Belfast Telegraph

IRA ceasefire 1994: Bittersweet landmark to remember innocent victims of the peace process

By Mark Brotherston

The 20th anniversary of the 1994 ceasefire is a bittersweet landmark.

The ceasefire marked an end to the worst terrorist violence which disfigured society in Northern Ireland and it provided space to eventually negotiate a peace settlement. Unfortunately, it also reminds us that political progress has been painfully slow and divisions which blighted our community back then are still in place today.

With all the retrospectives about 1994 in the media, it’s worth remembering that the heroes of the peace process were never Martin McGuinness, Gerry Adams or other members of the republican movement, which was responsible for so much heartache during 25 years of violence.  Nor were they David Ervine, Billy Hutchinson or other loyalists, whose twisted ideology caused similar misery.

The true heroes remain innocent victims of violence, who show daily the most tremendous grace and forbearance, in order to make a peaceful Northern Ireland possible. Their heart-rending sacrifice is captured most powerfully in the poet Michael Longley’s classical allusion. “I get down on my knees and do what must be done / And kiss Achilles’ hand, the killer of my son”.

Victims of violence saw terrorists released from prison long before their sentences were served.  Paramilitaries who were convicted after the Belfast Agreement served only two years and there has been a distinct lack of convictions for many crimes since.

Meanwhile, the movements which promoted terror, particularly, it must be said, the republican movement, continues to glorify and justify their violent acts.

There has not been genuine recognition that every illegal act perpetrated during the troubles was wrong and some of the hatreds which fed violence are being passed on to a new generation.  That lack of contrition has sucked goodwill out of many people in Northern Ireland.

It doesn’t always seem like that those who genuinely want to share are the winners in the peace process and sometimes the media doesn’t focus sufficiently on good news stories; all the examples where ordinary people are breaking down barriers and reaching out to their neighbours, across the traditional sectarian divide.

It’s important that the vast majority in Northern Ireland who were absolutely opposed to political violence continue to challenge anyone who attempts to celebrate or glorify murder and mayhem.  It is important too that politicians start to show leadership and prioritise creating a shared, prosperous stable society in Northern Ireland, rather than using division to claim votes.

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