Sinn Fein's recent renouncement of violence in Northern Ireland is welcome, but is it worth its weight in paper?
That remains to be seen. We hope it will be honored by not only the Irish Republican Army but splinter paramilitary groups such as the Real IRA, responsible for the tragic bombing in Omagh last month.Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said the use of violence to attain independence from British rule is a "thing of the past - over, done with, gone." That is encouraging news, though it was received with some skepticism by Northern Ireland's Protestant political leaders. Adams does not speak for all factions opposed to British rule.
Such suspicion is understandable on the part of both Protestants and Catholics, given the 30 years of violence that has claimed 3,400 lives. The peace accord approved in May by an overwhelming majority - 71 percent in Northern Ireland and 94 percent in the independent Republic of Ireland - has spawned new hope but is not without detractors.
There continues a frightening, fanatical minority on both sides unwilling to pursue its aims through peaceful means. The bombing in Omagh followed by a month a Protestant Orange-initiated firebombing that claimed the lives of three young brothers. Though unequal in terms of casualty count, both incidents were equally heinous and senseless.
Fortunately, the push for peace has continued and even been strengthened by these acts of barbarism. Widespread revulsion at the cowardly nature of both crimes and the deaths of innocent victims sparked outrage and backlash in Catholic and Protestant communities. In terms of garnering political support, such violence backfired. Greater across-the-board resolve to find an appropriate resolution has been manifest since, evidenced by Sinn Fein's statement.
To squelch those such as the Real IRA who view violence as a solution, British and Irish governments have initiated a joint crackdown on truce-defying paramilitary groups and their supporters. That is essential, as there are always those few willing to use subversive means to achieve their political ends. Fortunately, they are becoming a shrinking minority in Northern Ireland. But they must be monitored and apprehended as misdeeds merit it.
Finally, if the IRA and Sinn Fein are serious about peace, as Adams purported, disarmament should be undertaken in incremental steps. Terrorist weapons should be surrendered and violence stopped. Those actions would speak louder than words.