Johnny Fallon

Irish Political Commentator

Archive for the tag “Northern Ireland”

1994 – A timeline of Death that led to peace

20 years on it can be hard to recall just how dark things were in Ireland before the peace process. The summer of 1994 that led to the start of the process was a bloody and merciless few months. We can take peace for granted. There was no guarantee that the ceasefires would ever happen, indeed all the evidence seemed to suggest that it would be a summer of failure. This timeline records the moments in an effort to show just how difficult things were and how precarious the process was.

June 17 – UVF murders a Catholic Taxi Driver in Carrickfergus. A protestant building worker is killed in error in a separate UVF attack in Newtonabbey.

June 18 – Six men are killed and 5 wounded by the UVF as gunmen open fire in a pub in Loughlinisland as those in bar watched Ireland V Italy in World Cup. One of the dead, Barney Green was 87.

June 24 – Reynolds and Major hold a meeting in Corfu. British Government are sceptical of chances for peace. An agreement is reached that Dublin will change constitutional claim over territory of Northern Ireland. In return the British must change Government of Ireland Act and both sides agree to idea of North South bodies. Sinn Fein publishes report of its peace commission which finds 85 submission out of 228 calling for a 3 month ceasefire and also that the Downing Street Declaration only ensured Unionists would remain inflexible.

30 June – Report into Guildford 4 finds that the problem was ‘individual failures’ rather than failures of the system. Meanwhile Albert Reynolds pushes idea of North South Institutions saying that there is an important distinction between authority and co-operation.

6 July – In an important Dail speech that encourages the British Government, Dick Spring says that the Irish government does not want joint authority over NI but rather a political arrangement which would command the support of both traditions.

7 July – Prince Charles visits Derry.

9 July – UFF murders a Catholic man in Tyrone

10 July – The home of William McCrea is attacked by the IRA who fire over 40 shots at the house.

11 July – Ray Smallwoods of the UDP is shot Dead by the IRA

12 July The IRA attempts to smuggle explosives into the UK but a truck with two tons of explosives is intercepted in Lancashire. Albert Reynolds visits the US and promotes the idea of the economic benefits of peace saying that within months roads could be reopened and electricity interconnectors established. He makes clear that he believes the North could be demilitarised quickly too. However James Molyneaux dismisses Reynolds views and says that North South institutions are merely a stepping stone to Irish Unity.

16 July – Loyalist prisoners riot in Crumlin rd prison.

17 July – Body of Caroline Moreland is found in Fermanagh. She was executed by the IRA as an informer.

19 July – James Molyneaux meets with John Major in an attempt to shore up British government support. Major needs the Unionist party vote in parliament. After the meeting a satisfied Molyneaux says that the idea of North South bodies is ‘unreal’.

22 July – UFF kill a catholic man in Belfast.

24 July – Hopes of peace are dashed at a Sinn Fein Ard Fheis in Letterkenny. Gerry Adams suggests that the Downing Street declaration marked progress for the governments but little more than that he says it ‘does not deal adequately with the core issues and this is crucial’. The British government are deeply concerned by the development. Dublin maintains that it is still and evolving situation that requires more time.

28 July – Gardai find an arms cache in Co Meath. It contains 24 Kalashnikovs, a flame thrower, machine guns, a rocket Launcher, mortars, 30,000 rounds of ammunition and bomb making equipment.

29 July – The IRA mortar bomb the Newry police station injuring 40 people.

31 July – The IRA steps up activity, killing two leading UDA figures in Belfast. The British government starts to come under pressure about its peace strategy.

1 August – Dick Spring continues to talk to British counterparts to keep them on board but the situation is increasingly pressurised with both governments exposed to severe criticism. Albert Reynolds is making secret contact with the IRA through Fr Alex Reid.

3 August – Some fresh hopes emerge as Gerry Adams says that having met with the IRA leadership he is ‘guardedly optimistic’ of ceasefire prospects.

5 August – UVF murder a protestant man who they say was an informer in Belfast

7 August – The UVF enter the home of Kathleen O’Hagan, they believe her husband to have supported republicans in the past. Her husband is not there. Her children run and hide under a bed she stands over her baby crying in the cot and is shot several times. She was also pregnant at the time.

