BELFAST, Northern Ireland — Die-hard members of the Irish Republican Army might drift to fringe groups, threatening Northern Ireland's emergence from more than three decades of bloodshed, victims groups say.
The IRA announced last week that it was ending its armed struggle against British rule and would use only peaceful and democratic means to achieve its goal of a united Ireland.
But Michael Gallagher, leader of a group representing victims of the deadliest attack during Northern Ireland's "Troubles," said Sunday that some militants could drift to breakaway militias such as the Real IRA. Twenty-nine people were killed in a bombing in the small town of the Omagh in 1998, an attack for which the Real IRA subsequently apologized.
The Real IRA broke away during negotiations that led to the landmark Good Friday power-sharing agreement. Authorities consider breakaway republican paramilitary groups small but dangerous.
"We have to be very conscious of the danger of people who feel disenfranchised by the move the IRA made," Gallagher said. "Over the past 30 years, these people have known no other way of life other than illegal activity. That's the danger when a society like ours normalizes, that some people will hanker back to the old ways."
A former leader of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political ally, who has alleged ties to fringe paramilitaries said the IRA's historic move "betrayed" republican principles.
Ruairi O'Bradaigh, ousted by Gerry Adams in 1983, told the Belfast Telegraph newspaper that the IRA had been corrupted by the British government and should disband.
"They are no longer republicans," said O'Bradaigh, who heads the radical Republican Sinn Fein.
Although the Real IRA and other breakaway groups are a menace, they have "no great political support," said Paul Dixon, a professor of politics at the University of Ulster. He said Adams, who still leads Sinn Fein, had taken the threat into account.
"Adams is far too cautious to ignore that and has maximized republican unity," he said. "In any case, the international climate has shifted against terrorism in a big way."
Adams has appealed for republicans who disagreed to "keep it in-house and stay united."
The British secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Peter Hain, said a victims commission, partially modeled on South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, would be established.
"We will be looking at processes by which people can get at the truth and have some acknowledgment for their pain and suffering," Hain told the Observer, a British newspaper.
Some victims groups have opposed any South African-style process, in which anyone who gave evidence received immunity, saying it would weaken their efforts to seek justice.
"The victims are the ones who suffered the most and cannot be re-traumatized," said the Rev. David Clements, a Methodist minister with a group representing victims of violence.
Hopes for progress in Northern Ireland's stalled peace process have increased after the IRA statement. But Peter Robinson, deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, the dominant Protestant party, said over the weekend that it could take years before a power-sharing agreement with Sinn Fein.
Although initial negotiations could begin in September, Ian Paisley, head of the Democratic Unionists, was expected to demand a waiting period of at least six months before starting serious talks. Paisley's party was frustrated that the IRA statement did not mention providing photographic evidence of weapons being destroyed, a demand he had made during the talks that collapsed in December.
In a poll in the Republic of Ireland by Dublin's Sunday Independent newspaper, only 51% said they believed the IRA would disarm, and 87% said they did not believe criminal activities such as smuggling and money laundering would end. About 60% said the IRA should apologize to its victims.
Adams said at a Friday news conference that the IRA had already apologized.