MEATH PEACE GROUP TALKS
No. 61 – “Easter 1916 – the Irish Rebellion”
Held in Association with the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society
Monday, 24th April 2006
St Columban’s College, Dalgan Park,
Navan, Co. Meath
Dr. Charles Townshend
(Professor of Modern History, University of Keele)
Brendan O’Brien (Journalist and author)
Welcome and introduction: Julitta Clancy
Opening words: Brendan O’Brien
Dr Charles Townshend
Questions and comments
Closing words and thanks
Appendix – Proclamation of Independence 1916
[Editor’s note: attendance at talk = 110]
Welcome and introduction: Julitta Clancy: On behalf of the Meath Peace Group, Julitta Clancy welcomed the speakers and audience to the first of two historical talks focusing on events of 90 years ago – the Easter Rising, 1916, and Irish Involvement in the Great War, 1914-18 – which are being held in association with the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society. “A special welcome to our speaker and our guest chair and all who have come to take part, some travelling long distances. These include some friends from Northern Ireland, members of the Louth-based cross-border dialogue group the Guild of Uriel, some from Co. Fermanagh and some from Belfast who are also members of the Ulster Unionist Party. The Guild has been doing tremendous work in promoting understanding and healing over the past ten years under the chairmanship of Roy Garland. I also want to welcome Breandán Mac Giolla Coille, the former chief archivist in the Public Record Office in Dublin and Paddy Battersby whose father, Thomas Battersby, was in the Fingal unit involved in the 1916 Rising – there is a memorial to him in Garristown. There are also some local historians here and others no doubt who had family members involved at the time. Just to mention that our talk on ‘Irish Involvement in the Great War’ will be held on 12 June in the Ardboyne Hotel, Navan.
“Our guest speaker tonight is Dr. Charles Townshend, Professor of Modern History at the University of Keele and author of Easter 1916 – the Irish Rebellion, and our guest chair tonight is Brendan O’Brien who has chaired three of our previous talks. He is a former senior current affairs reporter with RTE and has a long time involvement with Northern Ireland affairs. He is also the author of several publications including The Long War and A Pocket History of the IRA. Brendan currently presents the lunchtime current affairs programme on Newstalk 106….”
Introduction: Brendan O’Brien
“Thanks very much indeed Julitta. I am not going to say very much, because Dr. Charles Townshend is here to say things. … The thing about 1916 is that we really haven’t made up our minds yet about what exactly it was. I can certainly remember – I am old enough to remember and I am sure many of you are here too – to be educated in Irish schools using Carty’s History of Ireland, which told you nothing but that ‘the Brits were bad and the Irish were good’, so to speak, and rebellions were better than all! After a while Carty’s History of Ireland was consigned to its own history and new historians began to rewrite for schoolchildren what they believe really happened, or at least to give it multi-faceted aspects and to say that it wasn’t all a bed of roses and so on. I just wonder now if after thirty years of what is often called “The Troubles”, whether we are going through a new revisionism. It used to be that to be called a revisionist was a great insult. In a sense, it still is in this country: if somebody throws it at you, it is meant as an insult. It means you are not a true nationalist, you are not a true patriot or something like that – that you want to airbrush out some of the more patriotic rebellions and so on that took place in Irish history.
Revisiting of 1916: “There was a revisionism, as I say, that took place – certainly in the 1960s and 1970s – in the writing of Irish schoolbooks. I have a sense that there is a new revisionism now, which is a revisiting of 1916, that there is an acceptance of looking at 1916 dispassionately, and its implications for the foundation of the State or otherwise. I would just like to pose a very simple question: is the 1916 Rising over? In a sense I believe that what has happened is that 1916 was, if you like, taken over by people who established this 26-county state with a view to absolutely insisting that they would establish the 32-county Republic that was declared in 1916 in the Proclamation.
Inheritors of 1916: “Having failed to establish the 1916 Proclamation vision – the 32 county state – historians may start to look at and ask who are the true inheritors? Who are the people who held the flame? It may be very uncomfortable to suggest that the people who held the flame are actually those who stayed outside this state, who rejected this state from the beginning and who said: ‘we are the inheritors, we will keep the 1916 – if you like the 1919 Republic – going, the one that was voted for in the 1918 election’. There are people still who will say the Provisional IRA fought for many years saying that they were the ones who held the true flame, then they changed tactics in 1986 and decided to accept seats in Dail Eireann and they would still say that they continue with the same principles only they have pragmatically entered politics. Others would say that they have effectively accepted the State in all its legitimacy. If that is true or even partly true, the people who would say that they are the true inheritors of 1916 are the Continuity IRA and people who will stay even further outside. That is a very uncomfortable suggestion to make.
“I am not saying that I am subscribing to it, but it is nonetheless one that you have to look at and say: have we, has this State, effectively abandoned 1916 in favour of the only state that was available to it, while in verbal terms keeping the objectives going, knowing it can’t be achieved? Is that where we are now and will the ultimate revisionism be that 1916 is unachievable, that the goals as set out in 1916 are unachievable and whether we should just accept that that is what has happened in the intervening years?
Signatories of Proclamation – what would they have done at the time of the Treaty?: “I only just throw that out and, in a sense, the final thing I would say about that is that one of the advantages of 1916 in all its aspects is that it has a mystique about it which will never go away, because most of its leaders were executed. Therefore what they had said and what they believed is frozen in time rather than what they would actually have done at the time of the Treaty. What would they have done at the time of the Treaty? Do you go down the list of the signatories of 1916 and say: ‘would any of them have accepted the Treaty? Would they have always stayed on the outside to fight against the Treatyites and would never have gone in with De Valera, saying ‘the Republic as established in 1919 is the only true Republic, that is what we are staying outside for?’
“It is very comfortable for us to all know in a sense, that they were – not that they were executed – but the fact that they were executed means we don’t know the answer to that question. So we can all answer it for them and feel comfortable in knowing that, yes, at the end they would have accepted this State. I am not so sure.
Did we abandon 1916 in favour of what was available? “Anyway, these are provocative questions and what I would say for certain is that Fianna Fáil doesn’t own 1916. Bertie Ahern doesn’t own 1916. None of the political parties own 1916. This state was not founded in 1916. It was founded in 1921/1922. Whether you link it back to 1916 is itself a provocative question which we in the media continually ask, and have been asking in recent times, and getting fudge and confusion in the answers that they get, because people are uncomfortable with that question.
“Did we effectively abandon the 1916 in favour of what was available to us or not? That is a big question and I know for certain that Dr. Charles Townshend is going to answer this question perfectly and leave us all going home with great comfort and I would like to introduce him now. By the way after he speaks there will be plenty of time for questions and answers. …”
Dr. Charles Townshend (Professor of History, University of Keele):
“Thank you very much. Yes in fact I think I can give you a very short and simple answer to your question of whether the objectives of the 1916 rebels were unattainable and that is yes, they were unattainable. But I am sure we will want to come back to that question later.
“I am very glad to be here on what is the 90th anniversary of the outbreak, of the insurrection, the Rebellion, the Rising, whatever you want to call it. I call it a rebellion because the people who did it called themselves – and have always been called – ‘rebels’, and I think rebellion is a perfectly nice word to use. But I know there are people who don’t like to use this word and if there are any of you here, I hope you will raise that question as well.
“I know you have all been through a long period of celebrating this anniversary which was celebrated, of course, on the wrong day! From a strict historical point of view, this day – the 24th April – is the anniversary of the outbreak of the Rising. I know you have also been through a long period of people debating whether it is a good idea to celebrate the Rising, and there has been a tirade of very hostile commentary which has suggested that in fact it is a very bad idea to celebrate it, that the Rising was unjustified, was unsuccessful and pernicious in it’s long-term effects. In fact I did a talk precisely on these three concepts and attempted to analyse the argument on both sides of that, just a few days ago in Dublin. I had had it in mind to come along and just do the same thing in a rather lazy way here tonight. You may well end up wishing that I had done that! But in fact I woke up this morning – as one sometimes does – thinking I would do something slightly different.
Background – historians and 1916: “But I think I’d probably better start by just saying how I came to be here doing this. Writing a book about 1916 is not a straightforward thing to do for a historian. In fact it is quite an odd fact that no professional academic historians had ever done it since, I think, the 1920s. And although I think F.X.Martin credited Alison Philips with having written a complete account of it, in fact the book that Philips wrote was a study of the Irish Revolution as a whole, and so a dedicated single full volume study of 1916 just didn’t get written. For a long time it was because all contemporary history was essentially eschewed by Irish historians. Part of the founding rules of the first really serious set of professional Irish historians that developed in the 1930s and founded the journal Irish Historical Studies was not to deal with contemporary history because of its political significance and the fact that so many people were still alive. … Then, just when that might have been dying away, and historians might have been turning to these things, along came 1966 and all that followed from that. By the time I started work on a period close to 1916, but actually starting in 1918 (and this was in 1969), things were beginning to get very nasty, and 1916 was beginning to bear some of the blame for this.
‘Revisionism’: “So I think a whole new generation of people, as it were, turned away from it. It is pretty striking, as I say, that in the great fluorescence of Irish history writing – and it has been very dramatic since I started work – it is still the case that nobody really has ‘full-on’ done 1916 and it is because I think that the history writing has been dominated by what has tended to be called ‘revisionists’ which is a way of saying, doing history properly, that is to say casting aside all preconceptions and just trying to look at the material as straightforwardly as you can. Revisionists by and large have tended to take the view – and I certainly plead guilty to this myself insofar as I have been a revisionist, not one of the most notorious maybe, but I wrote a book in 1983 which is an embarrassingly long time ago now, in which I took a pretty negative view of 1916, I think it is fair to say, seeing it as really a very dangerous surrogate for politics. Pretty much the normal, liberal view, I think, of political violence.
“Really, apart from generally occasionally firing off certain dismissive jibes of 1916, I think most of my generation of historians have really done very little on it. Just one, I think, particularly striking example: a very hefty book was published a few years back called A Military History of Ireland – excellent book under the editorship of Keith Jeffery and Tom Bartlett (Cambridge University Press, 1996). That I think had two paragraphs on the 1916 Rising in it – in a book of 500-600-700 pages! They were pretty fiercely critical. In fact, they represented, I think, in full flog, the most critical, most revisionist, most dismissive view of 1916, and if I can call the precise phrase to mind -“reckless, bloody, sacrificial and unsuccessful”. Those were the four adjectives! So you can see where I had got to my three categories that I explored the other night. …I made various attempts to start work on this and I think it was the inability to really engage with the direct experience that sort of slowed me down and then I kept bouncing off it. Fortunately – or if it is a fortunate event? – I got a wonderful research award a few years back and I realised that this was now or never, I would have to engage with this. And it happened to come at a time when, as I am sure you all know, I can’t really call it a new source, but an old source which had only been very partially available to historians and to the general public, the witness statements compiled by the Bureau of Military History 1913-21 were finally made publicly available. And these are remarkable and fascinating and a very valuable source, and certainly for me they made the proof of difference between the standing back from this event in a rather critical way and I think my being able to engage with it in something like the kind of empathy that historians really do need to achieve. So I have done it.”
The Rising outside Dublin: “What I want to do today is not to recycle that talk I gave the other day, although I do think that those issues are extremely pertinent and interesting and I do hope that we can talk about them in the discussion afterwards. But actually I am just going to give you a historian’s little talk now, partly because of my suddenly realising that I was actually out of Dublin – I am not quite sure whether you regard yourself as being in the provinces here, but you are outside Dublin. I thought that what I would really do, is to look at an aspect of the Rising which I would hope I have done justice to in my book and which I feel I have done more justice to than most previous accounts, and that is the Rising outside Dublin, the Rising in the provinces, partly because I think it is interesting in itself and partly because it does raise one or two questions that are really the fundamental questions I raise about the way the Rising was conducted.
What went wrong? “I suppose that the underlying question that I just throw out right at the beginning and perhaps return to from time to time as I go along, is the question of what went wrong with the Rising – assuming we all agree that it went wrong in some way? There is possibly some scope for debate about just how badly wrong it went and that would depend what you expected it to achieve when you started out, and we know that there were disagreements amongst the leaders and between the leaders and followers about this, but something went not quite as well as it might conceivably have done. And did this thing go wrong because of the famous and standard explanation which was that everything was going fine until the dreadful misunderstanding that happened on the Saturday before the Rising was due to start – the disagreement between the planners of the Rising and the heads of the Irish Volunteer movement which resulted in the issuing of the countermanding order cancelling the Easter Sunday manoeuvres? By and large in most accounts – and certainly in most traditional accounts – everything that went wrong on the Monday is blamed on the countermanding order: the dislocation, the lack of forces and so on. But I think that – I am afraid this is a revisionist kind of view – there is another way of looking at it. What went wrong went wrong because the plans themselves were badly constructed in the first place. So I think the provincial rising which certainly did go badly wrong – I mean that is absolutely unquestionable, anybody who had in their mind the idea of the whole country rising up en masse was sadly disappointed.
“We know that in effect this was a rising that took place in Dublin and indeed many, many accounts simply ignore everything else that happened, with the possible exception of what happened just down the road at Ashbourne – that almost makes it into nearly every account. But for the rest of Ireland, it might as well be that nothing is going on and in many cases of course, nothing was going on. So one of the interesting questions is to figure out just how much potential there was and how much of that was lost in the way that the Rising developed.
“So what I just want to do is really do a very brief survey of the whole country. I started on this this morning. I got two pages of notes, and even an academic historian can’t speak for very long on just two pages of notes – you would think anyway! So I am hoping that this won’t detain you for too long and that we can then perhaps use this as the basis for thinking about some of these larger problems.
Newspaper headlines: “The Rising in the provinces, as I say, doesn’t command big headlines. It was late getting off anyway as far as the press were concerned. I just have a couple of headlines here that I think are fairly indicative. On the 26th April we see the Connacht Tribune. Its headlines go something like this: ‘Is it insurrection? Alleged General Rising in Ireland, wild rumours from Dublin’. So obviously somewhere in Connacht nothing much seemed to be happening. The Daily Express in London is even slower but eventually by the 28th it has this wonderful headline: ‘The crazy revolt spreads to the provinces’. So somebody thought it did eventually spread in its ‘crazy’ way.
Joseph Plunkett’s diary: “One interesting little detail also is that in Joseph Plunkett’s field pocketbook – one of those marvellous artefacts I think in the Rising, picked up on Moore Street actually after the surrender, apparently by a waiter at the Metropolitan Hotel. It now resides in the National Library. And this is his diary during the Rising and it’s surprisingly exiguous, I mean there is disappointingly little in it, just a few pages. One of them is actually about what was going on here in this very area. It is about hundreds of forces coming down from Dundalk. They were to bale out the Dublin garrison, and this actually was the basis I think of the speech that Pearse made to the Garrison in the GPO the following day, on the Thursday, saying that ‘the country is rising, Wexford has risen, hundreds are coming down from Dundalk’. And it loomed very large, obviously on a proportional basis – I haven’t quite worked out the proportion but it is a surprisingly large part of Plunkett’s very meagre account of his week at war. So something is going on.”
Arms landing and Ballykissane accident: “I want to just skim around the country from perhaps the most famous disaster of the Rising which is the failure of the arms landing in on the coast of Kerry. Well let’s start with that. Well no, let’s start with something that happens just about the same time, but I think also raises the same kind of question. The accident at Ballykissane, I don’t know if you know much about this. There are I think various stories about what the plan was but effectively they were a party of about half a dozen radio specialists who were sent down to the West Coast to dismantle radio equipment at Cahirciveen in Co. Kerry and take it to Tralee – and this is the most commonly told version of the story – to use to communicate with the German armship. If I have got this right, this was an idea of Sean McDermott’s … but the exact objective of this particular enterprise isn’t as important as what went wrong. The guys were put into two motorcars at Killarney station and drove off into the night – this is the night of Friday the 20th April. And, at Killorglin, the leading car took I think, the correct road, the right road, because they turned left. The second car, the driver didn’t know the road. I think they may have stopped to ask directions. Anyway, they took a right turn. They eventually ended up going off the end of Ballykissane pier into Castlemaine Harbour. The driver survived but all the passengers, the radio specialists, were drowned. I would assume that the driver survived possibly because the hood of the car didn’t actually cover the driver’s area.
“This was the car, according to the owner it was a ‘Brisco’, a vehicle which I am not familiar with, but maybe if there are any motor buffs in the audience, you might be able to help me out with this. But, this of course said, the mission was eventually aborted when the leading car realised that the following car was no longer following it. It seems like a ghastly accident and obviously it is a ghastly event and it sent shock waves actually through the whole area. But I think you can also just raise the question of whether it isn’t also oddly negligent? How, on a mission as important as this, could you… I know it is difficult for one car to follow another, but to have a driver who didn’t know the road – it does bespeak a certain carelessness in preparation.
“And I think that this is just the question that I raise: that things go wrong, but also at this point and particularly in Kerry, more things seem to go wrong than needed to. And that is particularly true of the arms landing which again is a notoriously difficult business, concerting a ground party to land weapons from a ship which has been at sea for the best part of three weeks. And we know that after its epic journey out of Hamburg, the armed ship [The Aud] did arrive absolutely on time, at least if the captain is to be believed. Captain’s logs usually don’t lie but Spindler, as it happens, has been criticised for the accuracy of his log and his navigation as well. But I don’t think anybody disputes that Spindler’s ship actually made it into Tralee Bay. And the problem is that even though the arrangements had gone wrong, and I think the general explanation is always that the people who were in charge of the landing arrangements just didn’t know that the change to the arrangements couldn’t befollowed through …..The ship is there. The chaps are not there. But as I think the best naval historian or maritime historian who has looked at this, has reasonably asked: it is just extraordinary that this ship is floating around in Tralee Bay for well over 24 hours. Nobody notices it. Is it really conceivable that you would have a set-up which is dependent on receiving these weapons and that nobody would be keeping a look-out of any kind?
“So that is the kind of question and I think it is rather awkward and it suggested for me many years ago, and I think I still stick to this although I am not quite as sure about it as I was before, but it suggests that the people who planned the operation overall, weren’t quite so concerned about getting these guns ashore as we might assume they would be. It seems to me that if this operation really was important, it is not possible to understand how it went wrong in the way that it did. The only possible explanation is that not enough organisational effort had been put into making it work.
Cuntermanding order: “Still, that is my view and in looking at the way it all fell apart in Kerry after this, it just went very badly wrong. On Sunday, once the countermanding order had been issued, absolutely nothing seems to have happened. There is a rather moving account of the Dingle company marching 35 miles barefoot to Tralee on Sunday and then back again the same distance on Monday. It puts you irresistibly in mind of the ‘Grand Old Duke of York’ marching up and down, and yet this is very sad. And this is just one amongst hundreds of examples of men and women who turned out on Easter Sunday with a great deal of effort, only to find that absolutely nothing happened. In the case of very many of them, they marched off back home again and they were never seen again.
Communications shut down: “So the whole question of how the countermanding order – not what caused it, but how it was dealt with after it happened – I think is, as I say, at the back of the way I am approaching this: I think it is clear enough that everything kind of shut down, communications from Dublin to the provinces pretty much shut down over this and the remedial effort that would have been necessary – and possible, I think, to overcome the effect of the countermanding order – just simply was not made. We get, in the southwest, a real general paralysis, and, if anything, the impact is worsened by the instructions that are coming from Dublin.
Limerick: “It is curious that in Limerick, which had responsibility for basically covering the whole landing of the weapons and then moving them according to this rather grandiose plan, which has often been mocked, I think perhaps in this case slightly unfairly, Pearse’s phrase about ‘holding the line at the Shannon’, the local commander did regard it as an impossible mission. But it wasn’t that that was so much of a problem, as the fact that Pearse changed his orders at the very last minute, having given these orders actually very belated in the first place. So the Limerick staff were working on it desperately and then were given a whole new set of orders. And so we see this in other places as well, that such orders that do come through actually make the situation more confused.
Cork: “In Cork, they are absolutely obsessed about the conflicting orders they are receiving. In Cork apparently …nine separate different orders were received in the first four days of Easter week! Sadly for the historian they didn’t keep them, there isn’t a nice little file with them all in, so you can see. But that was their view of what went wrong.”
