The Combined Loyalist Military Command, an umbrella body for several Protestant terrorist groups in Northern Ireland, Thursday declared a cease-fire that will be, it promises, as permanent as the cease-fire declared in August by its Catholic nationalist counterpart, the Irish Republican Army.
This was the second shoe that weary Northern Irish had been waiting to hear fall. Both sides want to believe that, at last, a generation of bloodshed is at an end.
The loyalist declaration was greeted with open enthusiasm by Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds. British Prime Minister John Major reacted with more guarded hopefulness.
Britain promised a year ago that Sinn Fein, the IRA's political partner, would be welcome at multilateral negotiations after three months of unbroken peace. Major, himself once the target of an IRA assassination attempt, is under mounting pressure for an earlier start. Whatever his personal feelings, the news, which reached him at a Tory Party conference, is something of a political windfall, and he may capitalize on it.
Loyalist terrorism has taken more lives in recent years than nationalist terrorism, and the Protestants' targets are typically civilians identified as enemies by their Roman Catholic affiliation alone.
The fear exists that leaders of the Combined Loyalist Military Command may be less firmly in control than Gerry Adams of the IRA's Sinn Fein. But their hand, like Adams', is strengthened by a popular feeling that even the hardest of the "hard men" may be forced to acknowledge: It's about time.