Thoughts Approaching the 20th Anniversary of the 31 august 1994 Provisional IRA Cessation of Military Operations

Guest writer Liam O Ruairc looking back on the Provisional IRA ceasefire announced 20 years ago.

Shortly after 11am on Wednesday 31 August 1994, the Army Council of the Provisional IRA announced that 'as of midnight…there will be complete cessation of military operations.' As the twentieth anniversary of this landmark event is less than a month away, it is worth opening a debate on a number of fundamental issues that this event raises.

A first question is whether the 31 August 1994 cessation was a strategic failure or a new phase of the struggle? What was striking was that compared to the previous IRA cessations of operations in 1972 and 1975 which had been bi-lateral truces agreed with the British government the 1994 one was a unilateral and unconditional ceasefire with no specific time frame. The fact that this unilateral and unconditional cessation had been declared on 31 August 1994 had a lot to do with the difficulties the organisation was experiencing on the ground – it had been declared from a position of weakness rather than one of strength:
Much has been written and said about the Provisional's decision (to call a cessation). Analysing the political reasons that lay behind it, the discussions tend to leave out a vital factor that influenced PIRA in arriving at that position -the success of the RUC in thwarting its operations. (...) It must not be forgotten ... that before the 1994 cessation, it was becoming increasingly hard for PIRA to pull off the big jobs, the spectaculars, not only in London but also in Belfast - the city that they always regarded as the key to maintaining their campaign. (...) By the year of the ceasefire there was only sporadic PIRA activity in Derry, and in East Tyrone and North Armagh, once among the most active and dangerous PIRA areas, it has been almost wiped out. Between 1986 and 1992 the East Tyrone and North Armagh brigades had had 22 members killed ... South Armagh remained active, but even there PIRA's chief tactic was restricted one-shot long-range sniper attacks ... The organisation still retained the capacity to explode the occasional blockbuster in Britain -thanks mainly to the fact that of the two areas from where these attacks emanated, South Armagh and the Irish Republic, one was resistant to RUC penetration and the other was outside the force's juridiction. The decision to call a halt to the campaign in August 1994, was undoubtedly taken partly in response to these operational problems. -  (Jack Holland and Susan Phoenix, Phoenix: Policing the Shadows, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1996, pp.265-269 and Jack Holland, Hope Against History: The course of conflict in Northern Ireland, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1999,, pp.253-262)
Problems were not simply military. One could ask whether republicans could achieve by diplomacy what they had failed to achieve by force. But history shows that you never gain at the conference table what you were not able to take on the battlefield. By the time of the 31 August 1994 cessation, the parameters and pre-conditions of the peace process had already been firmly set and it was clear that its outcome would not come anywhere close to republican objectives. This is evident from the political parameters of the peace process.

From the earliest stages of the peace process, the British government made it clear, that (a) it would not act as a persuader for a united Ireland, (b) that it did not set any time-scale for a united Ireland nor asserts its value, (c) that it did not contemplate joint authority over Northern Ireland shared by the British and Irish governments (d) that it had not reduced sovereignty over Northern Ireland. All this was evident early on, in the 15 December 1993 Downing Street Declaration, which laid the parameters for future negotiations which ultimately led to the 1998 Belfast Agreement. According to Lord David Trimble:
Crucially it was soon made clear (to Republicans) that there were conditions before there could be an official engagement. The key conditions were later formalised in the Downing Street declaration of 1993 as an end to violence and a commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means. Equally important was the government's commitment to the consent principle and its refusal to act as a persuader for a united Ireland, which prefigured the outcome of the formal inter-party talks, the three-stranded structure of which were defined in March 1991, and the key procedural decisions taken by the parties in 1992 in the absence of Sinn Féin. When it called the cessation of its campaign in 1994, republicans were, in effect, accepting these parameters for talks. (David Trimble, Ulster’s Lesson for the Middle East: don’t indulge extremists, The Guardian, 25 October 2007)
While a Sinn Féin conference had rejected the Downing Street Declaration on 24 July 1994, and the IRA statement announcing the cessation said it “is not a solution”, subsequent history proves that they had no other options but to accept its parameters. Not only were the parameters of the peace process prior to the 1994 cessation already excluding a republican outcome, but there were also strict pre-conditions. One myth is that the British government and the Unionists were acting in ‘bad faith’ and created in 1995 the decommissioning issue as a pre-condition to prevent Sinn Féin to take part in negotiations. For example, in an interview on 14 July 1995 Gerry Adams stated that the decommissioning of IRA weapons had never been mentioned prior to the cessation and that the British government had been aware that a cessation would have been unacceptable to the organisation if decommissioning had been a pre-condition to take part in negotiations. However, decommissioning had been on the agenda as early as 1993 and had actually been raised by Gerry Adams in an interview on 8 January 1994, almost nine months prior to the cessation. (John Bew, Martyn Frampton, Inigo Gurruchaga, Talking To Terrorists: Making Peace in Northern Ireland and the Basque Country, London: Hurst & Company,2009, 133-134) The whole parameters and pre-conditions made it clear that republicans wouldn’t be able to ‘republicanise’ the process, but rather that the process was a means of ‘de-republicanising ‘ Sinn Féin.

