Irish Republican News · July 30, 2005
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Building confidence in peace

The first confirmation that a sequence of historical events was about to unfold this week was the emergence from prison on Wednesday of political hostage Sean Kelly.

Kelly, a former republican prisoner who had been summarily returned jailed without explanation, was release on Wednesday night at the personal direction of British Direct Ruler Peter Hain. The act of jailing Mr Kelly last month was a breach of the Good Friday Agreement, under which the prominent North Belfast republican had been released three years ago.

Kelly’s lawyer Kevin Winters emphasised that despite being released, his client’s case must still be considered by the Sentence Review Commissioners.

A political pawn, if ever there was one, Kelly’s release infuriated unionist politicians but was an essential requirement for what was to come.

Early Thursday morning, Sinn Féin confirmed that the well-flagged IRA statement as on its way, and would be followed by co-ordinated press conferences in the US and Europe.

The days of balaclava-masked drop-offs were finally dispensed with when the IRA statement emerged as a video, read out by respected former republican prisoner, Seanna Walsh.

In a white shirt and standing before a tricolour, it was a reassuring performance from any perspective by the former prison comrade of Bobby Sands. it was also not lost on the media that Mr Walsh is known for his view that the decommissioning of IRA arms is of little or no military relevance.

With some high-tech hitches on the day, it was perhaps wise that the statement signed by P. O’Neill also appeared in old-fashioned, hard-copy form.

And so a tsunami of political reaction was unleashed. The countdown to 4pm, the moment the statement came into effect, was heralded by a flurry of statements from every corner of the political process.

Waiting until the hour had been reached, and in the very full glare of the international media, the Sinn Féin press conference in in Jury’s hotel in Dublin was unusually tense. For Gerry Adams, ringed by party luminaries and political hopefuls, it was unquestionably a moving and historic moment.

Mr Adams described the statement as “a truly momentous and defining point in the search for a lasting peace with justice”.

He said the statement had come in response to the direct appeal he made to IRA members in April.

“This appeal was based on my belief that there now exists, for the first time in the history of our struggle, the opportunity to achieve republican objectives through purely peaceful and democratic methods,” he said.

“Today’s decision by the IRA to move into a new peaceful mode is historic and represents a courageous and confident initiative.”

Mr Adams called on republicans to show “unity and solidarity” and for the “struggle to be carried forward with new energy and enthusiasm”.

“The IRA decision presents an unparalleled challenge and opportunity for every nationalist and republican,” he said. “There is an enormous responsibility on us to seize this moment and to make Irish freedom a reality.”

Mr Adams said the decommissioning statement also “presents difficulties and challenges for others”.

“There is now no possible excuse for the British and Irish governments to not fully and faithfully implement the Good Friday Agreement.” This chiefly meant “an end to pandering to those unionists who are rejectionist”, Mr Adams said.

The IRA statement also presented a “direct challenge to the DUP”. Mr Adams warned republicans that they “should not be surprised that our opponents will continue to try to defeat us”.

He also addressed those who “have suffered in the conflict”. “I am very mindful that today will be an emotional one for many people,” Mr Adams said. “I want to extend my solidarity to the families of our patriot dead and to commit myself and our leadership to continue our efforts to win Irish freedom.

“I am also conscious of the many other families, on all sides, who have suffered. Let us all do everything we can to ensure that no-one else dies as a result of conflict in our country.”

Addressing whether Sinn Féin would now join the controversial Policing Board, Mr Adams said his party’s attitude was “very clear and totally unambiguous”.

“We will have an Ard Fheis of Sinn Féin when we have satisfaction on certain matters,” he said.

These include the transfer of justice powers from Westminster to a Stormont administration, plastic bullets and “who runs the securocrats and the spooks and the spies”.

“These are issues which can be resolved,” Mr Adams said. Republicans paid taxes like everyone else, he added. “We want to be policed.”

On whether the IRA statement meant an end to “criminal activity” by republicans, Mr Adams said he was “not going to interpret IRA statements for anyone”.

“But when the statement talks about ‘democratic and peaceful means’ I think it is clear,” he said. “What part of ‘any activity whatsoever’ do readers not understand?”

Mr Adams said it could take a long time for the import of the IRA statement to sink in to republicans.

“It will take weeks, maybe longer, for some people to absorb what’s happened. Maybe it’s a step too far for some republicans.

“Personally, I’ve been too busy to absorb the import of it. It is hugely courageous. It’s emotional.”

More than a few were tired and emotional by the time the sun came up on Friday morning.

But the North awoke to the good news that dismantling of controversial British army spytowers along the Border in south Armagh had begun, to muted howls of rage from unionists .

It was announced that a base at Forkhill will close, while a spytower at Sugarloaf Mountain [Tuppenny Mountain] and a spy post at Newtownhamilton police station are also to be removed.

Commenting on the posts’ closure, the British Army’s general officer commanding Reddy Watt, said: “In light of yesterday’s developments, the chief constable and I have decided that a further reduction in security profile is possible.”

An updated programme of what the British Army terms “security normalisation” is also be published soon.

Sinn Féin’s local representative Conor Murphy welcomed the move.

“People living in areas like South Armagh have lived with the negative effects of military occupation for too long. We are now well over ten years into this process,” he said.

“The start made today must be built upon in the days and weeks ahead, not just in South Armagh but across the six counties. The demilitarisation of communities is an important element in consolidating the progress already made and ensuring that we build a new future free from conflict and division.”

And as a quid-pro-quo appears set to continue for some time, there were early moves by Sinn Féin to bring about peace and reconciliation.

Speaking later on Friday, Gerry Adams expressed regret for the grief caused to the families of all those who died during the Troubles in the North.

Speaking at a press conference in Belfast, Mr Adams also said brave people, including soldiers and police, had fought on both sides of the conflict.

International efforts are underway to maintain the momentum of the peace process following the IRA’s decision to end its armed campaign.

Major Irish American organisations, under the banner of Irish American Unity in Action Committee, have called on the British, Irish and US governments “to seize this opportunity to fully implement the Agreement to which they pledged themselves over seven years ago.”

On his visit to the US, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness held meetings with Senators Hillary Clinton and Patrick Leahy, US President George Bush’s special adviser Mitchell Reiss and Cardinal Edward Egan of New York.

The Mid Ulster MP said there had been widespread support for the IRA’s decision to end its armed campaign. Mr McGuinness said there was support “not just of the historic nature of the move, but also the need the Irish and British governments to push forward with the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the restoration of the political institutions.”

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© 2005 Irish Republican News