No. 34. – “Policing in the New Millennium – Some Perspectives on the Patten Report”
Monday, 1 November 1999,
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan
Dr Martin Mansergh (Special Adviser to An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern)
Alex Attwood, MLA(SDLP)
Bairbre de Brún, MLA (Sinn Féin)
James Leslie, MLA (UUP)
Chaired by Brendan O’Brien (Senior reporter, RTE)
Addresses of speakers
Questions and comments
Appendix A: Terms of Reference of Patten Commission
Appendix B: Mgr. Denis Faul – written contribution
Appendix C: Biographical notes on speakers
Editor’s note: When we were planning this talk on the Patten Report, we invited a range of speakers, including representatives of the Garda Siochána the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and the GAA, all of whom were unable to send speakers on the date in question. Msgr. Denis Faul was also invited and unable to come on the date, but he sent us a note of his intended contribution which we publish in full in Appendix A below.
Brendan O’Brien (Guest Chair): “Two years ago I chaired a meeting here and at that stage people were wondering will there ever be negotiations, will there ever be anything remotely close to a political settlement in Northern Ireland? Tonight I’ve come down from Belfast, where as a journalist I’ve been told virtually nothing about what’s going on in the inside – which in itself could be described as a positive thing because both Sinn Fein and the Ulster Unionist Party are negotiating face to face directly, for the first time since this peace process began. If George Mitchell has succeeded in anything, he has succeeded in that.
“From my perspective as a journalist looking at this over a period of over twenty years, that is quite monumental. Of course it comes in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement and the Patten Report. Almost anything I could say about policing in Northern Ireland in relation to the Patten Report – as I’m sure any speaker here will attest to – is value-laden, judgmental, political, fraught with all kinds of difficulties. As a journalist I have the luxury of being able to speak about any of these subjects freely, in the sense that I don’t carry a political party behind me or anything like that. Political parties have to be much more sensitive to each other’s constituencies and their own constituencies. The only comment I would make about Patten before starting off the debate is just to point out the one simple but huge thing inside the Patten recommendations where it says that flags and emblems and badges alike should be entirely free from any association with either the British or the Irish states. In a sense that’s an enormously big statement and depending on where you come from politically you will have a point of view that will be absolutely central to the debate we’re going to have here tonight.
“I was speaking to somebody at the centre of the peace process a few years ago, long before the Good Friday Agreement was even thought of. This person, who was one of the brokers of the IRA ceasefires in 1994 – not a member of the IRA or the republican movement, one of the people on the outside – said that if you arrive at the situation where you have a police service that people in Catholic West Belfast can join, then you have a settlement worth it’s salt. Although that may be a comment coming from a particular side of the community it is a statement to contemplate as we debate policing in Northern Ireland which is a very divisive issue.
“Our first speaker tonight, Dr. Martin Mansergh, special adviser to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, is a man who has been at the absolute apex of this peace process, and if he would only tell us everything, it would be an enormous amount to tell! He resolutely refuses to do an interview with me or anyone like me and he holds within his head so many of the secrets of this peace process, probably from about 1990 or 1991 when the early beginnings of intermediaries and all the rest began to lead up to the IRA ceasefire and Downing Street Declaration and all the rest. ….
1. Dr. Martin Mansergh (special adviser to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern)
“Thank you chairman and ladies and gentlemen. I would like to begin by paying tribute to the contribution that the Meath Peace Group is making to public debate and information, and in particular their active and courageous chairperson Julitta Clancy.
“The Irish Government welcomed the Patten Report when it was published and see it as a fulfilment in letter and spirit of the Commission’s remit contained in the Agreement. We look forward to its full implementation. This does not necessarily mean an uncritical attitude to the whole report, but rather a judgment that, taken as a whole and if implemented in its entirety, the Report provides a basis for the fundamental reform of policing that was part of the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. The single most important element of that reform is to have a police force that is acceptable throughout the community and broadly representative of it.
“The Government here have avoided being overly prescriptive. Whilst the Anglo-Irish Agreement in Article 7 gave the Government a role in helping “to improve relations between the security forces and the community, with the object in particular of making the security process more readily accepted by the nationalist community” … the structure of policing has been mainly regarded as an internal or Strand 1 matter. Both the SDLP and Sinn Fein made detailed submissions to Patten. We have tended to press strongly the importance of tackling the problem, rather than particular detailed solutions, which, coming from the Irish Government, would for that reason alone probably not have been acceptable in some quarters.
“The purpose of the Commission headed by Chris Patten was to assemble as much expertise as possible, drawing on relevant international experience, with the aim of creating “a new police service that can draw on best practice from policing elsewhere”. Chris Patten himself could draw on experience from the Home Office and Hong Kong as well as his time as the Minister of State in the Northern Ireland Office. There were experts from Canada and the USA, as well as a senior police officer from Britain and those familiar with conditions in Northern Ireland. The Government had faith in both the Chairman and members of the Commission that they would come up with imaginative and workable solutions to the problem. In no sense could the Report be described as an Establishment whitewash, but nor can it in any sense be described as showing the white flag to paramilitaries, as has been alleged in some quarters.
Criticisms of the Report: “Anyone who reads the Report will find it of a very high calibre. It comprehensively addresses the problems. That does not mean one necessarily has to agree with every single recommendation or line of argument. It has generally received a good press. Few people would accept that it deserved the very strong criticism levelled at it initially by the First Minister, but there would be some understanding here of the intense political difficulties that he has faced. It is more surprising that the Tory party should feel so rich in talent, that they can afford to repudiate out of hand the careful work of one of their most gifted and respected members, now an EU Commissioner.
“It is sad that many of the Conservative politicians who have worked constructively with successive Irish Governments in recent years are out of favour with their own party, though, except in Chris Patten’s case, mainly for reasons that have little to do with Ireland. The Daily Telegraph is running a campaign to preserve the RUC in its present form as part of its campaign against the Good Friday Agreement. Certain newspapers in Britain on a range of subjects are notorious for feeding characteristic prejudices and reactions, in a way that makes Britain’s relations with its neighbours more difficult. It is precisely this point that is made by Chris Patten writing in this morning’s London Times, when he criticises the third-rate debate on the EU in his own party. Some of the attacks on the peace process, the Good Friday Agreement and the Patten Report going on in London are carried on in a similar vein.
“Michael Oatley, former intelligence officer, who conducted dialogue with the republican movement in the early 1990s, in an article in the Sunday Times yesterday criticised the picador approach of trying to provoke the republican movement, on the basis that “if significant barbs are thrust into its flanks, the animal will, eventually, with reluctance charge”. The same negative obstructive approach has been across the water applied to a number of central aspects of the Good Friday Agreement, criticism on Mo Mowlam’s judgment on the state of the ceasefire, prisoner releases, decommissioning and now the Patten Report.
Devising a democratic system of government in a divided community:
“In conflict resolution, and certainly in this instance, you cannot simply analyse the forces involved in terms of good and evil, identifying practicaly all the right as residing in one party or community, and situating practically all the evil in the paramilitary organisations, because the difficulties and problems went far wider than their often murderous activities. The problem has been to devise for the first time a democratic system of Government in a divided community, not a task made any easier by a quarter of a century of conflict. As Sean Lemass said in Queen’s University, Belfast on 23 October 1967 – in support of the notion of separating political and religious allegiance – unless a minority had a prospect of becoming a majority and acquiring the responsibilities of government, then democracy was meaningless. It has taken a long time to assemble from different political initiatives between the 1920s and the 1990s all the elements necessary to establish an agreed framework of legitimacy, not just for peacefully regulating constitutional differences, but for carrying on the day to day work of devolved Government in a way with which nearly everyone can identify.
Policing problem: “The essence of the policing problem is that up until now one community has to all intents and purposes policed the other, and indeed the police force itself has been in substantial measure a paramilitary police force (and of course in this context paramilitary can be perfectly legal). Its character differs from police forces in the rest of Britain and the rest of Ireland. 92% of the force is Protestant at the present time.
Serious vacuum: “Few Catholics and Nationalists have wanted to join the force, and of course potential recruits would have been deterred by the knowledge that some in their community would have seen joining as a betrayal, with all the consequences that that could entail. When one adds to that a situation where the RUC are not welcome in many areas, or only for very limited purposes, then there is a serious vacuum, which is filled by crude methods of social law enforcement that involves physical intimidation, injury or mutilation and occasionally death. While strong-arm methods may find a degree of acceptance in some parts of the community, it is very hard to see how anyone could accept that battering young people even as a last resort is any sort of acceptable solution to the problem in either the short or the long-term. Hence the urgency of finding conditions, in which ordinary policing will be widely accepted.
Context for implementation: “The Patten Report was conducted in the context of the Good Friday Agreement. While Patten argues that his Report stands on its own merits and should be implemented regardless of what happens to the institutional part of the Agreement – and we would agree with that – obviously the context for implementation would be far easier if the Agreement was working, and if it was clear beyond reasonable argument that, as far as the mainstream paramilitary organisations are concerned, the conflict is finished.
Redressing the imbalance: “The 50-50 recruitment, so as to begin redressing the imbalance, was, I remember, originally put forward by Ken Maginnis in early 1996, not necessarily with the wholehearted support of all members of his party. He was congratulated by Fianna Fail in Opposition at the time, when he was down in Bandon at a conference in early February 1996. Within ten years Catholics would come to constitute a third of the force, and within four years rise to 16-17%. The reasoning for it is that in the age cohort from which police officers would be recruited there is roughly a 50-50 community balance. The proposal can be criticised for the length of time it will take to achieve the required balance, and also on the grounds that it may not be entirely consistent with fair employment legislation as it stands. But at least it provides a credible strategy for change. This would take place at a time, when, assuming the security situation allows, the absolute number of police would be reduced from 8,500 to about 7,500 full-time officers, with the full-time reserve of 3,900 being dispensed with. Generous early retirement or severance packages are envisaged, including lump sum payments, and the reduction in numbers would be effected on a voluntary basis. As we know from our experiences in the late 1980s, voluntary redundancies can work well, provided the terms are attractive.
Membership of new police service: “Patten recommends that no sector of the community should be excluded from recruitment, provided they do not have paramilitary associations or convictions (but excluding minor rioting offences when young). Republicans have argued that no one should be excluded, but given that public confidence is vital, it is difficult to see how that would be created or maintained, if former paramilitaries were serving officers. The question of District Policing Partnership Boards should in contrast not be seen as controversial. If – to be specific – Republicans, say, are being asked to accept a new police force, it is reasonable that the police force should be accountable to the whole community not excluding them. Patten has reservations about membership by policemen of organisations such as the Orange Order or the Freemasons, and recommends that such membership should be transparent and registrable.
Continuity and change: “Probably the most difficult and sensitive issue is the balance struck between continuity and change. Political opinion ranged from those who wanted the RUC to be left fully intact, especially in view of the sacrifices made by those who died, to those who wanted it disbanded as a completely unacceptable and sectarian police force. The solution proposed will involve both continuity and fundamental change. The police will, we hope be carrying out their functions in an entirely different political context, one that emphasises partnership across the community. The objection has been made that there is nothing, short of successful criminal prosecution, to prevent “bad apples” from remaining within the force. That may in a formal sense be true, but whether all police officers who have been caught up in serious contoversy would wish to stay in the new circumstances and live with a changed ethos remains to be seen. The police ombudsmen should strengthen their address of abuse and to a degree deter it.
Suffering of RUC: “I believe it is wrong to demonise any section of the community or institutions in Northern Ireland. The RUC have suffered a lot, doing their duty to the community, and most of the victims were selected for their vulnerability, rather than their individual conduct as police officers. We in this State, while conscious of some very bad experiences in the Nationalist community – about which we have made vigorous representations in the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental conference – have also had to work very closely with the RUC, to prevent cross-border attacks being mounted in either direction. The safety of the people of this State and our duty under international law left us little choice in the matter. Even at times when Anglo-Irish relations were badly strained, that co-operation continued.
“A strong emotional case can be made on behalf of any side to a conflict. But such arguments are not always harnessed to preventing such tragedies from happening again. One can be sure that the British Government will want to provide properly for those who gave good service in dangerous times, and that in most cases policemen will be honoured in the community, if not necessarily all parts of it. But, whilst acknowledging the services of all those policemen who died doing their duty within the rule of law, it is necessary to move on and to take on the challenge of devising police structures fully acceptable to the whole community.
Symbolic changes: “The symbolic changes have to be seen in that context. To argue that the crown and harp and existing name should create no problems for law-abiding Nationalists – because it contains Irish as well as British symbols – is a bit like saying to Unionists that the tricolour should be acceptable to them, since it unites Orange and Green. The reality is that symbols, whatever their original purpose, are coloured by the reality that they stand for. If I understand the Chief Constable’s position, it is that the symbolic changes could be contemplated, if they would really help to bring about changed attitudes in the community to policing.
Human rights: “Obviously, we welcome the proposal that policing should in future be based on a strong human rights culture. The appointment of a Police Ombudsman is particularly an important step forward. The replacement of landrovers by police cars would make policing less intimidating. There is obvious merit in full records being kept of stops and searches. Patten also recommends the closure of Castlereagh, Gough Barracks and Strand Road. Moving towards a situation where the police should be routinely unarmed is obviously desirable, but depends on other factors. The Patten report is critical of the lack of research into acceptable alternatives to plastic bullets, and recommends that it be undertaken right away, especially improvements in the technology of water cannon. The defence forces in this jurisdiction have disposed of rubber bullets, although the same arguments about public disorder couldn’t be made here.
Cross-border co-operation: “More cross-border co-operation, including training exchanges and liaision would be welcome, as part of the total reform. An annual conference between the police services North and South to drive forward co-operation in areas of common concern is also an excellent idea. Modern policing in these islands began in Co.Tipperary in the barony of Middlethird around Cashel on 6 September 1814, at the initiative of the Chief Secretary, Sir Robert Peel. By coincidence or not, the Garda Training College, which is by implication praised by Patten, is situated in the same Co. Tipperary birthplace of the police – in Templemore – and it would be good to see members of the Northern Ireland Police Service having access to facilities there in addition to their own college when it is built. In fact there are at the moment 70 RUC officers in training in Templemore for participation in the UN mission to Kosova.
Conclusion: “After the institutions, police reform is arguably one of the most important strategic elements in the Good Friday Agreement. A good report is obviously just the first stage. Its comprehensive implementation, without dilution, but following consultation and with maximum cross-community consensus in support, will be very important in building trust and confidence in the future, and in filling the vacuum for normal law enforcement by a mainly civilian police force. The right person, who will have oversight of the changes from outside Britain and Ireland, will help ensure that change is carried through successfully. To sum up I think the Patten Report is very important and a good part of the success of the implementation of the Agreement will depend on the full and undiluted implementation of Patten. Thank you.”
Chair (Brendan O’Brien): “Thank you very much indeed, Dr. Mansergh. A comprehensive statement there with a good strong historical base. Dr. Mansergh used the statistic that 92 % of the RUC is Protestant and he gave some of the reasons for that. Part of the difficulty I find as a journalist in dealing with things like that, when things are very bad, when there’s a very heavy conflict going on, you don’t want to do things that make it worse and when things are good you don’t want to remind people of times when things were bad. But having reported on Northern Ireland over the last 25 years, one of the strongest things that comes through from the Protestant and Unionist community is that the reason there are so few Catholics, is because the IRA targeted Catholics, specifically because they were Catholics in order to dissuade them from joining the RUC, in order that the RUC would not be acceptable. Of course if you dig back into history – and Dr. Mansergh mentioned the 1920s – that is more or less the tactic that was used by the IRA in the 1919-21 period, successfully, in their terms. It was to drive the RIC out of the local barracks into the heavily fortified barracks and eventually into demoralisation and eventually into disbandment, and I think that forms part of the backdrop as to why the republican movement sought the disbandment of the RUC coming from that kind of historical perspective.
“Alex Attwood is our next speaker. Alex is a very hardened politician at this stage – you wouldn’t think it to look at his young features – but he comes from the coal-face of Belfast politics, probably the most brittle, driven section of politics in Western Europe. …..
2. Alex Attwood, MLA (SDLP):
“Brendan started by saying that when it comes to policing it is very hard not be judgmental and that is very true especially for people who live in the North. I think that will probably come across in all that we say. I addressed a conference about two months ago – it wasn’t about policing – and I passingly mentioned the word policing and a man stood up and said “when policing comes up on TV, I know you’re coming next… ” and I thought that was very revealing – that people in the North are so characterised by the attitudes they convey and portray in relation to policing. It made me think, that whilst I say a lot about policing, as all of us do, and while I may know some things about policing, I have, in some ways, a limited knowledge of the experience of the RUC. I’ve never been to the funeral of an RUC man, I’ve never been to the family of an RUC member who has been killed in the conflict over the last 30 years. So I can talk a lot about the Nationalist experience in policing but I can’t talk a lot about policing in general because I bring to this debate a lot of baggage, a lot of experience and it tends to be one-sided. Speaking on this issue I like to issue a health warning because it tends to be judgmental, it tends to be one-dimensional, and I think it is only fair to admit that at the beginning.
RUC courage and suffering: “I also want to admit and accept what Martin said about what the RUC has done over the last 30 years because, whilst I have fundamental conflict and difference with the RUC as an organisation, I don’t deny or diminish the bravery of members of the RUC, I don’t deny their courage over the last 30 years, I don’t deny the suffering that their organisation have endured over the last 30 years. I don’t deny that many of them will be in the future Northern Ireland Police Service. I don’t think we should be squeamish or uncomfortable about saying those things about an organisation in respect of which my community have fundamental and far-reaching differences.
Law, order and justice at centre of conflict resolution:
“I want to take policing in a slightly wider context before I talk about Patten. A few years ago a man called Frank Wright came and spoke to this peace group about politics in Ireland. He was an academic at Queen’s, he’s now dead. One of the things he said about national conflicts was, whilst they arise from many different causes, once national conflicts are fully developed they revolve around issues of law, order and justice. If you cast your mind back over the last thirty years, our conflict has very often been characterised by issues of law, order and justice. Week after week some issue of that nature has arisen which reveals and exposes the difference on our island and the nature of our national conflict, and because of that those who devised the Good Friday Agreement made sure issues of law, order and justice were, together with the institutional issues, at the core of the resolution of the conflict. … That’s why in the Good Friday Agreement we have the Human Rights Commission, an Equality Commission and that’s why we have a criminal justice review that’s meant to report sometime this month and that’s why we have the Patten Commission on policing. It was to put all those issues of law, order and justice at the centre of the resolution. And therefore Patten has to be seen in that totality; the human rights, equality, criminal justice, policing. That’s the way in my view that you have to look at the Patten Report itself.
All-Ireland human rights mechanisms: “If I could suggest one thing that an audience in the Republic could do to enhance issues of law, order and justice, it would be to enhance the Human Rights Commission that is being set up in the south as well, and in particular to work up and to work up quickly and vigorously all-Ireland human rights mechanisms to ensure that there’s a common chord on this island when it comes to protection of human rights.
Response to Patten Report: “I want to make a number of comments on Patten without going into particular detail, I’ll do that later. The first is that, even though there has been understandable anxiety and difference about some of Patten’s content, when you really look at it there has been a very moderate response to Patten. I think that in the North the reason that that has happened is because people knew that the resolution of the policing issue was a difficult one. People knew that Patten and the other commissioners had a very difficult task and they did their best. People knew that whilst they would disagree with this detail and that detail, the ball-park was a ball-park around which people could begin to play a game. People knew that tough decisions had to be made and Patten at least made the decisions and I think there’s a real cross between how the community reacted generally to Patten and how the community would react generally to going into government on fair terms. People know it’s difficult, people want decisions to be made, they’re prepared to swallow hard and live with the consequences.
“I think that those who are most involved in the negotiations in Castle Buildings over the next three or four days might draw some reassurance from how the community reacted to Patten to how the community might react about going into government.
Flaws and fault lines: “The second thing about Patten is that there are flaws and fault lines to Patten – and we’ll hear from James [Leslie] later on about the Unionist perception on flaws and fault lines – and there is also within the nationalist and broader constituency because Patten does not fully and properly address issues such as emergency laws, plastic bullets, or a time frame for the correct balance for the new NI police-service and there are a number of other issues. We will continue to argue at every opportunity using every proper mechanism for those fault lines to be corrected and we believe that in time they will be corrected.
Need for public debate: “But having said that nobody should diminish that within Patten there is a base-line. Some want to negotiate up and some want to negotiate down from what Patten says but it is a base-line around which we can create a police service that will attract and sustain the allegiance and support of all which .. was accepted by the people in this island when they endorsed the Good Friday Agreement. What is crucial is that people recognise that and begin to fully engage in the policing debate in order to ensure that policing opportunity materialises and goes to fruition. This is not a time to sit on your hands, this is not a time to wait and see. This is a time to engage in debate and a debate needs to be engaged in.
