Tuesday, 28th February 1995
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan
James Tansley (First Secretary, British Embassy)
Eamonn O Cuiv, TD (Fianna Fail)
Andrew Boylan, TD (Fine Gael)
Brian Fitzgerald, TD (Labour Party)
Joyce MacCartan (Women’s Information Network, Belfast)
David Tower (Community worker, N. Belfast)
Chaired by: John Clancy (Meath Peace Group)
Summary of main points and extracts from speeches:
Questions and comments
1. James Tansley, First Secretary, British Embassy, Dublin:
Mr. Tansley explained the principal features of the Framework Documents:
1. The Strand One document incorporates the British Government’s ideas for restoring local democracy in Northern Ireland.
“What is needed is a structure of government that combines democratic legitimacy with a system of checks and balances“. He described the suggestions for a new assembly in Northern Ireland having legislative powers, but no tax-raising powers.
2. The principles behind the Strand 2 document were consent, constitutional change to reflect consent, and self-determination. The North-South body envisaged would not give the Irish Government joint sovereignty over Ireland. There would be checks and balances and there must be agreement both North and South. Contrary to some opinion, there is no pre-determined list of functions to be allocated to this body, although suggestions are included in the document. There is no intention to impose ideas, he said.
3. The Strand 3 document outlines suggestions for addressing the relationship between both governments, replacing the Anglo-Irish Agreement. This is not intended to be a hard-and-fast blueprint, he said, but was very much a consultative document.
Only by addressing the 3 relationships will we find agreement on the island, he said.
To sum up, the Framework Documents allows for:
• The restoration of democratic accountability
• The enshrinement of the principle of consent
• The preservation of the existing birthrights
• The protection of civil, political, social and cultural rights.
He stated that the reaction to the document has been very variable, but he would like to make it clear that there is no intention on the part of the British Government to impose these ideas. They were interested in other ideas that might be presented, and he hoped that the parties would eventually come up with an agreed framework. Once agreement was reached the proposals would be put to the people in a referendum and then would go for approval to the Parliament at Westminster. He believed that the document should be read in its entirety. The many positions were hard to reconcile and there would have to be compromise, he concluded.
2. Eamon O Cuiv, TD (Fianna Fail):
Deputy O Cuiv stressed that we need to go back to the the background to the situation. We need to understand where we’re coming from. He would like to make two points on this:
1. People might want to get away from the notion of territory, but we all live under a government and under laws or a constitution. In Northern Ireland, there are different views:
(i) nationalist view – up to people of whole island
(ii) DUP history of N.I. – stresses there is a N.I. identity separate to rest of Ireland
(iii) British constitutional position – what happens in the island of Ireland is solely a matter for the British Parliament
2. Is there a territorial claim in our Constitution? In his belief, No. According to Article 1, the Irish nation can choose its own form of government; Article 2 is the traditional national claim; in Article 3 the laws will only apply to the 26 counties.
On the 3rd strand he said that government was not an issue in the UK or Republic, but it is an issue in N.I.
Nationalists feel very much part of the Irish nation, he said – all feel part of the one family. There was also a unionist family – they would like local democracy copperfastened by Westminster because they fear the rest of the people on the island, north or south.
On the Framework document he said that he would go along with most of its tenets. He believed it moves the situation forward, but it is not the final solution. It allows people to move into frameworks they can live with.
For nationalists – rather than dry words in a Constitution, this would allow them to start building things on a common ground.
For unionists, two elements are attractive: 1) local democracy; and 2) nationalist Ireland would reaffirm to unionists that we cannot arrive at solutions that didn’t find acquiescence with them.
But the status quo cannot be maintained, he said.
The effort in the Framework document is to get the balance right.
He understood the unionist position to some extent – a large part of N.I. is totally nationalist-dominated. N.I. isn’t simply divided – there are nationalist and unionist-dominated areas. Their fear is once an all-Ireland thing gets going the border would start to disappear – these weren’t natural borders.
“We have to constantly get across to unionists that we have no desire to visit on them what was visited on the nationalist community“, he said.
“They must also be persuaded by the British Govt that they can’t say “no” forever to the people of Britain and the people of the south – they can’t work out an agreement with the nationalists in N.I. without coming to an agreement with the south. “
Deputy O Cuiv stated that he believes there is very little difference between nationalists north and south. Unionists must realise they have to come to some accommodation.
“The Framework will work and it will only work if it’s brought to us in its entirety. In that framework we are once again giving our assurances to the North, and we’re writing it into our Constitution if they want it; that we can reach no solution without their consent was never in doubt.”
