29. “The Good Friday Agreement”
Tuesday, 5th May, 1998
St. Joseph’s (Convent of Mercy) Secondary School, Navan, Co. Meath
(Held in Association with Transition Year Class, St. Joseph’s)
Noel Dempsey, TD (Fianna Fail, Meath;Minister for the Environment
Nora Owen, TD (Fine Gael, Dublin; former Minister for Justice)
Cllr. Brian Fitzgerald (Labour Party, Meath)
Cllr. John Fee (SDLP, Newry and Mourne District Council)
Lily Kerr (Workers’ Party, Belfast)
Mary Montague(Corrymeela Community)
Chaired by Paul Murphy (Editor, Drogheda Independent)
Introduction: Paul Murphy
Addresses of speakers
Questions and Comments
Chair (Paul Murphy): “ I would just like to thank the Meath Peace Group for asking me to chair this meeting. I have known of course for quite some time of the Meath Peace Group and I have admired them from afar and this is an opportunity to get together and share some ideas. I have a few introductory remarks and I hope you will bear with me:
“…. Since the summer of ‘92 the Irish and British governments and the various parties in the North have embarked on a political talks process. It’s a process which tries to understand the other’s point of view. The only thing wrong is not that our relations have improved but that it took so long. For most of the time most of the people on these islands behave in a perfectly normal manner towards each other. We share the same culture, we share some of the history, we share a geography and we have similar institutions and similar ways of doing things. The antipathy in the Republic towards things British has undoubtedly eased in recent years even if it has not dissipated yet. Also, as was demonstrated very powerfully in the weeks following the Warrington bombings, the great mass of our people share a desire to bring about an end to terrorism and a lasting peace in Northern Ireland.
“There was no quick fix to the problem in Northern Ireland. If there was a solution it would have been acknowledged or discovered a long time ago. There is no magic wand. The principle behind the Anglo-Irish Agreement is democratic consent. Of course I know it is often maintained that Northern Ireland is an undemocratic entity athat the normal rules don’t apply. But the similar answer is that consent is more than just a necessity. It’s a practical one too. This incidentally is why terrorism is pointless as well as morally wrong. Terrorism itself will not persuade a million or so unionists or half a million nationalists to change their beliefs. Nor will it persuade British governments or Irish governments to abandon their polices or principles.
“In 1993, the then British Ambassador to Ireland, Mr. David Blatherwick, visited Drogheda. He said that as the authority responsible for Northern Ireland, “the British government had to ensure effective government there. In doing so, they sought to ensure that they operated an administration which recognised the special nature of society in Northern Ireland and which was guided by the imperative to provide fair, equitable and effective government for all.” Mr. Blatherwick ended with these words: “Our chief goal is the resolution of the tragic situation in Northern Ireland itself. Its people have suffered too much and too long. But there’s a wider issue that needs addressing – the “putting to bed” of the “ancient quarrel” as it’s called within these islands. The tragedies and complexities of Northern Ireland represent the final tangle in a long, shared history. The final tangle is always the hardest to undo.”
“I just wanted to repeat those words to you to remind us that we’re a long way down the road and that’s what we’re here to discuss tonight.
ADDRESSES OF SPEAKERS
1. Noel Dempsey, TD (Minister for the Environment)
“I would like to thank the Meath Peace Group for organising this talk – they have been to the fore in trying to bring about peace and reconciliation and have played a great role in Meath over the past few years.
Historic opportunity: “Speaking for the government, I have to say that the Irish Government believes that this Agreement offers a truly historic opportunity for a new beginning, for relationships within Northern Ireland, between North and South, and between Britain and Ireland.
“The Agreement itself is the culmination of two years of very intense negotiations, but in a wider sense it is the product of over two decades of closer partnership between the two governments. It was built on and drew upon the previous attempts that were made to forge some kind of settlement.
“In many ways the document agreed on Good Friday at Castle Buildings represents an accumulation of the wisdom and work of a generation of politics and politicians on the island. I believe that its value is all the greater and all the deeper for that. While great credit is due to all those who took part in the latter stages of those negotiations, it is also very important, as a member of Government, that we pay tribute to all those who were previously involved.
“We believe that the Agreement is fair, balanced and very comprehensive. Each party to the negotiations will undoubtedly find aspects to its particular liking and equally each will have difficulties with some part or other of it.
“Somebody said before the Agreement was reached that if any party walked away from the talks 100% satisfied with the Agreement, then the Agreement would be a failure – it would mean that somebody got everything they felt was necessary, and maintained their own position.
“If you want a very negative view of the Agreement – nobody was satisfied with it in the sense that nobody felt they had got their own way entirely.
Balance: “There is a balance there, and I think it is important when we’re discussing the Agreement that we should recognise that there had to be that balance – there had to be give and take on all sides.
Risks for peace: “The Agreement itself envisages a future that’s based on the acceptance of diversity and on the principles of mutual respect, equality and partnership. In the interests of peace and reconciliation all sides were required and are required to move from traditionally absolutist positions. We’ve all been asked to take our own risks for peace and make our own compromises in the interests of the Agreement as a whole. That’s what the people North and South are being asked to do on the 22nd May when they vote on the Agreement. The Government believes that in asking others to take such risks and make such compromises that we have to be prepared as well and be willing to do the same ourselves.
Principle of consent: “If I could turn briefly to the constitutional issue – in that section of the Agreement a new accommodation has been forged regarding the special position of Northern Ireland that’s based on the principle of consent. The centre of gravity as far as we’re concerned – of the whole issue of sovereignty and self-determination – has been shifted back to the people of Ireland. For the first time a precise mechanism has been defined and accepted by the British Government by which a united Ireland can be put in place or a continuation of the current situation can be maintained. The principle of consent is there and that principle of consent is to be exercised by the people
Constitutional change – modernisation of basic principles: “The British and Irish governments have committed themselves to incorporating this new approach into their respective constitutional frameworks. The specific changes to the Irish Constitution – to be put to the people for their consideration on 22nd May – represent a modernisation of our basic principles, not a rejection of them
Equality: “In terms of the new institutions being established, the whole focus is on partnership that is based on equality. There will be no going back to the days of domination by one community over the other. Currently the nationalist community in Northern Ireland are in a minority and we should be striving for a situation now where those that are in a minority should feel that they are equal to the majority. Equally, when and if changes take place, demographic or otherwise, that the minority community in the future will feel equally part of the community and feel equal citizens. That’s what we had to achieve in this Agreement, and I believe the Agreement will do that.
The focus on a new partnership is also at the heart of the agreed North-South arrangements and structures. The central importance of the equality agendais recognised in the Agreement – there’s a major section in the Agreement on human rights protection, social, economic and cultural issues, including the Irish language. There are measures to deal with consequences of the conflict, in particular in regard to the sensitive issues of prisoners and policingThere are major new initiatives in the crucial area of policing and the administration of justice.
Change: “If I could sum up the Agreement I would say the Agreement is about change – the whole theme about the need for change and a new beginning runs throughout the document. It was clear, I think, to all the participants in the negotiations that we just couldn’t go on as we had, and that change had to occur. It is true, obviously, as well, that different people had very different views about the kind of change that was necessary, but nobody disputed the fact that change was needed. We believe that in reaching this particular Agreement, the negotiators have set in motion the process of change which will be to the benefit of both communities and to the island as a whole, and to the relationships between east and west.
