1994 Ceasefire declaration recollections at Féile … perhaps next year will answer “Why did the IRA call the ceasefire?”

IMG_1481Twenty 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” …

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!]
  5. 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.

But it’s Slugger, so instead you can listen to the hour and half of reflections [MP3] and Q&A [MP3] from St Mary’s University College earlier this evening.

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.

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  • Michael Henry

    Some might be under the impression that the IRA and Loyalists called a ceasefire on the same day in 1994 but in fact it took the Loyalists a while to catch on that the Peace process was in the public domain- in fact the Loyalists got so jittery about the Peace move that they shot dead a Catholic shortly after the IRA announced their ceasefire-

  • gendjinn

    20 years, certainly goes by fast.

    I recall being delighted at the ceasefire news and devastated when it ended. Vividly I recall sitting in a bar in Chicago having a drink before going to see a movie with my wife when the TV in the bar announced the Canary Wharf bombing and the end of the ceasefire. Didn’t make the movie, don’t even remember what we were planning on seeing. Certainly don’t remember much of that night, apart from worshipping at the altar of the porcelain goddess.

    So glad we are where we are now, imperfect as it is. The alternative is infinitely worse than the GFA.

  • Mister_Joe

    Its news to me that the “loyalists” groups are on ceasefire.

  • MalikHills

    “Why did the IRA call the ceasefire? What was the thinking that lay behind the decision?”

    Oh heavens above, what other options had they?

    Keep going on with another 20 years of a long war that consisted of having their most effective operators in East Tyrone wiped out, as everyone knew Derry and Belfast were riddled with touts and the prospect that the boys in South Armagh might get one last big one into the City before they too were rolled up by the SAS?

    Meanwhile 10 tons of oul’ Kalashnikovs and Semtex were rusting and leaking under the bogs of Mullingar with no legions of the rear-guard willing to join the flying columns in their last-ditch Clogher Valley Tet offensive.

    On the other hand they were pushing against the open door of a British government backed up by the Irish and the US almost pleading with them to get into talks that would lead their political wing into power and lots of cushy, well-paid jobs for (some) well-placed activists.

    It was a no-brainer, it’s a surprise it took them so long really.

  • mickfealty

    Great work by the Feile for convening this conversation, and by Alan for bringing this discussion to those of us unable to get there. For a man without shorthand Eamon’s recall of detail is impressive.

    A couple of ancillary thoughts. It gives great insight into the way the press worked at the time and probably still does. The near hour long conversation between Barney and RTE the day the ceasefire ended for instance.

    This was a limited number of highly valuable broadcast journalists (Ivan Little being the obvious missing link).

    I also thought that Eamon’s recounting of the triple murder before the ceasefire was telling of the sort of conditioning that was going on around them. As was the efforts gone to to bury material evidence of the contacts made were telling.

    Barney sort of gets to an important point towards the end, where he says that now in the time to really examine what happened, what people think now they did wrong, whom they spoke to and whom they didn’t.

    I’d agree, but if you were to invert the past and cast it out into similar circumstances into the near I’m not sure what any journalist can do about state insouciance, or the actions not words approach of anti state actors.

    For a contemporary example think IS (formerly ISIS) in post occupation Iraq and civil war torn Syria. Their imaginative power arises not simply from what they say but their apparent capacity to act in powerful, extreme and unpredictable ways.

    There are traps everywhere, and the closer you are the players, the tougher it is to retain a broader perspective on such current, current events.

  • mickfealty

    Joe, you must try harder to suspend your disbelief. You’re a man from Strabane for goodness sake!! 😉

  • Cal Murray

    As a scholar of the IRA campaign can I ask your thoughts on the IRA move to ‘spectaculars’ ye know disturbing Maggies sleep in Brighton and having poor Major going from a cabinet meeting to being shoved into a cabinet for safety. Not to mention the unease among the international finance industry when the London stock exchange was blown up, the Canary Wharf bomb….etc…..etc

    HMG were happy to sacrifice squaddies so that every year was 1690 in the North but no surprise that they changed their mind when it was their own necks and economy on the block and picked up the phone to P ‘O Neill

    Suggest you read the Operation Banner document

  • Zeno1

    “Why did the IRA call the ceasefire? What was the thinking that lay behind the decision?”

    Maybe they realised they had achieved nothing and were unlikely to get a better offer.

  • Cal Murray

    Absolutely Zeno when the financial centre of an economy that depends on financial services went up like Nelsons column and the Prime Minister had to hold a Cabinet meeting inside a cabinet the IRA knew they were defeated, but they’re slow learners I mean when the world saw Thatcher clamber out of the rumble in Brighton everyone knew they were on the IRA were on the verge of defeat

  • Michael Henry

    Aye- anyone can lead their political wing into power- lol-the Brits /US /26 county government were looking to defeat the Republican people over the 25 year war but it never worked-Sinn Fein started a Peace Process which is now at the centre of most of our media / dare I say at the centre of most of our lives-( it was only the Brit army that had to be removed from our streets )-

  • Zeno1

    ” but they’re slow learners ”

    Yes indeed ,it only took them 30 years to get to that stage. But then again everyone was pretty slow. If we had realised that all they wanted was cosy Jobs in Stormont we could have come to some arrangement a lot earlier.