Galway: “The biggest mobilisation outside Dublin actually took place in Co. Galway, and it was big. Again we don’t have a muster. That’s one of the things that puzzles me in general about the Rising, I haven’t really cracked this at all: nobody counted their forces anywhere, even in Dublin, which was the most efficient brigade in the country. But by some accounts there were a thousand people mobilised in Galway so we are talking about a very significant force, and it is rendered futile by its leaders’ inability to adjust to the failure of the arms landing. All the planning is based on the arms landing, distributing the guns and then creating this rather large strategic manoeuvre that Pearse was talking about. When that didn’t happen, nobody seems to have had any idea of what else to do. And the commanding officer in Galway, Liam Mellowes, never seems to have come up with any plausible proposals to counter the increasing defeatism of his officers. Basically he has a series of battalion councils and the officers are all saying, ‘right, we’re done for, let’s go home’. I feel what Mellowes needed to do was to say, ‘no chaps, there is another way, there is something we can do’. He never said it. Only one of his fellow organisers, Alf Monahan, actually said: ‘well we can use guerrilla methods’. I think he was the only one who said this, but he said it perhaps too late and with not sufficient conviction.
Guerrilla methods: “But it is extraordinary, and again here Galway is quite typical, I think, of the rest of the country, that nobody has ever thought about this before. Well they had. The formal leadership of the Irish Volunteers were very keen on guerrilla methods, but the informal, the secret committee, notably Pearse and McDonagh, the director of training, were quite against guerrilla methods. And as a result, well we don’t know quite how much they did, but they certainly did far, far less than we, with the benefit of hindsight, might expect them to have done. And certainly not enough to convince these – ‘defeatist’ is a hard word – but I think if you look at the Galway Brigade’s officers, they were defeatist. They really thought that they were never going to be able to achieve anything. They would have needed something positive to convince them that it was worth going on and taking the risks.
“So there was a great need for local initiatives to overcome this undeniable big problem that they faced when the arms cargo was lost.
Breakdown of communication: “And it is a fact that I find difficult to explain, that after Pearse’s relaunch of the Rising on Monday – after the delay from Sunday – remarkably few orders from headquarters seemed to have reached any of the provincial units and this is not because it is difficult to get them there. There is no shortage of very willing couriers. There is just a breakdown of communication. And so what we see across the country, as I say, is a dependence on the individual local initiative and it just doesn’t appear. …
Westmeath: “I will just quote you a little piece from Westmeath: ‘only 7 of the 70 Volunteers in Tyrell’s Pass turned out on Monday, even when they heard the fighting in Dublin, they were confused and did not know what to do. … They could not do anything. They were disorganised and the element of surprise was gone. To attempt to take a post or hold a village would have been a useless sacrifice.’
“You see that argument used again and again and you lose count of the number of times it is used. None of those arguments would look very plausible four years later and therefore there is something that could be happening I think there that isn’t. So the lack of initiative I think is made, is almost guaranteed or maybe worsened by, the lack of training and the lack of preparation for the kind of fighting that actually would have been workable in those kind of situations.”
Ashbourne, Co. Meath: “And all of this is really appropriation for saying that it makes what happened around here, actually really rather more remarkable, rather more remarkable than earlier history certainly might suggest, because obviously we know that the operation of Ashbourne, the operations of the 5th Battalion under Thomas Ashe, are very well known. As I said at the beginning, they are never neglected even in the most Dublin-centred histories of the Rising. But what is most interesting rather, from my point of view, is that they showed how if you could improvise, you could outweigh the weaknesses which all these other provincial units were so painfully and paralysingly conscious of. Ashe when he started out had no idea what to do anymore than anybody else. He just stood around waiting for orders. Being closer to Dublin than most provincial commanders, I guess he probably wouldn’t have even have seen himself as a provincial commander. He actually did get orders, because after all you could get in and out of Dublin from County Dublin. He got orders, but they weren’t the orders he wanted. He thought that Dublin was going to send him forces. In fact he got orders telling him to send forces into Dublin and I think possibly partly for political reasons, partly to give Pearse the possibility of saying to his troops: ‘forces are coming from the provinces, the country is rising’.
“So Ashe reduced his force to what he clearly considered to be an unviable small number by sending what he could spare to Dublin. But then he somehow came up with a wonderful way of using these guys. He divided them into a flexible formation, almost Napoleonic on a tiny miniature: four little groups of about twelve taking the van and the supply functions in circulation, and he headed off into the wild yonder of County Meath. As we know it didn’t all go perfectly, but when the crunch came, they got involved in a fight, in a way again they had absolutely… no, it was totally unplanned. Ashbourne is often described as an ambush, but in fact it wasn’t. It was a classic kind of encounter fight where two sides had absolutely no idea what to expect. They had run into each other literally and it is just up to the one who can think and move quickest. The single battalion came out of that with I guess probably the greatest glory maybe of the whole of 1916 in terms of this being an absolutely successful operation.
Hill of Tara, Co. Meath: “So, alright, they got the glory. The men of Louth probably didn’t get so much glory, but I think that they actually tell us a little bit more about what was possible and what was difficult for the rest of the Volunteers because this area had been focused on by Pearse to an unusual degree. He had actually appointed, he had sent in a special supremo, to sort out the obviously militarily fairly undeveloped volunteer forces and he had instructions to keep communications open between Dublin and the West generally. So it is a big strategic mission. But he was also given a rather curious instruction which was to ensure that forces concentrated on the Hill of Tara over there. Dan Hannigan, the officer in question, actually protested. He objected to Pearse that Tara was ‘a very inconvenient place’, which is probably putting it mildly if you think about what possible military significance it could have. And in fact Pearse’s orders in this are very characteristic of the way he often went about things, in that the two missions he gave to Hannigan, I think you could argue, are mutually incompatible.
“They are contradictory. But he is trying to accomplish two things at the same time and I think that is very much what the Rising is about in Pearse’s mind, and I think actually that is the reason why it worked, because it is Tara’s symbolic significance that interested him. It might be inconvenient but he told Hannigan it was all-important for historical reasons. The coronation place of the old high kings of Ireland, he wanted the Proclamation of the Republic read there. Now he didn’t actually get this, because the mobilisation, like all these other mobilisations, went wrong for pretty much the same reasons, well for reasons again that are sometimes obvious and sometimes rather hard to understand. Hannigan, despite being given the responsibility for co-ordinating this entire area, then, for reasons that he doesn’t explain – and there doesn’t seem to be any other explanation either – didn’t get in touch with significant other forces, particularly the semi-independent company which had been formed by Seán Boylan, who had also strangely been told – not by Pearse directly but by one of his aides – that he was responsible for the Tara mobilisation. So we actually had two or three officers being given apparently the same mission. And whether this overkill was designed to make sure that somebody would do it if the others failed to, I am not sure, but it is strange that the central command didn’t actually tell them, these separate officers, that these arrangements were being made. Again that is very characteristic of arrangements throughout the country. But, whereas Hannigan’s outfit actually refused to take the countermand seriously, and Hannigan insisted on getting a direct confirmation from Pearse before he would disband, and so in fact his force went marching off and stayed in the field really for days on end, Boylan’s force did disband. They just accepted the countermand. The Boylan brothers went off to the Fairyhouse Races like so many other people on the Monday.
Boylan’s force: “Then they did reassemble, and that again is terribly important, I think, because in answer to the question that I am sort of anticipating might come up in discussion in fact and relaying one of the arguments I was using the other night about the justification of the Rising, one of the arguments that is quite commonly brought to bear is the argument that the Volunteer rank and file were actually deceived by their leadership, that Pearse, Plunkett, McDermott were – well the word ‘lies’ has been used, so it sometimes goes beyond the polite word ‘deception’ or ‘misleading’ – but that they were lying to the followers in order to make sure they turned out in the rebellion. And my answer to that is that it wasn’t really necessary for them to do this. The guys who turned out in Easter week wanted to come out. They weren’t fooled into this and I think that Sean Boylan is probably an excellent example of that, as somebody who has missed the mobilisation. Certainly he is under no illusion what is involved when he finally does get into it. But get into it he does, so he remobilises. He joins up with Hannigan and thus we have this strategic force which is supposed to be fulfilling Pearse’s objective of keeping communications open. But when I look at how in his own account of what he then did, I just cannot square these things together. I can’t see that what he then did – which was very little, and this is not really intended as a criticism of him in a direct sense – because I say nobody really had any idea what to do. But they moved around, they eventually occupied a large house and they sat there trying to make contact with Ashe. That is where they stayed until the end when they finally made contact with Ashe. Allegedly, according to Peter Boylan, I think, the one contact was betrayed but eventually they did make contact with Ashe only to find that he had already surrendered. So they were still in the field, they were one of the last fighting units in the field, but they didn’t fight. The position they were in, I don’t think would have worked very well to pursue the purpose of Pearse’s orders.
Limitations: “So, I know this is going to sound kind of unsatisfactory, but to me this is the picture of how things were. A tremendous amount of energy goes into this, a lot of commitment. There are thousands of men and hundreds of women involved in trying to get this Rising off the ground. I think most people would accept the way I put it at the beginning. It failed. The national Rising really didn’t take off. But as I say the failing seems to me to be almost built-in to the limitations of the training, the ideology perhaps of the Volunteer movement in general.
Critique of MacNeill and Hobson: “And I come back to this long running dispute between the two elements in the leadership, which welled up in Holy Week and presented the result that ended in the crisis of the countermanding order. This wasn’t just a dispute about whether there should or should not be an insurrection, although it was partly about that. And to sort of just prepare the way for moving the discussion on when I stop speaking: the beginning of the revisionist critique of 1916 began before the Rising took place. It is contained in the views of Eoin MacNeill and Bulmer Hobson which is to say the Rising wouldn’t work and they argued this consistently. It wasn’t so much that it wouldn’t be justified, although I think they did take that view, but that it wouldn’t work, because you couldn’t just raise the flag and expect the people to rally to it. You had to have some mechanism for engaging the people in large numbers, and MacNeill’s critique basically is based on the fact that the people planning the rebellion were nineteenth-century insurrectionists, they were the political equivalent of faith healers. They thought that the nation was a slumbering – the metaphor they tended to use was ‘powder keg’, and one of the many arguments between Bulmer Hobson and James Connolly revolved around this metaphorical ‘powder keg’, but that is a classic metaphor used by insurrectionists. You drop the spark, you need to supply the spark and ‘boom!’ the nation will respond. Hobson and MacNeill say: ‘no, it won’t be like that. The spark will fall into a damp bog.’
“So there is an argument about the viability of this one shot type of insurrection and the anti-insurrectioners are basically arguing that you have got to do it a different way. You have got to learn how to exploit the strength of your own weakness. Don’t go into a head-to-head showdown. Use different kinds of tactics. This debate went on for – am I exaggerating if I say years? – many, many months anyway. The formal director of training of the Volunteers in 1915 was in favour of doing essentially – not quite guerrilla training – but what they called ‘hedgefighting’. But as I said right at the beginning, this is resisted by the really decisive leadership of the volunteers, Pearse and MacDonagh.
“So I think one has to accept within the limits, the constraints, it could have been different. Whether the political impact could have been different, that is another question. But I shall leave it there and perhaps we can move onto some discussion.”
Brendan O’Brien: Well thank you very much indeed, Dr. Charles Townshend. Just to remind you, you probably all have one of these [handouts]. But anyhow Dr Townshend has written three important books. Apart from being Professor of Modern History at the University of Keele, he has written The British Campaign in Ireland 1919-1921, Political Violence in Ireland – Government and Resistance since 1948, and the most recent one, Easter 1916, the Irish Rebellion, and he was careful to tell us that in his view it wasn’t a rising but it was a rebellion. Some very interesting questions arising there now. I have written some of them down. I don’t know if you have written down the same ones. But anyway here is a microphone. I am going to pass it around and I just will see who wants to ask questions and we’ll put them to Dr. Townshend. So who wants to start? It’s always the hardest one isn’t it, the first one? …
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS
Q.1. Jim Nolan (Enniskillen): “Mr Chairman, at the time of the arms coming in at Tralee and the ship in the bay there for so long. Was that not the time Roger Casement was captured and the head of the police there was anxious to get him released and he was hoping that the Volunteers would come and kidnap him, and they didn’t do that, because they felt that Casement was against the Rising? Can you make a comment on that?”
Dr. Charles Townshend: “Well yes that is a kind of odd idea, don’t you think? Why do you think the –well you would be talking about the County Inspector of the RIC – why would he want Casement to be released?
Jim: “Well that was a comment we heard last week, that he felt that he [Casement] was an innocent man. He kind of liked him. He kept him in his own house and brought him a steak and all that. He locked his door and he thought they might come into the other room and kidnap him. But the local Volunteers weren’t of the same mind. If he wasn’t kept at that stage, he might have saved being executed.”
Dr. Charles Townshend: “We haven’t got an official account of the interrogation but the unofficial accounts of the interrogation are very strange, I mean so the County Inspector did have some odd ideas. But are you suggesting that the Volunteers, that there is some ulterior reason why they didn’t try to release Casement?”
Jim: “I am not. I am just only saying what I have heard on a radio programme …”
Dr. Charles Townshend: “They had a discussion, basically. Austin Stack, the battalion commandant, convened a battalion council at the Rink in Tralee, and I think the majority of officers were in favour of trying to release Casement. But Stack took his orders, he said that his orders – which were not to fire a shot before the Rising – couldn’t be broken. What is curious about that argument is that he had already raided a police station to release another one of his officers, apparently he had been brandishing a revolver when he did this. So presumably he was taking some risk of firing a shot, I am not sure. I don’t know. I find this whole thing rather difficult to understand, because Stack, his whole posture is oddly quietist. Whether he really felt that the order to do nothing for Sunday was absolutely binding or that he is using it because he just didn’t want to undertake this particular operation, I am not sure. So, no, I cannot really solve that.”
Jim: “Some commentators have been trying to blame Austin Stack for this part…”
Dr. Charles Townshend: “Yes he didn’t get a good press over this, out of the whole plan. It is a bit unfair, because we do lack the information. It is a bit like criticizing the plan of the Rising as a whole, since we don’t know what it was. We have to work it out. You have to sort of retrospectively work out what it might have been on the basis of what was done.
“Allegedly, there was a plan for the landing of the arms but again it doesn’t exist, so we can’t subject it. It may have been a brilliant plan or it may not. I think that that is part of the problem, as far as we can work out from what was done, the plan doesn’t look to have been workable. But various people have come to that opinion, which I think to me on the basis of what we know is probably the only opinion you can come to. But there may well be a plan there somewhere. The curious thing, and the problem with all the secrecy of the planning, is that nobody else knew this plan. Even his second-in-command didn’t know it and being a good IRB man didn’t ask, because you weren’t supposed to ask these questions. So you have a plan that only one man knows….. But that may not be Stack’s fault. That may be the orders that he was given.
Jim: “Thank you.”
Q.2. Fr. Gerard Rice (President, Meath Archaeological and Historical Society) “Obviously for the last, say, 60 years, a certain idea of 1916 was part of the mythology of the Irish State and was therefore inculcated in the schools and it was necessary to give a respectable mythology to a new state manufactured in 1920. Now obviously the need for that mythology is gone and we are down to your goodself and people like you who are revising the way things are. But it strikes me, just from what you are saying tonight, when you mentioned Pearse and orders and things, it sounds like people playing at little games, that they weren’t really either trained or trained themselves or had the cutting edge of someone say like Collins, to organise even a rising, let alone a rebellion. I’d just like to hear your comments on that.”
Charles Townshend: “Well, obviously none of them were professional soldiers and that is a good thing! They are often portrayed as being a bunch of amateurs and actually very often it is said, ‘poets and dreamers’. Some of them were, some of them were poets anyway and they all may have dreamers and I don’t think there is anything really wrong with that. But that sort of stereotype of the really dreamy, I think perhaps Pearse and Plunkett in particular tend to be portrayed that way. It doesn’t fit Connolly does it? He is a very hard-headed guy and he – unusually in the leadership – did have some military experience although very much at the bottom end of it. And he certainly thought very hard about what was possible. I am not saying he wasn’t a dreamer either, because I think all international socialists at that time were dreamers. They were idealists. But they thought of themselves as ruthless revolutionaries and they thought they had absorbed the lessons of the nineteenth century. So Connolly is a hard-nosed geezer. What is odd about this is that Connolly and Plunkett seemed to absolutely get on on a personal level, but militarily what seems to have happened with the planning and the Rising, is that Plunkett’s plan was accepted by Connolly as being brilliant or fine anyway. In fact I think Connolly did often express theview that Plunkett had a brilliant military mind. So he kind of gets an endorsement from a pretty tough critic I would say.
Did the Rising need to be effective militarily? “But the real question is not whether they had the skills to make the Rising more effective militarily, I think it is unquestionable that the Rising could have been more effective militarily. It is always portrayed as a tiny band of people fighting against the might of a great world empire. But 1500 people out in Dublin alone, that is a very significant number, and as we know from what actually happened if you study the way the fighting actually happened, the great successes are had by very small groups of people, not large ones. So we know that it would have been possible for the Rising to be much more effective militarily. But the question is did it need to be? This is what I can’t decide. Pearse achieved what he wanted when he decided to surrender. Many around him were quite shocked and wanted to go on fighting and they clearly didn’t share his vision of how it was working. They felt that they were out there to win and they still felt they had a shot. He decided on the Saturday that enough had been done, and actually he was right. So in a sense, they didn’t need to do more than they did. They might even have got away with doing less. So that is where … and I think one is bound to go into a technical military critique, because in a sense, Pearse whatever else, is responsible for the lives of the people he commands, like any military commander. He knew that and he would have accepted that. That he definitely did. So therefore if you were incompetent then that is morally bad, because people get killed who don’t need to. So I think there is a necessary and legitimate ground for subjecting military operations to this kind of critique. But at the political level, as I say, I don’t know. I think that is where he really knew what he is doing.
Q.3: Séamus Ó Siocháin (NUI Maynooth): “You did a geographical run around the country and the single area most notable for being absent was the northern part of the country, so I just wonder if you would make a comment on that. I think when the Irish Volunteers were established, it was very significant in recruiting and support in the Northern part of the country. Now clearly strategists would probably have realised that there would be a very large proportion of the population who would be unsympathetic, but nevertheless would you like just to make a broad comment on that?”
Dr. Charles Townshend: “Well you are absolutely right that that was a very strong argument and I would say it was so strong that it induced – I am going to find myself using this word again – that ‘defeatism’ amongst the Volunteer leadership in Belfast. They seem never to have had any intention of doing anything in Belfast itself. They simply took everybody out. And I think the general idea was that they should assemble and gradually move off to the west, join up with these forces that were assembling in Galway and further south. And they started to do this and then they stopped.
“That is a very frustrating story, I think, for the people involved many of whom did feel very let down by their leaders and made no secret of this fact. Because, as you say, although it is an unpromising situation, there is a very powerful republican tradition in Belfast. And of course, Bulmer Hobson had founded the Dungannon Clubs movement with Dinny McCullough there, and you could argue that the Dungannon Clubs movement is the real beginning of the Volunteer movement and the beginning of the Easter Rising. That is what I would certainly argue. So in a sense it has prime place in the whole movement. So there is a sense of cheated expectation I think. But it did, as you say, I think the decisive argument was that anything resembling an attempt at local military operations in the North would have been overwhelmed by a sudden and very nasty upsurge of hostile activity, so that is about it.”
Q.4: Linda Clare (Batterstown): “Apart from the usual and expected local police forces based around the villages and towns of the country, what size was the British Army in existence prior to Martial Law being instituted on the Tuesday and the arrival of reinforcements and Maxwell on that week? In other words what were they up against numerically?”
Dr. Charles Townshend: “That is a surpisingly difficult question to answer. Because of the war being on, the true flow of troops was so continuous that you only get annual averages of the size of the troop content. I am sure it would be possible to work this out in theory from the military records, but nobody has actually quite done so. What we know is that most of the forces are unavailable because they are in tiny little local stations. We know there are about 2,500 troops in Dublin. It’s the total establishment, that is actually about 2,300 and I think 5 or 6,000 at the Curragh, some thousands in Belfast. We are probably talking about 20,000 troops. No?”
