Belfast Telegraph

Gerry Adams reveals doubts about ceasefire meetings with IRA

Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness emerge from talks on the signing of the Good Friday Agreement
Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness emerge from talks on the signing of the Good Friday Agreement
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

Twenty-five years after the IRA declared its "complete cessation of military operations", former Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has revealed neither he, nor the late Martin McGuinness, were sure their negotiations with the IRA leadership would be successful.

Looking back on August 1994, "the month when it all began to come together", Mr Adams has detailed the process which brought about the ceasefire.

"To be honest, neither Martin nor I really knew if we would succeed," he said in his latest column in the Andersonstown News.

"We were attempting something unique and exceptional - to construct a series of agreements which together could persuade the IRA leadership that there existed an alternative to armed actions capable of achieving republican goals.

"The danger was that if we pulled everything together and the Army said no then the process was over before it really started.

"Our discussions involved the Irish government; I was meeting John Hume; we were negotiating with the US administration through a variety of channels, and there was a delegation of Irish Americans - the Connolly House group - who were lobbying the Clinton administration to develop a new Irish agenda. We were also in contact with the British Government though they were not part of the effort to develop an alternative."

Documenting a series of tense meetings, Mr Adams said: "The IRA leadership listened attentively to what we had to say. Some of the leadership were against a cessation. They had been very frank about that.

"Martin McGuinness spoke eloquently. So did others. For and against.

"One of Martin's great qualities was his sense of conviction and confidence. He could bring a strength to a debate which was very, very compelling.

"The easy decision was for the IRA to continue to fight. The high-risk option was the one we were arguing for. It would involve compromises.

"It could mean risking - and losing - everything. But we could also be the generation who would win freedom.

"We could set in place a process and from there build a pathway and a strategy into a new all Ireland republic.

"The vote was for a cessation. It was not unanimous but those who voted against pledged their support to the new position."

On Wednesday, August 31, at noon, the IRA declared its "complete cessation of military operations".

"A quarter of a century later, much has changed," said Mr Adams. "Political unionism has lost its majority in the Assembly. Nationalism has rejected Westminster. There is a greater confidence and optimism.

"The demand for equality, for rights for all citizens is now part of our DNA. Support for a referendum on Irish unity is growing. Many within unionism have also come to accept the need for power-sharing and reconciliation and inclusiveness.

"There are of course still challenges to be overcome. Brexit looms. The power-sharing government is not functioning. There are still those within political unionism who see everything as a zero sum game in which any change - however innocuous - is a defeat. The British Government is allied to the DUP and refusing to honour commitments made when the Good Friday Agreement was achieved. The Irish government could do much more to fulfil their obligations. There is still much work to be done.

"Looking back 25 years ago to that period of our history and experience, it is clear that dialogue, inclusive and based on equality, is central to any conflict resolution process - to any process of change.

"It is very telling that the then leader of unionism James Molyneaux described the cessation as 'the most destabilising event since partition'.

"Twenty five years later, this assertion remains an insightful reminder of the worm at the heart of political unionism.

"That is the fear of positive political change. It is self-evident now that if it had been left to the unionist leaders and the British Government, there would have not been a cessation.

"Thankfully they did not have a vote at the IRA's Army Council meeting taking that decision."

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