To argue that this is some ‘new phase of the struggle’ sounds like this general who is supposed to have told his troops ‘we’re not retreating, we’re simply advancing in another direction.’ The fact that the British state was able to limit so much the options of the Provisional movement in political and military terms makes the myth of the ‘undefeated army’ unsustainable. When the Provisionals organised on 31 August 1994 a victory calvacade on the Falls Road in Belfast, it was more a case of 'turkeys celebrating Christmas than chickens coming home to roost.' As Bernadette McAliskey had declared that day (possibly borrowing from Leonard Cohen's Everybody Knows) on BBC Talkback, 'the war is over and the good guys lost.'  (Anthony McIntyre, Good Friday : The Death of Irish Republicanism, New York : Ausubo Press, 2008, 226-227)

It is worth noting that when a few weeks later the Combined Loyalist Military Command announced that the loyalist groups would 'universally cease all operational hostilities' from midnight 13 October 1994, it did so from a much stronger position than republicans on 31 August. The Combined Loyalist Military Command statement emphasized that 'the Union is safe' - at least its central political objective had been secured; whereas Provisional Republicans failed to achieve any of their fundamental political demands. As the twentieth anniversary of both cessations approaches, a comparative study of the political terms of both could raise interesting new questions.

The second question is whether the 31 August 1994 cessation is simply to be explained due to military and political weakness, or is it also a symptom of an ideological retreat and the defeat of a political project as well? To argue that a military campaign was unsustainable is one thing, but to downgrade the republican political agenda and the ambitions of republicans is a different thing all together.

What had been noticeable in the years coming up to the cessation was a lowering down of the political horizon of Irish republicans. There was a move from being the ‘lawful government of Ireland’ to just being representatives of a sectional interest – that of a section of the nationalist ‘community’ in the Six Counties. It was no more about ‘Brits Out’ but ‘All-party talks now’. Unlike 1973 where republicans claimed that ‘Victory is ours for the taking’ (An Phoblacht, 19 October 1973), the headline of the first edition of An Phoblacht-Republican News twenty years later in 1993 more modestly claimed that ‘There can be Peace in ‘93’. If twenty years earlier it was ‘Victory to the IRA 1974’ (An Phoblacht, 4 January 1974) by the time the cessation was announced the headline was ‘Seize the Moment for Peace’ (An Phoblacht-Republican News, 1 September 1994).

It is not suprising that with this philosophy of low expectations there ultimately would be a move from a ’32 County Democratic Socialist Republic’ to ‘an Ireland of Equals’ some years later. The whole point here is to ask whether the 31 August 1994 cessation is perhaps less the product of ‘war weariness’ than of ideological exhaustion? By August 1994, there was a noticeable scaling down of republican demands and also a redefinition of the scale of the republican project. Republicanism was being transformed into ‘pan-nationalism’ ; as the photograph of the handshake between John Hume, Albert Reynolds and Gerry Adams on the steps of Government House in Dublin on 6 September 1994 graphically illustrated.

