalist families.

This then is the time for all of us do everything in our power to make our peace process a success, for the benefit of all our own people, for a decent and just and democratic future and as a beacon of hope for people everywhere.


Positive reaction to IRA initiative


Reaction to the IRA's statement on Tuesday night was overwhelmingly positive, most notably in terms of the response from UUP leader David Trimble.

It had been widely anticipated that a begrudging or negative response from Trimble and the UUP leadership would be disastrous for the peace process. However, Trimble's response and that of the UUP has, thus far, been positive.

"This is the day we were told would never happen. This is the day we were told we would never see," Trimble said.

"This is clear evidence that we have been looking for of republican commitment to the full implementation of the agreement and it will re-establish public confidence that our problems can be solved by political dialogue and working inclusively in the institutions."

Also, significantly, Trimble weighed in behind the de Chastelain Commission and said that it was up to it to deal with the resolution of the arms issue. At a meeting of the Ulster Unionist Party Executive, which will be convened in the coming days, he will now recommend that the party reengage its ministers in the Six-County Executive.

The British and Dublin governments, the US State Department and the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, and political parties throughout Ireland also welcomed the move.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the IRA decision represented a moment of "fundamental significance" in the peace process. His call for a "real process of normalisation", in republican areas marked by "intrusive security", was echoed in the speech made by British Secretary of State John Reid in Westmister on Wednesday.

Blair said that what had been achieved could be assessed by "comparing it with what people would have thought was in any way or shape possible ten years ago".

"It is worth it, one, when you can actually make progress and, two, when we see what the alternative is - and I think we only need to look across to the Middle East and see what the alternative is when the peace process breaks down."

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said that the IRA move gave the Executive and Cross-border Bodies a "new lease of life", allowing "matters to move forward in an unhindered way".

Ahern, however, responding to a question from Fine Gael leader Michael Noonan, made a further demand:

"I hope the stated position of the stated position of the republican leadership - that they will move to a position where there will be no army, there will be no structures, that there will be no paramilitary activities - that is one we will have to continue to work for."

Noonan himself called for a 'standing down' of the IRA. It appears the next round of preconditions may already have begun.

Labour Party leader Ruairi Quinn was more positive, and said that "all parties must act in a positive manner and show good faith".

Dublin Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brian Cowen, said that the move created the conditions for a new "template of trust" and confidence between both traditions in Ireland. Political leaders, in turn, he said, would have to be "responsive and generous. It is imperative that politics is made to work and that the nightmarish scenes, such as those from North Belfast, are consigned forever to the pages of history."

26-County President, Mary McAleese, currently on a visit to Uganda, said the IRA initiative was "deeply encouraging".

"I think all the 'Yes' people will be thinking very much like me - very, very hopeful that we are actually watching something that is truly historic, that is going to be the key to unlocking the fullest potential of the peace process."

SDLP leader-elect Mark Durkan said the IRA statement "should be well received within the community and the political process, as a significant contribution to public confidence in the implementation of the Agreement".

"Welcome news to all peace-loving peoples" is how the National Committee on American Foreign Policy (NCAFP) described the move. However, it also urged "that other paramiltary groups take immediate steps to commence the decommissioning process, in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement". Political "manouvering designed to undermine the institutions" should cease, the NCAFP said, and Britain must produce a "comprehensive plan for the demilitarisation of the North of Ireland". The New York based body also urged for implementation of the Patten proposals.

Loyalists and anti-Agreement unionism in general were less positive in their response. PUP Assembly Member Billy Hutchinson, said that "for loyalists to reciprocate in terms of giving up weapons, they would be doing it: firstly, to satisfy Irish America who they don't agree with in the first place, and secondly to actually ensure that two Sinn Féin ministers stay in government, which again they don't agree with".

The DUP, predictably, said that the Army move "does not even scratch the surface of the arms issue".


Adams commends IRA's "liberating step"


Just hours after the IRA's historic announcement, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams was in Westminster Central Hall in London to present a lecture commemorating the 1981 Hunger Strike.

