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Wednesday, 9 October, 2002, 16:03 GMT 17:03 UK
Demands for IRA to disband 'unrealistic'
Police raid at Stormont prompted allegations of IRA activity

With every crisis in Northern Ireland there is another demand, and a new "d" word has crept into the political vocabulary.

On the tip of every unionist tongue at the moment is the word "disbandment".

It is what they are demanding of the IRA if the political process is to be rescued and the power-sharing arrangements involving unionists, nationalists and republicans saved.

"D" words are no strangers to this troubled process.

Remember "decontamination"?

David Trimble: Northern Ireland First Minister
David Trimble: First Minister has demanded the IRA disbands

That came just after the original IRA ceasefire in 1994.

Unionists expected republicans to be placed in quarantine before entering the political mainstream.

Then there was "decommissioning" and, now, there is "disbandment".

The dictionary definition of disband is to break up or disperse but, in terms of the IRA going away, how realistic is that in current circumstances?

Continuing need

That it is a unionist demand - the latest test set by David Trimble - immediately reduces the potential for any such move.

Look too at what the loyalist paramilitaries are up to - shooting at each other and in between times attacking vulnerable nationalist communities.

While all of that is going on, republicans will see a continuing need for the IRA.

And there is a bigger context.

Is the IRA really likely to step off the stage with the British Army still on it and the issues of policing and demilitarisation - another "d" word - not yet settled to the satisfaction of republicans?

Gerry Adams: Sinn Fein President
Gerry Adams: "Sick being tested"

The Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams, says he wants to live in an Ireland "in which there is no IRA", but he places those comments in the wider context I have just outlined.

Adams deals in political reality.

IRA disbandment is not an imminent prospect.

So, what are the dangers while it is still there?

Occasionally, there will be happenings that will appear to contradict the stated republican commitment to peace.

Wider frame

The latest such happening is the so-called "Stormontgate" - allegations of IRA intelligence gathering at the very heart of the Northern Ireland Office.

There are three people before the courts.

So, let us set this specific case to one side and look at the IRA in a wider frame.

Is the IRA still out there?

Yes it is.

Is it still gathering intelligence?

British Prime Minister Tony Blair
Tony Blair: Has said the Agreement is the only way forward

According to security sources, yes it is.

Is its ceasefire under threat?

According to the same security sources, no it is not.

That ceasefire, as the IRA itself defines it, has meant no attacks on the security forces, on loyalists or on so-called "economic targets" and, within that frame, it has held.

But unionists and the British Government now expect much more from the IRA's "complete cessation of operations" - an end to intelligence gathering, targeting and the acquisition and development of weaponry.

Indeed, an end to the IRA itself.

These are the new ceasefire tests, but Gerry Adams says republicans "are sick being tested".

They are angry too that there is such a focus on the IRA at a time when there is so much violence coming from the loyalist side.

They may be sick, but they will tell you they are still very much committed to the ceasefire and to what has developed since then.

"There's no lobby from within the republican movement to ditch the peace process," a republican source told me.

"The trend from within the republican constituency, is for the peace process."

Prove it, will be the response from the unionists and, if Northern Ireland's political Humpty-Dumpty is to be put back together again, then something more will be required of the IRA.

What that might be and when it might come is anyone's guess at this time.

See also:

08 Oct 02 | N Ireland
04 Oct 02 | N Ireland
23 Jul 02 | N Ireland
08 Apr 02 | N Ireland
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