IRA Renounces Violence, Orders Disarmament

Irish Republican Army units are ordered to disarm, in a move the group's officials call historic. Top IRA officials say they are confident it can become a peace-building group. Robert Siegel talks with Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political arm.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

At a time when we are so focused on a struggle against political violence that could go on for some time, it is noteworthy that today there is, at very least, a cease-fire in another conflict that has persisted for decades. The Irish Republican Army, the IRA, announced today that it is abandoning armed struggle. The statement was evidently the product of talks with the governments of Britain and Ireland, both of which welcomed it. British Prime Minister Tony Blair described the development as potentially historic.

Prime Minister TONY BLAIR (Great Britain): This may be the day when finally, after all the false dawns and dashed hopes, peace replaced war, politics replaces terror on the island of Ireland.

SIEGEL: Martin McGuinness is the senior negotiator for Sinn Fein, the political party allied to the IRA. He joins us from Capitol Hill, where he met today with several members of Congress and staffers.

Mr. McGuinness, the IRA had used the phrases `stand down' and `an end to the armed campaign.' Is it implied as well that there is a demobilization to come, just a disbanding of all IRA units, or do they remain intact?

Mr. MARTIN McGUINNESS (Senior Negotiator, Sinn Fein): Well, what we have today, I think, is a very historic decision by the IRA to call a formal end to the armed campaign; also, a decision of the IRA leadership to put its weapons beyond use, and there's definitive instructions to all volunteers in respect of all IRA activities. I think it is clearly a decisive and watershed moment in Irish politics. The fact that they've also effectively instructed their volunteers only to become involved in peaceful programs clearly suggests that this is a truly momentous occasion.

SIEGEL: When you speak of the IRA putting its weapons beyond use and decommissioning weapons, does that mean, in fact, surrendering control of those weapons to the independent body, or does it mean that the weapons would still be there and under different circumstances might be accessible?

Mr. McGUINNESS: Well, you see, one of the difficulties that has plagued the process of getting all weapons beyond use has been the interference particularly of political leaders on the Unionist side in the North of Ireland, who thought that it was their responsibility to deal with this particular issue when, in fact, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, that was responsibility was given to the international independent decommissioning body.

And I suppose at the end of the process of putting the weapons beyond use, General de Chastelain, in conjunction with a representative of the Protestant and Catholic churches, will state their view on all of that. And if they're satisfied, then I am not going to interfere. I am more than satisfied to abide by their judgment in this matter.

SIEGEL: You mean putting the weapons beyond use in that case means, in effect, surrendering them to the control of General de Chastelain. It doesn't mean that he just knows where they are and has an inventory of them; they're under his control once he has them. Do I understand that...

Mr. McGUINNESS: Well, it means putting the weapons beyond use onto the remit of General de Chastelain, and I think that that is very, very clear.

SIEGEL: In addition to a great many hopeful, optimistic statements that we've heard in response to what the IRA said today, we've heard from a great many skeptics who say, `We've heard things like this before, and then it broke down.' What's different this time? What is different, and what tells you it's going to stick?

Mr. McGUINNESS: Well, you know, with respect, I don't think we have heard anything like this before. This is truly an historic and momentous statement from the IRA. The IRA are going to move to put their weapons beyond use, and that is really historic. I'm also convinced that the IRA volunteers will abide by their orders from their leadership and will only engage in peaceful and democratic means.

SIEGEL: But will they continue to receive orders from leaders? Will they continue to be part of an organization organized along paramilitary lines?

Mr. McGUINNESS: Well, I don't know that. That's a matter for them, except to say that I am well satisfied that we're dealing with a situation in which people are going to be entirely peaceful and totally adhere to peaceful and democratic means for moving forward. If people wish to add just wholly new preconditions, then I think we are all going to be in very serious difficulty ahead. Let's not be creating problems that don't exist.

SIEGEL: Mr. McGuinness, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. McGUINNESS: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Martin McGuinness, who's a senior negotiator for Sinn Fein, speaking to us from Capitol Hill about today's announcement by the Irish Republican Army, the IRA, that it is abandoning violence.

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