MEATH PEACE GROUP TALKS
No. 64 – ‘Peace and Stability: the Way Forward’
Monday 29th January, 2007
Ardboyne Hotel, Navan, Co. Meath
Dominic Bradley, MLA (SDLP, Newry and Armagh)
Gregory Campbell, MLA, MP (DUP, East Londonderry)
Cllr Killian Forde (Sinn Féin, Dublin)
Cllr James McKerrow (UUP, North Down)
Des Fegan (Head of Funding and Support, Cooperation Ireland)
Introduction: Des Fegan
Questions and comments
Closing words: Julitta Clancy
©Meath Peace Group
64 – ‘Peace and Stability: the way forward’
Monday 29th January, 2007
Introduction: Guest chair – Des Fegan (Cooperation Ireland):
“Many thanks to Julitta and the Meath Peace Group for inviting me on behalf of Cooperation Ireland to chair this talk. If ever we’re in doubt again as to the timetabling and choreography of the peace process in Northern Ireland I think in future – rather than going to all these various lobbyists and politicians – we’ll just go to the Meath Peace Group and find out when they have scheduled their next meeting! It’s an incredible opportunity to be here tonight, I’m massively looking forward to listening to the views of our panellists. Cooperation Ireland was founded in 1979. I was born and bred in Belfast. I was born in West Belfast, a place that bore the brunt of a lot of the violence of those years, and I now have teenage children myself and it is just absolutely fantastic, as a parent from Belfast, to be sitting here tonight 24 hours after what was quite an historic day yesterday [Sinn Féin’s special ard fheis on policing]. I personally am very very positive for the future, I’m positive for the future for myself, for my family and for my community and I’m really interested to hear some of the questions and some of the comments from our panellists. However, I suppose – to be a realist about it, and Cooperation Ireland have been in the work of building practical cooperation, trying to tread that a-political divide, trying to encourage cross-border cooperation… the theory being that as people know each other and get to know each other and remove the fear, there wasn’t a dislike to start off with in the first place. Kids will like kids and adults will like adults if we can only get them together. A bit naïve, my friends sometimes tell me, but it works, that’s the answer – it actually works. Just get people in and get them talking, and we have the DUP and Sinn Fein sitting and talking. These were things we wouldn’t have dreamt about ten years ago. But to try and keep it with some sense of reality, there are big threats as well as these massive opportunities. And sometimes, with all due respect to the panellists here, the politicians that we have – are they part of the problem or part of the solution? That is something we all struggle with and what should we be doing? What do we mean by a shared future? Does a shared future mean ‘I’ll do my thing without any responsibility, without any recognition for what someone else does?’ Is it an agreed future? Does it mean shared space? Or does it mean divided space? Does it mean segregation? Does it mean participation? These are all things that we struggle with in our daily lives on the island and I suppose particularly and in particular areas of Northern Ireland. So it’s with that that I’d like to start calling on the panellists to discuss ‘peace and stability the way forward’ – if we could get a brief definition from each of the panellists and then open it to the floor for questions.”
1. Dominic Bradley, MLA (SDLP, Newry and Armagh)
“Go raibh míle maith agat. Agus ba mhaith liom a rá ag an dtús tá an-athas orm beith air ais i gCondae na Mí…. Thank you very much for the invitation to be here this evening. I have been here before and I certainly enjoyed my last visit and I hope that we will have an interesting and productive evening here tonight. The way forward to peace and stability. In the view of the SDLP the way forward to peace and stability in Ireland North and South is quite clear: get the power sharing institutions of the Good Friday Agreement up and running as quickly as possible without any further delay. I believe that’s what the majority of people north and south voted for and I believe that is what the majority of people north and south still want. The two major impediments to achieving devolution are the attitude of Sinn Féin towards the police and the attitude of the DUP towards power sharing.
Policing: “Yesterday we saw Sinn Féin take an important step in the direction of supporting the policing arrangements and I believe that they should go even further and begin to engage with policing immediately, and not because the DUP ask them to do so but because the nationalist community have the right to protection from crime, so that older people can feel safe in their homes, young women can walk home safely at night, and our local areas are free from ant-social behaviour and joyriding. Policing in Northern Ireland has changed radically over the past five years, even Sinn Féin now admit to that. We now have 86% of the Patten reforms implemented, we have over 20% nationalist membership of the PSNI, and that will rise in the next three years to 30%. And we have achieved that only five years into a 10-year programme of Patten reforms. Above all, we have strong accountability mechanisms which will ensure that the abuses of the past will not occur in the future.
“One of the basic requirements of peace and stability is law and order. You only have law and order where the vast majority of the people can give their support to those charged with upholding law and order. That is why we have worked for a police service that could command the full support of the vast majority of the community here. But that is not to say that we will accept anything but the highest standards from the police service. We won’t. It is in no one’s interests to allow police a free hand or to turn a blind eye to practices which do not meet the highest standards. Such attitudes are wrong and will only return to haunt those who allow them to flourish. Accountability in policing is in everyone’s interests no matter what their background. That is why Sinn Féin should do policing and do it now.
Power sharing: “And I believe that the DUP should do power sharing. We have learned over the years that majority rule will not produce peace and stability here. I do not want to rake over the embers of the past once again. But I will say this. It is now accepted by all parties to the situation that partnership through power sharing is the best way to deliver peace and stability in the future. Peace, prosperity and stability in the future will only come if we all give our support to a system of government which provides for all of the people equally and fairly. It may not always be easy, in fact it may be a difficult road ahead for some years but I believe it is the best way for all of us.
Principle of consent: “We have now reached the stage where all parties are agreed that any future change in the constitutional position will be by consent only, through democratic means. We should all be in a position to accept the right of one another to pursue the political future each thinks is best for the people of this island north and south, so long as that is done entirely through peaceful and democratic means. The Good Friday Agreement offers that way forward to peace and stability; it recognises the totality of relationships in these islands, within Northern Ireland, with the Republic and with Britain. The aspirations of all groups are given full and equal recognition; it threatens no party, no group, or no community. The acceptance of totally peaceful and democratic means by all parties is part of the bedrock of peace and stability.
Police collusion and dealing with the past: “Last week we saw the publication of the Police Ombudsman’s report into the murder of Raymond McCord. The reality of the past hit us square between the eyes. We know that collusion between the RUC Special Branch, the British intelligence services and both loyalist and republican paramilitaries was widespread. It wasn’t just confined to north Belfast. It happened in my constituency. People were murdered as a result of it. Their relatives want to know the truth. The relatives of people murdered by republican paramilitaries want to know the truth. The families of the Disappeared want the remains of their loved ones returned to them for burial. We need a means of dealing with the past which will deal with these problems. Dealing with the past will help create peace and stability in the future. Ignoring it will only allow bitterness to fester into the future.
Economic prosperity: “Economic investment and the jobs which follow it will much more readily come to a country where there is an end to civil strife and ambivalence about the rule of law.
If the underlying issues above can be dealt with, future peace and stability can be underpinned by economic prosperity. Bread and butter issues are important to people. Most people are struggling with the everyday problems of daily life – doing a day’s work, providing for their families, planning for their future through education and training. In Northern Ireland we have over 100,000 children living in poverty. We have huge numeracy and literacy issues to resolve. These are damning statistics. Huge social deprivation is not conducive to future peace and stability; in fact it is a recipe for future unrest. If we are to achieve an anchored peace and stability we must deal also with social deprivation. Go raibh mile maith agaibh. Thank you very much.”
Chair (Des Fegan): “Thanks, Dominic. Unless there are some pressing questions, I’ll now pass the mike to Gregory Campbell, MLA for – as decided by the courts most definitely – for East Londonderry… I would imagine that Gregory would need very little introduction, he comes from the ‘reserved wing’ of the DUP – reserved for what, I’m sure Gregory will tell us tonight. So please welcome Gregory.
2. Gregory Campbell, MLA, MP (DUP, East Londonderry)
“Thank you very much, chairman. Could I first of all thank Julitta and the group for inviting me back again. I think I was here two years ago. I don’t know whether I said something wrong so that they didn’t get back to me or said something right which means I wasn’t needed back! I suppose one of the issues that we should all be looking at I suppose is the nature of this event and the timing of it. I was just saying on the way over here, I don’t know how you managed to time it in such an impeccable way but you’re certainly on the money in terms of getting an event like this at a time like this in Northern Ireland’s history! So thanks for inviting me to the meeting.
Cross-border relations: “Dominic [Bradley] and I took part in a debate today on cross-border relations, in the Assembly. I’m all in favour of coming to your country and I hope you’ll all be in favour of coming to ours because I think that’s the way we should make progress.
Opportunity to make progress: “There are a number of very fundamental issues that I think are at last being addressed, they haven’t been resolved but they are being addressed – and I use the present tense, rather than past tense, as they are being addressed. We have, in my view and the view of my party, an opportunity to try and make more significant progress in the next period of – I don’t know whether it will be six months, hopefully not six years, but certainly a period of time that is the immediate future – to make more progress than we have made in the past thirty years. As we stand at the end of January that’s as much as I see it as, the potential for progress. Because Tony Blair keeps on saying to us that there are the twin pillars for progress and Dominic alluded to them: there is Sinn Féin’s requirement to support policing and the rule of law, and the need for us in the DUP to support the concept of power sharing.
DUP is up for power sharing: “Now I’m not going to go back over history, you’ll be glad to hear, but, in our view, 1998 addressed the problem and came up with the wrong solution. It did address the problem but it came up with the wrong solution. Because if you come up with a solution that either ignores the wishes of a considerable number of people or seeks to override their wishes, then I think you arrive at the wrong conclusion. But those problems having been now in the past, there is a potential for not just addressing them, which I believe is happening, but an actual resolution of them. For our part we have made it as clear as we can, without ambiguity, without conditionality, crystal clear: we are up for a power sharing administration with every political party that has a mandate, who are democrats.
Who is a democrat? “Now usually then in the media that begs the question: ‘well what is your interpretation of a democrat?’ And in our view, just as 1998 failed to address this issue, it hopefully is being addressed now. An essential part of being a democrat is that, whatever nation you belong to, you support the legally constituted police service of that country. That if there is a breach of the law, you recommend that, if you’re involved, you give information to that legally constituted authority, and if it is required you go to the court of law and give evidence, and you support the prosecution of those who are suspected of that crime. That is a democrat, quite apart from the political ramifications of a democrat, abiding by the wishes of the democratically held electoral contest in any particular nation.
“So, in our view, we have unambiguously signed up to a power sharing administration. The thing that stops that power sharing administration taking place is that there is one party whose members at the moment, as of the 29th of January, do not subscribe to supporting the police, the courts and the rule of law. Now, as far as I’m aware, every other political philosophy in Northern Ireland and all the advocates of that philosophy, all the members of it, will say ‘if there is a breach of the law we have no ambiguity about going to the police, we have no reservation, no qualification. There is nothing that holds us back from saying someone who breaks the law ought to be punished and we will give every information that we can in order to bring them before the courts.’ Every political party does that – except one. And even today after the ard fheis, I heard a Sinn Féin spokesperson on BBC radio this morning asked four times to say unambiguously: ‘now that you’ve passed the resolution, do you support the police in Northern Ireland?’
Need for unequivocal ‘yes’ to policing and rule of law: “Now in my view we’re at the point where, whatever happens now, if there is a break-in tonight in west Belfast, or a rape or a burglary or any other breach of the law anywhere where there are Sinn Féin representatives, then the first question that should be posed to Sinn Féin in the light of their resolution is: ‘what should people do now as a result of that breach of the law?’ And if their answer is anything other than an unequivocal: ‘go to the police, give whatever information you have, do whatever you can to bring those responsible before the courts of law’ – anything other than an unequivocal ‘yes, that is what we need to do’, is a ‘no’. I don’t care how they dress it up, I don’t care what qualification they use, it equates to a ‘no’, and until we hear an unequivocal ‘yes’, then there is still one party who are holding back from supporting the rule of law. Once that Rubicon has been crossed – and many people hinted yesterday that it was being crossed, but I still don’t see the evidence of that crossing of the Rubicon – until it is crossed I don’t believe we can begin to measure the extent of the crossing.
Inequality: “Many people have said to me: ‘Gregory, you’re building hurdles, you’re putting further qualifications in place’. And I keep pointing back to statements that we have made over weeks and months: that we will sit down on an equal basis with all other democrats. There is a lot of talk about equality and I feel an unequal citizen in my own country, because my culture and my nationality and my citizenship doesn’t get anything like those who say they are Irish does in Northern Ireland, nothing like it. So I am all for equality, I am a fervent and positive advocate of equality, it is something that I aspire to for my community. But I feel like an unequal citizen when it comes to the support for the rule of law, because for 30 years Sinn Féin had an ace that I don’t have and don’t particularly want, and the ace that they were able to play was ‘if we don’t get our way we’ll go back to shooting you, bombing you, to giving another Canary Wharf in the heart of the city of London, if we don’t get our way.’ I didn’t have that as a negotiating ploy, I didn’t have that as a negotiating skill to turn to if my rational argument didn’t win the day, Sinn Féin did. If that is being removed then that means we are all equals; we come to the table purely with our negotiating skills and our ability to argue and reason, we have the force of our argument rather than the force of our guns. And that’s good if that is where we are going.
Putting words into practice: “We need to see over the next days and weeks that that is where we are going. And that’s how we will test if Sinn Féin move beyond the ard fheis and say what I have outlined. I think everyone demands that they need to say: this unequivocal support for the courts, the police and the rule of law. Once we get that verbal commitment to what everyone else has subscribed to – the courts, the police and the rule of law – then we can start to see what it means. Because once Gerry Adams – and I have heard it alluded to that he was coming close to saying that today, and if he was then that’s good, that’s progress – then we need to see what it means. Because there will be breaches of the law and we will have to see what the words of Gerry Adams mean in practice. Will people start to give evidence? Will they give information? Will there be more people prosecuted in the courts? Will there be more people coming forward and saying: ‘I’m prepared to stand up and be counted against the rapists, the muggers, the car thieves, all of those in our areas’? That’s tangible proof that people are responding to leadership in their community. If my community was not responding to me saying ‘these things are wrong and you must report them’, I would question my support within my community. I would go to my community and say ‘why are you sheltering these drug dealers and these thieves and these muggers and these rapists, why are you not getting into court to get them prosecuted?’ But they’re not doing that thankfully and that must be the case in every other part of Northern Ireland.
Testing period: “So then we begin the testing period. I don’t know how long that will be. It’s like the elephant in the room; we will know it when we see it. But we’re making progress and I think we have to continue to make progress. Support for the police was not on the radar screen five years ago, it is now. And it’s not leaving the radar screen until we get it resolved.
Power-sharing based on equality: “When we get it resolved then we can enter into a power-sharing administration with everybody in that administration being there on the basis of equality. I won’t then argue that anyone has an advantage over me. I will then be looking for all the changes that I want to see in Northern Ireland; all the rights that my community are being denied. We had a motion in the Assembly about two weeks ago, about how our community feel discriminated against now in jobs. I want to see that rectified. Our cultural rights, our parading rights, our passport rights – all of the things that we don’t have that nationalists do.
“I will then want to see that Executive and that administration start to address those disadvantages that my community have to endure. And it will be the testing of that for all of us – Sinn Féin, UUP, SDLP and DUP – that will test my community’s consent to approving for those administrative arrangements and institutions that will by then be up and running. And I would then want within four years to be able to go back to my community and say that this is working and we are seeing tangible change because we are all in there as equals and we are all beginning to see positive results. Thank you again for the invite.”
Chair (Des Fegan): “Thank you very much Gregory. I must take comfort in you talking about days and weeks and maybe we can tease that out later on. They will be exceptionally interesting days and weeks lying ahead, and could I ask Dominic Bradley is there an election definite in your eye?
Dominic Bradley: “As far as we can read it, yes that is the case.”
Des Fegan: “… I’d like to hand over now to Killian. I got short notice coming here tonight, I think Killian got even shorter notice so with a great deal of gratitude I welcome Killian Forde, Sinn Féin councillor for Dublin. He works a lot with Mary Lou McDonald [MEP]. I haven’t met Killian before but I have met Mary Lou and Jim Allister [DUP MEP] on EU matters – differences in style and content perhaps but very very enjoyable. So I’d like to hand over to Killian…”
3. Cllr Killian Forde (Sinn Fein, Dublin City Council)
“…After Gregory’s interesting contribution, I’ll just read out something and maybe this will clarify some things. I got this email at a quarter past five, it’s a statement from Gerry Adams: ‘If any citizen is the target of crime whether it be a death threat, drug pushers or rape, or attacks on the elderly, if there is a crime against the people, against the community; Sinn Féin will be urging and encouraging victims and citizens to cooperate with the police. There is no equivocation or qualification on this’. So I hope that clarifies matters for you.
Democrats: “The other thing that I think is quite interesting – and I’m not going to be all negative here, I’ll try to stay positive, but sometimes it’s difficult because you do hear an element of rewriting of history – but Gregory suggested that I wasn’t a democrat, but if I’m not a democrat and I’m a republican does that make me still a democrat? It’s very confusing. I’m going to leave that thought with you.
“I’ll just introduce myself. I’m here in place of Joe Reilly who is a local Sinn Féin councillor in Meath. Joe sends his apologies, and I send my apologies for my lack of preparation in advance. I was elected for Sinn Féin to Dublin City Council in 2004. I had joined Sinn Féin only in the year 2000 after a second attempt. The first attempt was when I spent a very wet year in Derry – a very beautiful city but very wet – in the early ‘90s. I suppose part of the uniqueness of our conflict – and it goes back to Gregory’s point about jaw jaw and not war war – was that in the University of Ulster political parties were banned, which I found absolutely extraordinary. Although I spent a year in a city that had an amazing conflict resolution faculty, you couldn’t join a political party and political debate was seriously frowned upon – of any nature – so while we used to do campaigns, we were involved in some of the campaigns around Nicaragua for instance, you couldn’t campaign on either side on both communities on any issues whatsoever, it was seriously frowned upon. I think it’s probably one of those things that will take some time to come out in terms of the impact on society both north and south, the equivalent I suppose in a sense in the south would be Section 31. And what was that impact on various different sections of society academia, civic, political, religious? We probably won’t know or we probably won’t have a clear idea for some years to come.
Peace process hugely successful: “Firstly, on a positive note, this peace process is phenomenally successful. I spent yearsin the Balkans, I’ve seen peace processes gone wrong, I’ve seen theeffects of mass slaughter, ethnic cleansing of a complete nature – and I’m talking about areas of Bosnia we had to drive through for two or three hours and every single house would have been destroyed, with no roof, and every single village would be empty of people. This peace process has been coming out of a very long war so people’s attitudes and approaches are different but the fact is it is hugely successful.
“The other two peace processes that started at the same time were the Mideast and Sri Lanka and unfortunately both of them have reverted back to bloodshed and have collapsed and I think it’s very unfortunate. I hope it’s not a coincidence that Gerry Adams was in one just prior to that collapsing and Martin McGuiness was in the other prior to Sri Lanka collapsing!
Way forward: “The way forward, I think there are three parts to this. There is the short the long and the constant stuff that needs to be done, and there are different actors on how we portray the way forward.
Sinn Féin’s responsibility: “In the short term, and I’ll start with ourselves in Sinn Féin, I look forward to critically engaging and supporting the PSNI. And I think most of our members do. Yesterday [special ard fheis] was a very historic day and we had roughly between 90% and 95% compliance with the motion after a very long debate, I wouldn’t say anybody was overly enthusiastic and there was a lot of emotion but the fact was that people felt it was a good option. That, given what had happened particularly with the report of the Ombudsman on Monday, that it was time to get involved in terms of policing for that not to happen again, and to also provide a service to the community who are desperately crying out for it. So that’s in terms of Sinn Féin’s responsibility.
