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Friday, July 29, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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IRA orders forces to dump arms, pursue united Ireland peacefully

The Washington Post

Bloody history


The name Irish Republican Army has been used by several paramilitary groups opposed to British rule in Ireland, going back to 1916. The IRA that announced disarmament yesterday was founded in Belfast in December 1969 to resist British rule over Northern Ireland. It has been behind a number of violent incidents:

Feb. 6, 1971: IRA kills first British soldier in a sniper attack in north Belfast.

July 21, 1972: "Bloody Friday." Twenty bombs detonate in Belfast within an hour, killing nine people and wounding 130.

Nov. 21, 1974: Two bombs devastate pubs in Birmingham, England, killing 21 and wounding 160 — the IRA's worst toll in a single attack.

Jan. 5, 1976: In the Kingsmills massacre, the IRA shoots to death 10 Protestant civilians after stopping their bus.

Feb. 17, 1978: IRA firebomb burns to death 12 Protestants in a suburban Belfast hotel.

Aug. 27, 1979: IRA blows up Lord Louis Mountbatten, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, and three others on his private boat in the Irish republic. On the same day, the IRA kills 19 members of the British army's elite Parachute Regiment with two remote-controlled roadside bombs.

Oct. 12, 1984: IRA bombs hotel on south English coast hosting the annual party of Britain's ruling Conservative Party, narrowly missing Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher but killing five others, including a legislator.

Nov. 11, 1987: IRA kills 11 Protestants in a bombing in Enniskillen during a memorial service for World War I and II dead.

Oct. 23, 1993: IRA kills nine Protestant civilians, including two children, and one of its own members in a botched bombing on Shankill Road, a hard-line Protestant district of Belfast.

Feb. 12, 1997: IRA kills British soldier Lance Cpl. Stephen Restorick, 23, who was shot in the back in a long-range sniping attack in South Armagh — considered the IRA's last killing of a British soldier.

The toll: The IRA killed 638 members of British security forces; 640 civilians, mostly Protestants; 273 police officers in Northern Ireland, six in the Irish republic and five in England; and 149 of its own members, either accidentally in explosions or deliberately as suspected traitors.

The Associated Press

LONDON — The Irish Republican Army formally declared an end yesterday to its three-decade-long armed struggle against British rule in Northern Ireland and pledged to pursue its aim of a united Ireland through "exclusively peaceful means."

British and Irish leaders said they hoped the statement, brokered in negotiations between the IRA's political representatives and officials in London and Dublin, would revive the province's stagnant peace process and bring an end to sectarian violence known as "The Troubles" that has killed more than 3,600 Catholics and Protestants since 1969.

The IRA has never made such an affirmative commitment to long-term peace and reconciliation, though it declared a cease-fire in 1997. British Prime Minister Tony Blair called the statement "a step of unparalleled magnitude"; White House spokesman Scott McClellan called it "potentially historic." But both said it must now be followed by concrete action.

In Northern Ireland, Protestant politicians who have led the fight to keep the province part of Britain were less enthusiastic, calling the statement inadequate and stressing that the IRA's pledges were so far only words.

"All IRA units have been ordered to dump arms," read the message, saying the steps would take effect at 4 p.m. yesterday local time. "All Volunteers have been instructed to assist the development of purely political and democratic programs through exclusively peaceful means. Volunteers must not engage in any other activities whatsoever."

The outlawed paramilitary organization also said it would reactivate "as quickly as possible" the process of disposing of its weapons — which it suspended when peace talks broke down late last year — and invited Protestant and Catholic clerics to serve as independent witnesses to the disarmament. The IRA has amassed tons of weapons and explosives, much of them hidden in bunkers in the republic of Ireland.

Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing, called the declaration a "courageous and confident initiative" and challenged his opponents in the Protestant community "to decide if they want to put the past behind them, and make peace with the rest of the people of this island."

The Rev. Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionists, the province's largest Protestant political party, said that "we will judge the IRA's bona fides over the next months and years based on its behavior and activity."

His son, Ian Paisley Jr., used stronger words. "It would be an act of unparalleled stupidity to accept the words of the Provisional IRA and the words alone," he told the BBC. "We want to see peace, but we're not going to be taken for a ride like some people. Other people may not have learnt from the IRA, but we have got the wounds and the injuries to learn from them."

But Blair and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern laid importance on the statement's unprecedented wording. "Today may be the day that peace replaced war, that politics replaced terror, on the island of Ireland," Blair said.

The IRA's armed campaign — born out of civil unrest and police repression in the late 1960s and early 1970s — has been largely on hold since the cease-fire of 1997. The following year, politicians from various factions signed a power-sharing arrangement that was supposed to ensure equal rights and full political participation for the province's Catholic minority.

But local rule has been suspended for nearly three years, after allegations that the IRA was continuing such criminal activities as gunrunning and spying on its political rivals.

With support from the United States, the British and Irish governments have been working on ways to get the two communities cooperating again and restore joint government. Protestant complaints that the IRA refused to give up its weapons emerged as a key point blocking an agreement.

The republican movement — so-called because it seeks to unite Northern Ireland with the overwhelmingly Catholic republic to the south — suffered two recent setbacks that helped drive its leaders back to the negotiating table.

The first came when investigators publicly accused the IRA of the robbery of $50 million from a Belfast bank in December, an operation that damaged the organization's credibility and legitimacy in London, Dublin and Washington. Then in late January, IRA members allegedly killed a Catholic man in a brawl at a Belfast pub and tried to cover up the deed, an action that harmed its standing among hard-core supporters in blue-collar Catholic neighborhoods.

But beyond those problems, analysts say the IRA and the republican movement's leaders — Adams and his deputy, Martin McGuinness — became aware that in the world after Sept. 11 they could no longer sustain a paramilitary movement whose bombings and assassinations had terrorized civilians as well as soldiers.

Washington Post reporter Mary Fitzgerald contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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