Institutional resistance: “The reason, among other reasons, that it has to be engaged in is that there is immense resistance at an institutional level to Patten and a resistance that worries many of us greatly. T.D. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, made a number of interesting comments about the nature of institutional life, one of which was that when the new world dawned, the old men came out again and took over, and remade an image of the new world in that of the old. They thanked us kindly and made their peace. There are old men in the RUC, in the Northern Ireland Office and the Policing Authority who intend to take Patten from us and remake it in the image of the old world, and that in order to pick those who have that intention, and that’s not everybody in the RUC, that’s not everybody in the AIO, although it is most people in the Police Authority; in order to fix that resistance it requires those who recognise that Patten is a base-line, it requires those to begin to engage in debate. There are immense resources who intend to minimise, cherry-pick and penny-pinch over Patten. In the Northern Ireland Office, 35 people are working on Patten, the Police Authority has 600 employees and the RUC have 28 police-officers and a number of technical people working on it. Unless we begin to argue fully with the implementation of Patten, then people will begin to remake it in the image of something that it wasn’t intended to be and there’s responsibility on everyone to not sit on their hands and to engage in debate.
Full implementation of Patten: “I agree with what Martin says that Patten has to be implemented in its totality and in its integrity, and for us that means three things. It means that Patten is implemented to the maximum of its interpretation, it means that there is no cherry-picking when it comes to any one or other of the proposals in the Patten document and there is no penny-pinching – that Patten in terms of its costs has to be accepted by the British Exchequer and implemented in the quickest possible time.
Maximum interpretation of Patten proposals: “What do I mean when I say that Patten has to be maximised not minimised? It means that there has to be in substantial part, a legislative basis for the Patten proposals. It means, for example, that the human rights proposals which is the opening chapter of the Patten Report and which Patten consistently says is the core of the report, have to be in statute, have to be maximised, have to include UN standards and should not be some minimum standards set by an association of police constables in Britain. And that’s only one example of a myriad of examples in the Patten Report which require maximum interpretation not minimum implementation.
No cherry-picking: “Similarly in respect to cherry-picking – if the British Government or any one party to the Patten debate choose to cherry-pick in relation to Patten, then Patten will begin to unravel. What I talked about earlier – namely a broad community acceptance of what Patten proposes – will begin to evaporate and we cannot create that uncertainty in the current situation and therefore the British Government and everybody else has to ensure that there’s no cherry-picking, not least when it comes to issues of symbols which are deeply sensitive … but which as somebody said earlier are necessary in order to ensure that we have a police service that is impartial.
No penny-pinching: “As I said earlier there equally needs to be no penny-pinching, that the full cost of the Patten proposals have to be accepted.
Co-operation: “There are two final points that I want to make, especially because I am addressing a southern audience. The frst is that within Patten there are 28 proposals in relation to inter-jurisdictional matters, that is issues whereby there should be co-operation between the new NI policing service on one hand and the Gardai on the other, or British police services or international services as well. I would suggest that all 28 proposals have to be implemented and what that means is that we have training, as Martin outlined, on a shared basis…between the police-services on this island and between these islands. It means long-term exchanges, it means lateral entry into the Northern Ireland Police Service by gardai in the south. It means identifying Catholics who are members of police services in other jurisdiction who might want to come back to the North. It means all of those things and all of those things need to be pursued and developed with vigour because to do so will anticipate European developments on one hand, and will be a set of confidence-building measures on the other, and it will bring about symbolic and substantial change in the early years of the new NI Police Service when there’s yet to be balance within that police service between the communities in the North. The Irish Government have responsibility to ensure that that is worked up and developed as early as possible, as fully as possible.
Conclusion: “The final point I want to make is this that the introduction of a new order on things is perilous, uncertain and difficult. We know arising from the Good Friday Agreement how perilous, uncertain and difficult it has been and the same is true and valid for Patten. My judgement is that culturally and politically, within the parties and within the communities there has been an immense sea-change over the last ten years, where the pain of the last thirty years has given way to wisdom. It seems to me that we have that wisdom that will see us go into government in the next number of days. It seems to me that we have the wisdom to create a new police service in the next number of months. Thank you.”
Chair (Brendan O’Brien): “Thank you …. Alex mentioned that he had not been to an RUC funeral …… I as a journalist have been to quite a few funerals, covering them in various ways, inluding funerals of poicemen. What always struck me, because they were inevitably Protestant funerals, was how Protestant they were. I often wondered if the IRA, who would inevitably be the perpetrators, for stated political goals and not sectarian goals, often asked themselves if the effect was sectarian because clearly the people who were at the funeral felt that it was an attack upon them as an entire community.
“Just a week ago I was reminded of quite a different side to the coin. I was at a conference in Dungannon called by the Relatives for Justice who put up a list of 400 people who had been killed by either the RUC, the British Army, the RIR, or Loyalists using alleged collusion. I come back to Alex’s point about not having been at a funeral, how divisive it is. How many people on one side of the community in Northern Ireland can name the victims of the other?
“Our next speaker is Bairbre de Brún. Bairbre comes to this particular gathering from the Republican movement who have come through all of that conflict, with all of its many sides … and if the talks that are going on now in Castle Buildings are fruitful, then the bottle is half full and not half empty. I’m going to have to be extremely deferential to Bairbre because she is going to be a Minister. That is so big, it’s hard to take in. Bairbre has been active in politics for the last twenty years but has only recently been elected as a politician, at the Assembly elections. In introducing Bairbre I could take up the line that Martin Mansergh used in the beginning which was that Patten had a balance between continuity and fundamental change and in listening to Alex I think he agreed more or less with everything that Dr. Martin Mansergh said. I wonder if Bairbre also agrees or is she more on the fundamental change side? Her party and her movement have always demanded the disbandment of the RUC and I would be interested to know if, with the prospect of being a Minister in the new Northern Ireland Executive and therefore having responsibility of a direct kind for any new police force in Northern Ireland, what fundamental change she would regard as essential …
3. Bairbre de Brún, MLA (Sinn Féin): “I must say the thought of Brendan O’ Brien being deferential to me is a fundamental change! […opening words as Gaeilge]…. I’d like to thank the organisers of tonight’s meeting for inviting me and to you for coming to listen to the panel. I’d also just like to say I will be speaking in English but if anybody wants to ask questions in Irish I would be glad to answer in Irish.
“Tonight’s talk has two titles, one is “Policing in the New Millennium”, the other is “Perspectives on the Patten Report” and I would like to spend a little time on each of those – what we want in terms of policing in the new millennium and then I will spend some time on perspectives on the report and the consultation which Sinn Fein is engaged in at the minute. I think it’s important to deal a little while we’re talking in terms of what we want for Policing with questions both of symbols and of substance because I think they are both very important.
Sinn Fein’s vision for new police service: “In terms of what we want – I think there’s a lot that people can generally agree with from a lot of different perspectives in terms of what kind of international perspectives there are on policing, and how we can draw from those in ensuring that we have the opportunity now to move into the new millennium with a police service that is created in such a way that it is at the very leading edge at international discussions about what policing ought to be. Sinn Fein obviously wants an all-Ireland policing service, we stated that very clearly in the submission we made to the Patten Commission.
“We also put forward very detailed proposals in this document – that it’s a policing service for a new future (the name of the submission which we made to the Patten Commission and which is available if people want to read it). The reason I point that out is because we have within ourselves a vision of a type of policing service that we would like to see.
Representative police service: “We obviously wanted to see a policing service that is representative of the community to which it serves at all levels; that is in terms of the political, religious make-up of the community, the gender balance of the community, and we set out within our submission different sections of our society and point out that any policing service that wants to police a society, to work with the community, needs to be representative also of that community at all levels, not just at the bottom. And that’s one of the ways in which you can tell whether or not a policing service is in tune with a community and a community with them.
Accountability: “It needs to be accountable to the community as a whole and not just some sections of it, and it needs to be accountable under the law. It needs to be, in our view, routinely unarmed and it needs to be fair, efficient and impartial.
Cultural ethos: “Obviously one of the points for us as well, in terms of our vision of policing in the new millennium, where Ireland is concerned and the North of Ireland in particular, as far as the question of cultural ethos are concerned that a policing service should reflect the culture, the ethos, the identity of the community as a whole and in this respect any force which is openly hostile to the Irish identity, to Nationalist aspirations or to the Catholic faith must be disbanded. We need to have a policing service that reflects the ethos in its way of working.
Kind of people we want to attract to the new service: “I think also, whatever your views of how we reached where we are at the moment, we need to move away from a force that sees its main job as upholding the Union with Great Britain, upholding a particular state, upholding itself as an institution resisting change, resisting accountability and keeping nationalists and republicans in check, policing communities in a very heavy, militaristic fashion. If you have that kind of a force, however you produced it, then those are the kind of people that you will attract, you will attract people who want to carry out that kind of a job. I think when we’re talking about policing in the new millennium, we need to send out clearer signals of what is the kind of a policing service that we want to have and who are the kind of people that we want to attract to it. I think that the kind of people that we want to attract, that we want to recruit are people who are willing to serve the community as a whole, impartial, regardless of whether those are sections that person feels comfortable with or feels in tune with either politically or culturally. People who see themselves as being answerable to all of those people, and don’t see any section of the community being answerable to them, that they see themselves as serving us, people who accept human rights and community awareness as underpinning their approach to their everyday work and people who can and want to contribute to a working environment which is free from sexual harassment, racist or sectarian abuse either of their colleagues or members of the public. I think these are difficulties that arise in many different areas and the one we’re talking about – Policing in the new millennium – that these are areas that we need to be very aware of, whether we’re looking at the structures; our recruiting mechanisms and training.
Training: “I think training is particularly important. I think once we have decided on the kind of people that we want to attract and have gone about attracting them in a certain way, I think it’s important then that we ensure that we have the appropriate training. You talk about accountability mechanisms and complaint mechanisms as well as on-going monitoring.
Dr. Maurice Hayes, a member of the Patten Commission, brought out a report which lays down very clear guidelines on police ombudsmen, prior to being on the Commission, and I think it clearly points out a lot of the important notions that we need to take a look at in terms of appropriate complaints mechanisms, appropriate accountability mechanisms. Alex and Dr. Mansergh both discussed questions of resources which is very important – that if you’re going to have accountability mechanisms that these are properly resourced so that you don’t have the question simply of people investigating themelves and being answerable to themselves and those investigations being monitored by themselves. We need also to ensure that we devise structures which allow the closest possible relationship between the public, the police and the community and obviously a generally local service will be more accountable and effective. Moving away from militaristic style training to human rights training, being part and parcel of everything.
Community awareness: “I think one of the important things that we would like to see in terms of training is that if you’re going to have a policing service that’s generally accountable to the community, that members of the community should play a central role in the development and delivering of the training also, that they should be part and parcel of developing the training through which a fair policing service will be developed and they should also be part and parcel of the monitoring of that training. It needs to be very clear that people going through training don’t simply take on community awareness or anti-sexism awareness training or whatever, simply as a gloss on a militaristic style training. Maybe it’s my teaching background but I’ve always argued that if it isn’t part of the exam then people won’t take it very seriously, so unless community awareness, unless awareness of the society in which you are working in, awareness of the fact that you do serve that community is part and parcel of what will decide whether or not you will become a police officer at the end of the day – if you’re not going to be judged on that but rather on fitness or physical training or on marching or on drill or whatever – then it won’t become an important part of what you take on board during your training.
New beginning: “Since the publication of the Patten Report, there’s obviously been an immense discussion in our community and in all communities, not only formal discussions and public meetings such as this, but discussions in taxis and in shops and in supermarkets and in schools as to whether or not the Patten Report touches adequately on any or all of these matters. A lot of discussion mainly crystallises into the big question “Is this a new beginnning?” and particularly from my community – and I’m obviously speaking on behalf of, like Alex, the area of West Belfast – but also about other similar areas. The question of whether or not the nightmare that was the RUC is over, is this something new, is this a new beginning? Because the promise held out in the Good Friday Agreement is for a new beginning to policing, for a policing service that can have widespread support from and is seen as an integral part of the community as a whole.
Nationalist experience of policing: “The big qustion is in measuring Patten and measuring the 170 odd proposals in it, whether or not they amount to a new beginning, even if they fail, they have the ability and the strength to point in a new direction. I think it’s important to understand why that is so important for people, why it is important that it is something new because for young people growing up in West Belfast and areas like it, the word “police” was synonymous with the word “sectarianism”, with the word “depression”; it was synonymous with harassment, with brutality, of daily humiliation and with people who showed and who still show – because the RUC are still there – total contempt for the political and religious bodies of people in the community. It’s important to understand that while we have the Patten Report, when I open my door and go out onto the street it’s the RUC that’s there and the peace at present is being policed by one of the main protagonists in that conflict and that is still an on-going problem and it is an on-going problem for people who are looking at the Patten Report, that they’re not looking at it in isolation, that they’re not looking at it in a way where you would come into a hall and say “I wonder if Patten is going to be a nice idea, I wonder is it something that will work” and then go home and think about something else because policing is such a major factor to people. It effects them every single day and there are ongoing problems still day-to-day with the RUC in the area. Therefore I think it is very difficult for people, in the context of non-implementation of a lot of the other areas of the Agreement and in the context of ongoing problems of harassment by the RUC which is still going on in many of the areas, for them to come to the kind of discussion and the kind of considerations of the Patten Report that are going to be absolutely necessary if people are to be convinced and that we have a chance of a new beginning. I think we shouldn’t forget what the RUC has meant for people. They have been challenged and criticised by the UN’s Human Rights committee, the UN’s Committee against Torture, Amnesty International, the European Court of Human Rights …. This time last year Rosemary Nelson, a solicitor, was at a congressional hearing in the US telling Congress of the threats that were made to her by the RUC and now Rosemary has since been killed and these are ongoing problems.
Nationalists not anti-policing: “For all of that, I think the wonder is not that nationalists are alienated from the RUC – because they are totally and utterly alienated from the RUC – but they are not anti-policing. Nationalists and Republican people want a policing service, they want stability, they want to have the same kind of services that people anywhere else have, when they have difficulties, when they need advice that they want to seek, when they want help, they want an actual service and I think they’re very willing to talk about the new service. What they don’t want is what they still have and that is the big question – whether or not Patten can actually produce something radically new.
Examination of Patten Report: “We in Sinn Fein are examining the Patten Report at the moment, we are examining it carefully in terms of its recommendations, in the context of the terms of reference that were set out in the Patten Commission under the Good Friday Agreement and set in the context of the hopes and the experience of Republicans and nationalists and also of the wider community. We also intend to scrutininse the British Government’s role, bearing in mind the failure so far to implement other critical sections of the Good Friday Agreement. We will look at this very carefully.
Queries: “There’s obviously some points that have been raised already in our community, quite publicly in fact, and Alex has referred to some of them already – the queries as to whether the core of Patten’s vision, which is a community policing and human rights approach, whether or not this jars totally with suggestions that you might still have emergency legislation, use of plastic bullets and a force which is armed on a routine basis. Whether or not this is possible or whether those two things just go totally contrary to each other and you cannot have one with the other.
Political will: “There’s also the question of political will, has the British Government got the [will].. to produce a new beginning in policing, will the kind of dragging out that we saw over the setting up of the political institutions only be a tenth of the kind of resistance you will have to changes in policing? So there are questions obviously being asked about who will run this new service, who will the people be?
South Africa: “In February of this year there was a very interesting conference in Belfast and there was a woman from South Africa there and she was talking about new policing and bringing about a new service and she was talking about it in South Africa but she was also talking about the time-scale for change. She had a very interesting analogy, she talked about the “Irish Coffee” effect about the policing service in South Africa, where one of the difficulties is you have a large black section at the bottom, a kind of a brown section in the middle, and a small white section at the top. I think if you’re going to hold out the idea of a new beginning in policing to the people and ask them to embrace it, I think one of the major things you should tell them is that it actually is a new beginning, that it will be accountable, that it will be something that respects their community, that it won’t have within it the seeds of reinventing what was there before and it won’t have an Irish Coffee effect. All of those things are very important.
“I think I’ve gone over my time so I’ll finish on that and take any other questions that people have at question time. We will examine the Patten proposals, we will examine not only what’s proposed there but also the big questions that aren’t dealt in there, in terms of who will run the service, how will the British government deal with these questions, what will the legislation look like? We are engaged in this debate both internally and with other groupings at present and in due course we will make our examinations known on that. Thank you.”
Chair (Brendan O’Brien): “Thank you very much Bairbre. It’s quite clear from what Bairbre is saying that she comes from a community that is about things that you see when you wake up in the morning. … Some of the points that Bairbre de Brun has made there, using pretty strong language – she called the RUC a nightmare, a sectarian force which has total contempt for the political and religious beliefs of the people she represents, ongoing harassment, and she says that the people that she knows are completely alienated from the RUC. Now Bairbre of course didn’t answer the big question which is whether Sinn Fein accepts Patten because she says that their experience of the British government in dealing with legislation leaves them to wait and see what the legislation is and how it’s handled and all the rest, something which Alex indirectly referred to when he talked about the institutional resistance coming from the NIO, the Police Authority and the RUC to change. Quite clearly when you put it in those kind of ways there is a very major debate about policing and it is quite fundamental to democracy.
Our next speaker is James Leslie, from Ballymoney in the north of the North …
4. James Leslie, MLA (UUP): “Thank you chairman, a heavily loaded introduction. I’ll do my best to deal with some of the extra items that you’ve thrown my way.
Importance of debate: “First of all I’d like to thank the Meath Peace Group for inviting the Ulster Unionist Party to send somebody to this debate and to other debates which they’ve held. We appreciate the opportunity to be able to come and participate in these talks. One of the problems that politicians, I think in all political parties in Northern Ireland have, is that they spend most of their time talking to people from their own party – that doesn’t mean to say that people agree with what they have to say. I think you only really do half the job if you don’t debate the issues with somebody who has an opposite point of view to your own. I think it’s a sign of a growing-up or maturing of politics in Northern Ireland that these things are starting to happen. I can dimly remember, but only dimly – I’d only have been about ten at the time – public meetings in the 1960s where that did happen, where quite often the two points of view would be two very dramatically different points of view of Unionism. Nonetheless, at least a debate took place. A lot of that activity was hijacked by the treatment some speakers received and it was a shame that debates in all sorts of ways didn’t occur in the interim. ….
Perspectives on policing: “First of all I would like to approach the perspectives on policing as I think that is the main theme that I would like to address and if you look at the Patten Commission Report as a whole I feel that is a great deal of what it is, this is how we would like policing to work. … The society which we have at the moment is perhaps not at the point in which you are able to operate policing in all of the ways that you would like. It remains to be seen as to whether that is going to be possible.
Common issues in policing: “I also think that in terms of being able to talk to you here, there are common issues in policing that apply on both sides of the border, in fact I think that most of the issues relating to policing are going to have a great deal of commonality about them. The same is true of other countries. Now obviously the one common issue is ongoing terrorism and the threat there-of and I would like to acknowledge the efforts of the Garda Siochana, particularly in recent weeks in dealing with the threat from dissident Republicans. We are very grateful for what they have achieved there and I hope they will continue to be successful in that respect.
What society wants of police service: “I think when you look at what it is you want the police to do, I would like to think we can start in the same place, which is that the police are there to uphold the law and protect citizens from harm both to themselves and to their property. Now most of the law involved in that proposition is the criminal law and I don’t think there’s much deviation in what the general tenets of the criminal law cover and it is also crucial that that law is above us all and is interpreted fairly by the courts and is applied equally to all. In the soundings that the Patten Commission took of what society as a whole felt they wanted from the police, I think that came over fairly clearly and just quoting from the report “the solid majority of both traditions want an effective policing service which maintains order and protects their rights”.
Opposition to police: “If we look at opposition to police, it seems to me that the flavour and the places where it comes from tends to have a lot of similarities. I am representing a constituency which is predominantly or very predominantly Unionist – around 80% of the votes cast in North Antrim would be Unionist. Now most of the work that the police would do in my constituency would relate to trying to deal with loyalist paramilitaries and I get a litany of complaints to my office about the actions of the police in their efforts to deal with these loyalist terrorists. I get complaints about harassment .. and I take it a little bit further and usually I find that the person who is complaining is usually fairly closely representative of the person who is thought to be perpetrating the acts that the police are trying to deal with.
“We hear and we heard very consistently at the public hearings by the Patten Commission of an immense desire throughout society for police to be much more visible, to be on the beat, on their feet, to be relating directly with the neighbourhood. You will know that you have estates in Dublin as we have estates in Northern Ireland, not just in Belfast either, where it’s simply not safe for one or a pair of policemen on their feet trying to operate. The only way that they can operate safely in these estates is if they are present in numbers or are able to call up large numbers in their support. And those people who take issue with the police in these estates, I don’t think when they’re objecting, which they do very vigorously and often violently, it’s not in any political or religious or any other kind of distinction, they’re simply against the police and what the police are trying to do which is uphold the law and usually protect citizens from other citizens.
