The IRA has announced that its armed campaign is over. Slugger O’Toole is a good place to go to get a roundup of reactions and analysis. The second-guessing and tealeaf-reading is well underway already. Here’s the first part of the statement:
The leadership of Óglaigh na hÉireann has formally ordered an end to the armed campaign. This will take effect from 4pm this afternoon.â¨â¨All IRA units have been ordered to dump arms. All Volunteers have been instructed to assist the development of purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means. Volunteers must not engage in any other activities whatsoever.
This is a big development.
By the by, if you ask me the name “Óglaigh na hÉireann”—this is what the IRA calls itself in Irish—actually refers to The Irish Defence Forces. The IRA has never liked the Irish Army much because, as a descendant of the Irish Free State Army, it is the only military force to have comprehensively defeated the IRA in the field. The Provos don’t like to be reminded of this.
Anyway, I’m a bit out of touch with the ins and outs of Northern Irish politics these days, so I hesitate to offer any comment. A couple of things spring to mind, though. First, this seems like a very serious move, if only because it’s unilateral. Validation of the claim will come, if at all, with the verifiable destruction of the IRA’s arms dumps.
Second, this is all bound up with the gradual evolution of Sinn Fein into the main nationalist party of the North, and a significant political force in the Republic. As Martina Purdy argues Sinn Fein and the IRA have done a very good job of managing the peace process in such a way that they didn’t really have to give up anything—nothing important, anyway. Sinn Fein simultaneously talked regular politics while presenting the IRA as a dog (belonging to someone else!) that it had a hard time controlling, and this allowed the party to leverage itself to a central political role. Leaders in Britain and the Republic put up with this for a long time, and not without good reason. But this latest shift can be seen in the light of Gerry Adams’s ambitions to become a legitimate statesman and a political leader in Ireland. The IRA is not useful in the long run to that goal, and he and his allies have been working for a long time to convince others in the organization that victory may be in sight. Recent events—the NI Bank raid and associated round-ups in Ireland, and especially the brutal murder of Robert McCartney—my have strengthened Adams’ hand in this respect.
Let me risk an analogy, with all of the qualifications and caveats you like. Yasser Arafat reached a similar point in his political life as Adams has, but decided against taking the compromise that was on offer. Better to be a martyred failure to the Palestinian nation than an ordinary politician mired in the world of compromise and day-to-day politics, and damn the consequences for the lives of Israelis and Palestinians. I don’t think Adams wants to go down that road. Instead, I think, he wants to do something like run for President of Ireland in 2011. He wants to do it with the IRA disarmed—if not disbanded, a crucial point of conflict— and, ideally, with Sinn Fein holding an increasing measure of political power in the South. It’s a big gamble. If it works, Adams will see himself as the Nelson Mandela of Ireland. If it fails, he won’t even be left with a legacy like Arafat’s: instead the IRA will reactivate the “armed struggle” (i.e., terrorism) a few years down the line, having never really given up the money-making side of things, and we’ll be back to the status quo.