‘The Army meeting was a little tense. Martin spoke eloquently’

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Twenty-five years ago at midnight tomorrow IRA units ceased military operations in an historic step by the republican movement towards purely political methods.

At noon the IRA had issued a statement backing the “democratic peace process.”

“The leadership of Óglaigh na hÉireann have decided that as of midnight, Wednesday, August 31, there will be a complete cessation of military operations. All our units have been instructed accordingly,” it said.

A quarter of a century later one of the principal brokers of the cessation, Gerry Adams, has reflected on how the late Martin McGuinness and John Hume played a vital role in persuading the IRA that “an alternative unarmed strategy to pursue republican and democratic objectives” was viable.

Mr. Adams says the nascent peace process began to build substantial momentum in August 1994.

“At a briefing in early August with the IRA leadership Martin was able to tell it that the Irish government had provided written assurances that if there was a cessation there would be an immediate response on practical matters.

“Sinn Féin would be treated like any other political party. This would include a speedy meeting between the Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, myself and John Hume,” he declares.

While the Army Council was listening attentively to the case being made by the politicians there were stumbling blocks. One of these was a visa for the late one-time IRA Chief of Staff Joe Cahill who wished to travel to the United States.

Mr. Adams says some of the leadership were against a cessation and a gesture from the Clinton Administration that came at the end of the month helped swing the balance.

“Martin and I met the Army Council again. The meeting was inconclusive. People needed more time to consider all the issues. Joe’s visa became an even greater test. Then late on Monday night, August 29, President Clinton cleared Joe’s visa.

“Martin and I again travelled to meet the Army Council. A package had been agreed. It was now over to the IRA leadership. Everyone at the Army meeting was a little tense. Martin McGuinness spoke eloquently. So did others. For and against. One of Martin’s great qualities was his sense of conviction and confidence. He could bring a strength to a debate which was very, very compelling. Even if you might not agree with him you knew he was going to deliver on any commitment he made or die trying. The struggle wasn’t ending we told them. They knew that of course.”