August 31, 1994-IRA Announces cessation of military operations.
July 20, 1997-IRA renews cessation.
July 21,1999-IRA issues statement of commitment to peace and acknowledges the Good Friday Agreement can contribute to lasting peace.
May 6, 2000-IRA undertakes to open some of its arms dumps for inspection and says it is prepared to "initiate a process that will completely and verifiably put arms beyond use."
June 26, 2000-IRA states it has opened some of its arms dumps to weapons inspectors.
October 25, 2000-IRA announces it will permit further inspection of some of its arms dumps.
October 23, 2001-IRA announces it has put arms beyond use.
April 8, 2002-IRA announces it has carried out a second act with a "varied" and "Substantial" amount of weaponry put beyond use.
July 17, 2002-IRA apologizes to families of non-combatants killed by them and recognizes the grief of all those that lost loved ones in the conflict.
Other equally significant events followed on the heels of these developments or alongside them. Loyalists called cessations, all-party talks took place. A new political dispensation called the Good Friday Agreement emerged from negotiations. It was endorsed by the people of Ireland. Sinn Fein changed its constitution to permit elected representatives to take their seats in a northern parliament. Martin Mc Guinness and Bairbre de Brún became Ministers in an Executive. The Irish Government changed Articles 2 and 3 of its Constitution and the British Government changed the Government of Ireland Act, which partitioned Ireland. They transformed their claim to the Six Counties from London to the people of the Six Counties. All-Ireland institutions dealing with a range of issues were established. In theory, the partitionist arrangements that set up the two states in Ireland in 1920 were overcome.
These were events of huge significance, which transformed politics on this island and between Britain and Ireland--dramatic developments in anyone's book, unthinkable a few years ago. A fresh and bold approach by republicans was central to these new realities taking shape. The IRA took its life in its hands, took huge risks and gave the necessary space to allow a process of conflict resolution to take shape. Eight years into trying to establish a credible conflict resolution process which would unravel the issues that bound everyone to armed force of one form or another, the British government now appears set on a course that could stall the political momentum of recent years.
How else can Tony Blair's Belfast speech be interpreted? He declared, "...we cannot carry on with the IRA half in, half out of this process..." and "...the continuing existence of the IRA as an active paramilitary organization is now the best card those whom republicans call 'rejectionist' unionists, have in their hand." Are republicans to understand from these remarks that the British government no longer views the IRA as a key player in bringing about the changes we all enjoy today? Are we to understand from these remarks that the British government thinks that there is some other force out there inside the republican family that they can deal with who will be able to sustain the IRA's contribution to the peace process and will be capable of encouraging the IRA to continue as it has done in the past? Are we to understand from these remarks that the British government does not appreciate the reality that the IRA are guarantors of the peace process; that they are one of its principal underwriters; that without the current leadership of the IRA and the trust their volunteers have in their judgment, there would not be a peace process.
We all face a number of realities and high office doesn't insulate us from these realities, wherever we reside. I do not like the fact but I accept it that there are 30,000 British troops roaming around the Six Counties. I do not like the fact but I accept it that armed loyalists are in every working class Protestant area across the Six Counties. I do not like the fact but I accept it that British Policy is actively blocking the reunification of Ireland. I seek to change all of these realities to the one I prefer: Irish independence. Until I arrive at this political outcome, a number of things could happen. The Crown forces could be removed from the streets. They could be confined to barracks. Their military bases could be demolished. They'd be there, but I wouldn't see them anymore. They could cease to be an aid to British government policy, a bargaining chip to be employed against republicans when the British government need them.
The loyalists could decide to follow the IRA's example and begin to put their arms "verifiably beyond use." They could stop being pawns in the hands of British intelligence agencies and the PSNI Special Branch. They could stop peddling drugs and destroying the lives of teenagers. The UDA in particular could decide to reinstate its cessation, stop killing Catholics and its former associates. Following in this vein, the British Government could get real and recognize that the IRA, like it or not, has existed in one form or another in Ireland for most of the last hundred years. The IRA, like it or not, has played a very big part in shaping the political history of Ireland over the last century. For example, without the IRA, the southern state would not exist. Whatever I and most other republicans think about the extent of freedom and independence the Irish government has, they would not have a millimeter of territory to administer were it not for the IRA fighting the British between 1916 and 1921.
The IRA, as I write, continues to make a positive contribution to shaping the political life of this nation. The IRA Is a secret army, but its decisions in recent years have had a very public and beneficial effect on the lives of the people of Ireland and Britain. I would have expected Tony Blair to realize this.
This article is reprinted with permission from RM Distribution, originally contained within Irish Republican News and Information, RM 021025, October 2002.