The number of British troops in Northern Ireland is to be gradually reduced after the IRA announced the end of its armed campaign.
Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain has today revealed a detailed plan for 'normalisation' of the province. It also includes the closure of army posts and defortification of police stations.
On Thursday, the IRA issued a statement ending more than 30 years of violence. It said it would pursue its aims through exclusively peaceful means.
Could this be a new start for Northern Ireland? Should early release for prisoners be part of negotiations? Is it enough to get the peace process back on track?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion received so far:
It is up to the IRA and the Loyalists as organizations composed of individuals to reach an agreement and finally end this. It may take more generations, but if they stick to their word, even dissidents will eventually lose their fire. It's frustrating to think that to some people, holding on to these prejudices and misplaced ideals that lead to violence is so much more important than helping to stop the violence, save lives, and create a new piece of history. I have to believe that it can happen now, because if not now, when? They have my support and hope.
Karen, Va, USA
A statement like this is more than welcome and the first pillars in a bridge to bring the communities of Ireland together. The apprehension of Loyalists is understandable but I wonder if the absolute dismissal of the statement from some of the Loyalist leadership is due to their reluctance to surrender their own bigotry.
David, Livingston, Scotland
Will the statement from the IRA make any difference? It already has, we are now seeing the removal of British military installations, and the removal of British troops. In my view progress has already been made.
Praise for the leaders of the IRA for convincing its followers to take the peaceful route. There may be scepticism (perhaps deserving) but this is a momentous decision. We look to the Unionist side to see if they can provide an equally promising action.
Kevin, Dublin, Ireland
This is certainly good news. But both the IRA and the Loyalist Militias must disarm and stand down. If not, then the situation will simply not improve and the IRA, or something else, will re-emerge. We all want peace, but honesty and fairness are necessary conditions for peace.
Michael, Calif, USA
I served and was injured in NI in the late 90s and welcome this statement from the IRA. Time will tell if they mean it! Let's not get rid of everything military just yet. PIRA have been known to break their promises!
This is a step in the right direction but I fear the government are too hasty in bending over backwards to show their solidarity and commitment. Would it not be wiser to step back a little and implement phase-out plans in line with IRA decommissioning?
Dee, Co Antrim, NI
I served in Northern Ireland in 1977, 1978 and 1980 and saw, first hand, what total despair and terror the IRA inflicted on innocent civilians during the conflict. I am glad that they appear to be trying to clean up their act, but for many men, women and children (and a good few soldier friends of mine) it has come far too late. Let us all hope that they are sincere this time!
Mark Simpson, Deal, Kent
This Labour government have been very quick to react to the IRA statement. Timetables for demilitarisation, the removal of fortifications, changes to legislation. All of this before a single IRA weapon destroyed. Regardless of this, why on earth should convicted criminals be set free? What a slap in the face to the surviving victims and families of all terrorist operations.
Anon, London (former County Down)
It's a disgrace. The first we heard of it was on the news, and we have been enquiring about our future for months. Only 2 weeks ago there was an explosive device in Armagh. The IRA may have sacked it but have they forgotten the dissidents?
Serving RIR, Belfast
Sinn Fein knew of disbandment before Royal Irish Soldiers, who found out by watching the 1 o'clock news, while we still have men and women on the ground risking their lives.
Member, Co Down
I refuse to believe anything the IRA have to say. Remember the Good Friday Agreement? All those people released from prison early in good faith, and still the campaign of terror continued. Such deep divisions and prejudices cannot be healed overnight, and only time will tell whether the IRA can remain true to their word.
As a serving member of the new PSNI, I see this move as a disgrace. We, the police on the ground, still need military support and quite often can not get this.
As a Unionist, I welcome the IRA statement. The world changed after September 11th. Now it is time to put the troubles behind us, and for Northern Ireland to be run like anywhere else in the UK.
If the IRA mean it and go through with it, all I can say to them is "welcome back to the human race". My girlfriend put her empty cosmetics box in THAT bin in Bridge Street, Warrington. She walked round the corner and the bin blew up. I thank God every day she is still here.
As a survivor of the Birmingham Pub Bombs in 1974, I welcome anything that may bring real peace to Ireland. Having said that, I am also very untrusting of anything that is said by the IRA. I am actively involved in a peace and reconciliation programme based in Ireland and only hope what the statement says is carried out.
Maureen Mitchell, Birmingham
I can't help but think that the other terrorist attacks have helped to bring about this outcome. Clearly the IRA of our day recognize the worthlessness of terror and arms as a means to an end, not to mention the fact that they wish to be seen as a legitimate party and not compared to our current terrorists.
