Some unionists and IRA supporters agree: Enough is enough
In this story:
May 21, 1998
Web posted at: 8:10 p.m. EDT (0010 GMT)
From Correspondent Mike Hanna
ARMAGH, Northern Ireland (CNN) -- The seasons come and go in Armagh, but among the constants over the years have been the presence of British soldiers and support for the
often-violent resistance group known as the Irish Republican
The IRA has fought for decades to unite the Irish Republic in
the south with the British-ruled north. And those suspected
of sympathizing with the IRA find that their families are
marked, and that fear is a constant companion.
One such person is Peter Caraher, who for decades has feared
an attack on his home, because the police have told him, "Our
files were under the hands of the loyalist paramilitaries."
Caraher's father died after being beaten by loyalists. One of
his sons, Miceal, is in prison and another, Fergal, was
killed by English soldiers at the age of 21.
For seven decades, Caraher and his brother, Owen, have feared
for their lives.
"You have young men taking up arms ... and more prisoners and
more killings ... and more everything, you know, and that
should be avoided," Owen Caraher says. "That can be avoided."
Peter Caraher has seen the violence first-hand ...
... his father was beaten and killed by loyalists...
... and his 21-year-old son, Fergal, was killed by British soldiers
IRA giving peace a chance
But the war that has been waged with such brutal ferocity by
the IRA has been suspended, and there glimmers the
possibility that the IRA may take the road of political
reform rather than armed revolution.
A movement that once operated in the deepest secrecy is now
emerging from the shadows and playing a role in the political
While some splinter groups continue to insist there is no
cease-fire, the official IRA line is that the current peace
initiative should be given a chance.
It's a belief shared by some on the other side of the deep
Irish divide, where the unionists -- or loyalists -- also
appear to be marching to a less militant tune.
Although freshly painted walls show the evident support for unionist paramilitaries and British rule, there are those who
also feel that things have changed.
Matt, a unionist recently released from prison, says, "The
men of ... violence have turned to politics. In every
conflict in the world, the terrorists have become the
Jim Wilson agrees. Wilson once helped form an underground paramilitary group known as the Ulster Voluntary Force to
fight the IRA.
But these days he is campaigning to get people to say "yes"
to political dialogue, and to support the draft Northern
Ireland peace agreement that will be voted on Friday.
"The ones that are flagging up the 'no' vote are the ones
that haven't suffered in this war," Wilson says. "And the
realism about it is that the people that have suffered in
this war are most of the people that are saying 'yes.'"
Paramilitaries forced the agenda
David Ervine served a five-year prison sentence after being arrested with an explosive device. Once portrayed as a
terrorist, Ervine is now a politician who played a central
role in the peace negotiations.
"I've been there ... done it ... seen it," he says. "This
process couldn't have happened without the will of the
paramilitarists on both sides. But, in fact, not only the
will of the paramilitarists, but the paramilitarists also
drove the agenda for the peace negotiations."
The Loyalist Volunteer Force is the only unionist
paramilitary unit that has rejected the peace agreement as a
betrayal. But even this most extreme of organizations
acknowledges it may have to change its strategy.
"If there was a big or massive 'yes' vote in the referendum
and the majority of the unionists vote 'yes,' then I think it
will be difficult for the LVF to sustain a military
campaign," says a former LVF prisoner.
A faint hope
On this point, even the LVF's bitterest enemy, the IRA, would
"Nobody wants to see life lost, a young man going to prison
decade after decade for the same reasons," Owen Caraher says.
The battle has been fought in the city streets and in the
countryside for years. But whispering in the wind in the
valleys of Armagh is a faint hope that those who broke the
peace will be the ones to restore it.