Air date: October 21, 1997
Behind the Mask: The Ira and Sinn Fein
Produced by Andrew Williams
Reported by Peter Taylor
NARRATOR: Last month, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness, leaders of Sinn
Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army, came to Belfast. They
came to talk peace with their enemies, to end nearly 30 years of war in
Northern Ireland. Although they often deny it today, many of Sinn Fein's
leaders were once active members of the IRA, the secretive and sophisticated
guerrilla army that battled the British to a stalemate.
PETER TAYLOR: Your opponents are saying a vote for you, a vote for Sinn
Fein, is a vote for the IRA.
GERRY ADAMS: That's not the case. People here are very sophisticated
NARRATOR: BBC correspondent Peter Taylor has reported from Northern
Ireland for more than 25 years. He has been granted extraordinary access to the
men of the IRA and Sinn Fein. Many are telling their stories for the first
PETER TAYLOR: Were you prepared to kill people?
TOMMY McKEARNEY, Former IRA Commander, Tyrone: I was prepared, yes.
PETER TAYLOR: Why bomb England?
BILLY McKEE, Former IRA Army Council: Well, why bomb Belfast?
PETER TAYLOR: The blame rested with those people, your people, the IRA,
who planted the bombs.
SEAN MacSTIOFAIN, Former IRA Chief of Staff: Oh, no. I don't agree.
BRENDAN HUGHES, Former IRA Commander, Belfast: We were told that- to
expect death, jail, and if we were lucky, we would come out of it with our
PETER TAYLOR: Were you prepared to die?
TOMMY McKEARNEY: I was.
NARRATOR: For over a quarter of a century the citizens of Northern
Ireland have lived through a nightmare of bloodshed and violence in which the
IRA has killed 1,800 people and injured thousands more. Yet today its political
leaders visit the White House and negotiate for peace.
This is the remarkable story of how the gunmen and bombers transformed
themselves into politicians and peace makers, how Sinn Fein and the IRA came
out from behind the mask.
The Republican Movement - the IRA and Sinn Fein - is a product of a long
history that its members live every day. They have one single-minded purpose:
to force Great Britain to withdraw from the North and unify Ireland in one
republic. For these Irish nationalists, past and present are one.
GERRY ADAMS: We come here, as Mary has said, with dignity. They, the
people in the green uniforms, are the trespassers.
NARRATOR: The Irish bristled under British rule for centuries. Their
mythology is replete with stories of suffering and martyrdom.
In the Republican calendar there is no more sacred day than Easter and its
celebration of the most important moment in the history of the IRA. It was
Easter, 1916, when IRA rebels seized the post office in Dublin and defiantly
proclaimed an independent Irish Republic. The rising was crushed by the British
and the IRA leaders were tried for treason and executed. But after a long
guerrilla war with the IRA, British troops withdrew from Ireland.
PAUL ARTHUR, Political Analyst, U.S. Institute of Peace: By the 1920s,
the British political establishment decided it was time to get out of Ireland
militarily, politically, psychologically. But Britain felt that it owed
allegiance its kith and kin in the north of Ireland, the Protestant majority,
who considered themselves to be British. And this Protestant majority said they
would fight to maintain the right to be British. The best solution which the
government in London could come up with at that stage was a partition.
NARRATOR: A new border divided 26 counties in the south, which became an
independent Irish state, from the 6 counties of the new province of Northern
Ireland, ruled by a Protestant Unionist government still loyal to Britain.
The harsh reality of life for most Catholics in the partitioned north was
epitomized by the conditions in which they lived in the Protestant-dominated
city of Londonderry. Catholics, who called it "Derry," lived outside the walls
of the old city, concentrated in an area called the Bogside. The Bogsiders had
little: no power, few civil rights or jobs. Poverty was endemic. Often as many
as three families were forced to live in one house.
PAUL ARTHUR: What made it particularly bad for them was these people
from the Bogside represented the majority in the city of Derry, or Londonderry,
and yet they were politically impotent. They had got no control over their own
city because of the gerrymandering in the local government system and it was
they who became the foot soldiers for the civil rights movement.
PROTESTERS: [singing] We shall overcome some day-
NARRATOR: In the late 1960s, Catholics took to the streets demanding
civil rights, seeing themselves as an oppressed minority like blacks in
America. But the Protestants saw themselves as a community under siege and
resisted the demands.
PAUL ARTHUR: There were people inside the Protestant community - those
who were so fearful of making any concessions to Catholics on the civil rights
front would lead to a loss of political power - who believed it was the start
of the slippery slope towards a united Ireland.
Rev. IAN PAISLEY, Ulster Protestant Action Group: One of the leading
members of the Civil Rights Association is a Republican and he has called the
Union Jack a "bloody old Union Jack," so he certainly is no lover of Ulster.
Therefore the whole Civil Rights Association is a front movement for the
destruction of the constitution of Northern Ireland.
PROTESTER: God save us!
NARRATOR: Fearing a Catholic nationalist uprising, the Protestant
Unionist government refused concessions and ordered its police into the front
PAUL ARTHUR: So you had a circularity which led to more demands for
greater violence, greater vigilance. And that set the scene for an incipient
civil war between Loyalists and Republicans.
August 12, 1969
NARRATOR: The violence in Derry, escalating day by day, climaxed in the
late summer of 1969 during the Protestants' summer marching season. Protestants
were determined to parade their resistance to change right in front of the
Catholics. The Bogsiders looked on in now uncontainable anger.
JOHN HUME, M.P., Leader, Social Democratic Labor Party: The tension was
quite enormous. There was a terrible anger among the people. Given the things
that had happened, there was very serious danger of violence breaking out.
NARRATOR: The police had gone into the Bogside earlier that year,
wrecked homes and beaten people, but this time the Bogsiders were ready. They
attacked the police and the police retaliated. The battle of the Bogside would
rage for two days.
MITCHEL McLAUGHLIN, National Chairman, Sinn Fein: I was one of the hardy
souls on the ground, face to face. The entire community felt that they were
being attacked from without.
PAUL ARTHUR: Those who were behind the barricades in the Bogside
believed this was an attempt by the state to destroy them totally - not simply
in terms of politically, but to destroy them as a people. So what started as a
battle in one local Catholic community became a battle which spread throughout
the whole territory of Northern Ireland.
NARRATOR: The violence soon spread to Belfast where, unlike Derry,
Catholics were a distinct minority and lived in enclaves surrounded by
Protestants. Fearing a Catholic insurrection, Protestant mobs attacked Catholic
neighborhoods in Belfast. The Irish Republican Army, whose traditional role was
to defend such vulnerable enclaves, was nowhere to be seen.
PAUL ARTHUR: There was no IRA. In fact, in August of 1969, in Gabel
Walls in Belfast, you had a sign which said, "IRA equals I Ran Away." They had
no weapons, they had no leadership. All they had was a sense of history.
NARRATOR: John Kelly knew that history. He had spent years in prison for
his role in the IRA's last armed campaign during the early 1960s.
JOHN KELLY, Former IRA H.Q. Staff: The IRA was in a state of disarray.
The military line had been neglected in favor of a more socialist,
Marxist-Leninist approach with which most traditional republicans disagreed.
NARRATOR: During the 1960s, the Marxist IRA leadership had embraced mass
revolutionary political action and turned away from the armed struggle.
JOHN KELLY: And so when '69 came along and the areas were under attack
and there was no IRA and I suppose most IRA people felt a degree of guilt, a
bit of shame, even.
TELEVISION NEWS READER: The request for troops was answered and by
Sunday Belfast had peace, of a sort.
NARRATOR: It was British soldiers, not the IRA, who saved the Catholics.
Committing troops directly involved the British government in Ireland again,
something it had been trying to avoid since 1921. But on the streets of Belfast
they were welcomed as heroes.
GERARD HODGKINS, Former IRA Volunteer: As a kid, always wanted- sort of
[unintelligible] the thing. You know, you wanted to be a soldier when
you grew up.
NARRATOR: Gerard Hodgkins would later join the IRA to fight the British
and be imprisoned on weapons charges. But as a boy in 1969, it was
GERARD HODGKINS: Then next thing, there's the army on the streets, you
know, so it's great. I suppose you were mesmerized, in a way. You know, you're
only- I think I was about 10 or 11 then. You know, when you're actually sitting
in the back of this saracen, you're talking to soldiers and they're drinking
tea and, you know, having a bit of banter, you weren't sort of looking at them
and saying, "Well, these are British and I'm Irish. You're the enemy" or
anything like that.
NARRATOR: But the return of British troops to Ireland sparked a revolt
inside the IRA. Traditionalists were now determined to return the IRA to its
historical roots: the use of physical force to defend Catholics and unite
Ireland. The following month, they armed themselves and confronted the IRA's
Marxist leaders, who were meeting at a safe house in Belfast.
JOHN KELLY, Former IRA H.Q. Staff: That meeting was held primarily to
depose the existing leadership of the IRA in Belfast, whom the more traditional
Republicans felt had let down the Republican movement, had let down the
nationalist community by not providing the weaponry to defend the nationalist
PETER TAYLOR: Were you planning a coup?
JOHN KELLY: One could say it was a coup, yeah.
December 29, 1969
NARRATOR: Months later in Dublin, the capital of the Irish Republic, the
growing tensions within the IRA finally came to a head. At a dramatic meeting,
the traditionalists who wanted to rebuild the IRA's military strength broke
away from the non-violent Marxist leadership to form their own organization,
the Provisional IRA. The walkout was led by Sean MacStiofain, who became the
Provisional IRA's first chief of staff. MacStiofain has recently suffered a
SEAN MacSTIOFAIN, Former IRA Chief of Staff: I walked to the microphone
and said, "I pledge my allegiance to the Provisional IRA." Then I said, "Now,
Ackarger, it's time to go. Go." And we did.
REPORTER: What are you going to do now? What are you going to do now?
PROVISIONAL IRA MEMBER: We are setting up our own. We are standing
behind the Provisional Council of the Irish Republic.
PETER TAYLOR: What was your strategy when the Provisional IRA was
SEAN MacSTIOFAIN: First, defense for the summer, right? All weapons and
ammunition and equipment to the north for Belfast, Derry and the other places
because the summer is always trouble.
NARRATOR: Sean MacStiofain and the Provisional IRA from the south of
Ireland soon joined forces with the dissident IRA men from Belfast and began to
train their army. The new IRA had no shortage of recruits.
BRENDAN HUGHES, Former IRA Commander, Belfast: I made the initial
contact and I was taken away by older men and given a long talking-to.
NARRATOR: Brendan Hughes joined the IRA in 1969 and went on to become a
commander of the Belfast Brigade. He was subsequently sentenced to 15 years.
BRENDAN HUGHES: We were told that- to expect death, jail, and if we were
lucky, we would come out of it with our lives.
BBC NEWS READER: [May, 1970 These men are being trained to fight
and, if necessary, kill this summer in the British Isles.
PETER TAYLOR: When the Provisional IRA was formed, what did it do for
BILLY McKEE, Former IRA Army Council: What did it do for weapons? Went
out and looked for them, stole them, begged them and bought them.