"Today there was a statement from IRA," Adams told the audience. "A few months ago, there was a statement from the IRA and the IICD. The response from unionists was to reject it and the response from the British government was not much better. The result was to move away from the scheme which the IRA proposed.

"The hunger strike could have been sorted out if politics had been made to work, the 3,000 people who have been killed might never have had to die if politics had been made to work.

"In my view, what the IRA has done today is courageous. It is going to be hugely difficult for many republicans to come to terms with. This whole question of arms is an emotional one. But this is a liberating step by the IRA, provided that others see it as that. Provided that, unlike the hunger strikes, the system doesn't see it as anything other than what it is. Provided that the British prime minister accepts his responsibility to uphold the primacy of politics. Provided that unionists build upon the potential which has been offered.

"When I think about what has happened today, I hope that in a decade's time there isn't someone like me talking about how this step was mishandled, how it wasn't seized upon, how it was misconstrued and misrepresented as something other than what it is - which is republicans trying to save the peace process."

Adams was joined on the platform by veteran campaigner and former Labour MP Tony Benn. Introducing the lecture was Jennifer McCann, a former POW who served ten years in Amagh prison, taking part in the blanket protest. In the packed hall were several British members of Parliament and representatives from, amongst others, Cuba and Palestine.

Tony Benn told the audience that it was an "enormous honour to be here on what is an historic day; the beginning of the demilitarisation of the Six Counties. To be on the platform with Gerry Adams, a great patriot, a great statesman, someone whose contribution will always be remembered, makes this a special honour".

"What I believe has happened over the last 24 hours is that we have taken a giant step towards the original Good Friday Agreement and that must necessarily mean also the full implementation of the Patten Report in order to see that the policing of the Six Counties is something which can command the support of all communities."

Before he began his lecture, Gerry Adams presented Tony Benn with a plaque, which included Bobby Sands' famous line that "our revenge will be the laughter of our children" to thank him for his support of the cause of Irish freedom over the years. He commented that if successive British governments had listened to the advice of people like Tony Benn to talk to republicans, the peace process may not have taken so long.


ANC welcomes "strategic compromise"

The African National Congress has commended the IRA on its decision to put weapons beyond use and expressed its support for Sinn Féin's efforts to secure the full implementation of theb Good Friday Agreement

ANC Secretary General Kgalema Motlanthe said:"As the ANC we are acutely aware of the sensitivities surrounding a move of this nature. We are also aware of the obligation which each progressive liberation movement has to make strategic compromises to propel forward the the search for peace and the achievement of liberation. In this regard, the ANC, with the goodwill of the South African people, encourages Sinn Féin to work towards the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the achievement of lasting peace for all the people of Ireland."


Ó Caoláin commends IRA decision

Sinn Féin Cavan/Monaghan TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has welcomed the initiative of the IRA. He said:

"Not for the first time the Irish Republican Army has taken a very courageous and historic initiative to save the Irish peace process. I welcome this development and commend the IRA leadership and its rank and file Volunteers for their bravery and genuine commitment to the achievement of justice and lasting peace in our country.

"It must be remembered that the IRA is not a party to the Good Friday Agreement. Long before today's developments Sinn Féin had fully complied with the requirements of the Agreement with regard to decommissioning. The IRA repeatedly stretched itself in order to facilitate progress in the peace process. Once more the IRA has responded positively and has taken this extremely difficult decision.

"This development will cause difficulties for many sincere republicans. I share their concerns. In recent weeks and months we have seen many in the political and media establishment in Ireland and Britain attempting to place the responsibility for the impasse in the peace process and, by extension for years of conflict, on the IRA. Republicans utterly reject that view.

"Political nay-sayers and their media fellow travellers focused on the silent weapons of the IRA while the loyalist pipe bomb campaign intensified, while schoolchildren were terrorised in North Belfast and while British militarisation of the Six Counties continued. In spite of all this, republicans have shown themselves once more to be the driving force of this peace process.

"The British government, the unionists and the Irish government must respond comprehensively and without delay. The Good Friday Agreement must be implemented in full. We must move forward towards real and fundamental change that will serve the real interests of all who share this island."


An Phoblacht
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