Meath Peace Group Talks
No. 57- “Paramilitarism, Criminality and the Good Friday Agreement”
Monday, 20th June 2005
Ardboyne Hotel, Navan, Co. Meath
Michael McDowell, TD (Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)
Michael Reade (Presenter, ‘Loosetalk’, LMFM radio)
Welcome and introductions: Julitta Clancy and Michael Reade
Michael McDowell, TD
Questions and answers
Topics of questions:
1. Murder of Cllr. Eddie Fullerton
2. Immigration/asylum law
3. Federal/confederal state
4. Search for the Disappeared
5. Criminality allegations and due process
Condemnation of republicans
6. Ardoyne disturbances
Have Sinn Féin lost control?
7. Westminster election results
Amnesty for on-the-runs (OTRs)
8. Will extremists be brought into democracy?
9. Bobby Sands
10. Rights and responsibilities
11. Fear and polarisation
12. Reclaiming the spirit of the GFA
Appendix A: Biographical notes
Appendix B: Meath Peace Group news
[Editor’s note: over 110 people attended this public talk including representatives of groups such as: West Tyrone Voice and the H.U.R.T. Group (Lurgan) – victims’ support groups based in Northern Ireland, the Guild of Uriel (Louth), Drogheda Cross-Border Focus, Reform group (Dublin), Cavan Family Resource Centre, the British Embassy in Dublin, the Ingrid Betancourt Appeal Committee. Political parties represented included the SDLP, Progressive Democrats and Sinn Féin. Representatives of various media (North and South) were also present and excerpts from the discussion were broadcast on LMFM radio every morning for over a week following the event. Parts of the discussion and exchange, particularly between the Minister and Sinn Féin representatives were also quoted in the NI press].
WELCOME AND INTRODUCTION
Julitta Clancy (on behalf of the Meath Peace Group) “Good evening ladies and gentlemen and thank you very much for coming on this summer evening. Unusually for us, we have gone into the end of June and we are not in our usual abode, in Dalgan Park. We would like to particularly welcome here tonight, the British Ambassador, Mr Stewart Eldon, and Mr Patrick Reilly from the British Embassy, and a special welcome to those of you who have come very long distances …
We also welcome the media present: LMFM (local radio), the Meath Chronicle, BBC Northern Ireland and RTE, and we would like to especially thank the Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, for coming to Meath in the middle of a very very busy time for him, to fulfil a promise and come to talk to us. We very much value that. He came here three years ago [Public talk no. 45, 30 September 2002] just before the Stormont Assembly collapsed, and we are looking forward to hearing him again tonight. I hand over now to our guest chair, Michael Reade, of LMFM radio.”
Chair: Michael Reade (Presenter of ‘Loosetalk’ on LMFM radio): “I am not going to take up much of your time but I do want to congratulate Julitta and the group on this and all of the talks that have taken place. They really are most interesting and worthwhile and I’m sure tonight will be exactly the same… The Minister will speak for about a half an hour and there will be a question and answer session immediately after the Minister’s opening address. I’m going to ask you to think about what you would like to ask the Minister. I know a lot of people are here for a purpose and we are going to be as strict as possible with you in that we are going to ask for one question per person at a time. The reason for that is obviously to give everybody a chance to speak. So without standing on ceremony I would like to ask Minister Mc Dowell to begin…”
Opening Address of Michael McDowell, TD, Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform
“Thank you very much. Mr. Convenor, distinguished guests and friends, it is three years since I was invited to speak to the Meath Peace group in Dalgan Park and a number of things have happened since then, a number of things have changed profoundly since then and a number of things haven’t changed at all. And therefore when Julitta wrote to me and asked me would I come here this evening, I did the usual thing and said: ‘you have given me a long period of notice before this meeting and things may have changed’.
Situation in 2002: “So once more I venture onto the stage here before you in circumstances where there is great uncertainty. Can I just remind you – if you weren’t here when I was at Dalgan Park – of what the situation was then? Paul Bew and myself were speaking to a meeting in Dalgan Park and the issue of that time was what the prospects were for the political process in Northern Ireland – whether there should be election or should not be elections. What Paul Bew’s prognosis was for the political parties in Northern Ireland, he at that stage was very pessimistic about the future for the SDLP and effectively considered they would be the major casualties of an early election, and he was at the same time defending the position of David Trimble and outlining the difficulties that he had come across.
Unfinished business: “Things have changed, obviously, and I’m not going to attempt a synopsis of recent electoral outcomes in Northern Ireland. But what the last year has demonstrated beyond any doubt is that the fundamental issues which have bedevilled the Good Friday Agreement and it’s implementation remain unfinished business and that until they are addressed in their entirety and comprehensively, we are not going to have further political progress in the restoration of the democratic institutions in Northern Ireland, in particular the Assembly and the Executive.
Republican philosophy – reconciliation of Orange and Green: “I come before you this evening, as I came before you then, as an Irish republican. By that I mean that I believe in the establishment of a republican society on this island, that I believe in the unity of the Irish people, that I believe it should be brought about – and that I believe that it can only be brought about – on the basis of the very implication of the tricolour, which is that there has to be a reconciliation between Orange and Green and the society that merges in Ireland must be one with which both traditions are at home and are reconciled, one with the other, in developing a society which is both pluralist, tolerant and inclusive – one based on equal respect for all and based on a mutual respect for each others traditions.
Anti-republican political ideology: “My claim to be an Irish republican is I think sometimes challenged by those who use the term to describe their own form of politics. They believe that republicanism involves use of violence, use of force. They believe that it involves bringing an armed conflict to the heart of Northern Ireland and dealing with the unresolved business in Northern Ireland by the use of force and that form of political ideology is in my view anti-republican and the people who espoused violence in those circumstances are in my view not entitled to use the term republican.
Polarisation politics a betrayal of republicanism: “And I’m also strongly of the view that they are people who have set back the cause of reconciliation between Orange and Green and have betrayed the fundamental vocation and challenge of the Irish tricolour. They have damaged and seriously undermined the inclusive and progressive republicanism of Wolfe Tone and of Thomas Davis and of so many other people who served in their own way the cause of the establishment of an Irish Republic. I make no apology for being critical of the Provisional movement because I believe in my heart the only way in which this island can be united, and the only way in which the people of Northern Ireland can achieve a fair and reasonable way of life for them and their children, is the reconciliation of Orange and Green. And I believe that politics which is based on polarising Northern society, rather than reconciling it is retrogressive and, as I say, a betrayal of genuine republicanism.
Personal and family background: “Can I just put on the record my own background? I am 54 years of age, I am a barrister, I was brought up in Dublin. My forebears came in the main from Northern Ireland. The MacNeills came from Glenarm in County Antrim. Eoghan MacNeill was the youngest son, the one for whom there was not much money left to spend on his education. His elder brothers were sent to Belvedere in Dublin and he was sent to St Malachy’s in Belfast. They got good jobs and he had to take a job as a clerk in the Four Courts in Dublin. Of his £2 a week he spent 10 shillings receiving Irish grinds because of his interest in Irish nationalism and the Gaelic movement. That was in the 1870s, 1880s. He was a co-founder of the Gaelic League. He was a man who was passionate about two things: the separate identity of the Irish people and their culture. He married a woman called Agnes Moore, and some of you may know that the Moore family is another Belfast family who descended from Presbyterians but they became Catholics in the mid-19th century. Brian Moore, the author, was my mother’s first cousin and his grandfather was somebody who regularly had his house stoned in Ballymena at Orange demonstrations in the 1850s and ‘60s.
“On my paternal side, they were from Belfast as well, Whiterock in County Antrim, McDowells. He was an editor of the predecessor of the Irish News in Belfast. He was a Parnellite, he came to Dublin and became editor of the Freeman’s Journal. So that was his kind of politics, they were more Redmondite than Republican or separatist in the MacNeill sense. Eoghan MacNeill’s eldest son Niall was an officer in the Free State Army as was his third son Turlough, but their middle son, Brian, was killed on the top of Ben Bulben fighting for the Republican side in the Civil War in what would now be generally described as a ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy or incident. He was one of Sligo’s ‘noble six’ and I have on my office wall in Stephen’s Green the funeral flag which lay on his coffin, a tricolour with a large black sash sewn onto it.
“And on my wife’s side, my wife’s grandfather was a Fianna Fail TD and before that he was a Republican hunger striker during the Civil War in Mountjoy Prison and yesterday, on the occasion of my wife’s mother’s death, one of her relatives was showing to me a letter which he had written on hunger strike in Mountjoy, on the Republican side, to his parents.
United Ireland: “I say all of those things simply to say this: I have a real appreciation of history like most people in this room. I do not come from a point of view which is hostile to republicanism, I classify myself as a republican and I believe in the unity of Ireland and I believe that Irish people, Protestant and Catholic, nationalist and unionist, will eventually be reconciled in a single society in Ireland. I want to say on top of that that I believe it makes good sense that that should be so, that the interests of the present majority in Northern Ireland coincide much more with the interests of the rest of us on this island, and that their economic future would be far better developed and progressed through a closer relationship with the rest of us, and that their interests in the last analysis are interests which coincide with ours.
Inclusive view of Irishness: “And I make one last point in relation to the general philosophical points that I want to make, and that is that it is much much easier to portray yourself as an Irish patriot by struggle and violence sometimes, than by doing the much more difficult thing and that is setting out to reconcile Orange and Green on this island, as Tone and Davis had as their ambition to do. And it is much more difficult and more challenging to advance a view of Irishness which is inclusive and which is open to all of the people on this island, which recognises the complexity of Irish history and which recognises that there is validity and respect due to both major traditions on this island. That the Protestants who fought at the Boyne were not simply people trying to tyrannise Catholics.
“They were people who in their own minds were honourably fighting for what they thought was civil and political liberty against absolutism. And that the Protestant tradition in Ireland, whereas it has been traditionally portrayed – and with a good deal of truth – as being closely linked to the notion of English Ascendancy, is at the same time a tradition which is a rich part of our heritage. Yeats, Synge, all our architects, Swift, all our great institutions, that these are part of the heritage which we as republicans should value rather than despise. And that the complexity of Ireland, whether it is from soccer playing, rugby playing and Gaelic playing, is something to be revelled in rather than to be regarded as evidence of a mutation from some pure national strain of Gaelic nationalism.
Polarised politics easier than politics of reconciliation: “What I want to emphasise is my driving spirit and my vocation as an Irish republican in the opening years of the 21st century: that the task which is now before us, which is the process of reconciliation which justifies and requires and demands implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, is a very challenging task. It is not something that is simple, it is not something for the namby-pambies, building centre ground in Northern Ireland is not something for the soft-hearted or the soft-headed. It is the most difficult task to create bridges between the two communities in Northern Ireland. It is far more difficult to do that than to go out in front of a microphone and give out about which side was right or wrong when violence breaks out at a parade of this kind or that. It is far more difficult to talk about those values of reconciliation than it is to talk about community grievance one way or the other. And it is far easier to engage in polarised politics, be it the politics of the DUP or the politics of the Provisionals, than it is to engage in the politics of reconciliation. And that the politicians who pose now as Mandela are frequently closer to Mugabe.
Recreating history verging on fascism: “That those who stand up now and advance the views that they are part of history and making history, are in fact in many cases shredding history and trying to recreate history in their own mould. And I want to say in particular, and this I want to say particularly about the Provisional movement, that the notion that we can recreate history, and we can incorporate all that they have done, as part of a central expression of Irish nationalism and the essence of Irishness, is a very dangerous one and it is one that does verge on the edge of fascism – this notion that you can recreate history now to your own likeness and pretend that things have been moving inexorably towards where you want them to go and in fact they have been quite different.
