SYNCHRONISED SINN Féin press conferences in Washington, Dublin, Brussels and London heralded the IRA leadership's declaration that its armed struggle is at an end.
The organisation finally coalesced in a decisive manner with Sinn Féin's strategy of power sharing with unionists under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday agreement, pledging its members would work to an exclusively non-violent and democratic agenda, as a means of forwarding republican objectives.
The statement has dismayed many republicans. Many may never come to terms with it. It was however, the logical outcome of a path the movement's political leadership took several years ago. In many ways the development is to be welcomed.
Unionism's rejection of power sharing with Sinn Féin cannot now be sustained. If its obstinate bigotry is not tempered by the IRA initiative and it shuns its responsibility to embrace the democratic process, unionism's ugly face will be exposed to the international community and condemned accordingly. If the British government fails to face down the rejectionists under these circumstances, it will share the inevitable disdain. Republicanism now enters autumn in a position of political strength.
It would be naïve to think republicans have not agreed an approximate timescale with Britain as to when political institutions should be resurrected, possibly next January. However, the Independent Monitoring Commission will play a pivotal role in deciding how long republicans will have to wait. It will deliver a report to Dublin and London in October and a further report in January 2006. Lets hope its past partisanship and pandering to obstructionist unionism does not again stall political progress in the six counties.
In the meantime, there is no valid reason why justice and equality reforms envisaged in the agreement should not be implemented immediately by the British government.
There are others reasons for welcoming the IRA statement. It has finally put to bed the functional myth that a renewed armed campaign remained an option for the group. Its members face the stark reality in front of them. Maybe now a new era of openness and truth can be established in the organisation, free from the methods of selective briefing and cynical management of its members which characterised it in the past. The malcontent and resentment this caused has damaged the movement and must be addressed.
The statement may potentially address it if the pledge that the organisation will pursue "democratic" programmes and apply it internally to its own structures, as well as externally to the wider political arena.
A fully democratised IRA, shorn of a centralising structure which kept volunteers in the dark previously, will invigorate the movement by allowing informed debate and direct participation in policy-making from its volunteers.
If its radical programme of democratic socialism is to be forwarded, it must be a regulative as well as constitutive element within the organisation. This has to involve further democratisation of the movement and forms the basis of many calls for a future General Army Convention.
British prime minister Tony Blair has been granted his request that the IRA change its modus operandi. However, neither he nor George Bush can further dictate what that will be. While the only way we can avoid other republican armed groups mushrooming in the aftermath of the IRA statement will be to ensure total equality is achieved sooner rather than later throughout Ireland.
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