No. 39 – “Cementing the Peace – The Role of the Republic’s Government and People”
Tuesday, November 28th, 2000
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan
Brian Hayes, TD (Fine Gael, Spokesperson on N.I.)
Cllr. Brian Fitzgerald (Ind. Member of Meath Co. Council)
Micheal MacDonncha (Sinn Féin; Dail Secretary to Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin, TD)
Dr. Martin Mansergh (Fianna Fâil; Special Adviser to the Taoiseach)
Dr. Gerard Hogan, S.C. (Lecturer in Law, Trinity College Dublin)
Chaired by Roy Garland (Member of UUP; Irish News Columnist; Co-Chair, Guild of Uriel, Louth)
Introduction: Roy Garland
Addresses of speakers
Questions and comments
Appendix A: Biographical notes on speakers
Appendix B: Principles Underlying the Good Friday Agreement and the Commitments made by the Irish Government – A Summary
Roy Garland (Guest chair): “Good evening and thank you very much for having me here. The subject tonight is to me a very important topic. The whole image of the Republic and the contribution of the Republic is of vital importance. I must say, personally, understanding something of the difficulties and the realities on the ground, it’s sometimes difficult to see what can be changed, but I know that on the ground in the North there are great difficulties in coming to terms with the Republic. I came from a family who originated in Co. Monaghan, and before that Co. Louth, but despite that, my father seemed to have vowed from about 1930 that he would never cross that border. I grew up with that. Actually he did cross the border about 1930, and I have a picture to prove it – I came across it about a year or two ago, of my mother and father in Monaghan. But his impression of what happened was such that he determined never to cross that border, and certainly I was brought up with that. And the feeling then of coming across the border – I mean it’s quite a miracle I suppose that I’m here tonight! – was that I was coming into an alien environment which was foreign to all that I understood. When I first came across in the 1960s, till I went home, I was uneasy and there was a great sense of relief when I got back across that border. That may seem strange to you. Today I feel at home down here – there’s no sense of that at all. You might wonder how that happened but part of the reason was finding friends here, and also relatives as well .. and beginning to feel at home here. There’s something like that has to happen before we really find a new way forward. We really have to make friends with each other and respect our differences. … Now we have a lot of speakers tonight, each one with something to say of great importance. Our first speaker is Brian Hayes, TD, Fine Gael Spokesperson on Northern Ireland ..
1. Brian Hayes, TD (Fine Gael)
“Thank you Roy. I never thought I’d live to see the day when I’d be calling Roy Garland “Chairman Roy”!. I’m delighted to be here in Co. Meath this evening….. I’m delighted to have the invitation from the Meath Peace Group to speak at one of your meetings. I have to say when I was appointed party spokesperson in June, the very first group to come to see me and to give their position on the whole issue of Northern Ireland and the emerging peace process was the Meath Peace Group, and I really appreciate the contact I’ve had with the Group since then. I very much appreciate the fact that all of your meetings are recorded, and we know exactly what we have said, and we know the views of other colleagues at meetings like this. When I came into the position of party spokesperson … it provided me with a marvellous facility of reference for various different political views on the situation in Northern Ireland, and I just want to thank the Meath Peace Group for that…”
Changing people’s perspectives and breaking down years of prejudice
“..Tonight’s theme for discussion goes to the heart of what the peace process is all about, in my view. While the Good Friday Agreement maps out a new political architecture between Britain and Ireland, between North and South and crucially within Northern Ireland, the objective of the peace process is ultimately about changing people’s perspectives on one another and breaking down years of prejudice.
“The peace process is crucially a process that must involve, by its very definition, a change in attitude here in the Republic to Northern Ireland and to Britain. Too often people in this country forget their role and responsibility in cementing the peace which has been established over the past decade or so.
Guarantors of the Agreement: “I think the first responsibility for Southern society, at this difficult time in the peace process, is to demand of both governments and all political parties that the Good Friday Agreement be implemented to the letter. The joint referendum which took place in May 1998 has changed the direction of Irish history for ever. That referendum, which was so unanimously supported here in the Republic, albeit with a woefully bad electoral turnout on the day, has given a clear expression of support for the inherent compromise and agreement which was arrived at during the multi-party talks. It is the responsibility therefore of all politicians, be they in Government or in Opposition to act as constitutional guarantors for the Agreement that has been delivered.
Defence of the Agreement: “I believe the Agreement is not a stepping stone as some would see it, nor an expression of the status quo. It is in my mind, the fundamental position of this generation of Irish people in their efforts to find lasting peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland, and between the islands of Britain and Ireland. The defence of the Agreement and the demand that it be fully implemented must become our primary responsibility as politicians and as the wider public here in the Republic.
Current impasse: “The current vacuum that has been created since the last Ulster Unionist Council meeting cannot be allowed to continue. I believe that it is imperative that a solution to the current impasse be resolved as soon as possible. Those of us who are pro-Agreement political parties either here in the Republic or in Northern Ireland have a specific responsibility to find common ground between each other and crucially to understand the inherent dilemmas that exist for each other’s party. The Good Friday Agreement is not an a la carte menu. Political parties cannot pick and choose certain parts of the Agreement to the exclusion of others. If demilitarisation is an important part of the Agreement from a Republican viewpoint so is decommissioning from a Unionist or Constitutional Nationalist perspective.
Historic shift: “Too often in recent Irish, and for that matter British, political history, policy on Northern Ireland is governed from the viewpoint of articulating the demands of one community over those of the other community. In this scenario it becomes the responsibility of the British Government to speak on behalf of Unionists and the Irish Government to speak on behalf of the Nationalists. I believe that the Good Friday Agreement has changed that orthodoxy forever. And in changing that, I believe the Good Friday Agreement now requires each government to underwrite and guarantee the demands of each community in Northern Ireland as reflected in the Agreement. That is the historic shift that has taken place, in my view.
Reconciliation: “Outside of making the Agreement work and delivering its real benefits to the people of Ireland as a whole, I believe that there are many things in the Republic that we can do to promote the twin objectives of peace and reconciliation. There are aspects of reconciliation which are difficult to deal with. There is even great difficulty in establishing an agreed version of events – and we’re seeing that at the moment in respect of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry in Derry, and there are other examples of where we cannot come to a definitive agreement as to the awful events that have occurred in Northern Ireland and here in Ireland for so long.
Victims of violence: “There is the question of how the victims of violence may be remembered. What would be a fitting memorial? Could cross-community support be reached in terms of a sharing of remembrance? I think both governments, together with the Northern Ireland Executive, should establish a representative committee in order to bring forward proposals in this specific area of remembrance. I am strongly of the opinion that the dead must be remembered so that the living may have some peace”
Exchange of State visits: “At the wider level of reconciliation between Ireland and Britain, I think the time is now right for a formal exchange of State visits between Ireland and Britain. Such an exchange of visits, properly prepared, could be very significant at the symbolic level.
Role of people: “Reconciliation of course is not just a matter for governments and for politicians. It is a matter for each and every one of us as citizens. At the most basic level of all we should all at least encourage our fellow-citizens to visit Northern Ireland on a regular basis. On my first speech in Northern Ireland, in Ballymena, to an economic conference there some months ago, I was astonished at the fact that so few people in the business community had actually made that journey to Belfast or to Ballymena or wherever. And the same is true in Northern Ireland. I think there is still a considerable amount of disconnection between Northern Ireland and the Republic which must be overcome if reconciliation can be brought about.
Trade: “I was astonished to discover …. that we have less trade from the Republic to Northern Ireland than we have, for instance, between the Republic and a country like Switzerland, which is outside the European Union and is geographically a considerable distance from Northern Ireland. Those are the kind of barriers that have to be broken down.
Cross-border links. “ We should encourage every organisation of which we are members – be they sporting, cultural, educational, professional, to make contact with equivalent groups in Northern Ireland. I think it would also be useful if national organisations and representative bodies set an example by designating one official with responsibility for developing cross-border links. Each local authority in the Republic should also be encouraged to designate an official with similar responsibilities.
Education links: “I also believe the Department of Education and Science should be encouraging a major exchange programme at second and third level. Funding should be provided for a specific post of responsibility in this area in each second-level school and a special annual allocation of funds could be provided for schools to encourage cross-border links. I recently called on the Department of Education & Science and the Department of Higher Education in N. Ireland to develop an Erasmus programme, allowing college students to spend a year or a term being educated in either jurisdiction. This happens on a regular basis with most EU countries, but it has not happened between the Republic and Northern Ireland. It should happen…
Sectarianism and the role of churches: “Sectarianism is a major factor influencing politics in Northern Ireland. The Christian churches have a deep responsiblity to eradicate sectarianism. All the Christian churches need to examine their respective positions and church practices in order to eliminate all traces of sectarianism. I think it would be useful if all the Christian churches abandoned theological language which questions the integrity and belief systems of other churches. They should witness to their own beliefs rather than defining themselves by negatively categorising others.
Changing mindsets “Advancing reconciliation on the island of Ireland and between Ireland and Britain will require a significant change in our thinking and in our approach here in the Republic. Over the years we have allowed ourselves to become alienated from the people of Northern Ireland – Unionist and Nationalist alike. We have become comfortable with ourselves, with our own way of thinking, with our own state. This has got to change if the Agreement is to be successful. If we are to advance the cause of reconciliation we need to leave our comfort zone and we need to change our mindset. If we are to help heal the divisions on this island we need to reach out to both communities in a spirit of openness and of generosity.
Diversity of Irish history: “At a deeper level, I also think we need to open up our minds to the many different stories that form part of our own history here in the Republic. Irish history is not just a single story of Catholic Nationalist oppression and a struggle for emancipation, justice and freedom. That story is certainly a major part of our history. But there are many many other stories. The Protestant churches, for example, have made a major contribution to the Irish state and to the development of this Republic. We are inclined to ignore, for example, the fact that Republicanism is a child of the radical Protestant thinking over three centuries ago.
Diversity of Irish nation: “Another major element of our history is the intermingling of the populations of Ireland and Britain and the specific links between Ulster and Scotland. Many people of Ulster, from Donegal to Belfast, feel a closer affinity with Scotland and with Glasgow and Edinburgh than they do with Dublin or with Munster.
“To illustrate this point I would just like to name some leading politicians – past and present – and ask you to reflect on the origins: John Hume, Gerry Adams, Dick Spring, Erskine Childers, Eamonn de Valera, Douglas Hyde, Ian Paisley, John Bruton, Garret Fitzgerald, David Trimble, Mary Robinson – a fine mixture of Norman, English, Scottish and even some Spanish blood. My point here is that it is the variety and difference which make up modern Irish history and the modern Irish nation. We have to celebrate that difference and that variety.
Irish in Britain: “At a different level we can contrast the great emphasis we place on Irish-America and the little attention we give to the Irish in Britain. We go to great effort to trace and celebrate the Irish origins of various American presidents. We made no such effort when James Callaghan – the Labour Prime Minister – became Prime Minister of Britain in the 1970s. When it was established that John Major had an Irish grandmother there was no response. Tony Blair’s mother was born in Ireland and he spent his childhood holidays with his mother’s people in Co. Cavan. We don’t hear the Taoiseach and Tony Blair on a Roots expedition to Ballyshannon or indulging in beery bonding sessions in pubs in Donegal!
“In particular we in the Republic of Ireland have airbrushed out of history the enthusiastic participation in British Empire culture of Protestant and Catholic alike at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. That participation can be seen in the thousands of men who fought in both World Wars.
“Let’s embrace our history in all its diversity while at the same time never being prisoners of our past. By embracing the diversity of our past we will be much better placed to welcome the diversity, ethnic and otherwise, which will certainly be the future of this island in the next hundred years. Thank you”
Chair (Roy Garland): “Thank you very much, Brian. Embracing diversity can be enjoyable as well as painful. The other night we had a meeting not too far from here, with representatives of the Independent Orange Order. It was quite painful at times – even for people like me … because they’re coming from such a diverse background – very hardline unionists, evangelical and fundamentalist. We would really have to have an open ear to hear. But in the exchange I’m convinced that people begin to hear an echo and people begin to change. So there is room for greater opening and for new developments when we listen and when we contribute. Our next speaker is Cllr. Brian Fitzgerald of the Meath Co. Council…
2. Cllr. Brian Fitzgerald (Meath Co. Council):
“Good evening everybody. I would like to welcome our guests to Co. Meath, in particular I would like to welcome Roy. When we were having difficulties some years ago in trying to get somebody from the unionist tradition to speak at the Forum [Forum for Peace and Reconciliation], it became extremely difficult, but we were put in touch with a man named Roy Garland who courageously came at the time, but many more came thereafter…
Good Friday Agreement: “I suppose I was no different to very very many in this country who for many years had aspired to having a united Ireland where we would have all of the people North and South, irrespective of what religion or none, that they would come together and work together for one on the island. Unfortunately over the years, that did not materialise. But, following the Good Friday Agreement when we all went out in our thousands and thousands to vote for it, maybe it was somewhat less than a united Ireland. But I think, in the words of Senator Maurice Hayes speaking in another context, I suppose 100% of nothing means nothing but 90% of something means a lot. I believe that that Agreement gave us some hope for the future of bringing all of the people on this island together, even if there was, and would continue to be, a territorial problem.
Complacency in the South: “However, I think we would have to ask ourselves in the South what has been our interest, and .. I would be speaking here to people here who have continuously tried to build bridges between all traditions on this island, that is the Meath Peace Group and the very many people who are here tonight that have continuously come and have involved themselves in many many projects in trying to build the peace..Unfortunately the vast majority of people in the South of Ireland don’t give a damn about the North of Ireland – and that’s the reality we have to face, and it’s a sad one. I think I’ve contested 8 elections of one sort or another since 1982. I don’t believe in all of that time that it has been mentioned 5 times on the doorsteps – the issue of Northern Ireland. If there is a certain level of violence, which goes beyond a certain level of maybe acceptable, unfortunately, violence, yes there is an initial outpouring of grief… but by and large people have become very comfortable and very complacent about the whole issue of Northern Ireland and the implications. But, if a bomb goes off in Dublin, or the threat of a bomb in Dublin, everybody gets very interested. And I think that’s something that we have to ask ourselves – why? … Because quite frankly people just don’t care in the South at the present time. Now that might be a bit provocative to say here at this meeting, but it’s a reality that we have to face and it’s something we should give great consideration to.
“I think it’s unfortunate, but there is a certain amount of complacency on many many issues. There is a certain level of violence which is continuosly accepted, and it’s being accepted here as well. I don’t believe that anybody has the right to become judge and jury – and executioner in many cases – without recourse to the law of the land. .. It’s becoming acceptable – it’s been acceptable in the North of Ireland for many years and it’s also being accepted here. I think that’s unfortunate. People are saying to themselves “I’m all right – I don’t want to know about somebody else’s problems.”
“And I think there is this element of greed about, that we only care for ourselves and not for everybody.
Contribution of Irish Government: “Notwithstanding all that, the government of today, and the governments of the last number of years, have put tremendous effort into building peace on this island. They probably have devoted far more time than has been good for themselves as a government, from a government point of view, insofar as they may have neglected other issues. But they have made enormous contributions as indeed have many of the political parties, including, and in particular, Sinn Fein, who have been extremely courageous over the last number of years in trying to bring people with them to end the continuous violence which we had become accustomed to – and long may that remain.
Decommissioning impasse: “Unfortunately we appear to be running into crisis after crisis, and this is something that we have to address. I believe that we here in the South should perhaps start setting a tone, condition thinking as to what way we should address those issues, to make it easier for people to accept. Obviously the famous “D” word – decommissioning – is going to continue to give us problems and there will be a continual crisis in the North if the Unionists are threatening to pull out unless the IRA decommission.
“I think we have to ask ourselves “will they every decommission?” Personally I don’t believe they will – that is not to say that they will ever use their arms, their guns or bomb-making material again. I sincerely hope that they don’t and I believe they won’t. But if we are continually to wait for them to decommission, and creating a crisis, everything else is being neglected. I believe it is time for a certain amount of honesty to come into the debate, and say, “sorry we are not in a position to decomission, we won’t use the arms”. So let’s manage that problem, let’s deal with that problem, and see how we can deal with it in the best interests of the whole Agreement and all of the people on the island. I think that’s something we should ask ourselves and ask the people who are involved, and ask the unionist community will they accept that, and on what conditions will they accept that, rather than continue to harp on and harp on and stumble from one crisis to another.”
If the Agreement collapses “…I have a lot of time for Trimble. I was one of the first to meet him when he was first elected leader, and I wouldn’t say I was his number one friend at that stage. I haven’t met the man since, but I have a lot of admiration for the courage shown ever since he was elected. But if the Agreement collapsed as a result of Trimble walking out of it, or being forced to walk out, where do we go from there? I’m old enough to remember what happened when Sunningdale collapsed. We had 26 or 24 years of the most horrible violence ever witnessed on this island. That’s what we had – do we want to go back to that?. And there’s not much point in us running to the Brits and asking them to sort it out at that stage, there’s not much point in us running to America, and asking Bill Clinton, who will no longer be there, to help us with our problems.
“The problems will be ours, and the only people who can resolve those problems are ourselves, and I think this is something we have got to start planning for, and I’m not so sure that we are preparing people for that…
Need for patience: “Notwithstanding all that – and maybe I have been speaking on some of the negative areas – there are a lot of good things happening. A lot of people are becoming impatient because they are not happening fast enough. But I believe they have to happen on a much slower basis, and the reason that things have to happen on a slower basis is that there is considerable hurt on all sides. Even in here, I’m sure that all of you have had some experience of where somebody has done something horrible to a friend or another person and it could be generations before the hurt leaves that family. Don’t forget we were still fighting the Civil War up to the last 20 years – the hurt that it caused. Can we honestly expect the hurt of the last 30 years – on all sides – just to disappear and for people to say it never happened.
North-South co-operation: “So we must take things a little slower, but we have plenty of opportunities, and I believe they are being availed of. I know from one area I’m involved in this county – the health area – there is tremendous cooperation going on between the North and South health authorities, in a nice quiet way, because if they were publicised too much they wouldn’t happen, but they are happening in a quiet way and people are becoming accustomed to working with one another. The same thing can happen in tourism and will, when the new tourism company forms – it will give people an opportunity. It’s happening in many areas of commerce, it’s certainly happening in the environment – we had the Minister for the Environment from Northern Ireland in our own county only a month ago – he addressed Meath County Council.
Schools: “There’s tremendous effort being made in the schools – we had a group here from Belfast only last year with the Dunboyne children. We met the Dunboyne children the other day and they told me they had been back up in Belfast. This is happening. Our colleague here from Kilbride [John Keaveney] – he has been working on that for years. That’s the type of building that must happen – but it’s slow, it cannot happen as fast as people would like.
Sporting organisations: “In the areas of sport we have to try and work with the young people on all sides. Perhaps we should start asking ourselves a few critical questions in relation to sport. What are we doing here? I think the sporting body which I have spent all my life in – the GAA – has a serious question to ask themselves over the coming months – they’ve asked themselves several times but they’ve never answered it. I don’t see why any person should be deprived from playing Gaelic games, just because they do a certain job. I could never subscribe to that – they’ve hedged on it but it’s an area that has to be dealt with.
All-Ireland teams: “We have got to look at areas where there are all-Ireland teams – where you may have people coming from both traditions playing on them. Is it right that people have a difficulty with the emblem that they have to wear – is it right that they have difficulty with the anthem they have to stand to, is it right that they have a difficulty with the flag?
“We have to look at those areas – there was an attempt to look at them. We talk about them in a Northern Ireland context, but we have to try, if we are to bring people together, we have got to look at it from a sporting point of view – and I believe it is one of the best healers we can have.
So I think there are many areas, but I believe we have got to shake ourselves out of the complacency which we have – or appear to have in this part of the island.
Conclusion: “So I would hope over the coming months that the Good Friday Agreement will get stronger, but people will have to be more patient, and we in the South will have to become more active, and try and set a tone, condition people, and try and work with people, and not be pushing too hard. I would again like to compliment the Government, and Martin Mansergh here, who has done a tremendous amount of work over the years, with different Taoisigh and different governments, in trying to build a relationship on this island, and to try and get the British Government to understand the difficulties that we have on this island, and long may he remain! … Thank you.”
Chair (Roy Garland): “Thank you very much Cllr. Fitzgerald. I suppose one of the things that strikes me is the emphasis in part of your speech that there’ll be no decommissioning – at least that’s what I took out of it. I suppose it depends on what you mean by decommissioning, because it is my understanding that Sinn Fein accepts decommissioning – that is putting out of commission – and certainly in that sense decommissioning, I understand, is acceptable. Whether it is acceptable to the Unionists or not is a different matter. But maybe our next speaker will enlighten us on that issue. Micheal MacDonncha of Sinn Fein will now speak in place of Caoimhghin O Caolain…
3. Micheál MacDonncha (Sinn Féin)
“Thank you. If I could start by thanking the Meath Peace Group for the invitation to speak here tonight. I want first to apologise on behalf of Caoimhghin Ó Caolain, T.D., who was the invited Sinn Fein speaker but he is recovering from an injury at the moment …..
Dedication: “In the spirit of what earlier speakers have been saying In relation to the diverse traditions on this island, I would just like to dedicate my remarks this evening to a friend of mine who died yesterday – Jack Bennett, formerly assistant editor of the Evening Press in Dublin. He came from Belfast, from a unionist background. In the 1940s he joined the Young Communists in Belfast. He became an Irish republican as well as a socialist and moved to Dublin. He was a founder member of the Wolfe Tone Societies in the 1960s and a founder-member of the civil rights movement. He played a major part in intellectual and political debate in the 1970s …
“For me he was someone who was formative in my political thinking. He wrote a very influential book called “Freedom the Wolfe Tone Way”…. I think it is fitting that I would remember him when I speak this evening.
Republican perspective: “The theme tonight is the role of the Republic’s Government and people in cementing the peace process. Brian referred to how perhaps people in this State had become “comfortable” with our own state here. From the republican perspective that I come from, we were never fully comfortable with this State, less so of course with the six-county State, but this State for us certainly was not the state that in our view the men and women of 1916 sought to achieve, and subsequently the War of Independence. Our independence had been limited, and the hopes of those who took part in the revolution in the early part of the century had been dashed by the Treaty and the tragic Civil War. I think it’s important that that republican perspective, which is also one of the political traditions on this island, is also taken into account.
