No. 38 – “MAKING A DIFFERENCE – THE NEW N.I. EXECUTIVE AND ASSEMBLY”
Monday, 12th June 2000.
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan
Robin Wilson (Director, Democratic Dialogue)
Cllr. Anne Carr (Coordinator, Women Together Moving On)
Jim Lennon (Chairperson, SDLP)
Dermot Nesbitt, MLA (UUP) Junior Minister, Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister)
Chaired by Fergus Finlay
Introduction and welcome: Cllr Brian Fitzgerald (Chair of Meath County Council) and Fergus Finlay
Addresses of speakers
Questions and comments
Closing words: Julitta Clancy
Appendix A: “Making a Difference ….” extracts (Robin Wilson, June 2000)
Appendix B: Biographical notes on speakers
INTRODUCTION AND WELCOME:
Cllr. Brian Fitzgerald, Chairman of Meath County Council: – “It gives me great pleasure to welcome all our distinguished guests here from Northern Ireland this evening, in particular I would like to welcome Dermot, who is the first sitting Minister to attend one of our meetings here…. It is wonderful to see somebody like Dermot give up his time at a very critical time in Northern Ireland to come here and speak to you. Also Robin Wilson, Cllr. Anne Carr and Jim Lennon of the SDLP – you are all very welcome here this evening… Of course I would also have to welcome my old friend and colleague over the years, Fergus Finlay, who has played a tremendous role in a quiet way in trying to foster peace and reconciliation…
“I believe that we have tremendous opportunities in this country for the coming years. We in this county which is extremely close to Northern Ireland – there’s not much land between us – I believe there are tremendous opportunities for us both to work together both from an economic and social and indeed from a tourism point of view, and I sincerely hope that Dermot and his many colleagues in the Executive and on the Assembly will be frequent visitors to County Meath. You will always be very welcome.
“I would like to say one special word of thanks to the Meath Peace Group who down through the years have worked tremendously hard during a period when a lot of people had thrown their hands up to heaven and said “there’s no hope”. The Meath Peace Group kept plugging away, they kept bringing people here to debate, discuss, have a cup of tea; from various walks of life in Northern Ireland, to get a better understanding. They just kept plugging away and at times I often said how do they do it? They achieved something that we could not achieve in the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, they brought members of the Unionist Party here to speak with other colleagues with whom they had very much opposing views. They kept going. The way Dermot gave up his time tonight is an example of the esteem in which you are held. I will finish by saying Dermot, if you could organise a good road-map of Belfast, please supply Fergus Finlay with it – he got lost a few times up there! Enjoy your evening and I wish you all the best, good luck with the Assembly, good luck to all your colleagues up there. Good luck to the Meath Peace Group – please keep up the good work, you have succeeded to date. Thank you very much.”
Chair, Fergus Finlay: “Can I on your behalf thank Brian Fitzgerald who – it’s a most disloyal and treacherous thing for me to say – is still the best Labour man in Meath. I look forward to the day when he’ll be doing what he’s doing in his proper home. He mentioned earlier the necessity for a good road-map of Belfast and I think he was referring to an occasion when he, unknown to a lot of people, managed to strike up a dialogue with the sort of person that I suppose you wouldn’t really want to meet on a dark night, especially if you’re from down here, and he persuaded me on one occasion to go and meet some of them and in fact it was the beginning of a dialogue which contributed, I think, in some small way anyway, to the loyalist cease-fire. But the first time we went up, I drove and we both talked about how well we knew N.I. and how well we knew our way around .. and we had to find a venue quite near the university. We ended up hopelessly lost and I eventually pulled up outside a shop and I looked up … and there was a street sign on the corner which said Shankhill Road. I said to Brian “get out and go in and ask for directions” and he said “I’m not getting out, you go in and get directions!” I was the spin-doctor and he was the elected politician at the time – he pulled rank and made me go into the shop to get directions and to my surprise they couldn’t have been more friendly, they couldn’t have been more hospitable or welcoming and they sent us on our way. In fact they walked to the corner of the street to make sure we didn’t get lost … One of the things I learned to value most about Brian over the years is that he does the work that he does without looking for thanks or reward or without looking for acknowledgement for it, and I think that it’s only appropriate that, in a time when an awful lot of people are mentioned in history books and are mentioned in television documentaries and are mentioned in their own memoirs as having made a major contribution, that I should acknowledge the not insignificant role that a Labour Party backbencher played in a very quiet, but very important way….”
“.. Tonight’s meeting takes place against a background of very considerable hope and of very considerable optimism. There are still problems and there are still difficulties – the issue of policing is still causing difficulties, the issues of flags and emblems are still causing difficulties and of course we’re at the start of the perennial marching season which always has its potential. This time it’s all happening against a background of genuine solid, well-founded progress. It’s an honour I think for the peace group, and certainly I feel honoured, that we have with us tonight a number of people, not least of them Dermot Nesbitt who have made a very significant contribution to where we are now. Our first speaker is Robin Wilson, director of Democratic Dialogue, which is a kind of “think-tank” – a luxury in democratic politics very often, but an extraordinarily important one. Robin Wilson did one of the most difficult things that anyone could possibly do in Northern Ireland over a long number of years: he kept a fair-minded, open magazine going against all the odds and he graduated from that magazine (Fortnight) into someone who has become an important facilitator of dialogue and thought in Northern Ireland. ..
1. Robin Wilson: “Making a Difference – Preparing the Programme for Government”
“Thank you very much Fergus. Thank you too to the Meath Peace Group. and thank you all for coming. I’m very pleased to be here. I’m going to talk about some issues that are raised in a paper we’ve recently published on the Programme for Government called “Making a Difference” ..[Note – extracts from this report are reproduced in Appendix A below]. I will be rather skimming over the surface of a number of issues but basically what I’m going to try and do in ten or fifteen minutes is to look at the background to the Programme for Government, why it’s so important for the Executive Committee and some of the things which I think are going to be important issues to address in terms of preparation of the Programme and some of the positive outcomes that that process can generate. ..
Lack of policy debate: “I am going to start by talking about the problem of the lack of prior debate in Northern Ireland about what the new Executive Committee should do. There has actually been remarkably little discussion in the past number of years of what a devolved administration in Northern Ireland should do. There have been lots of discussions about lots of other issues but what we actually haven’t established has been something which is of obvious concern to the citizens of Northern Ireland and the rest of this island – that has actually been very much under-discussed. Most of .the discussions have been on the institutions that will be established eventually under the Belfast Agreement, and what these institutions would do, and indeed the background of this was the system of direct rule where there really wasn’t any serious policy debate for politicians to get involved with. There really wasn’t much point in getting too much involved in policy issues because obviously the Westminster administration ran things.
“All politicians in Northern Ireland were effectively in opposition. There was no discussion in the media over policy questions and there was very little likelihood that a party that got very interested in policy issues would gain electorally as a result.
Hard choices: “Direct rule was very unfortunate in many respects and one of the ways that it was quite unfortunate was that it led to a failure to address, or lack of experience in addressing, the “hard choices” that people in government have to face from day to day, hard choices which involve for example deciding to spend money on “X” and not spend it on “Y”, rather than saying – as politicians could do under direct rule in Northern Ireland – “please spend it on X and on Y”.
Unifying role of Programme for Government: “The Programme for Government which the parties are required to agree under the Belfast Agreement and the Northern Ireland Act, has a whole number of different roles. One of the roles which I want to focus on first is the potential role it has to unite the Executive Committee. You will be aware that, apart from the First and Deputy First Ministers – David Trimble and Seamus Mallon – the other ten members of the Executive Committee are drawn from four different parties; the Ulster Unionists, the DUP, the SDLP and Sinn Fein. It’s a four-party coalition which is a fairly extraordinary number of parties in coalition in itself. Add to that the fact that these four parties were flung together in what is in effect an involuntary coalition, where they’re simply appointed under the so-called D’Hondt mechanism, rather than coming together because they previously agreed about the programme as would be the case in the coalition for example in the Republic. Given the underlying sectarian tensions … the tendencies towards fragmentation in this Executive are obviously fairly self-evident. I therefore consider it important an Executive does agree a Programme which everyone agrees, from which ministers try and “glue” this rather unusual, in fact completely unprecedented, structure together.
Public understanding and involvement:: “.. One of the other functions it’s important to advert about the Programme for Government is the importance of it generating public understanding of a sense of what the Executive Committee of the Assembly is trying to do. Democratic Dialogue ran some focus-groups across Northern Ireland last year and asked people what they thought about the future of the Executive, and one of the things that people said again and again was how frustrated they were about what they saw as the hassle of the constant polarisation of argument between the fixed positions presented in a very adversarial way one against the other. ..People wanted to see Northern Ireland politicians co-operate more and to address other issues more, and to address ways in which the two communities in Northern Ireland could grow closer together rather than, as has continued to happen in recent years, in many ways further apart. …
Unrealistic expectations: “In fairness to the politicians there’s a danger that citizens in Northern Ireland have unrealistic expectations as to what devolved government can do. In the big wide world these days people are used to having governments that they vote in to office, there’s a fair degree of cynicism about what governments can do. But I must say that on this side of the border there’s a fairly high level of cynicism and there is what one minister in the Northern Ireland Executive described as a culture in Northern Ireland of protest and demand .. and there is a need to have a better understanding amongst the public at large of what government is about so that people’s expectations can be more realistic as to what can actually be permitted. ….
“Joined-up” government: “One of the buzz words used these days in discussion about governments anywhere is “joined-up” government… The reason that people use that language more and more these days is because it’s increasingly evident that departmental structures in government often get in the way of solving problems that people experience on the ground. Most of the problems that ordinary people experience, for example problems with your health or worries about education are actually issues which you can’t simply resolve with the Health Department or the Education Department themselves, they have to be resolved by a cross-departmental effort. With these ten different departments for a population of 1.7 million people, the dangers of things falling into these so-called departmental silos are quite evident.
“Wicked” issues: “This is particularly so for problems that people have come to describe as “wicked” problems, that is to say the most intractable ones. These often are problems which straddle different government departments and there are two which are very obvious in Northern Ireland among many that you could pick. One of them is the problem of sectarian divisions which cuts across all areas of social life and needs to be addressed in a holistic kind of way… Another is horizontal division between haves and have nots, the problem of social exclusion which scars so many, mainly Catholic but also some Protestant, working class ghetto areas… So it’s a big challenge in that sense that the Programme for Government needs to take account of which is how you manage to co-ordinate work across departments and to avoid ministers being bogged down day to day in their departmental responsibilities. ..
