UK & World News

  • 31 August 2014, 9:46

20th Anniversary Of Provisional IRA Ceasefire

We knew the statement was imminent but the significance of the moment it came would be lost on no one.

It was 10:50 on Wednesday 31st August 1994, when John Daly interrupted his programme on Downtown Radio for a newsflash.

I remember his words: "And now we join David Blevins at the newsdesk on a momentous day for Northern Ireland."

I remember my words too: "In the last few minutes, the Provisional IRA has declared a complete and unequivocal ceasefire."

Our political correspondent Eamonn Mallie had been among the relatively small number of journalists given access to the ground-breaking document.

The statement read: "Recognising the potential of the current situation and in order to enhance the democratic process and underlying our definitive commitment to its success, the leadership of the IRA have decided that as of midnight, August 31, there will be a complete cessation of military operations. All our units have been instructed accordingly."

My first thought was for the victims of IRA violence, whose funerals I had reported, whose families I had interviewed.

Ten months earlier, 10 people - including one of the bombers - had died in an IRA bomb on Belfast's Shankill Road.

Some 1,696 of the 3,466 people killed in 'The Troubles' (49%) had died at the hands of the Provisional IRA.

But Prime Minister John Major and Taoiseach Albert Reynolds had come up with a peace plan - the Downing Street Declaration.

It would culminate five years later in the Good Friday Agreement and ultimately, in the decommissioning of the IRA's weapons.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, a former IRA commander, told the Belfast Telegraph this week: "I think of all the decisions that have been taken, if you are asking what was absolutely key and critical to end the war, and end the conflict that has existed to the detriment of all of us for far too long, the most important decision of all the decisions taken in the last 20 years was the IRA ceasefire."

On one level, Northern Ireland has been transformed in the last 20 years, with shootings and bombings no longer daily occurrences.

But dissident republicans, who oppose the political settlement, and simmering tensions at the interfaces continue to threaten a fragile peace.

Politicians have tried and failed to deal with the contentious issues of flags, parades and the legacy of the conflict.

Earlier this week, Nancy Soderberg, a former US Deputy National Security Advisor, accused them of "an abysmal abdication of leadership".

It may be another two decades before a cessation of political hostilities allows Northern Ireland to realise its full potential.

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