The Irish Republican Army once rejected disarmament as an intolerable demand for surrender. "Not a bullet, not an ounce," read defiant slogans in hard-line Catholic parts of Belfast.
On Monday, the IRA will confirm it has bid farewell to the bulk of its arms, said an aide to John de Chastelain, a retired Canadian general who has been overseeing the weapons destruction at secret locations in the Republic of Ireland.
The breakthrough should smash the biggest stumbling block in Northern Ireland's peace process since Britain opened negotiations with Sinn Fein, the IRA-linked party, a decade ago.
Unfortunately, most politicians and analysts agree, the IRA move comes years too late to kickstart the revival of a Catholic-Protestant administration, the central dream of Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord. That complex, landmark agreement required the IRA to disarm by May 2000.
Years of denial and delay have sharpened Protestant distrust of Sinn Fein. Moderates willing to take risks were trounced in elections by hard-liners.
The IRA declared its 35-year campaign to overthrow Northern Ireland by force - which claimed 1,800 lives before its 1997 suspension - officially over in July.
Members had been commanded to "dump arms," the IRA said, but wasn't explicit about whether that meant every one. This left wiggle room to retain firearms for crime, intimidation and self-protection.
Britain first demanded IRA arms-decommissioning - a deliberately vague term designed to give the IRA maximum flexibility to decide how weapons should be discarded - in December 1993, billing it as the best practical way for the IRA to demonstrate it had renounced violence.
The British focus on weapons reflected the view that the IRA hit the weapons-supply jackpot in the mid-1980s, when Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi shipped the IRA more than 130 tons of weaponry in four shiploads. The IRA couldn't quit, the reasoning went, when it was much better armed than ever before.
The IRA's stockpile, particularly tons of plastic explosives, represented an ability to bomb London for decades if desired. Only if the IRA gave it up, Britain insisted, would Sinn Fein gain a place in negotiations on Northern Ireland's future.
The IRA didn't budge, and abandoned a 1994 cease-fire with a two-ton truck bomb in London's financial district in February 1996. When Prime Minister Tony Blair rose to power in 1997, he allowed Sinn Fein into talks with a renewed cease-fire but no disarmament. Since then, keeping Protestant politicians on the road to compromise with Sinn Fein has been a constant battle.
Arguments over whether the IRA has fully disarmed appear certain.
In 2000 - the same year the IRA promised to disarm - the FBI busted an IRA weapons-smuggling unit after it had shipped more than 100 handguns from Florida in packages disguised as children's toys and Christmas presents.
Some of those guns have been forensically linked to IRA killings of several paramilitary and criminal opponents, including drug dealers and an IRA dissident. Police also have seized IRA stashes of recently produced bullets, the AP reports.
"The problem is no longer the quality and quantity of the IRA's weapons," veteran Northern Ireland journalist Ed Moloney, author of the critically acclaimed "Secret History of the IRA" said. "The problem has become the existence of the IRA itself."
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