Memories mean hope is mixed with scepticism

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The Independent Online

The memory of decades of thwarted hopes undermined much of the optimism felt in Northern Ireland as the population digested the IRA's historic move to decommission its weapons.

Margaret Bogle, walking along the Hollywood Road in East Belfast, said that while she was "very hopeful" that the move would lead to a lasting peace, she felt disillusioned by all those failed efforts to broker peace in the past.

"I am hopeful about this but I think it is only natural that people in East Belfast will be a wee bit doubtful," she said.

Few residents in the predominantly Loyalist area were taking to the busy streets in celebration until they had seen whether the IRA's concession would be followed through to the end. Some, jaded by the numerous false starts which the peace process has had, refused to pass judgement.

Wilma Hedley, a care worker, said: "It's hard to know what they're up to. Has anyone actually seen these arms? I would wait until I saw them myself before making up my mind. But the process does need something like this to save it."

Charles Bennett, another resident of Hollywood Road who was shopping for groceries, said: "People here are very hopeful but they are also sceptical. I think it would help if we could actually see how the arms are being disposed of. We need to get rid of all arms in Northern Ireland and see an end to all paramilitary groups from both sides. This is certainly progression."

Others harboured a rather more cynical attitude to the IRA's "peace-seeking" gesture.

Victor Green, a morning shopper, said: "I don't believe any of it and I am not one bit hopeful. The IRA will still be the IRA after this and they will still be at the same carry on after this. I don't trust them at all."

Others were more conciliatory in tone. The mood was more optimistic in the Bogside in Londonderry, an area with more to gain than most from a lasting solution to the troubles.

Danny Ogle thought the dismantling of arms would draw a line under decades of conflict and give rise to the prospect of long-lasting peace.

"The decommissioning has got to be a good thing because we can all look forward to the future. Hopefully, it will put everything into perspective. The war was already over. Now we have to start to fight against sectarianism. Once we get that out of the way we are laughing," he said.

Christine Doherty, who was working in a nearby bakery, agreed that decommissioning was badly needed in the region, not just for peace of mind but also for economic prosperity.

"It's about time we had it. We have to get the army out now and get jobs into the country. We especially need jobs in Derry because we rely too heavily on retail here. The most important thing now is for us to get the push on for more jobs."

But Breifne McCusker, also from the Bogside, balanced his hopes for the future with an underlying apprehension at the effectiveness of the latest announcement. "It is a great thing, I think. Hopefully they will do what they said they would and now we must put the past behind us. We must move on and look to the future," he said.

Many believed that the onus was now on Loyalist paramilitaries to give up their arms.

Stevie Breslin, a butcher, felt the prospect of peace hinged on this dual decommissioning gesture. "It's about time. This is it now. It is the start of the end. I think we will have peace now. But the Loyalists must decommission. They will have to finish the process," he said.

Robert McCrossan said: "What's good for the goose is good for the gander – the Loyalists must do it now. I am 100 per cent behind decommissioning. This is a good thing, not just for people like me, but for future generations."

Sadie Quigley said: "This will be great for the young people. We need to look to the future, hopefully the future will be bright for the children. It will be good for the area. Now the Loyalists have to decommission as well, I think."