Armed criminals: “As we look ahead, if we can deal, as I trust that we can, with the political issues and use the Belfast Agreement as a blue-print for living together in Northern Ireland which is what I regard as being the central theme, I think we’re still going to have a problem. That is even if we can get a complete end to terrorist activities in what you might call the political road, I think it is inevitable that many of those people who were previouly involved in terrorism are going to be involved in other sorts of criminalities and you’ve only got to look at the whole drugs industry or trade to see this operating already. The problem police are having and they have this in the US, they have this in the Republic and they have it in Northern Ireland, is that you’ve got people carrying out that activity who would tend to be very violent in pursuit of what they’re doing, in defence of what they’re doing…. In Ireland, north and south, they’re capable of being very heavily armed because of all the weapons that have been imported over the years and also they’re quite likely to have been quite well trained in how to use them. It’s inevitable that the police in trying to deal with that have got to be able to defend themselves, they cannot defend society if they cannot defend themselves, so I think it’s inevitable that police are going to have to maintain some sort of paramilitary – in the traditional sense of the word – capability to deal with this threat. We saw that quite clearly two weeks ago when the gardai found the firing range [of dissident republicans] – they went in with stun grenades, they were very heavily armed because they know from experience that they might run into resistance from what they’re doing and we’re starting to see the same again in trying to deal with the drugs trade.
Community involvement: “There’s a great deal very sensible and worthy of focus in the Patten Commission Report on how you involve the community – the community having considerable say in the policing that it wants and the way that that operates. I think in the US in some states, the experience is highly relevant where they are able to elect people specifically in order to achieve particular objectives in relation to policing. One of the things that is quite noticeable is that they had to pay considerably more in order to get what they wanted on the policing front and I think that’s a thought I would put in your mind.
Costs of implementing Patten: “Alex Attwood referred to the considerable cost that would be involved in implementing the Patten Report and knowing the Treasury I dare say there will be some arm-wrestling about getting all of the costs covered. Just a general thought to you, I think we’re all quite unnecessarily squeamish about this. As crime as a whole has risen and expanded, we all tend to say insurance companies take the strain, but insurance companies make money, we take the strain because we all pay higher insurance premiums. I think if you look at the increase in your house premiums for the last ten years, the increase is very considerable, mine have gone up from £40 to £240 and it’s not an unusual example. If you were asked to pay £200 extra for policing, there’s going to be a terrible racket, but you’re going to pay it somewhere.
Problems with Patten Report: “… I said earlier I think the Patten Report is good on how you would like policing to work … Where I find the report most objectionable is that it seems to be gratuitously insensitive by the sacrifice made by at least 302 officers of the RUC murdered during the last 30 years. About 24,000 officers served in the force during that period, and that makes the death rate one in 80 and that really is a very high casualty rate. One officer in three has been injured in some way. Those are the physical casualties, there are no statistics there on the psychological casualties but I think you would assume from the physical causalties that the psychological casualties are going to be quite high. 97% of those officers who died, their deaths were attributed to Republican terrorists. It’s not therefore surprising that the police feel that they are being particularly threatened from one direction. When you go to public order policing – that’s dealing with riots – there has been plenty of that by all sides in the argument. A comment made by a police officer sticks in my mind – and he would be quite typical of a lot of policemen I know who certainly don’t have any political affiliation, they would be very a-political as a result of their experiences. He said to me “It doesn’t matter whether the brick was thrown by a loyalist or a republican, if it hits you it hurts”.
Policing an uncivil society: “The other problem that I see with the Patten report is that I think it is insufficiently rigorous in distinguishing between the circumstances that we have in Northern Ireland right now at this minute and the circumstances that we would like to have, and in which a lot of the perfectly sensible recommendations about how you would police a civil society could take place. I mean how do you police an uncivil society? I feel that the report frequently ducks that issue, it announces the issue but I feel it’s not rigorous enough in taking it on to each area of its recommendations. In this respect I think, the report having said that this is an issue, I don’t know how the authors of the report could then go on to say that the report has to be taken as a total package. It seems to me that there are some straighforward issues of commonsense, never mind anything else, that are going to have to come into play. It seems to me that there is plenty in there that you might be able to proceed with but there is also a very great deal there which you cannot in the present circumstances. It would be terrific if those changed and we trust that they will but I think that it would unfortunate if we did not acknowledge that some of the changes proposed are probably some distance down the line and I think it would be unworthy of politicians not to acknowledge that there is a very different time-scale for some than the time-scale that there is for others.
Police numbers: “I’ll just say a word or two about police numbers. I think we’re all aware that respect for the law in western society seems to have diminished. Perhaps one of the consequences of that is that the numbers of police that you need may be larger. I also think that as more and more of the population lives in urban areas rather than rural areas, this may also be a consequence of it. There were some very useful statistics in the Patten Report. In Northern Ireland when the police was established, there were 11,500 policemen – that’s one to every 140 people. In mainland UK it’s almost three times that – 1 to 390. The new size of the police service in Northern Ireland would be 1 to 220, so that’s a 50% decrease, the actual number of police comes down by a third. In New York they now have 1 for every 200. I suspect – and thowing back to my point about the cost of insurance to us all – it may unfortunately, whilst we go through this period when respect for the law seems to be diminishing in a very general way, be something that we’re all going to have to focus on.
Conclusion: “Just to wind up. If the police are the barrier between the law-breakers and the law-abiders inevitably they are going to become a target for the law-breakers. The more widespread law-breaking the more people there are that are going to make police a target. What we are hoping to do in Northern Ireland is have a much greater number of law-abiders. The law- abiders must be able to give their unequivocal support to their servants whom society has appointed to uphold that law and their servants are the police. Thank you.”
Chair (Brendan O’Brien): “Thank you … Just before I take any questions, maybe I’ll just throw in one thing that Bairbre de Brún said, that Sinn Féin want an all-Ireland police force. That question involves everybody in this hall, whether you think that is desirable or not in relation to what you’ve got in Northern Ireland and what is trying to be solved. She didn’t say what Pat Doherty said as a considered view of Sinn Fein: that they would judge Patten as to whether it would be seen to be – I’m paraphrasing here – a transition towards all-Ireland policing. So that’s a very fundamental point, not surprising coming from Sinn Fein but for a southern audience can we assume that everybody wants all- Ireland policing or can we assume that people’s views are considerably different to that….
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS (Summaries only)
Q1: John Feighery, SVD (member of the Irish Association): “I was shocked to hear Alex Attwood had never been to a funeral of a policeman and I think that shows just how radical that alienation and division is in the North…… I think we in the south have no idea of the level of aggression and alienation felt by the nationalist community. I suppose one way to look at it in a parallel way would be to think the way the black community is feeling in England; the harassment, the lack of interest, the constant accusations that they meet with and it all points to the need for a very, very radical reformulation along the lines of Patten. At the same time while we can sympathise with the Unionist community who have been profoundly humiliated – and certainly it does seem that the Patten Report didn’t acknowledge the deaths of so many members of the RUC – I can’t help thinking that the criticisms of our Unionist guest are very marginal, the Commission was an international commission run by the British Government… One particular question which I would like to address to Bairbre is about community input: we know that in America and lots of other countries the community has a big input and obviously there should be a lot of dialogue but one problem I see with that is, given the fact that partly due to all the results of the Troubles, the people – Unionists and Nationalists – are living more and more marginally away from one another, how could there be an adequate community input that would be beneficial for the whole community, if geographically the communities are living in a relatively isolated way. I’d be interested in your views on that.
Brendan O’Brien: In a sense John you’ve asked two questions – one to James Leslie about the recognition of the pain on the nationalist side, whether that is in a sense publicly acknowledged, and the direct question to Bairbre.
Bairbre de Brún: “I do think that when I’m talking about community input, I think it can be overcome. There are structures which will be overall structures, you will have local structures, you will have very localised structures, but I’m thinking in terms of community input into training – for example developing training, overseeing training, that would be people drawn from the whole community. So the fact that particular communities will be very localised, it won’t necessarily impact all the things I am saying. You will have people drawn from legal experts, human rights experts, people drawn from different local communities who would have different political perspectives but who would come together to ensure that your ordinary everyday person, your localities, your human rights people, your academics, your legal experts are together designing an input into training. When I’m talking about community input, if you’re designing training around community awareness. For example we had a series of excellent seminars, transition seminars for Assembly members. One of them was an equality seminar and all of the speakers were men which was quite amazing. When you’re talking about designing and developing there has to be people looking who can actually look at the designing and training and say “your speakers are all men”, or “your traders are all from one section” etc. In other areas, yes I think it could be quite localised.
Costs: “I think you could have a big debate on paying extra, as James was saying, for the type of policing that you want and there are sections certainly in a lot of the submissions about the differences of how you decide, the international discussion that’s going on at the moment of the budget for policing and the budget for police don’t have to be the same. For example there will be a debate around drugs .. as to whether or not all the budget for drugs needs to be in the policing budget – needs to go into specialised units – or whether some of it needs to go into education in local areas so that you have young people who are confident and able to say “no”, who have the self-confidence and self-awareness and self-esteem not to want to get into that in the first place. That’s going to be a big debate in the communities and not all communities will come up with the same answer, so when I’m talking about community involovement in terms of stewarding, whether people want the St. Patrick’s Day parades stewarded by somebody else for example and want to pay their policing budget that way.
“Different communities will come up with different answers but obviously there will be questions particularly in terms of public order but they are questions that for me the fundamental is that it’s an equal relationship. Once you have an equal relationship between the community and the policing service that’s established for that community then I think all of the other problems will be the dynamics of the cut and thrust of the debates that will take place.
Dr. Martin Mansergh: “Just one point for clarification. Patten does say as far as the cost of reducing the number of police over a ten year period would be neutral. I think you can take it that there were background discussions with the Treasury while this part of the report was being put together so actually the cost of the reform of the policing is entirely neutral over the long term. Obviously there is a higher cost as always is the case with voluntary redundancy. There is an upfront cost that once you get to the end of a period you’ve got savings for the smaller numbers. I just wanted to clarify that.
Q2: Tom Hodgins (Drogheda Ecumenical Peace Group): “Having read the report, one thing that jumped out at me was the new oath that would be taken by police officers incorporating the Human Rights Convention – that would have to be welcome I would think. The police ombudsmen facility has already been alluded to by Dr. Mansergh I think but two things that I thought were huge changes is that each chief officer appointed would be appointed on the basis of their capacity to introduce and to adapt to changes. I think that’s a big issue and I think the fact that policing board itself and the district board, I’m not sure of the exact name, would meet publicly each month. I think the Gardai could learn much from that. From what I’ve heard from people on the ground about symbols – I think that’s not the real issue, I think it could be created into an issue but I don’t think it’s a real issue. The question I have is for Bairbre and James. … Is there a danger that the Patten Report will be used as a tactic or as a bargaining tool?
Brendan O’Brien: “I presume that you mean will it be used as a bargaining tool in the political arena?
James Leslie: “There’s always tremendous conspiracy theories about whether particular issues will be used as a bargaining tool in relation to some other issue. It is not our intention to go down that route. We think that the policing issue is the policing issue and therefore it will be looked at within that context. The report itself brings up a lot of issues rather than solutions and there is a great deal of work for Parliament to do in implementing much of what is in here. The point came up there about the district police partnership board and suggestions in [the report] about how these should be formed and take place. There’s going to be a lot of work for Parliament to do.
Brendan O’Brien: “Can I just bring up something that the questioner referred to about emblems and badges and symbols. I’m sure we’ve all seen the main Unionist objection on that issue and you actually didn’t refer to that at all in what you had to say, so is that real or is that tactical?
James Leslie, MLA: “I think it’s real and it relates to the issue of 300 officers who gave their lives and the 8,000 that have been injured and it’s very noticeable that in a report a year ago it specifically recommended that there be no changes in those fields. It does seem to me that the issue of the badge was dealt with in 1921 by having the harp and the shamrock. I just wonder if you’re going to do a much better job by trying to start all over again on that one. The other thing is that a police force that does work in such dangerous circumstances does need to have a sort of … police officers have to work as colleagues and as friends and the way that you normally achieve that is that they’re bound around the team or the organisation that they’re playing for …
Brendan O’Brien: “What about the point Dr. Mansergh made that you could say what you like about the shamrock and the crown coming together but the actual physical experience has another meaning altogether, that it symbolises something else for nationalists. Are you yourself against the symbolic change?
James Leslie: “Well my observation of them is they don’t seem to be demanded by the evidence that the Patten Commission took. It’s not obvious to me how better the special badge is going to be devised and so I can’t see the merit in change. There is a considerable amount of other changes in here which relate to the way in which the police force operates and I feel that is the important place to have change.
Brendan O’Brien: “There was a question for Bairbre about using the Patten report as a tactic. To come at you from this other side about all-Ireland policing; could we have a situation where Sinn Fein will withhold its support for Patten until such time it is convinced the whole drift of the Belfast Agreement is transitionary towards all-Ireland structures?
Bairbre de Brún: “I think two things; one I don’t think you can divorce a policing service from the overall political context in which it operates and I don’t think you can talk about whether or not people will give allegiance to a policing service except in that they will obviously be affected by that wider political context. We’ve said very clearly in the statement that we put out after the Patten Report was published that we would judge the Patten Report on the proposals, on the remit that was given to the Patten Commission in the Good Friday Agreement and on the hopes and the experiences and the wishes of people in our areas. So we will look at whether or not we have a new policing service and that is what we are going to judge the Patten proposals on. We are going to ensure that what we’re being offered is not a re-packaged RUC, because if it’s a re-packaged RUC people will react to the re-packaged version exactly the way that they reacted to the one that was there before. What was promised in terms of a new beginning in the Good Friday Agreement would not be forthcoming. But no, I don’t think that Nationalists or Republicans want to use the Patten Report as a bargaining tool for something else. If for no other reason than that policing is in itself one of the most important issues so there’s no question of it being used as a bargaining for something because it itself is so crucial to us and was so crucial to us in terms of the whole negotiations.
Q3: Ronnie Owen (Slane): “I think that in a sense that Bairbre is already playing tactical games with us as regards the report. She is the one who says “we will be doing that” or “we will be looking at” – even Mr. Leslie says that a lot of it is welcome, he has reservations about how it will work in some areas, but in a different context which I understand it in the event of an overall peace agreement that much more of it would be acceptable. The overall Patten Report I would suggest still uses the new police force as a kind of imperial force that is imposing peace as opposed to what Mr.Leslie talked about – a more civic society where something along the lines of our own Garda Siochana – the Guardians of the Peace – would be a much more appropriate definition of what the police force is set to do rather than to enforce peace on people. I think the context of the new police force must rest on the idea of a peace agreement being understood by all sections of the community and then this new Patten Report’s police force hopefully will then be welcomed by Bairbre de Brun.
Q4: Cllr. Joe Reilly [Sinn Féin, Navan]: “I would like to welcome James to the Royal County – I would have to say that I was a little surprised at your contribution in that from where I’m coming from you seem to have put the whole thing on a law and order issue and ignored the fundamental problems that there are around the policing issues ….. or do you recognise that there is a political problem there and the police are part of that problem and the RUC is part of that problem?
Q5: David Thompson (Portadown UUP member): “I’m an Ulster Unionist from the Portadown branch. I’ve listened to a number of the comments. Alex mentioned the fact that there’s been a quiet response to the Patten Report, in all honesty there’s a fairly quiet response in the Unionist community to the whole process at the moment…… A senior member of your party said to me about 6 weeks ago, in many ways it is sold on the basis that they deliver non-violence … In many ways the response to the Patten Commission is that same feeling, that the Patten Commission was written in the context of this new beginning and this new beginning is nowhere near. In fact it’s the old political manoeuvring between Unionists and Republicans. In that situation what we’re looking at is the destruction of the RUC. David Trimble, when he responded as he did, hit the core. I’m fairly lucky, I live in a suburb of Portadown and hidden amongst the people who live around me are members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and some of their children go to the same school as my children. Some of their children don’t know what their daddy does; they don’t see the uniform, they don’t talk about their job at all. I know them and I know they’re policemen and they are there making that contribution to our community. One of those policemen was driven out of his home because he was recognised at Drumcree in 1996. They actually came up to his house and started pelting stones, pelting eggs and he had to move.
“These weren’t Republicans, these were so-called Loyalists. Constable Frankie O’Reilly was killed by a Loyalist. The RUC have made a very strong commitment to our community and I can tell you that the ones that I know are committed to professional policing. They’re also extremely aware of the mafia element which is now growing up in our community while we try to get Northern Ireland ruled into a new future. I am totally committed to the Good Friday Agreement, but I don’t know just how we’re going to succeed in getting it, but I think there is universal acceptance that the past is a failure for everybody. But filling that vacuum at the moment you seem to be getting this mafia element. … They do tend to come under attack in the nationalist or unionist areas. Two years ago in ‘97 …the police were there [in Portadown] and the police were getting harassed by the boys, not the residents. The boys came in to protect the community, as soon as they saw me, they recognised me, they said “we want you to do this, we want you to make these complaints about the police” and I listened to what they had to say and I spoke to some of the residents and I spoke to the police and as you said the trouble-makers were the ones who were trying to get me to complain about the police ….. and I was forcibly told that there was no chance of me getting elected as an RUC lover. …
“In terms of the symbols, it was said to me by somebody ..that the way in which the Patten Commission doctored emblems and symbols was tantamount to taking the RUC …..on a regimental type parade and tearing the badge and insignias from their uniforms and dismissing them in disgrace. That’s the way it was felt. The sacrifice that they have given over the last 30 years was nowt. That hurts, that demoralises the very electorate that we rely on to get this Agreement through. What we’re looking at is the total demoralisation of the electorate in the Unionist community, in support of the Good Friday Agreement because of the lack of sensitivity. I would say to you in all honesty, if we were dealing with a new beginning where one of the most vicious, evil and sectarian terrorist organisations from the last 30 years that is now standing on the moral high ground .. and is not even willing to admit that it ……… then you’ve got a problem in sensitivity between the two traditions. I was totally appalled by the fact, we were all appalled by the fact that over the last 30 years, in fact probably going back further than 30 years, I can’t take responsibility for my father’s actions and I can’t change the past, but I do want to change the future and we’re going to have to get on with it. I was pleased to see Bairbre and James talking and exchanging smilies, it’s good to see, it’s a start. We need to start thinking about the other people and we need to start thinking about what we’re trying to achieve, not where we came from in our own constituency.
“In terms of the Patten Commission Report which is why we’re here tonight, I’ve been told that a lot of the good which is through the Patten Report has actually been taken from a fundamental review on the police force which I find very acceptable because I want to see our police force a very very professional force and I want to see embedded in it effectively real human rights because that is our future for all of us and it has to start now, irrespective of what happened in the past and why.
“But unfortunately there are elements in it which I can’t ignore, district policing boards – if we had a district policing board in Portadown or Craigavon – do you honestly believe that district policing or any supplementary policing that they took on board would be sympathetic to the .. nationalist community? I mean you’ve got a Unionist majority on the council and you would inevitably have a Unionist majority on the district policing board. I’m sorry I just don’t believe it will work. The only way we can get a proper balance, the only way we can maintain that balance is nationally and I have no problem with the policing board at all which takes Northern Ireland’s constituents and makes sure we don’t get this imbalance.
Q6: Neil Magill [Columban missionary, Dalgan Park]: “I think the implementation of the Patten Report would be a big step forward towards an impartial and fair police force which can work with the community but I have great fears about how to change the mindset, the psychological barriers, the barriers in people’s minds. They tell me I’m being judgmental because I’m from the North, and I’ll just give this example. Last week my sister, she’s living outside Omagh, Monday morning she was rushing into Omagh with her daughter who studies at UCD, to take the bus to Dublin. On the outskirts of Omagh, a few policemen stopped her, she was inside a 50-mile limit, she was over that, they asked her for her licence and asked her why she was rushing and she said “I’m bringing my daughter to take the bus to Dublin”. He fined her £40, 3 points and she said that was fine but what the policemen did then was they took her licence, sat in their police car for ten minutes, ten minutes later they gave her back her licence and said “you can go now but your bus is gone”. This is what is happening and how can we change that mindset? It’s like she was being punished because she’s a Catholic. Is that real or perceived? I think it’s very real. “
Q7: John Hutchinson [Meath resident, originally from Donegal]: “We could talk all night about our various perspectives on things but it’s basically circumstantial. Members of the RUC are born into their own area. They have their culture, they have their influences and some of them as a consequence of that end up serving in the RUC that’s why. Others end up in paramilitaries on the other side or on the Unionist/Loyalist side, that happens. Tonight we have here a wonderful opportunity which we didn’t have years ago to sit at tables together and speak and it’s happening. The circumstances have to change – three speakers here talked about status quo – we can talk about the maintenance of status quo that blinds people with hatred because of the mental and physical scars of the years. … We can maintain that status quo, James, but we have to find an alternative. … Many people are contributing, it’s time to start seeing a situation where the children of our country, when you hear a door slamming, as I do in the south of Ireland, I initially don’t here a door slamming, I hear a gun and it registers, in the last few years it gets a little easier, but there are people here who live in the south who fortunately are beyond the civil war and they hear a door slamming. Let’s work towards seeing a way to find the language of saying words that don’t cause anger. We can go back over them and over them. Finding a way where the RUC man does not have to put on his bullet-proof vest to walk out because there is a psychological impact as well. …. and you’ve got IRA men who have to live like other paramilitaries with the terrible, terrible pain of having killed someone when they get up in the morning. God has spared some of us that. Let’s work towards hearing the door slamming.”
