arms decommissioned represent the totality of the
those words, spoken by Canadian general John de
Chastelain today at a press conference in Holywood,
Co Down, one phase of Ireland's Troubles seemed
to draw to a definitive conclusion. Alongside the
general and his fellow members of an independent
international commission overseeing paramilitary
disarmament, two aged clergyman in black suits backed
up his account.
have spent many long days watching the meticulous
and painstaking process," Harold Good, former
president of the Methodist church in Ireland, said
in mellifluous ministerial tones. "Beyond any
shadow of doubt, the arms of the IRA have now been
decommissioned." He hoped it would mark "the
dawn of a new era of peace".
remains to be seen. Although the men were prepared
to say they saw a huge amount of weapons, ammunition
and explosives "put beyond use", they
can't reveal the inventory, nor is there any photographic
evidence. De Chastelain was bombarded with questions
about how he could be sure these constituted the
full Irish Republican Army collection. He said the
amount was consistent with estimates that British
security forces had prepared; he said he had information
that IRA members had been "scouring the country
for this stuff"; he said, in the end, he believed
the IRA were "sincere".
told us they believe they have given us everything
they have, and we believe them."
element of "belief" is likely to be seized
on by some unionists who don't want to restart Northern
Ireland's power-sharing process. At one point the
Canadian said: "Could we be wrong? I suppose.
But I don't think we are."
Chastelain admitted he would have preferred a more
transparent disarmament, but the importance of "decommissioning"
not looking like "surrender or defeat"
was paramount. That didn't stop the Northern editor
of Ireland's State broadcaster, RTE, from stumbling
over his words on television on Sunday evening,
referring to the IRA's "surrender of all its
weapons uh, the handing-in of all its weapons".
He grinned as he corrected himself, but the IRA
would insist it was neither a surrender nor a handing-in,
but a process carried out by itself and simply verified
by de Chastelain and company.
it's a long way from the oft-graffiti'ed catchphrase,
"Not an ounce, not a bullet!" The IRA
has studiously avoided "disbanding", nor
has it stated that its devotion to peaceful means
is permanent--either action would be an invitation
for someone else to take up the mantle of military
struggle for an end to the British presence in Northern
Ireland and for Irish unity. But while, so far,
it has deftly avoided a fatal split, it has gone
further in the direction of disappearance than many
of its supporters, and enemies, thought possible.
it has effectively done so unilaterally, though
this decommissioning is based on a model put forward
during multi-party talks last year. This time there
are no talks, loyalist paramilitaries have still
not disarmed, and there remain other potential problems
for the IRA--for example in the unfolding of the
investigation into last December's massive Northern
Irish republicans took this demonstrable step away
from armed struggle, there were other reasons to
wonder about the movement's future political direction.
Many believe it jettisoned its socialism long before
it got rid of its arms, as its leaders strode the
international stage and it moved toward electoral
respectability south of the Border, in the Republic.
Saturday, the day that de Chastelain tells us the
IRA was finishing the process of putting its weapons
beyond use, its political wing, Sinn Fein, was hosting
a "rally for Irish unity" in Dublin. Ostensibly
to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of
the Sinn Fein party, the event was partly an historical
pageant of 20th-century Irish republicanism: teenagers
in 1916 vintage costumes handed out leaflets to
passers-by, while others in the parade wrapped themselves
in old blankets to recall the hunger strikers of
a quarter-century ago. Some media outrage was generated
by the replica guns being waved around, but the
message of the event was clearly that political
violence belongs to a rather undifferentiated past--a
past to be honoured, surely, but no longer to be
it was hard to argue that Ireland has not changed
utterly--not when the parade started in Parnell
Square, on the edge of what is rapidly becoming
Dublin's Chinatown, and around the corner from Moore
Street's collection of east-European and Nigerian
shops. O'Connell Street, where the historic General
Post Office squats in columned solemnity, is largely
a construction site, full of Polish builders, as
city planners awash in Celtic Tiger cash transform
it into somebody's notion of a sleek 21st-century
boulevard. In this city, and even among some of
these immigrants, Sinn Fein is the party with political
of course the last phase of the IRA campaign was
never about Dublin, but about Belfast, Derry, Armagh,
Tyrone and other parts of the North, still ruled
by Britain. Once the most industrialised and developed
part of the island, it now looks backward and dilapidated;
and the relative privilege of the Protestant working-class
there has slipped so far that loyalist communities
are seriously (if unsustainably) described as "disenfranchised".
The summer of violence from loyalists, including
a murderous internal feud, spectacular rioting and
attacks on Catholic people and property, must have
made some republicans hesitate over decommissioning,
despite the IRA's July promise to do it, because
it could leave nationalist areas "undefended"
in the event of a further loyalist upsurge. After
all, it was neighbourhood defence that is said to
have given rise to what became the Provisional IRA
you, in light of the latest writings from Sinn Fein
president Gerry Adams, it appears the IRA had another
dilemma. It was either decommission those weapons
now, or become the armed wing of the Hillary '08
campaign. Adams, who was briefly the IRA chief of
staff in the 1970s, is now a bearded visage for
the global Clinton brand, an instant signifier of
ex-President Bill's status as an international statesman
and totem of racial, ethnic and religious reconciliation.
Ten days ago Adams was a guest, speaking on "religion
and conflict", at the inaugural meeting of
the Clinton Global Initiative in New York. (Funny,
republicans always used to insist the Northern struggle
was not about religion but about imperialism.)
account of the three-day meeting appears in Ireland's
Village magazine, under the fitting headline, "Clinton
shows way towards elimination of poverty".
Adams tells readers that the $15,000-a-head "action-orientated"
conference was attended mainly by "people committed
to multilateralism and collective action in global
affairs". Ah, well, that's all right then:
thanks to Gerry we now know such a (totally meaningless)
commitment is apparently shared by Tony Blair, Rupert
Murdoch, George Bush Sr, Shimon Peres and Condoleezza
Rice, along with Mrs Bill, George Soros and their
"liberal" like. Adams oozes empty anti-poverty
platitudes like he's been sharing a pint with Bono
and Bob Geldof. (The only thing remotely edifying
about his article is the photograph, from the conference
floor, of Angelina Jolie's intent, collagen-enhanced
profile. Let's hope she's truly committed to multilateralism
and collective action in global affairs.)
now we know why the IRA doesn't need its weapons
any more. The people running the global agenda to
which Gerry Adams has signed up have all the firepower
they could ever need.
Browne writes for Village magazine and lectures
in the school of media at Dublin Institute of Technology.
with permission from the author.