On a comparative note, it is interesting to note that on 21 July 1994, Tony Blair was elected the leader of the British Labour Party. In the same way that New Labour was a response to the ideological exhaustion of Labourism, could the politics of New Sinn Féin which emerged after the 1994 cessation be seen as a response to the forward march of Provisional republicanism halted? (on this see in particular Kevin Bean’s forthcoming article (2014), Leaving the soundbites at home? Tony Blair, New Labour and Northern Ireland 1993-2007)

This brings up a third important issue: how are we to understand the long term historical evolution of Irish republicanism as a historical force in general and Provisional republicanism in particular? Seeing its decline in terms of a historical force and to adopt a ‘declinist’ framework in a purely Irish context to understand its evolution is insufficient. This cannot be seen in isolation, it has to be related to historical forces globally. After the end of actually existing socialism from 1989 onwards, the balance of forces between imperialism and anti-imperialism changed globally with actually existing national liberation movements finding themselves in a position of weakness which forced them to accept ‘peace process’ as a way out. In the twelve months leading up to the 31 August 1994 cessation, the PLO signed the Oslo Accords on 13 September 1993 and on 27 April 1994 Nelson Mandela was elected President of the new South Africa. This encouraged the Provisionals to argue that this was also the way forward in Ireland. Leading strategist Jim Gibney recalls how inspired they were 'when we saw the images of Arafat and Rabin and Mandela and de Klerk' making peace in front of the television cameras. (Jim Gibney, 'Making headlines around the world for right reasons,' The Irish News, 5 April 2007. For more specific inspiration from Palestine, see 'Yesterday’s "Terrorist".' … An Phoblacht-Republican News, 16 September 1993; for South Africa check in particular Neil Forde, 'Path to a just peace in Ireland and South Africa', An Phoblacht-Republican News, 18 August 1994).

With national liberation movements on the decline as a historical force, could an IRA campaign have been able to persist under such circumstances? If anyone has doubt in the death of actually existing national liberation movements as a historical force, the last remnants of that tendency in Western Europe finally died when the Basque ETA declared “a definite cessation of its armed activity” on 20 0ctober 2011 and when the Corsican FLNC announced on 25 June 2014 “an immediate and unequivocal process of demilitarisation and gradual exit from clandestinity”. Defeat, decommissioning and disbandment are on the agenda everywhere – that is the unsurpassable horizon of our time as Sartre would have put it.

A few days after the cessation, on 6 September 1994 the New York Times published an article by one William E. Schmidt entitled In Belfast, Prosperity Eases Catholic Nationalism. The article attempted to connect the 31 August cessation with the rise of a new Catholic middle-class. This raises a fourth question concerning the relation between the peace process and wider socio-economic transformations.

Twenty years earlier, Catholics were treated like second-class citizens, now they were seen amongst the most affluent sections of northern Irish society. In November 1993, less than a year before the cessation, studies showed that Catholics made up 30 per cent of managers in the private sector, while the Civil Service – Northern Ireland’s biggest employer and once a byword for Catholics for discrimination - was now 35 per cent Catholic at management level – this when a December 1992 Northern Ireland Office directive had set a goal of 25 per cent Catholic representation. (Fionnuala O Connor, In Search of A State: Catholics in Northern Ireland, Belfast: The Blackstaff Press, 1993, 15)

While much credit has been given to the ‘hard power’ of the state (MI5, SAS, RUC, etc) for compelling the Provisional IRA into declaring a cessation, much less attention has been given to the ‘soft power’ of the state – what Sir Richard Needham called “the social and economic war against violence”. With Direct Rule, the British state carried a literal ‘revolution from above’ transforming social and economic conditions in the six counties. The result is that by the year of the cessation, the London broadsheet The Independent carried on 11 December 1994 an article by Cal McCrystal entitled Ulster: A Heaven for the Middle Class.
Good money, nice houses, great schools, no drugs to speak of – add peace, and what do you have? Houses in Cultra sell for between £160 000 and £400 000, Britain’s response promoted a new Catholic middle-class ( continued the sub-headline).

The fact that the six counties were not now simply just a ‘nationalist nightmare’ but also a ‘heaven for the middle class’ of which many were Catholic is a fact whose importance has been underestimated. If those wider socio-economic transformations had not taken place, would a cessation have been on the agenda? If as McAliskey said earlier, “the war is over and the good guys lost”, was it the new Catholic middle classes who were the main winner?