Bairbre de Brún: “As far as David Thompson said, I agree probably more with you than with Alex Attwood on that point as to why there is a quiet response on Patten at the moment, although I suspect that the muted reaction to Patten is because it’s a consultation period and nobody is quite sure what the British Government is going to do about it and that it will be less muted when it becomes clearer what the British government is going to do about it. On the earlier question… I can assure you that I am not being tactical, I can assure you that we want a new beginning in policing and that anything that I’m doing in terms of discussing is about obtaining that…. It’s important that you do understand that I am in a way held back by the fact that the party is in a consultation period, frequently are, whether it was after the Good Friday Agreement or whether it was after various other proposals throughout the year, that we do take the time and have consultation periods and the response we give at the end of those consultation periods is sometimes “yes” and sometimes “no” but it’s always about going out, discussing, analysing, looking – that is the way we operate. So there are certain things that I can’t freely say here tonight because I am a leading member of my party and I think that other members of the party can more freely say “yes” or “no” to details than what I can do. But I don’t think you should be worried by that because James, although he’s being very positive, actually comes from a party that has set up a working party to analyse the Patten Report and my party has set up a working party to analyse it so I don’t think you can take what the two of us say here tonight as an indication of whether we’re going for it or not or the other way around.
Chair (Brendan O’Brien): “I just wanted to ask you Bairbre, given the time-scale that we’re talking about in consultation – should you become a Minister before the Patten legislation comes into effect, and Sinn Fein is seriously critical of the legislation, can you see yourself as a Minister of a government not encouraging people to join a police force?
Bairbre de Brún, MLA: “Well certainly if I am a Minister on the basis of the Good Friday Agreeent and I think that what is created runs against what was promised in the Good Friday Agreement, I would absolutely see myself in a ministerial office not recommending it, in fact very clearly I will recommend what I think is in keeping with what we signed up to in the Good Friday Agreement, but if it’s not then not only I would have no problem but in fact I would see it as an absolute duty to say it’s not what we want.
Chair (Brendan O’Brien): “Another huge debate there. James do you want to say anything to this man over here who made a rather impassioned plea to you to look to the future?
Questioner: It’s not just you I was referring to.
James Leslie, MLA: “Well I feel as though I am looking to the future, to echo the words of David Thompson, I can’t fix the past, I can only address myself to the now and to the future. In relation to Cllr. Reilly’s question; yes I do see policing as a law and order issue. I see law and order as being the business of the police, I see politics being the business of the politicians and the Patten Commission sets out objections for itself in taking the politics out of policing. I think there is less politics in policing than what is perhaps generally appreciated and that equally if we can even remove the perception that there’s any then I think that would be a very good result. Parliament decide what the law is, most of us obey it and the police have to deal with those who don’t, that’s what police forces do.
Q9: Cllr. Phil Cantwell (Chairman of Trim UDC): “I agree with Alex Attwood there about … justice. We have a Garda Siochana here that we can be proud of. We’re asking the RUC and everybody to change but are we prepared to change down here? The GAA refused to change the rules to allow members of the RUC play GAA. Can I put the question to Alex and Bairbre – when are you going to start encouraging the Nationalists to join the RUC and change it? I support that man there, let’s start from the beginning, forget about looking back. Get the Nationalists into the RUC and make the damn thing work. So I’ll put it to you and Alex, when are you going to say “let’s get in and make the thing work” or ask the GAA to change the rules?
Bairbre de Brún: “I will certainly not, under any circumstances be asking people to join the RUC, that I will absolutely certainly not do. When we have a new policing service that I am guaranteed is a new policing service, it’s a different question. My community – when I open my door in the morning what I have outside at the moment, is not a new policing service, it’s the RUC. This man’s relatives in Omagh, their experiences of the RUC. I visited on Sunday, one of my constituents whose son died a month ago, and she talked about the RUC coming into her home a week afterwards and standing laughing at his photograph.
Phil Cantwell: “I meant the new policing service.”
Bairbre: “OK, well that is a very different question. The answer then is when we’re sure that what we have is a new beginning. I want to see a new beginning”.
Phil Cantwell: “When will that be?”
Bairbre: “It will be when that’s what there is.”
Alex Attwood, MLA: “The answer is when there is a new policing order then the SDLP will encourage people to join that new policing order. When the Good Friday Agreement is implemented, when the Patten Report is implemented, then we’ll be saying to every citizen in the North you should participate in every institution and every institution set up under the Good Friday Agreement. We won’t shirk that responsibility. That can be sooner than Bairbre vaguely says. I don’t doubt that what Bairbre and David are saying are genuine because I know that they do a lot of things that are very difficult and very brave but I think that they are wrong. I do not believe that Bairbre de Brun’s assertion that the Nationalist community is totally, utterly and completely alienated from the RUC is correct. That may be the view of some, it is not the view of all, even though all of us have a grievance. I know that David says that Patten is part of the demoralisation of the Unionist community. That may be true in Portadown but I do not believe that it is true of the Unionist community in general. I think we’re much broader churches than those sort of statements suggest and therefore there is a much greater diversity of view than saying the unionist community is completely alienated or the nationalist community is completely alienated.
Phil Cantwell: “I’d just like to ask Bairbre that if the GAA rule was changed, would Bairbre endorse that?”
Bairbre: “No I think the GAA is perfectly right in saying that it’s far far too premature at present and that they need to look and see what’s happening. I didn’t hear Alex Attwood make a time-scale that was any less vague than mine to be absolutely truthful. I think that not only would I say to people that we’re not rushing to make decisions at present but I would appeal to anybody that’s genuinely interested in seeing a new beginning in policing, not to make any hasty decisions anyway. Let’s build towards something new but let’s not make the mistake that because we have a piece of paper here that we have a new beginning.
Alex Attwood: “Don’t rush to hasty judgements – let her apply that principal to the implementation of the Good Friday Agreeement . Sinn Fein are repeatedly, endlessly talking about the Good Friday Agreement not being implemented etc. and now you’re saying don’t rush judgment with respect to policing, why are you rushing judgment with everything else? Apply the same principles to all elements of the Good Friday Agreement, do not be selective with respect to one or the other.”
Bairbre de Brún, MLA: “Hold on a minute. I am perfectly capable of saying whether or not the equality agenda has been implemented, whether or not there are institutions in place and whether or not the human rights of people are better or worse than they were 18 months ago. There is a difference between making hasty judgments, betwen saying, “I’ve looking at Patten and it should be put in the bin”, or “I’ve looked at Patten and that means I’ve got a new policing service and I don’t have the RUC outside my door” and saying “I want a new beginning to policing and I will look at this to see if this solves it”.
“That doesn’t mean I’m not doing anything to get new policing or that I’m not doing anything about getting equality or that I’m not doing anything about getting human rights or the other things. There’s a difference between making knee-jerk reactions saying “I want an alternative to Patten”, when I haven’t even finished reading the three chapters of it and I’m already going to look for an alternative and I think it’s the shoddiest piece of work that was ever written, or saying “ I think it’s wonderful and it’s absolutely brilliant and therefore we now no longer have the RUC outside our doors” and saying “I want a new beginning to policing and I will work for that” and not pretend that that’s what we’ve got at the moment”.
Chair (Brendan O’Brien): “Now I’m going to give Dr. Mansergh the last say, but before I do there’s a man here who has something to say and I think our friend from Portadown also wants to speak.”
Q.10. John Clancy (Meath Peace Group): “It was very interesting listening to all the speakers but from the perspective of someone who lives in the south I find it sublimely depressing in terms of the sitting on the fence that I’ve heard here about Patten, about Good Friday and all that. But I would put forward this perspective, and it is a perspective held by a broad band of people in the 26 counties – get on with the job of implementing the electoral mandate that you were given when voters both north and south voted “implement Good Friday” and that’s addressed to you Ms. De Brun, to you Mr. Attwood and to you Mr. Leslie.
Q.11. David Thompson: “Just two comments; one, put yourself in the place of the RUC now over the last number of years. Because of the violence when the troubles started, there were certain sections, probably Nationalist sections of the community you couldn’t go into. Then there were probably Nationalist middle-class sections you couldn’t go into. Then we get to 1985 and you couldn’t go into certain Protestant working-class areas and now it’s pushed and pushed and pushed where we’re now in the sort of upper-middle-class leafy suburbs fighting. How much chance do you think they get to really get in touch with the communities they are trying to police? It makes it extremely difficult for a police service operating in that environment. We’ve almost got a police service in Northern Ireland into a third community. They’re not really a unionist or a nationalist police service, they’re actually almost separate identities now. They’re hiding and they have been hiding.
“The second point that I wanted to make is going back to that thing about emblems. If we really knew the violence had been set aside as a thing of the past, if we could be sure that it’s going to take extreme situations to occur before we will actually reach out with violence again. Then we could have at least said, we’re set in the past now, the Unionist community could have said to the RUC “thank you, job well done” and the service could have easily been changed and the emblems and badges and things being set aside with honour and we could have moved on. The problem is we haven’t got the confidence to say that ………..and I would say to our politicians that that’s what we want to hear along with the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
Dr. Martin Mansergh: “If I could just pick up on what the last speaker was saying. I wouldn’t be too pessimistic, I think that that situation could come, and I think it’s very important so that we don’t have more policemen killed, so that they come out of what you described as limbo, is an acceptable basis to be established so that they are no longer in that limbo, so that they feel they have support or as much support as the police have in any normal community, if you remember that it will never be total.
All-Ireland policing: “There was just one theme, chaiman, which you picked up at the beginning of what I feel ..was a very constructive and calm and reasoned discussion tonight, the question of all-Ireland policing. Sometimes all-Ireland policing is used in the context of another debate like in a European army, you don’t really mean an all-Ireland police but just an element of all-Ireland policing. I remember when this came up for debate in 1982, it came up in an election context, and in fact was fairly divisive but then of course I suppose you were talking about the RUC as it has been in the last twenty, thirty years and in fact I think the RUC has evolved very considerably over the last thirty years and naturally enough thinking of the more Republican section of the community there was a very decided resistance to that idea. I think now you can imagine a situation of Patten being implemented and so on that the two police forces could co-operate very closely and could have – it’s touched on in the Patten report – training facilities on each side, have exchanges and so on. I don’t think to be realistic about it, in particular about the politics of it, that we’ll have an all-Ireland police service in the fullest sense of that term only when you have an all-Ireland policy, an all-Ireland police service if and when you get a united Ireland. I think irresepective of whether you get to that stage, I think there’s a great deal of merit – I mean we share an island together – of getting the situation where the inhibition, the barriers, the co-operation, the police services North and south can work very closely together without causing major umbrage either to Unionists or for that matter Republicans. I think we can get there, I think if we can get the institutions working, if people have the courage to go the whole hog with the report, I mean it isn’t going to work if people aren’t going to go the whole hog, then I think you could have a totally transformed situation in a few years time and relationships that were inconceivable a few years ago. I would be sort of cautiously hopeful, I mean provided that we keep up our courage and our convictions”
APPENDIX A: PATTEN COMMISSION (Independent Commission on Policing)
The Independent Commission on Policing was established on 3 June 1998 under the chairmanship of Christopher Patten, and after widespread consultation, public and private meetings, hearing of petitions and over 2, 500 individual submissions, produced its report (containing 175 recommendations) in September, 1999.
Terms of Reference as set out in the Good Friday Agreement: To “inquire into policing in Northern Ireland, and, on the basis of its findings, bring forward proposals for future policing structures and arrangements, including means of encouraging widespread community support for those arrangements. Its proposals on policing should be designed to ensure that policing arrangements, including composition, recruitment, training, culture, ethos and symbols, are such that in a new approach Northern Ireland has a police service that can enjoy widespread support from, and is seen as an integral part of, the community as a whole.”
APPENDIX B: “All I Have is Yours” – Msgr. Denis Faul, P.P., Termonmaguire, Co. Tyrone
Editor’s note: Msgr. Denis Faul was invited to speak but was unable to come on the date and sent his intended contribution in writing – we publish this in full below:
“The permanence of peace in Northern Ireland depends on the fulfilment of our Christian duties towards all the members of our community. The Semon on the Mount, the parable of the Prodigal Son and the Last Judgment scene in Matthew 25, make the essential and necessary demands on all, especially on leaders in the community.
“Partnership, co-operation, healing the hurts of the past and building confidence, trust and good neighbourly relations for the future, must be the aims of our political and social activity as Christians. Every statement and action made by politicians and community leaders should be positively tuned in to promote these four aims, healing confidence-building, co-operating and partnership, for the common good of all.. ..”
“Fascism terrifies the people in the two sides of the community and prevents trust between Catholics and Protestants. The hostility of the IRA and their political followers to the RUC and the Patten Report aggravated this division between Catholics and Protestants. An opportunity for unity was lost this year in the failure to honour and respect the 302 RUC men and women who were murdered, and the almost 9, 000 who were severely injured, defending the Catholic and Protestant parts of the community. Even the Patten Report itself inexplicably failed to pay a sufficient, decent and detailed tribute to the dead and wounded. I and the majority of Catholics support the Patten Report, but I would suggest that two names can be used – “RUC” and “The Northern Ireland Police Service” – and the Cap badge should be kept to make the relatives of the dead and wounded officers feel that their suffering and sacrifice was not forgotten and unrecognised.
“It is sincere gestures such as these which are necessary to unite this small community. The IRA do not feel the need to show genuine sympathy, mercy and good will to the victims and relatives of many people murdered and wounded by the IRA, including about 800 Catholics – for the majority of persons in Northern Ireland there was no war, just a nasty civil conflict which abolished Sunningdale in 1973 and killed for 23 years to get less than Sunningdale, leaving leaders still working a power process and not a real peace process.
“There has been enough of protest and airing of grievances in a hostile way. What ordinary people and their families want is positive co-operation and good will with their neighbours, first in the local district and then in power-sharing at provincial level. The “Acorn” principle is all important in politics – “All politics are local politics” – and we begin and build with our local neighbours. We co-operate, show generosity and respect for religious and political points of view – we must, as Archbishop Eames and Bishop Mahaffy strongly reminded us at their diocesan synod, put an end to sectarianism in thought, word and action. The people who live in Northern Ireland must achieve this in a strong resolve to change old nasty habits and traditions of domination and provocation.
“The charter for living together in peace and patient understanding and forgiveness comes from the highest source, God the Father, speaking as the father of the Prodigal Son. “All I have is yours”. We must be compassionate and kind towards our neighbour, especially if “that brother was dead and is alive again, was lost and is found”. In the small area of Northern Ireland that deep generous sense of sharing is essential. All we have that we consider worthy and admirable in our traditions we want to share with our neighbours while respecting and admiring what they hold dear. Often indeed on the local level of farming and village life that principle “all I have is yours” is manifested. Like the Acorn it must grow in larger districts, to county level, to provincial level and to the areas of the whole island of Ireland – an attitude of love and forgiveness and celebration of genuine good feeling and sharing. In this way the fear of being insulted, the dread of being attacked, of being treated in a hostile way, could be ended
“What the Catholic people of Northern Ireland long to see is Republicanism shine forth as in its original meaning in France, America and 1798 in Ireland, seeing each person as of equal value in basic human rights under God, eschewing monarchy and aristrocracy, recognising only an aristocracy of ability, virtue and service – “All I have is yours”. It is of the utmost importance that whatever steps are necessary, whatever gestures are requisite, whatever sacrifices are demanded of Irishmen individually or in groups, the moral unity of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter should be re-established by the safety of non-physical force republicanism. That would give all Irish Republicans something holy to celebrate at the grave in Bodenstown of Wolfe Tone, author of that long hoped for formula of Irish Unity, a unity of hearts – in common purpose and justice.
“One sign of this unity that would concretise that unity would be an unarmed Police Service of young Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter men and women with a dynamic of Human Rights and of compassion for the poor in the difficulties of today’s life. That would reassure all of us of balance and fair play.”
APPENDIX C: BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES ON SPEAKERS
Alex Attwood, MLA, is an SDLP member of the new NI Assembly for West Belfast, elected following the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement, in June 1998. Prior to his election to the Assembly he served on Belfast City Council.(1985- ), and was leader of the SDLP group on the council from 1993-1995 and from 1997 to the present. He was nominated to the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation in Dublin which sat from 1994-1996, and was part of the SDLP negotiation team at the Stormont talks held from 1996 to 1998 which culminated in the Good Friday Agreement. A practising solicitor, he was educated at St. Malachy’s College and Queen’s University Belfast, and was President of the QUB Students’ Union from 1982-83.
Bairbre de Brun, MLA, is a Sinn Fein member of the new Northern Ireland Assembly, elected in June 1998 for West Belfast. At the time of this talk she was Assembly party spokesperson on policing and justice, and was appointed Minister for Health on the formation of the new power-sharing Executive in December 1999. She served as Sinn Fein cultural affairs spokesperson in the late 1980s, and was the party’s international secretary from 1990-1996. Bairbre de Brun was educated in Dublin (UCD) and Belfast (QUB) and was former teacher of languages in Rathmore Grammar School, Belfast, and later at Northern Ireland’s first Irish language secondary school.
James Leslie, MLA, is a UUP Assembly member in the new Northern Ireland Assembly, elected in June 1998 representing North Antrim. He is party spokesman on social development and formerly served in the UDR from 1976-1978.
Dr. Martin Mansergh: Special Adviser to the Taoiseach and Head of Research, Fianna Fail, since 1981. His father Nicholas Mansergh was well-known historian and expert on Anglo-Irish relations, author of The Irish Question and many other books. Dr. Martin Mansergh entered the Dept. of Foreign Affairs in 1974 and joined the Taoiseach’s Department in 1981. Special adviser to Charles Haughey, Albert Reynolds and Bertie Ahern. He was nominated with Fr. Alex Reid and Rev. Roy Magee as a winner of the 1995 Tipperary Peace Prize for his role in the peace process. He has published a number of articles on the peace process and related Irish historical subjects.
Brendan O’Brien: Senior reporter with RTE current affairs: worked on Seven Days, Today Tonight and Prime Time. Jacob’s Award winner for investigative journalism, especially on drugs and serious crime. Reported on all aspects of the Northern Ireland conflict since 1974. Author of two books on the IRA: The Long War and A Pocket History of the IRA.
Meath Peace Group Report. 2000. (c) Meath Peace Group
Transcribed by Julitta Clancy and Sarah Clancy from videotapes taken by Anne Nolan. Edited by Julitta Clancy.
27. “Nationalism and Republicanism – A Vision for the Future?”
Tuesday, 18th November 1997
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan, Co. Meath
Dr. Martin Mansergh (Head of Research, Fianna Fail; Special Adviser to An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern)
Anne Speed (member of Ard Chomhairle, Sinn Fein)
Cllr. Alex Attwood (Leader of SDLP group on Belfast City Council)
Proinsias de Rossa, TD (Leader of Democratic Left)
Chaired by Brendan O’Brien (Senior reporter, RTE)
Addresses of speakers
Questions and comments
Appendix: Brendan O’Brien: “Understanding the Political Margins”
Biographical notes on speakers
Introduction: Brendan O’Brien (Chair): “Thank you all for coming …..The four speakers we have here tonight span the spectrum of nationalist opinion and nationalist political thought on this island . It is very appropriate that they should be here at this particular stage in the peace process and in the talks that are going on in Northern Ireland. What they have to say will be very interesting and very directly relevant to the kind of political dialogue going on inside and outside the negotiating chamber in Stormont …..”
1. Dr. Martin Mansergh (Head of Research, Fianna Fail, and Special adviser to the Taoiseach):
“I would like to thank and congratulate members of the Meath Peace Group for their active involvement in and support of peace for some time past. The weight of public opinion behind the principle that political differences must be resolved solely by peaceful political means has been one of the most decisive factors in the peace process, without which very little could have been achieved.
“I am not one who sees a healthy Nationalism and Republicanism, or indeed a healthy Unionism and Loyalism as an obstacle to peace. Whether we like them or not, we have to harness the forces that exist in our society and on our island in a positive way, not abandon them to those that would misuse them, or try to reject and isolate them, even when they are willing to participate constructively.
“Even though the nation and the State are not coterminous in Ireland, the Republic is nonetheless a nation State, the unit which is the basic building block of the international community, including regional organisations such as the EU. In the developed world, nations have by and large ceased to fight each other, but they still compete economically, in culture and in sport and in other ways. They also co-operate in establishing a framework for constructive and mutually beneficial interactions. Nationalism in such a context is pride in country, in its distinctive cultural qualities, a desire for it to do well, a desire to achieve the highest possible quality of life, that is inclusive of all its people.
“All European opinion polls show that the Irish compared to others have an exceptional pride in their country. Much of our history has been unhappy. But we established our independence, and despite many difficulties, setbacks and mistakes along the way, we have in 75 years transformed our country. Recent progress has been spectacular. If we can sustain the path we are on, we can catch up with and maybe even overtake many of our wealthier partners. Let us hope that in raising our standard of living we can ensure a higher quality of life for all. While a rising tide is lifting many boats, we also have to build channels to make sure it reaches everywhere and that no one remains stranded.
