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IRA no longer seen as a threat to N. Ireland

September 04, 2008|From the Associated Press

BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND — The Irish Republican Army is fading away in Northern Ireland and poses no security threat to the British territory, international experts concluded Wednesday in another landmark for peacemaking.

The governments of Britain and Ireland heralded the report of the Independent Monitoring Commission as the effective obituary of the IRA. Both appealed to local British Protestant leaders to accept the experts' verdict and deepen, not weaken, their cooperation with Irish Catholics in a partnership government.

The 16-month-old coalition in Belfast has been threatening to unravel amid myriad disputes fueled, in part, by Protestant demands for the IRA to disappear after more than a decade of cease-fire.

British, Irish and Catholic leaders declared that the report from the four fact-finders -- who include former directors of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and Scotland Yard's anti-terrorism unit -- should eliminate the IRA as a diplomatic barrier.

"This is a very important day . . . and a moment when we should draw a line," said Britain's secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Shaun Woodward.

"This report demonstrates not only that PIRA has gone away, but that it won't be coming back," said Irish Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, using the outlawed group's full formal name of Provisional IRA.

And Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, whose party grew out of the IRA and today represents most Catholics in Northern Ireland, said the question of the IRA's future "has been dealt with definitively. This issue is gone."

But leaders of the major Protestant party, the Democratic Unionists, said they would not be rushed into developing greater trust in Sinn Fein, because the IRA could merely be hibernating.

First Minister Peter Robinson, who leads both the power-sharing administration and the Democratic Unionist Party, reiterated his long-standing demand for the IRA command, officially called the "army council," to announce its own disbandment.

The Provisional IRA killed about 1,775 people during a failed 1970-97 campaign to force Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom. In 2005, the group completed the transfer of its hidden weapons dumps to disarmament officials and renounced violence for political purposes.

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