Northern Ireland news

State papers: Secret RUC assessment of IRA ceasefire

In the right circumstances, senior RUC officers believed it might be possible to withdraw weapons completely from the police in daylight hours
Éamon Phoenix

A SECRET NIO assessment of the status of the IRA's four-month old ceasefire and the British security response suggested the possibility of withdrawing weapons from police in daylight hours.

Among those present at a meeting of the Security Coordinating Committee at Stormont on January 10, 1995 were the RUC deputy chief constable Blair Wallace, Colonel Snagge of the British Army and NIO officials, led by J Steele.

Mr Wallace reported both ceasefires were holding, but PIRA "continue to gather intelligence, to target and to train" and punishment beatings, some savage, were still going on.

Sinn Féin was continuing to orchestrate protests highlighting the unacceptability of the RUC and the removal of troops.

The senior officer anticipated that internal pressure would increase on Sinn Féin to show results from their exploratory dialogue with the British government.

The opening of contact had eased pressure on the republican leadership and silenced critics.

Within the republican movement, the release of prisoners was being pushed hard.

At grassroots level, Mr Wallace reported, "it was clear that PIRA would not accept the handing over of weapons to anyone, north and south, even to an `honest broker'." (Part of the discussion is redacted at this point for security reasons).

Mr Steele summarised the initial "exploratory dialogue" with both republicans and loyalists, with Sinn Féin rejecting a paper on decommissioning while the loyalists had accepted it.

On the republican side, the initial push had been on political issues and there was talk of a "walk-out" by Sinn Féin at the next meeting.

For the government, he said, "it was clear that arms and prisoners were the central issue".

On arms, the government's core approach was "to find agreement on how decommissioning might be achieved", while loyalists and republicans had set their sights "very high" on the release of prisoners.

On the security forces' response to the ceasefires, Mr Steele emphasised the desirability, where possible, "to reduce their public profile".

"Both parties to the exploratory dialogue took the high moral ground in the event of a breakdown of the talks. To avoid Sinn Féin getting there first, it would be helpful to be able to demonstrate, both nationally and internationally, that the government and the security forces had done a great deal...to respond imaginatively."

Mr Wallace felt "demilitarisation" was in the hands of the PIRA and Sinn Féin, and for policing "the object remained that of an unarmed police force as the Hunt Report (1970) had recommended".

In the right circumstances, he said, it might be possible to withdraw weapons completely from the police in daylight hours and from March it might be possible to withdraw the first army battalions.

The deputy chief constable said the RUC had discussed a plan to do without military support in Belfast in daytime.

Mr Steele said Secretary of State Sir Patrick Mayhew would welcome this.

Mr Wallace feared such a move might raise unionist fears and for morale the security forces would need official reassurances about the future.

On arms decommissioning, Nick Perry, an NIO official, reported that the attorney general had recommended legislation for a weapons amnesty.

At a further meeting on February 1 1995, Mr Wallace reported that the ceasefires continued to hold though in PIRA "there were rumblings in East Tyrone, South Armagh and some parts of Belfast where volunteers were losing confidence in the leadership" due to a perceived lack of progress.

As yet, however, there was no suggestion of a breakaway group.

 

PUP leader David Ervine (right) Hugh Smyth (centre) and Billy Hutchison (left) at Stormont - loyalists accepted a paper on decommissioning rejected by Sinn Féin

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