By the summer of 1993 the international press was full of speculation about the future course of the so-called “Troubles” or the decades-old conflict in the United Kingdom’s legacy colony on the island of Ireland. Four years earlier, in the later half of 1989, a pessimistic UK prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, had initiated a tentative policy of rapprochement with the country’s main enemy in the contested region: the Irish Republican Army and its political wing, Sinn Féin. Using revived backchannels for secret talks and public overtures for confidence building, the British made halting progress towards face-to-face negotiations with the ascendant Republican Movement between 1990 and 1994. A process which culminated several years later in the peace accords generally known as the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
However that imperfect settlement lay away in the future when Bob Guccione Junior, the founder and editor of the American culture and current affairs magazine, Spin, sought the help of Jack Healey, the Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, in the summer of 1993, hoping to make direct contact with the IRA for a possible feature story in the publication (a relatively unprecedented act of journalistic curiosity among the broadly anglophile news media in the United States). After months of careful discussions with various intermediaries, the initiative resulted in the well-known journalist, Rory Nugent, travelling to the warzone to embed with the insurgents in early 1994. A tour which came just months before the Irish Republican Army announced a “complete cessation” of military operations on the 31st of August 1994.
Rory Nugent has recently published some of the film that was to accompany the Spin article “Inside the IRA”, published just before the IRA’s penultimate ceasefire, on YouTube, featuring guerrillas operating in Belfast and along what was then a supposedly militarised but actually quite porous frontier with the rest of the island. There is also a followup piece from the November 1994 issue of the magazine that is well worth reading.