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Tuesday, 23 October, 2001, 22:27 GMT 23:27 UK
Boston Irish debate IRA arms move
One of the many heavy machine guns recovered by the security forces from the IRA
A "significant" quantity of weapons have been put beyond use
By BBC News Online's Joseph Winter in Boston

Boston's large and influential Irish community is divided on the merits of the IRA's decommissioning announcement.

"It's good and bad," said an Irish-American taxi-driver.


Let's hope it lasts

Boston bar part-owner Dereck Leonard
"Good to get the weapons out of action but bad that the English are staying."

The city is full of Irish pubs and there is a city centre monument to the 1840s famine, which forced millions of starving Irish to come and settle in the United States, while the local basketball team is called the Celtics.

There are several organisations here which raise funds for the Republican movement, some of which is allegedly used to buy weapons for the IRA.

Peaceful co-existence

Kitty O'Shea's pub in the financial district has the Irish tricolour flying beside the Stars and Strips and advertises its Guinness to its many Irish stock-broker customers.

Kitty O'Sheas, Boston
Opinion was divided on the arms issue among bar customers
Part-owner Dereck Leonard told BBC News Online: "It's brilliant news, I just heard it five minutes ago."

"If people from so many different backgrounds can live in peace here in the US, we should be able to live together in Ireland.

"Let's hope it lasts."

He said that if the peace does hold, then millions of American dollars would be invested in Northern Ireland, helping both communities.

Asked whether it was not a surrender, he replied: "Anything that helps people live together is not a surrender."

But in South Boston, the heartland of the Irish community here, people were less positive.


If they do decommission, that's playing their last card

Tommy Fitzpatrick

Inside one of the many pubs bedecked with Irish flags, green paint and Gaelic-style lettering and where Celtic games are broadcast live on big-screen televisions every Saturday, Tommy Fitzpatrick said: "If they do decommission, that's playing their last card".

Attitude change

Local analysts say that following the 11 September attacks, the US Government increased its pressure on the Irish Republican movement here.

Memorial in Boston
The city has a monument marking the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s
They say that this was an important factor in the IRA's announcement and it is no coincidence that it was made while Martin McGuiness was in Washington.

The change of attitude was mirrored by an Irish-American taxi-driver.

"I never thought of the IRA as terrorists before 11 September," he said.

"But now I see where the Brits are coming from."

Republican activist Kevin Fagan, who in his seven years in Boston has switched to drinking Budweiser instead of Guinness, thinks the pressure was Tony Blair's pay-back for Britain's military support in Afghanistan.

He supports the leadership of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness but told BBC News Online: "They're putting their leadership on the line."

Right 'to bear arms'

"As long as there's an armed British presence in Ireland, Irish people also have the right to bear arms,", he said.

Mr Fagan is worried that decommissioning will leave Republicans defenceless against Loyalist paramilitaries.

"We've got no faith in the British Army or the police, so if we don't protect ourselves, who will?, he asked.

While the US Government may try and restrict Republican fund-raising activities in Boston and elsewhere, hard-liners here are not talking as though they believe the IRA's announcement is enough to bring peace to the troubled province.


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See also:

23 Oct 01 | Northern Ireland
IRA in arms breakthrough
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