(by Ruth Dudley Edwards, Daily Mail)
I wouldnt believe Gerry Adams if he told me he had a beard, but I agree with him that it is an historic development that the IRA have begun decommissioning. And though I am nervous about what concessions are likely to have been extracted as a quid pro quo, I think we should now be cautiously optimistic about the peace process.October 25, 2001
A few years ago, it would have been unthinkable to most republicans that weapons would ever be disposed of. They believed the IRA were the guardians of the very soul of Ireland and that until a United Ireland was achieved it must always stay intact - poised and ready for the next stage of what they like to call the struggle.
Already, there are howls from dissident republican circles that Adams and Martin McGuinness are traitors who have sold out a glorious tradition for base, unprincipled reasons. That is unfair: Adams and McGuinness have not gone soft. They are still in ruthless pursuit of a United Ireland and they want to be in charge of it, but they are realists who are more concerned with winning than with republican theology. They started out using the bomb and the bullet exclusively, they progressed to adopting the concept of the ballot box and the Armalite and then, for political gain, they put the IRA on ceasefire. Yes, the IRA, like its loyalist equivalents, still kill, torture and intimidate members of their own community, but they did stop killing members of the security forces. That imperfect peace brought immense political rewards two ministers in the government of Northern Ireland, all their prisoners released and a string of concessions big and small.
The republican leadership knew that decommissioning was a vital part of the Good Friday Agreement and they were prepared to get rid of weapons if they had to. But only if they had to. Had the British and Irish governments refused to release prisoners unless progress was being made on decommissioning, this process would have begun a long time ago. But they didnt. The two well-meaning liberal governments were too naive and frightened to face down these tough, single-minded people.
Ultimately, David Trimble had no option but to resign in order to force Sinn Féin/IRA to choose either to destroy their weapons or to destroy the Northern Ireland Executive. In normal times, they might well have chosen their weapons, for they have pocketed most of their concessions and they would rejoice in the political demise of Trimble, whom they resent for being clever, but three events had occurred that closed off this option.
The first was the election of George Bush, whose administration had none of Bill Clintons sentimental regard for Irish nationalism. The second was the arrest of two members of the IRA and one member of Sinn Féin in Columbia where they were hobnobbing with narco-terrorists and obviously up to no good. And then came the cataclysm of September 11. Already reeling from the State Departments anger over Columbia, Sinn Féin found Irish-America demanding it join the war against terrorism or lose the financial and political support on which it has relied so heavily. Faced with a demand that they start decommissioning from the very people whose bounty has made it the richest political party in Ireland, Sinn Féin put up little resistance. They recognised that particular game was up. It is now anyway unthinkable that they can ever again threaten a British government with bombs in London.
But while this is good news, Sinn Féin/IRA are still wringing concessions out of the two governments and this is where we need to be wary. Because the IRA, in their arrogance, believe themselves to be the equal of the lawful army of the state in which they live, they demand that decommissioning be rewarded with what they call demilitarisation: steady reductions in numbers of troops, the destruction of watch towers and so on. This, coupled with the emasculation of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, has the potential to create a very dangerous situation in the province. The police struggle to contain loyalist violence and rioting by both sides and have also to deal with the fanatics of the Continuity and the Real IRA: within the last week, the security forces stopped republican dissidents planing a 150 lb bomb.
If we do not remain vigilant, what happened in Omagh in 1998, when 31 people (including two unborn) were murdered, could easily happen again. If Adams and McGuinness are serious about showing they have now unequivocally taken the democratic route, they should rescind their refusal to ask republicans to help the police bring the killers to book and offer their support to the Omagh families who have taken out a civil case against the Real IRA and a number of individuals. The war against terrorism begins at home.
This article appeared in the October 24, 2001 edition of the Daily Mail.