Irish Examiner

IRA ready to stand down by March

By Harry McGee, Political Editor

THE Provisional IRA will stand down by March next year if a historic breakthrough is achieved in the peace process, according to high-level sources in the Republican movement.

The IRA will formally declare it is being disbanded before, or during, March 2005 if the staged process that will flow from an agreement proceeds smoothly.

But in that scenario, according to the sources, the IRA’s formidable intelligence-gathering units will not be fully disbanded. While they will be stood down militarily, they will be redeployed and absorbed into the Sinn Féin party. The sources indicated that the former IRA personnel will form part of an expanded political intelligence-gathering unit, which will focus its efforts on political expansion in the South.

If a breakthrough is achieved in the next 10 days, the formal disbandment of the IRA would be the last act of a sequence of carefully choreographed events. The first would be a substantial act of ‘visible’ decommissioning by the IRA to kick-start the process, followed by a series of other symbolic acts designed to build confidence and trust on both sides.

An agreement would necessarily involve painful concessions by all parties. Two of the most contentious issues surrounding the Republican movement are the status of so-called ‘On the Run’ (OTR) IRA suspects and the killers of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe.

The Irish Examiner understands that concessions on OTRs could be offered in an annex to the agreement, becoming the responsibility of the Government rather than the parties, thus allowing unionists to distance themselves from any amnesty.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern told the Dáil in May this year that the release of the killers of Det Garda Jerry McCabe would only be considered in the context of an end to all paramilitary activity.

Despite optimistic notes sounded by Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern and Northern Secretary Paul Murphy in recent days, problems remain. Yesterday, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams expressed concern that concessions sought by the DUP would tamper with the fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement.

Writing in the Irish Voice yesterday, Mr Adams said: “If ministers Ahern and Murphy have said there is going to be a breakthrough then clearly the logic of their position is that this must be coming from the DUP. I see no evidence of that, though it is possible.”

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