While on 31 August 1994 news coverage was understandingly being dominated by the Provisional IRA’s complete cessation of operations, on the same day a minor news item appeared which would later become hugely significant: Kevin Gardner, a Morgan Stanley economist on the day of the cessation baptised the Irish economy a ‘Celtic Tiger’. (Kevin Gardner, The Irish Economy : A Celtic Tiger, Morgan Stanley Euroletter, 31 August 1994). A fifth question is how are the cessation and the official birth of the Celtic tiger connected? Due to the conjunction of those two events, on 31 August 1994, Ireland went officially "from bombs to boom" to borrow Henry McDonald’s expression. In ‘world-historical’ terms as Hegel would have said, does 31 August 1994 represent something like the 'end of Irish history' and the birthdate of a new Ireland ? 

Hopefully, the twentieth anniversary of those two events that happened on 31 August 1994 will provide the opportunity to look on how they fit in broader currents and reflect on their broader implications.


  1. In other words it was all for nothing.

  2. The ’94 PIRA ceasefire was called for, in my opinion, from a position of paradoxical strength and weakness. Weakness in that the rank and file couldn’t mount successful operations consistently against crown forces in Ireland. Strength because they were highly active in England, as they had been throughout the 90s, creating chaos in London and costing the exchequer hundreds of millions of pounds. The British government, coming out of recession, keenly felt the financial cost and political embarrassment of these huge bombs. The Docklands and Manchester bombs of ’96 indicate that this pattern could have continued.

    That said, I think the main reason that a ceasefire was called is because the leading and guiding lights of the movement wanted a ceasefire – they weren’t cajoled into it. There had been a winding down of the capacity of the organisation with a view to calling a ceasefire. Violence became a bargaining chip for political leverage rather than a means to a revolutionary end.

    The CLMC ceasefire statement, with it’s almost comical militaristic hubris, was largely irrelevant. The PIRA probably didn’t want them to call it. To accept that the CLMC called it from a position of strength is to accept that they had a concise and coherent political strategy, which they didn’t and don’t. Loyalist politicians talked about securing the union, but their squalid campaign was about stopping armed republicanism – in this, they failed totally, and arguably contributed to the durability and longevity of the IRA/INLA et al.

    The ’94 PIRA ceasefire was brought about by the twin forces of Adams and McGuinness’ political realism, on the part of PSF, and dogged , determined and frequently illegal actions of the RUC and army. Without the will of Adams/McGuinness, the efforts of the security forces wouldn’t have been enough. Without the efforts of the security forces, Adams/McGuinness couldn’t have sold the ceasefire.

  3. The IRA couldn't win it alone. Look to Vietnam war. Over there in the South The Viet Cong started a war with the south. Ho Chi Minh, the leader of the North did not want the war at that time. He inhereted the North Vietnam and he wanted to strenghten that economy before a war with the South. But the actions of the Viet Cong meant he had to back them. To put that into an Irish context without the support from the 26 Counties the IRA couldn't win by itself. Came close in 1974 with Harold Wilson.
    The possibilty for Ui still exists. Perhaps it will take some major events. like Scotland decision in 6/7 weeks or the Brits exiting the EU. There is every possibilty the Brits may go bankrupt soon or decide they can't afford it. Myself I am hoping that the Brits leave the EU. And I am almost certain that will lead to a UI.

  4. Another insightful read from Liam. The gravy train was simply too good to miss and that was the bigger picture. The provos were a response to British-Orange fascism in our own country. Give people a fair crack of the whip and everything changed. Although nationalist tactics within the 6 counties from partition certainly assisted the Unionist consolidation.

    Republicans as the 'rightful government' of Ireland makes me smile. Truly? The present personnel means Colin Duffy the rightful chief of security and Brendan McConnaith the rightful President? It is cloud cuckoo horseshit.

    Ask was it better a peace process and dumping or decommissioning weapons or a Syria/Gazza situation? The 26 counties were the real winners in the process, they avoided contamination, and believe it or not, they are just killing time for another boom and bust cycle. That's your Irish republic in action folks.

  5. An interesting article. From a unionist perspective it was clear in the early 90s that the IRA were no longer the power that they once were. In south Down we lost a patrol in April 90 and didn't lose anyone else until August 94, a whole battalion area ineffective for 4 and a bit years. It was clear that they were riddled with touts. In Belfast in the 80s loyalists were scared of the IRA. Anyone who threatened republican areas, like Bingham, were taken out quickly and efficiently. But by the early 90s dozens of young loyalists were queuing up to have a go, the fear had gone.
    The point about soft power is also salient. Middle class catholics were doing very nicely and just wanted peace and stability so they could get on with their very nice lives.
    But when all is said and done the 26 didn't want anything to do with the wee 6 so the IRA campaign was all for nowt. Ozzy's hope that Scotland may leave the UK and England the EU shows that any UI is out of your hands. Make the wee 6 peaceful and prosperous and maybe then the 26 will want us.

