Meath Peace Group Talks
No. 59 – ‘Devolution and Cross border Cooperation: Prospects and Realities’
Monday, 27th March, 2006
St Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan, Co. Meath
Sean Farren, MLA (SDLP)
Francie Molloy, MLA (Sinn Féin)
Jim Wells, MLA (DUP)
Chaired by Michael Reade (Presenter, ‘Loosetalk’, LMFM Radio)
Introduction and welcome: Julitta Clancy, Cllr Brian Fitzgerald and Michael Reade
Questions and comments
1. Written text of Sean Farren’s address
2. Extracts from MPG talk 55: 7 March, 2005
3. Biographical notes on speakers
4. Meath Peace Group – update on activities 2005-06: public talks, schools programme and heritage study days
INTRODUCTION AND WELCOME
On behalf of the Meath Peace Group, Julitta Clancy welcomed the audience, guest chair and speakers to the 59th public talk held by the group since the series commenced in 1993: “Our first speaker, Sean Farren MLA, (SDLP) previously addressed the group in 2000 and in 2005, and has a long experience in politics in Northern Ireland. Last year when he came, his wife Patricia was injured in an accident and had to spend some time in hospital here. Thankfully she is with us here again tonight, but it was most unfortunate for them both. At her insistence Sean went ahead with the talk last year and we are indeed very grateful to see them here again. … Our second speaker, Francie Molloy MLA (Sinn Féin), first addressed the group in early 1995 and again in 2003 and we congratulate him on being elected mayor of Dungannon for the second time. Our third speaker, Jim Wells MLA (DUP), first came to talk to the group a year ago and I am delighted to say that he features quite regularly on our local radio, LMFM, on Mike Reade’s ‘Loosetalk’ [current affairs] programme.
“Now, before handing over to the guest chair, Michael Reade, I would like to invite Cllr. Brian Fitzgerald, Chairman of Meath County Council and former TD for Meath, to say a few words. Brian was involved in the early stages of the peace process, with the Labour Party and Dick Spring, going north in those very early days with Fergus Finlay, in precarious and often dangerous times….. He was also very involved in the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation for two years when it first started. He has attended several of our meetings here, and has been a great friend to this group from the beginning….. Thank you, Brian, for taking the time to come again tonight….”
Cllr. Brian Fitzgerald, Chairman, Meath Co Council: “Thank you Julitta. Good evening ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of our county I would like to warmly welcome Francis, Sean and Jim – I have just met Jim for the first time. I think the two subjects which you intend to deal with – devolution and cross-border cooperation – are very fitting. I don’t intend to comment on devolution because I know my colleagues here will have plenty to say on that. But on the other area, the area of cooperation, I would just like to say a few words.
Cross-border cooperation: “I honestly believe that it is of critical importance, that we on this island start to cooperate with each other, particularly from an economical point of view, because if we don’t we’re just going to perish separately. We are trying to attract investment into this country from America and beyond. They are looking at this island as a very small island with a very small population, relative to what they have. I honestly believe that there is huge potential in this country, in this island, if we can work together. We need to put the brains of this island together, and the area that we believe that will bring greater prosperity to the country, is whole area of research and development. The traditional industries are gradually moving elsewhere and I think that that is fairly evident in this county and in many other counties in recent times. There are certainly other areas which we should be cooperating on even more.
Health: “One area is health. During the times we did have health boards in this country – they have been abolished, something that I very much opposed – we were able to have a clear identity of where both our colleagues in Northern Ireland and in the south could come together, let it be in the North Western Health Board, the North Eastern Health Board and with our respective colleagues in Northern Ireland. That has been taken away from us and I think it is more the pity because people will suffer in the long-term because we do not have the resources separately to meet the demands of the people that require today to be met.
Tourism: “I was involved a few years ago when we were setting up Tourism Ireland, where we brought together the Tourist Board of Northern Ireland and Bord Failte. A huge number of issues had to be dealt with at that particular time. We were bringing staff together, we were bringing different cultures together, the way you do your business together. …You had even in England alone, in London, you had two different boards operating side by side. All those difference were set aside and each one was challenged and together we worked. We put together what we now know as Tourism Ireland, which is marketing this island. I believe that is an example, that if it is applied in the areas of health and in the areas of social and economic development that this country and this island can become the most prosperous in Europe.
“And with those few words I would like to wish our three speakers and Michael as chairman the very best of luck – I know he will do a fine job – and my sincere welcome to you on behalf of the people of Meath.
Chair: Michael Reade: “Thank you very much Councillor Fitzgerald for outlining the importance of some sort of resolution in what affects everybody on this island and as usual I am not going to stand on ceremony because I don’t believe that there is anything that I would have to say that would be of much interest relative to what our eminent speakers have to say….. We’ll be continuing the debate on my programme on LMFM. As Julitta said, Jim Wells is a regular guest now. Unfortunately, Sinn Fein and the DUP don’t interact directly ….. It is unfortunate that Sinn Féin doesn’t speak to the DUP or the other way around or whatever way you want to do it. ….I’ve been to quite a few of the meetings and it seems to be stalemate at the moment, I wonder if that has resulted in some sort of apathy, which is understandable, but maybe that will be kick-started in the next couple of weeks as Jim Wells again was discussing today [on LMFM] with Sean Farren. We’re going to be doing it in the next couple of weeks whether it is accepted or rejected or leads to anything or to a plan B. But this is a critical time whether people realise it or not, and I am going to be very brief, so that we can get down to the questions and answers which is the piece that I like best. So we will have about ten minutes from each of our speakers first of all.
1. Sean Farren, MLA (SDLP): “Thanks very much indeed, and again thanks to the Meath Peace Group for the invitation to be with you this evening. Just before I get into my stride there are two things that I wanted to do. First of all, in light of the accident that Julitta referred to last year that my wife experienced, I want to thank the Meath Peace Group for the concern, the sympathy and indeed the care that they expressed throughout Patricia’s stay in hospital … in Navan and then Drogheda and back again to Navan. .. But Patricia’s here and she obviously survived, thanks to the care and the attention that she received, after she had the accident.
North/South Make Sense: “Second thing I want to do very briefly is – I don’t know if the Meath Peace Group hold a library but given that the second of the themes tonight is North-South Relations, the SDLP recently published a document “North/South Make Sense” and I simply want to present it in order to put on the record with the Meath Peace Group our thinking about North/South matters in more detail than the ten minutes afforded me will enable me to do…..I notice that Jim with his typical missionary zeal has been spreading the gospel according to the DUP amongst you! [DUP document North South East West]. Unfortunately I didn’t think that I would be matched and more than matched by the likes of Jim and I only brought one copy along, but if you visit the SDLP’s website, you will find the full document there. And I suppose if you are like me nowadays, you get fed up receiving so much written material that the web is the place to go, so that you know what you want to keep and what you don’t want to keep.
2005 – what has changed since then?: “Now to the themes of tonight’s discussion. Very helpfully we were provided with some extracts from things that were said last year [see Appendix to this report, extracts from MPG talk no. 55]. I am looking at what I am reported to have said and I just wonder whether or not I shouldn’t have dug out the script I had last year and use it again, because the little bits that are here are as apt today as they were twelve months ago!
“I am quoted as saying: “We may well as politicians” – and here the politicians are us in the North – “be faced with a sense of ‘a plague on both your houses: you had the opportunity and you didn’t take it’” – and that is in bold if you have the document that was circulated in front of you. And then further down the same paragraph, again in bold and I think quite relevantly in bold: “maybe we do have to be forced to take more responsibility for ourselves. I think the pressures on ourselves to resolve our problems have not been such that they have impelled us with a greater sense of urgency towards addressing those problems.”
“Well, all that has changed in the twelve months since I was here and made those remarks is that the time is fast coming when it does seem as if we are going to have to face up to the responsibilities that we have as politicians, elected remember at an Assembly election in November 2003, an Assembly which at that time was already more than a year in suspension so that now we are into the fourth year of suspension! The three of us here – I don’t know what their memories are like, the other two of my colleagues – but some of the memories are fast-fading of that experience of attempting to work our institutions and if we don’t take the offer that is going to be made available to us and if we don’t try to use it to the best of our capacity, then we truly will have failed the people that elected us in November 2003.
Good Friday Agreement: “It would seem as if next week, almost on the eve of Easter, and Easter has all kinds of resonances – indeed you are going to have a debate on the anniversary of the 1916 Rising [MPG talk no. 61, 24 April 2006] – but Easter remember was also a time when the Good Friday Agreement itself was signed, Good Friday morning. Many of us were awake all night the previous night trying to cobble together the last remaining details of the document that became the Good Friday Agreement and we triumphantly emerged on Good Friday with what we thought was going to be the beginning, hoped was going to be the beginning, of a new era in terms of our politics. And indeed after 18 months we managed to put the Executive together in the Assembly. We managed to put the North/South Ministerial Council together and then we really thought we were on our way.
Downsides of failure: “I am not going to revisit the problems that we encountered, all we need to know is that we are now being given another opportunity. It may well be beyond us to turn that opportunity into the full operation of all of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement. But if that is what happens, I think we should consider for a moment some of the downsides to that.
Economic prosperity: “You visit the North today. You will probably be struck by the fact that there is a considerable degree of economic activity. There is an air of reasonable prosperity. If you look at the statistics – they pale into significance in some respects with the degrees of prosperity, economic development and so on that is being experienced here – but the North has degrees of normality, degrees of progress about it, which certainly become apparent to a first time visitor.
Deep divides continue to exist: “But scratch the surface and things are not as cosy and not as progressive as they might appear on the surface. Big and deep divides continue to exist. We live still and increasingly so in a highly segregated – residentially speaking – society. And despite many of the efforts, the kind of efforts the Meath Peace Group and others like you have been involved in, inviting people down and others up the North inviting people from across the divide to meet and to engage with each other, there are still considerable levels of segregation, where wearing the wrong t-shirt, the wrong school uniform, can have fatal consequences sometimes. Where transporting people from sporting events, the buses doing so frequently being subject to attack if they pass through or close by another neighbourhood, a neighbourhood of the other side. And where we still, and maybe increasingly so, jealously measure the investments and initiatives that take place in the other community against those that take place in our own, in case we see that there are investments and initiatives being taken which are not being replicated in our own, whether some kind of advantage is being granted to the other side. That ‘them and us’ mentality remains deeply, deeply ingrained.
“And the failure to recreate, re-establish, our own political institutions in which representatives from both sides can be seen to work together in partnership – not to dissolve our distinct identities, not in a sense to pretend that I as an Irish nationalist can somehow or other abandon the aspirations that I have or that Jim and his colleagues can be made to ignore or abandon even their aspirations and their sense of identity – but …partnerships which transcend and bring together the best of both sides in the greater interest of the whole community.
Benign form of apartheid: “Unless we provide those kinds of role models in terms of political leadership we will run the serious risk of entrenching those divisions and what at best may emerge is what I would describe as a benign form of apartheid, where everyone has equality before the law, but the links and the relationships are tenuous between us. That is certainly not the kind of legacy that I want transmitted to the next and succeeding generations. It certainly doesn’t match my aspirations for bringing the people of the North together, not to talk about bringing the people of North and South together, because if we can’t create positive relationships within the North, what chance have we of creating positive relationships across the whole of the island?
North-south cooperation:“And so to the second part of the theme that we were asked to address tonight, north/south relationships. The Good Friday Agreement- the Belfast agreement as Jim might label it – provided for politicians North and South to come together to create mechanisms, and to foster mechanisms for cooperation, and to foster cooperation for the mutual benefit of people on both sides of the island. And Brian in a sense has referred to this particular thrust and has exemplified it by referring to the establishment of Tourism Ireland, which has done a remarkable job, given the constraints within which it is obliged to operate under the terms of suspension.
“And indeed the same could be true of several of the other North/South bodies. They are not realising by any means their potential. They have considerable potential and, on two parts of the island have together great potential, not just in terms of the functional relationships that we created to foster economic development, to foster community contact, but in promoting a greater sense of understanding and ultimately reconciliation between both parts of the country.
Opportunity created by the Agreement: “Because ultimately what I see the Good Friday Agreement having done, maybe even if it did no more than this, it created the opportunity, an opportunity that was availed of for the people of the whole of the island, for the first time ever to endorse a set of political institutions in which they could all operate and operate comfortably knowing that their identities and their aspirations would be respected and that this island could take it’s place alongside our neighbouring island in fostering more positive relationships and take our part together in the new Europe and indeed in the new global order that is emerging.
“All of that – or a considerable part of it if not all of it – is being put at risk, certainly is being stalled, and if we don’t take the opportunities that are going to be available to us in the next few weeks, we will pass over responsibility to the two governments. They will make their best judgements as to how to manage the situation but that is a far different situation to one in which we as the political representatives together with political representatives down here and indeed across the water can join together and try to do as democratically elected representatives of the people.
“It will give me no pleasure to see Dublin taking responsibility along with the British Government for the affairs of the North. Maybe it is the best that can be done in the circumstances, but it is certainly far from what the Good Friday agreement intended should be the case, so let’s hope that we do face those responsibilities, that we don’t point excuses and that whatever challenges are there, we will work to the best of our ability to overcome them. Thanks very much.”
Chair (Micheal Reade): Thank you, Sean. I am sure you all have the handouts that Julitta made available to you and there is a background to the speakers there so I won’t take up time. It will mean we have more time for questions and answers later on. Our next speaker is Sinn Fein’s Francie Molloy:
2. Francie Molloy, MLA, Mayor of Dungannon (Sinn Fein): “Good evening, thank you very much for the invitation back to Meath. I am sort of mixture of Tyrone, Armagh into Meath. It wouldn’t matter what foot you’re kicking with, you’re going to be kicked on for being on the football field! But it is great to be back here and the Meath Peace Group have certainly done good work in putting together various different talks and discussions.
“Devolution and Cross-border cooperation: I think we’ll look at that and then talk about the prospects and realities. Certainly with the Good Friday Agreement, people actually thought the prospects were good, that things had moved on, that people had actually come to that compromise that would allow us to develop and to build throughout that compromise the structures which would take it into a new era. From a republican point of view….. I feel particularly let down because I was arguing within Sinn Féin that we actually needed to be in there, we needed to be making our case in there and that the opportunity was there, whenever we had a mandate and the people had spoken, that the government was really under an obligation to let that mandate run.
Experiences before suspension: “And one of the difficulties was that the Assembly was slow in getting running. It was there for a short period of time in between times. But I know that there was really good work done and the Assembly itself was popular. There were people on the ground, they were getting decisions made, maybe not full power as they would like. But really we were just in the learning curve before the whole thing was closed down again. And we are back into the conspiracy theories where that happened and all that happened around it. But within the Good Friday Agreement we actually had the possibility of building the trust within the Assembly, working together with the other political parties and building the structure which would develop an assembly for the people to have their say within it.
“We had the All-Ireland bodies ….. and from Sinn Féin’s point of view while we would be in the Assembly we weren’t going to go into a six-county partitionist settlement in any way whatsoever which didn’t have the opportunity to build the All-Ireland structures within that.
“And to have that ministerial contact between ministers of the North and ministers of the South, and building the all-Ireland structures for implementation of the Agreement and development of the Agreement and that will go along.
Assembly Committees: “There was cooperation within the Assembly, when you look around the various different committees that we were operating. Sean was Finance Minister for a number of months and I was Chair of the Finance Committee and we had obviously different views on different subjects. But the thing about it was that the Finance Minister was coming to the committee and the opportunity was there to cross-examine and to deal with the issues around budgets and around all the issues of finance. And that kind of thing was developing as we were going along, and we were starting to get the power of those committees in a joined-up approach: to be able to challenge and to become like the official opposition within the Assembly in actually trying to scrutinise and to develop the structures. So I think there was good work done within that and that developed as we went along.
Suspension and aftermath: “We then had the reality of the situation on the ground, that we have basically been in suspension since the last election. If that was happening in any other country in the world, where the government was elected and then it wasn’t able to meet for four years, then you would start to ask questions about where was the mandate and how was that respected within it. The government never called together a meeting to see if it would go up or not. Now obviously there were problems within that. But in any government where you try to put together a coalition, and you can’t do it, you can’t elect a Taoiseach or you can’t elect a Prime Minister, then you go back to the country and you look for another mandate. Then either the people get tired or the politicians get tired as they start to lose their mandate and you develop within it. So we haven’t had the opportunity of meeting. And I attended a number of meetings there, talking to educational people and … when you are talking to groups from other parts of the world they can’t understand why the Assembly members are not coming in and doing their work…and not getting on with the business. And then you explain: well the government actually don’t allow it, they haven’t actually called it together, so we can’t do that at the present time. That … certainly brings home to people just the reality.
New opportunity: “Now they are going to have another attempt to put it together. I don’t know whether that will work, but the one thing that our party has actually made very clear is that we are not going into a shadow form. We have a mandate there. There has to be… [an Executive] in place and we have to have structures in place to allow it to develop in the way the Good Friday agreement put together. So without taking …changing that around, we need to deal with the realities on the ground. Now bringing together the Assembly …. Let’s see what happens, because there is an opportunity for the public, for them to make the decision to go back to the public and either the mandate will be reduced/increased or satisfied, but I think the people have the right after this period of time to say: ‘you have done a bad job, you haven’t delivered on the mandate you agreed’……
Local government – power-sharing experiences: “At the other level of the situation we have the District Councils that have been operating right across the political divide, have been doing a good job on the ground delivering at local level. Ok, they haven’t got the responsibility that we’d want them to have with the power, but there is a reason for that. The reason is that it was misused in the past and some would say ‘well that is in the past, let’s move on’, but my first political activity on the ground was …in the Civil Rights campaign when Dungannon Council allocated the house…and I am wondering what has changed, because if you look at Lisburn Council today, the DUP in charge, and Unionists in charge, no allocation of posts to the Sinn Fein councillors, limited I think to other parties, but certainly, the roll-out of power-sharing or of cooperation or responsibility doesn’t exist. The same applies to a number of other councils where you have unionist control and particularly where you have DUP control within that.
“As president of ….. the Northern Ireland Local government Association I was invited to speak at Newtownards Council, on the whole issue around the new council model that is coming in ….. The unionist councillors decided that they wouldn’t allow me to speak … there was a chief executive but they wouldn’t listen to me as president because I was a Sinn Féin councillor. That’s why the wee clippings of television…. looking back over the number of years would show that the present situation is really no different when it comes to local government.
Dungannon Council: “And yet we find in our own Council, where we have all parties within the structure, DUP, Ulster Unionist, SDLP, Sinn Féin, we have a good working relationship within the Council. We run the d’Hondt system, in fact the DUP would have got the Mayor and Deputy Mayor at the end of this term, because of the d’Hondt mechanism and because of the power sharing within the arrangement, and that is as it should be.
Cross-border cooperation:“…We actually have a good relationship between exploring cultural diversity between Dungannon council and Donegal council. There is a cooperation across the border in developing that and building the structures in political terms and most of the councillors meeting together, developing projects …. bringing together the rugby, football soccer, whatever the case may be, into the various different councils on sporting days and also then sharing the tourism experiences …. and between Kinsale and Cork and Donegal and Killybegs and Dungannon trying to share the experience of bringing together two different projects and people working together …
Immigration: “And within Dungannon – Sean and I were speaking at several different meetings together some years back so he would have heard this before – for the first time since the Flight of the Earls 400 years ago, we actually have people coming back into the country, people who had emigrated were now coming back bringing their expertise with them and bringing their financial reward with them, but also workers coming in. 400 years ago O’Neill was forced out of Dungannon and fled to Portugal and Spain and now we have a thousand Portuguese in Dungannon! So we had the return of the Earls back into Dungannon in that situation.
Heritage and history as a means of bringing communities together: “We looked at how do we use that situation and how do we develop from it – to use the Flight of the Earls as a period of history without rewriting it and focus the council and the council members on bringing people back into Dungannon to get the tourism going, trying to get that sense of focus within the council and also then tying that in to the Plantation of Ulster. Because, after the Flight of the Earls – it was a number of years later – the Plantation of Ulster happened, and instead of looking at it from a nationalist point of view as in the past, and without rewriting history, but to look at the potential that came out of that situation, the new towns that were developed, the structures that were developed around it. I am quite certain in O’Neill’s day we wouldn’t have had a great sort of experience either, if we were the ordinary peasant on the ground, we would have still been the peasants on the ground. At least now we have an opportunity I think of focusing the council, to look at the Flight of the Earls and the Plantations and to use that as a means of pulling both communities together, both celebrating. ……
Cross-border cooperation: “So I think we do need to look at the structures of how we build that communication and cross-border cooperation, the cooperation that is required, because there are vents there for both communities, for all communities within it and the structures of the councils are one way of doing it because they have the links there at grassroots level, we have the support on the ground, we have the good working relationship which is in all the councils and the opportunity to actually develop that there. Now it is a small island. … It is possible to … eradicate the border in economic terms within that and I think we shouldn’t let that opportunity pass. Otherwise we in the North will continue to suffer because of business coming out, and particularly in the present time with the Ministers [from Westminster] ….the water charges coming in, all the different sort of bad government and more bad government.
Challenge to us all: “Peter Hain’s answer is ‘well if you don’t like it, then get into the Assembly and change it’. And that I think is the challenge to us all because if it continues the way it is at the present time, then you will see more interested in moving to the south because of the taxation and the rates and the various different things are going to be to costly in the north, so they will go across the border. So there is an opportunity I think at local government level and at Assembly level to take control of the situation, an opportunity for the future, and we can start to develop as an island economy and within that to build the structures. Without being outdone within both the two spheres, we actually have Sinn Féin’s proposals … on Irish unity which we are asking government to actually take on … I have a brochure – there isn’t one for everyone in the audience, but there are certainly a number of copies for the Meath Peace Group. Thank you very much for listening. ….”
Michael Reade: “Thank you. Just before we move to Jim Wells, can I ask you to clarify the plans to be published in two weeks or so, it is believed that the proposal be a restoration of the assembly, an attempt to form an executive. … and if a further attempt to form an Executive isn’t reached by the autumn, then it is all bets off and salaries will be pulled and so on. Is that acceptable?
Francie Molloy: “Well I think one big thing is that we try continue to run the Assembly as it is. I don’t accept that members are not doing anything. I certainly think that members maybe go a bit harder in constituency business, than they would be in the Assembly, but I think there is a situation developing where if the Assembly members don’t want to take control of the situation, if the unionists – and the DUP particularly – don’t want to share power with the rest of the elected members, then I think the option there is to go back to the government, to seek a new mandate or scrap the Assembly and move on to the next stage: the two governments starting to take control of the situation. That is not the ideal option. I want to be part of the decision-making process at local level. But I think the options are not good for us at the present time. ….”
Chair, Michael Reade: “… Let us hear from our final speaker now, the DUP’s Jim Wells.
3. Jim Wells, MLA (DUP Environment Spokesperson): “Thank you….. As you all know, I am affectionately known as the ‘green wing’ of the DUP and that is a very lonely existence …. I am also perhaps the only vegetarian of the DUP. ….It reminds me of the May 2004 European election, when I knocked on the door of a prominent Ulster Unionist – now that is a very rare and endangered species, Ulster Unionists died out quickly but there are still a few left – and an altercation occurred and eventually [the lady] got so angry she came and booted my car and left two other sizeable dents in the door and I rapidly reversed as quickly as I could out of her laneway. And about a week later there was a band parade – a unionist/loyalist band parade, ie one you wouldn’t have in Dublin, but we have in South Down – and I went up to one gentleman and explained to him what this lady did and he said to me: ‘Jim, I am not surprised, in fact she is a complete lunatic – I’ll tell you how mad she is, she is a vegetarian!’
“….I also do a wee bit of broadcasting on wildlife as well as politics in Northern Ireland. That causes a bit of confusion. I did a piece in March on the wildlife of Belfast Lough for the BBC … A couple of days later somebody in Banbridge stopped me in the street and said he really enjoyed it – I spoke a lot of sense, ‘unlike that other fellow called Jim Wells – that bigot from the DUP!’ And it was a wonderful experience explaining to him that the guy he was talking to and the bigot from the DUP were the same person!
DUP a logical, democratic party: “Now I hope that one of the things that we have been able to do from coming down here and speaking on ‘Loosetalk’ [LMFM current affairs programme] … in fact my wife is getting very suspicious because at 8 o’clock in the morning, Kate from Loosetalk rings me and asks can I appear on the show, and my wife wants to know who Kate is! …. So what we hope we try to do from this is to explain that the DUP don’t have horns and a forked tail, that we are a logical, democratic party that produces very sound policies and that if people in the Republic would listen you would realise that it makes sense what we are saying.
Belfast/Good Friday Agreement: “Indeed I spoke recently at Glencree [Reconciliation Centre] and somebody came up to me afterwards and said, ‘you know that is eminent sense, it is brilliant, but it is not the Good Friday Agreement’. And…. the problem that Sean [Farren] has is: each morning Sean gets up and bows and he makes sacrifices and supplication at the temple of the Belfast Agreement. The Belfast Agreement is infallible holy writ. What you have to remember is that Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments and the Belfast Agreement. It is holy writ, it is perfect. Anyone who should dare criticise one comma or one jot … there should be a jihad against those who would dare to question the Belfast Agreement!
There is a better way: “But what we are saying is there is a better way. There is a better way in dealing with cross-border bodies and cross-border cooperation and there is a better way for devolution.
DUP view on cross-border cooperation: “Now what is the DUP view on cross-border cooperation? I think it is a bit like if my wife strikes up a friendship with a rather burly good-looking young man who lives next door, I am not so much worried as to what they are getting up to, but what is his motivation?
“Now if his motivation is to help my wife to cut the joint hedge that separates our two gardens and they are working together in close harmony in order to manage that area of common interest then I am happy. But if I discover that his motivation is perhaps that he is after my wife, then I become worried. And I must say I hear all these great claims of looking to have better cross-border cooperation between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and I think what is the motivation? Is the motivation genuinely to meet, doing better tourism, better lighthouses, better inward investment? Well maybe, but is that coming from the same Irish Republic that for 60 years claimed jurisdiction over us, who in fact claimed that we are the lost six counties, that really if we were talked to and persuaded of the error of our ways that we would want to rush back to the fold of an all-island republic? I think perhaps …the events in Dublin a few weeks ago [February 25th riots] would indicate that maybe it isn’t the great [republic] that it claims to be…. But the point is we believe in cross-border cooperation and I think if there was a settlement you would be pleasantly surprised just how cooperative the DUP would be.
DUP tests: “But we have five fundamental tests for any cross-border institutions and …..cooperation. First of all, is that cooperation in the interests of Northern Ireland? Is it being done for some party political dogma or is it being done as a practical and beneficial change which benefits Northern Ireland? If we are going to build a motorway from Belfast to Dublin, it might be helpful if both ends met at the border. If we are going to drain a river along the border, well then it might be good sense if we had our diggers on one side and the equivalent body in the Irish Republic had it’s diggers at the other side. There are issues where clearly for practical purposes…it is important that the two governments have some form of cooperation. …..
Practical benefit or political motivation? “Are they of practical benefit or are they merely politically motivated? I believe much of what is being portrayed as cross-border cooperation has nothing to do with the best interest of that function. It is being done out of political motivation and of course it is logical, because if you give power to free-standing bodies – such as the implementation bodies established under the Belfast Agreement – and you give them power over inward investment and tourism …. and then you think of other issues where you can have joint policies, perhaps planning or roads or whatever, and bit by bit you hand over those controls to free-standing bodies without democratic control, eventually you reach the stage where so much has been handed over to those bodies, that in fact you have a de facto United Ireland situation, because if independent governments can’t control those functions, then the effect is they have lost their sovereignty. So we will have to decide are they practical or are they politically motivated? …..
Accountability to NI Assembly: “Cross-border institutions…..must be answerable to the Northern Ireland Assembly, and I am glad to say that this is an issue which we negotiated on in December 2004 and, against the opposition of Sean Farren’s party, we won the point. All future cross-border institutions will be accountable to the Northern Ireland Assembly and in the Assembly we can vote to stop it and that is a major concession that has been made and won by the DUP.
“In other words if there is something, say a fishing licence for instance and the majority of anglers in Northern Ireland don’t want it, then the Assembly can vote to stop it. Now no other Western democracy would tolerate a situation where its own internal affairs are controlled by external free-standing bodies which are under the control of an outside government, that is totally unacceptable! So let’s have cooperation where we decide the rules and we decide if things have gone too far. It would have to be accountable.
Respect for NI’s constitutional status: “Do they respect Northern Ireland’s constitutional position within the United Kingdom? I am glad to say on various interviews recently with Dermot Ahern [Minister for Foreign Affairs], he has actually discovered the phrase ‘Northern Ireland’. Well done. Maybe he will discover that the city on the Foyle is called Londonderry. Maybe RTE would discover that we are not ‘the North’, ‘the 6 Counties’, and that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, is not ‘the Northern Secretary’. So we are making some progress bit by bit, but I must say it does hurt me greatly, when under the Belfast Agreement, the Irish government is supposed to have respected our position as a part of the United Kingdom and yet you still come out with this language which clearly indicates that you just regard it as the lost 6 counties. [Peter Hain]… is not the ‘Northern Secretary’. He is ‘Her Majesty’s Secretary for Northern Ireland’. And it always will be ‘Londonderry’.
“If we started to call you ‘the Free State’ or ‘King’s County’ or ‘Queen’s County’ you would quite rightly be annoyed. Similarly with us. So it has to respect our constitutional position and most importantly it has to be value for money.
DUP policy: “So those are the tests the DUP has established for future cross border-cooperation and we have our document here [North South East West] – ours happens to be red and white….I will just indicate what we want.
