Two months into the first IRA ceasefire in 1994, Downing Street considered offering the IRA a weapons amnesty, declassified documents reveal.
The plan would have allowed the IRA to hand over guns and explosives without any questions being asked.
In what was a period of significant movement in the emerging peace process, it was proposed by the Prime Minister’s office that John Major would make the announcement during a visit to Belfast.
During an important speech, Mr Major announced that if the IRA kept its ceasefire then the Government was ready to enter the first exploratory talks with Sinn Féin by the end of that year and also announced that the Home Secretary was lifting the orders which excluded Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness from Great Britain.
But a draft of the October 21 speech to the Institute of Directors in Belfast shows that Downing Street initially intended to include an even bigger announcement.
Files declassified at the Public Record Office in Belfast under the 20 Year Rule show that four days before the speech Mr Major’s private secretary, Roderic Lyne, sent a secret memo to the Northern Ireland Secretary of State’s private secretary.
The communication accompanied a draft of the Prime Minister’s speech and drew attention to several proposals, asking for senior NIO figures’ views on them.
The proposed text of the speech at that point included this section: “So I have a second announcement which, like the lifting of exclusion orders, will help to prepare the ground for the exploratory talks.
“In those talks, as I said, we must agree on how to take weapons and explosives out of politics. “It is [a] question we shall be ready to discuss with both republicans and loyalists, for the law applies equally to both.
“But the process can get under way even before those discussions begin. From [?1 November] we shall be declaring an amnesty for those who have been holding illegal weapons and explosives.
“Arrangements will be made [so that the holders of these weapons can hand them in at designated points, and thereby demonstrate at once their commitment to Northern Ireland’s peaceful future.] “The amnesty relates to the holding of weapons and we will ensure they can be anonymously handed in."