Addressing the British Embassy official Deputy O Cuiv outlined his own understanding of the broad nationalist view on the island: To most nationalist people, the symbols of the Crown can be hurtful, he said. He had said in the past that he would have no objection to a united Ireland in the Commonwealth, but he had been criticised for that. We must realise that symbols are powerful to many people and there should be rapid moves in nationalist areas to address the problems.
Policing: Deputy O Cuiv said that it was time to change the police – “they must have no identification with one community or the other”.
There is a need for demilitarization of both the paramilitaries and the police. If we want peace to last, we must be sensitive to these issues.
Prisoners: this was an emotive issue, he said, and he outlined some of the problems faced by families of prisoners. He would beg that we move forward on the issue of prisoners – release the prisoners – this would be a token of good will. “The communities the prisoners come from are also the communities where most of the victims come from”.
“If prisoners are released, it would allow the compromises that nationalists will have to make much easier to bear, and those severed by history could go forward together and bring peace and prosperity in a united way to this island.”
3. Andrew Boylan, TD (Cavan/Monaghan), Member of Fine Gael delegation to Forum for Peace and Reconciliation
Deputy Boylan began by congratulating the members of the Meath Peace Group for the work they were doing. He was aware of what was being done in Meath and had heard very good reports of the talks from people in Cavan who had come to some of them. He said it was very important to continue with this work.
“Peace will last because people want it”, he said. He lived just 4 miles from the border and was very much aware of the savage killings that had been going on. The ordinary people want peace, he said, and the men of violence have been silenced. But fear was a big factor.
The Anglo-Irish Agreement and the International Fund for Ireland had brought about great developments. In all this we mustn’t forget the 6 border counties who had also suffered immensely. Many of the towns and villages in these areas had been totally devastated over the period. These areas must also benefit from the financial spin offs.
Turning to the Declaration he said that the underlying principle was consent and consent will only come about when people understand each other and trust each other. In his area people don’t talk about unionist or nationalist, but about Protestant and Catholic – people from both communities can work together, so why can’t they work together in N.I.? Fear was the biggest factor he said, and we all have a role to play in dispelling fear.
On the Framework Document, Deputy Boylan said : “lasting peace and stability on this island requires that three sets of relationships be addressed: the relationship between the two communities in Northern Ireland, the relationship between both parts of this island, and the relationship between the sovereign governments in Dublin and London.
“In the documents published last week the two Governments have set out their shared view of the points that need to be met if the three relationships are to be satisfactorily accommodated.
“May I briefly say what the Framework document is not. It is not a prescription for an unpalatable dose of medicine. It is not a blue print rigidly to be imposed on the people of Northern Ireland. It is not a cage within which their political leaders will have their dialogue confined. It is not an Irish nationalist agenda. It is not a British agenda. What is it? It is a view, shared by two governments, as to what might most usefully be done to deal with the three, fraught and difficult, sets of relationships.
“It represents an assessment by the two governments of what we think might be an agreed outcome from future talks involving the governments and the Northern Ireland political parties. We believe we have got it right. We are open to persuasion by anyone who believes otherwise.”
“It is now a matter for the people of Northern Ireland, and also for the people in this part of Ireland, and in Britain, to study the document, and I recommend that they do so in a constructive and calm way.”
“No party will regard this document as meeting all their requirements and aspirations. The document represents balance and compromise. If its main elements become the basis for new institutions and political arrangements, I believe that they will ultimately command the widespread support necessary to ensure a fair and effective arrangement for the three sets of relationships to which I referred.”
He said that the Framework Document was founded on four guiding principles:
(i) The principle of self-determination as set out in the December, 1993 Downing Street Joint Declaration;
(ii) The principle that the consent of the governed is an essential ingredient for stability in any political arrangement;
(iii) The principle that agreement must be pursued and established by exclusively democratic peaceful means without resort to violence or coercion;
(iv) and, finally, the principle that any new political arrangements must be based on full respect for, and protection of the expression of, the rights and identities of both traditions in Ireland and must, in an even handed way, afford both communities in Northern Ireland parity of esteem, including equality of opportunity.
In conclusion, Deputy Boylan proposed the setting up of a Peace Bursary for the arts, “to encourage our talented young people, North and South, and which in its first year would be devoted towards composing an anthem incorporating the best of both traditions in this country.”
