TOPICS > Politics

Peace Move for the IRA

July 28, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


ADRIAN BRITTON: Sean Walsh, former IRA prisoner, was the Republican chosen to declare that the IRA’s armed struggle was over.

SEAN WALSH: All IRA units have been ordered to dump arms. All volunteers have been instructed to assist the development of purely political and democratic programs through exclusively peaceful means. Volunteers must not engage in any other activities whatsoever.

ADRIAN BRITTON: The headline many feared they would never see after more than 30 years of bloodshed; the IRA’s statement unprecedented, and on the face of it, the words unambiguous. The historic breakthrough was welcomed by the prime minister, albeit with an air of caution.

TONY BLAIR: This may be the day when finally, after all the false dawns and dashed hopes, peace replaced war; politics replaces terror on the island of Ireland.

ADRIAN BRITTON: The announcement had been well choreographed. Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness flew to the states to brief U.S. officials and Republican supporters. Then Shankill Road bomber Sean Kelly, filmed here five years ago, was re-released from prison last night following Republican demands. Unionists condemned the release as a bribe to the IRA, and remain skeptical about today’s commitment. Actions, they say, are needed, not words.

IAN PAISLEY, JR.: The real pressure now is to see the IRA weapons being destroyed and to have knowledge that it’s over and over forever. Until that happens, the IRA have a long, long, long wait on their hands.

ADRIAN BRITTON: So what doesn’t the statement say? Firstly, the IRA is not disbanding. And behind the announcement are concerns over its criminal activity. Last December, the organization was blamed for the UK’s biggest-ever bank raid. This afternoon, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, speaking in Dublin, said the statement was clear enough.

GERRY ADAMS: 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 readers not understand?

ADRIAN BRITTON: Their fight for a united Ireland is not over. It may take many, many months to verify whether the IRA’s campaign can now be pursued solely through peace and politics.

JIM LEHRER: Now, ITN’s Bill Neely looks at what the more than 30 years of fighting have cost the people of Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

BILL NEELY: The raw statistics are staggering: More than 3,600 dead; one in every 400 people in Northern Ireland murdered. Thirty years, tens of thousands injured. But statistics don’t tell the half of it. It was a slow slaughter peppered with massacres and atrocities from which whole generations are still recovering.

GORDON MILLER: I can remember everything, every detail. It’s never left me. I don’t think it ever will leave me.

BILL NEELY: Gordon Miller’s father was one of nine people killed by three IRA bombs in the tiny village of Claudy. The bombers were never caught. So much pain, so many murders that a generation grew up with. It all began with Catholics campaigning for civil rights. But it was seized by the IRA as a chance to end British rule. Bloody Sunday — the killing of 14 civilians by paratroopers — gave them an army of recruits.

SEAN O’CALLAGHAN: We were angry. Everybody was angry. I mean, I remember 1969, walking down the street and meeting people, one after the other, we were saying, “I’m going to join the IRA”

BILL NEELY: And join they did. There were hundreds of bombs every year. Then the IRA added bombs on the mainland: Birmingham, Guildford, Brighton, where the cabinet was almost wiped out. But the horrors in Northern Ireland continued. Kingsmills: Ten Protestants ordered out of a bus and shot. Ten Republicans starved themselves to death in the hunger strikes. By then it was clear, this war could have no winner.

JEAN LEMMON: You can’t forget. We’ll never forget. I know I won’t.

BILL NEELY: Jean Lemmon’s husband Joseph was shot dead. She has her own message for the IRA and all killers.

What would you say to them all?

JEAN LEMMON: Well, I would just say to them all to get their stuff destroyed. And once the last gun was destroyed, I would say it was over.

BILL NEELY: For so long, what a grim and grueling stalemate it was.

SPOKESPERSON: Get down, get down! Get down, everybody get down!

BILL NEELY: An IRA funeral attacked by loyalists. In the resulting funeral, two British soldiers, beaten and murdered. The world was revolted. By the time the IRA attacked a remembrance service in Enniskillen, its support in Ireland and the U.S. was faltering. Its leaders took to the political road that eventually led the IRA to call a cease- fire — and so to today and the end of its armed campaign, and to the survivor of one IRA atrocity.

STEVE ROSS: If people’s attitudes change, there will be peace in Northern Ireland — if people’s attitude to each other change, there certainly will be peace. But really it is the people in Northern Ireland, not the politicians and the terrorists that can bring peace.

BILL NEELY: The IRA killed 1,700 people; others, including loyalists and troops, killed 2,000. The carnage of a war that never had a name — Bloody Friday, Bloody Sunday — so many bloody days, and today, the promise that they’re over.

In Northern Ireland, some say, nothing is every really over. But tonight, after so many lost lives here, they’re hoping all this is finally over.