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WORLD

IRA's future actions are the key

By Robin Oakley
CNN European Political Editor

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Northern Ireland

(CNN) -- An estimated 3,600 people have died in Northern Ireland's 30 years of troubles. Now, with the IRA's declaration that it is ending the armed struggle, politicians hope there'll never be another victim. (Full story)

The IRA's promise to dump all its arms and to work in the future by "exclusively peaceful means" is the act of closure British Prime Minister Tony Blair has spent eight years striving for.

"This may be the day when finally after all the false dawns, all the dashed hopes, peace replaces war, politics replaces terror on the island of Ireland," Blair said Thursday.

Blair and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern want to be certain the IRA is not just renouncing the use of arms, but also that it is ceasing paramilitary activity, punishment beatings and criminal activity like drug dealing and protection rackets.

"The instruction in the IRA statement that volunteers must not engage in 'any other activities whatsoever' will be taken as a forthright denunciation of any activity, paramilitary or criminal," Blair said.

The leader of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing, saluted those he called the "patriot dead' in the IRA's past and recommitted the movement to the struggle for Irish freedom from British rule.

Sinn Fein party leader Gerry Adams insisted too there was an onus on his Protestant opponents, especially hardliners in the Democratic Unionist Party, to start talking to Sinn Fein.

"It means that Unionists who are for the Good Friday Agreement must end their ambivalence," Adams said. "And it is a direct challenge to the DUP to decide if they want to put the past behind them and make peace with the rest of the people of this island."

Unionists, who demanded photographic evidence of arms dumping the last time the IRA readied a peace declaration, again called for more transparency and for evidence that the IRA would cease criminal activities.

But Blair made clear that if the IRA's actions matched their words he would expect the Unionists to share power with Sinn Fein in revived Northern Ireland institutions.

Thursday was momentous day, Gerry Adams said. The IRA announcement was move of unparalleled magnitude, Blair said. But even a politicians as optimistic as Blair would only say this may be the end to the false dawns, that there was some hope it would finally mark the end to violence.

What matters now, as Unionists are emphasizing, is not the words the IRA uses, but its actions in the months to come.

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