British government: “With the British and the Irish governments, there are two things really. I’d like the British government to actually stick to deadlines because really it’s dragged on in terms of them changing the deadlines an awful lot and I think they lose credibility. If they don’t insist on deadlines it could drift on for another few years. I hear what Gregory Campbell is saying, and, like most republicans and nationalists, the worry is how long is a piece of string? ‘We’ll know when we know’ is not politics. That’s definite lack of leadership being provided there. If he wants to put qualifications or measurements on it, let’s hear exactly what he wants to see, by what time and in what case: there’s ways to measure this stuff and if that’s what he needs to lay it down .
Irish government: “From the Irish government, one of the things that has gone under the radar has been the very low engagement from the Irish government, probably over the last two years, and I think that probably coincides with the local elections and the European elections of 2004 which, as some of you might remember, were the ones that Sinn Féin won – that was how the media portrayed it. I think that part of the Irish government sees us as an electoral threat and therefore they need to tread carefully with that. I think it’s unfortunate, I think Bertie Ahern has done phenomenal work and put huge amount of hours into the peace process and I think the advice he is getting now is poor. You do remember that Bertie Ahern’s mother had passed away just prior to the Good Friday Agreement, and he had actually come up just straight from the funeral, so he’s certainly interested.
DUP: “Just one other thing in relation to the short term, we clearly want to hear from the DUP that they agree to power sharing. I think we heard it here tonight, and then we heard a ‘but’, and we just need to be very very clear. Are they agreeing to power sharing?
Parades issue: “And in terms of the unionists in general, I really do believe that they need to deal with the parades issue in a very mature manner. A parades issue that continues to go on from year to year is going to reverse any sort of community trust that is being built. I think it’s not part of unionist culture. I think it is coat-trailing, triumphalism and an anarchism of the past and it doesn’t need to be done. If people want to parade in their own areas, that’s fine, if that’s their prerogative, but [otherwise] I don’t see any advantage whatsoever politically to continue to do it, it rubs people up the wrong way and it causes huge amounts of conflict.
Truth Commission: “In the longer term I think one of the things that is really needed is a truth commission. I don’t want a truth commission that involves dragging various members from the various parties, political groups and paramilitary groups in front of a court in Belfast. That’s not going to give us the truth. What is needed is legislation from both the Irish and British governments that actually says ‘you are compelled to tell the truth’ and pulls in a wide range of people which includes ex-gardaí, some people in the media and all the politicians who were around at the time. Something very odd happened, we know what happened and we know how many people died, but we don’t know who killed them, how they were killed or why they were killed, and I think it’s fair to say that it should be explored.
Unified island – shared space: “Also I think that one of the difficulties that unionism – and I’m trying transference here – is having with this process is that there are no other options given, and I think that the Irish government needs to draw up – and perhaps in the longer term Sinn Féin will be in the Irish government – it needs to draw up a Green Paper about the issue of a unified island. And I use the word ‘unified island’ on purpose because it’s not about trying to have a 32-county Free State. It’s not about enforcing unionists to live within and under the green, white and orange. All of this can be negotiated, it will be negotiated. It’s about having a shared space and having a civic responsibility to each other and that’s what I would like to see: that the Irish government actually draw up a Green Paper on unification, hopefully we can … actually begin a debate about what Irish unity would mean to both people in the south and in the north, which would include both communities.
Leadership: “In terms of the constant stuff that needs to be done, it’s just providing leadership, so a constant attempt to have political civil and religious leadership to maintain all of the work….
Rule of law – fairness, justice and separation of powers: “I just want to say a couple of things in relation to the rule of law. The rule of law was a concept brought up by a guy called Samuel Rutherford. Like a lot of people with good ideas he was half Scottish. It wasn’t about doing what the police tell you, it wasn’t about recognising the courts, it was about fairness and justice and part of it was the clear separation of powers. Now I think any consistent or critical look at the State of Northern Ireland as it existed [would see that] it didn’t contain any of these things, so to have a rule of law you have to have fair, transparent and clear laws, you have to have fair and impartial police. I don’t think anybody; any republican, has a problem with any rule of law as long as the rule of law fits in with consistent universal values that we all value. So that’s one thing about the rule of law.
Policing – ambiguity from DUP: “And I also heard Gregory talk about ‘no ambiguity’ and ‘unequivocal support in terms of the PSNI’, I think that goes both ways and I don’t want to get into this situation because I hate it, I hate the ‘what-aboutery’ that exists. We must accept that we are all hypocrites, the only party on this table who can clearly stand up and say ‘we had nothing to do whatsoever with any political violence put on anybody over any years’ are the SDLP, and that is the truth. The riots in the Springfield road recently – which were the most serious riots in Belfast for years – the DUP would not condemn them, would not ask people to go to the police, were trying to maintain that these people had the right to riot because they weren’t allowed down a lane onto a nationalist area. The Holy Cross episode – the role of Nigel Dodds in north Belfast was nothing short of disgraceful. He didn’t again ask people to go to the police, he didn’t again ask people to report that their neighbours were attacking young nationalist kids. The most recent one, a DUP councillor – I believe, Gregory, in your own constituency, is it Coleraine? – he was convicted of voter fraud, and again no statement from the DUP, nothing, no condemnation. As I said, I don’t want to get into it because we can all individually get up and say the same thing about each other’s parties. The point is it isn’t black and white and I suppose for the future that the sooner some of us realise that things aren’t black and white, that everybody did right and wrong that then there is a chance for the future. If people continue to pretend that they are holier than thou and hold up the rule of law as being an enforcement of internment, assaults and attacks on people standing up for their civil rights, well then, to be honest, there isn’t much hope, and we’ll always have a separated community and the best that we can hope for is that in that separation we can have some sort of uneasy peace. Thank you very much.”
Chair: “Well I still maintain my optimism. We have four main parties in the north and I suppose it would be true to say, in reflection – I’m apolitical myself with no political allegiances – but the Ulster Unionist Party, when we read our history books, is supposedly the party that has paid the heaviest price in terms of electoral support. I don’t know whether Councillor McKerrow will necessarily agree with this but they were certainly key players and maintain a key presence in unionism, so to round up this part of the evening I’d like to call on James McKerrow to give us the view from the Ulster Unionist Party.
4. Cllr James McKerrow (UUP, north Down):
“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for inviting me here. Let me just say that the last time I was at a meeting where Gregory Campbell was, he was a Minister, he was the Minister for Regional Development. I was presenting the Ulster Unionist case for keeping and developing the railways. With me were Peter Weir and Jeffrey Donaldson and unlike Peter Weir and Jeffrey Donaldson, I am still with the Ulster Unionist Party!”
Gregory Campbell: ‘We’ll work on you!”
James McKerrow: “… and I would quite like to see Gregory back in that office. ‘Peace and stability: the way forward’: this evening I want to develop two very important aspects of how I believe we can set out to broaden and develop peace and stability in Northern Ireland in the longer term. I think our politicians have all majored on what happens today and tomorrow, I want to talk about what happens a bit later down the line. And I want to set these in the context of what unionism should mean in the 21st Century. These two aspects are the system of government and how that system influences the development of society, and the development of the economy and how that can improve, or retard, social cohesion.
Role of modern unionism: “But first let me state my belief that modern unionism should be about building a society where everybody can benefit, and can appreciate that they are benefiting. That calls first for mutual respect, not just between Roman Catholics and Protestants, but between all segments of society. For in all parts of Ireland we are increasingly becoming a cosmopolitan, and affluent and educated society. Communities may still be stratified through wealth, but the old hierarchical practices based on wealth and recognised institutions have largely evaporated with the advent of affluence and consumerism, and legislation reinforcing human rights and equality. But those are not enough to build respect for others, and their beliefs and views. That calls for a culture of co-operation and listening, and one where groups, especially opposing political parties, do get down to the task of understanding each other’s origins and situation, and appreciating what other parties are seeking to do for their own people. So I believe that modern unionism, still the majority persuasion in Northern Ireland, needs to focus not only on representing the views of its supporters on the continuance of the Union, but also on representing the interests of everybody in the Union. Making a final and distinct break with ethnic nationalism is the key to promoting peace and stability for both unionists and nationalists. Abraham Lincoln gave voice to this when he stated his belief, “If you do well for all, everybody does well”.
System of government: “First, let us look at the system of government, and how that can alter and shape society. Political philosophers from Thucydides to Frances Fukuyama have elaborated the view that the structure and practice of government is intrinsically linked to the cohesion, dynamism, and character or lack of it, of a society. But there is no set standard; what flies in one age and set of circumstances may not in another. Thucydides lived in 5th Century Athens. His rendition of Pericles’ funeral ovation is a model for the virtues of democracy to this day. He lived in a slave state with limited franchise. Athens in those times was a vibrant and dynamic state and economy. Yet the Deep South that fought the American Civil War, also a slave state with limited franchise, bred indolence instead of dynamism, and fell to the industrialised and more organised North. Quatrocento Florence at its height was an autocracy. There is no set standard of governmental organisation that can guarantee results. Consider that in the 1930s, the western industrial democracies were languishing in the great slump. The countries exhibiting growth and development were Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia, both highly authoritarian regimes. But Machiavelli taught us not only how to use power by whatever means necessary to achieve stated aims, but also that institutions, left to themselves and not challenged, are apt to decline and degenerate. Machievelli wrote of monarchy tending to tyranny, autocracy to autarchy, and democracy to anarchy. He could also have added paramilitarism to organised crime. The lesson is that any system of government, no matter how successful, needs to be stimulated and challenged if it is to remain successful.
Models of democracy and government: “Undoubtedly, during modern times, it is the liberal representative capitalist democracy that is proving most successful in both the developed and developing world, in both economic and quality of life terms. This mix requires free, fair and frequent elections (hopefully we will have them North and South later this year), a free press, a strong legal system reinforcing the rights of the individual and over property, and a capitalist waged economy. When we study various countries, we find several models that meet this criteria – some more successfully than others. The United States and the United Kingdom have very different models of democracy, and very different institutions of government and bureaucracy. And the Republic of Ireland, currently a very dynamic and affluent state, but not always so, lies between these two. At partition, the North was industrialised and profitable; the economy revolved around manual labour, there was considerable local ownership of the means of production creating a symbiotic dependency between the propertied and working classes; the public sector was minor and the Chancellor of the Exchequer received considerably more in taxation than he sent back. But demographics would ensure a half century of unbroken unionist rule, leading to its eventual demise at the hands of an impatient British Government. All this time Northern Ireland was a democracy, but lacking the motivation to maintain dynamism and change. And all that time it was a democracy, but not supported by an increasing proportion of its citizens.
Republic of Ireland: “Following partition, the South was relatively impoverished for six decades, relying largely on British markets for agricultural exports at a time of British subsidies and cheap food policies. Advent to the Common Market and the benevolent Common Agricultural Policy transformed Ireland’s economy overnight, funding the development of education that, with other initiatives, has led to the phenomenal growth of Ireland’s post manual labour economy. All this time Ireland was a democracy, but until joining the Common Market, lacking sufficient wealth to create the fundamental building blocks to grow the economy and spread affluence. Since joining the Common Market, the Irish economy has grown almost every year upon year, and the Irish economy has roared past almost every other developed country, including Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and the South East of England. The situation at the end of the troubles is very different, North and South, than at the beginning.
Power sharing – dramatic development: “I do not want to get mired into arguments about the detail of what did or did not occur during 50 years of unbroken unionist rule, nor indeed about the following 35 years of direct rule. Instead I want to concentrate on the fact that today, for the first time, the four main parties in Northern Ireland, representing the great majority of its people, and represented on this panel tonight, are poised to form an inclusive power-sharing legislature and executive, to govern Northern Ireland openly and together, and by so doing to give voice to the great majority of the population. This dramatic development, I believe, is capable of not only giving everybody a sense of voice, but also inculcating ownership and respect.
“It has been a long road from the first ceasefires, through the Good Friday Agreement and to date a largely dysfunctional Assembly. But we have now reached a point where we consolidate all that and move on, or find the divide still too wide for too many to bridge, and really do lapse into colonial status. If we move on I have no doubt partisan arguments will continue to rage, but if devolved government is successful, they will become our partisans, and far preferable to the peripatetic English governors of Direct Rule. For some time to come I would see concotiational mandatory coalition as the form of government in the North, and a major key to increasing social cohesion, peace, and stability. This is because it does give all four major factions a voice. But when social cohesion becomes strong enough to overcome inter-tribal preferences and intra-tribal differences, it is quite feasible that the people of Northern Ireland and their political parties will want to reform the mandatory nature of coalition in favour of voluntary arrangements, much as you have in the Dáil.
Economic growth: “The other component of building peace and stability is the development of a vibrant and competitive economy capable of providing increasingly satisfying job opportunities, and that is grounded firmly on equality of opportunity. Today it is widely recognised that the best form of welfare is a job that gives satisfaction, security of tenure, and a living wage. A source of income that the recipients can take pride in and base their circumstances on.
Comparisons between North and South: “The economic position of the North and the South has been reversed. The various manufacturing industries that made the North a hub of output are much diminished. North East Asia is now the general manufacturing hub of the world. Meanwhile the South has built a competitive economy fitted to its circumstances and the skills of its people, with more limited reliance on manual labour.
“And today’s economy in Northern Ireland differs from the Republic in three further and very significant ways.
- “First, the pattern of emigration and immigration has resulted in the South having half the dependency ratio of the North, that being the ratio of the non working population, including children, retired people, those out of work and those not seeking work, to those in work. This has a major impact on government spending.
- “Second, and in large part as a consequence, the public sector in the South is relatively smaller than the North. As a sovereign state you have had to balance the books. Meanwhile under Direct Rule the North’s public sector has grown to unsustainable proportions.
- “Third, without academic selection but with a growing private education sector, you are turning out young men and women with the skills and capabilities that match and sustain your economy.
“Emulating your success will not be easy, in the short term at least. But it is an area where hard decisions will have to be made if we are to underpin future peace and stability through creating sustainable and satisfying employment that delivers a living wage.
Balance needed to attract investment and employ people: “What modern unionism needs to concentrate on to achieve this economic growth is to pursue those policies, usually labelled as old fashioned supply side policies, that make it easier to attract investment and employ people. This is a matter of balance. I do not want to abrogate rights, but I want to make them more simple, robust, and easier to understand and put into practice. Already this year the Equality Commission has issued a consultation paper of more than 100 pages on how the public sector should roll out the Equality Commission’s aims into the private sector. This underlies the problem that we face with the burgeoning liberal agenda, emphasizing the rights of the individual regardless of the ramifications and knock-on effects, or the interests of wider society and other groups. The balance needs to be redressed a little. We are getting ourselves into tangles that work against creating jobs, working against investment and employment. I believe we have to step back a little from the liberal revolution, and whilst ensuring that we maintain equality of opportunity, work at aspects of education and training, the industrial relations environment, and working practices.
“At the same time we need to bring in measures that attract investment and ideas, particularly from home-grown entrepreneurs and innovators. One part of this programme aims to make the jobs appear. The other part aims to ensure that we have the people with the skills, attributes and capabilities to fill them.
Public/private sector: “Prior to Direct Rule the subvention in Northern Ireland, the balance of public expenditure over public income from taxes etc, was minor, manageable and acceptable. Direct Rule Ministers have uniformly increased the scale and costs of our public services. So one of the legacies of our civil war is an enlarged and more expensive public sector that employs 2 in every 5 in work. And if all goes to plan and devolution is implemented, our income from the Treasury will increasingly fall short of necessary expenditure, and our public sector will be squeezed. We need jobs in abundance in the private sector that not only promote growth, but that also enable us to absorb workers from the reducing public sector. And obviously a burgeoning private sector will provide additional taxation and thus reduce the subvention and pressure on the public sector.
“There is nothing to gain in pursuing jobs that have to be subsidised in the long term to compete, these jobs are usually in so called traditional areas that have now lost competitiveness, usually to North East Asia.
“So if we are to sustain peace and stability, jobs have to provide the wherewithal to buy and live in a house, and raise a family. The two areas of primary importance open to us at the moment are jobs based on the knowledge industry, and jobs based on particular advanced skills. To attract good people we have to pay competitive rates, and wage levels will determine the sorts of goods and services that we can produce and that will sustain profitable and competitive jobs.
Achieving peace and stability: “Giving all its citizens a stake in the modern Northern Ireland, through a widely accepted and supported system of government, and through participation in a vibrant and competitive economy on the basis of equality of opportunity, are I submit two of the most effective ways of achieving long term peace and stability. And that is my opinion of the direction unionism has to go in the twenty first century.”
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS
Q.1. Chair (Des Fegan): “Thank you James. They were four very thoughtful presentations, and, incredibly, although some differences in the presentation, what I was most comforted about were the similarities in all the presentations, and I suppose, trying to sum up before we invite some questions, all speakers – perhaps with different emphasis or different focuses – have identified a need to acknowledge our past, and I would go further and approximate that that incorporates the whole island. But certainly that is an issue that comes up time and time again in the work of Cooperation Ireland: recognition of hurt, recognition of pain and recognition of difficulty. I think it’s obvious that every speaker has talked about that to some degree, it’s not the domain of one section, there has been massive hurt caused to many many people and many families throughout our troubled history, and we certainly need to look at ways at how we can do that and what’s the best form of doing that and how we can facilitate that as we go forward.
“Equally I think there were issues here about dealing with the present, and maybe that’s our most difficult thing here, and they’re certainly the questions I would like as I’m living in Belfast and with representatives of my political leadership around this table, the four major parties, how we should actually deal with our present to go into a shared future whatever that may be. I found James’s illustrations of the problems here at the structural level, macro-economic level, fascinating stuff but how do you deal with that? And are the DUP and Sinn Féin different on that? …. Every time I’ve had the privilege to meet DUP, UUP, SDLP, and Sinn Féin councillors, when we’re talking about issues about community support, Jim Allister is as supportive on the exact same issues as Mary Lou Mac Donald or Barbara de Brún or Jim Nicholson. They speak to us agreeing on the same issues, agreeing on the way forward, agreeing on where the money needs to be spent, so there’s consensus. There may be the natural left/right tendencies within Gregory’s own party. We can see those obviously.
Programme for Government: “So I would like to start the ball rolling. … Would it be possible if we do agree on forming some form of joint administration, how difficult do you think it would be? And I address this to one and all to come up with a common programme for government that would have the SDLP and the DUP sitting with Sinn Féin and the UUP: do you think there are major differences in how we would see economic development in the North, or do you think these things are a ‘pie in the sky’ and that we have to sort out the definitive dotting ‘i’s’ and crossing‘t’s’ of the policing argument?”
Dominic Bradley: “I think a lot of good work has been done in Stormont during the summer and after the summer, and a Programme for Government has been – maybe not totally agreed – but has been discussed, and there are wide areas of agreement within that which can be worked on in the future. There are some areas of disagreement – and there will always be areas of disagreement – but I think that eventually we can find some sort of compromise on these issues. I myself was working on the Education Committee and I suppose the main bone of contention there is the issue of academic selection. As it happens, on that issue the unionist parties are generally in favour of retention of academic selection, whereas the SDLP and Sinn Féin are opposed to it and are in favour of giving choice to parents. So as I say that is an issue where unionism and nationalism are diametrically opposed. Yet, during the course of our work in that particular committee, we didn’t find absolute agreement but we found a degree of agreement and agreed to explore the concept of transferral from one form of schooling to another at age 14.
“Now some people might say that that is passing the buck. There was general consensus among us on that and I think that where we can find degrees of consensus there is the basis there for moving forward.
“Quite a substantial amount of work has been done on the programme for government and I think that provides the basis for the future when an executive is up and running.
