State Papers

John Major warned against mentioning decommissioning in keynote speech

British Prime Minister John Major in Dungannon, Co Tyrone, in 1994. Picture from Pacemaker
Éamon Phoenix

BRITISH Prime Minister John Major was warned not to mention any possible decommissioning following the IRA and loyalist ceasefires.

Newly-released files show the British government was cautious in its response to the cessation of violence.

Mr Major's private secretary Roderic Lyne asked the Northern Ireland Office for advice on a draft speech the prime minister was due to give at an Institute of Directors' lunch in Belfast in October 1994.

Mr Lyne asked about the "permanence" of the ceasefires, the timing of "exploratory talks", the attitude to loyalist paramilitaries, exclusion orders which banned Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and others from Britain and a possible weapons amnesty.

The NIO suggested Mr Major say that because "Sinn Féin (and the IRA) left scope for reasonable doubt about their intentions, I have resisted pressure to set an early date for the exploratory talks".

He was advised to add: "I believe that it is now right to make a preliminary working assumption that the ceasefire is intended to be permanent and (move) towards exploratory talks..."

In a further NIO memo, an official suggested that it would be premature to announce any "arms amnesty" because it was still being decided how that would fit into an "overall game plan for future talks".

"There are a range of practical issues to be decided including the scope of any amnesty, how the co-operation of the Irish can best be secured and the detailed arrangements for the surrender of weapons," the official noted.

In a final note, the official stressed that Mr Major should make clear "that the government can now sensibly make the assumption that the IRA truly intend to end violence for good".

He said the Tory leader should "reassure unionists" the British government would not make secret deals with republicans.

Mr Major should also show nationalists it was prepared to respond positively to the IRA ceasefire and reassure moderates that paramilitaries will not "call the shots", the memo read.

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