Letter: IRA's defensive role

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Sir: Donald Macintyre's article on the obstacles facing negotiators in the current phase of the Northern Ireland peace process ("This time, the IRA might make a real difference", 11 November) identifies many of the fears held by both unionists and nationalists. However, he overlooks the main fear of nationalists over decommissioning of the IRA's weapons.

In each generation, the nationalist community has been subjected to assault by extreme, armed loyalists, often with the connivance or actual assistance of the forces of the state. Many nationalists remember what they refer to as the "pogroms" of 1969, when more than 3,000 nationalists were driven from their homes and many killed by loyalist mobs.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that many are reluctant to give up what is widely perceived as the Catholic community's last line of defence in the event of a "doomsday" situation.

Nor are they reassured by the exclusive concentration of politicians and media on the IRA's weaponry. This ignores the considerable arsenal held by loyalist paramilitaries, as well as the approximately 150,000 legally held weapons, which are almost exclusively in the hands of the unionist community.


London N13