  6. I suppose, the whole border poll and allowing the SoS a veto over whether or not to hold a vote. That was a bit of a blunder as well in the GFA.
    Also on the issue of a ceasefire two moments stand out for me.
    One the anglo Irish agreement. This was the very first time that the Brits faced down the unionists. There would have been no deal unless the Republicans could have been sure that the Brits would stick to it. Not like Sunningdale.In 1986 you had the sight of Unionists crying out SS/ RUC. A real thru the looking glass moment.
    Second was Enniskillen 1987. I think that entered into the public like nothing else. Mainly because in other cases the Brit had an atrocity to match. But not that time. By then the Brits were using Unionists as their proxy killers.
    So, that was a PR disaster for the Republicans. And i think that led to serious appraisal of Strategy.
    Then you have to ask What If?
    If there was no ceasefire How would Irish Nationalism be viewed in the USA post 9/11? Would the Brits have bothered to cut any deal then. Or alternatively with The Brits bogged down in Afghanastan and Iraq and massively overstretched would have continuing the campaign on for another decade up to 2003 brought more dividends.... Perhaps even a Brit withdrawal or a declaration to withdraw? Who knows. That's the thing about hindsight. It's 20/20 vision. You could make a case for or against either of those outcomes

  7. Larry,
    What you on about was it better to surrender than have a gaza type situation, for a start a gaza type situation wasn't feasible here for all the Brits faults they were never going to flatten nationalist areas. I am pretty sure I've heard you lambasting the leadership on this issue before, maybe I am wrong, anyway the ceasefire was a fucking disaster from a republican perspective. If you are going to negotiate you do it from a position of strength or don't do it at all.
    Personally I think the ship has sailed on a u.i. Just read a book on Sean Mcloughlin and the thing that jumped out at me was the infighting back then wasn't so different from the infighting now. Too many egos in Ireland and while we are busy pontificating to each other about the best way to an u.i the Brits do what they've always run the place to their agenda.

  8. "for all the Brits faults they were never going to flatten nationalist areas"

    These people have not changed since 1916, while I am not directly comparing then and now, you would do well to remember the English ruling class bombarded central Dublin with the same type of armaments which were then being used on the Germans.

    They considered Dublin the second city of their empire, many people gambled they would never reduce it's center to rubble but they did.

    These people are capable of anything to maintain their power and wealth. Raising to the ground the nationalist working class areas of Belfast would have been small beer, the fact it did not happen was because they never felt threatened enough, if they had been they would have happily gone in for mass murder. You know like they have in Iraq, need I go on?

  9. Larry,
    Fair enough but i was referring to the most recent war. I know nothing is beyond these bastards. My point was when the leadership made the ceasefire call there never was any threat of fighter jets or missiles, so i don't think it's relevant to compare the threat faced by republicans and the threat faced by Palestinians. On a different note i call on everybody to get active in the support of Palestinians, know matter how little the action is, even if it's just emailing these apologist bastards in the media and letting them know we are not took in by their shite.

  10. Interesting and thoughtful post, Liam. There are lots of things that could be discussed further, but I'll just focus on one.

    You write quite early in the piece:

    "Problems were not simply military. One could ask whether republicans could achieve by diplomacy what they had failed to achieve by force. But history shows that you never gain at the conference table what you were not able to take on the battlefield."

    I have seen this argument, and variations of it, on this site and elsewhere. But it always strikes me as looking through the wrong end of the telescope, so to speak.

    If, in or around 1994, the question was, "Should the war be continued or not?" surely the burden of proof was and is on those who wished to continue the war.

    If the question is "Can you get more via peace than war?" and the answer is "No, but you can get about the same", that seems to me an argument in favor of cessation, not against it.

    Beyond any Irish context, the only argument in favor of war is that it has a realistic likelihood of delivering bigger gains than peaceful means. For reasons you discuss in the piece,it does not seem that this was the case for the IRA in the run-up to 1994.

    So...If what you could get at the conference table is roughly the equivalent of what you could get by staying on the battlefield, the conference table is surely the better place to be, given the horrors of the battlefield.


