2 September 2004 Edition
The decade of the Peace Process
On 1 September 1994, An Phoblacht's front page carried a statement from the leadership of Óglaigh na hÉireann calling for republicans to Seize the moment for peace. The historic statement announced a cessation after 25 years of armed struggle by the IRA and marked the beginning of the Peace Process.
On this, the tenth anniversary of the cessation, An Phoblacht's JOANNE CORCORAN maps out the significant milestones that led to the Army's decisive initiative and looks at some of the key events that have followed in the ten years since.
The publication of Gerry Adams' 1986 book, The Politics of Irish Freedom; the subsequent production of A Scenario for Peace in May 1987; the 1988 Sinn Féin/SDLP talks; the publication of a Pathway to Peace; and the 1992 launch of Towards a Lasting Peace, were all crucial steps taken by republicans in the lead-up to the events of 1994.
However, it was the 1993 Hume/Adams talks that marked the most substantial milestone in the Peace Process.
Those talks and the resulting Irish Peace Initiative broke through the failure of the Brooke/Mayhew talks, which had begun in 1990 and collapsed a year later.
The initial reaction to the disclosure in April 1993 of renewed meetings between Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and SDLP leader John Hume was far from positive. Fine Gael leader John Bruton described the first statement from the two party leaders as "little more than a propaganda front".
The then leader of Democratic Left, Proinsias De Rossa, described the talks as a monumental error of judgement, saying the claim to national self-determination was a "dangerous self-delusion".
In the weeks after the Hume/Adams April statement, Sinn Féin increased its vote in the Six-County local elections by over 10,000, winning 51 seats and securing a greater share of the vote (23%) in Belfast City Council than any other party.
Martin McGuinness, speaking at Bodenstown, said: "I reiterate that the republican demand for a British withdrawal is not aimed at unionists. It is a demand that the people of Ireland, including Protestants, be allowed to control our own destiny and shape a society which is pluralist and reflective of the diversity of all our people."
An Irish-American delegation led by Bruce Morrison visited Ireland and met Sinn Féin representatives.
On 25 September, Adams and Hume announced they were suspending their talks having "agreed to forward a report on the decision reached to date to Dublin for consideration".
The publication of the second statement generated intense media and political speculation. It was clear that the two party leaders had agreed a significant initiative designed to secure widespread support for an all-inclusive Peace Process.
Their statement was greeted with the usual negativity from unionists.
Óglaigh na hÉireann issued a statement welcoming the Hume/Adams Initiative. The statement said: "Our Volunteers, our supporters, have a vested interest in seeking a just and lasting peace in Ireland."
The British Government admitted it had been involved in meetings with Sinn Féin between 1991 and 1993.
A third Hume/Adams statement called on the British Government to "respond positively and quickly" to the "opportunity for peace".
The Downing Street Declaration was launched by Albert Reynolds and John Major. The declaration affirmed the right of the people of the Six Counties to self-determination and also stated that Ireland would be united, if a majority of the Six Counties population were in favour of such a move. It also pledged the governments to seek a peaceful constitutional settlement and said that parties linked with paramilitaries could take part in discussions on the North's future, if all paramilitary activity stopped.
Within hours it became clear the two governments had different interpretations of the document. When Sinn Féin sought clarification, John Major said: "There was nothing more to tell".
Sinn Féin initiated a public consultation process through a series of peace commissions, asking the general public to give its response to the Declaration. Adams slammed John Major's refusal to clarify the Declaration.
On 15 January, an Irish Independent poll found that 74% of people in the 26 Counties favoured a united Ireland.
The Dublin Government allowed Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act to lapse, ending 22 years of direct political censorship. The legislation was not repealed, however, and the undemocratic power to censor by Ministerial order remains in situ to this day.
Bill Clinton gave Gerry Adams a visa to visit the United States. The Sinn Féin leader's subsequent visit to the US, opposed by the British Government, internationalised the issue of conflict resolution in Ireland.
Óglaigh na hÉireann announced a three-day suspension of offensive military operations in a move to reflect its "willingness to be positive and flexible".
