Prospect of peace sows dissent among friends: As talk of ceasefire swept Belfast, Ian MacKinnon visited the Falls Road and Mary Braid went to the Shankhill Road

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The Independent Online
FOR A MOMENT it was an argument that threatened to turn violent, and this among mates who moments earlier had been passing the time of day amiably in a doorway on Belfast's bustling Falls Road.

A question to this shifting knot of young men, each of them Catholic, about the propects for peace now that an IRA ceasefire appeared inevitable had set them off. Not that any disagreed that the time was right for the gunmen to lay down their arms. No, the increasingly heated row centred on the consequences.

'Don't keep saying that. You said that to Channel 4 News, and it's balls,' shouted one, the veins in his neck bulging and his finger wagging ominously, as his friend explained that the loyalist paramilitaries would start murdering Catholics in order to kick-start the conflict back into life.

Just to be sure this reporter had got the point, and perhaps to annoy his exasperated friend further, the 20-year-old repeated himself adding some detail.

'The Protestants have been sold out, so they're going to rise up and get into us,' he said. 'They're going to start a civil war. The Orangemen will start stiffing Catholics and then the INLA or some other lot will have to step in to protect us.'

His friend, 27, who had made to walk off in his anger, stepped back into view. 'Look,' he said, 'they've been doing that for the last 19 years, ceasefire or not, so what's the difference? This is the right time to call a ceasefire. We've had far too much violence here. Everybody's sick of it.'

At that, another slightly older man wearing glasses and bearing several prominent scars across his chin, reappeared to add his two ha'pence-worth.

'You wait until I get that knife out. I'll start cutting them up again if they start any nonsense,' he said with a look on his face that passed for a leering menace or a smile indicating black Belfast humour.

It wasn't clear which, but the others started laughing and the tension of their encounter was defused as the owner of the chippie next door stepped out to discover what was going on and echo their view, more or less a consensus, that an IRA ceasefire was desirable as long as it did not include Protestant paramilitaries who attacked Catholics.

'The time is right for the IRA to stop,' said the shop-owner, 30, facing a newly painted gable-end mural declaring,'25 Years of Resistance' over a historical scene of soldiers in gas masks with a couple of women banging bin lids on the ground. 'The fact is the IRA know they have won. This is the British Government's Vietnam and the IRA have them by the balls.

'The organisation is a political party now and they have wrung concessions from the British. Now all we need is the British Army out, the Royal Irish Rangers scapped completely, 'cos they're just Protestants in uniform, and more Catholics in the RUC.

'We don't care about a united Ireland - that's not the issue - as long as we can govern ourselves.'

(Photograph omitted)