Gregory Campbell: “If we skip over the next couple of months – or whatever time it might be, maybe a year or two years ahead – and look at the economic distinctions that various parties have, I can see the proverbial curate’s egg because we have anything from sort of right of centre approach across to a very centred approach, to a left of centre, to a very left wing approach on economic issues. And I think you will have pluses and minuses in that because the Northern Ireland economy is very heavily public sector dependent. So, in my view, I think it is a self evident fact that if our economy is to get up and running it is going to have to be private sector led. If that is the case you can see how a right of centre economic approach, if it was left t to create wealth and to create a dynamic economy, could probably achieve that although there would be some casualties on the way. I think that is going to be constrained because of the nature of any administration by those who have a more left of centre approach. I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing because some of those casualties may well be minimised because of that, but you are going to get this range of economic approaches in an economy that has been 67% dependent on the public sector with a greater degree of private sector interest coming to bear. And how that is going to be reflected across the range of ideologies that exist – and I’m talking now about post resolution of our policing issues and all of those. I think it is going to be a very very dynamic time but it is not going to be without the huge difficulties that all of that brings with it.”
Chair: “… I suppose what I am really trying to tease out here is whether economic issues will lead to alliances formed maybe across the traditional divide? Would it be feasible that members of the DUP, for example, who – I don’t want to be too generalist here – but the DUP would I suppose be more the working man’s party, I’m talking about traditional divisions here in unionism. … Would it be possible for the DUP to find allegiance with the SDLP or indeed Sinn Féin on some of these issues? What would be your view?”
Killian Forde: “I worked on a peace building project within Kosovo and on our wall we had written ‘money knows no ethnicity’, and I was trying to recognise that the key to building peace was not so much setting up groups of people who were already converted – because I think that’s what happens a lot of the time, you end up talking to people who are already liberal minded, open-minded, haven’t suffered in the conflict, relatively wealthy, educated etc. So the combatants never actually end up seeing the benefit of having peace. So what we did was very simple things in terms of, for instance there was a dairy on one side of the border and the cows on the other, and the milk from the cows were being sent north into Serbia and then the dairy was being underused so it was just about sort of linking in the people. It can be done.
“I think – and I speak at a disadvantage here because I’m not in the Assembly and don’t know the ins and outs of what has been happening over the last few months to that detail – but I understand that the St Andrew’s Agreement has put also a different emphasis on the responsibilities of each Minister which I think is probably beneficial as long as people don’t keep applying vetoes. My fear is that – and I’m not naming names, I’m not accusing anybody who might have an ulterior motive to do it. For this to work there has to be a level of being able to work on similar stuff together, and I think one of the things, because in the peace process you sometimes can miss it you can miss interesting and significant things that happen because of the nature of how people need to move their own community on or to compromise. I think a very heartening thing was – was it last week the National Development Plan was announced? – and there was an unambiguous and unequivocal welcome by Jeffrey Donaldson in terms of the cross-border element of the funding, and I think that was really important. Because even two or three year ago it was highly unlikely that a unionist would have said it, and a DUP man would have said it, and I think that was part of the good part.
Tax raising: “In terms of tax raising, because ultimately you know at the moment the northern economy is a poor regional economy of the British economy, I think it would be helpful to have more integration within the southern economy which is booming. How long that will last I don’t know. Also at some point to have some form of tax raising, because really only at that stage does a space become a country if you like.
James McKerrow: “Taking a different tack, I think today the largest lot of society in Northern Ireland – probably in southern Ireland as well – is the aspiring middle classes: people who have their family roots in the working classes who transformed their living conditions over the last 30, 40, 50 years, who are now far more interested in education, clothes, foreign holidays. And also in the North an increasing number of this block of people have stopped voting. I think it’s not because they are not interested in politics but they are being turned off by politicians, and by how long it has taken for politicians to get down to coming to agreements on things. This potentially is the block of people who can influence the politics most, because, at the end of the day, politicians can’t get too far away from their voters or they are out-of-office politicians. And I have optimism that this block will demand the sort of changes and will drive things more to the middle from the edges, and that applies not only to things like policing, nationalism and unionism, it will also apply to the economic situation and the need to build jobs for them and their children. So I would be an optimist that, although there are a wide range of views represented in the Assembly, over time these views will be pushed more and more towards a manageable consensus.”
Killian Forde: “Just one more small point in relation to the economy. One of the hits that unionism took within the peace process was about the loss of the security industry which would have provided thousands of jobs in various different armies and police forces and there would have been spin-off jobs from that as well. The dependency on the State has sort of lessened in one aspect but has now become more and more focused on health and education ……”
Q.2. Fintan (Dublin): “First of all, as someone who is a descendant of the someone who came from Derry, I would like to welcome Mr Campbell because my ancestors were from Northern Ireland and your ancestors, I presume, were from Scotland because that wonderful name Campbell is well known up there. Basically, as far as I can see, the one thing I would love to see at the end of the night when we are going off is for the chairman to get the four of you up there to shake hands with one another! And that would be a gesture. It doesn’t matter whether you love him or hate him, but the shaking of hands would be a little stepping stone. Gregory, my father left Derry in 1933 and came south. And there’s a huge number. You’ll probably find nearly half of us down here have ancestors who are half northern and in that way we have an interest in the north but … I wouldn’t live there at the moment. And that’s the way we feel about it because it has been so anchored between the two bunches. It took the likes of John Hume to come in to replace McAteer – he was the only man out of the twelve who ended up in Westminster. I would love to see Gerry Adams and the other two going over next Monday to Westminster and getting in there and saying ‘we’ve done it’ and shake hands. Because up until now they have been getting their wages for nothing by not going over. And I’d love them to go over and meet all their mates over there. And Gregory could be over there and you could introduce them to all these people, This is the way you change the attitude.
“In the south, when we were in school we weren’t allowed to aspire to go to Trinity College because the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin [John Charles McQuaid] didn’t agree with it for some reason, the way they taught medicine or something…. All of those things have changed. I was at a ‘do’ in Greenhills the other week, where different churches were together, and it was the first time Archbishop Brady said that he sat in the place where Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims all spoke from the top platform, and we had a most wonderful day. And I think the sooner that gentleman from the unionist party looks forward – you were looking back Mr Campbell as if you were over on the other side of the Carlisle Bridge looking over at us over in Williams Street! It’s for your generation, you’re young enough, to see another 20- 30 years ahead and your kids might even start going to dances with the Catholic kids. God bless you!”
Q.3. James McGeever (Kingscourt). “Dominic spoke about the need to deal with the past. I expected something like that so I wrote out something before I came here tonight… I’m going to ask Gregory a question, and I hope Killian will listen to it: would the DUP agree or disagree that, given their commitment to ending partition and achieving a united free Ireland, it would be a noble endeavour if in response to the symbolism of the white strip of our national flag, which calls for a lasting truce between Orange and Green, and also in response to the resolve expressed in the 1916 Proclamation that the Orange and Green children of the nation – of which Gregory is considered one – are to be cherished equally, if in response to those, the entire republican movement was to express sorrow for having in the past caused death and injury and suffering to the unionist/loyalist people, and would now solemnly declare that a united Ireland depends on winning the hearts and minds of the protestant, unionist, and loyalist people for a united Ireland?”
Collusion: “For Killian: He was a bit hard there on the DUP and unionist parties for not condemning collusion and I’d just like to mention that Pádraig Pearse dismissed the Orangeman’s fears as foolish, but he did acknowledge that if he felt his liberty was under threat it was not only common sense but it was his clear duty to arm in defence of this threatened liberty. And if we consider collusion in those terms we shouldn’t be too hard. Now we condemn collusion and all the rest of it but we have to sympathetically understand those RUC and UDR men who did collude with loyalists.”
“I wanted to ask Gregory would he consider that a noble enterprise – if the IRA were to express sorrow for the past and say that a united Ireland now depends on winning your hearts and minds? Is that not a noble enterprise? Would the DUP agree that it is a noble enterprise?”
Gregory Campbell: “Thanks for the question. I will keep it brief. This is an issue quite close to my heart. I think it would be a right thing for Sinn Féin to do what the questioner has asked, but not for the reasons which he mentioned. Perhaps I have misunderstood him but what I understand is a complete misnomer that many in the nationalist and republican community have about the nature of the Irish nation, about the State and about Irishness. So I think that they should do it, not for the reasons that I sometimes detect are prevalent in the nationalist community.
Identity: “There is a widespread view in my opinion that nationalists have, and we in the unionist community are to blame for some reason for this perception …. Nationalists feel that it is unionist’s perception of Irishness which has led them not to feel Irish, and therefore nationalist republicans feel that if they change the concept of Irishness to a more ‘touchy-feely’ friendly Irishness towards the unionist community that we will over a period of time begin to realise that we are Irish after all! Now I cannot reject that strongly enough. I just cannot do it. There was talk earlier on about the Green, the White and the Orange. If the Republic of Ireland was an Orange state, I still wouldn’t feel part of it because I’m British. There isn’t anything that the Irish nation state can do about its flag, its anthem, its background, its ethos, it’s tradition that can make me feel Irish, because I’m not Irish. And we will never be Irish. I fully appreciate that we in the unionist community have sometimes added to that by feeding this ‘Home Rule is Rome Rule’ concept in the early part of the last century, but that day is long over. And I think if people do the thing because it is the right thing to do, then they should do it but not in order to try and say to us as unionists: ‘perhaps now you will come with us into this great new future because our Irishness is now something that you can cherish where you were closed out from it in the past’.”
Chair: “It does highlight the problems that we deal with in Northern Ireland. It’s an identity crisis in Northern Ireland, and it’s how we deal with that crisis. There were phrases used here tonight that were a bit comforting, we’re not talking about majorities any more. We’re talking about substantial numbers, significant communities, and regardless of what way the demographics lie, be it 60:40, the difficulties are how we are going to get through this and how we share it. We feel, obviously, in Cooperation Ireland that cross-border practical cooperation is the key part of that as long as it is done apolitically. And let people find their space and develop a shared future.”
Q.4 Gerry (Belfast): “Gregory, how do you feel about having the redundant former explosive consultant in government with you or has that been an excuse for you? There is also the question of progress from history to perceived transparency within Sinn Féin. They got some part of the way but not all the way yet. Perhaps that’s not the DUP. Will you also acknowledge that ordinary decent loyalist people have been held hostage at times in this situation politically?
“I’ll come back to an historical thing. Maggie Thatcher declared war on the IRA. Who won the war? Collusion! Nothing is new, it’s a new word. … It’s going to have to come down to the big question of policing. This pardon for policing, this plea for policing. Can it be made retrospective and cover the most recent murder of the IRA – the Mc Cartney murder? Policing is not an exact science. We’ve lots of control over policing, lots of legislation there but policing on the ground is a mismatch. ….
Q. 5. Joe (Kells): “Killian, you’ve talked about your vision for the north, and I think that was shared state and civic responsibility to each other in the different communities, and I think you said that you weren’t expecting unionists to live under the Tricolor. Could you just expand on that?”
Killian Forde: “I think it’s part of the question that Gregory has just rejected in relation to not being anything but a British man. I think the debate is sometimes confusing. … Personally, I believe that one of the problems with the north and the fact that there isn’t any significant progress in the constitutional issue is that we have got a very oppositional debate. We’ve got a debate of ‘you are Irish’ and ‘you are British’. And what I think we should explore, and perhaps it won’t be Sinn Féin particularly doing it, is that identity of people. For instance I found out only a couple of years ago that my ancestors were from Liverpool. It doesn’t make any difference to me. Even if I was from Liverpool I don’t think it would affect my personal politics or identity because identity is not real. It’s imagined: ‘I’m Irish because I’m not British; I’m British because I’m not French, and so on’. When we get to a stage of you have a constitutional issue and it comes alive again, for whatever that reason could be, maybe it’s demographics, maybe it’s a burgeoning middle class who want to join the Republic There’s no point asking unionists and saying ‘do you want to live in this place down here?’ Because it becomes a new country, then it becomes a united island. In that way it’s not just about getting unionists and saying ‘see that tricolor, the one you associate with the funerals and the people you think were part of terrorism, the people you think targeted your community in a sectarian war?’ and they say ‘yes’, and you say ‘that’s your new flag’. At the same time it’s not about having a situation in the north which existed, and probably still exists to a certain extent, where Irish people who identified themselves solely as Irish couldn’t fly their flag because they associated the other flag with being the butcher’s apron and to do with beatings and torture, repression etc. So in that space in between there is a huge amount.
Need for imaginative thinking: “One thing I learned from being abroad is that there is no set rule in what makes a country. There’s many ways. There’s huge variety in how you apply courts, identities, human rights, ethnic responsibilities, make-ups of presidencies, who is in charge, what they are in charge of, how many police forces you have. There’s a huge amount. I think we have been very weak on that creativity. For instance, if you go to Barcelona, if you walk down the street, you can pass four sets of policemen who could be reporting to different people. In Bosnia you have three presidents at any one time. In Kosovo you have two, in Macedonia you have two, and you have two separate parliaments. There are millions of different ways to do it. We have become fixated on Stormont, Leinster House, Westminster, end of story. One police force here. ‘You’re British, you’re Irish, and so that’s it’.
“That’s why you need to have this Green Paper on unity so you’re actually talking about all of these issues and saying ‘look it’s not just about you becoming Irish, it’s not about us becoming British, there is a middle ground here, we can bring in neutral symbols shared symbols’ etc. It does work and has been proven to work, I think we have to be more imaginative on it. That’s all sides, all parties, both governments, everybody.
Q.6. Pat (Batterstown): “To James and Gregory: the late Mao Tse Tung had a policy called ‘denouncement’. He used his close associates to denounce them and it had the effect of keeping them in control, but it also weakened their ability to negotiate as a business team. In the southern part of this island when our political leaders talk about their ideologies, it’s usually regarded as a bit of a joke. James set out the scenario of your economy and economic matters, and the ideologies would be there in the background someplace that you keep to yourself and you have in your heart, when you go to do a business deal with your community that they should go down the back of it.
“Would you like to comment on that? The question is essentially that the ‘isms’ of the past are now gone and we’re now in a different ballgame and the economy in Northern Ireland, as James pointed out, needs something done and something done soon, because Gregory’s part of the United Kingdom is the United Kingdom in decline rather than in the ascent, and the economy of the world will overtake events and you need to get working among yourselves at this stage.”
Chair: “Is the question here again one of ‘will the politics of Northern Ireland rise above the constitutional question’? … I’ll just try and clarify this. I was in Cyprus last December for a conference, I made a terrible mistake. It was in Nicosia… and it was organised by the European Centre of Border Conflict Studies. I said how delighted I was to be here on the border. And the hostility in the room, I knew I’d made a terrible gaff, but I didn’t know what. There was no border, they didn’t recognise it. It was all how they defined themselves. There wasn’t a border, there was just an administration in the North which they didn’t talk to terribly much. So I was delighted the next day when they introduced me as ‘Des Fagan from cooperation Ireland and Des works on the contested border in Ireland’. There’s no contested border in Ireland. There may have been ten years ago. That’s what has changed in my lifetime. Sinn Féin to my mind does not contest a border. The DUP certainly don’t. So for the political parties, the border is no longer contested, and yet everything – we had a classic example from Dominic – the school system, the education system in Northern Ireland is still along party political lines. When are the political parties in Northern Ireland going to represent us from what they feel about true economic development, true educational development and leave this identity crisis behind?”
Dominic Bradley: “I said that the unionist parties in general are in favour of academic selection and the nationalist parties are opposed to it, but that doesn’t mean that society in Northern Ireland is split down the middle. There are many unionist people, many headmasters in schools who want to see the end of academic selection. At the same time there are people from the nationalist community who want to maintain academic selection. So I don’t think it’s correct to portray the situation in education especially around that particular issue as a sort of nationalist or unionist, there is quite a grey area interlocking between…. One thing which all the parties agree on is that the 11 plus in its present form has to go. But what we’re not agreed on is what replaces it. Generally speaking, the unionist parties want that replaced by another form of academic selection, whereas my own party and Sinn Féin are in favour of parental choice. Similar to the situation that you have down here.”
Q.7. Linda (Batterstown): “Just to say that the academic standard achieved through the 11 plus system is excellent and you did get the highest result in Great Britain this year, as far as I know, and you should be very proud of it.”
Dominic Bradley: “That depends on what statistics you use. We are very proud of the pupils who achieve very high results, but we have to look at both ends of the scale. Education in Northern Ireland serves the academically gifted very well. But it serves pupils who are not academically gifted very poorly. We have a huge problem with literacy and numeracy in Northern Ireland at the other end of the scale. So, whilst we want to retain the high achievement, we also need to deal with the long tail of under-achievement at the other end.”
Gregory Campbell: “I want to respond to the question of ‘isms’ of the past. I don’t think that a huge number of people in Northern Ireland regard some of those ‘isms’, however you describe them, as being redundant. I think, because of the politically correct society that we live in now, there are many people who still hold those ‘isms’ that you described as being in the past but are looking at more professional ways of describing them and they are now being put forward in a much more rational and plausible sense. They have not yet disappeared from the scene, but I think that they are being repackaged if you like, and re-presented in different ways, and I think it’s probably going to be another generation before what you said is an accurate description: that it is a case of those ‘isms’ being now in the past. I think that we are gradually moving to a more casual presentation of many of them and probably in 15 or 20 years time your analysis will be correct, but not just yet.”
James McKerrow: “Just returning to the education question, first of all we know in Northern Ireland the system of education produces results which are good in the UK. Depending upon how you measure them, Wales comes out round about the same as us, but UK education worldwide or in Europe is not particularly good. One of the things that we have to look at is the fact that in Ireland your system of education is coming out on measures rather better than ours without academic selection. But what is growing, I think, is a consensus that trying to determine a child’s future at 11 is not wise. It was ok in my days when 15% went to grammar schools. You had a test which basically those who got into grammar schools were generally suitable for hot house academic selection, but it left a lot outside who could have benefited. Today it is a much wider catchment. It is letting people down. The consensus is moving towards looking at the age of 14 and asking children and their parents to look very seriously what they have done so far, where they want to go, what sort of courses are going to suit them.
Chair: “I think this is turning into an education debate. There’s another question…”
Q.8: John Clancy: “Question for the panel. Are the panel optimistic to see a power sharing assembly up and working by the end of the year, and if not why not, and what steps should be taken?”
Chair: “Could I just ask for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and we will come back to it.”
Dominic Bradley: “Yes.”
Gregory Campbell: “This year, yes.”
Killian Forde: “Yes.”
James McKerrow: “I’ll say yes because I think there is a majority of unionist MLAs for it and … if Paisley won’t do it, Robinson will!”
Q.9. Marie (Drogheda): “To Gregory and Killian: What significance do you attribute to the fact that in yesterday’s ard fheis Gerry Adams used the words ‘will be urging our people to report crime to the police’ rather than ‘are urging’? I just ask that because I’m still trying to evaluate what happened yesterday. And a small comment to Gregory. I find it sad, Gregory, that you define yourself so negatively, in such a negative way. There are millions of people who are Scottish and British, there are a lesser number of people – and I lived among them – who are Welsh and British. There are English people who are English and British, and I simply can’t understand how somebody in Northern Ireland can’t confidently be Irish and British.”
Killian Forde: “…When I got this, I made a note because I thought I would be asked about it… I hope we’re not going to have an argument over tenses. This is important. I’ve been through 18 months of this, I don’t like many parts of it … From a principled point of view I want the police to be devolved to the Assembly. This huge challenge is very difficult for us. I’m not getting into an argument over tenses. Don’t underestimate what happened yesterday and what Gerry Adams’s statement said today. We’re not going to wait and end up in a situation whereby the press are going forced statements out of us. This statement wasn’t asked by anybody, it was brought out. It’s a tense. It’s very clear as far as I’m concerned.”
Chair: “Gregory do you want to comment?”
Gregory Campbell: “I was listening to a radio programme today. Sinn Féin took their decision in the ard fheis round about 6 o’clock last night. A couple of hours after, and totally unconnected with it, there was a Bloody Sunday demonstration in Londonderry and by about 8 o’clock there were some young people, not connected at all to the ard fheis, who started to throw some petrol bombs at the police as a result of the policing of the parade. Now I just make the point, two hours after the ard fheis decision, would Sinn Féin say to anybody who had any knowledge or information about that petrol bombing that they should go to the police? That is a classic test, within a couple of hours of saying something, what does it mean? What is the tangible expression of ‘support the police’, ‘give evidence’, ‘give some information’? Unfortunately we are still waiting and that’s why the tense is very important. We need to see the practical out-working of thought that that actually means.
