BY CRISTINA ODONE CARDINAL CAIIAL DALY,
Catholic Primate of Ireland, led his Church this week in welcoming the historic turning point of an IRA permanent cease-fire.
In an empassioned statement that spoke of taking "the gun finally out of Irish politics", the Cardinal called the Gerry Adams pledge of a ceasefire "the best opportunity for peace that we have had for a quarter of a (=wry." Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, this week signalled that the IRA would end its campaign of violence that has cost more than 1,500 lives since the Troubles began 25 years ago. The Irish people, Gerry Adams told Sinn Fein, had come to support nationalism "with sufficient political confidence and weight" to affect a democratic and peaceful settlement.
The move to meet what Cardinal Daly termed a "historic challenge" sent waves of anxiety in the Protestant and Ulster Unionist community this week, with the Ulster Defence Association dismissing Adams's step as a "phoney so-called peace process". The UDA accused Adams of coercing loyalists "into an all-Ireland".
But Cardinal Daly stressed that self-determination rather than coercion was at the core of a peaceful outcome: "The British Government", he said in his statement, "has taken a very significant step in formally declaring that the future governance of Ireland
can be decided only on the principle of the self-determination of the Irish people alone, without external interference, on the basis of consent, freely and currently given, North and South."
The Cardinal had emerged as one of the strongest supporters of the Downing Street Declaration, but also as a fierce critic of the Provisional IRA's campaign of violence. Last week, the cardinal had maintained a wary silence amidst speculations of an IRA ceasefire, and his office had emphasised the need to treat any promise of peace "with caution". The cardinal throughout has stressed that no one side could he blamed for the 25 years of violence. In his statement he said that "terrible wrongs have been done by both loyalist and republican paramilitaries. Loyalist groups... have political convictions and political positions which need to he democratically debated in a wider forum. They... should not be deprived of a voice." In a joint statement issued with SDLP leader John Hume, Gerry Adams stressed this week that "a just and lasting peace in Ireland will only be achieved if it is based on democratic principles." The statement concluded that "it is our informed opinion that the peace process remains firmly on course. We are, indeed, optimistic that the situation can be moved tangibly forward." Cardinal Daly agreed that the people and the politicians of Ireland "dare not miss the opportunity when it comes."