“Obviously over the next number of weeks it is up to the various parties to put their views across in relation to the referendum and to try and get a yes vote in both parts of the island. I think it would be a very foolish person to imagine that if a yes vote is secured on both sides of the border that the work is finished – at that stage the work is only beginning… Thank you”
2. Nora Owen, TD (Fine Gael; Minister for Justice during Coalition Government, 1994-1997)
“I would like to thank the Meath Peace Group for calling this meeting together. I hope that throughout Ireland and Northern Ireland many such meetings will be held between now and the 22nd May, so that people can put life into this document. It’s being dropped into every household – but it is really only through this kind of interchange and discussion that some of the issues you need to question can be addressed – and believe me, there are people, perhaps in this room tonight, who are concerned about some elements of this Agreement, and what I and the Minister and others have to do between now and the 22nd May is to convince people that this Agreement has balance in it, an Agreement that will work for all the people on this island.
Maturity: “I was struck when we went to debate the Agreement in Dail Eireann that the reception the Taoiseach got was very very different from the reception that Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith and the other signatories of the Treaty in 1921 got . I looked at the Dail Debates again. There was much heckling, much bitterness, much acrimony across the floor of the Dail when Michael Collins was explaining why he felt it was necessary to sign the Treaty. Bertie Ahern, thankfully, did not have to put up with that kind of acrimony from across the House, and in fact, by the time the lead speakers had spoken and by the time the rest of us got into speak there were very few people left in the Chamber and no media at all left. Now I’m not making that as a critical point. I’m just saying that it is an indication of the maturity, perhaps, of our democracy that all the parties in Dail Eireann were able to come together and support the Agreement as signed by the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, and by Tony Blair and by the people involved in the talks. I think all of us should be grateful to all of us as citizens of this island that we had reached that maturity, that we were not tearing each other apart and creating acrimony and dissension in the Dail.
“So if you didn’t hear what some of us said in the Dail, it’s not because we didn’t make a comment – it’s because by that time the main speakers had spoken and the media had enough lines to quote rather than stay in the Dail.
Triumph of people power: “I believe this Good Friday Agreement is a triumph of people power over violence – not just the people who were there at the end when the Agreement was signed, but all the people North and South, who over the last number of years came out and declared both publicly and privately that they were fed up, sick to the teeth, of the kind of violence that had been part of their community in Northern Ireland.
“The did that in a number of ways – they did it when the ceasefires came in 1994, they did it in their manifestation of anger when the ceasefire was broken at Canary Wharf in 1996, and when the new ceasefire was declared in July of 1997, there was a fairly muted acceptance of that ceasefire for fear that it would go the way the previous ceasefire had gone. But none the less people clearly spoke to their politicians, whether publicly or privately, and let them know in no uncertain terms that they weren’t going to put up with the return of the bomb and the bullet and the intimidation and the kind of life that many of them had to lead.
“It’s easy for us in the South to forget what life was like in the North – what became the norm for people in Northern Ireland. Parents couldn’t let their teenage children go on the bus into the city, go to the cinema, go to McDonald’s or wherever they wanted to go. That was not the norm in Northern Ireland for many many years ….. The norm now is becoming as we have enjoyed it down here – that people can let their teenage children out without worrying whether they have got caught up in a bomb somewhere in the city centre. They can let their teenage children out without worrying that perhaps they might be seduced into joining a paramilitary organisation, and they can let their children out without worrying that if they stay out overnight that they will be home the next day. That now is becoming the norm and the people of Northern Ireland made it clear to their politicians, both unionist and nationalist, that that is what they wanted.
Talks: “So when on June 10th , I and others went to Northern Ireland to start the talks which eventually led to this Agreement, although there was still disagreement, a lot of disagreement around that table, there was a sense that people did want to reach some accommodation.We had a lot of difficulty at the beginning of those talks to get the unionists to accept Senator George Mitchell – but they did accept Senator Mitchell, and I felt that once the chairmanship of the talks had been accepted by the unionists, we were on the road, even if it was going to take the two and a half years that it did take.
“But remember, when you look at the history of Ireland,and remember that for 700 plus years we were under the yoke of the British (and I see at least one representative of the British Government here) – what’s two years between friends? It’s not that long really. I think we have to recognise that, with the frustration we all felt with the delays and the fact that sometimes it looked like the talks were going to break up, in the moment of history, in that little grain of sand for the last couple of years that makes up the history of these years, it was a very very small moment in history for us to have reached this momentous and historic Agreement on Good Friday of this year.
Need for overwhelming vote: “So all of us as citizens of this island must all take credit that you and us together urged each other on, we were not going to allow things to return to the way they were. That I think is the great success of this Agreement. And that is why I think that despite some reservations people will have about Articles 2 and 3, I believe people will overwhelmingly vote for this Agreement on May 22nd. And I hope they will overwhelmingly vote for it in Northern Ireland too.
“I can only make that appeal to anybody here in this audience tonight from Northern Ireland – that they will do what they can to make sure it is voted for by both communitiesin Northern Ireland. I don’t think it’s enough for a very strong nationalist vote – I think we need a strong unionist vote as well for this Agreement. Because if we don’t have that, the fear and the danger is that perhaps there will be a slipping back into the old ways and the old language.
Change in attitude: “What we are aiming for now with the passage of this Agreement is for a change in attitude – a change in people’s attitude to each other. The Agreement recognises that there are differences, recognises the aspirations of both the nationalists and the unionists, and nobody has to give up those aspirations, nobody has to relinquish them, on one side or the other. This was not a winners’ and losers’ agreement – this was a balanced agreement.
“But we have to hope that peoples’ attitudes will change and that they will say “OK, fair enough, that’s what you think, that’s what you like – well, sorry I would like to remain part of the United Kingdom, but let’s get on with it and let’s see what we can do to make, here and now, Northern Ireland a better place to live, let’s make our housing policy more unified, let’s make our schooling and education policy more unified”. We don’t have to keep on arguing that you’re a unionist and I’m a nationalist – we both have children, they need education – let’s see how best we can deliver the education.
Normal politics: “That’s why the north-south bodies have been built into this Agreement, and I hope that when those bodies are set up, we will see some normal politicscoming into Northern Ireland. The Anglo-Irish Conference has been in place, and I’ve sat many times at Anglo-Irish Conferences and saw how we generally concentrated on things political really until the last couple of years. I remember distinctly at one of those Anglo-Irish Conferences raising the issue of the fight against drugs, and after that meeting we all said “thanks be to God – we had an Anglo-Irish Conference where we actually talked about something that unifies us, rather than the differences between us.” Because people in the North were just as concerned about the growth in the use of drugs and drug-trafficking among their communities as we were here in the South. And so some normality came into our cooperation with Northern Ireland and the Ministers and officials there.
“So that’s what I hope we will see over the next few months when we have the Assembly elections, and then we have the Assembly in place, and the North-South institutions, and the East-West institutions made up of the British and Irish Governments. Where we can talk about environment policy, tourism policy, agricultural policy. That’s what this Agreement is actually all about – bringing that kind of normality into our politics.
Making history: “History is what we make it ourselves… You’re making history – this referendum will be talked about in twenty, thirty and forty years from now, in the same way that we talk about the Treaty in 1921. People will be asking “I wonder what people were like then – I wonder why they voted so overwhelmingly for this Agreement”, and I hope they will be saying that and I hope they will be saying “thank God they voted for that Agreement”. All of us together are now making history – and it’s sometimes easy to forget that. We think this is just something we are being asked to do. It’s not something we’re just being asked to do – it’s something that is crucial for us all to do together.
Treaty of substance: “Sean Mac Eoin said, in the 1921 Debates on the Treaty, that they brought back a “treaty of substance”, not a “treaty of shadows”. Well this treaty of Good Friday is a treaty of substance, not a treaty of shadows – a treaty which we must all read carefully . But it is a treaty of substance – it is real and will make a difference to all our lives. Who would have thought five years ago, even three years ago, even two years ago that the unionists would have sat down with Sinn Fein at any table? I saw the antipathy between the unionists and the SDLP (and the SDLP weren’t involved in any way with a party involved in violence), but now they are sitting down, or did sit down with Sinn Fein at the table.
