Republican News · Thursday 8 April 1999

[An Phoblacht]

A year of living dangerously

If the superlatives of those in the media are anything to go by, the signing of the Good Friday Agreement on 10 April 1998 was the defining event for the Irish people since the Easter Rising. It was the means to a common end - the creation of a lasting peace in Ireland.

As the days sped by, however, the interpretations and understandings of what was actually agreed on Good Friday multiplied. The differences became clearer and the good faith shown by nationalists in Stormont buildings during Easter week evaporated, leaving us at 10 April 1999 with a still barely started canvas.

What has been filled in over the last year is a mixture of good and bad. Good in that the resolve and intent of Sinn Féin is still as clear and undiluted as it was a year ago. On the negative side, the last 12 months have seen the Ulster Unionists' ongoing attempts to undermine, redefine, and renegotiate the Good Friday Agreement.

Here, An Phoblacht's Neil Forde picks out some of the crucial events of the 12 months since 10 April 1998.

April 1998

18 April: Speaking at the Sinn Féin ard fheis, Gerry Adams told the delegates that we do not have have a level playing field as a result of these negotiations. What we do have, said Adams is ``a very visible playing field, with the equality issue up in lights, the clear prospect of change if we have the strength and commitment to hold people to positions outlined and no hiding place for supremacists''.

29 April: The IRA, responding to the Good Friday Agreement, said in a statement that the document ``clearly fails short of presenting a solid basis for a lasting settlement... but it does mark a significant development''. The statement also said that ``whether or not the the Good Friday Agreement ``heralds a transformation of the situation is dependent totally on the will of the British government''.


10 May: Sinn Féin delegates voted by an overwhelming majority to endorse the Good Friday Agreement. The party's constitution was changed to allow party members participate in the proposed new assembly.

15 May: UUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson committed himself to a No vote in the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement.

22 May: Two-and-a-half-million people voted throughout Ireland in the 22 May referenda. In the Six Counties, 71.12% of the voters, 676,966 people, were in favour of the Agreement. In the 26 Counties, 94.4% of voters, 1,442,583 people, were in favour of the agreement.

24 May: Bertie Ahern was quoted in the Sunday Business Post: ``If we get into the business of expecting the IRA to drive a truck up and start offloading guns to the RUC or the British army, then we're going to be waiting for the truck.''

24 May: Gardai intercepted a 940lb bomb at Carrickaneena, county Louth

25 May: The loyalist pickets at Harryville Catholic Church in Ballymena ended. Loyalists had begun picketing Masses in September 1996 in protest at Orange marches being prevented passing through Dunloy.

26 May: Ulster Unionist MP and opponent of the Agreement Jeffrey Donaldson was prevented by his party from standing as a candidate in the Assembly elections.

28 May: Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, speaking about decommissioning to the American-Irish Historical Society, said: ``It is frankly worrying that since the document was signed, there are already signs that the British government is buckling under unionist pressure to depart from what was agreed at Stormont.''

30 May: Unanimous opposition from the Ulster GAA delegates at its annual conference prevented the repeal of Rule 21, which bars members of the British Army or the RUC from becoming GAA members. The GAA Central Council deferred a resolution on ending the ban.

30 May: The RUC fired plastic bullets at nationalists protesting at a Junior Orange Lodge March in Portadown which entered the lower Garvaghy Road.

31 May: Sinn Féin MPs turned down an invitation to a garden party where Charles Windsor was to be the guest of honour.


3 June: Bertie Ahern admitted he was disappointed that the British government had only confirmed one of the 10 candidates nominated by the Dublin government for membership of the Independent Commission on Policing in Northern Ireland. The 10th candidate was picked after the British government vetoed the first nine.

3 June: David Trimble, speaking at a UUP press conference, said that the Drumcree parade should be allowed go ahead and that Gerry Adams could ease tension by ``calling his dogs off''.