4. Brian Fitzgerald, TD (Labour, Meath; Member of Labour Party Delegation to Forum for Peace and Reconciliation):
Deputy Fitzgerald welcomed his Oireachtas colleagues and the First Secretary of the British Embassy to the Meath constituency.
He said that we have to consider where we are and where we are likely to be.
” We have an opportunity not to make the same mistakes as were made over the last 70 years. We have an opportunity we should grasp.”
He asked us to consider what might happpen if we don’t. He explained how before the loyalist ceasefire he had met with some former paramilitaries – they were anxious for the ceasefire but were afraid the IRA ceasefire wouldn’t last – “If the ceasefire breaks down, Greysteel or Loughinisland would have nothing on what is likely to happen,” he was told. He said that he came away from the meeting feeling a deep responsibility to ensure that we have a lasting peace.
When the State was set up, both governments sat back and ignored N.I. – perhaps there were good reasons, economic or otherwise, through the thirties, forties and fifties, for this.
Then in the 1960s, we saw the education changes manifested themselves in the civil rights movement. We were all shocked when the violence started. Both governments were not prepared. Bitterness and hatred had built up over all those years.
What happened in the last 25 years changed the thinking of most people in the south – previously many people held a simplistic view of the problem. If Britain left, there would be no further difficulties. Most of us were not aware of the unionist sense of British identity.
“Over the last 25 years, people took up violence in our name. We have learned a lot, albeit at a terrible cost.”
“We can all feel guilty – we glamourised what was happening through song and verse. We may have incited young people with nothing to do, to join the republican movement”, he said.
“We must not make the same mistakes. We must see what we can do as individuals in the Republic to reconcile the two traditions“
We need to look at our Constitution and at our education system, he said. We should not be afraid – we need to use whatever programmes are available to outreach to the unionist community. The unionists are nervous – they feel Britain doesn’t want them and they don’t want us.
Churches: The churches have a major role to play, he said – and that includes all churches. Deputy Fitzgerald said that the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation has been accepted by most political parties on the island. Many people have made submissions – over 350 to date. He was very disappointed that the Catholic Church had not made a submission and he asked the audience to try and get the Church to make a submission, which other churches have already done. Trade unions too have a particular role to play and many have suffered abuse over the years. Women’s groups are playing a major role in the community also, he said.
Prisoners: Deputy Fitzgerald said that the Prisoners’ issue must be addressed – in a sensitive way. “We must also remember the victims. People who have suffered are often softer on the issue, than people who have not suffered. Resettlement programmes must be put in place. But there are differences of opinion here – one group wants all prisoners released and wants to look after them themselves; the other group wants resettlement programmes.”
These issues must be addressed and we have the opportunity now.
Forum for Peace and Reconciliation: he believed the Forum had a major role to play. Many issues are being addressed there, and a wide variety of views was being expressed. People in the south have changed considerably.
“The peace dividend will create an economic dividend that will benefit all”, he said. How much could have been done to address economic deprivation here with the money spent by both governments on security? he asked.
Mr. Fitzgerald ended with a quote from James Connolly, contained in the Labour Party’s document on the nature of the problem.“Ireland without her people is nothing to me”….
He said that the work of the Meath Peace Group clearly reflected the image of Connolly and hoped they would continue and that other counties would follow their example. For his part, he was glad to offer whatever help he could give.
5. Joyce McCartan (Women’s Information Network, Ormeau Rd., Belfast)
Joyce McCartan apologized for coming so late. She said we must remember there was a lot of hurt on both sides and a lot of healing to be done, especially for the women who have suffered so much for 25 years.
She would like to see an all-Ireland but it must be the wish of all. She herself had lost many good friends and family, and has worked for many years with women’s groups. She is hoping to set up a women’s lobby, to say to the men “get down and sit around the table”.
6. David Tower (community worker and P.U.P. member, North Belfast)
Mr Tower explained that he lived in a hard-line loyalist area, and was involved with the Progressive Unionist Party. The people in his area are frightened of nationalists, he said.
On the Framework Document, he said he believed that most people don’t understand it fully. It was far too complex. Politicians jump on the bandwagon – they’ve gone on too long, he said. People in the unionist community want to talk. The document does threaten a united Ireland but at least it has made the main unionist parties produce their own ideas. The British Govt. has put it up to them, he said. He knows the document is unpalatable to unionists.
“Most working-class Protestants want a fair Stormont”, he said. Mr Tower said that he is not opposed to talking to Sinn Fein. Nationalists have been frozen out for too long, he said. Though he is opposed to a united Ireland he believes in talking with each other. It was important to start at the bottom and tackle the economic issues first. Then, after perhaps 2 years, it would be possible to talk about constitutional matters.