NARRATOR: Billy McKee had been part of the 1969 coup by dissidents in
Belfast. He would later become a member of the Provisionals' inner circle, the
PETER TAYLOR: Where did the IRA buy them from?
BILLY McKEE: Everywhere and anywhere.
June 27, 1970
NARRATOR: In Belfast, the Protestant marching season had begun again and
rioting swept the city. In a Catholic enclave called Short Strand, St.
Matthew's church was left unprotected by the British Army, but this time the
IRA was ready.
PETER TAYLOR: What was the scene like when you arrived?
BILLY McKEE: Oh, it was utter chaos. The very heavy firing was coming
from this other side and they were throwing- there was lads on the roof and
they were throwing petrol bombs out onto the ground and into the green and they
were coming a bit closer. As it was getting worse, we knew we'd have to do
something about it so we sent over to the Falls Road and we got some men over
and some material for to help to defend the area.
PETER TAYLOR: Guns, you mean.
BILLY McKEE: Yes, guns. Nothing else could have saved us because the
firing was coming very heavy from the top end and also from this end.
PETER TAYLOR: And how many men were defending the church with you?
BILLY McKEE: Well, when I come over there was only about 11.
NARRATOR: In the gun battle, one Catholic and two Protestants were
killed. Billy McKee was seriously wounded. Elsewhere in Belfast, the IRA had
killed three more Protestants. The following day, the British army regained
control, but to many Catholics the Provisionals had established their
credentials as defenders of the community. The new IRA had not let them
BILLY McKEE: We come over to defend the whole area, the people in the
PETER TAYLOR: The Provisionals' first battle?
BILLY McKEE: Well, it was the first main battle.
NARRATOR: But Unionists were outraged that the IRA had killed five
Protestants and a week later the British Army was sent into the Catholic
neighborhood called the Lower Falls to search for guns. Three thousand troops
with CS gas swamped the area.
BRITISH OFFICER: You have five minutes to get outside the cordon.
Otherwise, if you are still on the streets, you'll be liable to arrest.
NARRATOR: The Falls was placed under military curfew for 36 hours.
Catholics dared not move from their homes.
MARIE MOORE, Sinn Fein: We could hear screaming and shooting and people
were standing at the doors, saying their rosary. Some of the houses I had seen
were totally wrecked. Holy statues were smashed on the floor. Family portraits
and pictures were smashed. Furniture was ripped, overturned, windows broken,
doors off the hinges. And it was really a horrifying sight, you know?
NARRATOR: In the gun battles, the British Army killed five civilians.
That day changed everything.
Lt. Col. JOHN CHARTERIS, British Army, 1970-72: The week before the
curfew, I'd actually marched my troops unarmed into the Falls to a Catholic
church to go to church to show that we had confidence in them. We were unarmed
and we marched down the road and into the church. A week later, it was a
reverse situation. I don't believe the Army would have marched down since that
day, unarmed down the road.
JOHN KELLY, Former IRA H.Q. Staff: That whole episode, you know, really
soured the Nationalist population and made them feel again that they were
defenseless, that here the British Army, which they had perceived to be the
saviors of the situation, were now turning against them. Again they turned to
the IRA as their protectors.
IRA BOMB MAKER: Now we will attach a detonator to our fuse.
NARRATOR: The Provisional IRA readied itself to retaliate against the
Unionist government that had ordered the British soldiers into the Falls. This
new offensive would be a prelude to the resumption of their historical mission
to drive out the British with the gun and the bomb.
IRA BOMB MAKER: Make sure there are no borers in the end of the fuse.
Slide in the det until it comes to your collar.
BILLY McKEE, Former IRA Army Council: We said to ourselves, "Look, one
thing we'll have to do is make our presence felt here."
IRA BOMB MAKER: With the box, strike it along the match.
NARRATOR: By the end of 1970, the IRA had planted 153 bombs, many of
them targeted against Protestant businesses in the city center, largely
avoiding civilian casualties.
BILLY McKEE: It was property we wanted to destroy and make them pay the
penalty for what they were doing to our people in our houses, you know?
GRANADA TELEVISION NEWS READER: [February 3, 1971] On the third
of February, troops carried their searches into Kashmir Road. In the riots that
followed, at least nine people lost their lives.
NARRATOR: As the IRA stepped up its campaign, the Army stepped up its
BRITISH SOLDIER: [to protester] Oh, why don't you shut up!
NARRATOR: Many Catholics now believed the British were trying to beat
them into submission.
MARTIN MEEHAN, Former IRA Commander, Belfast: It was like holding back a
pack of wild horses. It was like the tide coming in. Couldn't stop it.
NARRATOR: Martin Meehan had joined the IRA in 1966 and would go on to
become one of its senior commanders in Belfast.
PETER TAYLOR: And the leadership had to go with the tide.
MARTIN MEEHAN: I would say so. I would say the leadership, at that
stage, were in a war situation before they even realized it.
NARRATOR: Finally, the IRA killed a soldier in retaliation for a
Catholic shot in the riots. The Provisionals were moving toward offensive
BRENDAN HUGHES, Former IRA Commander, Belfast: There would have been
maybe a group of 12 to 14 volunteers in that particular area, plus the back-up.
They would meet in the house that particular morning. They would have an-
there'd be an operations officer there whose job it was to pick out that
particular operation. But that would be normal enough, for 5 or 6 operations to
go ahead in one day. Plus they would put a float out - it was called a float -
which would be two men in a car, one man driving, one man in the back with a
particular weapon, who would be floating around the area looking for specific
targets to come along.
NARRATOR: West Belfast became known as the "Wild West," with gun battles
raging every day. Soldiers were now regularly getting wounded and killed.
BRENDAN HUGHES: There was a gun battle that took place and this young
soldier was left behind.
STAFF SERGEANT, British Army, 1970-72: The women came out and held him
there. They did not- they didn't just hold him there, they worked themselves
into a frenzy. They kept him there for the local gunmen to shoot him.
NARRATOR: In fact, the women had tried to save 19-year-old Gary Barlow,
but despite their efforts, he was shot by a young IRA man.
STAFF SERGEANT: I've seen the body and I have never in all my life seen
a look of terror in anybody's face- it was sheer terror.
BRENDAN HUGHES, Former IRA Commander, Belfast: I am told by people who
were there at the time that he was only a kid and the young boy- the young
fellow was crying for his mother. And actually, the person that killed him was
as young- was as young as the young- as the young soldier.
NARRATOR: As the violence intensified, the Unionist government persuaded
the British to use an old weapon.
BBC NEWS READER: [August, 1971] First the headlines. Two men have
died in rioting in Belfast after a big round-up of suspects this morning, which
was followed by an official announcement that there's to be internment.
NARRATOR: The new policy of internment meant the government could now
lock people up without trial.
PAUL ARTHUR: Over 350 people were lifted in one swoop on one morning in
August, but it was a disaster. They lifted only Republicans, when Loyalist
violence was going on at the same time. So it was seen as being against the
Catholic community solely.
NARRATOR: The IRA hit back. The violence now reached a new intensity.
Before internment, the IRA had killed 10 soldiers. By the end of the year they
had killed 40.
TOMMY McKEARNEY, Former IRA Commander, Tyrone: Well, at that stage, I
believed that it was essential that I take part in the struggle.
PETER TAYLOR: You joined the IRA.
TOMMY McKEARNEY: Exactly.
PETER TAYLOR: The Provisionals.
TOMMY McKEARNEY: The Provisional IRA.
NARRATOR: Tommy McKearney became a senior commander for the Provisionals
and served a life sentence for murder. Two of the younger McKearney boys,
Padraig and Sean, would also join the IRA. The McKearney brothers grew up along
the border with the Irish Republic, in county Tyrone. For generations it had
been a hotbed of resistance to British rule.
TOMMY McKEARNEY: Coming from the community I come from, and came from at
that time, with the history we have, it's not seen as criminal and I didn't see
it as a criminal activity. I didn't see it any different than any other man
joining an army to take part in a defensive war would.
NARRATOR: Didn't you feel like saying to Tommy, "I'd rather have you
alive than dead. I'd rather have you here than spending much of your life in
MAURA McKEARNEY, Mother: The one thing I clearly recall saying to him
was, "You're going to have a very hard life, son."
PETER TAYLOR: Were you prepared to kill people?
TOMMY McKEARNEY: I was prepared, yes. Yes.
NARRATOR: IRA Volunteers lined up to have a shot at a British soldier,
but there weren't enough guns to go around. The new IRA leadership was
determined to get its hands on the latest and most deadly weapons.
BRENDAN HUGHES: I remember sitting in a house and this guy was in the
merchant navy and he came back with this booklet on an Armalite. And the
booklet really praised this weapon and it said in it if a person is shot in the
arm with this particular weapon, it'll break every bone in his body. And this
was the- this was the weapon- everyone was saying this is the weapon that's
going to change the whole war.
NARRATOR: To supply the Armalites - a version of the M-16 - the
Provisionals looked across the Atlantic. Irish Americans had traditionally
supplied the IRA with money and guns. One of their biggest supporters was
GEORGE HARRISON: Some would be bought on the black market and they
probably- source maybe was U.S. Army or whatever, you know.
PETER TAYLOR: You mean they'd be stolen from the-
GEORGE HARRISON: Probably were, you know, you could think, you know?
NARRATOR: Many Armalites seized in Northern Ireland bear the inscription
"Property of the U.S. Government."
PETER TAYLOR: How many weapons do you think you sent to Ireland?
GEORGE HARRISON: Well, I couldn't say exactly, but I would say between
2,500 and 3,000 would be close, you know, to the figure, you know?
PETER TAYLOR: And ammunition?
GEORGE HARRISON: I think ammunition amounted to probably over a million
BRENDAN HUGHES, Former IRA Commander, Belfast: I remember this car
pulling up and the boot opening up and magic Armalites were there - I mean, 15
Armalites. And I remember the people who were there being amazed that the
firepower was there. And I know people felt, really, "This is it. This is it.
We're really moving up a stage here with these things."
NARRATOR: By the beginning of 1972, the Provisionals were still only
supported by a minority of Catholics in Northern Ireland, although it didn't
look like that, as the IRA flaunted itself in so-called "Free Derry." Local
British Army units seldom breached the IRA's barricades here in the Bogside.
From this secure base, the IRA could raid the rest of Derry, killing soldiers
and policemen. Senior British officers were outraged by the sight of the IRA
operating so openly.
Derry would be the setting for one of the darkest days in the growing conflict
between the Catholics and the British. It was January 30th, 1972. The day began
with a peaceful civil rights march. It ended as "Bloody Sunday."
