Ceasefire baby still ponders uncertain future

30/08/2004 - 07:15:46

Ten years ago Lisa Stewart cradled her newborn baby in her arms and prayed on the first day of the IRA ceasefire that her son would have a very different world to grow up in.

Today as Samuel excitedly looks forward to his 10th birthday on Wednesday, Mrs Stewart is still wondering what the future will hold for him. Life in Northern Ireland is still not “normal”.

On August 31, 1994 came the momentous announcement of the IRA’s cessation of military operations. It came into force at midnight and at 6.06am the next morning Samuel arrived into the world.

They were heady days and pictures of Samuel in his mother’s arms in the maternity unit of the Belfast City Hospital went around the world – instantly he was known as “The Ceasefire Baby” – the first born into the new peace.

It was a new beginning at a time of a new dawn for the North. But 10 years on things haven’t quite worked out as people, especially Lisa, hoped.

It has been an imperfect peace. The violence continues with punishment shootings and beatings and blind sectarian hatred remains rife in many areas and spills over into community confrontation.

And many people outside Northern Ireland forget the IRA ceasefire has not lasted through the 10 years.

Seventeen months into the ceasefire the IRA “with great reluctance” called it off, blaming a lack of political progress. They announced the cessation with the bombing of London’s Canary Wharf and the killing of two men and injury of 100 people more.

Another 17 months on, after more killing and more destruction, the IRA announced a new ceasefire on July 19, 1997. This one, they said was “permanent and unequivocal”. But still the IRA retains its weapons and so far has refused calls to disband.

Loyalist thugs have been blamed for a series of racist attacks in the North, as well as for other criminal activity.

Devolved government has been and gone more than once and a fresh drive to get it restored gets underway on Wednesday.

Lisa Stewart was born in October 1969 as the Troubles began – her son on the day it was all supposed to be over.

On the day she became a mother, she said: “They were shooting up and down the streets when I was born, my mummy said. My dad had to dodge the bullets.

“I hope the ceasefire works, I don’t want him to have to live through the things that have happened since I was born. We will have to take every day as it comes. I don’t know whether it will work and peace come, but I would like it for him, I don’t want him getting involved in anything.”

Ten years on Mrs Stewart is still taking it one day at a time and wondering if things will every be resolved and allow her to live a completely normal life.

Today she said: “Ten years ago I would have said that was the end of it, but the last couple of years it seems to have started up again.”

She is “still optimistic” the politicians can sort out their differences.

She added: “I don’t know what way things are going to go – I take every day as it comes. But, like many, she said: “I’m not really interested in politics.”

However she added: “I am worried about my wee boy growing up and getting involved in things he shouldn’t get involved in.”

At 10, Samuel does not have a grasp of the finer points of the Northern Ireland situation “but he is getting inquisitive”, said Mrs Stewart.

“He knows there is a ceasefire, and he knows he is ’The Ceasefire Baby', but he doesn’t know what the ceasefire is about,” she said.

That could be because of where she has chosen to bring him up.

When baby Samuel was born Mrs Stewart lived in the Shore Road area of north Belfast but now lives in Carrickfergus, Co Antrim about 10 miles out of the city.

The Shore Road is still riven with sectarianism – two loyalist bandsmen were stabbed and seriously injured while walking along the road early on Saturday.

Carrickfergus has its problems but less than north Belfast. “We are quite lucky where we live, we are not in the city,” said Mrs Stewart.

As the politicians prepared to gather at Stormont for their new talks, Mrs Stewart took her son there for his first visit. “It’s massive,” he said, adding: “My aunt works there”.

:: Since the IRA called the 1994 ceasefire 179 people have been murdered by terrorists, including the 29 people in Northern Ireland’s worst single atrocity - the Real IRA bombing of Omagh.

:: Over 2,300 people have been victims of punishment beatings.

:: Over 5,500 illegal firearms have been seized.

:: Over 11,000 have suffered terror-related injuries.

:: More than 1,100 explosive devices have been uncovered.

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