It all comes down to giving up guns in an effort to obtain peace.
The Irish Republican Army offered to disarm in agreement with most major political parties in Ireland, but politicians opposed to unification of Ireland are not ready to make it happen.
Former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell has issued a report in which he states an agreement has been reached to establish peace and install a new power-sharing government in Northern Ireland. He said he was encouraged by the written statement from the IRA.
The written statement by the IRA is considered historic in nature, but critics were not willing to accept the olive leaf and were quick to reject the offer. The Irish and English governments expressed satisfaction with the offer from the nationalist group, as did the majority of political parties involved in the peace process. Without the cooperation of all parties, however, the final result is in doubt.
“In the light of these and other encouraging developments, including the proposed appointment of authorized representatives of paramilitary organizations to the IICD (Independent International Commission on Decommissioning), I believe that a basis now exists for devolution to occur, for the institutions to be established, and for decommissioning to take place as soon as possible,” Mitchell stated yesterday. “Devolution should take effect, then the Executive should meet, and then the paramilitary groups should appoint their authorized representatives, all on the same day, in that order.
“I hereby recommend to the governments and the parties that they make the necessary arrangements to proceed, and call on them to do so without delay,” he concluded. Mitchell also announced that his work is finished and it is now up to the numerous political parties to carry out the tasks that most have agreed to.
A spokesman from the Washington office of Sinn Fein confirmed to WorldNetDaily that the IRA statement was genuine and welcomed. Sinn Fein is the Irish political party which favors an eventual reunification of Ireland, a goal shared by the IRA.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said that the IRA “has consistently demonstrated over recent years a willingness to enhance the search for a democratic peace settlement.” He urged the governments and political parties involved to respond positively to the IRA statement.
The peace process broke down in July over the issue of “decommissioning,” or disarmament of the IRA. Little was said of other paramilitary extremist groups, and Sinn Fein argued that decommissioning was not part of the original Good Friday Agreement brokered by Mitchell in April 1998.
A renewed effort was established to bring about an agreement. Mitchell returned to Ireland to bring the parties together. Demands were made by some who wanted assurance that the IRA would be willing to work with the IICD to bring about disarmament by early next year.
“The IRA is committed unequivocally to the search for freedom, justice and peace in Ireland,” the IRA statement began.
“In our view, the Good Friday Agreement is a significant development and we believe its full implementation will contribute to the achievement of lasting peace.
“We acknowledge the leadership given by Sinn Fein throughout this process.
“The IRA is willing to further enhance the peace process and consequently, following the establishment of the institutions agreed on Good Friday last year, the IRA leadership will appoint a representative to enter into discussions with General John de Chastelain and the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning,” said the statement, which was signed by P. O’Neill of the IRA.
The statement did not actually commit to a disarmament, or a hand-over of weapons. It did commit to enter into negotiations over how that would take place. The willingness even to talk about what most observers thought the IRA would never consider was welcomed by most, but criticized by key players.
“The IRA statement is pretty meaningless,” said Ulster Unionist Party MP William Thompson. He has been outspoken throughout the process and has stated he will not be satisfied until the IRA lays down its arms. He does not believe the new government in Northern Ireland should be established until that happens.
“Certainly if this is accepted it will have serious repercussions and if it goes through I won’t be in the party,” said Thompson, who also said he wants party leader David Trimble to resign.
Trimble has walked a tight rope throughout the negotiations on implementing the Good Friday Agreement. The hard-line demands of his party have placed him in a difficult position. He has accepted the plan for formation of the new government and the IRA statement. Private sources told WorldNetDaily that Trimble was strongly encouraged by President Bill Clinton to go against the extremists within his own party.
It was confirmed that Trimble has spent time on the phone with Clinton in recent weeks, but White House spokesmen were not able to confirm or deny what took place in the conversations.
“There is no timetable, no declaration that the so-called war is over, absolutely no guarantee that decommissioning will ever happen. It doesn’t give anything like the commitment unionists need to see peace and democracy,” said Ulster Unionist Party MP Jeffrey Donaldson, who has consistently opposed any agreement that has included nationalist forces from the IRA or Sinn Fein.
The Ulster Unionists have repeatedly rejected Sinn Fein initiatives to end the stalemate. Last July English Prime Minister Tony Blair describe the efforts of Sinn Fein as “seismic,” but the Ulster Unionists could not be persuaded to settle for anything short of immediate and complete disarmament.
“Decommissioning is by definition a voluntary act and cannot be imposed,” said Mitchell. The Good Friday Agreement does not include a provision for decommissioning. The issue began after the agreement was completed, causing the lengthy delay in establishing the shared government.
“To bring decommissioning about, the commission will need the cooperation and support of the political parties, using all the influence they have, together with the wholehearted commitment of paramilitary organizations.
“While decommissioning is an essential element of the (present) agreement, the context in which it can be achieved is the overall implementation of that agreement. All participants have a collective responsibility in this regard,” said Mitchell.
The IRA declared a cease-fire nearly four years ago. Other paramilitary groups have engaged in violent acts, but the IRA has not done so in an effort to enable the talks to continue without interruption. IRA spokesmen told WorldNetDaily that Protestant extremists have continually attempted to provoke them into violence.
The Irish Taoiseach (prime minister), Bertie Ahern said the IRA statement represented a “golden chance” for peace and the benefits that would come to all the people of Ireland.
“The statement’s reiteration of the IRA’s unequivocal commitment to peace, its comments on the significance of the Good Friday Agreement in terms of building a lasting peace, and its acknowledgment of the leadership of Sinn Fein, taken together with the cease-fire over what is now a protracted period, carry very real value at this critical time,” stated Ahern
“The IRA cessation — which has now been in place for a total of almost four years — represents an important and positive contribution by the IRA to the resolution of the conflict. IRA guns are silent and the Sinn Fein leadership is confident that the IRA remains committed to the objective of a permanent peace,” said Adams.
“By providing an effective political alternative we can remove the potential for conflict. That conflict must be, for all of us now, a thing of the past — over, done with and gone.
“There has been a particular focus on arms. This issue is addressed directly in the Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Fein accepts that decommissioning is an essential part of the peace process. We believe the issue of arms will be finally and satisfactorily settled under the aegis of the de Chastelain Commission as set out in the Agreement. All parties to the Agreement have an obligation to help bring decommissioning about. Sinn Fein is committed to discharging its responsibilities in this regard,” said Adams.
The Northern Ireland secretary of state, Peter Mandelson, said he welcomed the IRA statement and said it was “stronger in certain respects than some expected.”
In all, five Ulster Unionists opposed the IRA statement by signing their own statement — Thompson, William Ross, Roy Beggs, Clifford Forsythe and Martin Smyth. Trimble has disassociated himself from the statement of rejection.
Trimble has angered many in his party by accepting the IRA statement and the plan worked out by Mitchell. He stated that he recognizes the right of nationalists to “pursue their political objective of a united Ireland.”
That statement by the Ulster Unionist leader is considered by many to be almost as dramatic as the statement issued by the IRA. It is also a turning point for his party which may result in a division which could complicate the process of a new government.
Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams, said his party accepts that decommissioning “is an essential part of the peace process.” He said he believes the details of disarmament will be successfully worked out between all parties under the direction of the IICD.
Adams said his party was committed to the pursuit of nationalist goals exclusively through peaceful and democratic means.