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Provisional IRA: War, ceasefire, endgame?
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A 'peace wall' between Catholic and Protestant areas of Belfast
A 'peace wall' between Catholic and Protestant areas of Belfast

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Profiles:
Mitchell McLaughlin


A Derry man, the Sinn Fein chairman rose through republican ranks at the same time as Martin McGuinness – yet he told the Bloody Sunday Inquiry he had no idea what role his colleague had played at that time. More importantly, the assemblyman has long been considered the most policy-minded republican. Since the 1980s he has played the key role in developing Sinn Fein’s political strategy, seeking to build its ballot box strength through political representation.

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2003 Acts of completion?

When peace talks chairman George Mitchell said making it work would be the hard part, he wasn't wrong.

2003 was a year of paralysis, punctuated by two flurries of activity. Despite high hopes, both came to nothing, typifying the continuing distrust over republican intentions. Unionists wanted an end to the IRA, or "acts of completion" in the political jargon, before it would return to powers-sharing.

In an unprecedented move, the IRA published its draft statement which had been part of the planned political choreography. The IRA was "resolved to see the complete and final closure of this conflict", said its statement; it was "determined to ensure that activities, disciplines and strategies will be consistent with this". Gerry Adams declared the IRA had "completely peaceful intent".

Behind the scenes, that statement did appear to help. There was a thawing between the republican and unionist leadership – and by the autumn both leaderships were willing to do a deal.

On 21 October arms chief John de Chastelain announced he had witnessed a third act of weapons destruction - the largest so far. Yet when he refused to go into detail, because of a confidentiality arrangement with the IRA, this became the stumbling block.

David Trimble said he had been misled and could no more trust republicans than before. Amid angry recriminations, London pressed ahead with November elections to an assembly that would not sit.

Despite his hardline stance, David Trimble was the loser: Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein emerged as the largest parties - with little appetite to talk.

But would this hardening of positions paradoxically yield results?

Open Quotes
It is interesting that the Provisional IRA have increased their level of punishment, whatever they call it, community policing - lack of elections has allowed them to free up and go back and do what they do best - which is hurt people
Chief Constable Hugh Orde on the 2003 increase in paramilitary-style attacks
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