MITCHEL McLAUGHLIN, National Chairman, Sinn Fein: I was one of the
stewards on that march and I was in Chamberlain Street. There was a
confrontation, which I had been caught up in, between the British Army
January 30, 1972
NARRATOR: Such confrontations were common, but this day would be
different. What the rioters did not know was that, under Unionist pressure,
British paratroopers had been brought in from Belfast. Once inside the Bogside,
the Paratroopers said they were shot at. In the next 30 minutes, they fired 108
rounds and killed 13 Catholics. None of them was found to be carrying a
PETER TAYLOR: What effect did "Bloody Sunday" have on the people of the
MITCHEL McLAUGHLIN: For many, I think, it imbued them with a total
conviction that the only way to respond to that type of armed action by the
British government was to- was to respond in kind.
NARRATOR: In Derry, the IRA struck back, reducing much of the Protestant
commercial center to rubble. There were injuries, but no deaths.
[www.pbs.org - More on the IRA bombs]
PAUL ARTHUR, Political Analyst, U.S. Institute of Peace: Sometimes car
bombs would be used, which would be simply about causing as much economic
destruction as possible, as making Northern Ireland so expensive for the
British Exchequer that there would be a demand for the British to withdraw. It
is saying to the state and to government, "We are here. You have to talk to us.
If we have to bomb our way to the negotiating table, we will."
NARRATOR: By March, the tide of violence engulfed civilians, too. A bomb
in a Belfast restaurant killed two shoppers and injured a hundred more. There
were demands for the British Government to act. But it was Harold Wilson, the
leader of the Labour Party opposition in the British Parliament, who seized the
initiative. He flew to Dublin after the IRA had declared a three-day
Wilson had said he would never talk to terrorists, but that night he was driven
to a secret meeting with representatives of the Provisionals' Army Council.
MERLYN REES, Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary: We went up the steps and
one of Harold's staff said to me, "Harold would like you to go in first." I
thought, "Oh, I bet he does."
JOHN KELLY, Former IRA H.Q. Staff: He wondered would the campaign be
extended to the mainland in the event of there'll be no resolution of the
PETER TAYLOR: And what did you say?
JOHN KELLY: Well, we said we were- we didn't know, that it was not for
us to answer that question.
MERLYN REES: It got to about midnight and Harold- what Harold was trying
to do was to get a ceasefire. That's right. That was the whole point of it. And
I think it was Kelly, John Kelly, who said, "Well, it's too late anyway
because" - looking at his watch - "it's started again."
NARRATOR: Over the next two weeks, 20 explosions rocked Northern
Ireland. The renewed violence reached its climax when a car bomb in Belfast
killed two policeman and four civilians. In a dramatic move, the British
suspended the Protestant government and introduced direct rule from London. For
the first time in 50 years the Unionists were no longer in control of the
province. To the Provisional IRA, bombing, not talking, was producing
MARTIN MEEHAN, Former IRA Commander, Belfast: Politics was a dirty word
in them days, yeah. We actually believed we could drive the British Army into
the sea, foolishly believed, militarily. We believed without a doubt we had the
capability of doing that.
NARRATOR: But large segments of the Catholic community wanted the
violence to end. They put pressure on the IRA to call off their campaign and
open peace talks with the British.
SEAN MacSTIOFAIN, IRA Chief of Staff: [June 13, 1972] If this
invitation is accepted by Mr. Whitelaw within a period 48 hours, the Irish
Republican Army will suspend all offensive military operations for seven
NARRATOR: The IRA delegation to the talks would include the young Martin
McGuiness, the commander of the IRA in Derry. Another young member of the
delegation would be Gerry Adams. Adams was allegedly the commander of an IRA
battalion in Belfast and had been jailed under the internment policy.
PETER TAYLOR: All were IRA?
SEAN MacSTIOFAIN: Yes, not Sinn Fein but IRA.
PETER TAYLOR: All of them.
SEAN MacSTIOFAIN: Yes.
PETER TAYLOR: Including Martin McGuiness?
SEAN MacSTIOFAIN: Oh, yes.
PETER TAYLOR: Including Gerry Adams?
SEAN MacSTIOFAIN: Well, all. All of them.
NARRATOR: A British intelligence officer, Frank Steele, arranged for
Adams to be released for the upcoming talks.
FRANK STEELE, British Intelligence Officer, 1971-73: I was intrigued to
see what Gerry Adams was going to be like, having been told he'd been commander
of the Bally Murphy battalion, which had been a very, very efficient battalion
in blowing up and murdering people. I'd expected an aggressive, streetwise,
arrogant young thug and I was very pleasantly surprised when the man who
appeared was not like that at all. He was very personable, pleasant,
intelligent, lucid, persuasive.
NARRATOR: The IRA delegation was secretly flown to London. It was the
first time a British government had met the IRA since 1921. They were greeted
by William Whitelaw, the Conservative government's secretary for Northern
FRANK STEELE: He walked over to MacStiofain and said, ´How do you
do, MacStiofain," shook him by the hand and then said a few words of welcome
and then said to MacStiofain, "Perhaps you would now like to talk," and that's
where it all started going wrong.
SEAN MacSTIOFAIN: So I said, "I have a statement from the Irish
Republican Army and I will read," right? And part of the statement was, "We
call the British government to publicly acknowledge the right of the Irish
people, acting one unit, to decide the future of Ireland."
FRANK STEELE: He proceeded to read out his demands. I mean, he behaved
like the representative of an army who'd fought the British to a standstill and
that we British wanted out.
SEAN MacSTIOFAIN: "We want both military and political withdrawal."
PETER TAYLOR: By 1975.
SEAN MacSTIOFAIN: Yes.
PETER TAYLOR: But that was just hopelessly unrealistic.
SEAN MacSTIOFAIN: Maybe. Maybe.
NARRATOR: The truce would last barely two weeks. It ended in Belfast.
Lt. Col. JOHN CHARTERIS, British Army, 1970-72: There was a vast crowd,
led by some pretty well known IRA figures. At a point which is difficult to
say, the crowd seemed to sort of disappear away and gunfire started. And the
ceasefire was broken by the IRA, not by the army.
PETER TAYLOR: After the truce had ended, what was your strategy as chief
of staff of the Provisional IRA?
SEAN MacSTIOFAIN: Well, the leadership had an order to all units in the
north, "Get back into offensive action and we must get an intensified
NARRATOR: Less than two weeks after the truce ended, the IRA planted 26
car bombs all over Belfast. Hopelessly inadequate warnings were given. Nine
people were killed, 130 were injured. It was called "Bloody Friday" and it was
a disaster for the Provisionals. They'd intended to cause disruption, not
WITNESS: I see not only bodies and parts of bodies lying there. That
Army Jeep there, that Army wagon there was sitting there and the men were just
getting out of it when they were blew to pieces as they were getting out of
REPORTER: Was there any warning given?
WITNESS: There was no warning given, no.
SEAN MacSTIOFAIN: The blame was the people who deliberately not giving
the warnings to the public.
PETER TAYLOR: The blame rested with those people, your people, the IRA,
who planted the bombs.
SEAN MacSTIOFAIN: Oh, no. I don't agree.
PETER TAYLOR: You don't plant the bombs, people don't die.
SEAN MacSTIOFAIN: Oh, well, but if the British government has persistent
his policies to the north of Ireland, then you get resistance.
NARRATOR: In the winter of 1973, the IRA extended its campaign of
violent resistance to London. At 6:00 A.M. on the morning of March 8th, 10
members of an IRA unit left their hotels in London. They'd identified four
prestigious targets. They picked up the cars, specially modified to carry
bombs, from a nearby garage.
ROY WALSH, Former IRA Volunteer: The bombs would be timed to go off at
exactly 3:00 o'clock.
NARRATOR: At 7:15 A.M., Roy Walsh, who'd joined the IRA in 1969, drove
his car to the target.
ROY WALSH: There was two different warnings telephoned to different
agencies. They were given the descriptions of the cars, the registration
numbers, where they were parked, and then an hour to clear the area.
NARRATOR: But by 8:30 A.M., even before the warnings were given, one of
the car bombs had been found outside Scotland Yard. The police had received
intelligence that an IRA unit was active. Down the street, police discovered a
1968 Ford Corsair packed with explosives.
PETER GURNEY, Former Bomb Disposal Officer: The explosive appeared to be
packed in sort of five-pound bags. We thought the best thing to do was to
remove the bags as quickly as possible. Then, if the bomb did go off, at least
you would cut down the amount of damage that was caused. We'd removed quite a
lot when we came to the sort of core of the bomb, which was about 40 pounds of
NARRATOR: Despite the discovery, at 3:00 P.M. two of the other bombs
went off, injuring over 200 people. Though such devastation was common in
Northern Ireland, Londoners had never seen anything like it in peacetime.
BBC NEWS READER: As the car blew up in a sheet of flame, scores were
caught in the blast, many of them office workers barely aware of any emergency
when the windows of their office block splintered about them.
ROY WALSH: I was shocked that there were so many casualties.
PETER TAYLOR: But if you're going to plant bombs, you always risk
injuring and killing people.
ROY WALSH: But we- gave- we gave adequate warnings. We believed our
warnings were adequate.
NARRATOR: The IRA unit was arrested before it could leave London. Like
most of those involved, Roy Walsh was given a life sentence. He served 21
In County Tyrone, the IRA's expanded bombing campaign would bring the war home
to the McKearney family.
PETER TAYLOR: Your brother, Sean, joined the IRA. In Easter a few weeks
later, he was dead, blown up by his own bomb.
TOMMY McKEARNEY, Former IRA Commander, Tyrone: Well, I was clearly
devastated at the time. It was a traumatic affair. But anyone losing a brother
under any circumstances, it's a very traumatic affair. In some ways, what made
it easier to bear was that I understood that there was a purpose in his life
and a purpose in his death, insofar as that he was struggling for a political
objective. I felt that while it was a traumatic affair and I bitterly grieved
his death, that I felt at least there was more purpose in this than had the man
died in a car accident or drowned at sea, something like that.
NARRATOR: In Belfast, the Provisionals' campaign of shooting and bombing
continued relentlessly. There were a thousand explosions in 1973. They never
captured the headlines like bombs in London, but that wasn't the issue. In
Belfast, the IRA and the Army were each convinced it could defeat the other,
but the Army seemed to be winning. Arrests tripled and two of the Provisionals'
senior commanders were picked up.
BRENDAN HUGHES, Former IRA Commander, Belfast: Within seconds, the whole
house was surrounded. They knew where I was as soon as they came into the house
and so it was a matter of putting your hands up and- and surrendering.
NARRATOR: Arrested in the house with Hughes was Gerry Adams, who'd been
on the run. The Army believed Adams was the IRA's most senior man in
PERFORMER: [singing] Armored cars and tanks and guns aim to take away
our sons / But every man must stand behind the men behind the wire-
NARRATOR: Hughes and Adams were taken to the Long Kesh internment camp.
The inmates at long Kesh saw themselves as prisoners of war, ran their own
compounds and appointed their own commanding officer. The prisoners enjoyed
"special category" status and were allowed to wear their own clothes. Long Kesh
became the movement's university, a place to teach revolution to young
Provisionals and a place to reflect on where the campaign was heading.
MARTIN MEEHAN, Former IRA Commander, Belfast: We started questioning
things about ourselves and what the direction we were going and how we had
achieved the objective. "Is there a different way of maneuvering the situation
forward by a political input, not alone armed struggle?"
