DUBLIN — Some two months after the Irish Republican Army (IRA) announced on 28 July the end of its 40-year armed campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland, the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IMC) said the IRA had “met its commitment to put all arms beyond use in a manner called for by the legislation.” Before that, Northern Ireland’s peace process had stalled. Now, the hope is that IRA disarmament will mean an eventual return to the devolved executive and assembly – the institutional centerpieces of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement – and the development of a more stable post-conflict transition. Allegations of IRA intelligence gathering at the devolved institutions headquarters led to the suspension of those institutions in October 2002. Throughout the peace process, the IRA’s retention of its arsenal and its alleged adherence to criminality were repeatedly cited by unionists as the reason they could not cooperate with Sinn Féin, the political party linked to the IRA, in a devolved executive in Northern Ireland. Now, as Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) leader Mark Durkan told ISN Security Watch, “the big boulder – the refusal of the IRA to disarm – has been removed, that stone has now been rolled away.”
BELFAST — Since late 2004, after the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) allegedly stole €33.5 million from a Belfast bank and IRA men murdered Belfast Catholic Robert McCartney, the world has once again turned much attention to the Northern Ireland peace process and the activities of the IRA and Sinn Féin, the political party linked to the group. This attention increased after 28 July, when the IRA publicly called an end to its war against British sovereignty over Northern Ireland, and on 26 September, when the group appointed to oversee the disarming of Northern Ireland’s paramilitaries said the IRA had given up all its weapons. But another community in Northern Ireland has recently gained much attention, as well. The Protestant community, though arguably less prominent internationally than its Catholic nationalist counterpart, makes up 56 per cent of the region’s population. Largely descended from Scottish Presbyterian and English Anglican settlers in the 17th Century, this majority seeks to remain part of the United Kingdom rather than see Northern Ireland become part of an all-Ireland state by merging with its economically more successful neighbor, which takes up five-sixths of the island.
DERRY — A leading former member of Northern Ireland’s largest unionist-loyalist paramilitary group was assassinated at his home in Belfast. Jim Gray, a former commander in the Ulster Defense Association (UDA), was shot late Tuesday several times at close range in his doorway by two gunmen. His killing came six months after his ouster from the UDA, of which he was a commander, following a dispute with his former colleagues. The 43-year-old ex-militant was out on bail and awaiting trial on money laundering and stolen property charges. Gray was arrested near the border of the Irish Republic in April, and was thought to be trying to leave Northern Ireland.
DERRY — Northern Ireland’s largest pro-British unionist party reacted sceptically to an announcement on Monday that the Irish Republican Army (IRA) had destroyed all of its weapons. Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Ian Paisley said there was no real verification of IRA decommissioning in Monday’s announcement, adding it showed the duplicity and dishonesty of the British and Irish governments as well as of the IRA. Paisley said the Commission had simply taken the IRA’s word at face value. “Not one iota was given to verify that assurance,” he said. At a news conference earlier Monday, the head of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) said the IRA has completed its disarmament.
DERRY — Protestant loyalists attacked local police and British troops in Northern Ireland for a third day on Monday in clashes prompted after the authorities rerouted a planned Orange Order march. Masked men and youths confronted police across Belfast and other towns, and extremists shot at police backed by British soldiers late on Sunday. At least 50 police officers were hurt in the violence, which saw petrol bombs, blast bombs, and pipe bombs thrown at police. After some of the worst violence in Northern Ireland since the signing of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement, the blame-game is being played by all sides.
DERRY — In his first public interview since the Irish Republican Army (IRA) vowed to end its armed campaign in July, hardline Protestant unionist leader Ian Paisley on Sunday gave a positive assessment of the troubled region’s political future and said he would agree to meet the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland. Speaking to Irish state broadcaster RTE, Paisley said he believed peace in Ireland was possible in his lifetime. Paisley – the leader of Northern Irelands largest party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – has long been an ardent opponent of Irish nationalism in Northern Ireland, and of the Catholic Church. He is now the leading political voice in pro-British unionism in Northern Ireland Paisley, who opposes the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement that ended the over 30-year conflict in Northern Ireland, went on to say he was willing to meet the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop Sean Brady. Paisley’s political opposition to Irish nationalism has been influenced heavily by his religious opposition to Catholicism.
DUBLIN – A member of a splinter group of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) has been ordered to stand trial for his alleged involvement in the 1998 Omagh bombing, considered the worst attack in Northern Ireland in the last 30 years. Sean Hoey faces a total of 58 charges relating to the bombing that devastated the Northern Irish town of Omagh in 1998. The IRA wants to unite the Protestant northern province with the predominantly Catholic Irish Republic in the south. It formally ended its armed campaign in July. Coming four months after signing the Good Friday peace agreement, the Omagh bombing that killed 29 people was carried out by the Real IRA, a small dissident group that split from the main, or “Provisional” IRA, due to disagreements with the latter’s ceasefire and adherence to a proposed peace process.
DERRY — On Monday a new grassroots campaign dubbed “Love Ulster” began disseminating newsletters across Northern Ireland aimed at denouncing alleged nationalist dominance of the political process. The Love Ulster campaign will disseminate 200,000 free newsletters across Northern Ireland, highlighting unionist concerns at political concessions granted to Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) since the latter’s statement that it was ending its nearly four-decade campaign of violence against British rule. In the days after the statement, the British government announced radical plans for demilitarization in Northern Ireland – a move unionists view as premature at best and a betrayal at worst. They see the disbandment of the British army’s Royal Irish Regiment as a move that will harm unionist culture. William Wilkinson, a spokesman for the Love Ulster campaign, told ISN Security Watch that unionists were “shocked at the speed of the [British] concessions [after the IRA statement].”
DERRY — The three Irish Republican Army (IRA) men who re-emerged in Ireland eight months after disappearing from Colombia, where they were due to face 17 years in prison, remain missing in Ireland. The whereabouts of Niall Connolly, James Monaghan, and Martin McCauley – dubbed “The Colombian Three” – are still unknown six days after they revealed their return to an Irish television station. The men were sentenced to 17 years in prison in Colombia, convicted after an initial acquittal was overturned of training leftist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and of travelling on false passports. The Colombian vice-president and unionist parties in Northern Ireland have called for the men to be extradited to Colombia to face their sentences.