Identity: “Could I just answer that other point? I have no difficulty about what you said about being English and British. In fact, I would qualify what I said earlier. I am Irish in the same way a Canadian person is American. But you try telling a Canadian that they are American, because they will say ‘that’s the country that’s to the south of me’. That’s exactly the same for me.”
Dominic Bradley: “I welcome the statement that Killian read out there from Gerry Adams saying that Sinn Féin will be – ‘urging’ people may be too strong – but to report crime to the police. The fact of the matter is that in nationalist areas, people are already doing this. I come from Newry which is a strongly Nationalist town, I also represent South Armagh, and statistics show that even in the Crossmaglen area, there are huge increases in the number of people who are reporting crime directly to the PSNI. I welcome the fact that Gerry Adams made this statement. Really, to some extent, Sinn Féin are playing catch-up on this issue because the nationalist community has already caught on that they need the police to protect them, to deal with crime in their areas. There is an appalling vista ahead for them if they don’t do it. They have caught on to that and they have been doing that. I’ve been out in Newry talking to people on the doorsteps; they talk to me about anti-social behaviour. I ask them ‘have you reported this to the police?’ and they say ‘yes we have’. They do complain sometimes that police response times are not always as they should be, but they don’t tell me that on principle they haven’t contacted the police. They want the problems that are affecting their areas dealt with and they have been using the police for some time regardless of Sinn Féin or Gerry Adams.”
Chair: “Is that tense a problem? There’s someone at the back with a question…”
Q.10. Anne (Slane): “Killian, in reference to your comment to aspiration for – not a united Ireland – but for this ‘unified island’, that is a shared space and a shared community: I’m wondering, if you have a vision of a shared space and a shared community, why have you such difficulty with parading? I refer to your comment where you said you cannot see the point in parading, that ‘it isn’t part of unionist tradition or culture’. That seems to be very dismissive. That seems that, on the one hand you’re saying ‘this space is for everybody and needs to be shared by everybody’, and, on the other hand, you’re saying ‘no, I’ve decided it’s not part of your culture and tradition’. So I was wondering if you could expand on that, maybe I misunderstood?”
Killian Forde: “I find parading … I almost get angry about it because I think it demonstrates an astonishing provocation to nationalist communities. There is no basis for doing it. After everything that we have been through, this insistence year after year. You saw what happened in Garvaghy Road, you saw what happened in the Springfield Road. It is unbelievable. It is almost moronic, the insistence on marching down these streets, it makes no sense. It’s bad political leadership year after year after year. It heightens tensions. It’s unbelievable the tension and the worry and stress it causes people. What I’m asking the unionists to do is to step up to the mark and say ‘ok guys, if you want to go down that street, go talk to your neighbours. Go talk, that’s all you have to do, and stop making excuses.’ There might be a guy in the residents’ community that once was in the IRA. People have to get real with this parading, it need to be dealt with. Because otherwise there is a danger that year after year working class youths, particularly in urban areas, are going to continue to have very violent acts against each other and it has to be dealt with. I don’t accept that it’s a cultural trait that has to be held forever. Cultures shift, move and adapt. They do that for various different ways. Sometimes they are sensitised and sometimes they are desensitised. But I think there is a 100% responsibility on the unionists to get their head around parading and deal with it. It was dealt brilliantly in Derry, and it was done in the right way, and that model should be followed by everybody else. I do welcome the Orange Order actually making an announcement that this year they will speak to the Garvaghy Road residents, but really what we don’t need is DUP politicians egging them on, it really needs to be dealt with.”
Q.11: “I have been trying to get in for some time… The first question I have is for Gregory Campbell. Gregory, the blockage that seems to be at the moment and the new word in the lexicon in the DUP is now ‘blank cheque’, Gerry Adams issued a ‘blank cheque’. Can you put some framework about how you will measure when that cheque can be cashed? In other words, how will you measure when the people from the areas you are talking about will be cooperating with the police? Assuming that the contacts between the police at the moment and the leadership of the DUP are not what they were in RUC days when stuff was leaked.
“Another question, for Killian: is the guarantee that Gerry Adams has given today about cooperating with the police, is that retrospective? Does that only start from the girl who is raped tonight or tomorrow night, or does it start from the one who was raped last week or a year ago? I do know of cases where cooperation has not been given and, as a result of that, serious injustice has been done particularly in cases of rape.”
Chair: “… Gregory, the date?”
Gregory Campbell: “…From our perspective we are being asked to go into government with people whose political mandate we do not dispute. They get the percentage of votes again. There is no dispute about that, no argument or debate. The debate and argument that we have is with their lack of support for the rule of law. Now, that is based on 35 years of terror and violence and murder. …It’s effectively, if you like, like someone who has been the subject of sustained attack over three and half decades and then the attacker turning up at the door and saying that that day is over and ‘I want to be your friend’. I think the person under attack is perfectly legitimate, in fact I would call them naïve if they were to do other than to say: ‘well, thank you very much for coming up and telling me that it’s over but I really would like to see some evidence that it’s over, rather than just you telling me that it’s over, especially if weapons that you used to inflict the pain over the thirty five years were put to one side 13 years ago, 13 years ago, and now you’re coming to me and saying that this is now over’. So I would think that that person would have sufficient time to say that I want to be sure that it is over. That’s what I mean by the post-dated cheque.”
Chair: “Days, weeks, months?”
Gregory: “Certainly not days and weeks, I think we need to have a sustained period of months whereby we see that it does mean something. Could I just respond very quickly on the parading issue? I agree that the parading issue has to be resolved and I think you in the Republic give a perfectly good example. I go to Rossnowlagh every year and there isn’t a problem, there is no residents’ group, there is no attempt to inflict violence on people who just want to express their history and their culture. Just as if you go to Kilkeel – this is not a one-way street you know that we’re marching down – if you go to Kilkeel every year, a unionist town, the AOH march there every year, and they’re not the subject of debate or argument or requests for permission to walk. They simply get on with it and have their day and go home. And everyone says that’s another day over, let’s have another day in the future.”
Chair: “Pre-dates Killian?”
Killian Forde: “The short answer is I don’t know. …I’m very aware of the case, I think it was last summer in relation to the rape of a young girl and then subsequently this psycho ended up taking the girl’s phone and ringing her mother and telling her she was raped, it was absolutely sick. The situation whereby you put a microphone in front of Sinn Fein representatives and ask them ‘are you asking people to go to the police’? At the time the advice was that they should go to a solicitor who can go to the police. That … demonstrated the problem with the stance that we had in relation to the police. So I don’t know. The short answer: I think clear cut cases which don’t involve any sort of political policing are much easier to deal with and they’re the ones that will be dealt with first. In the event of a non-sectarian, non-political violent attack on somebody, I think that’s very clear where the stance is. In other cases it’s going to be more difficult. I also think it must be remembered, and Dominic touches on this, Sinn Féin saying ‘xyz’ it doesn’t mean that we’re all going to bat now, the republicans are going to volunteer or go up and say ‘ I have all this information’. They haven’t got that power, I think it’s one of the things, and as a southerner as well I used to be under this illusion, the illusion that is put out by the press, that the IRA godfathers controlled these vast estates in west Belfast and were able to tell anybody what to do. It doesn’t work that way. People are people. So if people want to volunteer information, if they want to go to the police, our situation at the moment is ‘yes, go ahead, go to the police’ … But we’re a political party. Remember, within a democracy it’s the police who are supposed to swear loyalty to the State and then it’s the political parties that they should be supporting instead of the other way round. We’ve gone a bit topsy turvy in the role of police here.”
Q.12. Ronnie (Slane): “Just an interesting observation: it’s only 20,30 years ago, the two middle of the road parties, the SDLP and UUP, were the dominant parties and I think it’s quite clear that the DUP and Sinn Féin became the dominant parties on foot of the terror and the violence. The two sides polarised into two very intolerant opposites of each other, so as a result of the efforts of the middle of the road parties, the Good Friday Agreement came about where those two polarised parties now have to come back and sit beside each other and sort it out. It’s a pity in a sense that they couldn’t have listened to that very very obvious common sense 20-30 years ago. But it has come full circle one way or the other and we should still celebrate the prodigal son, as it were, and see them around about the table greeting one another rather than teasing one another. I’m inclined to sense tonight that Gregory on the one hand, and Killian on the other, are still engaged in a certain amount of teasing of each other. I would say to Gregory, if he’s wondering about his rights about parades let him answer the question ‘what are the parades about’? I’ve seen them myself in Portadown and they are certainly very intimidating in those areas. Now maybe not in Rossnowlagh, or taken out of a local context, they’re not at all intimidating … But that’s one of the reasons why the parades are an issue. If the parades were about, let’s say, everybody coming together parading, about getting the jobs that you need, maybe that would a better subject matter for parades.”
Chair: “So make the Orange Order a trade union?
Ronnie: “Gregory’s identity crisis…if he comes down to Croke Park in two or three weeks’ time [Ireland/England rugby match] and sees that there is no equivocation…”
Chair: “Sorry, as somebody from Northern Ireland, I find it offensive almost – and I’m trying to chair this impartially – but that’s the second time that Gregory has been criticised for feeling British, and that’s a problem. Gregory is absolutely entitled to feel as British as he wants. If there is a challenge I’m sure Gregory would sit and listen and argue and make a case. …but asking someone to apologise…”
Ronnie: “I’m not asking him to apologise… Chairman, I’m illustrating there are many ways of being Irish and being British without conflict. The rugby team is one instance of that where the whole community of Ireland can come together and enjoy themselves and maybe that’s one of the keys that they should play more rather than tease each other.”
Q.13. Conor (SF councillor): “James had the decency to say about 50 years of mismanagement and 35 years of unionist domination. Gregory is constantly saying about the rule of law. Now was the rule of law in South Africa ok when South Africa existed because they were in power? Was it ok? That was the rule of law. Where has the UDR gone? Where have the B specials gone? Where have all those militias gone? Where have they gone and why have they been changed? What was the reason? Because they were not acceptable. The police were used as a militia against nationalists, that’s who they were used against. The rule of law that was imposed by unionists is not acceptable, it is never acceptable.”
Chair. “But with Patten being 86% implemented now?”
Conor: “We have no problem with that. The only thing that I would have a problem with is that it is not an Irish police force, but we’ll live with what we have. Because that’s the reality of the situation. It keeps going back to the rule of law. The rule of law that you had is never coming back, it’s never coming back.”
Q.14: “On the education issue, I wonder why on one side the republicans want one form of education and the unionists want another, surely people want a balance? The other thing is will we stop shadow boxing? I’d say to Gregory and the Reverend Ian Paisley ‘just gets the gloves off, get in there, get together and sort the problems out.’
“You got the mandate yesterday from Gerry Adams, what he wants to do about policing. You don’t want him cutting his wrists. He’s gone so far, give him time to get the other part in. He has really gone down a long road and you have to give them credit. Give credit to all the politicians in the North …… The only problem I have with them is they’re not taking on their own communities. They are saying what the communities want them to hear. So you have to be a bit braver to get this thing up and running.”
Chair: “Sometimes I find it’s the other way about, to be quite honest. This is peace and stability, the way forward. One last question, and I’m going to ask the panellists to sum up if that’s ok.
Q.15: Rev John Clarke: “It’s been a little all over the place this evening and I think to see this shared future together we need to know exactly where we’re going two three, five years down the line. So, ever so briefly, we have four strong political parties present here this evening. Could you tell me please what is your vision for the peace process in the medium to long term? Could you tidy it up for me please – what is your vision for the future?”
Chair: “… As an NGO, a representative of Cooperation Ireland, originally Cooperation North, we’ve been working in Northern Ireland and indeed in all of Ireland since 1979 to try and develop practical cooperation. We wouldn’t have dared dream of the day that we’re in today 10 years ago. We wouldn’t have dared dream, when we sat around and still sit around at our staff meetings and our project meetings. I think where we have come to we can all give each other a pat on the back as long as we don’t get complacent about it. The vision for me as a parent and as someone who has been born and bred in Belfast, the vision for me is when I can sit in and discuss the things – my wife is from Newbridge, my uncle was shot dead by the IRA, and my cousin was shot dead by the UFF – when I can sit down and simply talk about sport…. I think the vision is when we can have a shared vision which is not bound by identity. When I can look at Gregory and I know and understand Gregory is British, I can look at Killian and understand he’s an Irish republican and so what? A shrug of the shoulders. It’s as much as that. It’s no more whether they support Liverpool or Dublin. It’s just another part of the personal side.
Questioner: “How is the administration going to work though? What type of administration are we going to have in Northern Ireland?…”
Chair: “There must be a cross-border dimension, I would say, to what degree and how that’s recognised in this structure. Let’s go from right to left, if that’s ok..”
Dominic Bradley: “I said in my initial presentation that our party obviously backs the Good Friday Agreement and I think that all parties have to a greater or lesser extent bought into that at that stage. The type of administration I want to see is a power-sharing administration. Now we’ve had glimpses in the past of that at work. Not all parties at that stage had entirely bought into it, but I think that that type of administration can work, and it’s really the best model of government for Northern Ireland under the circumstances which exist at the moment. I think that people on the ground, they want to see the Executive and the Assembly up and running, exercising the powers under the legislation rather than operating in shadow form. They want to see local politicians taking decisions about the issues which affect their daily lives. I would hope that we get to that situation in the short term rather than the long term. In the longer term, I would like to see that system of government bed down into a stable system. For the SDLP our long term aim is a united Ireland with the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement still in operation.”
Gregory Campbell: “I think, as in most things in 2007, the sharp edges of political outlook are being filed away. The sharp edges are coming off slowly but surely, and I can envisage if we get over the hump over the next whatever it is – six, three months – if we get over that I can envisage the first full term of any Assembly with all parties being there on the basis of what we’ve talked about. Having some considerable difficulties but managing through, muddling through some would say.
“But beyond that I can see it bedding down, and the outlook that I would have, and our party would have, would be a peaceful Northern Ireland that is gradually evolving, moving away from the generations … with power-sharing – that’s the practical reality of 2007 – and gradually becoming at peace with itself over a period of time, and hopefully within two or three generations, everyone would have settled for Northern Ireland within the UK being either British or Irish whatever they choose.”
Killian Forde: “….What I actually think is probably going to happen is I would be fairly confident that by the summer we’ll have something up and running and then I think it’ll probably get interesting. The way the St Andrew’s Agreement is set up is that effectively both sides – and please excuse me if anybody takes exception to be called a side – but both communities have a veto on each other and on any decisions made by the ministers. I imagine you are probably going to see a lot of shadow boxing for a start in people vetoing each other. I think that would probably be good to actually happen because I think what the end result of that is is that you will get a lot more cross-community support and cross-party support on various different proposals because it’ll be the only way it works. So I expect that the Assembly, as Gregory said, will muddle along very badly for a while, people will get frustrated, that frustration will be felt by politicians and effectively they will have to administer the Assembly.
“I’d like to see the strengthening of cross-border institutions, not just in terms of ones that exist now but also an outworking of them and a further integration of the 6 Counties within the Republic. And also then to work alongside in terms of the big vision stuff that the history gets in the way of, so to have that breathing space to go ‘look here we are, what do we want? How do we do it, what does everybody agree with, what does everybody disagree with?’ But with the comfort of not having violence associated with it which obviously raises tensions.”
James McKerrow: “This is the last of a series of elections which started in 1996 and I think it’s the decider; things go one way or the other. I believe it is going to go positively. The big advantage, once you have a devolved Assembly, is that direct rule will diminish considerably. We will stop having the politics of the nursery, we’ll stop having nanny there to separate the sides. Perhaps it has taken the two extreme parties to come to the fore to realise their responsibilities and, I have to say, to step up to them and take them and move things forward, because it has created a major consensus that perhaps we lacked previously. Because, let’s remember, Sinn Féin didn’t sign up to the Good Friday Agreement at the time and I’m not sure when or if they ever did, but they’ve certainly embraced it as the DUP have. I would be positive, I would say once the institutions are set up and running, reality will creep in, possibly a lot quicker than Gregory thinks. Because when you take the nanny out of the nursery, people have to get on together.”
Chair (Des Fegan): “I just want to thank our panelists, Dominic, Gregory, Killian and James, and a round of applause for the Meath Peace group for pulling this together.”
Closing words: Julitta Clancy: “On behalf of the Meath Peace Group I would like to say thanks to all the panel, and a special thanks to Des Fegan for filling in for Tony Kennedy (CEO Cooperation North) at extremely short notice. If anybody remembers the first time we had Sinn Fein and the DUP together – it was almost a year ago (talk no. 59, 27 March 2006) – and a lot of people felt it was quite a depressing night, a lot of things were said, a lot of emotions raised, and Jim Wells of the DUP said that he would have to think again about coming back to the Meath Peace Group … I think massive progress has been made over the last number of years and it’s great credit to the people of Northern Ireland particularly who have moved mountains and moved in the face of terrible adversity and terrible pain. So we just want to wish you well in the coming year particularly. … Issues like ‘identity’ – they come up in our schools all the time and we need to do our work down here – remember, only a year ago we had the February 25th riots in Dublin over the ‘Love Ulster’ parade. We don’t ever want to see that type of thing again. On a final note, somebody, was it Gregory or the Chair, mentioned the timeliness of this talk, coming just a day after the special Sinn Fein ard fheis on policing, I’d like to remind Gregory that when this talk was first mooted a few months ago, this date was actually given us by his office!”
Biographical notes on speakers
Gregory Campbell, MP, MLA, represents the Democratic Unionist Party in the East Londonderry constituency. He was first elected to Londonderry City Council in 1981 and has been the leader of the DUP group in the Council since 1981. He contested Assembly and Parliamentary elections on behalf of the DUP and was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1998 and again in 2003. He served as Regional Development Minister in the NI Executive from July 2000 to September 2001. In the 2001 Westminster elections he was elected Member of Parliament for East Londonderry. Before full-time politics he established a local publishing company which was designed to create greater awareness of Ulster history and tradition, especially the Ulster-Scots contribution to the United States of America. Gregory has also written a number of booklets on the question of discrimination against the Protestant community in Northern Ireland. His leisure interests are soccer, music and reading. Gregory previously addressed a Meath Peace Group talk in Dalgan Park on 18th November 2002 (MPG report no. 46).
Dominic Bradley is the SDLP Assembly Member for Newry and Armagh, and is Party Spokesperson on Education and the Irish Language. Born in Bessbrook, he is one of twelve children; his late parents, Willie and Sheila, met when they worked in the linen mill in Bessbrook. Dominic’ first taste of politics was as a fifteen year old participant in Civil Rights’ marches in Newry campaigning peacefully for ‘One Man One Vote’, for fair-play in housing allocation, for equal rights for all. Subsequently, after the formation of the SDLP, his first experience of electioneering was on behalf of Paddy O’Hanlon in Stormont elections. Dominic has been a member of the SDLP for almost twenty years. During that time he acted successfully as Director of Elections for Seamus Mallon M.P. and for the Party in the Newry and Mourne Council area. At present he is Chair of the Fews Branch and has represented the Party on Council and Community Committees. Dominic previously addressed a Meath Peace Group talk along with Minister Dermot Ahern and others on 25th February 2005 (MPG report no. 54)
Cllr. Killian Forde is Sinn Féin’s finance spokesperson on Dublin City Council. He joined Sinn Fein in 2000 having previously spent five years in the Balkans as an aid worker and later as a consultant with the United Nations. On returning to Ireland he studied first for a master’s degree at Trinity College and left to become a community worker with a local Travellers’ organization. In June 2004, he stood in the local elections and was elected for Donaghmede, having topped the poll with 3, 500 votes. In an interview with the Sunday Business Post shortly after the elections, Cllr Forde explained why he had joined the party: “I had no real republican connections and my family was not involved with Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein reflects my values and I believe in the vision of a united Ireland based on socialist values.”
