The pace has not increased much recently. When Gerry Adams made a major speech in advance of the most recent Westminster elections in which he effectively called for the IRA to retire itself, some people expected a quick response. None came. Still we wait.
Rumors of an imminent statement have risen and receded like a tide several times since Adams’s remarks in April. Now, even well informed sources profess uncertainty as to when the IRA announcement will be made.
Impatience and frustration may be understandable reactions to such slow progress. But they should not obscure the bigger picture.
A truly momentous development – the de facto end of the IRA – seems to be at hand. Any statement in which the organization definitively declares that the armed struggle is a thing of the past – and that its erstwhile volunteers are now committed to exclusively peaceful means – will be well worth waiting for.
Of course, no IRA statement is ever going to be enough to satisfy Rev. Ian Paisley and his comrades in the Democratic Unionist Party. Many others in the growing chorus of anti-republican voices will also raise objections.
But that is, ultimately, neither here nor there. If the IRA makes a clear statement that it will, in effect, withdraw from the arena, it will have made a major contribution to a durable peace in Ireland. Not coincidentally, it will also have enabled Sinn Fein to retake the political initiative after several months during which the party has been buffeted by allegations of criminality.
Problems will arise, however, if the IRA’s announcement, whenever it comes, fails to live up to expectations. An the longer we wait the higher those same expectations.
Some form of words that merely aspires to a permanent end to the conflict will not cut the mustard. Nor will a statement that is pointlessly opaque. And even those observers who are most sympathetic to the republican movement will hope that the IRA will make a declaration wide-ranging enough to confound current speculation that it will merely promise to go forward in “a new mode.”
All those pitfalls need to be avoided. But the fact remains that a clear and concise IRA statement should also receive a generous response. The two governments- and indeed the voices of moderate unionism – should be willing to acknowledge any truly historic steps that are taken.
The spotlight, for now, remains on the IRA. But if that organization rises to the moment, we can only hope that other parties to Ireland’s peace process also discharge their own responsibilities.
Now is not a time for faint hearts, or a lack of magnanimity from anyone.