Articles 2 and 3: “Who would have thought five years ago, with no disrespect to the Minister here, that Fianna Fail would be advocating a change in Articles 2 and 3? That has happened. Who would have thought that some members of Fine Gael and other parties would be advocating a change in Articles 2 and 3, because we all felt Articles 2 and 3 were precious to us and they shouldn’t be changed. But the language and the changes that are being advocated here are brilliant in their terminology and brilliant in the way they have recognised both aspirations and the reality of what Ireland is today, and what Articles 2 and 3 should really be today. They’re talking about the right of Irish people to decide which part of the territory they want to belong to and it’s also recognising what Mary Robinson talked about, the diaspora of Irish people who have gone abroad.
North-south bodies: “Who would have thought we would be talking of north-south bodies, with ministers of both governments, North and South, actually having the power to make laws and regulations that would have an effect north and south of the border? I certainly wasn’t thinking like that three or four years ago myself – I never thought we would see the day when we would actually be sitting down and doing things like that.
Sensitive issues: “What we are asking people to do is: read the agreement, to realise that peace does not belong to one community as opposed to the other. To realise that issues like and the decommissioning of armsare still issues that have to be handled sensitively, that are going to cause ups and downs in the Agreement and in the new Assembly as it goes along.
Prisoners: “There’s no simple answer to the release of prisoners – some people will think it’s absolutely essential, others will think it’s a disgrace. There’s a balance somewhere in the middle – some prisoners will have to be released.
Victims: “… If the Agreement is a bit weak and light on something – it is on the issue of victims. And I know there are some young men here who I would call victims of what has been going on in Northern Ireland for 25 or 30 years. There are some young men and women living in Northern Ireland who have never known anything except strife and division and anger and bombs. The only way they have known in their community to get what they want is to join in that kind of anger and strife. Those people need attention, they need help now to make the fundamental change to their own attitudes to their neighbours in Northern Ireland. I hope the sections in the Agreement about victims and about cross-community endeavours – I hope they’re not just pious aspirations. I genuinely hope that the government in Northern Ireland, the new Assembly, will make a difference in those two areas – without that we will not actually see full reconciliation. There is unfinished business – there are people like the IRA and Sinn Fein who will have to tell people where their dead relatives are buried – so that they can be given the dignity of a burial and people can get on with their lives
Encouraging people to vote: “There is still some unfinished business, but I think together, all of us, we can make a difference. But you here tonight do have a responsibility to ring up your friends and tell them they have to go out and vote – it isn’t enough to say “ah sure someone else will vote”. Each person in this room has to stimulate at least another five people who might not otherwise go out and vote – you’re the actual converted because you’re here at this meeting tonight. It’s not enough to feel “I’ve done my bit, I’ve read the Agreement and I’ll go out to vote.” You have to get some more people to vote – and I give that message to people here from both the North and the South. Thank you very much.”
3. Lily Kerr (Belfast trade unionist; member of Ard Chomhairle of the Workers Party):
“Thank you chairman Can I once again thank the Meath Peace Group – as usual they have always got their finger on the button. These meetings are important – it’s important that people come together to discuss these things.
“Although my party was not in the talks, I would have to add my thanks to all of the politicians and my congratulations to all the parties that were in the talks, and all the politicians that were there beforehand.
Agreement: “I think actually what amazed me and a lot of people was that there was an agreement, never mind the contents of what was in the Agreement, but the very fact that eventually an Agreement was able to be reached.
Strength of the Agreement: “We could nit-pick our way through the Agreement – there’s many things in the Agreement that I don’t like, that I have a problem conceptually with. Having said that, as a negotiator, I do know that you don’t get all you want when you go to the table. And probably in a perverse way the strength of the agreement is that didn’t get exactly what they wanted, because as Minister Dempsey said earlier on, had it come down in favour of one party or another then it wouldn’t have been fair.
Need for resounding “yes” vote: “Nora talked about the demand from the people in Northern Ireland, and in the south of Ireland, for talks. The people actually did lead the way, and that’s not to take away from the politicians who sat around the table and hammered out the Agreement. Now it’s back to the people again, and it’s not just down to the people in Northern Ireland – it’s down to the people in the south of Ireland as well We need a resounding “yes” this side of the border as well, because anything short of a resounding “yes” can send out a very very negative message.
Individual responsibility: “I don’t think we can afford to be complacent about this Agreement. We read the opinion polls, and I’m heartened by the opinion polls, and I see that 70% of the population in Northern Ireland and 69% of the population in the South will be going out to vote and they will be voting “yes”. That can have its downside as well because someone can suppose that everyone else is going out to vote I speak now as an individual, because there is collective responsibility and there is individual responsibility.
“Nora Owen spoke about parents. I’m a parent, I’ve got 5 children – the oldest is 25, he’ll be getting married in July. I want his children to know a peace that he didn’t know. My youngest son is 15. Nora spoke about people being able to let their children go out to the pictures – the cinema is not half a mile from me, but I couldn’t let my youngest go to a matinee on a Saturday because I was fearful that there would be a bomb scare or that there would be a bomb. I remember when the first ceasefire broke down I was quite annoyed – my older children were able to go to the cinema and go into town and I was damned sure I wasn’t going to allow anyone to take that away from me. And that’s the kind of spirit we need. We need individually to exercise responsibility.
“As I said, there are things as a socialist which I’m not happy with in this Agreement, but I have no right to put my high-faluting principles in front of peace. This won’t deliver an instant peace – it is a start, as Noel Dempsey said. For far too long in Northern Ireland we’ve had a democratic deficit with absolutely no accountability. Getting an Assembly means there will be accountability.
Normal politics: “When you take away the siege you take away the siege mentality and the one hope I hang on to is that this is the start of something, and then we can get down to normal politics, we can get down to discussing the social and economic issues that dearly need to be discussed in Northern Ireland.
Hope: “What this agreement gives us is not a panacea for all ills – it gives us hope and no one has the right to take that hope away from us.
Duty of Care to each other: “That is why I’m determined, and my party is determined, that we will be out knocking on doors, and if necessary I will knock on every door in my street and point out to my neighbours, though they might think I am lecturing to them, that they owe a duty of care to each of their neighbours and each and every citizen in Northern Ireland. I would say to you that people on this side of the border owe that same duty of care to each other and particularly to the people within the North who have suffered for thirty years. Thank you”
4. Cllr. Brian Fitzgerald (Labour Party, Meath):
“Thank you chairman – first of all I would like to thank the Meath Peace Group for organising this meeting. There is a considerable lack of such meetings taking place. There are meetings taking place from a negative point of view, but certainly there are very few meetings from a positive point of view taking place. Credit is due to the Meath Peace Group who have been toiling away for many many years now.
“At the outset, I would like to declare my position: I would ask people to support the Agreement because I think it is the only chance we have, and it is the only chance the people North and South have of ever getting back to real politics. We should have our discussions concerning aspects of the agreement because they are going to come up at the doorsteps, and during the debate which will take place, probably in an intense way, over the next few weeks.
Difficulties ahead: “It may not be as sound an Agreement as it may appear – it is highly aspirational at this stage. People shouldn’t think otherwise. The more you read it the more difficulties you can see. Obviously I see serious difficulties ahead, because when the referendum is held on 22nd May, and I would sincerely hope and pray that this end of the country will vote overwhelmingly yes, and indeed I’m quite certain that the majority of people who go out to vote will vote “yes”, my concern is, as has been happening down through the years with different referenda, that we have an extremely low turnout. That is a difficulty, because, as someone mentioned earlier, that would send a very wrong message to the people who have other ideas
“When the referendum is over, with a resounding “yes”, then the real work will begin – the Assembly elections will take place some time afterwards.
