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Tommy McKearney

It was such novel way to surrender that most of the Provo rank and file was unsure of what exactly had happened.  Like a cuckolded husband, IRA volunteers will be the last people to learn that a fundamentally different relationship is now in effect. Without an arsenal, the Provisional IRA is defunct, its war ended and hope of revolution is over.  Power and influence will now come purely through electoral performance and parliamentary reform.

It is perhaps unsurprising that the full significance of the IRA's statement of 6th May 2000 has also evaded many other commentators.  The British State has after all faced few enemies quite so persistent in the recent past.  Twenty-five years of conflict turned an internal region of the UK into a war zone, brought terror to London and even inflicted lethal damage on the British Royal Family.  It is hard to convince people that the Provo war is finally over.

Yet unless the Provisional IRA is telling a blatant lie, it is not possible to take any other message from their clear and explicit declaration.  The organisation said that it will, "...completely and verifiably put IRA weapons beyond use.." and agreed that Cyril Ramaphosa and Martti Ahtisaari will be allowed to inspect republican arsenals.  Realistically, there is little cause to fear that men of such stature will falsify their reports.

No matter how dramatic the message, the inescapable truth is that this announcement has been inevitable since Sinn Fein accepted the Good Friday Agreement.

For twenty-five years, the Provisional Republican Movement made no secret that its objective - if not its very raison d'être - was to break the connection with Britain, end partition and create an all-Ireland republic.  They stated time and time again that Northern Ireland was corrupt beyond reforming and that the republican agenda could only be advanced through a military campaign.

It was a position that won republicans few friends outside their own, narrow community at home and abroad.  There were times when support increased such as after Bloody Sunday or during the hunger strikes but these were isolated examples of solidarity with the Irish rather than pure commitment to the republican cause.

Whatever ones opinion of the Provos though, there was nevertheless a form of rugged logic to their assessment of the situation.  They were determined to overthrow the state and realised that this is not a project that lends itself to routine parliamentary process.  It may not always be necessary to use guns to bring about the downfall of a state but waging war on the government is one certain method of preventing assimilation into regular society.
All of this changed after Good Friday. Sinn Fein on behalf of mainstream republicans accepted the core points of the agreement.  Partition and the union would remain secure for so long as a majority in Northern Ireland wished it to be so and republicans would participate in a local, devolved government.  By any standard this was an about turn of stunning dimensions.

The explanation offered by Sinn Fein to its supporters was that dramatically changing demographics made reform and indeed abolition of the Northern State possible.  This was dependent of course on the British government guaranteeing certain conditions including a declaration of their neutrality in Northern Ireland and the implementation of an equality agenda.  Nevertheless, following the Agreement and with their own people holding administrative positions, Sinn Fein could ensure that such an agenda would be adhered to.  Or so Sinn Fein thought at any rate.

The argument is as old as English afternoon tea - it is the case for parliamentary reformism.

It was therefore impossible for Sinn Fein to enter into the institutions created by the Good Friday Agreement while retaining the option of armed insurrection.  The only question to be answered after Adams and McGuinness committed the party to the new arrangement was under what conditions would the transformation take place. Unionists were always going to make the journey as difficult as possible for republicans.

In the end of the day they forced the Provos to go further than any other revolutionary republican group has ever gone in Ireland.  There are some of course who would ask if the present Sinn Fein party was ever revolutionary or even all that republican but that is an argument for another day.  The fact is that they are now just one more parliamentary party.



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