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Provisional IRA: War, ceasefire, endgame?
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Joe Cahill's funeral
Joe Cahill's funeral

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Profiles:
Joe Cahill (1920–2004)


Joe Cahilll helped found the modern IRA. Many Republicans had long considered him a legend after his 1942 reprieve from the death sentence for the killing of a policeman. In the 1970s he was jailed again for organising the IRA’s first shipment of Libyan arms. In later years he became a crucial symbol of the political strategy, appearing at key Sinn Fein rallies, symbolising the old guard’s blessing for new leadership's political strategy.

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2005 Never ... maybe?

When does a paramilitary organisation stop being one? When it says so – or when others do? The years since the 1998 IRA ceasefire have been dominated by this question.

And during 2005 it looked like the world might finally be getting some answers.

The previous year had offered some promise when republicans hinted they had been hours away from a final deal, which collapsed only because of a lack of trust.

But the £26.5m robbery from the Northern Bank in December 2004 - blamed on the IRA by the police and UK government - only convinced many that the IRA and criminality were inextricably linked.

McCartney killing

When in January 2005 IRA men were accused of killing Belfast man Robert McCartney, people asked whether this was an organisation truly in the business of peace.

The June general election result put the issues into sharp focus as the DUP smashed the Ulster Unionists and Sinn Fein strengthened their position among nationalists.

Renouncing violence

And then it came – potentially the most important of statements, but with little fanfare.

On 28 July 2005, the IRA said it had formally ordered an end to the armed campaign from 4pm that day.

Significantly, it was the first time in decades that a republican, former IRA prisoner Seanna Walsh, had been put before a camera to read a statement. His choice was no mistake: he had been the cellmate of Bobby Sands, the first of the IRA hunger strikers to die.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said it was a "step of unparalleled magnitude". The view of unionists was muted. Many said it would take time to be convinced.

Then, two months later came a verification statement from the independent arms decommissioning body that the IRA had in its view put all its weapons beyond use.

The Rev Harold Good, one of the independent witnesses to the decommissioning, said: "Beyond any shadow of doubt, the arms of the IRA have now been decommissioned."

While hailed by the British and Irish governments as a major breakthrough, many unionists remained unconvinced, mainly because of the lack of photographic evidence.

One other challenge remained for the decommissioning body - disarmament of loyalist paramilitary organisations, if and when they were prepared to co-operate.

Open Quotes
The leadership of Oglaigh na hEireann has formally ordered an end to the armed campaign. All IRA units have been ordered to dump arms. All volunteers have been instructed to assist the development of purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means. Volunteers must not engage in any other activities whatsoever.
IRA statement, 28 July 2005
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