British prime minister Tony Blair has said the Provisional IRA must move into “a different modus operandi” in which it can no longer pose a threat.
Resisting the word “disbandment”, Mr Blair suggested “verbal battles ... aren’t what’s important” and declared: “What is important is that the republican movement pursues its aims by exclusively democratic and peaceful means and that means an end to all violence and preparations for violence.”
He was speaking after a full summit-level meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference in London. He had earlier suggested that the eagerly awaited statement represented a “one-off opportunity” for (Provisional) Republicans to pass through the “credibility threshold”.
At a brief joint press conference in 10 Downing Street after their one-hour summit, Mr Blair held out hope that elements of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement could still be implemented.
“The basic and essential deal at the heart of the Good Friday agreement remains ... We’ve just got to hope people will fulfil their obligations to get there,” he said.
26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has warned that the disbanding of the Provisional IRA arising from a possible statement later this month would “run the risk of creating splits - many more Real IRAs”.
He agreed with former mediator in the peace process Fr Alex Reid, who warned recently of the danger posed by IRA hardliners opposed to ending violence.
Mr Ahern told Dublin radio: “We don’t want to splinter the republican movement into 10 pieces because that certainly wouldn’t help the process.”
Fr Alex Reid, a key peace negotiator and mediator in the peace process, this week warned that commitment was required from both the Dublin and London governments if a dangerous vacuum and the prospect of another “Canary Wharf” was to be avoided.
He said unionists were “far too damaged by history” to make rational decisions in relation to breaking the current impasse, and the danger was that this situation could fuel an “impatience” among some of the younger members of the republican movement.
“Unionists are one of this island’s greatest assets, and I firmly believe that future economic success on this island depends on their expertise and commitment,” he said.
“However, currently they are like a frightened people, emerging from the barricades and facing a forest full of uncertain noise and not knowing which way to turn.
“If the British government does not reaffirm its commitment to equality through the Belfast Agreement, and if the Irish Government does not play its part by keeping a focus on the peace process, rather than on the perceived threat posed by Sinn Féin, we are facing a very risky situation.”
Father Reid was receiving an honorary doctorate from NUI Galway.
Meanwhile, former US congressman Bruce Morrison has suggested that a clear statement from the Provisional IRA would encourage unionists to embrace power-sharing with Sinn Féin.
A long-standing supporter of the peace process, Mr Morrison said of the predicted IRA move: “Everybody is asking for a clear statement they they will stand down as a military army and pursue their republican ideals through the political process.
“They must also cease from engaging in criminal or anti-social behaviour.”
However, Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley yesterday attacked Mr Blair. He accused the British government of providing “a fig leaf which covers the nakedness of IRA depravity”.
“Unionists are not going to be fooled by any statement coming from the lips of those who have lied continually and engaged in a campaign of evil,” Mr Paisley said.
“Spin from the Northern Ireland Office or the Prime Minister is only a fig leaf which covers over the nakedness of IRA depravity.
“In no way are the unionist people going to settle for anything that bears the trademarks of IRA duplicity.”