- The Washington Times - Friday, July 29, 2005

The “beginning of the end”: That’s how the Times of London characterizes the Irish Republican Army’s Thursday promise of a halt to decades of violence in Northern Ireland. “This may be the day which finally, after all these false dawns and dashed hopes, peace replaced war, politics replaces terror on the island of Ireland,” British Prime Minister Tony Blair said. Ian Paisley, a leader of the Protestant majority, sounded cautiously open to the possibility — possibility being the operative word — that the IRA is serious this time. He noted that the organization has made many promising statements in the past before “revert[ing] to type” and said he would be monitoring the IRA carefully: “We will judge the IRA’s bona fides over the next months and years based on its behavior and activity.”

Could this be a start to a real and permanent peace in Northern Ireland? This promise may break new ground, but it’s important to remember that words, unlike deeds, are inexpensive. The IRA’s recorded statement instructs members to “dump arms,” stop all military activity and use “exclusively peaceful means” in pursuit of a united Ireland. It invites both Catholic and Protestant clergymen to monitor an arms decommissioning process that would be verified by international authorities. The closest the IRA has ever come to this declaration was its 1997 cease-fire. So, the words sound good. We await the deeds.

There is speculation that the momentum began in December, when IRA thugs stole $39 million from the Northern Bank in Belfast and murdered Robert McCartney as dozens of witnesses watched. This is thought to have turned the stomachs even of the IRA’s American backers, who have been a crucial source of funding. Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was not invited to the White House, the first such snub in 10 years, and Sen. Ted Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, a frequent defender of the IRA, declined to meet Mr. Adams, citing the IRA’s “ongoing criminal activity and contempt for the rule of law.” Rep. Peter King, New York Republican and a staunch friend of the IRA, called for the organization to disband. Maybe the IRA read these signs and decided the game was up.

There is still much that could go wrong. Verification of arms decommissioning is a continuing problem. The IRA is not broke; it could rearm quickly. Even if the IRA leaders really mean it when they say they want to end the violence, the men in the ranks, having become addicted to blood and gunpowder over the decades, could disobey and go their own way in splinter groups. In recent years, as IRA terrorism against Britain waned, the IRA has apparently been training members of the FARC — a Communist narcoterrorist group supported by Cuba and operating in Colombia — to build larger, more deadly bombs. In December, a Colombian court sentenced three suspected IRA members to 17 years in jail for providing explosives training for the FARC. If the IRA wants to be treated as a legitimate political party rather than a terrorist organization, this activity must cease.

The events of this week are encouraging, but there is plenty of reason to be cautious and even skeptical of the IRA’s promise.

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