Linda: “I am gasping, they couldn’t handle that.”
Dr. Charles Townshend: “But also the 20,000 troops couldn’t be brought together. So concentrating them on Dublin you eventually ended up with an entire Division basically in Dublin which is probably 10-12,000 troops and yes that is quite a lot …, but militarily 10,000 troops would have immense difficulty penetrating into an inhabitants’ city held by 1500 rebels. So the disproportion, this is less than 10:1. Now the Soviet Army when it developed its urban warfare doctrine in the 1950s says 20:1 – this is on the basisof their experience in the Second World War. So urban war is fantastically difficult for regular armies to conduct. Well we know this from what has happened recently in Falujah – unless you are prepared to raise the city, it is incredibly difficult. I think we can say that the British did not have sufficient forces to deal in an easy way with what they might have been up against, but of course in principle they could have brought in 100,000 troops if necessary. But the problem was the War and I think certainly later when I say 20-30,000, that I think is the figure for 1916. In 1917 they had maybe 50,000 troops in Ireland, but that is partly because they kept more there after 1916. They tended not to let the garrisons get run down. But in 1916 itself they were run down, because that wasn’t regarded as being a security problem. As we know, part of the whole issue was the slightly odd British negligence, but anyway.”
Q.5. Marie MacSwiney (Drogheda): “You began by asking: is 1916 over? I’d like to ask do you think it would be over now, either on their terms or your terms if it had had a popular mandate?”
Dr. Charles Townshend: “Well I don’t think it was me who asked whether 1916 was over.”
Brendan O’Brien: “You can answer it!”
Dr. Charles Townshend: “… When you say a ‘proper mandate’ I am interested in this phrase because a lot of the criticism that has been levelled at 1916 or the ‘16-ers’ by – they tend not to be historians, they tend to be journalists and commentators, and as you are well aware, there was quite a blitz of them in the run up to April. But one of the charges is for example, if you have a parliamentary democracy then all violent methods are ipso facto illegitimate and therefore what you should do is to stand for Parliament. And it has been urged by some people, and I don’t think it is just Kevin Myers but him in particular, that these people should have stood for Parliament and if they didn’t then they had no title to do anything politically. That clearly is not a very persuasive argument. But this notion of finding some way of getting a mandate I think is incredibly difficult to do. I mean if you win an election, you have a mandate and that is a sort of democratic fiction, isn’t it? We don’t always agree, even as voters with that, but we go along with that. But where you are going into the unknown, I think it is much harder to say what a mandate might be. … The guy who talked about this perhaps most consistently in the pre-1916 period was Bulmer Hobson. He believed that the IRB itself had re-written it’s Constitution after the ‘67 ‘rising’ – well, you could barely call it that – and recognised the futility of trying to just strike and wave the flag and wait for the people to rally to you. Hobson believed that they had rewritten the Constitution to say that no action could be taken unless – how do I put it? – he interpreted it as the majority of the Irish people were in support. Again, it is hard to imagine how you would actually get to that situation I think. Hobson did use this argument repeatedly in the pre-1916 period although occasionally he also went the other way and became a bit of an insurrectionist. But certainly the decisive showdown on Friday when Pearse actually argued to him that his allegiance to the IRB meant that he must back the rebellion, Hobson persistently refused to. As a result he was arrested. He was the only member of the IRB who was actually arrested by the IRB itself and imprisoned.
Civil resistance: “But I never really have been clear about what he thought you would have to do. I don’t think there is any way in which you could get a mandate. I think what he is really talking about is that you adopt a method which will enable you to gauge how people are reacting, that you don’t just strike and then hope, but that you have a method that brings the people into the resistance organisation bit by bit, and that is a method that later will be known as civil resistance. That’s very much what Hobson was an advocate of. You start with things that are easy to do, that people can boycott, things that people can do without any..”
Marie MacSwiney: “Sorry I didn’t mean by ‘mandate’, the democratic mandate. I meant probably what you are saying now, a greater number of people joining the civil resistance. Over the decades since 1916, it has become patently obvious that the people who were involved in the insurrection were a minority and, if we are to judge by what you have told us tonight, even those who were involved, those coming in from provinces, those in the midlands for instance that you said just abandoned their march, were not wholehearted about it. And all I am asking you is: if the people involved had had more popular support and had people who were wholehearted about it, and perhaps all came from a similar ideological stance – and that may be part of the problem, that there were socialists there, there were republicans there, there were anti-English there, there were maybe reactionary Catholics there – there were all kinds of people involved and maybe if they had a unifying ideology and more popular support among the ordinary people of the country, really I’d like to know do you think it would have been successful or would we be talking still about finishing it?”
Dr. Charles Townshend: “Well, one of two things might have happened. One is that it might have produced this massive national uprising of theimagination, and Hobson’s argument is that if you get to a certain point the country becomes totally ungovernable and the British have to accept that they can no longer do anything.
“The other thing that might have happened is that the more formidable the resistance became, the heavier the British would have come down on it and it would actually have been a very nasty war in which thousands and thousands of people would have got killed. Normally that wouldn’t happen and of course Hobson, that sounds a bit daft doesn’t it – but Hobson wrote his thesis in 1909 and I think it is very much a peacetime thesis. Hobson, I think, had a fundamental disagreement with the old Fenian mantra which got pulled out again in 1914: ‘England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity.’ That is manifestly not true in the case of a war this size; the one thing Britain couldn’t tolerate in the middle of a war that size would be a rebellion. In peacetime they might give way to it, in themiddle of a war they would destroy it. So it was entirely the wrong time to do it, if you were going to do that. So I think in reality, the more formidable the Rising had been in 1916, the more heavily it would have been crushed.”
Q.6. Fintan Mullally (Dublin): “I would slightly disagree with you on that theory, but my point basically is that with the number of Irish troops who would have been in the English forces at that particular time, would the brigades and battalions in Ireland have been 50:50 Irish natives and how high up the ranks? They wouldn’t be like the Duke of York or Duke of Wellington or up at the higher levels. I presume they would have a blockage at colonel or something. The ones who might be possibly nationalistic in their outlook – I suppose in a family where the first boy went to the church and the second lad went into the army. They were well-paid jobs at the time, not maybe well-paid in cash form, but at least you got a good education and things like that. Can you see that the reason that the Irish few got away with it, was the fact that there may have been slowness in shall we say the battalions taking on their sisters and brothers?”
Charles Townshend: “Did I get the understanding that you are suggesting that no Irish men got promoted above or to the rank of Colonel? Because that certainly wouldn’t be true. …In Irish regiments, and indeed outside them, as far as I know there is no glass ceiling for Irish people, since the Duke of Wellington’s time, as you rightly said. We know that two, three of the battalions in Dublin were Irish regiments. So, yes, is there any reluctance? I mean by and large the Irish troops were loyal to the oath to the army they joined, as Casement found when he tried to recruit Irish prisoners into the Irish Brigade. So as far as we know all of the Irish troops in Ireland were implacably opposed to the rebellion which they saw, as British people did, as a stab in the back. So I have never seen any evidence that there was any problem of that kind. It doesn’t appear in the military material itself that there was any inclination to pull Irish units out of the thing and replace them. It could look that way because the first reinforcements brought in from outside are extremely English formations, their midland division, but they were militarily completely ineffective compared with, I mean the effectiveness of those Irish forces, like the Royal Irish Regiment was very high, so I don’t think so. The curious thing to me though is that what used to be called ‘military fenianism’ in the nineteenth century was, it was an idea that at least made sense theoretically. John Devoy had been involved in that in the 1860s. Essentially it had been a plan to suborn the Irish units of the British Army and turn them into an insurrectionary force at the right moment. It was rooted out by a very fierce counterpolicy carried out by the military authorities and of course Devoy himself was eventually convicted and lived out the rest of his life in the United States. But it has never been clear to me why Devoy was so unimpressed by the Casement idea of forming an Irish Brigade. But it is clear that Devoy never thought it was going to work, whether this is based on his own experience, but it is a radically different situation in the First World War. The troops that he tried to convert were professional, hard-bitten professional soldiers. The troops in the prisons in the First World War many of them were just very recent recruits into Kitchener’s armies, and on the face of it, I would have thought it seemed like quite a good idea. But he never, I think, had any faith in it and of course in the event it didn’t work out. So that would appear to bear out the argument that once you join the British Army – for whatever reason – you stayed with it.
“That didn’t hold for ever. There was some leakage, and I think after 1916, it became more of a problem. I think nationalist ideas did begin to form a little bit more in Irish units, but of course never to the point that a whole unit would become unreliable.”
Q.7. George Fleming (Belfast): “Thank you very much Dr. Townshend for that excellent talk. What do you think today, 90 years after the Easter Rising, how do the people in Britain feel at the moment? Is there any general feeling at all, even from a political point of view and from all of the newspapers, I didn’t find much written about it, I doubt if there are any politicians in the British Parliament that know very much about it, putting it quite frankly, except for people like yourself who have an interest in this from an historical point of view and it is nice to see. I am a bit interested. Most Irish people are, but outside of Ireland what do you think?”
Charles Townshend: “What you were saying a minute ago, it strikes me as being pretty much the case that you have to scratch pretty hard to find any real interest in or understanding of Ireland amongst English people and that goes right back of course. That is part of the problem within the Union itself. It is part of the problem in the British government in 1916. Nobody knows, nobody cares. They have no touch in Irish policy and that is one of the reasons I think why the Liberal cabinet had eventually come to the conclusion that Home Rule was a good idea, because the Union just didn’t really work. So I think this is a real issue. There has been quite a bit of – as I was saying a while ago at the level of engaged journalists – there has been quite a flurry of rhetorical denunciation of the Rising. But I think you’d find it hard to find much response among ordinary people.
“So the whole point of the Home Rule policy was, as I say, based on the fact that the English or the British, whatever you want to call them, wanted to remove the Irish problem which had been such a nuisance for two, three generations and it is that negativity that is again, it’s followed out through British Policy after 1920/21 and British policy in relation to Northern Ireland. It’s an absolute unilateral withdrawal, even when Northern Ireland is breaking the rules that Britain had tried to impose in the form of the Government of Ireland Act. There just isn’t any political will to impose the British version, even though the British know perfectly well what they write and that the Northern Ireland government is wrong. They just don’t do anything about it. So that is a slightly different point. But I think it seems to run through the whole system and that is fairly regrettable. I do my bit to teach a course to English students in a university but I can tell you that the level of ignorance is stupendous. It is more than if you were teaching a course on Germany or Russia.”
Q.8. “Mr. Chairman, Professor. Just as a slight diversion I was interested in the numbers of British troops in Ireland and the numbers who took part in the Rising or Rebellion, depending which way you want to look at it. I don’t know the exact numbers on either side, but I do know that something like, the numbers in the GPO were around 300 and yet 15,000 looked for medals after it! Brendan Behan is reported to have said that the British Army must have been a gallant little band! But, apart from that, you punctuated all your answers by saying you just didn’t understand and you left a void there all the time. Because I am getting old and ancient, I had the privilege of meeting men, not women, I just met men who took part in the Rebellion, or Rising or whatever way you like to describe it, and can I tell you that one of them gave me his walking stick. I still have it. He walked from Kilskyre which is about 10 miles north, maybe 7 miles north of Kells, and he walked from Kilskyre on the first Monday of Holy week – which is the Monday before Easter – to be in Dublin for the Rising! And he had been in Dublin in 1910 when the last monarch arrived and he was batoned down for singing ‘God save Ireland’. And I said to him ‘why would you bother?’ and he said to me, ‘I’ll tell you why, I wanted to be a citizen and not a subject.’ I just want to tell you that that is the answer to an awful lot of the questions that you left unanswered, in my humble opinion.”
Charles Townshend: “Well I absolutely accept that and I hope I didn’t give the impression that I didn’t understand that dimension of it. It is something in the book that I actually tried to bring out in a way that probably hasn’t been popular with historians in this last generation. That is one of the reasons why there is this tendency to look for evidence of trickery and deception. But I think the place of simple idealism needs to be re-emphasized. This notion of freedom, although it may be naïve in some ways because we know it doesn’t eventually amount to perhaps what you first of all imagine, but that isn’t really the point, the point isn’t really does national independence solve all your problems? Nationalists may say this in their propaganda but it isn’t really what it is about. What it is about is ‘well, Sean McEntee, in those moments you felt a free man. You felt a yolk had been lifted off your shoulders’. That is a very telling kind of phrase, it is a completely psychological yoke, but it is a feeling of liberation. I think there is absolutely no question about that. That is why I am arguing that people were up for this fight. They wanted to be in it. Obviously they remained quite a small minority. But the idea that that group that came out was in some sense deluded, deliberately deluded, I think it is not sustainable and it is no tribute to them at all.
“But I am interested that he knew the Rising was taking place on the Monday beforehand, because a lot of people do say they didn’t realise what was going on until a lot later than that. This is one of the hardest things to really put together, because the leadership were giving out so many signals, and there are a number of people who claim they really were pretty certain by Palm Sunday that they knew what was going on and the hints had been dropped and so on, and people suggesting they might go to confession and so on.”
Questioner: “This man said that he had heard and he wanted to be there….”
Charles Townshend: “Well I think this makes a lot of sense. The people I can’t really understand are the people who say that they got as far as Easter Sunday without realising that anything serious was going on, because, as I said, there were just so many signals. And yet the British apparently reached Easter Sunday without realising anything was going on and they had just as much information, so I suppose it comes from what you believe is possible. And of course one of the things one might say about the Rising generally – in case it doesn’t come up in any other way, and it’s one of the points I do try to make in the book as well – is that it does change mental attitudes in a very dramatic way, more than political attitudes to begin with. I think it explodes the limits of the possible. I think there is a whole generation, the whole Home Rule generation is confined by a sense that only certain things can happen, that in the face of British power you can only ever achieve a limited autonomy and that what you have to do is buy into the biggest structure provided by Britain. I think that had been very widely accepted for a very long time. But suddenly with 1916 – and I think it is quite sudden – there is this feeling that maybe that is not so true after all, that maybe another way is possible. For a small number of people, they believe it can happen, obviously afterwards an even larger number of people, but before that most people think that it just could never happen and that is why they look at all the evidence, and they say, ‘well there may be this evidence, but it still can’t really be true because it is just not possible’. But, as I say, after 1916, these things seem possible.”
Brendan O’Brien: “Just to let you know we have three questions lined up ….
Q.9. Seán Collins (Drogheda): “First may I compliment you on your book, I think it is the first book I have read on the subject – and I have read many – that actually does cover the provinces and the various things that attempted to take place, shall we say. Could I make an observation before a question, in that I think somebody remarked that the people involved were half-hearted. I think that is sad, because they weren’t. They were very committed. I think you will agree with that.
“But what we have got to remember, looking at it from today’s point of view, we live in the Internet age, we can flash information around the country in milliseconds which they couldn’t do then. Communications just weren’t as accessible. You cited the example of Hannigan in Louth who said that when he assembled the men on Easter Sunday morning at Dundalk, the men didn’t know they were going to participate in the rebellion. Twenty miles down the road in Drogheda, when word came to the man that organised the muster there, they just all went home. They were told it was off. So they went home. By the time the message came to Hannigan I think about five o’clock on the Sunday evening. But he knew that there was another executive operating, so he wasn’t prepared to accept that order. But I think, would you agree that the detail that has become available through the release of the papers of the Military Bureau of Intelligence needs to be further and further analysed for us to get a better understanding? Because the people that did set out – and it has come across to me in all those papers – were very committed to what they were doing, but they were very, very confused. Even people in the know shall we say, like Hannigan, showed his own confusion. And also, until we have time to study more what is out there, like the pension papers which I believe they are going to release, they will tell us more. Last week a wonderful book was published by, I think it was UCC, on the life of Philip Monaghan …. And Monaghan said that he didn’t muster, he went to the Fairyhouse Races. Yet there are two independent accounts of him being present and organising the muster at Drogheda! They are written years apart by different people in different places. But I think at the end of the day, the failure wasn’t on behalf of the participants, the failure was the inability to organise.”
Charles Townshend: “I think I’d like to believe that we will eventually get so much evidence that we will be able to solve all of these mysteries. But I am afraid that probably isn’t going to happen, and not only because some of the kinds of evidence that we’d need will never appear. … I think it is highly likely that most of the Volunteer material that would be particularly interesting to look at, was actually deliberately destroyed before the rising. …There is an awful shortage of really contemporary material. The witness statements are a wonderful source, but they do suffer to some extent from the problems of being written thirty years after the event. In some ways it is not as much of a problem as you might in the abstract think. Many of the inconsistencies and the errors in them – and they are absolutely riddled with errors, but then everybody’s memories are – but I was talking today to a Ph.D. student in Trinity College who is studying the witness statements, really analysing the witness statements as a source, as her thesis. She has compiled a massive database on them and we were talking about where, on a scale of 1:10, you could rate them overall for reliability. My suggestion was 6 and she seemed to agree with that. But there is far more in them that is valuable. As I say they are a good source, priceless in some ways, but even more contemporary sources are problematic. People can simply utterly forget things that can be confirmed by other people who were with them. Eoin MacNeill notoriously wrote three accounts of his actions in the critical last few days before Easter Sunday and these are pretty close together, close to the time. He wrote a briefing paper for his solicitor when he was under arrest and placed in courtmartial, and this is in May 1916, and then a more extensive paper for the information of Bulmer Hobson a year later. And he has crucial meetings on different days. Taking one of these accounts, he has it taking place at breakfast on Saturday and in another on Friday. These are dramatic events, they are very close to the time. He was fully aware in retrospect how important they were. He says at the time he wasn’t quite aware how important they were and that is why he didn’t remember them. … I just find that, I mean a university professor is supposed to be able to remember things! Well perhaps that is not such a good argument. But the fact is that if he can be so significantly out in such … I think you will just have to accept it, that the only way you can militate against that is to have loads and loads of these accounts and crosscheck them. So to go back the first point, you are absolutely right there is more work to be done on these sources and particularly if the pension statements as you say get released. We will certainly have an even bigger database which we can – scientific is probably pushing it a bit – but we can certainly approach it very analytically.
“So yes, I think that all that comes out of this does sustain just what you say which is that to an extent that surprised me, I found that people who I perhaps felt had been deluded and wrong-headed, I came to the conclusion that they were really extremely sensible and that the whole project really does contain some terrible, perilous dangers for the idea of constitutional liberalism and so on. But the whole project is underpinned by a very simple full-hearted belief in the improvement of things. I mean there is a tremendously strong sense of idealism and that I guess is what this generation would want to rescue from out of … what the Taoiseach is talking about rescuing the spirit of 1916. Now nobody really knows quite what that is. There are at least as many versions of it as there are political groupings presumably. But some part of that spirit must be this idealism. Yes it is very strongly present in it. That is something that I hope I have brought out a little bit, but there is more to do. ”
Brendan O’Brien: “Well if there is one thing that you are bringing out it is that this isn’t a simple matter boiled down to a small group of men in 1916. My fear is that that is exactly what the new revised version of 1916 will be boiled down to. I think that is where your contribution tonight shows us all the layers and complications and human frailties and failure of plans and everything else, which just never seem to get into the narrative, I wonder why. Now this meeting is going to finish at 10.15pm. We have two more questions lined up, so if you have anymore, get in before the sale ends.”
Q.10. Pamela McMillen (Belfast): “I came to live in Belfast in the late 1960s just in time for our ‘Troubles’. For some people the Easter Rising is like a red rag to a bull. I am just wondering if it would be better – and I know the south of Ireland has moved forward far quicker than people’s attitudes in Belfast or the north as a whole – if we had the celebration of Independence Day, the same as the other countries that have now left the Commonwealth and the majority did achieve it by peaceful means. I suppose that people in the North feel that the Rising validated the Provos’ campaign in Northern Ireland. Quite honestly I feel we have achieved nothing by thirty years of violence and a lot of people killed and sadness. But dialogue, I mean we have two world wars, I don’t think it achieved that much either. Dialogue at the end of the day, achieves a peaceful end.”
