DERRY — The Irish Republican Army (IRA) announced on Thursday that it would withdraw the offer to allow its weapons to be destroyed and to end activities that might endanger the 1998 peace agreement.
“We are taking our proposals off the table,” the group in a statement issued through the IRA newspaper, An Phoblacht.
The announcement follows weeks of turmoil after a power-sharing deal offered by the British and Irish governments in December fell through due to disagreement over how to verify the destruction of IRA weaponry.
The crisis deepened with the December robbery of a Belfast bank, in which the equivalent of €31.3 million was stolen. Both governments, backed by police and intelligence experts, have stated they believe the IRA carried out the raid.
Planning for the robbery would have been in its final stages while Sinn Féin, allegedly the IRA’s political wing, was in intensive negotiations with the two governments and Northern Ireland’s political parties over a deal to restore power-sharing and an elected assembly to Belfast, core aspects of the 1998 peace deal.
Northern Ireland’s three decades of civil conflict up to 1998 saw over 3,600 people killed, most of them civilians, as mostly Catholic Irish nationalists and republican paramilitaries, who want Northern Ireland to merge with the Republic of Ireland to the south, faced off against mostly Protestant unionists or loyalist counterparts who want to remain part of the United Kingdom. British soldiers flooded into Northern Ireland but were viewed by many nationalists as a hostile occupation force and were regularly targeted by the IRA.
Over the past weekend, Dublin newspapers carried speculation that the IRA, or hardline elements within the group, were considering a “return to war.”
After a Wednesday meeting at Downing Street, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair made a joint statement, citing the IRA as “the sole obstacle to moving forward” with the peace process. In turn, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said the IRA’s statement that it would withdraw its peace offers was “obviously a direct consequence of the retrograde stance of the two governments. It is evidence of a deepening crisis and I regret that very much.”
Sinn Féin has appeared increasingly marginalized since the bank robbery. Pro-British unionist parties in Northern Ireland have called for the peace process to move forward without Sinn Féin. That view was echoed by their moderate nationalist rivals, the Social, Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), which faces eclipse by Sinn Féin in the upcoming British general election.
The Irish government has taken an increasingly confrontational line with Sinn Féin, which has five sitting parliamentarians in Dublin, over issues such as ongoing IRA criminality and executions of civilians during the conflict.
Now, after weeks of deadlock, the Northern Ireland peace process seems to be backsliding. While one prominent unionist politician described the IRA announcement as “a thinly veiled threat,” it must be remembered that the IRA used this tactic before, after failed negotiations in 2003, and that no reference to a “return to war” was made in the statementShow