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Peace in Ulster?

Belfast -- Great hopes for a permanent peace in Northern Ireland arose earlier this summer when the Irish Republican Army (IRA) announced that it was abandoning its "armed campaign," thus ending a 35year struggle which had caused over 3,000 deaths on both sides.

The IRA, which seeks the end of British rule in Northern Ireland, has represented itself internationally as a band of idealistic nationalists striving on behalf of working-class Catholics, traditionally an underclass in the country. While efforts by the British government following the Good Friday Accords of 1998 improved the prospects of peace, the IRA itself began to lose credibility due to the thuggish, even criminal, behaviour of many of its members. A massive bank heist and the stabbing of young Catholic Robert McCartney earlier this year brought much negative publicity.

On the other side of the fence, another alienated class comprising working-class Protestants supports the Unionist Party (favouring continued union with the UK). Many of them are supportive, if not actually members of, the banned paramilitary groups Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). Their political arm is the Progressive Unionist Party, which has of recent years been eclipsed by the Democratic Unionists (DU). The frustrations felt by this group, still numerically larger than the DU, but suffering from the collapse of the traditional industries in which they once held a favoured place, erupted in three nights of rioting and violence after September 10, 2005.

Summer is the traditional "marching season" by members of the Protestant Orange Order in Northern Ireland. When police orders once again prevented the parade from marching through a Catholic area of Belfast, mobs of angry, often drunken, men and youths hit the streets of the city and of other towns. Roads were blocked, cars were burned, grenades thrown and shots fired; 81 police officers and 10 civilians were wounded in the clashes, said to be the worst in a decade. Order was eventually restored by police with the help of soldiers using water cannons. Members of the UVF (rather than UDA) are thought to have been instrumental in starting the violence.

It should be noted that until these riots, international media have reported few of the many violent incidents and discrimination practised against Catholics: they preferred to blame the IRA. Significantly, the IRA has yet to declare that it will disband.

Retired Canadian General John de Chastelain leads Northern Ireland's Independent Monitoring Commission for disarmament. On September 26, his inspectors announced that they privately "decommissioned" the IRA's entire weapons stockpile. Since the weapons disposal was not publicly documented, anti-Catholic Democratic Unionist leader Rev. Ian Paisley quickly denied that the IRA had fully disarmed. De Chastelain defended the secrecy as necessary to maintain the neutrality that results in compliance. The Commission is to publish reports on IRA activities in both October and January. Assuming that the IRA discontinues criminal activity, negotiations between Sinn Fein--its political wing--and the Democratic Unionists are expected to resume next year (Associated Press, National Post).
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Title Annotation:Ireland
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:4EUUN
Date:Nov 1, 2005
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