Most hard-line unionists are not aware that the people in the Republic don’t want to take over, he said. Politicians have misrepresented them for too long. There won’t be agreement on the nationality issue, but maybe in time it will become irrelevant, with Europe etc.
The Irish Government should stay away from the talks table for the moment, he said. The British Government should put an ultimatum to the unionists – that they will start talking with whoever wants to talk. He believed the unionists would eventually come on board.
Closing words: On behalf of the Meath Peace Group, Anne Nolan (Slane) thanked the speakers for coming. She was encouraged by what several of the speakers had said about the importance of local groups. She explained that one of the suggestions in the Meath Peace Group’s submission to the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation was that this type of local forum be developed throughout the length and breadth of the island.
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS: Summary of main questions only
Q.1. Cllr. Christy Gorman (Democratic Left, Meath County Council):
He congratulated the governments on the talks initiative. He would like to ask Deputy O Cuiv about his call for new policing – How did he see this being implemented?
Deputy O Cuiv referred to a recent discussion on Cursai on the policing issue, in which SF took part, and which featured a previously recorded interview with David Ervine of the Progressive Unionists. He pointed to the British police model which is based on different areas of the country. SF were agreeable to the idea of policing under different areas, but with the same police force covering the Falls and Shankill areas of Belfast, he said. The new police should not be called the “RUC” but should be based on the British system, he said. They would be cross-community in each area – with equal representation and with neutral symbols. The membership could, of course, comprise former members of the RUC.
Joyce McCartan (Belfast) pointed out that the reason why Catholics didn’t join the RUC was because of IRA intimidation. She wanted to point out that there were good policemen too.
Deputy Boylan: He wanted to bring up the question of punishment beatings. There was need for a reorganisation of the police force – the full answer to this would come when people started to trust each other. But “we cannot condone the brutal beatings that are taking place”. He urged members of the Meath Peace Group to travel to N.I. and meet as many people as possible.
Q. 2. (Slane resident): Questioner wanted to bring up the wording in the Document – he believed the idea of consent of the greater number of people in N.I. was in fact meaningless – if a majority wanted to vote for unification, there would still be a large number wanting to be in the UK. There were areas, particularly around Belfast, where there would be a large majority in favour of staying. However the present wording would imply that this large minority in the N.E. would be forced into a united Ireland. Also, if this side decides to abolish Arts. 2 and 3, have they the right to say to people in, say, Newry, that we don’t want you?
The real answer must be to give an opportunity to those who want to be transferred to be transferred, he said. A referendum should be held and a boundary commission set up – people should be allowed to transfer if a majority in an area wished for it. His ideal would be a united republic of Great Britain and Ireland.
Q. 3. (Slane resident): Question to Deputy Fitzgerald referring to latter’s statement that we must reach out to unionists. As the site of the Battle of the Boyne is in this area, had the deputy any ideas about how unionists might be helped to celebrate the Battle in its location.
Fitzgerald: He did not agree as he did not believe that re-playing battles is the way to reconcile the divisions. “We must remember and respect our dead but we mustn’t use a battle to do this”, he said.
Q. 4 (Primary school teacher, Ratoath): He was disappointed with O Cuiv’s talking about nationalism. How could he reconcile his pacifism with his talk about nationalism? He was glad to hear the loyalist interpretation of the document. What would be David Tower’s interpretation of the UDP defeat in the recent by-election at the time of the leak of the Framework Document? He hoped that the Progressive Unionists would gain ground but he was worried that fear can take away their support.
David Tower: Traditionally Orange people had put faith in what was put forward by their political leaders. During elections in N.I. it comes down to voting for who is wearing the Union Jack or the Tricolour. It was going to take years to break this down, he said. That is why the UDP were defeated recently. “At times of elections, the people resort back to old alliances and hard-line politicians”.
Joyce McCartan: “The loyalist people were too wise to elect the UDP candidate, she believed. The fringe parties stand for people who have murdered innocent people”, she said.
David Tower: “Many people connected with the fringe parties are ex-terrorists, but no member of those parties is currently a member of a paramilitary group. They are genuinely working now for their communities and must be given a chance. David Ervine and McMichael are grass-roots unionists”, he said, and it was not fair to hold their past against them.
Joyce McCartan: She meets many women through the Women’s Information Network, and they don’t want ex-terrorists representing them. They want people who will work on the real issues – poverty, unemployment etc.
