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Tuesday, 21 August, 2001, 11:20 GMT 12:20 UK
NI: What next for the peace process?
In a major blow to the Northern Ireland peace process the IRA has said it is withdrawing its proposed scheme for putting arms beyond use.
The move comes only five days after the IRA confirmed it had agreed a "satisfactory" plan with the decommissioning body.
In its statement, the IRA blamed the Ulster Unionist leadership for rejecting their proposals on the arms issue, and said the conditions "did not exist" to carry out the plan.
Unionists, who said they rejected the decommissioning scheme because no timescale was agreed, condemned the latest IRA statement as another "stuttering excuse for not fulfilling their commitments".
What does this mean for the peace process in Northern Ireland? Can the deadlock over paramilitary weapons ever be broken?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Removing political parties that refuse to give up private armies would be upholding the Good Friday agreement not - as Sean, UK, suggests - abandoning it. The victims of Enniskillen etc. include the families of those murdered, and Sean incorrectly presumes that none of these victims consider the current process to have become a farce. It boggles the mind that the memory of those murdered by the IRA should be invoked to justify the retaining of arms by this loathsome organisation.
Alan Loftus, England
Decommissioning is the excuse the Unionists use for blocking the peace process. (It would only be a gesture anyway, because the IRA could always rearm.) The Unionists block the process because they would lose their present position of privilege. Those who think that decommissioning is all-important have been taken in by biased media material.
Until the Republican minority get rid of their hard-done-by chip on their shoulder, realise that they have to give something, stop blaming everyone else and accept some of the responsibility, there is no peace process and never has been.
Do your research before you pass judgement on people for not speaking up, because you would then understand that speaking up is not always a sensible thing to do. I am part of a military family living here in NI, and I am forbidden from entering almost one half of Belfast city because it would endanger myself and my family. Do you really think I'll be telling the IRA what I think of them?
Some of the more laughable comments made on this site are the ones suggesting England walk away from this drawn out N.I. problem. Do you people know your own history? You started this mess. These are the sins of your fathers. There is no walking away from this one like there was in America, Africa, India, Middle East, Falklands, etc. Northern Ireland demographics predict a nationalist majority in the next ten years whether the unionists agree to a peaceful solution or not. They were just another group of pawns used by dear old mother England to build an empire built on bullying and deceit. This time there's no walking away. It's time to pay the piper.
Calls for ditching the GFA and implementing some kind of military crackdown only play into the hands of extremists on both sides by obliterating any hope of peace once and for all. Surely we owe it to the victims of Enniskillen, Omagh and Bloody Sunday to keep all parties negotiating around this current impasse rather than abandoning everything in a knee-jerk reaction?
Alan Murphy, USA
Matthew Short has a very idealistic view. However, I should remind him that if the British completely pull out of Northern Ireland, it will erupt into a blood-bath with both armed sides degenerating into civil war. I am English and I have family there and I don't want to wake up one day to the fact that they have been shot in the head thank you very much.
It's rather ironic that the Brits will be taking part in a Nato mission to disarm Albanian rebels in Macedonia when they can't even disarm a private army in their own country!
The saga continues........
This is not a good sign. It means that the
troubles in Northern Ireland are likely to persist.
And, if that is true then a good opportunity
has been lost for all concerned. We have seen
the end result of the absence of President Bill Clinton
from the international peace process. War is breaking out
in the Holy Land, Ireland, and all over the globe. The good
leadership of Mr Clinton is sadly missed by all.
Mark Stewart, England
The news from Colombia
illustrates that the
IRA is no longer some
romantic local Irish
group, but part of a
It's time that ordinary
civilians in Ireland
who aren't IRA members,
but who support and
protect them, realise
that under the pretext
of Irish history, they
are actually contributing
to the misery and
deaths of ordinary
Central America, the
inner cities of the
western world and in
Every time a young
Irish life is destroyed
through drugs, the
IRA is the main force
The Good Friday Agreement has never been anything more than a fig-leaf to cover the failure of the Government to get meaningful agreement. Now it is finally falling off.
Look at the punishment beatings that have continued since the ceasefire. The terrorists continue to exercise a control over their respective communities that is comparable to the Krays in the 60's in London's East End. They won't want to give up this control, and in order to retain it, they have to retain, at least some of the weapons. Gerry Adams and David Trimble may think they are the voice for a "movement" but in reality they are little more than a blanket cover for criminals!
