Ireland’s parliament Tuesday lifted a half-century-old anti-terrorism state of emergency, another symbolic display of its confidence that an era of peace has come to Northern Ireland.
Prime Minister John Bruton sponsored the move in Dublin, one of several steps the Irish leader has taken in recent weeks to show his new government’s commitment to the Northern Ireland peace process, which has gained momentum in the five months since the Irish Republican Army and then its Protestant paramilitary adversaries declared a cease-fire in a 25-year-old civil war that has cost more than 3,000 lives. Last week, Ireland granted early release to six IRA prisoners.
These and other actions by Bruton have alleviated concerns that he and his party would not be as supportive of the peace process as his predecessor, Albert Reynolds, whose governing coalition fell apart late last year. At the time, nationalists in Northern Ireland - who favor an end to British rule in the province - regarded Bruton and his Fine Gael party as less friendly to their cause than Reynolds.
The country’s Emergency Powers Act, which gave police special powers of detention, originally was enacted at the outbreak of World War II to combat subversives. It was revived in 1976 following the IRA assassination in Dublin of British Ambassador Christopher Ewart-Biggs.
While the IRA has committed most of its violence in Northern Ireland, it has used the Republic of Ireland to the south as a staging ground and a storage depot for arms and explosives.
Despite the end to the state of emergency, Irish authorities still have extraordinary powers to fight terrorism. Tuesday’s move was seen by observers in part as a prod to Britain to begin relaxing some of the unusual judicial and police powers it exercises in Northern Ireland under antiterrorism laws.