8 August – A part time member of the Royal Irish Regiment is murdered by the IRA in Co. Down.

9 August – Irish Media report that Loyalist paramilitaries have met and agreed that they will continue their campaign even if the IRA were to call a ceasefire. There are suggestions that both sides of the paramilitary divide contain a significant number who are opposed to any ceasefires and wish to force their opponents to continue.

10 August – The UFF shoot a Catholic security Guard in Belfast

11 August – A Catholic worker in a printers is murdered because the company prints An Phoblacht

12 August – Hugh Annesley of the RUC holds out an olive branch to paramilitaries suggesting that patrols could be reduced in the event of a ceasefire. Albert Reynolds tells Sean Duignan that the time has come for an ultimatum and that he is going to send a message to the IRA to say it’s now or never or they ‘can shag off’. He says they have a choice to support this move now or continue the killing for another 25 years but he intends to tell them if they do he will walk away and they will have nothing to show for their campaign except more dead bodies.

13 August – Tensions rise in Britain as an IRA bomb explodes in Bognor Regis while another is defused in Brighton.

14 August – The UFF murder a Catholic man in Belfast

15 August – John Bruton warns that Sinn Fein cannot be brought into talks without a complete cessation of violence. He warns against any contact with them and says that the worst possible outcome would be a ceasefire where the governments are later forced to relax the terms in order to keep them at the table under a threat of violence. Meanwhile Unionists are increasingly suspicious of John Majors contacts with the Irish government and Sammy Wilson describes the Tories as ‘treacherous’ suggesting that the Unionists should start talking to Labour.

17 August – IRA bomb explodes in a Protestant Bar in Belfast. Another bomb is found on the Shankill Road. Ian Paisley rubbishes talk of peace and says his party will not be taking part in any new dialogue.

18 August – Another IRA incendiary device destroys a protestant bar in Belfast. Amid fears that the IRA is increasing its campaign, Seamus Mallon says that the only hope is for a total and permanent ceasefire or the IRA will not be part of the process.

20 August – A republican march for peace is held in Dublin under the banner ‘Time for Peace – Time to go’. An estimated 10,000 people attend.

21 August – Michael Ancram says the British government will not accept any form of limited ceasefire. Albert Reynolds says that there was never any suggestion that a ‘ceasefire of 3 or 6 months would provide a seat at the table’. He says the IRA must be prepared to lay down arms for good.

25 August – American Congressman Bruce Morrisson leads a delegation that meets with the Irish Government before meeting Sinn Fein. The delegation excitedly tell Reynolds and Spring that they believe a 6 month ceasefire is about to be called and that they will encourage this. Reynolds and Spring are furious. The move threatens the entire process as the governments will not accept a time limit on the ceasefire and are anxious that the American support may encourage Republicans to only offer a short term ceasefire. They make clear that the delegation must convey the message that it is a permanent ceasefire.

26 August – Ten people are injured in an IRA mortar bombing in Co. Down. Accusations of ‘appeasement’ are made at the British government. Meanwhile Albert Reynolds receives a request for a VISA to the US for Joe Cahill. Cahill was a convicted IRA leader who had once been sentenced to hang and smuggled arms into Ireland from Libya. The request from Fr. Reid shocks Reynolds but it is said to be a gesture that would seal the deal. The IRA wish Cahill to brief their US supporters on the peace process and say it’s the only way they can carry their support. Reynolds contacts Jean Kennedy Smith, who in turn puts pressure on Nancy Sorderberg, but the message comes back emphatically that there are no more visas without a ceasefire first. All avenues turn up blank with no US government contacts willing to budge. Fr. Reid continues to pressure Reynolds saying it’s the last piece of the jigsaw.

28 August – Gerry Adams and John Hume issue a joint statement focussing on the need for democratic principles and the right of the people for self determination. The statement also says that different traditions must be respected.