Aaron, Medina, Ohio
'Been there, done that, got the t-shirt' comes to mind. I've heard statements similar to this for the past 30 years!
Joe, London, UK
Of course this makes a difference. I can't see how the IRA can now resort back to a terror campaign because the will never be trusted again. Anyone who say it does not make a difference just does not want to see the peace process move forward.
I welcome this statement and hope they hold true to their word. I strongly believe that violence does not solve anything. Being half Northern Irish, I am probably more aware than others about events in Northern Ireland and I admit that I am somewhat sceptical but believe that this is a great positive move forward. Hopefully there are many more to come.
This kind of statement can only be welcomed and let's hope people realise its significance. It would not have happened only a couple of years ago, so let's hope the sceptics and people on all sides will embrace it and make the next step up and offer the wonderful people of Northern Ireland the chance to move their communities forward.
I think it has to be welcomed to end the stalemate that has been going on in the North for some time now. I hope they see this through and stick to what they have said. I think a similar gesture from Loyalism should happen, but I think this is a step forward
Dave Ryan, Irishman in Munich
The news is great and I hope that the campaign does end. However, I am concerned about how effective such an order is going to be and whether or not IRA leadership have effective control over the still-armed groups.
Kevin Burden, London
I feel this statement is too little too late. It's a shame they took so long to cease activity and took too many innocent lives in the process.
This is something a lot of people have waited a long time for. All the time I was growing up, the country was seen as a place of violence, disruption and people to be joked about.
Unfortunately they still see the murder of thousands of people over the past 30 years as 'legitimate'. They may also consider such action legitimate again in the future, should their goal of a United Ireland not be achieved through political means.
Richard, Belfast, Northern Ireland
There are two sides to every coin. What assurances have been given by the radical protestant groups that they too will give up armed fighting?
Dennis S Smith, Dixon, CA, USA
Surely in today's world this is better than nothing. There will be cynics but let's hope they are proved wrong.
Fionna, Edinburgh (Belfast girl)
I'm 37, born in South Armagh about the time the troubles were starting and I feel the IRA statement is massive, it's fantastic - it's been going on all my waking life and now it's finished! There is another way based on peace, co-operation and the democratic process.
Patrick Elliott, London
I think there is a link between the escalation of Islamic terrorism and this announcement by the IRA. Terrorism is simply no longer going to be tolerated by any society, the atrocities that have been committed lately and the public response has made it impossible for the IRA to entertain remaining a terrorist organisation.
Richard Lee, Dudley
Talk is cheap, let's see this followed with some real actions.
I'm glad the IRA has made this statement. If nothing else, this shows how separate they are from those who committed the recent tube bombings in London.
In Northern Ireland, the wave of expectation repeatedly crashes on the rock of disappointment, but I do believe this IRA statement to be truly great news. It is largely the current global attitude towards terrorism that has forced the IRA to recognise that they cannot achieve their aims whilst continuing to indulge in the arena of terror.
Hugh Craigie Halkett, Edinburgh, Scotland
About time. This may be a small ray of sunshine but until all the arms have been put out of commission, we shouldn't count our chickens. There are still the splinter groups who couldn't care less about politics.
Tony, Oldbury, England
I think it's very positive. Who would have thought so 10 or 20 years ago? Let's hope all the others can follow on from this and we can move forward.
This is great news for the people of Britain and Ireland, let's hope the Unionists paramilitaries follow now as well. Good luck to the people of Ulster, let's hope this is a fresh start for everyone.
Positive news from the IRA. All depends on Paisley now. The ball is in his court.
Kamal, Manchester, UK
Congratulations Northern Ireland, let's hope for everlasting peace now! I hope we will get to this point in Spain soon as well.
Jose Fernandez, Bracelona
It is now the turn of the respective communities, in NI to lead the way. The elected politicians must take their cue from the will of the people, and the people must quickly embrace and respect the traditions and ideologies of their fellow countrymen. South Africa showed that the past can be put aside, and a new beginning made. A chapter in history. Turn the page and a new adventure begins.
Andy Dougan, Portsmouth, England
It will only make a difference if the Unionist parties can adopt the same courage that the Republican community has shown. I believe that the Unionist community wants to move forward but I am afraid they will be held back by their own political parties who still preach Ulster says NO politics.
For years the world has watched the people of Northern Ireland from afar and still make comment on life in the North. Let them now show their support for this news by coming to see for themselves the fantastic place that it really is. Regardless of backgrounds, one thing we all have here is pride in the place that we live in.
