By Jack Holland
The problem of decommissioning, which has baffled the greatest political minds in Britain, Ireland and the U.S., and has also puzzled David Trimble, is capable of being resolved and painlessly. One simply has to look at the kind of now-useless items the Provisional IRA still has in its armory, and begin with the easiest ones first.
Take the coffee jar bomb, manufactured by the Provisionals in the late 1980s. In consisted of a small amount of Semtex explosive packed into a coffee jar to act as an improvised grenade.
The Provos could begin by handing over to Gen. John De Chastelain, chairman of the international body on decommissioning, all their empty instant-coffee jars. I think they have about 300, according to inside intelligence. The good general could then dump them in a field, take a hammer and smash them up, while representatives of the Ulster Unionist Party, and the British and Irish governments watched. The first historic step will have been taken.
I envision then a schedule being followed that would continue painlessly along with the next decommissioning item on the agenda being the Lenadoon Elephant gun. The gun was rumored to have been smuggled into this West Belfast housing development in the early 1970s and hidden near an old reservoir. Though it was never used against the British forces, it did manage to keep out the herds of marauding elephants that often threaten to come down from the Black Mountain and rampage through the housing estate, tearing up the clothes lines from the back gardens. (Of course, this item would only be handed over if the governments could guarantee that the estate will be surrounded by "Elephants Keep Out" signs. Local Sinn Fein councilors could supervise that.)
Next on the agenda of the Painless Decommissioning Process for Beginners are the two tons of rusty nails. Many years ago, back when the Troubles were really the Troubles, the Provisionals liked to stuff their little bombs with rusty nails just to make sure they got everybody within a certain radius. They have long since been out of service, and left to rust in arms dumps around Northern Ireland. Gen. De Chastelain could perhaps sell them off to a recycling plant. Waste not want not, as they say.
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Once these were safely out of the way, the Provisionals could deliver their empty chocolate box, or boxes, as the case may be. This device was used only once, as far as I know, at Christmas 1992, when a "pretty IRA woman," as one report described her, gave it to a soldier at a checkpoint in Cookstown. It was supposedly a box of Quality Street sweets. It was meant as a Christmas surprise. It certainly would have been had the soldier been stupid enough to open it, for it contained a 2-pound bomb. The Provisionals could easily get rid of any old sweetie boxes they have lying around which they never used after the failure of their first effort. (Though I suspect the sweets will all have gone off by now if they have not already been devoured by those volunteers who needed their sugar fix.)
Next up for Decommissioning the Painless Way are those thousands of dirty milk bottles which were acquired by Provisional IRA arms procurers in the early 1970s. They were intended for use as petrol bombs. Clearly, those days are gone. No more damaging other people’s property now.
With all those coffee jars, rusty nails and dirty milk bottles safely put of the way, the Unionists would be absolutely convinced of the Provisionals’ bona fides, and would have no objection to Sinn Fein backsides going into those plush ministerial seats waiting for them up at Stormont. But just in case they do, the decommissioning can continue in a way that none of the hawks on the army council could possible object to. For instance, they could easily decommission the several thousand clothes pegs they have in their dumps.
In the early days of the bombing campaign, the Provisionals used clothes pegs in making their devices. According to "Bombs Have No Pity," the book by Lt.-Col. George Styles, at one time the British army’s chief technical officer in the North, the Provisionals used pegs with tin tacks pushed through the ends to act as contacts.
"The spring in the peg would gradually overcome the strength of the rubber or the wire and close the end where the tin tacks would meet, completing the circuit," writes Styles. "These were deadly dangerous devices for the bomb-maker because he couldn’t estimate accurately when his bomb would explode."
(One of the first Provisional members to die as a result of a premature explosion was Michael Kane, who was using such a device when it went off, killing him, in September 1970.)
Gen. De Chastelain would no doubt welcome a pile of clothes pegs. What a nice surprise for Mrs. De Chastelain.
Also lying around in their armory are several old footballs. These were employed only once, as far as I know, in July 1992. A "football" full of Semtex explosives was left in a street in West Belfast, with the aim, no doubt, of tempting some young soldier to take a kick. Instead, a group of children began playing with it as if it was a soccer ball. Fortunately, the detonator did not work and the children realized there was something funny about their toy and handed it over to the police.
Finally, to really convince the Unionists of their good intentions, the Provisionals could easily hand over the several thousand condoms they have in their arms hides. I know the fact that they have them at all might come as a shock to certain members of the movement who once aspired to be priests, but it is the truth. However, the condoms were not used for any illicit sexual purposes — oh no, the Provisionals were never like that. Instead, they were used as part of the armed campaign, in the making of explosive devices.
The condom filled with acid was placed between the two contact points. The acid slowly burned through the latex and, being a conductor, completed the bomb’s circuit, detonating the explosives. Needless to say, these were about as reliable as the clothes peg bombs. Anyway, it is time to dispose of them, now that the war is over. Though just what Gen. De Chastelain might do with several thousand condoms, I do not know.