29 August – Reynolds contacts Sorderberg personally making an impassioned plea for a visa for Joe Cahill. He says that this will deliver peace but without it trust is lost. Soderberg agrees to talk to President Clinton but says the proposal has ‘no chance’. Clinton rings Reynolds at 3 AM and tells him he is looking for the impossible. Reynolds makes the case that it will deliver the ceasefire but Clinton counters that a visa for Adams had not done so yet and they had stuck their neck out then, offending the British. Clinton is angry to be asked to do this and says if the IRA were this close to a ceasefire then they would have a statement ready and yet nobody has seen it. Reynolds announces he has the statement in his pocket but he has given his word not to reveal it and he asks the President to trust him. Clinton is unhappy but Reynolds says he will send Fr Reid to Belfast to ask their permission. Fr Reid comes back some hours later with the agreement of the IRA that Reynolds can read the document to Clinton. Afterwards Clinton finally agrees, as do the British. Clinton tells Reynolds ‘We’ll go for it but this is the last chance. If this doesn’t run I never want to hear from you again.’

30 August – Gerry Adams says he now believes the conditions exist for peace. He calls for an immediate recognition of Sinn Fein’s ‘political mandate’.

31 August – The IRA declare an end to their campaign and the Irish peace process begins. Despite bumps along the way and a short-lived resumption of IRA activities in 1996, the process eventually delivers the good Friday agreement. 20 years later Northern Ireland still has many problems to face. However, a cycle of death was stopped. 1994 saw a dangerous round of brutal tit for tat killings and all negotiations took place against a backdrop of bombings and murder. Ireland did manage to shift the majority of debate in a political direction however and the everyday killings that made a generation immune to violence are now a memory. Great risks were taken but there is no question but that thousands of lives have been saved in these years.


20 Years Ago – Why Downing Street Declaration mattered….

Its 20 years ago this week since the Downing Street Declaration was signed. It is an event that deserves to be marked. We might remember the declaration itself, but some of the other events around that time are forgotten. In the weeks before the negotiations British customs intercepted a shipment of 300 AKM Assault rifles and 2 tonnes of explosives bound for the UVF. That is the kind of shipment meant for serious warfare. That is the kind of event we were used to. On November 30th, a catholic man was shot dead by the UFF in Belfast while in Armagh security forces defused a 2,000lb bomb. Events all too familiar to us back then. Two days later as Reynolds and Major met in Dublin another 1,000lb IRA bomb was defused in Belfast. Over the following four days the UFF would murder 3 more Catholic men, two outside a taxi depot and one in his home.

An Irish Times survey found that while Catholics backed the talks between Major and Reynolds only 37% of Protestants trusted them to continue. By the 12th of December the IRA had shot dead two RUC officers. On December 13th the UFF shot a man it claimed was an informer. On the eve of the joint statement on December 15th, a 1,500lb IRA bomb was defused in Belfast where a 78 year old woman died of a heart attack as the area was evacuated.
I could carry on the list. That is the backdrop to the Downing Street Declaration. That is the everyday series of events we all took for granted. A shooting in the USA or in France might have caused children to look up from their homework and pay attention to the news, but in Northern Ireland it was just taken with a certain numbness that was chilling. Leaders have a difficult job. Against such a backdrop there was every good political reason for Major and Reynolds to avoid getting to embroiled in this situation. Everyone said you can’t trust the IRA or the loyalist paramilitaries. So many in Britain wanted to punish the IRA, crush them. So many in Ireland didn’t want to give an inch to loyalism. It was a stalemate but at least there was no political risk in a stalemate. People died, but it was simple enough to keep blaming the terrorists and avoid dealing with the problem.

The Downing Street Declaration was an attempt by two governments to show a new face and to bring about a fresh and realistic effort to engage all sides. On its own it seemed like it was just another political statement. A worthy one and a helpful one but in isolation it was not seen as a complete game changer. The violence would not stop. The killings would go on. The politicians could praise their own efforts but would it be seen as anything more than just talk?

I remember talking to many people at that time who said that while the declaration was a good thing it changed nothing and that those who fought on both sides in Northern Ireland had no interest in peace. I was not too sure either way, but in the days after the declaration was signed I put it to Albert Reynolds that perhaps it would not lead to anything more, but even so it was a crowning achievement for him personally. He waved his hands and dismissed the idea of it being an achievement. ‘It’s a start’ he said ‘the door is open now; everything depends on where we go from here.’ Albert was never a man to hang about. John Major did not have an easy time changing British policy from the intransigence of Thatcher. He had to tread carefully and had a lot to lose. People on his side were far less supportive of the idea of a peace process that might give the IRA something.