This is a major step forward and a recognition that more flows from politics than can ever be achieved through terror. Applause though needs to be measured against the deaths of the 3,000+ people needlessly killed by the IRA in recent decades.
David, Leicester, UK
I think it will help some, but the real peace progress depends on the people of Northern Ireland and whether the two groups, Catholics and Protestants, are willing to make and keep peace and to live peacefully side-by-side in cities like Belfast. This is an important step on the way to peace, but I don't think it is the only step. The people, not just the organisations, have to support it and live by it themselves too.
Marianne Rasmussen, Rodovre, Denmark
I think the IRA should be applauded for this decision. The 6 counties communities will take time to get used to living within the rule of legitimate 'law'. I'm sure there will be testing times ahead, but no one at all would want to go back to the way it was. The challenge is there for the Northern Irish police to show they can serve and protect both communities.
Iain, Brighton, England
What about the Loyalists? Why isn't the British government putting pressure on them to disarm?
I never believed this day would come in my lifetime. While violence may still occur, this is a huge step forward in bringing peace and security to Northern Ireland.
Robin Barnett, Richmond, Virginia, USA
The statement is a signal that the world needs. When an organisation that has been defined as terroristic states they wish to refrain from violence in the future, we know that progress is possible. We know that violence can be replaced with peaceful democracy. It gives hope.
Assuming that the words are matched with actions this is a hugely significant step for the peace process. In theory the Unionists will have no reason not to sit in government with Sinn Fein. I wonder what the reality will be?
Phil, London (ex-Belfast)
Fantastic news if it is followed through, and I hope it is. The major possible downside i see is that disgruntled fractions that follow the IRA see it as the IRA selling their cause out, and then go on a campaign to "take over the torch" so to speak. However, this is a fantastic opportunity for more peaceful times.
I think it will be a good thing. I am joyous that the IRA are ready to disarm. I pray there will be no more innocent loss of life and ever lasting peace in Northern Island.
Mr Andrew Trevor Clarke, Slough, England
No matter what your political viewpoint, this statement should be welcomed. It provides a clarity previously absent from past IRA statements. A peaceful solution without the threat of violence looming under the table has now been accepted across the political spectrum in Northern Ireland. Truly historic.
Keith Brown, London, UK
I think this is great news, but my concern is how loyalist/unionist paramilitaries are going to react. Will they follow suit or will they exploit this opportunity for peace by continuing violence? Only time will tell, and I pray that they can embrace the peace process via democratic means as well.
If it is borne out in practice, this is a massively significant movement by the IRA and puts the onus on loyalists to embrace peaceful means and unionists to agree to work with nationalist political representatives.
Mike A, Belfast
Surely the 'Real' IRA are just going to ignore this as surrender and carry on their armed campaign.
Dave, Liverpool, UK
I can understand why the IRA doesn't want to give their weapons to the police, since to them that might look like surrender. However, if they aren't keeping guns and explosives 'just in case', they should come up with some way of decommissioning them.
Welcome news, but let's make sure the loyalist paramilitaries show similar moves to make Ulster completely free of illegal weaponry.
Margie Morgan, Bootle, Merseyside
Unfortunately, I don't think this statement will make much of a difference at all. The ceasefire was supposed to make a difference, it didn't. Neither did decommissioning. I'll be very surprised if the DUP don't think of something else that republicans 'must do' before they can sit at the same table.
Steve Gallagher, London (Formerly Omagh)
This statement will not get the peace process back on track as the Unionists will find yet another obstacle to put in the way. The onus has always been on the IRA to decommission weapons but never for the Loyalist paramilitary groups who have never really suspended there criminal activities.
Perhaps seeing the reaction to the Islamic fundamentalist terror in London has finally shown the IRA that terror tactics will not help them reach their goal in the 21st Century. However prisoners should not be released. They committed crimes, and it would be an insult to the victims to commute their sentences.
How can it ever be justified to offer early release to convicted terrorists? These people are responsible for actions which are comparable to the recent terrorist attacks on London. Is it conceivable that convicted Al Qaeda members would be given early release if Al Qaeda offered a complete end to terrorist attacks?
Pete Dunlop, Belfast, Northern Ireland
I see this as a case of the IRA going into hibernation. Would they truly denounce violence when their problem has not gone away?
Stuart, Berks, UK
At last a breakthrough that should see the completion of the peace process. I hope the Unionists can be big enough to respond positively and take part.