“The greatest Irish political philosopher, Francis Hutcheson, of Ulster Presbyterian stock, who taught in Dublin and Glasgow, and who was one of the leading figures in the Scottish Enlightenment and who had a great influence on the American revolution, insisted on the accountability of rulers to the people who had the right to replace them. He believed the best State was a small Republic, where people and governors would be close to each other.
Republicanism: “A Republic is a democratic system, where both the Government and the Head of State are elected. In a Republic, sovereignty is vested in the people, not in a monarch or in parliament. We are not subjects, but citizens. There is little doubt that a Republican democracy, provided a sense of idealism can be maintained, as has been successfully achieved for over 200 years in the United States, is equal if not superior to any other.
“If we believe that in the past our Republicanism or our Nationalism was too narrowly based, then the answer to that is to broaden out our understanding of them, not to abandon them.
“The Republicanism on which this State was founded was overwhelmingly democratic in character. The United Irishmen were democrats, who wanted to forge a national identity out of a union of members of all denominations. Young Ireland, the Fenians, the leaders of 1916, Griffith, Collins and de Valera all sought to establish a national democracy, even if some elements of that might have been curtailed in time of conflict.
Concept of ‘the nation’: “The concept of the nation has undergone many transformations in Irish history. We have had a Catholic nation, a Protestant nation, the nation of the United Irishmen and Young Ireland, and the historic Irish nation based on the primacy of a Gaelic past. Today, our concept of the nation is a more pluralist one, with some uncertainty and debate as to whether or not it does or should include Northern Unionists, many of whom say they do not consider themselves part of it, at least in the political sense, because they are British.
“A right and developed understanding of key concepts such as Republicanism, Nationalism and indeed self-determination and consent is in my opinion vital to the establishment of peace.
Majoritarianism: “As all the classical writers on democracy the American Federalists, Alexis de Tocqueville, John Stuart-Mills taught, pure majoritarianism without regard to the rights of permanent or semi-permanent minorities is not democracy. No matter how much Northern Nationalists have a justified grievance and feel cheated by what happened in 1920-1 and subsequently, in other words the fact, manner, and experience of partition, a reversion to 1918 and an all-Ireland majoritarianism is not going to solve the problem now of a divided Northern Ireland, as Seamus Mallon pointed out forcefully at the SDLP Conference on Saturday. The majority on this island has neither the power nor the right to beat Unionists into submission, and, as de Valera accepted as far back as the summer of 1921, coercion is not going to work against Unionists, any more than it has worked against Nationalists. Once it is accepted coercion is both in principle wrong and as a matter of verifiable fact does not work, then all resort to violence to achieve or further political aims is clearly wrong and unjustifiable in every sense. If talks fail, other methods of political advance have to be explored.
“It may well be that recent remarks [of Cllr. Francie Molloy, SF] were taken out of context and there has been welcome clarification, because if to go back to “what we know best” were to mean a reversion to armed struggle, it would be not only a general disaster, but a devastating recognition of political defeat.
“In 1923, mainstream Republicanism which had been defeated in this jurisdiction abandoned violence, and the overwhelming number resolved single-mindedly and with clarity of purpose to pursue their aims by exclusively democratic means. It has literally never looked back. It would be my hope, that Northern Republicans, having established a strong political base, will be able to follow the same path, which to my mind is the only path that has any chance, though no certainty, of leading in time to a united Ireland achieved by agreement.
United Ireland: “The entire peace process, the Downing Street Declaration and the Framework Document are based on the proposition that a united Ireland achieved by peace and agreement is an entirely legitimate and respectable aim, as indeed is any other outcome of the free exercise in concurrent self-determination without external impediment.
“While there is a widespread recognition that the conditions are unlikely to be present any time soon, I regard it as unhelpful, when people inside or outside the jurisdiction appear to say that people should abandon entirely and forever any thought of a united Ireland, and recognise that it will never happen. That is shaking one of the pillars on which the peace process is based. None of us have the gift of prophecy. As a country that was unjustly partitioned, we have every right to seek eventual Irish unity peacefully and by agreement. I well remember in Germany in the 1980s elements of the German Left pouring scorn on the notion that there would ever be German unity. They were proved wrong quicker than anyone expected, though I of course accept there are many important differences in the Irish and German situations.
“Any united Ireland of the future would be as different from notions of it in the past, as the united Germany of Chancellor Kohl is quite different in nature from that brought about by Bismarck. It is not in any case an immediate prospect. If it is to be achieved, it will be peacefully and by a process of natural evolution. Peace, justice, reconciliation and mutually beneficial co-operation must all come first. The people of this State would only want a united Ireland, if it was on the basis of much greater agreement and harmony than we could have at present. There is no desire whatever to spread conflict, division and instability into the entire island.
“As far as any definition of the nation is concerned, and that has been fluid in the past and will continue to be so in the future, our best approach perhaps is that reflected in our nationality and citizenship laws. The door is open to anyone from the North born after 1922, who wants to be Irish and declares themselves to be such. We do not force Irish citizenship on those who do not want it or reject it. There are no neat or tidy lines. All-Ireland loyalties exist in most of the Churches, the trade unions and sporting organisations.
“Are not even those who serve in the Royal Irish Regiment carrying some kind of national label in their title? That point was also part of Lord Brookeborough’s objections to the title of Northern Ireland, arguments which the British Government of the time refused to accept. In the future, with a single market on the island, under a common currency, business activity will inevitably have an important all-Ireland dimension.
“Among Unionists, political allegiance is to Britain, but even leaving aside immigration since the 1950s, Britain is a multinational State that includes three nations and part of a fourth. David Trimble has an alternative conceptual framework to the Irish Nationalist one, when he uses the term Ulster British, which, as he explains it, incorporates Ulster English, Scots, Welsh and Irish, which is an overarching identity encompassing four nations at one remove. By the open door approach, which leaves us open to development in the future, we do not give up on the common name of Irishman or Irishwoman, nor do we reject anyone, but equally we do not force a particular label on those who do not want it even as part of a dual identity.
“We should not regard as absolutely predetermined future evolution or choices with regard to identity, especially when that identity was viewed in a number of different ways in the past. We should not fall into the trap described by the old Soviet bloc joke, “The past might be unpredictable, but the future is certain!”
“When Eamon de Valera visited St. Columba’s College, Rathfarnham in the 1930s, he was told by the headmaster that the pupils regarded themselves as British. That all changed in the space of a generation. When King George V opened Stormont in 1921, he appealed to all Irishmen to pause and reach out the hand of reconciliation. I for one will never warm to a “two nations” theory, which largely predetermines one’s nationality according to religion and ancestry. It excludes rather than includes, and I see nothing particularly pluralist about it. We should not treat the Irish identity in the North as exclusively the property of the Nationalist community. There is a wider Irish dimension, as was recognised by the Unionist founders of the Irish Association for Economic, Social and Cultural Relations, Lord Charlemont and Hugh Montgomery.
“I am convinced that as this State blossoms and flourishes in all directions more people in the North will want to participate for some purposes at least in national life. Two days ago I attended a 1798 Commemoration Committee meeting in Dublin, and there is a high level of interest in it in the North across the community. At the Presidential inauguration I met Councillor Harvey Bicker from Ballinahinch, who introduced himself as Chairman of the County Down 1798 Commemoration Committee. The Presidential election showed that we are open to the Northern contribution at the highest level. The SDLP even passed a resolution at the weekend calling for Northerners to be allowed a vote in it. As a Senator of long standing said to me last week, the election was a boost to Southern Nationalism, a healthy nationalism, just as much as its confidence-building impact on Northern Nationalists.
“We must complete the move away from political beliefs or identities that are carried to such extremes that they justify violence against one’s neighbours. Many -isms, capitalism, imperialism, communism, nationalism, have caused huge casualties this century. We need to develop identifications, which are consistently civilised and humane in their attitude to and treatment of others and which do not go beyond legitimate democratic bounds.
“This island has huge potential, if we can overcome the conflict and find a reasonable accommodation, that will provide the basis for peace, stability and reconciliation. The talks are moving towards a phase of what I hope will be serious engagement, bilaterally and multilaterally. We need to encourage all those seriously committed to the process, and to indicate our lack of patience, with any talk of opting out or backsliding from any quarter. We must approach the many inevitable difficulties with patience and with a willingness to try and find solutions or ways round them. Thank you.”
Brendan O’Brien: “.. Thank you very much indeed for a very interesting speech which has opened up a number of absolutely critical areas which I hope some of the other speakers will address…. Dr. Mansergh told us that there was no coercion of the unionists, and this was also de Valera’s policy, but he also said that there was no returning to the majoritarianism of 1918 and that nationality or the concept of a nation was fluid, which is not where a lot of leading republicans were in 1918 and it is not where a lot of them are today. Because fluidity and different options of nationality is at the heart, it seems to me, of the current process in order to try and arrive at an agreement from decisions that are not fixed in the first place. He did put his finger on one of the most current questions which is before us at the moment which is whether or not, on the republican side, the IRA will return to armed actions if the negotiations are not successful. Certainly what was said in Cullyhanna, South Armagh, at the weekend, that the republican movement would return to “what they know best” was clearly understood locally to mean a return to armed action if the talks did not succeed…. That is not to say that he was speaking with authority for the IRA , which obviously he wasn’t, but the rhetoric which was used was understood in that sense.
“So with that air of reality facing us at the moment, I’d like to introduce Anne Speed.
2. Anne Speed (Sinn Féin)
“I’m not here to speak for the IRA – I’m here to speak for Sinn Fein. But I can say on behalf of every republican that I know, and even those that I don’t know, all are deeply committed – deeply, sincerely and fundamentally committed to the peace strategy which we’ve adopted. We’ve worked hard at this peace strategy for over ten years and if it takes us another ten years to complete that process, we are committed to that…. We are seriously attempting to engage in the talks at Stormont; unfortunately the major unionist parties are not. The minority unionist parties or the loyalists are, to some extent, conducting a form of dialogue, but when it comes to Mr. Trimble, he sends in his representatives but even they don’t engage in any dialogue across the table (Mr. Paisley isn’t there as you know). We are entering a series of bilaterals via the chairman, Senator Mitchell, and we are hopeful that will open up some developments, but it remains to be seen. Republicans are there with serious political intent and we will continue on that road.
“Brendan pointed out in his remarks that we didn’t want to return to the majoritarianism of republicans who lived and struggled at the beginning of this century, but I want to remind Brendan and everyone else in this room, that not all republicans who lived and struggled were conservative. If you read the Proclamation you will find it is one of the most radical documents of our time, and I have yet, outside of our own party, to see a political party adopt a manifesto or a political charter that contains all or some of those basic fundamental principles.
“But let’s move on to 1997 – the kind of agreed and united Ireland that we wish to see will be based, we hope, on the six fundamental principles on which we have based our political programme and on which we base our political practice. They are:
• We adhere to the notion of separatism. By that I do not mean the isolationism of the 1930s or 1940s. We’re talking about breaking the connection with Britain and exerting the right to self-determination, we’re talking about the establishment of a 32-county Irish republic.
• We believe in anti-sectarianism: we wish to substitute the common name of Irish person in place of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter. We believe that sectarianism serves British interests and that republicans have a responsibility and a political duty to promote anti-sectarianism but we believe that this cannot be addressed within the present six-county state.
• We are also committed to secularism: that is we want to see the complete separation of church and state, and we want to avoid domination by any one religious group in any 32-county state.
• We believe in socialism: the ownership of Ireland by the people of Ireland, and the subordination of the interests of private property to public right and public welfare. Socialism must create a vision of freedom and democracy in Ireland and it depends on the democratic participation of all the people to succeed.
• We believe in feminism: men and women are born equal. Society must regulate itself to ensure this equality and there can be no real national freedom without women’s freedom.
“All of that amounts to our vision of Irish republicanism which we believe is a progressive, radical and relevant political analysis, and we believe that it should and must include all the people of Ireland.
Way forward: “Now I wish to address three basic arguments we would make in terms of the way forward: we would say that:
partition has failed,
that in moving forward self-determination is the key, and
we would argue that there are benefits resulting from Irish unity.
1) Partition has failed: After 75 years of partition it is universally accepted that the division of Ireland has damaged the political, social, economic and cultural development of the island. The Northern state is a failed entity – in this we agree with Fianna Fail – which has depended for its survival on discrimination, repression and injustice. There has been an absence of democracy in this state and the cost in human and economic terms has been enormous. Over 3, 000 people have been killed, many more have been injured and crippled, the scars of sectarianism, division and fear run deep. Since 1969 it is estimated that the military costs of the North for Britain have been between 20 and 25 billion pounds. The drain on the 26 counties has also been substantial – here too citizens have been killed and injured. In 1994 it was estimated that since 1969 the Dublin Government had spent over 2.5 billion pounds on security. In real terms this means that annually the Irish government has been spending twice as much on maintaining the border as it has on its budget for the Industrial Development Authority.
“Apart from the political conflict and sectarian divisions which partition has reinforced, the social and economic consequences have been disastrous for working people North and South. As the New Ireland Forum stated, the division of the island has been a source of continuing cost, especially for trade and development in border areas, but in general also the two separate administrations have borne this cost which have been pursuing separate economic policies on a small island with shared problems and resources. The North was not, is not, and never will be a natural economic or administrative unit, and its separation from the rest of the island, resulting in separate approaches, rather than a single policy for each sector, without provision even for joint planning or capital investment programs, has had heavy economic penalties. In addition, there has been duplication of effort at official and private levels and an absence of economies of scale in the transport, tourism and energy sectors and in the health and education services.
“With the opening up of the peace process, we are attempting to deal with those, to grapple with those, in terms of cooperation between the social partners, between the trade union movement, in the community organisations, but in the absence of a political settlement, these efforts will not come to their fruition. “One obvious example of this failure has been the way in which the Industrial Development Authority in the South and the Industrial Development Board in the North each compete throughout the world, seeking to attract multinational industries, and occasionally pushing up the cost to their respective economies by bidding against each other. The consequence of this is that each economy has to carry extra costs in funding these programmes. The border counties have also been devastated by partition. They divided up naturally-balanced local economies, depriving them of the ability to be commercially viable. Partition destroyed businesses on both sides of the border, increased emigration and rural depopulation as families moved to urban centres. Clearly, as far as we are concerned, partition has failed the peoples of this island, nationalists and unionists. It has failed for the British too. The political structures and institutions in the North, born out of partition, failed the democratic test.
2. Self-determination: “We believe that self-determination is a key human and civil right. If the peace process is to be both meaningful and enduring it must address the root causes of the conflict. The refusal to allow the Irish people to exercise our right to self-determination has been and remains British Government policy. That policy is the root cause of conflict in Ireland. This policy, in conjunction with the economic, repressive and discriminatory measures taken to maintain it are the causes of division in relationships within the Irish peoples themselves and between Ireland and Britain. Self-determination is universally accepted to mean a nation’s right to exercise the political freedom to determine its own social, economic and cultural development without external influence and without partial or total disruption of the national unity or territorial integrity. These criteria are not observed in Ireland. We believe that British Government policy has stunted and eroded the social, economic and cultural development of Ireland.
“We had a trades council meeting last Saturday with a panel of speakers. One of those speakers was Billy Hutchinson. As you know Billy Hutchinson has played a leading role in the conflict – in the pursuance of the conflict and hopefully in the resolution of the conflict. He described himself as politically British but culturally Irish. He described how his family had emigrated to Scotland for employment, how he had deep connections there, and how he felt that this influenced the way he looked at the world. A couple of speakers from the audience talked about their families emigrating from this part of Ireland because of economic circumstances, how they too had connections with Britain, how republicans were quite prepared to share the jurisdiction of this island, the administration of this island, the political and economic problems of this island. The difference was that in Billy Hutchinson’s part of the island, the jurisdiction of Britain had remained and how here it had ended 75 years ago. That remains the key difference – who should decide these matters? Who has the jurisdiction? Is it Billy Hutchinson and Anne Speed or is it Tony Blair? That’s the key issue as far as republicans are concerned.
3. Benefits of Irish unity: “We believe that there are benefits of Irish unity. We believe that there is no longer any economic advantage for those who used to benefit from partition. In recent years an increasing number of business and financial institutions and individuals have come to the realisation that an all-Ireland economy can be of enormous benefit. In 1991, IBEC and the CBI established a joint business council to promote cross-border trade, business co-operation and development. “The Council subsequently commissioned a corridor task force to promote the development of an economic corridor along the east coast of Ireland. In his opening remarks to the conference, the Council’s chairperson, George Quigley of the CBI, described the corridor project as the unblocking of a vital artery which increases the flow of oxygen, and enables the heart of the island, the whole economy to function more efficiently. Business leaders, economists and politicians now support the formation of a single economy through the island and this general theme, which is at the heart of republican politics, has been increasingly taken up by others. In an island of 5 million, as we face into a single currency, a unified financial system, tax harmonisation and so on, make absolute and utter sense.
“Other aspects of economic development, such as infrastructural development, electricity generation, tourism, agriculture, fishing, rural development and much more can be advanced and can significantly improve the standard of living of all the people on the island of Ireland. I am particularly addressing these issues as I work in the labour movement and I know from that work what the real benefits of an agreed and united Ireland can be. If the economic benefits are there, if the social benefits are there, then we have a political responsibility to create the political system that allows that economic development to progress.
“Are we not more capable, do we not have a greater incentive than British ministers who fly in and out and on and off this island to determine the needs and harness the resources and make the decisions necessary to improve the quality of life of our people? We don’t need British ministers to rule us. We Irish in this room are well able to agree our own future and dictate the direction which it will take, and by that I mean unionist and nationalist. We believe that nationalists and unionists, republicans and loyalists can do a much better job of running our economy, of running this island, of using all the resources in the interests of the ordinary people of this island and looking after our health service, our elderly, our young, our urban and rural communities, than any British Government residing at Westminster. Freed of the shackles of partition and division and foreign interference, we believe we can transform Irish society. We can create new political alliances among the people of Ireland, and perhaps there will be occasions when I will agree more often than not with Proinsias de Rossa. At the moment we don’t agree, but I am quite sure on a number of social and economic matters, given a new political framework, that we will find more to unite us than separate us, that we can remove inequalities, tackle poverty, redistribute wealth and protect civil and religious liberties. This is our vision of a new Ireland. This new society can we one in which we can live together in mutual respect and work together in mutual regard and partnership, a society in which peace is not a mere interlude between wars, but an incentive to the creative and collective energies of all the people of the island of Ireland.
Vision: “This is what we are committed to. This is what our vision is. This is what we are going to aim for. We are not going to talk down our aspirations. It has been suggested to us that this is not a vision which we should strive for now, but put on the back burner for a later stage. I believe – I’ve always believed – that if the vision of this state were put on a back burner, we wouldn’t have the freedom we have and our forebears would not have struggled and fought and created the democracy that we do have and the rights that we do have in this state. So we say, as Irish republicans, the time is now, our aspirations are just and valid and we intend to go forward to seek to achieve them. Thank you.”
Chair (Brendan O’Brien): “Thank you very much indeed. As Anne said, she and Proinsias de Rossa don’t agree on some of the fundamentals but I think it is a very good thing that we have the two of them together on this platform. It does illustrate the degree to which things are moving on this island although we sometimes take these things for granted. One of the things Anne did say was that the key question was the question of self-determination and quite obviously it is. But different people have different views of what that means, and it does seem to me that in relation to the main topic here tonight – “Nationalism and Republicanism – A Vision for the Future” – there has yet to be a coming together as to what that self-determination is. .. It does seem objectively that the broad range of nationalism, as represented by successive Irish governments and the majority of nationalists in the north have come to the view that there ought to be a separation of a kind between north and south – in effect that the separate jurisdiction of Northern Ireland ought to have a separate right to opt in or opt out of an all-Ireland state of some form. That in itself is a very radical thing, but quite clearly, as Anne has spelled out, her party doesn’t take that view, and in order to arrive at a vision for the future amongst nationalists, whatever about nationalists and republicans, there is a further journey on the road, clearly, to be made in that regard.
“I would like to introduce now our next speaker – Alex Attwood, leader of the SDLP group on Belfast City Council:
3. Cllr. Alex Attwood (SDLP):
“Thank you. I welcome in particular Anne’s recommendation to the content of the New Ireland Forum Report on the economic effects of violence and I just hope that in future when that document is invoked as an authority, it is invoked in full, when it talked not just about the economic and social costs of violence, not just about the costs of maintaining the military establishment in the North and around the border, but it also talked about the human costs of the violence and that people remember that a document that is now being invoked as an authority when it comes to analysing the conflict on our island, was written at the very time  when some people unambiguously supported the use of armed force in our country and at the very time when some people had an armalite and a ballot box strategy.