Duration of the Assembly: “It would appear that there is no timescale for the of the Assembly. I would hope that if there is an Assembly election that the Assembly would last at least 5 years to ensure that people will be able to settle in.
Executive: “There will be some difficulties with the setting up of an Executive to that Assembly. I don’t see a problem with the unionist party or the SDLP, but certainly if there are a considerable number of people from other parties elected, and there is a difficulty with some of them taking seats on an Executive, I can see long hard debates in trying to resolve those particular issues. People will obviously have to be very patient.
North-South bodies: “Then you have the Ministerial Council which will be set up between the Assembly and the Oireachtas – we do not know exactly what powers they will have or what powers they will be allowed to have, because it will require both the Assembly and the Oireachtas to approve what they are proposing to do. There are areas there which will take a lot of very hard work.
“I believe it’s going to need a number of things:
• It’s going to require courage– and over the last few months and weeks, people have been saying that various people had displayed courage. A number of people over the years have displayed considerable courage, none more so than John Fee who was prevented by what he would regard as fellow nationalists from carrying on his duties, and he bears the scars still. Yet he stuck with it through thick and thin, and it’s great that he is with us here tonight.
• We will have to be open – all the parties will have to be open to each other, after the election
• We will have to be honest with each other as well – all parties.
• Above all, we will have to be patient and they will have to be patient. Because everything is not going to happen over night or over the first year of the Assembly or over the first five years of the various ministerial councils which will be set up.
Hard decisions: “If we set up an Assembly and if we set up all of the bodies surrounding that Assembly, we have got to be firm, and very hard decisions will have to be taken, because nobody should be allowed to wreck those institutions once they are set up. And it means that hard decisions will have to be taken, both in the south as well as in the north, then they will have to be taken.
Principle of Consent: “The key to success for all of those bodies is for people to accept what has been enshrined in the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Downing Street Declaration, the Framework Document and the Good Friday Agreement – that is the principle of consent – that has to be accepted. And if the people of Ireland accept that, which I believe they will, nobody has the right to overthrow or overturn that decision of the people.
Declaration that the war is over: “I believe the ceasefires have to remain in place – but I would prefer, and .. I do agree with Mary Harney when she said today, that the IRA has got to declare that the war is over. I believe that has to happen. I’m not talking about arms or ammunition because, as someone once said, “rust never sleeps”. I want to see them making that declaration if the people of Ireland decide on the 22nd. That is most important.
“The Agreement will be judged on its durability to withstand all the pressures that will come after. We saw what happened to Sunningdale – we do not want another Sunningdale. I do not believe you will have an Ulster Workers’ strike, but there will be other forces who will try to wreck it.
Potential: “The Agreement has a lot of potential – tremendous potential both North and South. During the 18 months to 2 years when I sat on the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation – and Noel and myself were there week in and week out – we had the opportunity to meet with various politicians from Northern Ireland and various community groups. We saw an experience – tremendous ability which was not being allowed to do what it wanted to do…. They had to deal with issues on a daily basis which were negative issues in many respects, whereas they should have been dealing with health and education.matters etc.
“I sincerely hope that those people elected to the Assembly will be at last given the opportunity to do what they wanted to do and were not allowed to do over the last 25 years. I think we will be surprised at the ability when it is displayed and we will all learn from them.
Changes to politics in the south: “In the south I also see changes in the whole political makeup. Nora touched on it slightly here tonight. For many years parties were divided because of the national question. The flag was pulled out in the course of general elections to maybe get the party faithful the bandwagon moving, but it did divide parties and we could all say, “for what?” I believe after May 22nd , that issue will no longer be there, and people will start looking at politics from a different perspective than they have been – maybe they will look at it from a left or right position, I sincerely hope that happens. Heaven knows what realignment we will have in the south after the referendum.
Encouraging people to go out and vote: “I would like to ask each and every person who has any influence to try and encourage others to go out and vote on the 22nd. It’s important that we have not just a “yes” vote but that we have a high turnout – ng equivalent to a general election , 70% at a minimum. We need that high vote to demonstrate to the people who have other ideas, and they are out there to wreck this process, but we should not allow them to do that. When it is accepted by the people of Ireland North and South, that firm decisions are taken to ensure that the people have their say which will be a “yes” vote on the 22nd. Thank you”
5. Cllr. John Fee (SDLP, Newry and Mourne District Council)
“Thank you Chairman, and thank you Brian for your gracious words. Can I also say thank you very much to the Meath Peace Group for inviting me – I have to apologise for the number of times I’ve been invited and I haven’t been able to come here and I’ve let people down at the last minute.
“Because I haven’t been here before, perhaps I’d better introduce myself. I’m John Fee – I’m 34 years of age, I’ve been an SDLP councillor for ten years in what they call “bandit country” – I was born and reared in South Armagh, in Crossmaglen. I still live there with my wife, I still represent it, and I’m very proud of the community I come from and the place where I live.
“I am also absolutely committed to ensuring that my community which has suffered so much for so long sees a lasting peace, sees justice, stability, equality and equity and has opportunities available to it that have not been available for so long. That’s why I’m going out on the doorsteps for the next three weeks, around my neighbours, my friends and everybody in what is termed “bandit country” with no fear whatsoever to go out and ask for a “yes” vote in this referendum.
“I took a look at the little document – the actual Agreement that you have – and I took a look at the glossier version of it that we have, and as far as I can see word for word, what you are being asked to agree or disagree on is precisely the same as what my neighbours are being asked to adjudicate on north of the border.
National self-determination: “I disagree profoundly with anyone who tries to say that all of the people of Ireland and its islands voting on the same question on the same day about how we agree to share this island for the future is not an act of national self-determination. It most certainly is. And it’s not only an act of national self-determination – it’s the first time we’ve been able to do it before – in a referendum it’s the first time ever, and it’s the first time in an election since 1918. It’s an opportunity, I believe, at the end of the century to put right some of the problems that we created at the beginning of this century.
“I actually believe this document is absolutely compulsive reading – everytime you read it there’s something more in it. But could I ask you to go back and read it again and read it in the light of two entirely separate agendas that are being pursued:
Political agenda: “There is a purely political agenda – setting up structures etc…. We’ve tried it in the past, this time we think we’re going to get it right. We’ve had assemblies in the past. We had the Sunningdale Agreement – why did it fail? It failed because the other elements of that agreement were contingent on a gentleman’s agreement – “set up your assembly and then we’ll look at a Council of Ireland or something like that later.” This Agreement doesn’t allow for one element to be put in place and the others to be left in abeyance.
“This Agreement requires the all-Ireland bodies to be put in place – their structures, their constitution, I presume their budgets and their modus operandi – to be up in place before the Assembly in the North of Ireland gets any powers.
“It also agrees that when those two things are done, the Council of the Islescan be instituted, all in one act, on one day, when the Oireachtas and the Houses of Parliament can agree.
“It actually takes the concept that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” one step further, and it says: “nothing is created until everything is created”. The target date for that to happen is, I think, February of next year.
“So there is an entirely political agenda – setting up structures, institutions, checks and balances and the like which will allow us on this island to govern ourselves without interference in a way that we agree, and we agree with our neighbouring island.
Suing for peace: “There is a second agenda and it is the most difficult agenda. For thirty years in Northern Ireland we have been prosecuting a war. Indeed in the politics of the Republic of Ireland since 1920 on there has been Civil War politics. If we can get this agreement between unionist and nationalist, between north and south, between the British and the Irish for the first time ever, we will be suing for peace – the type of peace we have never had before, the type of inclusive arrangement to which we can all subscribe, offer our allegiance, offer our support and can work together for the stability of our country and the prosperity of our future and the like.