David Tower: Ervine and McMichael etc. are only interested in bettering conditions for their own communities.
Deputy Fitzgerald: We have to be fair. There would not have been a ceasefire without Gusty Spence, Ervine, McMichael, Hutchinson, Mitchell and others. They are the guiding people behind the ceasefire and it is they who have the influence, he said.
Deputy Boylan agreed.
Deputy O Cuiv: Getting back to the question about the greater number theory. If by some chance it came to a day when 1 more nationalist in the North wanted a united Ireland, the questioner had asked, would unionists be irrelevant? This would be abhorrent to him – he feels there should be a guarantee that no change will come unless the consent of all sections is given. As for the previous question, re his pacifism. Yes he is a pacifist, and is opposed to all wars. He had always put the argument to SF that their legitimate aspirations would be put much better by laying down their arms. Many people are wishing away their nationalist feeling. But we all feel nationality. That is reality. We shouldn’t ignore it because it causes problems. “We must face up to diversity and not fudge it, then we can sit down and ask how can we start reconciling.”
He said he represented an area – Connemara – where there are Irish and English-speaking sections. He got elected by both parts by being up-front and showing that he was no threat to the other part.
“We must face the nationality problem … We must recognise it in a pacific way and come up with a formula that everybody feels at home with.”
Q. 5 – Nuala McGuinness (Nobber resident, originally from N. Ireland): She explained that she was brought up in Northern Ireland and had worked there for many years. Lately she had noticed two important and hopeful changes:
(1) a survey last year showed that a certain percentage of the Catholic population in N.I. would opt to stay with the union.
(2) parties like the PUP and UDP were unheard of in her day. The working-class were realising that they had a lot in common with each other.
She would hope that these 2 changes would help to break down the tribalism. It is the hearts and minds of the people in N.I. that matter, and she was hopeful for the future.
Q. 6 – Cllr. Phil Cantwell (Ind., Trim UDC): Deputy O Cuiv had referred to a united Ireland under the Commonwealth – perhaps this idea should be looked at? Maybe the unionists would not feel so alienated then. He was concerned that Deputy O Cuiv seemed only to have visited nationalist areas of N.I. and would agree with Deputy Fitzgerald that people like Ervine and Mitchell etc. should be encouraged. He referred to the background of people in the older generation – the belief that Catholics were superior etc. He believed that everything should be on the table. He was heartened by David Ervine saying that peace would continue despite their problems with the Framework document.
Deputy O Cuiv explained that his trips to N.I. were mostly on invitation. He had recently spent a weekend in Corrymeela with other TDs, meeting unionists, and this was a very fruitful weekend. If invited to an Orange parade, he would go in a flash, he said. He wants to reach out to both communities.
Q. 7: (Secondary school teacher, Nobber): He saw parallels with the 1880s when Parnell held the balance of power. The unionists could well hold the same leverage now, in Westminster and in the proposed north-south body. The power has moved to Brussels, very important decisions are being made there. Economics is a very powerful factor in bringing people together. In the proposed north-south body, there would be equal representation. From being an isolated community at the moment, N.I. could be propelled into a position of great leverage.
Q. 8: (Slane resident): He referred to his earlier question re weakness in the wording of the document and would like an answer.
Deputy Boylan: Decisions would be taken by majority vote. He wouldn’t like to see further fragmentation. At the moment there is fear and misunderstanding, but the cross-border development could have enormous potential. We must improve economic conditions, but we must remember that the world-wide goodwill will not last forever. We have to be prepared to bury our prejudices, he said.
Q. 9: (Duleek resident): Can we have a permanent peace with the British army in N.I.?
Deputy Fitzgerald reminded the audience why the British army were first brought in. We must be very sensitive in the language we use, he said.
Summing up the discussion, John Clancy said that one of the most important statements in the document was the recognition and regret expressed by both governments for the “mistakes of the past”. There was a groundswell of opinion wanting peace, but we shouldn’t rush ahead too fast, he said. This point was made in the Meath Peace Group’s submission to the Forum, and the group had also asked that local fora be initiated throughout the island to discuss ideas and listen to the fears, aspirations and ideas of others. On behalf of the Group he thanked the Columban Fathers for permitting the use of the facilities at Dalgan Park for the talks.
Meath Peace Group report – March 1995. Report compiled and edited by Julitta Clancy
Meath Peace Group – contact names 1995: Julitta Clancy, Parsonstown, Batterstown, Co. Meath; Anne Nolan, Gernonstown, Slane, Co. Meath