As with the Unionists' continual throwing of toys out of prams, it means that Northern Ireland is effectively leaderless. No one has the courage to "go the extra mile" for peace. The Unionists apparently believe that the current situation, however unsatisfactory, is no better than the days of violence. The Republicans apparently still believe, despite all the evidence, that owning weapons gives them some kind of advantage. This situation will never change until someone on one side or the other grows up and starts taking some responsibility for matters, instead of just looking where they can push the blame.
Eire doesn't want Northern Ireland, they can't afford the financial let alone social burden. Similarly I imagine many Catholics talk about a united Ireland, but what will they do when the comfort of the welfare system is withdrawn by London? I cannot see a solution. What I can see are a small group of individuals on both sides perpetuating the troubles for their own political/financial gain.
If these people insist they are at war with the establishment, then lets introduce martial law. Surely they do not deserve the protection of the civil laws they hold in such contempt. The only reason they negotiated in the first place was because the security forces had their backs to the wall, why do you think they are so insistent on dismantling the intelligence services in Northern Ireland. If they will not see sense, then surely they must see the end of their days.
The idea by Mathew Short is quite amusing - which U.N. force was ever successful without British troops? I served in N.I. in 1972 and it was quite obvious to me we were dealing with gangsters and the sooner these politicians start treating them as such and take action accordingly the better. Bring back the death penalty, ok you will get human rights people with their dreamy view but as my sergeant major said we meet violence with violence. The British troops are the finest in the world but the people they protect are not of their calibre. Show some appreciation and back them to a man.
Calling for IRA disarmament is meaningless:
The IRA have never disarmed before and
will not hand in their weapons now,
in part for fear of being outflanked by their
hardliners. The Ulster Unionists know that,
which is why they are demanding it.
Question is: why are they demanding it?
Anyhow, since when has any nationalist terrorist movement
voluntarily done so? ETA, UCK, the Tamil Tigers,
the Sikh extremists, the Kashmiri militants, the list is endless.
In the modern world, it is just too easy to hang on to some guns
and explosives, and restock immediately after giving away
Alex Bank, as you say, if the IRA handed over 2 or 3 dumps to kick start the process then they would be in a win-win situation. They would still have other weapons, but would keep the UUP and British Government happy for the moment.
Perhaps the reason they haven't done this is that they see no point in it. Perhaps they want to find a satisfactory way to them, vis de Chastelaine, to start a process that would put them all out of use, instead of a symbolic couple of dumps.
Seems the UUP have wasted an opportunity for progress.
In response to Michael Hanley, from USA. I think that you confuse the Republic of Ireland as some Baltic State country. I actually find that remark offensive. Point about the arms. It has being proven in the past that the IRA can re-arm very quickly from Eastern European States. So whether they disarm their current arms, or not, they can easily obtain guns quickly and readily. So posturing over decommissioning from both sides is actually irrelevant. It is action, i.e. the use of arms that speak volumes.
When will people get their heads straight about this issue and stop wheeling out the same old right wing Unionist propaganda? PIRA arms are silent and have been for several years. The Loyalists are still beating, bombing and murdering Catholics though. No other successful conflict resolution of this type has depended on decommissioning - decommissioning is a red herring, of which the Unionists have a bucket load in reserve.
The "concessions" that have been granted to the Catholic/Nationalist community are merely civil rights that the rest of the UK enjoys on an every day basis - there are plenty more to come before this is finished.
Sinn Fein has done exactly what it agreed to do in the Good Friday Agreement.
HMG still has not delivered real police reform. HMG still hasn't delivered judicial reform. HMG still hasn't delivered a plan for demilitarisation.
When are the Unionists and HMG going to do their part as specified, agreed upon, voted for and signed up to in the Agreement?
A party that insists on the right to retain weapons on the grounds they might be needed to murder political opponents in future? Doesn't sound like a party that has much interest in the rules or values of democracy to me.
J McNulty, Ireland
The IRA will never de-commission its arsenal of terrorist weapons. Submitting a plan without any time scale is like writing a million-pound cheque without dating and signing it - just an empty gesture. With drugs and weapon connections the IRA have no real 'righteous cause' they are merely gangsters and thugs.
