Adams: IRA must abandon armed struggle
In an unusually direct appeal, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams asked Irish Republican Army members Wednesday to abandon their 35-year "armed struggle" in Northern Ireland and rely exclusively on politics to advance their goals.
Adams, a reputed IRA commander since the mid-1970s, did not directly call for the outlawed organization to disarm fully and disband as the British, Irish and American governments have repeatedly demanded.
But Adams said he did expect IRA members to begin internal discussions immediately about transferring their exclusive support to Sinn Fein, the major Catholic-backed party in this British territory.
His carefully scripted remarks came on the first full day of campaigning for British parliamentary elections May 5 and appeared timed to shore up Sinn Fein support within Northern Ireland's Catholic minority.
"Our struggle has reached a defining moment," Adams said in his statement addressed to IRA members.
"In the past I have defended the right of the IRA to engage in armed struggle. ... Now there is an alternative," Adams said at a news conference flanked by senior Sinn Fein deputies.
Adams said he was asking IRA members "to fully embrace and accept this. Can you take courageous initiatives which will achieve your aims by purely political and democratic activity?"
Sinn Fein has spent several months on the defensive over the IRA, which has been observing a cease-fire since 1997 but remains active on several fronts. Police and other authorities blame the IRA for the Jan. 30 knife slaying of Catholic civilian Robert McCartney and a Dec. 20 bank robbery that netted a world-record $50 million in cash.
The British and Irish governments offered a cautious welcome to Adams' words, but said the IRA must demonstrate it will go out of business both as a paramilitary threat and criminal empire.
In Dublin, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said Adams' appeal "is significant and has potential." But he said the Sinn Fein-IRA movement had previously offered "false dawns and dashed hopes."
"Obviously the key will be what the IRA does," a spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in London.
Washington also offered a cautious welcome for Adams' words.
"We await concrete actions by the IRA to support the policy advocated by Mr. Adams," said Richard Boucher, the State Department spokesman. "Respect for the rule of law is an essential element of the democratic society that Mr. Adams has outlined."
The Good Friday peace accord of 1998 envisioned an era of peaceful compromise underpinned by a joint Catholic-Protestant administration. But the coalition fell apart in 2002 because of chronic arguments over IRA activities. The political stalemate has encouraged voters to turn increasingly to hard-line parties on both sides of the divide.
A yearlong effort to revive power-sharing failed in December when the IRA refused demands to permit photos of its disarmament or to renounce criminal activities.
And Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley, the Protestant leader who would have to agree to work with Sinn Fein, dismissed Adams' appeal Wednesday as a crude electoral stunt devoid of specifics.
"There is no place in any democracy for terrorists and no place for IRA-Sinn Fein," said Paisley, who called Adams "an absolute deceiver and a liar."