Monuments and commemorations: “And all across Ireland now there are many monuments erected and many demonstrations held, particularly by Provisionals, around the country in the memory of volunteers, as they put it, who have died in the course of their campaign. But there aren’t memorials, and there are no parades, to the Protestant workers who were taken off the bus at Kingsmill and machine-gunned. And there aren’t memorials, and there aren’t parades, to all the people who were shot down in cold blood. There’s no memorial anywhere to the proxy bomber who was strapped into a truck and blown into pieces together with a checkpoint. There’s no annual commemoration of Jean McConville, there’s no annual commemoration of the Disappeared, there’s no annual commemoration of the many hundreds and thousands of victims of violence. We are in danger, in other words, we are in danger of creating a new history of this island which is false and which seeks to elevate one set of people to the status of heroes while abasing everybody else to the level of people who just did not understand or were obstructive. And that’s wrong in principle and it’s something which I think we should stand up against.
1905 Sinn Féin party not the same as Provisionals: “I’ll give you a very simple example. This year it has been claimed by the Provisional movement that we are in the 100th anniversary of the foundation of their party by Arthur Griffith in 1905. Nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, it is curious that in 1948 that very issue was brought to the Irish High Court. I have here, and I will leave it with Julitta, a decision of the Irish High Court [Buckley and Ors. v. Attorney General 84 I.L.T.R. 9] as to whether the party which, through several splintering processes, ended up in the Provisional movement today, was in fact the movement founded by Arthur Griffith. And the High Court judge who heard the case delivered a very powerful judgment examining the whole history of the party and came to the conclusion that it was not the same party and could not claim to be the same party that was founded in 1905. So we do live in an era where appearances are hugely important, where spin is everything, where PR is hugely important, but we have to remember that our history is slightly more complicated than all of that. And those of us, as I say, who are Irish republicans, should not either yield the tricolour, or the term ‘republican’ to those who have abased those terms and betrayed them, in my view.
Provisional criminality: “I want to talk about another difference that came to light in the last year. Some of you may recall that approximately 15-18 months ago I had to use on the radio a somewhat uncomfortable phrase, I have to say, because it smacks slightly of arrogance – ‘I know what I know’. And the context in which I had to use that was when I was asked to stand up my proposition that the Provisional movement was engaging in major criminality in the Irish State. And I can tell you now what I was talking about then. In Dublin there had been a Dublin brigade of the IRA active, fund-raising for the Provisional movement throughout the ceasefire period, and a number of its senior members were suspected by the Northern command of the Provisional movement of actually hanging on to some of the money. And they were brought north of the border, to South Armagh, and there shot in the legs, and the Dublin Brigade was stood down as a fund-raising unit. And many people thought that this was part of a graduation away from criminality, but the truth was slightly different, the truth was that the adjutant of the IRA in Belfast began to organise major robberies in the South, directly using proxies in the South. As a result, a series of major high value goods robberies took place in the Dublin area which were eventually detected by the gardaí and the involvement of the senior Provisional command in Belfast in their organisation was laid bare. That’s what I was talking about at that time.
“Time passed and in Northern Ireland a series of major robberies – the Makkro robbery, the Gallagher robbery, the robbery in Strabane among others of a similar kind – took place. We are now talking about the period running up to the summer of 2004. At the same time we were being told that the Provisional movement was asking Dublin and London, in accordance with the Joint Declaration, to advance the Good Friday Agreement.
Acts of completion negotiations, autumn 2004: “And so it was that in the autumn of 2004 the two governments put together a package which was designed to bring about acts of completion of the Good Friday Agreement process, to enable the restoration of all the democratic institutions in Northern Ireland and the full implementation of the Agreement. Unfortunately at that time, and at the time of the Leeds Castle discussions, the Provisional movement systematically rejected efforts by both governments, and particularly the interlocutors in the Dublin government, to formulate words which the IRA would agree to issue and publish which would indicate a complete and total end to violence and criminality of all kinds. Eventually the negotiations produced a formula that henceforth the IRA would respect the rights and safety of all persons. And when the red line went through that particular phrase it became clear to a number of us in government that we had a serious problem with the Provisional movement, that it was intent on keeping ‘elbow room’ to endanger the rights and safety of other persons, to engage in other words in criminality and the threat of violence.
Northern Bank robbery: “We did not know at that time that the Northern Bank robbery was being planned by the Provisional IRA, but what we did know was that An Garda Siochana were keeping under surveillance at that time the development of a channel of money laundering, which development they did not understand themselves at that time but found in January and February of 2005, this year, was the means whereby a significant portion of the Northern Bank money would be attempted to be laundered within this State. And again, senior Provisional figures were involved in that.
“So when it came, first of all, to the attribution of responsibility to the Provisionals for the Northern Bank robbery, and, secondly, when proof positive of the involvement of the Provisionals in the laundering of the money came some time later with the magnificent Garda operation in Cork, Dublin and other places in Ireland, it became abundantly clear and it is now beyond contradiction that the Provisional movement had been looking for that elbow room with a view to being able to continue fund-raising in that way.
Fund-raising: “And those funds, my friends – 26 million of which the Irish State has recovered or accounted for in burnings roughly about 5 million euro – those funds were being raised for the purpose of financing the Provisional movement’s next phase which was the political phase. And we have no doubt that it is their intention to get rid of their heavy armoury of weapons, hundreds and thousands of Kalashnikovs are of no use to them, neither are tons of Semtex, but what is of use to them is the resources which violence and criminality produce to fund their political campaigns North and South. As free democrats in a free society we in this State believe that that is a mortal threat to Irish democracy and we will stand up to those people who engage in it. We will not engage with politenesses or excusatory language, we will not engage in fictions that the Provisional movement were not involved in these matters, and we will not ignore the reason for which they were raising that money which is to progress what they call their revolutionary struggle for the creation of a socialist republic on this island.
Robert McCartney killing [January 2005]: “Now, I want to say in relation to the McCartney killing, that the McCartney killing was one which was perpetrated, not for the purposes of the Provisional movement obviously, but it demonstrated that if areas of particularly nationalist enclaves in Northern Ireland fall victim to the reign of fear and subjugation which the Provisional movement have carried out whereby what they call civil administration units of the IRA can summon people to Sinn Féin offices, warn them about their behaviour and, if ignored, take them out and break their legs, shoot them in the hands, torture them and beat them up with baseball bats and the like. That is the kind of reign of terror that gave rise to the feeling of invincibility among those who murdered Robert McCartney and attempted to murder his companion on that day, that they could get away with it, that they could subjugate a community and terrorise a community into not testifying or cooperating with the police, and that they could do their level best to abolish the forensic evidence that might be available if there had been an uninterrupted police investigation. And it was the Provisional movement that called out the youngsters onto the street to try and make the immediate follow-up operation impossible, and it was members of the Provisional movement who carried out the process of cleaning up the pub in question to prevent their being any evidence found, and it was the Provisional movement which intimidated the people who stood up against them in the Short Strand. And it also was the Provisional movement who issued the public statement offering the McCartney sisters the doubtful honour of having the perpetrators shot by the Provisional movement as retribution for the acts in question.
Intentions of Provisional movement: “And all of those events call into question now the intentions of the Provisional movement. And I am very hopeful that the logic of their situation now, and the fact that they are facing into a cul-de-sac if they don’t give up criminality, if they don’t give up paramilitarism, if they don’t …[tape break]… accept the rules of democracy, that the logic of all that is going to force them sooner or later to make the requisite declarations and to deliver to the Irish people what the Irish people were always entitled to on foot of the two referenda adopting the Good Friday Agreement. I am hopeful that that will happen, and sooner rather than later.
No concessions needed to end criminality: “But I want to say this: that when it does happen it’s not a matter of further argumentation or further dealing or further negotiation. It’s ours as of right that this campaign should end. And no one needs concessions to end brutality, criminality and the like. Nobody needs concessions, nobody is entitled to concessions for that. Republican democratic politics don’t require to be bought by concessions to end that kind of thing.
Present situation: “If you ask me therefore where I feel we are now, I believe we are in a different position from the one that Paul Bew described three years ago. Obviously, the SDLP didn’t have the demise that he predicted for them that evening in Dalgan Park, obviously his own party took a bigger tumble than he imagined likely at that time. Obviously, the Democratic Unionist Party is not going to be outflanked on the right of unionism, if I may use that phrase, and is a more formidable group of people for the Provisionals to have to take on politically than perhaps the middle ground of unionism was.
DUP: “But I believe, again optimistically, that the Democratic Unionist Party will engage with the other parties in Northern Ireland to bring about devolution in Northern Ireland. And there’s only one basis in which devolution will come about and that is the Good Friday Agreement. I believe that, whatever else its characteristics might be, the Democratic Unionist Party is a devolutionist party. It is not a party of, how would I put it, integration into the United Kingdom, political integration, it does believe that the people of Ulster, as Ian Paisley would put it, have the right to determine how their own society is run and I believe will act on foot of that.
Optimism: “So I am not pessimistic, I’m optimistic that the Good Friday Agreement’s institutions will be put back in place. I’m optimistic that the North-South institutions provided for under that Agreement will be made to work and flourish, I’m optimistic that economic interests North and South will increasingly emerge as united. I’m optimistic that in the Republic and in Northern Ireland a new spirit of reconciliation can be built. I’m optimistic that those of us who consider ourselves to be republican will be able to use that term without offence or threat to those people with whom we aspire to be reconciled. And I’m optimistic that the Ireland of the next 10, 15 and 20 years will continue to be a place which is growing in prosperity, which is developing in a normal way, which offers a good place to live to all its people – whether they are immigrants or people here of long standing, whether they are people of the nationalist or unionist tradition – that this island will become an increasingly warm place for all and a cold place for practically nobody.
Tribute to Meath Peace Group: “Those are my optimistic views tonight. And what I want to say to all of you, particularly in the Meath Peace Group, is I want to salute all the work you are doing for reconciliation because that vocation that I mentioned about reconciliation is the true vocation, not merely of Christians, not merely of patriots, not merely of people of good heart, but, as I say, of Irish republicans. And those of us who have noticed what the Meath Peace Group has been doing for so long, can only now feel a great sense of gratitude for your constant and unrelenting pursuit of reconciliation and mutual understanding. That is the way forward. And I feel proud to have been invited here this evening and grateful to be invited back in these circumstances and I feel as well as that a great sense, as I said, of optimism and of confidence that things are going in the right direction.
Tribute to Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern: “I want to finally pay tribute to Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern. These two men have been faced with difficult history, difficult circumstances, difficult politicians – it has to be said – and difficult sequences of events, and they have, together with the President for the time being of the United States, whether it be Bill Clinton or George Bush, they have put enormous effort into bringing about the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. People such as George Mitchell and many other people who have come to this island to assist in the process, haven’t been doing it out of a sense of self interest. Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern are not acting on the basis of what the next opinion poll will bring or what the political advantage to them today, tomorrow, or the next day actually is. They feel the hand of history on their shoulder and they feel that the time is right now for the people of this island to look forward to a much brighter future. And I believe myself that the best way to achieve that is on the basis of honesty not cant, truth not falsehood, history not propaganda, and a sense of hope, not a sense of pessimism. And in the last analysis a sense that the people of Ireland have more uniting them than dividing them and that some day a generation of young Irish people will be able to live in a society that fully reflects that reality. Thank you very much.”
Chair (Michael Reade): “Thank you very much, Minister. Now, as I said, you are welcome to ask questions. Let it be known, if you would, by raising your hand if there is a question that you would like to put to the Minister. Before you do that you might want to consider that we are recording this evening for broadcast purposes and you will be able to hear substantial excerpts from this evening as well during the week on my own programme, which is ‘Loosetalk’ on LMFM, the local radio station.