Focusing on outcomes: “One of the things that lots of people tend to say these days about government is that we need to try and move beyond a focus on the outlook of government to looking at an outcome, a real problem solved, a real difference to people on the ground. For example in Northern Ireland one of the problems about the health debates is that it has been almost entirely about the acute hospitals services in Northern Ireland when there’s an outstanding and glaring problem which is the very high levels of mortality and morbidity in Northern Ireland associated, for example, with cancer and heart disease and, frankly, addressing these problems is a far, far bigger question than whether this or that hospital should be kept..”
“That leads us to focus more on the performance of government and what it actually achieves and I think one of the things that’s important for the new administration in Northern Ireland is to make sure it thinks about what it is trying to achieve in a way which recognises the need to bench mark its performance against what is happening elsewhere in the UK
Citizens’ panel: “It is also important to focus on citizens and their problems and one of the things that I think would be a positive benefit in Northern Ireland would be to establish a standing citizens’ panel of maybe 500 people whom the government would poll on a regular basis to monitor its performance, so that there was an external view on what it’s doing ….
Setting clear policy goals: “… Following on from what I’ve just said particularly about the focus on outcomes rather than outlooks I think it’s critical that the new Administration should set very clear policy goals for itself, very definite outcomes that it really wants to see achieved, and I’ll give you some instances of what that might be in a moment. That’s going to be very important if devolution is something that will make a difference. … You might get a situation … where with the best will in the world ministers are working every hour that God sends them and they might not be very much different from direct rule unless very clear policy goals are set up by the new administration which hasn’t been the case in the past. If a small number of relatively clear policy goals are set then it makes it easier for the public at large to understand what the government is doing or says it is doing and to assess its performance against that. … I think that one of the dangers otherwise would be that the Programme for Government emerges by a process of private discussions between the parties which involves a set of endless trade-offs which are very comprehensible to the politicians involved in them but when the report comes out into the public domain it turns out to be a huge volume which is totally unmanageable and which ordinary people find very difficult to get a handle on.
Possible policy goals: “…In our focus groups … we spoke to a complete mixture of groups – Protestant, Catholic, whatever gender or class and so on – and the big thing they all said was that they wanted to see the government do as much as it could to foster better relationships between the two communities and support thevictims of violence. That I think is the crucial thing. There’s no doubt that victims of violence in Northern Ireland, wherever that violence has come from, whether it’s the State or more usually paramilitaries, feel very neglected and that situation needs to be changed. I talked earlier about the huge problem of social exclusion in N.I. which needs to be addressed by promoting equality of life-chances.. … By comparison with the Republic, Northern Ireland’s economic development has not been superb over the last couple of years which is hardly surprising given the background of political instability. That has to change and in particular unemployment has to diminish. The unemployment figures in Northern Ireland … conceal a very high level of economic inactivity particularly in ghetto areas. As I mentioned earlier, there are huge problems in public health which need to be tackled … there are also major problems in terms of education.
“It is true that the top end of the educational scale in Northern Ireland with its selective schooling system do very well, but there is a very long tail of kids who come out of school with very low levels of qualification which is really a disadvantage to them in terms of the modern labour market.
“Other issues which arose from the focus groups is the enhancement of physical mobility and the environmental fabric. The public transport system in Northern Ireland is absolutely appalling – it’s a huge issue which needs to be addressed. In terms of the environment what was mentioned in our focus groups was that many housing estates in Northern Ireland are very dilapidated and bring an air of depression which only adds to the problems people have to face.
Maximising links to the rest of the world: “Last but not least, it’s critically important that Northern Ireland should not turn in on itself after all this time, but should maximise its links to the rest of the island, to the rest of the UK and to the rest of Europe.
Self-performance indicators: “If we go down this road that I’m suggesting the Programme for Government should go, I think one of the useful things that can be done is to establish self-performance indicators when focusing on outcomes like getting down unemployment or improving levels of public health. You can measure these things and of course you can be called to account as to whether you achieved those outcomes or not when your performance is going to be monitored. This is an effective way, I think, by which people can begin to take a different attitude to government, which is reflected in people voting according to whether the government or parties within government do well or don’t do well in terms of what they achieve. I think also this is a useful way of how we’d get from the situation of the direct rule administration to make it a real difference; if we adopted this approach I think it’s possible for us to look at how we could maybe ditch some programmes from the direct rule administration which don’t seem to fit in with the policy goals that I talked about, or could they refine those a bit better to give us some more scope in public spending, welcome new programmes and support some new projects and perhaps adopt some fresh approaches.
Financial questions: “Having said that, I think that there are some big financial questions to resolve. Frankly it’s not going to be possible for the new administration to do everything one wants to do on the basis it will do everything it did already and do all this on top, because obviously that’s going to be financially unsustainable, but whether there are cuts in programmes whether they were unsuccessful in the past or not, there are some hard decisions that have to be taken about charges and taxes. I think it was unfortunate that in the debate leading up to the Good Friday Agreement the question of tax-varying powers for the N.I. Assembly – the nettle wasn’t grasped as it was in Scotland for example where the Scottish Parliament has a power to vary income tax by 3p in the pound. There will however be ways in which charges can be produced and I think they’ll have to be produced to address the local problems.
“I mentioned earlier how awful public transport is in Northern Ireland. I don’t see how we’ll get around that problem without investment, I don’t see how we’ll do that without bringing in something like congestion charges which I know some private motorists will not like but are in the wider public interest.
Comprehensive Spending Review: “N.I. exists as part of the UK and is therefore feeding into the Comprehensive Spending Review and there are big questions associated with the so-called Barnett formula which distributes money to different parts of the UK. The Stormont Parliament is doing very well out of that – it gets about one-third more of the public spending per head than the UK average – but there will be lots of pressures over the coming years to reduce that, particularly as devolution becomes more transparent across the UK, and particularly as London with its new mayor starts to flex its muscles and get angry about the degree to which it subsidises N.I., and I think we’re going to need to have a situation where the financial position of the Northern Ireland Executive is on a firm-footing by UK- wide needs assessment.
Civil society: “Civil society is a phrase that has become more used in N.I. over the last decade. I think it’s very important this whole question of how people, whether as individuals or as members of organisations, can be involved in a process of government, particularly because these days government is not so much doing things but about facilitating people doing things, acting as a broker, a problem-solver, rather than as an executive. .. In that there is obviously lots of experience in this jurisdiction of the idea of social partnership and the role that social partnership can play in both legitimising what government does, also in terms of delivering what government does, and I think that that social partnership idea which has been very successful on this side of the border and has had some impact in Northern Ireland… that’s something we want to see developed in future…
Relating to the Wider World: “… N.I. has been in a long dark tunnel for 30 years since it last had its own administration …. In those 30 years lots of things have changed in the world and these days regions have a much bigger significance in a globalising context than they used to have. Things aren’t going to be done by the nation state anymore. Of course Europe has integrated onto a very significant level and in that way it’s really up to the regions themselves either to pull themselves up by their boot-straps and succeed or to remain dependent and to fail. One of the more cruel comments about N.I. ..is that for many years it has been like the Mezzogiorno in Italy, the very dependent, backward part of Italy which has had lots of money pumped into it but apparently to no real positive effect. I think that has changed ……
Happily one of the things that has proved much less controversial this time about the Agreement, unlike Sunningdale in 1974, is the whole area of North/South structures, these are much more acceptable now than in the past. Obviously in terms of the potential mutual economic benefits in the context of the Celtic Tiger, but also in moral terms in terms of creating a climate of reconciliation in the island and perhaps allowing situations where we can all be at ease with a notion of Irishness which is all-inclusive and which perhaps doesn’t carry some of the ideological baggage it might have carried in the past.. …
“It is certainly most important that Northern Ireland does by the same token develop good relationships within the UK including the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. There are lots of ideas that are going to develop in these other assemblies and parliaments across the UK in the coming years and it would be unfortunate if Northern Ireland wasn’t to digest them. For example there’s a very interesting idea in Wales for a new system a bit like the Leaving-Cert here which is a Baccalaureate system which would be a much better system than the A-levels in Northern Ireland, and it’s one example of how you might begin to do things differently if you start looking elsewhere.
“More broadly Northern Ireland has got to link on to the European stage. If you take for example Catalonia is a successful region partly because it’s put itself up on the European stage – it’s got its own problems of a national question but it’s found a way of sorting out its future in a way that most people can come to live with, and it seems to be that the future of Northern Ireland, if we can bed down the institutions, will be where it is not only internally inclusive but also on a fairly catholic basis – if I dare say that – to the rest of Ireland, the rest of the UK, the rest of Europe….
“In conclusion, I know it has been a fairly rushed-over course but I tried to stress that this process of preparing the Programme of Government is a big challenge which if it’s going to last properly can do a lot of things. In a way it is starting from a clean sheet … and I think it really can make a difference to people’s lives in N.I. and I think it can really bring Northern Ireland “kicking and screaming” into the 21st century. “
Fergus Finlay: “Thank you very much Robin. I think we would all agree that Robin paints on a very large canvas and has set out a whole series of very ambitious goals. .. Most of us down here probably have accustomed ourselves to believing that if this government survives for five years that’s the most valuable outcome of all! Our next speaker is I think – in both practical terms and, I hope she won’t mind me saying this, symbolically – highly indicative of the kind of difference that can be made. I think it’s very difficult to imagine a more profound difference than the kind of difference that’s inherent in the title “Women Together Moving On”. Although she’s a member of the Women’s Coalition and a councillor, Anne Carr is speaking here tonight in her capacity as co-ordinator of Women Together Moving On and I’d like you to give her a good welcome please.
2. Cllr. Anne Carr: “I’m delighted to be here with you this evening and as has been said, I’m actually here speaking tonight on behalf of the “Women Together, Moving On” organisation. Women Together was established 30 years ago. This is the thirtieth anniversary of an organisation that was established at the very beginning of the Troubles when a Protestant and Catholic woman got together and said “.. people are having to move out of their homes because of the violence. This can’t be right we should be able to solve our differences by sitting down around a table and talking them out”.
