"They haven't gone away you know," Gerry Adams once infamously stated in reference to the Irish Republican Army.
Officially disarmed and disbanded in 2005. the Provisional Irish Republican Army invokes memory of years of bitter sectarian strife, an era that from 1969 to 1997 has gone down in history as simply 'the Troubles.' This era saw Northern Ireland's population divided and horrendous acts of terrorism carried out on civilians, in order to terrorize the respective Catholic and Protestant communities.
It would have very been hard in those days to ever have imagined the events of today. Martin McGuiness a former IRA commander shaking the hand
of the reigning Monarch of the United Kingdom (it is said that Mr. McGuiness was the chief of staff of the Provisional IRA in 1979 when it assassinated the Queens cousin Lord Louis Mountbatten. The Last Viceroy of India was killed when the IRA planted a bomb on his sailing boat when he was holidaying in a small seaside village at his summer home in County Sligo in the Republic of Ireland).
The IRA McGuiness was chief of staff of is the one that has been officially disarmed and discontinued. The politicians -- like McGuiness and Adams -- who represented the political wing of it had by then officially committed themselves to peace accords which to a large part brought an end to the Troubles. This development meant that the Provisional IRA's campaign to drive the British out of Northern Ireland was abandoned in turn for the mutual benefits these peace accords represented for the bickering political camps (of whom many young men died in the course of carrying out horrendous acts under the pretext of ridding Ireland of the British "occupiers" or keeping Ulster "British" whilst all the respective politicians of those opposing camps that sent them did was 'bicker') and the people of Northern Ireland as a whole.
The active IRA in Northern Ireland today is the so called Real IRA. This one is a terrorist organization that has carried out some ghastly acts in the past few years, including the horrendous Omagh massacre in 1997. Their campaign has seen to indiscriminate car bombings and the targeted killings of police officers (including Catholics who they deem to be traitors for joining the Police Service of Northern Ireland). This group and its associates are repudiated by most of -- if they should still be referred to as -- the Catholic and Nationalist communities in Northern Ireland.
Today's meeting and historic handshake was long overdue (and was also unnecessarily delayed for a year as a result of McGuiness's boycott of the Queen's visit to the republic last year) but does nonetheless represent another important step forward in the two-decade-long peacemaking process which has seen to a relative calm, that has, for a large part made the once blatant differentiation between the once highly divergent Nationalist and Unionist communities in Northern Ireland far less relevant and problematic, as the adaption of a consensus of the status of Northern Ireland and its people has been established by cooperation between the two mainstream representatives of those two respective communities.
Columnist Glenn Patterson made a very good point in this article
, in essence the IRA is a tradition, not an army, it hasn't gone away and probably never will. This tradition lives on through the many grievances (perceived ones as well as very real ones) and ideals certain nationalist elements in Northern Ireland today still hold on to, and in that regard the IRA truly hasn't gone away.