IRA Ceasefire: Street-level opinions show width of the divide: Suspicion, pessimism and fear remain the dominant reactions among ordinary people in the two embattled communities

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The Independent Online
'IT WENT up just last night,' said Jim Dickson, 71, pointing to the call- to-arms slogan on the wall in Protestant Sandy Row.

'It's a piece of nonsense, I'm just glad it's all over. I come from a mixed family and I have no truck with the whole sectarian business. Let's just hope the ceasefire holds.'

But in a Belfast community which displays its prejudices in the white blue and red of its painted kerbstones, many are sympathetic to the new UVF message. It reads: 'Armchair soldiers cannot win a war. Tis brave young volunteers who fight and die for Ulster's cause'.

'The ceasefire is a disaster,' said Brian Butler, 29, unemployed. 'It will never hold, too many people have died for that.'

Indoors, his father, Brian, 54 and also unemployed, and his mother Sylvie, 50, were watching the evening news. 'There's been a deal done and that's a united Ireland,' said the older Mr Butler. 'We will never stand for that. There will be a civil war first.

'The IRA has not laid down its arms for nothing. That would mean the death of Bobby Sands and all those other hunger strikers and people who have fought for the cause would have been for nothing. Just what the deal is, is what we are waiting to find out.'

Mrs Butler said the whole business was suspicious. 'Gerry Adams hasn't said a thing about a permanent end to violence. And they still have their weapons. John Major is very easily led.'

The Butlers said they understood Catholics' fears that the IRA ceasefire would leave them vulnerable to loyalist attack. 'But the IRA started all this,' Mrs Butler said. 'If it hadn't been for them this would never have happened. The loyalists see this as a sell-out.'

Standing outside by a house defiantly displaying a Union Jack flag, Anne, 28, a mother of two young children, said that everyone felt the British Government had sold out the Protestants.

'I might feel a united Ireland was a price worth paying for peace, but other people around here wouldn't agree and there's no way they will give up,' she said.

Distrust of the ceasefire was not confined to Protestants. Nancy Gracey, the Catholic founder of Families Against Intimidation and Terror, said she was highly suspicious of the IRA's motives. And she was sickened by any notion of celebration.

'Now you're supposed to buy a big cake, line it with 25 candles and sit in your backroom and celebrate. Someone should give a big cake like that to Gerry Adams and ask him to think of all those who have died or been maimed.

'I'm bloody sure I won't be celebrating, I'm sitting at home wondering what they're up to,' she said.

Seventy miles west, in Londonderry, the constant stream of tourists parading yesterday to have their holiday snap taken beneath the gable-end wall that declared, in letters 2ft high, 'You Are Now Entering Free Derry', might have been a signal that something special was happening on this late-summer day.

But, sipping pints of stout over the televised racing in the Bogside Inn, the pub at the centre of what was long known as the city's 'Catholic ghetto', or hanging around street corners in groups, Free Derry's inhabitants seemed little concerned.

The younger among them, who presumably could remember little other than the Troubles, appeared the least ruffled. Even the threat of a Protestant paramilitary backlash caused little concern. 'With Derry being more nationalist, we don't feel the same trepidation as they do in Belfast. Here it's not really a problem,' said a 41-year-old carpet fitter, sitting opposite another mural in tribute to the 13 who died at the hands of the Army on Bloody Sunday.

So much has changed in the Bogside since that fateful day in 1972. The tiny terraced houses have been torn down and replaced with modern council housing. The gerrymandering of the council which had orginally been one of the sparks of the troubles has long gone. 'That kind of thing will never happen again,' said one man, a 26-year-old machinist. 'We'll never go back to what it was like in 1969 and that's important.'

Even the Army, clattering overhead yesterday in a helicopter and seeing all from a street look-out post, is rarely seen on the streets, a point of tension in other parts of Northern Ireland, and Belfast in particular. 'Belfast is like the Bronx,' was the verdict of another unemployed man of 34.

'Belfast's nothing but police and soldiers. Sure you sometimes get hassle from the soldiers. But sure you get worse from the wife. Sure peace would be good. We'd get some real jobs into this place.'

This hope was not lost on the older members of the community. 'A whole generation has been lost,' William Frazer, 74, a Bogsider all his life, said. 'When the children grew up, they had nothing to look forward to, no jobs, no nothing. Maybe now with this they'll have some work to do to take them off the streets.'

'The fact is, the Unionists' backs are against the wall,' added a middle-aged regular. 'John Major is betting on the favourites, and the favourites are the nationalist people.'

(Photograph omitted)

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