PETER TAYLOR: Was that difficult for you?
MARTIN MEEHAN: Well, for me it was, yes. It was a slow change.
NARRATOR: While the violence continued outside, there was a gradual
realization by some in Long Kesh that there would be no swift victory and that
violence alone would not bring it. In the compounds, or "cages," the
Provisionals mapped out a new strategy known as the "Long War." The new
strategy was first devised by a group of prisoners in what was known as "Cage
11". Gerry Adams was the prime architect. The group around him included Brendan
Hughes and Bobby Sands. Together these three men were to have a seminal
influence on the Provisionals' future.
PAUL ARTHUR, Political Analyst, U.S. Institute of Peace: They had the
time to reflect and he began to think of "Where is this struggle taking us?"
"How long is a ´long war'?" "Is it going to succeed?" "The longer it goes
on, does it, in fact, alienate even more of our people?"
NARRATOR: Adams emphasized the need for Republicans to build a broad
political base, although he remained convinced that violence, too, was
necessary. He was sowing the seeds of a new strategy, one day to be known as
"the Armalite and the ballot box." [www.pbs.org - Read Adams's Cage 11
November 21, 1974
NARRATOR: The war went on. The IRA bombers returned to England,
attacking pubs frequented by soldiers. In Birmingham, bombs went off without
warning in two pubs. Nineteen civilians were killed and 182 injured.
MERLYN REES, Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary: There's only one way to
end the violence, by talking, not by killing. I was prepared to talk with
anybody who was working for peace.
NARRATOR: Merlyn Rees was now secretary for Northern Ireland in Harold
Wilson's Labour government. The new government had authorized intelligence
agent Michael Oatley to renew contact with the IRA leadership. In early
January, 1975, Oatley arranged a meeting at a secret location on the outskirts
BILLY McKEE, Former IRA Army Council: He said that the British
government wished to meet the leadership of the PIRA and I asked him, "Well,
what is on the agenda?" and he says "Withdrawal." But he says, "We need your
PETER TAYLOR: You sure he says "withdrawal?"
BILLY McKEE: Oh, he said "withdrawal," all right.
NARRATOR: But in reality, the British strategy was to get an IRA
ceasefire without making any significant concessions. A further meeting was
arranged to discuss a truce. The Provisionals said they were only interested if
the British were prepared to discuss withdrawal and, on the face of it, they
BBC NEWS READER: [February 9, 1975] Reports have been coming in
from Dublin that the Provisional IRA has announced a open-ended ceasefire. The
decision was taken-
NARRATOR: In the truce that was drawn up, the British agreed that if
there were a genuine end to violence, the Army would be withdrawn to its
barracks and further discussions would take place to secure a permanent peace.
The agreement also established crisis centers, manned by members of Sinn Fein,
the IRA's political organization.
Gerry Adams's close friend, Jim Gibney, headed one of the centers. He had just
been released from internment. He later served a sentence for "wounding with
JIM GIBNEY, Executive Committee, Sinn Fein: What they were designed to
do was to monitor any breakages so that it wouldn't escalate into something
major, which could lead to a breakdown of the cessation. What it did was it
brought Sinn Fein out of the side streets and put them into public buildings in
a way that they hadn't been there before. So it put a public face on Sinn
NARRATOR: The secret talks between the IRA and British officials lasted
for months. The British continued to talk about "disengagement," which the IRA
interpreted as meaning withdrawal from Northern Ireland.
RUAIRI O'BRADAIGH, Former President, Sinn Fein: They kept telling us
that individual British ministers would say that of course they must leave
Ireland and all that type of thing. But we said that wasn't enough, that we
wanted a collective decision from the British Government.
NARRATOR: By the summer of 1975, the secret talks were going nowhere and
the IRA concluded the British had no intention of withdrawing. The truce was
effectively over. Full-scale violence returned to the streets. But the long
ceasefire had hurt the IRA.
BRENDAN HUGHES, Former IRA Commander, Belfast: I think it practically
destroyed the IRA. The 1974-75 period, there was a great deal of
disillusionment among a lot of the people in the jail, including myself and
NARRATOR: Gerry Adams and his comrades in Long Kesh believed the IRA
leadership outside was naive to have trusted the British. He was convinced that
next time the Provisionals negotiated, they would have to be politically
sophisticated and militarily far stronger. The truce of 1975 was a bitter
lesson Adams was not to forget.
After the 1975 truce failed, the British government built a new prison called
the Maze. IRA suspects were now tried before special courts without juries,
locked up in the new prison and forced to wear prison uniforms rather than
their own clothes. The IRA men called this new policy "criminalization."
PAUL ARTHUR, Political Analyst, U.S. Institute of Peace: And
criminalization was an attempt to try and withdraw the IRA and the Republican
movement from the greater Catholic community by saying, "These people are not
engaged in political struggle. They are simply criminals."
GERARD HODGKINS, Former IRA Volunteer: I didn't identify myself as being
NARRATOR: Gerard Hodgkins was one of the first to be convicted under the
GERARD HODGKINS: The political status thing was about trying to
criminalize the Republican movement. The prisons were the place where they were
going to try and do it.
NARRATOR: When Hodgkins entered the H-blocks at the Maze prison, he was
ordered to put on a prison uniform. He refused and wrapped himself in the
blanket left in his cell. Others did the same as the new regime was
GERARD HODGKINS: He says, "You take my advice, you'd get them uniforms
on you now. If not, strip." You know, so you stripped there and then.
NARRATOR: The police interrogation center at Castlereagh was the engine
of the new policy. Producing evidence in court had always been difficult.
Witnesses were always in short supply. Castlereagh changed that by obtaining
confessions from suspects. In 1977 convictions soared, most of them based on
admissions made during interrogation.
That year Tommy McKearney was interrogated at Castlereagh about the murder of a
TOMMY McKEARNEY, Former IRA Commander, Tyrone: I had several special
Branch officers holding and bending my wrists. One would hold the elbow, the
other would bend the wrist, both wrists. It's a particularly painful
experience, so painful that I recall very clearly that it was the first time I
NARRATOR: From Belfast prison, McKearney was taken through a tunnel
under the road to the special court where a single judge sat without a jury. He
was convicted on police testimony about a verbal statement McKearney says he
did not make. He was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Stanley
Adams, a part-time soldier who was working as a postman.
PETER TAYLOR: Did you do it?
TOMMY McKEARNEY: I have never accepted the conviction. And beyond that
I'm not going to detail anything that I've done within the IRA.
PETER TAYLOR: Do you have any compunction about an action such as that?
You won't say whether you did it or not, but-
TOMMY McKEARNEY: Fair enough.
PETER TAYLOR: -doesn't that cause you any moral qualms, shooting down a
postman in cold blood?
TOMMY McKEARNEY: An intelligence officer of the British Army-
PETER TAYLOR: He was a postman delivering a letter.
TOMMY McKEARNEY: Intelligence agents using a cover, a civilian cover
PETER TAYLOR: That was his prime job. He was a postman.
TOMMY McKEARNEY: It can't be said that it was his prime job.
NARRATOR: When McKearney entered the Maze, he, too, refused to wear a
prison uniform and wrapped himself in a blanket. By 1978, over 300 IRA
prisoners had become "blanket men."
That summer the prisoners, claiming harassment by guards, refused to leave
their cells to go to the toilet. And in protest they began to smear their
excreta on the cell walls.
PRISONER: We're political prisoners! We want political status!
GERARD HODGKINS, Former IRA Volunteer: You were going against everything
you'd ever learned about basic hygiene and manners and stuff like that.
PRISONERS: Political status for blanket men!
PETER TAYLOR: What did you do?
GERARD HODGKINS: Just smeared it on the wall. Ripped off a lump of the
mattress to do it with.
NARRATOR: Cathal Crumley served four years in the Maze for IRA
membership. He's now a Sinn Fein city councilman in Derry.
CATHAL CRUMLEY, Former IRA Volunteer: We had this process of putting
stuff out through gaps in the door and virtually every night of the week, they
would come round and sweep it all back in. I remember for years sleeping on a
piece of sponge that had been soaked many times, you know, by urine that was
pushed back under the doors.
GERARD HODGKINS: You were literally waking up in the morning and there
was, you know, maggots in the bed with you. And it just gets to the stage where
they're there again, you brush them off.
CATHAL CRUMLEY: It was uncomfortable. It was stomach-churning. It was
very, very difficult to live in those conditions for all those years. But that
was the battleground, in a sense, that had been created for us and we either
survived it or gave up.
GERRY ADAMS: We fight on behalf of the people. We fight because the
people want us to fight.
NARRATOR: In February, 1977, Gerry Adams had been released from prison
and allegedly then became the IRA's Chief of Staff. He found the IRA in crisis.
Its volunteers were being broken in Castlereagh and sent to the H-blocks of the
Maze on what they called the "conveyor belt." The IRA had to reorganize. The
battalions and brigades were replaced by tight cells whose members only knew
those with whom they operated.
Gen. Sir JAMES GLOVER, Deputy Chief, Defense Intelligence: They were
getting increasingly worried by our ability to penetrate their organization and
the growing effectiveness, therefore, of security forces' activities. And it
was really Gerry Adams and his cohort, Ivor Bell, who sat down to do a really
deep study of the classic terrorist movement and who drew up a new blueprint
for the IRA.
NARRATOR: The reorganized IRA units proved their effectiveness with
devastating results. On the 27th of August, 1979, they assassinated the Queen's
uncle, Lord Mountbatten, who was on vacation in the Irish Republic. That same
day two massive 1,000-pound bombs destroyed a British Army convoy. The bombs,
hidden in trailers on the roadside, killed 18 soldiers. Most of dead were
paratroopers from the same regiment that had killed 13 Catholics on Bloody
Margaret Thatcher, who had just been elected Prime Minister, visited the
survivors. It was the Army's biggest single loss since 1969.
BRENDAN HUGHES, Former IRA Prisoner: As far as most of the prisoners in
the jail were concerned at that time, that that type of military operation
taking place on the outside was us hitting back, all right, at what they were
doing to us, all right? And certainly, there was nobody going to cry over
Mountbatten or other soldiers getting killed.
NARRATOR: But the bloody events of that day ruled out any compromise at
the Maze. The Blanket Men had drawn up five demands, including the right to
wear their own clothes. They wanted to be treated again like political
prisoners, but Margaret Thatcher said no. The prisoners and the prime minister
were now on a collision course.
TOMMY McKEARNEY, Former IRA Prisoner: Something had to be done to bring
the cycle of protest to an end. We had no option but to use the last available
weapon that a prisoner has, in our eyes, the weapon of hunger strike.
BBC NEWS READER: [October 27, 1980] Around 8:00 o'clock this
morning, seven men in H-blocks 3, 4 and 5 refused their normal choice of
breakfast. The seven said it had been their own decision and that the hunger
strike would be to the death.
NARRATOR: Raymond McCartney had joined the IRA in 1972. He was doing
life for murder.