  11. David Higgins,

    you made a valid call as the low intensity war in the north does not compare to other all out wars, we came close a few times but it never escalated into all out war.

    That tone was set by Operation Motorman the invasion was a military and propaganda success. The M.O.D had even hyped the expected BA casualty rate to be high. They also made sure that the locals new it was on its way and the paramilitaries made the right call and buggered off.

    It is not as if they believed their own hype as they knew the PIRA were lightly armed and not capable of defending the no go areas. It could be argued that if the RA had been heavily armed they might have put up a fight but even at that there would have been reluctance on their part as obviously the civilians would have paid a heavy price.

  12. I know a guy that would take issue with a lot of the opinions voiced on this thread. He spoke to a lot of IRA men and women after the 94' ceasefire. The prevailing attitude was that they could keep going, no matter what. As for being afraid of Adair's morons, they just laughed at that. They also told him that they had a fair degree of autonomy in that they didn't have to refer to the "leadership" for permission for quite a lot of "ops". In my opinion, a lot of people fell for the MI5-SB line that they were running the IRA. No, this guy told me that the attitude amongst the Vol's was that they had been sold out. So, IMHO, the people to blame for the sell out in 94' is the likes of Adams and McGuinness and co. (who saw the gravy train years before) and not the Vol's that wanted to fight on. What I mean by that is, it was not lethargy or a reluctance by people on the ground, but their "leadership".

  13. When people make the gravy train argument they need to put more on the table than simply saying it.

    As to the one more heave and all would have been well argument, it misses the point about the situation on the ground back then entirely.

    The main reason the so called dissidents have failed to gain traction, is they have never been able to offer an alternative narrative to the Provo leadership when it came to ending the arm struggle.(Not talking about Continuity, etc, here)

    On this issue their differences with the Provo leadership is only one of degrees,ie arms should have been dumped not decommissioned, that type of stuff)

    as to the Provo graving train, If anyone feels engaging in bourgeois politics, an endless round of elections, meetings, and sittings in a toothless Assemble, with the leadership also flying across the Atlantic to shore up US support. I doubt this is a gravy train most people would queue up to get on.

    Especially for people who are well into the 50s and 60s, I would call it a boring hard slog.

    The war was fought, people gave it their all, but without a safe haven in the south the odds where always stacked against the Provos.

    Informers, leadership mistakes or worse, did not decide the outcome, it was the lack of mass support in the US and south of Ireland which created the impasse, that and the UK's superior military and technological advantage.

    Its time to move on, deal with historical matters which this blog is famous for, for sure, but suggesting more of the same with a different leadership is the road to purgatory. Surely?

    No gods no masters


  14. David Higgins

    What I was really referring to, perhaps not very well is that an alternative to the 'process' was to unleash the arms shipments and totally up the scale of conflict. I think in reality the boat had sailed on that score too, not the interest required as in 1972 for example.

  15. From Sandy Boyer

    This is the human cost of Sinn Fein's budget cuts.

    Ambulance response times fall amid 'rising demand and cuts in spending’

    26 JUNE 2014

    View Ambulance response times 2012 & 2013 in a full screen map
    By Kathryn Torney

    AMBULANCE response times have fallen in Northern Ireland, with new figures also revealing 34 incidents where patients whose lives were at immediate risk waited for at least an hour.

    The longest delays for emergency care are among the key findings of an investigation by The Detail into ambulance response times based on extensive data relating to hundreds of thousands of 999 calls.

    Our research also uncovered a patient with “traumatic injuries” who waited one hour 18 minutes for an ambulance in Lisburn and another with an injury in the category of “stab/ gunshot/ penetrating trauma” waiting one hour one minute in the Magherafelt area.

    from The Detail TV

  16. @ Peter

    "In Belfast in the 80s loyalists were scared of the IRA. Anyone who threatened republican areas, like Bingham, were taken out quickly and efficiently. But by the early 90s dozens of young loyalists were queuing up to have a go, the fear had gone."

    This just isn't true. The leadership of the UDA/UVF at that time were quite content to carry out the odd squalid sectarian murder and keep the money rolling in. Fairly safe to say that the leaders of said groups would have had their positions assured by the security forces. When a localised forceful personality, such as Bingham or Murphy, started going against this grain, they were sold out by their own side and killed by the IRA.