Border poll: “We want a referendum, a border poll which establishes a decision on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland, as to where they want to go constitutionally. I believe the vast majority of unionists – 99% of them – would vote to stay within the United Kingdom and a very significant proportion of the Roman Catholic population would also vote to stay within the UK. We have a phrase in Northern Ireland: ‘everyone wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die on Tuesday!’ There are an awful lot of ordinary nationalists who may have some mystical thought in their mind of a United Ireland, but if they thought it was coming next Saturday they would vote against it. I talked to some Roman Catholics in Banbridge the other day. One said to me: ‘my wife works in the bank, I am a teacher. A crisis in our life is whether we have two weeks at Christmas in the sun or three, that is a crisis. If this is 60 years of misrule and British oppression, we will have another 60!’ And there are many other Roman Catholics who are not unionist but who realise that there are enormous benefits to them and their familes in remaining within the large country that is the United Kingdom, a strong economy, a strong democracy, a world power. And they will not be voting for a United Ireland. So therefore we are confident that if we put that message to the people of Northern Ireland, there will be a very significant majority who will vote to stay British.
No further border poll for 30 years: “That having been achieved, we will then say ‘no more referenda for 30 years. Let’s put this aside for an entire generation. Let’s give the unionist community, the entire community, the confidence to know that there is going to be no further testing of their constitutional position for a generation. And I believe if that issue can be set aside and buried, as it were, then we can move forward with confidence.
Constitutional contract: “Following that we want a constitutional contract, where the leaders of all the parties sign a document which says there is an unalterable situation which will remain for a generation: no change in Northern Ireland’s constitution….. That doesn’t mean they have to set aside their long-term aspirations, but it means that that issue which causes so much uncertainty in Northern Ireland, will be put to the side forever or at least for my lifetime.
New body needed to represent totality of relationships: “Then we believe that rather than having the present institutions which are prevalent in the Anglo-Irish and Belfast Agreements, that we have a new system and that system, instead of having two bodies – one which looks at the relationships between North and South and the other which is East and West – that we combine them and we have a body which represents the totality of the relationships between London, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Dublin and Belfast ….. with its own secretariat. Because the problem at the moment is that the institution which deals with North-South relationships has met five times more often than the institution which deals with East-West relationships. Yet Northern Ireland sells more produce to Scotland than it sells to the Irish Republic! The vast bulk of our trade, our communications and our day-to-day affairs are heading east, rather than heading south. So therefore we need to build up that relationship within the totality of the British Isles and I know that is not the phrase that maybe everybody likes, but it is the commonly used phrase for the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic. So we don’t get this imbalance … that we have at the moment of concentrating far too much on North-South. I believe if we put in other structures into place you will be very pleasantly surprised how well Northern Ireland unionists and Republican Irish could get on.
Improved relationship between DUP and Irish Republic: “I have been up and down the motorway to the Irish Republic that often and the only thing I could notice is if I stood in the road, I could run over other DUP delegations coming down the same road. There has been a [warming]…of relationships between the DUP and the politicians in the Republic in this last four or five years, and I don’t believe people have been given credit for making those brave steps of going down and talking to the Irish Republic about important issues of mutual concern.
“And I believe if we had the confidence that we know our position is not under threat, you will be surprised just how much cooperation there can be, but based on issues of mutual interest rather than any attempt to take over one side or the other. Now that I see as important.
No prospect of executive in foreseeable future: “But of course none of that is going to happen unless we have some major change in the present political structures in Northern Ireland. It is quite clear the penny has dropped in terms of the two governments. There is absolutely no prospect of a full-blown executive coming about in Northern Ireland in the foreseeable future. We have to accept that. The position where Martin McGuinness could ever get back in control of our children’s education seems to me to be very much on the long finger, because if we are still negotiating about decommissioning – and frankly I don’t believe that full decommissioning has occurred, I have to be honest with you and many, many ordinary unionists in Northern Ireland believe that as well.
Sinn Féin links to criminality: “But even if that did happen, we have still got a party that is inextricably linked to criminality. We have still got a party that won’t support the security forces. We have still got a party that won’t sit with the police force. Now we have a ridiculous Alice in Wonderland situation here in relation to ‘Slab Murphy’. Slab Murphy’s home was raided by the Assets Recovery Agency and congratulations to those bodies who took part in that raid. £600,000 was found in his hayshed! He has properties in Manchester worth many millions of pounds and yet we have the leader of Sinn Féin trying to portray him as white as the driven snow! If you listened to Gerry Adams you would think he was the chairman of the Crossmaglen choral society instead of being widely acknowledged as a leading republican, who like many others has lined his pocket with vast amounts of wealth as a result of criminality. Now I ask the simple question – and I am relying on the chairman to keep me right for time: if the Progressive Democrats or the Greens or the Labour Party in the Irish Republic, if it was discovered that anyone of their prominent members was involved in the same level of criminality that many Sinn Féin members were involved in, would they survive in a coalition in the Irish Republic for five minutes? Of course they wouldn’t, they would be driven from office immediately.
Alternative proposal: “But what many are saying to us, those who worship at the temple of the Belfast Agreement, they say that we must accept individuals who are up to their necks in criminality in our government. The answer to that is no, it can’t happen. Now the old penny is beginning to drop, it’s quite clear it is beginning to drop, and the government I believe are going to put forward new proposals which is going to have some form of alternative assembly without an executive. And the DUP have been saying all along that there is a vast chasm between direct rule and full-blooded executive devolution and we are happy to try and explore that chasm and try and find some way of making progress which doesn’t represent the optimum, but at least represents progress. I would suggest all sorts of models that we are prepared to negotiate on, to try and bring that about and that would bring some degree of accountability to the situation of Northern Ireland, represent real and tangible progress, but would not be the Holy Grail of an Executive.
Dublin Corporation model: “Now I will give you an example and people laughed at me, when I suggested this when I was down in Dublin recently. Dublin Corporation runs Dublin, it has a similar population to Northern Ireland under its control and a similar budget. It doesn’t have an executive. There is no Minister for Roads in Dublin Corporation, no Minister for Education. There are 50 or 60 individuals who meet in a room and make decisions for roads, hospitals, social services and unfortunately planning – we will not go into that issue! But they make corporate decisions on behalf of the people of Dublin. No one is demanding that Sinn Féin becomes Minister of Education in Dublin, because there is no minister. Why for instance in Northern Ireland, can you not have a corporate assembly making decisions on those important day-to-day issues? Why?
Belfast Agreement won’t work: “Again, people say to me: ‘it’s a wonderful idea, but it is not the Belfast agreement’. The mantra keeps coming out time and time again: ‘it’s not the Belfast Agreement’. Now folks if you are looking to the Belfast Agreement or nothing, it will be nothing. The unionist people in Northern Ireland have made it very clear they have had it up to here with the Belfast Agreement. Since we last met, we have had a stunning election victory, where the DUP won 9 Westminster seats and the Ulster Unionist Party won 1. It leads to the joke: ‘what’s the difference between the Ulster Unionist Party and a see-saw? A see-saw has got 2 seats!’
“They were absolutely decimated during that campaign and the unionist community wreaked a terrible revenge on those who negotiated away so much of what they perceived to be their rights, so therefore the unionist people have well and truly made their views known.
No decision in Northern Ireland can proceed without the DUP: “That question came up on ‘Loosetalk’ [LMFM] today: ‘can you not go ahead without the DUP?’ Well you can’t because even the Belfast Agreement said that nothing can proceed without the majority of the unionist community supporting it. The DUP is in such a strong position that you can’t bypass it. So therefore it is absolutely clear that the DUP holds a whip hand, and sometimes the electorate have an awful habit of coming up with decisions you might not agree with. But you cannot ignore the mandate of the DUP obtained last May. So let us see what is coming up. The DUP are …prepared to study it, we are prepared to go in there and we are prepared to try and see what we can do that’s best for the people of Northern Ireland, in the difficult situation we are in
Republican criminality continues: “Am I any more hopeful than I was on 5 March 2005, that Sinn Féin are going to detach themselves from the criminality? Not a bit, because I can think of 26.25 million good reasons why I am not completely confident, because they haven’t handed back one pound of the loot they took from the Northern Bank in Christmas 2004. It is quite clear they are still up to their necks in criminality. Why is it for instance, that recently the four biggest oil companies in Europe – BP, Shell, Texaco and Burmah – all announced that they were pulling out of Northern Ireland? Because they could not compete with the vast amount of fuel smuggling and diesel laundering undertaken by friends of Mr. Molloy on the border, republicans who are making vast amounts out of that sort of illicit activity. So therefore there has been no change.
DUP prepared to work for benefit of all the people of NI: “We have to accept that we are not going to get change in the foreseeable future, but we must move on, come up with something which is not what everybody wants. Everybody believes that full-scale devolution is the aspiration we should all aim for but accepting that that is not going to happen, then we have to come up with something which is second best, but which represents progress and the DUP are prepared to get in there and do our best to achieve something which brings benefit to all the people of Northern Ireland. I am hoping when that happens then we can implement our policy on cross border cooperation and I think you will find that unionism is a lot easier to deal with on those issues than you think so.
“It is a privilege to have been here today to speak to you, I was the first person from my party ever to set foot across the border and speak at a meeting in the Irish Republic in 1987. I came back alive! I reported that they didn’t try to poison me, they didn’t try to beat me up, they were actually quite friendly people and since then, there have been many of us down ever since. And I have always been treated with great respect and very courteously, unlike my colleagues from South Down who were down in Dublin recently [February 25th] which I think is a blot on your landscape and unfortunately does consolidate the view that frankly the expression of Protestant culture in the South is not one that is welcome. So thank you for listening and … I think that normally in these situations the audience often speak with more sense than the speakers and ask much more searching questions and make very valid points. Thank you.”
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS (Summary of main points)
Q.1. Chair (Michael Reade): “Obviously the idea now would be to hear from you, whatever questions you may have based on what you have heard. You have heard every end of the spectrum there.
While I am waiting for a first question, Francie Molloy – would you care to address what we heard there a moment ago in relation to cross-border smuggling and Thomas Murphy[‘Slab’Murphy]? He is under investigation but who is he? We know he is a ‘good republican’ and that he has ‘played an important part in the peace process’. What does that mean?”
Francie Molloy: “Well I don’t know the gentleman that you are talking about, so I can’t enlighten you any further on it. But I know the statement that Gerry Adams made, that he was a ‘good republican’ and that he had known the background … so I could just take it on that line. And certainly I think there has been a lot said about him. But there was lots said about various different issues that actually happened as well. If we take it on the lines of the Stormont [raid], that Sinn Fein were bugging Stormont and then it turned out that there was a British agent, that the British had an agent working within Sinn Fein! …
“So I think sometimes you have to deal with this and often republicans will say, ‘well that is a conspiracy theory’. But I think that some of our conspiracy theories actually have been proved quite right recently and I think more of them actually will come to be proved right.”
Michael Reade: “But you don’t know if he is a member of Sinn Fein?”
Francie Molloy: “I don’t know the man.”
Michael Reade: “But you wouldn’t know anything other than what you saw on the TV?”
Francie Molloy: “No.”
Michael Reade: “It is remarkable to think that with such a high profile story that nobody in Sinn Fein has consulted with the Party President, isn’t it?”
Francie Molloy: “No, there is nothing unusual about it. If you put all the different people who have been libelled by the newspapers on very intelligent sources…
Michael Reade: “I am not talking about anybody libelling the man now. I am talking about the statement made by the party president in relation to a high profile sting operation, behind that then lie these allegations. But the statement that your party president made that he was a ‘good republican’ and a huge ‘contributor to the peace process’ or words along those lines, surely somebody in the party would ask, ‘well Mr. Adams who is he?’”
Francie Molloy: “Well I obviously haven’t had the opportunity to do it to start off with, but secondly I think the word has been spoken from someone who actually does know him or is clear enough within that. So I think the issue is, for instance what you are talking about earlier in light of – or what Jim talked about – a number of properties in Manchester. I think that already has been proved to be erroneous and the legal documents that are produced around that proves [that]…. So I think as this story starts to develop and be revealed it may be red faces on different organisations and different parties, not Sinn Fein’s.”
Michael Reade: “Apparently.”
Sean Farren: “Very little has been proved under any legal test as to whether the association with Manchester has been proved and I raise my eyebrows when I hear that, I am sure …. Unless I have missed the evidence the suspicion is still there and the gentleman from Crossmaglen has been in the news on many, many occasions. He took a case against the Sunday Times and historically lost the case and the evidence … there certainly seemed to convince an awful lot of people as to what his associations were. I am not going to get into the debate. In one sense, I think it is a bit of a distraction.”
Michael Reade: “But isn’t it remarkable? If Mark Durkan made a similar statement about somebody who had been involved in a high profile sting operation, cross border smuggling etc, would you ask him….?
Sean Farren: “Yes, I would want to ask Mark Durkan why did he express the opinion that he expressed. I mean what is the evidence for it? And certainly he would want to. I am surprised that over all the years that Mr. Murphy’s name has been in the public arena that somebody like Francie Molloy hasn’t inquired as to the man’s health or background or anything about him and he tends not to know anything about him. I am very surprised at that. But ‘Slab’ Murphy is a bit of a distraction for tonight’s purposes. It is maybe more about the issues that we have to face over the next few weeks that we should be concerned.
Disappointment with DUP position: “If I may just take a brief opportunity to comment. I must say I am very disappointed with what I heard from Jim tonight because on the one hand, he says ‘if it is the Belfast Agreement or nothing, then it is nothing you will have’. But on the other he seems to be saying ‘unless you are going to take the DUP analysis and the DUP set of proposals, then it is nothing!’ Because he dwelled a lot on what he sees as the shortcomings of north/south and indeed of the operation of the Assembly and the Executive and all of that and then says that they have got a magic formula which is going to work without any negotiation with anybody else. It is the DUP set of proposals.
Good Friday/Belfast Agreement not holy writ: “As for the Good Friday Agreement – I have never said that it was the last word. I never made any analogy with Moses coming down with the Ten Commandments. I have always said the Good Friday Agreement is a living document and, like any living document, constitutional or otherwise, it can be modified and changed in the light of experience. In fact in the recent exchange that I had with Nigel Dodds a year ago …. you would see that I am expressing tonight the very same views that I expressed in a set of exchanges with Nigel. The review of the Good Friday Agreement showed that there were many lessons to be learned about making its operation much more effective. I deal with the DUP, we have proposals, we will sit down and talk to them but we are not going to take a DUP bible and simply say ‘yes’ and genuflect to that. I certainly don’t get up every morning as he tried to suggest. I am a much more intelligent politician than that seems to suggest, that I get up and bow to the Good Friday Agreement even though I know he is probably exaggerating to make a point. The Good Friday Agreement in it’s completeness as an Agreement written in 1998 is not holy writ to the point where operationally and in some other respects it is not going to change. The Irish Constitution was adopted in 1937 as a Constitution that probably seemed to answer all the questions at the time. It has been modified many times since. The American Constitution has been modified. Any country with a constitution modifies it in the light of experience and new requirements that society throws up as it changes and develops. So why don’t we regard the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement in those terms?”
Michael Reade: “Well obviously not all of us do, but was anybody in the room not shocked about what Jim Wells had to say about the Good Friday Agreement?”
Q.2. Robin Bury (Dublin): “No, I wasn’t a bit shocked to be honest with you. I think there is a huge amount of scepticism around now in this country about the Belfast Agreement. It has just dragged on and on and is it four years since the Assembly fell?”
Michael Reade: “Three and a half.”
Robin Bury: “Three and a half years and there have been so many efforts to try to get people to talk, in order to get it up and running again. And just finally Suzanne Breen who works for the Sunday Tribune. She was on ‘Questions and Answers’ [RTE television] recently and she said: ‘believe it or not, people in Northern Ireland are actually quite happy going along every day of their life peacefully with no Belfast Agreement and with Direct Rule. It is a point she made and she is a Catholic and a republican.”
Michael Reade: “True but I suppose as we said I don’t want to keep talking about it. … This man here has a question…”.
Q.3. John Keaveney (Ratoath). “I take your point that you have a veto basically…. but what about the point that so have Sinn Fein? We are back to the old tired argument: you can’t do anything without Sinn Fein or the SDLP, they can’t do anything without you. It is the old veto politics again. What would you say? I am not saying this now…. But it seems to me that you have a failed political entity again because you have a veto on progress but so have the other two here. And are we not at a stalemate?”
Jim Wells: “Well we are if we believe that the only solution is to try and rehash the Belfast Agreement. ….. for instance, what would happen the Irish Republic if there was a similar situation? You would have a series of behind the scenes negotiations to form a coalition. That is what would happen. The Greens or the PDs or whatever we drag along and you bring together a mishmash, rainbow coalition or whatever and you form a government. Well why not have that in Northern Ireland?”
John Keaveney: “Because the divides are sectarian, it is sectarian.”
Jim Wells: “Yes well a voluntary coalition would have a strong representation of the nationalist community, i.e. the SDLP. But what it wouldn’t have is Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein would be the opposition. Now you are saying to yourself that isn’t acceptable, why? Well for six years it was perfectly acceptable to exclude the DUP from that Agreement because you knew that if the DUP were excluded, we wouldn’t go and bomb anywhere. That we’d go and send out more literature, put an ad in the paper ….
“But you know that if you spooked Sinn Fein, you would run the risk that they would go back to killing and bombing and shooting. That is what is behind that question.
“And that is why people still are not convinced that Sinn Fein have completely got rid of their violent past and that is the fear. Now Sinn Fein still only represent 25% of the people of Northern Ireland. The DUP represent far more than that. We don’t have the cutting edge of an armed wing that could still be revived and that is why they are demanding an all-inclusive Executive. Why not have an Executive representing 75% of people of Northern Ireland – which is more than any other coalition anywhere in Europe – representing Protestant and Catholic and let Sinn Fein be the opposition until they get their act together and become democrats? “
John Keaveney: “I am not disputing. I am not demanding anything. I am only pointing out the impossibility basically.”
Michael Reade: “Ok you will have to give him the answer. So we will need a response then from Sinn Fein. Why will Sinn Fein not give a guarantee that there will never be a return to violence?”
Francie Molloy: “Well Sinn Fein actually have given guarantees. Within the document it is very clear as well. The position is that you have …within the Good Friday Agreement and for years unionists actually said they needed the issue of consent, that until you had the recognition of the consent of the people of the north for a change, until that actually happened you couldn’t have agreement. We had that. All parties signed up to the Good Friday Agreement, accepted the issue of consent. There will be no change until the majority actually want it.”
Michael Reade: “But we don’t need an armed campaign by the IRA?”
Francie Molloy: “Well I can’t speak for the IRA obviously, I don’t know who can. But what I am saying is, unless we provide the alternative political structures then who knows what the future is? It is not that long since Jim Wells’s colleagues were walking about with red berets and importing weapons into the north. So those weapons never have been legal at all … ‘Ulster Resistance’. And they were brought around the town halls where Paisley and his colleagues were in the red berets. So no, I can only deal with Sinn Fein …. Sinn Fein have a very clear mandate: to represent and also a mandate that actually said we have to make politics work. So that is what our job is to do.”
Michael Reade: “If somebody somewhere …. close to the IRA, speaks on their behalf … would that make much of a difference?….
Jim Wells: “It would have to be proved over a period of time: the ‘Proinsias de Rossa test’, whereby after a period of time, we prove beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you have genuinely given up violence. But on your very programme [LMFM], you put that question to Arthur Morgan [Sinn Fein TD for Louth] several times: ‘Can you guarantee me that the IRA will never return to violence?’ Do you know he squirmed and he prevaricated and he never would say it. So here is the situation where exactly the same things happen to Mr. Molloy. He will not stand up here and be recorded and say ‘the IRA will never return to violence’. What confidence does that give the unionist community when they won’t even do that?”
Francie Molloy: “But there is a clear line. I cannot speak for the SDLP and I can’t speak for the DUP on what they are likely to do in the future, so how can I speak for the IRA? I don’t represent them.”
Micheal Reade: “Can we just hear from Sean Farren on this, because the SDLP would have been sidelined to some degree during the talks as an acting representative of a political party because you couldn’t represent the IRA regardless of what other people thought.”
Sean Farren: “Well I certainly can’t speak for the IRA, but look if we’re going to look for cast-iron guarantees about everything and particularly about fundamental issues then we will never be satisfied. If the DUP are going to demand that Sinn Fein or the SDLP or anyone demonstrate that they are whiter than white we are seeking perfection. That is never achievable. We had the observations and reports from the Monitoring Commission of significant decommissioning. We have had an IRA statement saying that, as I understand it, instructing their members – whom I never believed had a mandate to do what they did over thirty years of murder and bombing – to turn to the political approach.
“Sometime we have to start working on the assumption that that is how it is going to be for the foreseeable future. I can’t give a guarantee that in some time in the future some members of the SDLP are not going to start recommending that violence be used for whatever political purpose they seem to be very incensed about at the time. Nobody in any political party can give a guarantee about the future. All they can do is commit themselves to a set of values at the present time and then hope that those values and those commitments will be accepted. Otherwise there is no basis at all for moving forward. Now I recognise that the republican movement almost – if I can use a completely inappropriate metaphor – ‘shot themselves in the foot’ over the issue of decommissioning. They prevaricated, said it wasn’t necessary, said it was a red herring and then in the heel of the hunt they turn around and do a massive – if we believe General de Chastelain – act of decommissioning, something they said was unnecessary and just a distraction from the whole process! If it was such a distraction, why on earth in the end did they carry it out and lose the impact – if they had done it earlier – of carrying it out during the term when the Good Friday Agreement said it should have been carried out, within two years of the signing of the Agreement?
Criminality: “Ok that is all history. We are over that hurdle. Now I recognise that the suspicions about criminality are serious and that it is up to republicans to demonstrate that they have no hand, act or part, they certainly don’t wish to have any hand, act or part in it and if they were to support the police that would be a significant move to demonstrate that they are totally against crime and want to dissociate themselves with it, in whatever form they have been associated with it up to now. But they haven’t done that and that leaves room for suspicion on the part of people like Jim Wells. Certainly it leaves suspicion on my part.”
Q.4. Ray (Dublin): “…I think I must be the only person in the audience here to actually know ‘Slab’ Murphy. But if anyone wants to ask me….”
Jim Wells: “Well I’d be happy …. [to know about] that £600,000 in loose notes and sterling lying in bales of straw…… ”
Ray Kelly: “I don’t know anything about these things. The only people that are privy to that are the Garda Siochána
Chair: “Do you believe them?”
Ray: “I don’t know anyone here that knows where the man lives. Have you ever been in Crossmaglen, anyone here? Have you ever been around the area where he is in? It is pretty rough … I am very much involved in the music industry, my personal interest was in Irish traditional music and I spent a huge amount of social time in Mullaghbawn, in Crossmaglen and that general area. There is a huge amount of music in that area … There is a lot of culture going back hundreds of years and that is why I went…. The border runs right through his house. Now who put the border there? It was the most gratuitous thing that ever happened to the man. Who changed the difference in the rates of excise on fuel? It certainly wasn’t Slab Murphy! …. I know the man, I know his brother too from a different point of view, nothing political, and he is a decent sort of fellow. He is the sort of fellow that I would expect to find down in Kerry on the side of a mountain, a wiry old fellow. … I don’t wish to digress here but did you ever wonder, you probably know this Jim, because there is a lot of Italian names [involved in smuggling] …….and on the southern side of the border. They were there way before Slab Murphy. So if foreigners could come in and make a penny I’d say well done to you Slab.”
Q 5: John Clancy (Meath Peace Group): “I don’t know how you can follow that! I am going to just ask some added on questions to Jim. …Last year I felt we were making steps in getting towards a hopeful situation. We did have your scenario in front of us but it seems that the set has changed and it is still far, far away. And yet, from our perspective, a lot seemed to have happened in the meantime. There are two questions I really have: 1) If Francie Molloy is correct in what he stated – that within the local authorities controlled by Sinn Fein there is power-sharing … and that in the DUP-controlled councils there is not power-sharing particularly with Sinn Fein and the SDLP – why is that the case? And, if it is the case, how can you maintain the case you are putting here that if you have an authority [like Dublin Corporation] that you will be generous and accommodating and all of that?
2) “The final question is this. You were talking about Sinn Fein [providing a guarantee re IRA violence]….. Are you prepared to say that the DUP could never take to violence? They are the two questions I want to ask.”
Jim Wells: “Well first of all can I say I am in Down Council which is SDLP-controlled with some help from Sinn Fein. For 27 years we were given absolutely nothing: never a chair, never vice-chair, never chair of a committee, never sat in any deputations, never elected to any outside bodies. There were 776 appointments over those years and the DUP never got one of them. So when the boot was on the other foot we were treated as badly as you are alleging.”
John Clancy: “I wasn’t alleging, I was just asking the question.”
Jim Wells: “But in places like Banbridge we elected three SDLP mayors, Lisburn – we elected an SDLP mayor no problem whatsoever so don’t lecture the DUP.”
John Clancy: “No I am not lecturing, I am just….”
Jim Wells: “And it was only after we goaded the SDLP for dot number of years, and I bet you out of pure embarrassment they gave us the crumbs from the table as it were …. It is the same as discrimination. Discrimination was as bad in nationalist-controlled councils in fifteen years as it is alleged to have been in unionist-controlled councils, only the other way around. That is the first thing. Secondly, would the DUP ever return to violence? The DUP never was involved in violence.”
John Clancy: “Would you resort to violence?”
Jim Wells: “We wouldn’t. The only situation where we would resort to violence is if someone tried to impose a United Ireland on us against the will of the majority.”
Michael Reade: “So you would?”
Jim Wells: “But that is the situation where our democratic rights would be completely destroyed. But what I am saying to you is, if the DUP were ever convicted of being involved in any form of violence or even alleged violence or any form of smuggling on the level that Sinn Fein are involved, then we are not fit for the government of any part of the United Kingdom including Northern Ireland. We should be immediately expelled. For instance if Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds were caught laundering 300,000 litres of diesel fuel here and lining our pockets with a vast amount of money, lying in cash at our hedge gates would we be fit for government? No. But a leading republican ‘Slab’ Murphy was and there was an opportunity there for Sinn Fein last week to come out and say: ‘we disown this man, we want nothing to do with criminality or smuggling or any form of criminality’. What did they do? They portrayed him as a quiet boy and that is why unionists still do not trust Sinn Fein. We believe they are up to their necks in criminality and there are tens and tens of millions of pounds being taken out of the British economy by these characters and they control the cartel for smuggling on the border, drugs, protection rackets, you name it. They are up to it.”
Michael Reade: “Gerry Adams did say as well that smuggling is wrong.”
Francie Molloy: “I also said that criminality was wrong and Peter Robinson is the one person who has been convicted on this side of the border for trying to take over a Garda station in Clontibret so there have been acts of violence and criminality on the part of the DUP … Dr. Paisley was out of the country at the time and Peter stood down …. but he got himself into court and got fined for it and paid his punt to relieve the problem. On certain occasions the DUP has been involved in acts of criminality and violence. As Jim says, forced into the situation and I found this one time, discussing around community relations that whenever you force certain people into certain positions it is surprising the number of people who actually would themselves become aggressive, become violent, when the situation was as they found it the last resort. As Jim says the DUP as a last resort to the situation would fight to defend what they see as the north and their control of their north.”
Michael Reade: “OK we will take another question.”
Q.6. Sean Collins (Drogheda): “Just one or two points before the question and I have to congratulate you Jim – you are a unionist in the true style of Carson, because he was the first man to advocate violence in this country …. ‘you’re introducing Home Rule so that is the reason we will fight you’. That was the bottom line of unionism in this country. Listening to your points tonight is what I have come to expect from the DUP over the years and that is not going to change and I am used to that at this stage. Well I have been involved in welcoming groups down south … and I was a little bit disappointed with your comments in relation to our ‘blotting the copybook’ in Dublin about three weeks ago with the events that took place which I certainly could not condone [February 25th riots]. But I have a problem with the fact that the man that worked to present that walk in Dublin [Willie Frazier] – he used the platform of the media down the south – LMFM for instance and the Sunday Tribune. Twelve months before he was refused a gun licence in Northern Ireland by the authorities because of his known association with loyalist paramilitaries. Was I supposed to go out and welcome him? I couldn’t find anybody I deal with particularly in the unionist community in Northern Ireland -even the Love Ulster group in Belfast. They wouldn’t attend it, they wouldn’t come because of him……you know it was a sad occasion…. Why did you not come yourself?
Jim Wells: “I was speaking at a conference in Scotland and I certainly would have been there if it wasn’t for that occasion. …There is absolutely no proof whatsoever – that allegation against Willie Frazier. Secondly, could I say that I doubt if those who were attacking that parade were doing so because of some deep personal problem with Willie Frazer. It was quite clear from the vox pops that were done in Dublin that day that an awful lot of Catholic nationalists in Dublin did not see the right of a group of Northern Ireland unionists to have any right to march anywhere in Dublin. I heard some very surprising and very sectarian comments and I have to say folks that I wasn’t dreaming it up – that was on CNN, it was on BBC World Service … and that showed up Dublin I have to say as being a very bigoted, anti-Protestant, anti-Northern Ireland unionist city. I have to say that and I know that maybe it wasn’t representative of Co. Meath or Dublin generally, but it was vicious, it was nasty, it was sectarian and it was anti-Protestant.”
Michael Reade: “Was it the fact that Willie Frazer’s licence wasn’t granted because it was suspended?”
Jim Wells: “If Willie Frazer hadn’t been there I am still convinced exactly the same thing would have happened….”
Michael Reade: “But he wasn’t given a licence. It wasn’t removed because of suspected associations?”
Jim Wells: “That is what the police told him. Yes I perceived that as well. What I am saying to you is he denies that. I don’t believe for one minute that is the reason why a thousand republicans launched a vicious attack on that parade.”
Sean Collins: “In that case, do you believe the police in this instance – of Willie Frazer being refused a licence?”
Jim Wells: “No.”
Q.7. Clare Norris (Dublin): ‘….Why in the interests of the stability of the people of the North of Ireland will Sinn Féin not join in supporting the PSNI?”