The British Government responded to Sinn Féin's 20 questions
The UVF killed six nationalists and wounded five others, as they watched Ireland play Italy in the World Cup at O'Toole's bar in Loughinisland, Co.Down. An Phoblacht revealed that the total number of attacks by loyalists on bars and clubs since 1971 amounted to 80, with almost 160 people killed.
Sinn Féin delegates and party members met in Letterkenny to democratically discuss and endorse the Ard Chomhairle's response to the Downing Street Declaration.
On 31 August, the IRA released a statement announcing a cessation of all activities from midnight.
Gerry Adams pledged in conjunction with John Hume and the then Taoiseach Albert Reynolds the party's total commitment to democratic and peaceful methods of resolving political problems. The three leaders shared an historic handshake.
The British removed the broadcasting ban on Sinn Féin.
Sinn Féin held an internal conference in Dublin to discuss developments. The Forum for Peace and Reconciliation opened in Dublin Castle.
Gerry Adams made an appearance on the Late Late Show and had his offer to shake Gay Byrne's hand rejected.
The Combined Loyalist Military Command announced a cessation.
The Fianna Fáil/Labour coalition in the 26 Counties collapsed. The Fine Gael-led coalition under John Bruton that followed was seen as a stumbling block to the process.
The first official meeting was held between British Government officials and Sinn Féin. The government claimed decommissioning was an obstacle to progress, but would not answer Sinn Féin's questions about demilitarisation. Sinn Féin produced a demilitarisation map, detailing the massive number of British military posts in Ireland.
John Major and John Bruton launched their 'Framework' document, which included plans for a Six-County Assembly.
Sinn Féin pulled out of talks with the British Government, after the British introduced the issue of decommissioning. The party said the subject had not been on the table when the IRA called their cessation.
Residents of the Lower Ormeau Road were hemmed into their area as the RUC forced an Orange Order march down the road.
US President Bill Clinton shook Gerry Adams' hand in a Falls Road cafe during his first visit to Belfast.
The head of the International Body on Decommissioning, former US Senator George Mitchell, invited submissions on arms decommissioning from all parties.
The Mitchell report was published, laying down six principles of non-violence for entry into all-party talks.
The IRA ended its cessation with the bombing of Canary Wharf after the British Government failed to live up to its commitments. Sinn Féin had engaged positively with the International Body on Decommissioning in 1995 and 1996 in an attempt to resolve the impasse, and despite the bad faith of the Major government (Major demanded a statement of surrender from the IRA), used all its influence to sustain the first cessation for a full 17 months, until the rejection by Major of the report of the International Body on Decommissioning.
Sinn Féin was turned away from a consultative process organised by the two governments.
In the Six-County Forum elections to all-party talks, Sinn Féin polled a record vote.
Sinn Féin was barred from the opening of inter-party talks.
Garda Jerry McCabe was killed in an IRA raid on a post office in Adare. Five IRA activists were arrested and imprisoned.
The IRA bombed the British Headquarters in Ireland, Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn.
Results in the British General Election put Labour Party leader Tony Blair into 10 Downing Street and returned Gerry Adams and party colleague, Martin McGuinness, as MPs.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin was elected TD for Cavan/ Monaghan. A Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats government was formed in the 26 Counties, with Bertie Ahern taking over as Taoiseach.
Blair visited the North and gave the go ahead for exploratory contacts between government officials and Sinn Féin.
On 21 July, the IRA announced its second cessation in three years. Sinn Féin had undertaken a number of political initiatives to bring about this cessation. British Secretary of State Mo Mowlam said she would monitor activity over the following six weeks to decide if Sinn Féin would be admitted to all-party talks scheduled for 15 September.
Violence on the Garvaghy Road brought a renewed call for a proper policing service in the Six Counties and an end to Orange Order parades being forced through nationalist areas.
An international decommissioning body was set up to deal with the weapons issue.
Sinn Féin signed up to the Mitchell Principles and entered all party-talks. The Ulster Unionists joined the talks, but the DUP stayed away.
The UUP's Ken Maginnis rejected the hand of friendship from Gerry Adams at multi-party talks in Stormont, and accused the British Labour government of bringing "murderers to the table of democracy".
Adams and McGuinness met Blair for the first time at Stormont Castle buildings.
The Good Friday Agreement was signed, with Sinn Féin members endorsing it at the party's Ard Fheis in Dublin on 18/19 April.
