On 31 August 1994, the IRA declared a ‘complete cessation of military operations’. Prior to this ceasefire there appeared to have been little convergence in the public positions of any of the parties to the conflict, and no obvious convergence in public opinion (see Table 1.2 on p. 23 for some Northern Irish opinion poll data over time). Both unionists and republicans could believe they had won. In this climate, it was difficult to see what kind of agreement might ‘bridge the gap’ and win the acquiescence, if not the consent, of both republicans and unionists. The Irish government concentrated on soothing republican fears and demonstrating to the republican movement the effectiveness of the political path by championing the nationalist cause. The British government had to perform a ‘dual role’: to deliver concessions to nationalists to underpin the IRA’s ceasefire and reassure them they would be dealt with fairly in any negotiations, and at the same time reassure unionists by championing the Union and bring them to the negotiating table with republicans. As a ‘senior British source’ argued: ‘It is the job of the British Government to push the Unionists to a line beyond which they will not go; it is the job of the Irish Government to pull the Republicans to a line beyond which they will not come. What was left in the middle, the limits of potential agreement, would be left for discussion between the parties’ (Observer, 5 February 1995).
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