Francie Molloy: “We actually have said that when the conditions which have been sought are right – accountability of the PSNI to the Assembly and Policing and Justice transferred to the Assembly – that Sinn Féin with the right conditions will recommend it at a special Ard Fheis … and Sinn Féin would then make a decision. I can’t predict what that decision will be or whether they would actually support the PSNI or not. But there is a lot of history around that particular issue of policing and I don’t think the issue has been dealt with completely and I think there are many issues that have happened since the setting up of the PSNI, which indicate that there is no great difference between them and the RUC. Of course there wouldn’t be any great difference because most of them are the same people. There is just a different uniform and a different name. So Sinn Féin would have to be convinced and I am not convinced at this stage that there is any difference or any change.
PSNI raid on SF offices in Stormont: “And that goes for a number of different instances that happened, in particular the way that they allowed themselves to be used in the raids at our offices in Stormont where you had a large number of landrovers and PSNI personnel to raid an office that was open. Also, 24 hours a day the security was in there, they could have searched any number of nights or days that they actually wanted to. Then to come out with one disc which was more an issue with the computer itself, nothing to do with the content and they handed that back the next day. So it was a PR exercise which was designed to create the image of Sinn Féin being the problem and also to save David Trimble. So they had to close down the Assembly. That is what it was about. So if the PSNI were allowing themselves to be used as a political tool in that way, then there is nothing to indicate that their masters or their direction has changed.”
Sean Farren: “… the idea that the raid was designed to save David Trimble I find absolutely unbelieveable. But in a sense what we have here is this: Francie calls for a police force that is whiter than white. Jim calls for a political party that is whiter than white. Perfection is never going to be reached…”
Francie Molloy: “We want an accountable police force and that is not saying lily white. That is saying we want it accountable to the Assembly and we want Policing and Justice transferred to the Assembly. Now a lot of republicans actually say: ‘what do you want to give Policing and Justice to the Assembly for?’ But because of the change of political direction there within it, you can create that within an accountable Assembly.”
Sean Farren: “Of course, and we had it at the time when the Policing Board was established and you faulted. We had the beginning of accountability by the establishment of a Policing Board which contained political representatives to which you were invited to participate along with the SDLP. You fluffed it then and you are finding excuses. …”
Francie Molloy: “You called it wrong then.”
Sean Farren: “Please don’t interrupt me.”
Francie Molloy: “You called it wrong.”
Sean Farren: “If I have misquoted you, you can come back and correct me and I’ll accept your correction, if that is what it is. Look, we’ve got to show political leadership on a lot of issues, and if we wait until the last member of our constituency is ready to jump with us, we will be waiting for ever. Political leadership means making a judgement that the time is right to do something for the sake of the people that we represent and indeed for the wider community, that it is necessary, indeed essential to do so. And what I fear is: ‘oh yes, we’ll wait and we’ll wait and we’ll wait until the last colluding or alleged to be colluding policeman is removed from the police force.’ Now we are going to be waiting forever and that is what we are being condemned to: a future in which one party sees you as having to prove you are so white that you will never be able to match their criteria for whiteness and you looking for excuses with respect to policing, that the police will never be able to match in terms of demonstrating their whiteness to your satisfaction. And we’ll end up, as I said in my opening remarks, with the two governments unfortunately taking responsibility and representatives of the people being left to one side and if that’s the case we deserve to be cast into outer darkness. And any prospect of any movement on your part towards what you believe is your form of a United Ireland is absolutely unrealisable in the short or longer term. And any sense that nationalists are going to enthusiastically remain or embrace the UK and all that it connotes, is also not going to be achieved.
“We have got to compromise together, without sacrificing principle if we are going to move forward. That is what the Good Friday Agreement began to offer us the hope of doing and it is almost my last word.”
Michael Reade: “I think most would agree that Sinn Féin has given a lot over the years of this process in terms of compromise, because compromise requires giving by two sides of the dispute. If Sinn Féin has done its part …. has it got to a stage that you think it can’t give any more without getting something back first?”
Francie Molloy: “Well I think it’s not just in the mind of Sinn Fein … what Sinn Féin have done is that they have convinced others to make make moves at different times to try and secure that and to keep the Assembly going and to keep the institutions up and running and that wasn’t successful a number of different times. Some soul-searching had to go on from a republican point of view. But we said from the very start of this whole thing that if this was about the surrender of republicanism then we weren’t up for it and we weren’t going to surrender, because we had nothing to surrender for. I think what we have now is a continuous line and we predicted this at the start that it would be on line of weapons. …. and then the next step would have to be policing…..and there is nothing to say that even if Sinn Fein signed up to the Northern Policing Board that it would change anything whatsoever or that it would be more acceptable to the DUP…. Jim started off talking about five conditions that the DUP put on any sort of progress and then he want on to add to those five and I counted about ten more conditions that actually had to be met before they reached that situation… so I think there comes a point where you say …”
Michael Reade: “Give us one condition for taking your place on the Policing Board.”
Francie Molloy: “I am not putting any conditions on it at all. What I am saying is that you create the conditions where there is accountability within the Assembly and that you have Policing and Justice in the Assembly where local people have the control of it and local people can start to develop that and that immediately builds the trust within it. But that is not putting a precondition on it. That is saying we actually should move to get the Assembly up and running and get the local institutions up.”
Q.8. Nuala McGuinness (Nobber): “Do any of you think that you might become redundant now that we are becoming a multi-cultural and multi-racial society?”
Jim Wells: “Northern Ireland isn’t as multicultural as perhaps you are becoming in the Republic. But what I can say to you is that I hear all these people who tell me that there is great surge of support for the middle ground and people want to hone in on issues such as health, education etc. and that is said before the election and then the vast majority go out and vote for the four main parties which are the SDLP, DUP, UUP and Sinn Féin. Now indeed the whole middle ground is becoming totally squeezed. They are just losing seats time after time and the Alliance Party, if it wasn’t for the fact that there are a few prominent individual personalities, if they weren’t there it would just simply collapse. So don’t think that there is pluralism occurring in Northern Ireland with the middle ground spreading. It isn’t happening. If you look at the sectarian geography of Northern Ireland – in terms of people living in solely Protestant estates or solely Catholic estates – Northern Ireland has never been more polarised. So this great Belfast Agreement hasn’t brought the pluralism that you think about. Will I be redundant? Well I could well be within 6 or 7 months. I have been through the process in 1986 when the old Assembly collapsed…….. But will that change my view one iota about my stance against this Agreement and my view of the need to replace it with something better? Not one bit. …….I will need to refer back to the choices that I am facing, that that will not be moving one inch. I will simply come up and down this road as an unemployed politician rather than a paid one!”
Nuala: “I am referring to all the foreign people coming in from all over the world to this island and it’s going to change in the next ten, fifteen years and I just wonder… you are experienced politicians. Do you feel that Irish society will change, that you will all have to change? But to get back to the Agreement. I didn’t vote for the Good Friday Agreement, I am one of the 5% here that didn’t vote for it. I am a Northerner, although I have lived around here for a number of years. I voted this way as a matter of conscience because I felt that one side got too much and the other side got too little and I have a lot of unionist colleagues and neighbours from my previous existence there. They all feel they have been caught and cornered.
25th February parade and rioting: “I was at the parade in Dublin. In the past few years there have been two attempts to stop Orangemen walking in Dublin. It’s a crazy situation. And I would just like to draw attention to the St Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin every year.
“You have bands from every country in the world, half-naked girls – why they didn’t all get pneumonia this year I do not know – and still we cannot let a few top class musicians from North East Ulster come down. Can we not forget all the past? It is just ridiculous that in a St. Patrick’s Day Parade there are bands from everywhere and you can’t let a few people from North East Ulster parade in Dublin.”
Michael Reade: “And there are big St Patrick’s Day parades, big celebrations in London as well.”
Nuala: “Exactly. I mean we are supposed to be a democracy…. I was there at great uncertainty, but I am a veteran of riots having experienced them in the past, inadvertently I might add, in Belfast, Newy and Armagh, and I felt hatred and venom and I removed myself very promptly to get off the street. But I am sorry I also have to say that I experienced venom and hatred in Armagh round about 1968/9 when Paisleyites came to a demonstration in Armagh and only that I was with a cousin, a male cousin who is a Londoner and he had an English accent. I said ‘for goodness sake will you start talking and get us out of here’ and he did and we got out safely. … And that was a long, long time ago and I would hope that the Paisley people have changed, I think they have. But certainly the parade in Dublin was a fiasco. You do not have a government in the south of Ireland and you do not have a democracy, and they should hang their heads in shame and I speak as a Northerner…..”
Q.9. Cllr. Brian Fitzgerald: “Quite honestly, this is the probably the most frustrating and depressing night I have put in here in this hall for quite a long time. I am old enough to remember when … Captain O’Neill was ousted out of office by your leader [Rev Ian Paisley] when he met with Sean Lemass. I am old enough to remember that when Brian Faulkner took risks to try and bring together the people of Northern Ireland he was driven out of office by your leader. ….Had the Sunningdale Agreement survived, the IRA would not have been the force that it ended up being over the following 20 odd years, if there was a little bit of give from the person who leads your party today. But no that did not happen, the IRA grew and grew. But also the UVF grew, the UDA grew and every one of their offshoots grew and we saw over three thousand people dead and thousands upon thousands maimed in one form or another.
When David Trimble came along after all of that and tried to do business on behalf of the unionist community with the SDLP and with Sinn Féin – who themselves had to take serious risks, risks from their own people as much as people from outside – he was also ousted from office as a result of your leader who continuously said ‘no’, ‘no surrender’, ‘not an inch’.
“We are now in a situation that he is the leading party leader of Northern Ireland and I don’t believe he has the guts to do what Brian Faulkner did, to do what Captain O’Neill did or to do what David Trimble did and I believe he is prepared to sacrifice all the people of Northern Ireland and all the efforts that people like John Hume and many, many more like him who have devoted hours upon hours and years and years to try and resolve the difficulties in Northern Ireland. And we can all sit here tonight in the belief that violence will never return to Northern Ireland. You know and I know that that is no hard guarantee by anybody, so for God’s sake will you start having a look at yourselves … and try and do something for the interests of the people of this island so as they will have the luxury of living in comfort and not in fear for the rest of their lives and the generation to come. Quite honestly what I am listening to here tonight is just what I listened to as a young boy in the early 1960s when Captain O’Neill and your party leader came on the television for the first time. Nothing has changed and the sooner you realise that yourself the better. You are a young man. So are many of your party. For God’s sake, don’t be looking back. Look forward and try and do something for everybody’s sake and not get us into another 25 year cycle of war with all sides involved.”
Michael Reade: “Let’s start here with Sean Farren.”
Sean Farren: “Just very briefly, picking up some of the points that have been made a few minutes ago. In response to what was said about the Dublin riots, I believe that while they may have been unrepresentative in terms of the majority of the people on the island the fact that on two occasions now the Orange Order, or those associated with it in whatever form – and I know the second proposed parade was not strictly speaking an Orange parade – have been unable to march is something that we – I say we because I am a southerner originally – have to examine and consciences have to be examined.
“And particularly as we are embarking on what seems to me very likely to be a decade-long commemoration of 1916. Simply looking back at 1916 is not adequate and sufficient for the needs of our society today. 1916 – without opening a huge debate – took place, in my view, without any real consideration as to the implications for relationships with the north or within the north. And for all the high-minded and idealistic expressions that the Proclamation contains, it – and the events that happened in the few years afterwards – copperfastened partition. Partition wasn’t a product of 1916, because it was there from 1914 in the Home Rule Act, but it certainly cemented the attitudes that we have lived with, and if you think about it, as I said earlier, not until 70 years later in 1998 did the people of Ireland come together.
Good Friday Agreement: “I am prepared to accept that there are imperfections in the Good Friday Agreement. At least an overwhelming majority of people expressed high hopes that day. In my constituency and in many, many others, more people voted on that day than ever turned out in any popular test of opinion before or since. In North Antrim the majority of people may have voted against the Agreement. But 59,000 people voted in the referendum. The average turnout for other elections is about 46,000 and that is repeated across all the constituencies and in the overwhelming majority of them, the vote was in favour and … many people haven’t obviously voted since. We have let them down. But as we embark on the decade long commemoration of 1916, we might begin to reflect on 1916, 1998 and the whole concept of national reconciliation or reconciliation – Jim mightn’t agree with me – as a new debate and discuss and reflect and look back and maybe we are doomed to failure and the odds are not great. In the discussion with me this morning on the radio [LMFM], I heard Jim say it was 1000:1 against any Executive being formed and maybe slightly less, but nonetheless very significant odds against anything significant happening. Maybe we need to reflect on how we can re-engage with ourselves, because I believe that even if the Good Friday Agreement is in Jim’s mind dead and we were to start again, I don’t think we would end up a million miles away from what we signed on that Good Friday, eight years ago. It might be called something else. Now I am not suggesting that we do so, because I think it would be unnecessary to do so. It is a living Agreement. It can be modified and developed in the light of experience and everybody within the Assembly would have an opportunity to contribute to that process of modification in the reviews that the Agreement makes provision for.
Need to take risks: “But if we don’t take risks and if we simply say it is our set of proposals – as unfortunately I think, certainly in the very beginning of his remarks, Jim seemed to suggest very clearly there is only going to be one set of proposals and he talked as if the DUP represented the whole of Northern Ireland. There are other people living in Northern Ireland as well, with whom Jim has to develop a relationship. Unless the DUP – and what I say about the DUP I apply also to myself, my own colleagues and to other political parties – unless we are going to approach this in a spirit of wanting to create real partnerships within the North, and between North and South as John Hume frequently said and indeed between east and west – and north and south does not preclude east and west as Jim seems to suggest would be the motivation – unless we are prepared to do that… I mightn’t be around when we are celebrating the centenary of the rebellion or whatever, but we may still be going around the same issues and whoever is leading the Meath Peace Group will be organising a similar symposium to tonight and actually ending up just as frustrated as many people feel and I certainly feel quite frustrated tonight.”
Michael Reade: “Is that what you are going to make Julitta do, Jim Wells?”
Jim Wells: “I hope our leader will be around for 2016. I am sure he will! Could I say first of all, just the comments made by the Chairman of the Council. I take it from your comments that I haven’t won you over by my earlier contribution. That having been, said remember this: Ian Paisley has stood at election after election, he has never lost an election since 1966. He has held the highest personal vote ever recorded in any Western European election, in the five European elections which he stood in. At the last election the DUP returned the largest number of seats to Stormont … Whether you like it or not, Ian Paisley …. puts his policies to the people and the unionist people return him with an overwhelming majority. Now I know democracy can throw up results you don’t like, but no-one is going to tell me that that election held last May wasn’t an exercise of democratic rights. He walked it, his party walked it and I have absolutely no doubt: for me, Ian Paisley is a hero, let’s not beat about the bush. The reason I am in the DUP – I was attracted to the policies of Ian Paisley. I am attracted to the personality of Ian Paisley and walking down any street in Northern Ireland, they are coming out to slap him on the back, to shake him by the hand, bring out their children to meet him. He is an extremely popular politician. So don’t think that he is some megalomaniac that is leading people astray. He is loved and cherished and honoured by a huge proportion of the unionist people in Northern Ireland. Now David Trimble put his policies before the people in May and he was thumped electorally, absolutely wiped off the floor by Ian Paisley. So that is the unfortunate thing you have to accept.
“And the thing that Sean has to accept is he keeps bringing out this whole chest of ‘the vast majority of people of Ireland voted for this in 1998’. But the vast majority of people voted for Fine Gael in elections in the early 1980s. What happened five years later? They were totally vanquished by Fianna Fáil. People keep coming back for a fresh mandate. You put a party in. You test them. You see if their policies are effective. Garett Fitzgerald said they weren’t effective, so they voted him out. Here we are eight years later and they are still bringing up the same result. Let’s have another referendum now on the Belfast Agreement and see the result, because people’s opinions have changed. I am not saying the set of proposals I outlined tonight are the only ones. What I am saying to you is, there are lots of options between full blood devolution and direct rule and we are prepared to sit down and explore those. ….
DUP not anti-republican: “And finally let’s nail this lie that we are anti-republican, that we are anti putting republicans into government. For fifteen years we had a party in Northen Ireland called the Irish Independence Party … They were very strong in Londonderry, Omagh and in Fermanagh. We sat with them, we negotiated with them, we shared power with them in councils, we socialised with them, because the Irish Independence Party had exactly the same political philosophy as Sinn Féin but the difference was they didn’t reserve the right to kill people. Our problem with sharing power with republicans is not because of their ideology. It is because Sinn Féin reserves the right to use violence and criminality to obtain their aims and that is absolutely unacceptable. That is the route they have gone that cannot be crossed and I have asked this question several times tonight and no one has answered. If the PDs were up to half of what Sinn Fein are up to, would they be in the coalition? And all you did when I suggested that is you looked at your toes, because you know the answer. You know it would never be acceptable in the Irish Republic to let a bunch of gangsters in to the running of your country!”
Michael Reade: “But Michael McDowell ….”
Jim Wells: “…Michael McDowell has been very clear because he has said that he wouldn’t be in a coalition with Sinn Fein/IRA. Now is there anyone in this room who will defend the right of gangsters to be involved in a coalition of any Western democracy?”
Michael Reade: “ … [Sinn Fein] are politically and philosophically miles apart from the Progressive Democrats….”
Jim Wells: “Well the Greens or Democratic Left or Labour – would any of those parties be accepted if they were involved in gangsterism in a coalition in the Republic? They wouldn’t last a weekend if it came out, if any of them were caught. So therefore, nobody has yet put up their hand to say it is right to have criminals in the government of any Western democracy.”
Q. 10. Cllr. Conor Ferguson (Sinn Fein): “I am sorry to disappoint you there. I have no criminal record. None of my party has any criminal records. My grandfather came from your area in the 1930s, which is supposedly a quiet time…. The other points, policing and things like that. Would the police or the army, who you support, your government supports, would they have been allowed into the police down here? Would they be allowed into the Irish Army to carry on the way they went on, I won’t say for the last 30 years, for hundreds of years? Would they be allowed in?”
Jim Wells: “I see no reason why not….”
Conor Ferguson: “… OK we will go another way. The killers of Pat Finucane. You are saying your party had no militia like Sinn Fein. …. We will have our different opinions on that. Your militia was the B-Specials. Your militia is still going on … the young lad that was killed there maybe three, four years ago, stabbed, and the British Army won’t go and arrest the people they know did it. They won’t go and arrest them, because they are British agents. The people that caused Pat Finucane’s murder, five of them, all British agents. And you are telling me, the best way to have it, the best thing in Ireland is British rule. Is that it?
“Another thing, I can go back to the polls the same way. I can visualise people are going to vote for the DUP, I can visualise it. I can visualise people voting for Sinn Fein and the SDLP, but when they are actually voted in, I expect them to go and sit at a table. I expect them to talk. That is what I put them in for. That is what they are elected to do. Has anyone an argument for that? They are elected to go and talk and speak for the people they represent. What you are saying is anybody who voted for Sinn Fein, is a second class citizen, a second class vote. We are not …..and Francie cannot say, nobody here can say that in another ten, fifteen years, if you keep going the same way that you are going now, that some young fellow is not going to say will I put up with this. I am being treated as a second class citizen … I have a right to want a united Ireland and so has everybody else. I believe a Tyrone man is as much an Irish man as a Kerry man. …. The pictures there behind you, the barbed wire, it reminds me of the Civil Rights …. and the barbed wire your country brought in. It was enforced, your state has been enforcing us. You are a minority within a majority. Now the Good Friday Agreement is not working. ….I didn’t want to see Sinn Fein going into Stormont. I don’t want to be in Stormont. I’d rather that Ireland be led from Dublin, but Sinn Fein went into it. They pushed for the dropping of Articles 2 and 3 and the same again with the decommissioning. There we are again. It was a red herring, because you are going to keep throwing things up the whole time. Your job is to sit down and talk. I mightn’t agree, I don’t agree with a lot of the things people would say to me at the political table. The point is I have to talk to them. But I’d still like to welcome you down to Meath and say thank you for coming South.”
Michael Reade: “I’m going to take a couple of questions and come back to you and then finish up. I am just conscious of the time. It is about a quarter past ten and usually at these meetings, people have long distances to travel back.”
Q.11: “I can endorse the anger that is reflected in Brian Fitzgerald’s comments that we should rightly be angry about this intolerant language that we are hearing, particularly from the two far right sides here. Sean Farren speaks conciliatory language I think in general. But I want to pinpoint maybe a couple of things in terms of intolerant language. Francie is quite happy to dismiss criminal activities or whatever of individuals, that is fair enough. But he is not entitled to say that the IRA’s business, is the IRA’s business. The IRA are very, very closely associated with Sinn Fein and he must at this point say there is no place for an Irish Republican Army. If they decommission their weapons, well that’s it. The IRA should be gone, they should be prepared to say they are gone, there is no need for them now for as long as we can see into the future. Now that is just an example of that kind of intolerant failure to concede that there must be peaceful language and hopeful language for the future.
“In relation to Jim Wells, there is no point in endorsing the doctor. …. I found it quite interesting that Paisley is now getting the pseudonym ‘Doctor No’. And that is the language of never entering into negotiations. I think that the last man conceded that Sinn Fein at least went into the talks. One of the reasons the DUP are disenchanted about the Good Friday Agreement is that they refused to go into the talks and they are now five, six, seven years later saying ‘oh these are discussions, affairs, agreements and we want to renegotiate them’. But I will just give you an example of the kind of language you came out with. You uttered five conditions about Cross-Border Cooperation. This is interesting. The very first one you quoted, you said you’d only enter into those bodies if it is in the interest of Northern Ireland. Now you didn’t see the obvious omission that it should also be in the interests of southern Ireland. …”
Jim Wells: “It’s not our country, it is your country.”
Questioner: “But you talked about it in the context of Cross-Border Cooperation. There must be equal and participative benefits to both people. Otherwise you don’t sit around the table. There are benefits to be gained from both parties sitting down talking to each other. But your language in all the conditions you had, it is all veto type language, that everything has to be accountable back to me. There are other people in your community besides the ‘Doctor No’ kind of philosophy. That is why I think that polarised language has got to be stopped and we should rightfully be intolerant of it. And that is why if I can say anything tonight, I think it is that people should be rightfully angry at that intolerant language. It is very important to get together and start talking, to get out of this continuing mess.”
Michael Reade: “There are a number of points there Francie Molloy, that you might want to pick up on?”
Francie Molloy: “Yes, I think the point is – and the last speaker referred to it as well – Jim talked about sitting down and negotiating … but he won’t sit down with all the parties. He will only sit down with three or four of the parties. He won’t sit down with Sinn Fein in the room and actually negotiate this out. An elected member, whatever party they come from, has a mandate to speak on behalf of the parties. I don’t accept that it is the two extremes, because whether we like it or not and Jim quotes one side of the result on the night of the DUP vote, it’s up to the largest unionist party, Sinn Fein is also the largest nationalist party. That is not the two polarised, that is actually the centre now and what needs to be done is to develop and to negotiate that situation. So we need all the parties sitting around the table and to start to work.
“….It is not an occasional situation of saying I can’t speak for the IRA ….. I tell you I was speaking some time ago on behalf of Sinn Fein and said the wrong thing and got suspended from the party for a while, so I wouldn’t like to start to speak for the IRA on what they did. But secondly I think the IRA have said themselves that the war is over, the weapons have been disposed of and they have advised their members to become involved in the political process. So I think that is as clear a statement that we have ever had on the line of the war over and moving on and getting involved in politics and trying to make politics work.
“And one thing I think you will find in any political party or organisation or anything else that wants to take a particular strategy, it is a long-term strategy. It is not something that you’re in for six months and try it and then simply revert back. And I think that is very clear in this situation and there is one statement I have often been quoted for … on the lines that ‘if everything else fails, we will go back to what we do best’ and of course the statement ends there. …. The next line is we will negotiate ….. because it is about negotiations. It is about everyone starting to develop and to build on the strategy and going into Stormont from Sinn Fein’s point of view was all about working with the other parties, building that trust at local level, developing to deliver to our own communities but also to all the communities because everyone of us representatives for a constituency represent all the different interests within that constituency, not just our own, the people who voted for us. In the same way effectively, TDs would operate like that…
“I came into this whole particular thing through the Civil Rights movement. That was people looking for a passive way of dealing with a situation, looking for very basic rights. Those rights were denied and the State couldn’t deliver those and one thing added to the other, and you got into a situation then of an armed struggle. The Civil Rights campaign had very basic demands of a house and a job and the right to vote, those things were denied because the State was built around gerrymandering.
“So when Jim talks about the majority, he is talking about the majority in the 6 Counties, he is not considering the rest of Ireland as part of the country at all and talking about two countries. It is one country and you can’t deny that situation. If you took any part of England, Scotland or Wales and took a wee section out of it and said: ‘we are the majority here, we are going to hold on to that’ ….
“Now we have even gone further ….. to try and move the situation on we actually did go within the Good Friday Agreement to recognise that there would be no change unless there was a substantive majority of the people in the six counties. So that is a very clear endorsement of the whole situation. But unfortunately as people feared, particularly at the start of this whole process, that unionism would pocket everything, that they would demand, take the good out of it and then demand more. And that is exactly what we were getting tonight again – that everybody else has to jump to the tune of the DUP.
No recognition of movement made: “And there is no recognition of the movement that others have made of any political parties, because they have all moved to some extent to actually try and accommodate and to deal with it. …. I believe if you are looking back on the last twenty years, no one would envisage that we actually would have had the situation that we have today, that the republicans have disarmed. They have moved into recognising the North as regards its own entity and then moving in the situation of sitting in Stormont. And those were all big steps for republicans whatever others may think about it. And big steps have been taken, pain has been gone through, but we find now that there is no change, that the situation is demanding more and more and more.
Stage 2 scenario – an All-Ireland community: “…If you continue to demand more, people just give up and what then are the options? If unionists don’t want to share power within the Assembly with Sinn Fein and with republicans and with nationalists, well then let’s not worry about the Assembly. Let’s move onto stage 2 which is what we want to get into anyway and that’s definitely the “All-Ireland”, because in that way then the two governments can actually put the mechanisms together to implement the Good Friday Agreement, to deliver that, to build a cross-border development with ministerial responsibility north and south and then to start to build and to eradicate the border completely not just in economic terms. And I think maybe we have reached that point. Maybe it is now time to move into the next stage and build those structures of All-Ireland community.
Michael Reade: “…. I am going to take the final question of the evening and then ask for you to respond to the final question ….”
Q. 12. Julitta Clancy: “Thank you chairman, it is not really a question. I suppose like Brian I also feel a bit depressed hearing some of the things tonight…. And we in the Meath Peace Group have only been 13 years at it, you three have been many, many, many years at this and it must seem like ‘groundhog day’ over and over again. And yet there has been some progress. One of the things we got involved in over the last few years is meeting victims’ groups from all sides of the community, who have come down to Meath and have told of their pain in private and in public, even in classrooms. We have to keep bearing them in mind because it has been a pretty intractable problem …..
“So there is a bigger picture here and let us focus on that. Unlike Nuala I was one of the people who voted for the Agreement, because I voted in all sincerity and in all hope, that the commitments that I was reading there would be delivered on over a period of time, not immediately, but over a period of time, that there was the will there. I think a lot of people felt that good will within the Agreement coming out of a period of terrible suffering. But I am very disappointed not only with people in Northern Ireland who might not have delivered as much as I think they should have, I am very disappointed with ourselves down here. Take the rioting in Dublin [25th February]: it has been said that it wasn’t representative of us, that they were a minority, but it was an indication of the lack of work we have done. We made commitments in that Good Friday Agreement to understand and to respect the different identities, the different allegiances. …but we have never delivered on those in this State….. So we are not doing the education work that is needed to build respect and understanding ….
“We had a discussion in one of the schools in Navan recently [MPG transition year schools programme]: a unionist man who was working with a victims’ group representing families of the security forces, discussing with the students, and they got into the whole question of identity in the middle of it all, a huge discussion, and at the end one of the foreign nationals in our classroom asked: ‘what is the point?’ She wondered why people were getting so heated over this issue. And the speaker replied: ‘yet so many have died because of this’. The fact is that this new immigration into this country is asking questions, challenging, and they are showing us up. The peace process has enabled the economy to develop particularly in the south. We need to get our act together. There are issues we should be addressing.
“And I often wonder: in the Good Friday Agreement, did we put the cart before the horse? After the long period of pain and centuries of hatred, were we asking for too much in expecting the parties to get together in a power sharing executive? Should we not have gone a little bit slower in terms of educating our own people on the ground and healing?
“And as for talking to people: one of my grandfathers [Diarmaid Fawsitt] was involved in the old republican movement. He wasn’t active in 1916 as far as I know but he was deported at one time in 1915 for his activities and he went to New York. Recently I came across a box of his papers. I didn’t know till then that he was also in the IRB in 1913 but I did know he was one of the founders of the Irish Volunteers in Cork in 1913. In 1921 he was given a position [with the Ministry of Economics in Dáil Éireann] and in that year he went to Belfast to meet unionists and members of Belfast’s business community, and he left a report which indicated that many he had met were open to some form of political understanding with the rest of Ireland. There is a letter in his report from a member of the Ulster Unionist Council, a prominent businessman, which indicated …. that if the violence could be put away, the threat removed, that there would be a willingness to work with us, a willingness to cooperate.
[Editor’s note: the following is an extract from the letter: ‘We have been long enough in learning the lesson, but if there be any political wisdom left in us, surely we shall learn it now. There is no hope nor help for Ulster in English politics… there is no hope for us in English political alliances…. It seems to me certain that if we are to negotiate, and if our very life is the subject of negotiation, than we should be far safer negotiating with an avowed enemy than with a false friend… I believe Ulster is in a strong position. I believe Sinn Fein is desperately anxious to win her over… It seems to me certain that Ulster would gain her ends much more easily and much more certainly by negotiating with Sinn Fein direct…. Of course the great difficulty in the way of such direct negotiation is the very natural exasperation of Ulster caused by Sinn Fein tactics. The Boycott is a horrible piece of stupidity… the Ulsterman is the last man on God’s earth to be intimidated… What an effect might be caused in Ulster were some friendly advance to be made to her now – were the boycott to be called off and a real and lasting truce to be proclaimed? I verily believe that the one moment of all the centuries has been reached in which north and south might understand each other. …’]
“…Despite the obvious difficulties he met people who were willing to talk with him, knowing his background . … ”
“There have been over thirty years of dreadful pain…… Jim said that Rev. Paisley only used democratic weapons. But he also used a terribly powerful weapon, fear, and in my view he stoked up fear and he stoked up resentment….. Now we were brought up also ignorantly in the south …. So there is a lot of work to be done here and I don’t want to harp on it. I am just appealing to you to just remember the bigger picture: that terrible hurt and pain that is there and remember the willingness that is also there to build a better island to live in peaceful coexistence and to heal the wounds that are there……
“But thanks to all of you very much for all you have done and I wish you well in the coming months very sincerely.”
