LONDON -- The Irish Republican Army has disbanded its units that bought and built weapons, stopped training recruits and ceased intelligence gathering, committing itself to a path of peace, said a periodic report made public yesterday by a panel monitoring peace efforts in Northern Ireland.
The militants have, in effect, closed down their paramilitary and criminal activities, said Lord John Alderdice, a member of the Independent Monitoring Commission who presented the report to the news media in Belfast.
"We were convinced the [IRA] leadership had committed itself to following a peaceful path," the commission said in its 10th report on the peace process. "In the preceding three months there had been further dismantling of the military structures, we were aware of no sanctioned acts of violence and there were signs of the leadership continuing to seek to stop criminal activity."
Politicians and government leaders welcomed the report as offering hope for breaking a political logjam and opening the door to a lasting and constructive peace in the beleaguered province. British officials have imposed a deadline of late next month for talks to break the deadlock over Northern Ireland's future.
"The IRA's campaign is over," said British Prime Minister Tony Blair in a broadcast statement yesterday afternoon. "There is now consensus across all main players in the politics of Northern Ireland that change can only come through persuasion and not through violence of any sort."
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern welcomed "the conclusion that there is convincing evidence of the Provisional IRA's continuing commitment to an exclusively political path."
The report focused on activities of the IRA and its offshoots, as well as those of Protestant paramilitary groups, and their violations of an uneasy peace since the 1998 Good Friday agreement. That accord, brokered with U.S. help, brought largely pro-British Protestant and pro-republican Roman Catholic political parties together after three decades of terrorism and sought to create an independent Northern Ireland parliament and a power-sharing executive.
There was no guarantee that members of dissident groups, such as Continuity IRA or Real IRA, would not continue their own campaigns of terrorism, the report said. Protestant loyalist groups such as the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Loyalist Voluntary Force also were still "involved in violent activities."
But the report's findings for the most part were positive enough to give momentum to talks next week in Scotland aimed at reviving the Northern Ireland Assembly, which was suspended in 2002.
"It's very, very clear that the republicans have kept to all their commitments," said Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, the political arm of the IRA and the province's largest Catholic party. "A deal could be done tonight."
Protestant leaders were less sanguine about the prospects of quickly restoring the assembly. Democratic Unionist leader the Rev. Ian R. Paisley, chief opponent of Sinn Fein's participation in a Northern Ireland government, demanded further proof of the IRA's commitment to demilitarize and end the criminal activity believed to have funded its rebellion. He called for Sinn Fein and the IRA "to now support the police, the courts, and the rule of law."
The report alluded to still-unsolved crimes such as the killing in April of a British spy who infiltrated the IRA. Paisley said there were "real and serious doubts about the murder of Denis Donaldson and this report has not ruled out the possibility that the Provisional IRA were behind the killing."
Other observers said yesterday that while the report raised hopes that political progress could be made in Northern Ireland, that did not mean the assembly would be revived as soon as next month.
Janet Stobart writes for the Los Angeles Times.