Marching season fears: “So, while I am looking for the first questioner, Minister, perhaps I could ask you an immediate question, an immediate pressing matter according to Fr Aidan Troy. I was talking to him today and he is extremely concerned about reconciliation between the Orange and the Green, as you outlined earlier on, going into the marching season. He’s fearful about a loss of life. He’s calling on both governments to intervene. Will that intervention happen?
Minister McDowell: “Well, you may take it for an absolute certainty, Michael, that the two governments are most concerned about the potential for violence involved in the marching season this year. And expressions of pessimism from both sides of the divide in Northern Ireland on this issue shouldn’t be allowed to mask the deep duty of everybody involved in the process in Northern Ireland to ensure that violence of that kind doesn’t happen. I got a report from the Department of Justice’s representative in Belfast in relation to what happened the other day in the Ardoyne, and I have to say – and I am going to be blunt about it – that the marchers were complying with their legal obligations and they were the subject of a violent outburst which was not justifiable. I regret to tell you that there was contact made with Dublin in the aftermath to ask what the Dublin government was going to do to defend the nationalist people in Ardoyne. So we have to be very very wary of people who will exploit all of this for propaganda reasons and create a sense of dependency in the communities based on fear of sectarian violence. And that’s the big problem now, that there are some people whose interest it is to create a sense of fear, especially among those who feel threatened by sectarian violence in the marching season, a dependency designed to justify taking steps or doing things which are not in accordance with the law.”
Chair (Michael Reade): “So there won’t be direct government intervention?”
Minister McDowell: “Well there is a Parades Commission and there is constant government political activity to ensure that everyone engages with that Commission, that everybody obeys the law and that the marching season in Northern Ireland is not turned into a tinder box of sectarianism.”
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS SESSION
Chair (Michael Reade): “We’ll go to the first question from the floor…. One question per person at a time, but also if you would identify yourself as you ask the question as well.”
Q.1. Re murder of Cllr. Eddie Fullerton:
“Hello Minister, I would like to ask you at what level of importance do you put the murder of my brother, Eddie Fullerton, who was an elected member of Donegal County Council and a politician of this State? And what are you going to do about it? And how long have we to wait for justice after 14 years? Thank you.”
Chair (Michael Reade): “Minister, will there be an independent inquiry as has been called for?”
Minister McDowell: “Well the first thing I want to say is, in relation to what level of importance do I put on it, I put the killing of any person – any person from whatever background or whatever community – at the highest level of importance. And I condemn absolutely and totally the use of violence, and more particularly lethal violence, for any political end. And I have no doubt in saying that murder is murder, no matter by whom it is committed. And Eddie Fullerton should be alive today and those who were responsible for his cowardly murder have a huge moral blame attaching to them. I would say to you that I am considering whether there is a basis for an inquiry into whether there was police collusion north or south of the border into the death of Eddie Fullerton.
“And if I found that there was a credible basis for the suggestion, for instance, that members of An Garda Siochána – as has been claimed – had anything to do with it, I would be the first to have an inquiry into that issue. And, as you know, in relation to collusion matters, the Irish Government at Weston Park committed itself to inquiring into a number of acts of collusion. Judge Peter Cory requested us to do it and I have established in recent times one public tribunal of inquiry into that matter.
No hierarchy among those who were murdered: “Can I just add to that that the killing of Eddie Fullerton was murder, and the killing of Jean McConville was murder, and there is no qualification of that in my mind, none whatsoever, and I deprecate any politician who would say that Eddie Fullerton was murdered and Jean McConville was not murdered. You can’t dine a la carte at the table of human rights. And there is no distinction to be drawn between those who are disappeared and buried here in Meath and other places, and Eddie Fullerton either. All of them are human beings. And Pat Finucane’s murder was murder, Eddie Fullerton’s murder was murder, in my mind. Jean McConville’s murder was murder, in my mind, and so were all the killings of the Disappeared. And, unlike other politicians, I don’t create any hierarchy among those who were murdered.
Chair (Michael Reade): “Minister, would the role of the Gardaí in Donegal and the findings of the Morris Tribunal make that statement any different?”
Minister McDowell: “No. I mean the events into which Judge Morris is inquiring are located in Donegal but they are quite different from the murder of Eddie Fullerton and I don’t see that they are part of a sequence of events. But, as I say, if a credible basis is put forward by anyone for believing first of all that Eddie Fullerton’s murder was in any way contributed to by a member of An Garda Siochána, and that an inquiry is capable of establishing the truth of such a proposition, I wouldn’t shy away from it for one minute.”
Chair (Michael Reade): “And the Gardaí in Donegal obviously, in your view, deserve a presumption of innocence?”
Minister McDowell: “Sorry, in relation to the Eddie Fullerton matter, I have not seen credible evidence that suggested that they are involved and I don’t believe that the great majority of Irish people believe that there is at the moment any great credible evidence of that proposition.”
Q.2. Cllr. Tomás Sharkey (Sinn Féin):
(i) Re murder of Eddie Fullerton: “Good evening, Minister, my name is Tomás Sharkey, Sinn Féin Co Councillor in County Louth. Just before I deal with my main question, on the issue of Cllr. Eddie Fullerton, who was murdered 14 years ago last week, I do believe that it’s incredible that we can sit here tonight and hear you making announcements about the guilt of the IRA in robberies, and to stand over your statements that you know what you know, without anything having been proven in a court of law and yet when a documentary aired by TG4 clearly gives new evidence and new eyewitness accounts of suspected collusion in the murder of a county councillor and an elected councillor for Donegal County Council, I find that hard to take. Last week Donegal County Council unanimously called for a public independent inquiry by an individual of international repute to look into the murder of Eddie Fullerton, and I think that should be acted upon because that motion will be put before Louth County Council shortly as well.
(ii) Re immigration law: “Why I did want to ask a question is: I was very interested in your talk, and I thought it was very informative. In the first couple of minutes you mentioned how you wanted to see a society in Ireland that is pluralist and tolerant and equal. As an elected public representative in County Louth, I meet many people, but the case that most struck me was a family of asylum seekers in Dundalk. The mother of that family described how her teenage daughter had been dragged from her home and was mutilated and bled to death, and how she fled with her youngest daughter to Ireland, and was going through the trauma and indignity of having to appeal to you and your good office for permission to stay in this State. And the most telling thing about that meeting was when the family left my office, the Sinn Féin office in Dundalk, the young child turned around and said: ‘slan go fóil, agus go raibh míle mhaith agat’ [goodbye and thanks].
“But then, later on that week, I saw you on television talking about ‘cock and bull’ stories that you allege are being made up by families. And I wonder where’s the pluralism and where’s the tolerance? And when you declare that inequality can be a good thing, I wonder what are your credentials and what is your vision for equality, tolerance and pluralism in this State?”
(i) Re murder of Eddie Fullerton: “Well first of all … you’re an elected member of Sinn Féin, and what I am astonished by is that senior members of your party – and I don’t know if you are one of them but you can tell us if you are not – are willing to say that killing Jean McConville wasn’t murder but killing Eddie Fullerton was…. and maybe you can explain how one was justified and the other wasn’t and how one fits into one category and the other doesn’t.”
(ii) Re immigration law and asylum-seekers: “In relation to the question of immigration law, I have a difficult job as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, in that I have to run the State’s asylum-seeking law, its visas and immigration law, in large measure. And I have always told the Irish people the truth about these matters. There is a huge amount of asylum-seeking in Ireland which is basically motivated by economic interests. There’s a lot of misinformation as well. Right across Europe, the success rate of first instance of Nigerian asylum-seekers is less than 2% which means that 98 out of every 100 asylum seekers, in every country in Europe where they make applications, are rejected at first instance.
“Now, you don’t see all the reasons that they give for coming to Ireland but I do. And I have to say to you that if I was at liberty to publish everybody’s file you would be satisfied, in the great majority of cases, that the consideration of whether they are entitled to protection by the Irish State and the appeal process is very fair. Let me just tell you a couple of things about our system. If you come to Ireland claiming to be an asylum seeker, you have a hearing in the office of the Refugee Applications Commission. For that hearing you are given legal assistance, translators, officials hear the case, take a case history from you and decide whether your case does or does not merit protection under the 1951 Geneva Convention. If you lose that case you are then given the right of appeal to an independent Refugee Appeals Tribunal. It reconsiders the case, again you are fully legally aided, you can make all the points you want to make and you get a hearing before that body. If you are turned down a second time you are given a notice that, notwithstanding the fact that it has been adjudicated that you are not entitled to refugee status, that you can apply to remain in Ireland on the basis of humanitarian need to remain, and that that will be considered by the Department of Justice and in the last analysis, the decision taken by the Minister.
“Anybody who is deported from Ireland has gone through all of those processes and has also been offered the right to go home, voluntary repatriation with assistance arranged at the International Organisation on Migration. And nobody is deported unless they have gone through all of those stages and have decided not to go home voluntarily but to remain on in Ireland. Now these are facts which the Irish people just simply aren’t told about. They are told about dawn raids and swoops, they are not told about the huge files that grow as each stage of that process is gone through.
Ireland’s asylum law: “And Ireland has a system of asylum law which is totally open to UN inspection and which is very highly spoken of by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. But in the last analysis we have to have a system whereby if your case is rejected on credibility grounds, or on legal grounds, and it has gone through all of those arrangements, that in the last analysis you must be liable to be deported. If we didn’t have that, our system would fall into disrepute. And the consequences of it falling into disrepute would not be favourable at all, it would play straight into the hands of those in Irish society who would use racism and xenophobia and fear of immigration to exploit that for political ends. We don’t have to look far across Europe to see that even in societies which the Irish would regard as progressive liberal societies, such as Holland, Denmark, Austria and other places, that in those societies the fear of migration, fear of asylum seeking, has been ruthlessly exploited by opportunistic politicians to attempt to grab for themselves 10 or 20% of the vote and a place in Parliament.
Constitutional referendum on citizenship (2004): “Now I have stood up for a fair system of migration law into Ireland. I changed the citizenship law in order to prevent it being abused by people who came to Ireland under the guise of asylum, had a child in Ireland and then said that because they have an Irish child they wanted to remain in Ireland or to go elsewhere in Europe. When I say I changed it, I proposed an amendment to the Irish people and it was passed by 80% of them. Your party, Mr Sharkey, told me I was a racist and that it was a racist referendum. 80% of the Irish people – and you are a republican – voted for it because they knew it was necessary to bring sanity to Irish law.
“And secondly, in relation to that issue, I said at the time that I would – once that referendum was passed – deal with the Irish-born children issue in a fair, humane and commonsense way. And I want you to know that I published a scheme earlier this year and all the parents of Irish-born children who remained with their children in Ireland were free to avail of that scheme and, if they were of good character and they were genuine people, they are entitled to remain here for two years and then a further period of three years, and then after that period they will be entitled to remain in Ireland indefinitely. 18,500 people have applied to remain in Ireland under that scheme. I believe I have been more than reasonable, more than fair, and I have lived up to my word. And secondly I want to say that those 18, 500 people give the lie to the media suggestions at the time that I was raising an issue over a handful of people and that there was no significant issue, and that I was manufacturing figures to suggest there was a problem. 18, 500 people are staying in Ireland on foot of the scheme that I put through.
“And I reject, I have to say, the Sinn Féin line that the referendum was racist or that the decision of the Irish people was racist. And what’s more I’ll tell you, that when your canvassers went door to door with leaflets saying that, they gave up very soon and concentrated on the other issues in the local election because they realised they were getting doors closed in their face on that basis. So I would ask you not to be opportunistic on that subject.”
Chair (Michael Reade): “Minister, if I could come back, I just want briefly – because
we really should be talking about Northern politics – but just to expand briefly if you
wouldn’t mind, Minister, do you believe that the system for processing applications is
too slow and cumbersome to ask some people to wait as long as 4 years because by
that stage they have integrated into society, and that whilst the deportations may be
justified, the system for administering justice is somewhat cold?”
