Does the Provisional IRA's decision to abandon violence mean that it is no longer republican?
The question of what exactly defines republicanism is of more than academic importance.
In future elections non-unionist voters will choose between two identical political parties, one labelled nationalist and the other republican.
So is republicanism a political philosophy or just a military strategy for nationalists?
History shows a continuous if sometimes erratic thread of distinctive political thought from the time of Wolfe Tone (1763-98) which might broadly be labelled republican.
It contains three core elements separatism from Britain, non-sectarianism and, in modern language, socialism.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the PIRA failed on all three.
Separatism from Britain was abandoned in the Good Friday Agreement.
Sinn Féin is not quite non-sectarian in that it has significantly alienated Protestants.
Gerry Adams has befriended US businessman Bill Flynn somewhat more than he has reached out to working class Protestants.
Which of those might Tone have deemed men of no property?
Of course, Tone may have got it wrong men of no property may not be worthy of political investment and non-sectarianism may not be all that feasible in our society.
But it is hard to deviate from Tone's teachings and, at the same time, claim to be his followers.
So, if the PIRA are not quite disciples of Tone, where are their historical origins?
Their philosophy might be more accurately traced to Daniel O'Connell (1775-1847) who achieved Catholic Emancipation in 1829.
Among other things, this allowed Catholics to sit in parliament without taking the oath of supremacy to the crown which has a familiar echo in the Stormont Assembly.
He also failed to break the political union with Britain as did Sinn Féin.
Founded in reaction to the 1969 sectarian pogroms in Belfast, the PIRA were not so much republicans as Catholics with guns.
In the light of circumstances at the time, this was understandable.
Bombay Street was not exactly the place for a prolonged debate on the true meaning of republicanism.
But when that debate did take place later in the cages of Long Kesh the Provos still failed to identify their enemy.
Thus they still think that people like the DUP's Arlene Foster are the enemy, simply because she thinks she is British.
In failing to differentiate between the British government and the Protestant people in Ireland, they accepted the British view that violence here was simply a sectarian conflict.
British support for loyalist paramilitaries reinforced the point.
Under a growing northern influence the PIRA leadership drifted into the sectarian consequences of their long war.
The original demand of 'Brits out' was replaced with a demand for religious equality within a campaign first begun by Daniel O'Connell.
So the PIRA settled not for beating the British but for beating the Protestants who have been reduced to political confusion and paramilitary incest.
The point was not missed by Britain, which is now backing Catholics to implement its policy here.
Just as the London government funded Maynooth from 1795 to 1870 to win over Irish Catholic opinion, Tony Blair walks the corridors of Downing Street with Sinn Féin leaders for the same purpose.
Unionists see the disbandment of the RIR as the British government carrying out Sinn Féin policy. But they miss the point.
Sinn Féin is now carrying out British policy here because Tony Blair is relying on it, rather than unionism, to administer British rule in Ireland.
Thus Sinn Féin has replaced the old unionist party as the largest, richest and best organised political party in Stormont.
Britain has no qualms about changing sides here. Sinn Féin offers political stability, a
clamp-down on armed republican groups, the pursuit of new Labour's social and economic policies and a place in history for the retiring Tony Blair.
London will now happily allow Catholics to set the political agenda in pursuit of British interests here.
For example, the refusal to accept some Protestants into the PSNI may have a political rationale but it is anti-Protestant discrimination in that it denies employment on the basis of religious belief.
This smacks more of O'Connell than Tone.
Without adherence to Tone's republican philosophy, the PIRA's surrender of guns was easy because it meant the abandonment of a technique rather than a principle.
It therefore seems reasonable to conclude that the PIRA are not republicans not because they gave away their guns but because of the reason they took them up in the first place.