Michael Reade: “If we could ask for closing statements from Sean Farren first, then Francie Molloy and I will ask Jim Wells to finish.
Sean Farren: “At this late hour, I will try to be very brief. I think one thing that we are very bad at – and maybe this is true among politicians elsewhere – we are very bad at asking ourselves what is it that the other side requires of us in order for them to move forward and to bring their constituency with them. In other words, putting ourselves from time to time in the shoes of the other person. …Or maybe put it this way: what is the least that I and my colleagues have to do to help Jim Wells and his colleagues move their constituency forward and is that least too much for me and too much for my constituents? Does it breach some fundamental principles that I just couldn’t concede or is it something that I can move to accommodate? Because if we don’t appreciate what the others need of us, then we constantly simply move when they have conceded to us what we demand of them.
“I said this to Francie – remember he said we were both speaking at a conference up in Limavady the other day. Jim may not agree with me when I say that my assessment – at the time of the Good Friday Agreement being put together – of what the unionists most needed in order to be able to move, to call on their constituents to endorse the Agreement, was that they knew and knew as clearly as possible, that the war was going to be over. I never heard unionists out championing the need for power-sharing or cross-border institutions as their first priorities. They knew those were the prices they would have to pay in order to get us and Sinn Fein to agree. So in a sense we made, and had always made them, our priorities. But for them the knowledge that the siege was going to be over, was as far as I could read it, the most important demand or requirement. And the fact that decommissioning didn’t happen – to them it was the sign that the war was over, it was the outward sign of inward intent – meant that they were disappointed. I am prepared to concede this illusion.
“If we are going to put the thing together again, we have to have some sense of what the others require, the least that they can give, the least that we can give. We can hopefully be more generous than giving the least. We hope that they can be more generous than giving the least. But unless we are able to identify that and I think that applies when you are making any kind of contract in any aspect of life, you need to know what is absolutely key to delivering the whole package, not key just in terms of what you are demanding, but also what they can give.
Leaving it to the two governments not the best option: “I just don’t accept, I disagreed a lot with what Jim has been saying, but Francie’s last point that we leave it to the two governments. Maybe that is what we will end up with. It holds no attraction for me. It denies me and my constituents a direct say in affairs both within the north and between north and south and as a democrat I just find that unacceptable. I may be obliged to live with it, but it is only living with it because nothing else is on offer. But it is not something I would wholeheartedly embrace, because I don’t see it.
United Ireland: “And this was another point Francie made: maybe he can but I can’t, I don’t see it as laying any other paving stones in the direction of a United Ireland. I just don’t, because they are not certainly going to go along with it, if that is the direction in which they feel it is going to be pushed by either one or other of the governments.
“And so we are left back with the requirement, work out our own salvation together in the north and between the rest of us on this island and if we don’t do that, we make an uneasy peace. But it will be an uneasy peace and if that is our legacy, ok not a very satisfactory one. You might say it is the one that 1921 bequeathed to us for all the years since then, but it had very unhappy outcomes. Let’s hope that if that is what we bequeathed at least the unhappy outcomes won’t be the same as they proved to be in the last thirty years in the north. That is my final word on it.”
Francie Molloy: “Well first of all, I would make the point that was made earlier on … about keeping an eye on the issues: victims, families, all the people who may have lost people in deaths and all this hurt they went through over the last thirty, forty years and even before that, since partition. I had a little gathering the other night with eleven families, all who had lost one or more of their family, and they were telling their story. It wasn’t the politicians or anyone else talking to them. It was them telling their story and the issues that were actually involved. It was … them talking and just trying to get their opportunity to tell us what exactly the last thirty, forty years meant to them in the loss of loved ones. And it was emotional and moving and if we are to repeat that right across the north and even the south, with families in Dublin, bombings in Monaghan, various different locations where people are victims within it and the same story really comes out, because these families lost loved ones. … And the big picture is the very same. We have to make sure that doesn’t happen again and I don’t know what assurances we can give or how you can actually predict the future.
Civil rights: “But the only thing that I would say is that I came into this whole thing looking for basic civil rights …. and defence. The first sign that I saw of the ugly side of it, was whenever I was in Armagh in a civil rights march, when I was met with … pickaxe handles and nails and at the other side … a police charge. That was on peaceful protest. No arms, no weapons, no nothing except people just linked arm to arm and that continued for a number of years, and I believe that Paisley thought that the State couldn’t give those basic rights to people, because they would maybe stay then and they would outvote or maybe get a job, and they would be independent and they would have a house and they would again have the right to vote, because everyone didn’t have the right to vote at that time. So I think it is important to go back to, I think the difficulty is and Sean touched on it…. from whatever side or a political party to actually try and reach out. Because the DUP have been saying ‘no’ for so long that I can understand it is very hard now when you are in the majority to actually turn around to your party and say: ‘well now, we now want you to enact the Agreement and start making this work having said no we are doing nothing. And no to this and no to that and turn that around.’ It is like a juggernaut. It is very hard to turn around at times. That is one of the issues. There is the time also that you have to start and lead and develop the public because the onus is on the two large parties…. all the parties but particularly the responsibility is on the DUP and Sinn Fein and SDLP to try and deliver that. And sometimes I think that the DUP want the image of power, of going into Stormont, being seen to be in control of Stormont, but actually not take any responsibility, to let the British government make the decisions, to let the British government make the decision on water charges, to make a decision on the rates, to make a decision on bread and butter issues so that they can avoid the hard decisions. So responsibility also goes along with the mandate.
“Willie Frazier [‘Love Ulster’ group] talks about it. I can see no reason why these people couldn’t walk down O’Connell Street, I have no problem with it. I started off as I say walking on the streets and demanding that I can walk on a street, so I wouldn’t deny it to anyone. It has to be done in a proper way of course and around the Orange marches, you have to talk to the residents and deal with it and accommodate within it. But I have sat in rooms with Willie Frazier and I have discussed and debated the issues. I have also sat in rooms were he walked out in protest because the cameras were there, because it was Sinn Fein. But I have been invited to meetings and had discussions and we agreed to differ.
“Also as part of our programme [n Dungannon] in 2007, which we talked about earlier on, we have also included in that programme the 12 July in Dungannon as part and parcel of the programme of events for 2007. Sometimes it is hard work, because sometimes I find in councils particularly that you are continuously trying to make it not difficult for others, to try and accommodate and try to find ways of not backing people into a corner and they keep coming out and saying no. For instance, last week in Dungannon …. giving out achievements awards….. I found the DUP wouldn’t accept a prize from me because I was a Sinn Fein mayor of the council. Now either there is acceptance of democracy or there is not acceptance of democracy, because while you can shout about your mandate on one side, you also have to recognise the mandate of the other party as well and that I think is accommodation working. But we shouldn’t make it difficult where people are backed into corners. We should try and accommodate, and I think we can do that, but we also need the safeguards of the structures within the Good Friday Agreement, d’Hondt, and the various mechanisms that are there to safeguard and protect the rights, until we build that trust…. So that’s all I can do, I’ll say reassurance, sit there and don’t reserve any political right of armed struggle. We actually are saying we want to make politics work and letting politics work is working on a democratic mandate and that is the only assurance I can give you.”
Michael Reade: “Can we get an optimistic note to finish, Jim Wells?
Jim Wells: “Unfortunately not, because I have heard comments tonight that frankly I would never have associated with people who attend the Meath Peace Group. Heaven help us if this is moderate Irish nationalism! Some of the comments made vitriolic attacks on my leader, on my party, frankly what I would expect in some darkest part of North Kerry, because if this is the opinion of ordinary middle-ground Irish citizens about the DUP, well then we have got problems. That is the first point.
No balance in Belfast Agreement: “Secondly, we are told that the overwhelming majority of people North and South voted for the Belfast Agreement. I believe that I was absolutely right not to vote for it ……..What happened to relieve the fears and concerns of the unionist community? We lost the RUC, we had Sinn Fein in government, we had cross-border bodies with executive power. We had the removal of all traces of the British system in the court system. We have now the destruction of the Royal Irish Regiment. It went on and on and on. The gravy train of concessions all went the wrong way. There was no balance in the Agreement. There was no attempt to assuage the fears of unionism by at least making sure that the ‘goodies’ were served out evenly. The unionist people who voted for the Agreement felt betrayed and the electorate wreaked a terrible revenge on the people who supported it, i.e. David Trimble and his party. He looks a very forlorn, forgotten figure today.
“So therefore there was none of the reassurance Sean talks about in the Belfast Agreement. Everything has been a one-way gravy train of concessions towards Sinn Fein. Now we talked here about Sinn Fein being denied democratic rights. Remember this is the organisation that murdered 1800 totally innocent people, many of whom were Catholics. They were responsible for Le Mon, for Enniskillen and so many more… So when I refuse to be photographed with Mr. Molloy, and my colleagues in Dungannon refuse to receive awards from them, it is not because we are anti-republican, it is because we are anti-terrorism. And Willie Frazer was not a member of the DUP. Willie Frazer has no connection with the DUP. Many of those accusations were made, were made against people who had absolutely no connection with the DUP! If I or any member of the DUP was to go around intimidating or shooting someone, or blackmailing them, they would be expelled immediately it happened. Quite rightly so. So we have democratic rule for our party. Our weapons are our fax machines, our statements, our press releases. So don’t feel for one moment, that we align ourselves to anything like that.
“And remember even recently we were being reassured that Sinn Fein had decommissioned. I make absolutely no differentiation between Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA, absolutely none. They are exactly the same people. Although we were told that they had decommissioned, what had they planned? The Northern Bank Robbery, the murder of Robert McCartney and of course all the recent escapades with criminality in South Armagh. We still have not reached the position where they would get a full boxful of Protestants in Northern Ireland, who would believe that Sinn Fein are a democratic and legal party.
“So we have a long way to go, but remember the DUP have come a long way this last thirty years. A few years ago, it would be absolutely unimaginable to have me speaking in this room tonight … absolutely unheard of – a DUP MLA sitting talking with the Meath Peace Group ….. Maybe it was a bad decision to come down in the first place. But I still believe that what was said wasn’t totally representative of this group. There were some fairly extreme comments here tonight against my leader and all we stand for. We have come a long way I think but … the chances of us getting into bed with Sinn Fein and forming an executive are so remote, it is not going to happen.
“So therefore we are going to have to have something which is second best in terms of devolution and therefore we are going to have to sit down and come up with something that is a halfway house. I took part in rolling devolution in 1982. Could I thank the person who said I was a young politician. I have been in the DUP for 31 years, and I sat in the 1982 assembly! … But anyhow, I sat in that Assembly – rolling devolution. It didn’t roll, because Sean Farren who was also a member of that Assembly refused even to come in and talk to his fellow Ulstermen in that Assembly. That is how narrow-minded the SDLP were at that time, so at least they have come on a fair bit since then.
“Now we need to go back to some form of rolling devolution where it moves forward with some momentum and to give Sinn Fein/IRA the time it desperately needs to prove to me and to any other Protestant in the street, that they have changed. That is a long, long way away and there are so many things they have to do. But please – the question I have asked this audience all night and no-one has answered it: is there anyone in this room who believes that if the PDs were up to what Francie Molloy and his party were up to, that they would have a right to be in a coalition government of the Irish Republic? The answer to that has to be emphatically no, so why impose it on us?…
Brian Fitzgerald: “I think there are plenty of other reasons why they shouldn’t be in government.
Jim Wells: “Yes exactly, but that is the fundamental point. We have economic policies as well. But if it is not good enough for the Irish Republic, why is it good enough for the people of Northern Ireland? Nobody can ever square that circle with me. You all look at your toes. Nobody is prepared to answer, because it is an unanswerable question.
Q.13. Jim Nolan (Enniskillen): “Sorry, you are not comparing like with like.
Judith Hamill (Tara): “Yes exactly
Jim Wells: “Why?
Jim Nolan: “Different country, different issues.”
Jim Wells: “…. explain to me why they are not acceptable in the Republic, but must be inflicted on us.”
Q. 14: “So Willie McCrea didn’t share that platform with Billy Wright?
Jim Wells: “Did Willie McCrea murder anybody?
Questioner: “Can you agree that Willie McCrea did share a platform with Billy Wright?
Jim Wells: “Has he ever murdered anybody, has he ever robbed a bank?
Q.15: “Jim did say that… his party would take up arms to defend their constitutional position, no more than the IRA took up the arms with what they thought was their constitutional position…
Jim Wells: “What constitution?….
Questioner: “You said that your party would take up arms to defend what they could perceive was their current constitutional position. So you cannot call the kettle black. You are ready to take up arms yourself. That threat is there. That threat is there in your own words. So that is one of the reasons why people find it difficult to sit down around the table and talk with you.
Jim Wells: “What constitutional position was defended by the burning alive of twelve dog handlers in La Mon in 1978?
Questioner: “That is not acceptable.
Jim Wells: “Totally unacceptable, there can be no justification for burning La Mon and going into a church and murdering three people who were singing Gospel hymns. ….Now the difference is in 1912, the unionist people of Northern Ireland said that if you are going to force us against our will into an all-island Republic, we reserve a constitutional, democratic right; we have to resist that with any means. That is the only time that there is ever any justification where the will of the majority, as democratically expressed is overridden ….That is the only time that that can be justified. But we are not in that position and the DUP has no intention of being involved in anything which is remotely criminal or terrorist related. But the problem is finding half a dozen unionists in Northern Ireland who don’t believe that Francie Molloy and his party are still not up to their necks in criminality and to some degree still involved in terrorism.
Q.16: “When is the Ulster Resistance going to disarm?
Jim Wells: “It happened years ago.”
Questioner: “When did it happen?
Brian Fitzgerald: “… As I said earlier here tonight, it is very frustrating listening to what is going on. There is a huge effort that has been put in by a considerable number of politicians on this island to try to break the cycle of violence which we have all had to become accustomed to. A huge effort was put in by the likes of John Hume and many, many others.
Michael Reade: “I think we will have to call a halt because we are not going to find agreement. We wish you the very best of luck in finding agreement if at all possible. I hope regardless of what you thought about tonight, it was really a true and honest debate and that speakers this evening travelled long distances to be with us and I hope everybody appreciates that. Before we leave, Julitta wants to mention some future events …..
Julitta Clancy: “Thank you. Just to mention that we have a talk on April 10th on the Conflict Trauma Resource Group in Belfast who have done a study on the needs of UDR families. This is an example of the work that we are doing: we are looking at all sides and aspects of the conflict and all the pain that was there. Then on 24th April we have a talk on Easter 1916, the context of that legacy. I feel personally that rather than have jumped into the 1916 theme, this State should have prioritised how to work at building understanding and respect for all the traditions and how we give a more generous definition of Irishness than we have been giving up to now. But thank you very much and thanks to our three speakers and Mike Reade for chairing.” [Editor’s note: a further talk was held on 12 June ‘ Irish Involvement in the Great War’]
Meath Peace Group report 2006
Taped by Judith Hamill (audio) and Jim Kealy (video)
Transcribed by Judith Hamill. Edited by Julitta Clancy
©Meath Peace Group
APPENDIX 1: Written speech of Sean Farren
Devolution and North-South Relations: Address to Meath Peace Group, 27 March 2006
“The prospect of some movement towards restoring the institutions of the GFA is now imminent. Before Easter the challenge will be put before all of the parties as to whether or not they want to participate in those institutions. The first step will be convening the Assembly elected in November 2003. We don’t have a very good record when it comes to facing such challenges but the coming opportunity is likely to be the last for some considerable time. Failure to achieve devolution and the restoration of the other institutions will amount to a significant lost opportunity. But it will not be a cost-free lost opportunity. Failure will mark a backwards step which will see key aspects of the Good Friday Agreement put on ice mean. More negatively because of the failure to develop political partnerships even deeper levels of apartheid than already exist are a likely consequence.
For some these may not be unwelcome outcomes. On the one hand there will be no requirement to power-share or develop partnerships with representatives of the other community. Secondly no commitment to participate in policing arrangements will be necessary. Furthermore, with direct rule ministers continuing to take decisions the difficulties of which will not have to addressed by local parties, the latter can continue to play the role of an irresponsible opposition. As long the economy continues to provide virtual full employment the levels of public dissatisfaction with direct rule will probably remain low. Indeed with the considerable injections of public funding promised over the next few years this is highly likely to remain the case. However, efforts to improve relationships between our communities will lack the example of public representatives making decisions together for the mutual benefit of all. Instead of working together we are very likely to continue regarding each other through the prism of our age-long suspicion and enmities.
In the event of failure to grasp the coming opportunity to restore our political institutions, similar comments can be made about North-South developments. In that situation North-South developments will focus almost exclusively on functional outcomes but will lack the transcending aim of promoting reconciliation and closer relationships between the people of Ireland, one of the key objectives of the Good Friday Agreement. The pace of North-South co-operation has undoubtedly intensified over the past decade. Evidence is to be seen in increased volumes of trade, the success of Tourism Ireland in boosting tourist numbers, the development of the Belfast-Dublin road and rail networks, the increasing number of cross-border hospital contracts for service provision, movement towards a single energy market for the whole island and plans to create an integrated North-South gas supply. Even cross-border roaming charges have figured as an important issue with Ireland leading the way for the rest of the EU on this matter.
These initiatives – and many others – highlight the ‘normalisation’ of practical co-operation with mutually beneficial outcomes. Indeed, the success of North-South co-operation in recent years is such that there is no longer a question over its capacity to deliver economic and social benefits on both sides of the border. But like the challenges facing us in terms of relationships between our communities, the scale of North-South co-operation is seriously constrained by the absence of the Assembly and of the North-South Council.
Moreover, this part of the Agreement has been disproportionately affected by suspension. Executive business is conducted by Direct Rule Ministers. British-Irish Council business continues. The SDLP is determined to ensure that that the potential of the North-South agenda is realised and that co-operation does not become a hostage to political stalemate. We want to see North-South co-operation raised to a new level of development – and we want as much of it as possible achieved under the auspices of restored political institutions. Beyond the political and practical case for broad-based North-South co-operation, there is growing acknowledgement of its importance in building trust and good relations between our communities within the North and across the island. As Co-operation Ireland has stated – “The promotion of effective North-South co-operation is an integral part of building peace on the island of Ireland.”
To maximise the benefits of North-South co-operation a step- change towards a much more integrated planning and delivery of projects is required. Nowhere is this more needed than in infrastructural development where between 90 and 100 billion euros are to be spent on the island’s infrastructure. We believe that unprecedented opportunities exist for not only the joint planning of projects but and for their joint delivery as well. We can do more together to get more together in terms of both more strategic outcomes and procurement and delivery gains. Obstacles of many kinds continue to impede North-South co-operation and partnerships, some minor, others of a substantial kind. These range from double charging and unnecessary delays in effecting financial transactions, to roaming charges and taxation anomalies arising from residence in one jurisdiction and work in the other. These need to be tackled with a real commitment to resolving the problems caused and removing barriers to mobility in people, goods and services throughout Ireland. The SDLP’s detailed proposals include plans for a new Transport and Infrastructure body, an all-Ireland Research Alliance, Marketing and Investment Co-operation, a Public Safety body and a joined-up anti-poverty strategy. In addition there are many other recommendations covering issues in health, education, the environment, agriculture, energy, etc. where enhanced forms of co-operation would yield enormous benefits. When it comes to such proposals, the real question has to be ‘why not?’ more than ‘why?’ But North-South can answer both questions and should no longer have to work so hard to justify itself or get a political start.
Because North South makes sense – and the arguments against it lack substance. It can deliver benefits to all of us: as consumers, as public service users, as workers, as entrepreneurs and investors, as service providers and as taxpayers. Not just along the eastern corridor between Dublin and Belfast, but for people living West of the Bann and West of the Shannon as well – where real investment is most needed. We can – and should – have a shared economy, shared spatial planning, shared approaches to community and social services, shared cultural experiences, shared health and educational services, etc. – all shared in a spirit of mutual respect and a common commitment to upholding human and civil rights in the manner set out in the Good Friday Agreement. It is critical that in meeting the challenge of the coming week we reflect seriously on the opportunities which are on offer for the people we represent and on the consequences if we fail to meet that challenge in the most positive ways possible. “
APPENDIX 2: Extracts from MPG Public Talk No. 55, “Where do we go from here?
7th March 2005, St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan
Professor Paul Bew (Dept. of Irish Politics, Q.U.B.): “We are in a new place. .. It may possibly be that the credibility of this process has taken a tremendous hit among ordinary people to the point that it actually becomes difficult to maintain. Even before all this happened, the NI Life and Times Survey showed that two thirds of Protestants and 50% of Catholics didn’t care if Stormont never came back”. And within the Irish Republic there is a crucial issue which is the survival of Irish democracy “because it is quite clear that the scale of what was going on was greater than the Irish Government believed last Autumn.” The institutions of the Agreement have only worked 19 months since 1998, he said. There were long delays on decommissioning and the present suspension was caused by the “extra-curricular activities of republicans”. Very few people now believe that the institutions would be restored this year but “there are people in the DUP who want to do this deal” and the republican movement has the incentive to come up with another form of words and to make some moves on the policing issue and IRA links. New ideas may have to be explored, said Professor Bew: “It doesn’t mean a deal without Sinn Féin in the governance of Northern Ireland. It means a new British-Irish Agreement. And there are certain things you could catch: the acceptance of the principle of consent, the fact that within unionism ‘north-southery’ is no longer as neuralgic in the way it once was, and that is one of the long-term achievements. That whole fear of the south within unionism has been drained, and therefore the possibility of putting together a package of North-South cooperation which was actually sustainable on a cross-community basis is there.”
Sean Farren, MLA: Former SDLP Minister, Sean Farren, agreed that there was widespread disillusionment which was shared to a considerable extent on both sides. “We may well as politicians be faced with a sense of “a plague on both your houses”, you had the opportunity, you didn’t take it.” The NI electorate could be called a cosetted electorate “when you think of the number of Assembly Members (108), the number of MPs (18), the number of local councillors (560) and 3 MEPs. All for a population of 1.7 million! Maybe we do have to be forced to take more responsibility for ourselves. I think the pressures on ourselves to resolve our problems have not been such that they have impelled us with a greater sense of urgency towards addressing those problems’. …He reminded the audience of unionist expectations from the Agreement. “At the top of their list would have been deliverance from a 30-year war, that, despite the rhetoric of it being directed against the occupying forces, was borne in much of its viciousness by the unionist/Protestant community.” The Agreement failed to build confidence in that particular aspect. “Commitments were made which were not delivered on. Some steps were taken. But they were always under pressure.” There was the Robert McCartney killing, and ‘on top of that the whole money-laundering, and the scale of criminality that is now beginning to unfold. This is not new. Underneath that there is a degree and a scale of criminality which is represented in diesel laundering, cigarette smuggling and so on. …So I believe that where we are at now is a watershed, a watershed that doesn’t require us to return and rewrite the Good Friday Agreement, but a watershed that is going to require a very firm stand on the part of the Irish Government. ….the scale and extent of what is now being revealed makes that, I believe, impossible for the Irish Government in a country the size of Ireland, to have a mafia-type organisation operating. And the big challenge that that poses to Sinn Fein in its association with that organisation is how to separate itself, can it separate itself?
The biggest problem is the whole future of policing arrangements. ”The new arrangement has worked remarkably well, given the circumstances … it is working remarkably well, it is transforming. And the number of southerners who are coming up to join the PSNI is quite significant.” However, a lot depends on the May election, “not least whether or not we can move into something that would revive, renew and maybe give us the prospect and the hope that some of the expectations that I referred to earlier can come back to motivate us in politics.”
Jim Wells, MLA: DUP environment spokesman, Jim Wells, MLA, said that in May 1998, “the vast majority of Ulster Unionists were prepared to make enormous concessions and to give up a tremendous degree of ground in order to stop their community being tortured by the Provisional IRA. It is difficult to comprehend the hurt and grief that has caused to the Protestant community and the extent to which they were prepared to go in order to take that terror out of the community.” However, he believed that all the DUP predictions about Sinn Féin/IRA intentions in May 1998 have proved to be right. “There’s one fundamental iceberg that you cannot get around. Is it right that any political party affiliated to terrorism and gangsterism should have a say or a place in any democratic society? I believe that no western democracy would tolerate it, and indeed your own Taoiseach said that there was no place for Sinn Féin in the government of the Irish Republic because they have a private army. “Should we allow the entire political process in Northern Ireland to grind to a halt because one party cannot divorce itself from criminal elements? We believe it shouldn’t.” There are other options, he said, including a voluntary coalition with the UUP, the SDLP and the Alliance Party with Sinn Fein in opposition. That would represent 75% of the people of Northern Ireland, a much higher proportion than the present coalition in the Irish Republic.” Such a coalition would, he believed, bring stability to Northern Ireland, and it would remove the veto “which Sinn Fein/IRA effectively has over all progress. If we’re going to have to wait until Sinn Fein/IRA decide to redeem themselves and go down the route of normal democratic politics, we could wait for decades. And indeed the really frightening scenario is that despite all the bank robberies and criminality and terrorism that Sinn Fein were covertly involved in these last seven years, their vote actually remains the same or increases.”
The DUP would in certain circumstances go into government with Sinn Fein but Sinn Fein would be ‘a totally different anima’: “Sinn Fein would have had to completely divest itself of any shred of weaponry… …the whole army council structure, the whole cell structure, would have to be completely dismantled. There’d have to be a complete resolution to the Disappeared and to those who have been sent out to other parts of the world, who have been excluded from the island of Ireland under the threat of death. There would have to be major major changes. And then there would have to something like a sanitation period to prove that they’ve actually done all that, and there would have to be a mechanism where if it were proved that they hadn’t , then we could revert to some form of control of our affairs which excluded them… we have an absolute ultimate bottom line. As long as Adams and McGuinness are armed to the teeth and involved with criminality we are not going into an executive with them. Absolutely never! And I don’t think any democrat can say anything different.”
APPENDIX 3: Biographical notes on speakers
Sean Farren, MLA (SDLP) was elected to the new NI Assembly for North Antrim in 1998 and re-elected in 2003. He was Minister for Higher and Further Education in the Executive from November 1999 until December 2001 and from December 2001 to October 2002 he served as Minister for Finance. His previous career in politics included membership of the Assembly for N. Antrim (1982-86), and SDLP chairman (1981 to 1986). He was a member of the New Ireland Forum in 1983-84 and was a negotiator in the Brooke-Mayhew talks from 1991 to 1992. Elected to the NI Forum in 1996, he was an SDLP talks delegate in the multi-party talks 1996-98 which concluded in the Belfast Agreement.
Francie Molloy, MLA (Sinn Féin), Mayor of Dungannon, was elected to the new NI Assembly representing Mid Ulster in 1998 and was re-elected in 2003. He chaired the Finance and Personnel Committee in the Assembly and was also a member of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee. He has been active in his area’s political and community life since his teens and was one of the first people in his area to join the Civil Rights Movement. During the 1981 Hunger Strike, he was Director of Elections for Bobby Sands and Owen Carron. He was elected to Dungannon Council in 1985, was mayor of Dungannon in 2001 and was recently re-elected to the Ard Chomairle of Sinn Féin. Francie is chair of the Sinn Féin Equality Commission and party spokesperson on Finance.
Jim Wells, MLA (DUP) was elected to the new NI Assembly in 1998 representing South Down, and was re-elected in 2003. He is the DUP group secretary at Stormont and the party’s spokesperson on the Environment. He served on the Assembly’s Enterprise,Trade and Investment Committee and is the DUP representative on the Assembly Commission – the body which manages the Stormont building and its staff. He is known in Stormont circles as the “green wing” of the DUP. He has a long record in local government, having served on 3 separate councils since 1981: Lisburn, Banbridge and Down, and is currently a member of Down District Council. Jim was the first elected member of the DUP to speak at a public gathering in the Republic. The occasion was the Glenties Summer School in 1988.
