IRA's historic boost for Peace Process
By Michael Pierse
The IRA gave a significant boost to the peace process this week with an historic and unprecedented initiative. It was revealed in a statement from Óglaigh na hÉireann that agreed international inspectors Martti Ahtisaari and Cyril Ramaphosa have been allowed inspect arms dumps belonging to the IRA.
In its statement, the IRA called the agreement to open the dumps to inspectors an ``unprecedented initiative'' that was set ``in the context of a series of commitments made by the two governments, especially the British government''.
Óglaigh na hÉireann said that they had delivered on their commitment to resume contact with the Independent International Commission on Decomissioning.
``The leadership of the IRA have consistently sought to enhance the peace process. This initiative demonstrates once more our commitment to securing a just and lasting peace,'' the IRA statement said.
Reacting to that statement, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said that this ``groundbreaking and unprecedented'' initiative was ``both courageous and imaginative''.
``In 200 years, there has not been an initiative like this,'' he said. ``The IRA initiative is clearly a serious effort by it to address the suspicions and fears of those unionists who want the peace process to make progress.
``Let no one think this has been done without difficulties,'' he cautioned, ``let no one think there aren't all sorts of worries opened up within republicanism, because there are''.
He added, however, that ``everyone who wants the peace process to work will welcome the IRA's announcement... ``We have collectively made substantial progress in recent months. We have confounded the critics and the rejectionists.''
Adams also emphasised that it is imperative for the British government to now take action on the issues of equality, demilitarisation and policing. ``There is an onus on all of the participants, but especially the British government, to fully implement the commitments made in the Good Friday Agreement, and at Hillsborough in May,'' he said.
Ahtissari and Ramaphosa, in a joint statement, confirmed that all their requests were satisfactorily met. ``The process that led to the inspection visit and the way in which it was carried out,'' they stated, ``make us believe that this is a genuine effort by the IRA to advance the peace process.''
Bertie Ahern said that the IRA efforts represented ``a breakthrough of unprecedented and historic proportions... We have made a major leap forward in the peace process,'' he said.
Ahern also signalled his belief that the decommissioning issue, which has been used as a stumbling block to progress over the past five years, is now finally fading from the political agenda. ``It gives the confidence to the institutions to go on from strength to strength,'' he added.
Those who don't want the peace process to work were quick off the mark with their usual jaded, negative comments. Jeffrey Donaldson of the UUP said that he wanted to make it clear ``that the inspection of a few arms dumps does not represent progress in itself''. Peter Robinson, deputy leader of the DUP, branded the IRA initiative as a ``gimmick'' and a ``stunt''.
Robinson had been busy this week collecting the 30 requisite signatures to force a debate in the Six-County Assembly on whether or not Sinn Féin should be excluded. His talk about `gimmicks' and `stunts' smacked of hypocrisy, considering that the DUP have taken part in 50 debates with Sinn Féin as part of the Assembly, while sharing 250 committees with the party and co-operating with the Executive in their ministerial posts.
Well, not quite co-operating. Robinson and party colleague Nigel Dodds have said they have ``no intention'' of ``towing the line'' when it comes to a new code of conduct being drawn up for Assembly members. Their problem with the code is not in having to work side by side with members of Sinn Féin, but with a directive which would mean that those holding ministerial position would have to give up their local council seats.
This directive would allow for wider participation in politics and would, most importantly, ensure that there is no conflict of interest between their ministerial briefs and local issues. But the DUP wouldn't want to use their power at ministerial level to influence their electoral prospects locally, would they? Yet more evidence that the rejectionists are secretly bedding down with the new political situation in the Six Counties. Their `stunts' and `gimmicks' are more about biting into UUP votes than about any ethical problems with Sinn Féin.
The Orange Order's latest parade at Drumcree this week revealed that they are also losing momentum. The poor turnout at an Orange Order `Drumcree Support' parade through Portadown on Saturday was surely a shock to local organisers, who had expected thousands, not hundreds, of Orangemen to turn up. Posters for ``Protestant Solidarity'' in the town were not answered by the people of the Order's own community. Garvaghy Road residents' spokesperson Breandán Mac Cionnaith said: ``The Orange Order are quickly losing support in their own community''.
At Springfield Road in Belfast there was, however, a different story. The inclusion of a UDA colour party in the march and the playing of Orange Order tunes on a loudspeaker system were in direct contravention of the Parades Commission's rules. Tunes were also played in a parade in Bellaghy, again conflicting with the Commission's ruling.
The Parades Commission's decision to ban the Orange Order parade in Portadown next Sunday from the Garvaghy Road and from Obins Street was made on the basis of the disruption and chaos that would be caused to the local nationalist community. The Portadown Orange Order have also applied for permission to coat-trail down the Garvaghy Road on 9 July. In the context of their behaviour on the Springfield Road and this week's Portadown ruling, a different decision on the march on 9 July, usually the most disturbing event of the loyalist marching season, would be a complete turn-around. A decision to allow Orange marchers down the Garvaghy Road would confirm the claims of Orange Order spokesperson, David Jones, that a secret deal was done between the Order and Tony Blair last year.
On the issue of the RUC, the widely reported batoning of Sinn Féin Assembly member Gerry Kelly on the Springfield Road again highlighted the violently sectarian nature of that organisation. Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty is in London today to lobby members of the British Government's Standing Committee on Policing. The failure to enact the fundamental changes on policing that were envisaged in the Belfast Agreement would be a slap in the face for all those, republican and nationalist, who have made massive sacrifices to build confidence.
This week, the IRA signalled its commitment to a just and equitable settlement. That settlement cannot include the RUC, in whatever watered down version Blair and Mandelson may envisage. The policing issue is now centre stage for nationalists and republicans, alongside meaningful demilitarisation. It's time for the British to recognise their duty to restore confidence in this process.