“Thirty years on there’s still a need for the organisation, they have certainly not solved all the problems and we have had thirty years of violence. Thank goodness now we have cease-fires and we have our Agreement, and we are all looking forward and working through that new beginning which is hopefully going to achieve the vision that those two women had thirty years ago…
Role of ordinary people: “I have known Julitta and members of the Meath Peace Group for many years through my work as co-ordinator of the Women Together organisation. We in Women Together too had to take a look at where we were as we move on, looking forward to that new beginning in society and where our organisation actually fitted into all of that. So we have become very recently “Women Together Moving On” a project-led organisation which is very much looking at how we as ordinary people can actually involve ourselves in that moving on process. Because it can’t be left to the politicians. We have elected politicians to an Executive and to an Assembly and we certainly are supporting their moving on, their working towards the Programme of Government that Robin has been talking about, but we as people and as a society have to support them and have to develop the intra-personal relationships in our society which have been lacking over so many years of violence.
Talking through the differences: “There’s been so much fear around that we haven’t done the talking we should have done over years. We’ve lived in divided communities, we’ve talked in safe company amongst ourselves. We all have developed very sectarian attitudes about things. And also we’ve all been hurt, we’ve all been angered, and we all are still angry about things that are going on at this moment of time, but we have to work our way through that. So we in Women Together are encouraging people to sit down round tables to talk through the differences, to tell others how they feel about something that’s happening, or something that’s happened in the past, so that we can all get a better understanding of where we all have come from, and how we are all here now and the importance of remembering what happened in the past. We don’t want it repeated in future generations.
We can make it work: “The war is over as far as I’m concerned. Violence is not the way forward – we’ve all learned very hard lessons in relation to that. We can make it work, we can all work together, we can build that society which is never going to be perfect but certainly a society where difference can be appreciated, where we can look at someone across a table and not feel the touchstones of anger within us – because that person’s different from me – rising. That doesn’t have to happen. We can try and understand who they are and where they are coming from and that is going to build the sort of society that we can all be part of.
Sense of belonging: “A sense of belonging for all of us is what we want and it’s certainly what I want as a Protestant mother of 4 Catholic children, from the Shankhill Road area of Belfast where my mother and father still live, and all the hurts that that has brought with it over now 27 years of marriage. Even on Saturday when I went up to my mother’s on the Shankill Road my father said to me “Oh that Gerry Adams!”. .. I get it all the time you know … but I move on, I try and work with him. My father has not read one word of the Agreement, not one word. He supports the DUP, he doesn’t feel he has to read it because it’s not something that Ian Paisley said he should read. My father in-law, on the other hand,.who died two years ago, was a very staunch nationalist and he and I had third-world-war discussions around the kitchen table, and if he heard Ian Paisley on the radio I could hear the motor-bike coming to the door and he was in to tell me what he thought of him!
“That’s what it’s about, it’s about working through all that, it’s all about our history, it’s all about the fact that we haven’t understood each other in the past but we will in the future, and that’s what Women Together Moving On is all about.
Good Friday Agreement: “So we decided this [Agreement} is very important to us and I hope to all of you, because an awful lot of effort went in to creating this document. It’s very easy for people to say “get rid of it – it’s not what I want.” It’s not what the Unionist people of Northern Ireland want or it’s not what the Republican people or certain elements want. It took an awful lot of effort to get this Agreement and within this Agreement there’s a lot that has to happen to ensure that all of this Agreement is implemented. You can’t pick one or two issues from this Agreement and say “right, this hasn’t happened, therefore the Agreement should be thrown out the window”. It’s a long process, and we all have to remember the effort in getting that Agreement and the effort it’s going to take to implement that Agreement in full.
People Moving On campaign: “People Moving On” is a project which Women Together Moving On has helped support. It started at the beginning of the Mitchell Review – we desperately wanted our Agreement to be implemented and we were very concerned that the government had not been established in Northern Ireland, and we felt that if we could get our Executive and Assembly up and running it would certainly help move other things on. We know that decommissioning has been the big bugbear there, but we felt that if we had the Executive up and running, decommissioning would happen. Anyway during the Mitchell Review “People Moving On” started to do a bit of campaigning outside Stormont. We decided that our first campaign would be the day the politicians came back from holiday, in August 1999, so we would have breakfast with the politicians outside Stormont, and 150 of us went up and welcomed the politicians back and encouraged them to get on with the work, to get our Agreement implemented, to get our institutions up and running. That was the beginning of it and we had lots of different campaigns during the Mitchell Review to ensure that the Agreement was moved on, that our peace process was moved on and that it was remembered that the peace process and the Agreement belonged to all of us.
“We actually voted in a referendum on this and 71.12% in the North and … 94% in the South voted for it. An awful lot of people decided that within this Agreement was the beginning of a recipe towards a new way forward. We didn’t want to forget that, we didn’t want other people to tell us that that was going to be thrown out the window, and wasn’t going to happen. We worked continuously through the Mitchell Review and obviously we were delighted when the Executive got up and running, short-lived as it was. We’re also delighted now with the IRA statement and the movements that have been made on decommissioning and we now just know that the obligations within this Agreement will be met. It’s going to take time, but we’re certainly on our way forward.
Audit of the Agreement: “In the midst of all that, we decided as people, just ordinary people, that we didn’t really remember all that was in this Agreement, we certainly knew that there’s a section on decommissioning within this Agreement and we certainly knew that there was a government that had to be got up and running, but we weren’t too sure that we knew everything else that was in this Agreement so we decided that we would do an audit of the Agreement. One of our volunteers who has now retired (she was a business analyst in England and has come home to Northern Ireland to live) came along to one of our meetings and she did a baseline document for us, an audit document of the Good Friday Agreement. We then sent that out to people working in the fields of human rights, prisoner’s issues, victim support groups etc. and asked them to tell us, as the Agreement had been broken down phrase by phrase, whether or not this particular section of the Agreement had been implemented or not, or whether it was in progress, whether it was on the way, whether it was in train. We found this a very, very useful exercise. Out of all of that, in a couple of weeks time, we are hoping to have a launch of the results of our audit which actually are very interesting. .. Quite a bit of our Agreement has actually been implemented, so it’s not being thrown out the window, it’s not disappearing. It actually is happening, people are working day in and day out to implement this Agreement. An awful lot of it is in place. It’s a process, it’s going to take time for all of it to happen but an awful lot of it is already happening.
Issues needing attention: “We noted as well a few things that we feel could be given attention within the Agreement:
(1) Civic Forum: “One of those issues is the establishment of a Civic Forum which we feel should be established as soon as possible – and maybe Dermot will be able to tell us what actually is happening in relation to the Civic Forum. We feel that when there are difficulties, when there are strained relationships between some of our politicians, if we had the Civic Forum up and running, and ordinary people from a very wide public sector were sitting together discussing some of those issues, it certainly would help to keep things moving on and to prevent that vacuum being created. I’ve heard the timescale for the establishment of the Civic Forum is perhaps September 2000 but I really don’t know an awful lot about its terms of reference and how issues can be discussed, what will be discussed, who will decide what will be discussed etc. etc. So the Civic Forum is something we would like to see up and running as soon as possible.
(2) Joint parliamentary forum: “I understand that the North/South Ministerial Council are saying that consideration should be given to establishing a joint parliamentary forum, bringing together equal numbers from both the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Oireachtas for discussion of matters of mutual interest and concern.
(3) Independent consultative forum. Also discussed is the establishment of an independent consultative forum appointed by the two administrations, representative of civil society and comprising of social partners and other members with expertise in social, cultural, economic and other issues. We feel there is merit in establishing these two bodies as soon as possible as well as the Civic Forum. In particular we see that the independent consultative forum can progress outside the powers of the Parliamentary Assembly or Oireachtas. As members will be drawn from civil society they would not be sacrificing parliamentary time to attend, representatives would not be committed to any party, they would be expected to work within the “spirit of concord” defined in the Agreement.
(4) Human rights: “We also feel that the issue of human rights is ongoing and needs more work and more attention. All participating parties must show in their day to day relationships mutual respect and legitimacy of the rights of others as well as their own. We are estimating in our review that only about 15% of the human rights section has actually been implemented, most of it is being implemented at the moment and needs constant attention and constant work. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has been established and has been given the responsibility of consulting widely on a new Bill of Rights which will, in addition to those in the European Convention on Human Rights, provide for areas which are particular to Northern Ireland. We feel that the budget for this is small and there’s a lot of work to do and very important work to do in that respect. The comparable steps by the Irish Government are also in train but we feel that that work is slow and late and we would like to see that prioritised within the responsibility of the Irish government. This would then allow the envisaged joint committee of representatives of the two Human Rights commissions, north and south, to be established for important work in considering human rights issues on the island of Ireland and even establishing a charter which would reflect and endorse agreed measures for the protection of the fundamental rights of everyone living in the island of Ireland.
Cherry-picking of the Agreement: “All of that is in our Agreement. All of those are issues which are being progressed. It’s very easy to progress some and just forget about others and we all know, we’ve heard it all along, there’s no cherry-picking of our Agreement. It all has to happen, it all works together and the process is so important. We need to be moving forward on everything and not forgetting some of those, even some of those smaller issues which if they were worked on and if prioritised a little bit more would certainly help to help those relationships, those inter-personal relationships which are so important in our society to develop and encourage people to see that this Agreement is working.
“Bread-and-butter” issues: “We talked about the need for the government, our new devolved government, to be able to say “we have done this” and “we have done that”. That’s all-important because people are concerned about the “bread-and-butter” issues, they want to know that things are going to happen. We’ve a lot of work to do in the media… It’s very difficult to get the media interested in what they would see as the mundane bread and butter issues, but in a society like ours that has not had their own government for so long, those are important issues. And it’s not unrealistic expectations, it’s just to know that our own politicians are working together to move forward what is important to us – the bread and butter issues, the things that matter to us in our everyday lives.
“This is ordinary people who I represent doing their little bit to try and understand what our Agreement is all about and to tell others and to encourage the politicians to remember that we are interested, that we do care. And though at times we know things are strained, relationships are strained, and we have to live with the sectarian realities of Northern Ireland and all that’s going to happen in the summer season – we have the marching season, we always have these tensions – but that we are working towards something new. We understand it’s a process, we understand it’s going to take time.