How the term "Mexican stand-off" came into being is a complete mystery to me - unless, of course, it was the product of Northern Irish émigrés! Has no one proposed implementation of the Agreement incrementally? Take small steps - IRA hand over a few guns, then the UDA, British government close a barracks or two, couple of new Catholic cops on patrol. Why not build trust slowly, one small step at a time, rather than the current impasse over total this or total that? There certainly seem to be enough people watching to see no one cheats!
John P Hodge, Acme, Canada
Interesting timing, given that three IRA members were arrested yesterday for having supplied "explosives training" to a terrorist group in Colombia. Colombia?? Pretty far from NI, I would say. So much for their commitment to peace. Obviously they live for quite the opposite.
By walking out six weeks ago, it was Trimble's Unionists who exercised a veto on the peace process - the infamous orange card has been played again. As Jeffrey Donaldson and his cohorts know well, the horrible violence was always a symptom of the real problem. Had Unionists not run amok over the rights and lives of their fellow citizens, we would never have needed to have a peace process. Come on, David, bow to democracy and justify that Nobel peace prize you've been given.
Many of the comments posted here criticise the Unionists and Nationalists for holding fixed and unyielding views, yet betray the writers' own fixed view that the British Government has a key role to play in finding a solution. If the past 30 years tell us anything it is that British rule simply does not work and solutions that view the problem from the British perspective inevitably fail. It is time for the British government to finally call it a day. Tony Blair should set midnight on December 31st as the deadline for total withdrawal. There should then be a period of UN control with UN peacekeepers, during which all the necessary demilitarisation, police reform, human rights legislation and decommissioning should take place. Once this is all over there should be a referendum to decide where to go next.
It's time for the Irish Republic special branch police to come clean and tell us where the IRA arms dumps are located. Once that has happened the Irish military should shut them down. The police know where the dumps are and it's time to act.
The "Republicans" caught in Colombia have broken no law here, so let them serve their sentence, if convicted, in Colombia.
Debbie Curnes, USA
Now the IRA have shown their commitment to the peace process let's tear it up, strengthen the RUC and thoroughly destroy the paramilitaries on both sides. When they've had enough hold talks at which they are the junior partners and are there to get the best deal to prevent their annihilation.
I have Protestant friends from Northern Ireland who want to be friends with Catholics but the history of hatred and their families will not allow this to happen. On the individual level the end of the struggles can be found. It is only the ruling powers that make things bad!
Knowing that these silly thugs are controlling the way of life here, I am shameful to say to the people outside that I live in Northern Ireland, which is really a terrorist state.
Phil W, UK
Time to get tough. The IRA commitment to the peace process is a sham and designed to maximise concessions from the government with no concessions on their side. They know if they disarm they cease to exist and are not prepared to do it. So be it. Ignore them and decide a peace settlement between the SDLP and the Unionists. If and when the Republicans take their guns off the table then they can also be admitted to the discussion. The time for discussion with them is over.
Year by year the Provisional IRA and the loyalist para-militaries are becoming less and less relevant. The politics of Irish nationalism and British unionism have no place in a modern Europe.
The stark truth is that, regardless of how many arms get decommissioned, there are influential people on the Loyalist side who will still want what they had three decades ago. Little short of a "Mugabe-style" regime. Republicans will never again accept this. As long as the weapons on both sides are not being used, why stop the talking?
Sinn Fein and their foot soldiers in the IRA clearly want an end to the peace process. Their refusal to give up their weapons clearly indicates this. There can be no other explanation after three and a half years of concessions being granted to them, including the admission of one of their Army Council members to the government. They seem to be hell bent on retaining the so-called right to armed struggle which is a pathetic excuse for perpetrating atrocities like Bloody Friday and Enniskillen against defenceless civilians.
Ken Burch, USA
Why do we bother spending so much time, effort and money on this when all we get from both sides is intransigence, uncooperative remarks, and downright denials of the legitimate claims of the other? We have a transport system on the point of collapse as well as hospitals and schools which are grossly underfunded. Isn't it about time more money was diverted from a pointless exercise in NI and put to good use in all parts of the UK?
The original IRA and IICD statements of last week were only that a method of decommissioning has been agreed. There was no agreement to actually decommission any of the IRA weapons. Therefore it makes little sense to "wthdraw" such a statement. It's not as though they had said they would do any actual act. Thus it is fairly meaningless and if anything undermines the IRA and Sinn Fein position by making them seem opportunistic.