Cllr. James McKerrow (UUP, North Down) was born and brought up on the edge of London, taking a degree in mechanical engineering and a Masters in Business Administration and Production Engineering. He came to live in North Down in 1973 to join Harland and Wolff and in 1976 he joined the Commercial and Marketing Department of Shorts, taking early retirement in 1998. James became a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1970, and the Chartered Institute of Marketing in 1980. Since then he has been involved in social work and has completed a degree at the Open University in economics and politics. He has been a member of the Ulster Unionist Party since 1995 and is the local Constituency Office Manager and Secretary of the North Down Association. He is also a member of the Ulster Unionist Council and serves on the Party’s Trade and Enterprise Committee. He was elected in 2005 to serve on North Down Borough Council for the first time. James is particularly interested in “constitutional settlement, law and order, education, and the interests of the older generation”.
Meath Peace Group report 64, 2007. ©Meath Peace Group
Taped by Judith Hamill, Oliver Ward and Jim Kealy
Transcribed by Catherine Clancy and edited by Julitta Clancy
©Meath Peace Group (report no. 64)
©Meath Peace Group (report no. 64)
No. 54 – “The Good Friday Agreement: the Future?”
Friday, 25th February, 2005
St Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan
Dermot Ahern, T.D. (FF) (Minister for Foreign Affairs)
Dominic Bradley, MLA (SDLP, Newry and Armagh)
John O’Dowd, MLA (Sinn Fein, Upper Bann)
Chaired by Michael Reade (Presenter of “Loosetalk”, LMFM Radio)
Introduction: Julitta Clancy and Michael Reade
Questions and comments (summary)
Appendix: written speech of Minister Dermot Ahern, TD
Julitta Clancy: “…. On behalf of the Meath Peace Group I would like to thank you all for coming tonight at such short notice as this talk was organised very quickly…. It is a time of great concern. When we met here last November at the talk we had on “Policing, Justice and the Bill of Rights”, there was great expectation then that a deal was going to be done and that we would see within a few months a power-sharing government back up in Belfast. But that wasn’t to be, and a number of events have happened since then. A few days ago the Taoiseach said that the peace process itself looks like it could be unravelling. Let’s see tonight where we are at. We are here because this peace process belongs to us, it belongs to the people. It doesn’t belong to the politicians or the paramilitaries, or the governments. It belongs to us and we need to be there watching it and being vigilant. This Agreement was ours. Most of us ratified it, some reluctantly, for many it was a huge compromise. Some who had suffered greatly signed up and said ‘yes’ to that Agreement. We are wondering why after almost 7 years we still have not got what we voted for in the institutions, but in many other areas, the Good Friday Agreement has brought very important developments…..On behalf of the Meath Peace Group I would like to thank the speakers who have come here tonight and I will hand over now to our guest chair, Michael Reade, presenter of the morning “Loosetalk” programme on LMFM radio, a very worthwhile programme to listen to … We thank him very much for agreeing to chair the proceedings here tonight.”
Chair (Michael Reade): “Thank you. It really is a pleasure for me to be here. Even though this talk was arranged very much at the last minute, I’m not overly surprised to see such a good attendance because of the level of interest that there is on both sides of the border in the current impasse. I wouldn’t say too much by way of commentary, especially with the eminent politicians that we have here, I wouldn’t feel it appropriate. As a journalist, what I like to do is to listen and hopefully we will be able to hear what you have to say, and what questions you have to ask and to listen to what the politicians have to say here this evening.
“… As a journalist working on radio in the south of Ireland, I can’t remember ever seeing such a … level of interest in the impasse and related events. As Julitta said, I believe there is a lot of concern, I think there are people right across this island keeping their fingers crossed that there is some way forward. On the subject of listening to people I suppose the only relatively scientific thing we have to go on is the Millward Browne IMS poll that was published in the Irish Independent today which showed two significant things. There was a lot of opinion obviously on what happened with the Northern Bank raid but in terms of how it has affected the political situation, it’s very interesting to see that the President of Sinn Fein has plummeted in his popularity, he’s down by 20%, now the least popular leader … and perhaps it’s an indication that all politics is local but Sinn Fein has held onto it’s core vote, or maybe it has not transferred yet. I am sure all of our speakers will have a lot to say on the impasse, but the topic tonight is the future, what is the future? To us it’s unknown, but these are the people I suppose who can shape that future…. I now ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, TD, to begin.
1. Dermot Ahern, T.D. (FF), Minister for Foreign Affairs
[Editor’s note: text of written speech of the Minister is reproduced in the Appendix below]
“First of all, ladies and gentlemen, could I just thank Julitta for the invitation to me to say a few words. She said this was organised very quickly, and it’s true to say that, given the fact that there is a by-election on in this constituency, when I got the request in I said I’d better do this or else Mike Reade will never let me forget it on his programme! I’m not altogether sure about the description of Mike when he says that he just listens, I have to say that, having been on the other side of the phone and the microphone from him he does tend to intervene quite a lot, something that I think most politicians don’t often want! But indeed I have to say that he does conduct a very good show. I want to thank him for participating and to thank my two colleagues also.
Border deputy and constitutional republican: “For those of you who may not know where I come from or what sort of background I come from, I’m a border deputy, I was born and bred and am still living in the Dundalk area. I literally look out every morning on the Mourne Mountains. I regard myself, I have to say, more as a Northerner than as a Southerner, in that most of what would have driven me politically, over my political life, and indeed before my political life given that my own particular area was very badly affected from my memory as a youngster. And I often wonder if the border had been on a different line, perhaps a little bit further south during the start of the Troubles, where would I have ended up?
“But I do say that most of what drives me and has driven me over my political life, which stretches back to 1979, is my view as what I would regard as being a constitutional republican, as John Hume time and time again has said: the need to unite the people on this island in peace and harmony.
Good Friday Agreement: “One of the tenets of the political and armed struggle conflict was, and an excuse for it – I don’t say that I believe that this is the excuse for it – was that 1918 was the last time that the Irish people, in a single act of self-determination on the island, voted as they saw fit. That was transposed by the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. The Good Friday Agreement was the first time since 1918 that the Irish people had, in a single act on the entire island of Ireland, self-determined what they believe was to be the position in the future.
Key principles: “Built into that were a number of key principles. One of the principles was that whatever happened would be on an inclusive basis, and with the consent of the people of Northern Ireland, but also that there would be a legitimate expectation on behalf of the people who voted that all those parties and individuals who were associated with paramilitarism would end that and that the future would be looked at in a totally democratic way, that all political parties who wanted to promote their ideals that they would do so in an exclusively democratic way.
Peace process – 1988 talks: “I have to say that, as Julitta has said, seven years on from the Good Friday Agreement I think it is a source of some dissatisfaction that we are where we are today, that we aren’t further down the road in that goal. The Hume-Adams talks started seventeen years ago. I was asked by the then Taoiseach, Charlie Haughey – he had been asked by Fr. Alec Reid, who was the instigator of the Hume-Adams talks, if Fianna Fail in the Republic would mirror the talks that were taking place at that time between Hume and Adams. It was agreed very secretly – this only came out maybe ten years later – that I, Martin Mansergh and one of your own in this constituency, Richie Healy, on behalf of my party would meet with Gerry Adams, Pat Doherty and Mitchel McLaughlin. In 1988 I was only a young deputy of a year, if it had got out that I as an elected representative, a TD, was meeting these people I think I wouldn’t be standing here today, at least politically. I would have lost my position, very clearly. In fact when I asked Charlie Haughey, he told me these talks were in effect secret, he didn’t know whether word would get out. I said to him that I would participate. I indicated to him that I didn’t believe what he’d said to me that if word of these talks had got out, that in effect I would be on my own. But in any event those talks took place, and the whole tenet of those talks which I participated in was on the basis of the historical comparison between the moving of my party from conflict into constitutional politics. Most of the discussion at that time was the comparison, the similarities. And most of what we were trying to say to the Sinn Féin representatives was in very very tough times, because during those meetings there were some absolutely horrific events taking place across the border which made us, particularly myself and Richie Healy, have great trepidation in the continuation of those talks. I say all that because that was nearly eighteen years ago.
Crossroads: “I fully accept that the situation is far better since then, I fully accept it and I think we all have to give everyone credit on all sides of the political process for the tremendous changes that have taken place on our island. But I believe, as I have said quite frequently in recent times, that we have reached the stage where we are at a crossroads, and particularly I think the Provisional leadership have to accept the will of the people as expressed by the people in vast numbers in the Good Friday Agreement just seven years ago.
Provisional criminality: “I believe that Provisional criminality is the impediment to the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. We met with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness immediately after the Northern Bank raid took place. We said to them on that occasion that we on this side of the table were prepared – and they knew this – to do some very unpalatable things in the context of an overall settlement, a comprehensive agreement whereby there would be a total end to paramilitarism and criminality. We were prepared to do that, the British Government were prepared to do that. In fact as a result of the discussions that we had in 10 Downing Street – between the Taoiseach, Tony Blair, myself, Paul Murphy, Michael McDowell and indeed the PSNI chief, Hugh Orde and Noel Conroy [Garda Commissioner] – this was before the publication of the documents, there was discussion as to what the British Government had to do in relation to issues like demilitarisation etc. As a result of our meeting it was suggested that Hugh Orde might invite Gerry Adams over in the succeeding days in order to discuss the issue of demilitarisation.
That meeting took place, it was very successful, it was a significant meeting, the first time someone from Sinn Féin met with the leader of the Police Service in Northern Ireland.
Governments prepared to do unpalatable things: “So we were moving in effect to the final hurdle, and this was something that we said after the Northern Bank raid, that we – the British Government and ourselves – had carried out and were prepared to carry out all of the issues that were on the table that we had to do. Some very unpalatable things that would cause severe difficulty to us politically in the Republic and indeed to a certain extent to the British Government.
Acts of completion: two remaining issues: “We told Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness that while we had fallen at the last hurdle in relation to the comprehensive agreement – we published the documents – that there were still 2 key remaining issues:
Full decommissioning, and
An end to paramilitarism and criminality
1) Full decommissioning: “We accept and still accept that there was in words, and also from what our security sources told us, that there was a solid movement in order to provide full decommissioning. We fully accept that that was on the table, that that was possible. Obviously we had to accept people at their word, but the strong suggestion from our security sources was that that was available to us, and we have to come back to that.
2) End to paramilitarism and criminality. “One of the other issues that we said at our meeting after the Northern Bank raid was the issue of the end to paramilitarism and criminality. Tony Blair and the Taoiseach previously, in the Joint Declaration, particularly Article 13 of the Joint Declaration, said that they had to have “acts of completion”, that everything had to be dealt with in a comprehensive agreement. And one of the key issues was the issue of an end to paramilitarism.
IRA statement, December 2004 : “As you may remember in the run up to the publication of those documents in December, it was delayed for about a week, people were wondering why it was delayed. It was delayed purely and simply because – obviously everyone knew about the photographs issue, the transparency issue – but equally so one of the key issues was in relation to the words that would be used in a statement by the IRA. It was indicated to us very late, particularly after the unfortunate words expressed in Ballymena about “sackcloths and ashes” and “humiliation”, that the issue of transparency and photographs was completely off the agenda. It was indicated to us that, while some people within the Provisional movement had no difficulty with the issue of putting in words into the statement in relation to the safety of individuals, that others had. The governments decided, in or around the 6th of December, to proceed with the publication on the 8th December with what we saw was our best estimate of a possible compromise both in relation to the photograph and also in relation to the issue of the words used in the statement about an end to paramilitarism and criminality. Subsequently the IRA issued a statement which omitted the words that we required in the statement. You may say they were only words, but the omission of those words raised a very serious question mark on our behalf, and on the British Government’s behalf, as to why they were not prepared to say these words. What they were prepared to say was that the IRA would go into a new mode, that they were prepared to ensure that their volunteers would do nothing which would endanger the Agreement. What they were not prepared to do was to follow on with additional words and say that they would not do anything that would endanger the safety and lives of public individuals. The omission of those words and the fact that they were not prepared to say those words raised a serious question in our minds.
“I say all that because our impasse at the moment is unfortunate, it’s there, whether we come back to these issues tomorrow, in a year’s time after the election, or whenever, there will still be those two remaining issues: the issue of full decommissioning and the issue of an end to paramilitarism and criminality. We said quite clearly in our meeting that [while] we were prepared to do – and still prepared to do – all the unpalatable issues, we could not solve the issue of decommissioning or paramilitarism. It was only they, on the other side of the table, who could do that.
Commitment to inclusivity: “We make it clear to this day, that despite all that, we’re still in favour of inclusivity. Given the fact that the vast majority of the people on this island, both North and South, voted for a blueprint for the future of this island, we believe they did so on the basis of including both communities. So we believe, despite all the difficulties, that we still have a duty – given the fact that we brought the process so far to the eleventh hour, to the last hurdle – that we still have a duty to investigate and to try and bring it further, and to help those who have these two key issues to deliver.
Responsibility of Provisional movement: “As the Taoiseach said in the Dail this week, in response to the statement by Caoimhín Ó Caolain, we are listening to what you are saying but really, and this is our position, it is up to you. It is up to you to convince not only the governments but also the wider community that, despite all the difficulties of bank raids and previous robberies that have taken place – and we’re quite clear were carried out by the Provisional movement – and indeed by the punishment beatings and shootings that took place as if a tap had been turned on. We got an indication on the 6th of December that it was not possible to produce a photograph, that it was not possible to put in the words in the statement, in relation to not endangering the personal safety and lives of individuals. We published the documents two days later.
Punishment beatings and shootings: “On the 7th December, for the first time in months, the first punishment shooting occurred in Belfast, again clearly indicated not by the PSNI, but by our own sources – and we have officials in Belfast resident all the time. They indicated to us clearly that it was on behalf of the Provisional IRA. After that, from then on, quite a number – about four or five – punishment beatings took place. Before the 7th December, virtually none had taken place during all the discussions that we had.
Finality: “It raises the question: while there is a peace process, there has to be finality in relation to it. And we have to ask: do people want finality to the peace process, or do they want a never-ending peace process, a peace process that is always in crisis, that rumbles from crisis to crisis? This constant crisis, it really diverts attention, in our view, from the real politics that go on in relation to economic and social policies, and the real investigation and the questioning by people like yourselves, both North and South, about the type of policies that political parties have. And I think that’s even more so in the case of Sinn Fein. To a certain extent, everyone thinks that the only issue on the agenda is the peace process, and going from one crisis to the other. But there are other issues, and to a certain extent the constant never-ending peace process does divert Mike Reade’s attention, and all the other media people’s attention, and indeed ordinary individuals, from the type of policies that are being espoused by a party like Sinn Féin.
Why are we questioning? “The very fact that we are questioning – we as a government and I as a member of a constitutional republican party who have the same ideals of Irish unity, who are prepared to work for Irish unity, but not on the basis of violence putting it further and further back, not on the basis of 30 years of what in our view was detrimental to the unification of this country – the very fact that we are questioning the authenticity and the type of trust and confidence that we thought we had with the people we were dealing with is extremely significant, and I think it has to be, I suppose, put up in lights there. But someone like Bertie Ahern particularly, who has invested 10 years of his life in this process, a huge amount of work behind the scenes, a huge amount of work that he could be doing on other issues in relation to the running of this State. People have to ask the question: why are we questioning at this juncture? Because we believe that all the other acts of completion that Tony Blair referred to in that speech to do with the Joint Declaration, that all of the acts of completion are there on the table, the two governments are prepared to do their bit, the two final acts of completion are significant ones, they are the ones that are the key because they are the ones that the people on this island voted to finalise.
North-South bodies and all-island economy: “It is unfortunate that we have a peace process that is stop-start, stop-start. It means that all the structures, particularly the North-South structures, have been hamstrung. I as a constitutional republican, my party, our supporters and I think the vast majority of the people in the Republic and indeed in the North, had great difficulty in regard to the issue of Articles 2 and 3 in the Constitution and the deleting of those, but we did that and we sold that on the basis that the North-South dimension of the Good Friday Agreement was the way forward where we could in effect deal on an equal basis with bodies in the North to the mutual benefit of all of us on this island.
“So the quid pro quo for Articles 2 and 3 were the North-South bodies and the mushrooming of those bodies. Unfortunately they have been hamstrung by the constant stop-start of the peace process which is not good from our point of view or from indeed all of our citizens’ point of view. I say this as someone born and bred in the border area… I don’t want to be over-critical of parties, but for years and years we have heard about all-island and all-Ireland institutions. I well remember, and I say this as somebody who was a minister in the area of energy and telecommunications, we have parties now espousing all-island policies in relation to electricity: literally week in, week out, the electricity interconnector in my constituency was blown up. Again in relation to transport: we have policies coming out now about all-island transport policies: literally every week the rail line was bombed and people were injured. Thankfully we’ve moved away from that.
Practical benefits of all-island economy: “The benefits of an all-island economy are there for everyone to see. For the first time in my life my own area is blossoming, the way it should have done for decades but didn’t because of the conflict on the island, because we weren’t allowed because of the conflict. Who would come to our area, either as a tourist, or as an industrialist to look at our area because of the violence? What better place to site something, halfway between Dublin and Belfast, slap bang between the two centres of population, but it’s only now that the benefits of the peace process are being seen in that area. I say those things because that’s what we are losing, and the potential, if we don’t continue at it.
Gas pipeline: “I was part of a government who dedicated 12.7 million euro towards a gas pipeline in the North. The Department of Finance told the government quite clearly – as they normally would anyway – that there was absolutely no economic rationale for the southern Irish taxpayer giving money across the border for a gas pipeline. The government decided we would do it anyway, we decided that in the interests of cross-community and cross-border cooperation we would do it.
Electricity interconnector: “I was Minister for Energy in relation to electricity particularly. As a result of discussions that have gone on between the Northern minister and myself we now will have a better and bigger electricity interconnector which we badly need in order to transfer electricity particularly from North to South. …These are all practical things that will benefit if the politicians are allowed to get on with the issue of the peace process.
Sometime back, as you know the economy is burgeoning here, there was a difficulty in relation to the capacity of electricity. As a result of a ten-year contract between the ESB and Ballylumford in the North, hundreds of jobs – not nationalist jobs, most of them would be unionist jobs – were saved…..That plant in Ballylumford was actually going to close. That’s a practical manifestation of the benefits.
Again the issue of road and rail interconnection, the issue of tourism which is now dealt with on an all-island basis, mainly for the benefit more particularly of the North rather than the South. We need to get on with these acts, these practical aspects. We can’t do it at the moment because we are hamstrung. We would far rather do it on the basis of dealing with people from the North as ministers, from both traditions, working in harmony because they know and we know that this island can be better and better.
Responsibility on all to promote the peace process: “I agree with Julitta when she said the peace process was not just for the politicians. I’ve said it constantly time and time again that we can only put on paper what we believe are the parameters that the people live to and work with. It is up to trade unions, the employers, the voluntary community sector, the farmers and all aspects of Irish life North and South to promote this peace process more and more. I do say, not in a critical way, that we have to adopt this attitude given that the two remaining key issues are something not in our part… but the sooner that the impasse is over, the work on the Good Friday Agreement in relation to north, south, east and west, will accelerate.
IRA have to go away: “I would just finally say at this gathering, I would appeal to the Provisional movement to listen to the will of the Irish people. It is the epitome of republicanism that those people who espouse republicanism would listen to the will of the people. And the people’s will was expressed, whether they like it or not, in 1998 under the Good Friday Agreement. I’ll end by saying that Gerry Adams said ‘they haven’t gone away you know’, but I say they have to go away.”
Chair (Michael Reade): “Minister, before we go on to the next speaker, just on a point of clarification: you mentioned about the photograph which is to some degree a secondary issue but obviously a very significant issue if a deal is to be reached. You said that you were told in December that it wouldn’t be possible to produce a photograph. Was there an indication as far as you were concerned that that was around the corner last December?