Frederick Wilson, Bath
In the current climate a very welcome ray of sunshine. Hopefully now the splinter groups from both sides will follow suit.
Of course it will make a difference. The two governments must now bring back devolution. If the Unionists don't want a devolved government with Republicans, then it must be joint rule.
It is pointless for the rest of us to try and make predictions, leave it to those involved. Political prisoners should be released. But for the so-called peace process to succeed, the Loyalists need to be brought into line.
Jennifer Hynes, Plymouth
This is a brave and historic step for a movement whose foundation was built on armed struggle. I am sure it will be welcomed by the people of Ireland and all true democrats.
Mark, Perthshire, Scotland
The ball is now firmly in the DUP's court. It's time for Mr Paisley to acknowledge this positive statement from the IRA and get the peace process up and running again.
Ryan Nolan, Holylands, Belfast
Although early releases may seem against the principles of justice and be painful for the victims, they are worthwhile if they bring about decommissioning, lasting peace and a restoration of the devolved bodies. The statement is not enough though, the concrete measures outlined in it need to be enacted.
Paul Sims, London
As an Irish person living in the UK I think it is wonderful news. I am 33 years old and all my life the IRA have been a presence. I am not naive enough to think it will make a change overnight, but I am willing to take the statement in the spirit it was meant.
Des FitzGerald, London
As an English protestant I welcome the IRA statement as it means their cause of a united Ireland free from British rule can be discussed sensibly. I personally agree with their cause, but could never have agreed with their methods that only served to make people of a like mind distance themselves.
Stephen Pearce, Chatham, Kent
This is wonderful news. Having grown up in Germany on RAF bases it was a way of life for everyone on the base to cope with the IRA bombings. For years we would wake up and have to check our cars and homes. This is the statement that many people in the UK have been waiting for.
A J Meredith, Cambridge
Having known only violence in Northern Ireland this is indeed a significant announcement. This statement is the answer to the stumbling block in the way of the peace process.
David Rose, Buxhall
Hooray!! This is a good day for the UK and Ireland. This is a good move which should be welcomed by all. Now we need a similar statement from the other paramilitaries.
Alasdair Cameron, Edinburgh
This has been a long time coming, I just hope that the splinter groups such as the 'Real IRA' agree to follow suit.
This is the day that the vast majority of people in these isles have been waiting for. I believe this time the words will be followed by actions. I don't believe prisoner release should automatically follow. Perhaps when all illegal arms are beyond use then prisoner release can be discussed.
David, Dublin, Ireland
This is fantastic news and a welcome, positive step forward for Northern Ireland. What is needed now is a full engagement in the political process from all parties, particularly the DUP, and a reciprocal act of disbandment from the copious amounts of illegal loyalist paramilitaries.
Colm McAfee, London
If you bear in mind that the IRA sees itself as an army with a command structure then this statement is, at least for the provisional IRA, a hugely significant step.
While one would like to be hopeful, history suggests that this is the latest in a series of insincere PR ploys. The key to me is the hand over of weapons. Don't hold your breath.
Robert Dubois, Sunnyside USA
This is quite an historic moment for Northern Ireland and the people who have experienced years of strife. It is also timely, in light of what is happening on the UK mainland with the suicide bombers. Well done, and let's put Northern Ireland back on the road to lasting peace.
Herbie McKenzie, Dagenham, Essex
I only hope they keep their word this time. Don't forget they had been supposed to disarm by a much earlier date. If they do keep their word then I'm glad to see them calling everyone else's bluff. It will be interesting to see what happens.
Graham Reid, Belfast, N Ireland
It sounds good but I don't like this statement "All IRA units have been ordered to dump arms." Where? A skip? It comes across as just a little uncoordinated at the moment.
Michael Pearce, UK
We should regard the Northern Ireland Peace Process as a benchmark standard for the resolution of ethnic tensions in other parts of the world, particularly in the Middle East. The political parties in Northern Ireland must harness this opportunity to re-open the vitally needed dialogue, and to restore the power sharing assembly. This is vital if we are to see a lasting peace.
James Menzies, Sevenoaks, England
Time will tell if this is the right move, if the unionists move the goal posts again then it will show who the true peacemakers are. I applaud the IRA for their courage in taking a step as grand as this - what about the loyalists now?
All credit to the IRA for this brave and unprecedented step. In the modern world armed struggle is no longer the most effective way of achieving your goals, and hopefully now there is a much greater possibility of a peaceful and united Ireland.
Eoin, Lille, France
For the good of the people of Northern Ireland it is time for all parties to get rid of the weapons and start talking. The time for pride is over.