Charles Townshend: “That is a very, very serious question. I am probably not remotely qualified to even offer a direction to an answer on that, but I think if I follow what you are saying, that there could be an approach to a deliberate offsetting of the centrality of the Rising in favour of a more arbitrary … When would the Independence Day be? It would have to be not the 24th April 1916, because obviously there was a declaration of independence that day. Then there was another declaration of independence on 21 January 1919. But that also was unfortunately accompanied, by pure coincidence as it happens, by the first violent action of the Anglo-Irish War. … That is a cursed sort of accident in a way, because I think if it were possible, politically possible, to agree that January 1919 was a more complete and progressive kind of declaration of independence – and you could argue that I think on the basis of the way the Sinn Fein party at that point was, had adopted this civil resistance idea that I was talking about earlier. If you could do that then I think that would possibly be very beneficial. But as I say, because of this ghastly coincidence that the IRA’s war or what would become the IRA war, was launched on exactly the same day, as I say by accident, because it was an ambush that had been tried a few times and hadn’t worked and then bingo they just hit them that day. That is going to scupper that so you might have to come up with some completely artificial celebratory date which would be better, because what you are arguing of course, is that people should think this out and they should get away from the visceral gut kind of ancestral politics and they should say: ‘now what we want to do is try and incorporate the principles of these things into some new vision’ ….. but where you could site it, you would need a lot of thought about that.”
“But your point about 1916 and its validation of violence is obviously inescapable and it is a really hard thing to deal with. Some of the commentary suggests that Ireland is kind of uniquely malevolent in that respect. There was a particularly grotesque article in the Observer a couple of weeks ago by a guy called Geoffrey Wheatcroft who argued pretty much that the 1916ers had invented terrorism and they were responsible not only for everything up to and including the death of Dennis Donaldson, but they were responsible for Nazism …and you name it, and I mean it was the most fantastic diatripe. You can dismantle that, and I think you have to, by saying that 1916 is quite a small element in the history of violence in the twentieth century. The War itself which was started by an act of undoubted terrorism by Serbian nationalists and then turned into the most stupendous bloodbath on the basis, as you were saying earlier, of a nationalism which convinced all the belligerent countries that they had to fight to the last drop of their blood to preserve their way of life. Everybody is doing the same thing. I think there is a certain unfairness in singling out the 1916 rebels as somehow the most pernicious users of violence in the twentieth century. So I think a little bit of perspective on that would kind of help, from both sides. But it is very, very difficult.”
Q.11. “You mentioned that the bigger the rebellion, the hotter would have been the response. Bearing in mind that machine guns and artillery were used, this would have resulted in an absolute massacre. My question would be: in hindsight were we lucky that the arms landing failed?”
Charles Townshend: “I think you could say yes, because the scale of the fighting – if they had been got ashore – would certainly have been very much larger. And you have to ask: what is the real possibility of anything other than a more extended and bloodier kind of defeat? In that sense I guess the guys who went looking for German help were right and that only very significant German military force would have made it possible to actually get the British out of Ireland if they didn’t choose to leave. It is hard to imagine any negotiated compromise that could have happened. I guess I was trying to say this in a way when I was arguing that, although you can criticise the organisation on their command failures and so on, you do have all this to ask: what would have been the point of making the Rising more militarily effective than it was? And I suppose I would come back again and answer your question just the same way and say yes, it probably was a good thing they didn’t get those guns ashore.”
Q.12. Arthur O’Connor (Trim): “Mr Chairman, isn’t it true that the entire Irish people’s attitude changed especially after the prisoners were released from Frongoch? When they were going away, that is what I was told anyway. Ladies whose boyfriends were out fighting the war, to save all small nations. They were preaching at them and shouting … When they were released coming home, they were amazed. They went out meeting them and cheering them. Whatever about whether it was not very effective or whether it was small or who was in it or whatever, it did take effect in subsequent years and when the election came in 1918 then it was quite evident that the Irish people had changed. Is that correct or am I right?”
Charles Townshend: “It is absolutely clear by 1918 for sure, and you are right that there is a big change between April and December 1916. I think both of those responses are slightly exaggerated. There is a certain number of people who had an interest in arguing that the whole population of Dublin and Ireland in general was against the Rising and this was shown in a very hostile reaction. I think there was some hostility, but there was also quite a lot of support more or less from the beginning, and certainly by the middle of the week and at the point when the prisoners are being marched off to the North Wall, the reactions, as far as I can judge, are not quite as overwhelmingly hostile as one viewer has it. Equally the reaction to the return of the prisoners is not always as absolutely overwhelmingly ecstatic as Sinn Fein propaganda made up, but it is pretty generally so in most places and there is a snowball effect that there is a feeling that something is going on.”
“That rolls on to 1918 in the sense that even without the conscription crisis, I think Sinn Fein was already well on the way to being the only really serious political game on the nationalist side. … Usually the conscription issue is taken as being the decisive point and it clearly was in the sense that it happened and there was this big rally against it. But as I say I think Sinn Fein was really on a roll. It might have taken a few more years, but that ultimate outcome where the old Parliamentary Party is effectively destroyed and replaced by Sinn Fein, I think that was going to happen from the middle of 1917 onwards.
“What exactly causes this change? I don’t think there is one simple single thing and I don’t think it is just the executions, although that is important. But just the very experience of imprisonment, I think, and the impact. In terms of actual imprisonment and even interned, I am only talking about a few hundred people eventually. But to begin with, thousands are arrested and I think that that is sometimes overlooked in comparison with the executions. The executions did have a terrific psychological effect, but also the arrest of thousands of innocent people always is bad. I mean from the Government’s point of view, that people even if they have only been held for a few days, they have already got a sense of grievance. If you push more people into, or accuse them of being sympathisers with your opponents, it kind of has this effect of making them think that maybe they are sympathetic, even though they might have not felt so before. So I think the policy was pretty counterproductive from a British point of view. So there is a whole sort of set of things and then of course there is a whole sort of industry – sorry that is not the word I really like to use as a whole – there are ways in which commemoration of the 1916’ers goes on and it crosses all kinds of age groups. So I think it does become eventually a real sort of social movement. So as I said before, Pearse got that bit absolutely right.”
Arthur: “Commenting on the executions, Shaw said: ‘the fools, the fools, will they ever learn?”
Charles Townshend: “Well they never will”
Q. “Don’t take this wrong because I am reading your book and enjoying it very much, but I am also just wondering about your thinking, as a British historian or a historian with British background coming to 1916, and how you are finding it sifting through. Is it an advantage if you like coming at it from that distance or personally how have you found that? And secondly on a bigger scale where does it fit in British history and is it seen as an event, coming back to the earlier question about how it is seen in Britain? But from a history point of view, does it do large or small on the scale of British history?”
Charles Townshend: “Those are two quite different questions. I can’t really answer the first one. By and large the ethnicity of historians themselves doesn’t count for very much. I mean people do, Germans do British history and the French people do Chinese history. There is a slight more feeling here, that somehow if you are not Irish, you can’t do Irish history. But basically … it is just a question of how much effort you put into it. Once you have been doing it for thirty years, you have the same problems actually doing the history of your own country if you like. There are certain things that are harder to do than others. Certain groups are harder to empathise with, certain ideologies or whatever, but apart from that I don’t think there is a…There is a third question actually which again I don’t think I can answer, implicit in what you said. Does it help to be an outsider? Somebody actually said this. Of course, what is an outsider in that sense? But I suppose in my case it means that I wasn’t born and brought up in Ireland, but I do have Irish connections, although they are Anglo-Irish but that is neither here nor there. I might as well be an Australian. Some of the most effective contemporary historians are Australians as it happens ….. People often feel that you maybe take a different perspective, it might not always be better. But it probably helps to have some different perspectives brought in and maybe I have things that are unconscious that I can’t control but that do have certain effects. So I couldn’t say about that either.
“As to where in British history, that is a slightly more technical question. Yes this is important, but I think in the British perception it is not – that was an earlier question – it is not as important as it should be. There is an awful lot of ignorance and sometimes it happens because it is aided by the fact that when you have done something really badly, you don’t want to remember it particularly. So I am thinking of another subject that I am semi-specialised in which is the British General Mandate in Palestine. I mean that has also been subject to quite serious loss of British memory because it really was a humiliating failure, and yet it is very important that people should remember this because, as some of us try to say to our Prime Minister: if you know some of this history, you are less inclined to repeat the mistakes you made before. So I think that there is – without leaping towards Iraq – if you just look at the handling of 1916, there should be for the British, they should pay more attention to the way it was misjudged and mishandled, because it is generic kinds of governmental mistakes that we make time and time again in other situations as well, maybe not with quite such disastrous results. So I would have to say that it doesn’t figure quite as large on the horizons as British people as I would like it to. But I am doing my best to raise it a little bit!”
Brendan O’Brien: “You are doing a great job! We are just at the end, but Julitta Clancy at the back has a question and because she owns the hall we will let her ask it!”
Q.14. Julitta Clancy (Meath Peace Group): “No, the Columbans own the hall and thanks to them again for it. Just to thank you for your wonderful contribution. And I just wanted to ask a question that is kind of pertinent to now, and it is: how much did the leaders of the volunteer and nationalist movement all around, Redmond and the whole lot of them, how much knowledge and communication did they have with unionists at the time? Was there any at all, and was a lot of what they did in total reaction to Carson and the formation of the UVF? And I say this because I discovered a grandfather of mine was sent to Belfast at the time of the Treaty negotiations. He was formerly in the IRB but he was now working in the government [Ministry of Economics in Dail Eireann] and was sent to meet with unionist and business leaders to talk to them and he seems to have got on very well, in the discussions he had with them. In fact one of the things that he reported to his superiors was that if you remove the threat, you remove the violence and the boycott, there is a hope for some form of talking together in the future. And I just wonder how much of that – if you look at the Proclamation where they wrote that bit about ‘divisions fostered by an alien government’ which shows very little knowledge of unionist beliefs and aspirations and experiences?”
Charles Townshend: “Yes I think it probably is unfortunately true that that generation of separatists were locked into a version and interpretation of unionism that was quite some way off being correct. They hadn’t really got to grips with any attempt to understand unionism from inside. They saw it as just the effect of British manipulation or at best complete delusion and of course it is unfortunately true – that is a heavy word isn’t it? – but it seems to be one of the more incontrovertible aspects of 1916 that it was made by people whose philosophy was entirely about reinforcing the cultural core of Irishness as they understood it, and which was a cultural core that was actually further away from any possible acceptance by unionist and previous definitions of Irishness. There is no question that the Irish Ireland movement had moved a very, very considerable distance from the old sort of United Irish conception of Irishness which was, basically if you live in Ireland you are Irish. That was Wolfe Tone’s idea, but by 1900 you are only Irish if you accept the full package really. You have actually got to come ideologically on board and you have got all sorts of deliberate tests being set up, whether you are Irish or not. So if you play cricket you are not Irish. It is very, very serious. I mean you cannot disguise how divisive that Irish Ireland movement is and the 1916ers are Irish Irelanders. There is no question that the aspirations, the dreams are, as Pearse said, that Ireland should be not free merely but Gaelic also. That is a whole extra, that would have been a literally meaningless conception to Wolfe Tone.
“And politically, if you are interested in unity in Ireland, it is a very difficult thing to get over. So I don’t think one should disguise that 1916 is almost more dangerous in that ideological sense than it is in its simple physical readiness to use violence. …. And you are absolutely right – the organisations themselves are direct reactions to the Ulster Volunteer movement and as far as I know, there is no contact between them even at the very high level. Eoin MacNeill could very easily have communicated with Carson and he did have quite an interesting argument that they were both home rulers. But he didn’t, as far as I know, communicate with him and the notion of using their complementary sort of interests and methods to construct some kind of united front, just doesn’t seem to have figured as a political option for the Volunteer leadership. So I think that aspect of things is quite negative and that is something that would have to be left behind if you like.”
Closing words and thanks:
Brendan O’Brien: “Thank you very much indeed Dr. Charles Townshend and thank you all for your questions which were very good. I suppose if you say ‘Londonderry’ you are not Irish as well isn’t that it? We have awful difficulties with these things, identity? Carson of course did, I think, describe himself as an Irish Unionist, but I was asking Jeffrey Donaldson the other day ‘well what would you call yourself?’ and he couldn’t say ‘Irish Unionist’ but he would say ‘Ulster Unionist’, whereas Reg Empey would say ‘I am an Irish Unionist’. Ian Paisley’s answer to the same question is: ‘I am Irish but I am not for a United Ireland.’ Mind you, in 1972 he was encouraging talk towards a United Ireland in certain circumstances. So it is all terribly complex and I think the complexity of your talk is what is the valuable contribution. The simplicity is what maybe has done it all down over the years. It is not simple, it is quite complicated and the questions were an illustration of that. So anyway thank you very much indeed for all of that. ”
John Clancy: “On behalf of the peace group, can I just thank both the chair and Dr. Townshend and you all for coming? … There is tea and coffee served, for those who aren’t familiar with our hospitality, but the hospitality is there because of the Columbans and the generosity of giving us these facilities, and I would just like to bear in mind the great contribution the Columbans have done to all of these discussions…. Finally, I would like to introduce you to one of our committee members Philomena Boylan-Stewart whose father, Sean Boylan, was referred to by Professor Townshend and who would like to say a few words in terms of her memories of her father as a brief appendix.”
Philomena Boylan-Stewart: “This is very unexpected! I would just like to refer to the orders received up at the Hill of Tara, and there is one abiding memory of my father talking about this, and those men talked very little. It was not until after 1966 that they spoke about it at all. But daddy always talked about the orders and the counter-orders and all this, and the awful confusion. Now I don’t know where you got your information about them going to the races, maybe they did. I don’t ever remember having heard that, for Easter Monday. There were four boys in the family and they were all interned afterwards. So they just didn’t forget about it on Easter Monday and go off. Later on there was £10,000 on my father’s head. He was shot at in Dunshaughlin. He feigned death and escaped. He was to have been executed. Thank God that didn’t happen either. I know Professor you have done a great job in the book. I haven’t read all of it, but a good bit of it, and you couldn’t possibly mention every province. But there are three of four lines about this area here, and this area is not Ashbourne. I just felt that maybe we were a bit cynical about what happened in Tara, and I think, from what I know and from my father’s friends whom I knew all over the years, they were very sincere and very determined to do what they set out to do. Thank you very much.”
Meath Peace Group report, 2006. Taped by Judith Hamill (audio) and Jim Kealy (video)
Transcribed by Judith Hamill and Julitta Clancy. Edited by Julitta Clancy
Dr Charles Townshend is Professor of Modern History at the University of Keele. His first book The British Campaign in Ireland 1919-1921, was published in 1975 and in 1983 he published Political Violence in Ireland: Government and Resistance since 1848 (OUP). His most recent book, Easter 1916: the Irish Rebellion was published by Allen Lane/Penguin in 2005.
Brendan O’Brien was formerly senior current affairs reporter with RTE and has been reporting on Northern Ireland affairs since 1974. He has made several documentaries on the Northern Ireland conflict and is also the author of The Long War and A Pocket History of the IRA. He is currently a presenter of the lunchtime current affairs programme on Newstalk 106.
Attendance at the talk: 110
Appendix PROCLAMATION OF INDEPENDENCE
POBLACHT NA H EIREANN
THE PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT
TO THE PEOPLE OF IRELAND
IRISHMEN AND IRISHWOMEN: In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.
Having organised and trained her manhood through her secret revolutionary organisation, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and through her open military organisations, the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army, having patiently perfected her discipline, having resolutely waited for the right moment to reveal itself, she now seizes that moment, and, supported by her exiled children in America and by gallant allies in Europe, but relying in the first on her own strength, she strikes in full confidence of victory.
We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people. In every generation the Irish people have asserted their right to national freedom and sovereignty; six times during the last three hundred years they have asserted it to arms. Standing on that fundamental right and again asserting it in arms in the face of the world, we hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State, and we pledge our lives and the lives of our comrades-in-arms to the cause of its freedom, of its welfare, and of its exaltation among the nations.
The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all of its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.
Until our arms have brought the opportune moment for the establishment of a permanent National, representative of the whole people of Ireland and elected by the suffrages of all her men and women, the Provisional Government, hereby constituted, will administer the civil and military affairs of the Republic in trust for the people.
We place the cause of the Irish Republic under the protection of the Most High God. Whose blessing we invoke upon our arms, and we pray that no one who serves that cause will dishonour it by cowardice, in humanity, or rapine. In this supreme hour the Irish nation must, by its valour and discipline and by the readiness of its children to sacrifice themselves for the common good, prove itself worthy of the august destiny to which it is called.
Signed on Behalf of the Provisional Government.
Thomas J. Clarke,
Sean Mac Diarmada, Thomas MacDonagh,
P. H. Pearse, Eamonn Ceannt,
James Connolly, Joseph Plunkett
MEATH PEACE GROUP TALKS
No. 42 – “North Belfast – Communities in Crisis: Challenges for the Belfast Agreement?”
Wednesday, 27th February 2002
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan, Co. Meath
Rev. Norman Hamilton (Ballysillan Presbyterian Church, North Belfast)
Cllr. Martin Morgan (SDLP, North Belfast)
Roy Garland (Irish News columnist, Co-chair, Guild of Uriel)
Fr. Aidan Troy, C.P. (P.P., Holy Cross, Ardoyne, North Belfast)
Chaired by Brendan O’Brien
(Senior Reporter, RTE)
Introduction (Brendan O’Brien)
Questions and comments (summaries only)
Appendix: “The Makings of a Young Militant” (Rev. Robert Beckett – letter to editor, Nov. 2001)
Biographical notes on speakers
Maps: North Belfast ; Ardoyne area [not reproduced here]
©Meath Peace Group
Introduction – Brendan O’Brien:
“Good evening …I would just like to make one simple observation – as you know I work with RTE, current affairs programme, and at the moment I am in the middle of a major documentary on the Middle East – the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians – and people out there continually ask me how it is in Ireland, and they continually think the Irish situation is worse than theirs, despite the fact that theirs is really at a crux time… I remember being at a seminar something like this in the Glencree reconciliation centre … and the South African Ambassador to Ireland was chairing the meeting, and somebody asked him a question – “what is the difference between the apartheid problem you saw in South Africa and the conflict in Ireland?” and he said, much to everybody’s surprise, that the Irish situation was worse. He saw more hatred in the Irish situation than he did there, which I found very hard to understand…
“The topic of tonight’s discussion is “ North Belfast – Communities in Crisis: Challenges for the Belfast Agreement”. It doesn’t have to be said that North Belfast has come into the forefront of our living rooms in recent times for a variety of reasons, some of them negative reasons. It comes with a legacy of a part of Northern Ireland which has had more people dead than any other area – something like a third of all deaths in the conflict were from North Belfast. So there is a really deep and bitter legacy.
“The first speaker is Rev. Norman Hamilton…. Essentially he comes as a committed Christian, taking to the ministry later in life, and for the last 13 years has worked his mission in the Ardoyne…
1. Rev. Norman Hamilton (Presbyterian Minister, Ballysillan):
“… This is my first sortie into a group like this in the Republic. Thank you so much for the invitation. I genuinely regard it as a real privilege to be able to come and try to articulate some of the acute dilemmas that the Unionist and Protestant people feel in North Belfast.
