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Provisional IRA: War, ceasefire, endgame?
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William Whitelaw: Secret IRA meeting
Deaths commited by paramilitaries
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Profiles:
Michael Oatley

British MI6 agent (retired)

London and the IRA exchanged views sporadically over 30 years without actually negotiating. Michael Oatley became a key figure in 1973 when he was able to work behind the scenes to establish a secret communications channel, through an intermediary, to the IRA Army Council, something he helped maintain until the 1990s.

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1972 Ceasefire and talks

The shooting dead of 13 civilians by the British Army at Bloody Sunday in Derry provided yet another recruitment boost to the IRA in the most violent year of the Troubles.

What was left of the "Official" IRA was troubled by the rising sectarianism and called an indefinite ceasefire.

The Provisionals, who had been escalating their campaign, suddenly declared a ceasefire to see what the British government would offer. The IRA's leaders were slipped into London for secret talks at the Chelsea home of a government minister.

But Northern Ireland Secretary William Whitelaw rejected their demands for withdrawal, saying they were not only naive but politically impossible.

The meeting may have proved a pivotal point for one young member of the IRA delegation, Gerry Adams. British officials believe Adams knew that physical force would not be enough - they would need a political strategy in the long campaign ahead.

Two weeks after the failed talks, the IRA detonated more than 20 bombs in Belfast, killing nine and injuring 130. Bloody Friday remains one of its worst single acts of violence of the Troubles.

The IRA had sought to portray itself as defenders of the nationalist community. In the wake of Bloody Friday, they were increasingly regarded as pariahs.

Audio
William Whitelaw defends his strategy on the BBC’s Panorama
Derry IRA member Martin McGuinness: "The fight will go on, there will be no truce"

Open Quotes
The notion that the IRA was going to rise up and free Ireland was a ridiculous pipe-dream, for the simple reason that we never had the support of the people north and south to do it
Official IRA leader Cathal Goulding
Close Quotes

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