Difficult questions: “It’s in the suing for peace that we have many of the really difficult questions and they are questions that have to be answered north and south. Letting people out of prison – morally an enormous question. If to sue for peace we have to do that, I believe it is right. Removing all the trappings of war, reforming the RUC, introducing the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law north and south, building in protections for the individual citizens on this island. If those things must be done, then they must be done and they must be done quickly.
Articles 2 and 3: “In the whole area of suing for peace we are being asked how we define ourselves. We hear a lot of concern about Articles 2 and 3. I never heard about Articles 2 and 3 before Chris McGimpsey and his brother went into court down here. I didn’t hear anyone getting up on soap boxes saying they were necessary for the protection of nationalists in Northern Ireland. I didn’t see anyone saying they were a defence against some of the injustices by the State north of the border. I can’t see any way that Articles 2 and 3 have actually provided protection for me as an Irish nationalist who happens to live in the North-Eastern part of this island.
New Articles an improvement: “But I have read the proposed new Articles 2 and 3. I know the calibre of the people – and there are three of them sitting at this table – who, on the Irish Government side over the years, have used their creativity and their imagination and their intelligence, and have used their collective genius to come up with an improvement on de Valera’s Articles2 and 3. I believe it is an improvement. I believe that nationalists in Northern Ireland for the first time will see that in the Constitution there is an entitlement to Irish national citizenship which did not exist previously in the Constitution.
“When you hear people saying “it’s a sell-out”, or saying “we can’t do this”, I would ask you to remember that this is an improvement on what existed before. And I would ask you to go out to your neighbours and family and quite confidently say: “listen, life is improving, this settlement will deliver for all of us”, and just ask them to vote “yes”. Thank you.”
6. Mary Montague (CorrymeelaCommunity)
“I just want to say thank you to the Meath Peace Group who invited me down. It’s a privilege to be here and I’m very much aware of the work the Meath Peace Group has done in helping to secure the situation we have now where at least we have a political agreement.
Corrymeela: “ Corrymeela is a community that dedicated itself to reconciliation. It actually started in 1965 before the present “Troubles”. The whole ideas was that we ourselves are a group of Catholic and Protestant people, and we would walk side by side through the feelings that we have living in the North of Ireland, in a divided society. And that that perhaps would help us understand how we can relate to people in the wider sense and help them find ways of securing some kind of peace and reconciliation. My remit, my work, is classed as being the family and community work coordinator. And it’s really a privilege because I have been given the chance to walk alongside groups. I say walk alongside, because these are groups of people who could be classed perhaps as working class people, but they are my people, for I come from Andersonstown in West Belfast – a little bit like “bandit country”.
Interface: “The people that I work with live on the interface areas – and we refer to interface areas in the North when we’re talking about where the Protestant and Catholic communities actually live beside one another and are divided by walls, or out in the rural areas where they are divided by a river or by a road.
Prisoners: “Along with those interface groups, I also work with prisoners’ groups, and especially those groups that are helping released prisoners to re-integrate into our community.
Front line of war: “So I class our people not as working class people, but as the people who have lived at the front line of the war. And what does that mean? It means that we are the people who carried the coffins, or walked behind the coffins, and we didn’t do that because there were cameras there and politically it would be nice to be seen at the funeral. We did it because the people in those coffins were our relatives, or they were our friends or our neighbours.
“Just as we carried the coffins we also filled the hospitals. We filled the hospitals with injured people. We also filled those hospitals with people who have suffered from stress, because you also suffer from stress if you live at the front line of a war.
We also filled the prisons – and why did we do that? A lot of the people who filled the prisons from our community were victims, not because they were imprisoned, but victims before they were perpetrators of acts of violence. They were hurt people who reached for the gun or the bomb – they were people who felt injustice, who felt frustration and turned to violence to release that frustration.
“Just to give you one idea of what I mean in statistics. There is one street in an interface area – it has 24 houses and every house has lost a member of their family through the violence. I have with me a mediator from an interface area – Mickey Doyle from the Limestone road. Where Mickey lives, within a mile radius of that area, there have been 653 deaths. That’s the concentration of suffering that has happened in the North of Ireland.
Security: “Of course alongside violence you get a security response. So my people are the people who have suffered from the vicious circle where security was tightened, where the police would move in as robo-cops with heavy vehicles, not taking prisoners. And they suffered from that as well – one violence fed into another.
“And there was deprivation and unemployment– because who is going to build a factory in the front line of a war?
Survivors of trauma: “A lot of people at the moment are talking about victimsand speaking of victims. We don’t look upon ourselves as victims – we are the survivors of trauma. We have been brought to our knees, but we have stood up and we have looked around and said: “no one is going to do anything for us unless we start to do it for ourselves”. So there was a growth of community groupsin the interface areas. And those community groups looked at the needs of the people in the area and how to address them. And beside that, they went to paramilitary organisations and they began to lobby for an end to the conflict. the peace process didn’t start with politicians at the top of the political pyramid. It started at the grass roots – it started with ordinary people taking a lot of risks.
Good Friday Agreement: “So what does the Agreement mean to the people that I work with? It’s strange that on the day we heard there was an agreement – on Good Friday – there was no euphoria. And I think it was a little bit that people were shocked. But I also think that even over the weeks that followed, people realised there was a sense of loss in this Agreement. Because this is a see-sawand it’s very difficult to balance a see-saw. So the nationalist and republican family of my community felt the loss of their dream of a united Ireland happening very shortly down the line. Equally the unionist and loyalist family that live within my community recognised that there was not going to be a return to the Stormont government and that they might well have to accept these north-south bodies.
“Even though there was no euphoria, generally there was no great outcry. Because people realised that this was a balanced agreement and at least it offered them something – the first step towards a better quality of life.
“The previous speakers have all mentioned each of the different strands of the Agreement – that if you were British you were being recognised and respected as being British. Equally if you felt Irish you were being respected and recognised as being Irish. That we do have these changes to the Irish Constitution which is helpful. That we have our North-South bodies, we have our British-Irish structure.
“But I think for people living on the front line of a war some of the most important things came when we began to see that there would be a Bill of Rights, and economic rights, because people who are unemployed seek employment. And with security and policing,it wasn’t just the Catholic or nationalist or republican areas that suffered from heavy-handed policing – equally so did my loyalist and unionist friends. And the fact that that is being looked at is a plus for people living at the front line of a war. And the review of the criminal justice system– the prisoners I have the privilege of working alongside, all went to prison by facing Diplock Courts, and there is no justice in Diplock Courts.
Victims: “And of course there are the victims. As a victim – my family lost a family member – I am so tired of hearing different politicians speak for me. It has actually opened the wounds my family feel far deeper than they were ever opened before.
“I have not the right to speak for all victims – no one has the right to speak for all victims. One of the things I have had the privilege to do lately was to be with Sir Kenneth Bloomfield who was talking to groups of people who had lost relatives. Within those discussions it became very clear that people didn’t want a monument to the person they had lost. They wanted to be treated fairly – they wanted financial support, and they wanted the resources to help people through the trauma that they had been through.
Prisoners: “And when we talked about prisoners, the biggest majority agreed that the greatest and most wonderful memorial we could have to our loved ones is that there is never going to be another victim. And prisoner release is something that should be considered, though it is painful for some people.
Decommissioning and demilitarisation: “There is also decommissioning – and there is a word called “demilitarisation” which is associated very much with the Sinn Fein party. Demilitarisation and decommissioning do have to be considered, but not one without the other. Because we have a number of children and teenagers living at the front line of the war who have been badly injured by the use of plastic bullet rounds. We have very many military establishments, especially around the bandit country and in West Belfast, which cause a great deal of stress to the people who are living there. Only last week I was talking to someone in the loyalist side of Belfast who was saying that the young people can’t even play at the moment because of the situation that needs demilitarisation.