RAYMOND McCARTNEY: After much soul-searching and thought, I decided,
yes, that I could go on hunger strike and see it through.
NARRATOR: McCartney was filmed after three weeks on hunger strike.
RAYMOND McCARTNEY: We and my six comrades are prepared to go through
with this and we are prepared to die to prove that we are special prisoners and
that our five basic demands are just.
PAUL ARTHUR: Their imagery was the imagery of Christ at Calvary and it
was very powerful, very emotive inside the Catholic community.
NARRATOR: The hunger strike transformed the prison protest, bringing
thousands of Catholics onto the streets in support of the prisoners' demands.
It was the first indication that the broad political base that Gerry Adams was
looking for was potentially there.
TOMMY McKEARNEY, Former IRA Army Council: I was drifting between
delirium and unconsciousness and back to lucidity. I was in extreme pain. I was
vomiting. I had a- running a temperature. My head- I had a severe headache. And
that was the end- for me the ending hours of the hunger strike.
MAURA McKEARNEY, Mother: I saw him on the last day of his hunger strike
and at that stage he was lying in the hospital bed in Long Kesh. He was blind
at that stage. He was still talking. The doctor had said he had roughly about
12 hours left to live. It was an awful thing, having to walk out and think
you'd come back for him in a coffin.
PETER TAYLOR: Were you prepared to die?
TOMMY McKEARNEY: I was.
PETER TAYLOR: You went for how many days?
TOMMY McKEARNEY: Fifty three days.
NARRATOR: As Mrs. McKearney, her family and the wider Catholic community
prayed for an end to the hunger strike, negotiations were already taking place
behind the scenes.
PRIEST: We pray especially that the present political situation in the
NARRATOR: The IRA leadership had been against the hunger strike, fearing
the prisoners would never win. They now attempted to bring it to an end. They
secretly contacted the British intelligence officer, Michael Oatley, to see if
a compromise might be reached. Through Oatley, the government confirmed it
might compromise on the prisoners' main demand, to wear their own clothes. With
a possible deal in the air, the hunger strikers, one only hours from death,
decided to end their fast before seeing any official document.
TOMMY McKEARNEY: We believed that a solution had been reached, an
acceptable solution had been reached, and for to- and we were within hours of
having it delivered.
TELEVISION NEWS READER: [December 18, 1980] Seven Republican
prisoners have called off their hunger strike. The decision came at 7:00
o'clock this evening on the 53rd day of their fast.
NARRATOR: Relieved families came to the prison with the men's clothes,
but they never received them. The prisoners soon realized they were only to be
allowed civilian-type clothes issued by the prison. They felt betrayed and
prepared for a second hunger strike.
TELEVISION NEWS READER: [March 1, 1981] A Republican prisoner at
the Maze prison in Northern Ireland refused breakfast this morning and says he
will fast to the death to achieve his aim of political status. Bobby Sands,
who's 27, is serving a 14-year jail sentence for firearms offenses.
NARRATOR: The leader of the second hunger strike was Gerry Adams's
comrade from Cage 11, Bobby Sands. He was now the prisoners' commanding
officer. The British thought he would never see it through, but Sands was fully
prepared to die and discussed the morality of his decision with one of the
MONSIGNOR DENIS FAUL, Maze Prison Chaplain: He said to me, "Greater love
than this no man has than a man lays down his life for his friends." He played
one my own cards and I had to say, "I accept that, Bobby, and I won't argue
with you any further." I could have, but it was in good conscience. He felt he
was doing the right thing and he was doing it for the right motives and you had
to let him go ahead, at that stage. [www.pbs.org - Read Sands's prison
JIM GIBNEY, Executive Committee, Sinn Fein: We had extreme difficulty
getting publicity for Bobby Sands during his hunger strike.
NARRATOR: Adams's lieutenant, Jim Gibney, saw a unique opportunity. When
a nationalist member of parliament died, Gibney suggested that Sands should run
as an H-block candidate. Running as an IRA or Sinn Fein candidate might have
been a serious handicap. but a vote for Sands would be a vote for the
prisoners, who to many Catholics were now heroes.
JIM GIBNEY: The idea that he would stand, the idea that he would be in a
contest that would last for a month or so, in terms of his cause, in terms of
the prisoners' cause, was excellent.
NARRATOR: While Sinn Fein worked around the clock to elect Bobby Sands,
the IRA continued its campaign. Politics and violence now marched hand in
1st TELEVISION NEWS READER: From a hill, gunmen opened fire on their
van, killing Corporal McKee outright and wounding-
2nd TELEVISION NEWS READER: -Acheson was driving home along a back road
when both he and the car were blown to pieces.
3rd TELEVISION NEWS READER: -the vehicle that had carried the five
soldiers to their deaths.
NARRATOR: On polling day, nationalist voters supported Sands by the
thousands. At the Maze, the prisoners waited, ears pressed to smuggled-in
ELECTION OFFICIAL: [April 9, 1981]: -at the election was as
follows. Sands, Bobby, anti-H-block, Armagh, political prisoner, 30,492. I
declare that Bobby Sands has been duly elected to serve as a member for the
NARRATOR: Sands's supporters hoped Margaret Thatcher would now
compromise to save his life. But the British still thought that this strike,
too, would collapse.
MARGARET THATCHER, Prime Minister: There can be no question of political
status for someone who is serving a sentence for crime. Crime is crime is
crime. It is not political, it is crime.
LORD PRIOR, Northern Ireland Secretary, 1974-76: She was very tough on
the hunger strike. She thought that if she gave way on it, that this would have
a very large impact on both the Protestant population, as well as on the IRA,
and therefore she was determined that if this was the way they were going to
proceed, it had to continue.
BBC NEWS READER: [May 5, 1981] The IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands
died just after 1:00 o'clock this morning. The Northern Ireland office said he
took his own life by refusing food and medical intervention for 66 days. Three
others remain on hunger strike.
NARRATOR: The nationalist areas of Northern Ireland exploded. Catholics
blamed Margaret Thatcher. A hundred thousand people attended Bobby Sands's
funeral. His death had created a level of support for the prisoners and their
cause that Gerry Adams and the Provisional IRA could never have dreamed of.
Over the next four months, nine more prisoners died slow and agonizing deaths.
Margaret Thatcher did not bend. In the end, the hunger strike collapsed as
families took their sons off. At the time, it seemed a great victory for
Thatcher, but history would prove otherwise.
Monsignor DENIS FAUL, Maze Prison Chaplain: She built up the Sinn Fein
Party to an enormous degree and it's still a very big power in Northern
Ireland. And she left the hunger strikers up on the walls of every Catholic
home in Northern Ireland, like the men of 1916.
June 9, 1983
NARRATOR: Less than two years later, Gerry Adams was elected to the
British Parliament. His triumph was the real victory the hunger strikers had
PAUL ARTHUR, Political Analyst, U.S. Institute of Peace: The culmination
of the hunger strikes was one which brought Sinn Fein out of being a militant,
armed sect into a wider political and democratic process. And that is very,
very important. I don't think that they would have embraced that had it not
been for the emotional groundswell of the hunger strikes, the realization that
there were votes out there to be tapped.
NARRATOR: The IRA's war had created an opening for Sinn Fein's politics
and the Republican movement would now have to struggle to balance these two
powerful weapons. In the aftermath of the hunger strike and the deaths of so
many prisoners, a new generation would be drawn into the war.
In County Tyrone, the village of Cappagh dedicated a memorial to a local boy
who had died in the hunger strike and to other local IRA men who had died
fighting the British. The day the memorial was dedicated, a snapshot was taken
of six young friends standing by it. All of them went on to join the Tyrone
brigade of the IRA. One of them was Declan Arthurs.
PETER TAYLOR: Did you ever say to him, "Don't get involved"?
AMELIA ARTHURS, Mother: I just asked him. I said, "Declan, for God's
sake, you know, please think of us," you know? And he would just look at me and
he'd say, "I'm sorry, Mummy. I have to. I have to fight for my country."
GERRY McGEOUGH, Former IRA Volunteer: There was a huge reservoir of
recruits or a huge number of people wanting to join up and the structure just
wasn't capable of absorbing them all immediately.
NARRATOR: Gerry McGeough joined the IRA in 1975. He would serve three
years for gun-running.
GERRY McGEOUGH: Had we had good, solid military material, we could
almost literally have handed them out because people - everyone, old and young,
of all genders - were so incensed that they were ready for revolution.
NARRATOR: The weapons the IRA sought above all were missiles to shoot
down British Army helicopters.
GERRY McGEOUGH: The presence of a helicopter did tend, in rural areas,
to set the agenda where operations were concerned because volunteers had to be
continually conscious of the fact that within X number of minutes after contact
with enemy forces, there would be a helicopter in the air and they would have
to contend with it. So to remove that threat was obviously a priority. It was
obvious to me, personally, that if we were going to prosecute a war, we would
have to have the right weaponry with which to do it and I saw my role as
helping to get that material in place.
NARRATOR: Once again, America was the place to which the IRA looked. In
1981 Gerry McGeough was sent to New York to acquire the specialized weapons the
IRA so desperately needed. His commander was the IRA's top man in America,
GABRIEL MEGAHEY, Former IRA Commander, North America: We felt that if we
could nullify the helicopter, that we would be well on the way to winning the
war. Gerard and another person were to go to New Orleans to meet with these
arms dealers and negotiate a deal.
GERRY McGEOUGH: I was led to believe that this was part of an ongoing
series of meetings with arms dealers who were based in Latin America. Beyond
that I wasn't given a very in-depth briefing because I was simply asked to fill
in on behalf of someone else.
NARRATOR: McGeough met the arms dealers in a warehouse on the docks in
New Orleans. He understood they'd been gun-running in Central America and were
in a position to supply "Red-Eye" surface-to-air missiles. But McGeough did not
know he was walking into a trap. The FBI had set up an undercover operation to
catch the IRA on camera.
McGeough, in a dark jacket, is seated on the couch next to another IRA man.
GERRY McGEOUGH: [FBI videotape] What we want is a weapon which
will take down, at least take down, helicopters, choppers-
UNDERCOVER FBI AGENT: All right.
GERRY McGEOUGH: -warships in the sky, right?
UNDERCOVER FBI AGENT: Yes.
GERRY McGEOUGH: So can we take it from there?
UNDERCOVER FBI AGENT: Yes.
PETER TAYLOR: What did you know about Gerry McGeough? What had he been
LOU STEPHENS, Former Head of FBI Anti-IRA Unit: We knew through
intelligence sources that McGeough was a senior commander, one of the senior
armorers for the IRA, that he traveled worldwide acquiring sources of these
kinds of weapons.
UNDERCOVER FBI AGENT: [FBI videotape] This is MP5-SD.
GERRY McGEOUGH: Round of fire?
UNDERCOVER FBI AGENT: Silenced. Full automatic.
GERRY McGEOUGH: Can I see it a minute?
UNDERCOVER FBI AGENT: Sure.
NARRATOR: In New Orleans the FBI dealers asked if the IRA would be
interested in other weapons.