Dermot Ahern, TD: “There was clearly an indication, and there was discussion about a photograph. Constantly as always in these discussions it would be said to us ‘that’s a matter for the IRA’ and ‘we have to go to the IRA’. Now again I would remind people of our solid view based on solid Garda Siochana intelligence that there is no dividing line between the Sinn Fein leadership and the IRA leadership, so, as far as we were concerned, when we were discussing the issue of a photograph, it was clearly on the table, but I have to say that whatever possibility there was for a photograph was blown out of the water, I think we accept that, after Dr Paisley’s speech in Ballymena.”
Chair: Our next speaker is Dominic Bradley, MLA for Newry and Armagh, SDLP candidate in the forthcoming Westminster elections and the party’s spokesperson on Education and the Irish language…..
2. Dominic Bradley, MLA (SDLP)
“…Tá an-athas orm beith anseo I gContae na Mí leis an Grúpa Síochána anseo….. I would like to thank the Meath Peace Group for inviting me here today to speak on where now for the Good Friday Agreement. I was in the College here previously, I came as a schoolboy playing in a basketball tournament, and stayed for the weekend and really enjoyed my time here. It is nice to be back in Dalgan Park again.
“As Michael said, I am the MLA for the SDLP in Newry and Armagh. I come from South Armagh. I was brought up in a small linen village called Bessbrook which is a mixed community. I was brought up side by side with people of a unionist outlook and I am glad to say that the village is still mixed and that community relations there are excellent to this day. My mother used to say to me: “son, wherever you go don’t tell them you’re from Bessbrook.” I was a bit baffled by that so I said to her one day: “ma, why shouldn’t I tell them I’m from Bessbrook?” And she said, “they’d only be jealous of you!” So I’m proud to be from Bessbrook, from County Armagh and from South Armagh.”
Referendum on Good Friday Agreement (1998): “Just to focus in on our topic for discussion here this evening… I think it is useful to look back on where we have come from. To start with I would like to go back to the day that the Good Friday Agreement was approved by the people of Ireland, because, as a party of true republicanism, what the Irish people have willed is what the SDLP is determined to uphold. That day in May 1998 was one of great optimism for the people of Ireland, both North and South, a day when all the people of Ireland were able to vote together for the first time. Their first act of self-determination since 1918. And on that day by clear majorities North and South, the Irish people voted for partnership. They voted for progress and they voted for peace.
Situation today: “Yet now we find ourselves in the position that our institutions have been frozen by suspension. We find progress halted by the dead hand of direct rule and we find our peace threatened by criminality.
What has gone wrong? “Well we might ask ourselves at this point in time: what has gone wrong? Where has the hope and the heady optimism of 1998 gone? Some people argue that the Good Friday Agreement has let us down. But it is my absolute conviction that the Agreement has not failed us. Rather, parties and paramilitaries have failed the Agreement. First of all, we had David Trimble who tried to breach the Agreement by demanding prior decommissioning. Then we had the DUP. They tried to overthrow the Agreement by demanding renegotiation. Now we see the Provisional movement undermining the Agreement through criminality. None of this is what the people of Ireland voted for in May of 1998. None of this is what they want. All of this is a perversion of the will of the people of Ireland. There are some people who don’t take seriously what the people of Ireland voted for. Some people who believe that you can change whatever you like and fall short whenever you need to. I disagree with that. When the people of Ireland express their will, it is the duty I believe of all true democrats to follow.
Duty of Provisional movement: “That is why it is the duty of the Provisional movement now to wind up, as the Minister has said, their criminality, to scrap their guns and to work with the rest of us to secure the rule of law in every part of Ireland.
Loyalist paramilitaries: “The same applies to loyalist paramilitaries who terrorise the nationalist community and who poison their own communities with drugs. They don’t have much of a democratic mandate, but they have a democratic obligation to comply with what the people of Ireland, North and South, voted for.
Nationalists did not vote for criminality: “And just because Sinn Fein does have a democratic mandate, it does not mean that they can cite it to excuse, diminish or deny IRA crime. Because no nationalist voted for Robert McCartney’s throat to be cut. No nationalist voted for Sinn Fein to try to cover up the truth about his murder. No nationalist voted for families to be held hostage and threatened with death. When Sinn Fein hide criminality behind their mandate, they fall short of the democratic standards of the Irish people. And they insult the decent standards of their own voters. Nationalists did not protest for civil rights only to have the right to life of families threatened. Generations did not campaign for justice only to find their elected politicians covering up murder.
Criminality is wrecking the Agreement: “The SDLP respects Sinn Fein’s mandate. We have opposed silly sanctions and exclusion. It is time that Sinn Fein showed the same respect for their mandate and, instead of covering up criminality, worked to end it. Because criminality is ruining the peace process. It is wrecking the Agreement. And it is playing right into the DUP’s destructive agenda, just indeed as Sinn Fein in the negotiations played right into their agenda, they gave the DUP sweeping new vetoes. They accepted not a single extra North-South body or area of cooperation. They even colluded with the DUP to create a new form of automatic exclusion to be used against democratic parties. Why? Because Sinn Fein were not negotiating for national interest. They were protecting the Provisional movement’s self-interest. Getting a blind eye turned to their criminality. Getting an amnesty for the on-the-runs. Ensuring no sight of their decommissioned guns. And what in the end of the day was their “deal breaker”? Release of the killers of Garda McCabe. So much for an Ireland of equals.
SDLP alternative: “The SDLP offers an alternative. The SDLP offers a better way to a better Ireland. We stand strong against paramilitarism and we stand strong for the Agreement. We stand for both a lawful society and an inclusive democracy. We are convinced that this crisis can be overcome and the battle for peace and inclusive democracy won.
Message to the Governments: “Our message to the Governments is clear. Press ahead with the Agreement. Implement it in full. If you want people to know the Agreement is the only agenda, you must show them that it is the only agenda. The announcement of the closure of Girdwood and Oldpark barracks was an important step in the right direction. Now deliver more to ensure a normal, equal, shared society that the Agreement promised. Above all, get politics working again. Just because we cannot get an inclusive Executive right now, there is no reason why things should be left in stalemate. The SDLP have proposals for getting the Agreement moving. They get us out of the rut of suspension without taking us down the dead end of exclusion. They deserve to be implemented. Under our plans, we would end suspension right now. We would restore the Assembly and the North/South institutions straight away. The Assembly would then have six weeks to appoint a new inclusive Executive. If they do, well and good. But if, as may be likely, they don’t we should not just accept suspension of all the institutions just because we cannot get the Executive working right now. Instead, the two Governments should nominate people to run the departments and all of the rest of the Agreement can work on.
Message to the paramilitaries: “Our message to the paramilitaries is firm. Your day is done. We want all paramilitaries – loyalist and republican – off our backs so that our communities can get off their knees.
Message to the political parties: “Our message to the parties of Ireland is strong. Now is the time to reconvene the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. Now is the time for all parties to set the standards for democracy on the island of Ireland for the 21st century.
We can stand together against paramilitarism, be it republican or loyalist. We can stand together for the Good Friday Agreement. We can remind the DUP, and indeed Sinn Fein, that while they have a mandate, it is not greater than the mandate that the people of Ireland gave the Agreement.
Message to the people: “Above all, our message to the people is sound. The SDLP will work for a stronger mandate to protect the Agreement. Our approach at Leeds Castle in the face of DUP wreckers could not have been better and our mandate will be stronger. If people support parties that have let the Agreement down, they will only keep letting the Agreement down. If they back people who deliver less, they will never deliver more. Above all, what gets rewarded gets repeated. The best way to force the pace on unionists and to force peace from paramilitaries is for people now to show stronger support for the approach of the SDLP. Go raibh mile maith agaibh.”
Chair (Michael Reade): “Just briefly, have the more recent talks been inclusive enough to your satisfaction?
Dominic Bradley: “I think we were probably disappointed that the approach taken by the two governments was to concentrate on the two largest parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein, and to some extent ourselves and other parties were left out in the wings. This has not been helpful. That approach has not delivered comprehensive agreement. The SDLP policy has always been inclusivity, and I’m glad to hear the Minister echoing that here tonight. It was an inclusive approach which led to the Good Friday Agreement in the first place and I think it is an inclusive approach which will lead to the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement in the future.”
Chairperson: “Thank you very much, Dominic… Our third and final speaker is Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd, MLA for Upper Bann. He is the party’s spokesperson on health in the Assembly and also Sinn Fein’s group leader in the Assembly.
3. John O’Dowd, MLA (Sinn Fein)
“First of all I would like to thank the organisers for their invitation tonight. I used to holiday around here in my early teens, my uncle lives across the back fields here and I used to swim in the outdoor pool in this area as well, as a young child. I have very fond memories of around here, and indeed a local priest who attended to my father when he was very ill was a Columban who is buried here……so I’m back on familiar ground. I listened attentively to the Minister’s speech tonight. I was pleased that we are having a diplomatic but firm and structured conversation. Megaphone diplomacy is not going to solve this problem. Insulting each other is not going to solve this problem. I was disheartened by Dominic’s approach but during the question and answer session we can deal with all of those bits that people have on their minds tonight.
Sinn Fein will not tolerate criminality: “As a republican representative I have responsibilities, as has my party. I will answer and live up to those responsibilities as will my party. We do not underestimate the seriousness of the situation. People across Ireland are concerned that the peace process appears to be in free fall and that ten years of good work and progress is being cast aside. But let me state this again, as a republican representative, as a SF elected representative and as leader of the Assembly group in the Assembly: no republican worthy of the name, whether they be a republican in the Fianna Fail party, or a republican in the SDLP, can be a criminal. They have no room in the ranks of Sinn Féin or any other political party. We in Sinn Fein will not tolerate such behaviour. Our opponents know that, but some can barely disguise their glee at the recent turn of events. There has been trial by media. This night last week, every security journalist on this island was popping up in front of the cameras telling us the rank of each of those people who had been arrested, what rank they were in the IRA down in Cork, how long they had served in the IRA, how many years, what their rank was, what they were doing. Each and everyone of those people has been released, except for one who has been charged with membership of a dissident organisation. And that person has the same right to a fair and open trial as everyone else.
“The only Sinn Fein member arrested on that night has been released without charge, no papers sent to the DPP, nothing. And remember, in this State you can be sentenced for IRA membership on the word of a senior Garda, so if there was even an inkling of guilt there a senior Guard could have stood up in a court of law and said “I believe that person to be a member of the IRA”, and the judge could sentence him to five years. None of that happened. So I say to people here: do not listen to the Jim Cusacks of this world. Listen, and let the Garda investigations continue, and let the truth come out as to what happened.
Criticism of Sinn Fein not new: “Sinn Fein will weather the storm. We’ve been through all this before. Yes this is an intense time of criticism of Sinn Fein. I joined Sinn Fein when I was 18, nineteen years ago. I cannot remember this time when we were great pals with all the other political parties. Journalists will now tell you that Sinn Fein is going through a very bad time, they are isolated from the other parties. I never remember a time when we weren’t, I never remember a time when Sinn Fein was treated like any other political party. Yes certainly Bertie Ahern, Albert Reynolds, all have done massive work for the peace process. We have moved this country on, beyond anyone’s belief even ten years ago, but don’t try and kid me that all those political parties were doing Sinn Féin a favour. Some of the people involved in the whole peace process and across the board were genuine, so they were. I have no doubt that Bertie Ahern, Albert Reynolds and indeed the Foreign Affairs Minister are genuine in what they are doing, but they are not doing it to drag Sinn Fein in from the cold. Sinn Féin elected representatives were brought into this process by their mandate.
Irish unity: “Moving on to Mr Ahern’s comments in relation to all-Ireland work. I am delighted at the work he outlined here tonight. I am delighted that the Minister recognises the need for all-Ireland work, and I hope it continues. This morning I was in Dublin where Sinn Fein launched its campaign for a Green Paper on Irish unity. In 1992 Sinn Fein published a document Towards a Lasting Peace in Ireland, which set out our party’s present peace policy. That document set out the development and evolution of the peace process. This morning we set out our road map for Irish unity, to urge the Irish Government to bring forward a Green Paper and to begin effective planning for Irish unity now. Caoimhin O Caolain said, and I say now, that no party, including my own, has a monopoly on unification. The struggle for Irish independence is not something that is owned by a political party, or a brand useful for electoral purposes.
South Korea: “I acknowledge the Minister has said that his party is committed to unification. I acknowledge Dominic’s party a number of weekends ago in Derry published a document outlining their road map to reunification, and I welcome and congratulate that initiative. But it’s not enough. Let me use a rather different country as an example. In the mid 1950s the South Korean government set up a Ministry of Unification. The sole role of this body is to work for the reunification of Korea. For decades this body has been building links… working on economic initiatives, bringing divided communities together across the most militarised border left in the world. And driving it all is the certainty and hope of the Korean people to be united. It is a certainty I am sure my colleagues on this platform share about the future of the Irish people, whatever community they belong to. But the difference is the South Koreans are planning for it, preparing for it, facing the challenges that will come about with the merger of the two health systems, two economic systems, two education systems.
Government’s responsibility: “We’re conscious that Sinn Fein don’t know all the answers, but we want the debate to start. We want the search for the answers to begin, and the onus of responsibility for this must lie foremost on the Irish Government who need to transform the aspiration for Irish unity into a real goal and to work towards that goal. We are urging the Taoiseach to commission a Green Paper on Irish Unity as the key starting point. All strands of opinion represented in the Oireachtas should be participants in this, and that is why we want to see an all-party Oireachtas Committee on Irish Unity established. We are proposing that a Minister of State should be appointed by the Irish Government with specific responsibility of driving forward the developing policies, actions and strategies to advance the outcome of the Green Paper and to direct and coordinate the government’s all-Ireland politics. Participation by people resident in the North in the democratic life of the nation should be facilitated immediately: bring in Northern representation in the Houses of the Oireachtas and voting rights at Presidential elections. That was one matter in the deal that came apart that Fianna Fail could now move on with. Are they telling us that because Sinn Fein and the DUP can’t agree that Northern elected representatives shouldn’t have speaking rights in the Dail? That doesn’t make sense to me.
“The Irish Government in consultation with the social partners and the community sector, and the non-governmental organisations should begin a process of economic planning on an all-Ireland basis. I emphasise this is not just about the achievement of Irish unity at some time in the future. It is about making a real difference to people’s lives in the here and now. We need to see …coordination of public services, like health, education and transport, maximising the benefits for everyone who shares this island
“I want to invite ordinary members and supporters of Fianna Fail in particular to engage in this debate, and to begin very seriously to assess how the stated aim of their party can be achieved. I would like to invite anyone with an interest to borrow from our ideas and to bring forward their own. Sinn Fein has no copyright on the road map to Irish unity, but most importantly this is an opportunity for the people the length and breadth of this island to play their part in the great project of reuniting our country and our people.
Unionist and loyalist community: “We acknowledge our obligation to reach out to the people on the island who presently do not see a role for themselves in a future Irish Republic, who see themselves as British or unionist. An Irish Republic that is not inclusive of these people as it must be inclusive of new arrivals to our shore from Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe, is not the republic I want to build. We need especially to reach out to the unionist and loyalist working classes who find themselves economically marginalised and abandoned by unionist leaderships.
Sinn Fein support: “Some might ask if the republican cart is before the horse in terms of coming forward with these ideas in the current political climate… The accusations of criminality against Sinn Fein are without foundation. People looking at the Independent poll in this morning’s newspaper will no doubt be asking themselves why in a period of most sustained political and media onslaught on our political party since the historic ceasefire in ’94, our party’s support has remained static. Indeed, Pat Kenny wondered this morning on RTE radio what their continued support for the party said about these people. Pat should understand that these people are ordinary everyday Irish citizens. Sinn Fein voters do not have horns on their heads, their eyes are not closer together, they are ordinary people from every section on this island, 342,000 of them come out in a secret ballot of their own choice, go into the polling station and vote for Sinn Fein. The reality is that the people of this country, and the growing republican vote repudiate… attacks on our party, the baseless accusations made without any evidence, they compare this to their personal experience of Sinn Fein. They compare their experience of Joe Reilly, delivering for the people of Meath, as an innovative campaigner in his local community, as a tireless fighter to vindicate the rights of his constituents. They compare the slurs on the character of Aonghus Ó Snodaigh, T.D., with the picture they have of the man motivated in politics not by greed or careerism, but from a desire to better his community. In short they see through the nonsense, they see through the lies, and more and more they ask themselves: what is the agenda behind this?
“…I spent part of the day in the main shopping centre in Navan, canvassing along with Joe [Reilly] and a few other colleagues. Only one person asked me about the Northern bank robbery, everyone else wanted to know about road infrastructure, schools, hospitals, jobs, etc. That is the debate that is going on out there, not about the Northern Bank robbery. Let me tell you that Sinn Féin will continue to build political support and adopt dynamic policies. The importance of this cannot be over-stressed. It’s worth remembering that in the North we are the largest pro-Agreement party and on the island itself we are the third largest party.
DUP walked away from the deal: “So what of the IRA? No doubt the question will arise tonight, it’s already been mentioned by the Minister and by Dominic… The work of republicans – imagine a republican saying this ten or twenty or thirty years ago – the work of republicans is to create a situation where the IRA no longer exists…. Can you imagine that being said 20 or 20 or 30 years ago? I see Roy Garland in the audience. Through Roy’s experience that has to be an unbelievable statement. What the IRA offered in the December talks, and indeed in October 2003, if it had been offered in any other field of conflict across the globe, it would have been snapped up.
“The DUP decided to walk away from it. I’m glad that the Minister recognised tonight that the statement made in Ballymena by Mr Paisley – the “sackcloth and ashes” – destroyed that. It wasn’t an unfortunate statement. It was a planned statement. It was written by his son, Ian Paisley Óg, who is opposed to any agreement on any grounds, not only with republicans but with nationalists. On the platform that night with Ian Paisley and Ian Paisley’s son was Alan Murray, former head of the RUC Special Branch. Alan Murray led the raid by the PSNI into Stormont buildings 27 months ago which brought down the Stormont Executive. 27 months on from then, not one of the five people who were charged have been brought to trial, in fact two have been released without further charge, no evidence, and the serious charges brought against those people, of spying on the NIO, have been dropped. Now, people ask us to join up to that police force, people ask us to have faith in that police force! Alan Murray was the sidekick of Ian Paisley the night Ian Paisley destroyed the chance of an agreement. “
British Army presence: “Sinn Fein’s role is to remove all guns from Irish politics. When the Minister looks out his window in the morning and looks across the Mourne Mountains and across the North, I wonder does he see the British Army spy posts that ring South Armagh, does he see the British Army helicopters, does he see the British Army foot patrols as do people in my constituency? The British Army still control my constituency, after 7 years of the Good Friday Agreement.
IRA not the only difficulty: “The IRA have a responsibility to deal with the issues that the IRA have. The republican goal is to remove the IRA from the field, but they are not the only difficulty facing the Northern peace process. Dominic referred to the DUP as the wreckers. We haven’t heard that since December. When the deal fell apart, young Alan McBride, who lost his wife and his daughter in the Shankill bombing by the IRA, and who has every right to hate, despise and mistrust republicans, turned round in a media interview and challenged Ian Paisley as to why he walked away from that deal. I think that was the fear more than anything, that ordinary workingclass Protestants were beginning to question their own political leadership and that is why we are in the crisis we are in today. Thank you.”
Chair (Michael Reade): “Thank you… Very briefly, I get the impression that you implied there was some sort of slur campaign against Joe Reilly in this [by-election] campaign, did I hear that right? Has Joe Reilly been in some way targeted in this by-election campaign because of the impasse?
John O’Dowd: “No I don’t believe so.”
Chair (Michael Reade): “I didn’t understand you correctly. Now I’m going to take questions and I hope people will be as brief as possible….”
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS (Summary)
Q1. Henry Mountcharles: “I have two questions for the Minister, and two questions for John O’Dowd.