Need for more active engagement: “I think the theme of the role of the people in this State is extremely important and I don’t think it has been sufficiently addressed right throughout the peace process. I must say since I started to work in the Dail in 1997, I was somewhat depressed by the infrequency and the quality of debate on the peace process that I found there. Apart from the few members in each party – and I include every party in that – and some of the Independents in the Dail and Seanad, with those few exceptions there seems to me to be a general lack of active engagement. Now that’s distinct from interest, of course there’s an interest, and there is a limited engagement. But I think what public representatives in this State need is a very very active engagement in the process, and unfortunately I don’t see that across the board. There is still a sense among many that the peace process is something “up there” which does not directly affect the lives of people in the 26 counties, and by extension the lives of the people who vote for elected representatives. Of course this is grossly mistaken because the success of the peace process is inextricably bound up with the future of every individual on this island.
Legacy of closed doors in the South: “I think the situation has improved vastly since the start of the peace process, but I have no doubt that the lack of full engagement with the peace process among many parliamentarians… is a legacy of what happened in this State during the conflict. Going back on some of the remarks that Brian Fitzgerald made – I don’t think it’s enough to say that people simply switched off – we need to look at the reasons for that. The role of successive governments and their attitude to Northern Ireland had a major bearing on the public mindset. I think that the political establishment in this State in effect closed its doors on the North. Successive governments here made their priority the consolidation of their own position and they avoided too great an engagement with the problem, and indeed, in extremes, they resorted to a repressive response in their own jurisdiction.
“We only have to look at the censorship laws which we had in this State for a very long period indeed. TV and radio broadcasting was directly politically censored in this State for a longer period than than it was in the North of Ireland, and in Britain. This obviously had a huge impact also, not only in not allowing people to hear the views of Sinn Fein and broader republican opinion, but in also closing the entire issue down to real debate which included all strands of opinion.
Dublin and Monaghan bombings: “I think the doors were also closed to people in this State who suffered from violence inflicted either by the British forces or loyalists. I recently read Don Mullan’s book on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. The book shows clearly how the families of the 33 victims and the injured were abandoned in an appalling fashion by successive governments in this State. In the wake of the bombing the then coalition Government of Fine Gael and Labour blamed republicans, not for the actual bombing, but they blamed them for creating the situation which led to them. They chose to close their eyes at that time to the involvement of agents of the British armed forces in this atrocity which was the biggest single atrocity in the conflict, the next being of course the dreadful Omagh bombing of a couple of years ago.
Implications for Southern State: “When you examine the evidence in the Dublin and Monaghan bombing case, it’s quite clear that the case was closed down. Reading Don Mullan’s book, which I would recommend people to do, I think the reason it was closed down by the establishment here was not because there was seen to be collusion between British forces and loyalism, because I think that is now widely accepted. I think it was closed down because of the implications within this State, because, if you read the evidence – and there is a lot of evidence which will come out, especially if there is an inquiry into this – there were within the Garda Siochana people who were working directly for British Intelligence at that time. Now we don’t know the full extent of that, and we don’t know the extent of the knowledge of governments here about what was going on at the time. But the implications were and are clearly huge. Indeed as Don Mullan himself has said, the implications for Anglo-Irish relations of the Dublin and Monaghan case are even more profound than those of Bloody Sunday. I thought it was interesting that Brian Fitzgerald said that maybe people turn off when they hear of violence in the 6 counties or in Britain but they turn on when it’s on their own doorstep in this State. But here was an example where we had a dreadful atrocity in this State and the reaction of the State itself was far from one of real concern for its own people.
Need for full inquiry: “I believe then, that one of the essential things that has to be done arising out of the peace process… is for a full cross-jurisdictional inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, and also into a number of other fatal events in this State where evidence points to the hand of British agents. That case is to go before the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality and Women’s Rights. But I believe whatever the outcome of those deliberations there needs to be an inquiry.
Offences Against the State ActsReview Group: “I was the author with others of Sinn Fein’s submission to the review of the Offences Against the State Acts. In the Good Friday Agreement – the wording is there in the handout for tonight’s meeting – the Government here gave a commitment to review and, where appropriate, to set aside this legislation. In my view, action on this aspect of the Agreement has been far too slow, there has been a lack of real public debate and public engagement on this. In fact in 1998 the Government actually strengthened the Offences Against the State Act. It has intitiated no real debate on the legal and political effects of this body of legislation which has been in force continuously in this State, with major implications for civil liberties, since 1939. Now I have no doubt that the Committee is doing pretty good work, hard work I am sure. But I think we need to see more evidence of its deliberations.
“And one thing I would like to see, for example, would be hearings on this issue around the country. Because there are a lot of people with stories to tell. And again, to add in another strand of opinion, one which doesn’t often get heard, at the time when we were putting together the Sinn Fein submission on the Offences Against the State Acts a number of people came to me, people in their sixties and seventies. They had been interned without trial in this State in the 1950s and, under the Offences Against the State Acts, were excluded from employment by the State. They were people who couldn’t get jobs in the civil service afterwards, some of them lost teaching jobs. There are a body of people such as that, people whose story again has not often been told and which needs to be factored in as part of the resolution of the outstanding issues.
British legislation: “I think the failure so far to deal with this issue of contentious legislation in this State has also hampered the ability of the Government here to deal with the failure of the British Government to repeal its own repressive legislation. I think the Government here has placed itself in the position where it cannot credibly address the issue of British legislation when it has very similar legislation on its own statute books.
Current impasse: “Now that brings me directly to the current issues that are causing huge difficulties in the peace process.
Policing: “Firstly, of course the issue of policing. In the context of the body of legislation that has been there right since the foundation of the Northern State in 1922, one of the things that we in Sinn Fein said when the Patten Report was published and when we had considered it, was that we would give this report a fair wind, that it was clearly a compromise, it was clearly not all that we in Sinn Fein wanted to see. We wanted a more comprehensive approach but it was a compromise which we were prepared to assess and prepared to work with the outcome if it was implemented in full and if, crucially, the legislation which had built up since 1922 in the North and variously amended and so on, was addressed. That hasn’t been sufficiently addressed either, and that is also part of the problem in terms of the policing issue.
North-South Ministerial Council: “We have a situation now where in effect the North-South Ministerial Council is suspended because David Trimble has refused to nominate duly elected Sinn Fein Ministers. There is, I have to say – and I would represent a body of opinion in Sinn Fein – a deep unease and a deep disappointment and scepticism about the role now of David Trimble. The question is raised: is the difference between David Trimble and Jeffrey Donaldson now merely a tactical difference in terms of ridding the situation of those parts of the Agreement which they do not wish to be associated with? I think it is unfortunate that David Trimble has allowed himself to be led, in effect, by the “No” camp in his own party. It would be my view that he hasn’t mobilised the large body of opinion that is out there within civic unionism which backed the Good Friday Agreement. In all this delaying which we have seen over the past few months in particular, the position of the unionists has been bolstered all along by the British Government, and I think in particular the role of Peter Mandelson has been very negative.
Opinion-formers: “In the context of what we’re addressing tonight, these are all points and issues which the Irish Government needs to give a lead on, because, whether we like it or not, the reality is that from the very beginning, the initiative and the drive in the peace process has come from the nationalist parties in the North, initially Sinn Fein and the SDLP. In the context of the start of the peace process – if you look back at the very start, in 1992/1993 – in terms of opinion in this State and so-called opinion-formers in this State, if you look at the villification which John Hume suffered at that time because he engaged with Sinn Fein. And the so-called opinion formers who were doing this villification – these were people who had had a huge influence on public opinion in this State in terms of the North for a long number of years. And again it points to the type of opinion-forming that had been going on, the type of stuff that people had been subjected to through a censored media for nearly two and a half decades. But as I said, the driving force throughout this has been nationalist Ireland, for want of a better term – the Irish Government, Sinn Fein and the SDLP.
“We have an Agreement now, and the Agreement contains within it many elements, and the core of the Agreement is about equality, and the difficulties, when you boil them down, are the reluctance of large sections of unionism to come to terms with the need for equality.
Decommissioning: “I think the issue of decommissioning is just a symbol of that. I would agree with Roy’s definition of decommissioning – to me it’s taking arms out of commission, it’s putting them beyond use, and ensuring that they are not used. And if you look at the past few years in terms of the ceasefires, and the fact that they have been maintained, if you look at the engagement that the IRA has had with the De Chastelain Commission and with the arms inspectors. If you put that in its historical context, I think in effect we have decommissioning, we have arms put beyond use, and I think we do have a serious intent by Republicans to continue that process and to engage in that process, and the raising of this issue continuously is not really, in my opinion, about the issue itself, it’s about reluctance to see change.
Increasing and enriching contacts: “.. I would totally agree with all the previous speakers in terms of the need to increase and enrich contacts between people in all parts of this island. I was just reading the Senate debate which was held last week on the peace process and one senator had met a loyalist leader and his partner, and she had never heard of Co. Clare! We hear examples of that all the time – the same happens in the other direction. Many people in this State are unaware of the realities in the North, they’re unaware even of the geography of their own country. I think we need to be doing as much as we can to increase contacts and to increase interchange between people in every part of this island.
“And I think the Agreement itself – the institutions established under the Agreement – have huge potential to actually achieve that if they’re worked and if they’re fully implemented. I know people involved in the Intertrade Ireland – the all-Ireland trade body – which has done a huge amount of work and which has had a roadshow going around the country in the past few months. And again that has built up and increased contacts. So I think we have huge obstacles, we have huge difficulties, but there is on the part of the vast majority a goodwill, and a willingness to engage if they’re given the opportunity. That’s why I commend the Meath Peace Group for your work over the years and for your continual work, for building on what we have achieved and helping us to continue to achieve much more. Go raibh maith agaibh.”
Chair (Roy Garland): “Thank you. I think Micheal is saying that there are many hurts to be addressed, and of course there’s hurts on both sides of the community. And unfortunately when one side express their hurts, the other side feels even more hurt. But it is important that people get together and express their hurts together. In that context, over a period of time – it’s a long long process, and maybe we’ve tried too much too soon – but certainly those of us in the unionist community who have listened to the republicans, I think have heard the hurt. I feel sometimes we are too much caught in the hurt to move on. It’s very very difficult. We need to find partners right across the board, and I think that’s what we are doing in the Meath Peace Group tonight. We’re moving on now to Dr. Martin Mansergh who has played a major role in the peace process, and I think he is increasingly appreciated for the role he has played…
4. Dr. Martin Mansergh (Special Adviser to An Taoiseach)
“I would like to thank the Meath Peace Group for this invitation. I recall a very constructive and informative debate about this time last year on the Patten Report on policing. .
Public’s interest: “The public’s interest in and expectation of progress remains an important spur to continued effort to overcome difficulties that continue to face the peace process, even though we are, all told, significantly further forward than this time last year. I do feel that a lot of the public do care and are interested, and I must say I don’t feel discouraged by indifference or apathy, I think enough people do care.
Problem-solving: “It is tempting to express frustration and impatience at this or that party or government for delays or foot-dragging, but evenings like this are an opportunity to appreciate the reasons for the difficulties, and some of them have already been spelled out. Not only are there few glib answers, but many of the plausible ways forward are on closer examination, for one reason or another, not feasible. While we must never lose sight of the moral inspiration of peace and accommodation, it has never been the case that one more political sermon would solve the problem, however good it might make the speaker and some of the listeners feel. The emphasis must be on understanding, problem-solving, and the patient defusing of potentially dangerous situations. Parties should also resist the temptation of being too self-righteous, eager to point out the defaults of others without acknowledging their own.
“Democratic Governments can, generally speaking, do what people will allow them to, and will respond to. The clarity of public opinion in the Republic on the subject of peace, and the willingness to sacrifice cherished positions in order to move forward, has been crucially important and amply demonstrated. Those who want to frustrate peace and drive us all back to war have negligible support and absolutely no mandate in this jurisdiction. But it is important not to make unrealistic demands that would drive one or other party back into the trenches.
Absolutism as a cause of conflict: “We should never lose sight of what is visible throughout history – that moral or political absolutism can be a cause of conflict. There is a Manichean strand of opinion that hates any form of constructive ambiguity, and that in many ways is more comfortable with eternal conflict that demonstrates clearly who is good and who is bad. In relation to Northern Ireland, there are few blameless parties on this island, even if people differ as to how the blame is apportioned. When the conflict of the last 30 years is finally and safely far behind us, we will have leisure to identify more of the shining knights. There is also an unfortunate style of negotiation that tends to believe that hardballing works best all of the time. If one looks at other areas, say European negotiations or social partnership ones, where a more flexible style is the norm, it can achieve better results and avoid unnecessary crises. From time to time, we have to stand back and take a strategic view of what is the best way forward, and where people’s best interests lie.
Role and contribution of Irish Government: “As a representative of the Irish Government, I want to focus mainly on its role and contribution, which I would see under three headings.
1) First of all, we are, and have been for some time, a partner of the British Government in seeking a settlement of the Northern Ireland problem within a broader framework and in upholding that settlement now that we have one.
2) A second and related role, which is sometimes disputed, is to act in the manner that was formalised in the Anglo-Irish Agreement of putting forward views and proposals on issues as they affect the interests of the minority or Nationalist community.
3) Thirdly, the Government acts on behalf of the people of this State, reflecting both their ideals and their interests, which include peace, stability and reconciliation on this island; good relations based on a mutual respect between the two islands; a closer and more structured form of North-South co-operation; and a rapprochement between the two main traditions on this island.
Recognition of role of Irish Government: “If one asks how conflict broke out in the first place, it was adherence in a divided community to a strongly majoritarian form of devolution, with no alternative or cross-community coalition and scant regard for minority rights. It was not democracy in any real sense of the term. The civil rights campaigners took to the streets, because there was no effective constitutional channel for a redress of grievances. In 1969, the UK Government did not accept that the Republic’s Government had any right to make representations, which it considered unhelpful interference in their internal affairs. Repression and revolt became mutually reinforcing, and the constitutional opposition of the SDLP, while correct, was a stony path. Only gradually did the British Government come to realise that the role of the Irish Government was essential, that unilateral initiatives did not work, and that the only way forward was partnership, without prejudice to sovereignty
“The peace process originated within Nationalist Ireland, but to come to fruition it needed to be adopted by both Governments. Persuading the Major Government to accept the approach of the Downing Street Declaration or the Framework Document was no easy task. While in theory it might have been better if the partners in the North could have agreed amongst themselves on a way forward out of major difficulties, this has rarely been a realistic expectation. The Unionists tend in the first instance to look to the British Government. The SDLP and Sinn Fein look to the Irish Government.
“But that is not the whole story. The Good Friday Agreement and subsequent developments would not have been possible unless the British Government had been able to listen to Nationalists, or, conversely, unless the Irish Government had been able to come to some important understandings with Unionists.
“Of course, the US President, Bill Clinton, and Congress, and the President’s envoy, Senator George Mitchell, have played a hugely important role as guarantors of fair play, and I am delighted that President Clinton will be paying a final visit as President to Ireland next month.
Aim of Irish Government: “Since the first meetings with Sinn Fein in 1988, the Irish Government’s aim has been to establish a democratic consensus among Nationalists and beyond, as opposed to a Pan-Nationalist Front where Nationalists would fall in line with the militant wing of the Republican Movement to force the issue, and where in the last analysis the requirement for majority consent could be overriden.
“To the extent that it was mostly members of the Unionist community who were at the receiving end of the IRA campaign, and understanding that this was deeply damaging to hopes of seeing the country gradually grow closer together, the Government and the SDLP between them helped Sinn Fein to persuade the Republican Movement to try out the political alternative and to lift a counterproductive and misconceived physical and political siege.
“Maintaining the peace, getting parties to the negotiating table, negotiating an Agreement and then implementing it have all proved arduous tasks.
“The areas in which the Irish Government have been most directly involved have generally turned out the least contentious. The constitutional accommodation, which I would argue was more symbolic than legalistic in character, was accepted and endorsed by the people. The North-South bodies have been established and are functioning well. If a problem has arisen in relation to the nomination of Northern Ministers to Council meetings, it is for reasons extraneous to their functions. The Agreement does state that participation in the Council is “one of the essential responsibilities attaching to relevant posts in the two Administrations”, and that the functioning of the different institutions is “interdependent and interlocking”. I think that all speaks for itself.
Policing: “The Irish Government is deeply committed to the new beginning in policing. We were fully supportive of the Patten Commission and its Report. We understand the strategic significance of the Patten reforms, not just for policing and the replacement of paramilitarism as a crude substitute for law and order in certain areas, but also for the stable functioning of the institutions under the Agreement. While we were not happy at certain stages of the process at what seemed to be important departures from the spirit of Patten, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brian Cowen, has maintained a spirit of constructive engagement throughout in pursuit of the best possible outcome, which is, as Chris Patten put it in a statement to the Belfast Telegraph this afternoon – “the new beginning for depoliticised policing” with “the most rigorous system of independent civilian oversight of the police in the world”. But in the last analysis it is not the Irish Government but Northern Nationalists who will decide whether to join and support the police or not.
“The Secretary of State Peter Mandelson accepted last week that until the implementation plan is known it would not be reasonable to expect the SDLP or Sinn Fein to finalise their position. Support for the police will mean a dramatic break with the habits of the past, in a situation where, politically and otherwise, people’s instinct has been to watch their back. Failure to have a positive overall outcome on Patten would be a very serious development indeed, so it is very important to keep options open.
Decommissioning: “Progress is also needed on putting arms beyond use. The two arms inspections were a very important step forward, which should not be belittled. Meaningful engagement with de Chastelain is also required. The Irish Government, going back to 1993, always saw decommissioning as part of a wider process of demilitarisation. Both processes have been complicated by the activities of dissidents, and by the investment of too much emotional significance in the process of disarmament, on all sides. They are contributors to democracy and normalisation. They are not about a military victory or defeat, neither of which occurred. The legitimacy or otherwise of taking up arms is not affected either. People’s views and convictions about the violent campaign of the last 30 years are not likely to be altered one way or the other, either by decommissioning or the absence of it.
Determination of the two Governments: “The shadow of an approaching British General Election makes it more difficult for parties to take a strategic long-term view. To do any good, it is first necessary to survive politically, and, as 1996-7 showed, a pre-election period is not one where parties are naturally inclined to take big political risks. Yet the Agreement puts Unionists more in charge of their own destiny than any alternative. Nationalists need the Agreement to start building the closer relationships and the trust that they desire, which are the indispensable foundations of going further in due course. The danger is that brinkmanship, induced by internal tensions and pressures, may temporarily derail the functioning of the institutions. But no one should underestimate the strong determination of the two Governments to stick to the Agreement and see it implemented.
Attitudes to Unionism: “Before concluding, I would like to deal with criticisms that surface from time to time of attitudes in this State to Unionism. I would want to begin by stressing the positive. The rapport between the Taoiseach, Mr. Bertie Ahern, and David Trimble, has no precedent in the history of this State or this island. They may not always agree, but they try to understand each other, and co-operate for the wider good. The same goes for loyalists. Bertie Ahern was the first and only Taoiseach to receive the Rev. Ian Paisley, albeit as a Church leader, in Government Buildings. When Bertie Ahern and David Trimble meet, they represent the two main traditions in Ireland.
Cultural initiatives: A number of cultural initiatives have been undertaken on this side of the border – work on the Boyne site, also the furbishment of First World War memorials in Inchicore and at Messines in Belgium.
But it is unrealistic to expect either Government to be entirely neutral on the Union. Successive British Prime Ministers have made it clear that they value the Union. The Taoiseach is head of Government of a State that was formed as a result of the democratic desire of the Irish people over 80 years ago to govern themselves and to leave the Union. A political leader who wants to unite the people of Ireland in peace needs to know where he is coming from. The Nationalists of Northern Ireland were deprived of the opportunity to participate in the Irish State, or in an Irish State. Our state may have had many shortcomings, particularly from a Unionist point of view, but perhaps also from a Nationalist one. But today there is a new dispensation, an historic compromise, a new constitutional order or balance, which satisfies many of the basic needs of both Unionists and Nationalists. We must hold on to these gains and build on them at all costs. Thank you.”
Chair (Roy Garland): “Thank you Dr. Mansergh, you’ve given us a lot to think about, and we’ve a long way still to go. Our next speaker is Dr. Gerard Hogan….
5. Dr. Gerard Hogan, S.C.
“Thank you very much. May I say immediately it is a great pleasure to be invited once again to speak at the Meath Peace Group. .. I propose to focus on the legal and constitutional dimension of the Republic vis-a-vis the entire peace process, and to that extent, I hope Mr. Chairman you’ll forgive me if following pedantically perhaps the theme of the evening I focus pretty well on what is happening in the Republic.
“When in the 1970s we first began in this State seriously to confront the reasons for division in Ireland and our own role therein, the conventional wisdom in many quarters was that progress towards some form of unity might be possible if two conditions were established. First if there was constitutional change, and secondly, if there was significant socio-economic change in this State, and in particular if living standards in the Republic were to approach those in Northern Ireland. Now, as far as the latter is concerned, I suppose some people, perhaps many people, would say that there has been very significant socio-economic change, perhaps not as much as many people would like, but nonetheless living standards in this State are at least approaching those prevailing in Northern Ireland, and perhaps some people might argue that living standards now in the Republic are higher than those in the North. But at least there is not I think now the significant gulf between living standards, social services, tax rates and so forth, such as prevailed at the onset of conflict in Northern Ireland.
Constitutional change: “As far as the other issue, the Constitution, is concerned … the particular criticism focussed on a number of significant provisions, provisions that were thought to grate on Unionist and Protestant sensibilities, that were thought to be too unbalanced and reflective of irredentist views in this State.
“There were three provisions in particular to which many people objected. The first, lumping them together, is Articles 2 and 3. Now as we know following the Good Friday Agreement, Articles 2 and 3 were recast, and I don’t think any fair-minded Unionist could take objection to the new provisions of Articles 2 and 3.
