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Long live the IRA
published: Sunday | October 2, 2005

Livingstone Thompson, Contributor

SINN FEIN'S rally in Dublin (Ireland) on Saturday, September 24 was another example of the party's smart political manoeuvring, but only in retrospect can the genius of the march be seen. Sinn Fein/IRA caused traffic jam and created a storm of protest by a march involving hundreds of children in what they called the centenary of the founding of the party. The Irish Justice Minister and the Irish Independent newspaper tried to deny Sinn Fein's claim to the anniversary, but the party's media presence was bolstered two days later when the Irish Prime Minister, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, declared (Monday 26/09/05) that "the IRA guns are gone." So, the IRA may be no more, but long live the IRA.

The "guns are gone" declaration was made as Mr. Ahern responded to the report of the Independent International Commission (IIC), which was named to monitor the decommissioning of the weaponry of the paramilitary organisations. In a news conference in Northern Ireland earlier the same day, chairman of the commission, General de Chastelain and the two independent monitors, reported that to their certain knowledge, the whole arsenal of the IRA had been put beyond use. For over 30 years the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which is in fact the military outfit of the Gerry Adams-led Sinn Fein, declared war on the British Government and sought to use force to drive them off the island. As the book Lost Lives revealed, a little over three thousand (3,000) persons have been killed in the thirty-year conflict. Probably the worst atrocity was the 1998 Omagh bombing, in which twenty-seven people were killed. The reason the IRA came into being was to continue the struggle for the full independence of Ireland from Britain. Although the Republic won its independence in 1922, the Northern six counties are still under British rule.

From the report it seemed that the IIC had painstakingly watched as weapons, including mortars, machine guns, explosives, rockets and launchers were disabled. One suspects that they have been buried under concrete at some secret location on the island. In its efforts to build trust between itself and the paramilitary groups, the IIC accepted that the decommissioning of arms had to be conducted outside of the glare of the media. In any case, it seems only in this way would the IRA follow through on its commitment to decommission its arms. The IRA did not want their sincere attempt to move to a non-violent level of political involvement to appear as defeat. Journalists tried but in vain to get details of the actual amount of weapons that have been put beyond use. All they were told was that the amount was consistent with the listing made by the British and Irish security forces.


The roots of the violent conflict in Northern Ireland are different from the root causes of the violence we are experiencing in Jamaica. For that and other cultural and economic reasons, one cannot simply apply approaches used in Europe to inner-city Jamaica. However, despite the differences, there are at least two lessons that those at the forefront of efforts to bring lasting peace to Jamaican inner-city communities can learn.

The first lesson is that ending violence takes a whole generation and lasting peace may take a whole lifetime. The report of complete IRA decommissioning has come seven years after the Good-Friday Agreement, in which total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations was accepted by all parties, as "an indispensable part of the process of negotiation." The other major paramilitary organisation that is associated with the Unionists broke off contact with the IIC over two years ago, although it was agreed that the commission members were truly non-partisan experts. It took all of seven years of negotiation and coaxing to reach this milestone for a single paramilitary organisation, following thirty years fighting. This indicates the investment of time and patience that is needed to bring about an end to violence ­ let alone lasting peace. Only in this past week members of the Peace Management Initiative (PMI) team were again in the Mountain View area after another upsurge of violence. They have been there before and they should be prepared to return with adjusted programmes because generations of conflicts will not resolve with a few visits.

The second lesson from Northern Ireland is that where there is a viable, attractive, non-violent option decommissioning is possible. The IRA has put an end to a violent strategy because its members became convinced that it is possible to achieve their ambitions in a more credible fashion. The difficulty with violence in Jamaica is that on the face of it the perpetrators have dubious ambitions. It would be easier to work with individuals and communities under the stress of violence if the killings had some overt political motive. However, far from being dubious, the ambitions of killers in Jamaica, for the most part, like their counterpart in Rio and Johannesburg, are economic. It is difficult to ameliorate these ambitions when the economy, as well as the political will of leaders, is in such a desperate situation. The truth is that the depth and breadth of the violence have outstripped the capacity of the country to bring about resolution on its own, in a meaningful time. For the time being, the Jamaican killers remain unconvinced that there is viable, non-violent economic alternative to their desperate strategy of murder and mayhem.

Dr. Livingstone Thompson is a past president of the Moravian Church in Jamaica and may be contacted at

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