UNDERCOVER FBI AGENT: [FBI videotape] Have you seen that
GERRY McGEOUGH: No, I didn't see the actual one before.
NARRATOR: Then they coaxed McGeough and his associate into an
UNDERCOVER FBI AGENT: [FBI videotape] Who are you representing?
Here, let me ask you one thing. Who do you represent?
GERRY McGEOUGH: Did you ever hear tell of the Provisionals?
UNDERCOVER FBI AGENT: Yeah, the Irish.
GERRY McGEOUGH: The Irish Republican Army.
UNDERCOVER FBI AGENT: Right.
GERRY McGEOUGH: That's who we represent.
NARRATOR: The Provisionals agreed to buy the "Red-Eye" missiles at
$10,000 apiece and set up another meeting to clinch the deal.
GABRIEL MEGAHEY, Former IRA Commander, North America: Gerry felt we were
dealing with arms dealers and the report he gave was that it's a go.
NARRATOR: The next meeting was set up in New York. Gabriel Megahey
thought he was about to pull off the most sensational arms deal in the IRA's
history. On June 11th, 1982, Megahey went to the St. Regis Hotel in New York.
He wanted to do the deal personally. The FBI had the missiles standing by-
GABRIEL MEGAHEY: [FBI videotape] See, what we're doing here-
what's happening here with this, what we're are dealing for here at the minute,
moneywise, is chickenshit, nothing.
UNDERCOVER FBI AGENT: That's right.
GABRIEL MEGAHEY: It's nothing.
UNDERCOVER FBI AGENT: That's right. That's our problem.
GABRIEL MEGAHEY: Our problem is this. Once we hit the first one, right,
and [unintelligible] and we build a relationship up, then we're prepared
to come in with a lot of big money.
NARRATOR: Megahey didn't know he was talking to the FBI, but he was
suspicious of the arms dealers.
GABRIEL MEGAHEY: I had put a deal to them that was that we'd hold
hostages. I could- I would go as a hostage to them, they would give a hostage
to us, and when the deal went over, everybody was clear.
GABRIEL MEGAHEY: [FBI videotape] One thing's sure, that if any of
my men get nicked, you're dead. If any of your men get nicked, the guy you've
got is dead.
LOU STEPHENS, Former Head of FBI Anti-IRA Unit: It was very clear as to
what he meant.
PETER TAYLOR: Was that serious?
LOU STEPHENS: I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that that's what
would have occurred.
NARRATOR: Ten days later the FBI arrested Gabriel Megahey and charged
him with gun-running. He was convicted and sentenced to seven years in federal
PETER TAYLOR: But you never got the missiles?
GABRIEL MEGAHEY: No. I got seven years.
NARRATOR: But Gerry McGeough eluded the FBI and eventually returned to
In 1985, the leader of the IRA in Derry, Martin McGuiness, joined the
Republicans of County Tyrone at their Easter commemoration.
MARTIN McGUINESS: Republican people of Tyrone, I am proud and honored to
be with you here today to commemorate and pay tribute to the volunteers of the
Irish Republican Army.
NARRATOR: The Republican movement was growing in confidence. Sinn Fein
was winning a sizable vote in local elections and the IRA was poised to regain
the military initiative. Over a hundred tons of heavy weapons were on their way
PETER TAYLOR: But this was weaponry of an entirely different category,
wasn't it, that was coming in from Libya.
GERRY McGEOUGH: Obviously. Yes.
PETER TAYLOR: SAM missiles, heavy machine guns, tons of Semtex.
GERRY McGEOUGH: Obviously, it was an improvement over what people had
been relying on.
NARRATOR: In County Tyrone, as elsewhere, the IRA was growing bolder.
Declan Arthurs and his five friends had become highly active members of the
East Tyrone Brigade, one of the IRA's most fearless and ruthless units. They
had been joined by Padraig McKearney, who had been imprisoned in the Maze,
along with his older brother, Tommy. But in 1983, Padraig escaped during a mass
jail break. [www.pbs.org - More on the McKearney family]
Padraig was considered one of the most experienced and dangerous men in the
IRA. He quickly became a leader in the East Tyrone brigade.
PETER TAYLOR: How was the East Tyrone brigade of the IRA regarded?
Sir JOHN HERMON, Police Chief, Ulster, 1980-89: They were highly
regarded, in terms of their proficiency and their capacity, their confidence
and difficulty to penetrate them. They were a sophisticated unit which
presented problems and had done for some time.
NARRATOR: In August 1986, the East Tyrone brigade attacked an isolated
police station called "the Birches."
TELEVISION NEWS READER: At the Birches they used a mechanical digger
with a bomb placed in the front scoop, driven straight through the station's
NARRATOR: The front-end loader is believed to have been driven by Declan
TOM KING, M.P., Northern Ireland Secretary, 1985-89: The IRA were
intensifying the viciousness of their campaign. In particular, they were trying
to mount a series of attacks on police and Army posts and trying to obliterate
them and then trying to terrorize anybody against rebuilding them.
NARRATOR: In April, 1987, the IRA struck at the very heart of the
establishment when it killed one of Northern Ireland's most senior judges and
his wife as they returned from vacation.
TOM KING: We were conscious that we were facing an enhanced threat and
we took enhanced measures to meet them.
NARRATOR: Two weeks later, in the village of Loughgall, the British
struck back. It was a Friday evening. The East Tyrone brigade thought the
police station would be unmanned, but British Special Force, the SAS, were
waiting. Once again the IRA's front end loader with a bomb in its scoop crashed
through the perimeter fence. The IRA men leaped from their van and opened fire.
They were cut down in a hail of 600 SAS bullets. All eight members of the IRA
unit were killed.
AMELIA ARTHURS, Mother: On the news it said there were so many boys were
killed at Loughgall. My husband says, "We are bound to know some of them boys."
So we said out prayers. And the priest then came and told us.
NARRATOR: Declan Arthurs and three of his friends photographed at the
memorial were killed at Loughgall.
AMELIA ARTHURS: Thirty-six gunshot wounds. I don't know which one killed
him. He was getting away. He wasn't armed. He had no gun or anything on him.
PETER TAYLOR: He had the lighter that he'd used to light the fuse for
AMELIA ARTHURS: He had the lighter in his hand, yes.
PETER TAYLOR: He lit the bomb that went off.
AMELIA ARTHURS: He had-
PETER TAYLOR: Blew up the police station.
AMELIA ARTHURS: He had to. Yes, he drove the digger, the mechanical
digger into the station. Yes.
NARRATOR: The men were photographed where they fell. The body of the
brigade commander was lying in front of the van. The body of Padraig McKearney
was found inside.
PETER TAYLOR: How did Padraig die?
MAURA McKEARNEY, Mother: Well, he got 24 shots in him or something, shot
through the head and all this kind of thing. I didn't go to the inquest, but
hearing the- you know, what the coroner said, that man that reads out those
things- counted how many shots was in his body and that kind of thing and-
NARRATOR: The SAS ambush at Loughgall was the biggest loss of life
suffered by the IRA since 1921.
AMELIA ARTHURS: They knew for two days before they hit them there that
the boys were coming, the IRA. They lay in wait and I don't know how many SAS
were there, but they could have arrested them.
NARRATOR: All the Republicans of Tyrone were angry at the SAS, but the
family of Padraig McKearney saved part of its anger for the leaders of the Sinn
Fein and the IRA.
PETER TAYLOR: Why did your family not allow the leaders of the
Republican movement to speak at your brother, Padraig's funeral?
TOMMY McKEARNEY, Former IRA Commander, Tyrone: At that time, and still,
my family had taken the position that the Republican movement was moving away
from its support for an armed campaign and that there was a certain discrepancy
between the leadership of- the leadership of a movement which was no longer
willing to endorse long-term an armed campaign and having them speak an elegy
over those who had died carrying out an armed campaign.
NARRATOR: The new direction of the Republican movement had become
apparent in Dublin the year before. Gerry Adams and the Republicans from
Northern Ireland had taken over the leadership of Sinn Fein. They had convinced
a majority of the party that their strategy of combining politics with the
armed campaign would lead to success.
BILLY McKEE, Former IRA Army Council: The writing was on the wall. The
political group were taking over the IRA and it was quite obvious, when an army
is at war, if it starts talking peace, once it starts talking peace, it's not
in good straits.
NARRATOR: But the war went on. In Milltown cemetery, Republicans
gathered to bury three more IRA volunteers killed by the SAS.
RICHARD McAULEY, Former IRA Volunteer: We had a microphone set up just
to one side of where Mairead and Dan and Sean were to be buried. The families
were there. The Sinn Fein leadership who were going to be speaking were there.
And then the next thing I remember is this dull thud and not being quite sure
what it was.
GERRY ADAMS: Will people please stay calm! Could people stay where they
NARRATOR: The cameras caught a lone gunman running away, firing his
weapon and throwing grenades.
RICHARD McAULEY: I ran in the direction of that person. He was firing
and there were crowds of young lads, and not so young, running after him. He
had at least three guns. He had grenades. He threw grenades when he was down at
the motorway, and yet these people were pursuing him the whole way down.
NARRATOR: Three people were killed, one of them an IRA man. Fifty
mourners were injured.
TERENCE CLARKE, Former IRA Volunteer: He wasn't looking for a specific
target, just wanted to kill Catholics, wanted to kill Republicans.
NARRATOR: The gunman was a Protestant named Michael Stone. His pursuers
caught up with him, but the police intervened and made an arrest. Stone was
given life for murder. Three days later, at the funeral of one of the Stone's
victims - the IRA man, Kevin Brady - the atmosphere was tense. No one knew what
Terence Clarke was there. He had joined the IRA in the early '70s and had
served time in the Maze. This day he was in charge of security. Suddenly there
TERENCE CLARKE: A car came from nowhere and people automatically
PETER TAYLOR: What did you think the men in the car were?
TERENCE CLARKE: I thought they were Loyalists. I really thought they
NARRATOR: No one knew the men were actually off-duty British soldiers
who had stumbled on the procession.
TERENCE CLARKE: I jumped on him, you know, brought him to the ground,
struggled with him with others and eventually disarmed him.
NARRATOR: The soldiers were dragged away, stripped, beaten, bundled into
a black taxi and driven away in triumph. An army helicopter recorded the scene
as they were taken to a deserted field and killed by the IRA. Corporal Derek
Wood was 24, Corporal David Howes 23.
PETER TAYLOR: The photographs of their naked, stripped bodies covered in
blood shocked people in a way that many images had never shocked before. Were
you ashamed when you saw what had happened to those men?
TERENCE CLARKE: Not ashamed, Peter. I had no part in that. I had part in
the capture of them. I didn't know they were soldiers, now, right? I was
PETER TAYLOR: People saw those responsible for it and the crowd who had
attacked the soldiers, for whatever reason- people saw them as savages.
TERENCE CLARKE: People only seen those people as savages after they
realized they were soldiers. Prior to it, those people were heroes.
NARRATOR: Clark was sentenced to seven years for assaulting Corporal
Wood. Today he is Gerry Adams's bodyguard.