“Secondly, there was the special position of the Catholic Church in Article 44. That was deleted as long ago as 1972, overwhelmingly – I think the percentage in favour of deletion was in or about 85%. Now, as it happens the provision in Article 44 which simply recognised the special position of the Catholic Church also acknowledged the position of other minority churches which were named – the Church of Ireland, the Jewish community and so forth. We now know, from Government records, that it was the minority churches who were far more satisfied with that particular compromise in 1937 than the Catholic Church was. It’s ironic in a way that afterwards, that that particular provision of Article 44 – which in a way was no more than constitutional window-dressing – that there were so many people who objected to it by the 1970s. But in any event because it was considered to grate on Unionist sensibilities, as a gesture I suppose, it was dropped following the referendum in 1972.
“The third provision to which I think unionists could fairly and legitimately object was the ban on divorce, and, as we know, that was changed in 1995 and came into effect, following a challenge, in 1997.
Objections Unionists might have: “If one looks beyond that, and looks at the rest of the Constitution, it’s very difficult to see what any fair-minded Unionist could reasonably object to. True it is, they might say that it is drawn up from a republican standpoint – republican in the true sense of the term – that it doesn’t have any recognition of the monarchy, it reflects the traditional Nationalist values. Well I can’t gainsay that, no more than the Constitution of the United Kingdom reflects traditional largely English-orientated values with the Crown as the symbolic Head of State. But in terms of substantive provisions, it’s hard enough to find anything in the Constitution to which fair-minded Unionists could reasonably object.
“I myself can only think of two to which perhaps some objection might be taken. The provisions of the Preamble may be said perhaps not to give sufficient credit to traditions which are other than Nationalist and Republican. It is a pity – and I’ve said this to Dr. Mansergh before – I think it is a pity that in the constitutional changes in 1998 that the opportunity was not taken, not simply to reform Articles 2 and 3, but to make a significant gesture in respect of the Preamble.
“The other provision is in relation to Article 8, dealing with the status of the two languages, Irish and English. I was a member of the Constitution Review Group in 1996 and we recommended that the two languages should have equal status, and in fact I think with hindsight there is one further change we ought to have suggested in respect of Article 8 and that is to give some recognition to the position of Ulster-Scots. I for one would gladly do that. But beyond that it’s very difficult to see what specific objection can be taken to the Constitution
Record on human rights protection: “In particular I can’t accept for a moment, and it’s a matter of some annoyance to me – as somebody who’s never voted for Fianna Fail in my life, I think I can say this – I can’t understand the frequent objections that are made from the Unionist community on the one hand, and from what I may call civil libertarians on the other in this State, to the provisions in the Constitution, and the suggestion that the provisions of the European Convention of Human Rights are superior to those in the Constitution. This is a matter that one could argue about for a long time… but I do think in this State we can take justifiable pride that, outside of the United States, we are the country with the longest tradition of judicial review of legislation. In addition, we were the first country to sign up to the European Convention on Human Rights to allow individual petitions by our own citizens in this State to the European Court. We did that in 1953, and since 1953 we have lost only 6 times! I know the United Kingdom is a much bigger State than us, and we have to make due allowance for that, but it’s interesting, I checked on the European Court website before I came out, and I saw that the United Kingdom had lost 6 cases in September of this year, and the UK, along with Italy is by far the worst offender before the European Court of Human Rights.
Valuable constitutional tradition: “I don’t say that to pat us on the back and to denigrate the United Kingdom, but I do say that one has to be fair-minded about our constitutional tradition. It’s a very very valuable tradition, and I would defy anybody to point to instances where they can say that the provisions of the European Convention on Human rights are in any real respect superior to any individual provision in the Constitution. One could perhaps argue about individual clauses, but one can equally riposte by pointing to the [provision?] in the Constitution and our own constitutional tradition which are significantly superior to the provisions of the European Convention, as interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights.
“So I can’t for a moment accept the contention which I am beginning to see over the last few weeks that suddenly because the UK has incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law – and this came into effect in Britain from the 2nd of October last – that somehow in this State because we haven’t got around to doing that yet, that there is some major gap or lacuna in our law. Quite the reverse, I think that our tradition in that regard is equal to any member state of the Council of Europe, and our record before the European Court of Human Rights is proof positive of that.
International comparisons: “A small point, perhaps, but it’s nonetheless illustrative: most people here, I would imagine, would say that a country such as Sweden is regarded as a beacon of liberality, of fair-mindedness, of humanitarianism and social reform. But it’s interesting that the Swedes were the second country after us to sign up to the European Convention, by allowing these individual petitions, a few months after us in 1953. Admittedly they have a population of maybe twice ours, but they have lost 34 times before the European Court, and, as I say, we have lost on only 6 occasions. Now I don’t say that with a wish to pat us on the back or to be complacent but I do think, in any assessment of the constitutional protection and the protection of fundamental rights in this State, there has to be a fair-minded evaluation of the merits of the Constitution on the one hand and the European Convention on Human Rights on the other.
Foresight of 1937: “Unfortunately this debate has become politicised, and, wearing my lawyer’s hat, as someone with no particular reason to defend Mr. de Valera back in 1937, but I have to give him great credit for his enormous foresight and his enormously skilled legal team. They were way ahead of the posse in 1937 in what they drafter. And the funny thing is is that it was so sophisticated, it was so avant-garde that the Opposition who were looking for things to try and attack it, their major concern in 1937 was that somehow the President would be a Fuhrer or duce type leader, and when the referendum went to the plebiscite in July 1937, the great charge of Fine Gael was “beware of the President”, and I think we’ve learned to live with the President ever since!
“If I could move on just to two other topics. The first is a number of other commitments that this State has undertaken vis-a-vis the Good Friday Agreement.
Human Rights Commission: “One is in relation to the Human Rights Commission. Now it’s true that Northern Ireland is ahead of the game, as far as that is concerned. They have a very distinguished Human Rights Commission – it’s been up and running since early 1999 and it’s fully functional. At the moment the Government has appointed a President of our Human Rights Commission, and we’ve a Human Rignts Act, but the Commissioners have to be appointed. But again may I say, without wanting to pat the Republic on the back with a view to casting aspersions on what has been done in Northern Ireland, that in my respectful opinion the provisions in our Act are superior to that in Northern Ireland for one particular reason, in that the Human Rights Commission down here will be empowered of its own bat to take cases in court on behalf of persons where it feels their rights are being infringed in some way. That is a critical power to give to a body such as a human rights commission. We have given it, in Northern Ireland they don’t have it. I don’t want to claim brownie points for that, but, while we are a little behind what is being done in Northern Ireland, the legislation is, in my respectful opinion, somewhat superior.
Offences Against the State Act: “The third point is in relation to the review of the Offences Against the State Acts. I’m slightly compromised in that I am a member of that review group. We had expected to have our report out before Christmas, but unfortunately our Chairman, Judge Hederman, suffered an accident about a month ago and that delayed our work, but I can assure you our report is imminent, and I imagine it’s going to be published in the new year.
“Again, I’m somewhat compromised in what I can say, but there will be a thoroughgoing review of the Offences Against the State Act, in all its dimensions from first to last. While there are certainly provisions of that Act that would not survive challenge in a modern era, I think it’s also proper to point out that some of the criticisms of the Offences Against the State Act are somewhat misplaced. For example, before 1998, the Omagh bombing, the maximum power of detention under s. 30 was 48 hours. It can now be extended for another 24 hours by a District judge. In European terms, surprising as it may seem, that is not a particularly long period with which to detain somebody following an arrest. Again, for example, it might surprise you to learn that in Sweden you can be detained for 8 days for an ordinary crime. In the Netherlands, another bastion of liberal democracy, one can be detained for 10 days. So I think one has to put some of those provisions in the Offences Against the State Act in perspective. I’m not saying that significant change isn’t called for, and the report will recommend significant change, but, as I say, we are going to have a report fairly quickly.
“In conclusion, I can say that I believe that whereas the Republic still has a lot to do, on the human rights front its tradition has been very very good. There had been some aggredious failures. The ban on divorce, in my view, was an affront to civil liberties, and was a real denial of the civil liberties of minority religious groups in this State, and to that I think this State can plead guilty. And there are a number of other instances. But on the whole the tradition has been a very laudable one, and one of which we can be justly proud.
Cultural rights: “I don’t think that there are any significant human rights lacunae in this State. I’m not saying we couldn’t do more, and I’m not saying the Supreme Court couldn’t be more dynamic, but if we have a lacuna, it’s not as such in the human rights area, but if we have a lacuna vis-a-vis Northern Ireland it is in the area of what we might term cultural rights. I think that one has to acknowledge that we don’t have a sufficient understanding or appreciation of the Unionist tradition. .. Speaking purely for myself, I would have loved to have seen the Orange Order march in Dublin this year as they had promised. I don’t believe that there was any significant opposition to that march. I welcome what Dr. Mansergh has just said about the various steps that the Irish Government is taking. I belive they should go further and, for example, consider declaring the 12th of July to be a public holiday. I think it’s through steps like that that we could show in a tangible way that we appreciate the cultural rights and interests of the Unionist community. But on the narrow issue of human rights itself, without seeking to be complacent, I think that our record is as good as any other member state of the Council of Europe. Mr. Chairman, thank you very much.”
Chair (Roy Garland): “Thank you, Dr. Hogan, for that very interesting and challenging address. I suppose it wouldn’t really matter from a unionist perspective how good the human rights tradition and laws and legal position is, but of course the last point I think is important – the Orange thing – that’s one of the ones I was thinking of. In the Orangeman’s psyche, and in fact in the psyche of many Protestants in the North, the fact that the Orange parade couldn’t take place in Dublin had significant repercussions. I was once a member of the Orange Order, and I know something of the feeling that somehow they feelthat where the Orange parades can go there’s freedom. Now you might think that’s a crazy thing – you might think it’s precisely the opposite, because they seem to force their way. But there is a sense in which they feel a minority in Ireland and that represents a central part of their tradition, and even people who don’t associate with Orangeism feel that somehow the blocking of Orange parades has other motives than it has, and it’s very very difficult to change that mindset.
“But the point I was trying to make was that no matter how much the change is in the Republic, it shouldn’t be – and I’m sure it’s not – done to try and create unity. But maybe it is done sometimes to create unity. It will not create unity in itself – it’s to do with the relationship between people – and I think the idea of “cultural rights” is moving towards that, where people can begin to feel at least that the enmity has died. I don’t think it’s possible for people down here to appreciate the feeling that I had when I first came down here – that this was really a frightening place. I’m talking about back in the 60s. That probably sounds incredible. Even though I came down first of all to find the farm from which my great-great grandfather came from – which I found – it still was a frightening place. And I think even though we move towards a situation where the South of Ireland has much more development in human rights, liberties and freedom and so on, until something is broken about the relationship between the two groups of people we’re still going to have a long way to go. In the end it must be some situation of mutual respect and tolerance which may develop in strange ways – maybe it will result in a united Ireland. I think some of the loyalists whom I know very well have lost the fear of a united Ireland, and that’s a major development. A lot of them haven’t lost it of course… But surprisingly, people who were at the front of the conflict, that I know personally, would have expressed those views – that no longer can the fear of a united Ireland be whipped out. It’s very very difficult, but I think both communities have to be generous and start to reach out. Tonight we’re talking about the South, and I’m sort of an interloper here in a sense, but I feel from the North, people have got to get out there and do it, and symbolise it. It’s not about argument, and it’s not about rejecting people’s traditions – it’s respecting people’s traditions, and finding ways of accommodating each other. The future, I think, is open. I think the hard line about a united Ireland or even a United Kingdom, is so hard that it is counterproductive. I imagine that some republicans recognise that certainly the violence was counterproductive. The reason why unionists are so upset, I think, is that actually there is a real challenge in the peace process – a real challenge for them. In fact the more conciliatory republicans become, or were to become – I feel the republicans are still hurting and are not so conciliatory as they could be – but the more conciliatory they become the more the unionists would fear. That’s my feeling.
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS (Summary only)
Q. 1. [Co. Louth resident]: “I would like to say a few words on behalf of a completely forgotten group of victims in this war, that haven’t been taken on board by the peace process …… How were the Troubles prevented from spreading south of the Border? Apart from the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, the south of Ireland remained largely unscathed while Northern Ireland bled – Protestant and Catholic. .. What would have happened if Jack Lynch had sent the army into Derry, in 1969? … There was only one army going into Derry – the British Army – and in sending in the British Army it meant the British were going for a military solution… but they had to have the South of Ireland on side – that meant full exchange of information between the Special Branch and the RUC Special Branch.. . They had to have permission for their agents to … operate on the Southern side of the Border….. What these fellows did, with the help of the Special Branch, was to murder innocent Irish citizens, up near where I live, along the Louth-Armagh border. They came there to take out what they perceived as IRA godfathers. They went to the wrong houses, killed completely innocent people, but there was an inbuilt mechanism there when they discovered what they had done – they covered up these crimes, dumped the bodies along the border … The families even to this day hardly knew what happened…. but instead of apologising or helping the families they were blackguarded endlessly, even up to this day. This is how the Troubles were prevented from coming South. An awful lot is owed – while the fat cats in the South of Ireland got the brown envelopes and the big salaries, these people were in hell. … These people have been forgotten .. they paid the price for the Troubles not coming south of the border. It’s time their suffering was recognised. Some of them are in asylums, some are already dead. De Valera’s Constitution didn’t protect them. Who is going to take them on board? …
Q. 2. [Arthur O’Connor, Trim– to Dr. Hogan]: “When the Treaty was signed… what was the status of Northern Ireland at that time… … If it was a true treaty, how could De Valera and and the Irish Government … bring out a referendum in 1937 and include the North, Articles 2 and 3, if it was copperfastened? ….
Q. 3. [Nuala McGuinnes, Nobber resident]: “I’m very glad that Dr. Hogan mentioned the Orange Order . … Speaking as a Northerner who has lived in the South for 20 years… I have found over the years here a tremendous complacency and lack of knowledge about Northern Ireland .. The summer before last, Julitta kindly asked me to go to one of the grammar schools in the area to talk to the Transition Year. The views of the students were just echoing their parents and grandparents. They had an emotional attachment with the nationalist people in Northern Ireland, but they had absolutely not a clue about the unionist people. The Republic, in the year of the Millennium, missed an opportunity it will not get again, in not allowing the Orange march to continue in Dawson Street.. That was a token march – it was organised initially by the brethren in Wicklow who are Irishmen… No doubt they have an Irish passport.. no doubt they pay their income tax..
…And this gentleman I heard on the radio said he was an Irishman, his loyalty was to the Irish state, but he could not profess his identity and his religion in his own country. He spoke about the origins of the Orange Order, which like so many things gathered baggage over the years… He said it initiated from the principles of the French Revolution and it was not anti-Catholic – it was founded from the Reformation churches, where the individual conscience determines all. It was to protect the followers of the Churches of the Reformation from the Church of Rome which is not a democracy, power comes from on top.. . I read in the paper that first of all the march was going ahead, and then I read that all the business premises in Dawson St were intimidated by Sinn Fein, and I would like to ask Dr. Mansergh … why did the government not stand up and say “let them march”? …
“Another point – to Mr MacDonncha – a few years ago, the RUC officers came down to play rugby in a Dublin suburb with members of the Garda Siochana. Everyone got on very well… I put on the television that night and I was sick, sick, to see Sinn Fein with their horrible old placards complaining about the match. What was the harm?.. The RUC wanted to come back and play again, but to the best of my knowledge they never came back…
Q.4 [Liam McGlynn]. “Would it be a good idea to have a Truth and Reconciliation Commission similar to South Africa?
Answers to questions 1-4:
Dr. Martin Mansergh:
[Re victims on the border] …There is an investigation going on in the Dept. of Justice in relation to the Seamus Ludlow affair … I think your allegations particularly in relation to that case are to be taken seriously
Questioner. – I’m not referring to the Seamus Ludlow affair ……
Dr. Mansergh: “With regard to the status of Northern Ireland — that was settled in terms of international law, not really in the Treaty, it was settled in the Boundary Agreement of 1925, and that was settled in terms of legality, but the Republican side didn’t accept the legitimacy of that… Legitimacy and legality are not the same things.. Legality is something in the legal realm, whereas legitimacy is in the moral and political realm. Articles 2 and 3 – if you stand back and be objective – were challenging more the legitimacy of Northern Ireland rather than the legality.. In a sense, once the State had signed a Boundary Agreement recognised in international law, it’s not really possible to go back unilaterally on international agreements.
Re Irish Constitution – “Perhaps I could just bring in here a couple of comments made by Gerard Hogan – one good reason for not altering the Preamble to the Constitution is that it has a quite uncanny resemblance to the Preamble to the Ulster Covenant!
“Both speak of the struggles of our fathers in times of trial, and I’ve always thought if there were ever a united Ireland, one of the easiest things to do would be to amalgamate the Preamble to our Constitution and bring in the Ulster Covenant!
“With regard to De Valera anddivorce, he did leave an escape clause for the minority – the recognition of foreign divorces, and in those days maybe he was thinking mainly of the Anglo-Irish who flitted between the two countries…
Re the Orange Order and Dawson Street – “The Guards were approached, and were quite happy to police. The Taoiseach was approached – through me as it happens – and had absolutely no problem with an Orange march. However, one of the requests they made was that they could use the facilities of St. Anne’s, Dawson Street, and the Church of Ireland rector was not willing to do that. And if I could put a Church of Ireland hat on, the whole Drumcree business has been very divisive in terms of the Church of Ireland, and I think the Church of Ireland didn’t want to send the message to people in the Republic that it in some way or other identified with the Orange Order, especially as each year with Drumcree you see a big Church of Ireland spire, and you have the people protesting outside. I do honestly think – naturally we are a free democratic state, the Orangemen march in Rossnowlagh as it is, and there’s no reason in principle why they shouldn’t be subject to the public order, why they shouldn’t march in Dublin, I mean the Guards were prepared to deal with that situation.. .
“But if you’re asking away from law, I do think it would be better for all concerned if the Drumcree situation were sorted out. I’m afraid I don’t accept that the Orange Order is not anti-Catholic, you’ve only got to look at their constitution. Remember, David Trimble when he went to attend a memorial service for people in Donegal, there was a motion in one of the Orange lodges to expel him from the Orange Order for attending a service in a Catholic Church. I’ve met many people in the Orange Order, and like every other institution, be it a church, be it a State, they need to update and modernise which they haven’t done for a very long time – to modernise anachronistic parts of their Order. But I do want to say the State had no objection to the Orange Order marching, but the Church of Ireland did have an objection – they were not willing to allow St. Anne’s to be used.
Questioner – Could they not have held it in the Mansion House?
Dr. Mansergh: “That would be for the current mayor – she was actually very supportive”
Questioner – “When I referred to the Orange Order, I was talking about when they first set up, and they took the principles from the French Revolution…
Dr. Mansergh – “No it was the Glorious Revolution, not the French Revolution, which is quite different. The Orange Order was anti the French Revolution…
Brian Hayes: Re Truth Commission. “The straight answer is yes. We’ve all seen the difficulties in Yugoslavia, when that war-torn country was attempting to be put back together again. How difficult it is to face the future unless the past has been confronted, and all the hurt that has been done to people – that gentleman there expressed it and there are countless examples in the Republic and in Northern Ireland. A way forward could be seen in the following way. The Fusco case was interesting – the British Government dropped the extradition charges – there are about 40 persons from N.I. who reside here in the Republic who still have charges to their name in Northern Ireland or in other parts of the UK. I understand that in the majority of those cases that extradition warrants are not now being served for those people, so it is clear that those people will not now come before the courts. And if that is the case for paramilitaries, surely then we should look at the establishment of some kind of Commission, where loyalist and republican death squads and where the State failed in its responsibility, and all groups could be given an opportunity to come before some kind of Commission. I think we have to look into that, because the grievances felt by so many people have not been adequately addressed in this process. It’s quite clear, the one group of people who have not had their story told are the victims. I know we have a Commissioner who is doing excellent work, but I do not believe the process has dealt with the vicitms in the way it should have, and I think a Truth Commission is one way where we might make progress…
Re Orange Order – “We saw today in the streets of Dublin where the taximen demanded their right to march .. … how emotive and important this issue actually is. .. I happen to believe that the Orange Order handled last summer’s events badly – that’s my honest assessment of it. They were given an opportunity to assemble in the Mansion House, by Dublin Corporation, and were shown tremendous courage from the Labour Party Lord Mayor. I’m aware that St. Anne’s did not give them permission to assemble in their Church. But I would have liked to see it happen. I’m also aware that there was intimidation to shop owners in that area – whether it came from the group you mentioned, I have no evidence, but it happened. And as long as that kind of dual personality exists within some of those organisations that kind of intimidation will continue, vouched and cloaked in the kind of political participation that some people argue. So I very much regret that that march did not take place, but I think there was as much fault on the Orange Order as there was within Dublin Corporation at the time, because the facility was made available to them. I think the problem was insurance costs at the time, but I would like to see that happen, because it would be a good example of a modern pluralist country.
Annual Day of Reconciliation: “Finally, can I say, I’m very much in favour of a Day of Reconcilation.. . This idea came from the Irish Government last year, and it was a very novel proposal…. whereby one day of reconciliation would be established and on that day progress would be made on the decommissioning issue and the Executive would be re-established..
“But I don’t think it should be actually one day… I believe there should be an annual day of reconciliation that would be common to both Northern Ireland and the Republic … I think some day has to be established so that people can pause and stop and think of the suffering that has bedevilled this island for so long.”
Co. Louth questioner – “Should that be before or after the Truth Commission is set up?
Brian Hayes: “I think it should take place next year – as a principle I would be in favour of it…”
Micheal Mac Donncha: “On the issue of the Truth Commission, I think we do need to look at models where this has happened in other countries – various ways of getting to the bottom of what actually happened, and obviously to do it in a way which can advance what everybody is trying to achieve at the moment. I did mention the activities that happened in this State over the years – we do need to see those investigated as well, specifically where they involved incursions into the South.”
Re Orange Order march in Dawson St: “I have to refute immediately any allegation that Sinn Fein was involved in intimidation of any kind. I am very surprised to hear Deputy Hayes mention intimidation of people in Dawson Street, it’s the first time that I ever heard of it – I haven’t heard anybody in that street making that accusation. I can recall.. that one of the shop owners was interviewed in the Sunday Business Post and said quite openly that he objected to the march. To clarify Sinn Fein’s position – we did not object to the holding of an Orange march, and we do not object to the right of the Orange Order to march anywhere in the country. There are Orange marches in this jurisdiction, we do not object to that in any way… We defend the right of the Orange Order and other groups to assemble and parade. What we did object to was that, in the context of the continuing standoff in Portadown and the siege that the people of Garvaghy Road were under at that time, that the Mayor of Dublin, Mary Frehill, proposed to formally welcome the Orange Order on behalf of the people of Dublin. Our councillors objected to that. We did not object to the march. As Dr. Mansergh has said, the Church of Ireland rector in Dawson Street did not welcome the group there. So I must totally refute any notion of intimidation and I would like to see evidence that could be brought forward of it..
