31st August was marked again yesterday in the Belfast Telegraph with a welcome piece about a group of young people who have turned 21 this year and how they now view our country 21 years on from the first IRA ceasefire which marked the beginning of the Peace Process.
I am now going to publish a piece that I wrote last year which marked the 20th anniversary of that day in August 1994:
31st August 1994 should have been a day that we all should have been happy about. The IRA called a ceasefire that would eventually lead to our ‘peace’. The killing and bloodshed would be coming to an end. There would be no more people, like me, put into wheelchairs.
I was not happy that day. I felt so sad, my stomach churned. Why could the war not have ended a year sooner? I would still be walking about. I would not be sitting watching the news on TV showing the ‘celebrations’ outside Connolly House. Listening to the cavalcades of black taxis and cars beeping their horns, playing rebel music from the Sinn Fein election megaphones, waving their Tricolours.
It was a real bittersweet moment for me. People were outside revelling in the street on the way home from the pub. The mood was jovial. You could hear the singing and shouting. Somebody knocked the front door. A woman asked to use our toilet on her way home. She was in good form, a few drinks on her. She asked us what we thought of the ceasefire. We quietly responded that it was good news but inside we had mixed feelings.
There was an eerie quiet about the ceasefire in our house that day. None of us really spoke about it. We were all feeling sorry for ourselves. We had a right to be. My family had been held hostage and witnessed UFF gunmen pump a volley of bullets into me just a matter of months ago. I nearly died in front of them. Now it seemed that peace had arrived – just a bit too late though. I went to bed that night and cried myself to sleep.
I am sure that this was a feeling that was felt all over our country. I am sure that there were people looking at empty seats and at their loved ones in wheelchairs and thinking why could this day not have come sooner. C’est la vie.
I look back now and see the two 1994 ceasefires as significant. As things to celebrate. As seeds of hope in a time of despair. The ceasefires led to the peace process. People are walking our streets today may have been dead if the ceasefires had not been called. That is something to be thankful for.
Milestones are there to be marked but I hope that this one and the many historical events that happened here can be commemorated with dignity and respect. I understand where the joy and celebration came from that August day but people need to think about the legacy of the conflict for those who were bereaved and injured. There is no celebration in this.