APPENDIX 4: MEATH PEACE GROUP: ACTIVITIES 2005-06 (September 2006)
(short summary of our work over the last 2 years)
A. Public talks 2005-2006 (continuing the series commenced in 1993)
54. Feb. 25, 2005 “The Good Friday Agreement: the Future”. Dermot Ahern, T.D., Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dominic Bradley, MLA (SDLP) and John O’Dowd, MLA (Sinn Fein). Chaired by Michael Reade (LMFM)
55. March 7, 2005 “Where do we go from here?” Paul Bew, Professor of Irish Politics, QUB, Sean Farren, MLA (SDLP) and Jim Wells, MLA (DUP). Chaired by Michael Reade (LMFM)
56. May 9th, 2005 “Bombings and their aftermath – Birmingham and other experiences”. Michael Nangle, Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Jacinta de Paor, L.I.V.E. Coordinator, Glencree Centre, Gareth Porter, H.U.R.T. Group, Lurgan, Co. Armagh. Chaired by Michael Reade (LMFM)
57. June 20th, 2005 “Paramilitarism, Criminality and the Good Friday Agreement”
Michael McDowell, TD, Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform
Chaired by Michael Reade (LMFM)
58. Nov. 14th, 2005 “Who Can we Trust?” West Tyrone Voice Victims’ Group. Dr Hazlett Lynch, Billy Harpur, Gamble Moore, Raymond Finlay. Chaired by Roy Garland
59. March 27th, 2006 “Devolution and Cross-border Cooperation: prospects and realities”. Sean Farren, MLA (SDLP), Francie Molloy, MLA (Sinn Féin), Jim Wells, MLA (DUP). Chaired by Michael Reade (LMFM)
60. April 10th, 2006 “The Legacy of War” – experiences of UDR families
Martin Snoddon (Director, Conflict Trauma Resource Centre, Belfast) and Rosemary McCullough and Teena Patrick (former ‘Green Finches’). Chaired by Roy Garland
61. April 24th, 2006 “Easter 1916 – the Irish Rebellion” Dr. Charles Townshend (Prof. of Modern History, Keele University, author of “Easter 1916 – the Irish Rebellion”) Chaired by Brendan O’Brien (author of The Long War)
62. June 12, 2006 ‘Irish Involvement in the Great War, 1914-1918’. Professor Paul Bew (Q.U.B.) and Tom Burke, MBE (Chair, Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association). Chaired by Cathal MacCoille (RTE). Held in Ardboyne Hotel, Navan
B. School (Transition Years) Programme (conducted by Judith Hamill and Julitta Clancy)
1. St Joseph’s (Mercy) Secondary School, Navan and
2) Colaiste Phobail Rathcairn (2005-06)
Programme conducted in Spring 2005 (St Joseph’s ) and Autumn 2005 and Spring 2006 (both schools):
Workshops and discussions on Identity, Prejudice, History of the conflict, Victims, Violence, Sectarianism, Non-Violent action for justice, Healing and Reconciliation, Prisoners and prison conditions, Fair Trade, World Trade, Immigration, Parades, Interface communities. The students at St Joseph’s also organised a Fair Trade seminar and exhibition (May 2005) which was attended by parents, teachers, members of the Navan business community and local political representatives. Guest speakers in 2005-06 included: Sean Ó Baoill (Mediation Northern Ireland), Conor Maskey (Intercomm, N. Belfast), Anne Carr (Community Dialogue, Belfast), Michael Murray (An Tobar, Ardbraccan), Michael Nangle (Lord Mayor of Birmingham), Gareth Porter (H.U.R.T. victims support group, Lurgan), Grainne Prior (Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas), Pat Magee (republican ex-prisoner), Martin Snoddon (Conflict Trauma Resource Centre), Meath Probation Service, Garda Siochana (Navan), Joy Eniola (Oxfam), Michael O’Sullivan (Dalgan Park), Chris O’Halloran (Belfast Interface Project) and the Samaritans (Drogheda).
Study visits to: Ulster Museum, Belfast (Conflict exhibition), Intercomm and New Lodge area, Belfast, Collins Barracks Museum (study of contested spaces, talk by Geraldine White), Mountjoy Prison (male and female prisons, talk and tour conducted by prison officers), Maze Prison (tour of compounds and H-Blocks) and Conflict Trauma Resource Centre, Belfast (Martin Snoddon)
3) Dunshaughlin Community College (May 2006) – visit to Northern Ireland Assembly, Stormont. Tour of Assemby buildings, talk by educational officer and meeting with Patricia Lewsley, MLA (Chair of SDLP). Afternoon: visit to Intercomm Group, Belfast (talk and tour of New Lodge Interface area by Conor Maskey of Intercomm group)
C. Heritage Study and Networking:
Recognising the key role that heritage can play in the work of reconciliation and building understanding, the Meath Peace Group organised and facilitated several heritage days for Northern groups, visiting sites in Meath and Louth. Groups who took part included victims’ groups (such as the H.U.R.T. group, Lurgan) and community groups (e.g. COSTA South Tyrone groups). In addition, members of the Meath Peace Group participated in the monthly dialogue meetings and other events organised throughout the year by the Louth-based cross-border and cross-community group, the Guild of Uriel (founded 1995) including weekend visit to Enniskillen and Rossnowlagh, and also took part in meetings of the Healing through Remembrance project (Belfast) and events organised by many other groups.
Update compiled by Julitta Clancy (September 2006)
MEATH PEACE GROUP TALKS
No. 47 – “Acts of Completion and Beyond – Beginning the Reconciliation Process“
Tuesday, 18th February 2003
St Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan, Co. Meath
David Ford, MLA (Leader of the Alliance Party)
Cllr. Dr. Chris McGimpsey (UUP, Shankill Road, Belfast)
Trudy Miller (NI Women’s Coalition, South Down)
Cllr. Francie Molloy, MLA(Sinn Fein, Mid-Ulster)
Chaired by Andy Pollak (Director, Centre for Cross-Border Studies, Armagh
Introduction (Andy Pollak)
Questions and Comments
Closing words: Andy Pollak and Julitta Clancy
Andy Pollak, Director of the Centre for Cross-Border Studies: “Thank you for inviting me to chair this session. We have a very distinguished panel here tonight. … I’m just going to say one wee tiny thing about reconciliation, because it’s a difficult term, “reconciliation”. Just to try and concentrate people’s minds a little bit: Hizkias Assefa, who is one of the international authorities on reconciliation, defines it as “honest acknowledgment of the harm or injury each has inflicted on the other, sincere regrets and remorse for the injury done, readiness to apologise, readiness to let go of the anger and bitterness, commitment by the offender not to repeat the injury, sincere effort to redress past grievances that caused the conflict and compensate for the damage caused, and entering into a new mutually enriching relationship”.
“So it’s a hard old station, reconciliation, a lot of work involved.
“So, having sort of semi- defined what is a very difficult term I’m now just going to go straight to the first speaker who is Cllr. Dr Chris McGimpsey. I’ve known Chris for many years – he is one of the most outspoken and courageous liberal unionists. He represents part of the Shankill Road area in Belfast on Belfast City Council, so when he talks about unionism and working class unionism he really knows what he is talking about….
1. Cllr. Dr Chris McGimpsey (UUP)
“Can I thank you for the invitation? It’s a great privilege always to travel across the border and speak to our friends in the other section of our island. I think it was 1981 was the first year that I went across the border, with a fair degree of youthful enthusiasm, to speak to a group in the Irish Republic – a group of nationalists. And I think that was possibly the first unionist to have done that since the famous time when John Taylor led the Queens University Young Unionists to meet with Young Fine Gael in Dublin North Central, I think it was, which would have been about 1963 or 1964, so it was about 15 or 18 years previously. Interestingly the Young Unionists from Queens got away with it and the Young Fine Gael branch were expelled or suspended by the Fine Gael leadership! So I did a lot of this, and then over the last number of years I sort of fell out of the loop with things somewhere, and people just never invited me back. Maybe something was said, I don’t know, but anyway I feel here tonight – particularly with the speakers I’m sharing a platform with, and of course Andy who’s an old hand with these things – I feel almost like a professional footballer coming out of retirement! I had a good run for 20 years and now everyone’s saying now he’s back.
Grassroots approach: “… I want to look at a couple of things … Can I take first of all the disclaimer? I’m not speaking here on behalf of the Ulster Unionist Party. I have not been given a secret text to slip into my speech by David Trimble. It may not surprise you to learn that David Trimble deals with the important issues of State within the Unionist Party – you know all those issues. My work is on the ground. I leave early in the morning because I’ve got a disability living allowance tribunal to fight, to try and get a wee man his disability living back – his allowance has been cut and he is losing £42 a fortnight. So there are different roles in politics: the role that I perform on the Shankill Road is very different from the role that others – indeed my brother [Michael McGimpsey] for example – would perform within the Ulster Unionist Party. So I’m going to give you a wee bit more of a grassroots approach. I saw my role here tonight was to make a few opening comments, give you a few ideas of where we move from here and then probably involve myself in the questions.
Pressures within Protestant working-class community: “I have over the last two to three years invested a fair bit of time in helping people who have been expelled from their homes, people who have been burnt out, people who have been shot at. I sat in a woman’s house on Friday night who was being expelled from her home by the UDA. By the way every single case I’ve dealt with – which has probably been about 150 in the past three years – have all been Protestants expelled from their homes by Protestants. We have had widespread burning out – Protestants burning Protestants out, other Protestants intimidating Protestant, Protestants shooting Protestants. This has been sort of endemic in the Shankill for the last three years. …. Friday night I spent talking to a couple … they were being expelled by the UDA and I managed to make contact, asked the UDA if they wouldn’t expel them (through a community worker), and the word came back saying “no”. So by Saturday they were out of their home, the house was sealed up and they were away. Whether they are in Northern Ireland or not I do not know, and it’s probably better that I don’t know.
“That’s the sort of work that I’m involved in. I mention that, chairman, because a lot of this stuff that’s happening is because there are so many unanswered questions, and so much unfinished business within the Protestant working class community in Belfast, that the pressure is building up within the community – the community has turned upon itself. That’s a lot of what is happening. Ironically, many of the moves towards reconciliation, many of the moves towards a peaceful settlement in Northern Ireland, have actually led us to a situation where the community is turning on itself. You know Belfast well – who would have thought five years ago if I’d said to you that a loyalist flute band would walk up the Shankill Road and a large crowd of Protestants will attack them, and two hours later they will come back with guns and shoot up a Protestant bar in the middle of the Shankill Road? You would have thought you were nuts, but that’s exactly what happened in August two years ago.
Belfast Agreement: “The pressures are building up within our community. And within our community, the sort of people I represent – the people I work with – are drifting away from the Agreement. Can I say first of all, I voted ‘yes’ to the Belfast Agreement. Two weeks before I was voting ‘no’ and then I was voting ‘yes’ and I thought I would probably go ‘no’ and then I wasn’t too sure, and I guess with everybody it was like that in our community. There were so many pluses and minuses that I met very few people that were 110% ‘no’ or 110% ‘yes.’ Everybody was thinking. There were actually five votes in my house. Three people in our house voted for the Agreement and two opposed it. Two of my sons voted ‘no.’ They are not anti-peace, they are most certainly not anti-Catholic. … One of them’s just not interested in politics, religion or anything. He just spends his time like most wee lads of twenty-two, going out and drinking beer and trying to pick up girls. Which is reasonable enough when you’re that age. It would be a wee bit infra-dig for me to start that, but I mean it’s reasonable enough at his age. But that’s the point I’m making – our community split, our family split, everybody split on the issue. But I felt this was the way forward.
Compromises on both sides: “Five years since the Agreement where are we? The Assembly is now prorogued. If we don’t get a deal within the next four to five weeks it’s going to go down the tubes, I suspect. We have had claim and counterclaim. We have claimed that nationalists are not serious about trying to work in co-operation with unionists. Sinn Fein have claimed we don’t want a Catholic about the place. You’ve heard it all. There is no point in rehearsing it any more. Unionists five years ago were asked to make three or four concessions: we were asked to accept Sinn Fein in government – effectively an enforced coalition based on proportionality. We were asked to agree to prisoner releases. We were asked to work cross-border bodies, and we were asked to, if you like, acquiesce in some of the less acceptable elements of Patten. Nationalists and republicans, by the same token, were asked to make certain compromises also: they were asked to accept the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. They were asked to enter into government on a proportional basis. They were asked to support the new police force, the Police Service of Northern Ireland. That’s quite significant. And they were also asked to disarm, to disband the IRA and to stand down paramilitary structures. The loyalists incidentally were also asked that.
Commitment to exclusively democratic means: “And those were the compromises, and that’s how I saw it at that time: we’re being asked to swallow a lot of nasty medicine here and so are they, and we can get away with this without compromising core principles, and nationalists tell us they can as well. So we have the basis of a deal. But the key for unionists, and the key as we stand at the moment, is that all people must endorse exclusively democratic means. The paramilitaries have demonstratively not done that. Over 110 tons of weapons came into Ireland from Libya, as well as all the stuff that has been posted in since the ceasefires from … Florida, the man from Philadelphia, and all this stuff that has been going on. We have had all that and the break-in at Castlereagh, and the spy ring in Stormont. All that indicates that there is not a commitment to exclusively democratic means that the republicans have signed up to.
Sitting on the fence: “There can really be no sitting on this particular fence. Now we all try to straddle fences. I think this Agreement would never actually have happened, if they hadn’t been able to make out grey areas, but we all try to straddle fences. But in Ireland now, I think, either you’re in favour of constitutional and democratic change, or you’re on the other side of the post and you support the right of a paramilitary group to go out and kill and bomb and so on, on their own terms. You can’t be on that fence, you can’t sit on it. You all know what the paramilitaries are about. I mean I’m sure there are people here – Francie [Molloy] will know about para-militarism. If you want to know about it ask me. Trust me, they’ve threatened to shoot me twice in the last two years and I’m not talking about the IRA.
“You see there is no qualitative difference between loyalist and republican violence and loyalist and republican paramilitaries. They are all involved in the same things. So unless we can get a situation where the paramilitaries demonstratively, clearly and unequivocally, turn their back on violence, then I’m afraid what we voted for five years ago is not going to work.
Importance of decommissioning: “Commitments must be made to democrats on both sides of the border. I remember being down here the time the Agreement was being signed. People were convinced, as I was convinced in the North, that five years down the road there would be no IRA, there would be no UVF, no UDA, the structures would be gone, they’d all be ‘old comrades associations’ and they could all sit about and do various things, but as fighting paramilitary forces, they were gone. That hasn’t happened and that is the key to why decommissioning is important, that explains why we have got to try and move beyond this. There has to be a shift.
Options: “Now we have a number of options. One of the options is to compromise and co-operate on moving things forward. Unfortunately, I would say, every time some movement has been needed from republicans, for example, when they responded, they have always responded with too little and they have been too late. The potential benefits dissipate due to the begrudging nature in which republicans respond to requests to live up to what really was their commitment of five years ago. So they have got to decide what they are about. The loyalists are the same, but they are a different issue. The UDA are a different issue. One of them said to me one day after they had shot some guy, he said, about the new dispensation: “what are you going to do – put us out of the Assembly?” Ironic, you see they are not in the Assembly, there was no stick to beat them with. The UVF are in the Assembly of course, they have got two seats, but they’ll never be in government, because people in the unionist community tend not to vote for parties that are linked to para-militarism.
Renegotiation: “Now the other option that Ireland faces is renegotiation. In my opinion, this is not an option. But if renegotiation was an option, if that was the way we were moving – into renegotiating the whole Belfast Agreement – we would not need elections in May, we would not need an Assembly. Effectively we would not need 108 highly paid negotiators. What you would do is put the whole thing into mothballs and you would start working the way you did prior to the Agreement being brought up. But in my humble opinion, full and formal renegotiation a la the Peter Robinson model is not an option. It’s not an option because most of the parties don’t want it, so I don’t know who the DUP are going to renegotiate with, but they are not going to be renegotiating obviously with nationalist Ireland, and I don’t see us really getting involved in it.
“Third option – admit it’s a failure: “The third option I’ve got to tell you is quite simply based on the premise that if after all we did for the Belfast Agreement five years ago, if we haven’t managed to get it right now after five years, if we can’t put the gun beyond use after five years, if we can’t get Protestants and Catholics, unionists and nationalists working together after five years for a new peaceful Northern Ireland with recognition and all the rest of it from the Irish Republic. If, after five years, we can’t do this, then the thing has failed. We just pat ourselves on the back and say: “it was a good try, we did our best. Maybe we got closer than we have on many other times, but, that said, it’s failed”. And then we just simply admit our failure and try something else.
Other options: “Unionists believe that there are other options for the good government of Northern Ireland. Many unionists favour integration. Others believe that the way forward is back to a form of direct rule with increased powers for local government. I’m not advocating either of those two options over the Assembly, I’m just telling you these are the other two options. So the unionist cupboard isn’t bare if the doors are swung open.
Breaking the logjam: “Those are the options that face us. We have at the minute a logjam which must be broken. It will be broken if concessions come from all sides, but the key concessions will have to be on the arms issue and will have to come from republicans, and only then will Trimble have enough to be able to sell to the unionist community.
Why the Shankill voted for the Agreement: “We were promised a peace dividend in the Shankill. I’d say the majority of people in good old hard-line Shankill Road – the place everybody loves to hate or else hates to love – the majority of our people voted for the Agreement. We voted for the Agreement because we had suffered more than the people in North Down, or other areas of Northern Ireland. We voted for the Agreement because we had put in more of a commitment to the fight, so we were more committed to the peace. We voted for the Agreement because we were sick, sore and tired of the violence. We voted for the Agreement because we recognised some of the outrageous harm, some of the outrageous crimes that we had committed against the other community, whilst never for one second ever forgetting the outrageous crimes that have been committed upon us as a community.
Drift away from the Agreement: “We don’t vote for the Agreement now – the majority of the people on the Shankill would be opposed to the Agreement. The peace dividend saw our two largest employers close: O’Hara’s Bakery and Mackey’s – they’re gone. The peace dividend has produced virtually nothing on the ground, virtually nothing has been produced from this Agreement. The fact that so many people continue to support it for so long, I think, is a testament to our commitment to peace, but unless the politicians – and this is where we get back to what I was saying about Trimble at the very start – unless the David Trimbles, the Francie Molloys and the David Fords, and those who are going to be going back to whatever is the equivalent now of Weston Park, unless those people get together and can produce something, be absolutely sure we are going to drift back. There’ll be other options looked at, hopefully they won’t be violence, but we’re going to drift away from this Agreement. I am still committed to the principles of the Agreement and I still believe that that is our way forward, our best way forward, but I am a distinctly minority voice in West Belfast.”
Chair: Andy Pollak: “The next speaker is the only one of the speakers that I hadn’t known until tonight, so I’m going to have to stick to the notes here. Trudy I suppose to you is the most interesting, because she comes from Oldcastle, Co. Meath, although she has been a Northerner for over 20 years and she joined that wonderful voice of common sense and moderation, the NI Women’s Coalition, who in their small and not so small way played a huge role in providing the cement that brought the Good Friday Agreement, the Belfast Agreement into existence in the first place, and has held it together since. She is a former teacher and primary school principal and she’s on the executive committee of the NI Women’s Coalition and the education policy team, and is party candidate for South Down.
2. Trudy Miller (NI Women’s Coalition)
“I am delighted, needless to say, to be back in County Meath. I know the road well, I lived down near Oldcastle. I left it a long time ago, but I’ve taken that journey many a time. I am from the Women’s Coalition – I’m not so sure how familiar you may or may not be with it down here. Just to say that a fairly illustrious fellow called Tony Blair said that we have more common sense than an awful lot of other people put together. So we could do with that common sense spread in Northern Ireland. The Women’s Coalition came into being in 1996. It was literally a coalescing, a getting together of women who felt that their voice had to have an input into what led up the original talks, the Peace Forum. It basically set a pattern, and it has been acknowledged that we were the first party that brought the kind of thinking to the peace table in 1996. In October 2000, the United Nations Security Council validated what we did. It introduced a resolution which mandated negotiation in conflict situations to include women, because I do believe women bring a different perspective on to any sort of war situation.
Talking: “That said, you are now talking about where we are and what’s happening in Northern Ireland. Just to illustrate to you perhaps how things can work out, and it really works out through talk, and just getting around and continuing to talk. We can decommission tomorrow, we can do all the things tomorrow, we can sit on police boards, everything can happen, but what has got to be recognised is that there is no magic wand…. nothing is going to suddenly change. It is all a process and it is going to take time. The Agreement was not considered to be something that was going to work overnight. It was really a vision for the next twenty years and each time we have to go back to the table, and we have got to sit around, and we have got to continue talking. And a small illustration of that would be, say, in the Springfield Project in West Belfast, where ex-combatants get together each week, come up, come down, come whoever’s talking or not talking to whoever on the larger stage of politics, they talk. They have moved on from dependence. As children we are dependent. Then we become independent. They have recognised that the source of wisdom is interdependence.
“That is what really we need to bring to bear on the whole of the political system in Northern Ireland. We have much more in common than we have apart, and no magic wand is going to be waved overnight, no matter what happens. It really has got to be recognised that it is a lengthy process and we have got to continue to talk, no matter what is not happening or happening …. You can debate forever the nitty gritty of these things.
Normalisation: “Now the Women’s Coalition have certain proposals and they are really in regard to the normalisation of our society. I would have taught in England in, I suppose you’d call them, denominational schools. It didn’t seem to matter a hoot when you went to work, but I think it is a different society here. So some of the Women’s Coalition proposals are integrated education, integrated housing. Now that seems totally ridiculous at the moment, but it can come about, and it can come about with trust in each other and that comes about through talking.
Beliefs: “I’ll just go through some of our beliefs. We believe that there are three issues relating to para-militarism and decommissioning: When the IRA does something, it must be received appropriately and it should be recognised for what they have done. On the other hand, we must recognise that the unionists are not a single party, as it were. They are a homogenous group with different contentions within them, and that has got to be taken into account. However the Women’s Coalition believe that we should remain in touch, that the British and Irish governments have a huge role to play to determine sufficiency and acceptability of movement within the decommissioning process. We believe that the implementation of the Belfast Agreement has been bedeviled by exchanges of too many gifts. On one side the gifts of decommissioning, on the other side the gift of power sharing. This undermines both sides and it continues to be a form of sectarianism from both parties, no matter what is said. On the one hand it is still slightly sort of bullyboy tactics, no matter what fancy name we may call some of these things. The Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition sees the implementation of the Agreement as fundamental to the solving of this crisis. It has not been fully implemented, never mind renegotiated. It has not been fully implemented, and, as I said, it is a lengthy, lengthy process.
Alienation of loyalists: “Loyalists are currently feeling alienated from the political process. Those who are pro-Agreement perceive a disparity in treatment between themselves and that of Sinn Fein, the latter afforded more legitimacy, being courted. And if the IRA deliver, loyalists will be expected to reciprocate without having been in the same negotiations, or having received, or appeared to have received, the same treatments or tradeoffs. Political loyalism cannot sell this to their followers, especially in the light of the growth in anti-Agreement sentiment. While it is recognised by the Women’s Coalition that pressure must also be placed on the loyalist paramilitaries to decommission, every effort must be made to afford political support to those loyalists who remain pro-Agreement.
Normalisation: “I went to London a couple of weeks ago with my daughter and she was fascinated with the police stations. She said “they’re lovely – you could walk into one of those”. I think she imagined it as “Dixon of Dock Green”. But I suddenly realised what she was talking about. It’s sort of a different world in Northern Ireland. We see the implementation of this section of the Agreement as crucial. It is not only a confidence-building measure, but is intrinsic to how a normal society should function, without the armies patrolling the streets, or the imposition of militarised bases on police stations. The issue of normalisation is not just about getting rid of the army presence, our aim is to achieve a normal society where people work, live and are educated together. Removing the symbols of conflict will not automatically result in a society that is no longer in conflict. It just doesn’t happen like that. And the long-term goals of communities living together in mixed housing, attending integrated schools, working together – and included in that would be the Bill of Rights which has been fairly widely consulted all around the province. It will be a charter for all the people of Northern Ireland and everybody should feel safe in it. However we recognise that demilitarisation will have to take place nonetheless at some point.
Policing: “The Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition sees Sinn Fein taking their place on the policing board as a de facto statement that the war is over. In fact it is the recognition of the Northern Ireland State. A paramilitary force is rendered unnecessary by a police force which is acceptable to all the community. And I hope we are on our way to that. It was one of the things that struck me when I came to live where I live now, out the country in Northern Ireland. It was the custom around Easter time to burn the whins, the furze bushes, and the youngsters who weren’t old enough to go to the pub I presume, used to think it was kind of a craic on an Easter Monday to go out and burn the bushes.
“And I remember going out and saying “why are my neighbours not out looking?” because they could throw a match on the fence as they passed by, and I thought somebody should call the police, but nobody called the police. I’m glad to say that things seem to have moved on since then in this community, this rural area where I lived, and to me that is a good sign. It’s a process of normalisation in the flesh.
Women in politics: “I think I will stop there. I will repeat again that integrated education, integrated housing, the normalisation of society and I think a woman’s way – and we are not exclusive, we merely use that title “Women’s Coalition” to highlight the fact that women are so under-represented in public life and in politics. We have 14% women in politics, 52% of the electorate in Northern Ireland are women. I really think that we can bring some common sense to bear…. We are the peace-makers in the home, we are the managers and I think really, small as we are, we have bundles of common sense, and if we had some power in proportion to the common sense we have, I think things would be a lot different and better actually. Thank you very much.”
Chair (Andy Pollak): “Thank you Trudy. We will now pass to Cllr. Francis Molloy who is a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly for Sinn Fein, representing mid-Ulster. Francie is one of the most senior and influential and distinguished members of Sinn Fein. You can be sure that when the senior council of Sinn Fein are meeting to decide what they are going to do, Francie will be there. As you can see from the notes he goes back to the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the early days of the republican movement, and was director of operations for both Bobby Sands and Owen Carron. On a personal note he is also a great supporter of the work of the Centre for Cross-Border Studies and I thank Francie for that.”
3. Cllr. Francie Molloy, MLA (Sinn Fein):
“Thank you very much, I am very pleased to be here. I wish that I had all that power, Andy, and that the party consulted me as much as what you say, but unfortunately that’s not the situation and we are here as humble beings within it all. I think it is important that we are here in a discussion, and I think, you know, that we can all put our party positions in, that’s natural enough, but I think we also have to open up this whole discussion if we are going to move into new situations and develop new situations.
Effect of Sinn Fein going into Stormont: “While it is important to state and to know where parties stand in all of this here, that’s why it is important for me to go back slightly into how the Agreement came about – because I don’t believe that unionists understand fully, or even at all, the whole issue of Sinn Fein going into Stormont and the effect that had on our base and our supporters. Because for 80 years we had said we would never sit in Stormont and then all of a sudden we turned our party policy – two ard-fheiseanna right enough it took to do that – into a situation of actually saying we would take our seats. And not only that we would take our seats, but we would actually be there in the administration and be Ministers within that Assembly. I often have been misquoted on this, but I think it is important. Our critics within the republican movement, and those who have become dissident within the republican struggle, would also claim that we are administering British rule in Ireland, because we are Ministers within our Assembly. And I don’t believe that unionism has ever actually taken that on board and to know the effect that has in trying to bring the base with you in this type of situation.
The Agreement: “To me the Agreement and the coming around of the negotiations, was all part of the coming to terms with a number of situations, both for republicans, for nationalists and for unionists, and whenever we signed the Agreement, I was one of those who naively thought that everyone would now be pulling together to actually try to make the administration work. And I was surprised whenever it took so long, first of all to get the administration up and running and to actually start to get the machinery into position. And I think that that gap that happened was the first note of sourness and actually was the first sign that we really hadn’t moved that much further than we had before, because David Trimble basically refused to work that coalition in a way that originally had been intended. And it is a forced coalition. No one got all they wanted within the Agreement. And the Agreement wasn’t to me a settlement of the all-Ireland context. It was a bringing together of all those within the Northern context that actually would work together to administer and to start to try and build trust within the different parties, and also to try and prove to people on the ground that the local people could actually run the Six Counties better than what British Ministers coming across one or two days a week, or maybe even once a month, to actually administer, could do.
Local administration did work: “And I think the proof of that has been that the local administration did work. I chaired the Finance Committee within that, and all the parties within the Assembly were there – DUP, Ulster Unionists, Sinn Fein, Alliance, all the structures, and everyone was working well together. And so this whole issue that is created sometimes – that the DUP weren’t actually part of it – is all a myth that has been created by them to actually fool their own people at the end of the day. Because every one of those worked within the two years in meetings, and only once was there an actual vote taken because everyone agreed to compromise and to work it out and to actually represent the different constituencies in the various different ways. So I think there is an indication there that certainly the politicians in the North could make things work if they are given the opportunity.
British Government and British interest in Ireland: “So what stops that from happening? One is that the British Government continued to play outside of the Agreement by actually having the power to disband and eliminate whenever the Ulster Unionists were in difficulties. And on a number of different occasions that happened when we had the threats to walk out of it and to disband it and various different things. Whenever preconditions were being set, whenever the unionist demands were that the republicans would do A, B and C, instead of actually negotiating or instead of actually debating it within the Chamber or negotiating it out, what happened was that ultimatums were set and it wasn’t until 5 o’clock on the day that the whole thing was brought down. And we saw that with Peter Mandelson, and we saw it with the various different Ministers over that time that actually brought it down. And again we saw it with the British Government, having known that the Ulster Unionists had decided to actually bring the institutions down on 18th January, and that they were going to walk away from it, the British Government contrived a situation around what has been known as “Stormontgate”, in the lines of the “who was feeding who information” and “what and who was taking information from who”, because I think at the end of the day the whole thing was a conspiracy which was actually set up by the British Government.
“Whenever they needed to be able to pull the whole thing down like a deck of cards, that’s what they did and they simply took the power from everyone, including David Trimble, whenever they suspended the institutions. And that is acting outside of the Agreement because there is nothing in the Good Friday Agreement – Belfast Agreement, whatever you want to call it – there’s nothing there which actually says that the British Government has the power to suspend those institutions. So that’s the first failure I think, and an indication that, at the end of the day, if faced with the difficulties, with faced with pressure from unionists, that the British Government will do what the British Government have always done, and that is to play the Orange card. And this is what happened once again. So the preconditions that have been set, and someone said what republicans had to do – but it is important if you are looking at an Agreement, and the British Government have over the years from the Treaty of ‘21 to the present day, in every Treaty there were a number of loopholes there to make sure that it never actually happened. The Treaty of ‘21 was supposed to have a Council of Ireland which maybe would have brought together the politicians North and South to actually work that institution. The Boundary Commission was set up to actually try and negotiate where the boundaries would be, and again all of that fell to one side. But even in the present day – we can say that all happened in the past – but even in the present day it is all happening in the very same way: the British Government, in order to save the British interest in Ireland, have continued to administer and to pull the carpet whenever it actually was required.
Unionists: “So the institutions are down and I think there is no clear indication at the present time that they will ever be up again. And people will say “well it’s up to republicans”, or republicans will say “it’s up to unionists”. In fact I would say it is up to the British Government, it’s up to the two Governments. Because this is an international agreement and the people of all Ireland voted for it, and the Constitution here was changed – I think it was changed for the better in that situation because it actually meant that for the first time anyone born in Ireland, no matter where their parents came from, could actually claim to be Irish, or, if they wanted to claim to be British, they could do that also. But those changes were made to accommodate the unionists’ demands, and yet whenever those demands were met they were pocketed and they walked away, and what we have now is more demands being made. And I do believe that Ulster Unionists – and in fact one of them at one stage, a senior politician, said that “whenever the Assembly was up and running the DUP were making gains on Ulster Unionists, and now that the Assembly is down the Ulster Unionists start to come back into the ascendancy”, because at the end of the day they have more integration with Britain than with the devolved administration.