8 June: A memo leaked from the Northern Ireland Office showed the split between the Dublin and London governments over the composition of the policing commission. It also showed the attempts made by Mo Mowlam to stifle Sinn Féin criticism of the appointments.

10 June: The Ulster Unionists together with the Conservatives sought to amend the Labour government's Northern Ireland Sentences Bill with a requirement for decommissioning at the same time.

19 June: 1,500 Orange Order members and more than 20 marching bands participated in the `Tour of the North' parade.

20 June: The Irish Times disclosed that Tony Blair asked Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams to support proposals to let a limited number of marchers playing `non-contentious' tunes walk the Garvaghy Road.

24 June: A 200lb bomb exploded in Newtownhamilton, two days before polling.

26 June: Sinn Féin won 18 seats in the Assembly election, making it the fourth largest party in the Six Counties as well as having the largest gain in vote share of any party since the 1997 Westminster elections.

27 June: RUC batoned nationalists in West Belfast protesting against an Orange Order march which was allowed onto the Springfield Road.

29 June: The Parades Commission barred the Drumcree Orange marchers from walking the Garvaghy Road on 5 July.

30 June: John Alderice resigned as leader of the Alliance Party to take up the post as position of temporary speaker to the New Assembly. None of his party colleagues knew of his intention to resign.


1 July: The newly elected Assembly met for the first time. David Trimble was elected First Minister. Seamus Mallon took the Deputy First Minister's post. Gerry Adams was heckled by unionist assembly members when he spoke in Irish. He told the Assembly: ``It is only by meeting like this that we can will work out a shared future for all the people of this island.''

5 July: The Drumcree marchers were blocked by the RUC and British army from walking the Garvaghy Road. The marchers refused to move and a 12-day standoff began. During the 12 days, Drumcree was the scene of nightly violence as the RUC and British army come under attack from the marchers and their supporters.

8 July: RUC figures showed that between 4 and 8 July there were 437 attacks on the security forces, 12 shooting incidents, 25 blast bombs, 412 petrol bombings, 136 vehicles hijacked, 73 houses and 93 other buildings damaged.

10 July: Four men and two women were arrested in London. The Metropolitan Police claimed that they were within minutes of attempting to plant bombs.

12 July: Richard (age 10), Mark (9) and Jason (7) Quinn are burned to death when their Ballymoney home is targeted by loyalists in a sectarian arson attack.

16 July: 400 British troops from the 1st Battalion of the Kings Regiment, deployed in Belfast during the Drumcree standoff, returned to Britain.

17 July: Harold Gracey, Portadown Orange Order District Master ordered an end to mass demonstrations at Drumcree after 12 days of loyalist violence. He said: ``We don't need 30,000 people on that hill as long as there are a few people there.''

18 July: Sean O'Callaghan meets senior aides of Tony Blair in 10 Downing Street to help write a speech for the prime minister.

20 July: Garvaghy Road residents are told they could `win' a package of economic investment in return for movement on the parade issue during proximity talks with the Orange Order.

20 July: Speaking in Westminster as the Commons voted on legislation to bring the Assembly and other elements of the Good Friday Agreement into force, David Trimble said: ``I have no confidence in the commitment of Sinn Féin to nonviolence and exclusively peaceful means.'' Trimble said he would seek to have Sinn Féin excluded from office.

23 July: The Housing Executive in Northern Ireland had still not found homes for 141 Catholic families and the families of 50 RUC officers burned out of their houses during the Drumcree standoff.

24 July: The RUC claimed that they ``are pursuing a line of enquiry that suggests'' the IRA carried out the murder of Andrew Kearney a week beforehand.

26 July: Orange Order Grand Master Robert Saulter announced that he was prepared to met the Garvaghy road residents in an attempt to resolve the Drumcree impasse.

28 July: In an embarrassing u-turn, Saulters said that he could only have face-to-face talks with ``groups manipulated by Sinn Féin/IRA... when it is finally determined that Sinn Féin/IRA declare their terrorist campaign is over for good''.


