Official IRA calls time on its armed struggle
A SECOND republican paramilitary group in Northern Ireland announced yesterday it had abandoned violence and decommissioned its weapons.
The so-called Official IRA, a relatively small organisation most active in the 1970s, confirmed it had destroyed its guns.
The declaration was made at a Belfast press conference which came hours after a separate republican group, the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), confirmed it disarmed.
The timing of the announcements is thought to be linked to the fact that the legislation which allows illegal groups to decommission weapons without fear of prosecution runs out tomorrow.
The Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD), formed 13 years ago, was empowered by the Government to oversee the disposal of paramilitary weaponry, but its mandate is set to end.
The IICD, led by General John de Chastelain, oversaw the most noted disarmament episode in 2005 when the mainstream Provisional IRA allowed its arms to be destroyed.
In a statement, the latest group to disarm said: "The Official IRA have confirmed that, in keeping with the long-held position within the Official Republican tradition of promoting and pursuing the development of peaceful, democratic and inclusive politics on the Island of Ireland, a process of engagement was unilaterally entered into with the decommissioning body and has reached a successful conclusion.
"The purpose of this engagement was to ensure that all weapons which were under the control of the Official IRA or to which the Official IRA had access were accounted for and transferred to the control of the decommissioning body.
"We have emphasised our commitment to removing any doubts that may exist that there are any Official IRA weapons in circulation.
"To this end an extensive nationwide inventory has been completed to confirm and verify that all such equipment has been located, identified and transferred to the decommissioning body. Any other such equipment, which has not been submitted to the decommissioning process, has no association with the Official IRA."
The Official IRA emerged in 1969/70 when, at the start of the Troubles, the republican movement split into the Official and Provisional IRA, with the 'Provos' becoming the largest organisation of its kind.
The Official IRA declared a ceasefire in 1972, but later became involved in bitter republican feuds, while there were also claims that remnants of the organisation continued to be linked to illegal activities since then. It is understood to have killed around 57 people.
Yesterday the group said it had abandoned violence and indicated that public support for the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 and the wider peace process should be recognised.
It added: "To those groups still intent on a violent agenda and who would declare themselves the protectors of the community against the oppressor, we say listen to the voice of that community. They spoke loud and clear in their demand for peace and, by ignoring that voice, you yourselves have become the oppressor."
The announcement came after the INLA, which killed more than 100 people during the Troubles, confirmed it had decommissioned its weapons.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen yesterday said the move was "very welcome".
"Obviously, I've never subscribed to the fact that people should have had those weapons in the first place but I acknowledge that decommissioning body is now indicating that they have been permanently put beyond use," he added.
Cardinal Sean Brady also welcomed the move and acknowledged it would evoke "painful memories for those who have suffered in any way due to INLA paramilitary activity".
"I pay tribute and thank those who have taken risks in order to make the good news of today a reality," he said. "I ask those with influence to do everything that they can to dissuade young people from following the destructive path of violence."