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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

IRA's Leap of Faith Clears Way Forward

The Irish Republican Army yesterday gave the world a welcome respite from violence and fear. Ending years of intransigence, the IRA announced for the first time that it had destroyed some of its weapons.

The declaration was soon confirmed by the body set up by Northern Ireland's peace accords to oversee disarmament.

Within hours, David Trimble, the Protestant leader who quit his post as chief executive over the issue, agreed to return with his cabinet ministers.

All in all, it was a promising day. The IRA's policy shift, which should help dispel the climate of mistrust that has stalled the peace process, deserves to be met with substantial concessions from London.

Gerry Adams, the president of the IRA's political wing, Sinn Fein, anticipated the IRA's reversal on Monday when he publicly urged the group to begin disarming.

Adams, who admitted to IRA membership several decades ago, has carried out a long and patient campaign to convince the group that the goal of a united Ireland is better served by a political than a military fight.

This week Adams seemed to have won his struggle.

Adams and his deputy, Martin McGuinness, have found themselves in the same precarious position as others around the world who have led armed movements into peace agreements.

Their decision to back the peace process has estranged them from many of their hard-line colleagues. Like Trimble, they need to reach across community lines to make the peace agreements work, including, at times, pushing their own constituencies to satisfy the demands of the other side.

The IRA was long trapped by its own rhetoric. After repeatedly arguing that disarmament was tantamount to surrender, the IRA could not easily shed its weapons.

Many in the IRA profit handsomely from the guns, using them to advance smuggling operations and to extort protection money out of drug dealers.

The events of this fall have made disarmament possible. In August three IRA members were arrested in Colombia, apparently giving explosives training to a Marxist guerrilla group. The connection horrified the Irish-American community, which has raised $5 million for Sinn Fein since President Clinton legalized the group's fund-raising in 1995.

The terror attacks of Sept. 11 made the IRA's American supporters even more determined to see the group abandon any connection to terrorism.

The IRA's stubbornness was also dampening political support for Sinn Fein in the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland, where a plurality of Sinn Fein supporters now believe the IRA should give up its weapons.

The British government, which has worked hard to meet Sinn Fein demands, should now respond by hastening the demolition of some of its military installations in Northern Ireland and by speeding changes in the police to make the institution fairer to Catholics.

Protestant paramilitaries must give up their weapons as well. Some of the groups have descended into common thuggery, and one claimed responsibility for the murder of a reporter last month. Northern Ireland's fitful peace process has undergone innumerable crises. With this critical assist from the IRA, an enduring peace may be possible.

This comment first appeared as an editorial in The New York Times.