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10 years after IRA gave up its armed campaign, Northern Ireland back at the crossroads

Decommissioning witness speaks out on Stormont crisis

By Brian Rowan

Published 28/07/2015

Fr Alex Reid and Rev Harold Good (far right) who watched as IRA weapons were destroyed in 2005
Fr Alex Reid and Rev Harold Good (far right) who watched as IRA weapons were destroyed in 2005
An IRA gunman on the streets of Belfast in 1997
Lord John Alderdice

A church witness to the IRA's decommissioning 10 years ago says Northern Ireland is "once more at a crossroads".

Former Methodist President Harold Good was commenting a decade after the IRA formally ended its armed campaign on this date in 2005.

Several months later in the company of Fr Alec Reid and the Independent International Commission for Decommissioning (IICD), Mr Good watched as IRA weapons were destroyed.

His concern today is the political stand-off at Stormont over welfare reform and other cuts.

"We are once more at a crossroads as a society as well as those who carry political responsibility," he told this newspaper.

"We need to urgently make up our minds where we want to go from here."

But a former Stormont Speaker believes our political leaders may have lost their way. Lord John Alderdice was also a member of the ceasefire watchdog body the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC),

"One of the specific tasks of the IMC was to assess and comment on political leadership," Lord Alderdice told the Belfast Telegraph.

"Without leadership we would never have had the [Good Friday] Agreement, nor been able to put the institutions in place, but as time has gone on that leadership seems to have lost its momentum, perhaps even lost its way," he said.

"You can make progress without some elements, but not without leadership.

"Leadership - and that means the courage to go out a little ahead of your people - is an essential requirement for progress," he said.

In a reference to the current Stormont stand-off, the one-time Alliance leader said: "It is entirely legitimate to disagree, but it is unacceptable to bring down the political institutions because you don't get your own way."

Yesterday, before leaving for a visit to the United States, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness again warned that the political situation was "extremely grave".

Mr McGuinness is recognised as one of the lead voices in the internal republican debates that delivered the IRA ceasefires, decommissioning and then the statement that formally ended the armed campaign.

Peter Sheridan, then an Assistant Chief Constable, told this newspaper: "For that group of republicans it's over - the violent phase is over."

But the now chief executive of the peace-building organisation Co-operation Ireland has also voiced concerns about the political situation at Stormont.

"It behoves politicians to find a way through," he said. But, after decades of violence, he has warned it may take 25 years to "normalise community and political relationships - to underpin the political deal [of 1998]".

The IRA statement of July 2005 followed the ceasefire announcements of 1994 and 1997.

It said the leadership had ordered an end to the armed campaign, which would take effect at 4pm that afternoon.

"All IRA units have been ordered to dump arms," the statement continued.

It was read to camera by the Belfast republican Seanna Walsh, one of the longest-serving IRA prisoners in the conflict period.

The statement also confirmed that there would be further contact with the IICD to complete the process of putting arms beyond use.

"We have invited two witnesses from the Protestant and Catholic churches, to testify to this," the statement said.

There was an almost immediate security response which set out a phased plan to end the Army's long-running Operation Banner - its support role to the police in Northern Ireland.

This included plans to disband the Home Service battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment and to remove military barracks.

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