“No” campaign: “At the moment up north we are hearing a lot of people who are shouting and saying “no”. They are saying “you can’t talk to certain politicians”. What we say is “you have to talk”. If we did it at the grass roots level before there were any kind of ceasefires, then our politicians must take the responsibility of talking and talking with all politicians
“To those who are crying at the moment: “blood – we will spill our blood”, I want to ask, “whose blood are you going to spill?” – because my community has had enough blood spilt. They are crying about “fighting the final battle” – the very prisoners that I work alongside have already fought battles and when they became prisoners, those same politicians ignored their needs and the needs of their families.
Alternative: “And what is the alternative? – that is what Corrymeela has to ask those people. “What political alternative do you offer the people in Northern Ireland?” Unfortunately the alternatives that have been offered are a return to division, a return to politics that isn’t about equality. And the whole root of the war in Northern Ireland is about division and because of inequality at a political level.
“Therefore really what they are saying is the alternative is a return to war– and that’s both the extremes of republicanism and loyalism.
Voting “yes”: “I have a thousand reasons why I’m going to vote “yes” – and I’ll tell you the story of one of them. Within the community, I have worked with a number of children, and one of them is a six year old boy from North Belfast…. Because he was suffering from trauma – not recognised, the school just recognised him as being a child with difficulties who couldn’t concentrate and caused a lot of difficulties in the classroom. And he was referred to me….
“During one of our games – one where you could pretend to be whatever you wanted to be and wherever you wanted to be – this little boy said “I’m God – and I’m going to take all the blood that has spilled out of people and I’m going to pour it back in… because if I can do that then my friend’s daddy will be alive again.” (His friend’s daddy had been shot about two months before this). And he said “my friend will come back out and play and he will stop crying”. One of my jobs, unfortunately, is to rationalise an adult situation in a child’s mind. So I had to say to him, “but sweetheart you’re not God and neither am I, we can pray, and God will help, but He also expects us to help ourselves. What do you think we can do?”
And he said “we can go Mary to all our Catholic friends and tell them to stop fighting and then we could get [and he mentioned a co-worker’s name] to go to all his Protestant friends and tell them to stop fighting. And then we could get them to talk and become friends and throw all the bombs and guns into the sea.”
“That was profound wisdom, yet that story I have heard over a thousand times with children who have suffered trauma. A profound wisdom about peacemaking that unfortunately some of the adults in our society don’t seem to have, especially some of the politicians.
“Really this Agreement, this referendum, gives people both north and south the chance of voting and working in partnership with my community – those that have lived at the front line of the war – so that we may all have a better quality of life.
Constitutional change: “And I recognise that for the people in the south, there will be a certain grief – that there is a loss in changing the Constitution, but I’m asking you to enter into our grief, into our loss and do that.
Celebrating diversity: “This is only a political agreement, is not a peace agreement. Because peace isn’t about a political agreement, and it’s not just about ending the violence. Peace is about working together, about accepting one another, and as we say in Corrymeela, it’s about celebrating diversity. So this is a chance for us all to celebrate diversity. Thank you.”
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS (summaries only)
Q.1: On the 22nd of May, apart from the referendum on the Peace Agreement, there is another referendum in the South [on the Amsterdam Treaty]. Why hold the two on the same date?
Noel Dempsey, TD: “ I think I would be speaking for everyone in saying we’re very much aware of the importance of the referendum on the Peace Agreement to the people North and South. I think the second referendum on the Amsterdam treaty is also of importance to the people of this island North and south as well. Neither I nor the government perceive any difficulty in having the referendum on the same day. It’s done on a fairly regular basis. I think it might help to focus people’s minds not just on the Ireland context but we are a part of Europe and I think that both referenda are important for the future of the country and I don’t think anybody is under any illusion about that and under any confusion about it. ”
Q.2: Frankie Gallagher [from East Belfast Post-Conflict Resettlement Project who had come with a group of loyalists to the talk]. “… One of the things Bertie Ahern has said, which was probably part of the confidence building that Tony Blair has been doing, was that he was there to protect the nationalists in Northern Ireland. If there’s a Yes [outcome] does he not realise, or do his ministers not realise, that as well as buying into the good you’re buying into the bad? – you’re buying into the fact that you’re going to have to help protect the national aspirations of Unionists and Loyalistsas well. You can’t take angles on it and say I’m going to represent this side …. Would you think that you have to be there being the guardians in the future of people’s national self-determination as they perceive it?
Noel Dempsey: “Certainly I won’t speak for all the parties involved here but I will speak for Fianna Fail. We’ll never make any apologies for feeling that we had – and I think that goes for Irish governments in general – a role to play and a very strong role to play in giving a voice to the nationalist community, to try and represent to the British government the views of the nationalist community in Northern Ireland as we saw them.
.. “I think we would equally see that once this Agreement is passed by the people of Ireland, that our responsibility is to the Agreement and to every thing that is contained in that Agreement, to the aspirations that are contained in it, and to the actual practical considerations that are in it, from a nationalist point of view and from a unionist point of view. That includes the right of the unionist community, or people that are not necessarily unionists but who believe they are British citizens and want to remain so. So to reassure you on that track – the Irish government will be fully committed to the full implementation of the Agreement and to the protection to all the rights that are there. And I think the question is a very good one and one that I can speak for all parties in the South. We will be totally committed to ensure that it is fully implemented.
Nora Owen: “ I believe that Frankie has touched on something that perhaps has happened since the Agreement. With the availability of the media now there is no privacy any more about speechmaking and statements and I think all sides both British and Irish governments, unionists and nationalists, must be conscious that there is no private audience that they can speak to and make a statement that won’t get coverage on the national media and international media. So we can’t speak to a private group and say something that is for their consumption only and not expect the other side to hear it. So unionists who say this Agreement strengthens the Union, and nationalists who say this is a stepping stone to a united Ireland have to be conscious that that type of language will have to cease and they will have to recognise that the Agreement is a balance of both. …. Those who make statements have to be conscious of what they’re saying. Already since the Agreement there have been statements that I don’t think helped but I think people have learned from them. .. I think during these weeks up to the 22nd no matter where you are we’ll have to all get ourselves into a mode of delivering our thoughts that does not antagonise one side or the other. And that’s part of the sea change we’ve got to just face up to and I think Frankie’s point is a relevant one.
“But equally could I remind people of what the IRA said in An Phoblachtrecently, and that is very worrying – they have indicated they are not going to take the democratic vote North and South as meaning what we think it means and that they have no intention of ever giving up their arms. Now those are statements that do worry me very much and worry my party very much and I hope that those who have any influence on the IRA will let them know that those kind of statements are not helpful in getting people to vote for this Agreement.
Frankie Gallagher: “One of the reasons why I posed that question was because any reasonable person within this island, whatever their aspirations, will have to recognise that we have to become guardians of each others rights In protecting each other’s rights you’re by and large protecting yourselves – and until everybody gets to that stage I don’t think there will ever be peace but I think we are getting to that stage.
Lily Kerr: [On the point made about the IRA statement in An Phoblacht]: “People North and South have to make it perfectly plain to the IRA, and to Sinn Fein who have some influence on them, that you cannot actually claim to represent the will of the Irish people and then, if that will does not coincide with your own will, ignore it. There is actually no turning back and I think we have to be very plain and very straight with that.”
Frankie Gallagher: “ I think the violence as well has reinforced division. It’s probably driven aspirations of unity further away and I think the Worker’s Party realising that violence was not going to achieve unity was very forward thinking.”
Lily Kerr: “Could I just make a further point on what you’ve said from a Worker’s Party point of view? I am a republican as well as a socialist and I believe passionately in a 32-county socialist Republic. Unfortunately the violence has ensured that a million Protestants who have been bombed over the last 30 years aren’t going to be eager to be cajoled into a United Ireland. I am now actually convinced that I will never see my aspiration fulfilled because of that violence.