Now just on the Orange Order, I have my own experience – my father, his own father was from a family in which they were all members of the Orange Order, but because he didn’t join – he joined Brian’s former party, the Labour Party, and married a Catholic, he was actually ostracised by the rest of his family. Sadly the reality is that the Orange Order is a sectarian organisation – that is not in any way to deny people’s right to be part of the Orange Order, or to deny that that is a strand or tradition in Irish life, but we have to face reality. There’s no point in being starry-eyed and saying “let’s embrace this tradition, let’s embrace this organisation”, without looking at what exactly it is
Constitutional change: “ I think the changes in terms of divorce, in terms of the place of the Catholic Church in the Constitution here, were the right changes to make, they were long overdue, not only for the purpose of reconciliation, but also because of the rights of people in this jurisdiction.
“I was interested in the remarks of Roy in relation to the change in attitudes – and it’s a very slow historical process – the change in attitudes of everybody, but especially including unionists, and maybe not being so nervous as they were before in looking at different options for the constitutional future of this island. What we need to talk about is… what sort of united Ireland? … It’s not just about uniting territory, it’s not even just about uniting people…
Chair, Roy Garland – re Orange Order: “Dr. Mansergh spoke about the need to update and modernise, in regard to the Orange Order. I would totally agree. The difficulty that I would see, as a former member of the Orange Order, is that they are so much on the defensive they are not capable of changing and reforming at all. They are not a strong organisation as they are depicted, they are a weak organisation, and to my mind they’re sort of flailing out aimlessly. They really don’t have a coherent strategy. They really don’t know where they are going, they don’t know what they are about. They are a weak organisation. Once they had influence – if it was influence – with the Unionist Party. I think actually it was the other way round, but even that they’ve lost. And if you look at it from that perspective – if you can reach the Orangemen in some way, by opening up the possibilities in the Republic, I think you are freeing unionists. Because a lot of unionists, even if they are not members of the Orange Order, somehow see the way the Orange Order is treated as reflecting them, and they feel a minority on this island who are under pressure, they feel they are being squeezed out. Now I don’t agree with that, I think it’s self-defeating, but nevertheless it is a reality, and I think we all have to try and address that.
“But it’s extremely difficult, and I get frustrated and feel like saying all sorts of things to them – and I have said some things, which actually doesn’t help. And I think nationalists, particularly in the South, have the opportunity of showing to Orangemen, like in the situation of the parade, that it can take place. It’s very regrettable that it couldn’t take place, for whatever the reason, because it confirmed the worst prejudices of Orangemen and many unionists as well. There’s room there to do something about that – to open up that dialogue. We had a meeting last week in Co. Louth, with leaders of the Independent Orange Order. It was very hard stuff. I felt angry at some of what they were saying, and other people felt angry. but they needed to say it. The dialogue started with the Independent Orange Order who are more extreme, in religious terms, than the Orange Order – if I could use that word “extreme”. We’ve got to get into dialogue with each other, the most extreme groups on both sides need to face the realities and say it to each other face to face…
Q.5. [John Keaveney, Kilbride teacher] – to Brian Hayes on schools: “.. there’s a lot of things going on at primary level, and I would hate to think that policy would leave out the primary schools.. I think the Irish and British Governments should develop the Socrates programme … which would bring Scottish, Welsh, English and Irish together… .. so that more children can meet each other at a very young age. If you wait until they are 16 or 17, you’re too late to change their perceptions…
To Dr. Mansergh: “The Dept. of Foreign Affairs funds all peace groups – the Dept of Education appears to be being left out of the picture, to a certain degree… There’s a North-South committee in the Dept. of Education but nobody seems to know it exists – has that been set up as a result of the Good Friday Agreement? Could Foreign Affairs try to channel some money to education?
Q. 6. “I’d like to compliment all speakers here tonight…. I’m wondering.. I’m sort of sceptical that there’s a body of unionist opinion that will not accept us, no matter what happens down here .. I wonder, were we to embrace the British constitution, I wonder if Jeffrey Donaldson would ask us to embrace the monarchy as well?
Q.7. [Meath resident] Re Orange Order: May I remind people that in Donegal, there’s an Orange march without any trouble whatsoever every year. Surely if the people of Donegal can travel with an Orange march, surely the liberal people of Dublin can do likewise?
Q. 8. [Tom Hodgins, Drogheda Ecumenical Peace Group: “ I feel that changing our laws and proving ourselves or parading our business acumen will not of themselves bring peace to our land. I think I would be more thinking along the lines of building friendship and contact, and an overt showing that we are willing to change. Because we are all instruments of peace… I have two questions – one to Gerard – is our record so pristine in the human rights area because of our high regard for the dignity of the individual or is it because of the lack of strength of challenge? To Martin.. should the South spend more time working on our own calendar to help people on their own journey. Is it almost too taken up in responding to the situation in the North? .. Could we help people on their journey by showing the way in healing by bringing to a proper form of closure our own Civil War, to mark respect for the people who died in that period?
Q.9. [John Clancy, Meath Peace Group]: “We talked about the Truth Commission, and that seems to be broadly acceoted.. With regard to the possible apathy among people – I don’t think that apathy is there, I think we needs to fertilise it. The number of people who have come to these talks, the number that is here tonight, shows that there is interest which needs to be fostered. Can I suggest a variant of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation to help focus and develop this dialogue?
Decommissioning: “A specific question to the Sinn Fein speaker, and you are very welcome indeed. As I understand it the two independent assessors visited in the order of 30 dumps in the Republic. It defies my understanding of the issue of decommissioning that they haven’t engaged with De Chastelain.. Why has not more happened? .. The interlocutor was appointed but no conversation has taken place.. How or when does Sinn Fein reckon that this may happen before May 21st next year?
Answers to Questions 5-9
Gerard Hogan: “Our record on human rights is not pristine, certainly not.. but it is much better than it is depicted – I was seeking to put that in a comparative perspective. And it is certainly not because of any lack of challenges. The first case ever to come before the European Court of Human Rights.. was after all an Irish case… The number of constitutional challenges that are presently going on, not to speak of those that have gone on in the past, is almost overwhelming.. ..One thing is for sure it isn’t for want of the government being challenged in the courts. The Government is challenged in the courts day in and day out.
“One other thing about the Orange march.. I have no doubt whatever but that the Orangemen’s right to march is absolutely protected by the Constitution, and any attempt by this State to stop them marching would be an unconstitutional interference with their liberties. It may be unwelcome news to them, it may be a surprise to them … but they would be better protected under Mr De Valera’s Constitution than under the common law in Northern Ireland.
Micheal MacDonncha – re decommissioning: “I don’t think that information [re arms dumps] came from the arms inspectors.. I have to say I was surprised that there was a second inspection given the context. The fact that the Policing Bill had been so far removed from what the Patten Report had envisaged, and there had been very little progress on demilitarisation. I think that’s the reason why more has not happened. I believe that the commitment that the IRA made in May was sincere, they will continue with the process, but it’s part of the political difficulties, it’s part of the overall context of what decommissioning means.. that we touched on earlier….
John Clancy: “Will we see something before the deadline, May of next year?
Micheal Mac Donncha: “We’ve always said that deadlines have never been helpful.. I think the context in which progress was made was a context where everything was to be moved forward together…
John Clancy: “The guns are a political tool, are they? You seem to be linking them in with a whole lot of things…
MichealMac Donncha – “I didn’t say that that all, I’m simply recognising the reality that is there. I’m speaking for Sinn Fein. The reality is that you can bring people as far as they are willing to go – it has to happen within a context. It is fruitless to go to any organisation to seek to achieve something which you are of the view is unachievable at the time. So I would refute the notion that it’s deploying something in order to make political gain, I would totally refute that.
Brian Hayes: On the decommissioning issue – our Constitution is very clear about this matter, as to the rights of the Oireachtas solely and exclusively.. to raise an army… .. The Taoiseach was very brave in what he had to say on this matter some months ago when he clearly made the distinction between the Northern Ireland Executive and the Oireachtas, and specifically the role we have as an Oireachtas to raise an army and to maintain an army.
On schools, “the gentleman rightly said I did exclude primary education.. you are right, it needs to start at an earlier age. Also there was a commitment in the Agreement for a joint parliamentary forum .. I think it would be quite a useful thing if a civic forum were to be established in the Republic which would allow groups like yours, and there are countless others, in the peace and reconciliation business, as it were, to tap into all the arms of government and tap into the potential that is there… I think some kind of consultative forum should be established, and I think there is provision for it in the Agreement…
Dr. Mansergh: On the last point – there is provision, and the government would be keen – obviously it’s a matter for the Government and the Assembly.. At the same time, realistically, we need to get over some of the current difficulties first. I do broadly agree with what Micheal said about the context in moving things forward, whether we like it or we don’t like it, and much of the time we don’t like it. For example, David Trimble has created a linkage between appointing people to the North-South Ministerial Council and meaningful re-engagement with the de Chastelain Commission. From a Government perspective, one may dislike these linkages but the reality is you tend to move forward a few issues at a time, and that’s very often the only way you can deal with an individual difficulty.
Education: “I’ll certainly look into the question of education and peace and reconciliation funding. I would have thought that would have been covered.
Truth Commission: “We have a truth commision of a sort in the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, just relating to a particular episode. There are pros and cons of that. I was interested in the idea of possibly using a revived form of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation looking at those sort of matters. I have no doubt the feelings of victims will remain very intense for a long time to come.
“Somebody raised the question .. if we adopted the British Constitution would unionists join a political structure? I happen to believe that, if for pure theoretical argument, we were prepared to go back into the United Kingdom on a Home Rule, sort of Redmondite basis, I still think you would find that Ulster Unionists would not be prepared to come in under a Dublin Parliament, even though that was a united Ireland with devolution in a unitary state of the United Kingdom. It underlines the point that beyond a certain point … there ‘s no point whatsoever in attempting to stand on our head, because you won’t necessarily get the response.
“I take the point about the Civil War but I genuinely believe that Civil War politics has been transcended at this stage. Most people can see, whatever tradition they identify with, that there was something on both sides of the argument. I remember one former Taoiseach whom I served but who also had links with the Free State side saying he often found it very difficult to make up his mind, who was right and who was wrong. I think Fianna Fail people certainly respect Michael Collins and I think probably a lot of Fine Gael people respect at least some of the achievements of de Valera, the Constitution especially, and certainly Sean Lemass.
Brian Fitzgerald: “In relation to the Forum that you referred to, yes. But I think the best forum of all is in the schools and I believe a lot more could be done in the schools. I think the teachers should encourage bringing people in – people like yourselves – I know they did for a period, there was a pilot scheme introduced, and that could be done on a far broader basis to give people a better understanding of what we are talking about. A lot of the language that is spoken on television goes over the heads of young people. They’re not interested, it’s boring. But if they listen to it in the school, for a half an hour or something like that, it may get through to them what we are about. There’s a lot of things being spoken here tonight, if they were addressed to a young audience would they listen? I don’t believe they would. That’s the reality. But they’re the people we’ve got to get if we’re going to ever build peace and reconciliation on this island – a lasting one.
Re Orange Order: “I remember when a number of us were invited to meet a group from the Orange Order, and we were sitting having a discussion. There was a guy from the Ballynafeigh lodge who used to march up and down the Ormeau Road, a young chap. And I asked him – why do you have to march if you’re offending people who feel that you shouldn’t march? Why must you march that particular route? His only answer was, and the only reason why he was insisting that he should march, was “my great-grandfather walked it., my grandfather walked it, my father walked it, and if I don’t walk it I’ll let them down.” How are we going to change that thinking? As you said, they’ve no direction and that’s the tragedy. There are many many other groups in our society who feel the very same on other issues. We’ve a lot of hard work to do but we cannot sit on our butt in the South and be complacent and be comfortable. Because the problem won’t go away – it has the unfortunate knack of coming round. And we can have difficulties here, because there are some very very courageous people in Northern Ireland who have been involved with paramilitaries on both sides, who are preventing atrocities happening both North and South, and we should all remember that . We are only a very small distance away at any one time from some nut doing something rather stupid and rather tragic like what we saw in Omagh and elsewhere.
CLOSING WORDS AND THANKS
Chair (Roy Garland): “.. Just on the last note, about the contribution of loyalists and republicans “on the ground” – it’s a very real thing. Unfortunately they don’t get a lot of thanks for it, because it’s not seen, and it’s hard work. And I know there are people on both sides .. having extreme difficulty bringing the hardliners along. Sometimes it looks like they are sort of retreating because they are trying to speak to them, but they have to speak to them. We’re almost learning in Northern Ireland to speak in that way and understand the other community. And loyalists do understand, and republicans do understand, the difficulties that the other community has. That doesn’t make it any easier. Things are extremely difficult at the moment, but, like many people, I have a confidence that somehow we’ll reach there in the end, I hope, and yet we’re on a knife edge. So I’m very grateful to all the people who have worked, from both communities, and for you down here and the people we have here on the platform, and on your behalf I would like to thank each of the speakers here tonight for giving up their time and energies for us tonight. Thank you.”
Julitta Clancy: On behalf of the Meath Peace Group, Julitta Clancy thanked the speakers and the Chairman, Roy Garland, for their time and generosity, and she thanked the audience for coming, some from great distances. She also thanked the Columban Fathers for once again facilitating the talk at Dalgan Park. Picking up some of the themes mentioned in the question and answer session, she said that the group would like to see some sort of a people’s forum in the South – “to get people talking – even on a pilot basis – but also to allow community groups to feed into this peace process”. On schools, the Meath Peace Group had considerable experience in secondary schools in Meath and Louth: “young people of 16 or 17 can do so much to change attitudes. They start with prejudices as we all do, then they listen, they argue, they challenge each other, and we have seen tremendous good coming out of those exchanges”. The group would like to see resources made available for schools and teachers who really want to do this work. “It’s no threat to anyone, it actually works extremely well”.. .”We need to build and cement this peace and we appeal to the government to consider the idea of a forum … there is provision in the Agreement for some sort of a joint forum, but I think we need to do something before that.” She said such a Forum could also take in issues relating to minority groups such as those now coming into the country.
Meath Peace Group Report. December 2000. (c) Meath Peace Group
Compiled and edited by Julitta Clancy. Taped by Anne Nolan and Oliver Ward.
APPENDIX A: BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES ON SPEAKERS
Cllr. Brian Fitzgerald (Independent). Trade unionist and full-time SIPTU official, Brian has served on Meath Co. Council for 15 years and was chair of the Council from 1999-2000. He is also a member of the North Eastern Health Board. From 1992-1997, he served as Labour Party TD for Co. Meath. During that time he held many positions in the Labour Party, and was also a member of the party’s delegation to the Forum for Peace and Reconcilation. In the period 1993-94 Brian was involved, along with Fergus Finlay, in ground-breaking talks with loyalist paramilitaries prior to their ceasefire.
Roy Garland: Belfast teacher, researcher and member of the Ulster Unionist Party, Roy writes a weekly column in the nationalist Irish News and was one of the few members of his party to address the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation in 1995. In the course of research into his family’s history he made contact with many people in Louth and out of these links he founded a unique historical and reconciliation group “The Guild of Ancient Uriel” – which has met regularly in Louth since 1995 and has been involved in dialogue with a wide variety of groups and individuals from all sides of the divide in Northern Ireland. The Guild’s members come from North and South of the border and Roy is the co-chair of the Guild along with Julitta Clancy of the Meath Peace Group
Brian Hayes, TD (Fine Gael). Educated at Garbally Park, Ballinasloe, Maynooth College, and Trinity College Dublin, Brian was formerly a secondary school teacher and Fine Gael National Youth and Education Officer. He has been a member of Dublin County Council since 1995, served on Seanad Eireann from 1995-1997 and worked as secretary to the Fine Gael Group at the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. Elected to the Dail in 1997, for the constituency of Dublin South West, he first served as Spokesperson on Housing, House Prices and Urban Renewal and was recently appointed Front Bench Spokesperson on Northern Ireland. He is also Vice Chairperson to the Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of Strategic Management Initiative in the Irish Civil Service
Dr. Gerard Hogan, Senior Counsel, Barrister of King’s Inns, Fellow of Trinity College Dublin and Lecturer in Law, is the author of numerous works on constitutional and administrative law and is the editor of Kelly’sIrish Constitution. Dr. Hogan served as a member of the Constitution Review Group from 1995-1996 and is currently a member of the Offences Against the State Review Group set up as a result of the Good Friday Agreement. Dr. Hogan first addressed the Meath Peace Group in September 1994 when he spoke on the subject of Articles Two and Three of the Irish Constitution
Micheal MacDonncha (Sinn Féin). Native of Dublin, he has been a member of Sinn Fein Ard Chomhairle since 1990 and was Editor of An Phoblacht/Republican News from 1990 to 1996. He has served as Dail secretary to Sin Fein deputy for Cavan/Monaghan, Caoimhghin O Caolain, since 1997, and is the author of the Sinn Fein submission to the Committee to Review the Offences Against the State Acts.
Dr. Martin Mansergh (Special Advisor to the Taoiseach on Northern Ireland): Son of the Tipperary-born historian Nicholas Mansergh, he was educated in Canterbury and Christ Church, Oxford, and entered the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1974. He served as Third Secretary, First Secretary and Principal Officer in various units before resigning from the civil service in 1981 to become Head of Research, Fianna Fail. He subsequently served as Special Advisor to three taoisigh – Charles Haughey, Albert Reynolds and Bertie Ahern, and was co-winner (with Fr. Alec Reid and Rev. Roy Magee) of the 1994 Tipperary Peace Prize. He is the author of numerous articles on the peace process and other political and historical topics, and edited a volume of speeches of Charles Haughey The Spirit of the Nation, in 1986
APPENDIX B:Principles Underlying the Good Friday Agreement and Commitments made by the Irish Government – A Summary (Compiled by the Meath Peace Group)
Declaration of Support
In the opening chapter of the Agreement – the “Declaration of Support”, the participants (i.e. the parties and the two governments), in a “spirit of concord”, strongly commended the Agreement to the people, North and South, for their approval, and set out the key principles underlying the Agreement. These principles were reaffirmed in the British-Irish Agreement.
New beginning “We … believe that the Agreement we have negotiated offers a truly historic opportunity for a new beginning”
Legacy of “The tragedies of the past have left a deep and
suffering profoundly regrettable legacy of suffering”
Remembrance “We must never forget those who have died or been injured”
Fresh start “But we can best honour them through a fresh start”
Reconciliation “We firmly dedicate ourselves to the achievement of
Tolerance reconciliation, tolerance and mutual trust,
Mutual trust and to the protection and vindication of the
Human rights human rights of all”
Partnership “We are committed to partnership, equality and mutual
Equality respectas the basis of relationships within N.I. ,
Mutual respect between North and South, and between these islands”
Democracy “We reaffirm our total and absolute commitment to
Non-violence exclusively democratic and peaceful means of resolving differences on political issues, and our
Opposition opposition to any use or threat of force by others
to use of force for any political purpose ..”
Equality “We acknowledge the substantial differences between
of our continuing and equally legitimate, political
Reconciliation “We will endeavour to strivein every practical way towardsRapprochment reconciliation and rapprochement …”
Good faith “We pledge that we will, in good faith, work to ensure the success of each and every one of the arrangements to be established under this agreement.”
Interdependency “It is accepted that all of the institutional and constitutional arrangements … are interlocking and interdependent and that in particular the functioning of the Assembly and the North/South Council are so closely inter-related that the success of each depends on that of the other .. ”
“Legitimacy of whatever choiceis freely exercised” by a majority of the people in N. Ireland
Self-determination “It is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively… to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of consent freely and concurrently given, North and South. to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish”
Consentprinciple: “This right must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of NI ”
Status of N. Ireland: “The present wish of a majority of the people of N.I. … is to maintain the Union”. Therefore “it would be wrong to make any change in the status of N.I. save with the consent of a majority of its people.”
Exercise of Governmental power: Government to be exercised with“rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people in the diversity of their identities and traditions” and founded on the principles of
“full respect for, and equality of, civil, political, social and cultural rights,
of freedom from discrimination for all citizens and of parity of esteem and
of just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos and aspirations of both communities”
Identity: Recognition of “birthright of all the people of N.I. to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British,or both”
Strand One: Democratic Institutions in Northern Ireland
Assembly: “This Agreement provides for a democratically elected Assembly ..which is inclusive in its membership, capable ofexercising executive and legislative authority, and subject to safeguards to protect the rights and interestsof all sides of the community.”
Safeguards: Allocations of key posts in proportion to party strengths; decisions to be human rights–proofed; Human Rights Commission; Bill of Rights; key decisions to be taken on cross-community basis; Equality Commission to “monitor a statutory obligation topromote equality of opportunity in specified areas and parity ofesteem between the two main communities…”
Ministers’ Pledge of Office: Pledge of good faith; commitment to non-violence and “exclusively peaceful and democratic means”; “to serve all the people of Northern Ireland equally”, “promote equality and prevent discrimination”; support “all decisions of the Executive Committee and Assembly”; comply with Ministerial Code of Conduct.
Ministers’ Code of Conduct – Propriety, impartiality, integrity, objectivity in relation to public funds, accountability, reasonableness; promotion of good community relations and equality of treatment; non-use of information gained for public gain, declaration of interests…
Strand Two: North/South
North/South Ministerial Council: To bring together those with executive responsibilities in N.I. and the Irish Government, to “develop consultation, co-operation and action within the island of Ireland … on matters of mutual interestwithin thecompetence of the administrations, North and South”. “All Council decisions to be by agreement between the two sides”. Best endeavours “to reach agreement on the adoption of common policies”.
North/South Implementation bodies: on “all-Ireland and cross-border basis”. Considerationalso to be given to establishment of: Joint Parliamentary forum and a North/South Consultative Civic Forum
Strand Three: British-Irish Dimension
British-Irish Council: “To promote the harmonious and mutually beneficial development of the totality of relationships among the peoples of these islands..”
