My eldest child was born in 1994. She has known a world entirely contextualised by the conflict that preceded her birth. Known as a “ceasefire baby”, conflict sets the framework of her life but is not her experience. My other four children can say the same.
Like many statements of note, the IRA statement of cessation was short. It spoke of opportunity, enhancing the democratic process and contributing to the search for peace based on a just and lasting settlement. Its significance was appreciated by the vast majority of people who could see and feel that hope and history were beginning to rhyme.
Some republicans felt it was the wrong thing to do. One of my closest friends felt republicans had surrendered and he soon moved to Australia. 25 years later I still miss him, but still think he called it wrong. No one surrendered in this military stalemate. Everyone could have fought on, and the British state was clearly in the frame of mind for that as evidenced by the collusive killing of republican Kathleen O’Hagan only weeks beforehand, seven months pregnant with five other children she was the third vulnerable woman to be killed in a few short months by state agents in republican homes. However, the initiative for peace was seized, despite these state crimes of collusion. Actively seeking peace when those options become available was, and remains, the right thing to do.
The imagery of ceasefire day was to be of cavalcades in West Belfast and crowds greeting republican leaders outside Connolly House. I didn’t feel like celebrating. I felt reflective and unsure. Those who had lost loved ones still speak of that day as being heavy with a sense of loss.
Of course, the move was under appreciated by John Major’s government. The historic opportunity for peace was all but squandered with a pretence that the short statement was unclear in intent and that unilateral decommissioning was required. The British wanted to defeat republicans before talks could even begin. That ceasefire broke down under the bad faith and I often wonder had English people not taken a fancy to Tony Blair, and a change in administration not ushered in in 1997, would we have seen peace in our time. But we did and peace was given a chance with a new IRA ceasefire within weeks of that general election, and a peace agreement by April 1998.
However, on this anniversary momentum has again stalled in a process where stalling means reversing. Historic progress on policing and power sharing has been heavily compromised. Those who would deny basic social human rights are the same people who are willing to add to the compromise by elevating the British state narrative of a conflict no one won.
My ceasefire babies will not countenance a space where their rights are compromised or diminished. That expectation that things will be better than before, and a zero tolerance for anything less, is a direct result of the space the ceasefire created, that is progress and a challenge. Our peace cannot be taken for granted, it is a living thing that must be constantly fostered and grown. We all live with the context of a conflict that must never be repeated, but we are all the better, despite the difficulties, for our local kind of peace.