Minister McDowell: “I do agree that there was a huge volume of backlogged applications at the beginning, and that was because Ireland was a country of net emigration which suddenly became a country of immigration, it wasn’t prepared for the asylum-seeking phenomenon on the scale that we experienced it. But I do make the point that 90% of the applications for asylum in Ireland were not justified and no amount of spinning one way or the other can change that state of affairs. Likewise, the cost of asylum-seeking in Ireland is very significant. 370 million euro per annum is the estimated cost across all government agencies of dealing with the asylum issue. It’s not an inconsiderable issue, and when 90% of it is not warranted, it does require that someone in my position is straight about the issue and deals with it effectively.
Huge change: “But again what the media have not been reflecting, in my view, adequately, and tonight’s a good opportunity to begin to correct that, is that there has been huge change. We’ve now reached the point in relation to the prioritised country that applications are being dealt with from beginning to end through all the stages that I mentioned earlier in a number of weeks. You mentioned families who have been here for some time. And yes there have been families who have been here for some time and asked to go home. Each of those families has gone through the process that I have mentioned and Ireland has been – not like Australia, we haven’t put people into detention centres or segregated them from the population. Our approach to asylum-seeking has been very open. The children of asylum seekers go to the same schools as our own children in Ireland. We have operated on the basis that while they are here they are welcome guests in our community. But they aren’t entitled to, say for instance, a status which is better or superior to a visiting worker who is working in Ireland and who at the end of his or her visa has to go home and bring their children with them.
“And whether it is an American executive coming to Intel, who stays here for 3 years and for whatever reason is required to go home, he has to bring his children with him even though that involves breaking their friendships at school, and all the disappointments that that entails. The same applies to someone who comes to Ireland, seeks the protection of the Irish State, goes through due process and must go home at the end of it. ….[tape break]…..
Q. 3. Nuala McGuinness (Nobber). Re federal/confederal state.
“My name is Nuala McGuinness, originally from Co. Down [now living in Meath]:
“Minister, I would like your opinion on having a federal or confederal state in this
country. Thank you.”
Minister McDowell: “Nuala, I do believe that Irish unity is inevitable. I believe it is inevitable for a number of reasons. I think the people of these islands want Irish unity, the great majority of the people of the island of Britain want Irish unity whenever their opinions are asked in opinion polls or whatever. So I think it is going to happen some day and then the question is is it going to happen in some kind of click of the fingers, suddenly everybody wakes up in an all Ireland single unitary state or is it going to be something which will be accommodated in stages or accommodated in a confederal or federal arrangement. My own view is that it is more likely that at some stage the economic and cultural integration of both parts of this island will lead to a situation where even with NI remaining part of the UK for a while it will for instance develop much enhanced connections with the South of Ireland. One thing that I have often thought is that if the Irish state was really interested in unity we should have permanently on offer to the people of NI the right to share our membership of the European Union and to share the way in which we exercise that membership without prejudice as to whether you are a unionist or a nationalist.
Real political progress comes in stages: “I think it is unlikely that there will be a big bang revolutionary change one morning, some kind of political ‘Tet’ offensive where everyone will wake up, suddenly there will be a single unitary Irish state. I think it is more likely that it will go in stages, looking at our history from the Treaty to de Valera’s 1937 Constitution, to Costello’s declaration of the Republic, to the Good Friday Agreement via Sunningdale. If you look at all of that I think that real political progress is done in stages, not in revolutionary big bank political upheavals. So I do actually believe that, if the Good Friday Agreement beds down and if there is power-sharing in Northern Ireland between both communities, and if equality and mutual respect and respect for each other’s positions beds down and the politics of polarisation being practised by the DUP and Sinn Féin are eclipsed or at least moderated to the point where normality was centre ground emerges, that the institutions in NI will gain a life of their own of some kind, and that there will be some federal or confederal arrangement. And even Sinn Féin in times past looked to a confederal or federal Ireland as a way forward. And even if you look at de Valera’s Constitution of 1937, he talked about legislatures other than Dail Eireann operating in parts of the country. So my function this evening is not to map out what happens over the next 25 or 30 years but I do believe that if you ask me to say whether those kind of models are more likely than not to be part of the process of establishing political and cultural and economic unity on this island, I would say the answer is yes.”
Q. 4. Brendan Markey, re Disappeared:
“Minister my name is Brendan Markey and I live in Wilkinstown, 6 miles north of Navan, Co. Meath. I happen to own a few acres of land in Wilkinstown called Coghalstown Bog, and – peace and reconciliation – two young men were murdered by Sinn Féin/IRA in the early 70s. One of those young men was a month short of his 17th birthday. Their family meets me regularly and they walk the bog. We’ve been able in this community of Wilkinstown to think of those two young men. I would love to call on you Minister to assist, because local knowledge, as you said one time ‘I know what I know’. The people who carried out this butchery murdering antics in north Meath back in the early 70s, the mother of the young 17 year old has been in mentally handicapped hospitals for the last 23 years. I would like to examine can we look for those bodies and return them to the families and put together the past and unite the families? Thank You.
Minister McDowell: “Thanks. The answer to that by the way is, first of all, of the 9 people whose bodies were not accounted for arising out of the murder campaign of the Provisionals, 5 of them are still missing, and it is believed that for 3 of them their bodies are buried in Co. Meath. And the Commission which was established under the chairmanship of the former Tanaiste John Wilson has made every effort in the past to try to locate those remains and to reunite them with their loved ones.
Forensic expert: “And of recent times a proposal has been made that an expert in forensic geography who was involved in the investigations into the Moors Murders in Britain should be retained to assist in yet another effort to locate those graves and to reunite the loved ones of those people who died with their remains and a proper Christian burial for them. And the two governments have agreed that that should be done and yet another effort should be made to find them. Certainly I would urge anybody with local knowledge, or local intuition… If you know a bog, for instance, you’d know if you’d walked it as a child the bits that haven’t been disturbed, then you might be in a better position to identify it to experts coming in the bits that could be in the frame and the bits that could not be. So I would thank you very much for what I would presume is your offer that you and your neighbours would assist in any way these experts in making another search.
Physical and psychological torture: “And can I just finish by saying this in relation to the Disappeared. Each and every person who the IRA decided to kill after interrogation was put through a form of psychological terror called a court martial and many of them – and I don’t want to say this to disturb any people whose relatives have been found or have not been found – many of them underwent physical and psychological torture of the worst kind before they were killed. And many of them were terrorised into making tapes admitting that they had informed or whatever, as an inducement to save their skins, and those tapes were then sent to the relatives as proof that they were so-called ‘guilty people’.
IRA Army Council: “The rules of the IRA – and this is something that the Irish media should again bear in on – are that nobody can be, as they call it, ‘executed’, as I call it, ‘murdered’ – at the end of a court-martial unless that sentence as they call it is sanctioned by the Army Council of the IRA. It’s written into the Green Book of the IRA. And even after torturing somebody and getting whatever they wanted out of them, or even if they didn’t, they got no admission, that nobody could be shot in the head and dumped on the border or buried secretly in Meath or Louth without the sanction of the IRA Army Council.
“And I just want to say that the people who populated that Army Council during all those years, many of them are now posing on the stage as Mandela rather than Mugabe. Those people have direct responsibility for the deaths that they sanctioned in each and every case. Posturing as being concerned when you and your colleagues actually gave the direction that a bullet was to be put through the head of this person or that, is outrageous and an exercise in gross hypocrisy.
Governments restarting the process: “But angry though it is possible to feel about the hypocrisy that we have to put up with by people who were directly involved in making those decisions now posturing as being concerned about retrieving the bodies of the people whose murder they sanctioned, the two governments are absolutely committed to doing anything that is reasonable to recover the remains of those people and bring closure in so far as they can to people who have spent years in the circumstances you described of complete agony wondering whatever happened. And you know that Templetown beach [Co. Louth], nearly the whole beach was taken away and it turned out afterwards that the information that we were given was a half a mile out. The same has happened in other places but if I have any reason to believe that I can in fact with any reasonable prospect – I am not creating absolutely false hopes – repeat any search or carry out any new search that will bring closure to those people’s lives insofar as losing their loved ones is concerned, we will do it. And the Irish and British governments have recently taken steps to restart that process with the assistance of an expert to try and see what we can do and I would appeal to anybody either side of the border, I would appeal to anybody who lives anywhere near any of these places, to come forward with any hunch they have or any information they have, or any local knowledge of the topography they have, to assist with the process.
Chair (Michael Reade, LMFM): “Could you expand on the expert that you are referring to, is it a forensic expert?”
Minister McDowell: “Yes I have forgotten the gentleman’s name, it goes out of my head at the moment, he is an individual who assisted with the investigation of the Moors Murder. I spoke the other day to Peter Hain about this and we both have initiated an approach to the Victims’ Commission and to this expert, to restart the process and to re-engage with his assistance to see if that can advance the whole situation.”
Q.5. Peadar Toibín (Sinn Féin, Navan):
(i) Re allegations of criminality and due process: “My name is Peadar Toibín. I would like to thank you first of all for coming down to Navan today. There have been a lot of very interesting points made. But at the very start of the meeting I think was a very educational point. The last time you were down in Navan [30 September 2002] was very close to the fall of the Assembly and I suppose we all know why the Assembly fell: there were allegations of a Sinn Féin spying ring and a number of known republicans were arrested, and then the Assembly fell which was a travesty and a major injustice. But then we saw that when the eyes of the media were diverted, that the people whom the charges were made against, the charges were actually dropped, and recently the PSNI were asked what stage was the investigation in, and the PSNI admitted that the investigation was over. So what we have is the PSNI were either inept – they could not find enough evidence to put these people into prison – or they had actually concocted the whole story to bring about the end of the Assembly. Now many in the establishment including yourself at the time also gave out about this republican spy ring, and again no evidence came there.
Due process: “And the question I would like to ask you Minister, is: why do you expect me, in a liberal democracy, to believe you when you state you know what you know, and you can condemn groups around the country. Surely in a liberal democracy people have due process, surely they have presumption of innocence Minister, and it strikes me as something that would happen in Chile under Pinochet, where a Minister would condemn great numbers of people without people bothering to give them the right to a trial amongst their peers, a trial in front of a jury, or a trial in front of a judge. Now I know what kind of an answer you are going to give me, Minister, you’re going to give me examples again of some things republican members have done.
(ii) Re Minister’s condemnation of republicans: “”But I would just like to say one other thing, you also said that you were as equally interested in finding justice for the Fullerton family as you were for the McConville family, and I would commend you if that were true, but the whole energy of your ministerial journey so far has been attacking people who call themselves republicans. If you were to put the same energy into trying to bring about the end of loyalist murders, loyalist criminality, I would believe you Minister but you haven’t. In this whole speech tonight you’ve spent all your time condemning republicans, people who want to bring about a united Ireland.
Chair (Michael Reade): “I would just mention to you Minister that was a member of Sinn Féin and Brendan Markey who spoke earlier is a member of Fianna Fáil.”
Minister McDowell: “Can I make the point to you, Peadar, that I happen to know that the Provos carried out the Northern Bank job, I happen to know that the Gardaí have fully investigated a money laundering operation involving senior members of your party who were found in possession of large sums of money. And I happen to know that an ongoing criminal investigation is at hand in relation to those issues. And I will not be browbeaten by any political party into concealing from the Irish people the truth about these matters. There’s a difference between admissible evidence in a court and intelligence. If I don’t tell the Irish people what is actually happening on the basis that there has been no court case yet, it could spell the end of Irish democracy.
