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Europe

A Step towards Peace

It took a lot of persuading to get the IRA to begin the process of disarming and putting their weapons “beyond use”, and it is still not clear whether the current peace will hold.

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Is this peace ?

Even the peace in Northern Ireland is watched over by soldiers. For 16 years the British Army watchtower has stood in the middle of the village of Newtownhamilton in South Armagh.

The local people felt that they were being spied on. Ita Gibney"s twins have never known their town without the tower at its centre. This is why they"re so eager to watch it being dismantled. Does this mean everything will be better from now on?

Ita Gibney, Newtownhamilton resident: "The watchtower is just right above us, and it is staying. To remove it is a token, but it is a step in the right direction. But it is a token gesture at the moment, that"s what we feel."

It is a big step, though it still falls short of a significant reduction in the British Army presence. There are still 15 thousand soldiers in Northern Ireland.

Farmer Henry McElvoy has a watchtower and helicopter landing pad in the middle of his fields. There hasn"t been any talk of dismantling this installation. He says that there are around 40 take-offs and landings from here every day. His sheep often get tangled up in barbed wire.

Henry McElvoy, South Armagh farmer: "I was led to believe that if Sinn Fein approached the IRA there would be a rollercoaster demilitarisation. This here would be gone overnight. You would get up in the morning and you would think it was a bad dream you were in since 1986. But unfortunately it is not the way it is. It is just an insult to the people like myself, the farmers and residents who campaigned to get this area demilitarised."

South Armagh is an IRA stronghold. There are many here who are not in favour of disarming. Some fear that some activists will break off from the mainstream IRA and join the splinter group known as the Real IRA, which has not called a ceasefire. But a split like that is likely only if these people think the British concessions don"t go far enough.

Andrew Silke, Terrorism expert, Leicester University: "I think we are approaching a nexus point with regard to the IRA. The key issue for Gerry Adams is to take with them as many people as they can. What they don"t want is more people to splinter off and join the Real IRA or other dissident republican splinter groups. It has taken a long time for them where they could make a significant gesture with regard to decomissioning."

It"s important for the IRA that the British government keeps its promises, because Catholics are expecting more concessions.