James Beeley, Scotland
Nothing that either side has said or done has stopped this pointless violence. When are they going to realise that both Dublin and Westminster are equally controlled by Brussels so there is no difference between them worth fighting over?
I have just read your other news article about the three Provisional IRA 'men' being held in Columbia. They have tested positive for explosives and weapons handling? This doesn't sound like a move towards peace to me. Of course they could be 'former' members...but probably not eh?
It is a disgrace that no Unionist politician is prepared to talk about Loyalist decommissioning. So why is this not an issue? The bombs and the bullets going off in Northern Ireland seem to be coming from the Loyalist camp. Are Unionist politicians giving them tacit approval?
Conor, Northern Ireland
It is time we asked the IRA to put up or shut up. Either it has a political mandate, in which case we should take it seriously and ask its opinions, or it does not and we should ignore its wishes, proceeding with peace in their absence. For thirty years we have wanted nothing more than to live our lives without fear. GET ON WITH IT, and let's build a future. If the IRA starts another violent campaign, its motives will be quite clear.
This is a very bad day for the peace process. A lot of ground had been made last week and the ball had begun to roll on decommissioning. Last week's decision by the IRA was a very hard one to make considering the 100,000 legal arms held by Protestants, the Loyalist's guns and the army's guns. The Unionists should have welcomed this move and moved the process on. I think this has set the peace process back another few months. As the IRA said today "Peacekeeping is a collective effort".
Paul T. Horgan, UK
The only thing that has changed in those 5 days is the fact that Sinn Fein/IRA didn't get their own way. The IRA proposal was only words. There was never any risk of them actually decommissioning, because all they are interested in is piling up the concessions to Republicans/Nationalists, knowing the Unionists would eventually say 'enough'. The only concession Sinn Fein/IRA has given is the one that makes them not kill anyone (that's discounting punishment shootings by the way). Something they had no moral right to do anyway.
Just shows how serious the IRA are about peace.
Andrew Moore, UK
Well done the Loyalists, you have got your way. God forgive you.
The IRA's stance on disarming seems to take as a model the old 'cheese shop' sketch from Monty Python. Just as there was no cheese in the shop, so the IRA have no intention of disarming. The game is simply to see how long you can keep the customer waiting by making excuses but without actually admitting the truth. If it wasn't so terrible it would be funny.
It shouldn't really surprise anyone. Would they really have 'put them beyond use' in the first place?
Martin Walker, UK
Well, after the Colombian police arrests, the fiasco over "surrendering" arms, the car bombs in London of late, I guess we all know where the IRA is in the peace process. The British people, through their government (of either political persuasion), have clearly gone the extra mile to try and keep the peace process alive, only to be met by stone-walling, prevaricating, procrastinating, perfidious and totally ingenuous liars. Not that the Unionists are much better ... time to get really tough militarily.
The Unionists need to rise above the intransigence and pettiness that has characterised their approach to date. They demand decommissioning, yet refuse to accept the independent arms body's statement for what it is - a historic opportunity to move forward. When they begin to put the wishes of the Irish people, who have shown that they want the Good Friday Agreement fully implemented, before their narrow political and tribal inclinations then at last we may see progress.
I must admit I don't understand the full background to the NI situation, but it is always the IRA who change the mind or refuse to compromise.
Just another farcical and premeditated publicity stunt by a group whose interest is to bolster its leaders' egos by gaining political influence, rather than benefit the community. They must be pleased; the exercise has served its purpose well. "At least we tried," they will say in patronising tones, "aren't we the reasonable ones?" The sad thing is that some people will be taken in by their hollow chatter and the IRA will gain more power.
Alex Banks, UK, living in France
The peace process will last 30 years while a generation unused to violence grows up and the gunmen and bombers die in their beds of old age. We are in this for the long haul and every year without an atrocity is a victory of sorts. So long as the parties bicker and don't resume the killing then the process is on track.
Stephen Brookes, UK
These weapons have become less tools of war than bargaining chips. The IRA has just decided that they don't want to spend their most valuable negotiating currency quite yet since a return to violence is a step backward, they obviously have something in mind "i.e., a new political demand is in the pipeline".
Is anyone really surprised? The IRA has absolutely no intention of disarming. They realise that the British Government will probably eventually accept a compromise.
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