After securing party support for the Good Friday Agreement, Sinn Féin campaigned for it in both referendums. Despite the risk of destabilising its own constituency, the party sought and secured support to amend its constitution to remove a 75-year-old ban on members taking seats in any Northern Assembly. The IRA also worked constructively and in good faith with the Independent Commission on Decommissioning.
The people of Ireland, in referenda North and South, voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Good Friday Agreement.
On 1 July, David Trimble was elected First Minister and Séamus Mallon Deputy First Minister of the new Northern Assembly. David Trimble then sought to have Sinn Féin excluded from the Executive. The summer passed with no Executive formed.
The Orange Order began its siege at Drumcree and the three Quinn children were burnt alive in their Ballymoney home by loyalist arsonists.
Dissident republicans bombed Omagh town centre, killing 29 people.
The 31 October deadline for completion of a programme of work and the establishment of the Shadow Executive and the Shadow Ministerial Council was not met. A different mechanism was established.
Agreement on these matters was reached on 2 December. The UUP reneged on this agreement on 3 December, then agreed again on 18 December but then deferred any movement and attempted to re-negotiate.
The British Government promised to trigger the d'Hondt Principles (allocating power in the Assembly in accordance with the strength of support for a party), but failed to do so.
Instead, on 1 April in the Hillsborough Declaration — an attempt to further meet UUP demands — the two governments made proposals on the Executive and on the issue of decommissioning which were outside the terms of the Agreement.
One year after the signing of the Agreement, no progress had been made.
On 14 May in Downing Street, agreement was reached between the two governments, the UUP and Sinn Féin to establish the Shadow Executive the following week. The UUP reneged on this the following day.
Sinn Féin made massive gains in the local elections in the 26 Counties and raised its European vote.
The Way Forward statement by the two governments was issued at Castle Buildings on 14 July. This was subsequently developed unilaterally by the British Government into draft legislation tabled on 12 July, which was outside the terms of the Agreement. On 15 July, David Trimble once again failed to establish the Executive. Séamus Mallon resigned.
On 24 July, against this difficult backdrop, the Sinn Féin negotiating team reported to the Ard Chomhairle on the preliminary discussions with Senator Mitchell and the British Government in respect of a review.
The IRA blamed the British Government's continuous capitulation to the unionist veto for the political crisis.
The Patten report on policing was published. It met with stringent resistance from unionists, but was seen by republicans as the bare minimum of what was needed to be done to fix policing in the Six Counties.
On 15 November, the Mitchell Review concluded with proposals that:
• the institutions would be established;
• the decommissioning issue would be dealt with by General de Chastelain and the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning.
On 27 November, a meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council created a new precondition and a new false deadline on the issue of decommissioning.
Then on 29 November, almost 20 months after the Good Friday Agreement, the Northern Executive was finally established.
On 13 December the inaugural meeting of the all-Ireland Ministerial Council was held in Armagh and six all-Ireland implementation bodies were established.
On 11 February, Secretary of State Peter Mandelson unilaterally suspended the political institutions, at the behest of unionism. This was despite the fact that a new and significant proposition to resolve the arms issue had been laid on the table.
The two governments published a joint statement agreeing to re-establish the institutions and to implement the outstanding aspects of the Good Friday Agreement.
On Saturday 6 May the IRA issued a statement stating that it would "initiate a process that will completely and verifiably put IRA arms beyond use".
On 30 May, power was restored to the political institutions including the Assembly, Executive and all-Ireland bodies.
Further calls were made by republicans for British demilitarisation.
The IRA announced it had re-established contact with the Commission on Decommissioning and that a number of its dumps have been inspected. In October, the dumps were re-inspected.
The IRA detailed the commitments it expected the British Government to fulfil to create the context for a process of putting weapons beyond use. These included "the implementation of Patten; to progressively take all the necessary steps to demilitarise the situation; to deal with matters relating to human rights, equality and justice; to resolve issues which remain outstanding at this stage in the development of the Peace Process".
Further talks at Hillsborough failed to provide a breakthrough on the restoration of Sinn Féin Ministers' attendance at North-South Ministerial Council meetings, which was being blocked by David Trimble. The IRA announced it had decided to enter into further discussions with the IICD and General de Chastelain confirmed its re-engagement.