Blaming others: “Just to finish off, I would like to mention a campaign which “People Moving On” ran very recently and I have postcards here. I would be delighted if you could take some of them and send them to anyone you feel might be interested in receiving one or might actually think if they received one. The message reads “Pointing the Finger is Missing the Point”. It’s very easy to blame others for where we are, to blame others for where we’ve been, but at the end of the day none of us fell down from outer space. I’ve lived through nearly 48 years of my life, 36 of them in Northern Ireland and I have responsibilities, I have to change. We believe that peace is people choosing to live differently, not somebody else making that choice – me deciding what my choice is. So instead of blaming others for all that’s gone wrong in our society, maybe we could blame a little on ourselves and think about what we can do to change and change in our own lives to make sure that we have a better future. We actually had this on a billboard campaign for two weeks recently in Belfast and we had eight billboards up around Belfast. We have it up on our web-site and we’re inviting comments on the image which is a very shocking image and it produced quite a bit of emotive responses when people saw that image but it’s simply saying that if I point the finger at you, there’s three pointing back at me and maybe I could start to do something in my life to help build that new society we all want for our children in our future generations. Thank you.”
Chair (Fergus Finlay): “Thank you very much Anne. It’s sometimes said down here that the Taoiseach is as anxious as everybody else is to set up the joint parliamentary tier – apparently he’s sending Jackie Healy-Rae up to give demonstrations on how practical day-to-day politics really work!
“Our next speaker is Jim Lennon who has what I often think one of the more thankless tasks in politics. It tends to be a low profile job and an extremely hardworking job nonetheless. The SDLP in Northern Ireland has long been famous for the strength of its personalities and for its ability to present a coherent and united front despite the strength often pulling in opposite directions of those powerful personalities. When you see that happening you know that a great deal of the credit for the unity of purpose within a party has to go to the party chairperson and I have no doubt whatsoever that Jim Lennon must have learned an awful lot of patience in the time that he has been chairman of the SDLP, so I’d grateful if you welcomed him now to address us.
3. Jim Lennon (Chairman of SDLP): “Thank you Fergus. Chairman’s jobs sometimes are thankless but there are occasional rewards like getting invited down by the Meath Peace Group and getting fed in an hotel! Not only that but you also made us feel very welcome. I just live about 8 miles from Monaghan on the south Armagh border so I’m no stranger to this part of the world… On my way here tonight, I came via Slane and I was thinking about what I was going to talk about tonight, I was thinking about cultural differences, administrative differences, machinery of government, programmes of government, all those sort of things, but as I came to a ruined monastery with a round tower at the side of the road the first thing I saw was “Navan says No” and I thought – Northern Ireland has exported something! I’m not sure whether Castlereagh Borough Council still have a large banner up “Castlereagh says No” – you can ask Sammy Wilson or Peter Robinson, when you next invite the DUP here!
“In terms of the topic tonight there are a number of issues I want to try and focus on – the role of the Executive, the role of the Assembly, the role of the devolved institutions and the machinery and structures are important but there are 3 other key aspects I would like to talk about. The first one is hope, the second one is perception and reality, and the third is leadership.
Hope: “Fergus referred to me as the internal bureaucrat working away while others are in front of the radio or TV but part of what I’ve been doing for the past two years, since I became chairman, I’ve commissioned a whole series of polls on behalf of the party to address a whole range of issues in terms of our image and whatever. But particularly over the period since the signing of the Agreement, what we wanted to try and work out was – what is it that people, those who voted for us, either collectively as a party or those who voted for the Good Friday Agreement, and those who didn’t vote for it, about 30% – what do they expect of the future? What precisely when they sit down and think in the quiet of their own homes, what is it they are thinking of? It’s quite interesting because the results of those polls – they were conducted by MRBI – have been very consistent. They haven’t shown any great significant change between the “yes” and the “no” voters – there’s been some change in various constituencies and you’ll be aware of the trauma that the Ulster Unionist Party had to go through recently and there’s been a change probably there – but really it’s marginal at the end of the day. In terms of the question “was the Good Friday Agreement better or worse for Northern Ireland?”, the unambiguous answer is “yes”.
“In terms of what people’s expectations were, when there were difficulties on the road – whether it was over the setting up of the institutions or decommissioning – what you saw all the time was a continual return to the concept of hope. They had voted for something that they believed would offer them a way forward. It didn’t offer everybody all that they wanted, everybody in terms of political leaders, in terms of parties or in terms of various pressure groups who were advising the parties at the time, but it offered a way forward that the people had solidly accepted and they never lost hope. It was interesting because we haven’t received the formal data from the current poll, but a lot of the survey took place since the re-establishment of the Agreement and the preliminary results seem to indicate that again there’s been a surge of hope. If you look at the other key indicators in Northern Ireland, if you look at factors to do with the economy, to do with perceptions with respect to investment – is this a good place to invest?, if you look at the G7 which is the major business and social partners who offer opinions regularly, then again when the Agreement’s going well and when problems are being overcome there’s a resurgence of hope.
“In terms of what difference will the Agreement make, in terms of the future, I’m addressing some of the issues that Robin Wilson has asked. I think there are two different answers you can give depending on whether you adopt a short-term view or whether you adopt a longer-term view.
Short-term view: “I think if you look at the short-term view first of all. If you look at what’s going to happen over the summer – and you will have heard over the weekend Drumcree again is on the boil – yes we are going to have a series of repetitive incidents or reruns of history. That is going to be a recurrent feature of Northern Ireland. So in the short term the deep divisions that exist in our society, the naked sectarianism that exists is going to continue. There will be continuing problems over issues like flags, there will be continuing problems over Patten, over criminal justice reform.
“But there is a way around them and when we talk to people and when we look at the results of the polls what they continue to show is there is a belief that as long as the political institutions are working i.e the Assembly and in the fullness of time the other elements, the Civic Forum, North-South bodies and probably, in the longer term future… the east-west dimension that concludes the remainder of the devolved parliaments in the British Isles including Westminster. Those will significantly increase the level of wellbeing in Northern Ireland.
Sectarianism: “In terms of the short-term issues, I think that the big issue that we still have to face that will underly a lot of the Programme of government and will underly a lot of the actions and work that the Executive, the Assembly and the other elements of the machinery of government have to address is this issue of sectarianism. It’s a much broader issue than most people perceive it to be. In my last professional job I was head of statistics in the Northern Ireland Civil Service, and I commissioned reports by Will Glendinning of the Community Relations Council. I looked at my own constituency because there is this perception, you get it when you talk to people from the country areas who say “we live very well with our neighbours”. A lot of us in the civil service didn’t believe these views, because what we were finding on the ground was that when you came to make micro-decisions about the allocation of resources – and in my case it was the Department of Health – you began to get anomalies appearing. People would not travel one mile to a doctor but would go six miles the other way. People would not go to a primary school half a mile down the road, you’d have to get a bus put on for four miles down the road. You began to question was the decison-making economic or rational or was there something else underneath it? We looked at two villages that are about a mile and a half apart in South Armagh; Dunane and Whitecross, and what we found was, very briefly, that they had a very different social life, they had a different economic life, they had a different cultural life and they had a different approach to what is supposed to be the neutral machinery of government, the health service, access to schools, access to other automatic services. Whitecross went to Newry, Dunane went to Portadown. There was very little intermixing.
“If you look at Belfast, yes you can see the results of sectarianism. It’s walls up and down the centre of the city, particularly in the north of the city. But that model exists throughout most of Northern Ireland. There will be people who tell you it doesn’t happen in my little part of the world – the reality is it probably does. That’s the first reality we’ve got to address. That’s the first reality that the Assembly and Executive have to address. In terms of sending out a very strong message, they are sending out a message about leadership because for the next 5-10 years it is going to be a series of incidents, it’s going to be one crisis after another. It’ll be decommissioning this week, and something else next week. And if you think the fun is only started with decommissioning, wait till you see whenl we start looking at the re-allocation of resources – see what impact that makes! You’ve had a foretaste of what will happen in terms of the decision over the Royal Maternity Hospital in Belfast. These are key issues that need to be addressed but to do that we need to understand the basis of which many people make what are supposedly rational decisions in their normal life….
Respect for national identities: “I think there’s another issue that we need to look at which is a short to longer term issue, and I speak from, although I don’t like using it, a nationalist perspective, because that’s what I’m labelled, but I’m not a nationalist, I’m Irish. I think there is a major issue that will underpin quite a lot of work in the Assembly and it is to do with respect for national identities.
“That respect means you don’t try and clone everybody in to some sort of quasi-neutral type citizen of Northern Ireland, where you’ve mixed the green, white and gold and the red, white and blue and something else blocks out the middle. It is about recognising, in all our diversity, that we are all part of a people who share one piece of land. In reality we all pay lip-service to that and if you talk to any politician they’ll tell you that… But in terms of what we need to do on the ground it means, from my perspective, we need to recognise certain rights, we need to recognise that though we might not like things like the Orange Order, they represent a cultural tradition, we need to recognise that. It also means that in dealing with symbolism; flags, emblems and other issues that we need to recognise what it means to a particular community, and I mean in a way that recognises the value that it has to them and ultimately the value it has to us if we pretend that we want to live in a society at ease and at peace with itself. …
Longer-term issues. “I think there’s a view about that the nature of the institutions themselves will change as the political process becomes much more about what you down here would term “normal politics”, i.e. economic politics, social politics, the allocation of resources, issues of that nature. There is a view that the nature of the political insitutions will themselves change to reflect that political stability. There are a number of different polls and opinions about to suggest that you will see the emergence of parties of the right and parties of the left based on models of either socio-economic co-operation or socio-economic politics. That realistically is probably 10-15 years down the road. The Agreement itself does contain provisions within it for change of the machinery of government.
Over-management: “There is a view about that with 108 members of the Assembly we are probably slightly over-governed, and in terms of the number of district councils that we have, and the number of what we call quangos, semi-state bodies, we certainly are over-managed. There will have to be at some level a shake-out there in terms of the whole administrative machinery of government.
Civil society: “The most important element that underpins quite a lot of that is the notion that we are moving from a society that is very heavily based around division, paramilitarism or formal military structures, to one in which a civil society takes its proper place. Part of that in the Agreement was the whole idea of a CivicForum and one of the interesting attributes in Northern Ireland if you look at it even in comparison with the Republic or with the rest of mainland U.K., we have a very very strong community or social sector, there are very strong community groups. Now some of them you might query, but there are also very strong genuine ones who operate purely in the interests of either their local community or in the interests of particular groups. whether that be victims, whether that be social deprivation, housing or whatever. That again will both support the work of the Executive in underpinning the vote that was taken to approve the Good Friday Agreement, but also underpin the programme of government and underpin the measures necessary to tackle some of the most blatant elements of sectarianism and the results of division within our society.
“In terms of other issues, I was compiling a list because we have a special conference coming up .. in terms of things that needed to be put on the agenda and I was getting inundated with all my MPs and MLAs pet projects.
