Belfast Telegraph

I cried for all victims on day of IRA ceasefire, says ex-SF man Danny Morrison

Documentary examines the end of terrorist campaigns

Danny Morrison
Danny Morrison
Billy Hutchinson
Archbishop Robin Eames
Greysteel massacre scene
Former UVF leader Gusty Spence with William Smyth, Gary McMichael, DavidErvine and David Adams announcing the loyalist ceasefire in 1994
Ivan Little

By Ivan Little

Former Sinn Fein publicity director Danny Morrison has revealed he wept for all the victims of the Troubles when he heard the IRA had called a halt to violence 25 years ago.

Morrison, who was in jail at the time of the ceasefire announcement in August 1994, recalls the day in a new documentary to be screened tomorrow.

He told UTV programme makers: "I just went back to my cell and I just cried, I wept for all the people who had died, for all the people who had lost their lives and been injured, for all those families. I wished it had never happened."

Morrison, who coined the republican mantra of "an Armalite in one hand and a ballot box in the other", says he chaired a debate in the Maze a few days after the IRA announced the ceasefire.

"The majority of the prisoners trusted the leadership and were in support of it," he says, adding that some IRA men questioned the move and wanted to know what would happen if the British Government reneged on parts of the deal.

Morrison, who later had all charges against him quashed, said some unionist reaction to the ceasefire made republicans think they could live with the conflict but not with the peace and with having to compromise.

The Up Close programme looks back at the build-up to the declaration of the IRA ceasefire in August 1994 and to the one announced by loyalist paramilitaries six weeks later.

Reporter Niall Donnelly says John Hume, who was heavily criticised by unionists and even some party associates for his talks with Gerry Adams, which started at Clonard Monastery in 1988, knew when the IRA ceasefire would be announced but couldn't make it public.

Mark Durkan, who succeeded his fellow Derryman as SDLP leader, says Hume and his wife Pat had "a personal dread of something that might happen just before the ceasefire, you know, what that atrocity might be".

Durkan says despite the "spin and showboating" around the ceasefire announcement, there was a genuine sense of relief for the Humes.

The documentary revisits the celebrations in west Belfast as convoys of cars carrying tricolour-waving supporters drove through the city.

Former IRA prisoner and now Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly said he was "comfortable" with the ceasefire, adding: "I believed it was the right thing to do and it was the way to move forward, but on the basis that everyone was prepared to move forward."

He says the decision by US President Bill Clinton to grant Gerry Adams a visa to travel to the States in January 1994 had been a "courageous step".

He added: "He did it against the advice of the State Department. And that's leadership.

"He opened up an ability to give hope from an American point of view. I don't want to exaggerate the American input but that was a key moment."

The documentary says that Adams and Martin McGuinness were, in the weeks and months before the ceasefire announcement, trying to persuade the IRA leadership that they should end their campaign of violence and avoid a split in the ranks.

Former Provo Tommy McKearney told the documentary that IRA chiefs had to ensure there was no such split in the organisation.

He says while there were splits, there were no catastrophic ones, as leaders sought to convince their members of the benefits that could be made in terms of political advances.

Kelly is asked in the programme what got the ceasefire over the line and he replies: "Even though there was a huge mistrust, and indeed other players, the argument was 'let's test it, let's test the possibility'."

But Kelly concedes for the IRA the ceasefire was a "step into the unknown".

The loyalist ceasefire was announced at a news conference in the Fernhill House Museum in the Glencairn area of Belfast in October 1994.

This reporter tells the documentary that there were reservations about the Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC) ceasefire among elements within the UDA that first wanted revenge for two of their members Joe Bratty and Raymond Elder killed by the IRA just before the ceasefire because they were believed to be involved in the Ormeau Road bookies massacre in February 1992.

Former Church of Ireland Primate Archbishop Robin Eames and Presbyterian cleric Rev Roy Magee were major players in the story of the loyalist ceasefire, which came less than a year after the signing of the Downing Street Declaration by the Dublin and London Governments, who said they had no "selfish, economic or strategic interest in Northern Ireland".

But the document also said a united Ireland could only be achieved when the majority of people here voted for it.

Archbishop Eames had helped draft some of the paragraphs in it. Crucially, he met with loyalist paramilitary leaders at his residence in Armagh, urging them to end violence.

Roy Magee helped facilitate the discussions after telling the archbishop there was "a chance of movement on the loyalist side".

Eames said: "The loyalist paramilitary overlords came to Armagh with Roy and I. I said there were certain assurances I needed before I would go any further in talking to them. One was that they would be truthful with what they were intending to do. Secondly, that if they did decide to call it off, they would have to express in some way regret for the lives of people who had been taken and for the lives of injuries and hurt.

"And then they said to me: 'We need assurances from the British Government that, in fact, there is nothing that would trap us if we were to announce a ceasefire, that there's no private agreement with republicanism, anything like that'.

"I said to them that I would be prepared, if I was assured that they were playing clean with me, that I would try to get the answers to those questions."

The Church leader met John Major in London and got some of the responses that satisfied the loyalists, who told Archbishop Eames that the ceasefire was on.

Yet the months before both ceasefires had been horrific with slaughter on the Shankill, at Greysteel and Loughinisland.

Observers thought moves towards peace amid so much carnage were doomed to failure. Ex-UVF prisoner and current PUP leader Billy Hutchinson praised former UVF commander Gusty Spence for his determination to push forward with the ceasefire.

And it was the Malvern Street killer who crafted much of the CLMC statement and read it at a Press conference which heard him express "abject and true remorse" to the loved ones of all innocent victims of the UVF, the UDA and Red Hand Commando.

Hutchinson, who was in the back of the room at Fernhill House Museum where Spence read the statement, said: "Gusty was a wordsmith - he was also a key figure in a sense that quite a lot of people respected him.

"So therefore he was key in terms of getting the statement right and also working with others to make sure the wording of it was right.

"And then he had to convince people who wanted to change things, irrespective of which organisation they were from."

Hutchinson denies the loyalist ceasefire had simply been a reaction to the IRA announcement and says the move had been under discussion since 1986.

He also says the loyalists were meeting Taoiseach Albert Reynolds seeking the Irish Government's views but adds that the CLMC statement still came as a shock to many loyalists.

Hutchinson says that it was a very emotional day and he added that when he talked to journalists at Fernhill House he had a tear in his eye because "naively we thought this was it".

Niall Donnelly's first report on UTV was to assess reaction to the loyalist ceasefire announcement on the Shankill Road.

He recalls those weeks as a time of optimism, which he says is now a distant memory.

Danny Morrison rues the political stalemate of today, but said: "I no longer feel vanquished.

"The state where I live is not the state I grew up in. All sorts of opportunities are open to the nationalist community."

Billy Hutchinson said: "The reality is that we need to move on. We need to get this done. And we need to work out where it is we want to go. We need to be implementing all those bits and pieces that haven't been implemented. And we certainly need to have a legacy process."

Historian Dr Eamon Phoenix agrees that the day the IRA announced an end to their violence was one of great hope.

But he said: "No one wants to go back to the killing fields of the 1970s and the 1980s, people know what that's like. It's conveying that to a new generation because no one, as you know, under the age of 40 remembers the Troubles. We have to remind them how awful it was."

Up Close: Ceasefires '94 airs tomorrow at 8.30 pm on UTV

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