1 August: A car bomb exploded in the centre of Banbridge, County Down.

3 August: Nationalist residents and the Apprentice Boys in Derry agreed a compromise for their annual march along the city walls.

14 August: 418 prisoners applied for early release from the Sentence Review Commission. Bertie Ahern speaking in Limerick said that anyone convicted of involvement in the murder of Garda Jerry McCabe would not qualify for early release under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

15 August: 28 people were killed and more than 200 were injured when a bomb exploded in Omagh. Sinn Féin MP and chief negotiator Martin McGuinness described the bomb as ``an indefensible action'' and ``an appalling act''. Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said: ``I condemn it without any equivocation whatsoever.''

19 August: Bertie Ahern announced a new range of security measures, including the withdrawal of a suspect's right to silence, directing an unlawful organisation, withholding information concerning terrorist offence, unlawfully collecting information and training persons in the use of firearms or explosives. Sinn Féin TD Caoimghín O Caoláin said that the limiting of civil liberties in the proposals would ``simply sow the seeds of future injustice''.

22 August: The INLA declared a ceasefire

25 August: Tony Blair introduced his own range of new security measures in the wake of the Omagh bomb. He described them as being of a ``draconian and fundamental nature''.


1 September: Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams stated that Sinn Féin wanted violence to be ``done with and gone... a thing of the past''.

2 September: Mo Mowlam released the two Scots Guardsmen convicted of murdering Peter McBride in 1992. Sinn Féin's chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness, was appointed as the party's representative to deal with the International Body on Decommissioning.

3 September: US president Bill Clinton visited Omagh as part of his trip to Ireland.

5 September: The 29th person died from injuries received in the Omagh bomb.

7 September: The group responsible for the Omagh bombing declared a complete cessation of its bombing campaign.

10 September: Gerry Adams and David Trimble met for 35 minutes. It was the first such meeting between a republican and a unionist leader since James Craig met Michael Collins in 1922. Afterwards, Gerry Adams said: ``This is not about me or David Trimble. It is about our children and it's about our future.''

RUC chief constable Ronnie Flanagan announced the end of British army patrols in Belfast

11 September: The first prisoners were released in the Six Counties as part of the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

14 September: The Six-County Assembly met for its first formal session.

24 September: Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon announced that he would not participate in the inaugral meeting of the North-South council until a shadow executive was formed in the Six Counties.


1 October: A 75-minute meeting was held between Gerry Adams and David Trimble. Afterwards, Trimble said that if decommssioning took place there could be progress on other matters.

31 October: Stalling by the Ulster Unionists meant that the deadline for the formation of the North/South bodies was missed.


2 November: Bertie Ahern held a series of meetings in Stormont to ``kick-start'' the implementation process of the Good Friday Agreement.

8 November: A Sunday newspaper disclosed that the Independent Commission on Policing was seeking access to the files on the Stalker-Sampson report into RUC shoot-to-kill actions.

10 November: Martin McGuinness spoke on BBC radio about why the IRA would not decommission. He said: ``The IRA won't do it. That's the reason.''

13 November: Peter Sherry, the first POW repatriated from a British jail to Ireland is released from Portlaoise prison. Four hundred British soldiers are withdrawn from the Six Counties leaving the lowest level of troops since the 1970s. A number of checkpoints in Bessbrook and South Armagh were also to be closed.

17 November: Early drafts of the report from Independent Commission of Policing were leaked to the media, advocating the disbandment of the RUC.

19 November: A report from the UN Committee Against Torture called for reform of the RUC so that it represented the cultural realities in the Six Counties. They also called for the closure of detention centres, particularly Castlereagh, and the banning of plastic bullets.

22 November: A Dublin newspaper journalist reported a senior NIO official as saying: ``Trimble needs something from the Provos. It has to be some indication that decommissioning will be dealt with.''

