Northern Ireland decommissioning – progress but not the end

Speaking in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has confirmed that two republican Paramilitary groups, the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) and the Official IRA and the loyalist South East Antrim Ulster Defence Association have decommissioned their weapons.

The news came as the Independent Body on Arms Decommissioning, established to over see and independently verify the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons, under the Chairmanship of former Canadian General, John de Chastelain was official disbanded under legislation passed by Westminster.

In a statement to MPs, the Prime Minister said:

“I think the house would want to record our thanks to the international commission which has now overseen decommissioning by the UDA, UVF, PIRA and now INLA and the Official IRA.”

Of the three groups whose decommissioning was announced, perhaps the most significant was that of the Irish National Liberation Army. A splinter group of the IRA, the group was responsible for over 120 deaths during Northern Ireland’s troubles, including that of Airey Neave, a close ally of Margaret Thatcher, who as Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary was assassinated by the INLA in the car Park of the House of Commons in 1979.

In a statement made by a former member of the INLA, Martin McMonagle, who was released from prison under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, the group said:

“We make no apology for our part in the conflict.

“We believe conditions have now changed in such a way that other options are open to revolutionaries to pursue and ultimately achieve our objectives.

“We can also confirm that the INLA has disarmed through a joint facilitation group consisting of local, a national and an international organisation. This was done in accordance with international standards. We hope that this will further enhance the primacy of politics and that it will in time unite and advance the working-class struggle in Ireland.”

Sinn Fein Junior Minister, Gerry Kelly welcomed the move, concluding:

“The peace process has ensured that a peaceful and democratic path to a united Ireland exists. There is no support for or appetite for armed actions within the republican community.

“The INLA has recognised this by engaging with the IICD in this action.”

However, the events were tinged with sadness as many reflected on some of the barbaric acts perpetrated by the group. For the DUP, East Londonderry MP, Gregory Campbell said:

“All too often when moves like this occur, there is a tendency to forget what was carried out by these groups.

“All of them should decommission their weapons, none of them should have been armed and able to murder in the first instance and the regret is that there are still people mourning their previous actions and the heartache they left behind.”

And speaking to the Newsletter, the mother of one former RUC Police Officer, murdered by the INLA in 1997 stated simply, “It is 13 years too late for my son.”

The decision by the three groups announced today, to decommission their arms does not however end Northern Ireland’s “troubles”.

In 2008, Northern Ireland Secretary, Shaun Woodward announced that paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland would have until mid February to decommission all their weapons. With that deadline fast approaching, the Real IRA, responsible for last year’s attack on the Massereene army barracks; the Continuity IRA which is alleged to have been responsible for shooting dead a police officer last year in Craigavon; and the Continuity Irish Republican splinter group have so far failed to begin any process of disarming.

In an sign of the continued dangers posed by these groups, in an article for Ireland’s “Tribune News”, its Northern Editor Suzanne Breen has quoted a Real IRA sources as concluding that anyone who thought they would decommission their arms was living “on another planet”.

The moves by the INLA will undoubtedly put pressure on the remaining republican paramilitary groups to follow suit. However, what happens if they do not do so by the deadline set by the Secretary of State remains unclear.

Given their capacity, as proven last year with brutal murders of a police officer and serving soldiers, to threaten the stability of Northern Ireland’s fragile peace process, all eyes will be on Westminster, Stormont and Dublin as to what to do with those groups that refuse to disarm.

For some the news of further decommission will be a line under much of Northern Ireland’s troubled passed. For many other however, such as Pauline Bradshaw, it will serve only to reignite painful memories of loved ones lost at the hands to terrorist groups.

It again highlights the extent to which whilst Northern Ireland might be on the road to peaceful nation, for many, the memories are such that they cannot and will not be able to feel at peace within themselves.

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