IRA Disarms After 36 Years

Erin Creegan

The provisional wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) has disarmed after a 36-year armed campaign for a unified Irish state, according to a Sept. 26 report by independent international observers.

Canadian General John de Chastelain, head of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD), was invited to monitor IRA members’ Sept. 25 voluntary destruction of guns, ammunition, and explosives. The commission report found the disarmament effort to be complete. “We believe with confidence that the arms decommissioned represent the totality of the IRA arsenal,” said the commissioners in their Sept. 26 statement. The British and Irish governments established the IICD in 1997 to independently monitor the disarmament of paramilitary groups on each side of the Northern Ireland conflict.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose administration has worked over the last few years to bring the conflict in Northern Ireland to resolution, expressed his confidence in the commission’s findings. “Successive British governments have sought final and complete decommissioning by the IRA for over 10 years.... Today it is finally accomplished,” said Blair.

According to commission press statements, the number of weapons destroyed corresponded to British and Irish government estimates. De Chastelain suggested in his Sept. 26 press conference that the amount correlated to a Jane’s Intelligence Review estimate of the IRA arsenal, which included 1,000 rifles, two metric tons of Semtex explosive, seven surface-to-air missiles, and two-dozen heavy machine guns.

Commission members noted in the Sept. 26 statement that there is further disarmament work to be done. “It remains for us to address the arms of the loyalist paramilitary groups, as well as other paramilitary groups, when these groups are prepared to cooperate with us in doing so.” The IRA was by far the largest existing Irish Republican paramilitary group, leaving only two small splinter groups still armed.

After the July 7 Islamic terrorist attacks on the London subway system, Blair made conciliatory gestures to the IRA to expedite an end to the armed conflict. Most notably, Sean Kelly, an IRA member who set off a bomb in Belfast in 1993 that killed nine Protestant civilians, was released from prison on July 27.

The next day, the IRA published a call to its members to give up their arms and peacefully pursue a united Ireland. “We now believe there is an alternative way to end British rule in our country” the leadership of the IRA wrote in An Phoblacht/Republican News.

This unilateral declaration to abandon violence follows promises made in the 1998 Good Friday Agreements. This Anglo-Irish accord created a power-sharing government in Northern Ireland and affirmed that any change in the status of the region would be determined democratically.