IRA: Standing down better than decomm?

Two articles from Chris Thornton and Gary Kelly foreground the inclusion of an IRA stand down in the upcoming negotiations between NI’s elected representatives. This potentially represents an important new strand to the current process.

Previous emphasis upon the decommissioning of IRA weapons has arguably had disastrous consequences for all of its political advocates. Retaining it as an essential objective is likely to lead to similar difficulties, though the DUP has clearly covered this possibility with its corporate assembly model which would reduce the status of the legislative body to that of a large city council for all of Northern Ireland. At this early stage there is little sign of an appetite for this amongst Republicans.

The single-minded pursuit of decommissioning has a number of weaknesses.

It is likely to run into the same verification problems as previously – the enigmatic word of an independent commissioner might work for Nationalists – by and large it doesn’t for Unionists, who might go to ask: how do you ever know that it’s all been handed in? Or what’s to prevent the import of replacement munitions?

Crucially for almost all Nationalists, regardless of party allegiance, it leaves the question of Loyalist weapons entirely unaddressed. And judging by the general disgruntlement of Loyalist politicians at being left out of the loop, no one is seriously asking them what their response might be to such an act.

One particularly well informed commentator told Slugger that full decommissioning would have to be managed in several rounds that could take up anything to two years to complete. If this were so, it will act as powerful block to the restarting of institutions in the near future.

Standing down the IRA however is a qualitatively different prospect.

For a start it is already provided for within the IRA’s constitution. It is therefore more likely to be seen as a question of its own choice, rather than an admission price for Sinn Fein to take it’s position in any future excutive.

Along with some amendments to the policing arrangements would represent the acceptance by the IRA of common security mechanisms for Nationalists and Unionists, for the very first time in Northern Ireland.

It also may be that the British and Irish governments are in a position to judge that previous rounds of decommissioning have already taken sufficient weaponery out of circulation to make any future insurgency impractical.

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