(i) Release of McCabe killers: “First of all, Minister, you referred to ‘unpalatable things’. I wanted to know whether you were specifically including in this the release of the killers of Garda McCabe?
(ii) Sinn Fein’s economic policy: “Secondly, in my view quite rightly, you made reference to this constant crisis in the peace process and that this distracted political parties from real politics. In that context I wanted to know whether you agree with your colleague, Dr. James McDaid, who described Sinn Féin as being economically illiterate?
(iii) & (iv) Murder of Robert McCartney: “John O’Dowd, in your remarks you said, with reference to criminality, “Sinn Féin will not tolerate such behaviour” In that respect I would like to ask you a few questions: do you know the identity of the person or persons who were responsible for the murder of Robert McCartney, and would you recommend anyone who does know the identity of the person or persons who killed Robert McCartney to go to the PSNI?
Dermot Ahern, TD: (i) “In relation to the unpalatable things, yes, the release of Garda Jerry McCabe’s killers was one of the unpalatable things which was put on the agenda as one of the key issues that had to be addressed in a comprehensive agreement. It was put on the agenda by Sinn Féin and they made it quite clear that it had to be one of the issues dealt with in the acts of completion, the comprehensive settlement. It was indicated in the context of an overall settlement, that if all of the issues including full decommissioning and an end to paramiltarism etc… that the Government would look at that issue.
(ii) Sinn Fein’s economic policy: “In relation to the constant crisis, while I wouldn’t particularly agree perhaps with the hyperbole of “economically illiterate”, I do make the point very strongly that this constant crisis in the peace process does divert all our attentions, particularly in the Republic, from the economic policies of Sinn Féin. I made a statement in Hillsborough which was misconstrued. I said that I do look forward to the day when Sinn Féin are in government. I didn’t say that I wanted them in government with Fianna Fail. In fact, they would be the least likely party as far as I would be concerned with whom I would want to coalesce, particularly in relation to the issue of economic policy.
“Because I don’t think there is anybody in this room who actually knows what the policy is in relation to dramatic increases in taxation which they put into their policy document no later than the last local election. Nobody questioned them in the media. The only organ that I actually saw doing a forensic examination of Sinn Féin’s economic policies, and their desire for a 32-county socialist republic, the only organ in my view was an excellent article, or series of articles, in the Irish Examiner where they went through line by line the implications of the economic policies of Sinn Féin which was, in effect, I would say, all things to all men and women. So, while I wouldn’t describe them as economically illiterate – I do think that we have to pay respect to political parties and the policy documents that they bring out – but I do say that our attention, the public’s attention, to their other policies has been clouded and diverted by the constant crisis in the peace process.
Chair: “Thank you. John O’Dowd, if I could ask you to restrict your answer to the two specific questions asked of you…
John O’Dowd, MLA: (iii) & (iv) “…I personally do not know the name of the person who killed Robert McCartney. But I repeat what was said the day after that murder happened: anyone who feels comfortable going to the PSNI with information should do so. Anyone who does not feel comfortable going to the PSNI should contact a solicitor or a respected member of the community. Now, while that stance of Sinn Féin has been criticised, especially by the SDLP, it is worth noting that after the investigation by the Police Ombudsman into the murder of Sean Browne, a senior GAA official in south Derry … and the Ombudsman’s office found that the police investigation was a shambles, when the PSNI went to reinvestigate that murder, they published leaflets and posters stating “anyone who does not want to contact us, go to their solicitor, or local priest”…And Mr Adams turned around today and said – reflecting the views of Mr Ahern – that it “is the patriotic duty of anyone with information on the murder of Robert McCartney to bring that forward so that the families can receive justice…”
Questioner: “I think I am right in saying that unless statements are given directly to the PSNI, they are hearsay and not admissible in court. I’m sure the Minister as a former solicitor could confirm that?”
John O’Dowd, MLA: “Perhaps you could ask the PSNI as to why they issued those leaflets in south Derry when they reopened their investigation into the murder of Sean Browne?”
Dermot Ahern, TD: “While people could give statements to solicitors, the key issue is whether they would go into court and publicly give evidence. I didn’t refer to the McCartney issue, I don’t want to be accused of playing politics, but I will say this: the family clearly stated to me that they knew the people involved and that literally everyone in the community knew the people involved, that there were at least 50 people who were clear witnesses to the incident and none of them have come forward. And many of them were leading members of Sinn Féin, who worked for Sinn Féin, in the area, and are well-known as workers for Sinn Féin. So, it’s quite clear, and I am just making the point that was made to me, I am not making it in a political way, that they said to me while statements of Gerry Adams publicly exhorting people to go to the appropriate authorities, whatever they were in his mind, that the action on the ground has not been followed on by those people. And they were people saying that who quite clearly and specifically said that they voted for Sinn Féin over the years.”
Chair: “Just one point, is it acceptable to Sinn Féin if the end result in this McCartney murder is that senior members of the IRA, or IRA members of any description, are arrested by the PSNI and then taken to court?
John O’Dowd, MLA: “Whoever is guilty for the murder of Robert McCartney, whether it was a republican or otherwise, we support the terms of the family in this, that they receive justice, and in the family’s terms that is through the courts”.
Q2. Cllr. Brian Fitzgerald (former Labour TD for Meath); disappointment with Sinn Féin: “….Like a lot of people I feel badly let down, because I, like others took a lot of risks over the years to try to bring Sinn Féin in from the cold. You claimed that the only reason Sinn Féin were being brought in from the cold was because of their mandate. That is not correct. They did not have a mandate when they were brought in from the cold, because they only had then started to recognise this State, they refused to recognise our courts, they refused to recognise Dail Éireann, and in fairness to people like Albert Reynolds and the Downing Street Declaration was the real commencement of bringing Sinn Féin in from the cold. And the reason I feel so disappointed is when I read on a daily basis the refusal of Sinn Féin and their colleagues to define what is a crime. There is no doubt in our minds as to what is a crime. A crime is a crime whether we are talking about Robert McCartney, or any other person, or indeed Dominic’s colleague, John Fee, who was beaten within an inch of his life. That is a crime in my eyes.
“So please don’t come here and start telling us we are all against you. We have not been against you. We’ve bent over backwards to bring you in from the cold, as Dermot has already said. We’ve done everything possible. What I would like to ask you is, if you’re not prepared to decommission, if you’re not prepared to end criminality, will you please ask the IRA to say three words: that their military war is over, and that will go a long way in restoring peace on this island.”
John O’Dowd: “Could I just ask what political party are you a member of?”
Cllr. Fitzgerald: “I’m asking you…” [interruptions]
Chair: “He’s an independent, former Labour TD…”.
John O’Dowd, MLA: “…. I’m delighted to hear more and more people are taking an interest in the peace process… but if you had been following the whole issue right up to December, and had seen what the IRA were prepared to do, the IRA were prepared to leave the field of conflict, they were prepared to put all their weapons beyond use by Christmas, and the DUP walked away, and were allowed to walk away. This issue of criminality was brought up by Mary Harney in the Dail when she got Bertie Ahern out of the room. She brought it up in the Dail when Bertie Ahern was out of the room… Now who is the lead party in the Coalition? Is it the PDs or is it Fianna Fail?
Chair: “We’ve gone a bit away from the question…”
Dermot Ahern, TD; re IRA statement in December: “I just want to make a point. That was the first time the issue was vented in public. There was constant discussion on the issue of the words used and the inability of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to arrange, call it what you like, that the words “not endangering the personal safety and lives of public individuals.” They were not prepared to put those into the statement, which, well before Mary Harney got up on her feet, raised the issue as to why they were not prepared to say that …I want to make that quite clear. The efforts to try and suggest that there is some tail wagging some dog in government, that is not correct. We are absolutely ad idem in relation to this.”
Chair: “I’m just getting some information that I am sure will be of interest… apparently in the last hour there was a statement issued by the IRA stating that three IRA members have been expelled in relation to the Robert McCartney murder… I’ll take the next question.”
Q3. Roy Garland (Ulster Unionist, Belfast); re Irish unity: “I was very interested in all that has been said. I’m particularly struck by the way that John O’Dowd emphasised the Irish unity thing. I want to ask you why?
“You said that in Navan the questions people were asking were about housing, social issues and so on. It begs the question… It seems to me that many working class unionists whom you talked about would find no problem with that, in fact I think you could get votes if that was all it was about, ordinary everyday issues. But the united Ireland thing, in view of the fact that the unionist community has faced 30-odd years of constant barrage, killing, shooting and maiming, obviously a complex issue, towns and villages absolutely destroyed. I grew up in the Shankill, I know Alan McBride, I knew the fish shop that was blown up, the time that Alan McBride’s relatives were killed, in fact a distant relative of mine was killed there, I went in there as a kid with my mother, I still remember it. That community was devastated by what the IRA did. If you’re promoting unity, particularly if you still have an armed wing, and in view of the hurt that has caused, is it not first of all counter productive, and why do you insist on it as being so important, I thought you were going to say it was a sacred duty, and when it is so alienating to us as unionists, why do you persist when it seems so counter-productive?”
John O’Dowd, MLA: “I’m not the only person at the table who supports a united Ireland.
In fairness, the unionist community are not the only people who suffered during the 30 years of conflict. The uncle that I mentioned at the start, the reason he had to move was because his two sons and his brother were shot dead in the house on the one night. The unionist community are not the only people who suffered….Now, in relation to Irish unity, it is the stated political goal of Sinn Féin that we believe in reunification of the island of Ireland. We believe in it because it is economically viable, and it is the right of the Irish people to live in the one nation. Now, we want the unionist community to come in on that debate. I don’t expect the unionist community to roll over …..they have a major role to play in any re-unified State. They will make up over one million of the population in a united Ireland, they are less than 2% of the United Kingdom. Where do their economic loyalties lie? I am not lecturing unionists but in my opinion, unionism will flourish better in a united Ireland than it has done under partition.”
Dominic Bradley, MLA: “Could I come in here? The SDLP also believes in Irish unity. We believe that the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement can work within a united Ireland and that the unionist population will have the same rights and protections afforded to nationalists currently under the Agreement. But I think that the way we get to Irish unity is through cooperation, working together and persuading the unionist population. And I think it is a democratic principle that political parties have the right to persuade those who are opposed to them to come round to their point of view. And indeed the SDLP has done this down through the years. Sunningdale was opposed by Sinn Féin, by the DUP and by elements of the Ulster Unionist Party. The SDLP worked at that formula, they didn’t give it up until it was encapsulated again in the Good Friday Agreement.
“If Sinn Féin seriously want to persuade unionists that they can be trusted to be partners with them in a united Ireland, well they are going to have to become a totally peaceful and political party. The Provisional movement at the moment, as the Taoiseach has pointed out, and as those of us who live in the North know, is two sides of the same coin. There is a military wing and there is a political wing, and there is an overlap in membership somewhere there. We are aware of that. If the criminality which the Minister mentioned earlier on continues – for example my own constituent Frank Kerr was murdered in a post office robbery in Newry, constituents of mine have been beaten up in punishment beatings, horrific punishment beatings where they were battered with nail-encrusted sticks within an inch of their lives to the extent that their skin was torn off their backs – if this continues, it’s not going to convince anybody that Sinn Féin can be trusted as partners in a united Ireland. Danny Morrison once espoused the policy of “the ballot box in one hand and the armalite in the other”. That policy, as far as I can see, still continues. The ballot box is still in one hand, it might be more stuffed with votes now, but the armalite is still there as a silent threat, the paramilitary wing is still there as a silent threat, and those things are used as bargaining chips in the peace process and this stop-start element in the peace process suits that type of bargaining.”
John O’Dowd, MLA: “Could I just ask Dominic, if all these things are true, why did people in Newry-Armagh, in his constituency, go into the privacy of a polling booth and outvote his party in Sinn Féin’s favour two to one?
Dominic Bradley, MLA: “I think that nationalists in the North, like people in the SDLP and in other parties, have attempted to give Sinn Féin the space to rid themselves of criminality and of the connection with a paramilitary organisation. I believe that Sinn Féin have not yet lived up to the expectations of that mandate. “
Q4. Steve McColl (Ulster Unionist, Belfast). “I have two questions…
(i) “Question for John O’Dowd, what does the principle of consent mean in the Good Friday Agreement? What does that mean to you?”
(ii) “Question for Dermot Ahern: “how long do we have to wait on Sinn Féin? You are the government of the Republic of Ireland, not the IRA army council, surely you have responsibility to be the government, not to tolerate this group of people?”
John O’Dowd, MLA: “…. In terms of consent, what I believe consent means in the Good Friday Agreement is that the Irish people have the right to make their own decision without coercion from an outside force …
Steve McColl: “Do we have any say in our destiny?”
John O’Dowd, MLA: “Yes.”
Steve McColl: “And if we vote against Irish unity…”
John O’Dowd: “If there’s a vote of 51% for a united Ireland are you going to respect it?…I respect the right of the Irish people to make free choices without outside coercion…”
Dermot Ahern, TD: “Could I come in here? … John Hume said that the question of uniting Ireland is more about uniting the people who live on the island. It goes to the issue of consent. And I would just pose this: if the day comes when there is a 50% + 1 majority on the island, as per the Good Friday Agreement, in favour of a united Ireland, under the Good Friday Agreement that’s to happen. But we all know, our history tells us, that unless we have…. And that gives the allegiance of the desire and the hope for us who espouse a united Ireland to work to, but I am one of those people, and I think my party is one of those parties, who believe that we have to create the conditions long before that is to happen, whereby it is absolutely accepted that instead of the nationalists in the North being a small minority, or a relatively big minority in the North, that the unionists in an all-island context – post 50% + 1 – are not a very dangerous and unhappy minority within the all-island context. I haven’t read the Sinn Féin document in relation to Irish unity, I will eventually read it. I will say this before I read it – and I have to read the document – that the blueprint for anyone who espouses republicanism or nationalism is the Good Friday Agreement, for a united Ireland. It is up to us well in advance of the day that there is a 50% + 1, if that day is ever reached, to have the conditions created where, as a businessman just last night said to me, from clearly the unionist tradition, clearly even a DUP supporter, that he understood as most ordinary unionists understood that there is an entirely legitimate reason why we should work on an all-island basis for the benefit of all our people. We can work on those things but it has to be done on the basis of mutual understanding and consent. In my view, the blueprint for any nationalist for a united Ireland is not the document of Sinn Féin, or of the SDLP, or of Fianna Fail, it is the Good Friday Agreement which has the entire mandate of the Irish people.”
Questioner: “I accept what you say but you still haven’t answered my question. How long do we have to wait for Sinn Féin?
Dermot Ahern, TD: “Sorry, I was answering the first part. How long do we have to wait? The main tenet of the Good Friday Agreement is inclusion, and, whether we like it or not, the electorate in the North have dealt the cards in the last election and that is the DUP on the one side and Sinn Féin on the other. We as governments have to deal with the situation as dealt with in the democratic decision. Even the SDLP accept that we cannot move ahead to the exclusion of Sinn Féin on the basis that the principle of the Good Friday Agreement was on the basis of inclusivity of a settlement. The SDLP have some very good proposals as to how we get out of the impasse, and Dominic referred to them earlier and my Department is looking at them. The only problem is they don’t have the possibility of cross-community agreement. Similarly the unionists have proposals for a voluntary coalition, but equally so, those proposals don’t have the element of cross-community consent. So we have to find ways to move things on. But I can assure the listeners that we will proceed with all of the elements in the Good Friday Agreement that we can operate, and that can be operated in and around the issue of unfortunately the lack of movement in regard to putting back in place the Assembly and Executive….”
Chair: “Could you be more specific in that Minister? ….Will that be in 2007?
Dermot Ahern, TD: “I can’t say that. I do think that time is not on our side in relation to all of these things. Every time there has been a vacuum, there have been difficulties. I think unfortunately for the last number of weeks there has been megaphone diplomacy, and that’s not a good thing because ultimately we have to pick up the pieces. Some things have to be said but as long as we can understand that the trust and confidence has to be built. I mean I question, what would have happened if the DUP had gone into government in March and this bank raid or the punishment beatings had taken place? What would have happened?”
Q.5. Jim Owens; re helping people in other conflicts: “Minister, your brief is local but you have a global brief as well. You and the other speakers have spoken about the long years of work … working through this particular conflict and how to cope with what you called unpalatable aspects. I’m asking you how you can use this painful learning to be tolerant of other countries, in particular in the developing world, and I have a particular interest in Sierra Leone in Africa, to support them in coping with their conflicts and to recognise the incredible amount of resources and energy and time it takes. We can learn from this local issue and help other communities …. We have to acknowledge it is a big investment. … Could you as Minister comment on that?”
Dermot Ahern, TD: “Just very briefly, a fortnight ago I spent some time in New York and I met with Kofi Annan and his senior adviser and other UN officials. We offered, on behalf of the Irish Government and the Irish people, any resources, particularly in the post-Presidency situation in which we built up quite a lot of expertise. We offered the UN our services in any of the conflicts in the world that Kofi Annan wished to delegate us to. You might have seen recently, one of the Assistant Commissioners of the Garda Siochana was nominated to head up the investigation into the murder of the former Lebanese Prime Minister. That was the first manifestation of our offer to use our experience of the discussions in relation to the peace process in order to assist in other conflicts. And indeed Julitta referred to the grant that the Meath Peace Group got from my Department, we grant-aided also a specific grant to the Glencree Centre in order to allow them to bring people in from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to Ireland on a regular basis, over a three-year period, in order to learn from the experience here in Ireland.”
Q. 6. Marie MacSweeney. “I am not affiliated to any political party or organisation. Before I make my comment, I’d like to clarify with the Minister when he talks about ‘public individuals’. I presume you mean citizens and not just people who are as important as you?”
Dermot Ahern, TD: “Oh yes citizens.”
Marie MacSweeney; re degradation of language: “Thank you. I was one of the people who voted against the Good Friday Agreement and I did that after much thought because I considered the part that provided for the release of prisoners, people who may have committed murder yesterday or last week or last month or last year, I felt that to release people like that and to reward them for their violence was to give violence energy. I was very concerned about that so I voted against it. But it was supported by the majority of the people and I supported their decision after that and I thought it would work. I expected in the beginning that the decommissioning would start very soon and I think the Minister has said that military ways should have been abandoned early on. I checked with friends of mine when I became dismayed that this wasn’t happening. I asked them did they feel that the Agreement meant that decommissioning should start soon and all my friends and people I asked said yes.
“But in the public arena something different was happening and this is where the ‘F’ word came in, the big ‘F’ word which I think has been responsible for a lot of the disasters in the peace process, and the word is ‘fudge’… One of the early casualties of the Agreement has been language, the use of language, and it’s still with us. Caoimhín Ó Caolain in the Dail last week, later on when he became converted to pacifism, said that he was against any kind of criminality and that Sinn Féin were against any kind of criminality. I think perhaps 99.9% of English-speaking people in the world would know what that meant, but we don’t know what he meant.
“And that’s part of the problem. I would suggest that the degradation of language has been a huge problem, and if there are any further proposals and plans to be made as part of this peace process and as part of the requirement for decommissioning, that the language should be luminous, that each word should be clear and unequivocal and precise so that everybody knows what they mean and everybody knows what everybody else means and we can take it from there. Thank you.”
Chair: “Thank you, I think that was a statement rather than a question so I will take another question…”
Q.7. “I’m a voter, I voted for the Good Friday Agreement … … I want to comment on the Dublin –Monaghan bombings and the fact that nobody has been brought to justice over those terrible atrocities. Also, the McCartney killing was a terrible act, a dreadful act.
Dublin and Monaghan bombings: “…that was a crime, murder, but nobody has been brought to bear… …. why hasn’t the British Government, the Irish Government, why haven’t they brought those people to bear? …The forensic evidence was there, fingerprints, everything. … Really and truly, everything to do with collusion must be put on the table. If there is any trust to be brought to the PSNI, and indeed to our own Garda Siochana……I can’t believe that our own State and the British State – that these people can go about their business with no accountability whatever.”
