Any progress from hitherto recalcitrant loyalist quarters has to be welcomed even if the pace of change has been, and remains, a slow one. So the apparent retirement of the Ulster Freedom Fighters, the UDA’s violent sword arm, is a positive development to say the least.
In a statement issued in response to the UDA move, U.S. Ambassador Paula Dobriansky said that the U.S. government was pleased.
She said that it was time for groups who had not yet decommissioned to do so as soon as possible.
With peace now having been achieved, said Dobriansky, there was no valid reason for any group to maintain its weaponry.
Political progress in Northern Ireland could not be held back by such acts of violence or the threat of violence she added in a clear reference to two gun attacks on off-duty PSNI officers in the past week.
We concur. While the outbreak of the troubles in the late 1960s was against the backdrop of a profoundly undemocratic and unjust society, the Northern Ireland of today is a dramatically different place in political, economic and social terms.
The power-sharing government is the result of a democratic decision taken by the great majority of the people living in the Six Counties, nationalist and unionist, republican and loyalist, Catholic and Protestant.
It isn’t perfect and neither is Northern Ireland. The question of future union with the rest of Ireland, or continued union with the rest of the United Kingdom, still hangs heavily over the politics of the place and will continue to do so.
But it is now just that, a question, not a reason or excuse for communal bloodshed on a scale that caused untold misery and suffering for too many years.
The shooting of police officers, in one case an off-duty officer who had just dropped off his son to school, is the kind of grim reminder of those days we can all do without.
Reports indicate that the shootings were carried out by dissident republicans, members of the Real IRA, who seemingly yet harbor the idea that causing grief and sorrow to individual families will somehow bring about a united Ireland.
They have learned little or nothing by even most recent history. And they offer nothing beyond what has been tried and found seriously wanting.
The dissidents can be that. They can voice their views and opposition to the way of politics in Belfast, or to policies drawn up in London and Dublin.
But beyond that, they need now to fall in line with others who seem to have grasped the fact that peaceful coexistence is the road that will lead to all future possibilities, while violence is only its own dead end.