In the end what mattered to both men was a firm belief that no matter what, the everyday narrative of death and murder was abhorrent and had to stop. Lives were being wasted and an attempt to save them was worth the risking of any political career. For too long politicians talked tough and took insufficient risks in what was really an effort to stay well clear of what was necessary to bring a solution.

It was once said of the great General Hannibal that he was a man who knew how to gain a victory but was not quite sure what to do with it. The opposite was very much the case with the Downing Street Declaration. It was a victory for democratic politics and negotiation but more importantly, in the years that followed, the governments (and a generation of people in Northern Ireland) did not rest on their laurels; they pushed ahead and used that opportunity to make it so much more than a political statement. It became the foundation for ceasefires, agreements and peace and to this day it enshrines much of what must be accepted in Northern Ireland if it is continue to chart a peaceful path into the future.

Margaret Thatcher – a name to always spark debate

The passing of Margaret Thatcher will cause much debate and argument as regards her legacy. She has always been a person who brought out the strongest of opinions in even the meekest of people. She would have been proud of that to a large extent as she never shied away from an argument or from a decision.

There is no doubt that she was a formidable woman. She was certainly one of the most able politicians of the last 50 years irrespective of whether you agreed with her or not. She knew how to win elections, she knew how to play politics. For those of a right wing perspective she will always remain a hero. Over the course of a decade she smashed socialism within the UK. She championed right wing policy and the idea of free markets fearlessly. She led her country through the Falklands war and did so determinedly.

This was not a Prime Minister to be messed with. She was also a product of her times. The cold war world was one that was deeply split along the left/right divide with both sides going to extremes in order to prove their ideology. Thatcher and Regan could both rejoice at the fall of their old enemy Communism, where its leaders had tried so hard to prove an extremist left wing position that their people eventually could take no more. However, some of those old communists might also have a smug smile in recent times as eventually the right wing extremism of Thatcher and Regan would see many western populations suffering and their policies questioned. It was a time when politicians felt that they had to talk and act tough. Compromise of any sort was seen as a weakness.

Margaret Thatcher did achieve much in her career. She viewed her role purely through the prism of economics. From that point of view she helped to stabilise matters in the early ‘80s and to lead Britain through tough recession. Ironically one of the main reasons she achieved this was through, raising taxes and also having a 90% tax on oil extraction from the North Sea, neither of these policies seemed in line with her ideology but they were necessary. She took over a country that had become accustomed to a lack of competitiveness and inefficiency. She completely reformed the state sector and her policy of privatisation led to much greater efficiency in the British Economy. All of this came at a price however. She was not one to try negotiating or changing over time she was more of a sledge hammer than a surgeon’s blade. The pace of reform caused problems even for the private sector and customers.

Thatcher produced one of the most divided societies in the world. While some policies may have looked good on a macro level she brought untold misery to many families in Britain. Certain sections would benefit, but working class Britain was hit hard, she destroyed many services and cut funding in many areas that was to Britain’s disadvantage in the long term. The policy of deregulation and free markets was something that attracted business and encouraged investment in the short term, however as the world began to follow suit the effects of government backing off in such areas as banking are now being felt. Unemployment was higher in Britain in the 80’s and 90’s than it ever was in the 50’s or 60’s. Thatcher may have briefly halted the rise in Government Spending but she did not really reduce it and that was a particular failure. The same economies that followed her thinking suffered worst in the financial crisis and now carry huge deficits.
In Ireland, Margaret Thatcher will mostly be remembered for her intransigence. She showed absolutely no understanding of the issues in Northern Ireland and was one of the most divisive figures ever to appear in Anglo Irish relations. Her policies not only caused more pain and suffering but they also prolonged the conflict in Northern Ireland and led to even further loss of life. It is no surprise that it was only after her departure when John Major took a far more pragmatic view, that peace became a genuine hope in Ireland.

If Thatcher was to be admired for something it should be that she was clear about what she wanted to do and never hid from it, that she was decisive and strong. She was, however, far too attached to an ideology. She was completely unable to understand alternate view points. She seemed to have an innate fear of changing tack or seeming weak. This meant that she was completely unable to empathise with many of those that her policies hurt, at home and abroad. The good that her policies did was lost in the havoc caused by the means of getting them through.

Her name will spark debate all over the world. Love her or hate her, Margaret Thatcher was a politician and a leader that will never be forgotten.

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