Dublin robberies: “For instance, I earlier spoke about the series of robberies in Dublin which were conducted by the IRA under the aegis of the adjutant in Belfast. None of those have resulted in prosecutions and the reason they haven’t – I’ll tell you now the reason they haven’t. First of all, in relation to the last of those robberies, the consignment of stolen goods was traced to a warehouse on the west side of Dublin. And Gardaí raided that warehouse and recovered the goods. They interrogated a number of people concerned with the warehouse and established that they were not aware of the fact that the goods were stolen and that they were innocent of any part in the robbery of the goods or the storage of them on that site. But it’s very interesting to note that one of the individuals who the Gardaí arrested and interviewed in relation to this issue was subsequently visited by two leading members of your party – Provisional Sinn Féin – one of whom had been released from prison for serving a sentence of 40 years for the capital murder of an Irish garda.
“So concerned were the Gardaí about the safety of the man whom they were going to visit to find out what happened, that they intervened and arrested all three of them. Those were two members of your party, Peadar, who were arrested in the aftermath of that robbery, inquiring of that man what happened. And what’s more, so that you should know the truth, Peadar, the group of people who had done the robbery were summoned to a meeting with the adjutant of the IRA who is based in Belfast and threatened that if the events ever took place again, they would be shot dead.
Intimidation: “Now those are the facts, Peadar, you can try and escape them any way you like, but your party, and senior members of it, and the adjutant of the IRA in Belfast who is rubbing shoulders with the people who you cheer at ardfheiseanna – these are the people who perpetrated that robbery. And if you think that the Irish people shouldn’t be aware of these facts because due to intimidation – the same kind of intimidation, let me just finish, that reduced the murder charge in Jerry McCabe’s case to a manslaughter conviction – if you think that the Irish people will be kept away from the truth by Provo intimidation of this kind, and that I won’t tell the Irish people what’s gong on because the Provos can – by threatening people – prevent the truth emerging in criminal courts and prevent admissible evidence, proof beyond reasonable doubt, from being made available to the Director of Public Prosecutions, you are very very wrong.
Determination to put facts before the people: “I am determined, and I will make a habit of it as long as it is necessary to do so, Peadar, to put the facts before the Irish people so that people who masquerade as being interested in human rights while at the same time organising major criminality and threatening people with execution don’t support that movement with funds which they steal from ordinary citizens in Ireland.”
Peadar Toibín: “If I could, Mr McDowell, I would like you to answer the question I asked you – why should anybody expect, why should you expect me to believe your point of view or your opinion on these things? In a liberal democracy we have a right to due process where the Northern Bank issue, all these other issues, people will get a chance, a day in court. It strikes me as undemocratic for a Minister for Justice to use his position, without giving evidence to the population of their peers, to use his position to condemn groups of people or individuals. I ask you why do you expect me to believe you without you putting it in court?
Minister McDowell: “I’ll tell you exactly why I expect them to believe me, because I have a record of telling the truth, unlike Gerry Adams who has a record of telling lies, saying he was never in the IRA and pretending he was never in the IRA, I don’t deny my past –[interruptions]… your friends over there are getting active, Peadar, but the fact is I tell the truth and I have a record and a reputation for telling the truth, that’s why you should believe me.
Re killing of Jean McConville: “And a second point, and I’ll ask you now Peadar, since you’ve talked about liberal democracy, would you stand up there again and take the microphone in your hand and tell me: was the killing of Jean McConville a murder?”
Chair: “It would be unusual I think for somebody in this locality outside of Arthur Morgan to answer that question.”
Peadar Toibín: “First of all, again you did say – [interruptions from members of the audience saying repeatedly ‘answer the question!’] – I asked the question, you said because you should believe me, Peadar, on this. For anybody to say – [interruptions from audience] – in the case of Jean McConville, I actually think that the killing personally was a murder, so I have no problem in saying that at all.”
Minister McDowell: “Why can’t Gerry Adams …?
Peadar Toibín: “He will answer his own questions, Mr McDowell. But I want you to put the same efforts as you have put in in the case of Mrs McConville, to put the same effort into the case of the Fullerton family here. It’s not a one-way street, Mr McDowell. There are other people in this room who have suffered from the Troubles. All I am saying is try to represent both sides fairly and stop putting your energy trying to demonise people like me and other republicans around the country.”
Minister McDowell: “Can I put this to you Peadar? Any killing, any murder, was wrong, and I am glad that you had the moral courage to distance yourself from the prevarication and the hypocrisy of Gerry Adams who pretended that the killing of Jean McConville was not a murder, and likewise Mitchel McLaughlin and Mary Lou McDonald who couldn’t admit these propositions.
Inquiring into past murders: “But can I make the other point to you? That if we are going down the road of uncovering the perpetrators of every murder, do you expect me to show the same zeal now to try to find out who were the team of IRA gunmen who took the 10 Protestants off the bus at Kingsmill and drew them aside machine-gunned them? Do you think that I should pursue that with the same zeal? Do you think that we should spend the last 20 years working out who did set off the bomb at Birmingham, who did let off the bomb at the Le Mons restaurant, who did let off the bomb at Enniskillen – [interruption from audience] … and who let off the Monaghan bombs, I am doing something about that, and I’ve spent many years as Attorney General and as Minister for Justice progressing the Dublin-Monaghan bombing and pressing for a full revelation of the truth in relation to that.
Liberal democracy requires that everyone obeys the rule of law: “But I ask you – rather than engage in this propaganda in which you are engaging of saying that I am in some sense being cavalier with the rights of the Provisional movement by pointing out when they are engaging in crime when they are – to concentrate on this issue, that a liberal democracy requires that everyone upholds the rule of law and there isn’t a la carte dining at the table of human rights, or at the table of the protection of the law, that every punishment beating is wrong.
Jean McConville killing: “And if you are a member of Sinn Féin, Peadar, you are in a much closer position to stand up at your Ard Fheis and say that the murder of Jean McConville was murder, but I don’t recall ever hearing you ever doing that, and I’d be interested if you go and repeat that at the next Ard Fheis, I’d be interested to see what kind of reception you get from your fellow delegates.
Q. 6. Sean Collins (Drogheda Cross-Border Focus Group):
“You’re welcome to Navan, Minister. I am a stranger here myself so I feel welcome. I have heard you called a lot of things over the years but Pinochet, that’s the best yet. You couldn’t possibly be using your campaign, or your position as Minister for Justice to condemn the IRA because you have been doing it for years, long before you were ever Minister for Justice, so fair is fair.
(i) Re Ardoyne disturbances (17 June): “I sat on Friday night with a group of women from staunchly nationalist Short Strand working with a group of women from staunchly loyalist inner east Belfast, and they all recoiled in horror at what they saw on TV, the pictures that were transmitted of the golf balls flying across the land rovers at the bandsmen marching. It reminded me of over 30 years ago now, I suppose, it’s nearly an eternity away – Burntollet Bridge – when the TV cameras opened the eyes of the world to what was happening in Northern Ireland with the proud B Specials beating up the people campaigning for civil rights. It reminded me a lot of that because I think Friday night’s events opened the eyes of a lot of people North and South.
(ii) Have Sinn Féin lost it? “The thing that strikes me, and I’m curious to ask at your level – if it is possible to ask – I’ve admired Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness for a number of years for bringing the IRA or Sinn Féin, or whatever they are, together, into the Good Friday Agreement, and I’ve admired them for that because I believe that was a very hard job, but in the light of the Northern Bank robbery and a number of other events and to see Gerry Kelly helplessly trying to control the events on Friday night, has Sinn Féin – are they losing it or have they lost it? Or they not leading so-called nationalist Northern Ireland any more?
Minister McDowell: “Well Sean, they are not losing it. Everything they do is very carefully planned. It’s not a question of losing it at all. You say what those women who are trying to do what I was talking in earlier – engage in the vocation of reconciliation across the peace line in Belfast – you say what their reaction was to those scenes on TV but I know that a senior member of Sinn Féin, on the following day, contacted the Dublin Government arising out of that incident and asked what the Dublin Government is going to do to protect the nationalist people of Ardoyne. I know that that’s what the reaction was, the following day.
Personal courage doesn’t mean your cause is right: “So I mean we have to be very very careful here, that we don’t allow people to pervert truth for their own purposes, and you know, I’ll give you this, I give the Sinn Féin people here, the minority of this audience which is Sinn Féin, I give them this: that many people in the Provisional movement displayed personal courage over the years, but many people in the Japanese Army in the Second World War displayed personal courage, and indeed in the German Army in the Second World War displayed personal courage, but the fact that people display courage doesn’t mean that their cause is right, or what they were doing was justifiable. And we have to distinguish between propaganda – for instance, I believe that Bobby Sands was sentenced to imprisonment for serious crimes and I also believe that many people in Northern Ireland salute his courage in making the sacrifice of his own life … but the fact that people show courage doesn’t mean that their cause is right, no more than the suicide bombers in Iraq today are justified in what they are doing even though it obviously takes huge courage to blow yourself to pieces in order to make some kind of point or whatever, it doesn’t make killing other people right.
Real challenge for republicanism: “And this is why the Irish people have to move to a new plane, and we can’t all the time dwell in the past, we can’t spend our lives marching up and down in lines at memorials all around Ireland to Volunteers, the rest of us have got over all of that and have moved on to the real challenge for republicanism which is reconciling the people of this island, North and South.
Bodenstown commemorations: “And you know I was very interested, just looking at today’s papers, at the picture of Bodenstown, and you have to hand it to the Provos, instead of the usual colour party with berets, black glasses and polo necks, there are fellows in golf club type blazers now leading off the parade.
Provisional movement is moving: “So they are moving, and it’s all very carefully orchestrated, and somebody sat down and ordered those blazers yesterday and somebody …[tape break]… they are moving, and the only thing that will force them to move, and the only thing that has been effective in the past in forcing them to move, is that the rest of us stand up against them and say: we don’t accept the propaganda, level with us, deal with us in ordinary democratic language, and accept the ballot box as the only measure of moral entitlement to engage in political activity, don’t ask us to say that you have a mandate from history which excuses you from obeying the criminal law and which allows you to kill people or allows you to rob, or whatever.
Honest speaking: “I mean, I am very very confident that Irish society has moved ahead of the Provisional movement and that they are now catching up and that they will make all the necessary steps to catch up, but will only have to happen if we reject the cant, if we say to Gerry Adams we don’t believe you when you say you weren’t in the IRA, we know you were. If we say to Adams and McGuinness we know you were on the Army Council when all these things were done, don’t give us this guff that you weren’t. If we’re honest with them, they will be forced to address us in honest terms, if we constantly appease them by using their kind of Provo speak – parallel universe stuff – that they are the legitimate government of Ireland and that’s what there in Dublin is some compromise rump of Uncle Tom, if we appease them in all of that language they will take liberties with us, but when we say no, enough, they actually respond much better than the fudge and wink type of politics.”
Q. 7. Hazlett Lynch (West Tyrone Voice):
“Hazlett Lynch, director of West Tyrone Voice victims’ group, west of the Bann in Northern Ireland. Mr McDowell, this has been a tremendous experience for me, and I know for the people who are with me, to be here tonight and to hear some straight talking. We have appreciated over the years, since you became Justice Minister here in the Republic, the things that you have said, the clear thinking that you have been able to articulate and the passion with which you have held your views. And it has encouraged us enormously, in Northern Ireland, to hear somebody in the Republic speaking the way you do. I would to God we had people in Northern Ireland and in the UK Government who would speak the way that you speak.”
Recent elections – demise of PUP: “There is a mantra that seems to be repeated time and time again by the media and politicians both in your country and in our country that gives the impression that the opposite party or political ideology to Sinn Féin/IRA is the DUP. That, sir, is manifestly untrue.
