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Wednesday, 24 July, 2002, 12:47 GMT 13:47 UK
When is a ceasefire not a ceasefire?
Youths run away from a burning van during a Belfast riot
Belfast violence: Peace process under pressure

Questions are being asked about the peace process in Northern Ireland - but how do you define a ceasefire?

When is a ceasefire not a ceasefire in Northern Ireland?

The notion of what constitutes a ceasefire - or even an end to war - is the big question that dogs the Northern Ireland peace process.

While paramilitary-related violence dramatically reduced after 1994, it is currently on an upward trend, though largely focused in a few areas of Belfast.

In the year to March 2002, 1,644 people were injured in security-related incidents according to the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

In the year immediately after the ceasefires it was 744. There were no incidents involving explosives of any description, detonated or defused, in 1994/95. In the year to March 2002, there were 318.

And since the ceasefires, there have been approximately 200 deaths related to the Troubles - the most recent being the loyalist killing of Catholic teenager Gerard Lawlor on Sunday night, described by those who committed it as a "measured military response".

The government has already declared the ceasefires of the loyalist Ulster Defence Association and the Loyalist Volunteer Force broken.

But what about the IRA? Since that decision last year, the IRA has carried out two acts of weapons decommissioning and issued an apology to "non-combatants".

Figure for Paramilitary style attacks 2002
But with street violence continuing and questions being asked about alleged IRA's involvement with rebels in Colombia and the break-in at the police headquarters at Castlereagh, this is far from what unionists would regard as a ceasefire.

They say that they want proof that the "war is over". So far, they say they have not seen it.

For his part, Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid recently told MPs that he believed that the republican leadership is committed to peace.

"However ... the hard fact is that four years after the Belfast Agreement, a ceasefire is not enough," he said.

"If there is to be confidence that there is wholehearted commitment to exclusively peaceful means, we need to see an end to paramilitary attacks, targeting and any other such preparations.

"In a sense, we all truly need to have the sense that the war is over."

Prime Minister Tony Blair has now elaborated on this by saying that any assessment of ceasefires now includes looking at whether paramilitary groups are involved in training, targeting or the development and acquisition of weapons.

The Reverend Mervyn Gibson, chair of the Loyalist Commission set up to provide analysis to the loyalist paramilitary groups, told BBC News Online that his community believed that government was operating double standards on ceasefires.

Gerard Lawlor, Catholic teenager shot dead by the UDA
Gerard Lawlor: 'Measured military response' said his killers
"Many people think that whatever Sinn Fein/IRA do, the government does not take any sanctions against them," he said.

"They believe that republicans are operating with immunity. When the loyalists do something wrong, they know about it. But what's good for the goose should be good for the gander."

Mr Gibson said that tensions had been rising among his community after the IRA was active during rioting in east Belfast last month.

But while the commission issued a "no first strike" policy amid that violence, there's no sign of a return to ceasefire.

"There's been a clear reduction in violence [since 1994]," said Mr Gibson. "But that's no comfort to the families who have seen people murdered over this time.

"Some people think that a reduction in violence is good enough. It's not. We have to get rid of all the violence if we are going to have a meaningful peace."

Hypocrisy charge

Robin Livingstone, editor of the Andersonstown News in west Belfast, said that many nationalists regarded Mr Trimble's focus on the IRA as "absolute hypocrisy".

"None of what is going on about ceasefires at the moment is anything to do with Sinn Fein or the ceasefire," said Mr Livingstone.

"It's about David Trimble and next May's election.

"People here think that if David Trimble was really concerned about what's happening on the streets that he would have been at the vigil last night for Gerard Lawlor."

But shouldn't serious questions be asked about the IRA's ceasefire?

"Nationalists in west Belfast regard this to be about two issues," he said. "Firstly there is the 'cessation of military operations'. People think that's 100% done.

"But then there is the vexed question of policing in this community. West Belfast is effectively unpoliced by the PSNI.

"In the absence of carrying on a war, the IRA is now expected to deal with anti-social elements.

"We all know about the punishment beatings and that is something that this newspaper is fundamentally opposed to. But the fact is that in the kind of vacuum we have, the IRA is under pressure to act."

The pressure to turn to violence may also be manifesting itself in other forms, not least in Ardoyne in north Belfast.

"I have seen some of the worst of the violence there in the past year and I have seen senior IRA people with their hands in their pockets.

"They do not want to act even though they are under pressure to do so.

"Others - the INLA and the Real IRA - now seem to see some benefit to be made in gaining support in the absence of an IRA response."

"The IRA are under pressure and losing support."

Figures for levels of violence in Northern Ireland since the 1994 ceasefires

Find out more about the latest moves in the Northern Ireland peace process

Devolution crisis





See also:

22 Jul 02 | N Ireland
17 Jul 02 | N Ireland
22 Jul 02 | N Ireland
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