Dermot Ahern, TD: “Like your comment on the last speaker, I would regard that as a comment rather than a question. …
Chair: “Well, let me put the question… perhaps you would address the refusal of the British authorities to cooperate in terms of the investigation?”
Dermot Ahern, TD: “There have been inquiries in relation to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and in fact I was instrumental at Cabinet level recently in making sure that not only would the Dublin and Monaghan bombings be investigated but the ones in Dundalk which happened as well, where people were killed as well, and some times are forgotten about….. I mean there’s no easy answer in relation to why we don’t have finality in relation to that. Obviously proving cases in court is… you know we live in a democracy and the Guards may have views in relation to it… Similarly in relation to the Northern Bank, while the Government were able to give our opinion based on intelligence that the Garda Siochana had given us, the issue of prosecution ultimately will be for the authorities in the North as regards prosecuting people ultimately for that particular incident. So we have made, and this government particularly has made, every effort we can and every exhortation to the British Government to provide assistance and cooperation in relation to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, as we have done in relation to the Finucane, Nelson, O’Neill and all the other incidents where it is believed that collusion has been part of it. So I can assure you that these issues are constantly on our agenda in raising this with the British Government.”
Chair: “It’s ten o’clock. We said we’d finish at ten o’clock but we’ll take a couple more questions. We have a long list of people and we’re going to have to leave some disappointed. John O’Dowd, I think you want to respond?”
John O’Dowd, MLA: “I think it’s important to remember this. Collusion was IRA propaganda for 25 years. None of the other political parties on this island were prepared to stand up to the British Government which was acquiescing with loyalist paramilitaries on this island to kill nationalists. The Dublin and Monaghan bombings are a clear example of that there. The British Government, who are now lecturing Sinn Féin on ensuring that evidence is given in relation to the McCartney killing, is hiding evidence from the Irish Government in relation to the murder of citizens in Dublin and Monaghan. The British Government at this present time is putting legislation through the House of Commons to restrict evidence to the Pat Finucane inquiry, the Rosemary Nelson inquiry…. All that is going through, and these are the same people on the high moral ground in Westminster and every where else lecturing republicans on justice. Those are the serious questions that need to be answered. “
Q.8. John Clancy; timeframe for end to paramilitarism: “I have a question for John O’Dowd. First of all, welcome and it’s great that you have come here and we are having this discussion. The Minister has been very clear, and he said, as I understand it: an end to decommissioning is one of the prerequisites, the end to criminality and paramilitarism. Now I understand you to say that one of the parts of the peace process as far as you are concerned is creating the situation where the IRA is no longer required. …Now I’ve asked a specific question… Has that situation arrived? If it hasn’t, is it another 6 months, 1 year, 20 years, before the IRA is no longer needed?”
John O’Dowd, MLA: “No, I haven’t used the word ‘needed’…. With respect, your notes aren’t neutral. What I said was that republicans were creating a situation that the IRA would no longer be in the field of conflict….”
Questioner: “Can you answer – is it 6 months more for the IRA to be there?”
John O’Dowd, MLA: “Ask the Minister ….” [interruptions] ….Do you want me to answer the question…..?”
Chair: “Let him answer the question…”
Questioner: “I beg your pardon…”
John O’Dowd, MLA: “Exactly, show a slight bit of respect. Ask Minister Ahern. Minister Ahern is telling us that there mightn’t be talks until 2006, 2007, and indeed some political pundits in the North are telling us that there won’t be political talks until after the elections here in the 26 counties. So, I want to create the political situation where all armed groups leave the scene, including the IRA, and that’s my goal in politics…”
Dermot Ahern, TD: “Lest anyone think that I said that the talks wouldn’t take place until 2007 or after the next election here in the Republic: we are ready, willing and able to – and we accept that the public may have a different view – but we are still prepared to engage in an inclusive basis with a party like Sinn Féin, but we have to make it absolutely clear. We believe we are at a crossroads in this regard, in that 17 years on from Hume-Adams, 7 years on from the Good Friday Agreement, that it is quite clear that the move to exclusively democratic and peaceful means is now, in that the two remaining issues are decommissioning and paramilitarism.
Twin track approach: “And the fear is, and the breakdown in any trust that we as a Government had, that the British Government had, that the wider community, not least the unionist community had, is that the political project as we often hear talked about by Sinn Féin is a project, and they’re getting a mandate, there’s no doubt about that, but are they doing it on the basis that there ‘s a twin track and that they are prepared to continue the twin track approach … as long as they are able to do that and the more they can do that the better it is, that they will ultimately go exclusively political but that they will do it in their time. And in the meantime, robbery to fund very substantially their organisation, but also the threat of general going back to war, the threat that’s always unspoken and the difficulty of the soft man/hard man within the Provisional movement, this sort of thing that’s always said. We saw a bit of it in one of the tabloids this week, you know, that there are hard men in the organisation who want to go back to war and of course there are soft men who want to do all the nice things that we all want to do, and that’s to be democratic.
“Be under no illusion: there is no space between the Sinn Fein leadership and the IRA leadership in relation to this. Be under no illusion. And that raises the question with us which was confirmed by the bank robbery but also the turning on of the tap of punishment beatings and based on security advice. I mean Tony Blair did say in 10 Downing Street, that there had been creative ambiguity over the last number of years to try and bring people … we are now stating quite clearly, and we are ready, willing and able to engage in discussions again but it has to be on the clear understanding that the goal will be reached very quickly in relation to the issues of full decommissioning and paramilitarism etc.”
Chair: re IRA split: “Very briefly Minister…. on the question of a pending split in the IRA Gerry Adams said he wouldn’t be drawn, that he couldn’t speak for the IRA. What’s your opinion: are you fearful of a split in the Republican paramilitary movement?”
Dermot Ahern, TD: “I’m not going down that road because I don’t believe – particularly based on the security and intelligence advice that we get – that there’s a question of a split. There might be one or two who are unhappy and there might be one or two who go off and do their own thing but the hold that the leadership of the Provisional movement, and I include everyone, on the organisation is absolutely rock solid. I don’t think that the public should be under any illusion, and that’s why people like Bertie Ahern, who’s not particularly known for his tough stance – people often say that he’s a conciliator – he is absolutely resolute on this on the basis that he believes that the time is now for people to decide. There’s a fork in the road – is it that way towards politics, or is it that way towards a bit of politics and a bit of criminality and the threat behind it all?”
Q.9. Ann McQuillan (SDLP, Fermanagh): “…First of all, I would like to say to John [O’Dowd], I remember well the murder of your people, that was a most appalling act among many appalling acts that took place in that area at that time. I have a feeling that a few of your people were also in the SDLP?
John O’Dowd, MLA: “My father was, yes….”
Ann McQuillan: “I’m very sorry that you aren’t!”
Inclusivity and December deal: “Now, this question of inclusivity, with reference to the agreement in December, it seems to me to be very flawed. I sat on the executive of our party for 10 years at least and I have seen a lot of people, John Hume, Seamus Mallon, our present leader, a lot of people working very hard to bring peace to our country, to build and build and build what became the Good Friday Agreement.
“There’s been many disappointments, many setbacks, but we built it and those people worked for it. They didn’t just work in the last 10 years, they worked for the last 30 years, more, for that kind of inclusivity. Now when this last agreement came out I was very disappointed to see that the Agreement had been changed, that instead of the Leader and Deputy Leader being chosen as one unit, and the idea of that as I understand it was so that they would have to act as a unit. That’s now been put aside so that Sinn Fein could elect their man and the DUP could elect their man, so everybody could be in their own little corners and they could split the country as they liked into republican or DUP. Then came the matter of inclusivity. When it came to voting on those things, it was to be that the DUP voted for their man, Sinn Fein voted for their man, and if the SDLP and/or the unionists decided not to vote for them they could not become ministers. Now where is the inclusivity in that? We have heard nothing, particularly from Sinn Fein… Is the inclusivity exclusivity? Then it transpired that if Paisley resigns as leader and Peter Robinson comes in, then any other party who doesn’t vote yes is automatically excluded. Can you comment on that?” [tape break]”
Dermot Ahern, TD: “First of all, it was built into the Good Friday Agreement that there would be review after a period. … Given the political cards we were dealt with, the DUP and Sinn Fein being in effect in the driving seat in the negotiations…. but we did keep the SDLP and all the other parties fully informed on a constant basis…..there was confidentiality on some issues but the general basis was explained. I can assure you we got the Attorney General’s advice on this issue…. I know that the SDLP alleged that some of the tenets of the Good Friday Agreement were watered down. That was not the case. The Attorney General was absolutely satisfied, the principle of inclusivity was sacrosanct.
“In relation to the tactical issue of voting, again in the document it’s built in… We had to deal with the situation that people in the North didn’t really believe that Paisley would sit down with Martin McGuinness and work together as First Minister and Deputy First Minister. That had to be put up to them. We put it together in such a way that that would have happened in March of this year. We had to put it up to them, and that there would be no fall-back position.
“I can assure you that one of our overriding principles was to ensure the parties like the SDLP and Ulster Unionists were fully involved in the project…”
Dominic Bradley, MLA: “My understanding is that these changes did not come out of the review of the Good Friday Agreement, the review was never actually completed, but they came out of negotiations involving the two main parties. In the original version the joint election of First Minister and Deputy First Minister was a key part of the Good Friday Agreement, it was the flagship symbol of cooperation and we believe it was changed to suit Ian Paisley who didn’t want his name to be on the same ticket as Martin McGuinness.
“It was wrong… it sent the wrong message out. Instead of sending the message out that this whole project was about reconciliation and partnership, it sent the completely opposite message out. And you’re right when you say that parties like the SDLP who would have voted against that under the new arrangements they would have been excluded from ministerial office…..
“But on the wider issue of peace and inclusiveness, we are at the stage now where, as the Minister said, all parties must be operating on an equal footing, they must be all operating on totally democratic and peaceful means, and that means that parties which are not operating on that basis will have to ensure that they are, as the Minister said, in the very near future.”
Chair: “I’m conscious that a lot of you have long distances to travel. We’ll take one final question.”
Q.10. Pat Lynch: Re ambiguity: “This problem with the Northern Bank robbery and the attendant analysis that has taken place, up to now it’s been all politics, now it’s real, it’s about money. And the question is what republicanism means, what big ‘R’ republicanism means, and what the physical force tradition is….Up to now there has been a certain ambiguity in some of the republican parties. There now can be no ambiguity… some people have alleged that Fianna Fail started the Provisional IRA… There needs to be an unequivocal denial of any government involvement in any armed organisation…. Will something good come out of this? Will we question our values as to the physical force tradition?”
Dermot Ahern, T.D. “I don’t think that anyone other than yourself could believe that Fianna Fail started the Provisional IRA.”
Dominic Bradley, MLA: ”I believe we have come to a defining moment in the process. We talked earlier on that a certain amount of space had been given to the Provisional movement to become totally and exclusively democratic and political. That hasn’t happened but recent events have underscored the need for that to happen. People in Sinn Féin will have to start seriously addressing these problems. That is demanded by the people of Ireland and by all the parties in the country, and it’s going to have to happen sooner rather than later, and I think that good will come out.”
Closing the evening’s discussion, Michael Reade thanked the speakers for their contributions and he thanked the Meath Peace Group for a very interesting meeting. On behalf of the Meath Peace Group, Canon John Clarke thanked everyone for coming and paid particular thanks to the chairperson, the speakers and to St Columban’s College for facilitating the talk. He announced that the next talk, “Where do we go from here?” to be held on Monday 7th March, would be addressed by Professor Paul Bew, Sean Farren, MLA (SDLP) and Jim Wells, MLA (DUP).
Meath Peace Group report, May 2005 ©Meath Peace Group
Taped by Judith Hamill (audio tape) and Jim Kealy (videotape)
Transcribed and edited by Julitta Clancy
This is the 54th public talk since the series commenced in September 1993. Reports and/or summaries of many of the previous talks are available on request from the committee (contacts below) and are also on the website: www.meathpeacegroup.org
Meath Peace Group would like to thank the Dept of Foreign Affairs Reconciliation Fund for grant assistance towards the expenses of running the talks.
APPENDIX: Text of written speech of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern TD, to the Meath Peace Group, Dalgan Park, Navan, Friday, 25th February, 2005
Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to speak tonight not so much as a Minister, or a public representative, but as an ordinary Irish republican. As someone reared next to the border. Who knows at first hand how it affected communities and families. Who knows no higher mandate than the will of the Irish People. Whose personal political agenda is Irish unity, peace, justice and equality. As a republican, I believe the best way to advance this agenda is through the Good Friday Agreement. And, in 1998, the Irish people – in the first act of all-Ireland self-determination since 1918 – supported that view.
As I have already stated, that Agreement created the legitimate expectation that criminality and paramilitarism from all quarters would end. And almost 8 years later they have not.
That’s the major cause of this present impasse – nothing more complex. It is the clear and simple failure of the various paramilitary organisations, including the Provisional Leadership, to heed the will of the Irish people. In their failure they are impeding the implementation of the Agreement.
They are hindering North/South Co-operation and the agenda of peace, justice, equality and Irish unity. The continuation of this trust-sapping paramilitarism represents the single greatest impediment to realising the full promise and potential of the Agreement. I say that in sadness not in anger.
Ladies and Gentlemen, The primary impediments to implementation of the Good Friday Agreement are clear to all:
Criminality and Paramilitarism
If we are to move forward – particularly if a prospective unionist partner is to be found – these issues must be dealt with and resolved. In this context the quandary for the Irish Government is clear – we can’t order the Provisional movement to deal with these issues.Only the Provisional Leadership can – and that’s exactly what we have asked them to do. After the Northern Bank Robbery we asked the Provisional leadership to reflect on how trust and confidence – which had been massively damaged – could be restored We made it clear that the major onus now lies with them. The solution does not lie with ordinary Irish nationalist and republicans – it requires the Provisional Leadership to take a major initiative that restores some sense of confidence and positivity. Regrettably, as each day passes without a positive response, trust fades further. And while we refuse to play the politics of exclusion. And while we will refuse to feed into any victim complex – It cannot now be business as usual. It’s up to the Provisional Leadership now to fully internalise and positively respond to the challenges which it faces – bringing all forms of paramilitary and criminal activity to a definitive end. As the Taoiseach said in the Dail this week we are listening carefully and we want to hear back on these crucial issues sooner rather than later.
Peace or Process
Ladies and Gentlemen, On Wednesday as I sat with Robert McCartney’s devastated family, the Provisional Leadership laughed and staged snowball fights for the cameras. And that juxtaposition really brought home to me the depths of the present crisis. For 18 years now we’ve had a Peace Process. And after Wednesday, I like many others before, was compelled to reflect on whether the Provisional Leadership wanted a final peace – a settlement – at all, or just the never-ending Process. As you may be aware, a sceptical thesis has recently suggested that while we were focussed on the Peace – others were focussed on the Process – and the Press, and Publicity and PR and which crisis after crisis has brought? The Provisional Leadership needing support to bring them fully into the peace – but never fully getting there. This dispiriting thesis suggested that a Provisional Movement- born out of conflict – needed to maintain its resonance and allure because behind the dynamics of conflict lay only another banal Party with bland policies which must compete on the same basis as everybody else in the political marketplace I have not formed a final judgement on the validity of this thesis. I want to believe that it is wrong and honestly hope that the evolution of events in the coming period will disprove it. But the fact that I, and many other people who are committed to an inclusive process, are now reflecting on its possible validity is significant.It shows the degree of corrosion caused by recent events. It indicates the challenges that Sinn Féin and the IRA must meet if they are to repair the damage caused to trust and confidence. Because, after the Bank Robbery. After the murder of Robert McCartney by IRA volunteers,, trust and confidence have practically evaporated
But we’re not going to give up. In fact, the Irish Government intends to redouble its efforts to protect the gains of the Agreement thus far – particularly in the critical area of North/South co-operation.
One of the most regrettable impacts of the present impasse is the negative impact it has on the full operation and development of the North/South dimension of the Good Friday Agreement.
In particular it has stalled the strengthening in specific areas – and for sound, practical, commercial reasons – of the all-island economy. As a direct result of the deficits of trust and confidence caused by continuing paramilitary and criminal activity, the stop-start operation of the Agreement in recent years has negatively impacted on the development of North/South co-operation. The North/South dimension is a fundamental part of the overall accommodation which the Agreement represents.
This Government is determined to protect the achievements of the Agreement, including in the area of North/South co-operation. Obviously we would much prefer to be in a position to do business with locally-elected Northern Ireland Ministers within the North/South Ministerial Council. Unfortunately, that is not possible at present. Nevertheless, we have a duty to take forward the mandated work programme of the NSMC to date. We are continuing to identify and follow-up on new possibilities for co-operation – where such co-operation is clearly for mutual benefit.
In practice, as the Taoiseach noted recently, North/South co-operation is not just about politicians or civil servants. The private sector, trade unions, the voluntary and community sectors and the farming community are but some of the actors involved .The business community, in particular, have long recognised the benefits of closer economic links on the island. In many ways, they have been ahead of the rest of us in seizing the opportunities arising out of the new landscape created by the Agreement.
Over the past ten years, total cross-border trade has grown by over thirty-five percent. One third of all Northern Ireland companies now export to the South. These are encouraging statistics when you consider the ignoring or the lack of awareness of business opportunities closer to home which characterised the decades before the Agreement. Organisations such as the Northern Ireland Business Alliance, IBEC-CBI, and the Chamberlink venture between Chambers of Commerce on both sides of the border have all played their part in this work.The North/South Body, InterTradeIreland, was specifically established under the Agreement to tackle the barriers to North/South trade and to help businesses to realise the full potential of an all-island market. Headquartered in Newry, InterTrade has developed a range of initiatives aimed at facilitating trade and business contacts across the island. A major focus of its work is highlighting the need for improved business competitiveness in an all-island economy. Last year’s report of the Enterprise Strategy Review Group identified the key challenges in the South which must be addressed if we are to maintain the economic performance of recent years. Its prescription included enhanced expertise in international markets and increased technological and applied research and development capability. The absence of devolved Government in Northern Ireland, and the consequent inability of the NSMC to meet, means that Ministers from North and South are not engaging on these issues; are not talking to each other about agreed strategies and actions that respond to these challenges.
The losers here are ordinary citizens on both sides of the border who rightly expect their political representatives to address these challenges and arrive at policy solutions that will improve their lives. The current impasse is not just a political stall, it is also represents a failure in economic and social terms. Despite the difficulties and constraints caused by the destabilising activities of others, the Government is nevertheless determined to protect and develop the North/South axis of the Agreement and will continue in the weeks and months ahead to advance this agenda with the British Government and with the parties. The close working partnership between the two Governments has been the fulcrum of stability in this process. Both Governments are determined that a political vacuum will not be allowed to endanger progress nor to degrade the achievements of recent years. We will proactively use the machinery of the Agreement – in particular, the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference – to ensure that the gains of recent years are protected and developed. In that regard, the Taoiseach again signalled to the British Prime Minister on 1 February that the North/South dimension of the Agreement is a key strategic interest for this Government. It, moreover, was one of the main reasons the people in this State changed our constitution in 1998. The North/South axis of the Agreement represents a win-win agenda for everyone on this island. It threatens nobody’s interests or identity. Its maintenance and development is simply the application of good common sense in the interests of mutual practical benefit. The sooner the current impasse is resolved, the quicker we can all go fully back to business in the interests of every citizen on this island.
Ladies and Gentlemen. The causes of the impasse are clear. The solution is equally clear. It lies principally with the Provisional Leadership. I appeal directly to them to act on the authentic vision and ideals of Irish Republicanism – to heed the will of the Irish People, who backed the Agreement, who sought an end to paramilitarism and an end to criminality.
[Dermot Ahern, TD]
Meath Peace Group report 2005 ©Meath Peace Group