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Tuesday, 23 October, 2001, 17:18 GMT 18:18 UK
West Belfast backs decommissioning
Equality wall
Does equality now mean the loyalists disarming?
Jonathan Duffy

If there were doubts about whether republican leaders could carry their grassroots supporters with them on decommissioning, the views of those in west Belfast will be a welcome reassurance.

As the historic IRA move to decommission arms developed on Tuesday, the news seemed to meet universal approval in this plot of Sinn Fein heartland.

There were reservations, but on Tuesday everyone who voiced an opinion to BBC News Online agreed it was now time for Irish republicans to disarm.

Sign on telegraph post
The bid for political clout will be helped by decommissioning
"I reluctantly agree with decommissioning but I would like to see what's going to come out of it," said Dominic Adams, a barber at The Glen "traditional barbers" shop, just off the Falls Road.

"I'm reluctant because there's so many other arms about: the state arms which inflicted a lot of punishment on our people over the years. I feel we are left naked without guns."

He points to recent events in north Belfast, where Catholic people and their homes have been attacked by loyalists, as an example of how nationalists remain at risk from sectarian violence.

And although he also wants to see greater progress towards a united Ireland, decommissioning is a "natural progression" to the political developments of recent years.

Upbeat mood

Further down the Falls Road, at a nationalist community centre and coffee shop, news of the past few days had Sean MacSerin in positive mood.

Sean MacSerin
Sean MacSerin: "Very encouraging"
"It's very encouraging and hopefully there is a movement on every front of decommissioning of all the arms," he said.

The issue of decommissioning has deadlocked political progress in Northern Ireland for almost 18 months. So why has the IRA acted now?

Mr MacSerin felt America's new resolve to combat terrorism had been a catalyst.

"The American government was a strong partner in the peace process. I don't think they've forced the hand of Sinn Fein but maybe America has put some sort of impetus into it."

Pleased at progress

A mile away, at the Kennedy retail centre, shoppers were pleased to see progress in the peace settlement.


It's the right thing. It has to be because it will stop people getting killed

Eddie McMurrough
"It's about time," said Danny Murphy, who felt the next logical step would be for the British forces to dismantle its controversial watchtowers and military bases in border areas.

"Demilitarisation is going to happen in south Armagh. I think the British forces will pull out for good."

As for whether loyalist paramilitaries would follow the IRA's lead by decommissioning their weapons, Mr Murphy felt that soon Catholics would have the law on their side.

"If the Catholics get into this new police force they'll sort the loyalists out," he joked.

It is perhaps an indication of how much things could change in Northern Ireland that one shopper in this predominantly nationalist area was unconcerned what happened to the military.

Cultural centre
Irish cultural centre on Falls Road is evidence of nationalist confidence
"I'd be more than happy to see [the IRA] put their weapons away for good," said one pensioner, as she rested her feet during a shopping trip.

"And I'd like to see every paramilitary group do the same but as for the British forces, it really doesn't bother me that much."

One question that will probably occupy unionist politicians, is whether the IRA disposes of all its weapons, or just some.

Eddie McMurrough believed there would still be secret stockpiles somewhere.

Mood well judged

"They might hand some over but I don't know about then all," said Mr McMurrough, a fruit wholesaler from west Belfast.

He, like many others, felt Sinn Fein's leadership of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, had judged the mood of their supporters well.

Pausing to reflect on the impact of recent events, Mr McMurrough cast his mind back 20 years to the hunger strikes held by republican prisoners in Northern Ireland. Yet it was, perhaps, the turning point in republican thinking from militarism to a long road towards a political strategy.

"Who would have thought it would happen? It's the right thing. It has to be because it will stop people getting killed."


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See also:

23 Oct 01 | Northern Ireland
IRA in arms breakthrough
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