Washington Post: When the Irish Republican Army announced its intention Thursday to abandon its armed struggle of three decades, the British prime minister, Tony Blair, correctly described the
Washington Post: When the Irish Republican Army announced its intention Thursday to abandon its armed struggle of three decades, the British prime minister, Tony Blair, correctly described the statement as a step of "unparalleled magnitude." President Bush was also correct in observing that the decision opened up a historic opportunity for Northern Ireland. In calling on their comrades to "dump arms," the IRA's leadership used a phrase with echoes in Irish history, one that seems to signify a genuine intention -- finally -- to disarm. Eight long years after the IRA agreed in principle to decommission its weapons, the movement says it is ready to let witnesses verify that it has actually done so.
Northern Ireland's Protestant unionist parties are understandably cautious. In the past six months, the IRA has carried out a major bank robbery as well as one prominent murder. In the past several years, the organization has been linked to terrorist groups in Colombia, to drug smuggling and to organized crime. Offers to decommission weapons have come to nothing in the past. And while the IRA has called on its members to "dump arms," it has neither expressed regret for its past actions nor offered to disband. This leads to an obvious question: If there is no more "armed struggle," why does the IRA need to exist at all? Could it be that the organization's underworld contacts are simply too lucrative for its members to discard?