Someone pulled the trigger – but others pulled the strings – by Brian Rowan

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Sometimes we get little reminders of just how far we have travelled in the peace process.

I thought about it as I made my way to west Belfast this morning with colleague Eamonn Mallie; thought about it because the road and route we took was the same one we journeyed almost twenty years ago back in August 1994.

That day we were met by a woman who read to us the words of the IRA ceasefire statement – declaring the “complete cessation of military operations”.

Much has changed since then and, this morning, you could see and feel it.

At a breakfast event organised by local businessman Gerry Carlile, Martin McGuinness spoke as Deputy First Minister – spoke in a room where loyalist Jackie McDonald was also present.

Nobody  blinked an eye. There was no protest outside – no need for the police.

This was the normal/routine stuff of peace building after the abnormal years of conflict characterised in the hundreds and thousands of Bloody Days.

The organisation of which  McDonald is part –  the UDA – killed solicitor Pat Finucane on one of those Bloody Days, exactly 25 years ago on this date.

Someone pulled the trigger, but others pulled the strings, and the search for that information continues.



It is but one chapter from the conflict years.

Others will have their questions for McGuinness and McDonald and for the organisations of which they were part and finding the process and place within which that can be done is part of what still has to be achieved.

In west Belfast this morning, McGuinness said he was involved in further talks yesterday trying to advance the proposals that are part of the Richard Haass and Meghan O’Sullivan text written and left here weeks ago at the end of a long consultation and negotiation.

The political brakes have since been applied by the Unionist parties, either unable or unwilling to build the structure that was suggested – the Historical Investigations Unit, the Independent Commission for Information Retrieval, an Implementation and Reconciliation Group in a monitoring/oversight role, an Archive for all stories and agreed statements of acknowledgement.

Those are the Haass/O’Sullivan jigsaw pieces when it comes to the past, but what is not clear is whether the picture will ever be made.

This is the unfinished business of the peace process, but what we got this morning was a glimpse of the progress so far.

It was coloured in that breakfast picture of tea and coffee cups and bacon and sausage baps – seen in who was mingling and talking and heard in the words of McGuinness when he very clearly and deliberately acknowledged McDonald’s contribution to the peace process.

The political message in this setting was about the need to do things together and the importance of political stability to allow businesses to grow.

It wasn’t a morning of ‘whataboutery’ – but more, what about the next steps?

There is still a political play to small street crowds.

We still hear the dissidents through their bombs and bullets, and we watch elements of loyalism – particularly the UVF in east Belfast – fall into deeper criminality.

Their guns are no longer about defending Ulster, but about protecting money-making turf from intruders.

To describe their activities as breaches of ceasefire would be to suggest some cause when, in truth, the motivation is self interest and self gain.

The republican dissidents know they are in ‘wars’ that cannot be won, and all of these armed factions – loyalist and republican – need to be challenged to explain their actions.

This is all part of what still needs to be done but, this morning, we watched what has been achieved and what is being achieved.

We have come a long way since 1994, and the question is how much further we want to go?


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About Author

Brian Rowan

Brian Rowan is a journalist/author. A former BBC correspondent in Belfast, four times he has been a category winner in the Northern Ireland Press and Broadcast Awards. He is the author of several books on the peace process. His latest book (published by Merrion Press) POLITICAL PURGATORY – the battle to save Stormont and the play for a New Ireland is now available at


  1. We have quite a bit still to go I think not just on an inter communal basis but with those elected to lead. Basically 16 years on from the Good Friday Agreement the DUP for instance as a party are unable to offer genuine alternatives and are effectively incapable of political leadership – they are openly unreceptive to equality, co-existence and the promotion of human rights.

    I believe that they are now struggling with power sharing, partnership working and collective responsibility and all that this should entail – their contempt for Sinn Fein represented in West Belfast this morning, for example, is no longer hidden. They have also within their ranks, an influential hard-core and extremist representative few who are either too cosy with paramilitarism, on-going street protests and the loyal orders.

    As a party they have remained a discreet and serious blockage to tangible progress despite public displays of endorsement. They have engaged and acted as a behind the scenes catalyst for unionist/loyalist upheaval and wider communal instability stemming from the Good Friday Agreement through to St Andrews, Hillsborough and recent native violence. This resistance and disconcerting element should not be able to dictate potential progress and necessary unfinished work as we limp towards an alternative of sorts – going back for some is easy – moving forward and going that bit further should be the real battle surely!

  2. The peace building process engaged in by these former activists is fine and may provide some closure for those seeking acknowledgment by those who “pulled strings”. How do we create the environment for those in the political classes who “conducted the orchestra” to make a similar contribution? For me an acknowledgement by the political classes is as important in building peace and trust as the those who admit to having been directly involved.

    • Paul – I think any process that looks at the past needs contributions from many – governments, politicians, security, intelligence, republicans, loyalists, churches, media and others. The information jigsaw has many scattered pieces. Barney

  3. Colm O'Dóghair on

    The big question confronting Unionism & Loyalism is why the contrast between how Jackie McDonald was received & the Skainos rumpus?

    This doesn’t seem like an important issue, but it is, going straight to the kernel of our problem. Unionist exceptionalism, in this case from even the basic everyday civilities which betoken equality, and without which the two communities have little hope of reconciliation.

    It’s also seen in the corridors of Stormont, where the DUP refuse to acknowledge SF as fellow human beings with the basic civilities of shaking hands, verbal acknowledgement, etc.

    Small things, but profoundly telling of the psychology of superiority, which is what caused all the bother in the first place, and, indeed, was the reason for carving out the Orange statelet comprising but two thirds of the Province in the first place.

    Moral superiority, is it? Obviously not, since these same lofty democrats who don’t want to be tainted by terrorists have no problem sharing platforms with unrepentant Loyalist murderers at Twaddell, as they did previously with King Rat.

    Here’s a very short clip of Billy Hutchinson telling Peter Taylor he has no regrets about murdering two civilians – Yet do those anti-GFA unionists who denounce Gerry Kelly et al. as ‘terrorists’ have the same staunch aversion to Billy??? Yeah, right.

    Equality is the only game in town. It’s modernity, actually, and modernity is an unfortunate tide to find yourself ordering back.

  4. “Someone pulled the trigger, but others pulled the strings, and the search for that information continues.” Brian, I presume as usual you are referring to the Security Forces and not the terrorist godfathers such as McGuinness and McDonald, but I suppose the reality is their stories are no longer what makes you tick. Why do research on those who murdered thousands when you can unearth politically sensitive nuggets that may or may not embarrass the Government, and you can maintain your cosiness with those who brought this country to its knees.
    As for Haas, it is obvious to me you do not have a full grasp of where it wants to go. Please look at the small paragraph on VICTIMS, and, by the way, VICTIMS do not include those who chose, whether or not they suffered from deprivation or whatever, to shoot people in the back of the head or leave no warning bombs in shopping centres.

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