CHURCH OF IRELAND leaders have cautiously welcomed the statement by the IRA
that it is to abandon arms and engage in wholly peaceful political activities.
The Primate of All Ireland, Dr Robin Eames, said that any move to remove the
threat of terrorism and violence from the entire community should be welcomed;
but the victims should never be forgotten.
He said: "The IRA statement could herald the beginning of a period of
transition from violence to peaceful and democratic co-existence - but only if
words lead to clear and unambiguous action. There is now a moral imperative for
Republicanism to be seen to act. A community which has grown wary and weary of
fine sentiments not linked to action will welcome this transition if it is
genuine and clear."
Dr Eames said that, given the history of Irish Republicanism, Unionism must
recognise that the IRA statement was a significant development. "It should not
be dismissed easily - but its sincerity remains to be tested. All political
parties must search out the possibilities of this new situation."
The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr John Neill, said that responsibility now fell
on the two governments, on society in the north and south, and to no small
extent on the Churches together to build a peace founded on mutual
He said that "the existence of private armed groups like the IRA and
loyalist paramilitaries is totally incompatible with a normal, democratic free
society governed by the rule of law. This is as true in the Republic of Ireland
as it is in Northern Ireland.
Among Unionists, the Revd Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party has
reacted especially angrily to the scaling down of a military security presence
by the British Government.
On Monday, Mr Paisley warned the Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Hain,
that his party might veto entering talks with Sinn Fein over demilitarisation
by the British Government, which he described as rushed, and "a sop to
republicans". Instead of bringing forward devolution, the decision to
reduce military presence in the province could delay the process, Mr Paisley
Mr Paisley was due to meet Mr Hain on Wednesday, as the dispute over
demilitarisation escalated. As the British Army began dismantling its
observation post on the top of the Divis Flats in Belfast, Mr Paisley's DUP was
threatening to disrupt the operations of the Policing Board which Mr Hain has
extended for another year.
The Ulster Unionist leader, Sir Reg Empey, said that in particular the
Government's plan to abolish local battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment
(RIR), announced on Monday, was so unacceptable that he is prepared to
co-operate "with like-minded Unionists to seek to fight this irresponsible
Predictably, Sinn Fein has welcomed what it termed "the demilitarisation of
our society", and the decision regarding the RIR, which it has consistently
criticised as sectarian in composition, and has accused of collusion with
Unionist paramilitary groups.