Background: “Maybe I should say where I am coming from, because it has been desperately important to me over the past six months to try and position myself properly in all of this. If you wanted to know what sort of Presbyterian Minister I am, I am not in the mould of Ian Paisley, I am much more in the mould of Dr. Trevor Morrow from Lucan which will mean something to quite a number of you, so if you know Trevor and you know where he is, I am sort of in that same camp I was educated at Trinity. I am an economist by background. I then became a career civil servant, and, crucially for my involvement in the Ardoyne, I was involved for some time on the political side of the Stormont Government. So I have kept an interest in the political developments over the years, I have kept my contacts and my friends in the civil service, many of whom are now senior civil servants. I have kept those contacts and friendships alive and I hope that has been of some use in the last wee while. After being a career civil servant, I did sense a real vocation to leave that, though I was having a ball, I loved it, and worked for a while in Christian work in universities and colleges in England, then came back and did my training for the Presbyterian ministry in Belfast, was posted to a very affluent church in the south side of the city and then went up the scale and was posted to the Ardoyne area of North Belfast, and have been there for the last thirteen years…
“Can I say at the outset that I do not come as a politician under any guise. This is really important. I have tried over the last six months to honour the political leaders, and I would be happy to take questions on this. I think there is rather too much community activity which undermines political leadership, but that’s a bit of a mantra of mine. I come as a Christian minister, I hope one that is politically aware, both currently and from my background. I have lots of contact with all of the political parties, and I mean all of them, over the last number of years. I speak as someone who voted “yes” for the Belfast Agreement, and so what I see my role tonight is as to try to interpret as best I can what has been happening, particularly in the Ardoyne/Glenbryn area of North Belfast, to interpret, but. I want you to understand that some of the views I will be expresssing I personally do not hold. My task is to help you folks understand why the Protestant and loyalist folks in North Belfast think and behave the way they do. So I hope that you will not necessarily tar me with the stick that you may want to tar some of them with. I want to make that really clear. Equally I do not want to distance myself from the community in which I work and serve. So there is a tension here, and I hope that over the last number of months – and perhaps Fr. Aidan would be the right person to ask – I have tried to position myself in such a way so as to identify with the community but not identify with the protest, and to work quite hard at being accepted and trusted in both communities. That is what I have aimed to do and that is where I come from tonight
Holy Cross dispute: “As far as the Holy Cross dispute is concerned, I think I’ll leave that to the question and answer session, because I do not want to try to answer questions you are not asking. So I don’t want to comment on that directly. But I do want to say that I am quite happy to do my best to address any question about the Protestant, Unionist, Loyalist involvement in the Holy Cross dispute, to address that directly in the question and answer session…..
Geography and demography: “Perhaps the simplest place to start with my comments would be with a little diagrammatic map of Belfast, showing North, South East and West Forgive me if some of this is familiar to you, but I think it would be helpful if we all had a common understanding. The east is largely Orange, Protestant and Unionist, largely. The west, which is Gerry Adams’ constituency, is largely Green and Catholic. (It also includes the Shankill Road, but forget about that for the moment). The south of the city is the university and hospital area, very mixed, thousands and thousands of transient folk in terms of students, and relatively little civil unrest. The north of the city is where the majority of the trouble happens. Essentially it is Green, but with islands of Orange communities in it, roundabout a dozen to fifteen. Smallish threatened Protestant communities who see themselves in a sea of Green. So in that sense, North Belfast, in demographic terms, is the only part of the city which has lots and lots of interfaces, where the Orange dots and the larger Green community interact. To put that in another format, a diagrammatic map [Map 1, reproduced on page 2] that was published in the local newspaper last year in the middle of August, in what was actually a very important feature. You will see that these solid areas are largely Catholic, Nationalist or Republican, depending on the political voting patterns. The few mixed areas are striped [on the map], and the plain areas are largely Protestant, Loyalist or Unionist. One of the concerns of loyalism is that with these main arterial routes going into the centre of the city, it is almost impossible for loyalist people – I use that as a shorthand, people from the Orange community – to access the centre of the city without going through a Green community.
“Now that has a number of important implications for the marching season which is coming up soon. One of the reasons why there is so much potential for conflict in North Belfast … is that if Loyalists wish to march to the city centre almost certainly they will have to go through a Green community, or along a road that is on the edge of a Green community. Then the Ardoyne itself is this area here [map 1], and the particular area in question – Holy Cross – is here, the school is about here [map], and that distance is about 400 metres. The disputed area is about 400 metres. I live in this dot here [map] and that distance is 150 metres. So, rather like Fr. Aidan, the Holy Cross dispute was on my doorstep. So what we have here is a small Protestant community surrounded by, on the south-eastern side, this large expanding and vibrant Green Ardoyne community, the Deerpark area divided and becoming increasingly greener, and this area here comprises about 1500 people. I think this area of Ardoyne is around 6, 000….
General disenchantment with the Belfast Agreement: “So over the last couple of years, since the signing of the Belfast Agreement, I think it is fair to say that the smaller Protestant communities have been a microcosm of the general disenchantment with the Belfast Agreement that is right throughout much of the province. The pressure on these small communities, whether they be here, or some of the others down towards the Lough shore, the pressure that these communities have felt under has eventually erupted into the violence that you have seen rather too much of on your TV screens.
One-sided implementation of Agreement: “Why has that violence erupted? Depending on where you are coming from, let me offer a number of factors that have led to that. The first one is – and I think the underlying one that I want to articulate tonight – that the Orange community feels that in the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement … I quote “we have lost everything so what the hell? “ That was said to me by one of the leaders of the Holy Cross protest. So what have we lost, you might ask. The underlying disquiet that erupts in these small areas, but is actually, I think, reflected across the loyalist people in Northern Ireland, is the lack of a consistent moral basis for the implementation of the Belfast Agreement – that, having started down a route of trying to get to an end goal which is set out in the Belfast Agreement, there has been a complete breakdown of a moral framework, or an ethical framework, for doing so. Now, I am well aware of the difficulties that talking about morality poses, particularly for those from the Nationalist or Republican community. I have had this debate before, so I am not coming into this unaware of the difficulties that bringing a moral dimension poses. But fundamentally the Orange community feels that the implementation of the Agreement has been so one-sided as to make them the losers in a big way and the Green side the winners in a big way.
Let me give you someexamples – Tony Blair’s handwritten pledges before the referendum. The handwriting of the Prime Minister saying “there will be no terrorists in government”. This then is overturned and we have senior members of Sinn Fein in the Northern Ireland Executive.
Prisoner releases: “When we came to the Agreement itself, the early release of prisoners – over which there was much angst. Depending on where you stood, you were saying “why is it necessary to let thugs out on the street who have terrorised the community for thirty years, why is this a good thing?”
“On balance the majority of Unionist and Protestant/Loyalist people said “we can live with that, provided the peace and the win/win situation is delivered, but we are profoundly unhappy about this happening at all”.
Policing: “To move on since then – and Martin will no doubt have a very clear view on this – the Patton Report and the move from the Royal Ulster Constabulary to the Police Service of Northern Ireland was largely seen as rubbishing the sacrifice made by ordinary men and women in Northern Ireland over the years to defend them against terrorists. They were marginalized, set aside. And then a comparison is drawn between the 150 million that the Bloody Sunday Inquiry is expected to cost versus the lack of any significant ongoing public interest in, for example, the widows of the security forces. So you have this group of 13 who were massacred in Derry and they have a 150 million inquiry to ascertain the facts, while hundreds of police officers were murdered and nobody seems to care. “We’ve lost everything – we’ve lost our police service, we’ve lost the respect for their sacrifice, the whole thing is imbalanced”.
Political manipulation: “Then more recently, the granting of offices in London to Sinn Fein, and the charade over the re-election of David Trimble and Mark Durkan to head up the Northern Ireland Executive when the Alliance Party were encouraged and indeed played ball with the Secretary of State’s wish that they redesignate themselves for one day in order to provide a Unionist majority. In the loyalist community in Ardoyne that was greeted with complete derision, and an example of the way the political situation is used to achieve an end, simply manipulating the power manipulation of the system to get to a goal. And one civil servant I know said to the Minister that they were reporting to. “Minister, sometimes you would be better to let democracy take its own route.” Interesting comment, even at that sort of level.
Amnesty: “But finally the Weston Park Agreement, and the amnesty that is apparently being offered to terrorists on the run,is seen as the absolute pits of morality. Let me read a couple of comments from the Weston Park Agreement, and a comment from a Christian group on it and I will leave it at that. The Weston Park Agreement says: “Both governments also recognise that there is an issue to be addressed, with the completion of the early release scheme, about supporters of organisations now on ceasefire against whom there are outstanding prosecutions, and in some cases extradition proceedings, for offences committed before 10th April1998. Such people would, if convicted, stand to benefit from the early release scheme. The governments accept that it would be a natural development of the scheme for such prosecutions not to be pursued and will as soon as possible, and in any event before the end of the year  take such steps as are necessary to resolve this difficulty so that those concerned are no longer pursued”.
The moral problem for many people on the Unionist side is: that instead of those on the run being convicted and then released, that process is now being set aside. There is not even to be a conviction. Let me quote you from a Christian group commenting on this, which says it better than I could: “While the Weston Park document does not use the word “amnesty” what is on offer is clearly amnesty by any other name… The early release provisions of the Agreement were not offering prisoners an amnesty or a pardon. Central to the early release scheme was that they were getting neither an amnesty nor a pardon; they were being released on licence subsequent to conviction. It was on that basis, and on that basis alone, that we concluded that the early release of prisoners on licence was compatible with the biblical understanding of government and justice. We argued that the early release scheme was compatible with the Christian view of justice because those released were released from prison, but not from the judicial consequences of their actions. However it appears to us that the provisions of paragraph 20 of the Weston Park document have precisely the opposite effect. The only release is release from the judicial consequences of their actions and the just demand that they be called to account for their crimes against the community”. So, in other words, this is seen as rubbing salt in to the wounds by giving an amnesty to republican prisoners in particular.
North Belfast: “How does this play out in North Belfast? It plays out in the fact that you have small communities who feel that the Green community is getting all the goodies, the Green community apparently want to take over these smaller Protestant areas because the housing demand in the Green communities is so big, and that there is a conspiracy, a plot, a scheme to drive the Protestants out so that their areas can be used for Catholic housing. Very close to Glenbryn – Torrents, that little area here [map] – a quarter of a mile away, that area has virtually disappeared as a small Protestant group, virtually disappeared, and the Glenbryn community said “if things go on the way they are, we will go the way of Torrance, our community will reach the point where it is no longer viable. We have been saying this for the last four or five years. Nobody is listening, we have had enough and we are going to take action. We have lost everything so what the hell?” And the action that they took, you saw on your television screens. If you were to ask them was that action justified? I would think they would say yes it was, because the security people have now installed security cameras, there have been a series of measures designed to help the security of both communities, from being attacked by each other.
Hopes for the future: “Where do we go from this? I have really only one suggestion, one about which I feel passionately. Fr. Aidan may wish to comment on this, but the current state of community relations in North Belfast is the lowest I have ever known. It is complete stalemate. Nobody wants to talk to anybody else. There is singularly little political leadership to steer the communities towards sensible dialogue, and it does seem to me that we need to have a politically led programme of developing community relations. If we leave it to communities it simply won’t happen. And my hope is that in the not too distant future, the political representatives across the communities will actually decide that for the welfare of the whole community, they will lead us into a civilised engaged community relations programme. I think I’ll leave it at that, and no doubt I better put on my flak jacket for the questions later on!”
Chair: Brendan O’Brien: “Thank you very much indeed. That was very stimulating, very precise … it would concentrate the mind, because the very title of this discussion “Challenges for the Belfast Agreement” here in a Southern context, is in some ways a bit distant from the realities in the North for obvious reasons. There have been very few challenges in the South from the Belfast Agreement, because it has been more or less in tune with where people were at that time. It went through with a 95% clear “yes” vote, and the challenges really evaporated, there wasn’t even a challenge on Articles 2 and 3 in effect. And yet what we are hearing here is entirely the opposite in a place like North Belfast.
“And while there is an awful lot you can say about that on both sides… I would just make one observation which is this: I have been covering the Northern conflict for nearly 25 years, and the closer it got to a political agreement the more I wondered when there was going to be a reconciliation process – as distinct from a political agreement. The centre of the Belfast Agreement is that a line is drawn over the past, people move on. But the problem is that the past needs to be reconciled. What Rev. Hamilton is describing, it seems to me, comes from very deep roots of the past – death, policemen, people killed, conflict of all kinds. And in a way that is a major challenge for people in the Nationalist community to try to create some class of a comfort zone, because Nationalists are perceived as having done well out of the Belfast Agreement, partly because the republican movement was very adroit at moving in tune with the times, so that when the Agreement came about they could more or less fit in with it, and nearly claim it as their own, whereas they had abandoned very significant elements of their objectives in their armed campaign. And in a way the Loyalist community didn’t understand that – they didn’t see the concessions that the outer reaches of nationalism had made, for what it entailed, and you have some of the consequences in North Belfast.
“The second speaker comes from North Belfast, Martin Morgan of the SDLP, he was vice-chairman of the SDLP during the Good Friday Agreement negotiations, he has been a councillor for North Belfast for quite a number of years, he is also a child social worker, and he comes also from what we like to call the “coal face”…
2. Cllr. Martin Morgan (SDLP)
“Thank you. Just to echo what Rev. Hamilton said, I certainly appreciate the opportunity, as an SDLP councillor, but also as someone who was born and reared and still lives in North Belfast, to be here tonight to address you. I am here as a politician in North Belfast, but one of the biggest crises for everyone living in the North of the city – and Norman was quite right in pointing to the little pockets we have, probably 12 or 13 interfaces in North Belfast – one of the biggest crises that faced that part of the city was the Holy Cross dispute. I am not going to get into it.
“But if I can bring in a breath of fresh air – I was there in a political capacity, as were Sinn Fein politicians, as were Unionist and Loyalist politicians – but I think this group here, and me as well, has to pay tribute. Two central figures in giving hope to the communities, to helping those children and their families and to resolve that dispute, are sitting at either end of this table – Rev. Hamilton and Fr. Troy. [applause] Because certainly as politicians we couldn’t do what the religious leaders of those communities were able to do, even in simple terms, just listening to people, being with them, working with them and working through the problems. There is still residue but our religious leaders certainly showed great leadership – to us as politicians as well as to the people in that part of North Belfast.
Legacy of suffering in North Belfast. “It is a pity in some ways Billy Hutchinson wasn’t able to make it tonight because I was wanting to get into him in terms of talking about the Loyalist community…. It’s very easy to stand here and talk about the history. And what is the history of North Belfast? Norman has talked about it briefly. Twenty plus percentof all people murdered in what we call the “Troubles” died in that constituency. It’s not a very large area, but 20% plus, hundreds, about 800 plus people.
“We have 13 interfaces between what are described as Nationalist and Loyalist communities, more than any other area of the city put together. Sectarian violence – I am here tonight as other people from North Belfast are. We don’t know what is happening. There’s probably riots taking place as we speak here tonight, it’s a nightly event, that’s what you hear that’s what you see. And for outsiders it is certainly seen as a way of life… The conflict has broadened, as they would call it in traditional terms, because one of the things certainly I, as a politician, had hoped for was that the new generation, the children who even followed behind me, that they are the new beginning, because in the SDLP we believe we have the opportunity for a new beginning.
“But even the very children in our city are affected by this, and it is our duty, politically, at community level and at a religious level to show a leadership that can ensure that that new beginning starts today, tomorrow and on.
Fragmentation within loyalism: “If you look briefly at loyalism – and I’m no expert on it – but from a nationalist perspective, it is a fragmented community. If we look briefly at Ardoyne, there are two political parties who represent the Ardoyne area – Sinn Fein and the SDLP. But you can list five political groupings in the Glenbryn area on the Loyalist-Unionist side. When there are issues to be addressed in the Nationalist districts, I have no difficulty putting my signature to a piece of paper with a Sinn Fein councillor or politician. Because if an issue needs to be addressed, if needs have to be identified, Sinn Fein and the SDLP – whilst we are separate politically – but for the common purpose of our own distinct areas, we will work together. That has seen a confidence, it has seen a development within Nationalism and Nationalist districts that – and others can argue here – I would put ten to fifteen years ahead of development initiatives in Loyalist and Unionist districts. That is a sad fact, but it is an accurate fact, and I think that is part of the problem.
Moving forward: “Where do we move forward? Tonight it would be very very easy to say “this is what has happened to my community” and for somebody from a Unionist or Loyalist background to say, “well, this is what has happened to my community and this is why I act in a certain way”. But sure haven’t we been doing it for thirty years, and where really has it got us? We do have the Good Friday Agreement. It is the best thing yet that has happened to North Belfast and to the North of Ireland. But we still have sectarian conflict. Because in the past the conflict was defined in terms of paramilitary violence, and – from an SDLP perspective – State violence as well. Four years ago I and a number of other people were assaulted by the RUC in a peaceful demonstration, where I had a black eye, welts on the back, and welts on the legs, for standing with my hands in my pockets. But there is an important difference for some of us compared to others. And that difference is – I don’t bear hatred or anger towards those individuals, I wanted justice, but I wanted justice achieved through courts and through the due process of law.
Leadership challenge: “But the challenge today is for political, community and religious leaders – because leadership is lacking, and politicians, me included, are to blame for that. Community leaders have their own selfish interests, they’re to blame for it. And in many occasions – with due respect – religious leaders, have had what I would call the “ostrich syndrome” and ignored the issues.
“So we need a partnership, we need a partnership between the politicians, the community representatives and our church people, and together that leadership can have a great influence on our communities. Because it is very easy for me to talk for the next ten or twenty minutes about the past. We can’t be prisoners of the past – we have to move on.
“So how do we do that? I was talking to a Church of Ireland minister this morning in Belfast. He was giving me a Loyalist perspective, a Unionist perspective, of grievances, many of which Norman has outlined, where they’d look at the Good Friday Agreement, they’d look at issues such as policing and the release of prisoners – now I would argue that is a more Unionist perspective than a Loyalist perspective because Loyalists too are caught up in the policing and the prisoners issue. But what we talked about this morning was: maybe we should have the equivalent of a Good Friday Agreement for our communities in Belfast? But I have made one mistake in saying that. Because tonight is the first time in my notes I’ve stopped talking about communities and refer to community, because we are one community. I came from a family that didn’t earn much money, blocked-up houses, an area of high unemployment, low educational attainment, no training opportunities. I went to a secondary school where everybody ended up if they didn’t pass the 11 plus, and where two of us in my upper sixth class, two out of sixty, got to university. So life wasn’t going to be planned in colourful ribbons for you. But the same was in Loyalist areas – it wasn’t’ exclusive to Nationalist areas, it was exclusive to everybody. We need to redefine the situation, redefine how we can pull our community out of a state of crisis.
Common agenda: “And what I said to the minister this morning was – we need a common agenda. I don’t need an agenda from where I am a politician, if Billy Hutchinson were here, he doesn’t need an agenda for his area, because in our opinion there is far more that unites us than divides us. But people have ignored that – we look at division and not what unifies us, and that is what is needed – a common agenda with a common purpose. It can be the basics. What are the basics that people want? What I hear from the Loyalist community is: community development – non-existent or just beginning. High unemployment – we acknowledge that. Low educational attainment – we acknowledge that, poor housing – we acknowledge that. It’s the same in areas I represent. The unique difference is it is not a case of me, it is a case of us and we, and how we move that forward.
It’s a very important statement and I would have liked Billy to have been here to say “let’s be brave about it”, because the SDLP, Sinn Fein, Ulster Unionists, DUP, PUP, have operated in many ways on a narrow selfish political agenda. In the last month there were serious riots again in Ardoyne, beginning with the Holy Cross issue again. Traditionally I would have gone on the television and said: “I condemn the police, I condemn the loyalist rioters, oh my, my community is suffering”. But from where I was standing, there were Loyalists throwing petrol bombs, and when I looked over my shoulder, there were Nationalists throwing petrol bombs. And I thought “no, we can’t keep up this age-old tradition, I’ll condemn Unionism, I’ll condemn the police”. So I condemned everybody – whoever is throwing a petrol bomb here, “you’re wrong, you should be arrested, go home or be arrested”. In some ways that caused ripples in the community – how dare I criticize Nationalist rioters, how dare I?