Policy goals: “There were 3 key issues that came out in terms of things people wanted done: The first one was about economic growth; the second one was about the 11-plus or more widely about the education system; and the third one was about the health service. Now in terms of setting three or four clear goals, if the Assembly and the Executive move on those sort of issues then it will build on the confidence, it will build on the hope and it will build on the goodwill that exists within Northern Ireland and much further afield to make it a success. If it falls down on some of those issues, then it will bring into question the effectiveness with which it is moving forward. But the evidence to date is that there is a very strong level of support within our community and there is a very strong belief within all the parties that are participating in both the Assembly and the Executive that they have the wherewithal and the ability to make decisions on those issues that reflect the particular local circumstances that we find in Northern Ireland and that are different from both here and the rest of the U.K.
Quality of leadership: “On that basis I think I would say there is hope for the future, and in terms of the quality of leadership to date that has been displayed by all the parties, even the DUP. There is criticism among all political commentators of the DUP but if they had wanted to bring the show down, they had an opportunity earlier on this week with the Appropriation Bill where they could have forced the issue on the floor and they could have brought down the Assembly – they didn’t do that and that tells you something, that tells you that they believe it’s here to stay, that they believe it’s going to work. The reality is that they understand the basic numbers game – 71.12% of the people want this to work and they’ve invested their hope in this and woe betide any politician who fails to deliver. Thank you.”
Chair (Fergus Finlay): “Jim, thank you very much indeed. I think it’s probably beginning to be clear that there is indeed a degree more common ground than we might have thought in Northern Ireland about the need for what we might call ordinary politics to kick in, and the kind of issues that will rise to the surface as and when ordinary politics kicks in. If the institutions work in the next 5 years, if they achieve the several ambitious goals, one person who will undoubtedly have a key role to play will be the person whose job it is in official terms to act as the bridge between David Trimble and Seamus Mallon. It’s hard to imagine a more difficult job. I was trying to figure out which two politicians in my own experience you wouldn’t want to be a junior minister to – Albert Reynolds and Dick Spring came to mind very quickly!
“Our next speaker has that extraordinary difficult and challenging job to do and, according to friends and supporters alike, in the first period of the Assembly he did it with tremendous skill. When he first came to prominence in the Republic he attracted the label which is generally speaking regarded as a kiss of death in Northern Ireland politics – he was described down here as a “reasonable unionist” which we used to see as a kind of contradiction in terms and is now seen “up there”, as they say, as a gross insult! I asked someone who had observed Dermot Nesbitt at close quarters, I won’t tell him who it was, but it was an Irish civil servant who’d observed him at close quarters in the Castle buildings negotiations – was he indeed a “reasonable unionist”? This person said that he was tough, fair-minded, honest and direct. He said there was good news and bad news. The bad news was that David Trimble had taught him to negotiate and the good news was that he had taught David Trimble to listen! Given that he has all those skills and talents I think we should give Dermot Nesbitt a very warm welcome indeed.
4. Dermot Nesbitt, MLA (UUP): “Thank you. .. The first thing I will say, there’s a gentleman at the back who comes from a party in this jurisdiction [Fianna Fail] and during a conversation I once had with him I said I would love to give him a “flea in the ear” down that mobile, and he said to me on a later occasion there was a time that he would love to give me a “flea in the ear”. Such was the interchange of views North and South at certain times. But it’s a pleasure to see you Derek … and the rest! It’s an actual pleasure to be here and I genuinely mean that.
Making a difference: “Making a Difference – Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly? Yes! The last time I was here [April 1999] I represented the Ulster Unionist Party, tonight I represent an administration, not wearing a unionist hat, not even to speak for or to advocate unionism, but to advocate that which I represent which is an administration comprising four parties. That is making a difference.
“Secondly, the last time I was in Dublin, no in fact the penultimate time .. I was in Dublin Castle. I remember the press conference, sitting in Dublin Castle with all the fabric, with all the persona that represents old colonialism – the pictures are still there, the lords and ladies of the Manor are still there. It could still be colonial Dublin. There was I sitting in the room, the same room, facing in the same direction as I did during the Talks. But eighteen months previously I spoke for the exclusion of Sinn Fein from the Talks in that very room. That day at the press conference, Martin McGuinness and I were the two ministers from Northern Ireland with Michael Woods in the middle, giving a press conference on education within the island of Ireland, representing two political jurisdictions. That makes a difference…. I wouldn’t say it was a defining moment, not at all, but perhaps it had the potential for a defining dispensation … perhaps. You know your position, you know your parties. I noted carefully, Fergus, when you said the Chairman [Meath County Council Chairman Cllr. Brian Fitzgerald] was the best Labour man you had, and he gave me a wink because he had told me where he was now in politics. So yes, know your catch when you come here so as you can understand the nuances as they come about you. So yes we all have our division within politics and within parties but none has moved further than we have for that difference to be made by that representation I did that day in Dublin Castle and here tonight representing the administration.
“This is a good time to come. It’s a time when we have just reinstated devolution, and we have begun the process…. There’s another difference – I forgot to tell you – I’m here tonight in a ministerial car, I’ve got my private secretary, I’ve got the PR person and I’ve got the driver with me and – guess what – I’ve got a speech from the civil service that I must deliver! ….
“Yes, we have 108 people elected.which ..could be over-representation. We have an Executive comprising four parties. Yes it is an involuntary coalition as someone has said. Yes we have 10 departments of government, we have a First Minister and Deputy First Minister and they are like Siamese twins – if one resigns the other must also go, because you can’t have one without the other. If one was accidentally killed in a road accident tomorrow, the other would automatically resign and you would have to make two new joint appointments of a First and Deputy First Minister.
“Yes, chairman, you used the words challenging and daunting to describe my position. I’ll give you another word – it’s fascinating. Because not only have I Denis Haughey this way which is the opposite to me, but I’ve also got Seamus and David that way and then I’ve got it all around me, these civil servants who are trying to pull us in every way but the way you want to go, so it is fascinating, I can assure you of that!
Programme for Government: “This Executive Committee, as Robin rightly alluded to .. it’s got a very precise definition of what it is to do. It is to deal with cross-cutting exercises, “joined-up” government; 10 silent departments – we must make them work together. That’s the first thing it says. It also says that it has to have a Programme for Government allied with a budget. Now think of the words very carefully there because Robin said Programme for Government and I hope he doesn’t mind me saying this because quite often he said “Programme of Government” …. There’s a difference and we are having a “Programme for Government”. It’s not of the government because we are to consult more widely and bring forward all views, of the government for the people. It’s a programme for government not derived solely of government but to come from others. …..a programme for the governing of Northern Ireland.
“Yes it will make a difference, Robin said bringing people together. Most important thing of all, of the administration I represent, is that I feel when I go out that I represent a grouping, a body, that the people of Northern Ireland by and large have an affinity to and owe an allegiance to. Those are two difficult things to have in Northern Ireland – an affinity with it and an allegiance to it. That is making a difference as well.
North-South/East-West dimensions: “Yes we have the North-South Ministerial Council and, yes, we have the British Isles dimension as well. That will make a difference. That does represent political and geographical reality.
The island as a geographical unit, the British-Irish Isles as a geographical unit and the political dimension that there are different jurisdictions within those islands. That will make a difference because it reflects reality.
“If you do not reflect reality you will not be sustained and therefore you will not really make a difference, you will only be of short-term benefit. I participated in two of those North-South Ministerial Councils, one I have already alluded to and the other one with your Minister for Agriculture and Brid Rogers as well.
Normal politics: “Of course this administration is elaborate from a voting point of view – checks and balances, First and Deputy First Ministers must act as one, we try to coalesce and coordinate that, that all does make it cumbersome. … But believe you me it is much more provocative within parties than one may feel. I was away a short few days ago … and we were talking about a Programme for Government and 11-plus and various other things – nothing crystallises the mind more than having to make a decision that you’re responsible for. Yes we’ve had the politics of opposition, yes we’ve made many demands and many wants for things we would love to have, but .. nothing crystallises the mind than having to live within your budget and that we have to do… So yes, normal politics and all the normal failings, weaknesses, inter-party, intra-party, tantrums, fights, that will go on … backbenchers versus the administration, pressure groups that try and make you do this that you don’t want to do but you, Sir, are responsible, don’t blame Westminister, you decide. That’ll make a difference for me as well ….
Economic growth: “But I wouldn’t at the same time in the new administration do a down too much. We have had the highest growth rate in Northern Ireland of any region of the UK over this past number of years, mindful of the violence we’ve had. Yes you have your Celtic economy and Celtic Tiger, and yes … Temple Bar is a blossoming, youthful, dynamic region of Dublin…. Yes, that’s in Belfast now as well and, yes, Belfast has dramatically changed from what it was in the 70’s – dramatically changed …. This Programme for Government is a key priority and I need not say anymore because Robin has said much about that aspect! …….
“The Civic Forum I come to, and I suppose I’ve got 4-5 minutes left .. and that reminds me the most important part of the evening is the questions because that’s the bit I enjoy the most so I want you to fire very provocative questions to us all. The joint ministerial committee, there’s another aspect which is being formulated which I should mention in passing to show “making a difference” which is the theme of this evening. The east-west dimension was mentioned … The administration and the government in NI is now not unique within the UK. The previous one, up to 1972, was a unique form of government within the UK. Now there is devolution to Scotland and to Wales and to Northern Ireland. In fact the celtic fringe now have devolution within the UK. The Gallic Scots and Irish and Manx, “X” Gallic as distinct from the “Y” Gallic connection of history of thousands of years. That makes a difference.
“There is a memorandum of understanding – wonderful phrase devised by the great and the good – a concordat, which of course Dr Paisley said in the Assembly last week, was a doctrine derived by a “papal nuncio of agreements”, well he would have to say that in that sense…….
“Importantly that day I spoke on behalf of that memorandum of understanding which is a concordat of the relationships and agreements as to how government will interact in the UK between Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and London. That very day, the first meeting involving the Northern Ireland administration chaired by Prime Minister Blair in London in Downing Street, speaking on health were David Trimble and Bairbre de Brun…. Making a difference? Yes! Think of the history, think of the background of what each represented, what Martin McGuinness and I represented in Dublin and then ask yourself – are we making a difference? The answer has to be – potentially, “yes”.