Obligations of nationalists and republicans: “You’ll have to forgive me – my content tonight is going to be more limited than the content of Martin, Anne and even of Proinsias, and that is to take up the theme mentioned by both your chair and Martin earlier, about the obligation to make sure that this peace, and this political process, come to fruition, because the last peace, so-called, the last cease-fire, collapsed for many reasons, some of which were default, some of which were lack of attention, whatever they might be. I think it’s important that we acknowledge the situation that we face at the moment and the obligations that we have over the next six months up till May. And that’s going to be the limit of my vision tonight – it’s not going to look into the future or the next millennium – I am merely going to look at the obligations that we have over the next six months, as nationalists and republicans.
Understanding the debate in unionist community: “The first obligation we have is actually to the unionist people. Over the next six months we have an obligation to understand the dynamic and danger of what is going on within the unionist community at the moment. Because it’s quite clear that there is uncertain and undeclared civil war being fought out at the moment within the unionist community, between those, on the one hand, who resist all change, and those, on the other, who accept change, even if they’re not prepared yet to fully accept the consequences of the change that we desire. “We need to understand that debate and conflict that’s going on within their community – because it’s only by understanding that debate and conflict that we might be able, all around the table at the talks in Stormont at the moment, to see that process to some fruition. It’s quite clear in my view that there is that sort of civil war being fought within their ranks. On the one hand you have the church, commercial and community leadership who are prepared to accept change, who demonstrated time after number at the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation that they were beginning to define themselves not just in terms of the Union and the North, but also in terms of North – South.
Critical mass who want to accept change: “John Hume, speaking at the weekend, said there were 2, 000 businesses in the North who now have North-South trading links. That is only an insight in my view into an element that is beginning to develop critical mass within the unionist community generally who want to accept change and re-define themselves in terms that previously they would not have considered. That critical mass, uncertain and under threat that it is, needs to be understood by nationalists and republicans in order that it comes to fruition and agreement. Because on the other side to them, you have those elements within unionism who resist all change – who are represented in Harryville, are represented in the marching conflict, are represented by those who are not in the talks and are represented by those who planted the bomb in Dundalk last night. We need to support those who are trying to move forward and be aware of the difficulties that they face as they try to move forward. That does not mean that we indulge the tactic being used by David Trimble and others whereby they have gone into the talks building but have not gone into talks. And Anne is quite correct in her analysis of what the Trimble leadership, at least up to this week, has done in going into negotiations. Because all they’ve actually done is gone into presentations of a minimum policy position that doesn’t move the thing forward at all. That must not be indulged, it has to be challenged, and has to be focused by the British Government, the Irish Government and the talks chairs to ensure that they actually move into negotiations. But nonetheless we have to see the wider dynamic, I think, as nationalists and republicans of what is going on in that community, and that is going to be very important over the next six months.
Republican community. “The second thing I’m going to talk about is what’s going on within the republican community at the moment. Clearly some people somewhere don’t like some of the peace. We have to also understand some of the dynamic and some of the danger of what is going on within the republican community at the moment.
“The first is that whatever the media might report and whatever the difficulties, real or imagined that might be within the republican community at the moment, the republican community does not believe in the advantage to war, does not want to live with the cost and consequences of war and has clearly demonstrated over a long time that they will sustain leadership that wants to move that community away from war. That in my view was one of the powerful elements that led to the first cease-fire, and it was also one of the powerful elements that in the event of the breakdown of the first cease-fire ensured that the IRA was constrained in what it militarily did, because they knew that their own community was resisting the direction in which they were going. And I think that still is very strongly the case – that the republican community does not wish to return from whence it came, and it is also my judgment that the current republican leadership intends this IRA cease-fire to be permanent.
Local difficulties: “But we must also acknowledge that there appears to be some minor local difficulties. Tomorrow’s newspapers will be full of what happened in Armagh and Lurgan tonight where for the first time since July in republican areas there have been armed and hooded people on the ground hijacking vehicles and burning them. All to do with the Colin Duffy situation. And there’s going to be hysteria tomorrow because of that – just as there are some doubts about the IRA cease-fire because of what someone in the Police Federation said today, or because of what some of the media have been reporting over the last while. Now in my view, we must not get that out of context, and it must not become exaggerated. Because in my view those who may have some dissatisfaction within the republican movement at the moment know that their own community does not want a return to war – they know it, and they know as a consequence that they cannot seriously organise or seriously prepare for a return to war. But the problem is, that if within the next six months, that constituency does not see the negotiations, not necessarily coming to a conclusion, but at least beginning to come to fruition, then a situation could arise – not likely, but nonetheless could arise – whereby a constituency who had resisted a return to war, there could be elements within that constituency who could say that that talks process was a sham like the previous one, that previously the British Government wouldn’t confront the unionists outside talks and this British Government wouldn’t confront unionists inside talks. In that situation there could be a constituency within the republican community generally who, led by some disaffected and marginal elements, could create a problem. We have to be very conscious as a consequence of the obligation upon all of us to ensure that that talks process or the concept of talks generally is developed and developed rapidly into some sort of dynamic process, because at the moment it has yet to enter into a dynamic process as opposed to being a process per se.
Vision for the future: “The third thing is that we as nationalists and republicans within that process have a number of obligations. I noted very carefully the six themes that Anne introduced. Well I will introduce six themes as well, about the obligation of nationalists and republicans around the negotiating table over the next six months. This I think is a nationalist and republican vision for the future – one that we can begin to unite around now and that can inform us into the future:
1. Exclusively territorial perspective is over: “Every nationalist and republican around that table and on this island should accept what the New Ireland Forum said in 1984 – namely, to put a formal and final end to an exclusively territorial perspective on the conflict in our country. That’s one of the things we have to decide and agree on – that an exclusively territorial perspective on our conflict is over. Because we all know about the historic territorial perspective that everybody, or at least many people, including myself, in this room would have shared in years heretofore – about ‘Brits out’, the ‘fourth green field’, about ‘Irish unity or nothing’. That mindset and that concept – which may have had more relevance in the past but clearly has less relevance today – that mindset has to be purged and we have to think afresh on the conflict.
2. Nature of the conflict: “Arising from that, the second theme must be, that whatever the historical reasons that gave rise to conflict, whatever British economic, strategic and selfish interests might have been in our country, the conflict today in its modern expression is a conflict between two identities – that which calls itself British, and these are in general terms, and that which calls itself nationalist – between unionist and nationalist. Between those who primarily have a British way of life, a British identity, loyalty to the British Union and the British Crown and probably most people in this room who call themselves Irish, have an Irish identity and way of life, and who wish to share in the life of the rest of the Irish nation. That must become how we view our conflict now.”
3. Coercion has no place: “The third theme, that wasn’t mentioned by Anne, is that coercion has no place in resolving our political conflict. That must be something around which nationalists and republicans must unite in all the difficulties which are going to be immense over the next six months.
4. Self-determination: “The Irish people have a right to self-determination. It is only the people on this island who have that right, but that right has to be expressed subject to a principle …. that it must have the consent and agreement of a majority in the North, and that as a consequence there will be a valid expression of the Irish peoples right to self-determination when a majority representing both communities in the North and a majority on the island, representing the Irish peoples right to self-determination, vote in support of an agreement. That has such critical and moral legitimacy that what the Irish people vote for is honoured by all, even if it is opposed by some, it is honoured and respected by all, because it is the Irish people who have sovereignty.
5. Facing realities: “We have to face up to some realities within the talks process, about our vision for the future. That is, that our vision for the future is not going to be delivered in the middle of May, when those negotiations come to fruition, and it is not going to be delivered when the Irish people, in an expression of self-determination, vote for whatever is agreed. That in six months time, or in nine months time – that is only part of the process of building vision in our country. We will not, in six or nine months time, have on the table everything we want as nationalists or republicans, or even as unionists, but we will have a process – a process that can develop and mature in time.
North-South co-operation: “John Hume, speaking at the [SDLP] conference at the weekend, gave only one example of where that process might go, and it is only one example, a narrow example, and it is not an example that gives satisfaction to my political aspiration or political identity, but it does give an insight into some of the direction we’re going to have to go in six months and thereafter. He said that a key part of the way forward, though not the only one, is to build a North-South co-operation towards a fully functioning all-Ireland economy. Europe through the Single Market has created an economic space where we can grow together instead of dwindling apart. In almost every sector the main groupings and interests on both sides of the border are calling for a more integrated, harmonised and united approach to marketing, to planning, to taxation and to regulation. This is not some meaningless and trivial sop to the nationalist entity as some unionist leaders seem to understand it. No, it is the minimum which is necessary to enable us, unionists and nationalists alike, to compete and survive in the modern independent world of real lives and real jobs. All Hume was saying was that if the unionists think that in six months time there is going to be a package of proposals and that is it, then they are sadly misled, because their own community, in the commercial, community and church leadership, have already defined themselves in a different way, and their business sector has defined itself in the way Hume was talking about. We need to be aware in our minds and in our political judgments that what arises in six or eight months time, or whenever it might be, is not the end, but is a package as part of a process where it can develop and mature by agreement over time as the Irish people deem fit. When that happens, then control, or much more significant control, will be vested in the Irish people about how we determine our destiny.
(6) Window of opportunity: “One final thing I want to say, to move away from what Michael Collins said the practical politics of our time” – and forgive me if I am too involved in the practical politics of our time and not involved in the vision-making that other people might have wanted to hear. I think those points need to be heard at this time, because we do have a window of opportunity that to some degree is time-limited, that to some degree is events-limited, and which places obligations upon those in government, and those outside the formal political process, in order to ensure that the peace process and the political process is sustained.
Breaking the bondage of fear: “The ultimate vision I have is something which Fergal Keane talks about in his book on South Africa, The Bondage of Fear, when he asks how do people overcome their fears?“, in South Africa, just as how do we overcome our fears in the North, because the fears on both sides are equal and great. At the opening of the book he poses the question, and at the end he answers the question. He starts by quoting Alan Patton from Cry the Beloved Country:
“For it is a dawn that has come, as it has come for a thousand centuries never failing. But when that dawn will come, of our emancipation from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear, why that is a secret.”
“In April 1994, the South African people answered that question, as ultimately the people on this island will answer the same question. At the end of the day, the South African election was not about the details or even the percentages of victory and defeat. It was about something much greater – the triumph of the human spirit. It was as if the South African people – black, white and brown – had taken a collective deep breath and blown away the blinding cobwebs of the past. In the final analysis it was they who had reclaimed their beloved country, they who had broken the bondage of fear. Thank you.”
Chair (Brendan O’Brien): “Thank you very much Alex. You needn’t apologise for concentrating on the next six months because that was obviously an extremely authoritative insider view of some of the realities facing the people across the table in the talks … [Alex] also addressed himself directly to nationalists as to whether or not they should curb the mindset that unity is about territorialism. … On how self-determination is to be exercised, Alex has put his finger on the heart of what this process is about … that is the question of North-South, and, as it is expressed in the various documents – the Downing Street Declaration, the Framework Document, the Ground Rules document which governs the talks – which says there will be referenda North and South, in two separate jurisdictions, putting effectively the same question, putting a settlement to the people, and both governments have committed themselves to effectively standing back making constitutional change and leaving the constitutional future of Northern Ireland in the hands of a majority of its people. That focuses in effect, in layman’s terms, on a separate right of self-determination by the people of Northern Ireland . That does put your finger on the nub of it. And he raised this question as to whether or not the IRA cease-fire is permanent, and his belief was that the leadership intended it to be permanent – and I would agree with him on that. But in putting his finger on this question of territorialism versus a new form of self-determination divided North and South, that is exercising the minds of a lot of people within the republican movement and within the IRA. “In particular they are putting their finger on the Mitchell Principles which Alex doesn’t mention but he does raise in saying that he hopes that everybody agrees to work the settlement even if they don’t vote for it or agree to it. At the heart of the dissidents within the IRA at the moment … is that very question – that if Sinn Fein and the republican movement have signed up to the Mitchell Principles, they have signed up to a formula of peace and not to oppose any settlement that they disagree with by force of arms – only to oppose it peacefully. That is a debate that’s going on – it will determine whether or not armed struggle is over for the majority or for the few or how that works out. That is an absolutely critical question….
“That allows me to introduce our next speaker who comes, as I said earlier, from a particular background to a particular destination which I don’t need to spell out now – Proinsias de Rossa:
4. Proinsias De Rossa, TD (Leader of Democratic Left)
“Thank you…. I propose to deal with tonight’s topic in terms of republicanism and its roots and I also intend to draw on an article that I wrote in the Irish Times two weeks ago on questions relating to the nature of a settlement …. but I intend also to take up a few of the items brought up by the previous speakers.
“Brendan spoke earlier of my journey – I think the vast majority of people who are rational thinkers are on a journey from the day they are born until the day they die … I remember reading what Maynard Keynes said when he was being attacked for saying something different from what he had said before:. “When I discover I am wrong I change my mind – what do you do sir?” By and large – not in all cases I admit – I try to apply that principle. In the nature of politics you will find a lot of the time that you have been wrong.. Politics is a double-edged profession or craft if you like. Politicians tend to state absolutes. Martin picked up a point I made – that there will never be a united Ireland. And I may be proven wrong – I don’t think I will. Certainly not in the sense that a united Ireland is traditionally thought of, certainly not in the sense that Anne explained here tonight – I simply don’t think it is humanly possible, unless there’s mass conversion.one way or the other amongst every single individual in Northern Ireland and in the Republic.
Compromise: “The point I’m making is that politics is about the clash of ideas and the compromising of positions in order to get movement. It is reflected in the current coalition government of Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats, it was reflected in the Rainbow Coalition …and the earlier coalition government of Fianna Fail and Labour. Politics is about compromise. The problem with republicanism as we know it today is that it finds compromise exceedingly difficult. That has been true of the republican movement in its modern form – since the Civil War right through most of this century. It deals in absolutes and doesn’t take account of changes in society and changes in the world around it.
Partition: “The reality is that partition hasn’t failed – it hasn’t failed for the Republic of Ireland – we have the most prosperous booming economy in the European Union. British imperialism, or British occupation of Northern Ireland if you like to call it that, has not prevented that. One wonders in what way has it stunted the growth of the Republic – there may be ways, but certainly not in the sense of prosperity as is defined by traditional economists. We have a state that has been reasonably successful – it is democratic, it by and large guarantees the civil and human rights of the citizens within its border.
“I take issue with the claim that it has cost this state 2 billion pounds to maintain the border. What it has cost this State 2 billion pounds to do is to defend the lives and the property of the citizens of this State against people who took it on themselves to arrange that people would die in various ways. I’m not just talking about the republican movement – I’m talking about the loyalist paramilitaries as well, and all kinds of paramilitaries, going right back to the early seventies, and I don’t exclude the Official IRA or any other organisation from that. That’s what the money was spent on – to defend you and I against paramilitaries… If that violence wasn’t there that money would not have to be spent. It’s wrong to misrepresent and I think if we’re going to make progress we have to some extent to move away from the rhetoric of one’s position and try and engage in real thought.
‘Nationality’, ‘Nationalism’, ‘National identity’, ‘Self-determination’, ‘Sovereignty’, ‘United Ireland’ – these are all catch-phrases which we all use at various times, by and large unthinkingly. I’m not a nationalist – I’m neither a British nationalist nor an Irish nationalist, but I’m Irish – I hold an Irish passport, my nationality is Irish, but I’m not a nationalist in the traditional sense. I do not want a united Ireland on the basis that Sinn Fein want it. Certainly I would have a lot in common with what Alex was talking about – the evolution of a new kind of relationship between the people who live on this island . Hopefully the current negotiations will produce a settlement which will enable that to evolve. It is my view that it will evolve in a way that will not result in the traditional idea of a territorial unity on this island where unionists will over time be indistinguishable from nationalist Irish.
Fundamental conflict: “The fundamental conflict as I see it is a conflict between national allegiances – not just identity. There are people in the Republic who have a British identity – who live in Ireland, who may well be Irish in the sense that they are born in Ireland, but they have an allegiance to this State. Allegiance and identity are not the same thing. What’s at issue in Northern Ireland is a conflict of allegiance – between people who owe allegiance to the British State and people who feel they owe allegiance to the Irish State….Nobody knows if every single person who identifies himself as a nationalist in Northern Ireland feel they owe that allegiance, or even every single person who identifies himself as a unionist feels they owe that allegiance to the UK … but as far as elections are fought we must assume that that is the case – it has never been put to the test.
Sovereignty: “The question of sovereignty is another issue that has to be addressed. What does it mean? It means independence in decision-making. In this world of today can anyone reasonably say that any country on this earth makes independent decisions – independent of all other interests and pressures…Take the currency market, for instance – we have no control over it. The idea that used to be a core principle for socialism – that you should nationalise the banks – is no longer feasible. Banks are no longer owned nationally. Capital in banks is no longer owned by the States in which they are placed. … People press buttons at 6am and money is transferred in the flash of an eyelid. Your currency could be wiped out overnight without you having any influence. It happened here a few years ago when the “Snake” system … was virtually wiped out. Our currency came under pressure and we had no control. So where does sovereignty come into it? We have ceded very large powers to the European Union – we are still an independent State in that we have an army, gardai, we make our laws, by and large ourselves, but our laws are made with an eye on what’s going on in Europe. When the EU makes a directive, we are obliged under our Constitution …to comply with those directives. So where does sovereignty come into this whole question of the future of this island?
Self-determination: “The point has been made that the people on this island are the only ones who can decide the future of this island. That’s fine as far as it goes if it actually results in the IRA and the loyalists saying ‘ok, we’ll call it a day, the people have decided’ and so on… But what does self-determination mean and what will it be deciding? Will it be deciding that for all intents and purposes that the territorial claim will no longer be there in our Constitution. I would argue that if it doesn’t do that you’re prolonging the agony.
“I made the point in a fairly long article in the Irish Times … that there has been a theme running through the republican movement since the early twenties – that the War of Independence did not complete its business – that Britain still occupies the North of Ireland – that until that unfinished business is completed there will never be peace on this island. I think that is nonsense and it is a recipe for continued slaughter on this island. We have to look at our sacred cows – the issues of sovereignty, self-determination, nationalism, nationality, identity, united Ireland…. We have to look at this question of unfinished business and decide that the settlement that is going to be made in Northern Ireland is the end of the business – that’s what the people want when they vote for it, and it’s not an escalator to a united Ireland or anything else..That’s what the people want and that’s what it is for the foreseeable future. Because some young one out there will say “these people have betrayed the past – they have betrayed their history, they have betrayed Collins, Pearse, Connolly and so on, and that we have a mandate from history and we are going to keep this war going until we get the Brits out of Ireland”. Unless we reach the point that we accept there has to be an end to this unfinished business in a way that is satisfactory to everybody who lives on this island and accept that those who are unionists are unionist not because there is a better standard of living in Northern Ireland, or that people are nationalists because there is a better standard of living in the Republic … but because it is a particular belief they have.
Nationalism: “I’ve come to the conclusion that nationalism is the most pernicious “-ism” on this earth – it has resulted in the deaths of hundreds upon hundreds of millions of people. The point that Martin made that nationalism equals pride in country is part of the root of the problem, because it leads to the view “my country right or wrong“. There can’t be a philosophy of “my country right or wrong” and survive on the face of this earth, given the interdependence there is.
“But I need to move on – I’ve spent too long dealing with the issues that have arisen.
Irish Republicanism: “I want now to say a few words about Irish Republicanism and give you my view of where it is at the moment:
“Irish Republicanism drew its philosophical basis from the American and French revolutions. It inspired a flourishing radical press – the Northern Star was a hugely popular paper and political pamphlets were read the length and breadth of Ireland. Tom Paine’s The Rights of Man was a best seller. Political clubs abounded and vigorous political debates took place in the coffee houses of which there were many in the Dublin of the 1790s.
“The United Irishmen were radical democrats with the best interests of Ireland at heart. They had the potential to create the basis of a mass democratic movement. Unfortunately, however, in my view, they were seduced by the siren call of revolution and mistook widespread unrest for a revolutionary situation. Consequently, they made two mistakes which were to prove fatal for republicanism in Ireland.
“Firstly, they made common cause with the Defenders. Secondly, they sought to import revolution into a situation where revolution was not going to happen. By forming an alliance with the Defenders, the United Irishmen embraced the tradition of agrarian terror associated with the Whiteboys and the Ribbonmen. This tradition is best encapsulated in William Carleton’s story, The Wildgoose Lodge, a story based on actual events which were uncannily echoed in the La Mons fire-bombing by the IRA in 1978.
“By seeking to import revolution, the United Irishmen took the fate of the Irish people out of their own hands. Who is to say that the French, having come to liberate Ireland, might not have remained to occupy it? Such events are not unknown in history. In any event, subsequent generations of self-styled republicans were to collude with both Imperial and Nazi Germany. All for Ireland, of course.
“By that time, of course, republicanism had been subsumed by nationalism. Genuine republicans were as thin on the ground as Freethinkers. It was not the United Irishmen, but Daniel O’Connell, who led the first great mass democratic movement in Ireland. The potential for radical democratic politics was lost in the oath-bound conspiratorial politics of extreme nationalism. It can be argued that this, at least, led to the settlement of 1921 and the establishment of an Irish state – a stepping stone” to the Republic? But it also led to a bloody Civil War which cost more lives than the War of Independence.
