Twenty years on the from the IRA and loyalist ceasefires, three journalists came together to reflect on the lead up to the summer of 1994 and the following 18 months.
Brian Rowan, Eamonn Mallie and Charlie Bird (RTE’s contact with the IRA) recounted their memories of the emerging and fragile peace in an event organised as part of Féile an Phobail.
“Sometimes when you’re living through history you don’t see it.” (Charlie Bird)
It was a great opportunity for notes to be shared and for different people’s pieces of the jigsaw to be set down on the table and fitted together.
If you were reading this on Buzzfeed this post might be emblazoned “5 things you might not know about the 1994 ceasefires” …
- Eamonn Mallie’s lack of shorthand meant that on at least on occasion when an IRA statement was read out and no paper copy was provided, he had to rely on Brian Rowan’s transcription.
- On the days Eamonn was given a paper copy of a statement he would immediately copy it out in long hand and then chew the original, buried it in the ground afterwards to avoid ever being caught with evidence.
- While the 1994 IRA statement was practically whispered to Brian Rowan and Eamon Mallie in a supermarket coffee shop (and simultaneously given to Charlie Bird and Shane Harrison in Dublin), loyalists gave notice the night before that a statement would be given in the morning and insisted on TV cameras and a filmed statement of their ceasefire.
- Loyalists gave Brian Rowan their reaction to the IRA ceasefire several hours before the ceasefire was announced. [Ed - not the last time unionism or loyalism had a statement prepared before an event unfolded!]
- The only day of his career that Charlie Bird was sick at home was the day he belatedly received the phone warning from the IRA about the Canary Wharf bomb that killed two people and brought the seventeen month IRA ceasefire to an end.
In the midst of dark times and frightening recollections there were moments of levity as some of the more surreal experiences were remembered. Yet quickly the laughs were replaced with memories of bomb warnings, blindfolded journeys, bodies discovered, and realisation that the peace journey has many miles still to go.
Powerful recollections from three of the five journalists present in Belfast and Dublin when the IRA made their statement. Yet while three journalists had the opportunity to remember in public this evening, countless other actors in security forces and secret services, combatants and activists, victims and survivors, business owners and shop workers, medical staff, and countless others are not being given – or creating – the opportunity to reflect their stories.
Perhaps the best question came from Rev Dr John Dunlop at the end:
Why did the IRA call the ceasefire? What was the thinking that lay behind the decision?
A question that perhaps will be unpacked at a future session. Certainly every actor has their own view and spin on the decision.