  • Reader

    So, do you have a theory about how the IRA failed to turn their winning hand into a United Ireland?

  • Cal Murray

    well cosy jobs in stormont, an almost reformed police (shame the stoops jumped too soon – but then again they’ve been punished in the polls since) North-South bodies, joint authority(if you disagree check out NI being excluded from talks if Scotland leaves the union) good-bye UDR, gosh the list goes on. Oh and you’ve gotta share power in NI now, goodbye 1690,

    And unionism, well Trimble and the Doc got furry cloaks and funny names. Deals a good one. No wonder everyone is voting SF North and South,

    I need to go to Markethill these days to spot a union jack…..ghettos eh!

  • Zeno1

    “North-South bodies, joint authority.”
    I don’t see any joint authority.

    “an almost reformed police”


    “gosh the list goes on.”

    Well if the list does indeed go on………….. lets have the rest of it.
    Everyone in the North is not voting Sinn Fein who seem to be stuck with 14.7 % of the Electorate supporting them. Hey that means 85% in the North DON’T Vote for them.
    Everyone in the South is not voting Sinn Fein.The electorate is over 3.2 million. How many of those voted for Sinn Fein?

  • MalikHills

    Remind me, when was Brighton? Oh yes 1984, ten years before the ceasefire, the attack on Downing Street was a nice propaganda gesture little else, I really don’t think John Major was quaking in his shoes for the next three years waiting for a ceasefire.

    Look I understand that it is in the interests of the Provos’ self esteem to try and convince themselves they called a ceasefire from a position of strength and the rest of us for the sake of an easy life will allow them to enjoy their self delusion, but facts are facts.

    The IRA with the exception of South Armagh was beaten. East Tyrone IRA, the toughest bunch of guerrillas in Europe since the end of the Second World War, had been absolutely wiped out in five years from 1987 to 1992, the SAS slaughtered them using very nice infor kindly provided by West Belfast’s senior touts.

    Derry City, once a Provo stronghold, was riven with touts, the entire town knew it, they couldn’t get so much as a firecracker bomb into a bank without the RUC swooping and lifting the whole team.

    Not only was West Belfast high command working mostly for the Brits those that weren’t were living in nightly terror behind steel reinforced doors waiting for the Brit-backed loyalists to come calling, remember by 1991 the huns were killing more people than the once-mighty Provos were doing.

    The rest of Northern Ireland had been enjoying peace and prosperity on an unimagined scale for the previous decade.

    So that left South Armagh, a good bomb-making team and a sniper who was killing fewer squaddies than the NCO’s of Deepcut Barracks were managing. The SAS soon caught up with the sniper, how long do you think it would have taken them to take out the bomb-making team?

    Meanwhile when the Brits were making it so difficult for the hawk Provos, how helpful they were being to the dove ones?

    Albert Reynolds, John Major and Bill Clinton were practically giving Gerry and Martin full-on Monicas to show them how much nicer it would be for them and their buddies once those nasty boys in Tyrone and Armagh were rolled up, and they didn’t need much convincing.

    Sure, of course the Provos were in the driving seat in 1994, that’s why they were reduced to sending remedial-school teenagers into a Shankill Road fish shop on a futile suicide mission to kill the UDA leadership, isn’t it?

    Keep telling yourself that Cal if that’s what gets you through the night.

  • MalikHills

    “gosh the list goes on”

    I am sure Bobby Sands and his comrades would think their terrible sacrifice was well worth it.

    A reformed Northern Ireland, still in the UK and Sinn Fein taking over the Stoops’ role in Stormont, pretty much what was on the table in 1974.

    Yup, that’s exactly what Bobby starved himself over 66 long horrible days to achieve.

  • Michael Henry

    In case you have still not worked it out Malik Bobby Sands and his Comrades died so their Comrades could get the 5 demands which the POWs got-the Brits had to change their whole prison system to allow all prisoners to wear their own clothes-( not just the Provos )-and when the time is right the people will decide on a united Ireland or not as is under the terms of the. GFA- nice to have all wrote down and voted yes for anyway-

    Taking over the stoops role- the stoops were never in the 26 but Sinn Fein is doing rather well in the 32 elections-

  • macdanish

    you do realize that a certain percentage of the electorate will never vote. What counts are the votes cast not the ones that are not cast. Sinn Fein’s electoral vote has been above 25% for the past few elections.

  • Zeno1

    Obviously Mac, but when Cal said……….. .” No wonder everyone is voting SF North and South,” I had to bring him back to reality.

  • peepoday

    Three reasons for ceasefire,INFORMERS,UFF MURDER ,MONEY.