“The opposite of Sinn Féin/IRA is the PUP, David Ervine’s crowd. And what happened in the last election was this: unionist voters decided significantly to rob the PUP of half of its members in the Assembly, reducing them to one. That was a tremendous encouragement to the unionist people in Northern Ireland, to see that they were prepared to put their mark on the ballot paper to try and marginalize as far as they could any political grouping that was associated with armed terrorism.
Nationalist community: “The disappointing thing is that within the nationalist community the reverse was recorded – that there was an increase in support for IRA psychopathic murderers and killers, people who as terrorists are masquerading as politics. I am delighted to hear you using terms similar to that.
Amnesty for on-the-runs: “But one of the things that really does cause us concern in Northern Ireland is that these people, these self-same people, who you describe so accurately and on terms that I can identify with very very well, these same people have been asking for, and being granted by both governments, a de facto amnesty for on-the-run terrorists who are living in your country. Now victims of terrorism find it very very difficult in their daily lives to have to walk past and to see the people who murdered their loved ones and who put their lives under threat. This amnesty is to be activated this summer. I would ask you, sir, I don’t know if it is possible, but I know that you are concerned for law and order, I know that you are committed to promoting decency in your country and in our country, can I ask you, as a victim whose brother was murdered by the thugs who have their fellow workers, fellow-travellers with us tonight, can I ask you to do all in your power to stop the granting of political forgiveness or amnesty to psychopathic killers who will return to Northern Ireland again and harass and intimidate and torture those who were responsible for putting them behind bars in the first place?”
Minister McDowell: “thank you for your kind remarks at the beginning. What the Good Friday Agreement was about in part was a decision to draw a line across history and to say we have to have a new beginning. And, for many people, the widows of the policemen who were shot both North and South of the border, it was a bitter day to see the people who shot their husbands go free under the Good Friday Agreement. And for many people, I agree with you, that the prospect of closing the files on many of those cases are bitter fruits indeed, because they hoped against hope that the system of justice would at least establish the truth even if it wasn’t going to exact punishment. My own judgment about these matters – and you may find this slightly disappointing but it’s true in my view – there has to come a time when, on both sides of the divide in this country, we say that we are going to look forward to the future together rather than continue to require a determination of past wrongs.
Unbalanced approach to inquiries into past events: “But what I would like is that the Sinn Féin people in this audience to dwell and reflect for a moment on the intensity of the words you just used, because what I have noticed is that there was an absolute determination by the Provisionals that the on-the-runs should be excused and that the prisoners should be released, but at the same time, an absolutely unquenchable demand that every wrong done on the other side should be the subject of intense inquiry and scrutiny. And that I find difficult to take.
“If the name of the game is drawing a line across the page of history, people will have to realise that the pain you feel, obviously, and the loss of your brother, and the notion that the likes of his killers will be able to return even without facing a criminal trial, that that pain is real and substantial as you just announced it there, and that those who keep demanding, incessantly and insatiably, further and further inquiries – which suit their political purpose – into events 10, 15 and 20 years ago should realise how unbalanced that approach is. That what’s reasonable to ask you to accept, in their mind, which is that your brother’s killers should walk past you in the street, free or unconvicted as the case might be, is equally full of the implication for them that they cannot constantly recreate history and pretend that all of the injustices done to their side of the equation should be the subject of tribunal after tribunal, inquiry after inquiry, and the like. And that the Police Service of Northern Ireland at some stage – like the Gardaí here – should be free to police that society and to protect today’s youth from having their legs broken by thugs, rather than trying to work out at a distance of 20 years ago what happened in the murky days of a dirty war.
“So, you may find what I am saying slightly disappointing, because I do believe that, just as it makes sense to say to the men of violence on either side you may go free from prison, and have your punishment set aside, it may make in certain cases sense to say that those who have not yet been accused but are suspected should go uninvestigated and unconvicted and that may be part of the price of bringing normality.
Sense of injustice felt by victims: “But I want to say this, and finish on this note again, that the pent-up anger and sense of injustice that you have articulated here today should be listened to, particularly by the Provisionals, because when they demand, in retrospect, that all of their selective grievances should be fully investigated and pursued to the nth degree, they seem to be ignoring the pain and suffering that you have and what has already been accorded to them, at your psychological and emotional and sense of justice expense.
On-the-runs: “You asked me to oppose a policy of non-prosecution of the on-the-runs. I have to take a pragmatic view of that. It may be that it would be justified to bring an end to all the violence but the quid pro quo is that we don’t get the nonsense, the propaganda and the cant, that only people who in the new official Provo history of Ireland suffered injustice are the members of the Provisional movement or their supporters. That it was the mainly decent people on either side of the community who suffered most at their hands, and that most of that is going to go uninvestigated, unconvicted and unpunished. And I think that’s where the balance of history, where the pendulum will end up, it may not be satisfactory to you but I think it would be remiss of me to imply that you can let people out after serving a small fraction of a mandatory 40-year jail sentence for shooting a member of An Garda Siochana dead, as happened here, and you can’t see it as equally pragmatic in some circumstances to say to people who are suspected of similar offences in Northern Ireland that the process of criminal justice should be stayed in the interest of a brighter future for everyone.
“And those may be harsh words to you, but you praised me for straight talking, and you’re getting a bit of it now.”
Chair (Michael Reade): Re Sinn Féin leadership and IRA Army Council: “And Minister, do you believe that the Sinn Féin leadership, McGuinness, Adams and Ferris, remain on the IRA Army Council or has that changed in recent times?”
Minister McDowell: “I think they are now in the process, Michael, of actually trying to get out of it. But it’s purely cosmetic, they are in total charge of the Provisional movement, and as long as the IRA was a lethal force which was the backbone of the Provisional movement they remained centrally involved and in charge of it, and I regard it as a good thing that they are now trying to get out of it because it suggests that it is not going to be the centre of their political struggle in the future.”
Q. 8. William Smith.
“My name is Smith, William Smith. I am not a political supporter of the Minister but every time he speaks his mind to condemn the Provisional IRA, and … the IRA, and every time he condemns torturers and murderers and robbers, I am 100% behind him, as every decent Irishman should be, as every decent Irishman is…… And I am more than four score years and It’s time for me to shut up I suppose, I keep making myself unpopular and what I am going to say will make me more unpopular.
“I remember 73 years ago, 73 years now in January, going with my parents to the local polling booth where they were going to vote for Eamon Duggan. And for those people here who never heard of Eamon Duggan, he was one of the signatories of the Treaty, the Anglo-Irish Treaty, and that was the treaty which was the basis of the formation of this State which was led by W.T. Cosgrave and was opposed all those years – over 80 years now – by Republican Sinn Féin [tape unclear] ….and it is my understanding, I remember in the 1930s Thomas MacCurtain turned around in Patrick Street in Cork and shot a policeman in the stomach, and I will say this for de Valera who was not one of my favourite people, but he did during the early years of the 1940s stand up to them and when they tried to blackmail him by having a hunger striker in Portlaoise…… he stood his ground and let the man die which happened much later in Northern Ireland with all sorts of condemnations. But fair play to de Valera he wasn’t afraid to shoot people …..
Will Gerry Adams bring in the extremists? “To get to my question, does the Minister believe that when Gerry Adams eventually gets old enough and tired enough, and less ambitious, and adopts the road of democracy, is he equally going to bring all his followers with him? People who live in the sewers, those kind of people who still continue to believe in murder, torture and robbery as a means to achieving their political future… Does he believe that they will not become – I don’t want to use the word Omerta – but .. what happened in the United States and in Sicily, people who will be self-propagating and self-fulfilling, mé féiners, and does he believe that …?
Chair (Michael Reade): “Minister, before you respond that there are more questions than we have time left, and I am sorry to those of you in advance, but the question very simply is: will there be an old boys’ club, will that be acceptable?”
Minister McDowell: “William, can I say this? I can see where your politics are, from what you say there, can I say this too that my three sons, as I said earlier at the beginning, will number among their ancestors people who died for the Republic in the Civil War, people who put their lives on the line for the Free State in the Civil War, people who were on hunger strike for the Republic in the Civil War and people who later became Fianna Fail T.D.s. They number all of that, my sons will number all of that among their ancestry. And I believe that if you look back across the history of independent Ireland – from the Treaty onwards to de Valera taking power in 1932, to the 1937 Constitution and the like – that where things were wrong was when people pushed their ideology before their republican democratic values, and when things went well it was because republicans accepted that the will of the people was superior to their own theory of history.
Pernicious doctrine – IRA legitimacy: “And I believe that the greatest and most pernicious doctrine that the Provos at top level still believe is that the handful of survivors of the Second Dail in 1938, December 1938, handed over to the IRA the legitimate powers of the Irish State which they said was founded by the people in the 1918 and the next election, and the IRA declared itself to be the legitimate government of Ireland thereafter. That’s a very pernicious doctrine and totally anti-republican in view of the fact that the great majority of people who were in 1916, people who put their lives on the line to create an independent Irish State, brave people like Collins and De Valera, those people knew that the way to be a genuine republican and democrat was to work with what you had to transform it, to build a republican society on this island. And I look back across my own family history and across Irish history and I am willing to salute on both sides of the Civil War divide, and in subsequent political struggles and bitter disputes that there were, the genuine patriotism of those who went before the people, Duggan and others as you mentioned, and sought a democratic mandate and abided by it, and thought that there was no higher mandate than the vote of the people who supported them, and didn’t have an each-way bet on the armalite and the ballot box.
Provisional movement in democratic politics: ““You asked me the question, if Adams and McGuinness bring the Provisional movement to a totally political level and they just participate in democratic politics on the same way as the rest of us, will they bring their extremists with them? And my answer to that is, probably there will be a few hangers-on who will then revert to violence. I mean we have had indications the last number of months of people who have done precisely that, people who were in the past associated with the Provisional movement now they are simply using violence for their own personal gain. And we still have the dissidents and the CIRA and the RIRA there on the edges, but if you ask me do I believe that Adams and McGuinness will bring the Provisional movement with them largely speaking intact into democratic politics, if that is their choice, my answer is yes, they are in total control, they are in total control of that movement. They are not facing an internal mutiny, they are not facing an internal challenge, they are not facing a group of people who, for instance, will say well if you go down that road we’re hanging on to all the arms and the bunkers and all the rest of it, and the Semtex. I believe there will be decommissioning. I believe that they will bring the Provisional movement across the threshold – if they choose to do it – into democratic politics.
Need to stand firmly with conviction: “What I equally believe is that as long as people like you and me offer them the opportunity to have one foot on one side of the threshold of paramilitarism and democratic politics, and one foot on the other, as long as we were willing to tolerate that they were willing to exploit that witness on our part.
“And it is only when we say that the door to democracy is open and remains open but you must cross that threshold and stand with two feet on the democratic side of that line, it is only when you say that with absolute conviction and totally unwavering commitment to that proposition that they will actually make the shift. And the reason I am here tonight and I am making the points I am this evening and in other places is to articulate what I believe is the determination of what you describe as all decent Irish people – that this must be an unequivocal, irrevocable and non-negotiable movement from one position to another, and if the Provo leadership understands that that is the only show in town, I am confident that they will make that decision.
Appeasement: “If they are appeased, and there are appeasers, there are people in the media who criticise me for naming them and the members of the IRA Army Council. There are people in the media – and they know who they are, I am not going to dignify them by mentioning them because frankly they are not even worth a mention – who attacked me last year for standing up against the Provos when I knew what I knew. I am saying that if we go down the road of appeasement it will be exploited to create ambiguity and to allow them have this each-way bet of undemocratic activities… and it is only if we are absolutely rock-solid unshakeable that there is no way forward other than an exclusively peaceful and democratic political commitment from the Provisional movement, to operate within the rules of the laws on both parts of this island from now on, it’s only if we show that degree of determination and moral courage that they will make the inevitable break from the past and come in, like many others did before them, into democratic politics.”
