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Last Updated: Monday, 25 September 2006, 09:15 GMT 10:15 UK
A year after IRA 'arms farewell'
Rev Harold Good
By Rev Harold Good
Former Methodist president

The former Methodist president, Reverend Harold Good, who acted as an independent clerical witness to IRA decommissioning reflects on the political landscape one year on.

Next Tuesday it will be 12 months to the day since, as independent clerical witnesses, Fr Alec Reid and I were called upon to verify the statement on IRA decommissioning which had been given by General John de Chastelain in the name and with the authority of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning.

In front of the world's press I personally stated:

"The experience of seeing this with our own eyes, on a minute-by-minute basis, provided us with evidence so clear and of its nature so incontrovertible that, at the end of the process, it demonstrated to us, and would have demonstrated to anyone who might have been with us, that beyond any shadow of doubt, the arms of the IRA have now been decommissioned.

I went on to say:

"...the decommissioning of the arms of the IRA is now an accomplished fact."

Machine gun bullets
Since that time, not one IRA bullet has been fired and there is growing confidence in what we declared to be a fact
Rev Harold Good

At that time I was very much aware of those who had genuine doubts as well as those who, for their own predictable and political reasons, sought to undermine the validity of our statement.

However, all of that was totally eclipsed by the overwhelming amount of appreciation and affirmation from across our divided community.

Since that time, not one IRA bullet has been fired and there is growing confidence in what we declared to be a fact, even by those who expressed misgivings at the time.

Last week DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson said: "By any reckoning, substantial decommissioning has occurred, as well as the most positive ever IRA statement.

"The IMC has confirmed that very significant advances have been made on the issues of paramilitary and criminal activity by the IRA."

In interviews at that time, I said that I was persuaded by what I heard as much as by what I saw, in terms of the intent of those I met during the process of decommissioning.

While I am in no way an apologist for the IRA, I do know that in any process of conflict resolution there needs to be acknowledgement of positive steps taken by either party by the other.

This is why a recent Belfast Telegraph interview with the leadership of the loyalist UVF is also important.

In their own words they made it clear that, as far as they are concerned, "the Provo war is finished" and, in their threat assessment of the IRA, there is neither the will nor the inclination to return to violence.

The two witnesses, Rev Harold Good and Fr Alec Reid
The two witnesses, Rev Harold Good and Fr Alec Reid

From these comments, it would appear that the leadership of this loyalist organisation will put no obstacle in the way of a deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

A far cry from the dark days of 1974 and the Ulster Workers' Strike.

In that act of decommissioning, there was the removal of a giant-sized road block.

It is now the responsibility of all parties to pursue the removal of whatever obstacles may yet stand in the way of political progress and the restoration of a devolved and democratically elected assembly at Stormont.

The most obvious remaining obstacle to this taking place is the issue of policing.

We have every right to ask of those in whose gift it is, to say and do whatever must yet be done to give all of the protagonists in that debate good reason for confidence that this issue will be resolved, and that no more undeclared obstacles will be rolled on to the path.

As we all know, from our personal experiences, no human relationship can survive without "compromise".

For those who may have difficulty with this word it may be helpful to recognise that it shares the same root meaning as the word "accommodate".

In everyday parlance this means "making space", which is exactly what we must do if we are to share this piece of soil with each other.

Speaking of difficulties with which we too are familiar, it was a key player in a peace process in another place of conflict who said:

"Remember ...this is about giving all parties to the conflict an opportunity to share in a new beginning, whether you think they deserve it or not."

As a preacher and as a pastor I can think of no better definition of the great biblical word "grace".

An amazing word of which we hear and speak a great deal, but now must put into practice.





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