In the summer of 1997, an outsider would not have expected a breakthrough in the peace process against the background of murder and paranoia.
And yet, 25 years ago today, the IRA began its second ceasefire, which led to all-party talks and the Good Friday Agreement the following year.
Just a fortnight before the Republican demise, Northern Ireland didn’t look like a peaceful place. On 6 July, 1,500 RUC officers and British soldiers stormed into the Nationalist Garvaghy Road area of Portadown.
Secretary of State Mo Mowlam had given the green light for the Orange Order’s controversial Drumcree March.
Around 100 residents managed to organize a sit-in protest. They were forcibly removed by police, who were stoned and petrol bombed during widespread rioting.
Crammed into side streets and unable to attend church, five priests celebrated an open-air mass for local residents in front of armored army vehicles in a scene nationalists said resembled sentences.
The aftermath of the decision to allow 1,200 Orangemen to march along the Garvaghy Road continued into the next day with widespread rioting.
Cars have been hijacked in Belfast, Derry and Newry. Around £20m worth of property damage was caused and 100 people were injured. The RUC fired 1,600 plastic bullets, with 550 attacks on security forces and 41 arrests.
Eight days later on July 15, 18-year-old Catholic Bernadette Martin was shot four times in the head by a Loyalist Volunteer Force gunman at the home of her Protestant friend in Aghalee, Co. Armagh. She was sleeping in a bedroom with her boyfriend and his sister when the shooter snuck in and singled her out.
The day after her funeral, the IRA declared its second ceasefire. Bernadette’s father, Laurence Martin, called for political dialogue as soon as possible.
“They should talk until their throat is sore, and when their throat is sore, they should keep talking,” he said.
“What’s the alternative, another 30 years of people dying? I want the name of Bernadette Martin to be last on the dead list.”
The IRA ended its first ceasefire in February 1996 with the Canary Wharf bomb. Two people died in the blast, which caused £150million in damage.
Despite the high-profile nature of the attack, the provisional leadership had never been serious about resuming a full-scale campaign. It had been forced to return to violence to avoid a split because hardliners led by Quartermaster General Mickey McKevitt had gained internal traction.
This was not “war” in the traditional IRA sense – it was shooting and bombing as leverage to get to the negotiating table.
In February 1997, Lance Bombardier Stephen Restorick, 23, was shot dead by a sniper while manning an army checkpoint in Bessbrook, South Armagh. In an unprecedented move, Gerry Adams sent his mother Rita a letter of condolences.
He told her he was “committed to lasting peace” and was “moved by the dignity of the family and their call for inclusive conversations.” Ms Restorick hailed the letter as “a pleasant surprise”.
Just a month before the second IRA ceasefire, RUC officers John Graham, 34, a father of three, and father of two, David Johnston, 30, were shot dead in Lurgan. Prominent Republican Colin Duffy was charged with the murders, but months later the charges were dropped due to insufficient evidence.
Mr Duffy has always denied any involvement.
There was no appreciable increase in support for another truce among IRA members at grassroots level. After the Drumcree march was driven down Garvaghy Road, feelings actually hardened.
But the Adams camp had been strengthened in the power struggle within the republican movement. The May 1997 general election brought back a Labor government. Tony Blair’s administration was much more open to working with Sinn Féin to solve problems than John Major’s had been.
Sinn Fein was also helped by a change of government in the Republic the following month, when Bertie Ahern succeeded John Bruton as Taoiseach. With Ahern in office, contact between the Provisionals and Irish officials intensified as they worked out their armistice terms.
In his book A Secret History of the IRA, journalist Ed Moloney revealed that four days before the Garvaghy Road siege, the Army Council had voted unanimously for a second ceasefire. The decision was kept secret from the base.
Newly released British government papers reveal serious disagreements between London and Dublin the following year over the exclusion of Sinn Fein from political talks over the February 1998 IRA killings of loyalist Robert Dougan and drug dealer Brendan Campbell.
RTE reported Tony Blair said that Sinn Féin could not remain in the process as the loyalist UDP had been expelled after loyalist killings.
Bertie Ahern said he agrees in principle, “but in practice the public distinguishes between the drug dealer and a loyalist leader on the one hand and innocent Catholics on the other”.
It was eventually agreed that Sinn Fein could return to the talks a few weeks after their exclusion.
The IRA continued to murder innocent Catholics despite their ceasefire.
Three months after the Good Friday Agreement, a unit broke into a New Lodge flat and overpowered Andrew Kearney, 33, with chloroform while his young daughter slept on his chest. He was dragged outside, shot, and bled to death in his boxers.
Father of two Robert McCartney was brutally murdered outside a bar in Belfast city center in 2005. Two years later, the South Armagh IRA beat 21-year-old Paul Quinn to death.
https://www.independent.ie/news/the-unlikely-ceasefire-that-laid-the-groundwork-for-end-of-the-troubles-41854137.html The unlikely truce that laid the groundwork for ending the riots