    The IRA killed a substantial number of loyalists, including some very high profile figures, throughout the 90s. Individual IRA men weren't scared of loyalists and vice versa. As Anthony has pointed out, the average member of the Belfast Brigade would have cherished the chance to plant a bomb aimed at taking out the UDA's HQ. And the reverse would have been true, whether it was the 80s or 90s.

    Your narrative, whilst accepted by some, doesn't stand up to interrogation.

  17. @ExileOnMainStreet That is not my experience. I worked in the shipyard in the mid 80s with quite a few of the old time UDA commanders and while they were prepared to do the odd 'dirty one' they were more interested in money. Young loyalists had no faith or respect for them, they thought then that the IRA were much more deadly. When loyalists did take the war to the other side, like Bingham or McMichael, they didn't last long. There seemed to be a feeling of 'let the security forces deal with the RA'. After Enniskillen there was a lot of anger that loyalists were not doing enough. All that was changed by Michael Stone and then C Coy. Loads of young men were joining up. In 85 loyalists killed 4 people by 93 it was 47, the feeling in the 80s that the IRA was superior to the UFF/UVF had gone. Maybe in the 80s there would have been loyalists willing to have a go but they were held back by their commanders for fear of retribution. Read Lister and Jordan's 'Mad Dog', they document the feeling then quite well.

  18. Peter

    Did UDR personnel not get frustrated giving loyalists so much information for them to go murdering any easily accessible Catholics instead of IRA people?

  19. @Larry Yes would be the short answer. I, personally, was totally opposed to 'dirty ones'. I thought the loyalist gangs were very unimpressive, full of touts and phsycos and very few thinkers. It was clear that Box and FRU were directing the hits on republican players, I doubt many gangs could have done it without help. When you think back a lot of people got whacked for absolutely nothing. We thought we were being betrayed into a priest ridden, corrupt, basket case of a state and youse thought 'one more push and they're gone', when all the while Dublin had shut the door. It was all a petty little parochial squabble for nothing. Sad beyond words.

  20. A fifth question is how are the cessation and the official birth of the Celtic tiger connected?

    Probably quite loosely.The birth of the tiger was due to the impending adoption of the euro, since Ireland didn’t get an exemption from moving towards currency union, as laid out under the Maastrict treaty, and a relatively low corporation tax rate.

  21. the armed wing of the gaelic marxist-lennonist unpopular front (the GMLUFRA) never disarmed and never will. we will hang onto our arms like any other cherished limb or part of our body. amen.

  22. @ Peter

    With perhaps two dozen exceptions, the entirety of the loyalist armed campaign consisted of "dirty ones" - many so rancid that they plumbed the depths of human depravity.

    "When loyalists did take the war to the other side"

    This is frequently used, and clearly nonsensical, terminology. The loyalist sectarian murder campaign started in 1966, it ebbed and flowed and peaked in the mid 1970s when, it is often forgotten, it surpassed the death toll wreaked by the IRA/INLA.

    Were the 70s UDA scared of the IRA? The IRA killed many Belfast UDA members in that period. It didn't put them off.

    McMichael started killing in the 70s and, rarely for a loyalist, was involved in the killing of actual republican paramilitaries (in the early 80s). Despite this, he was not killed until 1987, when he was a compromising voice within the UDA. The IRA killed loyalists that were either heavily involved in murder, such as Bingham or Murphy, or else moderate political figures, like McMichael and Smallwoods.

    I've read Lister & Hughes book. It does deal with this period. But context is everything. The C Coy of the 70s was more ferocious and savage than Adair's gang.

    "Maybe in the 80s there would have been loyalists willing to have a go but they were held back by their commanders for fear of retribution."

    We agree on this. But it wasn't only, or even mainly, retribution from the IRA - the Branch and Box were happy to have gangsters in place so left them alone.

    The IRA, for its part, was stonily unmoved by the assassination of civilians from their neighbourhoods, as far as I could ascertain. Perhaps AM and others could comment on this?

  23. @ExileOnMainStreet
    "...many so rancid that they plumbed the depths of human depravity." Oh dear can we leave the whataboutery out of it. I know people who have picked the limbs of protestant children out of an IRA bomb site, so please, for the sake of reasoned debate, let's not go there.
    Maybe it is just my perception but I remember the UDA commanders in the shipyard as having brylcreamed hair, dark glasses, leather jackets and driving old Mercs; more interested in money than war and resting on reputations for what they did in the 70s. People really believed that the IRA were much superior to our has-beens. Murphy, McCulloch, Seawright, Bingham etc all shot dead in the Shankill with little or no retaliation. Things just weren't like that in the early 90s.