DUP: “One final point I’ll just mention in passing. Yes we do have a little problem with the DUP in the Administration. They did make a statement when they said they would not partake in the Executive Committee, that that party would not uphold the pledge of office and it would go to the very heart of government and expose it for what it was doing. That calls into question the integrity of confidentiality within the Administration. The Administration agreed last week that it would seek an assurance from the two DUP executive members that they are obliged to abide by their obligation to confidentiality. Until that assurance is given then certain Executive papers will not be released to the two DUP executive members. That is a difficulty. We do hope we will overcome it, because remember the more inclusive that government is, the better – unique as it is… You need to remember that thirty years of violence is what we are trying to come out from, and above all the intrinsic value of the Adminsitration is not perhaps the dramatic change in policy outlook, though there is a big expectation for that, it is that the institutions of government are functioning with allegiance given to those institutions across the spectrum.
Tax-varying powers: “I take one point for example that Robin mentions … he used the words that we did not “grasp the nettle” of tax-varying powers as in Scotland. We could have a wonderful debate about that … Scotland does have tax-varying powers and if it raised it’s income tax a full 3p it would only raise £400 million – big bucks you might say but compared with a spend of £14 billion it is very small … The true value of the tax-varying power is that it makes you reach your decision on the best way of allocating your funds….
Full implementation of the Agreement: “But while I say “grasping nettles”, the real nettle has been grasped – the real difficult one. As you know with all nettles – if you take Robin’s analogy – you hold it tight and it doesn’t sting you, play with it and be loose with it and it will sting. We have grasped this nettle of devolution. There are obligations to be fulfilled by all. There are commitments to implement – all. There is a commitment by the IRA in its aspect as well. Grasp that nettle tightly. All can be delivered and none of us will be stung. That’s what it is about – grasping it, running with it, and delivering it. The priority of all democrats in Northern Ireland must now be to deliver and develop a cohesive government … in a sense we are going for regeneration, we are going for rebirth. We are not going for conflict The past is gone, the present we know, the future can – must be – better. Thank you”.
Chair (Fergus Finlay): “There must be some lesson in it when the only full-time politician here is the one who has stuck to his time! I’m going to give a quarter of an hour for questions and then review the situation, as they say in the best executive circles… “
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS (SUMMARY ONLY)
Q.1 (Nuala McGuinness, Nobber resident): “I would just like to say how very pleased I am as a native of Co. Down, living in Meath to see Mr. Nesbitt here – I know he’s been here before but I wasn’t here then. I would first like to make a point to Anne – first of all I would like to compliment her for her ecumenical Christian outlook. She mentioned personal relationships …. about two years ago at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Belfast, the incoming moderator … made a very strong speech that the members of his church should reach out to people who are different, and more specifically to Roman Catholic people that they work with and they meet wherever they go. He said “don’t do it tomorrow, don’t do it next week or next month, do it now, don’t leave it to the politicians and community workers, each individual is responsible”.
Re Orange march in Dawson Street: “The second point I want to mention is in relation to something Jim said. I don’t mean to be derogatory, but he talked in a somewhat grandiose fashion about shared nationalism and so on … and about different cultures. I would like to ask the people here from the twenty six counties – I felt very strongly about the Orange march that was cancelled in Dawson Street. It was only a token march and I was absolutely disgusted as a person from Northern Ireland who’s lived half my life in NI and now I’m in Meath. Dublin city could not stage that walking down the street a couple of hundred yards. Even the speakers here tonight – they’re all blaming Northern Ireland for this, that and the other, but southern Ireland to me has shown tremendous political immaturity. I was quite disappointed that neither the government nor the opposition parties in the south had not a word to say about it. I would just like to ask what other people think.”
Fergus Finlay: “Yes and you’re perfectly entitled to do that”..
Member of the audience:. “The reason the Orange march was cancelled was because a terrorist organisation used their influence to prevent the march…. “ [rest of comment inaudible on tape]
Q2 (Slane resident):Re: Bill of Rights: “… Dermot talked about one of the ways – it’s almost like the advice a psychologist would give to somebody trying to give up cigarettes – “get up and do something else”, but the temptation comes. In other words he’s saying, we’ve now been given the responsibility to act on social policies, educational policies of various kinds – that takes the attention off the patriotic debate. Has anyone suggested that when they’re drawing up the charter of rights that they should also put up alongside that, word for word, a charter of responsibilities. … People have got to understand that they have got to do something as well. It’s not just a passive perception that rests on somebody else, it’s an act of dispersal of those rights for the people … Would the panel agree?”
Dermot Nesbitt: On the first point made – “I agree … Alban McGuinness was speaking the other day in the Assembly and he was saying about dealing with this and I quote “we would not then be concentrating on the National question”, we know what he meant by that. Second point, yes, rights do have responsibilities. I could not agree more with that. Many people demand rights from both sides. This question here exemplifies that. … Yes, rights must be upheld but equally so also must responsibilities be clearly seen to be reflected.”
Anne Carr: “.. Just in relation to what was said about rights – I think this card is about the importance of each and every one of us taking responsibility. We actually had a discussion on putting together a Bill of Rights just last week and it’s a very difficult thing to do. You come up with a right that you would like to see but then you have to actually ask yourself; are there any absolute rights? Because there are always responsibilities which have to accompany these rights. At the same time, I think by having a discussion around the whole issue of human rights, we are encouraging people to think that they must take responsibility, because we’re now thinking about a new society, it’s a different society. It brings in all the issues around respect for difference, all the issues around the Orange march and on both sides all the things we find difficult. As [someone] once said “too often justice is just us” and that is what I always remember. It’s very easy just to think about what I want in any Bill of Rights. The challenge is to think about the responsibility that goes with that and looking at somebody else’s rights.”
Fergus: “I think it probably is worth making the point – and I’m sure I’ll be corrected if I’m wrong – that there is an onus in both jurisdictions, on both governments, to make progress on human rights issues. As I understand it at the present rate of progress, progress will be complete in Northern Ireland long before it has been established down here and that’s something worth thinking about….
Julitta Clancy (Meath Peace Group): “Just to take you up on that Fergus. there has been a Human Rights Commission in Northern Ireland for two years now. We have had several public talks on human rights here and we have been assured that our Commission is going to be set up soon. I think in a lot of areas … we are actually way behind Northern Ireland in terms of the amount of change you’ve gone through in the last few years on both sides. … We’re expecting you all to be moving and changing and yet there was that incident in Dublin … when it came to putting a plaque up in Dublin to another tradition, recording an historical event, it really threw us and we actually don’t seem able to do these things. We see it in our attitudes towards asylum seekers …. Maybe you have to lead us on that because I feel that we need a forum down here of the people, linking into your forum, where we can honestly explore and have understanding between us….”
Robin Wilson: [re identity politics]: “I wanted to comment on two or three of the things people have said because they’ve all raised what is a tremendously difficult set of issues which underpin many of the very difficult political arguments in Northern Ireland, most obviously the argument about what flag or flags, if any and what possible combination or when might flags might fly… So these are issues which are really crunch issues which need to be addressed. The difficulty is that these are issues which are hugely important all over the world. People refer to it by shorthand as identity politics. I went to a conference last September in Bristol, an academic conference on nationalism, identity, minority rights. There were about a thousand people there – 37 countries, about a fifth of the world’s countries represented there and there were hugely difficult issues that people were trying to get their heads around. For example, what do you do in terms of how tolerant you are to people who are intolerant. That’s a hard question. If you’re too tolerant won’t they walk all over you, if you’re not tolerant won’t they become more intolerant?
“There are big questions about what kind of rights you might include in the Northern Ireland Bill of Rights …. the simple bit is the early bit, that is to say the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights which is being done in both jurisdictions. It’s simple because that’s just about abstract rights that any citizen is entitled to – like freedom of expression or the right not to be detained against your will, the right to a fair trial etc etc. When it comes to the rights that are attached to individuals as members of particular groups it all gets hugely more complicated. There has been some effort in the 1990s to begin to address some of these issues, for example via the Framework Convention on National Minorities which the Council of Europe promulgated some years ago and which is now being incorporated into UK law.
“There are big, big problems there which need an awful lot of thought. For example, I’m someone who is, in theory, from the Protestant community but I don’t want to be aligned with a claim of group rights that assumes I am part of a “cultural tradition” which all my community is meant to share and which has certain conventional connotations like Orangeism and so on. I happen to have two of my father’s sashes but I don’t wear them very often. It happens to be the case that in the Council of Europe Framework Convention it says “individuals have the right not to be considered as members of groups, if they so wish”.
“The reason it’s so important links into what Jim said earlier about sectarianism. One of the things that has been evident in recent years in Northern Ireland , particularly in recent days, has been the profusion of flag-flying, illegal flag-flying all over the place; union-jacks, tricolours, paramilitary flags … Really what that’s about is about saying if you’re in this area, whatever you might want to be, forget it you’ve no choice, you are defined as nationalist, unionist whatever. I think it’s crucially important for us to make progress towards a new Northern Ireland, that people can make a distinction, like the distinction Jim made between being nationalist and being Irish, and I’m happy to sign up to being Irish too. I’m not actually unionist but I’m from a Protestant background. We have to be allowed the freedom to make those kinds of choices which hasn’t to a degree been the case. I think we’ve also got to see whether it’s not possible to create new senses of identity which might be more complicated than the simple unionist, nationalist, either or.
Parity of esteem: “I used to do discussion classes with IRA prisoners before my captive audience got out, so to speak… One of the discussions we had was about this issue of “parity of esteem” as it is called in Northern Ireland, and at the end of the discussion while I was waiting for the person from the prison service to take me out of the H-block one of the guys said to me, “you’ve talked about identities, what would you say you were?” Knowing it wasn’t going to be the answer he wanted I said I was a liberal socialist, and he said “apart from being a liberal socialist, what are you? – When I get up in the morning I listen to Radio Ulster, then I turn over to RTE. I go into the office I read the Irish Times and then I read the Guardian. I have an Irish passport, I’m interested in politics in Britain and Italian football. Make of that what you will and until such times as we can have that kind of hybrid identity in Northern Ireland it’s going to be very difficult for us to sort out some of these issues that are so contentious.”
Fergus: “I’m tempted to say that anyone who listens to RTE and Radio Ulster between the Irish Times and the Guardian also needs to get a life!…”
Q4:[Slane resident, re Euro]: “I wanted to ask an economic question actually. The economic performance in Northern Ireland is going to be critical …… Dermot, what is your attitude or the Unionist Party’s attitude towards the Euro, the economic issue of all economics. What would the attitude of the Ulster Unionists be if there was a referendum on this issue? ….”
