Not surprisingly, given the national focus on Afghanistan and anthrax, last week's announcement by the Irish Republican Army that it would disarm to preserve the shaky Northern Irish peace agreement had a somewhat muted impact.
But for faculty in the Boston College Irish Studies Program, which has helped bring to campus many of the major players in the Northern Ireland saga, the breakthrough marked the latest twist in a story of personal, as well as scholarly, interest.

"We've seen so many ultimatums and turning points during these past few years, but there's no question that the IRA's disarmament is the most significant event," said the program's associate director, Robert Savage, who was interviewed about the IRA's decision by the Associated Press and the Metro Source international radio news service.

"If the Good Friday Agreement was the beginning of the end of the conflict, this is about on the same level," said Savage, who credits Sinn Fein head Gerry Adams and other party leaders for persuading their IRA counterparts to take the big step.

"There may still be dissidents to deal with, but Sinn Fein deserves applause for the strides it has made in the last several years. They were able to convince one of the oldest guerilla movements to enter into a dialogue, and over time have managed to keep them committed to the political process."

Savage adds, however, that the IRA also was astute enough to grasp that their position was becoming untenable. Allegations that three of their members were training a Colombian rebel organization hurt their support among Americans, Savage said, and the anti-terrorism atmosphere of Sept. 11 further isolated the IRA.

"They realized what a liability it is to be connected to the word 'terror,'" he said. "Still, for the IRA, disarming or decommissioning has always been a matter of the right context. They can say that they have extracted promises from Britain to scale back the military presence and to reform the Northern Irish police force, which was a major issue for Catholics.

"Add all that up, and the IRA leadership can say, 'We've made progress. Politics is the way to go from here.'"

-Sean Smith


Return to November 1 menu

Return to Chronicle home page