British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference: “To promote bilateral co-operation at all levels on all matters of mutual interest within the competence of both governments” . Provision is also made for regular meetings concerned with “non-devolved Northern Ireland matters”, facilitation of co-operation in security matters, review of the workings of the agreement, and addressing areas of rights, justice, prisons and policing in N. Ireland.]
Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity
Human rights: General commitment to the “mutual respect, the civil rights and the religious liberties of everyone in the community”.
Rights specifically affirmed –
right to free political thought, freedom and expression of religion, right to pursue democratically national and political aspirations,
right to seek constitutional change by peaceful and legitimate means; right to freely choose one’s place of residence;
right to equal opportunity;
right to freedom from sectarian harassment;
right of women to full and equal political participation
Steps to be taken by British Government – Human Rights Commission, Incorporation of ECHR, Equality Commission. Bill of Rights: “to reflect the particular circumstances of N.I. ….. to reflect the principles of mutual respect for the identity and ethos of both communities and parity of esteem”
Steps to be taken by the Irish Government
Setting up of Human Rights Commission; examination of question of the incorporation of the ECHR, measures to ensure “at least an equivalent level of protection of human rights as will pertain in Northern Ireland”; ratification of Framework Convention on National Minorities; employment equality and equal status legislation. Government to take steps to “further strengthen the protection of human rights in its jurisdiction”, “bring forward measures to strengthen and underpin the constitutional protection of human rights.” and ““continue to take further active steps to demonstrate its respect for the different traditions in the island of Ireland”.
Joint committee of the two Commissions envisaged “as a forum for consideration of human rights issues in the island of Ireland”. Consideration of “the possibility of establishing a charter, open to signature by all democratic parties, reflecting and endorsing agreed measures for the protection of the fundamental rights of everyone living in the island of Ireland.”
Victims of Violence
Need to “acknowledge and address the suffering of the victims of violence as a necessary element of reconciliation” is recognised. The participants promise support for the development of community based initiatives and recognise the need for services “supportive and sensitive to the needs of victims”.
Reconciliation and Mutual Understanding
Tribute paid to the work being done by many organisations to develop “reconciliation and mutual understanding and respect between and within communities and traditions, in N. Ireland and between North and South” . Such work is seen as having a “vital role in consolidating peace and political agreement” . “An essential element of the reconciliation process is the promotion of a culture of tolerance at every level of society…” Initiatives to facilitate and encourage integrated education and mixed housing.
Economic, Social and Cultural Issues
Economic growth and stability in N. Ireland: provision for a new regional development strategy “tackling the problems of a divided society and social cohesion in urban, rural and border areas”; measures for advancement of women in public life, employment equality, new Targeting Social Need initiative, combatting unemployment, and “eliminating the differential in unemployment rates between the two communities”, protection and enhancement of the environment, etc.
The importance of “respect, understanding and tolerance in relation to linguistic diversity “ is recognised “including in N.I., the Irish language, Ulster-Scots and the languages of the various ethnic communities.” Support and promotion of the Irish language provided for..
Symbols and emblems
Acknowledgment of the “sensitivity of the use of symbols and emblems for public purposes, and the need in particular in creating the new institutions to ensure that such symbols and emblems are used in a manner which promotes mutual respect rather than division…”
“The resolution of the decommissioning issue is an indispensable part of the process of negotiation”. Progress noted in developing schemes “which can represent a workable basis for achieving the decommissioning of illegally-held arms in the possession of paramilitary groups.”
Commitment to disarmament: “All participants .. reaffirm their commitment to the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations”. Confirmation of intention to work constructively and in good faith with the Independent Commission, and to use any influence they may have, to “achieve the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms within two years following endorsement in referendums North and South of the agreement and in the context of the implementation of the overall settlement.”
“normalisation of security arrangements and practice. ”
Steps to be taken by British government include reduction of numbers and role of Armed Forces, removal of security installations, removal of emergency powers, consultation with Irish Government, consultation on firearms regulation
Steps to be taken by the Irish Government:
“The Irish Government will initiate a wide-ranging review of the Offences Against the State Acts 1939-85 with a view to both reform and dispensing with those elements no longer required as circumstances permit.”
POLICING AND JUSTICE
Future policing arrangements in N. I. – provision for the Independent Commission on Policing and the review of the criminal justice system.
The participants recognisethat policing is a “central issue in any society.” They equally recognise that “N. Ireland’s history of deep divisions has made it highly emotive, with great hurt suffered and sacrifices made by many individuals and their families, including those in the RUC….”
The Agreement provides the “opportunity for a new beginning to policing in N. Ireland with a police service capable of attracting and sustaining support from the community as a whole.” They also believe that this Agreement offers a “unique opportunity to bring about a new political dispensation which will recognise the full and equal legitimacy and worth of the identities, senses of allegiance and ethos of all sections of the community in N. Ireland.”
“Essential that policing structures and arrangements are such that the police service is professional, effective and efficient, fair and impartial, free from partisan political control; accountable, both under the law .. and to the community it serves; representative of the society it polices, and operates within a coherent and co-operative criminal justice system, which conforms with human rights norms. ….”
Criminal Justice System
Wide-ranging review of criminal justice system to be undertaken
Aims of criminal justice system: to “deliver a fair and impartial system of justice to the community”; to “be responsive to the community’s concerns, and encouraging community involvement where appropriate”, to “have the confidence of all parts of the community” and “deliver justice efficiently and effectively”.
Release: Accelerated programme for the release of prisoners. ”Prisoners affiliated to organisations which have not established or are not maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire will not benefit from the arrangements…” Review process to “provide for the advance of the release dates of qualifying prisoners while allowing account to be taken of the seriousness of the offences for which the person was convicted and the need to protect the community…”
Reintegration: “The Governments continue to recognise the importance of measures to facilitate the reintegration of prisoners into the community by providing support both prior to and after release, including assistance directed towards availing of employment opportunities, re-training and/or re-skilling and further education.”
Meath Peace Group Report. December 2000. (c) Meath Peace Group
Compiled and edited by Julitta Clancy. Taped by Anne Nolan and Oliver Ward.
Meath Peace Group Committee (all in Co. Meath): Julitta and John Clancy, Batterstown; Pauline Ryan, Navan; Anne Nolan, Slane; Fr. Michael Kane, An Tobar, Ardbraccan; Rev. John Clarke, Navan; Philomena Boylan-Stewart, Longwood; Leona Rennicks, Ardbraccan; John Keaveney, Kilbride; Olive Kelly, Lismullen
29. “The Good Friday Agreement”
Tuesday, 5th May, 1998
St. Joseph’s (Convent of Mercy) Secondary School, Navan, Co. Meath
(Held in Association with Transition Year Class, St. Joseph’s)
Noel Dempsey, TD (Fianna Fail, Meath;Minister for the Environment
Nora Owen, TD (Fine Gael, Dublin; former Minister for Justice)
Cllr. Brian Fitzgerald (Labour Party, Meath)
Cllr. John Fee (SDLP, Newry and Mourne District Council)
Lily Kerr (Workers’ Party, Belfast)
Mary Montague(Corrymeela Community)
Chaired by Paul Murphy (Editor, Drogheda Independent)
Introduction: Paul Murphy
Addresses of speakers
Questions and Comments
Chair (Paul Murphy): “ I would just like to thank the Meath Peace Group for asking me to chair this meeting. I have known of course for quite some time of the Meath Peace Group and I have admired them from afar and this is an opportunity to get together and share some ideas. I have a few introductory remarks and I hope you will bear with me:
“…. Since the summer of ‘92 the Irish and British governments and the various parties in the North have embarked on a political talks process. It’s a process which tries to understand the other’s point of view. The only thing wrong is not that our relations have improved but that it took so long. For most of the time most of the people on these islands behave in a perfectly normal manner towards each other. We share the same culture, we share some of the history, we share a geography and we have similar institutions and similar ways of doing things. The antipathy in the Republic towards things British has undoubtedly eased in recent years even if it has not dissipated yet. Also, as was demonstrated very powerfully in the weeks following the Warrington bombings, the great mass of our people share a desire to bring about an end to terrorism and a lasting peace in Northern Ireland.
“There was no quick fix to the problem in Northern Ireland. If there was a solution it would have been acknowledged or discovered a long time ago. There is no magic wand. The principle behind the Anglo-Irish Agreement is democratic consent. Of course I know it is often maintained that Northern Ireland is an undemocratic entity athat the normal rules don’t apply. But the similar answer is that consent is more than just a necessity. It’s a practical one too. This incidentally is why terrorism is pointless as well as morally wrong. Terrorism itself will not persuade a million or so unionists or half a million nationalists to change their beliefs. Nor will it persuade British governments or Irish governments to abandon their polices or principles.
“In 1993, the then British Ambassador to Ireland, Mr. David Blatherwick, visited Drogheda. He said that as the authority responsible for Northern Ireland, “the British government had to ensure effective government there. In doing so, they sought to ensure that they operated an administration which recognised the special nature of society in Northern Ireland and which was guided by the imperative to provide fair, equitable and effective government for all.” Mr. Blatherwick ended with these words: “Our chief goal is the resolution of the tragic situation in Northern Ireland itself. Its people have suffered too much and too long. But there’s a wider issue that needs addressing – the “putting to bed” of the “ancient quarrel” as it’s called within these islands. The tragedies and complexities of Northern Ireland represent the final tangle in a long, shared history. The final tangle is always the hardest to undo.”
“I just wanted to repeat those words to you to remind us that we’re a long way down the road and that’s what we’re here to discuss tonight.
ADDRESSES OF SPEAKERS
1. Noel Dempsey, TD (Minister for the Environment)
“I would like to thank the Meath Peace Group for organising this talk – they have been to the fore in trying to bring about peace and reconciliation and have played a great role in Meath over the past few years.
Historic opportunity: “Speaking for the government, I have to say that the Irish Government believes that this Agreement offers a truly historic opportunity for a new beginning, for relationships within Northern Ireland, between North and South, and between Britain and Ireland.
“The Agreement itself is the culmination of two years of very intense negotiations, but in a wider sense it is the product of over two decades of closer partnership between the two governments. It was built on and drew upon the previous attempts that were made to forge some kind of settlement.
“In many ways the document agreed on Good Friday at Castle Buildings represents an accumulation of the wisdom and work of a generation of politics and politicians on the island. I believe that its value is all the greater and all the deeper for that. While great credit is due to all those who took part in the latter stages of those negotiations, it is also very important, as a member of Government, that we pay tribute to all those who were previously involved.
“We believe that the Agreement is fair, balanced and very comprehensive. Each party to the negotiations will undoubtedly find aspects to its particular liking and equally each will have difficulties with some part or other of it.
“Somebody said before the Agreement was reached that if any party walked away from the talks 100% satisfied with the Agreement, then the Agreement would be a failure – it would mean that somebody got everything they felt was necessary, and maintained their own position.
“If you want a very negative view of the Agreement – nobody was satisfied with it in the sense that nobody felt they had got their own way entirely.
Balance: “There is a balance there, and I think it is important when we’re discussing the Agreement that we should recognise that there had to be that balance – there had to be give and take on all sides.
Risks for peace: “The Agreement itself envisages a future that’s based on the acceptance of diversity and on the principles of mutual respect, equality and partnership. In the interests of peace and reconciliation all sides were required and are required to move from traditionally absolutist positions. We’ve all been asked to take our own risks for peace and make our own compromises in the interests of the Agreement as a whole. That’s what the people North and South are being asked to do on the 22nd May when they vote on the Agreement. The Government believes that in asking others to take such risks and make such compromises that we have to be prepared as well and be willing to do the same ourselves.
Principle of consent: “If I could turn briefly to the constitutional issue – in that section of the Agreement a new accommodation has been forged regarding the special position of Northern Ireland that’s based on the principle of consent. The centre of gravity as far as we’re concerned – of the whole issue of sovereignty and self-determination – has been shifted back to the people of Ireland. For the first time a precise mechanism has been defined and accepted by the British Government by which a united Ireland can be put in place or a continuation of the current situation can be maintained. The principle of consent is there and that principle of consent is to be exercised by the people
Constitutional change – modernisation of basic principles: “The British and Irish governments have committed themselves to incorporating this new approach into their respective constitutional frameworks. The specific changes to the Irish Constitution – to be put to the people for their consideration on 22nd May – represent a modernisation of our basic principles, not a rejection of them
Equality: “In terms of the new institutions being established, the whole focus is on partnership that is based on equality. There will be no going back to the days of domination by one community over the other. Currently the nationalist community in Northern Ireland are in a minority and we should be striving for a situation now where those that are in a minority should feel that they are equal to the majority. Equally, when and if changes take place, demographic or otherwise, that the minority community in the future will feel equally part of the community and feel equal citizens. That’s what we had to achieve in this Agreement, and I believe the Agreement will do that.
The focus on a new partnership is also at the heart of the agreed North-South arrangements and structures. The central importance of the equality agendais recognised in the Agreement – there’s a major section in the Agreement on human rights protection, social, economic and cultural issues, including the Irish language. There are measures to deal with consequences of the conflict, in particular in regard to the sensitive issues of prisoners and policingThere are major new initiatives in the crucial area of policing and the administration of justice.
Change: “If I could sum up the Agreement I would say the Agreement is about change – the whole theme about the need for change and a new beginning runs throughout the document. It was clear, I think, to all the participants in the negotiations that we just couldn’t go on as we had, and that change had to occur. It is true, obviously, as well, that different people had very different views about the kind of change that was necessary, but nobody disputed the fact that change was needed. We believe that in reaching this particular Agreement, the negotiators have set in motion the process of change which will be to the benefit of both communities and to the island as a whole, and to the relationships between east and west.
“Obviously over the next number of weeks it is up to the various parties to put their views across in relation to the referendum and to try and get a yes vote in both parts of the island. I think it would be a very foolish person to imagine that if a yes vote is secured on both sides of the border that the work is finished – at that stage the work is only beginning… Thank you”
2. Nora Owen, TD (Fine Gael; Minister for Justice during Coalition Government, 1994-1997)
“I would like to thank the Meath Peace Group for calling this meeting together. I hope that throughout Ireland and Northern Ireland many such meetings will be held between now and the 22nd May, so that people can put life into this document. It’s being dropped into every household – but it is really only through this kind of interchange and discussion that some of the issues you need to question can be addressed – and believe me, there are people, perhaps in this room tonight, who are concerned about some elements of this Agreement, and what I and the Minister and others have to do between now and the 22nd May is to convince people that this Agreement has balance in it, an Agreement that will work for all the people on this island.
Maturity: “I was struck when we went to debate the Agreement in Dail Eireann that the reception the Taoiseach got was very very different from the reception that Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith and the other signatories of the Treaty in 1921 got . I looked at the Dail Debates again. There was much heckling, much bitterness, much acrimony across the floor of the Dail when Michael Collins was explaining why he felt it was necessary to sign the Treaty. Bertie Ahern, thankfully, did not have to put up with that kind of acrimony from across the House, and in fact, by the time the lead speakers had spoken and by the time the rest of us got into speak there were very few people left in the Chamber and no media at all left. Now I’m not making that as a critical point. I’m just saying that it is an indication of the maturity, perhaps, of our democracy that all the parties in Dail Eireann were able to come together and support the Agreement as signed by the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, and by Tony Blair and by the people involved in the talks. I think all of us should be grateful to all of us as citizens of this island that we had reached that maturity, that we were not tearing each other apart and creating acrimony and dissension in the Dail.
“So if you didn’t hear what some of us said in the Dail, it’s not because we didn’t make a comment – it’s because by that time the main speakers had spoken and the media had enough lines to quote rather than stay in the Dail.
Triumph of people power: “I believe this Good Friday Agreement is a triumph of people power over violence – not just the people who were there at the end when the Agreement was signed, but all the people North and South, who over the last number of years came out and declared both publicly and privately that they were fed up, sick to the teeth, of the kind of violence that had been part of their community in Northern Ireland.
“The did that in a number of ways – they did it when the ceasefires came in 1994, they did it in their manifestation of anger when the ceasefire was broken at Canary Wharf in 1996, and when the new ceasefire was declared in July of 1997, there was a fairly muted acceptance of that ceasefire for fear that it would go the way the previous ceasefire had gone. But none the less people clearly spoke to their politicians, whether publicly or privately, and let them know in no uncertain terms that they weren’t going to put up with the return of the bomb and the bullet and the intimidation and the kind of life that many of them had to lead.
“It’s easy for us in the South to forget what life was like in the North – what became the norm for people in Northern Ireland. Parents couldn’t let their teenage children go on the bus into the city, go to the cinema, go to McDonald’s or wherever they wanted to go. That was not the norm in Northern Ireland for many many years ….. The norm now is becoming as we have enjoyed it down here – that people can let their teenage children out without worrying whether they have got caught up in a bomb somewhere in the city centre. They can let their teenage children out without worrying that perhaps they might be seduced into joining a paramilitary organisation, and they can let their children out without worrying that if they stay out overnight that they will be home the next day. That now is becoming the norm and the people of Northern Ireland made it clear to their politicians, both unionist and nationalist, that that is what they wanted.
Talks: “So when on June 10th , I and others went to Northern Ireland to start the talks which eventually led to this Agreement, although there was still disagreement, a lot of disagreement around that table, there was a sense that people did want to reach some accommodation.We had a lot of difficulty at the beginning of those talks to get the unionists to accept Senator George Mitchell – but they did accept Senator Mitchell, and I felt that once the chairmanship of the talks had been accepted by the unionists, we were on the road, even if it was going to take the two and a half years that it did take.
“But remember, when you look at the history of Ireland,and remember that for 700 plus years we were under the yoke of the British (and I see at least one representative of the British Government here) – what’s two years between friends? It’s not that long really. I think we have to recognise that, with the frustration we all felt with the delays and the fact that sometimes it looked like the talks were going to break up, in the moment of history, in that little grain of sand for the last couple of years that makes up the history of these years, it was a very very small moment in history for us to have reached this momentous and historic Agreement on Good Friday of this year.
Need for overwhelming vote: “So all of us as citizens of this island must all take credit that you and us together urged each other on, we were not going to allow things to return to the way they were. That I think is the great success of this Agreement. And that is why I think that despite some reservations people will have about Articles 2 and 3, I believe people will overwhelmingly vote for this Agreement on May 22nd. And I hope they will overwhelmingly vote for it in Northern Ireland too.
“I can only make that appeal to anybody here in this audience tonight from Northern Ireland – that they will do what they can to make sure it is voted for by both communitiesin Northern Ireland. I don’t think it’s enough for a very strong nationalist vote – I think we need a strong unionist vote as well for this Agreement. Because if we don’t have that, the fear and the danger is that perhaps there will be a slipping back into the old ways and the old language.
Change in attitude: “What we are aiming for now with the passage of this Agreement is for a change in attitude – a change in people’s attitude to each other. The Agreement recognises that there are differences, recognises the aspirations of both the nationalists and the unionists, and nobody has to give up those aspirations, nobody has to relinquish them, on one side or the other. This was not a winners’ and losers’ agreement – this was a balanced agreement.
“But we have to hope that peoples’ attitudes will change and that they will say “OK, fair enough, that’s what you think, that’s what you like – well, sorry I would like to remain part of the United Kingdom, but let’s get on with it and let’s see what we can do to make, here and now, Northern Ireland a better place to live, let’s make our housing policy more unified, let’s make our schooling and education policy more unified”. We don’t have to keep on arguing that you’re a unionist and I’m a nationalist – we both have children, they need education – let’s see how best we can deliver the education.
Normal politics: “That’s why the north-south bodies have been built into this Agreement, and I hope that when those bodies are set up, we will see some normal politicscoming into Northern Ireland. The Anglo-Irish Conference has been in place, and I’ve sat many times at Anglo-Irish Conferences and saw how we generally concentrated on things political really until the last couple of years. I remember distinctly at one of those Anglo-Irish Conferences raising the issue of the fight against drugs, and after that meeting we all said “thanks be to God – we had an Anglo-Irish Conference where we actually talked about something that unifies us, rather than the differences between us.” Because people in the North were just as concerned about the growth in the use of drugs and drug-trafficking among their communities as we were here in the South. And so some normality came into our cooperation with Northern Ireland and the Ministers and officials there.
“So that’s what I hope we will see over the next few months when we have the Assembly elections, and then we have the Assembly in place, and the North-South institutions, and the East-West institutions made up of the British and Irish Governments. Where we can talk about environment policy, tourism policy, agricultural policy. That’s what this Agreement is actually all about – bringing that kind of normality into our politics.
Making history: “History is what we make it ourselves… You’re making history – this referendum will be talked about in twenty, thirty and forty years from now, in the same way that we talk about the Treaty in 1921. People will be asking “I wonder what people were like then – I wonder why they voted so overwhelmingly for this Agreement”, and I hope they will be saying that and I hope they will be saying “thank God they voted for that Agreement”. All of us together are now making history – and it’s sometimes easy to forget that. We think this is just something we are being asked to do. It’s not something we’re just being asked to do – it’s something that is crucial for us all to do together.
Treaty of substance: “Sean Mac Eoin said, in the 1921 Debates on the Treaty, that they brought back a “treaty of substance”, not a “treaty of shadows”. Well this treaty of Good Friday is a treaty of substance, not a treaty of shadows – a treaty which we must all read carefully . But it is a treaty of substance – it is real and will make a difference to all our lives. Who would have thought five years ago, even three years ago, even two years ago that the unionists would have sat down with Sinn Fein at any table? I saw the antipathy between the unionists and the SDLP (and the SDLP weren’t involved in any way with a party involved in violence), but now they are sitting down, or did sit down with Sinn Fein at the table.
Articles 2 and 3: “Who would have thought five years ago, with no disrespect to the Minister here, that Fianna Fail would be advocating a change in Articles 2 and 3? That has happened. Who would have thought that some members of Fine Gael and other parties would be advocating a change in Articles 2 and 3, because we all felt Articles 2 and 3 were precious to us and they shouldn’t be changed. But the language and the changes that are being advocated here are brilliant in their terminology and brilliant in the way they have recognised both aspirations and the reality of what Ireland is today, and what Articles 2 and 3 should really be today. They’re talking about the right of Irish people to decide which part of the territory they want to belong to and it’s also recognising what Mary Robinson talked about, the diaspora of Irish people who have gone abroad.