The Stevens' team, investigating the murder of Patrick Finucane, was forced to quit its offices at an RUC complex in Carrickfergus, after they were burned down in suspicious circumstances.
Trimble threatened to resign as First Minister on 1 July if the IRA had not begun decommissioning by then. Meanwhile, two international inspectors confirmed they had carried out a third inspection of the arms dumps and that the weapons remained unused. The IRA responded to Trimble's threats, reminding him they had met the decommissioning body four times since March.
Sinn Féin had four MPs elected in the Westminster election, Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, Pat Doherty and Michelle Gildernew.
In a briefing with An Phoblacht, the IRA said it had honoured all its commitments made in the seven years since the cessation, and said that the arms issue would not be resolved through ultimatums.
Talks at Weston Park ended with government officials sent away to draw up a package on policing, demilitarisation, the stability of the political institutions and decommissioning.
The two governments published proposals on police reform and demilitarisation designed to create the context sought by the IRA for decommissioning to take place.
The IICD announced that the IRA had proposed a method to put its weapons beyond use. The IRA confirmed this two days later.
Trimble again claimed the statement was not enough and the Assembly was suspended for one day by Northern Secretary John Reid.
It was restored on 12 August, giving a further six-week period for an agreement to be found.
Catholic schoolchildren and their mothers came under attack from loyalist thugs in north Belfast as they tried to make their way to Holy Cross school. The 'protest' against the children of Ardoyne walking to school continued for some time, and the world looked on horrified.
Unionists used the 11 September bombings in America as another excuse not to talk to Sinn Féin.
The IRA said it would intensify its engagement with the IICD.
The UUP tabled a motion to exclude Sinn Féin from the Executive, claiming the IRA had failed to decommission.
Following the defeat of this motion, the UUP Ministers withdrew from the Executive. Gerry Adams announced he and Martin McGuinness had asked the IRA to move on decommissioning and this was followed by a statement form the IRA saying it had implemented proposals to put arms completely and verifiably beyond use.
The RUC was renamed the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). Trimble was re-elected First Minister of the Assembly.
A break-in at the Special Branch office in Castlereagh was blamed on republicans.
The IRA made another move to put a quantity of arms beyond use, described by General de Chasteain as "substantial". The IRA denied any involvement in the Castlereagh break-in.
Five Sinn Féin TDs were elected and the Fianna Fáil/PD coalition was returned to power.
Alex Maskey was elected Mayor of Belfast.
The IRA apologised to families of non-combatants killed during the conflict.
The IRA restated its commitment to the Peace Process in an exclusive interview with An Phoblacht. However, it said, "sections of the British military and its intelligence agencies, including the Special Branch, are still at war".
The trial of the Colombia Three — Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and Jim Monaghan - arrested in August 2001, began.
The Assembly was suspended after the PSNI stormed into Sinn Féin offices in the Executive and claimed they had found intelligence dossiers. Subsequently, the serious charges of intelligence gathering against the one woman and three men arrested at Stormont would be dropped.
On 31 October, the IRA suspended contact with the IICD. The army said that unacceptable and untenable ultimatums had been placed on them, while the British Government had not kept its own commitments.
The two governments came forward with a Joint Declaration, which agreed to move forward on some of the promises not followed through after the Agreement. However, the document also proposed the setting up of the Independent Monitoring Commission to monitor paramilitary activities, a body outside the terms of the Agreement. Republicans rightly feared it would be used against them.
In this month also, the recommendations of the Stevens' Report were published, although not the report itself, proving that there was institutional collusion between the British state and loyalists throughout the conflict. Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey pointed out the report was only the tip of the iceberg.
The Assembly elections were postponed by the British Government.
Judge Peter Cory delivered his reports to the two governments into eight controversial killings during the conflict.
The UUP backed out of a series of choreographed moves designed to get the Assembly up and running again. Following significant gestures on arms by the IRA and a statement reiterating the army's complete commitment to peace, Gerry Adams made a ground-breaking statement on the Peace Process. At the last minute, Trimble refused to accept the gesture or live up to his side of the deal and the two governments failed to push him, despite republicans fulfilling their side of the bargain.