22 November: RUC officers fired shots at local residents in Silverbridge, South Armagh.

26 November: Tony Blair visited Dublin and was the first British Prime Minister to address a joint meeting of the Leinster House summit and parliament. Blair said: ``We have come too far to go back now.''

30 November: Sinn Feín's submission to the Independent Policing Commission called for the disbandment of the RUC and a reduction in the number of police officers in any new force. It advocated a screening process for new applicants. Membership of the force should be 45% Catholic, 15% Gay or Lesbian, and 2% ethnic minorities.


2 December: The Six-County Police Authority, in a submission to the Patten Commission on policing, said that they would ``vigorously oppose'' any plan to disband the RUC. They claimed that ``there could be no alternative to the RUC as the police service for Northern Ireland''.

3 December: Unionists and nationalists fell into dispute during negotiations on the format of the Assembly's governmental structures and all-Ireland bodies. Seamus Mallon believed he had reached an agreement with Tony Blair on All-Ireland implementation bodies and the number of government departments. The Ulster Unionists u-turned after endorsing the agreement.

10 December: David Trimble and John Hume accepted the Nobel Peace Prize. David Trimble equated republicanism with fascism in his acceptance speech.

13 December: David Trimble, speaking in Sweden, asserted that the decommissioning of IRA weapons by the IRA and others would have to be carried out in front of TV cameras so that ordinary people could believe it had taken place.

18 December: The UUP and the SDLP agreed a joint pact on setting up government departments and North-South bodies.


6 January: The IRA's New Year statement queried whether the British government would ``succumb to the unionist veto''. The statement said: ``Those same unionist politicians who signed up for the Good Friday document in April last have expended all their energy since in a gradual intensification of their attempts to obstruct its implementation and negate its potential.''

13 January: Mo Mowlam published the British government's legislative programme to start devolution of powers to the Assembly by 10 March. Mowlam repeated her view that the finish line was now in sight.

15 January: A compromise was finally reached between David Trimble and Seamus Mallon on a timetable for setting up the institutions promised under the Good Friday Agreement.


5 February: Sinn Féin's chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness, told the Guardian that ``I cannot get the IRA to hand in guns, I cannot get the IRA to surrender.''

7 February: Dublin government Tánaiste Mary Harney, in a rare public statement on the peace process, said: ``There will have to be a gesture on decommissioning definitely - a substantial gesture.''


8 March: The Dublin and London governments signed an international agreement providing for the establishment of the North-South ministerial council and implementation bodies as well as the British Irish Council and the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference.

15 March: Human rights solicitor Rosemary Nelson was murdered in a car bomb attack. Nelson was the legal representative of nationalists throughout Portadown. She had been the victim of systematic and orchestrated threats from loyalist paramilitaries and RUC officers.

17 March: Gerry Adams and David Trimble met for 30 minutes in the White House. Afterwards, Adams said the meeting was ``cordial'' but Trimble showed no evidence of changing his position on ``making demands on me which I cannot deliver''.

18 March: Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern issued a joint statement. They said: ``The agreement endorsed by the people last May must be implemented in all its aspects.''

29 March: Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern travelled to Hillsborough Castle to attend the ongoing negotiations on implementing the Good Friday Agreement. On the same day, Dublin government justice minister John O'Donoghue ruled out holding an independent inquiry into the 1974 Dublin-Monaghan bombings.

31 March: An IRA statement said that the organisation had ``waited patiently for evidence'' that the Good Friday Agreement would ``deliver tangible progress''. The statement also said: ``The IRA wants to see a permanent peace in this country.''

April 1999

1 April: Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair agreed a new declaration which proposed that on a date to be set, nominations would be made for ministers of the shadow executive using the d'Hondt procedure.

Not more than one month later, a collective act of reconciliation would take place. Some arms woukd have to be voluntarily decommissioned on this day. At the same time the North-South Ministerial Council, the North-South Implementation Bodies, The British Irish Council and the British