“So we have today, I think, the opportunity for David Trimble to actually continue on direct rule and … co-ordination with Britain in order to secure his own position, and for the British Government to secure British interests in Ireland. But we haven’t got a coming together of the acceptance of the Agreement.
Moving forward: “And I still believe that the only way we can move forward is whenever we do get the proper discussion, we do get people coming off their perches and actually dealing with the reality on the ground. Because the Assembly was working, the councils are working, and the various different parties are co-operating in various different ways. I know in our own council in Dungannon we had for the first time a nationalist majority came into operation 18 months ago, and we brought in the D’Hondt system, similar to what they use in the Assembly. This means that every party, including the one Independent, also has a position of chair or vice-chair of the various different committees, or the mayor and vice-mayor over the four-year period. Now if that is working at local government level, why can it not work at the Assembly level? If it is working to actually try to administer the changes that are happening at local government, and will happen at local government, then it should work within the Assembly.
Managing the change: “But it comes back to the point I think that people feel still that there wasn’t really a constitutional settlement. That unionism still see [themselves] as being undermined and under threat and pressure coming from things like the census… and the voting there, how it would work in a referendum and what would change, would the numbers going to be one way or the other. And then we have from the nationalist/republican point of view the idea that we actually need to insure that we actually have a majority if we change the Constitution. And I believe that we have to look at alternative ways to do that.
“And while sovereignty is certainly key for me as an Irish Republican – to actually bring about Irish sovereignty – that we actually do have a clear line, and that unionism actually starts to manage the situation of transfer and the situation of transition from where we are at the present time to where things most likely will happen in the foreseeable future. And we look to how do we manage that best between us. Not on the lines of grandstanding, but on how we actually might manage it on the ground. And we [ask] – is it necessary to have just simply one government in the whole of Ireland? And this is not a party position. In the same way as Chris has actually set a ‘health warning’ at the start, I suppose I should also say that I am not speaking party policy, I am actually speaking more on the lines of an Irish Republican in a discussion as regards how do we manage the change that is actually going to happen. And I do believe that, for the foreseeable future, even in an all-Ireland situation, that you most likely will have an Assembly in the North where unionists will be still the dominant force as regards numbers at that particular time. That we actually can administer the whole of Ireland in various different ways to deal with our unique situation and allow that to develop over a period of time. Because we’re in this for the long haul, not simply to change things tomorrow and that’s the end of it, because that won’t happen. The reality is that we need to administer the change, what actually is going to happen and the transition……….
Implementing the Agreement: “So I do believe that we need to start to discuss openly and frankly what are the alternatives. We can just simply disband the Assembly and walk away, but that’s going to create a vacuum, and what fills a vacuum? If politics aren’t working then other things will fill the vacuum. That’s not threatening, that’s simply dealing with reality … The same thing that Chris was talking about on the Shankill Road, where a vacuum was created there the paramilitaries took over and the situation was developed from there and you lose control ….. So I believe that you can’t simply suspend the Assembly and the institutions. You need to implement the Agreement in full. I agree with Tony Blair that he hasn’t implemented the Agreement in full and neither have the parties in the North implemented the Agreement in full. But we all need to actually do that in order to make the Agreement work. Let’s get into the discussion about how we manage the change. Because, whatever people may think, the change is happening, it’s happening on a daily basis, we can’t really hold it back. We can either manage it, or we can allow it to drift and we can allow others to manage it for us. We have an opportunity – I think a unique opportunity – to build a new structure, new institutions, which actually can work. For the first time we have republicans sitting in Stormont in a Northern Assembly. We have unionists and republicans and nationalists all working together to administer that. We have the North-South bodies that can bring about the structures of change within the Irish Government and cross-border institutions. All of those structures are there.
“Now we can say: “well, nothing has happened, there has been no benefit or no change to anyone” but I think it would be a denial to actually say that there has been no benefit or change to everyone. Lets get down on the ground and actually administer the change because if we allow this to drift, if we allow it to be dismantled, then I think it will be impossible to rebuild it in our time. Thank you very much indeed.”
Chair (Andy Pollak) “Thank you Francie. And for the final speaker, we are honoured to have the leader of the Alliance Party, David Ford, with us. … I first met David during the Opsahl Commission – thank you Julitta for the kind words on that – when he was General Secretary ofthe party, and he has held various posts in the party since then and was elected party leader in October 2001. He has a very difficult job because he is the voice of the main moderate party in Northern Ireland which is being squeezed. One of the by-products of the Good Friday Agreement – and there have been good and bad, and violence is one of them, a bad by-product ……[tape unclear] there is a kind of ethnic block policy, and the only parties that don’t speak that kind of ethnic block language now are the two small parties, the Womens’ Coalition and the Alliance Party, so the Alliance Party plays once again a hugely important role in the centre of Northern Ireland politics.
4. David Ford, MLA (Alliance Party):
“Thank you, Chair, for that warm welcome. The advantage of speaking last on an occasion such as this is, first of all, when you arrive late, you can slip in without being noticed too obviously, and, secondly, you’ve heard what everybody else says so you get the chance to respond. The disadvantage when you are the fourth speaker is that everybody is sitting in the audience with their questions bubbling up inside them and the last thing they want is for the fourth speaker to go on too long in case they forget them! So I should try to steer a careful line somewhere between those two. And I suppose I should say, since I am the leader of the party, I can’t really disclaim – as Francie and Chris did – my responsibilities, except to say that, as Alliance is a democratic party, policy is made by the elected party council and not by the leader standing on his feet in County Meath!
Peace at the expense of reconciliation: “Acts of Completion” was the title, but I was interested, just as I came in Andy, you were actually reading through that definition of “reconciliation”, and it reminded me of a comment which I don’t know how many times I’ve heard since 1998, or indeed since the ceasefires, that “to some extent we have achieved a kind of uneasy peace in Northern Ireland, and a fairly unsatisfactory kind of peace, at the expense of reconciliation”. And hopefully – and other speakers have done this – we can look beyond the immediate problems to where we will actually be really establishing reconciliation in Northern Ireland.
Republican obligations: “But just to refer to you the immediate crisis. It seems to me quite clear that there is now a position that republicans have an obligation to demonstrate to us that the war is over. And, as far as I am concerned, I have criticised enough anti-Agreement Unionists, including notably my MP, Mr. Burnside, who Andy as a journalist covered not getting elected in a by-election, and spending an evening on the streets with me seeing the reaction of some of my constituents to that ambiguous nature of Unionism on it. But there is clearly a point where we will know an act of completion when we see it, but it’s not our job to tell republicans what they do.
Unionist obligations: “By the same token, there is clearly a need to tell the Ulster Unionist Party thatthey have to start to give the impression that they are whole-heartedly selling the Agreement. I think Francie made a number of interesting points. I also think he should be aware that many of his comments about the begrudgery, and the taking concessions and banking them, are of course precisely those which people from other backgrounds perceive Sinn Fein as carrying out. I believe David Trimble is a man who showed great leadership – for 15 minutes on the afternoon of Good Friday 1998 – and unfortunately I believe, and Chris will doubtless dispute this, that he could have made a much better job since then, if he had continued to fight the case for the Agreement within his party, rather than giving the impression to those of us who agree with him on a number of things, and disagree on others, that he has actually been running from the begrudgers in his own party too often, rather than taking them on. And I think that is part of the test of leadership. Each leader has to work out how to manage his own party. He has taken a particular decision to work the way he has done. I happen to think that it has not always been the most helpful.
DUP obligations: “I think there are also obligations, interestingly enough, on the DUP at the moment. I spoke recently to a Westminster MP who was having his first ever tour around the parties in parliament buildings. And he went from the DUP to Alliance and he told me that during the conversation somebody said from the DUP side: “well what’s going to happen if we are the biggest party in May, ha, ha?” To which he said: “you’ll have to accept the responsibilities the electorate have given you to lead the people of Northern Ireland and to take on your democratic mandate”. And they all sat around with their mouths open. Because if you are DUP it is great to say: “we are anti-Agreement, ha, ha” and not accept that they also have responsibilities.
SDLP obligations: “I think too, if I am knocking everybody else from these four parties that form the executive, I think there are clear obligations on the SDLP, both to show how they will defend the institutions in the Agreement, using the Agreement in a way I believe they failed to do last Autumn, and also to show that they can move forward on issues like policing, without engaging in what one of my colleagues termed ‘Patten fundamentalism.’ We are nearly at the point, theologically speaking, where we are now discussing how many angels can dance on Chris Patten’s nose, and all the time the kind of crimes that were discussed in the very beginning of this talk by Chris [McGimpsey] are happening, not just in the Shankill estates, but all over Northern Ireland, because we don’t have adequate numbers of properly trained police officers out and about doing the policing job. You know about crime on this side of the border as well, but there is no doubt that Northern Ireland is experiencing a huge problem in the lack of police resources and the lack of police manpower and yet we are engaging in ever more arcane discussions about the perfections of policing, and it really is time that the SDLP who lead a lot of that stopped it.
Where we are going as a society: “But I want to look beyond that, having had the sort of easy slam at everybody else, because it’s good fun and it gets me warmed up! I want to look beyond that to where we are actually going as a society, because I think that is actually a much more fundamental issue. If we solve the current problems on the short time-scale which we now have, with the Assembly due to be dissolved on the 21st of March pending an election. And I must say from everything I pick up is that there will be an election on the 1st of May whether or not we have solved the current problems, because that is what the legislation specifies, that’s what the Agreement specified.
Reviewing the Agreement: “It is absolutely clear that there is no point in suggesting that we’re going to renegotiate the Agreement afterwards, because the DUP when they go into the room marked “renegotiation” are going to find there is nobody else there. And whatever the faults and imperfections of the Agreement, we need to review the Agreement, we do not need to renegotiate it. There’s not much difference between the words, but there is a very strong difference between the implication of it.
Community relations: “We as a party, as Andy has referred to in the introduction, have made a very strong stance on a number of issues with regard to the promotion of community relations. And I was interested that we have had some of those highlighted already this evening. And there is no doubt, that when I talked about peace at the expense of reconciliation, in many aspects of community relations Northern Ireland is now in a worse position than it was at the time of the Agreement. Partly because hopes were so high, and when hopes are high and are dashed, it leaves people in an even worse position than before those hopes were raised. But there is no doubt that we have a society which is becoming increasingly divided and increasingly sectarian on the one hand, whilst on the other hand there is an increasing proportion of people who are rejecting the traditional definitions of politics. I caused a slight stir in the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation a few weeks back, when I pointed out that Life and Times surveys – official surveys carried out over the last few years – have shown that something in excess of 25% of Protestants do not define themselves as in any sense unionist, and a slightly higher proportion of Catholics do not define themselves as in any sense nationalist. Yet we have a society in which we are all supposed to fit into one or other of those two pigeonholes!
“And there is clearly an issue there, when we talk about normalisation of society as to what that means if we continue to shove people into those pigeonholes, if we are ceasing to allow them to represent themselves. That is why when the Alliance party published a policy paper on community relations in January, we called it “Building a United Community“, because the sub-text is, that since 1998 we have been seeking to manage a divided community and we haven’t actually done it very well.
“I accept that there are at this stage a larger number of people who would wish to identify themselves as unionist or nationalist, than would see themselves as part of the Centre, which is the term we have used in the Assembly, or “others” as we are inelegantly described by others in the Assembly, but there is also no doubt that the kind of views which we represent, represent those of a significant group of people, even if the Alliance Party’s current voting strength only gives us six members in the Assembly. And if we ignore as a society the fact that there are people who do not wish to be slotted into that easy divide, then we are actually consigning the whole population of Northern Ireland to being left with the 17th century mindsets. And we need to ensure that as we carry out reviews, and as we look at the operation of the Agreement, we see that those are all covered.
Integrated education: “We have mentioned the issues of integrated housing or integrated education recently. Why is it that in Northern Ireland the most over-subscribed schools are nearly all integrated schools? Why is it that in my area, the local integrated school has more than two applicants, first choice, for every place, whereas the either Catholic-maintained or effectively Protestant State-schools mostly have a first place application for less than half of the places they have on offer? What does that say about the way people want their children to be educated? And why is it that public finance is not provided to encourage the transformation of existing schools in that direction?
Mixed housing: “Why is it that we have a public agency like the Housing Executive, which has a duty to provide housing for those in need, which has as no part of its responsibility promoting and assisting those people who wish to live in mixed areas? Why do they pretend they can do it in a – I almost said a colour-blind, but an orange/green colour-blind mentality – when that actually, in many cases, is adding to the problems of social tensions? Now I’m not suggesting that we are at the point where we can immediately start bussing people from Divis Flats to live in the Lower Shankill. I mean you can’t get Protestants who want to live in the Lower Shankill these days, so there aren’t going to be many Catholics who wish to. But in areas such as the constituency I represent in South Antrim, in Antrim town, in Newtonabbey, there are large numbers of housing areas, whether publicly owned or privately owned, which are to some extent mixed, that people wish to remain mixed, and yet there are people painting paramilitary murals and painting kerbstones in a deliberate attempt to drive the community apart and virtually nothing is being done by either the Housing Executive, or the Police Service, or the road service or other public agencies to stop that.
Designation issue: “And I think if we are starting to look beyond the “acts of completion”, we really do have to look to what happens to those in society who don’t fit into what the Chair described as the “divided society”, which the Agreement has given us. It was very easy in 1998 to say: “unionists and nationalists working together is a step forward, is progress”. Of course it is. It’s a million times better than what went before, but to suggest that that is actually the model for the long-term, rather than ensuring a way in which people can work together without being slotted into rigid pigeonholes, seems to me to be an absolute necessity. And the most obvious example of that was what happened in the Assembly, a month after I was elected party leader, when, following the first act of IRA decommissioning we had a vote to elect David Trimble and Mark Durkan as First Minister and Deputy First Minister and it failed, and three days later we had the same vote and it passed. And what was the difference? Three Alliance members pretended they were unionists for 22 minutes, because that was the only way in which we could get the two of them elected! And I really think we have to ask what is wrong with a system which requires people to pretend to be what they are not. People who have actually spent a political lifetime seeking to unite a community having to pretend they belong to one side or other, and there has to be some way of dealing with that designation issue which is also part of the matters which needs to be looked at in the review. But I think, looking at my watch, you’ve probably had rather more of me than you want so far. “
Chair: Andy Pollak: “Thank you very much, David. Ok, the floor is yours … so does anyone want to come in on any of those points? If I could maybe, can I just throw up a couple of things, to get you started? It seems to me there are a couple of provocative points which came out from some of the speakers. I was struck by the way Chris McGimpsey and Francie Molloy agreed on their pessimism, they seemed to agree on their pessimism that they’d be surprised if the institutions are going to get up and going again. That’s not the official line – the official line in Dublin and London is that they will get up and going.
“There seems to be a slight difference, and this is always a tension underlying discussions between nationalists and unionists, in that Francie seems to be talking about managing change towards Irish unity, and Chris and David Trimble seem to believe what Tony Blair said in his first speech in Belfast in 1997 that no-one in that audience, including the youngest, would see Irish unity in their lifetime. So a good contradiction there.
“And then the final point that David [Ford] made which is: are we about – or are the politicians in Northern Ireland about – building a united community, or are they about managing a divided community while they jockey for their respective ethnic nationalist positions, holding the line on any movement towards a United Ireland, or moving towards a United Ireland as fast as possible. So I’ll just throw those up as points, maybe to try and provoke something. So is there anybody who wants to come in there? I mean don’t take those points necessarily, but you’ve had the speakers. Go ahead.
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS (Summaries of questions only)
Q1: [To Francie Molloy, re British interest in Northern Ireland]. “… I’m originally from Co. Antrim, but have lived in Australia for a long time. If I understood correctly, Cllr. Francis Molloy said that the British were interested in protecting what they have in Northern Ireland and I am wondering what interests do the British have in Northern Ireland at the present time? I would have thought that perhaps they might be glad to get rid of the troubles in Northern Ireland.“
Q2 (Bellinter resident) [To Chris McGimpsey, re “integration” option]: “You voiced two options at one stage – one was integration and the other I’m not quite sure what it was. If you could say a little more about the word “integration” in the context in which you were speaking …”
Q3 (Duleek resident): “If after the election on the 1st of May …if one side or the other comes out with a big majority on the loyalist or the nationalist side, where there’s a big majority, what happens then? Do we have power sharing? It may not happen this time but it may happen the next election or the one after that.”
Andy Pollak: “Are you talking about whether Sinn Fein or the DUP have a majority?”
Questioner: “Maybe not Sinn Fein or the DUP, but we’ll call them the nationalists, the SDLP and Sinn Fein combined on the one side, and the unionists on the other.”
Q4: [To Francie Molloy, re reconciliation]: “ … The word “reconciliation” is actually in the title of tonight’s talk, but I actually heard very little from Francie about reconciliation. I was very disappointed that, for somebody who represents an organisation I suppose which is the embodiment of resistance to the overtures of the British Government, that for some reason a large part of his talk was about the fact that the British government had a crucial role to play in moving unionists forward. From my experience of the organisation that he belongs to, the British Government have very very little power in moving people when their mindset is particularly opposed to what they want to do. So I believe that we need to hear more about reconciliation.”
Replies to Questions 1-4:
Chair (Andy Pollak): “Ok, so of these four questions two are really for Francie – what are the British interests in Northern Ireland and what does Sinn Fein think about reconciliation? and one for Chris – integration, what does that mean? Why is that an option? And what would happen if there was a significant majority for one side or the other, the nationalist side or the unionist side, after the next election or after a future election?
Francie Molloy: “First of all, as regards the British interests, one of the things that I often say is, if you go back to the early civil rights campaign we were told at that time that the British Army came in to protect the Catholics, I actually always believed they came in to protect British interests.
“And they showed that over the period of time. ……. [Some say] the British are now getting out of the North, I don’t go along with that because I think they had ample opportunity over the years to do that, the indication would be otherwise that the British were actually trying to stabilise the situation, and even in the present situation what they have tried to do was to stabilise the situation to wear down republican resistance, from our point of view, and to create as big a vacuum as possible before taking any action. And the admission from Tony Blair that they actually had not implemented the Agreement, or lived up to the commitments they had given, is a clear indication that they weren’t serious about implementing the changes that they had agreed to, the commitments that they had given to nationalists. And … people will actually say: “why do you expect the British Government? The British Government in my view, as an Irish republican, are the occupation force, they are the people who are there imposing their rule in part of Ireland, so they are the people who have to make a change …….and they have used unionists, and they have used religion and Protestantism over the years … as tools to ensure that British rule continues in Ireland over the period of time.
“So I think it is up to the British Government, at least to live up to the commitments they have given …. and I think republicans for the first time actually challenged the British Government, because if you go back the whole issue was if you just had an IRA ceasefire, if you just had peace, then everything would be rosy in the garden, everything would be solved, no problem whatsoever, that it was all coming from the IRA. Then we had an IRA ceasefire and nothing changed. We still have an IRA ceasefire and nothing has changed, and what we seem to be having from the British Government is simply that they actually want to stabilise their position and continue to control as they have in the past.
Integration: “I’ll leave the integration one to Chris because he has a better understanding of that one, but my impression from a republican nationalist point of view is that a devolved administration is for unionists a dangerous position because it’s changing, whereas integration with British rule and British rule continuing to occupy the Six Counties is not as dangerous for unionists because it is not something that is going to change by a vote of the people of the North and that’s where the difference comes in.
After the election: “What happens after the election? What happens after an election in any country? The government is formed, if you can’t form a government between one set of coalitions you form a government with another. What has happened here a number of different times where you had coalition governments with various different makeups. And I do believe that Sinn Fein … will be the largest party in the Assembly and the DUP will be second largest. Now if that happens, then certainly I think we will have a working agreement. I think the DUP have positioned themselves for change. As I said I witnessed that within the Assembly, both in the Assembly commission working with Peter Robinson, and also within the Finance & Personnel committee working along with other DUP members, including Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds. I think the recent change where DUP were refusing to sit in studios, went through all the antics the Ulster Unionists went through ten years ago, but they are now coming to the exact same thing, and its an indication that change will happen over a period of time, and we will actually get people to work. And I do believe that Peter Robinson wants to be in government. And even from the DUP point of view, if you look back over the last 20 years where Ian Paisley wanted to be Prime Minister and he wanted O’Neill out, Chichester-Clarke out, Faulkner out, everybody else out, would he give up the opportunity of being the first DUP Prime Minister or first Minister in that situation, if he had to share that with Gerry Adams or Martin McGuinness? I don’t think so. I think ….if he had to be in there to protect the Union and to ensure unionists weren’t swamped by Sinn Fein, I think that’s not a problem from a DUP point of view, they are very practical.
Reconciliation: “Back to reconciliation, maybe I didn’t use the word “reconciliation”, and sometimes people actually are putting emphasis on words like “condemnation” and the whole issue of disband, the issue around disbandment, also the whole issue of disarmament and destruction, putting a lot of emphasis on words. And reconciliation for me is actually in the acts of reconciliation. And I thought that I did actually highlight the fact that republicans went into Stormont for the first time – that was the first act of reconciliation in relation to that, as regards trying to actually come to terms with the situation and be part of the administration there and be part of the structures. At Council level it would be very easy for the nationalists or republicans to simply go along the line that unionism had for years of actually, whenever you have a majority hold on to it, and make the most of it, whereas nationalists and republicans have demonstrated that they haven’t done that, they have actually shared local power and that’s what we want to do, and we are interested in building that. And we have made it very clear over the time that we have problems in various different ways that when we talk about the British interest in Ireland, we don’t mean unionists or we don’t mean Protestants. We are not talking religious denominations, we are talking about the British Government control and British occupation of part of the country.
Managing the change: “Certainly reconciliation is part of building the new structures, and I did say that what we want to do is to get down to grass-roots and discuss the very practical way that we build that trust, and build the new Administration which will govern the island of Ireland for the foreseeable future. And I welcome the opportunity to ask unionists once again to actually join with us in doing that, to manage that change. That change might take several years but I believe that change is on the way. And there’s two ways of doing it. You can either do it the way David Trimble is doing it, you can walk away from the talks, walk out of the negotiations, and simply go to Westminster, or you can sit down in an elected assembly in the North, and build the trust and build the institutions which I think will be there for the future.”
Chris McGimpsey [re integration option]: “I said there were two other options for the government of Northern Ireland which would be attractive to unionists. One was continuing with direct rule, which is what we have at the minute, and what we had prior to the Assembly, with an augmentation of local government powers. Local government in Northern Ireland doesn’t have anything like the sort of powers you have in local government in the Republic. I don’t advocate that – I advocate the Assembly, I advocate the Good Friday Agreement, but that I think would be acceptable to the majority of unionists. The other option is integration, and the thing is there that Northern Ireland be governed exactly the same way as all other parts of the United Kingdom. That there’d be no devolution because its not there in England, that the British parties in Britain would also organise in Northern Ireland. That we simply be governed in the same way. I don’t advocate that either, but I have to say that view became the guiding principle for Bob McCartney. He was a member of the integrationist movement, and then he subsequently lost his party ………
“But that’s what its about, its about purely organising and governing Northern Ireland exactly the same way as England is governed. No Assembly, no devolution, everybody goes to Westminster, again with increased powers for local government. I don’t advocate that. But those are the other two options and unionists will move towards one or other of those two options if the Good Friday Agreement option is seen to continue to fail.
British presence in Ireland: “I don’t know whether you want me to make comments on some of the other points. If I could just say briefly, all this talk of Francie’s about British, the “British presence”, “British interests”. In February 1984 ….. I gave evidence to what was then known as the Forum for A New Ireland, known now as the New Ireland Forum, I gave evidence to the New Ireland Forum and I pointed out in the Forum that day that the most significant, the only really important British presence in Ireland, is the fact that there are one million Irish men and Irish women living in the six north eastern counties of the island of Ireland who believe themselves to be British and who wish to continue to be ruled as part of the United Kingdom. That’s the real British presence and that is the British interest that unfortunately republicans have never been able to come to terms with. They can come to terms with the concept of “oh, it’s a colonial government, they are trying to play the Orange card, and do all sorts of stuff”. The real British presence that nationalists have got to come to terms with is the Irish man who lives in the next farm who actually feels himself to be British more than Irish, that’s the presence that has to be dealt with.
Trudy Miller [re British presence]: “Just to be brief …….I do believe when we talk about British presence – and taking on board what Chris says, it’s certainly a way of looking at things – but in terms of British presence as in the Westminster Government I think at the Treaty of 1921 it was a different scenario and they would have had an interest in holding a land base in Ireland then. I do not feel they are interested now really, that it’s an albatross to a degree, and if there were a peaceful solution they would be very glad to see us all get on very well together.
Integration: “The second questioner mentioned integration, I thought straight away of an integrated society, it was my first thought … because I think that is what we have to do, it’s the better option. I cannot see the British people, the British element, the people who consider themselves British in Northern Ireland, being particularly happy with direct rule or with integration in the whole British system. There are too many benefits. One looks at Northern Ireland 20 years ago and one looks at it now, it’s an entirely different place. And even since 1998, even though our last government was up and running with hiccups and up and down and all the rest of it, the whole ambience, the whole atmosphere, the whole energy that has come about the place is just something different, and I just don’t think it would be the same if it was integrated, Westminster rule or the continuance of direct rule.
After the elections: “In regard to question 3, if there is a majority of nationalists or DUP unionists, I think perhaps was the question, yes I take on board what Francie says, yes I could see some pragmatic maneuvers. That would be for government. But, on the other hand, it would be to operate two separate societies, two ghettoes, and we may then leave out all these “others” as they are sometimes termed. It would not be to the benefit of anyone, no matter even if they agreed to sit down together and run a government. It would be like the marriage where they agreed to lead two separate lives, there’s no communication there, there’s no interdependence which I began with, and it’s just not a very good scenario.
David Ford [re the British interest]: “Briefly, chair, on the British interest Chris is absolutely right. I don’t often agree with British Governments but when they say they have no “selfish, strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland”, they are absolutely correct. The British interest is a million people who want to be British. I believe that any British Government for the foreseeable would cheerfully push Northern Ireland out with as much enthusiasm as the majority of the people of the Republic would push to resist being integrated with it.
Unionist options: “In terms of the issue of the Unionist options, as Chris outlined, the problem with that Unionist position is like most Unionist positions, other than support of the Agreement, its actually way out of date. You can no longer govern Northern Ireland integrated with the rest of the UK in exactly the same way, because there is devolution in Scotland, there is devolution in Wales, there is devolution coming to the regions of England. It is a nonsense position. That is why Chris, and those who still support the Agreement as the best way forward, are the only ones who are being realistic within the Unionist Party.
After the elections: “The issue about whether there is a big majority for unionists or nationalists in May, there is of course a working unionist majority in the Assembly as currently is, the majority of our votes are decided, if they are decided on a party basis, by unionists outvoting nationalists. Sometimes unionists and us, sometimes unionists outvoting nationalists and us. The issue is only on certain specific points, where the particularly peculiar weighted majority voting system we have requiring designations comes in. If you want my halfpenny worth – and you can see what odds you get on this in the bookies tomorrow morning – after the election the largest party will be the Ulster Unionist Party, the second largest will be the DUP, the third largest will be Sinn Fein, the fourth largest will be the SDLP and the fifth largest will be Alliance.
Chair (Andy Pollak): “Thank you. I must say, if I could just add my two halfpence worth, I was disappointed to hear Francie come up with this old line about “British interest”. I understood, again a quote that David made, that there is “no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland”. That was Peter Brooke, the Northern Ireland Secretary of State back in 1991, who said that, and that was seen as a turning point, John Hume said this means that if the people of the island of Ireland can agree on a solution, can agree on structures, the British will step aside and will not interfere. I understood that it was on that basis that certainly all the parties, maybe except Sinn Fein, and maybe Sinn Fein are still stuck in this old idea that the British have a kind of a strategic interest in staying in Ireland. I understood that was a key change in the political climate back then which led to a lot of things that came after it.
Re DUP: “And also I am again disappointed to hear this line about the DUP, if the DUP are the biggest party or the biggest unionist party after the next election, they’ll do some deal with Sinn Fein. As far as I’m concerned, hell will freeze over before the DUP will share power with Gerry Adams. If you look at the last recent poll, I think it was 3% of DUP supporters said they would support any kind of power sharing. That’s with the SDLP not with Sinn Fein.
“I think what Peter Robinson wants, Peter Robinson is a very ambitious, very pragmatic politician, but whether he can bring a party along with him that is 97% against power sharing, into power sharing with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness and Sinn Fein, the ancient enemy, I find that really quite impossible to believe….. “
Francie Molloy: “I thought the Chair would be neutral in this situation. The reality is, and maybe Andy is slightly removed from reality in Armagh, but I think the reality on the ground, and I think I know it, is that the DUP are positioning themselves for change, and if people can’t see the signs of that, then I think they are the people who have got it wrong. But it’s not a matter for me………The situation is that the makeup of the Assembly as it is at the moment would mean that the largest unionist party and the largest nationalist party would become the First and Deputy First Ministers. That’s the way it’s actually organised, you mightn’t like it, and I know David and others have … proposed changes, but that’s the reality at the present time. And if the DUP are the largest unionist party – which I think they will be – and if Sinn Fein are the largest nationalist party – which I think they will be – then that’s where there will be a voting. It’s not a matter of a deal, but a vote which will actually ensure who is First and Deputy First Minister. And I do believe that it will work together, But if you want to ensure that the Assembly is up and running then I do believe that you have to have elections and, despite what Chris says, the Ulster Unionist Party are still trying to ensure that the elections don’t happen on the First of May.