Sinn Féin became the largest nationalist party in the Six Counties, winning 24 seats in the Assembly elections to the SDLP's 18. The DUP become the largest unionist party, taking 30 seats.
The 26-County Government published its sections of the Cory Report.
The Independent Monitoring Commission came into effect. Judge Cory made it public that he had recommended public inquiries into the cases investigated in his report.
The British Government finally published censored versions of its sections of the Cory Report and agreed to set up inquiries into the deaths of Rosemary Nelson, Robert Hamill and Billy Wright, but cited the ongoing investigation into the Patrick Finucane case as reason not to establish an inquiry into his death.
The Colombia Three were found innocent on charges of training left-wing Guerrillas in Colombia.
The IMC claimed the IRA was still active and imposed financial sanctions on Sinn Féin. Adams slammed the Dublin Government for going along with the IMC.
In European elections across the country and local elections in the South, Sinn Féin got two MEPs elected and its largest number of councillors (126) ever.
All-party talks were announced for September.
"A means to an end, not an end in itself"
Within hours of the IRA's announcement of a cessation, reactions began to flood in from all quarters. Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams immediately saluted the army's "bold and courageous decision".
"Anglo-Irish relationships have reached an historic crossroads. The people of Ireland have waited too long for our freedom — we can wait no longer," he said.
"The freedom struggle is not over. We are in a new area of struggle.
"We must develop an irreversible momentum for change which will move the British Government away from the failed policies of the past."
The then Taoiseach, Fianna Fáil's Albert Reynolds, said: "I believe this morning's IRA statement was made in good faith, and that its strong tradition of discipline will positively contribute to this result. Let 1 September 1994 go into the annals as one of the most important dates in Irish history." Reynolds added that the government was prepared to, "without delay", recognise Sinn Féin's mandate.
Chairperson of the Irish National Congress, Robert Ballagh, with great foresight, said: "Today's decision by republicans must be viewed constructively and built upon as a means to an end, not an end in itself.
"It is absolutely essential that all sides move this process forward."
Relatives for Justice, a group representing the families of people killed and injured by British violence, welcomed the announcement, saying they sincerely hoped that peace would see an end to their long quest for justice and truth.
"Future cooperation between all parties concerned depends on trust," the group stated. "Therefore we call upon the British Government to come clean on such vexed questions as collusion and shoot-to-kill."
The then UUP leader, James Molyneaux, said everyone would be pleased if the IRA intended a permanent end to violence, but the DUP leader, the Rev Ian Paisley, warned of "civil war".
The British Prime Minister at the time, John Major, welcomed the move but said Sinn Féin should make clear the cessation was permanent. The SDLP leader, John Hume, criticised such "nitpicking".
British broadcasters pressed for removal of the media restrictions on Sinn Féin. US President Bill Clinton congratulated all those who had brought about the decision. The president of the European Commission, Jacques Delors, said he would propose additional EU aid to the Six Counties.
IRA cessation statement
31 August 1994
Recognising the potential of the current situation and in order to enhance the democratic peace process and underline our definitive commitment to its success, the leadership of Oglaigh na hÉireann have decided that as of midnight, Wednesday, 31 August, there will a complete cessation of military operations. All our units have been instructed accordingly.
At this historic crossroads the leadership of Oglaigh na hÉireann salutes and commends our volunteers, other activists, our supporters and the political prisoners who have sustained this struggle against all odds for the past 25 years. Your courage, determination and sacrifices have demonstrated that the spirit of freedom and the desire for peace based on a just and lasting settlement cannot be crushed. We remember all those who have died for Irish freedom and we reiterate our commitment to our republican objectives.
Our struggle has seen many gains and advances made by nationalists and for the democratic position. We believe that the opportunity to create a just and lasting settlement has been created. We are therefore entering into a new situation in a spirit of determination and confidence: determined that the injustices which created the conflict will be removed and confident in the strength and justice of our struggle to achieve this.
We note that the Downing Street Declaration is not a solution, nor was it presented as such by its authors. A solution will only be found as a result of inclusive negotiations. Others, not least the British government, have a duty to face up to their responsibilities. It is our desire to significantly contribute to the creation of a climate which will encourage this. We urge everyone to approach this new situation with energy, determination and patience.
Irish Republican Publicity Bureau