Q.3: [Re the time-frame of May 22nd]: “I don’t think it’s long enough in order to teach the lay person to put in their minds what the Agreement actually means. It’s OK for people with some sort of education to take out bits and read it, but I know for a fact ordinary people won’t read it. … I believe that a process of education should be put in place by all parties responsible for the Agreement, both North and South. I don’t believe that people in the South understand exactly what the Agreement entails. I think May 22nd is too short a time frame.”
Speaker from floor [agreeing with the last speaker]: “I’d be very concerned. There’s general apathy. I was in Dublin yesterday and there were a few posters up with Bertie Ahern signing something “Vote Yes for Peace” and speaking to my neighbours and friends, they don’t know anything about the Agreement, they haven’t even looked at a copy of the Agreement. I’ve been giving them out all week – people didn’t have them. So I’d be very worried – after all these years in Northern Ireland and all the violence.”
Frankie Gallagher: “There’s a lot of apathy and uncertainty. People are confused and people are fearful… We’re either going to get an apathetic voter or we’re going to get one that is totally scared out of their wits and is going to vote No.”
Cllr. John Fee: “ I just want to make a personal comment about this. On Good Friday, having been awake for almost 14 hours, we got called into the room and many of my colleagues and people from all over the SDLP had flocked down to Belfast to pick up on what they thought was going to be an historic day. (And I have worked by the way for 11 years for Seamus Mallon and over many years have from time to time had the task of meeting loyalist leaders and putting them in cars and taking them to have meetings with Seamus Mallon that no one could possibly know about, taking place in very hazardous situations.) In the room where the document was being signed I looked around … and I saw Gusty Spence and David Ervine, Billy Hutchinson and another loyalist leader who was convicted of being involved in the killing of an SDLP senator in the 70s
“And I looked around and I saw Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, Martin Ferris, Gerry Kelly – and I was counting the amount of jail time that had been done by people around that table and then we had a rapid run around the table and so many people signed up to the Agreement from every possible section of the community. Wouldn’t it be an awful tragedy if the people in the North of Ireland with all the trauma behind them, turned around and voted “Yes” and people in the Republic of Ireland just don’t bother. That’s our biggest fear…”
Q.4. “…. I do not condone violence – I have been out of Ireland and spent many years in Pakistan and the Philippines and I have seen what violence does. But also I think to be fair, as it says in the Agreement, there should be an equal demilitarisation not just from Sinn Fein and the various other elements there but also from the Loyalists and other groups. That has got to be discussed. Not enough has gone into it….
Mary Montague: “The loyalists think it impossible to think of decommissioning before the republicans have decommissioned. I think the republicans and also many loyalist groups think that demilitarisation is something that has to be considered as well. It’s a vicious circle. As for victims, the most merciful thing that happened to my relative was with a trigger after the terrible torture that he was put through before he died, and he was only thirteen years of age. So I wonder how you can decommission arms and cigarettes, and part of me thinks that decommissioning is about decommissioning feelings and sectarianism and a token gesture is needed of decommissioning arms. I would agree to it but I would also want it alongside demilitarisation because I think the justice for me is very important and there are a lot of people in my community that have been hurt by the security forces as well.
Lily Kerr: “Just to follow on from that – I think that most normal societies are entitled to have a police service that’s not sort of along the lines of paramilitary forces and to take the point that Mary’s making, I think we do need some form of decommissioning. I will make another point as well – punishment beatings– we’re going to have to decommission baseball bats and iron bars as well… We have to get the message across to all sides that the armed struggle is now no form of political expression – that people cannot solve political problems through the barrel of a gun. All the guns have to go from our society and then the paramilitaries are going to have to find a new reason for saying they want their guns to rust or they don’t want to hand them over. Because as a natural progression of this agreement there will be reforms within the RUC – possibly evolutionary as opposed to revolutionary – in a sense it will take the gun out of the so-called military side of it and then the paramilitaries are going to have to keep peace with that. … People can be very disingenuous, especially those in the No camp, and they are putting this about that the police are going to be stood down etc. and how can we sit around the table when people have guns under the table. … I think it is a big, big issue and we can’t duck it or hide from it, its going to have to be faced up to sooner rather than later.
Q.5. – Julitta Clancy: “We in the Republic are part of the problem and part of the solution as well – and we don’t often realise that. Our own group has been going now for five years and we have received tremendous support locally …. but we’re battling against [some elements in] the media and against people who don’t think that the role of ordinary people is important at all. Yet we have seen changes coming about just having people talking together. … Noel Dempsey and Nora Owen were talking about a new mode of thinking and I would agree wholeheartedly with that – we’ve all got to get ourselves now into that new mode of thinking which Frankie put so well. We all have to be guardians of each other’s rights – that’s a revolutionary idea, but how do we get that across? We in the South seem to be all for peace but when you scratch us there are barriers and prejudices – we think we’re for peace but we often don’t understand what we have to do. The Forum for Peace and Reconciliation did wonderful work, but they lost a glorious opportunity to go out to the country and start focusing people’s minds on how we have to change. We all have to start changing our mode of thinking … We’ve got to start thinking and bringing about change in our society and it’s not going to be so difficult. As John Fee said about Articles 2 and 3 – I never heard about them until Chris McGimpsey brought that case and then I opened the Constitution and discovered a whole lot more things wrong as well. The proposed new Articles are a liberating thing for us but we’re hearing negative voices all the time. How are we in the South going to get ourselves into this process and work to understand people from different points of view and aspirations? There are not enough people working at it. ”
Q.6: “ I’m actually from Belfast myself and I’ve been living here for eighteen years. And something just struck me – that man is from East Belfast and I’m from the Falls road and I’ve never consciously sat in the same room as a man from East Belfast. That’s a fact and I think, or I hope that with this Agreement there will be more people sitting in a room consciously and that they will forget about whether they are a Catholic or a Protestant because I think that’s part of the problem, we don’t know each other. I’m very emotional about it. I think it’s very sad, that people have died that I know and I’m sure this man as well. I think certain politicians in the North have done a disservice to their own people by not facing the issues properly and not bringing the people together and just extending their friendship … and forget about all the nonsense. …. I personally would like to see just Peace. That’s all. Just peace. Respect for each other.”
Q.7: “ I would like to commend the three men from East Belfast because they overcame their fears, their mindset to come here”. ( Round of applause.)
Q.8. Rev. John Clarke (C of I Rector, Navan): “ Obviously I am very impressed with this forward thinking and this all-inclusive language that has been used this evening. I suppose my concern is what happens to the fringe elements, those that are not prepared to let their personal aspirations be absolved into what’s happening and the outcome. What would the situation be for those who will not be part of what’s going on and who will still look to the bomb and the bullet on both sides of the divide? That gives me great concern.
“In regard to the time-frame of the 22nd of May I’m not so sure what choice a politician has, what are the options. There’s no point talking about it – the date is set, we’ve got to start getting positive about it. If people are not informed we make it our business to inform them. It’s just part of our nature. We need things close to the last minute to find out the information. The Gospel has preached reconciliation for many years on this island. And if we want to hear the message of peace and reconciliation and all that goes with it, I suggest many of our people return to the church.
Nora Owen, TD: “The reason why I’m here is because Charlie Flanagan, our spokesman on Northern Ireland, who was supposed to be here was called away to Prime Time for a major debate tonight. But sadly let’s actually tell the truth of it ourselves – how many of you turn off or switch to another channel when you hear that a debate on Northern Ireland is about to start or personalities that normally talk about N.Ireland are about to speak? You turn it off, you use the zapper and you know that’s the reality because after thirty years of debates on N.Ireland people have got a bit tired of it so really they have a big job to do. Local media which normally don’t cover national stories have a responsibility to try and stimulate people’s discussion. People will get a copy of the Agreement but the problem is that most people won’t actually read it. There will be responsibility on the national media to stimulate people ….