In a long war full of horrible events, the images of those three bloody days
would endure and may have marked the real beginning of the peace process in
Northern Ireland. IRA violence was taking a political toll on Sinn Fein. In the
next local elections they lost 16 Council seats. [www.pbs.org - More on Sinn
It hardened the leadership's conviction that they could not win by waging war
RICHARD McAULEY, Press Secretary for Gerry Adams: Republicans had long
accepted that this was a war that nobody could win. And in that context, what
do you do? The obvious answer is you try to find some way of bringing the
different enemies together, preferably around a table, and work out some way of
negotiating a settlement.
NARRATOR: The search for a settlement would gain new energy in 1990.
Margaret Thatcher, the IRA's implacable enemy, was gone and a new Conservative
prime minister had arrived at Downing Street.
JOHN MAJOR, British Prime Minister, 1990-97: When I went into Downing
Street for the first time, I sat down at my desk in the middle of the cabinet
room and I made a list of a handful of subjects to which I intended to give
priority. And Northern Ireland was on that list.
PETER TAYLOR: Whereabouts on the list?
JOHN MAJOR: It was right at the top of the list.
I was instinctively prepared to see whether a deal could be done. If necessary,
the British Army would be there for another 50 years or so. It also seemed to
me that the people waging that war for 20 years must be pretty tired of it.
NARRATOR: But the IRA was already planning an audacious attack on the
new prime minister.
REPORTER: Are they the same type of devices that was fired at Downing
IRA MEMBER: The exact same devices. And the ones that was fired in
Downing Street had Semtex high explosives in them, 45 pound of Semtex.
NARRATOR: The weapons would be the Mark-10 mortars that they
demonstrated for a French television crew.
JOHN MAJOR: We were in the midst of a meeting discussing the Gulf war.
Suddenly there was this tremendous explosion, and then an aftershock, and then
what seemed like a second explosion. And it took just a fraction of a second to
realize what it was. And then, suddenly, the windows all caved in.
BBC NEWS READER: [February 7, 1991] In broad daylight the
terrorists mounted a daring attack that struck at the very heart of
JOHN MAJOR: Everybody ducked down under the table.
PETER TAYLOR: Did the words "IRA" flash across your mind?
JOHN MAJOR: I don't think we had very much doubt.
NARRATOR: The attack had been launched from a Ford van parked 250 yards
from Downing Street.
PETER GURNEY, Former Bomb Disposal Officer: The Ford transit van was
burning furiously. Hanging out the back, there were some blankets. And I
thought these, if I could get them out, would make good forensic evidence. I
couldn't get them out. The heat was too much. Through the flames, I could see
three mortar tubes.
TELEVISION NEWS READER: Two of the mortars overshot their target and
landed on the green behind the Foreign Office. The third mortar had exploded
inside the garden walls of Number 10 itself.
PETER GURNEY: There was a slight crater in the ground here. And the top
of this tree was shattered and, in fact, still smoking. But the main signs of
the explosion were the fragment marks on the wall up here. You can still see
the fragment holes here. And then, turning 'round, the cabinet room was across
PETER TAYLOR: That's on the first floor?
PETER GURNEY: Yes, that's where John Major and the war cabinet were at
the time the bomb went off.
PETER TAYLOR: They were very lucky.
PETER GURNEY: They were extremely lucky.
NARRATOR: A month later, back in County Tyrone, Protestant
paramilitaries killed three IRA men in the village of Cappagh. They were now
targeting known Republicans and their families. One of their victims was Kevin
McKearney, gunned down in his father's butcher shop. Tommy McKearney, the last
surviving brother, was given a leave from prison to attend the funeral.
PETER TAYLOR: Was Kevin a member of the IRA?
TOMMY McKEARNEY: Kevin never was a member of the IRA, nor, in fact, was
he a member of Sinn Fein. Kevin would have sympathized with the political
objectives, but in some ways, he was the one brother who remained at home and
looked after the homestead.
NARRATOR: Just a few yards from Kevin's grave lie his in-law's, Charles
Fox and his wife, Teresa. They were killed a few months later by Loyalist
TOMMY McKEARNEY: The death of civilians, particularly Republican
sympathizers, tended to undermine the morale of the Republican community on
which the IRA has always depended and does depend.
NARRATOR: These Loyalist killings were not mindless. Their purpose was
to put pressure on the IRA to end its campaign. The killings could only
reinforce the Provisionals' growing conviction that they had to move toward a
settlement. And that was exactly the message John Major received, apparently
coming from Martin McGuiness..
JOHN MAJOR: I was sitting in the cabinet room, working on my own, when
my private secretary came in with the message. And there it was. It was a
fairly startling message.
NARRATOR: The message that Major says he received from the IRA's Army
Council read, "The conflict is over, but we need your advice on how to bring it
to an end."
JOHN MAJOR: If it was real, we could build towards an acceptable
settlement to the dispute that had gone on for so long. So I decided
immediately we'd have to take it very seriously.
NARRATOR: In fact, it was not a direct message from Martin McGuiness,
only a British intelligence assessment of the IRA's thinking, but it soon
pushed both sides toward a meeting in Derry. Martin McGuiness was there to
represent the Provisionals. The British were represented by an intelligence
officer. According to the Provisionals' minutes, the British officer said, "Any
settlement not involving the people of north and south won't work. The final
solution is union. It's going to happen anyway. Unionists will have to change.
This island will be as one."
MARTIN McGUINESS: [BBC interview, 1996]: I reported back the
assertion by the British government representative that the British government
was prepared to enter into discussions with representatives of Sinn Fein. And I
also reported the comments made by that representative that they believed that
the eventual solution to it be a United Ireland.
NARRATOR: Just a month later, a huge IRA bomb devastated the center of
the city of London, causing more than a billion dollars in damage. One person
was killed, more than 30 injured. The IRA calculated it would intensify the
pressure on the British government.
JOHN MAJOR: That is the way the IRA think. The IRA think they bomb and
the British talk. The fact of the matter is they nearly brought it to an end on
several occasions because of their outrages.
NARRATOR: In October, 1993, the IRA bombed a fish shop on the Shankill
Road in Belfast. They believed, erroneously, that Loyalist paramilitaries were
meeting in the room above.
TELEVISION NEWS READER: This was mass slaughter- no warning, no chance
for people to escape. The emergency services were joined by scores of the
public, hacking away with their hands-
NARRATOR: The bomb had gone off as it was being planted, killing one of
the bombers and nine civilians. Fifty-seven people were injured. Four days
later, the IRA bomber, Thomas Begley, was buried. One of those who carried his
coffin was Gerry Adams. Wherever the peace process was going, Adams believed he
had to carry the IRA with him and keep the movement together.
PETER TAYLOR: What was your reaction when you saw Gerry Adams carrying
the coffin of Thomas Begley?
JOHN MAJOR: Well, I thought it was pretty tasteless and also pretty
PETER TAYLOR: But he had to do it, didn't he, to keep-
JOHN MAJOR: Well-
PETER TAYLOR: -credibility within his own community?
JOHN MAJOR: He had a choice and he chose to keep credibility within his
own community. And of course, once again, it alienated the whole of the
Unionist community, caused great disquiet in Parliament and made life much more
difficult for everyone who was genuinely seeking a settlement.
NARRATOR: Shocking events like the Shankill Road bombing made finding a
political solution imperative. On December 3rd, 1993, John Major went to Dublin
to meet with Albert Reynolds, the Irish prime minister. For months, Reynolds
had been pushing the British to agree to a document laying out a peace
ALBERT REYNOLDS, Prime Minister Irish Republic, 1992-94: The way I
viewed it was, "Look, I'll take charge and responsibility of the Nationalist
and Republican side. And John, you're the person who has to deal with the
Unionists and between us we will try and bring the two sides together." Yes,
that was the way and that had to be the way.
NARRATOR: But the two men found themselves far apart. Reynolds was
demanding the Irish people be allowed to determine their own future as one
people, north and south. Major was insisting the Protestant minority would have
to consent to any settlement.
ALBERT REYNOLDS: It became clear that the meeting might break down
altogether. And John said I was being over-demanding, or whatever words he
used, and in frustration he just took his pencil and he broke it in two, threw
the parts of the pencil up in the air.
JOHN MAJOR: No, no. I was expressing something and the pencil broke in
my hands. It was- we were discussing- we were discussing matters of huge
importance to the future of Ireland. There were several occasions when the
whole thing could have broken apart in our hands and here was one.
TELEVISION NEWS READER: Both men know that today is only the first step
on what they hope will be the path to a lasting peace, their joint
NARRATOR: The two prime ministers did finally hammer out a deal.
Reynolds got his way on self-determination, but in separate referenda, north
and south. Major got his principle of Unionist consent. Without the Protestants
there would be no settlement.
JOHN MAJOR: [press conference]: There is an opportunity to end
violence for good in Northern Ireland. We believe that it's now up to those
who've used or supported violence to take that opportunity. The door is open to
ALBERT REYNOLDS: I felt history was in the making, yes, it was a proud
moment for both of us and that, you know, at least the risks were all worth
taking up to that point.
NARRATOR: In Washington, the Clinton administration now saw an
opportunity. They would help pull the IRA closer to accepting a political
settlement by defying the British and granting Gerry Adams a U.S. visa.
NANCY SODERBERG, Staff Director, National Security Council: Well, we
were getting increasing pressure from Irish America to let him in and I think
we were all very skeptical. And I know I was. But the more I looked at it, the
more I realized it was a win-win situation for us. If we reached out to Mr.
Adams and to Sinn Fein and it helped move them to a peaceful strategy, to help
influence the IRA to declare a ceasefire, obviously that's a win.
Pres. BILL CLINTON: Well, we hope it will advance the cause of peace.
You know, that's a very thorny problem, but his comments over the last several
days on the questions of violence and the joint declaration I thought justified
not a general visa, but a very narrow visa for the purpose of coming to this
conference in the hope that it will advance the peace process.
PETER TAYLOR: What was your reaction to that?
JOHN MAJOR: Well, I thought it was an ill-judged move. And I think it's
well known we advised against it. There were quite a few exchanges between
London and Washington, of a diplomatic and a non-diplomatic sort, to say that
it wasn't a good idea.
PETER TAYLOR: What did you say to Washington?
JOHN MAJOR: I- well, we told them it was a bad idea.
NARRATOR: The US granted Adams a one-day visa to attend a peace
conference at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. The brief visit was a media
triumph for Adams, who was embraced by Irish America and treated as a man of
GERRY ADAMS: [press conference]: Sinn Fein, the party which I
represent, is actively engaged in seeking an end to the Anglo-Irish conflict,
to all armed actions and to a total demilitarization of the situation.
PAUL ARTHUR, Political Analyst, U.S. Institute of Peace: And it gave the
IRA a certain degree of self-confidence, that if Sinn Fein did go into
negotiation, it was going into negotiation with the good will of the most
powerful state in the world.
