A time to engage

The Providence Journal: After a 36-year campaign of terror, and the death or injury of thousands of people, the Irish Republican Army has promised to pursue a new path. Last week it pledged to seek unification of Northern Ireland with the Irish Republic through peaceful, political means. If its leaders are telling the truth -- and they haven't always done so -- this will mark a profound, historic change for Ireland.
Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political arm, echoed the Bible's Book of Ecclesiastes in expressing the need for change. "There is a time to resist," he said, "to stand up and to confront the enemy by arms if necessary. In other words, there is a time for war. There is also a time to engage, to reach out and put the war behind us. This is the time."
In a statement, the IRA declared that "all IRA units have been ordered to dump arms." It instructed IRA supporters to now pursue change "through exclusively peaceful means."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair -- whose tenure has been marked by strenuous efforts to find peace in Ireland -- called the announcement "a step of unparalleled magnitude in the recent history of Northern Ireland."
But before anyone gets carried away, it will be important to see proof that the IRA means what it says, through the public destruction of its arsenal.
Protestant groups
The announcement does not mean that the IRA has abandoned its goal of driving Britain out of Ireland's affairs. Protestant groups -- some of which have also engaged in paramilitary violence -- will struggle to prevent that from happening.
But it does mean, one hopes, that the IRA recognizes a hard political reality: Terrorism has not advanced its cause. It has only made its enemies less trusting and more inclined to fight. And in the explosive new climate of world terrorism, there would be next-to-no sympathy for the cause if the IRA continued to take the path of destruction.
The IRA has been edging toward a political solution for some time now. No major attacks have occurred since the IRA declared a cease-fire, in 1997. However, a peace agreement brokered in 1998 has foundered, over charges that the IRA refused to disarm.
The political process, clearly, holds much greater promise than violence for achieving Irish rule of all of Ireland, with protection for the rights of both Catholics and Protestants.

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