A decision by the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) to formally draw its armed campaign to a close has been welcomed by the political parties in the North but has caused considerable surprise to its own supporters.
On Sunday, a statement was read to the annual Seamus Costello commemoration on behalf of the leadership of the Irish Republican Socialist Movement (RSM), which includes the INLA.
It stated: “The RSM has been informed by the INLA that following a process of serious debate, consultation and analysis, it has concluded that the armed struggle is over and the objective of a 32 County Socialist Republic will be best achieved through exclusively peaceful political struggle.
“The RSM agree with this analysis and are fully supportive of the move to build a left wing party that has a clear objective of a 32 County Socialist Republic based on the principles of equality, justice, inclusion, human rights and dignity.”
The announcement was made in Bray, County Wicklow, by Martin McMonagle, from Derry, a member of the organisation’s executive.
He went on to say that “the future struggles are political” and urged all members and supporters “to join the political struggle ahead with the same vigour, commitment and courage that was evident in our armed struggle against the British state.”
Mr McMonagle said the group would continue to oppose the 1998 Good Friday Agreement but would do so via peaceful means.
Nevertheless, the move took many RSM members and most of its supporters by surprise. The statement sharply contradicts previous policy documents published by the organisation, which disavow parliamentary activity as ‘reformist’ and doomed to failure.
Most voiced support and encouragement for the new political direction. However, media reports that the INLA would soon decommission their weapons provoked the greatest dismay.
McMonagle denied on Monday that the organisation has any plans to disarm.
“In our discussions with the INLA over the last number of years decommissioning has not been mentioned,” he said.
The INLA’s 35-year campaign was notorious for being both unpredictable and ruthless. In its deadliest attack, it killed eleven British soldiers and six civilians in December 1982.
However, many if its targets were republicans themselves, and the organisation at one point became synonymous with bloody internecine feuding.
British Direct Ruler Shaun Woodward welcomed the statement but said the INLA needed to hand in its weapons.
A member of the RSM executive, Willie Gallagher, would not comment on the subject of weapons. He claimed there had been “a lot of internal consultation over quite some time” -- an element of which was the “raison d’etre of the INLA”.
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams welcomed the announcement but said: “Given the history of the INLA there will undoubtedly be some scepticism about today’s statement.
“However, if it is followed by the actions that are necessary this is a welcome development.”