David Ford: “A brief response to that. I think Francie’s completely wrong when he says that the largest unionist party and the largest nationalist party will necessarily supply the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. It’s not a matter that unionists elect the First Minister and nationalists elect the Deputy First Minister. There has to be a joint proposal of two names passed on the current system by a majority vote of designated unionists and designated nationalists. I think if anybody in this room believes that any unionist in the second week of May this year is going to vote for a Sinn Fein member to be Deputy First Minister, they really don’t understand unionists.”
Q.5 (Trim resident): “I was interested that Chris McGimpsey and Gregory Campbell [DUP], who addressed a meeting here some time ago, they seem to be singing out of the same hymn sheet, both cited all the republican side got and the other side didn’t. And one is for the Agreement and the other is not, can you explain that? Also, as regards the Southern participation in it, we voted for the deletion of Articles 2 & 3 and it didn’t seem to make any difference, and they were shouting from the rooftops about it all the time before … It’s gone and it made no difference. I wonder was it any good at all that the South voted for the new Agreement. What difference did it make, one way or the other, to us?”
Q. 6. [Columban missionary, re reconciliation]: “I thought that the chairman’s definition of reconciliation at the beginning is a very accurate one, but also formidable, and indeed in every part of the world where it has been tried, it has proved formidable. I was just wondering if the speakers tonight, good as they have been, are still dodging the full implications that this would demand from each party. And I’d particularly like to hear from the representative of the Women’s Coalition as to how she sees the future of reconciliation.”
Q. 7 [Canon John Clarke, Navan. Re reconciliation]: “It’s probably much the same kind of comment and question as the last speaker, but I was certainly somewhat disappointed this evening. It’s been a little like giving an essay to children in school, asking them to write an essay on a subject and them not reading the subject properly, and then writing the essay. I am afraid that at least 50% – or much more than 50% – of the initial speeches have been very much about focusing on “biting the old bit”, as it were, and indeed, you know, apportioning blame. I do think that perhaps it might be much more profitable to have dealt with “acts of completion and beyond” and particularly focusing on reconciliation, as the last speaker has said.”
Chair (Andy Pollak): “I’ll go back to the panel. There were three points there – one is Articles 2 & 3 have gone, the South has made that sacrifice by voting them away, and what difference has it made? I’ll ask Chris that, because he has, as he’ll explain, a particular interest in that area. The second question was: it is a formidable definition of what reconciliation is and, particularly, the questioner asked what the Women’s Coalition felt.
“What this would demand of the parties and how they saw the future, the implementation of this formidable demand to reconcile. And thirdly, that the speakers hadn’t really addressed the title of the session of the talk, ‘Acts of Completion and beyond – Beginning the Reconciliation Process’, and there being a bit too much party political stuff, and also a bit too much apportioning blame. And, as I tried to say at the beginning, apportioning blame is the opposite. People have to say: ‘I’m to blame’, ‘I’m sorry, I’m to blame’, ‘my party is to blame’, ‘my community is to blame’, as Gusty Spence did so memorably there when the loyalist ceasefire took place. So if I could take those three points, I’ll start with Chris on Articles 2 & 3.”
Replies to Questions 5-7:
Chris McGimpsey [re Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution]: “You asked were Articles 2 & 3 important, their removal important. The short answer is “yes”. It was absolutely crucial. It was crucial in a couple of ways. Let’s look at it in one way from the South. I think it was important for the Irish Republic that it withdrew what was an irredentist claim over the people and territory of Northern Ireland. What the Irish Republic said in its Constitution, the ‘37 Constitution – Articles 2 & 3 denied the legitimacy of Northern Ireland, “pending the reintegration of the national territory”. The national territory is the “island of Ireland, its islands and territorial seas”. So it denied the constitutional integrity of Northern Ireland, that’s the first point. The second point where Articles 2 & 3 were important was that they gave a spurious legitimacy to the Provisional IRA’s campaign. Time and again, and you read, and I don’t know whether Francie will want to comment on this now, you read the old An Phoblachts, they used to say things like, the Free-staters condemn us in the South, but what are we doing? All we are doing is trying to put into action what is demanded in Articles 2 & 3 of our Constitution. That’s what they said all along. Gave a spurious legitimacy to the campaign. That is another reason why it was important. If the island of Ireland is to move forward to be reconciled with itself, with the two states to be reconciled, both states have got to accept the legitimacy of each other’s borders. Under the Treaty of Rome, to get into the European Community, you have to accept the legitimacy of each other State within the European Community. The Irish Republic was actually living a lie, by being in Europe and doing very well out of it and not being prepared to accept the legitimacy of the borders of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. So those were all things that had to be tidied up. I don’t know what people expected unionists to do when Articles 2 & 3 were removed, people say: “you bitched about it and then you got it and now you don’t mention it”. Well, no we don’t. I mean if asked was it important to us, it was absolutely crucial. It was crucial to bringing about unionist support for the Good Friday Agreement. It was crucial, we believe, to building a foundation for the two states to be reconciled, the one with the other. And that’s an integral part of reconciliation within this island.
Reconciliation: “The other two points were with regard to the speeches. You’re right – we didn’t work on reconciliation and we didn’t talk on reconciliation as much. I tried to lead it, and implicitly what I was saying was: the key act of completion that was promised to unionists five years ago was that the paramilitary groups would hand in weapons – not go down to the PSNI and hand them over the counter – but would put weapons beyond use, and that the paramilitary structures would disappear, that punishment beatings would stop, that expulsions would stop and all of the drugs and all of the other stuff would all stop. That was the key act of completion which we have been waiting for and that’s the one that I was trying to suggest without which this Agreement will not run any further. I think it’s run its course, unless an act of completion takes place. So I’d apologise, I didn’t maybe concentrate on reconciliation but with regard to the “act of completion” element, that was the key thrust of the point I was making. There was a third question which….
Andy Pollak: “The third question was particularly the political implementation of reconciliation, but the speaker was asking for the Women’s Coalition.”
Chris McGimpsey: “Ok, I’ll leave it at that. I can always come back if there is another point.”
Trudy Miller: [Re Articles 2 & 3]: “Briefly, in relation to the first question, the removal of the Articles, I think that’s an indication of maturity of the Irish State, and this is what I mentioned about ourselves in the North. We just have not seemingly reached that maturity. There has been such a lack of trust over the years. The Irish State was a very immature state in the 1950s and the 1960s. It seems to have just grown in that maturity. It can now release these Articles and I think that is an indicator of maybe where, it’s a model in a way to show us where they have arrived at, but it’s also to say how long it has taken and that is where I began at the beginning. It is a lengthy process. While Chris speaks of the Good Friday Agreement and the items that have not happened, really what he needs to also add is that so many things have been reduced: the number of beatings and shootings and there has been some acts of decommissioning. It is a lengthy process.
Dodging the issues: “In relation to question number two, are we dodging the issues? No, we are not dodging the issues. As the Women’s Coalition we came about, we are here, for peace. We saw that women were not going to have a position at the tables. It was touted to the other political parties to bring their women forward to speak in 1996 in what is known as the Forum Talks. They did not take it up. They did not take that invitation, so grass-roots women got together, and from community groups and various gatherings, and they said: “yes, we have got to have voting rights here, we have got to have a say”. And they are about peace. They also recognise that things cannot happen overnight. My own experience as a mother and as a teacher, you bring back the children several times. They may strut and they may storm, and we do have strutting and storming in Northern Ireland. The women have never walked out. Various people have stormed in and stormed out. The women have stayed.
Reconciliation: “And as regard apportioning blame, just to say that the Women’s Coalition representatives brought some items into the Forum, which never would have been brought on board, maybe not even thought of, and one of those was about implementation talks, that we would go on talking, and the second was in relation to the recognition of victims on both sides, and this is where reconciliation comes in comes in, and the wonderful definition we had this evening. Victims on both sides, that they do exist, and at the same time, it’s not to maintain a victimisation culture: we are victims of this, we are victims of that. It is to say things have happened, we have to move on, we have to recognise they have happened, and we have to move on from there. We can go around in a whirlpool all our lives, going in a downward spiral, or we can climb up and we can climb out through talk and that is what our party is about. Round the table dialogue, forget the monologues, round the table dialogue. Thank you.
David Ford [re Articles 2 & 3]: “Just a brief comment on the constitutional question. I hope this doesn’t embarrass you, Chris, because I want to agree with you on that one as well. The reality was: as long as Articles 2 & 3 existed in their old form they were a nagging sore. Once they were removed then people forget the nagging sore, because there are plenty of other things to worry about. I am old enough to remember when the 1974 power-sharing experiment took place for five months, when Ulster Unionists, SDLP and Alliance members in a voluntary coalition in a Stormont Assembly worked together. And when that executive was set up to share power, Oliver Napier, the then leader of the Alliance said if there was not change in the Republic to match that … specifically something to deal with Articles 2 & 3, then unionist resentment would bring down the power-sharing arrangements and five months later unionist resentment brought down the power-sharing arrangements. That’s why it was absolutely essential that Articles 2 & 3 changed.
Reconciliation: “In terms of the formidable task of reconciliation and the fact that we are not very good at looking beyond things. I am also conscious of what another former Alliance leader told some of us a while ago. In 1989, after the collapse of the 1982 Assembly, John Cushnahan went down to Munster to be elected as a Fine Gael MEP. And I remember him describing driving across somewhere in either south Limerick or north Cork canvassing, and as they drove into some small village somewhere ‘Cushie’ said ‘where do we start?’ and got the response: ‘we don’t canvass here, this has been Fianna Fail since the Civil War’. And ‘Cushie’, used to the campaigning that he did for the Alliance in Northern Ireland, said ‘we’re knocking doors here too.’ And I think, actually, when you look at the difficulties that you experienced in this jurisdiction after a relatively short Civil War, divided largely on the question of timing and tactics rather than the fundamental divisions which exist in Northern Ireland, you do have to recognise the problems that we have. However, in a spirit of non-reconciliation, I must say that I have found the performance of the Northern Ireland Executive to be extremely disappointing in terms of what they have done to promote community relations, to promote dialogue and reconciliation. They have actually been quite a good government in terms of much social and economic policy. They have been significantly better than Direct Rule Ministers in what they have done for health or transport or housing or agriculture. But we spent over a year waiting for a report from the Executive outlining a policy on community relations, and it only appeared under Direct Rule. And there is an issue about the ability of us as politicians and I am pointing fingers, but I entirely acknowledge that it’s not terribly easy for any of us, including those of us who are not represented on the Executive. To actually deal with the major divide in Northern Ireland society is a huge challenge, and there is a real need for politicians to be much more pro-active in supporting the range of groups across this community who are doing the real hard work.
“And the other thing that needs to be remembered when you talk about reconciliation is: reconciliation is an issue in the leafy suburbs and in the golf-club bars. There are not just problems of peace and reconciliation in areas where people throw half bricks at each other. There are real problems across the whole of Northern Ireland’s society and we need a real strategic approach to deal with it.”
Francie Molloy [Re reconciliation]: “On the issue of reconciliation and the acts of completion, I think sometimes … people are not recognising all that has happened. If we start off, and I’ll repeat, that the first issue was around why we had an IRA ceasefire and everything else was to grow from that. We did do that and then we had another demand for the disarmament and the whole issue of decommissioning which went on for ages. We had two acts of decommissioning which were simply dismissed by unionists as not enough, and this is what republicans actually have said, and this is what republicans are saying to us on the ground. It doesn’t matter actually what you do, it’ll never be enough, so why do anything is one answer.
Need to change: “There also is a failure to recognise the need to change. Chris was talking about what was printed in An Poblacht a number of years back. The big change that actually happened, and it happened at a Sinn Fein Ard Fheis and maybe went unnoticed again to a lot of unionists and maybe even to a lot of republicans, is that whenever Sinn Fein took the decision to go into Leinster House and actually whenever we put the onus on the Irish government to recognise all the people of Ireland and to work on behalf of all the people of Ireland, not just within the 26 counties. That actually for the first time we were recognising the Irish Government as a sovereign government and that, for a party that actually had always labelled the Irish government as simply another partitionist administration, North and South. So there was a serious recognition there for the first time, and it wasn’t about Peter Brooke. No, Peter Brooke actually made a statement, but he left out the main issue which was that Britain still had political interest in the North. So while he might have talked about not having a selfish, strategic or economic interest, he left out the issue which actually was political interest in the North. But it was a starting point, and certainly it triggered off a number of different discussions, and actually led I think to the overall opening up. And if Gay Byrnehadn’t put him on the spot [on the Late Late Show] who would have known what actually would have happened if he hadn’t sung ‘Oh my darling Clementine.’
“But we have a situation here where if we move the goalposts every time that change happens, then people will actually say well there’s really no point in making change. And the republican movement has for years resisted the whole idea, and it never happened before, on the whole issue of acts of decommissioning. Those have happened, they’ve been accepted by republicans, and yet as I say it has been thrown back in their face. If people want surrender, let’s be quite clear: it’s not going to happen. If people want republicans to lie down on the road and trample over them, it’s not going to happen. And if people think that republicans are actually going to lose their aspirations then it’s not going to happen, and what we need to do is see that we are not in a surrender situation, but we are in a situation of trying to build trust, trying to build new institutions, being part of the administration there and trying to build the North-South institutions which was a failure of the Irish Government for 70 years…..
Articles 2 & 3: “And Chris McGimpsey was the person who took the court case which clearly stated to the Irish Government that there was an imperative on them to actually deliver on the aspirations, not to simply have them in the Constitution. Because as an Irish nationalist … and whenever my neighbours have been murdered nightly by Gusty Spence’s UVF, I never found any support or any backup from the Irish Government, or any protection from the Irish Government, simply because it claimed Articles 2 & 3 and claimed jurisdiction. So, you know, there are a lot of people who need to get real in this whole situation if we’re going to actually move the thing along.
“But certainly, republicans are not losing their aspirations to build an all-Ireland structure, and we’re not losing our aspirations to change the situation on the ground. We are no longer going to be second-class citizens. We are very much first-class citizens and that’s the way we intend to maintain that. So we can actually build the trust and build the institutions or we can force change. We can work along with that change or we can continue to deny it and simply walk away from it.
Implementation of the Agreement: “The implementation process was put in place, but every time there were talks about the implementation process, David Trimble didn’t attend. He walked away from them. And yet he was demanding that republicans implement. David Trimble as First Minister had a duty to implement the Good Friday Agreement. He failed to do so. The British Government have at least admitted that they actually didn’t implement the Good Friday Agreement. I believe republicans have went further in actually implementing, and further than any republicans have went in the whole history of the republican movement, in actually bringing about change, in bringing the entire structure of our organisation basically with us, whilst there were some who left them and went away. And sometimes I think that the two governments would like to see the whole splintering of the republican movement, a feud situation, and to do what happened on the Shankill Road, to have a feud between republicans. But I don’t believe that’s going to happen either. So we have the opportunity to build trust and to reconcile and to work together to build that, or we have the opportunity simply to be in denial and walk away from it.
Chris McGimpsey: “…To make a couple of comments on that. Francie says it’s sensible to build trust. He doesn’t trust the unionists, he doesn’t trust the SDLP, he clearly doesn’t trust the Brits, he’s not too sure about the Irish, you know, and he wants to build trust! “
Francie Molloy: “Well it’s a starting point.” [laughter]
Chris McGimpsey: “We’ll assume he trusts Gerry Adams, I suppose that is a starting point! Let me make a couple of points here. There are a couple of things here that he said that are important. With regard to the British, he says that Peter Brooke didn’t mention the political. No, but the following year, Sir Patrick Mayhew gave a very famous interview in Germany in which he said – it was translated in the British press and in the Irish press as: “if the people of Northern Ireland wanted to be part of a united Ireland, we would let them leave, we would gladly let them leave”. What he actually said, and I’m told this is significant by people who know German – I don’t know any German – he says ‘we would let them leave, mit handkuss.’ You know, that doesn’t mean we would gladly, it was said as if to say “thank Christ to get rid of them”… So there’s your answer about whether or not they have a political interest in staying. He says, as soon as the people of Northern Ireland want out of the United Kingdom, they can go ‘mit handkuss’. [English translation “with a kiss of the hand”]
“To say that unionists, certainly pro-Agreement Ulster Unionists, did not welcome the acts of decommissioning is just not true. Go back and read the papers again to check. That is not true, they were welcomed, they were welcomed. You have got to remember, if you have got 110 tons of weapons, to destroy a few hundred bullets and half a dozen rifles, or a few hundred rifles and a half a dozen bullets, I don’t know what it was, because you’re not even allowed to be told what it was. But if you have 110 tons of weapons, and you’re now committed to democratic and constitutional effort only, you don’t need 110 tons of weapons. You know if you are seriously committed to democratic and constitutional change, you could give away 100 tons of weapons. You have more weapons than the Irish army. You could give away 100 tons of weapons and keep ten and still feel safe. That’s ten tons not ten weapons.
“And the last thing: I am glad the way the republican movement has changed. I know that the republican movement has changed its attitude towards the Irish Government, accepting the legitimacy of the Irish government. I wonder do they accept the legitimacy of the Irish army? Do they still believe the only legitimate armed force on the island of Ireland is the Irish Republican Army? I don’t know. “
Francie Molloy: “It’s already been stated, it’s already been stated.”
Chair: Andy Pollak: “It’s just gone 10 o’clock, five past ten. There are two more people, three more people. Okay, go ahead.”
Q.8 Derek Mooney: “I am secretary of the Fianna Fail group on the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, and you were talking about reconciliation. We have had two sessions so far. We’ve talked about going into a series of workshops over the next period of time … I see David Ford there and I know that the last two sessions of the Forum have been concerned with particularly the interfaces … I think it is particularly appropriate with Chris McGimpsey here, I think he said he attended the Forum in 1984 with publicity. Subsequently then Roy Garland came to the Forum in 1995 with publicity, and then they have had a large number of various people speaking, independently from the Unionist Party etc amid virtually no publicity. The only person who got publicity at the last Forum meeting was the spokesperson from the Orange Order, so they had a progression. What we’ve heard about the Forum is going to be…
Chris McGimpsey: “Well they wanted to expel me from the Unionist Party for going. Now it’s hard to find a unionist member who hasn’t been to the Forum.”
Derek Mooney: “I want to put it to you that there is progress, huge progress, that is the point I am making”.
Chris McGimpsey: “Oh yes.”
Derek Mooney: “David Ford made a point – I think that reconciliation is a bit like Billy Connolly’s musical appreciation, that when he went to school he would sit there at the back of the class and the teacher would play the piano and then shout down every so often ‘Connolly – appreciate!’ I think there is a certain element of that in reconciliation, in that people are telling you to go and reconcile yourselves, and I think David Ford put his finger on it in terms of where does this leadership come from? A lot of this has come from the ground in many cases. There are the organisations like this, Glencree, a whole range of organisations. Those people who came before us in the Forum to talk about the work that they had done. But the difficulty is that it comes down to trust, if they are not getting the leadership from the leaders. And I think they want confirmation that the elections are going to take place on the 1st of May … maybe some of the contributions tonight from the top table are absolute confirmation that the elections are going to take place on the 1st of May, because political parties are now into election-mode. And who am I to criticise them? It is the right thing to do. But I think we have moved forward. I think the questioner is indicating that we haven’t, but we have, we have made huge moves forward, and maybe sometimes we need to concentrate on that. As to what the outcome of the election is, who knows?
“David Ford made one point that I disagree with, and I think it may have been inadvertently said, when he turned around and said that the Belfast Agreement had given us a divided community or a divided society. It existed long before that. The fact that we have terms of designation … within the Assembly, the designation of nationalist or unionist … is just merely a reflection of what is there, and if you are going to solve a problem, you have to acknowledge that the problem exists and take that as your starting point. And I think maybe you should be working through the Assembly at some point to get rid of those designations, but I think from what we have heard tonight we are a long way off from that.”
Q. 9: [re policing]: “The speaker from the Women’s Coalition talked about a police force that is acceptable to all, as well as integrated education and housing … and I am wondering why in Northern Ireland there wasn’t a mutual protection force for the people there. I think if there had been, the IRA would never have needed all those arms …”
Q. 10. [Cllr. Phil Cantwell, Trim UDC]: “Could I give you the views of an Irish politician? Visiting Northern Ireland I’ve spoken to people in Ballymena, Ballymoney, and I agree with David Ford. Not everybody in Ballymoney is unionist, not everybody in the Shankill wants to be there. It seems to me that everybody in Northern Ireland is concerned about getting a health service, getting a job, and it seems to me that Sinn Fein has to become more republican and Dr. McGimpsey’s party has to become more unionist to be successful. It sounds to me … because I think that what the nationalists had to go through was appalling, and it’s a pity that Dr. McGimpsey couldn’t be generous enough to say that what was done against the nationalists was wrong. I am very impressed by the Women’s Coalition and the Alliance. Most people in Northern Ireland are neither nationalist nor unionist, they are in the middle. I think from what I’ve seen in Northern Ireland, politics is very wrong, and … we speak tonight about reconciliation: for God’s sake show a little bit of generosity on both the unionist side and on the Sinn Fein side. And I’ll say to Francie tonight: if peace is to work, tell the nationalist people to join the police force and have an acceptable police. That is where I am coming from. Because this evening in the South nobody questions a Garda if they are stopped on the road for drink driving or drunken driving or anything else. … But I have been in the Shankill and I’ve been in the Ardoyne, and those people are crying out for an acceptable police force. I think we all want it. So I’ll say tonight to Chris McGimpsey: don’t try to be more unionist, accept that the Catholics or the nationalists were walked on for years. Accept that. Don’t just leave it up to Gusty Spence, please say that. Trimble seems to becoming more like Paisley to become more acceptable with the unionists, that’s wrong. But I’ll say to Francie again tonight, please join and urge the nationalists to join the police force. Thank you.”
Q. 11 [Trim resident, re Treaty of 1921, and DeValera’s Constitution of 1937]: “ …I wonder are we reaping the half-baked Treaty that was signed in ’21? …[tape unclear]”
Replies to questions 8-11:
David Ford: “I’m going to give just a brief response to the points raised there. I don’t think I said the Agreement had given us a divided society. If I did I said it wrong, but what I do believe is that certain aspects of the Agreement have entrenched divisions and specifically, by promoting rewards for unionists and nationalists at the expense of all others, it in some respects makes reconciliation more difficult. That is the point which has to be addressed, which my party has been seeking to address and we will continue to. In terms of the issue, in company such as this I am no expert on the 1937 Constitution or even the 1922 Treaty. What I do know is that in 1998 we had an Agreement endorsed North and South. I believe the real danger of the Agreement is that for some people it is seen as the ceiling of their ambitions. We got so far in reaching towards each other and having reached the Agreement, that’s it, we can go back and play our own kind of politics. As far as I am concerned, the Agreement is the foundation on which we will build a united society in the coming years. “
Francie Molloy: “ … I think the very fact that we have the parties here around the one table, talking, is certainly a benefit and wouldn’t have happened a number of years back. If the Alliance party and the Women’s Coalition, and if everybody else in the North were in the middle, then they would be the largest parties. They are not. The reality is on the ground that the Ulster Unionist Party, the SDLP and Sinn Fein are the largest parties. I make no apology for being more republican, and I don’t make any response to that situation, but I am not simply hard line. I am dealing with the reality on the ground that I have to deal with. “
Policing: “In relation to policing, whenever we get that new beginning for policing, then certainly we will be the first to say so. But we are a long way off it. The British Government know what legislation is required to make that happen, and if they bring about the Patten implementation, then certainly I think it will happen. But the main thing is that we are to make politics work and we have to have the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement for to move on. Thank you.”
Trudy Miller: “Just briefly, I am glad to recognise the gentleman from Fianna Fail and Cllr. Cantwell, they both said they have moved on in the North, it is a slow process. I can remember, and maybe somebody can fill in, I can remember in the ‘50s the era of something called ‘An Toastal’, which I think De Valera initiated as a kind of a rejig of Irish nationalism, cum ‘wear your tricolour’ and all little shamrocks, and I can’t remember anything else really, but I was very little and I asked my mother what this was and I don’t know what the parlance of the day was but basically she said it’s a load of bull and I was very glad. The Irish State has matured since then, we all have to move on, and that is where we have made some progress. And I am optimistic, in spite of the things we said this evening, we are optimistic. It is not going to fall underneath and we are not going to be placed with these huge problems. People are going to talk. There is no alternative.”
Chris McGimpsey: “… I notice the nerves are starting to get a bit rawer the later we go on in the night, so it’s probably a good time to finish. The Forum, massive changes to the whole concept of discussions between Irish men and Irish women on both sides of the border. Communication has opened up in a way that didn’t exist in 1984 when I went on the Forum. You wouldn’t believe the shit I took when I came back! “It seemed like a good idea at the time and I’m still glad I did it. But you are right, I think it is still important that we got to keep talking. Let me say one thing, all this talk about the majority of people don’t see themselves as unionists and nationalists. Every opinion poll in Northern Ireland indicates the majority of people in the Protestant community view themselves as unionists and the majority of people in the Catholic community view themselves as nationalist. … I don’t know, the councillor said about being on the Shankill … I haven’t met anybody on the Shankill that didn’t feel themselves to be a unionist or a loyalist and there’s a Shankill grown women sitting over there, ask her and if we don’t know what we are, we know what we aren’t. I am sort of attacked for not condemning the Specialist Powers Act. I got to tell you the reason I didn’t mention the Special Powers Act, I didn’t hear anybody mention the Special Powers Act in years, but it wouldn’t be my idea of the way we legislate for a modern, democratic society. Nor would I say the Offences Against the State Act, which you had in the Irish Republic and for all I know probably still have, and was indeed even more draconian than the Special Powers Act, wouldn’t exactly be my cup of tea either. “
“Nationalists, why not admit that nationalists were walked on for years? I think there is an element of that which is true. I think there is also an element of lots of people – a lot of working class people were walked on for years, and I think that the fact that in 80 years of self-rule that the Protestant population in the South dropped from 22% to 7%, and the Catholic population in the North went from whatever it is 38% to 48%, gives some indication that things are not just as black and white as people would suggest.
Policing: “Two points about the RUC. The lady from Australia, or from Co. Antrim rather, I must say shocked me a little bit. “Perhaps if the police force in Northern Ireland had been more neutral the IRA wouldn’t have needed their arms”. I mean I really don’t know how to respond to that.
Questioner: “Sorry I didn’t say police force, I said a neutral protection force”.
Chris McGimpsey: “Oh, well okay. You said if a neutral protection force had existed in Northern Ireland, people usually look upon, in civil society, the police being the protection force, the IRA wouldn’t have needed their arms. To justify what we have had over the last 30 years in saying: “well it’s all Northern Ireland’s fault”. There is nothing justifies some of the actions the IRA have undertaken and there is nothing.
Questioner: “I didn’t say that.”
Chris McGimpsey: “No, but you said maybe that is why the IRA needed their arms. I mean paramilitary groups if they don’t have arms, they don’t use them. They don’t get arms to use them.”
Questioner: “You have Catholic groups, and I know groups of eighty people in parts … where police men came into public bars and shot them.”
Chris McGimpsey: “Can I just say, the 20th century was never the part of Irish history that I studied. I have a Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh in Irish History. Can I just say I have never read of policemen going into pubs and machine gunning and killing eighty people…”
Questioner: “I didn’t say they killed them, the guns jammed.
Chris McGimpsey: “Oh the guns jammed. I would love to read … thirty years in journalism, I don’t know if you know what I am saying. Let’s pass over that, I just don’t believe that, certainly not in any of the pubs I’ve drunk in.
Treaty of 1921 and the Irish Constitution: “The 1937 Constitution was brought in unilaterally. That is the one thing you have got to remember. This state unilaterally brought in the Constitution. When the Treaty was set up, when the Irish Free State was set up, there was a thing called the ‘Confirmation of Agreement Ireland Act’ and it talked about the two states recognising the legitimacy, this was 1925, the legitimacy of the borders, each State of the other, and being “united in amity” the one with the other to foster good relations on the island of Ireland. The Irish Free State signed that, and so did the UK Government and that’s what De Valera threw away in ’37 with his Constitution and that is what we are bringing back. We are clawing back to a situation where people in the Republic and people in the Northern Ireland are united in amity to bring forward reconciliation on the island of Ireland.”
Andy Pollak: “Right I am going to finish on a positive note, because you could think, having listened to some of this conversation, that not much has changed in Northern Ireland, but actually a huge amount has changed. The last five years there has been a sea change in many things. People talk to each other, local councillors greet each other, things are happening across the border. I’ll give you three examples: The Lord Mayor of Belfast, Alex Maskey of Sinn Fein, going to the Somme memorial last summer. The involvement of unionist Ministers in regular practical North South co-operation talks. A magazine which is being run out of Monaghan by a group of loyalist and republican prisoners, ex-prisoners together. I could multiply that dozens and dozens of times. There is stuff going on. We have moved a great distance since the Good Friday Agreement. What we need to do now is not to lose that movement, not to lose that progress. So we are pessimistic, we are naturally pessimistic in the North, we have seen a lot of false dawns, but there are huge possibilities in the Good Friday Agreement, in the Belfast Agreement. And even on the level of IRA decommissioning, disbandment and British demilitarisation, there is great possibility of movement. Some of us would be very critical of the slow pace of British demilitarisation of the forts along the border, but it does mean that there is a bargaining card there. That if the IRA give up something considerable, the British Army can give up something considerable as well, so nobody is seen to be losing. There are possibilities there, there is hope there.
“So if I could just finish by thanking you all for coming out. I have to say I am very cheered and impressed. I sometimes think, as somebody who lives in Dublin but works in the North, I’d understand why people in the South would be a bit sick of the North now and these kinds of discussions, but it’s very impressive and very cheering that people in Co. Meath come out on a bitterly cold night in such numbers to talk about and listen about the North, and I’d just like to pay tribute to the Meath Peace Group for the vanguard work they do in keeping the vital, vital issue of Northern Ireland in front of people. I remember Julitta rightly rebuked me the last time I was on a public platform, about ten years ago, when I said that the people in the South should leave the people in the North to work out their own future together. And she rebuked me and she was right, and I just want to thank you all very much for coming out and making this such a very interesting and compelling occasion. Thank you very much. And if I could just thank the four speakers for coming down from Northern Ireland again on a cold night to address this occasion, if I could thank the speakers as well.”
