Widespread welcome for INLA disarmament

The decision today of republican paramilitary group the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) to end violence proves the North is leaving the horrors of its past behind, it was claimed.

The decision today of republican paramilitary group the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) to end violence proves the North is leaving the horrors of its past behind, it was claimed.

The group will today announce an end to its 30-year campaign of violence that saw it claim more than 100 lives during the Troubles.

Confirmation that the splinter group, linked to infamous attacks such as the murder of Conservative MP Airey Neave in 1979, is to formally end its campaign comes as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today said violent republicanism has no support among Irish-Americans.

The Secretary of State leaves Britain today to hold a series of engagements in Dublin, before travelling to Belfast for talks with Stormont political leaders as they broker an historic deal that it is hoped will see republicans and unionists share responsibility for running the region's justice system.

SDLP deputy leader Alasdair McDonnell said the INLA decision and the continued American support for the peace process reflected the wishes of the people.

"Slowly but surely we are putting the horrors of the past 40 years behind us," said the South Belfast MP.

"I detect as I go about my business on the streets of Belfast the steady movement of people of all persuasions towards peace and towards total opposition to violence of any sort.

"The vast majority of people want a life and a livelihood for their families and they expect their political leaders to do all they can to ensure that that life and livelihood is available to them."

The INLA will use an oration at the grave of one of its founders at a cemetery in Bray on the outskirts of Dublin to announce it is renouncing violence and will decommission its weapons.

Earlier this year the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force decommissioned, while the loyalist Ulster Defence Association started to put its weapons beyond use.

The legislation that allows armed groups to dispose of their weaponry without fear of prosecution has only months to run and British government has said it will not renew it.

Any paramilitaries found in possession of weapons after that time face prosecution and imprisonment.

In 2005 the much larger IRA paramilitary group announced an end to its campaign, but dissident republican groups such as the so-called Real IRA and the Continuity IRA have continued to launch attacks.

The dissident republican groups claimed responsibility for the murders of two soldiers at Massereene barracks in Co Antrim and a police officer in Craigavon, Co Armagh, in March.

US Secretary of State Clinton today said there was no financial support for the "evil enterprise" of the Real IRA coming from American sympathisers.

Dissident republicans were "out of step and out of time", said Mrs Clinton, who used a London press conference to call for an end to violence in the North ahead of her visit to the region tomorrow.

Asked about the recent IRA murders she said: "There is no support coming at all from the United States. The best we can tell is that those who try to inflict harm on others, to cause damage, are funding their evil enterprise from criminal gains. We hope to see an end to all of that."

Mrs Clinton stressed: "The continuing evidence of extremism in Northern Ireland, because to me terrorism is terrorism, and those who would try to disrupt the peace of people going about their daily lives are out of step and out of time.

"But it is imperative that the process that was established by the Good Friday Agreement be seen all the way through to conclusion. I know that Prime Minister Brown is very focused on that."

The INLA was formed in the early 1970s and was known as a brutally violent organisation that also engaged in bitter internal feuds.

In 1979 it claimed the life of Conservative Shadow Secretary for Northern Ireland Airey Neave, a close associate of Margaret Thatcher, who was killed when a boobytrap bomb exploded beneath his car at the House of Commons.

In 1982 the ruthless paramilitary group was responsible for one of the largest death tolls of the Troubles when it murdered 17 people - including 11 soldiers and six civilians - in a bomb attack on the Droppin' Well pub in Ballykelly, Co Derry.

The republican hunger strike of 1981 at the top security Maze prison saw 10 men die, and while most were members of the IRA, three of the hunger strikers were drawn from the ranks of the INLA.

The group wound its campaign down in the 1990s in the aftermath of ceasefires by the IRA and the main loyalist groups, but it has continued to be involved in sporadic violence and criminal activity.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams welcomed the expected INLA statement, but added a note of caution.

"Given the history of the INLA there will undoubtedly be some scepticism about today's statement," he said.

"However if it is followed by the actions that are necessary, this is a welcome a development.

"I would appeal to all groups to follow the will of the Irish people. This means pursuing political objectives by purely peaceful and democratic methods."

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