Dermot Nesbitt: “Fascinating question .. unfortunately we don’t have all night and I don’t mean that glibly. The Euro, it’s a bit like the European Union itself, it’s based on economic theory but sometimes in practice it doesn’t precisely work, because the European Union is a customs union whereby .. you have trade barriers broken down and therefore everyone’s better off, it’s a win-win situation. The Euro should be better because we’re all trading in one currency, therefore there is stability. And I find it interesting that the UK-based industries in London … were talking about fiscal stability through the Euro currency and here we were still trying to get political stability in Northern Ireland which is what industry looks for. However the Euro will function only if it is acceptable as an international currency, if you do not trade in the Euro the way they are trading in the dollar and the deutschmark then it will not become an acceptable currency to hold, therefore its value will not increase and if its value does not increase it itself will not become a viable currency. So it’s like any product, as it were, because money is only money for money’s sake. It’s of itself no worth, it’s paper money in a sense, it’s not real money. It’s a medium of exchange and as a medium of exchange it will only be valuable if people value it as that and until it becomes a currency that is acceptable as an international currency of exchange – in other words transactions are based on it – it may not get off the ground. From our point of view I think there may be a tendency within the EU to have greater problems with what happens in the expansion of the EU eastwards from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Poland down right through to Slovenia – that sliver of countries that used to be part of the Soviet Republic that now wish to join the European Union. That will become a bigger problem for the EU than whether or not this Euro functions.
“Therefore I would say that: a) the jury is out on the Euro for various fiscal reasons and, b) there are more important issues at this moment that might help or hinder the future benefit of Europe than the Euro.”
Questioner: “So I am therefore to assume that the Ulster Unionist position is….
Dermot Nesbitt: “The answer to that is I’m here representing the administration, not the Ulster Unionist Party!… It is a fascinating question.”
Fergus: “It doesn’t take full-time politicians long to learn the skills of full-time politicians! You wanted to come in, Jim.”
Jim Lennon: “I’ll give you the party position first because I’m not here representing the Administration. We, that is the SDLP, support the inclusion of the UK within the Euro zone, and that is partly because of our principles in respect of inclusion within the European Union and the fact that we see that as one way of breaking down some of the barriers. However if you look at the economic arguments – there’s two sets of factors and I’ll deal particularly with Northern Ireland rather than the UK as a whole. There are two sets of factors that you have to consider. Where I live, which is about 6 miles from Monaghan town, if you take a broad belt from Newry through to Strabane, effectively 20 miles north of the border is now Euro land. They trade effectively punt for pound because they have to do that to survive in business and if you look at towns that don’t do that, they close down.
“That’s one reality that we live with. However you also have to ask yourself some economic questions and if you look at the structure of the European economy, the european economy is largely a closed economy – about 80% of the European trade is in the European zone, it trades with itself. So whether the Euro is a trading currency in some respects doesn’t matter, because it only accounts for about 20% of foreign trade and that foreign trade is largely petro-chemical based, oil and a few other bits and pieces, high technology, which are trade in dollars anyway. The UK economy is different. The structure of the UK economy has markedly changed certainly in the last twenty years. It has moved from what I would call heavy metal [based] into mainly financial services and other services and technologically based services and I think about 60% of the UK trade is with the EU, 40% is with other trading blocks, so the issues for the UK economy are substantially different.
“Our problem in Northern Ireland is, we’re a bit like “piggy in the middle” – there’s an economy down here that now effectively is sucking between about 5% or 6% of our workforce across the border … where white vans are heading for Dublin every morning. If you look at factors that are influencing capital investment, take Xerox – my previous professional career was in IT and I would have had some dealings with Xerox in Europe and IBM. They purposely put Xerox in Dundalk because they wanted to get at Northern labour, the labour market down here effectively is running as full as possible which is why inflation is starting to shoot through the roof. So they are now putting plants along the border area. If you look at what’s happening in Donegal it’s the same story. We are affected by the Euro and to a certain extent our answer, I suppose in the longer-term, depends on how our own country develops. Now in Northern Ireland the economy has taken off over the last seven years, since the first cease-fire. You would have noticed if you look at the Belfast Telegraph, probably the main paper for jobs on a Friday night, there is a proliferation of IT and technologically service-based jobs in it and that’s the way it is happening in the belt from Belfast right through to Armagh, all the way down to Newry. So if our economy continues to travel that way then a lot of our trade will be in non-Euro-based currencies, particularly the American dollar so there are economic issues that we do have to face. “
Dermot Nesbitt: “Very quickly … . I would entirely agree with what Jim said… and that’s why I’m saying about currency of exchange being acceptable because it depends on where you do your trading.”
Q5: Rathmolyon resident [re new police service and 50/50 religious quota]: ]: “The emphasis is on recruits from the Catholic population joining the police service. What in the name of heavens has religion got to do with policing?….. A policeman should be a policeman. We’re all Christians surely.”
Dermot Nesbitt: “Very briefly. Realpolitik is not a matter of wants, it’s a matter of needs. Now I know historically when the police service in Northern Ireland was set up, 30% was provided for the Catholic community to join. For whatever reason they didn’t join, for whatever reason, only 8% of the police service in Northern Ireland [comes from the Catholic community]. It is viewed therefore to be unbalanced and we support a balanced police-force that reflects the community, that’s part of the reason of having an affinity with it. I’m not so sure if the 50/50 recruitment might be as skewed as one might think because the age population of school children is about 50/50 Catholic/Protestant, and the main recruits to the police service will be probably 18-25 year olds. So if the balance of applicants reflects the community then the success of applicants will be on a fair basis as it should be. I’ll conclude by saying that realpolitik requires that that be done so that we have policing like politics to reflect a society that all can have an affinity with.”
Questioner: “Why don’t they use the term “Christians” instead of Protestants and Catholics, what the blazes, aren’t we all Christians? ..”
Dermot Nesbitt: “I would agree that we are all Christians in that sense, but, as Robin says, there is a Framework Convention for the Protection of National minorities, where identity is defined. I think it’s article 14 of that Convention and identity is defined as culture, language, education and religion. Now we may like it to be different, but it isn’t. The former Yugoslavia deals with Muslims, which is religious, Bosnians, which is Orthodox, Croats which are Catholic…. In the Philippines where some people were kidnapped the other day, again it was a Muslim/Catholic conflict within the Philippines. Whether we like it or not, our culture is quite often identified by our religion. In the context of this island it is Catholic/Protestant, in other parts of the world it is different, but what is not different is that religion is a barrier to being together. “
Chair (Fergus Finlay): “… I am going to take two more questions ….”
Q7:Re committee system in the Assembly: “…Will the committee system have real power in checking and balancing decisions of ministers?
Robin Wilson: “The answer to that is that the jury is still out. There was an unfortunate experience which .. was already referred to – the decision about the location of the maternity services in Belfast … whether it should be in the City hospital which is in mixed south Belfast or at the Royal hospital which is in Catholic west Belfast. The unfortunate thing about that issue was that it went before the Committee and all the members of the Committee voted on lines which you could associate either with their sectarian or constituency affiliation which was unfortunate. It was even more unfortunate when the issue went to the Minister. She contradicted the Committee’s view, giving no reasons to the Committee as to why she had contradicted its view, before she went to the press and told them that she was taking the position she was taking, which she also hadn’t agreed with the other members of the Executive. Now that was nota model of good government, to put it mildly. Some of the committees one hopes will over time take on more of a scrutinising role so they do act more as a check on government. One of the things which they also haven’t done too well to start with in any case is to remain secret.”
Q8: Re: forgiveness and promise: “…One thing throughout the peace process that has impressed me has been the gutsy leadership that has been shown at times – leadership that has been based on two principles, one of forgiveness and one of promising…. The impressive leadership that has come, particularly from David Trimble, the ability to forgive and the ability to be liberated from the past you have talked about, and the ability also to promise or to be bound by our word some time in the future and I think I would like to bring this down to a personal level and to ask what each person is personally prepared to forgive and what each is personally prepared to promise in order to keep that dynamic going and keep the process moving forward.”
Fergus: “Now is that a reasonable basis on which to invite the panel to say their last word? What are you each personally prepared to forgive and what are you each personally prepared to promise?”
Anne Carr: “I’m personally prepared to forgive the loyalist killers who very nearly murdered my husband in 1971, only he wasn’t home that night. We were 18 years old and I had just left my then boyfriend and gone home and he was going to Spain that night on holiday with friends. A Catholic family living in the centre of Belfast, a quarter to twelve that night there was a knock on the front door – he wasn’t there, but if he had been there he would have answered that door. His young brother heard a knock, shouted through the door “who’s there?”, this was the middle of 1971, the hard “Troubles” and the guy on the other side of the door said “I want to speak to Terry about a football match”. If Terry had been there he would have answered the door, but instead two shots were fired through the door and one of them hit his brother’s shirt and he still has the shirt with the hole in it. You never know the names of these people, it was just tit for tat, an easy target, a Catholic family living in a Protestant area at a difficult time. The people who came to the door that night did not want a Catholic about. When he came home from Spain they had no house, they had nowhere to live and had to move to the country. .. We gave up our jobs and moved to London for two years. I desperately wanted to come home, so did Terry. We got married and came home. All these years later I have watched my father-in-law barricade the house every night before he went to bed because he thought these people would come back. I watched my husband sitting with a baseball bat beside the bed just in case these people would come back. But I forgive those people because I know the number of young people that were drawn into this conflict, they were drawn in by violence of thetongue that led so many people to lift a gun, those people on platforms shouting them why they should get involved, whether it was for “God and Ulster” or a “Free Ireland”. Those people led a lot of young people to do things that they would never, ever in their lives have done if they had lived somewhere else. I never found out who those people are but they’re still out there. I know the only way I can move forward as a human being, now with four Catholic children, who I hope will never have to face what we had to face as teenagers, I know we are moving to something different, so I can forgive those people and say, right, we all made mistakes in the past, we didn’t understand the hurt we were causing to one another and the barriers that we actually lived ….. all we knew was that we hated somebody else because they were different. I can forgive those people now because I know that we all have to forgive one another if we’re going to move on. I heard at a conference “if the light of the past is too bright it blinds us for the future”, I’m more interested in that light for the future than in the past. “
“In relation to my promise – my promise is that I will do all in my capability to ensure that I not only listen but hear people who are different from me whether it is culture, religion, race or whatever. I need to hear them, I need to walk around in their shoes to understand where they’re coming from and every day of my life I will try and do a bit of that.”