Julitta Clancy: “On behalf of the Meath Peace Group I would just to thank Andy Pollak for so ably chairing the talk, and to echo his tributes to the speakers. Thank you all very much. You have all come very long distances today, coming out of your way to come here to talk to us and we very much appreciate that. I also want to again extend our appreciation to the audience here, who have come out on a very, very cold night, and have done so consistently for ten years, we have had very good attendances here. I don’t know how long more they can go on, maybe you’d want us to dissolve this year, but I just want to thank you very much. I am in the happy position that I never remember the rebukes I deliver to anybody else so I fortunately don’t remember that, Andy, but again thank you all and we wish you well in the coming talks and negotiations. And we hope, that if you can resolve these kind of immediate issues which are long outstanding and need to be resolved, that somehow some lesson will be learned from the last five years and that some way reconciliation – whatever it is – that we will start to really address it, because there is a gaping hole there and we are meeting groups privately and publicly and there are huge hurts and huge pains and lot and lots of misunderstanding and misperceptions and there is a need for the political parties to start giving leadership to the wider community. So thank you all again.”
Meath Peace Group report, March 2003 Transcribed by Catriona Fitzgerald and edited by Julitta Clancy. Taped by Oliver Ward, Catriona Fitzgerald and John Clancy. © Meath Peace Group
Acknowledgments: Meath Peace Group would like to thank all who assisted in the planning, organisation, publicity, recording and transcribing of the talk, and those who prepared refreshments. Special thanks as always to the Columban Fathers for permitting us the facilities of Dalgan Park, to the Dept. of Foreign Affairs Reconciliation Fund for assistance towards the running costs of the talks, and to all who made contributions to our expenses. We thank all our speakers for taking the time to come to address us in Meath and a special thanks to our guest chair, Andy Pollak.
Biographical Notes on Speakers and Chair
David Ford, MLA, Alliance Party (South Antrim). Before entering politicsDavid Ford worked as a social worker with the NHSS. He was appointed Gen. Secretary of the Alliance Party in 1990 and has been a member of Antrim Borough Council since 1993. He represented the party on the NI Forum between 1996 and 1998, and was elected to the Assembly (for S. Antrim) in 1998. He stood in the Westminster elections 1997, 2000, and 2001, and was appointed Alliance Chief Whip in 1998. Elected Party Leader in October 2001, he is currently the party’s Assembly Spokesperson on Agriculture and Rural Development, and on the Environment, and serves on several committees.
Cllr. Dr. Chris McGimpsey, Ulster Unionist Party (Shankill Road). Chris McGimpsey has represented the Court Electoral Area on Belfast City Council since 1993. He is Chairman of the Council’s Policy & Resources Committee, and is a member of the Contract Services Committee, the Client Services Committee and the Health and Environmental Services Committee. He has represented Belfast City Council on numerous bodies including the Advisory Committee on Travellers, Belfast Education and Library Board, and the Community Work Programme Regional Partnership Board. He is the UUP constituency chairman for West Belfast.
Trudy Miller, NI Women’s Coalition (South Down). Trudy Carrol Miller originally came from Co. Meath but has lived in South Down since 1981. She is a former teacher and primary school principal, and is a strong advocate of high quality education for every pupil and lifelong learning opportunities for every adult. She joined the NI Women’s Coalition in 2000, serving on the Executive Committee and the Education Policy team, and is party candidate for South Down. Trudy believes that the NIWC has brought new hope, new energy and new political thinking into public life She wants to encourage more women to get involved in politics and has been active on environmental and road safety issues in her South Down constituency.
Cllr. Francis Molloy, MLA, Sinn Fein (Mid Ulster). Francie Molloy has been involved with civil rights and republican movements since the 1960s. He was director of operations for the election campaigns of Bobby Sands and Owen Carron in 1981, and was first elected to Dungannon District Council in 1985 (representing Torrents area). In 1996 he was elected to the Northern Ireland Forum and was a member of Sinn Fein’s talks delegation between 1997 and 1998. He was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly (Mid Ulster constituency) in June 1998 and chaired the Finance Committee. He was also a member of the Environment Committee of the Assembly and is a former mayor of Dungannon.
Andy Pollak, Director of the Centre for Cross Border Studies, Armagh. For many years Andy Pollak served as a Belfast reporter, religious affairs correspondent and education correspondent with the Irish Times. In the early 1990s he was co-coordinator of Initiative ’92’s citizens’ inquiry into ways forward for Northern Ireland, and edited its subsequent report A Citizens’ Inquiry: The Opsahl Commission Report (1993). In 1999 he was appointed Director of the newly founded Centre for Cross Border Studies, based in Armagh, which researches and develops co-operation across the Irish border in education, health, business, public administration, communications, agriculture, the environment and a range of other practical areas. He is a former editor of the Belfast magazine ‘Fortnight’ and co-author of a political biography of Rev Ian Paisley.
©Meath Peace Group 2003
Meath Peace Group Committee 2003: Julitta and John Clancy, Parsonstown, Batterstown, Dunboyne, Co. Meath; Fr. Michael Kane, An Tobar, Ardbraccan; Canon John Clarke, The Rectory, Navan; Anne Nolan, Slane; John Keaveney, Ratoath; Philomena Boylan-Stewart, Longwood; Olive Kelly, Garlow Cross, Lismullen; Leona Rennicks, Ardbraccan; Catriona Fitzgerald, Warrenstown, Kilcock; Pauline Ryan, Navan
Tuesday, 7th February, 1995
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan
Cllr. Francie Molloy (Sinn Féin, Dungannon)
Joan O’Connor (Director, Sinn Fein’s Women’s Department)
Liz Groves (Chairperson, Falls Community Council, Belfast)
Chaired by John Clancy (Meath Peace Group)
Editor’s note: There was a very good attendance at the talk which was the first talk addressed by Sinn Fein representatives. This was also the first talk to be audio-recorded. The report is not a complete transcript but contains main points and extracts from the speeches and the questions and answers section.
1. Cllr. Francie Molloy (Sinn Fein, Dungannon)
Francie Molloy thanked the Meath Peace Group for the invitation to speak and said he would like to speak on the theme “After the Ceasefires – the situation on the ground”. He would like to be able to say that everything has changed dramatically and that everything was “rosy in the garden” but this is not so. “Peace hasn’t suddenly broken out. Though the ceasefire has now lasted for over 150 days, we still haven’t got the response of the British Government to the new situation”. There is still no big change in the security policy of the British Government, he said. “We haven’t seen any change whatsoever in the actions of the R.U.C. – we haven’t seen the disbandment of the R.I.R. …so a lot of those things have still to change.”
Need for agreement: On the ground, there is a groundswell of opinion across the 2 communities, of the need for an agreement, a need to move forward. He lived in a very loyalist/unionist comunity, located in the area known as the “murder triangle” of the 70s. Even in his area, the opinion is that things have changed, that “we need to move to a new agreement between the Irish people”.
Unionist politicians: Cllr. Molloy said he believed the Unionist politicians were lagging behind the people. Instead of reflecting what their supporters were saying, the politicians, he said, “are actually trying to guide their supporters into reflecting what they’re saying,” and there was a danger in this.
Frustration on the ground: “On the ground in the nationalist community, there is a lot of frustration with the lack of progress since 1st September, he said. He is involved with the Peace Action Monitor – which gets reports from their own political representatives and supporters, but also from a wider section of the nationalist community as to what is happening on the ground. There is resentment from the RUC towards republicans in particular and a lot of activity is going on which seems to be trying to goad people into reacting, into feeling that nothing has changed. The feeling is growing that there have been no benefits. “That I see as one of the danger aspects of the present situation”.
One encouraging aspect of his community work is that roughly 30% of the people whose cases he represents in Dungannon come from the Unionist/Loyalist community. Unionist politicians have basically been saying to their people – “You’re getting what you’re entitled to from the British Government and to look for anything more is sponging from the State” – but at “grass-roots” level, they have the same problems as nationalists. The SF advice centres are open to all sections, he said. In the past they were afraid to come to SF advice centres. “There is a feeling within the community of moving forward”.
British Government: Cllr. Molloy said there must be a better response from the British Government – a response on the security level on the ground, because “otherwise the frustration starts to build up in people”. One of the areas he represents is East Tyrone and also South Armagh, and those two communities, he said, are “saturated with British Army and R.U.C.” People are now being stopped – “petty harassment in relation to motoring offences…all the normal bits and pieces which you can’t actually label as harassment, but in a community that hasn’t actually seen this type of thing happen for so long, then it…has a big effect on them and leads them into that frustration stage again.”
RUC: He believes the RUC [Royal Ulster Constabulary] must be disbanded – “there must be movement before people can actually feel comfortable or feel part of building a new society.”
Dialogue with Sinn Fein: The level of goodwill in both communities is not reflected in the level of activity on the ground, he said. “The next step should be that the British Government should recognise SF’s electoral mandate and speak to the SF leadership in the same way as it represents the SDLP and recognises Unionists’ mandates.”
Unionist veto: While the British Government are refusing to do this, why should the Unionist community feel that they should engage in dialogue, he asked. As long as that continues, the “Unionist veto”, or, the “British veto” to change, is going to continue. He said that the British have been saying to the Unionists for years, “You don’t have to go up the road; you don’t have to engage in dialogue; you don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to; and we will support you in that situation.” The Unionists have been saying “no” for too long, he concluded. “We want to move to a new situation but I feel that the one major stumbling block to that is that the British Government are now saying “no” to dialogue”.
2. Joan O’Connor (Director of SF’s Women’s Department and a member of the Ard Chomhairle):
“It is important for all political parties to discuss what sort of Ireland we want, she said. There have been 25 years of pain and suffering. No one wants to go back to it. The onus is now on the British Government to move things forward.
Learning from the past: “Sinn Fein is a democratic socialist party, she explained. “We must look to the future but we must also look to the past. Only by learning from our past we can ensure the pain and suffering will never happen again”.
Partition: “We must look to partition which had a devastating effect on both parts of the island. It set back social progress by decades.” She referred particularly to the position of women in both states and the clerical influences.
Sinn Fein vision: She outlined the SF vision of a new united Ireland – democratic, open, tolerant, based on the exercise of national self-determination.
“The media often look at Sinn Fein as having only a “Brits Out” policy. Yes, the British must go, with all their trappings … but Sinn Fein doesn’t want another 26 counties-type State. Sinn Fein wants accountability and trust …We need a new Ireland…we need to replace the corrupt Church-State”.
Constitution of Ireland: She pointed to the Irish Constitution – the current debate for reform is only aimed at placating unionists, she said. Part of the Constitution was an insult to women. SF upholds women’s issues, and in their vision of Ireland the Constitution would enshrine the equality of women. We have seen the failed policies of both governments – now is the time to put it right. Unionist grievances are very similar to nationalist grievances, and these are very much the same grievances as in Dublin, Limerick etc. Vast sections of the community in the 26 counties are disenfranchised and excluded.”
Unionists: Ms O’Connor said that the Ulster Unionist Party keeps the Tory Government in power, supported them in vetoing the Social Charter, rights for workers etc. She pointed to the Fisheries debate in Westminster as another example – Unionists do not represent working-class interests, they just “prop up” the Tory Government, she said. She knew there were wide gulfs between Sinn Fein and the unionist community. “The British Government must remove the unionist veto. There is an opportunity now to build peace. ”
“In an all-Ireland settlement there will be a place for all .. We can build the new Ireland together. It requires confidence and dialogue. We can’t return to Stormont as an internal solution“.
3. Liz Groves (Chairperson, Falls Community Council, Belfast).
Liz Groves thanked the Meath Peace Group for the invitation to speak. She explained she was not a member of a political party but over 30 years has worked in 2 deprived areas in Belfast. In North Belfast, she made many Protestant friends. When she moved to West Belfast, she got a shock. “Masses of people living on the breadline”. No access to education, to housing, to jobs. No economic base. “These were the children and the women, the young unemployed, coming from families of generations of unemployment, who took up stones and eventually turned, unfortunately, to arms and took up arms as well”, she said.
How the violence started: We have to look to the past and understand the motives of the people who took to violence, she said. Many people ask – Could the ceasefire have come earlier? Couldn’t the 25 years of murder and mayhem have been avoided? But they never ask the question – “How did the violence start? Who was the cause of it and who kept it going?”
“It was started by partitioning this country .. It was started because both governments refused to recognise the list of human rights abuses which were being carried on since the inception of the State.”
She referred to gerrymandering etc. after partition. “People grew up in atmosphere of no jobs, and no housing. Their whole lives were ruined by the “Orange veto” the British and Irish Governments sat back … they allowed a list of human rights abuses to continue.”
Liz Groves said that it was very important that residents of the 26 counties listen to all this as “you are now part of this process …and we want you to be part of it, we need you to be part of it”.
“Over the last few months, many unionists have said that they would have given the nationalists many things. Yet they never gave the nationalists anything that we didn’t forcibly go out and work for and take by whatever means – by educating ourselves, by creating our own businesses, and keeping our communities vibrant and going … They ruled their Protestant Parliament for their Protestant people; and they were true Ulstermen, what they had, they held – they gave none of it away.”
Civil rights: Ms Groves spoke of the civil rights movement – people wanted a vote in the local council elections, basic civil rights, decent houses, decent standard of education, the right to a job. She said that Protestant/loyalist people are now working with Catholics for these same issues. “Prior to 1969 they didn’t have to go out and work for those things. Their housing standards might not have been that much better than ours, but there was one family in every house, the heads of those households all had votes, and if they owned a wee shop at the corner, it meant they had two votes.”
“The system was loaded against nationalists from the beginning. Then came the Civil Rights movement – the RUC and B Specials batonned people off the streets. Over the last few months, the people that enacted all those things against the nationalists are now standing up and saying they’re the ones that want peace and the ones that want to move forward.”
Loyalist working class: “On the ground, the ordinary Loyalist, Protestant person does want to move forward. They are beginning to realise that they were conned more so than us. They no longer have the advantage in education, health and transport facilities. Their political masters all made sure their money wasn’t planted in the 6 counties. … The ordinary Protestant is beginning to feel frightened and his back’s to the wall. His political leaders are trying to cause division within the ordinary working class community. They put the blame on the Catholics for the conditions they are suffering.
Education and Housing: “The unionists say: “we allowed them the vote”, “we allowed them education”, “we allowed them housing”. This is a ridiculous thing to say in a democracy; nationalists had to fight for education, the vote and housing.” She described the funding of education in N.I. – Catholic schools still don’t get full funding. In housing she said there had been only some improvements. “In Poleglass which backs onto what was predominately the loyalist area of Lisburn – 3800 houses were built where 7, 500 were promised. The waiting list in West Belfast is 5, 200. Couples or single parents with more than 2 children .. The houses are not being built as they would upset the electoral balance in the local council and would be seen as a threat to the loyalist estate.”
Judicial system – Private Lee Clegg: Ms Groves said we need to look at all matters, but the big issue, she said, is the judicial system. She referred to the Private Clegg affair. “They don’t mind trying us in non-jury courts, they don’t mind giving us internment, but now they’ve tried one of their own, a member of a Regiment …responsible for untold injuries and maiming…responsible for forty unexplained deaths. Because one of their own got caught up in their judicial system, suddenly it’s wrong”, she said. It was wrong for him, she said, but it was not wrong for all the people who were caught up in the Casement Trials.”
Her area returns the highest number of SF councillors on a first preference vote. None of them sit on the crucial committees of Belfast City Council. They are disenfranchised.
“To move forward they are going to have to look at all those policies and they’re going to have to change them. … They’re going to have to stop demonising my community …they’re going to have to allow my community to be able to stand up and state their case very, very clearly, and they’re going to have to admit that their policies over the last 25 years were wrong. … On the ground, soldiers are off the streets by day in West Belfast, but many police patrols, and army at night. There are still special units that drive around at night in unmarked cars, and they army protect them while they’re harassing and hammering our children into the ground”.
Social issues: Many social issues could be helped by the 26 counties, she said – policing and prisoners – “both communities have these problems and want to solve them together but the doorway is not being put open for them – it’s being shut by Constitutional politicians and by Britain’s inability to deal with the Irish peace process”. She said the British Government were forced into a position of taking part – they were forced into signing the Declaration. “Now the republicans have called their bluff and they’ve got themselves backed into a corner with loyalist politicians.”
But the loyalist community are anxious for social issues and policing issues to be sorted out, “because at times they suffer as much as we do”, she said. They are anxious also that the prisoner issue be sorted out, “because every prisoner is a victim”, she said.
British Government: “The only thing stopping the peace process from moving forward is the British Government’s inability to stand up and be counted, to say “we made a mistake when partition came in; we’ve done nothing to rectify it in 75 years…we now have to sit down with all the people on this island…everybody who’s interested in the future of this country in the ever-widening Europe …to stand up and be counted … It’s time that Ireland went forward into Europe and the ever-widening world as a very united, caring socialist people”, she concluded.
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS:
Q1. Nuala McGuinness [Nobber resident, from Co. Down]: The problems of Ireland started a long time before partition. “With the emergence of the 2 new Loyalist parties – can Liz envisage trying to establish rapport? …You are looking at Britain, but the problem is in your back yard”. She remembers Gerry Fitt trying to unite the Catholic and Protestant working class.
Liz Groves: She maintained that partition was the cause of the present Troubles. As for working together, the ordinary working class Protestant has no problem working with her community. The problem is not always with the ordinary working class on the street, she said. “The working class have been constantly divided by politics – politics which didn’t suit them but which suited people’s careers… …Now they’ve come into the Catholic community and we go into their’s, they’ve attended all of our recent police conferences, both in Belfast and in Derry”. She mentioned the recent leak of the Framework document – the Unionist politicians were “screaming hysteria”, got fears going – and the UDP vote collapsed in the by-election. Career politicians are keeping working classes separate, she said.
Joan O’Connor: Wouldn’t agree entirely that problem was in “our own back yard”. SF were told British Govt would respond with imagination – yet one party to the conflict has no ceasefire, i.e. the British army. The issue at the end of the day is not between unionist and nationalist – the issue is the British Government, she said. No initiative has come from the British Government, she said – initiatives always came from nationalist Ireland. “The Unionists are a block, and a bigger block because of the unionist veto.”
“Where is the commitment to peace? There have been some changes, but not enough. For example, the prisoners – the British Govt has hardened its stance. There is no imagination or generosity … If the peace process fails, it will be quite clear that the single factor is the British Government.”
Q. 2 Anne Nolan (Slane) She had lived some time in England – no church school is fully funded in England either, she said.
Re: Punishment beatings: Wonders if SF would like to condemn punishment beatings. “There have been 42 in nationalist areas since September. We hear SF talk about the RUC and army, but it is hard to take that people are doing this to their own. Would SF condemn this publicly? This would help.”
She mentioned the case of Malachy Clarke (16), who committed suicide after punishment beating and subsequent harassment. [The father of Malachy Clarke was interviewed on the local radio that morning]
Liz: She knew the family in question. He was the son of a good friend of hers in the Irish language movement. The media made a lot out of it – and “it has been twisted by the media. The father tried to retract his story, but was unable to do it. ” She said the boy was part of a gang who had terrorised the community for 3 years under the influence of drugs. The beating came as a result of his beating up a woman – it was an inter-family beating, she said, and it suited his father to give the story to the media. “When the father tried to contact the media to retract the story, none of them would carry it.”
Liz said she can’t answer for SF, but she lives in an area where 2% of the population of young people get involved in drugs and joy-riding and hold the community to ransom. She said the community can’t get funding because it’s seen as a high-risk area. “We must understand about policing in N.I. – it was not so simple. When people in my community ring the police to report, say, a stolen car, they don’t react, and … there grew up a lot of hype, so much hype that the young boy’s father was again on the radio this morning talking about the punishment beatings. It still hasn’t sunk through to him that it wasn’t SF or the IRA who beat him; it was people from within his own circle who beat him and the wee boy was high on drugs, according to his friends.”
She said that sometimes communities get frustrated with it – sometimes on Friday and Saturday nights there could be 17 or 18 cars being driven up and down the Glen Road like Le Mans race track and being smashed and the RUC don’t react, she said.
Francie Molloy: Re punishment beatings – he said that anti-social behaviour is not confined to Belfast. Every time these young people have been lifted by the RUC, the RUC are more interested in getting them to inform. We must look at the broader issue, he said. “Republicans are always labelled as carrying out these activities. Many are family feuds. What alternatives had the nationalist community got? ”
Questioner: Offenders are surely entitled to justice. These beatings are barbaric. Are you saying they were all family feuds?
Liz Groves: She admits the beatings are barbaric and wrong. Done by community when frustrated. High-risk area – “many people are angry and try and take the law into their own hands”.
Questioner: She is living in an area where there is quite a lot of “anti-social” activity, yet her community don’t believe they have the right to go and beat up the young people involved.
Q. 3. A major initiative had been made by nationalists – people can sit down in atmosphere where no one is being killed. We are much more likely to sit down without violence. The principal people whose minds must be changed are the people in the North, he said. Most people in the South are nationalists but are a different form of nationalists. “They want peaceful co-existence.” Chief people who must discuss their differences are unionists and nationalists in the North.
Q. 4.: [Policing and accommodation with unionists]: What would SF believe is proper policing in N.I.? About 1 m people want to be British. Over 0.5m want links with 26 counties. How to accommodate both of these? How do SF envision accommodating the unionists?
Joan O’Connor: “I Would like to go back to the question on punishment beatings first – Sinn Fein do not support punishment beatings, but I understand why they are happening. The reason they are continuing is because the majority have no faith in the police force .. If you really want to see an end to them, as we all do, then you must write to the British Govt and say you want the RUC disbanded.”
“SF are looking for the disbandment of the RUC. There must be an unarmed community police force – accountable, “brought from the community to police the community.”
Re 1m unionists – She doesn’t argue that unionists don’t have a major part to play, but the British Govt. claims jurisdiction. What is needed is all-party talks. “This involves the British and Dublin Governments and all the parties sitting down and engaging in dialogue.”
The Unionist veto keeps the position in place …John Major reassured the unionists. “We will keep you in power”.
“SF believe we can come to an all-Ireland settlement – involving all parties to the conflict, where rights of all must be enshrined. One minority in Irish society cannot veto political progress on this island”
Q 5: Is the bottom line the withdrawal of Britain?
Francie Molloy: “Yes, this is the bottom line. We want to see the British Govt. saying to the unionist community – “you have to look at the day when you will sit down with the rest of Ireland”. Sinn Fein will come up with proposals. There could be an assembly in the 6 counties. linked to the 26 counties. There must be an Irish link or dimension. We need to set in plan the all-Ireland institutions.”
Q. 6: British identity: Sinn Fein still do not seem to understand the question of British identity. “For too long, nationalists were not allowed to express their Irish identity and aspirations. If there is to be parity of esteem, how would SF envisage accommodating the British dimension, the British link, aspired to by Unionists, in the SF vision of a new Ireland? By pushing too fast on political matters, by demanding British withdrawal, isn’t there a danger that politicians like SF may themselves be jeopardising the peace process and the chances of achieving lasting peace on this island? ”
Francie Molloy: He would envisage that the Unionist people, who feel British at the moment, might continue on some form of identification with the British Government, for as long as they wish – “You know, the like of people holding a British Passport” etc. He said the questioner ignores the fact that the peace process to date has been pushed by SF. The IRA ceasefire was the key point that brought it all to position – the importance of this cannot be underestimated. “I’m Irish – I live in Co. Tyrone ..one of the counties that voted to be part of the Republic of Ireland. That right was denied us by a British Government…So I think to actually start to turn back that the blame now rests with us…that we should accept what the British imposed on us…I have every right to be Irish and I intend to be so, and if that means me fighting for my rights as an Irish citizen, then, by all means that’s what people have to do.”
“The reasons why violence started was that the British Government, the Stormont administration, couldn’t respond to very simple basic rights…which nobody else was being denied except one section of the community in the North.”
“So, yes, I believe you can have various aspects and aspirations within an all-Ireland, and I do believe that if the people of Ireland as a whole, sat down, then we can recognise the Unionist tradition…we can guarantee their rights, their culture and their values. ….We all have to move into the situation where we can all actually sit down at the same table, because it has to be fear of change that stops people sitting down with other people, because talking doesn’t harm anybody.”
Joan O’Connor: “I find it very difficult, as a Sinn Fein representative, being called a politician at this stage, after so many years of being excluded.” From the very beginning, SF stressed first of all that they don’t “own” the struggle in the 6 counties or the 26 counties “that it isn’t ours and we don’t have all the answers to solve it”.
“..Sinn Fein stress the need for community involvement in all levels of the peace process.. we don’t want the situation, whatever happens down the road, of politicians, and mainly male politicians, sitting down deciding whatever type of future for the new Ireland.”
Re the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, she said that SF had proposed that it would have sittings across the 32 counties where ordinary communities could give their views on the peace process. Also, the money and the aid that is promised “must go to the communities who are affected by 25 years, North and South, of economic discrimination.”
Q. 7: “There must be compromise on both sides. What will nationalists give? If the Tories fall, who would SF prefer to deal with – Conservative or Labour?”
Francie Molloy: – “We have very little to give, because we haven’t got anything. We can guarantee to recognise the feelings and rights of unionists. The 26 county state didn’t guarantee the religious rights of minority – it was not a glowing example.”
Re the Government that SF would like to deal with in Britain – it has often been said that “it will only be a strong Conservative government that will actually make a decision on Ireland…for too long, Labour governments have been looking over their shoulders to see what the Generals are going to say before they actually make a decision. In my dealings…I would have to say that I have found the Conservative MPs…much more constructive in the process”.
At the moment, Labour is “simply courting the Unionist votes and is prepared to jeopardise the Peace Process in order to actually get a majority in Westminster…they’re playing with people’s lives.”
Q. 8: “What kind of Ireland would you like?”
F. Molloy: He would like to see a 32-county Ireland. “But we also recognise there may be other mechanisms that would be brought into being to govern the island of Ireland, and provided it is the Irish people as a whole that are deciding what the future structure of government is, then I would be quite prepared to go along with that – provided it’s not being imposed from outside by anyone, whether it be the British or the Americans of anyone else.”
Q.9: (N.I. resident): Comments re partition – “Nationalist politicians also sat back – they were elected to Stormont but boycotted it. SF also boycotted both parliaments.”
As for the Civil rights campaign – “this was not strictly a nationalist campaign and was supported by many Unionists. The demands of the campaign were all met, in some way, before 1972.”
SF claims that the peace process was initiatied by Hume and Adams – Would they not agree that the initiative started in the community when ordinary people stood up and demanded an end to violence – “that it was this demand from people, North and South, and in Britain, which sparked off the peace process?”
Policing: Re the RUC – “why do SF insist on disbandment and not on reform? At the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, which is actually a Nationalist forum, only Sinn Fein, which commands about 5% of the Irish vote, demanded disbandment, while the others called for reform.”
Joan O’Connor: Re the RUC – “How can you reform what is irreformable?” How to reform a police force that is 93% Protestant, based on the ethos of ensuring the second-class status of the nationalist community. She believed it would be possible to have a new police force, representative of both communities.
Re politicians boycotting the Stormont Assembly – “ the Sinn Fein position is that you cannot take part in what is basically a form of internal solution….The kind of talks we want to be involved in involve no pre-conditions …we believe it should be in the context of an all-Ireland agreement – all parties, all communities, being involved in discussion … The type of new Ireland we want is a democratic, socialist, feminist, pluralist, Ireland…….We are confident in our argument, and we’re confident in our politics and our beliefs. … Where is that confidence in the Unionist community? At the end of the day the only way we’ll move forward is by being involved in these all-Party talks and maybe then we can build an agreement. The alternative to that is a return to what we’ve had – a conflict for 25 years. I don’t think any of us want that.”
Liz Groves: Policing will be a major issue. Reform didn’t make the B Specials or the UDR more acceptable to the nationalist community. “Policing in the future, like government in the future, should be from the people and by the people, ” she said. The new force has got to be acceptable to both sides of the community. “It’s got to be seen as a police service and not as an armed force”.
Q.10: If there is procrastination, would you return to violence?
Francie Molloy: “No, I believe in fighting for rights – demonstrating and demanding rights. We must remove the issues that have caused the conflict. … If the situation resorts to violence, then it will be at the making of the British Government. If the British Government refuse, then the nationalist community, or the unionist community, if they feel betrayed, will return to conflict.” SF don’t want to see anyone more being killed.
Re the civil rights campaign, he recognised and appreciated the involvement of many Protestants, and right through to the present day, unfortunately, he said, they were isolated and were in a lot of danger sometimes.
Re republicans boycotting Stormont etc. – it would have been a massive contradiction for republicans to take the oath of allegiance to the Queen, he said.
John Clancy drew the proceedings to a close, and thanked the speakers:
“Tonight has been an introspective look – in looking back at the hurt that is very much alive in Northern Ireland and seeing how we can move forward in terms of a new view, a new vision, a new coming together…It was good tonight that we visited these areas and these hurts, because there are hurts, and there are the dead.”
He agreed with Sinn Fein suggestions about having local fora – this was one of the points made by the Meath Peace Group in their submission to the Forum [for Peace and Reconciliation]- there is a great determination within the “plain people of Ireland” to “sort out this legacy that we’ve inherited”, he said. “We have our gods and our martyrs…but we must look beyond that now – we must look to the future…where communities can live and co-exist and enhance the island of Ireland”, he concluded.
Meath Peace Group Report: March 1995
Compiled and edited by Julitta Clancy
Recorded by Anne Nolan
©Meath Peace Group
Contact names 1995: Julitta Clancy, Parsonstown, Batterstown, Co. Meath; Anne Nolan, Gernonstown, Slane, Co. Meath , Pauline Ryan, Woodlands, Navan, Philomena Boylan-Stewart, Longwood, Co. Meath, Felicity Cuthbert, Kilcloon, Co. Meath, Michael Kane, An Tobar, Ardbraccan, Navan, Co. Meath