October 14, 1994
BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) -- Hundreds of Protestant families on Friday celebrated a moment they thought would never come: a cease-fire by both sides of the sectarian divide.
"This is the first day in living memory that we can say confidently there will be no shooting, no bombing. That is something to celebrate," said Jack McKee, organizer of a children's street party on the Shankill Road, Belfast's front-line district of pro-British "loyalism."
The Irish Republican Army, based in Catholic areas, stopped its armed campaign against British rule six weeks ago in hopes that its Sinn Fein political allies can enter talks with the governments of Britain and Ireland.
The main Protestant loyalist groups reciprocated Thursday, calling off their campaign of killing Catholics. That marked the first time since 1969 that both sides are at peace.
Although Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds is pressing for a swift start to negotiations involving Sinn Fein, Britain insists it first must know the violence has ended for good.
"Other people can call for speed,"
British Prime Minister John Major told delegates Friday at the annual conference of his Conservative Party in Bournemouth, England.
"But I must ask the hard questions. I must make the right judgment at the right time -- and I will,"
said Major, who had spoken to Reynolds earlier in the day.
Major is keen to assuage Protestant fears and is seeking a firmer pledge from the IRA that the cease-fire is permanent. The Ulster Defense Association and Ulster Volunteer Force, the two main Protestant loyalist groups, said they will hold their truce as long as the IRA does.
The conflict has killed nearly 3,200 people in the past quarter-century.
The pro-British Protestant members of the Ulster Unionists, Northern Ireland's largest party, will meet Saturday to debate holding discussions with the Irish government and leaders of Sinn Fein.
Throughout Northern Ireland, prayer services and street parties in both Catholic and Protestant areas were planned this weekend.
At the Shankill Road "peace party," hundreds of schoolchildren had their fill of cookies, candy, potato chips and drinks -- then began throwing sausage rolls and empty bottles across the road.
"Today it's safe for the wee boys and girls to walk the streets -- but I'm not sure I am!"
said Sammy McCaw, 42, holding his year-old daughter Tamara above the good-natured fray.
McCaw, a former Ulster Volunteer Force member convicted of killing a Catholic man in 1977, spent 13 years behind bars. He wants his child to avoid the bigotry he feels towards Catholics.
"I'll not want my wee girl saying, 'Daddy, there's a Fenian,"'
he said, using a derogatory nickname for Catholic nationalists.
Despite the "peace party," people weren't optimistic that the peace will stick. Only yards from the street party were the remains of a fish seller's shop blown up by the IRA last October. Nine Protestant civilians died.
Party organizer Jack McKee settled down in front of a coffee shop TV, where Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein's deputy leader, was telling Ulster Television that
"British rule has failed."
McKee said, reluctantly, that he too was pessimistic.
"Britain won't give Sinn Fein what they want. At some point the outcome will become clear -- that Northern Ireland's still British.
You can be sure then the IRA will pick up their guns again.
So we'll just have to build what we can from this opportunity and hope for the best."
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[McKee was right ..... JP ]