The Provisional IRA is thought to have been responsible for the deaths of nearly 1,800 people over three decades of violence in which it fought against British rule in Northern Ireland. The 1970s and 80s saw dozens of attacks, including the deaths of 11 people at a Remembrance Sunday event in Enniskillen. Although not a turning point in itself, it was one of the first incidents which the IRA publically considered a mistake. Gerry Adams said it undermined the legitimate use of physical force. The IRA announced a ceasefire in 1994 but it was shortlived. Less than two years later it exploded a massive bomb at Canary Wharf in London, killing two people and causing millions of euros’ worth of damage.
But in 1997 the IRA
announced a second ceasefire and the new British prime minister Tony Blair said that decommissioning of IRA
arms would take place in tandem with talks with Sinn Fein and Unionist parties. As part of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, the IRA
was supposed to have fully disarmed by 2000 but the process is still not finished. One of the key demands of the Republicans was for Blair to re-open the inquiry into the deaths of 14 civilian protesters killed by British soldiers on Bloody Sunday in 1972. It began in 1998 and although the full report is still pending, it established that none of those shot had been armed. But after the Good Friday peace deal the political process floundered, with all sides blaming each other for the repeated hitches.
Unhappy with the peace agreement, a breakaway group the Real IRA
bombed Omagh town centre, killing 29 people including two unborn babies. It was the worst single atrocity of the conflict. Gerry Adams later said that violence such as that must become a thing of the past. Recent years have seen unprecedented political pressure put on the IRA
to give up its armed struggle permanently. Its alleged involvement in the recent murder of a Catholic man in Belfast and a multi-million euro bank robbery brought the issue into sharper focus and eventually led to today’s historic statement.