Remembering the IRA ceasefire 20 years on

 
Ceasefire The statement as it appeared on BBC NI's Newsline

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Listening back to my breathless tones when I announced the 1994 IRA Ceasefire on BBC Radio 5 Live I can forgive one radio newspaper reviewer who accused me of getting over-excited.

In fact it wasn't excitement which had taken my breath away, but a brisk 100-yard dash between the phone where my colleagues Brian Rowan and Shane Harrison were ringing in their ceasefire statements and the radio studio where Diana Madill was awaiting my on-air interruption.

My immediate analysis concentrated on whether a "total" cessation amounted to a "permanent" ceasefire. Since the 1970s, the only recent ceasefires Northern Ireland had experienced were short three-day Christmas truces.

So it's understandable that commentators and politicians remained unsure whether the 1994 initiative would last.

Lives saved

Of course the ceasefire did break down, with the IRA Docklands bombing in 1996. But, taken together with the October 1994 loyalist ceasefire, it pointed the way forward. Its restoration in 1997 provided the momentum for the eventual deal in 1998.

The peace ushered in by the ceasefires has been far from perfect, with the emergence of dangerous dissident republican groups, sporadic violence involving some loyalist factions and continuing tensions on the streets over parades and flags.

However there's no doubt that hundreds of lives have been saved, and that's something which shouldn't be forgotten whenever we debate the drawbacks of the system of government which emerged from the lengthy post-ceasefire negotiations.

Stormont's arch critic, TUV leader Jim Allister, describes the ceasefire as "the carefully choreographed outworking of secret and nefarious negotiations between murderers and the government of those they murdered." For Mr Allister 31 August 1994 marks "the sordid genesis of the failing Stormont arrangements."

By contrast, Gerry Adams reckons the IRA move was "historic and ground breaking". The Sinn Fein president says London, Dublin and Washington must return to the "same level of engagement" they demonstrated in the mid-1990s in order to defend the political institutions against "their most serious challenge for many years."

New priorities

We are in a changed world. When we hear about truces and ceasefires, our thoughts turn to Gaza or Ukraine rather than closer to home. The funding of Northern Ireland's health service is currently top of the local news agenda - back in 1994 our hospitals weren't being kicked around between competing ministers, instead they were overseen by Baroness Denton, a Conservative peer from Yorkshire, who also had to look after the local agriculture sector.

What hasn't changed is the ability of our politicians to negotiate any issue right up to a deadline and then beyond. The talks that went on before and after the ceasefires have left a lasting mark on our political culture.

The institutions created in 1998 - with their built in guarantees and vetoes - encourage a propensity towards delay and stalemate. Stormont has enjoyed a rare period of stability but as the parties accuse each other of bad faith that stability can't be taken for granted.

We have exchanged the tragedy of the "Long War" for the uncertainty of a continuing long political game.

 
Mark Devenport Article written by Mark Devenport Mark Devenport Political editor, Northern Ireland

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 7.

    Patrickspoint
    My comment re tribal was not aimed at you rather but both sides. I stand by my comments re the economics and should bring up the point that we are on the edge of a significant hit re our economy due to the reduction of the size of the public sector spend in NI over the next few years. We will see a move away from public to private if we are going to survive despite our politicians

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 6.

    When will they ever learn. The soil was here before we were born it will be here after we are gone life gives the man in the street enough issues to address through family, social going ons and the developments in technology. As for what flag flies here really if the Gov of Lala land assured me my needs, my families needs and my societal needs were met would I care about flag colouring. No Way

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 5.

    Why is it that suggesting a united Ireland is tribal, but complete integration of NI into the UK is not? Complete integration into the UK! that anybody would suggest it beggars belief, where has everybody been for the last 40 years?.
    I’ve had many lovely holidays in Kerry, even lived there for 6 months, it’s a beautiful place, you ought to try it KevW!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 4.

    Patrickspoint
    For once we should put aside tribal viewpoints, look at what is best for the country. Ireland despite all their spin are still in a hole and will be for at least a decade. So to even contemplate such a move at present would be economic suicide. Especially when you look at the precarious state of the EU which still props up the PIGGS. One slip and the whole house could collapse.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 3.

    NI is integrated within the UK, united Ireland no way, Ireland doesn't want us and we don't want them, don't like it buy a house in Kerry, good bye, you still here.

 

Comments 5 of 7

 

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