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IRA Truce: 9 February 1975 to 23 January 1976
- Summary of Main Events
Text and Research: Brendan Lynn
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This page contains a summary of the main events associated with the IRA truce in Northern Ireland from 9 February 1975 to 23 January 1976.
IRA Truce: 9 February 1975 to 23 January 1976 - Summary of Main Events
On 9 February 1975 the IRA announced its intention to introduce, as of 6pm on 10 February 1975, an open-ended ceasefire. This move had its origins in contacts between the Republican movement and the British authorities at Westminster together with other political developments. In July 1972 William Whitelaw, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and other British ministers had met an IRA delegation to explore the possibility of agreement as to how the stalemate in Northern Ireland could be solved. Although these meetings were to end in bitter recrimination, secret contacts between both sides continued intermittently but with little apparent progress being made. This remained the case until December 1974 when talks took place in Feakle, County Clare, between a group of Protestant churchmen and representatives of the IRA. From these discussions emerged a set of proposals which appeared to hold out the possibility of not only renewed formal links between the British government and Republicans but also that a more permanent ceasefire could be established. To further facilitate this the IRA declared that it would seek to extend its customary but temporary Christmas cessation by declaring it would last from 22 December 1974 to 2 January 1975 (in the event this was later extended until 17 January 1975). As a consequence a decision was taken to allow British government officials to begin informal talks with Sinn Féin (SF) on 22 December 1974 and these were continued even after the resumption of the IRA's campaign on 17 January 1975. Eventually the two sides agreed to a set of general terms that was to lay the basis for the announcement that was to be made on 9 February concerning the calling of an indefinite truce.
To ensure that the truce could be built upon it was agreed that certain initiatives would be undertaken to try to build up confidence on each side. The most important of these measures was an agreement to set up 'incident centres' in Republican areas. These centres were staffed by members of SF who in turn liased with government officials to monitor the ceasefire. Although this appeared a sensible move designed to avoid isolated incidents leading to major confrontations, however from the outset the prospects of this process leading to a more permanent political settlement were remote.
To begin with serious questions arose on both sides concerning the real intent of the other in agreeing to enter into a ceasefire and then to engage in a fresh round of negotiations. For the existing Republican leadership their willingness to participate was based on the premise that the discussions would result in significant progress being made in their pursuit of securing a British withdrawal from Northern Ireland. Although they accepted that such a pronouncement could not be made publicly it was expected that during the talks the Westminster would explore the possibility of setting a definite date for this to occur. At the same time however preparations continued for a renewal of the IRA campaign especially in Britain in the event of the process breaking down. As for the prevailing mood in London there was also a degree of masking their objectives. Whilst there had been some consideration given to the proposal by the then Labour government in Britain over the prospects of withdrawing from Northern Ireland it was also clear that there was little likelihood of such a step being agreed with the Republican movement. Instead for many in authority in London the truce was seen as an opportunity to regroup in order to launch a new security crackdown on the IRA. Not surprisingly as mutual suspicion grew relations between both sides began to deteriorate.
In addition as time progressed other problems also began to emerge. In Ireland, both north and south, the discussions between government officials and Republicans angered many other groups. For instance the authorities in Dublin strongly objected to the suggestion that Britain and the IRA were apparently negotiating to agree a date for British withdrawal. Within Northern Ireland whilst Unionist opinion was likewise enraged at such a development more sinister events were soon to occur with a marked increase in attacks by loyalist paramilitaries on the wider Catholic community. Almost inevitably this brought an increase in pressure on the IRA to respond and as a result as it began to act there was no meaningful drop in the number of paramilitary attacks. In such a troubled atmosphere the mood was then hardly improved by a fresh outbreak of feuding between Republican organisations. Thus by the winter of 1975/76 it was clear that the IRA ceasefire had all but ended although the formal announcement did not come until March 1976.
Although the truce itself was marked by failure the events of the period did leave behind a number of significant developments. From the perspective of those in authority in Britain it marked a change in approach as to how it proposed to deal with the situation in Northern Ireland. It was to be sometime before any serious attempt was made to engage with the Republican movement in the expectation that it might lead to some sort of an overall settlement. Instead the decision was taken to follow a strategy which sought to undermine the capacity of the IRA to continue with its campaign. This was marked by not only a response from the security forces but with a major reorganisation of the criminal justice system with the ending of internment and moves to criminalise those convicted of paramilitary activity.
As for Republicans the period 1975 to 1976 was also to lead to significant changes in how it conducted its affairs. Within its ranks growing opposition emerged to those in leadership positions that had argued in favour of calling an indefinite ceasefire in February 1975. Not only were they accused of misreading the real intentions of the British government but also their actions were judged as having damaged the capability of the IRA to renew any future campaign. In addition now that it was clear that there would be no immediate withdrawal by Britain from Northern Ireland these same critics argued that it was time too for the Republicans movement to consider its tactics. From the IRA's perspective this meant that it had to prepare for a "long war" rather than hold out any prospect of immediate success. Similarly if this "long war" were to be fought then steps would have to be taken to develop a political base which could support and sustain it. This could only be done by seeking to build up SF and to take advantage of the higher profile it had been given by way of its participation in manning the incident centres that had been opened in many areas during the truce.