It is a potentially historic move that could take the gun out of Northern Irish politics for good.
That is certainly the hope of Britain’s prime minister after the IRA formally ended its armed campaign. “This may be the day when finally, after all the false dawns and dashed hopes, peace replaced war, politics replaces terror,” said Tony Blair in London. At the same time, his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern was voicing his satisfaction at the group’s decision to draw a line under more than 30 years of violence. “I welcome the commitment by the IRA to end its armed campaign and to complete the process of decommissioning and to use exclusively peaceful means,” he said. Brushing aside the caution of some, Gerry Adams of the IRA’s political ally Sinn Fein said the announcement was clear enough: “When it says that it will commit its volunteers to democratic and peaceful means and forbid them to be involved in any other activity whatsoever, what part of ‘any activity whatsoever’ do the leaders not understand?” he asked. However Ian Paisley of the Protestant Democratic Unionist Party was not impressed. “It will be a hollow gesture because we don’t want words, we want actions and there is no action,” he said. Amid hope for lasting change, some in Belfast were sceptical too. “We have heard it all before, so they are only sceptical because of the history of any statements that the IRA has ever made. They have been let down too often,” said one man in a bar in the city. “It has been said before, where they will hand in different bits and pieces, and the violence always returns in some shape or form,” added a fellow customer, speaking shortly after the news broke.