“And that I think is part of the basis of our problem – we have to be able to share in our own common issues, create a common agenda, create a common purpose. About 3 years ago I had a conversation with someone in Dublin, and we were talking about the Tour of the North – a parade that passes every year but on alternative routes, an Orange parade and it’s controversial. So I was quite worried that it was going to lead to trouble, and the comment that was thrown back at me was “but sure it’s North Belfast, you might riot for a few days, but sure it will be over”. That disgusted me. I think Government has to take its responsibility in helping us as politicians, there’s church representatives and there’s community, and to work with us in partnership as well, because the issues are not unique, they cross the divide, and the grievances I hear as a Nationalist politician coming out of those Loyalist areas are the same issues I have. Where I represent used to be a strong Labour area. Labour doesn’t exist – we might be called the Social Democratic and Labour Party, but Labour doesn’t exist in its traditional form. But when it did exist, Catholics and Protestants voted for it, Catholics and Protestants were members, were representatives, and I think that’s the way forward.
“Today I had a request that the Loyalist Commission wants to meet the SDLP. My initial reaction was “no” – and this is the human side – because there are individuals in that who have attacked SDLP homes, have attacked SDLP politicians, have attacked Catholic homes. But isn’t that the age-old problem? Say “no”, bury your head in the sand. So we left the door open, we said we will arrange to meet you. Because what I am hearing from Loyalism is that my tradition doesn’t listen to them, I don’t listen to their grievances, I don’t listen to the issues, and the same could be said about Unionist politicians.
“So we must move away from our traditional political stance. The fragmentation in unionism may not be able to be resolved by unionism, but it may be able to be resolved by us all. The word “reconciliation” has been used by yourselves, it’s been used by us all, dialogue, trust-building, reconciliation. We will do that through a common purpose, through a common agenda, through what unites us and not what divides us.
Honesty: “And we begin by being honest. Not just standing in front of a television camera and giving a sound-bite for what will keep my voters happy, because that’s not good enough. I have lived in North Belfast all my life, and it’s no different, but I want it to be different . And I put that offer out to the politicians in other parties, to the community leaders and to the religious leaders.
Challenge to government: “Let’s move it forward, let’s identify the issues that unite us, let’s remove that fragmentation and put a challenge to government – to the Irish Government, to the British Government and to all the governments who are quite easily and happily commenting on North Belfast, a city in crisis, and the challenge is if we speak with one voice, if we start to address those issues as one body, then we should be given the respect that we deserve. Because life in North Belfast is good, people on the interfaces suffer, but they still have to in many ways get on with their lives. But what my voters want is what Billy Hutchinson’s voters want, is what Nigel Dodds’ voters want and that’s where we must move forward.
Evil of violence: “There is a great evil that exists in our society. I only got married last year. The night before I got married I was still on the Limestone Road at half-past four in the morning, my colleague Alex Attwood, who has spoken to this group, had the windows of his car smashed. We will give our commitment, we will give our time, and we expect the same of others. But there is an evil that does exist there. I may not get the source right for this, but I will leave you with a quote – “evil men prevail when good men do nothing”. The challenge is for the good people of North Belfast to begin in a new way to do something and ensure that the evil of violence no longer prevails. Thank you”.
Chair – Brendan O’Brien: “Thank you, Martin … I would just make one comment. Martin Morgan made a very strong appeal for common purpose, on the basis that there is one community. He followed Rev. Hamilton who told us his people felt they were living in a sea of Green, and their fear presumably would be that if there were one community it would be Green. So in effect there isn’t one community, there are two. And the fragmentation on the Loyalist side used to be a form of strength, because Protestantism, particularly fundamental Protestantism, believes in freedom of conscience and thought, and pragmatism inevitably grows from that, and that is a very healthy thing. Sometimes it becomes a divisive thing, because the other side is more united than you are, and you can’t get your unity together. But for many Protestants, from my observation, they like fragmentation, they don’t like unity, they see that as a Catholic thing, as a Nationalist thing, a triumphalist thing, and on their side it is free-thinking…
“Our next speaker is Roy Garland [replacing Billy Hutchinson who was unable to travel]. Roy Garland says modestly that he is a constituency worker for Michael McGimpsey. It is a very modest statement because actually Roy has lived through the Northern conflict almost from the beginning, if the beginning is around 1966, on the Loyalist side, close to the activist side on the Loyalist side. He has moved from being a very trenchant young unionist right-winger to a left-winger, progressive, in very simple terms. He has written a very fine book on Gusty Spence who within the Loyalist community was a very prime mover, a very prime mover, in moving that Loyalist paramilitary community to a position of political engagement with the other side, so to speak So Roy comes with very fine credentials and has an awful lot to say, and he is not going to have time to say it….
3. Roy Garland, member of UUP (replacing Billy Hutchinson)
“Thanks very much for having me here. Actually I didn’t know I was speaking here until I came down… Having said that, I feel very much at home here. I have worked very closely with Julitta and John and a number of people here, and enjoy that very much.
Background: “You might wonder how I got from being a hard-line right-wing young Unionist, which I was… I was born and reared in North Belfast, though I don’t live in North Belfast now. That part of North Belfast was on the Shankill (part of the Shankill is in West Belfast, and part in North Belfast). I also had very close contacts with the experience of North Belfast in that I had three uncles and a granny who lived in the Oldpark Road. The Oldpark Road was divided then, the left hand side going up was Catholic, the right-hand side was Protestant, and I remember saying once to my granny “isn’t that where the “fenians” live over there?” And my granny said “don’t say that, they just think they’re right and we think we’re right”.
“There’s a lot of wisdom in that, and my granny was less educated than I was. That was a profound thought, perhaps that is part of the thing that changed me…
Radical working-class unionism: “Strangely enough, my uncles – one claimed to be a socialist, one claimed to be a communist and was a shop steward in Shortts, and the other one claimed to be a Connolly socialist. These were people from the Unionist community! Outside of their small circle they probably didn’t talk too much about that in those days. But there was a sprinkling of radical thinking within the working-class Unionist community. Because of the trouble in the streets they moved to Ballynure Street. And in 1974 during the UWC strike, I remember them saying to me, “do you know who delivered the milk? – it was the Official IRA”. Trouble broke out again and my uncles moved again to Manor Street. They were not involved in the violence. They had more in common with their Nationalist neighbours, than with their Unionist neighbours, and they drank in Nationalist areas, including the Falls area. But underneath their socialism and communism there was a unionist streak which came out on at least two occasions. My uncle James, the socialist, a very intelligent man, very aware of Irish history, on one occasion he was in a Falls Road pub drinking, and a political discussion came up and the Ulster Covenant was mentioned in a degrading way, and my uncle said “my father signed the Covenant and I won’t hear a bad word about it”. He came out shaking from head to foot. But he was a socialist all his life. The communist ended up working in Oxford sharing the same flat with a Republican, and the Republican made some comment about this place and the Republican got a hiding because he got into a fight, and my uncle got a hiding, he was a communist who underneath had a sort of unionism… There is a Unionism there that is represented to some extent by Loyalists. David Ervine’s father was very left-wing in his views. There is a lot of that influence there.
“Cold house”: “We’re really talking about a “cold house” for some people. In my experience, for me personally, and for some Loyalists, it’s not so cold. In my early days, I remember going to the Falls baths, because they had better baths than we had in the Shankill. And when you went you were conscious from when you left to when you came back that you were in “enemy territory”, that’s the way you felt. Gusty Spence did the same thing. He had a Union Jack tattooed on his arm and when he went to the Falls baths he had it covered up with a plaster, and he had a friend from the Falls Road who had a Tricolour and he went to Petershill baths some times and he had it covered with a plaster…That’s the world that I grew up in. I can remember going into Ardoyne … and fearing for my life. In fact a friend of mine was attacked, because he lived in the Ardoyne. A lot of the Ardoyne was Unionist then. Areas shouldn’t be like this, but that is the reality… I remember as a young child being asked was I a Protestant or a Catholic – that’s the worst thing you could be asked in those days, because if you gave the wrong answer you were given a kicking. In fact these stories were passed on from generation to generation. My uncle Jamesy, the socialist, told of in the twenties being stopped by a crowd of Catholics and they asked him was he a Protestant or a Catholic, and he said he was a Catholic, which he wasn’t of course. And they asked him to repeat the “Hail Mary”, and he started to make a stab at it, and as he was talking he saw a tram going by and he just took to his heels and jumped on the tram and got away. That gives some idea of the feel of the situation in Belfast.
Change: “There’s always been these ghettoes, and I feel, for me personally, and for some Loyalists, and for some Unionists, I can go almost everywhere now. I was up with friends in the Falls Road recently. I drive up with no fear. In 1995 I was invited by Republicans – and they were shocked when I said “yes” – to speak in Conway Mill. Albert Reynolds was there, and Martin McGuinness was there, and I decided to go, and some Orangemen came with you. It was a room like this, bigger than this, every space was filled, and the welcome we received from the Republicans was absolutely electrifying. And I felt something dramatic happened in there, certainly for me personally. I felt, why have Unionists never done this before? In my view Unionists are not just here to look after Unionist people, but they’re here to look after all people. That’s the unionism I’ve developed. I didn’t always appreciate that view. But it was that sort of thing that broke that.
The South: “Coming down here, when I first came down here as a right-wing unionist – in fact I was a member of a paramilitary organisation. I remember taking part in a parade in Rockcurry in Co. Monaghan. When we came across the border, it was like going into the Falls Road, I felt I was in enemy territory, and felt around every corner we were going to get caught, the IRA was going to get us. That was the reality of how I felt. The big thing that changed it … one of the things that really opened things up for me was actually meeting people on a human level. I met Republicans, I met Nationalists, I met ordinary people down here, and seeing the humanity right across the board, and the welcome we received, changed things. ….
“My family actually comes from Co. Monaghan, almost two hundred years ago, and we have kept contact with the family who still live there….. It is my feeling that there are many Unionists down here, some of them Unionists, some with a British identity, down here, and my perception is – and certainly some of them would have told me this – that they feel that their position is not recognised down here. I think this has a play-off in the North. What can people do down here to help the situation up here in which people think it is a “cold house”? I don’t actually share that view, in fact I think Unionists need to be more confident in themselves, or it is like digging themselves into a hole. But the South has something to do to show that Britishness is acceptable, not just Protestantism, and I’ve met friends down here who seem almost frightened to stand up and be what they are. What can be done? I am in contact with a group called “Reform” in Dublin, and they want some sort of public acceptance of the British identity of a minority in the South. They want that reflected in changes in the Constitution, and even in the national anthem, and that sort of thing. The South has done a lot, you’ve done a lot to make Protestants and Unionists look to the South, and things are opening up. I’m involved in groups down here, we’re bringing Unionists, Nationalists and Republicans down here. It’s opening up a new world, and I think we have got to reach out to each other and do what you’re doing tonight, and what has been done for many years now. Once people cross that border – there was a man came down last week, he had spent years in the security forces, as a policeman, and he had gone through some absolutely horrendous experiences and is living to this day under threat from Republicans in West Tyrone. He came down here, and among the places he walked was the Battle of the Boyne site… and he told a friend of mine he felt he was walking on air. This is a man who hadn’t been down here since he was a child, many decades ago….Meeting you people here, and sharing things, it has begun to open up things for him He’s going back into a situation in which the sense of “cold house” and even threat, is still there. I think we’ve got to dispel that, and the only way I find of doing that is actually meeting people on the human level.
Hopes for the future: “There are massive problems, and, as Martin said, many of them are common to both communities. But there is this sense of alienation. Someone said that in the Good Friday Agreement, Unionists were successful, they were victorious but they turned victory into defeat, and the Republicans did the opposite – after the ceasefire, they had a parade up the Falls Road, waving Tricolours. They turned defeat into victory because they had given up their campaign and in a sense they had accepted consent and so on. Unionists need to be authenticated and accepted, and to move along that line, but I think it is a slow process, an individual process, step by step by step. I would hold out hope for the future. I am not lacking in confidence despite those grave issues and grave concerns. Thank you…”
Chair – Brendan O’Brien: “Thank you, Roy…. Roy talked about the baths. I remember as a journalist being in West Belfast in a strong Catholic Nationalist area, there were women there telling me how oppressed they were, and I said, sure, but around the corner you have one of the best leisure centres which we can’t match in the South. There was a pause and one of the women said, “ah, but it doesn’t have a sauna!”.. There are victims on both sides and some people have thrived on victim hood. Roy has said there are a lot of good things happening, a lot of positive things, and of course he’s right. The topic tonight is “Challenges for the Belfast Agreement”. The question is, is what’s happening in North Belfast… is the Belfast Agreement capable of dealing with that? Is it a challenge for the Belfast Agreement? Because everybody else has moved on, thinking everything is fine, and working the Belfast Agreement. And on the political level, on the Loyalist side, the Democratic Unionist Party are almost entirely inside the house at this point. They’re not outside trying to wreck it, they’re in the Assembly and they’re almost in the Executive and they’re grappling with whether they will go into North-South bodies. And that is on the Loyalist side, the Democratic Unionist side. They have found, I believe, during the referendum and the elections, that there were very few votes in portraying yourself as a wrecker even if you were saying you didn’t like the Belfast Agreement. So Ian Paisley and company had to say, “we are going to represent you inside, and look after your interests, and we will certainly take our two ministries because we are entitled to them. So that was a very positive thing. And on the other side we have people who were members of the IRA, senior members of the IRA, members of the army council of the IRA, and the brigade staffs of the IRA at all levels, who are now wearing suits and getting elected and they are in the election process. Out of the Belfast Agreement those things are extremely positive. And yet we are here tonight, and you’ve all turned up which I think is terrific, to deal with one unfinished legacy of the past, and the question is, “can the Belfast Agreement deal with that?” Fr. Aidan Troy is our final speaker….
4. Fr. Aidan Troy (Holy Cross Parish, Ardoyne):
“Thanks to everyone for the invitation. This very dynamic group in Meath invited me on a number of occasions, and unfortunately because of events I wasn’t able to come along, and I thought they would have got sense and given up asking me but they didn’t, and they kept phoning me and they kept asking me, so I ended up here tonight. Or I almost ended up here tonight… I missed the turn, ended up in Dunshaughlin….. I could find the Ardoyne Road all right, and now I can’t even find Dalgan Park! So thanks very much for your patience….
Background: “At this stage of the night we have heard three very very thorough and very full presentations, it would be rather stupid of me to try and add too much more… What I would like to try and do is just to give a little perspective from a southerner, from Bray, Co. Wicklow, who came into this scene in a rather unusual way. Without giving you my whole history it might be no harm to say a word or two about it. When I was ordained a priest in 1971, I was assigned to Crossgar in Co. Down. This was September, and in that August, internment had been introduced. I remember saying to the priest who assigned me, “could you not send me anywhere else?” because that was one place I certainly didn’t want to go. I can truthfully say I spent three of the happiest years of my life there in the North of Ireland at that time, which involved quite an amount of contact with Long Kesh, various places and particularly Derry when that whole Bogside and Creggan area was a “no go” area. I just say that as a very very potted and brief history,
Holy Cross dispute: “But to bring it up to date, and to show God does have a sense of humour – I spent seven years, from 1994 until 2001 living in Rome, and when I was in my last year again I got a phone call …. They rang me up and said “will you go to Belfast?” My first remark was “you must be joking”. But I have an old principle and that is that I’ve never asked to go anywhere and I’ve never refused to go anywhere. I was still in Rome at that time, that was November 2000, and I remember on the 19th June reading in the Internet how there was trouble on the Ardoyne Road to do with Holy Cross Girls’ School, and of course very foolishly I said to myself, “thank God, that will long be over and done with before I get there”. I arrived on the 27th July, 2001, and in case you think I was some sort of a special person, I am not. People say “were you sent there for that reason?” I wasn’t sent there for that reason at all. I think that’s important to say, some people think there was a connection when there wasn’t. I was going there anyway. But when I arrived on the 27th of July, that night I saw some very serious rioting. Three nights later, the back door of the monastery was broken in and it was set on fire. I realised I had arrived in a very serious, a very critical time. And I think it is good to remember, that this is post Belfast Agreement. I had, like everybody else, thanked God and applauded this. I was so delighted with the outcome of the referenda on this, and that so many people were taking such a strong stand on this situation. Then I became chairperson of the Board of Governors of Holy Cross Girls’ School on the 6th August. And one of the things that amazed me, because there is sometimes a perception that somehow the Nationalist side is so wholly organised – in fact we weren’t that well organised at all, not because things weren’t going my way, but because there was a very serious situation facing us. And it became clear to me within a few weeks that this situation was at least going to go down to the wire for resolution. And that was when I met Norman for the first time, and Martin very kindly mentioned the two of us. I think it is very important to say, that whatever might separate us theologically in other ways, I think it has been a tremendous experience for me – and I need to say this publicly – working with Norman.
“I would go so far as to say, not that we solved anything, but I think we may have prevented death. I do believe there was the potential for children to be killed. I think this needs to be said, not because anyone in Glenbryn set out to kill a child, but because the potential for violence, and for that violence to get totally out of hand, was there. And I am not going to portray all that happened, and again, with all due respects to Roy here, I think the role of Billy Hutchinson is also very interesting, the role of Martin is interesting, the role of Alban McGuinness, Gerry Kelly. I think the political role at that level is an absolutely fascinating study. Now that is not what I am going to develop in the next few minutes. I just wanted to paint a very brief background to where I come from.
Truth and Reconciliation: “I also want to try and be as truthful as I can and yet always speak the truth in love. I do believe it is important that we tell the truth as we see it, and I accept what has been said tonight because it has been said by people of integrity and of sincerity. The one thing I think that I must add – and maybe this is not so palatable – but I must add that I can never understand how children were caught in that protest.
“If I didn’t say that I would be cowardly, and in that I am not upping the ante on anyone to pick that up. But I do think this is terribly important. I was at a lecture last night in the Waterfront, one of the Lord Reith lectures, and there was a poll taken for Radio 4 among the audience, “how many people would want something similar to a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, such as they had in South Africa?”….I had a little time in South Africa. I would have thought, and this has been raised already, that there is a tremendous need – without this “whataboutery” as John Reid says, like I say something and Norman will say the other and then we would spar off each other.
But I do think there is a need for us to be able to surface the truth with a view to reconciliation, yet at that gathering last night there was less than a third in favour of it. Now I am in favour of it, by the way. … I am not going to put that forward as a solution. But when I talk about any situation, and I do admit that I have the huge advantage of fresh eyes and all the disadvantages of not having a background just as you’ve heard. I am enormously excited about the prospect and I am enormously fearful at the same time. I truthfully believe that in many ways – and I regret saying this – North Belfast, if it is not dealt with in some of the ways we have heard, is almost like an x-ray of what can happen still, even with the Good Friday Agreement. What I would think is this, I think there is an illusion – and I would be one of the ones who suffered from this illusion – there can be an illusion that if you make the Good Friday Agreement, as it were, work in general where it is easy to work. For instance, if I live in an area of very high economic resources, if I have a push button on the end of my drive where you have to speak before I let you in, it doesn’t really matter who lives next door to you, it doesn’t really matter where your children go to school, it doesn’t really matter what uniform they wear. But you take where Norman and myself and Martin live, and what Roy was talking about, and when you take that at times we’re talking as near as I am to this loudspeaker, people of vastly different cultural, religious and every other view are living that close together, or should I say not together, and that’s the problem, but that’s another story. If we don’t take this enormously serious, and let me be truthful again, there is a great desire, I believe, in the North of Ireland at the moment, or Northern Ireland, to as it were push the Good Friday Agreement as a cloak in some way over the issues that remain, and let me say I believe in it totally.
“Can I say truthfully – the number of times I have been asked to keep quiet. Now you may be among the crowd that says you can’t turn on the blessed television without that guy being on saying something .I believe that the truth must be told. I have been asked at the highest level of the church not to speak, I have been asked by politicians not to speak – not Martin, not the SDLP, I am not going to name any further. There are people, I believe, who find the pain, and I believe this to be very fundamental, the pain of looking at our truth too much to take, …. and yet I believe it is terribly important that we have something – maybe it’s not the right model, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.. I believe we have to bring something up into the surface where – and again I would have to pay tribute to Norman in this – we are not united as Catholic and Presbyterian, but we are united at the level of humanity, we are united at the level of common interest which has already been spoken about, and we are united in a burning desire for peace and for reconciliation. Now, if we can’t get the politicians at that higher level to stand out in the street and say “sorry, this is not acceptable behaviour” – be that Nationalist or be that Loyalist – then I think Norman and myself can whistle till the cows come home and it will make very little difference. And there were times, and this is not, because I know the role that the Dublin Government played, I know the role that the President of Ireland played, I know the role that politicians at the level of councillors and Assembly played, there was a desperate silence at the level of the Member of Parliament in that area, but let’s say I think we are going to have to press much more vocally, much more strongly for a political action, and I think we also need to be very clear – and I know we have to be sensitive where the churches are concerned. – I think we have to be very clear that the churches, and particularly the leadership – I am enormously complimented when Norman and myself are called church leaders as you are and everybody here is in their own way,. but believe me there is a level of leadership above us that also needs to stand up and take its responsibility. Now I am not loved when I say that, but then I didn’t become a priest to be loved. We have to be very clear on that.
