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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.''
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