North-south bodies: “Who would have thought we would be talking of north-south bodies, with ministers of both governments, North and South, actually having the power to make laws and regulations that would have an effect north and south of the border? I certainly wasn’t thinking like that three or four years ago myself – I never thought we would see the day when we would actually be sitting down and doing things like that.
Sensitive issues: “What we are asking people to do is: read the agreement, to realise that peace does not belong to one community as opposed to the other. To realise that issues like and the decommissioning of armsare still issues that have to be handled sensitively, that are going to cause ups and downs in the Agreement and in the new Assembly as it goes along.
Prisoners: “There’s no simple answer to the release of prisoners – some people will think it’s absolutely essential, others will think it’s a disgrace. There’s a balance somewhere in the middle – some prisoners will have to be released.
Victims: “… If the Agreement is a bit weak and light on something – it is on the issue of victims. And I know there are some young men here who I would call victims of what has been going on in Northern Ireland for 25 or 30 years. There are some young men and women living in Northern Ireland who have never known anything except strife and division and anger and bombs. The only way they have known in their community to get what they want is to join in that kind of anger and strife. Those people need attention, they need help now to make the fundamental change to their own attitudes to their neighbours in Northern Ireland. I hope the sections in the Agreement about victims and about cross-community endeavours – I hope they’re not just pious aspirations. I genuinely hope that the government in Northern Ireland, the new Assembly, will make a difference in those two areas – without that we will not actually see full reconciliation. There is unfinished business – there are people like the IRA and Sinn Fein who will have to tell people where their dead relatives are buried – so that they can be given the dignity of a burial and people can get on with their lives
Encouraging people to vote: “There is still some unfinished business, but I think together, all of us, we can make a difference. But you here tonight do have a responsibility to ring up your friends and tell them they have to go out and vote – it isn’t enough to say “ah sure someone else will vote”. Each person in this room has to stimulate at least another five people who might not otherwise go out and vote – you’re the actual converted because you’re here at this meeting tonight. It’s not enough to feel “I’ve done my bit, I’ve read the Agreement and I’ll go out to vote.” You have to get some more people to vote – and I give that message to people here from both the North and the South. Thank you very much.”
3. Lily Kerr (Belfast trade unionist; member of Ard Chomhairle of the Workers Party):
“Thank you chairman Can I once again thank the Meath Peace Group – as usual they have always got their finger on the button. These meetings are important – it’s important that people come together to discuss these things.
“Although my party was not in the talks, I would have to add my thanks to all of the politicians and my congratulations to all the parties that were in the talks, and all the politicians that were there beforehand.
Agreement: “I think actually what amazed me and a lot of people was that there was an agreement, never mind the contents of what was in the Agreement, but the very fact that eventually an Agreement was able to be reached.
Strength of the Agreement: “We could nit-pick our way through the Agreement – there’s many things in the Agreement that I don’t like, that I have a problem conceptually with. Having said that, as a negotiator, I do know that you don’t get all you want when you go to the table. And probably in a perverse way the strength of the agreement is that didn’t get exactly what they wanted, because as Minister Dempsey said earlier on, had it come down in favour of one party or another then it wouldn’t have been fair.
Need for resounding “yes” vote: “Nora talked about the demand from the people in Northern Ireland, and in the south of Ireland, for talks. The people actually did lead the way, and that’s not to take away from the politicians who sat around the table and hammered out the Agreement. Now it’s back to the people again, and it’s not just down to the people in Northern Ireland – it’s down to the people in the south of Ireland as well We need a resounding “yes” this side of the border as well, because anything short of a resounding “yes” can send out a very very negative message.
Individual responsibility: “I don’t think we can afford to be complacent about this Agreement. We read the opinion polls, and I’m heartened by the opinion polls, and I see that 70% of the population in Northern Ireland and 69% of the population in the South will be going out to vote and they will be voting “yes”. That can have its downside as well because someone can suppose that everyone else is going out to vote I speak now as an individual, because there is collective responsibility and there is individual responsibility.
“Nora Owen spoke about parents. I’m a parent, I’ve got 5 children – the oldest is 25, he’ll be getting married in July. I want his children to know a peace that he didn’t know. My youngest son is 15. Nora spoke about people being able to let their children go out to the pictures – the cinema is not half a mile from me, but I couldn’t let my youngest go to a matinee on a Saturday because I was fearful that there would be a bomb scare or that there would be a bomb. I remember when the first ceasefire broke down I was quite annoyed – my older children were able to go to the cinema and go into town and I was damned sure I wasn’t going to allow anyone to take that away from me. And that’s the kind of spirit we need. We need individually to exercise responsibility.
“As I said, there are things as a socialist which I’m not happy with in this Agreement, but I have no right to put my high-faluting principles in front of peace. This won’t deliver an instant peace – it is a start, as Noel Dempsey said. For far too long in Northern Ireland we’ve had a democratic deficit with absolutely no accountability. Getting an Assembly means there will be accountability.
Normal politics: “When you take away the siege you take away the siege mentality and the one hope I hang on to is that this is the start of something, and then we can get down to normal politics, we can get down to discussing the social and economic issues that dearly need to be discussed in Northern Ireland.
Hope: “What this agreement gives us is not a panacea for all ills – it gives us hope and no one has the right to take that hope away from us.
Duty of Care to each other: “That is why I’m determined, and my party is determined, that we will be out knocking on doors, and if necessary I will knock on every door in my street and point out to my neighbours, though they might think I am lecturing to them, that they owe a duty of care to each of their neighbours and each and every citizen in Northern Ireland. I would say to you that people on this side of the border owe that same duty of care to each other and particularly to the people within the North who have suffered for thirty years. Thank you”
4. Cllr. Brian Fitzgerald (Labour Party, Meath):
“Thank you chairman – first of all I would like to thank the Meath Peace Group for organising this meeting. There is a considerable lack of such meetings taking place. There are meetings taking place from a negative point of view, but certainly there are very few meetings from a positive point of view taking place. Credit is due to the Meath Peace Group who have been toiling away for many many years now.
“At the outset, I would like to declare my position: I would ask people to support the Agreement because I think it is the only chance we have, and it is the only chance the people North and South have of ever getting back to real politics. We should have our discussions concerning aspects of the agreement because they are going to come up at the doorsteps, and during the debate which will take place, probably in an intense way, over the next few weeks.
Difficulties ahead: “It may not be as sound an Agreement as it may appear – it is highly aspirational at this stage. People shouldn’t think otherwise. The more you read it the more difficulties you can see. Obviously I see serious difficulties ahead, because when the referendum is held on 22nd May, and I would sincerely hope and pray that this end of the country will vote overwhelmingly yes, and indeed I’m quite certain that the majority of people who go out to vote will vote “yes”, my concern is, as has been happening down through the years with different referenda, that we have an extremely low turnout. That is a difficulty, because, as someone mentioned earlier, that would send a very wrong message to the people who have other ideas
“When the referendum is over, with a resounding “yes”, then the real work will begin – the Assembly elections will take place some time afterwards.
Duration of the Assembly: “It would appear that there is no timescale for the of the Assembly. I would hope that if there is an Assembly election that the Assembly would last at least 5 years to ensure that people will be able to settle in.
Executive: “There will be some difficulties with the setting up of an Executive to that Assembly. I don’t see a problem with the unionist party or the SDLP, but certainly if there are a considerable number of people from other parties elected, and there is a difficulty with some of them taking seats on an Executive, I can see long hard debates in trying to resolve those particular issues. People will obviously have to be very patient.
North-South bodies: “Then you have the Ministerial Council which will be set up between the Assembly and the Oireachtas – we do not know exactly what powers they will have or what powers they will be allowed to have, because it will require both the Assembly and the Oireachtas to approve what they are proposing to do. There are areas there which will take a lot of very hard work.
“I believe it’s going to need a number of things:
• It’s going to require courage– and over the last few months and weeks, people have been saying that various people had displayed courage. A number of people over the years have displayed considerable courage, none more so than John Fee who was prevented by what he would regard as fellow nationalists from carrying on his duties, and he bears the scars still. Yet he stuck with it through thick and thin, and it’s great that he is with us here tonight.
• We will have to be open – all the parties will have to be open to each other, after the election
• We will have to be honest with each other as well – all parties.
• Above all, we will have to be patient and they will have to be patient. Because everything is not going to happen over night or over the first year of the Assembly or over the first five years of the various ministerial councils which will be set up.
Hard decisions: “If we set up an Assembly and if we set up all of the bodies surrounding that Assembly, we have got to be firm, and very hard decisions will have to be taken, because nobody should be allowed to wreck those institutions once they are set up. And it means that hard decisions will have to be taken, both in the south as well as in the north, then they will have to be taken.
Principle of Consent: “The key to success for all of those bodies is for people to accept what has been enshrined in the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Downing Street Declaration, the Framework Document and the Good Friday Agreement – that is the principle of consent – that has to be accepted. And if the people of Ireland accept that, which I believe they will, nobody has the right to overthrow or overturn that decision of the people.
Declaration that the war is over: “I believe the ceasefires have to remain in place – but I would prefer, and .. I do agree with Mary Harney when she said today, that the IRA has got to declare that the war is over. I believe that has to happen. I’m not talking about arms or ammunition because, as someone once said, “rust never sleeps”. I want to see them making that declaration if the people of Ireland decide on the 22nd. That is most important.
“The Agreement will be judged on its durability to withstand all the pressures that will come after. We saw what happened to Sunningdale – we do not want another Sunningdale. I do not believe you will have an Ulster Workers’ strike, but there will be other forces who will try to wreck it.
Potential: “The Agreement has a lot of potential – tremendous potential both North and South. During the 18 months to 2 years when I sat on the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation – and Noel and myself were there week in and week out – we had the opportunity to meet with various politicians from Northern Ireland and various community groups. We saw an experience – tremendous ability which was not being allowed to do what it wanted to do…. They had to deal with issues on a daily basis which were negative issues in many respects, whereas they should have been dealing with health and education.matters etc.
“I sincerely hope that those people elected to the Assembly will be at last given the opportunity to do what they wanted to do and were not allowed to do over the last 25 years. I think we will be surprised at the ability when it is displayed and we will all learn from them.
Changes to politics in the south: “In the south I also see changes in the whole political makeup. Nora touched on it slightly here tonight. For many years parties were divided because of the national question. The flag was pulled out in the course of general elections to maybe get the party faithful the bandwagon moving, but it did divide parties and we could all say, “for what?” I believe after May 22nd , that issue will no longer be there, and people will start looking at politics from a different perspective than they have been – maybe they will look at it from a left or right position, I sincerely hope that happens. Heaven knows what realignment we will have in the south after the referendum.
Encouraging people to go out and vote: “I would like to ask each and every person who has any influence to try and encourage others to go out and vote on the 22nd. It’s important that we have not just a “yes” vote but that we have a high turnout – ng equivalent to a general election , 70% at a minimum. We need that high vote to demonstrate to the people who have other ideas, and they are out there to wreck this process, but we should not allow them to do that. When it is accepted by the people of Ireland North and South, that firm decisions are taken to ensure that the people have their say which will be a “yes” vote on the 22nd. Thank you”
5. Cllr. John Fee (SDLP, Newry and Mourne District Council)
“Thank you Chairman, and thank you Brian for your gracious words. Can I also say thank you very much to the Meath Peace Group for inviting me – I have to apologise for the number of times I’ve been invited and I haven’t been able to come here and I’ve let people down at the last minute.
“Because I haven’t been here before, perhaps I’d better introduce myself. I’m John Fee – I’m 34 years of age, I’ve been an SDLP councillor for ten years in what they call “bandit country” – I was born and reared in South Armagh, in Crossmaglen. I still live there with my wife, I still represent it, and I’m very proud of the community I come from and the place where I live.
“I am also absolutely committed to ensuring that my community which has suffered so much for so long sees a lasting peace, sees justice, stability, equality and equity and has opportunities available to it that have not been available for so long. That’s why I’m going out on the doorsteps for the next three weeks, around my neighbours, my friends and everybody in what is termed “bandit country” with no fear whatsoever to go out and ask for a “yes” vote in this referendum.
“I took a look at the little document – the actual Agreement that you have – and I took a look at the glossier version of it that we have, and as far as I can see word for word, what you are being asked to agree or disagree on is precisely the same as what my neighbours are being asked to adjudicate on north of the border.
National self-determination: “I disagree profoundly with anyone who tries to say that all of the people of Ireland and its islands voting on the same question on the same day about how we agree to share this island for the future is not an act of national self-determination. It most certainly is. And it’s not only an act of national self-determination – it’s the first time we’ve been able to do it before – in a referendum it’s the first time ever, and it’s the first time in an election since 1918. It’s an opportunity, I believe, at the end of the century to put right some of the problems that we created at the beginning of this century.
“I actually believe this document is absolutely compulsive reading – everytime you read it there’s something more in it. But could I ask you to go back and read it again and read it in the light of two entirely separate agendas that are being pursued:
Political agenda: “There is a purely political agenda – setting up structures etc…. We’ve tried it in the past, this time we think we’re going to get it right. We’ve had assemblies in the past. We had the Sunningdale Agreement – why did it fail? It failed because the other elements of that agreement were contingent on a gentleman’s agreement – “set up your assembly and then we’ll look at a Council of Ireland or something like that later.” This Agreement doesn’t allow for one element to be put in place and the others to be left in abeyance.
“This Agreement requires the all-Ireland bodies to be put in place – their structures, their constitution, I presume their budgets and their modus operandi – to be up in place before the Assembly in the North of Ireland gets any powers.
“It also agrees that when those two things are done, the Council of the Islescan be instituted, all in one act, on one day, when the Oireachtas and the Houses of Parliament can agree.
“It actually takes the concept that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” one step further, and it says: “nothing is created until everything is created”. The target date for that to happen is, I think, February of next year.
“So there is an entirely political agenda – setting up structures, institutions, checks and balances and the like which will allow us on this island to govern ourselves without interference in a way that we agree, and we agree with our neighbouring island.
Suing for peace: “There is a second agenda and it is the most difficult agenda. For thirty years in Northern Ireland we have been prosecuting a war. Indeed in the politics of the Republic of Ireland since 1920 on there has been Civil War politics. If we can get this agreement between unionist and nationalist, between north and south, between the British and the Irish for the first time ever, we will be suing for peace – the type of peace we have never had before, the type of inclusive arrangement to which we can all subscribe, offer our allegiance, offer our support and can work together for the stability of our country and the prosperity of our future and the like.
Difficult questions: “It’s in the suing for peace that we have many of the really difficult questions and they are questions that have to be answered north and south. Letting people out of prison – morally an enormous question. If to sue for peace we have to do that, I believe it is right. Removing all the trappings of war, reforming the RUC, introducing the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law north and south, building in protections for the individual citizens on this island. If those things must be done, then they must be done and they must be done quickly.
Articles 2 and 3: “In the whole area of suing for peace we are being asked how we define ourselves. We hear a lot of concern about Articles 2 and 3. I never heard about Articles 2 and 3 before Chris McGimpsey and his brother went into court down here. I didn’t hear anyone getting up on soap boxes saying they were necessary for the protection of nationalists in Northern Ireland. I didn’t see anyone saying they were a defence against some of the injustices by the State north of the border. I can’t see any way that Articles 2 and 3 have actually provided protection for me as an Irish nationalist who happens to live in the North-Eastern part of this island.
New Articles an improvement: “But I have read the proposed new Articles 2 and 3. I know the calibre of the people – and there are three of them sitting at this table – who, on the Irish Government side over the years, have used their creativity and their imagination and their intelligence, and have used their collective genius to come up with an improvement on de Valera’s Articles2 and 3. I believe it is an improvement. I believe that nationalists in Northern Ireland for the first time will see that in the Constitution there is an entitlement to Irish national citizenship which did not exist previously in the Constitution.
“When you hear people saying “it’s a sell-out”, or saying “we can’t do this”, I would ask you to remember that this is an improvement on what existed before. And I would ask you to go out to your neighbours and family and quite confidently say: “listen, life is improving, this settlement will deliver for all of us”, and just ask them to vote “yes”. Thank you.”
6. Mary Montague (CorrymeelaCommunity)
“I just want to say thank you to the Meath Peace Group who invited me down. It’s a privilege to be here and I’m very much aware of the work the Meath Peace Group has done in helping to secure the situation we have now where at least we have a political agreement.
Corrymeela: “ Corrymeela is a community that dedicated itself to reconciliation. It actually started in 1965 before the present “Troubles”. The whole ideas was that we ourselves are a group of Catholic and Protestant people, and we would walk side by side through the feelings that we have living in the North of Ireland, in a divided society. And that that perhaps would help us understand how we can relate to people in the wider sense and help them find ways of securing some kind of peace and reconciliation. My remit, my work, is classed as being the family and community work coordinator. And it’s really a privilege because I have been given the chance to walk alongside groups. I say walk alongside, because these are groups of people who could be classed perhaps as working class people, but they are my people, for I come from Andersonstown in West Belfast – a little bit like “bandit country”.
Interface: “The people that I work with live on the interface areas – and we refer to interface areas in the North when we’re talking about where the Protestant and Catholic communities actually live beside one another and are divided by walls, or out in the rural areas where they are divided by a river or by a road.
Prisoners: “Along with those interface groups, I also work with prisoners’ groups, and especially those groups that are helping released prisoners to re-integrate into our community.
Front line of war: “So I class our people not as working class people, but as the people who have lived at the front line of the war. And what does that mean? It means that we are the people who carried the coffins, or walked behind the coffins, and we didn’t do that because there were cameras there and politically it would be nice to be seen at the funeral. We did it because the people in those coffins were our relatives, or they were our friends or our neighbours.
“Just as we carried the coffins we also filled the hospitals. We filled the hospitals with injured people. We also filled those hospitals with people who have suffered from stress, because you also suffer from stress if you live at the front line of a war.
We also filled the prisons – and why did we do that? A lot of the people who filled the prisons from our community were victims, not because they were imprisoned, but victims before they were perpetrators of acts of violence. They were hurt people who reached for the gun or the bomb – they were people who felt injustice, who felt frustration and turned to violence to release that frustration.
“Just to give you one idea of what I mean in statistics. There is one street in an interface area – it has 24 houses and every house has lost a member of their family through the violence. I have with me a mediator from an interface area – Mickey Doyle from the Limestone road. Where Mickey lives, within a mile radius of that area, there have been 653 deaths. That’s the concentration of suffering that has happened in the North of Ireland.
Security: “Of course alongside violence you get a security response. So my people are the people who have suffered from the vicious circle where security was tightened, where the police would move in as robo-cops with heavy vehicles, not taking prisoners. And they suffered from that as well – one violence fed into another.
“And there was deprivation and unemployment– because who is going to build a factory in the front line of a war?
Survivors of trauma: “A lot of people at the moment are talking about victimsand speaking of victims. We don’t look upon ourselves as victims – we are the survivors of trauma. We have been brought to our knees, but we have stood up and we have looked around and said: “no one is going to do anything for us unless we start to do it for ourselves”. So there was a growth of community groupsin the interface areas. And those community groups looked at the needs of the people in the area and how to address them. And beside that, they went to paramilitary organisations and they began to lobby for an end to the conflict. the peace process didn’t start with politicians at the top of the political pyramid. It started at the grass roots – it started with ordinary people taking a lot of risks.
Good Friday Agreement: “So what does the Agreement mean to the people that I work with? It’s strange that on the day we heard there was an agreement – on Good Friday – there was no euphoria. And I think it was a little bit that people were shocked. But I also think that even over the weeks that followed, people realised there was a sense of loss in this Agreement. Because this is a see-sawand it’s very difficult to balance a see-saw. So the nationalist and republican family of my community felt the loss of their dream of a united Ireland happening very shortly down the line. Equally the unionist and loyalist family that live within my community recognised that there was not going to be a return to the Stormont government and that they might well have to accept these north-south bodies.
“Even though there was no euphoria, generally there was no great outcry. Because people realised that this was a balanced agreement and at least it offered them something – the first step towards a better quality of life.
“The previous speakers have all mentioned each of the different strands of the Agreement – that if you were British you were being recognised and respected as being British. Equally if you felt Irish you were being respected and recognised as being Irish. That we do have these changes to the Irish Constitution which is helpful. That we have our North-South bodies, we have our British-Irish structure.
“But I think for people living on the front line of a war some of the most important things came when we began to see that there would be a Bill of Rights, and economic rights, because people who are unemployed seek employment. And with security and policing,it wasn’t just the Catholic or nationalist or republican areas that suffered from heavy-handed policing – equally so did my loyalist and unionist friends. And the fact that that is being looked at is a plus for people living at the front line of a war. And the review of the criminal justice system– the prisoners I have the privilege of working alongside, all went to prison by facing Diplock Courts, and there is no justice in Diplock Courts.
Victims: “And of course there are the victims. As a victim – my family lost a family member – I am so tired of hearing different politicians speak for me. It has actually opened the wounds my family feel far deeper than they were ever opened before.
“I have not the right to speak for all victims – no one has the right to speak for all victims. One of the things I have had the privilege to do lately was to be with Sir Kenneth Bloomfield who was talking to groups of people who had lost relatives. Within those discussions it became very clear that people didn’t want a monument to the person they had lost. They wanted to be treated fairly – they wanted financial support, and they wanted the resources to help people through the trauma that they had been through.
Prisoners: “And when we talked about prisoners, the biggest majority agreed that the greatest and most wonderful memorial we could have to our loved ones is that there is never going to be another victim. And prisoner release is something that should be considered, though it is painful for some people.
Decommissioning and demilitarisation: “There is also decommissioning – and there is a word called “demilitarisation” which is associated very much with the Sinn Fein party. Demilitarisation and decommissioning do have to be considered, but not one without the other. Because we have a number of children and teenagers living at the front line of the war who have been badly injured by the use of plastic bullet rounds. We have very many military establishments, especially around the bandit country and in West Belfast, which cause a great deal of stress to the people who are living there. Only last week I was talking to someone in the loyalist side of Belfast who was saying that the young people can’t even play at the moment because of the situation that needs demilitarisation.
