(U-WIRE) CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – The recent decision of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to withdraw from negotiations on disarmament may signal the untimely end of the 1998 Good Friday agreement. If so, one of the last, best hopes for an end to the troubles has come to naught.
Under the Good Friday agreement, power over Northern Ireland was given to a local cabinet including both unionists and nationalists. The establishment of this government was a major accomplishment, as few expected ever to see Gerry Adams, the leader of IRA-allied Sinn Fein, sitting at the same table with David Trimble, the leader of the Ulster Unionists.
The Good Friday agreement was contingent on the expectation that the IRA would be willing to begin disarming once the local government was in place in Northern Ireland. Indeed, on Nov. 17, 1999, the IRA said that it would be willing to discuss disarmament once a power-sharing government was created. That government was instituted Dec. 1, ending 27 years of direct British rule.
British loyalist paramilitary groups began to decommission over a year ago, and yet the IRA has refused to give even a clear committal to surrendering its caches of weaponry. Faced with the IRA’s intransigence, Trimble assured his party that he would resign from the cabinet rather than participate in a government threatened by an armed IRA. The British government wisely resumed direct rule in order to prevent Trimble’s resignation, which would have destroyed the legitimacy of the power-sharing government. An IRA statement issued just hours before the British reclaimed control, in which the IRA proposed conditions to put arms beyond use, was too little, too late.
The British and the unionists have shown that they will share the government of Ireland with the IRA and begin to disarm. Their request in return has been for the IRA to give up its weapons of terror. Unionist hard-liners have maintained that the IRA will never willingly give up its weapons, and, at least for now, they have been proven correct.
The IRA must immediately announce its intention to disarm by May, if local government is reinstated, as the original accord envisioned. It is in the IRA’s best interest to try to salvage the peace process now. The British have shown that they will be reasonable, and the unionists have demonstrated that they are dedicated to a peaceful future for Northern Ireland. The Irish citizens, north and south, wish for peace, as evidenced by their votes in support of the Good Friday pact. If the IRA continues to be the primary obstacle to that peace, its domestic support will wither away.
Since the Battle of the Boyne more than 300 years ago, both sides in this struggle have been stubborn, cruel and vicious. Both have been responsible for delays and derailments of the peace process in the past. Both have made tough concessions. However, this time the IRA is at fault. The group should realize that it has a genuine opportunity to lay down its arms honorably and finally participate in the government of Northern Ireland.
-Staff editorial from the Harvard Crimson.