Difficult Times Ahead For Provisionals
Dan McGinn and Ruth O'Reilly (Copyright 2001 PA News)
24 October 2001
As Gerry Adams admitted in London today, republicans will agonise long and hard over the IRA decommissioning. They will feel real, emotional pain.
In the formative years of the Provisional IRA nearly 30 years ago guns would have been used to settle differences. But not anymore.
Punches may be exchanged in the pubs and clubs of east Tyrone and south Armagh, but given Sinn Fein's powerful electoral mandate and the discipline within the ranks of the IRA, there is hardly likely to be anything more than bloody noses. The days of the bitter in-fighting and shooting wars are over.
But these are difficult times for dye-in-the-wool Provisionals none the less.
Mr Adams, the Sinn Fein president, said: "It is okay to be against this move but what we have to be is united and strategic and looking to the future and committed to our republican cause," he said.
"This is big because it does cause pain to republicans. Republicans, as agents of change, are prepared to take pain on themselves and strain on themselves in order to loosen up and free up a movement which can resolve all of the issues that need to be resolved."
He added: "The IRA is immune to pressure from any quarter except from its own base. The IRA could have hunkered down and simply sustained its cessation."
Jim Gibney, one of Gerry Adams's closest associates and a key party strategist and Anthony McIntyre, another former IRA prisoner, once stood shoulder to shoulder behind the republican leadership.
But not anymore.
Since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement they have moved in different directions - Gibney confident about the way forward for Sinn Fein, McIntyre disillusioned with the movement he once belonged too.
This is how they see the future in the aftermath of IRA disarmament.
:: Jim Gibney
He served three spells in prison between 1972 and 74 following internment, on remand between 1976 and 77 for possession of documents and between 1982 and 88 on the evidence of a supergrass for wounding with intent a loyalist in south Belfast. He is widely credited with proposing that IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands should stand for Parliament in the 1981 Fermanagh and South Tyrone by- election - a seat he won before his death. The move marked republicanism's first foray into elected politics.
"Make no bones about it, this is a huge move by the IRA and it is a difficult one as well for republicanism because I think people like myself look on it in the same way we looked on the 1994 ceasefire.
"Something quite fundamental has taken place which has shaken republicanism to the core. A lot of republicans believed the IRA had done enough. By calling ceasefires and holding their commitment to the peace process, many of us thought that was enough.
"I and others feel the behaviour of the British Government and David Trimble up to this point meant they were not in any way entitled to what the IRA did yesterday. So no-one should underestimate the difficulties this has caused.
"What I and my generation of republicans do draw comfort from is that the IRA has done this to save the peace process and I hope we will now see the benefits flow for the Agreement and society as a by-product of the IRA's move.
"Certainly, it is risky but a calculated risk. This has been well thought out by the leadership of the IRA who have shown their determination to break through the logjam created by the British Government and David Trimble.
"The hope is now that those people who have been putting the brakes on the peace process will lift the foot off the pedal and allow developments to take place and the Good Friday Agreement shortly afterwards to take root.
"Will the ranks of the dissidents swell? I don't think so. I think the IRA will get a lot of credit from republicans for taking this brave step and for doing what it has done.
"It is a difficult time but there have been difficult times in the past. Making peace is not easy but we are still republicans committed to bringing about Irish unity.
"Republicans want the armed struggle to be over. They want conflict to be a thing of the past. Republicans on our own cannot ensure that happens.
"It requires everyone because as we speak loyalists are mounting a campaign of bombing Catholic homes and have shot people, the British Army presence needs to be demilitarised and there are more armies in this society than just the IRA with guns that need to be removed.
"Warm words from Downing Street are fine but deeds are essential if republicans are to be reassured that this was the right thing to do."
:: Anthony McIntyre
He served 17 years for the 1976 murder of a loyalist. He was released from prison in 1992, having secured a first-class honours degree behind bars and he went on to attain a doctorate from Queen's University, Belfast. He supports the IRA ceasefire but broke from the mainstream republican movement after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. He is from south Belfast but now lives in the west of the city.
"I'm philosophical about decommissioning because I'm not surprised about it. I feel it was always going to happen. It was a logical outcome of the Good Friday Agreement. So to anyone who's crying "surrender", I would say they're a bit late.
"Core republican tenets were lost to Good Friday. I have no problem with the IRA stopping the war. And when it stops a war it has an obligation to dispose of its weapons to prevent them falling into the hands of elements who would use them for their own ends or into the hands of vigilantes.
"But what has happened is that the IRA did not dispose of its weapons unilaterally and without reference to the British. It only further undermines the intellectual and moral basis of the armed struggle.
"In material terms it doesn't affect the IRA's capacity to wage war because the IRA is not waging war and won't be. The IRA is toothless as far as opposition to the British state is concerned. But it will always be there in a defensive role. Everybody will take comfort in the fact that the IRA will be the line of defence in areas like Ardoyne or Newington.
"In terms of republican dissent, there will be no difficulty. Their politics are the politics of what the leadership tell them. Within broader nationalism, they want decommissioning. So it will get more votes. It will annoy some people but they're not going to blow anything down.
"The IRA are always going to have weapons - how are you going to know that they don't? Sinn Fein are going to find themselves continuously under pressure to produce decommissioning from unionists and in the south. It will eventually come down to dissolution or disbandment of the IRA or complete separation from the IRA."