“No” campaign: “At the moment up north we are hearing a lot of people who are shouting and saying “no”. They are saying “you can’t talk to certain politicians”. What we say is “you have to talk”. If we did it at the grass roots level before there were any kind of ceasefires, then our politicians must take the responsibility of talking and talking with all politicians
“To those who are crying at the moment: “blood – we will spill our blood”, I want to ask, “whose blood are you going to spill?” – because my community has had enough blood spilt. They are crying about “fighting the final battle” – the very prisoners that I work alongside have already fought battles and when they became prisoners, those same politicians ignored their needs and the needs of their families.
Alternative: “And what is the alternative? – that is what Corrymeela has to ask those people. “What political alternative do you offer the people in Northern Ireland?” Unfortunately the alternatives that have been offered are a return to division, a return to politics that isn’t about equality. And the whole root of the war in Northern Ireland is about division and because of inequality at a political level.
“Therefore really what they are saying is the alternative is a return to war– and that’s both the extremes of republicanism and loyalism.
Voting “yes”: “I have a thousand reasons why I’m going to vote “yes” – and I’ll tell you the story of one of them. Within the community, I have worked with a number of children, and one of them is a six year old boy from North Belfast…. Because he was suffering from trauma – not recognised, the school just recognised him as being a child with difficulties who couldn’t concentrate and caused a lot of difficulties in the classroom. And he was referred to me….
“During one of our games – one where you could pretend to be whatever you wanted to be and wherever you wanted to be – this little boy said “I’m God – and I’m going to take all the blood that has spilled out of people and I’m going to pour it back in… because if I can do that then my friend’s daddy will be alive again.” (His friend’s daddy had been shot about two months before this). And he said “my friend will come back out and play and he will stop crying”. One of my jobs, unfortunately, is to rationalise an adult situation in a child’s mind. So I had to say to him, “but sweetheart you’re not God and neither am I, we can pray, and God will help, but He also expects us to help ourselves. What do you think we can do?”
And he said “we can go Mary to all our Catholic friends and tell them to stop fighting and then we could get [and he mentioned a co-worker’s name] to go to all his Protestant friends and tell them to stop fighting. And then we could get them to talk and become friends and throw all the bombs and guns into the sea.”
“That was profound wisdom, yet that story I have heard over a thousand times with children who have suffered trauma. A profound wisdom about peacemaking that unfortunately some of the adults in our society don’t seem to have, especially some of the politicians.
“Really this Agreement, this referendum, gives people both north and south the chance of voting and working in partnership with my community – those that have lived at the front line of the war – so that we may all have a better quality of life.
Constitutional change: “And I recognise that for the people in the south, there will be a certain grief – that there is a loss in changing the Constitution, but I’m asking you to enter into our grief, into our loss and do that.
Celebrating diversity: “This is only a political agreement, is not a peace agreement. Because peace isn’t about a political agreement, and it’s not just about ending the violence. Peace is about working together, about accepting one another, and as we say in Corrymeela, it’s about celebrating diversity. So this is a chance for us all to celebrate diversity. Thank you.”
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS (summaries only)
Q.1: On the 22nd of May, apart from the referendum on the Peace Agreement, there is another referendum in the South [on the Amsterdam Treaty]. Why hold the two on the same date?
Noel Dempsey, TD: “ I think I would be speaking for everyone in saying we’re very much aware of the importance of the referendum on the Peace Agreement to the people North and South. I think the second referendum on the Amsterdam treaty is also of importance to the people of this island North and south as well. Neither I nor the government perceive any difficulty in having the referendum on the same day. It’s done on a fairly regular basis. I think it might help to focus people’s minds not just on the Ireland context but we are a part of Europe and I think that both referenda are important for the future of the country and I don’t think anybody is under any illusion about that and under any confusion about it. ”
Q.2: Frankie Gallagher [from East Belfast Post-Conflict Resettlement Project who had come with a group of loyalists to the talk]. “… One of the things Bertie Ahern has said, which was probably part of the confidence building that Tony Blair has been doing, was that he was there to protect the nationalists in Northern Ireland. If there’s a Yes [outcome] does he not realise, or do his ministers not realise, that as well as buying into the good you’re buying into the bad? – you’re buying into the fact that you’re going to have to help protect the national aspirations of Unionists and Loyalistsas well. You can’t take angles on it and say I’m going to represent this side …. Would you think that you have to be there being the guardians in the future of people’s national self-determination as they perceive it?
Noel Dempsey: “Certainly I won’t speak for all the parties involved here but I will speak for Fianna Fail. We’ll never make any apologies for feeling that we had – and I think that goes for Irish governments in general – a role to play and a very strong role to play in giving a voice to the nationalist community, to try and represent to the British government the views of the nationalist community in Northern Ireland as we saw them.
.. “I think we would equally see that once this Agreement is passed by the people of Ireland, that our responsibility is to the Agreement and to every thing that is contained in that Agreement, to the aspirations that are contained in it, and to the actual practical considerations that are in it, from a nationalist point of view and from a unionist point of view. That includes the right of the unionist community, or people that are not necessarily unionists but who believe they are British citizens and want to remain so. So to reassure you on that track – the Irish government will be fully committed to the full implementation of the Agreement and to the protection to all the rights that are there. And I think the question is a very good one and one that I can speak for all parties in the South. We will be totally committed to ensure that it is fully implemented.
Nora Owen: “ I believe that Frankie has touched on something that perhaps has happened since the Agreement. With the availability of the media now there is no privacy any more about speechmaking and statements and I think all sides both British and Irish governments, unionists and nationalists, must be conscious that there is no private audience that they can speak to and make a statement that won’t get coverage on the national media and international media. So we can’t speak to a private group and say something that is for their consumption only and not expect the other side to hear it. So unionists who say this Agreement strengthens the Union, and nationalists who say this is a stepping stone to a united Ireland have to be conscious that that type of language will have to cease and they will have to recognise that the Agreement is a balance of both. …. Those who make statements have to be conscious of what they’re saying. Already since the Agreement there have been statements that I don’t think helped but I think people have learned from them. .. I think during these weeks up to the 22nd no matter where you are we’ll have to all get ourselves into a mode of delivering our thoughts that does not antagonise one side or the other. And that’s part of the sea change we’ve got to just face up to and I think Frankie’s point is a relevant one.
“But equally could I remind people of what the IRA said in An Phoblachtrecently, and that is very worrying – they have indicated they are not going to take the democratic vote North and South as meaning what we think it means and that they have no intention of ever giving up their arms. Now those are statements that do worry me very much and worry my party very much and I hope that those who have any influence on the IRA will let them know that those kind of statements are not helpful in getting people to vote for this Agreement.
Frankie Gallagher: “One of the reasons why I posed that question was because any reasonable person within this island, whatever their aspirations, will have to recognise that we have to become guardians of each others rights In protecting each other’s rights you’re by and large protecting yourselves – and until everybody gets to that stage I don’t think there will ever be peace but I think we are getting to that stage.
Lily Kerr: [On the point made about the IRA statement in An Phoblacht]: “People North and South have to make it perfectly plain to the IRA, and to Sinn Fein who have some influence on them, that you cannot actually claim to represent the will of the Irish people and then, if that will does not coincide with your own will, ignore it. There is actually no turning back and I think we have to be very plain and very straight with that.”
Frankie Gallagher: “ I think the violence as well has reinforced division. It’s probably driven aspirations of unity further away and I think the Worker’s Party realising that violence was not going to achieve unity was very forward thinking.”
Lily Kerr: “Could I just make a further point on what you’ve said from a Worker’s Party point of view? I am a republican as well as a socialist and I believe passionately in a 32-county socialist Republic. Unfortunately the violence has ensured that a million Protestants who have been bombed over the last 30 years aren’t going to be eager to be cajoled into a United Ireland. I am now actually convinced that I will never see my aspiration fulfilled because of that violence.
Q.3: [Re the time-frame of May 22nd]: “I don’t think it’s long enough in order to teach the lay person to put in their minds what the Agreement actually means. It’s OK for people with some sort of education to take out bits and read it, but I know for a fact ordinary people won’t read it. … I believe that a process of education should be put in place by all parties responsible for the Agreement, both North and South. I don’t believe that people in the South understand exactly what the Agreement entails. I think May 22nd is too short a time frame.”
Speaker from floor [agreeing with the last speaker]: “I’d be very concerned. There’s general apathy. I was in Dublin yesterday and there were a few posters up with Bertie Ahern signing something “Vote Yes for Peace” and speaking to my neighbours and friends, they don’t know anything about the Agreement, they haven’t even looked at a copy of the Agreement. I’ve been giving them out all week – people didn’t have them. So I’d be very worried – after all these years in Northern Ireland and all the violence.”
Frankie Gallagher: “There’s a lot of apathy and uncertainty. People are confused and people are fearful… We’re either going to get an apathetic voter or we’re going to get one that is totally scared out of their wits and is going to vote No.”
Cllr. John Fee: “ I just want to make a personal comment about this. On Good Friday, having been awake for almost 14 hours, we got called into the room and many of my colleagues and people from all over the SDLP had flocked down to Belfast to pick up on what they thought was going to be an historic day. (And I have worked by the way for 11 years for Seamus Mallon and over many years have from time to time had the task of meeting loyalist leaders and putting them in cars and taking them to have meetings with Seamus Mallon that no one could possibly know about, taking place in very hazardous situations.) In the room where the document was being signed I looked around … and I saw Gusty Spence and David Ervine, Billy Hutchinson and another loyalist leader who was convicted of being involved in the killing of an SDLP senator in the 70s
“And I looked around and I saw Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, Martin Ferris, Gerry Kelly – and I was counting the amount of jail time that had been done by people around that table and then we had a rapid run around the table and so many people signed up to the Agreement from every possible section of the community. Wouldn’t it be an awful tragedy if the people in the North of Ireland with all the trauma behind them, turned around and voted “Yes” and people in the Republic of Ireland just don’t bother. That’s our biggest fear…”
Q.4. “…. I do not condone violence – I have been out of Ireland and spent many years in Pakistan and the Philippines and I have seen what violence does. But also I think to be fair, as it says in the Agreement, there should be an equal demilitarisation not just from Sinn Fein and the various other elements there but also from the Loyalists and other groups. That has got to be discussed. Not enough has gone into it….
Mary Montague: “The loyalists think it impossible to think of decommissioning before the republicans have decommissioned. I think the republicans and also many loyalist groups think that demilitarisation is something that has to be considered as well. It’s a vicious circle. As for victims, the most merciful thing that happened to my relative was with a trigger after the terrible torture that he was put through before he died, and he was only thirteen years of age. So I wonder how you can decommission arms and cigarettes, and part of me thinks that decommissioning is about decommissioning feelings and sectarianism and a token gesture is needed of decommissioning arms. I would agree to it but I would also want it alongside demilitarisation because I think the justice for me is very important and there are a lot of people in my community that have been hurt by the security forces as well.
Lily Kerr: “Just to follow on from that – I think that most normal societies are entitled to have a police service that’s not sort of along the lines of paramilitary forces and to take the point that Mary’s making, I think we do need some form of decommissioning. I will make another point as well – punishment beatings– we’re going to have to decommission baseball bats and iron bars as well… We have to get the message across to all sides that the armed struggle is now no form of political expression – that people cannot solve political problems through the barrel of a gun. All the guns have to go from our society and then the paramilitaries are going to have to find a new reason for saying they want their guns to rust or they don’t want to hand them over. Because as a natural progression of this agreement there will be reforms within the RUC – possibly evolutionary as opposed to revolutionary – in a sense it will take the gun out of the so-called military side of it and then the paramilitaries are going to have to keep peace with that. … People can be very disingenuous, especially those in the No camp, and they are putting this about that the police are going to be stood down etc. and how can we sit around the table when people have guns under the table. … I think it is a big, big issue and we can’t duck it or hide from it, its going to have to be faced up to sooner rather than later.
Q.5. – Julitta Clancy: “We in the Republic are part of the problem and part of the solution as well – and we don’t often realise that. Our own group has been going now for five years and we have received tremendous support locally …. but we’re battling against [some elements in] the media and against people who don’t think that the role of ordinary people is important at all. Yet we have seen changes coming about just having people talking together. … Noel Dempsey and Nora Owen were talking about a new mode of thinking and I would agree wholeheartedly with that – we’ve all got to get ourselves now into that new mode of thinking which Frankie put so well. We all have to be guardians of each other’s rights – that’s a revolutionary idea, but how do we get that across? We in the South seem to be all for peace but when you scratch us there are barriers and prejudices – we think we’re for peace but we often don’t understand what we have to do. The Forum for Peace and Reconciliation did wonderful work, but they lost a glorious opportunity to go out to the country and start focusing people’s minds on how we have to change. We all have to start changing our mode of thinking … We’ve got to start thinking and bringing about change in our society and it’s not going to be so difficult. As John Fee said about Articles 2 and 3 – I never heard about them until Chris McGimpsey brought that case and then I opened the Constitution and discovered a whole lot more things wrong as well. The proposed new Articles are a liberating thing for us but we’re hearing negative voices all the time. How are we in the South going to get ourselves into this process and work to understand people from different points of view and aspirations? There are not enough people working at it. ”
Q.6: “ I’m actually from Belfast myself and I’ve been living here for eighteen years. And something just struck me – that man is from East Belfast and I’m from the Falls road and I’ve never consciously sat in the same room as a man from East Belfast. That’s a fact and I think, or I hope that with this Agreement there will be more people sitting in a room consciously and that they will forget about whether they are a Catholic or a Protestant because I think that’s part of the problem, we don’t know each other. I’m very emotional about it. I think it’s very sad, that people have died that I know and I’m sure this man as well. I think certain politicians in the North have done a disservice to their own people by not facing the issues properly and not bringing the people together and just extending their friendship … and forget about all the nonsense. …. I personally would like to see just Peace. That’s all. Just peace. Respect for each other.”
Q.7: “ I would like to commend the three men from East Belfast because they overcame their fears, their mindset to come here”. ( Round of applause.)
Q.8. Rev. John Clarke (C of I Rector, Navan): “ Obviously I am very impressed with this forward thinking and this all-inclusive language that has been used this evening. I suppose my concern is what happens to the fringe elements, those that are not prepared to let their personal aspirations be absolved into what’s happening and the outcome. What would the situation be for those who will not be part of what’s going on and who will still look to the bomb and the bullet on both sides of the divide? That gives me great concern.
“In regard to the time-frame of the 22nd of May I’m not so sure what choice a politician has, what are the options. There’s no point talking about it – the date is set, we’ve got to start getting positive about it. If people are not informed we make it our business to inform them. It’s just part of our nature. We need things close to the last minute to find out the information. The Gospel has preached reconciliation for many years on this island. And if we want to hear the message of peace and reconciliation and all that goes with it, I suggest many of our people return to the church.
Nora Owen, TD: “The reason why I’m here is because Charlie Flanagan, our spokesman on Northern Ireland, who was supposed to be here was called away to Prime Time for a major debate tonight. But sadly let’s actually tell the truth of it ourselves – how many of you turn off or switch to another channel when you hear that a debate on Northern Ireland is about to start or personalities that normally talk about N.Ireland are about to speak? You turn it off, you use the zapper and you know that’s the reality because after thirty years of debates on N.Ireland people have got a bit tired of it so really they have a big job to do. Local media which normally don’t cover national stories have a responsibility to try and stimulate people’s discussion. People will get a copy of the Agreement but the problem is that most people won’t actually read it. There will be responsibility on the national media to stimulate people ….
Chair (Paul Murphy): “We heard it mentioned earlier on about the fringe groupsand what they might or might not do post-referendum and I think there is a genuine fear in some people’s hearts that some of the fringe groups might be strengthening somewhat. I’m going to ask Brian Fitzgerald to say a word about that.
Cllr. Brian Fitzgerald: “When you read what the political commentators are saying at this particular time, one has got to be concerned , and reading reports from the Gardai who say that the dissident groups are far greater in numbers than what was first thought, and when you speak to people who live on the border counties and hear what it is like on the ground one has to be worried. I don’t think any of us should be under any illusion that there are not problems ahead for the democrats – the people who have stuck through it thick and thin against violence.
“I am very worried that there will be a low turnout [in the Referendum]. I’ve no doubt what the result will be but a low turnout would be nearly as bad as a negative response or a negative result and I say this because like everybody at this table we have knocked at doors at various elections, and … the Northern Ireland issue is never ever mentioned…. Even at the bye-elections that took place last March – at no door was the Northern issue mentioned in Dublin. Yet at that stage discussions were going on and it was all over the media with George Mitchell being interviewed here and there and the Taoiseach was up and down, but nobody was prepared to talk about it at the doorsteps and thats why it worries me that we’ll have a poor turnout even with a Yes vote. Because there are difficulties down the road and the people who want to continue the violence have to get a very loud and clear message that the people of Ireland north and south are going to make their decision in a democratic way as enshrined in the document.
“How we can get the people out? – the media, ourselves, the clergymen, all have a responsibility We got a chance before in 1974 with the Sunningdale Agreement and we didn’t grasp it and we saw the consequences of that. If we don’t grasp this one I believe myself that we will have a civil was in this country with more people killed in six months than in the last thirty years … and we’ve got to ensure that this does not happen and we’ve got to use whatever resources we can to stop this and people have to come out and say “yes” to this agreement and say “no” to violence North and South .
Lily Kerr “The point made about the Agreement is quite complex and perhaps people don’t understand it . It’s up to the political parties to do something as to what the main points in that agreement are. The day is already set and I think it would be negative to try and put it on the long finger. But to get back to the point about the fringe groupsno one should be in any doubt about it. There will be those on both sides who have guns and the community itself will have to deal with it. Now [in this Agreement] we’ve got a Bill of Rights, we’ve got rights for the two communities. With rights come responsibilities. There will be responsibilities for those people to move away from the taboo that you don’t turn people in . People will have a responsibility with those rights not to harbour the gunmen and women in their community and to oust them.
Chair: “I throw in a note of possible controversy. How does anybody here feel about the possible exclusion of the Women’s Coalition from the Assembly? What does anybody feel about the blatant sexism that is among the male political class in Northern Ireland?
Cllr. John Fee: “Could I just address two points that have been raised here? First the date and the timescale. The date was from the fact that talks started with a piece of legislation passed in the House of Commons which in time limited the Northern Ireland Talks and Forum and from the very, very outset set a time limitation on the Talks. There was also the fact that to get these institutions started in Northern Ireland we have to get the elections out of the way before the marching season. Do you think that we would get out on the streets without bloodshed if we were trying to run an election and there was trouble with Drumcree. We’ve also got to resolve those issues between Nationalists and the various loyal orders, both with rights, and there is no doubt they have rights so we really need to get stability there for the consent of the people before we have another crisis on our hands.
“The second thing is the role of women and the Women’s Coalition and there is no doubt that some of the spokeswomen performed an extraordinary talented task over the last number of years. What was the option of getting the smaller parties involved? The option was a form of election like a list system used in the North’s election . Then they saw that all the concerned residents groups across N.Ireland …or any other concerned group of people could get together on single issues and form a 20 odd group of people on obscure or highly confrontational issues. So the compromise to get smaller groups together was to move five different constituencies to six. It may or may not work….. Of course there is another option. Parties who will win seats could put women forward. There are parties who will win seats – the Unionists, SDLP, Sinn Fein and the various Loyalists, and they can put women on their tickets. Just to lighten it somewhat there was a tendency especially on the Unionist side to whenever myself and Monica McWilliams spoke (there were only ever two women at the talks), whenever the person answered they would always use words like “we don’t like being lectured” or “we don’t like being bossed by hysterical members”. I never once heard the words “hysterical” or “bossing” or “lecturing” being used to the men members, it was an automatic reflex use of language when one or other of us spoke and I hope that the policy of the Unionists has changed somewhat in the last two years and that they have actually learned that women can be quite intelligent, we can be very stupid too though!
John Fee: “Can I make one party political point? The SDLP has set a target that 40% of elected representatives should be women. Setting this target is the easy bit; actually getting the candidates willing to run is the difficult bit and we have set up a women’s group to try and identify to see what it is that impedes women and to get the resources to give the training necessary to allow more women to be put in these positions.
Lily Kerr: “… It is not just the unionist men who are sexist, and it’s not just in the North of Ireland – it can be just as prevalent in the south of Ireland You’ll accuse me of being a heretic … but could I point out to you that there were women in politics even before the Women’s Coalition. … There have been women in politics in Northern Ireland when it wasn’t safe to be in politics, for 25 years. … Now there is a group called the NI Women’s Political Forummade up of two people from John’s party, people from my party, people from the PUP, people from the UDP, the Official Unionists and the Women’s coalition – it was formed long before the Women’s coalition. It was set up by Loyalist women contacting me as a Worker’s Party member after Canary Wharf – so there has been one hell of a lot of work going on by women. I do take your point that there needs to be more women coming forward and getting involved but I would remind you a woman’s place is where she chooses it to be.
Noel Dempsey: “Both North and South there needs to be more women involvement. Its difficult to get women forward because the infrastructure is not there for them to facilitate them. If I can refer back to the point that was being made on fringe groups: Brian’s point that the best thing we can do over the next three weeks to try and convince these people on the fringes is that we can organise to get a massive turnout that will get the “Yes” voice that I think we all want. I think in politics you have to be an optimist – I think if people look at the Agreement, if they look a little bit down the road from the Agreement they see an Agreement that deals with equality, an Agreement that deals with justice, that recognises the birthright of both nationalists and unionists and recognises their identity, talks about a Bill of Rights and so on, and puts instructions in place that ensures that it’s guaranteed for everybody. And I think if we convince people and get that message across, the fringe groups will be very much smaller but I think at the end of the day if they are not convinced and they persist and go the way that they seem to be now, they will have to be dealt through the normal criminal justice system that we have and dealt with very very straight forward. What I would be concerned about would be the incident that occurred last week in Wicklow and the age group of the four or five people that were involved, that’s what would frighten me somewhat – that another generation would be doing that and I think that would be the job of the politicians both North and South to try mad convince people that is not the way. ”
Chair (Paul Murphy): “I know that many people have travelled along way to come here so I think we’ll just wind up now and I’d like to finish by thanking all the speakers for coming here tonight and especially the Meath Peace Group for organising it.
