The word seems to be that the decommissioning act is now complete. But it may not be all of the IRA’s arsenal. The Sunday World today reported that up to 50% of it’s remaining weapons have been disposed of – for instance it believes none of the South Armagh weapons have been scrapped. We’ll have to wait for John De Chastelain, who has a full inventory of what’s in the arsenal, to confirm or deny. He’s the only one with that quality of information. And, last time out, he refused to share it in public. As the PA noted at the time of the IRA order: “…it doesn’t mean the IRA has committed itself to its total disarmament; units may been instructed to dump some of its weapons but retain others”.
“I don’t think republicans have absorbed what it is about. I don`t think the media have absorbed what it is about. I don`t think our opponents have absorbed what it is about,” he said. “But when the IRA delivers, when our opponents and our enemies no longer have the IRA to use as an excuse, what are they going to do? Harking back to the old days is clearly not an option and I suspect that in their heart of hearts they know that.”
For the DUP’s part, they have refused to get involved with Sinn Fein until a lengthy period has passed without organised IRA activity on the ground. They have never looked upon a decommissioning process as important in itself, so much as a confidence building measure for the Unionist community. They’ll be looking to actions, or rather inaction on the ground to prove the IRA’s real intentions. Though prepare yourself for a long (and tedious) psychological warfare between themselves, the British and Sinn Fein.
Even privately the party is briefing journalists for a very very long wait. The occurence of the Northern Bank robbery within weeks of a deal breaking down over the issue of photographing decommissioning, has ensured a long and frosty reception for Sinn Fein and the IRA’s next move. Optimists think spring will see an early move for fresh Assembly elections. The pessimists believe that the deal is off for the foreseeable future.
Realistically, the truth maybe somewhere in the middle. The DUP are dug in for major pressure from Sinn Fein and the two governments. The party cannot risk being wrong footed by the IRA Army Council. In its public profile P O’Neill has been replaced by references to real people – eg an IRA volunteer Seanna Walsh read the dump arms order. An indication of the organisation’s determination to stick to the rules perhaps?
Although there is some anxiety within Sinn Fein that they may be vulnerable to misreporting of non IRA activity in Republican areas, the Republic’s Justice Minister Michael McDowell, often accused of having an axe to grind with Sinn Fein, has thus far confirmed his government’s view that the IRA withdrawal from criminal activity has been solid since its declaration on 28th July.
The Sunday World also reports an IRA source saying: “People are just walking away. They have had enough. But they won’t be joining up with the Continuity or Real IRA”. So is it over? We’ll have to wait and see what the largest political party in Northern Ireland has to say about it. But we’ll have to wait until at least six months hence!