Jim Lennon: “Very briefly, I believe our future doesn’t lie in our hands, it lies in that of our children. My promise is – I have 6 kids, I will teach them to respect their neighbours, respect the difference and to work with them in a way which probably wasn’t possible when I was a child. In terms of forgiveness, I don’t have the same experiences as Anne … however one of the things that I think we all have to do in Northern Ireland is …the mess of the last 30 or 70 years, depending on your view…passed on to us a perverted version of history that taught us, certainly when I was at school, that it was a glorious thing to die for your country and perpetuated a myth that – certainly from my perspective, from the community I came from – caused quite a significant amount of hurt, pain and distress that probably still hasn’t been fully recognised.”
Dermot Nesbitt: “… Forgiveness is a difficult thing. I think one should forgive those who have festered division. I listen to both sides and sometimes I say, you must not, because there’s more in common among us than there is a division to divide us. As regards a promise, I shall just keep doing what I’m doing because I genuinely believe what I’ve done, am doing, and what I will continue to do is for the best interests, not just of Unionism but also of Nationalism, not just those in Northern Ireland but those throughout this island and further apart…”
Robin Wilson: “Not having been touched directly, I can happily forgive all those sectarian protagonists and paramilitaries who have made the lives of many people in Northern Ireland a complete misery, those who weren’t touched by the violence directly ….. In terms of promise, like a lot of other people who have just spent the last many years, not being in leadership positions, not in the limelight but just working away solidly for something better, I’ll probably keep doing that.”
Fergus: “For my part I’m going to forgive the person who asked a difficult personal question which drew four very honest and direct answers from the panel and I’m going to promise to wind up the meeting now in the interests of ensuring that everyone gets a cup of tea! “
CLOSING WORDS AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
On behalf of the Meath Peace Group, Julitta Clancy thanked all the speakers and the Chair, Fergus Finlay, for giving so generously of their time. She thanked the audience for coming, and she again thanked the Columban Fathers for permitting the use of their facilities for the talks. All four parties in the new Executive had been invited to speak, she said, but the group had had no response from the DUP, and Sinn Fein had been unable to send a speaker.
Millennium Award: At the close of the evening, Cllr. Phil Cantwell, Chairman of Trim UDC presented a Millennium Award to the Meath Peace Group for their work in promoting peace and reconciliation.
APPENDIX A: “Making a Difference: Preparing the Programme for Government” (Robin Wilson, Democratic Dialogue, June 2000)
Extracts from Executive Summary:
1. “The stipulation in the Belfast Agreement that the parties involved in the Executive Committee governing a devolved Northern Ireland elaborate a Programme for Government has been subject to remarkably little public debate. Getting the institutions agreed, getting them up and running, and now getting them back up and running has dominated exchanges. This reflects the lack of prior policy debate during the decades of direct rule, when every party was in opposition and the hard choices of government were left to others .
2. “Yet the programme is not only crucial to the credibility of devolution to ordinary citizens. It is also critical to cementing a potentially fractious executive, with four parties thrown together in involuntary coalition. It provides the only means, in the absence of conventional arrangements for collective responsibility, for parties to subordinate their partisan concerns to the wider “common good”.
3. Focus-group evidence indicates that citizens of Northern Ireland feel alienated from a political discourse which is adversarial rather than collaborative. There is meanwhile insufficient public understanding of the political and financial constraints upon a devolved administration in the region. It is therefore crucial that key actors in civil society are engaged in the debate about the programme.”
4. “A growing concern in government everywhere is how it can be made more “joined up”. The “wicked issues” that cut across departments present a particular challenge. Northern Ireland is especially scarred by two of them: sectarianism and social exclusion. Developing the cross-departmental Programme for Government is a key requirement if such apparently intractable problems are to be addressed.”
5. “Governments … are increasingly concerned to demonstrate that they do not just have outputs (services), but outcomes – real change that makes a difference on the ground. Focusing on outcomes also favours better evaluation of what government does. But this should not just be internal: a standing “citizens’ panel” should be established to monitor the work of a devolved administration.”
6. “For all these reasons, the Programme for Government should be structured around the outcomes a “joined-up” administration would seek to achieve – the key policy goals for the region. These chapter headings might be –
• fostering intercommunal integration and supporting all the victims of violence,
• promoting equality of life-chances and securing social inclusion,
• pursuing sustainable economic development and reducing unemployment,
• reducing mortality and morbidity and improving public health,
• raising educational achievement and skills attainment,
• enhancing physical mobility and the environmental fabric,
• maximising Northern Ireland’s links to the rest of the world.
“This would make clear to the wider public exactly what difference devolution would be intended to make, and would in turn provide a focus for debate around the draft programme when published…..
7. “Outcomes tend to be measurable. So the programme should publish a series of indicators by which performance of the administration can be assessed over time. This offers a powerful tool for accountability to the Assembly and the public. It also requires, however, a liberal regime vis-a-vis freedom of information.”
8.” The first full year of a devolved administration should in part be devoted to a review of all existing government projects. Those inimical to the agreed policy goals should be discontinued or scaled back. Those at variance with the programme should be refined so that they dovetail better with it, and so with each other. The space should thereby be created for new projects to be introduced. A small Economic Policy Unit has been established in the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister; it should be enlarged and its remit broadened to embrace review and renewal in all policy domains.”
9. “The financial constraints on devolved government need to be eased, ultimately by Westminster legislation for tax-varying powers, as in Scotland. Meantime, hypothecated charges should be considered. In the context of UK-wide devolution, the Northern Ireland executive should support a new needs assessment to stabilise its public-expenditure allocation from the Exchequer.”
10.”Much of “government” is these days delivered by non-governmental organisations, or in partnership with them. NGOs may often be more appropriate vehicles to pursue policy goals straddling government departments. The Civic Forum envisaged by the Agreement can thus play a key role, not only in the debate around the programme but also in exploring how best it can be delivered.”
11. “Northern Ireland inhabits a globalised environment, and must relate to the rest of Ireland, the rest of the UK and the rest of Europe. The Republic’s government should be taken into confidence at an early stage of the drafting of the programme, so that potential synergies can be maximised. The Economic Policy Unit will be critical to keeping abreast of policy developments in Cardiff and Edinburgh, as well as London. And establishing effective official representation of the administration in Brussels is a priority.”
APPENDIX B: Meath Peace Group talk no. 38: Biographical Notes on Speakers
Cllr. Anne Carr was elected to Newcastle Council in 1997. She is a member of the Women’s Coalition, and is currently co-ordinator of Women Together Moving On. She worked for 10 years with Women Together for Peace and as coordinator has seen through the many changes involved in developing that group into Women Together Moving On. Winner of the Bahai Peace Award in 1999, it has been said about her that she truly “lives her beliefs”. She has been a great inspiration to many working for peace.
Fergus Finlay worked for three coalition governments from 1982 to 1997, as adviser to the Tanaiste and Labour Party leader, Dick Spring. He is the author of several best-selling books including, A President with a Purpose, about Mary Robinson’s election, A Cruel Trade (political thriller), and Snakes and Ladders, his own political memoir “packed with insights, incidents, and anecdotes about the most turbulent and eventful years in recent Irish politics”.
Jim Lennon is Secretary of the SDLP Newry and Armagh Constituency Council. He was elected to the SDLP Executive Committee in 1994 and has served as Assistant Treasurer and Treasurer of the party. He was elected Chairperson of the SDLP in 1998. He presently works in Armagh College of Further Education, having previously worked in the Health Service, Northern Ireland Housing Executive and the N.I. Civil Service. He holds a Masters Degree in Business Administration and Planning from the University of Ulster and Queen’s University, Belfast.
Dermot Nesbitt, MLA, a member of the UUP, is Junior Minister in the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. He has been actively involved in public life for many years, having been a District Councillor as well as a former Chairman of both the S.E. Education and Library Board and the Board of Governors of Stranmillis College. From 1992-1998 he served on the Standing Advisory Commission on HumanRights. He was the UUP’s South Down representative in the N.I. Forum (1996-98) and was a member of the party’s negotiation team at the Stormont talks. He was elected to the new Assembly in June 1998. Before becoming a full-time politician in 1998, he had been a Senior Lecturer in Finance at Queen’s University Belfast, and also head of the Department of Accounting and Finance.
Robin Wilson is Director of the Belfast-based think tank Democratic Dialogue, which he established in 1995. Democratic Dialogue has been involved in arguments about the evolving political architecture in Northern Ireland as well as exploring economic and social themes. Previously he was for eight years editor of the N.I. current affairs magazine Fortnight. During that time he helped establish the Opsahl Commission, which laid the template for what was to become the Belfast Agreement of 1998. He is the author of numerous journal articles on the region and has written and commented on Northern Ireland in a wide range of press and broadcast media.
Meath Peace Group Report. July 2000. (c) Meath Peace Group
Transcribed by Sarah Clancy, video-taped by Anne Nolan, and edited by Julitta Clancy.
The Meath Peace Group is a voluntary group founded in April 1993 with the aim of promoting understanding and mutual respect through dialogue. As part of its work the group has hosted a series of public talks in Meath mostly at Dalgan Park, Navan – 38 talks have been held to date, and over 135 speakers have addressed the group, representing political parties, community groups, victims’ support groups, human rights activists, women’s groups, peace and reconciliation groups, prisoners’ support groups, the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, the N.I. Human Rights Commission, the Victims’ Commission and the Victims’ Liaison Unit, Stormont, residents’ groups involved in parading disputes, and representatives of the Orange Order and Apprentice Boys.
Acknowledgments: The Group would like to thank the Columban Fathers for permitting the use of their facilities at Dalgan Park for the series of talks, and we gratefully acknowledge the practical assistance given towards the talks by the Community Bridges Programme of the International Fund for Ireland (1997-2000). We thank all our speakers and visiting chairpersons and all our supporters who have come to our talks, often from great distances and in all sorts of weather, all who have participated in our informal small-group discussions and all who have assisted with our schools programmes, involving students and teachers in secondary schools in Meath and Louth.
Contacts: Julitta and John Clancy, Batterstown; Anne Nolan, Gernonstown, Slane; Pauline Ryan, Navan; Philomena Boylan-Stewart, Longwood; Michael Kane, An Tobar, Ardbraccan, Navan; Olive Kelly, Garlow Cross, Lismullen