A senior IRA source said on Saturday that it is not a threat to the peace process and will not accept the imposition of unreasonable demands, referring to Thursday’s speech by the British prime minister, Tony Blair.
In a keynote speech in Belfast, Blair said the peace process could not continue “with the IRA half in, half out.”
“It is hard for anyone to understand terrorism and I do not believe it was ever or could ever be justified,” Blair said. “The prospect of a ceasefire was a sufficiently tantalizing prospect to make the British pay attention and to get real movement from Unionism. But we cannot carry on with the IRA half in, half out of this process.”
The Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, told his party’s annual conference in Derry on Saturday that although in the past words would have been enough, if the IRA were to say its war was over, it would no longer persuade him back into government with Sinn Fein.
After the IRA issued its latest statement, Trimble said: “The IRA have said that they are no threat to the process. In which case we must have been dreaming all this for the last few weeks. Words like ‘the war is over’ will cut no ice.” Republicans, he said, had moved “but not enough.” In a direct challenge to Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, Trimble said: “It’s up to you. Do not expect promises or beginnings to do the trick.”
Adams, meanwhile, said republicans are angry over Blair’s call for an end to the IRA. Adams said Blair is taking the wrong approach.
“This is not a time for deadlines — that has never worked in the past,” Adams said. “What we need to do is to understand that the removal of the political anchor of the process was a grievous mistake.”
The SDLP leader, Mark Durkan, said the agreement would not be sustained by either public exchanges or private arrangements between the British government and the IRA and that a process involving all parties is the only way forward. “The case for an absolutely definitive move from the IRA should not be presented or be allowed to be misrepresented as a high-handed British demand, nor is that the only confidence issue which needs to be resolved,” he said.
REAL IRA’S FATE?
Meanwhile, mystery surrounds the fate of the Real IRA after a statement was issued announcing its disbandment, while four hoax bombs in north and central Belfast, another in Lurgan, Co. Armagh, and a bomb attack on Castlederg police station in County Tyrone were claimed by the group itself.
The Real IRA regards itself as the true inheritors of militant Irish republicanism but appears to have been badly split by the statement, which was issued to a Sunday newspaper.
The disputed statement read, in part: “We believe the current army leadership has forfeited all moral authority to lead the [Real] IRA. Thus we feel we are left with no option but to withdraw our allegiance from this army leadership.”
It also confirmed that another renegade group, the Continuity IRA, helped the RIRA carry out the Omagh atrocity. The RIRA declared a ceasefire days later, after members of the mainstream IRA “visited” several of its members.
The statement, which was endorsed by 36 of its 39 prisoners in Portlaoise jail in the Republic and five prisoners in Britain, said the group is disbanding because its cause had been irreparably damaged by the Omagh bombing in which 29 people were killed.
It also said the Real IRA was at an end and a few “corrupt” members who were “fraternizing with criminal elements” outside the jail were unrepresentative of the organization.
A number of former senior IRA figures who helped form the group in late 1997 are currently being held at Portlaoise, but decisions on disbandment are a matter for the organization’s leadership.
The prisoners’ statement was immediately repudiated by dissident sources still at liberty. One dissident source said: “People are spitting blood. For them, it’s business as usual against the Brits, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t try something big just to prove they haven’t gone away.”