ON THIS DAY - 1997

1997: IRA declares ceasefire

The IRA has announced its second ceasefire in three years starting at noon tomorrow.

It follows a statement by republican political party Sinn Fein last night urging the IRA to call a truce, but the speed of response has surprised politicians.

Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam MP will monitor IRA activity over the next six weeks to decide whether Sinn Fein will be admitted to the all-party peace talks scheduled for 15 September.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said he supported a ceasefire because of a "commitment by the two governments (UK and Republic of Ireland) to inclusive peace talks".

British Prime Minister Tony Blair had underlined this resolve by making his first big speech as head of the new government from Belfast on 16 May.

In June he set out the conditions for Sinn Fein's inclusion in the all-party talks in a speech to the Commons.

He offered a clear timetable for talks - to be completed by May 1998 - within six weeks of a ceasefire.

I don't expect anyone to take a ceasefire declaration at face value
Ken Maginnis, UUP Security Spokesman

Mr Blair also suggested weapons' decommissioning was not a pre-condition for negotiation.

Many unionists in Northern Ireland believe IRA disarmament is essential to any peace process and are angered by British concessions on the issue.

Security spokesman for the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Ken Maginnis said: "I don't expect anyone to take a ceasefire declaration at face value."

"There will have to be a definite commitment to a permanent, complete and universal ceasefire with an indication that disarmament and the disbandment of the terrorist organisation can take place," he added.

The Irish peace process reached a stalemate under the last British Government which made concessions to unionists over decommissioning, in return for their support in Parliament.

Mr Blair is to meet UUP leader David Trimble in the next couple of days to ensure unionists' participation in September's multi-party talks.

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