Chair (Paul Murphy): “We heard it mentioned earlier on about the fringe groupsand what they might or might not do post-referendum and I think there is a genuine fear in some people’s hearts that some of the fringe groups might be strengthening somewhat. I’m going to ask Brian Fitzgerald to say a word about that.
Cllr. Brian Fitzgerald: “When you read what the political commentators are saying at this particular time, one has got to be concerned , and reading reports from the Gardai who say that the dissident groups are far greater in numbers than what was first thought, and when you speak to people who live on the border counties and hear what it is like on the ground one has to be worried. I don’t think any of us should be under any illusion that there are not problems ahead for the democrats – the people who have stuck through it thick and thin against violence.
“I am very worried that there will be a low turnout [in the Referendum]. I’ve no doubt what the result will be but a low turnout would be nearly as bad as a negative response or a negative result and I say this because like everybody at this table we have knocked at doors at various elections, and … the Northern Ireland issue is never ever mentioned…. Even at the bye-elections that took place last March – at no door was the Northern issue mentioned in Dublin. Yet at that stage discussions were going on and it was all over the media with George Mitchell being interviewed here and there and the Taoiseach was up and down, but nobody was prepared to talk about it at the doorsteps and thats why it worries me that we’ll have a poor turnout even with a Yes vote. Because there are difficulties down the road and the people who want to continue the violence have to get a very loud and clear message that the people of Ireland north and south are going to make their decision in a democratic way as enshrined in the document.
“How we can get the people out? – the media, ourselves, the clergymen, all have a responsibility We got a chance before in 1974 with the Sunningdale Agreement and we didn’t grasp it and we saw the consequences of that. If we don’t grasp this one I believe myself that we will have a civil was in this country with more people killed in six months than in the last thirty years … and we’ve got to ensure that this does not happen and we’ve got to use whatever resources we can to stop this and people have to come out and say “yes” to this agreement and say “no” to violence North and South .
Lily Kerr “The point made about the Agreement is quite complex and perhaps people don’t understand it . It’s up to the political parties to do something as to what the main points in that agreement are. The day is already set and I think it would be negative to try and put it on the long finger. But to get back to the point about the fringe groupsno one should be in any doubt about it. There will be those on both sides who have guns and the community itself will have to deal with it. Now [in this Agreement] we’ve got a Bill of Rights, we’ve got rights for the two communities. With rights come responsibilities. There will be responsibilities for those people to move away from the taboo that you don’t turn people in . People will have a responsibility with those rights not to harbour the gunmen and women in their community and to oust them.
Chair: “I throw in a note of possible controversy. How does anybody here feel about the possible exclusion of the Women’s Coalition from the Assembly? What does anybody feel about the blatant sexism that is among the male political class in Northern Ireland?
Cllr. John Fee: “Could I just address two points that have been raised here? First the date and the timescale. The date was from the fact that talks started with a piece of legislation passed in the House of Commons which in time limited the Northern Ireland Talks and Forum and from the very, very outset set a time limitation on the Talks. There was also the fact that to get these institutions started in Northern Ireland we have to get the elections out of the way before the marching season. Do you think that we would get out on the streets without bloodshed if we were trying to run an election and there was trouble with Drumcree. We’ve also got to resolve those issues between Nationalists and the various loyal orders, both with rights, and there is no doubt they have rights so we really need to get stability there for the consent of the people before we have another crisis on our hands.
“The second thing is the role of women and the Women’s Coalition and there is no doubt that some of the spokeswomen performed an extraordinary talented task over the last number of years. What was the option of getting the smaller parties involved? The option was a form of election like a list system used in the North’s election . Then they saw that all the concerned residents groups across N.Ireland …or any other concerned group of people could get together on single issues and form a 20 odd group of people on obscure or highly confrontational issues. So the compromise to get smaller groups together was to move five different constituencies to six. It may or may not work….. Of course there is another option. Parties who will win seats could put women forward. There are parties who will win seats – the Unionists, SDLP, Sinn Fein and the various Loyalists, and they can put women on their tickets. Just to lighten it somewhat there was a tendency especially on the Unionist side to whenever myself and Monica McWilliams spoke (there were only ever two women at the talks), whenever the person answered they would always use words like “we don’t like being lectured” or “we don’t like being bossed by hysterical members”. I never once heard the words “hysterical” or “bossing” or “lecturing” being used to the men members, it was an automatic reflex use of language when one or other of us spoke and I hope that the policy of the Unionists has changed somewhat in the last two years and that they have actually learned that women can be quite intelligent, we can be very stupid too though!
John Fee: “Can I make one party political point? The SDLP has set a target that 40% of elected representatives should be women. Setting this target is the easy bit; actually getting the candidates willing to run is the difficult bit and we have set up a women’s group to try and identify to see what it is that impedes women and to get the resources to give the training necessary to allow more women to be put in these positions.
Lily Kerr: “… It is not just the unionist men who are sexist, and it’s not just in the North of Ireland – it can be just as prevalent in the south of Ireland You’ll accuse me of being a heretic … but could I point out to you that there were women in politics even before the Women’s Coalition. … There have been women in politics in Northern Ireland when it wasn’t safe to be in politics, for 25 years. … Now there is a group called the NI Women’s Political Forummade up of two people from John’s party, people from my party, people from the PUP, people from the UDP, the Official Unionists and the Women’s coalition – it was formed long before the Women’s coalition. It was set up by Loyalist women contacting me as a Worker’s Party member after Canary Wharf – so there has been one hell of a lot of work going on by women. I do take your point that there needs to be more women coming forward and getting involved but I would remind you a woman’s place is where she chooses it to be.
Noel Dempsey: “Both North and South there needs to be more women involvement. Its difficult to get women forward because the infrastructure is not there for them to facilitate them. If I can refer back to the point that was being made on fringe groups: Brian’s point that the best thing we can do over the next three weeks to try and convince these people on the fringes is that we can organise to get a massive turnout that will get the “Yes” voice that I think we all want. I think in politics you have to be an optimist – I think if people look at the Agreement, if they look a little bit down the road from the Agreement they see an Agreement that deals with equality, an Agreement that deals with justice, that recognises the birthright of both nationalists and unionists and recognises their identity, talks about a Bill of Rights and so on, and puts instructions in place that ensures that it’s guaranteed for everybody. And I think if we convince people and get that message across, the fringe groups will be very much smaller but I think at the end of the day if they are not convinced and they persist and go the way that they seem to be now, they will have to be dealt through the normal criminal justice system that we have and dealt with very very straight forward. What I would be concerned about would be the incident that occurred last week in Wicklow and the age group of the four or five people that were involved, that’s what would frighten me somewhat – that another generation would be doing that and I think that would be the job of the politicians both North and South to try mad convince people that is not the way. ”
Chair (Paul Murphy): “I know that many people have travelled along way to come here so I think we’ll just wind up now and I’d like to finish by thanking all the speakers for coming here tonight and especially the Meath Peace Group for organising it.
On behalf of the Transition Year students at St. Joseph’s, Ann Maginn thanked the Chairman and speakers, and Mr. Ray Hegarty, Transition Year teacher, thanked the Meath Peace Group for organising the talk. On behalf of the Meath Peace Group, Julitta Clancy thanked the Chairman and speakers and all who had come and participated. A particular thanks was due to the Principal and Staff of St. Joseph’s, Navan, for permitting the use of their facilities to hold the talk, and the transition year students and teachers for all their help in preparing for the talk.
Meath Peace Group Report. July 1998. (c)Meath Peace Group
Transcribed by Julitta Clancy and Sarah Clancy. Edited by Julitta Clancy