It's all very well that the IRA has decided to put an end to their armed campaign, and I really believe that it can work. However, what about the protestant groups eg UVF, UFF etc? In my opinion these groups are a lot more dangerous today than they ever were. Northern Ireland will not be safe until these 'organisations' put an end to their reign of terror.
Michael Brown, Bangor
Fantastic news after all the bad news of the last 2 weeks. I hope that Al-Qaeda will look at this and learn that at the end, a political and democratic option is the only way forward.
Farie Bunni, Caerphilly, Wales
We must not forget that this has all happened before. More than a decade ago, the "official" IRA gave up the armed struggle, having got what concessions it could out of the government. It was not long before the Provisional IRA, with many of the same members, carried on from where they left off. We can only hope this is not another false dawn, and that the "real" or "continuity" IRAs do not simply step int the breach.
Bill Walker, Portsmouth
Any public statement renouncing armed conflict has to be welcomed. I only hope other organisations may learn from this. Making a statement like this takes a great deal of courage and it's a step forward which should be recorded in the history books.
A Legge, Leeds, uk
Ever since I emigrated to the US I've watched the news from Ireland, and never did I think I would hear such a statement from the IRA. Now I'm apprehensive about the Real IRA.
Blake Murphy, Buffalo, NY, USA
This statement is but a timely reminder of how terrorism was allowed to get out of control in the past. Let's hope we don't have to wait 30 years for Al Qaeda to lay down arms - I'm sure we'd all prefer to track them down and make that decision for them.
Graham, London, UK
Let's see this as what it is - a historic moment. If you take the past 30 years into account then what the IRA have done today is amazing. Will punishment beatings and murders end (by both sides) completely? Of course not. However it is an important step in that they will have no 'official' sanction.
I can see a few hardliners not taking to this apparent capitulation. Another splinter group may be in the offing, anyone for "I can't believe it's not the IRA"
The IRA's statement is a brave attempt to move the peace process forward against the backdrop of Unionist intransigence and the British government's failure to implement its obligations under the Good Friday Agreement. From now on there are no fig leaves for the British government and Unionists to hide behind.
I cannot see that this will make a difference. Say for instance the talks break down again, their will always be hardliners who cannot wait to bring back the arms
I lived in London during the double decker and Canary Wharf bombings.. in fact, they were too close for comfort. Almost 10 years later, I can't describe how happy I was this morning to read this news. Finally, decades of terrorism and bad blood lay to rest. Peace has prevailed!
Billy, Toronto, Canada
Good luck to the people of Ireland in the push for peace. But what this statement should show all terrorists, is that even after 30 years of bombs and murders, the terrorists still did not get what they wanted. Killing people is never the way forward, no matter what "justification" you want to swallow.
Rob, London, UK
I welcome the decision made by the IRA and hope that it leads to a total decommission on both sides of the divide. I don't agree with their ideals but applaud their steps towards non violent processes. Let's just hope it lasts.
Simon, Leeds, UK
Yes, it is just enough. The DUP may huff and puff that it is not enough but they know this means that they must now sit down with Sinn Fein in government or face being sidelined themselves.
Paul Baird, Milton Keynes
It might make some difference but not a lot. Those who want to continue the terror will simply do so - you can't assume that once you give weapons to a fanatic they will simply give them up over someone else's word. Making things illegal, like planning acts of terror, or asking for guns to be turned in will not deter those who really want to cause pain and suffering. Did banning knives and guns in the UK stop all killings and armed robbery's? No I didnt think so either!
Mike Rhodes, Barrow, Cumbria
Hooray! At least there's still sense left in humans amongst endless fields of blood, carnage and slaughter. Good day for the human race!
Muj Chohan, Ilford, London
Because of some of the recent setbacks, we sometimes forget the giant advances we have made in Northern Ireland to bring the two communities together. Although there are still hurdles to overcome, surely nobody can believe now that we would ever go back to the troubles. Now, over to you Mr Paisley!
I think it's fantastic. The best news to come out of the north in years. People would still do well to be sceptical though, as the fact remains that this is not a legitimate organisation, but a group that has killed countless people in cold blood. Time will tell.
Damien, Dublin, Ireland
While extremely encouraging I seriously doubt many of the violent splinter groups will adhere to this statement. The statement is welcome nonetheless.
Paul Beckett, London, UK
It is commendable, but if some people get frustrated with the rate of progress they'll form "The People IRA" or something and we'll be back to square one.
Matt Ross, Guildford