- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Arms decommissioning isn’t the key to peace in Northern Ireland; an end to the Irish Republican Army’s terrorist thuggery is. Still, unless arms inspector and Canadian Gen. John de Chastelain is a dupe or a liar, Northern Ireland has just taken a major step closer to peace with the apparent junking of much, possibly even most, of the IRA’s arsenal.

Gen. de Chastelain reported this week that the quantities of arms that he and his fellow decommissioners watched the IRA destroy this summer about equals what the British and Irish security services told him the IRA possesses. He said that “the arms involved in the recent events include a full range of ammunition, rifles, machine guns, mortars, missiles, handguns, explosives, explosive substances and other arms.” As the Times of London editorialized, “This act of disarmament may have come seven years after the Good Friday agreement, and the delay may have diminished its impact. Yet it has happened. This is an immensely important move.”

There are still plenty of reasons for skepticism. Most immediately, some weapons may have been spirited away to shadowy paramilitary groups, and improvised weapons apparently were not on the intelligence lists. Both of these facts mean that IRA thugs could still wreak havoc with home-made explosives, jerry-rigged bombs or whatever remnants of the IRA arsenal that still exist. Even if Gen. de Chastelain is correct about the bulk of IRA bombs in the London Underground and the usual means for IRA terrorists still exist. That’s because the militants, not the arms cache itself, are the real sources of violence.

Also, the de Chastelain report does not cover paramilitary organizations nor criminal activity, the two primary concerns of most ordinary citizens. A much-anticipated International Monitoring Commission (IMC) report on paramilitaries expected next month could shed light on the cloudier elements of IRA splinter groups and their activities. Until then, paramilitary activities remain a concern. There also is the issue of crime: The IMC will not issue its report on criminal activity until January. We still do not know what happened to the $50 million that the IRA allegedly stole from the Northern Bank in Belfast in December.

Another reason for skepticism is the sheer ease with which the IRA could re-arm itself. The IRA still has plenty of money and access to international weapons rings — which underscores the urgency of verifiable evidence that its thugs have genuinely turned to peace.

It’s impossible to know for certain whether the IRA’s years of terror are finally over. But a step in the right direction is underway and could be viewed one day as the beginning of the end to Northern Ireland’s Troubles.

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