Ireland Revisited: Part 26
Over the following months from that historic Provisional IRA statement about its intent to disband and decommission, the group began to meet secretly with independent verifiers to begin the process of destroying its arms.
On 26th September 2005 two church clergymen, Catholic priest Father Alex Reid and ex-Methodist president Harold Good joined General John de Chastelain of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning to break the news to the world that the Provisional IRA’s full array of weapons had been destroyed.
De Chastelain declared; “We have observed and verified events to put beyond use very large quantities of arms which we believe include all the arms in the IRA’s possession…
“Our new inventory is consistent with these estimates. We are satisfied that the arms decommissioning represents the totality of the IRA’s arsenal.”
Details soon emerged of the weaponry the Provisional IRA had stockpiled. These included 1000 rifles, 3 tonnes of Semtex, 30 heavy machine guns, 7 Surface to Air missiles, 7 flame throwers, 1200 detonators, 30 RPG launchers, 100 hand guns and more than 100 grenades.
The majority of the Provisional IRA’s weaponry appeared to be supplied by Colonel Gaddafi’s Libya. Some weapons however, were extremely old and unusable according to De Chastelain.
Father Alec Reid and Harold Mood went on to speak about the process they witnessed, stating;
“The experience of seeing this with our own eyes, on a minute-to-minute basis, provided us with evidence so clear and of its nature so incontrovertible that at the end of the process [IRA weapon decommissioning] it demonstrated to us — and would have demonstrated to anyone who might have been with us — that beyond any shadow of doubt, the arms of the IRA have now been decommissioned.”
To alleviate unionist fears on whether the Provisional IRA may begin to re-arm itself at a later date, De Chastelain added, “It would probably take the IRA a hell of a long time to amass the same weaponry again, should it want to.”
The news was welcomed by most, with Prime Minister Tony Blair saying that IRA decommissioning was, “an important step in the transition from conflict to peace in Northern Ireland.”
Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern agreed, stating that, “The weapons of the IRA are gone, and are gone in a manner which has been verified and witnessed. It is a landmark development.”
Gerry Adams described the decommissioning as a “very brave and bold leap” but acknowledged that it would be “difficult for many republicans”.
Unionists reacted to the news with skepticism. Most were extremely unhappy that no photographic evidence had been provided of the decommissioning process. The DUP leader Ian Paisley argued that there had been “no transparent verification of IRA decommissioning in the announcement.”
So, the Provisional IRA campaign was over. Over thirty years after its campaign started the time had finally come when the group threw itself solely into politics. The group boasted a membership of some 10,000 volunteers over its thirty year campaign and was responsible for the deaths of over 1800 people.
The end of the Provisional’s campaign however, did not necessarily mean an end to militant republicanism. The Continuity IRA and Real IRA continue their war against British occupation and indeed that has fluctuated at certain points in recent years.
March 2009 saw the Real IRA claim the lives of two British soldiers at Massereene Barracks in Co. Antrim, ambushing the two men as they collected pizzas at the gate to their barracks. Two days later a police man was shot dead in Craigavon in another ambush.
The deaths signaled the re-introduction of the Real IRA and Continuity IRA to Northern Ireland as credible threats to the peace process.
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