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Thursday, 20 September, 2001, 01:04 GMT 02:04 UK
Q&A: The IRA statement

The BBC's Ireland correspondent Denis Murray analyses the significance of the IRA's latest statement, in which it says it is to step up talks with the arms body in an effort to speed up progress towards resolving the weapons issue.

What does this latest IRA statement mean?

The statement is effectively in three parts - two to do with international events, and one, the bulk of the statement to do with the political situation in Northern Ireland.

One reading of the statement is that with its expression of sympathy to the people of the United States for "the deplorable attacks" there, the IRA is dissociating itself from international terrorism. The statement opens with this and this is one of the parts connected to world events.

Why is the timing of the statement significant?

The timing of the statement is connected to events at home - the British Government now seems likely to suspend all the workings of devolution for one day (Saturday) which opens a second six-week period, a breathing space for new talks.

This was an option which appeared, even days ago, to lack credibility, but which has gathered steam for several reasons: during the previous six weeks holidays intervened; all sides focused on events at Holy Cross Primary School in North Belfast; and of course, the atrocities in the USA took over the agenda.

A new window of six weeks buys more time, when all sides can focus on the difficulties in the process.

A statement of some kind from the IRA was always likely as the latest "suspend or not suspend" deadline approached.

Why did the IRA choose to say something about Colombia?

The IRA had something to say about Colombia for at least two reasons.

Firstly, no Irish republican leader has come up with anything remotely resembling a credible reason for the presence of other Irish republicans with the Farc group, on false passports.

Secondly, the events in the USA have raised serious questions about whether the IRA is a part of international terrorism, as defined by the Bush administration. Richard Haass, the US State Department's special envoy on Northern Ireland, was fiercely critical of the suspected links with Farc before last week's events; and he was even more so after them.

It was inexcusable, he said, to have links with what was by any definition a terrorist group, after the Bush administration had declared war on international terrorism.

Where does this leave the peace process?

Where this leaves the process is open to question. Another possible reading of the IRA statement is that it hints that the agreement reached between the group and the international weapons decommissioning body in August on the means by which weapons would be put beyond use (which was withdrawn by the IRA after it was rejected by unionists) could come back into play.

But even if the IRA does make some kind of gesture (call it what you will) on the weapons front acceptable to unionists, the Colombia connection would probably still be too much for David Trimble's party to go back whole (or even half) heartedly into sharing power with Sinn Fein.

The process has proved much more durable than many had thought, but it's in at least as much trouble as it's ever been.


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See also:

19 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
IRA to intensify talks on arms
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