Q. 9. Cllr. Michael Gallagher (Meath Sinn Féin):
Re Bobby Sands:“You’re very welcome to Meath, Minister. A few questions I would like to ask you. You’re very proud of your ancestors, and rightly so. How do you relate your grandfather to Bobby Sands? Do you class your grandfather as republican and Bobby Sands as a criminal? And the Provos that had to go out and defend our houses and properties in the ‘70s, and they were let down by this State, and you seem to have an awful lot of information on the Provos, it took 14 years to find out the criminality that was in the Guards in Donegal. Go raibh mhaith agat.”
Minister McDowell: “I don’t really see the question there.”
Michael Gallagher: “What is the difference between your grandfather as a republican freedom fighter, and Bobby Sands whom you classed as a criminal?”
Minister McDowell. “Bobby Sands, as you well know, was sent to jail for firearms offences as part of the Provisionals’ campaign in Northern Ireland. And just so that there should be no misunderstanding, from 1976 onwards use of violence in Northern Ireland – murder, explosives, firearms – was an offence against the Southern State’s laws as well, under the Criminal Law Jurisdiction Act . It was a breach of our law, it was a breach of the law of Northern Ireland. And I’m not in the business of condemning Bobby Sands for his hunger strike, and I’m not in the business of taking away the courage that that must have entailed, but I do say that people like John Hume, who took the peaceful path and were derided by the Provos and Sinn Féin for their stance, those people deserve a lot more hero-status in Ireland, than the people who engaged in the campaign of violence in Northern Ireland.
“And I also make this point: that you and I both aspire to be republicans, but what the Provisional movement did – in relation to setting back the process of reconciliation between Orange and Green in Northern Ireland – will take people like me many many decades to reverse. “
Member of audience: “Why did you oppose the Hume-Adams talks?”
Chair (Michael Reade): “Ok, I am just taking two more questions…”
Minister McDowell: “Because I will tell you why. At the time I believed that the Provisionals were going to try and have it both ways, and when you see the Northern Bank robbery you know that I wasn’t all wrong.”
Chair (Michael Reade): “I’ll take a few more questions, and I ask you to be brief, just ask the question.”
Q. 10. Ronnie Owens (Slane). Re rights and responsibilities: “Ronnie Owens, farmer and community worker, living close to where Brendan was referring to, where bodies were buried and I know about them since that time. Just in relation to today’s culture, if you like, bringing this whole issue of attempting to put solutions to problems, we talk nowadays about knowledge-based economy, most of us know about the ill effects of rampant consumerism, globalisation and commercialism. Would you agree that as an instrument to kind of inform people – Christianity was good at saying that people are duty bound to inform their conscience – one of the things that I see in many of the Bills of Rights that are put up nowadays in political form, they do not put down in equal standing, or equally articulated, they do not put down the responsibilities.
“I would have liked to have seen alongside the rights, the duties in equal form. I think looking at a lot of kids today, and a lot of demonstrations, people are very quick to engage in marches and protestations about their rights but there are very few marches about people’s responsibilities. In other words, as an instrument to maybe give people more courage, citizens – you talked earlier on about the foundations of republicanism, being republicanism of equality and fraternity in relation to all the citizens being equal to get the benefits, but I think they must equally inform themselves of their responsibilities.
“And in that sense people would be more courageous about refusing to be intimidated because I know locally people are intimidated, they know stuff and they are afraid to speak up about a lot of things, not just Sinn Féin/IRA stuff, but all kinds of other needs in society. So would you agree that maybe when Bills of Rights are being drawn up they should equally refer to responsibilities and it would be much more informative In people’s minds about the balance that should take place?
Minister McDowell: “the answer to that is I radically and profoundly agree with you, in relation to that. When I was a student of law in UCD, the late John Kelly was the man who lectured us in legal philosophy, and he constantly said what you are saying, a right without a corresponding duty is nothing …[tape break]… and it is certainly the case that in this day of huge concentration on human rights and rights-speak as a language, that everybody is articulating their grievances or their demands as denial of rights whereas nobody is stepping up to the plate and saying that other people must owe a duty for every one of these rights, and that we collectively, if we live in a society of rights, must live in a society of duties. That is undoubtedly the case and there is a huge moral vacuum in political discourse in Ireland based on that exact thing – that everybody is now articulating their views as an issue of rights. And in particular in relation to things which are political arguments, there’s a huge tendency now to put what you believe are your demands in the language of rights being denied to you rather than just simply say this is a political demand or a political policy which I am willing to advance. Everything is put in this business of if you don’t have X, somebody’s rights are being denied. Now I think that is a poison in the coinage of our political language, that we have forgotten the whole area of moral responsibility and moral duty, and personal individual responsibility, just as much as personal rights.
“Because it must be the case, it must be the case, that if we live in a society which accords everyone their personal fundamental human rights, that they must acknowledge that they have personal fundamental human duties to society, institutionally, and to their fellow citizens. And I find I have to say that that kind of language and that kind of debate has evaporated largely in recent circumstances. And in the whole area of rights and duties, if we go down the road of concentrating exclusively on a culture of rights and rights-speak, we then forget all of the duty-based reality on which civilised society relies.
Irish Constitution and political duties of citizens: “I’ll give you an example: the phrase ‘duty’ in the Irish Constitution, I think it appears in two contexts: the rights and duties of parents, and it also appears curiously in Article 9 of the Constitution which says that fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State are fundamental political duties of all citizens. And the right to sit in Dail Éireann, for instance, is restricted to citizens of Ireland. You can’t sit in Dail Éireann if you are not a citizen of the Irish State. And the right to seek election to Dail Éireann is restricted to citizens, and it is restricted, therefore, to people who owe this fundamental duty of fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State established by the 1937 Constitution.
“So that means that anybody – whether they come from Sinn Féin or the Progressive Democrats, or an independent candidate – who seeks election to Dail Éireann, undertakes a duty to all the people that vote for them to show loyalty to the State that the Irish people created by their Constitution in 1937.
“And you can’t sit in Dail Éireann and claim that the State is illegitimate, and you can’t sit in Dail Éireann and say that the State’s laws don’t apply to you, or that you can rob or you can kill because you have a higher authority. That’s not loyalty to the Irish State. And you can’t participate in Dail Éireann’s politics under the Irish constitutional scheme of things unless you acknowledge that you are exercising your citizenship under the 1937 Constitution and that you are undertaking that duty of loyalty to the Irish State. So I totally agree with you, Ronnie, I totally agree with you, but some people seem to talk an awful lot about rights, and I never ever hear them make a single speech about duty. And they are not so far away from you there.”
Q. 11. Eithne Casey:
“Michael, it seems extraordinary I feel I have to say, after what you have said about fundamental duties, that it is a fundamental duty not to pull a trigger on another human being. And I remember sitting at my grandfather’s knee who fought in Bolands Mills  and who was then taken up the docks and interned in England, and I remember him saying as a child ‘oh, we stopped fighting because the people of Dublin were getting killed.’ And he said ‘and then the women of Dublin spat at us as we were going to the docks because of what we did in Dublin.’ So, for everybody who does anything, they do it for different reasons, and so many different views.
(i) Fear of not being able to speak out: “But in my early twenties I worked in the murder triangle in Northern Ireland which was west of the Bann and east of [?] and one thing I do remember, as I got used to living in the community there, working in the community, I could no longer bear it, after about a year and a half, or nearly two years, because you got to know the fears of people who were living there, the fear of not being able to speak out and not being able to speak their minds.
(ii) Polarisation: “And I noticed that in many times, and one time in particular, the second Ulster loyalist strike, you saw the immediate polarisation among educated middle class people. And what’s wonderful about tonight is that we are hearing the views so bluntly expressed, because at that time you would never have heard talk like this in Northern Ireland.
(iii) Dr Paisley: “And also what is extraordinary, and I am just changing the emphasis a little bit here, and would just love a comment on – I never would have thought that I would see Dr Ian Paisley come down to Dublin and walk into Government Buildings, and that itself is also a tremendous achievement because once there is contact, and it’s human contact, a cup of tea, I have friends coming down from Northern Ireland who have never come before, and then we cannot have – in most cases – we cannot have the same old views, the same old ideas, about the other side.
(iv) Reclaiming republicanism: “And when you use the word, two words I think, ‘republicanism’ – we have to reclaim that word for everybody here who wants to use it. We don’t live under royalty so we are republicans and there is nothing to be ashamed about that.”
(v) Reconciliation through direct human contact: “And then the other thing is reconciliation, and the only way reconciliation can come about is by direct human contact, sitting in the same room. And it is extraordinarily difficult, and you can see it today, because people are so highly motivated on the Sinn Féin side, how difficult it is to face the fact that you cannot take a human life for your beliefs, and then those who have had their lives or their families taken away from them, to come in the same room is a great movement. And I just hope that the government encourages more politicians to come down all the time, and likewise vice versa, and of course people at every level should have exchanges north and south of the border. And then you can’t have devils, and you can’t project all the evil onto one side, and all the grievances on to yourself. You know we are human beings, and we have a terrible shadow – we have this capacity to kill and we must confront it and stop it.”
Chair: “Minister, I’ll take that as a statement…”
Minister McDowell: “One of the comments that I would like to make if I can, Michael, and that is that I am afraid of leaving here this evening without saying the following things: that Northern Ireland was a place in which there was huge injustice, that the Catholics took more than their fair share of injustice over many years, that many many Catholics were killed because they were Catholics.
Loyalist criminality: “That loyalism is as pernicious, and in fact more pernicious in some respects than Provo-ism because many of its chief people are just simply lining their own pockets and engaging in every form of monstrous activity, drug distribution, racist attacks on minorities in Northern Ireland, and control over rackets and blackmailing and all the rest. I just want to put that on the record, just in case anyone thinks I am selective in my views on these matters. I am not, but I have to address the issues as they are now, and as was said here earlier the loyalist thugs have little enough purchase on Northern Ireland politics and the voters in Northern Ireland, whereas thuggery is present in the Provisional movement and has to end.
Hopeful signs: “And to reply just briefly to what Eithne said, I know it was more a statement and I agree with her statement. I just want to say she’s right, the very fact we can have these conversations here tonight, and there is vehement disagreement here and a lot of masked opposition to each other’s position, but the very fact that we are sitting in relatively civilised circumstances discussing these issues, and the very fact that I could meet Ian Paisley in the Irish Embassy in London and that he has come to Dublin to discuss economics with businessmen, these are immensely hopeful signs.
Duty of Provisionals and DUP to make society work: “And it doesn’t mean that the DUP is not a party which is free from its sectarian past, it isn’t and I don’t pretend it is, but likewise we have to look to the positives because having demolished the centre ground, the Provisional movement and the Democratic Unionist Party have now – to go back to the point that Ronnie was making – the duty to make their society work, and they will only do it if the rest of us make unequivocal demand, in unequivocal straight-talking terms, that they do face up to their responsibilities and duties as people who got seats and got votes, and take them into democratic [action?].”
Chair (Michael Reade): “My apologies to anybody I didn’t come to this evening, we’ll just take a final question from Julitta Clancy and then I am going to ask the Minister if he will give another couple of minutes of his time to talk a little bit about the future conclusion, and my apologies to anybody – because there are a lot of people who have had to travel long distances – if we have held you up. ….”
Q. 12. Julitta Clancy “I preface my question by thanking you Minister for spending so long with us, and thanking all those who got up and spoke here, and people who came – regardless of difference – to share their views. And we very much are grateful for people coming. It was difficult.
