Waiting for Loyalists

Published Thursday, 04 September 2014
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In this period 20 years ago the ceasefire process had moved into its next important phase.

The governments, the communities, politicians and those in security and intelligence were all waiting.

After the words of the IRA and the announcement of "a complete cessation of military operations", it was now decision time for the loyalists.

The wait would continue through to October 13 1994.

In the build-up to the IRA announcement one of the loyalist organisations - the UDA-linked Ulster Freedom Fighters - had described the developing situation as "a recipe for civil war".

And those words spoke loudly of the suspicion that some deal had been done to secure the IRA ceasefire.

Indeed, that thinking carried through into a statement from the Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC) dated September 8 1994.

That statement listed six points which "if suitably addressed" could allow the loyalists "to make a meaningful contribution towards peace".

The CLMC raised the question of secret deals "concocted between HMG and the IRA".

And that loyalist leadership had to be convinced, "That our constitutional position as a partner within the United Kingdom is assured."

Twenty-four hours later, then Church of Ireland Primate Robin Eames delivered an answer from Prime Minister John Major that there had been "no secret agreement".

And this began the countdown to ceasefire.

It involved meetings with prisoners, wide consultation inside and outside the loyalist community and, then, the choreography of the announcement; the how and where it would be done.

On October 12, with journalist colleague Ivan Little, I was called to a meeting on the Shankill Road.

We first met leadership representatives of the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando and then Gusty Spence.

And it was he who gave us a brief statement signalling "an unprecedented press conference" scheduled for nine the following morning at Fernhill House.

There, Spence read the words of the Combined Loyalist Military Command detailing the decision to "universally cease all operational hostilities" before reading these words:

"In all sincerity, we offer to the loved ones of all innocent victims over the past twenty five years, abject and true remorse."

Twenty years ago, this statement alongside the words of the IRA represented the first steps out of a war mindset as well as steps into the unknown.

As correspondents involved in the reporting of that period, we can tell some of the story.

But there is still no process that allows the leaders of loyalism and the IRA to tell the story in their words - not just of that day, but the twenty years before and the twenty years since.

It is a story that also needs the voices - the questions and answers - of those in governments, politics, security, intelligence, the churches and, critically, those who were hurt the most.

At times, such as this anniversary period of the 1994 ceasefires, we hear some of the voices, but never all of them.

And this is what is missing - still part of an unfinished and incomplete peace.

© UTV News
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Brian Rowan
Brian Rowan

Brian Rowan is a journalist, author and broadcaster who has reported on the major peace process developments - from ceasefires to political agreements.

Four times he has been a category winner in the Northern Ireland Journalist of the Year awards.

He is the author of four books and a regular commentator on UTV.

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