THREE Northern Irish paramilitary factions announced the destruction of their illegal arsenals yesterday, 24 hours before an amnesty on the movement of weapons by groups carrying out decommissioning ends.
The largest caches of weapons disposed of, in a process overseen by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD), belonged to the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) and Official IRA. The two republican socialist organisations put beyond use several sub-machine guns, as well as rifles, handguns and explosives.
The INLA decommissioning was witnessed by independent observers, including ICTU vice president Peter Bunting.
A breakaway faction of the UDA, its so-called South-East Antrim Brigade, also confirmed its weapons had been put beyond use.
In their statement, the Official IRA said it accepted the will of the Irish people for “a complete end to violent conflict”.
Adding that “groups still intent on a violent agenda and who would declare themselves the protectors of the community against the oppressor” were ignoring the people’s wishes and had themselves “become the oppressor”.
Both the Official IRA and INLA are offshoots from the Official wing of the republican movement which emerged from the 1969/70 republican split that also give rise to the Provisional IRA and Provisional Sinn Féin.
The more left-wing and politically active Official activists were organised into the Official IRA, and its political wing official Sinn Féin. In 1972 the Official IRA announced a conditional ceasefire, its leadership concerned about rising sectarianism in Northern Ireland, and following the bombing of the parachute regiment base in Aldershot which resulted in the deaths of five cleaning ladies and a military padre.
Elements of the Official IRA, under the leadership of Seamus Costello, were unhappy with the winding down of military operations in favour of politics, breaking away in late 1974 to form the INLA and its political wing, the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP).
This group re-engaged in widespread violence and is held responsible for 120 deaths over the next 30 years. At a Belfast press conference yesterday, IRSP spokesman Willie Gallagher, a former INLA prisoner, said: “The INLA had no regrets for its involvement in (the) conflict.”
After the INLA split, the Official IRA continued to operate overseeing illegal fundraising operations and providing armed protection for its political wing, which by the early 1980 had evolved into the Workers Party.
The Official IRA activists, who yesterday announced its decommissioning, split from the Workers Party in 1996 following disputes over that organisation’s political direction.
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