(i) Reclaiming the spirit of the Agreement: “Somebody mentioned ‘balance’, and I think Eithne referred to ‘reclaiming republicanism’…. I think we should also be trying to reclaim the spirit of the Agreement that so many of us, particularly in the South, put all our hopes in despite all its flaws, and with the knowledge that possibly a bare 50% of unionists voted for that Agreement, and in the years in between – because of the way it was being implemented and brought in – unfortunately that number went down and down. And therefore the pain of the victims increased, and it increased on all sides. And we spent a very pleasant day in Fermanagh on Saturday, a few of us, as guests of the Dooneen Community Education Centre, the Guild of Uriel and members of the Ulster Unionist Party, Sinn Féin, the SDLP and others, and it was to me such a huge difference from the days when we went up monitoring disputed parades in Fermanagh.
(ii) Interface tensions and marching season: “But I want to turn your attention to
the interface areas of Belfast particularly, because those are areas that some of us
have had the privilege of being invited into in recent years, both in republican and
loyalist areas, and we have seen the pain on both sides, the difficulties on both sides
and the great efforts being done by many good people on the ground there to diffuse
tensions and to get away from the situation it was in a few years ago.
“But there is also the fact that those people cannot yet talk to each other like we are
doing because of difficulties, and if there is any way that that can be helped, in any
way, because the dangers of what now looks like could happen in the marching
season, if it goes back to that a lot of good steps will be reversed. And it is the
suffering of those people, who have suffered so much, on both sides there, I would
(iii) Have we done enough in this State? “And my last point is, Minister, do you think that we in the South have done enough to embrace and to live up to the spirit of that Agreement and should there not be more groups like us engaging – not as we did in the beginning with peace rallies and all of that – but engaging in this type of dialogue across the divide? Thank you.”
Minister McDowell. “Michael, can I complete my two minutes that you were going to say to finish up with my answer to Julitta?
Good Friday Agreement – a deal is a deal: “Firstly, I do agree with you that we are in danger of forgetting the spirit of the Agreement which was there in the first place. And I do believe that the period of time that has elapsed since then has allowed a lot of people to get sceptical, cynical and to forget the moral force of that Agreement. And, if I may say – though there aren’t many here – to people of the unionist persuasion, and particularly to the Democratic Unionist Party I would say this: a deal is a deal, the people of Ireland and Britain through their governments did a deal.
“The people of both parts of this island did a deal. The Irish State has transformed its relationship with Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom into one of which, instead of the claim made in Articles 2 and 3 as they then were, there’s an acknowledgment that a majority in Northern Ireland will determine its constitutional status on terms of a deal. And the deal is that it is a society based on mutual respect, that it is a society in which Irish nationality is not simply tolerated but respected, and that those who feel themselves to be Irish nationalists and republicans in Northern Ireland are free to give their loyalty and fidelity to the Irish State as its citizens as I mentioned earlier.
DUP rhetoric: “And therefore some of the Democratic Unionist Party rhetoric that Dublin should be seen as a foreign state is inconsistent with the terms of that Agreement. We are not just a foreign state, we are not just to Northern Ireland what Norway is for Iceland. We are a state that did a deal with a sovereign state, the United Kingdom, registered with the United Nations and it’s a deal that gives the North-South dimension and the sense of Irishness and all of those institutions real substantial legal status. And I think that we have to recreate in our own minds an understanding of that deal that we did and say to Ian Paisley and Nigel Dodds and Peter Robinson: you’ve done a deal and a deal has been done with us by a sovereign government and the people of the United Kingdom, as a sovereign entity in which you believe, have made a compact with us for a new dispensation in Northern Ireland, and have indicated that they will back a united Ireland and implement it when it becomes the choice of a majority of the people in Northern Ireland.
“That’s the deal, and we are not going to allow anybody walk away from that deal, and by making the institutions unworkable it will only redouble the determination of Dublin that that deal will be adhered to and delivered on.
Marching season: “And the second point you make about the marching season, I really do fear that in the vacuum that now exists that people – instead of facing up to the responsibility of their mandate from the ballot box – will instead look to sectarian conflict arising out of the marching season as a justification of some kind for reneging on their democratic responsibilities. And that applies on both sides of the issue. Those who have obstructed the Parades Commission, denigrated it, torn down its efforts to produce fair and reasonable solutions on both sides, and those who will use violence, or threaten violence, in order to avail of the marching season as an opportunity just simply to reassert atavistic polarised politics, and to justify their own position as defenders of their community.
Have we done enough in this State? “And the last question you asked is: have we done enough in this State to deliver on our side of the Good Friday Agreement? That’s a question on which the jury is out. But I am certain of this, that – above the hurly burly of politics and arguments about ASBOs, and pubs and all the rest of it, airports and all the rest of it, -I am certain of this that we should have a generation of politicians who aspire at least in this one area to be remembered as statesmen and stateswomen, and that is that they articulated a sense of Irishness which was based on the views of Tone, the Sheares brothers, Emmet and Davis, an inclusive sense of Irishness, a thing totally bereft of sectarianism and of polarisation. And I really do believe, if you ask have we done enough, that we haven’t done enough on that. That we still, in this part of the country, have a view of Irishness which is not as open to Protestants and unionists as it might be, which is alien to them in some respects despite our best efforts to make substantial reforms in our political culture. And that there are many many things that we could all do to emulate what this group has done to extend the hand of friendship, to build bridges, and to build links between the two parts of this island. How sad it is, that 20 years ago in days of privilege, the unionists in Northern Ireland sent their children to be students in Dublin, how sad it is that that has trickled to practically nothing and they are to be found in Sterling and other places in Scotland rather than even in their own universities in Belfast.
Identity: “And have we actually engaged on a North-South basis, on a generous basis, to re-involve those people in Northern Ireland with our society – to acknowledge what I was saying earlier about the wealth of the Anglo-Irish part of our culture, to acknowledge that we are all mongrels in one respect or another, we are all born of Normans and Scots, and Scots Irish and English, and now that we have a new wave of immigration into Ireland, rather than pure descendants of a Gaelic society which is not the patrimony of most Protestant unionists on this island. And that we have a sense of our identity which is capable of embracing all of those views rather than being seen as sinister or hostile to people who aren’t of the main stream of Catholic nationalist Ireland.
Lack of genuinely inclusive vision: “I genuinely believe, Julitta, to answer your question, that we are not doing enough on those fronts and that we are not doing as much as we could, and that just as you have garden centre unionists in Northern Ireland who have fled the scene and abandoned it to the DUP and Sinn Féin, the centre ground people, so also in the South there’ll be your garden centre nationalists and garden centre Irish in that we do not have a genuinely inclusive vision and any sense of political vocation to really engage with the unionist community on the logic of the tricolour.
Challenge before us to create a new dynamic of Irishness: “That’s my strong view, and I will share with you, first of all compliment you and all your colleagues for what you are doing, going up to the interfaces and working with people there, but you asked me that hard question – are we doing all we can? And the answer is most certainly not, and it’s a challenge to everybody in this room, from Sinn Féin to unionists to Fine Gael, to Fianna Fail, to PDs, to Labour, to whatever persuasion you are, there is a challenge there now to rise up towards the real goal which is to create a new dynamic of Irishness on this society. And its not for the faint-hearted, it’s not for the politically lazy, it’s not for the opportunists or the night watchmen of history, it’s for the statesmen and the stateswomen of Ireland, for the new generation of Irish politicians to bring about a radically different approach which is based on reconciliation and based on generosity. Thank you.”
Chair (Michael Reade): “Just finally, one final question, do you expect to live long enough to see a united Ireland?”
Minister McDowell: “Well, yes.”
Chair (Michael Reade). “Before you go home, transcripts will be available later from the Meath Peace Group, significant segments of this evening’s talk will be broadcast on LMFM over the course of the next week. Congratulations to Julitta and the group. There’s a cup of tea at the end of the room, thanks to everybody for coming, as it was mentioned this evening this evening was progress in itself and part of that was having such an important and distinguished guest speaker. Ladies and gentlemen, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell.”
Meath Peace Group report ©Meath Peace Group 2005
Talk recorded by Judith Hamill (audio) and Jim Kealy (video). Transcribed and edited by Julitta Clancy
APPENDIX A: Biographical notes: Michael McDowell, T.D., S.C. was educated at Pembroke School and Gonzaga College, Dublin. He is a graduate in Economics and Politics from UCD. He qualified as a barrister in 1974 and was made a member of the Council of King’s Inns in 1978. In March 1987 he was called to the Inner Bar. He is a founder member of the Progressive Democrats and was first elected to the Dáil for the Dublin South-East constituency in 1987. He was re-elected in 1992. Having lost his seat in the 1997 election he was successful in the 2002 General Election, when he was once again returned for the Dublin South-East Constituency. He was Chairman of the Progressive Democrats from 1989 to 1992 and was appointed President in February 2002. Between 1992 – 1997, he held spokesmanships successively in Foreign Affairs, Northern Ireland, Trade and Tourism and Finance. He was appointed by the Tánaiste to chair the Working Group on Company Law Enforcement and Compliance. In 1999, he was appointed by the Government to chair the Implementation Advisory Group on the Establishment of the Single Regulatory Authority for the Financial Services Industry. In July 1999 he was appointed Attorney General of Ireland and served in that post until June 2002, when – on the formation of the new Government – he was appointed Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
APPENDIX B: Meath Peace Group update June 2005
School programme: Our annual TY peace studies programme at St Joseph’s Secondary School, Navan, concluded with a Fair Trade seminar on 9th May addressed by the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Michael Nangle, Fergal O’Byrne of the Green Party and representatives of Oxfam. Local TDs Damien English and Shane McEntee attended, as well as students of St Michael’s Loreto, staff, students and parents from St Joseph’s and members of the Navan business community. Our 2004-05 programme focused on experiences of interface communities in North Belfast and guest speakers included Chris O’Halloran of the Belfast Interface Project, Conor Maskey of Intercomm Ltd and Sean Ó Baoill of Mediation NI. The Spring 2005 term included a visit to Belfast on 11 April, taking in the Conflict exhibition at the Ulster Museum, and visiting the New Lodge Area as guests of Intercomm Ltd. Other topics studied were World Trade, Fair Trade, Immigration, Poverty and Debt Reduction, and mental health. Workshops were conducted by Michael O’Sullivan, Michael Murray and members of the Samaritans and West Papua groups. The overall programme was organised and conducted by Julitta Clancy and Judith Hamill with the assistance of teachers Mary Maguire and Julie O’Dwyer.
Recent public talks:
No. 56 “Bombings and their Aftermath” was held on 9th May and was addressed by Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Michael Nangle, Jacinta de Paor of Glencree and Gareth Porter of the H.U.R.T. group. The talk was chaired by Michael Reade. Prior to the talk, the chair of Meath County Council, Cllr. Tommy Reilly, made a presentation to the Lord Mayor on behalf of the Council.
No. 54: “The Good Friday Agreement – The Future” held on 25 February 2005, and addressed by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, TD, John O’Dowd, MLA (Sinn Féin) and Dominick Bradley, MLA (SDLP).
No. 55: “Where do we go from here?” held on 7 March 2005, and addressed by Professor Paul Bew (QUB), Sean Farren, MLA (SDLP) and Jim Wells, MLA (DUP).
Acknowledgments: Grateful thanks are due to all who have helped with the planning, publicity and organisation of the public talks, and all who have supported the work of the group, over the past 12 years. We thank all those who have come to participate in our talks, members of the audience as well as speakers and guest chairs. We thank the Department of Foreign Affairs Reconciliation Fund for much-needed assistance towards the running costs of the public talks and Transition Year programmes.
Meath Peace Group Committee 2005: Julitta and John Clancy, Batterstown, Co. Meath; Michael Kane, An Tobar, Ardbraccan; Anne Nolan, Gernonstown; Canon John Clarke, Boyne Road, Navan; Philomena Boylan-Stewart, Longwood; Olive Kelly, Lismullen; Leona Rennicks, Ardbraccan; Catriona Fitzgerald, Warrenstown; Judith Hamill, Ross, Dunsany