- The Washington Times - Friday, February 11, 2000

''Our guns remain silent," is the excuse of choice for the Irish Republican Army whenever it is pressed to give up its arms. But with financial and political support from international interests and an extensive quantity of munitions still held by the organization and its splinter groups, the paramilitary group is repeating an argument that is completely hollow.

Ask any of the guests or employees of the Mahon's Hotel in Irvinestown, Northern Ireland, who had to be quickly evacuated Sunday shortly before a bomb planted by the Continuity IRA exploded underneath an oil tank at the back of the hotel. Or ask Ulster locals who were threatened with similar attacks by IRA dissidents if they facilitate meetings for British colonial police. How many more bombings have to take place before Northern Ireland's paramilitaries decide to discard their arms? But Sinn Fein the IRA's political wing has stepped into the silence that follows that rhetorical question with more defensiveness.

What John Hume, the respected Catholic leader of the Social Democratic and Labor Party, asked of the IRA shortly after this weekend's bombing was a simple thing: Hand over the several tons of Semtex, the Czech-made plastic explosive received from the Libyans in the mid-1980s, and everybody will be able to sleep a lot easier. But Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel McLaughlin defended the party's armed cohorts, telling Mr. Hume it would be "hard to imagine a more inappropriate moment to make that particular suggestion."

Really? Britain passed emergency legislation late last night to allow the 2-month-old Northern Irish government to be suspended, which Northern Irish Secretary Peter Mandelson said he intended to enact today. This move could have been avoided if the IRA had been willing to give a specific time commitment on disarmament. As this page goes to print, it had not. Meanwhile, the IRA dissidents responsible for the latest bombing said they intend "to continue to progress our war effort regardless of how British rule in the six occupied countries is remodeled."

By continuing to give excuses for not keeping its November commitment to the peace process, Northern Ireland's largest and most potent paramilitary group is aiding this war effort. Smaller militant groups will have no incentive to give up arms as long as the most visible of the outlawed groups is still saying Ulster is a paramilitary's playground. Nor do Sinn Fein's excuses give Britain and the Ulster Unionists reason to believe the IRA apologists want to build a peace for Northern Ireland. The armed Catholic republican group's complete decommissioning is the only way to ensure the IRA's guns remain silent and the new Northern Irish government survives.

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