“It is ironic to consider that the United Irishmen espoused the unity of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter, while those who claim to be their successors today have achieved the exact opposite. Never has Northern Ireland been so polarised as it has in the past 25 years. This is the situation that faces us today. But it is not a hopeless situation. The current inter-party talks present the opportunity for a peaceful and democratic settlement to the Northern Ireland conflict. Not all parties are represented, unfortunately, but sufficient parties are represented to reach an agreement with the capacity to command the support of the great majority of people on this island. And we should not lose sight of the fact that the great majority are steadfastly in favour of peace and democracy and are strongly in support of equality of citizenship in Northern Ireland.
Common bond of humanity: “Neither should we lose sight of the fact that there are stronger bonds than nationalism or unionism. Our common bond of humanity is far more enduring and stronger than either. But this bond has been lost sight of in the conflict between nationalism and unionism. Thank you.”
Brendan O’Brien: “Thank you very much indeed. … Proinsias has indicated very strongly that his vision of nationalism and where Ireland is going is quite different from that laid out by Anne Speed…. Before taking questions, I would just like to say something which does come to the heart of one of the things which Proinsias said .. that republicans find compromise exceedingly difficult and people on the republican side deal in absolutes. I’m not going to speak for Anne Speed … but one thing is true to say: if you examine the last 10 to 8 years of where the current republican movement leadership has brought its people you can trace your way through an internal and external debate which has I think objectively moved them from absolutes to a position of flexibility, though not as far as some people would like.
“I think if you look in particular at the bedrock of the current peace process from their point of view, which is what is called the Hume-Adams agreement – what they call the Irish peace initiative – which was presented by the Irish Government effectively to John Major as an opening gambit in the negotiations which led to the Downing Street Declaration which, from many people’s point of view within the republican movement, fell short of the Irish Peace Initiative. But I think it’s worth looking at what the leadership of the republican movement – IRA and Sinn Fein – collectively signed up to. I would put my finger on three ingredients which I think does illustrate the extent to which their thinking has changed and their political decision-making has changed to allow them into a process – into a talks process, a negotiating process – whilst British jurisdiction still prevails in Northern Ireland, against a great deal of what they said in the earlier phase of what they call the “Struggle”:
• What’s been happening in Europe and the European Union inevitably will change the nature of the conflict between Britain and Ireland, and that is an illustration, I think, of external thinking – of looking around at the world and accepting fully that things are different now to where they were when the IRA started its armed campaign back in 1970-71.
• Secondly, they said in this document that self-determination, the right of the Irish people collectively to Irish national self-determination, should be recognised in law by the British Government and this to be done over a period of time.
• Thirdly, they said that self -determination by the Irish people can only be arrived at by the consent and agreement of the people of Northern Ireland.
“Now I think using language like that illustrates to me that there was considerable flexibility in the thinking that led the current leadership – the Adams/McGuinness leadership – to where the republican movement is today. In effect, if I could put it in simple terms, what it comes down to is that the leadership of the republican movement has moved from a position of absolutes – that the “war”, as they call it, would go on until Britain declares its intention to leave – to a position where they well accept interim arrangements and a healing process, a process of reconciliation without the need of an armed campaign – that politics would take over. And that, if there was to be separate consent and agreement of the people of Northern Ireland, this would be a matter for the Irish people and not for the British. So if the Irish people decided that the people of Northern Ireland required separate consent and agreement, that this was the Irish people exercising their self-determination – that it wasn’t imposed by Britain. That is subtle thinking but in my view considerable movement from where the current leadership of the republican movement was some time back.
“I will now open it up to questions … putting Proinsias’s view that a united Ireland is impossible, back to back with the Sinn Fein view, not expressed here by Anne, but certainly expressed recently, that a United Ireland is inevitable – two very contrasting positions.
Editor’s note: Brendan O’Brien’s paper to the Glencree Summer School 1997 on his research into change and movement of thought within the republican leadership isreproduced in the Appendix to this report by kind permission of the author.
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS [summaries and main points only]
Q1. [Whether ending armed struggle in pursuit of Irish unity is a betrayal or is it the right thing to do?]
Anne Speed: I don’t speak for the IRA – I speak for Sinn Fein. As a political party we are not engaged in armed struggle. I think those who have decided to engage in armed struggle will have to make that judgment for themselves. It is our view that the opportunity to engage our political opponents in dialogue provides everybody with the opportunity to move forward. That is if it’s serious, open and honest dialogue. But, as Alex Attwood said, we don’t have dialogue – we don’t have real engagement, we have game-playing in Stormont. He did stress, not only the concerns with what is happening among unionists – and I concur with him in this – but he also spoke about the frustrations and difficulties of nationalists. Let me tell you … peace has not broken out in the six counties – there is a great deal of coercion of the nationalist community by the forces of the State – the army and the RUC. Numerous raids, people arrested. Brendan O’Brien talked of the experience of Colin Duffy … No wonder conflict has broken out on the streets of Northern Ireland. If the nationalist people do not see real engagement and real progress then unfortunately or regrettably there may be an instance or instances where those who believe the political process has failed them will return to armed conflict. It is not our intention that should happen. It is not our wish, it is not our preference, but if you are asking me to guarantee that won’t happen, I will give you an honest answer. Neither I nor anyone in Sinn Fein can give you that answer. If the political process, and all those engaged in it, provide the opportunities to move forward then I believe all human beings will grasp the opportunity. Nobody wants war or conflict. But it’s down to all of us to prove that the political process will not fail the nationalist people – it has so far. They’ve been forced to live in a sectarian state, they’ve been denied their democratic rights, they’ve been politically disenfranchised, and any ground that has been gained has been gained through massive conflict and struggle. So we have to ensure that the opportunities for dialogue and talks continue, but if you’re asking me to guarantee that, I can’t. Because there are other parties to this conflict – the unionists, the British Government, the Dublin government and its responsibilities. We are only part of this process. We will do everything in our power to make this process work. But we can’t give guarantees.
Q2. “Can the talks achieve anything? … Why should we be talking about flags etc. when there are serious issues affecting people’s lives – drugs, social questions to be dealt with. There’s too much focusing on flags etc. … I’m amazed that the former Minister for Social Welfare hasn’t talked about these….
Proinsias de Rossa: It would be very easy for me to list a whole range of things. When I was Minister for Social Welfare I did introduce reform of the free travel system which enables every person who qualifies for assisted travel in N.I. to have free travel in the Republic and likewise everybody in the Republic who has free travel now has free travel in N.I.. That has resulted in thousands of people travelling to Northern Ireland from the Republic and from Northern Ireland to the Republic. That was a practical thing – it wasn’t just put on the agenda, it was done. I didn’t manage to persuade my British counterparts to pay for their leg of it, but .. I did persuade the Irish government that we should pay for it all and they did so, and I’m proud of that fact ….“There’s a general point to be made – in a sense it’s an inversion of the Connolly dictum that until the national question is solved, you won’t have peace in Ireland. But I would argue that until such time as the constitutional status of NI and its relationship with the Republic and the UK is resolved then other issues such as social welfare, housing, drugs and so on in Northern Ireland will be subsumed and cast aside, because people are constantly living under this threat either of being subsumed into the Republic or being massacred by some gang or other or the nationalists feeling they’re being deprived of their rights and so on. It is essential that a constitutional settlement be arrived at and that it be a definitive settlement – I’m not talking about a final settlement – so that people can get on with their ordinary normal everyday lives
Brendan: “Do you think a settlement is achievable?
Proinsias: “Yes, provided the people participating in the negotiations accept that fundamental compromise is necessary…
Brendan: “I would just like to ask Alex and Martin very briefly whether they think a settlement is going to be arrived at.
Alex Attwood: “Yes. There is a convergence of many forces at the moment. You have a talks process that can be inclusive once the DUP and the UK Unionists decide to go into it; you have an agenda where everything is on the table, that all three strands ha to be addressed; you have two new governments, and you have some stability in those governments; you have the involvement of the American administration in an impartial manner, independent chairs,.. you have immense community goodwill… People are beginning …to have a sense of what peace and political stability can bring to the quality of their lives. all those events are beginning to converge. It may be there will be outbreaks of violence. As that convergence continues and until agreement is reached. As in South Africa .. even though you have a conflict transformation process going on violent conflict is still manifest.
Brendan: “Martin .. as someone centrally involved in bringing about the first and second IRA cessations, do you think there will be a settlement that would satisfy the republican movement?
Martin Mansergh: “I’m not going to speak for the republican movement, especially when you have a representative here. A settlement is achievable, but I certainly wouldn’t go counting any chickens before they are hatched. There’s a lot of water to flow under the bridge – even if you take next May as the deadline. I think it will need a lot of intelligent political leadership on all sides to bring that about. I would have to say also, responding to something that Anne said, there needs to be a clear recognition at all levels of the republican movement – they have the perfectly respectable legitimate aim of bringing about a united Ireland. There needs to be a crystal-clear recognition that further violence will not advance that one iota – on the contrary it will actually push it backwards. That message needs to be understood. Of course I understand the provocation, the difficulties and so on – not everyone on the British state side is responding properly to the present circumstances. But I think the republican movement must decide their own strategy and not have it dictated by elements in the British security forces that might be out to provoke them.
Q3. “I want to comment on Dr. Mansergh’s excent paper. It’s very good to hear that it’s actually legitimate to seek a united Ireland – in some media coverage one would feel it wasn’t the thing to do. I realise of course, as many would in the Republic, we are not seeking it in a violent ay – we’re looking for consent of people North and South. This consent is going to be very hard to get … and it’s not going to happen by May. But something obviously will happen in May. One would regard that as a stepping stone towards a settlement – a bringing together of the peoples on this island. Therefore we all have to work very hard. It’s up to the media and everybody to encourage the peacemakers. Occasionally one finds that the media focuses on the negative and not on the positive statements coming out and I don’t think that’s helpful.
Brendan: “Thank you. You’ve mentioned the dreaded word ‘stepping stone’ which Michael Collins was berated for in the history of republicanism. I think Gerry Adams wouldn’t thank you for looking at a settlement which was described as a ‘stepping stone’, but we all know what you meant … but those kind of words show you the difficulty we have in arriving at a settlement.”
Q4. “I would like to thank the speakers for very stimulating contributions. .. I have a couple of comments Firstly, by no stretch of the imagination could you believe that true republican principles were manifest in this state. As to the United Irishmen – I often wonder how united they were. Quite often there’s no mention of the religious element … We’re here as part of a peace group, part of the process of learning about our northern brethren, and the Northern conflict, so that we could have a greater understanding etc.. What I find very frustrating as a citizen of the republic is to hear the leaders of the major unionist parties in the North displaying outrageous religious bigotry and racism ….
Brendan: “The speaker finds what he calls the ‘outrageous bigotry’ of the unionists hard to take. There’s been a lot of comment about unionists not properly engaging in the present talks – I can put the question to the panel, but is there anyone on the floor who would like to take up that point ?
Member of audience: “I would like to comment very briefly – I’m from Co.Down originally, I worked for 18 years in the civil service and the social services in Northern Ireland and across the water. I moved south when I married 20 years ago. I would just like to inform the gathering here – I don’t suppose there is a unionist here. In Northern Ireland. I was a supporter of the Alliance Party. As to what this gentleman said about unionist bigotry, there’s bigotry on both sides. As someone who has lived in both parts of Ireland, I find bigotry this side of the border as well as in Northern Ireland. I would like to pay tribute to my former work colleagues and neighbours in Belfast, Co.Down, Antrim and Armagh. There’s no one here to speak for them. …If at some future time they should ever decide that their identity or that their future lies with the rest of us in some shape or form I feel they have a lot to contribute – I admire their honesty, their hard work, their business acumen and their freedom of conscience in the whole area of sexual morality which is causing havoc on this side of the border with referenda for this, that and the other ….
Brendan: Thank you, it’s a pity we don’t have more time, but that was a very valuable contribution…”
Q5. “Given the importance your northern speakers attached to the all-Ireland economy, I’d be interested in the reaction in Northern Ireland to Minister for Tourism Jim McDaid’s decision to come out of the all-Ireland tourism promotion.
Martin Mansergh: “There was an unfortunate disagreement on aspects of the promotion… Joint promotions are proceeding. There have been some discussions since the disagreement – and I believe that issue has been largely smoothed over….. If I can pick up on one of the other issues raised. I don’t think it fair, in a blanket way, to accuse all unionists of religious bigotry and sectarianism … There are pockets of it. I heard Dr. Paisley earlier this week on radio saying, at one of these rallies, that you had to unite against ecumenism, Romanism, nationalism and republicanism – that is undoubtedly a strand. Equally there are others who are trying to rise above it. I’ve heard David Ervine in the last few months saying that people must make clear that sectarianism isn’t socially acceptable. I wouldn’t like to brand a whole community.for?? the faults of some.
Q6. “You try and make peace with your enemies – there’s no point in making peace with your friends. Currently in the Stormont talks, Mr.Trimble doesn’t seem to be talking to anybody. He’s talking to his friends, trying to keep Mr.Paisley happy … he’s not addressing the nationalists. De Clerk did it with Mandela … why can’t Trimble do it with the nationalists?
Martin Mansergh: “Point of information, he [Mr. Trimble] had a meeting with David Andrews yesterday, he’s having a meeting with Bertie Ahern later in the week, and I understand he had a meeting with the SDLP yesterday. Now he’s not meeting with Sinn Fein
Brendan: “Maybe Anne would have a view on that?
Anne Speed: “My understanding is that inside the corridors nothing is happening, except people are scurrying up and down them. We have engaged in informal talks with David Ervine and others – but they represent 3.5% of the unionist population. .. We’re being exhorted by people on the platform and people in the audience in terms of giving leadership – well let’s see a bit of leadership from the unionist leaders. I very much take the point – there isn’t any real engagement, none whatsoever. I think Billy Hutchinson, David Ervine and others represent a small section of the electorate – but they do represent the possibility of broader and deeper thinking and maybe something hopeful for the future. The major unionist parties have to be shifted into some form of meaningful dialogue. I do hope that they [Bertie Ahern and David Andrews] will be impressing upon them that … if you don’t speak to your political opponents you never move the situation forward. We are not the enemies of these people – we are their political opponents – we do disagree; we have differences of opinion and we are striving for our aspirations. We make no apology for that.
Brendan: “I would like to pose a question to Anne which arose from a couple of the speakers. One of the things the unionists are saying is that the republican moment and Sinn Fein at the talks is not interested in compromise …. Is Sinn Fein in the business of compromise?
Anne Speed. “You have all the political questions worked out here. Unfortunately we don’t have enough time. I’m certainly not going to negotiate Sinn Fein’s position here. As a professional negotiator I know you never enter a set of negotiations by putting up your bottom line first…. Obviously through the process of negotiation and dialogue, republicans and nationalists will have to take a view in terms of what’s on the table. “But let me tell you, when we talk about consent, we’re talking about the consent of the nationalist people to be governed within a sectarian state. They are at least 45% of the population – that’s going to grow. Secondly there’s the question of sufficient consensus – there must be sufficient consensus on the unionist side and also on the nationalist side. In order to put a question to a referendum, There must be an agreement based on these principles … We will have to allow that process to develop, to grow and to arrive in that position and then we can all make a judgment. But if you’re sitting here and asking me now … are we going to compromise on our aspiration for a united Ireland, clearly the answer is no. We’re not going to take that position at this point in time. We’re going to have to look at the shape, the size, the structure, the potential, the possibilities of an agreement and then make a decision. We’re not going to try and determine the endgame now, and it would be ill-advised for any commentator in the media or any political leader to adopt that position.
Alex Attwood: “Firstly, nobody should underestimate the impact of the breakdown of the first cease-fire on those in the unionist community who were prepared to change and enter into negotiations. Nobody should underestimate that, because whatever the liberal opinion might have been… a lot of them were severely disappointed by the breakdown of the Provisional IRA’s first cease-fire. From their point of view I can understand why they are reticent and cautious about what they’re doing now. That dynamic has to be understood within their community.
“Secondly, I had a conversation with a senior republican last September, and when I … pushed him on what he meant by consent, his reply was ‘our consent’. That was the reply. If that’s what republicans mean then this talks process is going to go into the sands, because that is giving unto them a veto which nobody has a right to assume unto themselves. If the unionists haven’t engaged fully .. maybe republicans haven’t engaged fully in the process so far. Because when you analyse their contribution to the process so far, it has been a restating of obsolete doctrines and outworn slogans. Maybe they have a responsibility, just as the unionists have a responsibility, to begin to demonstrate in word and deed a degree of flexibility. I would suggest to them that the place where whey should start is the document from the Forum for peace and Reconciliation where all the nationalist parties on this island, save themselves and the Greens, from a nationalist perspective, signed up to what was an agreed position in relation to our self-determination and the principle of consent. If Anne is prepared to invoke the New Ireland Forum as an authority… then I would suggest she revisits the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, sign up to that, and then you might have some progress in the talks.”
Brendan: “Thank you. I’ll just take two more questions together:
Q6. “Do you agree that the constitutional guarantee in Articles 2 and 3 should be on the table in order to show flexibility from the nationalist perspective when asking for flexibility from the unionists?”
Q7. [Julitta Clancy]: Our last talk was about whether we in this State turned our backs on the North. … We want to know from panel members how we in the south can contribute to understanding .. There’s a huge level of lack of understanding, and the Forum particularly helped groups like us…. How can we on the ground contribute to understanding?
Brendan: As we’re running out of time ..we’ll take three more minutes to answer these briefly.
Alex Attwood: “1. Whatever the future Irish Constitution says, it must recognise that I’m part of the Irish nation – and it must express that I have a right to aspire to a political outcome in the future that I think is in our best interests. Articles 2 and 3, especially Article 3, may not be the best wording for those aspirations and that identity, but any Constitution of our country must have those two core elements as part of my reassurance and political aspirations.
2. Articles 2 and 3 are used tactically by the unionists as a method of not coming to terms with the rest of the people on the island. Articles 2 and 3 have to be considered in the negotiations, and the Irish Government have given every reassurance that they will be, but you have to understand that they are used tactically by the unionist leadership as giving a reason why they are not coming to terms and coming into a fruitful and agreed relationship with the rest of the people on this island, just as previously it was: they couldn’t trust Reynolds, they couldn’t trust Haughey, they couldn’t trust Fitzgerald, it was a Catholic State, you couldn’t have divorce. They’re always positioning issues in order to not come to terms with the rest of the people on the island.”
Proinsias de Rossa: “First of all, I did indicate in my opening remarks that I felt Articles 2 and 3 should at least be amended. I think however, in return for that, the unionists have to accept a north-south body with real powers to enable nationalists in Northern Ireland to have an identification with the Republic. I think as well there needs to be development of an East-West dimension…. Also, Anne Speed said Sinn Fein can’t give guarantees that people won’t return to violence – that’s true, no one can give such a guarantee. But what Sinn Fein can guarantee is that Sinn Fein won’t support anyone returning to violence. There is a critical issue there for Sinn Fein to decide.
Anne Speed: “I can just remind Proinsias that Sinn Fein, along with the other parties, endorsed the Mitchell Principles. But can I say also that we also have a responsibility to our constituents and to the people we were elected to represent. In reply to the questioner – we don’t take any position in relation to Articles 2 and 3, or should I say nationalists or republicans don’t draw their political response to the conflict in Northern Ireland from Articles 2 and 3. We take our position from our electorate – that’s on the whole of the island but particularly within the six counties. And also people who have chosen at stages through our history – nationalists and republicans – to resort to armed struggle have taken their mandate from the reality of their lives within that state: the brutality, the repression and the discrimination. And republicans and nationalists will tell you that. Very briefly, I take Alex’s point [about the conversation he had with a senior republican] – but what I said and this is in our position is that we recognise that within the ground rules for these talks there is a clear understanding that there has to be sufficient consensus. And as we now represent a significant section of the nationalist people we will have to be part of that sufficient consensus and we think that’s our legitimate and political right. We expect other people to observe that. We are not going to be routed into any situation …or boxed into a corner as there was an attempt to do so in the Dublin Forum – the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. And I note what Alex said – but we were not the only party who had reservations. The Green Party had reservations… To be honest, my own personal view is that it was ill-advised and pre-emptive for that Forum to try and seek to arrive at a consensual position among Irish nationalists in the total absence of any response from unionism. As I said, a professional negotiator, you don’t put all your eggs in one basket and you certainly don’t start out with your bottom line. We will resist if there is any political attempt to do that. I sincerely hope there won’t be a repeat of that exercise.
Martin Mansergh: “On that point about the Peace Forum – on the day the vote was taken Fianna Fail actually sought a postponement of that. That was opposed by a number of parties including Sinn Fein who didn’t want the thing put off any longer.
“I certainly don’t have any difficulty, and I hope other parties wouldn’t in principle that a settlement is going to mean compromise on all sides – I think the Irish Government clearly recognises that it’s going to need compromise and I don’t think that is giving away anything of one’s position in saying that and I just hope that all parties at every end of the spectrum would approach that in the same manner.
“On Articles 2 and 3 – Alex Attwood’s points are well noted. Change will be discussed in the context of a settlement. Change will have to be balanced by some change on the British side as well with regard to their constitutional doctrines, but there are certain bottom lines in that and they are very roughly as Alex expressed them.
