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.”
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 — Police arrested two men on Wednesday in connection with the January murder of Robert McCartney in Belfast. A 49-year-old man was detained in Belfast. The other, aged 36, was arrested in Birmingham. Meanwhile, follow-up searches have been taking place in the Markets area of Belfast, close to where the killing took place. McCartney was murdered on 31 January outside a pub near the Catholic-nationalist Short Strand enclave in East Belfast.
DERRY — As expected, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) emerged as the big winner in the Northern Ireland part of the UK general election held on 5 May. Friday’s results saw the party led by preacher Ian Paisley gain three seats. The DUP increased its vote share by 11 per cent over the 2001 election results to become the largest Northern Irish party at Westminster, taking half of the 18 seats representing the province. The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), historically the main representative of pro-British sentiment in Northern Ireland, lost four of its five seats, including the constituency of party leader and 1998 Nobel Peace Prize winner David Trimble. In response to the crushing defeat, Trimble resigned as party leader on Saturday afternoon.
DERRY — When the Queen’s subjects go to the polls on Thursday, they will essentially be voting in two very different elections. The three main political parties on the British mainland have campaigned on issues such as the legality of the US-British invasion of Iraq, immigration policy, education, and leadership personalities, while the polls in Northern Ireland will feature an entirely different set of actors and factors. In April, a delegation from the recently elected provincial legislature of Basra, Iraq visited Belfast and Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland’s two largest cities, to learn about Northern Ireland’s peace process. For the prime minister’s advisers, the visit from Basra is an opportunity to put a positive spin on Tony Blair’s unpopular decision to participate in the US-led invasion of Iraq. Drawing parallels between Iraq and Northern Ireland allows Downing Street to deflect attention from the original rationale for the attack – Iraq’s alleged banned weapons stockpiles – and to recast the invasion as an effort to replace dictatorship with democracy. To others, it represents a measure of how far Northern Ireland has come since the quarter-century of civil conflict ended with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (GFA) peace deal.
DERRY — Speaking on BBC TV over the weekend, Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader David Trimble called on voters to support “centrist” parties in Northern Ireland in Britain’s forthcoming general election. Trimble’s call amounted to asking Northern Ireland’s unionist population to vote for the more moderate nationalist party, the Social, Democratic, and Labour Party (SDLP), instead of the UUP’s rivals within unionism, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The SDLP is regarded as the moderate alternative to Sinn Féin – the political party linked to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) – while the UUP sees itself as having a similar profile vis-à-vis the DUP. However, in an attempt to outflank Sinn Féin, the SDLP recently released a strategic paper outlining its proposals on Irish unity, which would see Northern Ireland merge with its larger neighbor, the Irish Republic, which covers most of the island of Ireland.
DERRY — The Irish Republican Army (IRA) on Thursday said it was considering Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams’ request to give up its armed struggle and adopt a peaceful, democratic political campaign to end British rule in Northern Ireland. The paramilitary organization said it was giving “due consideration” to Adams’ request, adding that a definitive response would be given “in due course.” The leader of Sinn Féin, the political party linked to the IRA, welcomed the paramilitary group’s pledge to address his appeal, and responded to critics of the speech, saying that it was “a genuine attempt to drive the peace process forward.” While some welcomed Adams’ statement as significant, others said it was a disingenuous campaign ploy.
DERRY — Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams on Wednesday urged the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to accept peace and give its total support to democratic politics in Northern Ireland. In what is being described as either a landmark speech or as unconcealed electioneering in the run-up to the 5 May general elections in Britain, Adams said the “struggle had reached a defining moment.” He appealed directly to the IRA leadership to become activists in a movement to rebuild the struggling Northern Ireland peace process and push for a single all-Ireland state. “The way forward is by building political support for republican and democratic objectives across Ireland and winning support for those objectives internationally,” Adams said.
DERRY — Northern Ireland Secretary of State Paul Murphy told the British House of Commons on Tuesday that he would extend sanctions against Sinn Féin, the political party linked to the Irish Republican Army (IRA), for a year. Murphy said Sinn Féin’s Northern Ireland Assembly grant, worth some £120,000 (about €173,000), would be suspended for an additional 12 months. The decision comes in the wake of the latest report from the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) accusing the IRA of being behind the theft of around €33 million from a Belfast bank in December. The IMC recommended imposing financial penalties on Sinn Féin. The commission was set up by the Irish and British governments to monitor paramilitary activity. An earlier IMC report, which detailed IRA involvement in smuggling and smaller robberies, led to the initial application of the sanctions.
DERRY — The Independent Monitoring Commission set up by the Irish and British governments released a report on Thursday, saying that senior Sinn Féin members had advance knowledge of the theft, allegedly by the IRA, of some €31 million from a Belfast bank in December. Both governments have endorsed the findings. In Dublin, Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell said some of the politicians implicated in the report were household names, but the report did not name anyone directly. Sinn Féin is said to be the political wing of the Irish Republican Army and its president, Gerry Adams, responded to the IMC report by challenging the Irish government to either have him arrested or cease what he termed “unsubstantiated allegations.” Early on Friday, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern described Adams’ comments as “a little bit childish…a little bit nonsense.”