Two months after announcing its intention to disarm, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) gives up its weapons in front of independent weapons inspectors. The decommissioning of the group s substantial arsenal took place in secret locations in the Republic of Ireland. One Protestant and one Catholic priest as well as officials from Finland and the United States served as witnesses to the historic event. Automatic weapons, ammunition, missiles and explosives were among the arms found in the cache, which the head weapons inspector described as “enormous.”
Originally founded in 1919 to militarily oppose British rule in Ireland, the IRA had operated since about the 1960s as the military arm of Sinn Fein, the Irish nationalist political party. The IRA (and splinter groups using various derivatives of the name) had used terrorist tactics and assassinations for more than 30 years in their struggle to free Northern Ireland from British rule.
In April 1998, after more than 22 months of negotiating, a 67-page peace accord called the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement was finally signed. Endorsed by the British and Irish governments, eight of Northern Ireland s ten political parties, and the region s voters, the agreement included power-sharing among Catholics and Protestants in government, a commitment to peace and democracy, and a pledge by paramilitary groups on both sides to decommission their weapons within two years. A ceasefire had been in place since 1997, and although they continued to abide by it, the IRA initially refused to give up their weapons. This stalled the peace process for almost six years.
Although many Northern Irish Protestants did not trust that the IRA was truly giving up all of its weapons, the disarmament represented an important step toward lasting peace in the long-troubled region. In the aftermath of the disarmament, IRA splinter groups threatened to continue the violence.