The Ulster Declaration: Nationalists must decide if time is right to end violence

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The Independent Online
THE VERDICT of Sinn Fein and the IRA on the joint declaration, which may take some days to emerge, will indicate whether the recently raised hopes for peace in Northern Ireland have a solid foundation, writes David McKittrick.

In the declaration, the two governments addressed themselves to the key republican concerns of Irish self-determination and the entry of Sinn Fein into political life in the event of the ending of IRA violence. What is unclear is whether the declaration goes far enough to bring about a cessation.

Outright rejection would be difficult, since the two governments will be judged to have made genuine efforts to tackle the issues which matter most to the republicans. The fact that the Irish government was involved in producing the document, which has been approved by the Social Democratic and Labour Party leader, John Hume, means rejection would leave Sinn Fein and the IRA isolated.

Republicans are no strangers to isolation, but the future would hold little prospect of an end to their ostracism. The Republic, in particular, is showing ever greater degrees of hostility to IRA methods, and joint British-Irish security initiatives could not be ruled out. The 70 per cent of nationalists in Ulster represented by the SDLP are heartily sick of violence, and want only to see it ended.

It seems almost too easy, on the other hand, to imagine that the IRA will in the next few days announce that the declaration has done the trick and that its campaign of violence has ended. The republican movement has been characterised by splits, and no one wants a messy feud which would lead to the emergence of a substantial group of diehards determined to fight to the death.

There have been doubts that some of the farther-flung IRA units, such as south Armagh, would be ready to obey an order to lay down their arms. At the same time, there are other signs that even the hard men approve of the course undertaken by Gerry Adams.

One distinct possibility is for the republicans to announce, after due deliberation, that the declaration goes some way to meeting their demands but does not in itself suffice. They could then seek to draw one or both governments into dialogue, either in private or in public, designed to win concessions before a cessation.

The paradox is that, although some republicans are clearly willing to contemplate ending violence, they possess enough sinews of war to continue their campaign indefinitely. Stopping the violence would not be a surrender for, as security sources readily attest, the guns, the explosives and the recruits are there for many more years of killing.

A cessation, if it came, would not be because of military weakness but because of a genuine belief that the aims of republicanism could be pursued effectively through politics, by negotiation. The IRA and Sinn Fein think of themselves as having a real choice between terrorism and political action; at this moment it cannot be predicted which path they will choose.