Conclusion: “Just to finish on a sad note but I believe a rather topical note…. I think it is very sad in the last few days that the enrolment at Holy Cross girls’ school has dropped from 34 last year to 17 this year. And I would have a feeling that the people of Glenbryn – and we haven’t touched on what makes up that community because there are some people who have come into Glenbryn who wouldn’t represent Glenbryn – I think we have to be very clear on that. Because I have been fortunate – you wouldn’t believe the number of people in Glenbryn that I now know, now they don’t agree with one word I say, well there’s few words they agree with, but the women there particularly are convinced that I am a constitutional liar, and they tell me that, but at least we’re saying it. But what I am convinced of is that if Holy Cross girls’ school comes into crisis and closes, we have all lost. And we have no intention of closing it, because that is not the issue. I think the issue is, whether we take it in terms of one community finding a way of living together, and let’s hope that the house will be warm for us all, or whether it’s two communities finding the way, I do believe that if something like Holy Cross which unfortunately has become a symbol of all that can go wrong —if it closes, then we have all lost. What I am saying tonight is this: let’s take the Good Friday Agreement out of Stormont and bring it up to the Ardoyne Road and make it work.”
Chair – Brendan O’Brien: “Courageous as always, willing to put it out there. Without naming names, I think he has named quite a few names of people who haven’t come forward and given the type of leadership that he is saying must be given….I am now going to ask for questions….
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS
(summaries of main points only):
Q.1: Re speech given by Prince Charles in Glencree. Did it make any difference? “I have non-Catholic relations and friends, but I believe that the loyalist “loyalism” has never been loyal to the Crown, rather it has been loyal to the half-crown.”
Rev. Norman Hamilton: “It didn’t make the slightest difference whatsoever. He was obviously a born optimist to think that his speech would have any noticeable effect.”
Roy Garland: “Having said that, I know a unionist who was there and met him, and he was very impressed by Charles’ concern for Northern Ireland, and he said to him “bring more of your people down here to meet Nationalists”, and this fellow was influenced by it. But I am not terribly sure what Prince Charles actually said. I’m not sure it’s loyalty to the half-crown, there is a sense of loyalty to the Queen for many, but for many it is loyalty to their community and to the welfare of their community, not in any sense that we’re going to get anything out of it. If Britain were to withdraw from the North tomorrow, it wouldn’t make any difference to the sense of loyalty, and the refusal to be, as they would see it, coerced into something they do not want. That is a big motivating factor. They will not go and they feel they are being pushed. Whether they are or not is another question…”
Q.2 . “Throughout our country, North, South, East and West, we’ve absolutely loads of churches. We’re a great church-going society. Maybe instead of being so diligent about attending church, maybe we should think about the future. .. I believe that Irish society is not a great thinking society … wouldn’t it be lovely if we could introduce into our country real patriotism and real Christianity?”
Rev. Hamilton: “I am much more fearful of patriotism than I am of citizenship”.
Fr. Troy: “…I take the point you’re making, but could I also say, without making special pleading, I didn’t realise how sensitive the territory of each church is until this dispute broke out on Ardoyne Road. As an example… there was another Christian minister who is not now speaking to me. I regret this, and I pray every night that this will end. Through a very tense situation he wasn’t present at an event that got a lot of attention, and he felt that I excluded him. The fact that I did or didn’t is not what I am talking about… I think your point is well made, it is the lack of us all living the fullness of Christianity, that is the problem. I could say to you now, I’d love to say that is easily done, but it is sad to say this, it is an absolute minefield. That doesn’t mean you run for cover into the bunker … but it is so so difficult, and yet it must be done and I agree with you.”
Roy Garland: “The church I was brought up in doesn’t exist any longer. I was brought up in the Church of God on the Shankill, it was a Holiness Church of God, it doesn’t actually exist. I wonder sometimes, is the insecurity, certainly among religious Protestants, a factor of the fact that they live in such vulnerable little churches. They’re little organisations… The other point I would make is: there is an awful lot of real Christianity in Northern Ireland despite the situation in which we live. If you lived in that situation in which the people across the street were seen as your enemies, and had actually shot your people, and some of your people had shot them, you’d find it very difficult, and yet people have reached out across that divide and an amazing amount of work has been done right across the board…”
Cllr. Martin Morgan: “I don’t want to comment on Christianity, but on the other point you made – patriotism. Certainly in the part of Belfast that I live in and represent, I don’t like seeing a Tricolour painted on a footpath, I don’t like seeing a half-torn Tricolour up a lamp-post, and the same goes for Union Jacks. There has been too much flag-waving and bunting waving, and that is part of our problem. I take Norman’s point, and I share it – I prefer to look at citizenship. And citizenship whether it is North Belfast or Belfast, but I can sit in City Hall with the likes of Billy Hutchinson, or members from other Unionist political parties, and we talk about how we have a common citizenship also, in being people of Belfast and being Ulster men and women.
Questioner: “I understand patriotism as being a love of your country…”
Q. 3: To Fr. Troy – “…You said that if the Holy Cross school were to close, you feel you would have lost something. What do you mean by lost? Do you not think it would be more appropriate for the community of North Belfast if they were to have a project school like we have created here in the South of Ireland, the “Educate Together” projects… where children – Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Moslem, can all go to school together, and they could start from scratch…. I just take exception with the word “loss” after all that has happened in the last thirty years…”
Q. 4: “I am a retired Columban priest. Over fifty years ago I was in the Philippines, I was stationed in the southern part, the island of Mindanao. A large part of the diocese was Muslim, the rest was Catholic. In one parish, the priest was shot by Moslems, in 1970… . Last September another priest was shot in the same parish… It was mentioned that people up above should be doing more. I would ask, what about those below? In that parish where the priest was shot, we have a high school, 60-70% Moslem, 30% Catholic, and it’s tremendous what is happening because of that. The parents come to meetings, sit down and talk with each other, the missionaries play no part in that, could that have happened in North Belfast?”
Q. 5: “I am a Northerner, of dual identity. I am British and also Irish…. First of all, to Fr. Troy, I found it as a Protestant, deplorable, the way in which the little children were treated. The next thing I want to say is that truth itself is not the danger, it is the ignorance. I find that after working thirty one years in Drumcree in another tradition I find that my Protestant people were left behind, they were not brought along. I am a grass-roots working-class woman.. What I noticed from the Catholics, when they got educated they came back into the community and brought their people along. My Protestant people were left floundering, they didn’t know how to express themselves, to express the anger and frustration….We have as working-class people more to unite us than to divide us. … We need to build up their self-esteem, their confidence, to know who they are. I found that being safe and secure in who I was allowed me to cross the divide, even though I was frowned on … considered a traitor for crossing the divide.. I found that the only way to find out what my neighbour was like.. to live, work, pray with them. I was sent to Coventry many years ago, by my own community, for doing that. All I wanted to do was to find out what it was that was dividing us. Our only way out of this is: we need reconciliation politically and religiously. Our political leaders have let us down by not listening to my people on the ground… as long as they were voted in, with the Orange card to keep the Green out, they excluded my people and my people now have resulted in this awful anger and if these are not addressed, take heed, we will have another civil war on our hands. The only way I see out of this is by educating my people in how to dialogue with people, talking to people to understand ….. Again I bring in the spiritual element, because without that nothing will work…”
Replies to Questions 3-5:
Brendan O’Brien: “… We have had questions about what would be lost if the Holy Cross school had to close, about people at a lower level doing more, and about alienated Protestant people feeling that they have been left behind…”
Fr. Troy: “Very briefly, I am sorry you take exception, but I have to stand where I stand in a truthful way. What I meant by “lost” was this – I felt that the Glenbryn people and the Ardoyne people would have driven a wedge between themselves that would create a legacy of bitterness if the school closed on the basis of the dispute. …If you are going a step further into the whole level of integrated education, a different way of seeing it, I couldn’t agree more that a sectarian type of education has no future, but I would still say … I have to be very careful that I don’t set up a system where I ask the children to integrate the society. I think integrated education will only become a reality when the society is more integrated. If we could have true Catholic schools, true Protestant schools, in the sense that they are open to the best in education, the best in citizenship, the best in culture, then I hope the day will come when people from Glenbryn would want to go to Holy Cross, just as I hope the day will come when Catholics from Ardoyne would want to go to Wheatfield which is as near as that door … I do take the point you are making. Certainly I am not saying that in one sense Holy Cross Girls’ School must stand almost like in a Drumcree situation “we’ll stand here, we will no other”. What I am saying is this: there’s too many good people in Glenbryn who would be very hurt if Holy Cross Girls’ School closed for that reason. Now if demographically in five years’ time or less, there are not the pupils, so be it, life moves on, that’s the only point I was trying to make…. I will just finish with one sentence – I remember one night at a meeting with Billy Hutchinson. Norman Hamilton was also there …I remember saying to Norman and Billy… “I would love to think the day would come when I would exercise a pastoral ministry in Glenbryn as much as I could exercise it in Holy Cross” – that’s the future.”
Roy Garland: “In one sense the Glenbryn people are scapegoats, because the society in which we live in in Northern Ireland is deeply divided and ghettoised. They are a remnant of a large community who feel they are being pushed out, and actually have been pushed further and further out. They’re a small enclave and there is a school within it which is a Catholic school, in this Protestant area. Now that’s regrettable, the school should be integrated, the area should be integrated, everybody should live together. But we are expecting a marginalized, scapegoated [community], feeling oppressed, feeling they are living in a “cold house” to accept this. They accepted it for years, but they feel that the school process was being used. You probably know all about that – the feeling that people are coming in with their children to spy out the community, and I think that because of the nature of the community with peace walls everywhere, to keep people out, and they do make a parallel with Drumcree and feel their people can’t walk down Garvaghy Road, but there’s a large number of people coming up into their school. And. they don’t trust the British, they don’t trust the Irish, they don’t trust their own politicians. They’re isolated, they’re uneducated, and they don’t have much of this world’s goods. And I think they need love and I don’t know how you can give it to them. I’ve condemned them for doing the terrible things they have said and done – I think it was unacceptable and deplorable and hurtful, to hear the words and the actions they took… At the same time there are two communities victimising each other and being victimised. I don’t know how you show them that love, but that’s what they need.”
Cllr. Martin Morgan: “In relation to the question on the Holy Cross school, I share the sentiments of Fr. Troy. On a personal level I am always very wary of the phrase “integrated education”. The SDLP supports integrated education where it is required and asked for, and the funding of it. My own view is, to move that on a stage further, we’re victims in some senses within the Catholic education system, the CCMS – there’s no equivalent within the Protestant school system, a very powerful body. My view is we need a national system of schools, not Catholic, not Protestant – integrated has a jaundiced view in sections of Northern Ireland society – but where we move to a process where all schools are not defined by religion, but anybody from whatever particular religion – not just Catholic or Protestant because there are other ethnic minorities in Belfast and further afield – that they can attend a non-identified school but still have access to culture, to citizenship and religion
“In terms of what this lady was saying, that’s part of what I was touching on earlier, about the community you came from. Brendan picked me up on the point I made about the fracture of political life within loyalist communities. I can only talk about the people I talk to, and they don’t see that as a healthy thing. They do look at the Catholic community. You were nodding when I was talking about community development initiatives, the Good Friday Agreement was only signed in 1998, community development initiatives in Catholic areas began in the late 1980s, years beforehand. But I think that if you are in a party which is either Nationalist or Republican, the best thing you can do.. Nigel Dodds was referred to by Fr. Troy, I think it is a disgrace, he shows no political leadership as the most senior politician, as M.P. The SDLP and other parties have gone to the senior man like Dodds, and have asked for meetings, asked ..”what can we do to help you if its in terms of using our experience, our knowledge, our education …[tape unclear] what can we do?” We’ve never had a meeting, we’ve asked five times for meetings with Loyalist and Unionist politicians. We might have nothing to offer, but if you’re not there, and you don’t meet face to face…
“But I have to make one point, on public record, whatever the fears, grievances – and they’re legitimate – and aspirations are within Loyalism, violence can never be the excuse for expressing those, and that is what is happening in North Belfast. The violence being manifested on our streets … whoever was the spin-doctor on this has used the very legitimate grievances that exist within Loyalism to justify violence.”
Rev. Norman Hamilton: Re Holy Cross school dispute: “Lest there be any ambiguity on this, I agree entirely about the total awfulness of what has gone on …
Re education: “On the issue of the educational system, I am a bit of an agnostic on this, because I have real fears about any society that says a State-based secular humanistic education is better than one based on Judaeo-Christian values. So I’m not buying the idea of a State system as apparently better than a religious one….”
Re identity: “On the question of identity, let me part company with many folks on this. This is part of my whole being as a Christian minister. I do believe that man does not live by politics or sociology or education alone. My own identity, my own security – and I hope you’ll not mind me saying this – lies in the fact of my relationship with Christ. I am first and foremost a Christian. Everything else flows from my citizenship, being human, and so forth But I do not want to assume that the State can provide the identity, or culture can provide the identity which satisfies people and helps them….. or, sorry, that they are the only contributors or even the major contributors to them becoming reconciled, there seems to me to be a huge spiritual dimension that has to be addressed. I do not expect the State to do that….”
Q. 6: Integrated education: “…I am not quite happy with the answers of any of the panellists. The Father at the back indicated a Muslim community and a Christian community could do wonderful things together in their own school. Fr. Troy expressed scepticism about the children having to solve the problem… I think the children would be the best instruments… If they got together they will dissipate a lot of the bitterness, a lot of the prejudices that operate… Most people’s experience, through even things like social clubs and youth clubs is that they are very wonderful instruments for bringing parents together… Martin expressed the philosophy of it being one community, well here is an opportunity: Fr. Troy said the school is down at the wire, it’s almost ready to close, and Norman says that the Loyalist community feels threatened…. So surely some kind of bullet should be bitten in relation to integrated education, even on some kind of experimental basis? …. The integrated system was, I understand, tried in the seventies and Bishop Philbin and some others threw cold water on it… I understand it fizzled out, but it should be tried. Here we have two Christian communities, very very close, and, as all the speakers expressed, when it comes down to the human level they are at idem together, so here is one wonderful opportunity… to put it back into the hands of the next generation starting off, put them together and see what happens…”
Q.7: “Congratulations on an excellent debate…. Rev. Norman outlined the grievances of the Unionists, but sadly in this country, and I think it’s on both sides, for every grievance he outlined for the Unionists, there would be similar grievances for the Nationalists… That’s something we have to put behind us if we want to move on. The young SDLP councillor said that he wanted to talk. I think that is the most important thing of all – until we all sit down at the table and talk, we’ll never have any resolution. Sadly, two or three weeks ago we heard Gerry Kelly say that Nigel Dodds wouldn’t talk to him – the two most senior politicians in your constituency and they’re not talking to each other. I was very disillusioned with that. Last Thursday, I went on a spin through the Ardoyne in the company of two Loyalist friends. They said, Norman, that you were a “decent man” and they said, Fr. Troy, that you were a “grand wee man”!. … But there are two things I still haven’t discovered ….two small questions:
The children have been going to that school for a long time now. … I saw the building and I hope it never closes … But what triggered that dispute? ….
We’ve had the sorrowful sights on TV of what happened to the children and everyone’s heart went out to them … The Taoiseach brought the children to Dublin, and I heard that two men were organising a weekend away for them – very honourable and Christian. But what I am wondering is – is there is a group of Loyalist children out there wondering what they did wrong? Is nobody addressing them? I would like to say to them come down …”
Q. 8: Ten years ago, five years ago this discussion wouldn’t have occurred. It’s much easier for us to accommodate the reasons of the people at the table, because, looking around here, it is mainly middle class. .. It seems to me that what is happening here is sadly a reflection on the lack of political ambition and will to recognise the plight of the most deprived people on this island – and there are some in the South as well… It seemed to me that every speaker at the table tonight shared one ambition, and that was to encourage the political representatives who have stepped outside and are comfortable, and like us, anaesthetised, because of the material gain that is afforded to many people in this nation, but those people, sadly, when they go into their cold homes, and enter the coldness of their hearts, and don’t have the lubrication that Roy and yourself were afforded, with an intellectual rationale that comes through debate and discussion to transcend the feelings of hurt and injustice. They don’t have it and it has to be given to them because they are, like all of us here, human beings who have the capacity to transcend, but the political representatives have to come behind you and stop paying lip-service or in some cases encouraging fear and hatred that perpetuates the hurt these people have….”
Replies to Questions 6-8:
Brendan O’Brien: “Thank you very much. The quality of the questions – as a journalist much of this seems to have gone off the agenda, and yet people is really engaged in it. Are there any on the panel who want to take up any of those points?
Rev. Norman Hamilton: Re what triggered the Holy Cross dispute: “Fundamentally, some people feeling that their territory was being taken over – a serious attempt to take over territory which resulted in a fight which resulted in a riot. Now it’s much more complicated than that, but the trigger point was a single incident about territory. Is that fair Fr. Aidan?”
Fr. Aidan Troy: “Yes, you could argue this all day and all night but I couldn’t disagree with that as a summary…”
Rev. Hamilton: Re issue of political representatives: “… It is a cliché that you get the political representatives you deserve, and I am nervous, I have to say, about putting all the responsibility onto political representatives. It does seem to me that, and we’ve already touched on this, that we do need to work together. I think it was Martin who used the phrase – a partnership between politicians, community leaders and church people. Those of us who do have some capacity to lead are charged under God with leading. And certainly it’s part of my daily routine, I have to say, to beaver away at this one. Only yesterday I was up in Stormont making this very point…”
Cllr. Martin Morgan: Re grievances: “The area I grew up in had until very recently 76% unemployed – just one statistic. It is a Nationalist/Republican area. I think the difficulty, when you were talking about the Unionist grievances, is that they haven’t really been aired before. So it’s not a case of competing.. It’s very easy for me to say “yes you may have your problems but I have mine”. That’s what I was trying to say, there’s a commonality there. Unemployment is high in Loyalist and Republican areas, educational attainment is low in both areas. I think that’s how we have to move it forward. It’s not trying to camouflage For the first time ever people are beginning to say “this is a problem in my area”.
Talking to each other: “In terms of the talking, what I left out when I was going to speak first of all – “why have we not had genuine trust-building and reconciliation?” … Firstly, the two sections of our divided community have suffered greatly. It may be a necessary starting point that Catholics and Protestants acknowledge the hurt caused to each other by each other, and this is a possible first step towards healing. It’s nearly along the lines of what Fr. Troy was saying about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa… But we have never done that …. I’m there as an SDLP councillor, maybe some day I will be up in the big white building as well, but it is very easy for me to ask somebody to engage with me. I’ve never had an army behind me, I’ve never had paramilitaries behind me. But if you look at the backgrounds of those two politicians you mentioned, I think until you can get into that process, and don’t forget the propaganda on the streets of Belfast and further afield has been a game. Parades are another issue. “Oh we’ll let that parade come down when they talk to us”. It is very easy to say that when you know fine rightly that they are never going to talk to you. It’s easy to call for talking – I’m not saying they are not genuine about it, but we’re putting the cart maybe before the horse, we’re not creating the conditions to make the likes of Gerry Kelly and Nigel Dodds talk to each other. The thing about lip-service, I agree with that man down there.. It is easy for certain people, I’m sitting here as a political representative, but, yes… people have to be brought up off their knees. And that’s where the people are in North Belfast and further afield. ..One of the things that is very lacking is that there is no proper movement to recognise the aspirations of those communities – or community – there is no proper acknowledgment about how to empower those people.”