On behalf of the Transition Year students at St. Joseph’s, Ann Maginn thanked the Chairman and speakers, and Mr. Ray Hegarty, Transition Year teacher, thanked the Meath Peace Group for organising the talk. On behalf of the Meath Peace Group, Julitta Clancy thanked the Chairman and speakers and all who had come and participated. A particular thanks was due to the Principal and Staff of St. Joseph’s, Navan, for permitting the use of their facilities to hold the talk, and the transition year students and teachers for all their help in preparing for the talk.
Meath Peace Group Report. July 1998. (c)Meath Peace Group
Transcribed by Julitta Clancy and Sarah Clancy. Edited by Julitta Clancy
Tuesday, 28th February 1995
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan
James Tansley (First Secretary, British Embassy)
Eamonn O Cuiv, TD (Fianna Fail)
Andrew Boylan, TD (Fine Gael)
Brian Fitzgerald, TD (Labour Party)
Joyce MacCartan (Women’s Information Network, Belfast)
David Tower (Community worker, N. Belfast)
Chaired by: John Clancy (Meath Peace Group)
Summary of main points and extracts from speeches:
Questions and comments
1. James Tansley, First Secretary, British Embassy, Dublin:
Mr. Tansley explained the principal features of the Framework Documents:
1. The Strand One document incorporates the British Government’s ideas for restoring local democracy in Northern Ireland.
“What is needed is a structure of government that combines democratic legitimacy with a system of checks and balances“. He described the suggestions for a new assembly in Northern Ireland having legislative powers, but no tax-raising powers.
2. The principles behind the Strand 2 document were consent, constitutional change to reflect consent, and self-determination. The North-South body envisaged would not give the Irish Government joint sovereignty over Ireland. There would be checks and balances and there must be agreement both North and South. Contrary to some opinion, there is no pre-determined list of functions to be allocated to this body, although suggestions are included in the document. There is no intention to impose ideas, he said.
3. The Strand 3 document outlines suggestions for addressing the relationship between both governments, replacing the Anglo-Irish Agreement. This is not intended to be a hard-and-fast blueprint, he said, but was very much a consultative document.
Only by addressing the 3 relationships will we find agreement on the island, he said.
To sum up, the Framework Documents allows for:
• The restoration of democratic accountability
• The enshrinement of the principle of consent
• The preservation of the existing birthrights
• The protection of civil, political, social and cultural rights.
He stated that the reaction to the document has been very variable, but he would like to make it clear that there is no intention on the part of the British Government to impose these ideas. They were interested in other ideas that might be presented, and he hoped that the parties would eventually come up with an agreed framework. Once agreement was reached the proposals would be put to the people in a referendum and then would go for approval to the Parliament at Westminster. He believed that the document should be read in its entirety. The many positions were hard to reconcile and there would have to be compromise, he concluded.
2. Eamon O Cuiv, TD (Fianna Fail):
Deputy O Cuiv stressed that we need to go back to the the background to the situation. We need to understand where we’re coming from. He would like to make two points on this:
1. People might want to get away from the notion of territory, but we all live under a government and under laws or a constitution. In Northern Ireland, there are different views:
(i) nationalist view – up to people of whole island
(ii) DUP history of N.I. – stresses there is a N.I. identity separate to rest of Ireland
(iii) British constitutional position – what happens in the island of Ireland is solely a matter for the British Parliament
2. Is there a territorial claim in our Constitution? In his belief, No. According to Article 1, the Irish nation can choose its own form of government; Article 2 is the traditional national claim; in Article 3 the laws will only apply to the 26 counties.
On the 3rd strand he said that government was not an issue in the UK or Republic, but it is an issue in N.I.
Nationalists feel very much part of the Irish nation, he said – all feel part of the one family. There was also a unionist family – they would like local democracy copperfastened by Westminster because they fear the rest of the people on the island, north or south.
On the Framework document he said that he would go along with most of its tenets. He believed it moves the situation forward, but it is not the final solution. It allows people to move into frameworks they can live with.
For nationalists – rather than dry words in a Constitution, this would allow them to start building things on a common ground.
For unionists, two elements are attractive: 1) local democracy; and 2) nationalist Ireland would reaffirm to unionists that we cannot arrive at solutions that didn’t find acquiescence with them.
But the status quo cannot be maintained, he said.
The effort in the Framework document is to get the balance right.
He understood the unionist position to some extent – a large part of N.I. is totally nationalist-dominated. N.I. isn’t simply divided – there are nationalist and unionist-dominated areas. Their fear is once an all-Ireland thing gets going the border would start to disappear – these weren’t natural borders.
“We have to constantly get across to unionists that we have no desire to visit on them what was visited on the nationalist community“, he said.
“They must also be persuaded by the British Govt that they can’t say “no” forever to the people of Britain and the people of the south – they can’t work out an agreement with the nationalists in N.I. without coming to an agreement with the south. “
Deputy O Cuiv stated that he believes there is very little difference between nationalists north and south. Unionists must realise they have to come to some accommodation.
“The Framework will work and it will only work if it’s brought to us in its entirety. In that framework we are once again giving our assurances to the North, and we’re writing it into our Constitution if they want it; that we can reach no solution without their consent was never in doubt.”
Addressing the British Embassy official Deputy O Cuiv outlined his own understanding of the broad nationalist view on the island: To most nationalist people, the symbols of the Crown can be hurtful, he said. He had said in the past that he would have no objection to a united Ireland in the Commonwealth, but he had been criticised for that. We must realise that symbols are powerful to many people and there should be rapid moves in nationalist areas to address the problems.
Policing: Deputy O Cuiv said that it was time to change the police – “they must have no identification with one community or the other”.
There is a need for demilitarization of both the paramilitaries and the police. If we want peace to last, we must be sensitive to these issues.
Prisoners: this was an emotive issue, he said, and he outlined some of the problems faced by families of prisoners. He would beg that we move forward on the issue of prisoners – release the prisoners – this would be a token of good will. “The communities the prisoners come from are also the communities where most of the victims come from”.
“If prisoners are released, it would allow the compromises that nationalists will have to make much easier to bear, and those severed by history could go forward together and bring peace and prosperity in a united way to this island.”
3. Andrew Boylan, TD (Cavan/Monaghan), Member of Fine Gael delegation to Forum for Peace and Reconciliation
Deputy Boylan began by congratulating the members of the Meath Peace Group for the work they were doing. He was aware of what was being done in Meath and had heard very good reports of the talks from people in Cavan who had come to some of them. He said it was very important to continue with this work.
“Peace will last because people want it”, he said. He lived just 4 miles from the border and was very much aware of the savage killings that had been going on. The ordinary people want peace, he said, and the men of violence have been silenced. But fear was a big factor.
The Anglo-Irish Agreement and the International Fund for Ireland had brought about great developments. In all this we mustn’t forget the 6 border counties who had also suffered immensely. Many of the towns and villages in these areas had been totally devastated over the period. These areas must also benefit from the financial spin offs.
Turning to the Declaration he said that the underlying principle was consent and consent will only come about when people understand each other and trust each other. In his area people don’t talk about unionist or nationalist, but about Protestant and Catholic – people from both communities can work together, so why can’t they work together in N.I.? Fear was the biggest factor he said, and we all have a role to play in dispelling fear.
On the Framework Document, Deputy Boylan said : “lasting peace and stability on this island requires that three sets of relationships be addressed: the relationship between the two communities in Northern Ireland, the relationship between both parts of this island, and the relationship between the sovereign governments in Dublin and London.
“In the documents published last week the two Governments have set out their shared view of the points that need to be met if the three relationships are to be satisfactorily accommodated.
“May I briefly say what the Framework document is not. It is not a prescription for an unpalatable dose of medicine. It is not a blue print rigidly to be imposed on the people of Northern Ireland. It is not a cage within which their political leaders will have their dialogue confined. It is not an Irish nationalist agenda. It is not a British agenda. What is it? It is a view, shared by two governments, as to what might most usefully be done to deal with the three, fraught and difficult, sets of relationships.
“It represents an assessment by the two governments of what we think might be an agreed outcome from future talks involving the governments and the Northern Ireland political parties. We believe we have got it right. We are open to persuasion by anyone who believes otherwise.”
“It is now a matter for the people of Northern Ireland, and also for the people in this part of Ireland, and in Britain, to study the document, and I recommend that they do so in a constructive and calm way.”
“No party will regard this document as meeting all their requirements and aspirations. The document represents balance and compromise. If its main elements become the basis for new institutions and political arrangements, I believe that they will ultimately command the widespread support necessary to ensure a fair and effective arrangement for the three sets of relationships to which I referred.”
He said that the Framework Document was founded on four guiding principles:
(i) The principle of self-determination as set out in the December, 1993 Downing Street Joint Declaration;
(ii) The principle that the consent of the governed is an essential ingredient for stability in any political arrangement;
(iii) The principle that agreement must be pursued and established by exclusively democratic peaceful means without resort to violence or coercion;
(iv) and, finally, the principle that any new political arrangements must be based on full respect for, and protection of the expression of, the rights and identities of both traditions in Ireland and must, in an even handed way, afford both communities in Northern Ireland parity of esteem, including equality of opportunity.
In conclusion, Deputy Boylan proposed the setting up of a Peace Bursary for the arts, “to encourage our talented young people, North and South, and which in its first year would be devoted towards composing an anthem incorporating the best of both traditions in this country.”
4. Brian Fitzgerald, TD (Labour, Meath; Member of Labour Party Delegation to Forum for Peace and Reconciliation):
Deputy Fitzgerald welcomed his Oireachtas colleagues and the First Secretary of the British Embassy to the Meath constituency.
He said that we have to consider where we are and where we are likely to be.
” We have an opportunity not to make the same mistakes as were made over the last 70 years. We have an opportunity we should grasp.”
He asked us to consider what might happpen if we don’t. He explained how before the loyalist ceasefire he had met with some former paramilitaries – they were anxious for the ceasefire but were afraid the IRA ceasefire wouldn’t last – “If the ceasefire breaks down, Greysteel or Loughinisland would have nothing on what is likely to happen,” he was told. He said that he came away from the meeting feeling a deep responsibility to ensure that we have a lasting peace.
When the State was set up, both governments sat back and ignored N.I. – perhaps there were good reasons, economic or otherwise, through the thirties, forties and fifties, for this.
Then in the 1960s, we saw the education changes manifested themselves in the civil rights movement. We were all shocked when the violence started. Both governments were not prepared. Bitterness and hatred had built up over all those years.
What happened in the last 25 years changed the thinking of most people in the south – previously many people held a simplistic view of the problem. If Britain left, there would be no further difficulties. Most of us were not aware of the unionist sense of British identity.
“Over the last 25 years, people took up violence in our name. We have learned a lot, albeit at a terrible cost.”
“We can all feel guilty – we glamourised what was happening through song and verse. We may have incited young people with nothing to do, to join the republican movement”, he said.
“We must not make the same mistakes. We must see what we can do as individuals in the Republic to reconcile the two traditions“
We need to look at our Constitution and at our education system, he said. We should not be afraid – we need to use whatever programmes are available to outreach to the unionist community. The unionists are nervous – they feel Britain doesn’t want them and they don’t want us.
Churches: The churches have a major role to play, he said – and that includes all churches. Deputy Fitzgerald said that the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation has been accepted by most political parties on the island. Many people have made submissions – over 350 to date. He was very disappointed that the Catholic Church had not made a submission and he asked the audience to try and get the Church to make a submission, which other churches have already done. Trade unions too have a particular role to play and many have suffered abuse over the years. Women’s groups are playing a major role in the community also, he said.
Prisoners: Deputy Fitzgerald said that the Prisoners’ issue must be addressed – in a sensitive way. “We must also remember the victims. People who have suffered are often softer on the issue, than people who have not suffered. Resettlement programmes must be put in place. But there are differences of opinion here – one group wants all prisoners released and wants to look after them themselves; the other group wants resettlement programmes.”
These issues must be addressed and we have the opportunity now.
Forum for Peace and Reconciliation: he believed the Forum had a major role to play. Many issues are being addressed there, and a wide variety of views was being expressed. People in the south have changed considerably.
“The peace dividend will create an economic dividend that will benefit all”, he said. How much could have been done to address economic deprivation here with the money spent by both governments on security? he asked.
Mr. Fitzgerald ended with a quote from James Connolly, contained in the Labour Party’s document on the nature of the problem.“Ireland without her people is nothing to me”….
He said that the work of the Meath Peace Group clearly reflected the image of Connolly and hoped they would continue and that other counties would follow their example. For his part, he was glad to offer whatever help he could give.
5. Joyce McCartan (Women’s Information Network, Ormeau Rd., Belfast)
Joyce McCartan apologized for coming so late. She said we must remember there was a lot of hurt on both sides and a lot of healing to be done, especially for the women who have suffered so much for 25 years.
She would like to see an all-Ireland but it must be the wish of all. She herself had lost many good friends and family, and has worked for many years with women’s groups. She is hoping to set up a women’s lobby, to say to the men “get down and sit around the table”.
6. David Tower (community worker and P.U.P. member, North Belfast)
Mr Tower explained that he lived in a hard-line loyalist area, and was involved with the Progressive Unionist Party. The people in his area are frightened of nationalists, he said.
On the Framework Document, he said he believed that most people don’t understand it fully. It was far too complex. Politicians jump on the bandwagon – they’ve gone on too long, he said. People in the unionist community want to talk. The document does threaten a united Ireland but at least it has made the main unionist parties produce their own ideas. The British Govt. has put it up to them, he said. He knows the document is unpalatable to unionists.
“Most working-class Protestants want a fair Stormont”, he said. Mr Tower said that he is not opposed to talking to Sinn Fein. Nationalists have been frozen out for too long, he said. Though he is opposed to a united Ireland he believes in talking with each other. It was important to start at the bottom and tackle the economic issues first. Then, after perhaps 2 years, it would be possible to talk about constitutional matters.
Most hard-line unionists are not aware that the people in the Republic don’t want to take over, he said. Politicians have misrepresented them for too long. There won’t be agreement on the nationality issue, but maybe in time it will become irrelevant, with Europe etc.
The Irish Government should stay away from the talks table for the moment, he said. The British Government should put an ultimatum to the unionists – that they will start talking with whoever wants to talk. He believed the unionists would eventually come on board.
Closing words: On behalf of the Meath Peace Group, Anne Nolan (Slane) thanked the speakers for coming. She was encouraged by what several of the speakers had said about the importance of local groups. She explained that one of the suggestions in the Meath Peace Group’s submission to the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation was that this type of local forum be developed throughout the length and breadth of the island.
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS: Summary of main questions only
Q.1. Cllr. Christy Gorman (Democratic Left, Meath County Council):
He congratulated the governments on the talks initiative. He would like to ask Deputy O Cuiv about his call for new policing – How did he see this being implemented?
Deputy O Cuiv referred to a recent discussion on Cursai on the policing issue, in which SF took part, and which featured a previously recorded interview with David Ervine of the Progressive Unionists. He pointed to the British police model which is based on different areas of the country. SF were agreeable to the idea of policing under different areas, but with the same police force covering the Falls and Shankill areas of Belfast, he said. The new police should not be called the “RUC” but should be based on the British system, he said. They would be cross-community in each area – with equal representation and with neutral symbols. The membership could, of course, comprise former members of the RUC.
Joyce McCartan (Belfast) pointed out that the reason why Catholics didn’t join the RUC was because of IRA intimidation. She wanted to point out that there were good policemen too.
Deputy Boylan: He wanted to bring up the question of punishment beatings. There was need for a reorganisation of the police force – the full answer to this would come when people started to trust each other. But “we cannot condone the brutal beatings that are taking place”. He urged members of the Meath Peace Group to travel to N.I. and meet as many people as possible.
Q. 2. (Slane resident): Questioner wanted to bring up the wording in the Document – he believed the idea of consent of the greater number of people in N.I. was in fact meaningless – if a majority wanted to vote for unification, there would still be a large number wanting to be in the UK. There were areas, particularly around Belfast, where there would be a large majority in favour of staying. However the present wording would imply that this large minority in the N.E. would be forced into a united Ireland. Also, if this side decides to abolish Arts. 2 and 3, have they the right to say to people in, say, Newry, that we don’t want you?
The real answer must be to give an opportunity to those who want to be transferred to be transferred, he said. A referendum should be held and a boundary commission set up – people should be allowed to transfer if a majority in an area wished for it. His ideal would be a united republic of Great Britain and Ireland.
Q. 3. (Slane resident): Question to Deputy Fitzgerald referring to latter’s statement that we must reach out to unionists. As the site of the Battle of the Boyne is in this area, had the deputy any ideas about how unionists might be helped to celebrate the Battle in its location.
Fitzgerald: He did not agree as he did not believe that re-playing battles is the way to reconcile the divisions. “We must remember and respect our dead but we mustn’t use a battle to do this”, he said.
Q. 4 (Primary school teacher, Ratoath): He was disappointed with O Cuiv’s talking about nationalism. How could he reconcile his pacifism with his talk about nationalism? He was glad to hear the loyalist interpretation of the document. What would be David Tower’s interpretation of the UDP defeat in the recent by-election at the time of the leak of the Framework Document? He hoped that the Progressive Unionists would gain ground but he was worried that fear can take away their support.
David Tower: Traditionally Orange people had put faith in what was put forward by their political leaders. During elections in N.I. it comes down to voting for who is wearing the Union Jack or the Tricolour. It was going to take years to break this down, he said. That is why the UDP were defeated recently. “At times of elections, the people resort back to old alliances and hard-line politicians”.
Joyce McCartan: “The loyalist people were too wise to elect the UDP candidate, she believed. The fringe parties stand for people who have murdered innocent people”, she said.
David Tower: “Many people connected with the fringe parties are ex-terrorists, but no member of those parties is currently a member of a paramilitary group. They are genuinely working now for their communities and must be given a chance. David Ervine and McMichael are grass-roots unionists”, he said, and it was not fair to hold their past against them.
Joyce McCartan: She meets many women through the Women’s Information Network, and they don’t want ex-terrorists representing them. They want people who will work on the real issues – poverty, unemployment etc.
David Tower: Ervine and McMichael etc. are only interested in bettering conditions for their own communities.
Deputy Fitzgerald: We have to be fair. There would not have been a ceasefire without Gusty Spence, Ervine, McMichael, Hutchinson, Mitchell and others. They are the guiding people behind the ceasefire and it is they who have the influence, he said.
Deputy Boylan agreed.
Deputy O Cuiv: Getting back to the question about the greater number theory. If by some chance it came to a day when 1 more nationalist in the North wanted a united Ireland, the questioner had asked, would unionists be irrelevant? This would be abhorrent to him – he feels there should be a guarantee that no change will come unless the consent of all sections is given. As for the previous question, re his pacifism. Yes he is a pacifist, and is opposed to all wars. He had always put the argument to SF that their legitimate aspirations would be put much better by laying down their arms. Many people are wishing away their nationalist feeling. But we all feel nationality. That is reality. We shouldn’t ignore it because it causes problems. “We must face up to diversity and not fudge it, then we can sit down and ask how can we start reconciling.”
He said he represented an area – Connemara – where there are Irish and English-speaking sections. He got elected by both parts by being up-front and showing that he was no threat to the other part.
“We must face the nationality problem … We must recognise it in a pacific way and come up with a formula that everybody feels at home with.”
Q. 5 – Nuala McGuinness (Nobber resident, originally from N. Ireland): She explained that she was brought up in Northern Ireland and had worked there for many years. Lately she had noticed two important and hopeful changes:
(1) a survey last year showed that a certain percentage of the Catholic population in N.I. would opt to stay with the union.
(2) parties like the PUP and UDP were unheard of in her day. The working-class were realising that they had a lot in common with each other.
She would hope that these 2 changes would help to break down the tribalism. It is the hearts and minds of the people in N.I. that matter, and she was hopeful for the future.
Q. 6 – Cllr. Phil Cantwell (Ind., Trim UDC): Deputy O Cuiv had referred to a united Ireland under the Commonwealth – perhaps this idea should be looked at? Maybe the unionists would not feel so alienated then. He was concerned that Deputy O Cuiv seemed only to have visited nationalist areas of N.I. and would agree with Deputy Fitzgerald that people like Ervine and Mitchell etc. should be encouraged. He referred to the background of people in the older generation – the belief that Catholics were superior etc. He believed that everything should be on the table. He was heartened by David Ervine saying that peace would continue despite their problems with the Framework document.
Deputy O Cuiv explained that his trips to N.I. were mostly on invitation. He had recently spent a weekend in Corrymeela with other TDs, meeting unionists, and this was a very fruitful weekend. If invited to an Orange parade, he would go in a flash, he said. He wants to reach out to both communities.
Q. 7: (Secondary school teacher, Nobber): He saw parallels with the 1880s when Parnell held the balance of power. The unionists could well hold the same leverage now, in Westminster and in the proposed north-south body. The power has moved to Brussels, very important decisions are being made there. Economics is a very powerful factor in bringing people together. In the proposed north-south body, there would be equal representation. From being an isolated community at the moment, N.I. could be propelled into a position of great leverage.
Q. 8: (Slane resident): He referred to his earlier question re weakness in the wording of the document and would like an answer.
Deputy Boylan: Decisions would be taken by majority vote. He wouldn’t like to see further fragmentation. At the moment there is fear and misunderstanding, but the cross-border development could have enormous potential. We must improve economic conditions, but we must remember that the world-wide goodwill will not last forever. We have to be prepared to bury our prejudices, he said.
Q. 9: (Duleek resident): Can we have a permanent peace with the British army in N.I.?
Deputy Fitzgerald reminded the audience why the British army were first brought in. We must be very sensitive in the language we use, he said.
Summing up the discussion, John Clancy said that one of the most important statements in the document was the recognition and regret expressed by both governments for the “mistakes of the past”. There was a groundswell of opinion wanting peace, but we shouldn’t rush ahead too fast, he said. This point was made in the Meath Peace Group’s submission to the Forum, and the group had also asked that local fora be initiated throughout the island to discuss ideas and listen to the fears, aspirations and ideas of others. On behalf of the Group he thanked the Columban Fathers for permitting the use of the facilities at Dalgan Park for the talks.
Meath Peace Group report – March 1995. Report compiled and edited by Julitta Clancy
Meath Peace Group – contact names 1995: Julitta Clancy, Parsonstown, Batterstown, Co. Meath; Anne Nolan, Gernonstown, Slane, Co. Meath