“Finally, the question from Julitta – I did say at the beginning of my contribution that I do think the force of public opinion that thinks through the issues in groups like this is absolutely critical. I don’t think any one among the so-called players could do anything very much except against the background of a wider, educated and intelligent opinion. So I would strongly encourage you to keep up the work and I’m sure that’s why most of us are here tonight because we do recognise of course that it isn’t something that’s going to be solved by a few politicians and a few civil servants behind closed doors. It’s something that’s going to involve the whole people of the island – North, South, whatever tradition they come from. Continuous discussion and consideration of where we are going, what we have to do, what changes we have to make – all that is vital. I finish by paying tribute again to the work of the Meath Peace Group …
Brendan O’Brien: “Thank you very much for listening and contributing – it shows as always that when you turn it over to the floor you suddenly realise that time starts to run out. .. It does show the value of dialogue and the need to have understanding of what is going on. With reference to what Dr. Mansergh said about the need to know and understand, I often think that governments, particularly our government, ought to distribute to every household key documents like the Framework Document – because in this process the devil is in the detail, and some of the questions people raise at public meetings or in other fora are actually answered, and are on the public record on those documents. Also… the media has a primary responsibility to ensure that people understand the details and don’t engage all the time in old-fashioned rhetoric. And this is where the Meath Group and Glencree play a very big part in bringing people together to hear the inside view and the authoritative view.”
APPENDIX: Paper by Brendan O’Brien: “Understanding the Political Margins”
(This paper was first delivered at Glencree Summer School, 22 August 1997, reproduced here by kind permission of the author)
Irish nationalism: “I think it’s fair to say that the struggle of Irish nationalism has been primarily non-violent. The goal was, in general, a form of independence, not a full-blown republic. But where there were militarists, they tended to seek a republic. These broad generalities tell us that in the past two hundred years, when modern republicanism came on the agenda, those who sought a republic were on the political margins and those who sought it by force of arms were even more marginalised.
In the 20th century you could point to two major exceptions to this rule. The upheavals of the 1916-22 period and the eruptions in Northern Ireland of the late 1960s and early 1970s. On both of those occasions non-violent nationalism in broad measure came to support more extreme methods, before reverting to type and backing the non-violent, political route. Those who had stayed outside the mainstream, like the IRA, diminished in numbers, almost to vanishing point, in a sense deliberately marginalising themselves, holding on to the true republican ideal as almost all others sold out”.
To-day, although they wouldn’t put it this way themselves, the IRA and Sinn Fein are coming back into the mainstream, accepted back in only because they have stopped using violent methods. Those still outside, like Republican Sinn Fein, Continuity IRA (and to an extent the INLA), have consciously taken the decision to remain on the margins, firm in their belief that they hold the true, principled, republican position.
Of course, I have used generalities here and nothing is that simple or that comfortable for those sitting nicely in the middle ground.
Republican oath of 1919: Take a little return trip to the heady days of 1919, when a triumphant Sinn Fein, riding on the back of a violent rebellion, established the illegal Dail Eireann. All elected members of that Dail, those that weren’t in gaol of on the run, took an oath. It said, in part: “… I … do swear that, to the best of my knowledge and ability, I will support and defend the Irish Republic and the Government of the Irish Republic, which is Dail Eireann, against all enemies foreign and domestic, and I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same …”
Among those who took this oath were: Eamon de Valera (member for Clare East and Mayo East, beaten in Falls, Belfast, by a nationalist!), Michael Collins (member for Cork South) and William Cosgrave (member for Kilkenny North).
This was pretty mainstream stuff as far as a majority of the Irish nationalist electorate of the time was concerned – not at all marginal. Here was a fusion of two extreme positions, republicanism and the use of force, brought centre stage and given a popular mandate. Even though that mandate from the 1918 election was not as broad as some would have us believe (less than a majority of votes actually cast in the 32 counties), that republican position became the official” political position within Irish nationalism – the accepted, rightful and ultimate goal, by all main political brands, as encapsulated by De Valera, Collins and Cosgrave, and their political successors.
To reject republicanism from the 1920s onwards was to adopt a marginal political position within Irish nationalism.
“None of this was ever properly squared with the position of the unionists, who became political non-people, Irish nationalists waiting to be discovered. Neither was it properly squared with the pledge by IRA and Sinn Fein leaders, De Valera and Collins included, that the North must not be coerced into a united Ireland, or that, in December 1925, a legitimate Irish government signed up to the Confirmation of Amending Agreement Act, confirming the existence of the border.
Accepted norm: “As time went on the accepted norm among Irish nationalists, as enshrined in the 1937 Constitution – again by minority popular mandate on the island as a whole – was that a unitary Irish republic, ruled from Dublin, was Ireland’s rightful inheritance. That remained mainstream; what went back into the margins, rejected by de Valera and Irish nationalists generally, was the use of force to achieve that goal. In many ways it was as simple as that – no further thinking required. But the Republic was not, and could not be, delivered as simply as that.
“Yet the 1919 oath lingered on, in the political margins, the vow to support and defend the Republic from all enemies foreign and domestic – just hanging there as embarrassing unfinished business, clawing at the consciences and then forgotten altogether.
IRA ban, 1936: “Hardly surprising that the militarists felt they had a just cause, especially after de Valera’s government banned the IRA in 1936. It only added to the conviction of the dedicated few that they were right all along about taking the constitutional political path. It would only lead to a sell-out on the Republic.
“Two years later, in 1938, the pieces were put in place for a further phase of militarism.
The powers of government” were formally handed over to the Army Council of the IRA by the then existing members of the executive of the original Dail. Holding the powers of government” of the true Republic gave the IRA full legitimacy, in their eyes, to support, defend – and reinstate – the all-Ireland Republic.
1949: “When the republican movement was re-formed in 1949, with that objective, Sinn Fein came together again with the IRA on the understanding that the 1938 decision held fast, namely that the powers of government” rested with the IRA Army Council. This supreme authority, vested in the IRA leadership, has not changed, even though Sinn Fein is also an independent and autonomous political party. Sinn Fein would have to split from the republican movement to change this relationship, an event which would lead to further splits and faction fighting and is most definitely not on the cards. The present process is about bringing everyone forward together into the mainstream, not back into the margins.
Today’s situation is complex and I’ll come back to it later. Suffice to say that a great deal of baggage had been collected since the 1930s and a great deal has had to be off-loaded.
Bombing of Britain: “With their legitimacy intact, their numbers small and at times very divided, the IRA engaged in a failed bombing campaign in Britain during the Second World War. It’s worth noting that the IRA Chief of Staff of that campaign, Sean Russell, thought his mission sufficiently legitimate and correct – the fight for the Republic – that he sought and seemingly expected de Valera’s government to support the endeavour.
Border campaign 1956-62: “When the re-constituted IRA carried out a drawn-out border campaign from 1956 to 1962, de Valera in government again found himself faced with the logical consequences of his earlier armed actions and his republican oath. Dev’s answer was that there could only be one government and one army, that the use of force is only legitimate with a popular mandate, and that, a bit lamely, those who fought in 1916 received what Dev called post factum” authority from the people through subsequent elections.
Still, the ‘official’ goal of the 32-county Republic remained intact. So too did the border.
1965: “When, as Taoiseach, Sean Lemass switched tactics in the mid-60s and effectively sought nationalist recognition of the border through rapprochement with the unionist Prime Minister Terence O’Neill, it looked for a while as though the political margins on the nationalist side could be satisfied by peaceful reform. It failed for long and complex reasons.
About thirty years on, it’s being tried again, which is why we’re here discussing the subject in an atmosphere of prickly hope. In between, militant republicanism has been virtually unremitting in pursuing the goal targetted in arms and officially” maintained for three quarters of a century.
Provisional IRA: “The first Easter message of the Provisional IRA, in 1970, made it clear that they opposed the Treaty and the existing government institutions North and South:
“The free Republic we seek will not be won by recognition of and participation in the institutions which were set up by England to overthrow the Republic but by leading the Irish people in the building of an alternative 32-county parliament.”
In time a horrendous killing and bombing campaign was in motion, not for civil rights or in defence against loyalist attacks, or even for the overthrow of the Stormont Parliament, but for the full-blown 32-county Republic. They were intent on putting the republican oath of 1919 into practice. The IRA leadership was massively encouraged in their belief to hold the “powers of government” when, in 1972, the Northern Secretary, William Whitelaw, met a delegation which included Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, for talks in London. Though, let’s be honest, most of the IRA activists were sixtyniners, products of the street conflagrations of ‘68 and ‘69, not really wedded to or even aware of the events of 1919. This would have its effects much later as old certainties were shredded or re-shaped.
But the old certainties are not really that old.
Moral justification: “Throughout their long war IRA volunteers were “green booked” – right into the 1990s. Their ‘Green Book’, the IRA training manual, instilled a conviction about killing for a cause. Volunteers had what was called ‘moral superiority’.
“The Irish Republican Army“, it said, as the legal representatives of the Irish people, are morally justified in carrying out a campaign of resistance against foreign occupation forces and domestic collaborators. All volunteers are and must feel morally justified in carrying out the dictates of the legal government“
Two front pages of An Phoblacht ten years apart tell a story about the strength of that conviction but also the failure of the strategy: One, in April 1974, headlines “Brits get ready to pull out” and gives reasons for their belief that Britain was about to disengage from Northern Ireland. The other, of January 1984, says: “We fight on until Brits go.” The headline from an authorised IRA interview which ended with the spokesman saying:
“This war is to the end. There will be no interval as in the disaster of partition… When we put away our guns Britain will be out of Ireland and an Irish democracy will be established in the thirty-two counties with a national government.”
1994 cessation: “Ten years later again, in August 1994, the IRA decided that a pause would be required – that is, interim or transitional arrangements. Astonishingly, there would be an indefinite end to the armed campaign without any guarantee of a British withdrawal. It was breath-taking and historic stuff. Within a week came the triple handshake of Gerry Adams, John Hume and Albert Reynolds. Extraordinarily, this took place on the steps of Government Buildings in Dublin, powerhouse of the very institution, Dail Eireann, which generations of IRA activists had railed against on the basis that it usurped the 1919 Dail, that it was, as the Green Book described it, “an illegal, puppet regime”, and on the basis that the powers of government of the legitimate Republic were vested in the Army Council, the very bedrock of their “moral justification” for the use of armed force.
Cessation: “There’s no doubt the IRA’s complete cessation of military operations represented a huge turnaround, an historic turning away from much of their past rhetoric.
Militarists: “For many, too, it represented a huge failure of the military effort. Some of those are still inside the republican movement. Some have been on the outside since 1986 when the IRA and Sinn Fein took the first big change of direction, the dropping of the abstention policy on taking seats in Dail Eireann. Those groupings, Republican Sinn Fein and the Continuity Army Council, have held fast to every facet of the traditional position – allegiance to the 1919 Republic and the republican oath. Significantly, the Continuity Army Council has claimed to be the legitimate leadership of the Irish Republican Army. What was generally regarded as little more than a Sinn Fein walk-out was, in fact, a split in the IRA.
So, small as they are, these groupings have publicly declared their intentions to continue the struggle, including an armed struggle, for a British withdrawal from Northern Ireland. It doesn’t take big numbers to keep the flame ignited, or to do real damage. History tells us that, after the Second World War, an apparently dead and defunct IRA was given the kiss of life by a handful of hopefuls in a Dublin pub. Even if those remaining on the margins of Irish republican politics stay small, the very existence of a British presence in Ireland is enough to ensure that the militarists will seek another round of armed action.
That is the legacy.
Can the current peace hold? “The question then is, can the current peace hold? Has the Provisional IRA truly come in from the margins or has nothing really changed?
I believe the answers are complex. The evidence is that the IRA leadership has changed. But there is no guarantee that they can hold the peace in a united manner when the nature of the settlement and the smell of the compromise on offer becomes clear to the activists. Having put it that bluntly, I believe there is every chance that the great bulk of the republican movement will go with the settlement that’s achievable, though not without a great deal more engagement in the process. The negotiations themselves will ensure that engagement and the internal debate that comes with it.
“One influential Belfast figure from outside the republican movement said to me recently: “Once Sinn Fein gets to the table the war will be over, and once the justice issue is dealt with there’ll be no popular will or support for another armed round.”
Time will tell. But let’s look at the evidence that real change has occurred.
Republican family: “Firstly, while I have talked only about the IRA and Sinn Fein, the “struggle”, as they call it, has uniquely involved what they also call the republican family”.
At first, the Provisional IRA fought a purely military campaign, seeking and expecting early victory, a repeat of what happened in the 1918-21 War of Independence. But when no victory came, and the armed campaign went into a long war strategy – running into decades if needs be and as it happened – a broad community base was deliberately developed to sustain the long campaign and to avoid being isolated and defeated, as happened with the _40s and _50s campaigns. Women, in particular, asserted their right to have a say, dirty protest campaigns, hunger-strike campaigns and all. The rest involved whole families, streets, housing estates, communities.
Politically, Sinn Fein went from a policy of ignoring or tearing down the entity of Northern Ireland to a policy of joining its local government institutions. From a stance of complete hostility to the State, Sinn Fein and the broad “republican family” has moved to one of confidence that their voice is strong enough to be heard.
In other words, the IRA’s decision to call a halt is broad-based, deep-rooted and a reflection of changed attitudes in their communities.
More than anything, it is the communities which have come in from the margins. It was ordinary people and community leaders who resisted attempts by the out and out militarists to return to a full-blooded ‘Brits out’ campaign once the first cessation collapsed.
In their cessation statement of August 1994, a statement which also covers the present cessation, the IRA leadership reflected this sense of community and political confidence:
“We are entering into a new situation in a spirit of determination and confidence, determined that the injustices which created this conflict will be removed, and confident in the strength and justice of our struggle to achieve this.”
Changing circumstances within Irish nationalism:
“Confident they may be but, in reality, their hand was also forced by changing circumstances within Irish nationalism.
At the start of the current conflict, a unitary Irish State was still the unchallenged goal of mainstream nationalism. Even in 1983, the leader of Fianna Fail, Charles Haughey, felt comfortable in proposing to the New Ireland Forum an all-round constitutional conference as a prelude to British withdrawal.
Consent formula: “Two years later, the Anglo-Irish Agreement enshrined in Article One a quite different bedrock position, agreed by both governments, namely:
“That any change in the status of Northern Ireland would only come about with the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland.”
Gerry Adams, as Sinn Fein President, opposed the Agreement, saying it copperfastened the unionist veto. Mr. Haughey, then in opposition, also opposed it. But back in government in 1989, Mr. Haughey reaffirmed the Anglo-Irish Agreement when it was reviewed by both governments.
The bedrock consent formula was further embedded, when Albert Reynolds signed the Downing Street Declaration in 1993. It was agreed then that in determining consent for any new settlement, two separate referenda, one in Northern Ireland and one in the Republic, would be required. The traditional “official” nationalist position of one nation, one entity, one legitimate jurisdiction, had changed.
No foreseeable Irish government would return to the old position.
The IRA was hemmed in, undefeated certainly, and that was success enough for many, but politically hemmed in. Fighting on for unfettered British withdrawal, over the hands of the unionists, was increasingly seen as a lost cause. Dialogue with unionists was the new necessity, not bombing their towns and villages and killing their men in uniform. In addition confidence was building within the “republican family” that change was possible, and that the Hume-Adams axis was highly valuable, even more so when it was joined to the government in Dublin.
The price for all of that was an end to the IRA’s armed campaign.
Of course, coming in from the political margins was more complex than that. This was the first serious attempt, probably since partition, by the Southern political establishment, both to redefine its republicanism and to engage militant republicanism in that process. That in itself unlocked much of the marginalised mind-set in Northern nationalist heartlands, for so long conditioned by the bitter belief that the South didn’t care, that its verbal republicanism counted for nothing. And, let’s be honest, the South didn’t care that much and verbal republicanism delivered little more than Southern comfort.
Irish Peace Initiative: “The first tangible product of this combined nationalism re-definition came in the form of what was known as the Hume-Adams agreement, what was, in effect, a Hume-Adams-Reynolds agreement in mid-1992. That agreement, which the IRA and Sinn Fein styled the “Irish Peace Initiative” is visible evidence that IRA thinking, and language, had radically changed. The agreement came in the form of a Sinn Fein proposal for a joint declaration to be made by both governments – it was the forerunner to the Downing Street Declaration.
Paragraph 2 of the proposal had both governments agreeing that: “The development of European Union fundamentally changes the nature and the context of British-Irish relationships and will progressively remove the basis of the historic conflict still taking place in Northern Ireland.”
“Paragraph 3 said both governments: “… Recognise that the ending of divisions can come about only through the agreement and cooperation of the people North and South, representing both traditions in Ireland.”
Paragraph 4 had the British Government accepting: “..The principle that the Irish people have the right collectively to self-determination, and that the exercise of that right could take the form of agreed independent structures for the island as a whole.”
This was balanced in paragraph 5, by a quite dramatic turn of direction for militant Irish republicanism. It had the Irish Government accepting that: “The democratic right of self-determination by the people of Ireland as a whole must be achieved and exercised with the agreement and consent of the people of Northern Ireland.”. There was no unvarnished demand for a British withdrawal.
All of this confirms a major shift, opening the way for a settlement which is both partitionist and all-Ireland, with a continuance of British jurisdiction in Northern Ireland, where that jurisdiction is fully recognised for the first time by the Southern State and which puts in placed agreed institutions to develop evolving and dynamic relationships across the island.
This is not to say that the republican movement has abandoned its goal of Irish unity. But ending armed actions to negotiate so-called “interim arrangements” is a seismic shift for the long war strategists. It also suggests that in negotiations Sinn Fein will come to accept the consent formula which they couldn’t sign up to in the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. Those words – which I believe Sinn Fein was close to accepting – said that a settlement democratically ratified North and South would: “.. Represent a valid and legitimate exercise by the people of Ireland as a whole of their right to self-determination.”
Ground Rules: “In addition, I would say that it is not without significance that the IRA and Sinn Fein have accepted the Ground Rules document for the up-coming negotiations. These make it plain that, whatever greater ambitions the participants may have, the process is to agree three interlocking relations: within Northern Ireland, on the island as a whole, and between the British and Irish Governments. The Ground Rules also reaffirm in writing both Governments’ intention to submit the outcome of negotiations for public approval by referenda North and South.
“I think it’s reasonable in the circumstances to be hopeful that on the republican and nationalist side the outer margins are, in most part, prepared to come in from the cold. Change has been in the air for some considerable time and has very broad support. Yet what’s happening is being led by the current IRA and Sinn Fein leaderships combined.No one can speak for future leaderships.
I cannot, in all honesty, predict that the IRA will disband and tear up its constitution or that the new millennium will see the final end of armed force in pursuit of the Republic”.
MPG TALK 27 – BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES ON SPEAKERS
Brendan O’Brien: Senior reporter with RTE current affairs: worked on Seven Days, Today Tonight and Prime Time. Jacob’s Award winner for investigative journalism, especially on drugs and serious crime. Reported on all aspects of the Northern Ireland conflict since 1974. Author of two books on the IRA: The Long War and A Pocket History of the IRA.
Dr. Martin Mansergh: Special Adviser to the Taoiseach and Head of Research, Fianna Fail, since 1981. His father Nicholas Mansergh was well-known historian and expert on Anglo-Irish relations, author of The Irish Question and many other books. Dr. Martin Mansergh entered the Dept. of Foreign Affairs in 1974 and joined the Taoiseach’s Department in 1981. Special adviser to Charles Haughey, Albert Reynolds and Bertie Ahern. He was nominated with Fr. Alex Reid and Rev. Roy Magee as a winner of the 1995 Tipperary Peace Prize for his role in the peace process. He has published a number of articles on the peace process and related Irish historical subjects
Cllr. Alex Attwood: Leader of SDLP group in Belfast City Council.
Anne Speed: Elected member of Sinn Fein’s Ard Chomhairle and served on that body since 1990. She is a full-time trade union official and also chairs the Sinn Fein National Women’s Committee. She has been an activist in the Women’s movement for over 25 years. This includes being a founder member of the Campaign to Legalise Contraception. Anne Speed has also joined the party team at the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation and the Stormont talks.
Proinsias de Rossa, T.D: Elected to the Dail, 1982 (Dublin N.W.) Elected to European Parliament for Dublin in 1989; Vice-Chairman of the Regional Affairs Committee of the EP. Resigned from the EP in 1992 to concentrate on national politics. Elected President of Workers’ Party (1988). Under his leadership the party won 7 seats in the Dail and its first seat in Europe. In February 1992 he resigned from the WP and was joined by 5 WP TDs, its MEP, over 30 councillors and majority of party members in the establishment of Democratic Left. Elected leader of DL in March 1992. Minister for Social Welfare in the Rainbow Government 1994-1997. Served on Cabinet Sub-Committee on N.I.. Founder member of the Peace Train organisation
Meath Peace Group Report – January 1998. Compiled and edited by Julitta Clancy.
(c)Meath Peace Group