Fr. Troy: Re integrated education: “I take the point about integrated education… In the terms of the group that is so vibrant here, it could be a very good topic, because I wouldn’t do it justice if I gave a quick comment.”
Re Loyalist children: “I just want to say to that man there, who made a fabulous observation about the children on the Loyalist side at school feeling “what did we do wrong?” I don’t think that can ever be justified, and in fact Basil Keogh, the owner of Peacock’s Hotel at Maam Cross phoned me up two or three weeks before the children went down from Holy Cross and asked what would the situation be. … It is not as easy doing that, but that is certainly the idea. There is no way that I would want to see the children of Holy Cross being rewarded in a way that made the others feel guilty, but it goes back… that there is no use in us artificially integrating until we are able to do it properly. The parents of Holy Cross would have had to pull their children out if they were going. It’s that raw at the moment. I believe it’s sad, it’s tragic, and that’s why we’re talking tonight…”
Roy Garland: Re integrated education: “There is an integrated education movement and it’s growing. And also further education, which I have taught in for over twenty years, is integrated. I taught religion to classes of all sides.”
Brendan O’Brien: “People who have been engaged in the multi-denominational drive in the South will tell you how much resistance they met by Catholic churches and other churches, and by the establishment and everything else in a time of peace and relative calm…”
Q. 9:Re SDLP voter transfers: “Just two questions: the first is for Cllr. Morgan: seeing he has the facility of the STV system occasionally, why does he and his party transfer their second preference to a fascist bigot, instead of to a man living next door who shares his own cultural and social and political and economic points of view?”
The future: “Secondly, down the road ten years from now, it is very probable that the majority of people in Northern Ireland will be Roman Catholic. I do not necessarily assume that because they are Roman Catholic they will vote themselves out of the UK, but they very well might and if they do, it will mean there’s a hard core, maybe 48%, in the North-East, around the Belfast area, who will not want to go, just as they didn’t want to in 1912. And they will resist, and they will fight, and even if they were pushed by the British Government or by any other medium, you’ll have a tiger by the tail. It’s just not possible. How are you going to resolve that? And that’ll mean the Belfast Agreement will mean nothing any more.”
Q. 10: Re integrated education: “I’m glad, Mr. Chairman, that you mentioned that in the South there has been quite a lot of resistance to integrated education…It would be true to say that in the North there is substantial resistance in the churches to integrated education? I see it as a way forward to get children together, and to put religion, not at the very centre, but having it as a subject in school…I was at Glencree recently and we were talking about this subject, and interestingly, Unionists felt threatened by integrated education and they said it would take away from their culture. I just wanted a comment from the panel on that. They felt that integrated education in the North at the moment is predominantly one culture, which was, if you like, Nationalist/Gaelic culture. I don’t know if that is true…”
Q. 11: “I saw the little girls going to school, and other girls blowing whistles at them, and what concerned me was, these are the future mothers of our country, those little girls from the two communities.”
Canadian evangelical initiative: “The main question I want to ask is directed to the two gentlemen of the cloth who are here tonight. I am referring to this evangelical movement which is coming from Canada, it is cross-border.. There was to be a media blitz in February or March concerning it but due to the silly season that we are having in the South – namely the referendum and the elections – this was postponed until September. I’d like to ask the two clerical gentlemen, can the churches or the clergy feel they can use this movement?… Several people have talked about humanity and Christianity and so on. …It worked terribly well in Canada, I’m wondering what your views would be on it working in Ireland?”
Brendan O’Brien: “We are over time and all those contributions have been very valuable. I can’t take any more, I’m going to wrap it up quickly..”
Rev. Hamilton: Re the future: “What will the world be in ten years’ time? I’m afraid I have no views on what might happen in ten years. “A week in politics is a very long time”, to quote Harold Wilson. Ten years is worse than eternity.”
Re Canadian evangelical initiative: “… The major challenge is for the local church to engage properly with the local community. And it does seem to me that many outside initiatives … distract attention and energy and resources away from the really hard task of community engagement and community leadership to an agenda that has been set, for the best of reasons, outside. ….”
Re Holy Cross and Wheatfield schools: [Referring to map of North Belfast] “This is the Ardoyne Road… this is Holy Cross Church here, this is the State school to which the Protestant children of this area go… The current situation is that there is almost no contact between the teachers, twenty years of cross-community work has gone down the tubes, and there is a crisis as to how even sensible contact is going to be restored… This distance between Holy Cross and Wheatfield Primary is the width of this room.. A good thing from Canada is not going to address this issue. Fr. Aidan has to address it, I have to address it, the principals have to address it….. We need to find ways of leading this community back into constructive productive sensible community relations. And that just breaks my heart that those two schools are further apart now than they were many years ago.”
Cllr. Martin Morgan: Re voting transfers: “…. You are quite correct in saying, in one sense, that a number of SDLP voters under STV do transfer to Sinn Fein immediately after voting for the SDLP – some of us would share the view as to how they operate. But the truth of the matter is, that in the lead up to the Assembly elections in 1998 – I was one of the two vice-chairpersons of the SDLP – Sinn Fein made overtures to the SDLP to enter into an electoral pact. It took a five minute discussion for us to tell them to clear off The SDLP is engaged in an electoral war with Sinn Fein. We have our policies, we believe they are the right policies, and we do not instruct our voters to transfer to Sinn Fein. The only time the SDLP gave an instruction, or a direction, as to who to vote for after you vote for an SDLP politician, was for the Northern Ireland Assembly elections in 1998 when Seamus Mallon, who was then deputy leader, said: “after you vote for the SDLP candidates, vote for pro-Agreement candidates”. That was the SDLP line and we haven’t moved from that. We will encourage people to transfer their votes under STV to those who support the Good Friday Agreement, we won’t specify a particular party.”
The future: “On the other point you were talking about – the future, whether it’s a united Ireland or what… The SDLP has adapted its Constitution to meet that need. In the original SDLP Constitution we talked about that we believe in a united Ireland by consent…. I’m an Irishman, I believe in a united Ireland. It’s an aspiration of mine, but here’s the essential difference: it’s not a thirty-two county all-Ireland socialist republic we believe in. We believe in a new agreed Ireland, and that’s so important. If there is ever going to be a closer relationship that’s developing between the northern and the southern parts of this island, we’ll do it by agreement, not through coercion. Because you’re quite right – all we’ll have is the reverse of the penny…So it’s through agreement, and a new Ireland in non-coercive ways.”
Roy Garland: Re the future: “… There are Unionists, quite a number of them, and Republicans, who believe a united Ireland is inevitable. Demographic change has been going on for a long time. It instigates a lot of insecurity among Unionists as well. In fact, in the very early days of the Troubles, the idea that Protestants were in decline, and Unionists were in decline and on the way out, was used to stimulate paramilitary activity and all the rest of it, because they felt they were being manipulated out. And I don’t think it is actually very helpful to talk about a united Ireland, that is a united territorial Ireland. I think it is more helpful for us to talk about a united people and try to understand each other and try to reach out to each other, and develop good relations North-South, East and West as well Of course that’s positive down here as well, with England, the more the whole islands are integrated the better for everyone.”
Re integrated education: “On the question – are Unionists threatened by integrated education? – Many of them are, and that is why Ian Paisley has set up his own church education system. But it is also true, I think, that the Catholic Church also feels threatened by integrated education. In the early days of the State it is my understanding that the Unionist Government was going to introduce a secular system. Now I actually would support a secular system in which religious education was taught, and people were educated in their religion. They wanted to introduce that sort of educational system but the Catholic Church and, I understand, the Orange Order and some elements within Unionism, opposed an integrated secular system of education. It’s not the sole answer to the problem, because the problem is multi-faceted, there are so many problems. If people can’t live together, it’s hard to see how they can go to school together, but at the same time you have to start somewhere. And bringing children together obviously would help to break down a lot of myths about the other community. The more we know about each other the better, and some people are knowing less and less while others are reaching out.”
Fr. Troy: “I’m only getting into my stride now, but we have a good chairman and he won’t let me go on too long. It’s most stimulating …Very briefly, I won’t say anything about a united Ireland, I think the comments expressed cover a very good point of view.
Integrated education: “I would love to be able to deal with integrated education a little bit better than I have, I still would hold out that it is not the answer. It has a place. I did a programme on BBC Radio Scotland at Queen’s University recently … Not that I know much about it, but I did have to read about it. I have gone into the study of the philosophy and the values of Catholic education. I am still convinced, but I’m not opposed to integrated education…. I want that to be very very clear. I would go to the wall for Catholic education. I believe it is essential to the solution, it’s not part of the problem, but I do believe there is a place for integrated education. Yesterday there was Confirmation in the parish I serve in – some of the children were from an integrated school. Thanks be to God they can now come to the Confirmation. I am not going to defend the time when they had to be confirmed on their own. I am not going to defend the sins of the past, but I am saying that we need a much bigger discussion.
“For instance, within the Catholic family there is this whole question of should we still be subsidising grammar schools with an iniquitous eleven-plus system? I say “no”. It is equal opportunity and we must revolutionise education. But I think it is a soft option. One very small example I saw the other day which was tragic. I think Martin mentioned the Limestone Road… I saw children coming home from an integrated school – and this is not a hit at integrated schools, it is a fact that I am very sad about – one group went off to one end of the road, and the other group went off to the other end of the road, and they joined in riots on opposite sides, in the same school uniform! Now please don’t say that I am having a cheap shot – I do believe you’re onto something crucial, and I do believe that the best of integrated education, the best of Catholic education, have all got a part to play in a new system.
Re Canadian evangelical initiative: “I don’t know an awful lot about the Canadian situation, but there is one thing I’ve learned because I belong to an international order and I have had a few experiences around the world – and that is if we don’t inculturate, never import. It has to become an Irish version of the Canadian experience.”
Brendan O’Brien: “Thank you very much for coming. I only want to say that your contributions here were terrific, your presence here was very valuable, the speakers from the table here were very stimulating because they all came from the reality, the coalface so to speak. The only last thought that I want to leave you with before you go is that I hope everybody listened – and I’m not being patronising – to what was being said on the Loyalist side of things, as well as obviously from the Nationalist/Catholic side of things. But we are in the South and some people have come the journey here, and it’s important to acknowledge that they did come the journey. And I heard words like “crisis”, “there will be a civil war”, people wondering if their Britishness is really accepted, all about territory, “sea of Green”. …I would just make a simple point that I hope that is heard. But I do think also – and I started with a reference to the Middle East – that people who feel as strongly as that also have to acknowledge that on the other side there is very deep hurt, and people come to a sense of confidence having travelled a very long road to get there with reasonable good will I think that does exist on the Nationalist side, sometimes accompanied by blindness, I think, about how the other side feels. And I would make a very small point – talk about “cold houses”, if you walk into the Dail, and you were a Loyalist or a Unionist, what you see in the opening foyer are two big pictures – Michael Collins and Cathal Brugha – both in uniforms of the Civil War. Now I’m not denigrating the War of Independence or the Civil War, but I often wonder, has anybody even thought of that small point, in modern Ireland, to make the Ireland of the Good Friday Agreement more inclusive in all its symbols, especially here. So thank you very much for coming, thank you very much indeed to the Meath Peace Group who make these kind of meetings possible, and organise them and they are very valuable. Sorry for keeping you later than I said, and thank you to the four speakers…”
Closing words: Julitta Clancy (Meath Peace Group): “I would like to reiterate what Brendan has just said. There is a big challenge for us in meeting the commitment to reconciliation that was in the Agreement but which seems to have often been left behind. Somebody said at the beginning that we weren’t challenged down here. We took the easy route – we aren’t actually challenging ourselves, we’re not actually looking and we’re not listening enough. In private and public meetings over the last few years we have heard the pain and the hurt of many in the Unionist community, and we have worried about it and made representations about it. … Also we need to face up to the hurts of the past, and I wonder often if we had done that at the very beginning of the Agreement, if we had looked more deeply at the hurts of the past and not tried to brush them aside, would things have gone better? I think that the Republican community particularly has to start facing up to that. But we all have to do it. Roy mentioned the group of victims – retired members of the security forces – that we brought around Meath and Louth last week. It was harrowing to hear their stories – as it was in listening to all victims. But they had the added problem of intimidation which they were suffering from Republicans still. And they have fears that – though they had voted “yes” for the Agreement – maybe the Agreement had left them behind. We need to face up to this and maybe now is the time, before we go on any further.
Meath Peace Group talk, April 2002. Compiled and edited by Julitta Clancy, from tapes recorded by Anne Nolan and Oliver Ward and notes compiled by John Keaveney. The Meath Peace Group is a totally voluntary group founded in April 1993 to promote peace and understanding and foster dialogue, trust and co-operation between people North and South.
APPENDIX: “The Makings of a Young Militant” by Rev. Dr. Robert Beckett, Newtownabbey [extract from letter to newspapers, 14 Nov. 2001, and part of address to Guild of Uriel meeting, Drogheda, 24 November 2001]
“Glen Branagh grew up in the Mountcollyer district of North Belfast, bordering Tiger’s Bay and I have known him from childhood. He was a highly intelligent lad, full of fun and energy and not aggressive by nature. He attended Sunday School and several different church-based youth clubs where he was regularly warned of the evils of violence and the need to live at peace with his neighbour. Yet he died last Sunday afternoon as the result of a blast bomb explosion as he engaged in the defence of his neighbourhood against an attack by several hundred nationalists.
“What were the factors which led to his death? I believe they are likely to be these:
“He heard the older members of his district tell how they had once lived peacefully with their Catholic neighbours in the New Lodge area but had been intimidated out of their homes by IRA threats in the 1970s. He remembered how the shops on the loyalist side of Duncairn Gardens had been forced to close and the streets behind them, after years of vicious attack, had been bulldozed down to provide an industrial buffer zone which had seemed to promise a peaceful future. He had watched the mobs of nationalists youths, orchestrated by older men, streaming out from Newington Street onto the Limestone Road to attack the homes of his friends on the other side of Tiger’s Bay and establish a new flashpoint. He knew they were being taxied in from other parts of Belfast and heard their taunts that they would soon take over his district.
“He had seen many times the security forces watch from the safety of their armoured landrovers as mobs of nationalists attacked the homes of his friends, only emerging as reinforcements arrived simultaneously with the men of the district. They then proceeded to engage in battle with the residents and the nationalists retreated unhindered. He noted that the same assailants appeared regularly and very little effort had been made to arrest them.
“He watched a friend being seriously wounded in his own area with three bullets from a pistol fired by what must have been a highly trained marksman. He listened with disbelief as the Divisional Police Commander stated that this and at least 5 other recent shootings in the area with automatic weapons could not be attributed to the IRA. He waited for several weeks for the result of a police investigation into the shootings to be made known – none was forthcoming.
“On the day his friend was almost killed, he was appalled by the failure of the media to give it adequate coverage, preferring to focus on the discomfort of two little girls shocked by a “supposedly loyalist” pipe bomb. He knew loyalists had not thrown this bomb and that police on the ground had confirmed this to be true. He was incensed by public statements on the same day by both the police sub-divisional commander and the Secretary of State castigating as “scum” the loyalists of Tiger’s Bay who dared to defend their homes from attack.
“He was aware that press reports of the disturbances in his area were failing repeatedly to give an accurate picture of the “turf-war” nature of events and suspected that censorship was being exercised by someone other than the reporters who covered the stories.
“He believed the police were being used in a cynical way by Westminster and Dublin politicians to pulverise loyalist paramilitaries who were opposed to a united Ireland. Sinn Fein/IRA was creating the operational conditions for this to take place.
“He was convinced, young as he was, that he could and must make a contribution to the defence of his neighbourhood, his home and his friends. His innate sense of justice told him he was justified in doing so and he became involved in the conflict.
“I do not agree with all of the assessments and decisions that Glen took but I can understand the forces which moulded him and contributed to his untimely death. The result is that we in the churches lost the battle to keep him out of trouble and his family and community lost a very talented young man. Relationships between the loyalist community, police and the nationalist community have reached an “all-time low”. Sinn Fein is one step closer to its goal of defeating the loyalist community and driving them out of their homes. Even more importantly, the cause of peace, justice and open and accountable government and policing is trampled deeper in the mud of duplicitous politics. Sadly, we can expect more young men to follow in Glen’s footsteps.”
“Where should we go from here to work for peace?
“Both the Secretary of State and the sub-divisional police commander should apologise for the unwarranted derogatory remarks made about people who were defending their homes against attack.
“The Chief Constable has had several weeks to investigate the history of the different automatic weapons used in at least six attacks from nationalists upon both the loyalist community and his own officers. The results of these investigations should immediately be made known, as well as the sources from which the gunmen emanated.
“Greater efforts should be made by the security forces to confront and arrest the instigators and perpetrators of the attacks upon both Catholic and Protestant homes.
“The junction of Newington Street with the Limestone Road should be sealed with an impassable barrier to safeguard the welfare of decent peace-loving citizens on both sides.
“Sinn Fein/IRA must stop organising attacks upon the loyalist community. Their own people have also been suffering the consequences and there is a distinct likelihood that the next young person to die will be one of the youths they are cynically exploiting.
“People on both sides of the community must marginalize the troublemakers, pray and redouble their efforts to bring the two communities together again in peace.”
[Rev. Dr. Robert C. Beckett, Newtownabbey]
MPG talk 42: Biographical Notes on speakers:
Roy Garland: Belfast teacher, Irish News columnist, and member of the Ulster Unionist Party, Roy is currently working as a researcher for Michael McGimpsey, MLA, Minister for Culture in the N.I. Executive. He is a founder member and co-chair (with Julitta Clancy) of the Louth-based reconciliation group, “The Guild of Ancient Uriel” whose members come from North and South. Since 1995 the Guild has been involved in dialogue with a wide variety of groups and individuals from all sides of the traditional divide in Northern Ireland, and from the Republic.
Rev. Norman Hamilton(Presbyterian Minister, Ballysillan). A graduate of Trinity College Dublin, Norman Hamilton became a career civil servant in Northern Ireland, and spent some time on the political side. Feeling a sense of vocation to the Christian Ministry, he worked for several years in England in Christian ministry in universities and colleges, before becoming a Presbyterian minister in 1980. He has served in several ministries in Belfast and has been ministering in the Ardoyne area for 13 years. Contact address: 564 Crumlin Road, Belfast BT14 7GL.
Cllr. Martin Morgan(SDLP) is a childcare social worker andhas been a member of the SDLP for fifteen years. A graduate of Queen’s University, Belfast, he was a member of the Executive of the SDLP for 6 years and was Vice-Chairperson of the party during the Good Friday negotiations 1997-98. He was the SDLP youth representative to ECOSY (Party of European Socialists) 1992-93, and has been a member of Belfast City Council, representing the Oldpark area from 1993 to the present. He was Leader and Deputy Leader of the SDLP in the Council, and was John Hume’s appointee to the Academy of Leadership, Washington DC, in 1997. Contact address: SDLP offices, 228 Antrim Road, Belfast 15. Telephone (from south): (048) 90 220520
Brendan O’Brien: A senior reporter with RTE current affairs, Brendan worked on Seven Days, Today Tonight and Prime Time. He won a Jacob’s Award for investigative journalism, notably for his work in the areas of drugs and serious crime. He has reported on all aspects of the Northern Ireland conflict since 1974 and is the author of two books on the IRA: The Long War and A Pocket History of the IRA. He has recently completed a major documentary on the Middle East conflict.
Fr. Aidan Troy: Born in 1945 in Bray, Co. Wicklow, Fr. Troy is a graduate of University College Dublin and Clonliffe College, Dublin. He was ordained a Passionist priest in 1970 and has ministered in Europe, Africa and America. He recently completed a Degree in Theology in Rome and was appointed parish priest of Holy Cross, Ardoyne, Belfast, in August 2001. Contact address: Holy Cross Retreat, 432 Crumlin Road, Belfast BT14 7GE.
© Meath Peace Group April 2002
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.