BBC NEWS READER: [August 31, 1994] An IRA ceasefire starts at
midnight tonight. They say it's complete; Britain wants to hear that it's
permanent. Gerry Adams tells cheering crowds the struggle has entered a new
NARRATOR: The strategy of violence and politics that Adams had
articulated more than 20 years ago had brought them this far. But with peace in
sight, he still had to keep his soldiers with him.
GERRY ADAMS: [at rally] I want to say a word or two about the
volunteer soldiers of the Irish Republican Army who have fought the British for
the last 25 years and who are undefeated by the British.
BRENDAN HUGHES, Former IRA Commander, Belfast: I did support it. In many
ways, it left me a little bit confused.
PETER TAYLOR: Did you wonder what the IRA had got out of it?
BRENDAN HUGHES: Yes. Yes.
PETER TAYLOR: Why stop now? Why stop then?
BRENDAN HUGHES: All those questions. All those questions went through my
PETER TAYLOR: Did the cessation mark victory?
BILLY McKEE, Former IRA Army Council: For who?
PETER TAYLOR: For the IRA.
BILLY McKEE: I couldn't see it marking victory. What was victorious
about it? Just that it stopped the war, and that was it.
NARRATOR: A contentious new issue soon arose. John Major, under pressure
from Unionist members of his party, was now insisting on "decommissioning" -
the removal of IRA and Loyalist weapons - before peace talks could begin.
PETER TAYLOR: During your secret dialogue with the British government
and its representatives, was decommissioning ever discussed as an issue?
MARTIN McGUINESS: I never heard the word once.
Sir HUGH ANNESLEY, Police Chief, Ulster, 1989-96: It was perfectly clear
from all of the intelligence assessments that the Provisionals were not going
to hand in their arms. Indeed, some individual reports made it clear that some
prominent players said they wouldn't hand in as much as a single rifle.
PETER TAYLOR: You knew that the IRA were not going to decommission prior
to any settlement, so why did you insist on-
JOHN MAJOR: Did we know that?
PETER TAYLOR: -making an issue-
JOHN MAJOR: Why did we know that?
PETER TAYLOR: Because they've said it time and time again.
JOHN MAJOR: No. They've said-
PETER TAYLOR: Your own security people told you-
JOHN MAJOR: They've said that. They've said it.
PETER TAYLOR: But Sir Hugh Annesley-
JOHN MAJOR: How do you know that?
PETER TAYLOR: Sir Hugh Annesley-
JOHN MAJOR: You don't know that.
PETER TAYLOR: Sir Hugh Annesley told you that.
JOHN MAJOR: You don't know that. You don't know that. You don't know
that they wouldn't do it. You don't know that. Who can known that?
PETER TAYLOR: Do you believe they will?
JOHN MAJOR: You were asking the Unionists and others to sit down at the
table with people who have an Armalite and a bomb underneath the table.
NARRATOR: By the autumn of 1995, there was growing discontent within the
IRA. The ceasefire was more than a year old and there was still no progress
towards the peace talks the Provisionals had expected. The IRA was restless and
Sir HUGH ANNESLEY, Police Chief, Ulster, 1989-96: When the stalemate
about decommissioning became more intense, then I think it was progressively
more difficult for the leadership of the Provisional IRA to hold in check those
who wanted to go back to violence.
TELEVISION NEWS READER: [November 30, 1995] At four minutes past
9:00, Air Force One touched down at Belfast International Airport. On board:
President and Mrs. Clinton and his White House staff.
ANTHONY LAKE, U.S. National Security Adviser: It's a warm bath memory,
just a wonderful few days.
NARRATOR: Neither National Security Adviser Tony Lake nor President
Clinton knew just how fragile the ceasefire had become. They'd come to Northern
Ireland to celebrate.
ANTHONY LAKE: To be there and see those people, who were living in a way
that they wouldn't have been living if there were not the ceasefire, made it
all wonderful and all real.
NARRATOR: The President headed straight for the Falls Road, in the heart
of Catholic West Belfast. There Gerry Adams was waiting for a powerful photo
opportunity. The Provisional IRA welcomed the President of the United States to
Pres. BILL CLINTON: To all of you who asked me to do what I could to
help peace take root, I pledge you America's support. We will stand with you as
you take risks for peace.
ANTHONY LAKE: The president was very pleased, happy. He produced a
bottle of champagne, which he presented to me. But I did, as I recall, say that
we better not drink it right away because there was still a long way to go.
BBC NEWS READER: [February 9, 1996] The 17-month ceasefire is
over, according to a statement tonight claiming to be from the IRA. Within
minutes, a massive explosion hit an area of London's Docklands. The statement
said blame for the failure of the Irish peace process lies squarely with the
NARRATOR: After 17 months and no peace talks, the IRA's patience had run
out. The bomb placed in an underground garage killed two people and caused
nearly $150 million in damage. Two days later Peter Taylor interviewed Martin
PETER TAYLOR: Did you know that the IRA had taken the decision to return
to the campaign?
MARTIN McGUINESS: No.
PETER TAYLOR: You must have done.
MARTIN McGUINESS: No, I didn't.
PETER TAYLOR: Given your-
MARTIN McGUINESS: Why must I have done?
PETER TAYLOR: Because you've been dealing with the IRA for years.
MARTIN McGUINESS: Well, I can tell you that I didn't know. Gerry Adams
didn't know. Nobody in the Sinn Fein leadership-
PETER TAYLOR: But why didn't they tell you?
MARTIN McGUINESS: -had any indication whatsoever.
NARRATOR: But President Clinton's National Security Adviser, Tony Lake,
says he received a warning call just before the bomb went off.
TONY LAKE: I got a call from Gerry Adams, saying- and he sounded quite
disturbed, saying that he had just received word- just learned that something
was about to happen, a very brief conversation. And soon thereafter we got word
of Canary Wharf, which was a damn outrage.
NARRATOR: In June another huge car bomb tore apart the center of
Manchester. The 1994 ceasefire had failed and no one could calculate when the
next opportunity for peace would come.
MARTIN McGUINESS: I think that all of us are conscious that there is, I
think, a considerable danger that- that the authority of people like myself and
Gerry Adams has been to some degree seriously undermined-
PETER TAYLOR: By the bomb?
MARTIN McGUINESS: -by the approach of the British government.
PETER TAYLOR: By the bomb.
MARTIN McGUINESS: By the approach of the British government to this
process because the process that we were involved in was to bring about an end
to all bombs.
NARRATOR: Ultimately, it would take the arrival of a new Labour
government in Britain to break the stalemate.
TELEVISION REPORTER: [May 2, 1997]: Well, it's an overwhelming
outburst of enthusiasm that we're witnessing here in 10 Downing Street, a great
wave of enthusiasm.
NARRATOR: Tony Blair won by a landslide and, unlike John Major, he owed
no political debt to the Unionists in Northern Ireland. That same day in
Belfast, Sinn Fein was celebrating its own victories, the election of Gerry
Adams and Martin McGuiness to Parliament.
PETER TAYLOR: Why should things be any different now with regard to the
peace process than they were under John Major?
GERRY ADAMS: Well I think that Tony Blair comes unencumbered with the
baggage of a divided party, with the baggage of being in hock- of being in hock
to the Unionists. If he has the political will, he certainly has the majority
to allow him to move forward to build a peace process.
NARRATOR: Optimism was in the air. There was a feeling that the derailed
peace process would soon be back on track. And Tony Blair did move swiftly.
Decommissioning was placed on the back burner. The IRA renewed its ceasefire
and Sinn Fein was finally admitted to the peace talks.
JOHN MAJOR: Though we have seen many false dawns in Northern Ireland -
and I pray this isn't another - possibly, without too great a delay, yes, a
deal can be done.
NARRATOR: The Troubles have now lasted for almost three decades. It
seems almost certain the peace talks will not deliver the united Ireland for
which so many fought and died. For the Provisional IRA, the story will end not
in victory, but in compromise. The question is, will that be enough for the
hard men who fought the war?
PETER TAYLOR: Is the war over?
BRENDAN HUGHES, Former IRA Commander, Belfast: I believe so, yeah. I
PETER TAYLOR: Why?
BRENDAN HUGHES: I think it has run its course.
TOMMY McKEARNEY: This phase of the war, in my opinion, is clearly over.
The Provisionals are no longer really interested in fighting a war.
GERARD HODGKINS, Former IRA Volunteer: Everybody's invested too much in
this struggle and lost too much. I mean, I would hope maybe in a year, if you
asked me the same question, I could say, "Yes, the war is over."
PETER TAYLOR: You've lost three of your sons.
MAURA McKEARNEY, Mother: Yes.
PETER TAYLOR: Sean, blown up with his own bomb, Padraig at Loughgall,
Kevin murdered by Loyalists, Tommy spending nearly 20 years in jail and almost
dying on hunger strike. What have they achieved? What did your sons achieve?
MAURA McKEARNEY: Well, I think we won't hear that for another
generation. It'll be remembered what they have acheived for this country for
there's no going back to 20 and 30 years ago in this country. It'll take a long
time to go on, but there's no going back.
ANNOUNCER: Check out FRONTLINE on the Web for the reporter's experiences
over 25 years covering the IRA, Gerry Adams's Cage 11 writings. What happened
when the IRA went shopping for Stinger missiles in America? Go inside the
command structure of the IRA and much more. Bookmark FRONTLINE on line at
Next time on FRONTLINE, from the rooftop of the world, a cry echoed around the
PROTESTER: Our people are dying in Tibet!
ANNOUNCER: -and found a voice in Hollywood.
HARRISON FORD: Should we wait out this genocide?
Pres. BILL CLINTON: I don't want to isolate China.
ANNOUNCER: But with America dependent on China's trade, is freedom for
this extraordinary culture just a fantasy? "Dreams of Tibet" next time on
BEHIND THE MASK: THE IRA AND SINN FEIN
FOR THE BBC
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A BBC News/WGBH FRONTLINE coproduction
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Now your letters. "Once Upon a Time in Arkansas" examined President and Mrs.
Clinton's connection to some Arkansas friends and financial deals. Most of our
viewers felt this way.
CHARLES HELSPER: [Yucaipa, CA] Finally. I finally understand the
circumstances and dealings of the Whitewater real estate deal involving Bill
and Hillary Clinton, thanks to your excellent program covering the details.
CHRIS CARRIER: [Napa, CA] As usual, FRONTLINE has done an
outstanding job of making a complex issue very understandable to the average
DARREL F. SPARZO: [Fishers, IN] Dear FRONTLINE: I learned more in
one hour than all of four years of bad, spotty and biased media coverage.
DON WILDFANG: [Dallas, OR] It amazes me that the country and, in
particular, the liberal media have been so silent on this and other issues of
integrity relating to the highest office in the land.
ANNOUNCER: But some of you strongly disagreed.
FORREST WAGG: [Oakland, CA] Don't try to pose Hillary as the
scapegoat of the 20th century. She will probably be looked upon as the most
influential First Lady since Eleanor Roosevelt.
TIM B.: [Los Angeles, CA] And your point was what? If you want to
say there is a preponderance of evidence against the Clintons, have the courage
of your convictions and just say it.
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