The IRA has announced its second ceasefire in three years starting at noon tomorrow.
It follows a statement by republican political party Sinn Fein last night urging the IRA to call a truce, but the speed of response has surprised politicians.
Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam MP will monitor IRA activity over the next six weeks to decide whether Sinn Fein will be admitted to the all-party peace talks scheduled for 15 September.
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said he supported a ceasefire because of a “commitment by the two governments (UK and Republic of Ireland) to inclusive peace talks”.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair had underlined this resolve by making his first big speech as head of the new government from Belfast on 16 May.
In June he set out the conditions for Sinn Fein’s inclusion in the all-party talks in a speech to the Commons.
He offered a clear timetable for talks – to be completed by May 1998 – within six weeks of a ceasefire.
Mr Blair also suggested weapons’ decommissioning was not a pre-condition for negotiation.
Many unionists in Northern Ireland believe IRA disarmament is essential to any peace process and are angered by British concessions on the issue.
Security spokesman for the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Ken Maginnis said: “I don’t expect anyone to take a ceasefire declaration at face value.”
“There will have to be a definite commitment to a permanent, complete and universal ceasefire with an indication that disarmament and the disbandment of the terrorist organisation can take place,” he added.
The Irish peace process reached a stalemate under the last British Government which made concessions to unionists over decommissioning, in return for their support in Parliament.
Mr Blair is to meet UUP leader David Trimble in the next couple of days to ensure unionists’ participation in September’s multi-party talks.
Courtesy BBC News
The ceasefire came into force on 20 July in an atmosphere of muted determination rather than celebration.
A new round of peace talks, including Sinn Fein, resumed on 15 September at Stormont, near Belfast.
None of the five unionist or loyalist parties attended and attempted to get Sinn Fein excluded.
Talks continued at Stormont as David Trimble and the UUP began to participate.
In October 1997 Tony Blair shook Gerry Adams’ hand and became the first British PM for 70 years to meet a Sinn Fein delegation.
Negotiations and sporadic violence by loyalist and republican splinter groups continued until the Good Friday Agreement was signed in May 1998.