  24. "Oh dear can we leave the whataboutery out of it. I know people who have picked the limbs of protestant children out of an IRA bomb site, so please, for the sake of reasoned debate, let's not go there."

    I wasn't engaging in whataboutery, I was making the point that "dirty ones" was almost the entirety of the campaign that we are talking about.

    "People really believed that the IRA were much superior to our has-beens. Murphy, McCulloch, Seawright, Bingham etc all shot dead in the Shankill with little or no retaliation. Things just weren't like that in the early 90s."

    I've already pointed out that the loyalist murder campaign rose and fell throughout the conflict. When loyalists were killing more people in the mid 70s, did people believe the IRA was superior? How does one measure the superiority of a paramilitary organisation?

    Take 1994 for example - the IRA killed three very prominent and active UDA members, the INLA killed three very prominent and active UVF members. If I recall correctly, Adair was in jail anmd was furious that the UDA didn't "retaliate" for the murders of Bratty and Elder.

    Did this series of killings, which surpassed the number of "clean" loyalist kills in a year, degrade the capacity of loyalist groups to kill? Not really. It only did in very rare cases (Bingham and Murphy, that I can think of).

    Loyalists didn't suddenly lose their fear - they found themselves unhindered by their politically braindead paramilitary leaders.

    Let's put it another way (and this isn't whataboutery, it's fact). Republican groups carried out far, far fewer outright sectarian murders than loyalists did. Now, why's that? Is it because republican paramilitaries are less sectarian? Personally, I think that's a factor, but not the main one. The main factor, I contend, is that the leadership of republican paramilitary groups did not authorise or encourage sectarian kilings (usually/generally - of course there are infamous exceptions - "dirty ones").

    Nothing to do with fear of reprisal, everything to do with organisation, ideology, leadership and strategy.

    Peter - I think we are pretty much saying the same thing, but in different ways. You're saying loyalists lost their fear of the IRA in the early 90s. I'm saying that didn't happen, they were just let off the leash. The reasons for it are manifold, but essentially, they got a few forceful and bloodthirsty leaders.

  25. @ExileOnMainStreet I understand what you are saying and maybe we are now just going around in circles, but from my perspective the IRA came off the back of the hunger strikes with the ability to shoot loyalists in the Shankill at will, shoot down Brit helicopters and blow up Conservative Party conferences while loyalists could only manage a handful of dirty ones. By the early 90s the perception was that the IRA was much weaker (with the exception of S Armagh). Areas like Lurgan, Castlewellan and the Bogside were seeing months and months go by without operations. We were being briefed by our UDR Int Cell that most brigades were penetrated and the amount and quality of activists volunteering for active service was falling. Maybe the fear hadn't gone but it was certainly diminished. That was an inevitable consequence of taking on the British without the backing of the whole island, the Long War suited Box more than the Provos.

  26. Hi Peter,

    A couple of things, then we should probably wrap this up, though I might contact you via your blog as I find your perspective interesting.

    "... he IRA came off the back of the hunger strikes with the ability to shoot loyalists in the Shankill at will, shoot down Brit helicopters and blow up Conservative Party conferences while loyalists could only manage a handful of dirty ones."

    In the early, the IRA could still shoot loyalists in their heartlands (and attack DUP men), shoot down helicopters and detonate massive bombs in London. Loyalists for their part, despite a lot of assistance, still functioned almost exclusively as a sectarian murder machine. The more things, change, the more they stay the same, as the saying goes.

    The tempo of the IRA's campaign had decreased, whilst loyalists had increased. But what we are both interested in, I think, is whether they were linked. I think categorically not. I also think a ceasefire might well have come sooner, as might decommissioning, had loyalists not pursued their murder campaign.

    The death toll is obviously a factor in determining the strength of a paramilitary group, but not the only one. The UDR suffered grievously at the hands of the UDR - that doesn't mean the IRA beat them. In fact, it might have encouraged the sons, brothers,friends and so on of UDR dead to join up.

    And on it went.

    Loyalists weren't particularly important in the bigger picture. And I think they knew this and informed a lot of their actions.