Meath Peace Group Talks
No. 57- “Paramilitarism, Criminality and the Good Friday Agreement”
Monday, 20th June 2005
Ardboyne Hotel, Navan, Co. Meath
Michael McDowell, TD (Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)
Michael Reade (Presenter, ‘Loosetalk’, LMFM radio)
Welcome and introductions: Julitta Clancy and Michael Reade
Michael McDowell, TD
Questions and answers
Topics of questions:
1. Murder of Cllr. Eddie Fullerton
2. Immigration/asylum law
3. Federal/confederal state
4. Search for the Disappeared
5. Criminality allegations and due process
Condemnation of republicans
6. Ardoyne disturbances
Have Sinn Féin lost control?
7. Westminster election results
Amnesty for on-the-runs (OTRs)
8. Will extremists be brought into democracy?
9. Bobby Sands
10. Rights and responsibilities
11. Fear and polarisation
12. Reclaiming the spirit of the GFA
Appendix A: Biographical notes
Appendix B: Meath Peace Group news
[Editor’s note: over 110 people attended this public talk including representatives of groups such as: West Tyrone Voice and the H.U.R.T. Group (Lurgan) – victims’ support groups based in Northern Ireland, the Guild of Uriel (Louth), Drogheda Cross-Border Focus, Reform group (Dublin), Cavan Family Resource Centre, the British Embassy in Dublin, the Ingrid Betancourt Appeal Committee. Political parties represented included the SDLP, Progressive Democrats and Sinn Féin. Representatives of various media (North and South) were also present and excerpts from the discussion were broadcast on LMFM radio every morning for over a week following the event. Parts of the discussion and exchange, particularly between the Minister and Sinn Féin representatives were also quoted in the NI press].
WELCOME AND INTRODUCTION
Julitta Clancy (on behalf of the Meath Peace Group) “Good evening ladies and gentlemen and thank you very much for coming on this summer evening. Unusually for us, we have gone into the end of June and we are not in our usual abode, in Dalgan Park. We would like to particularly welcome here tonight, the British Ambassador, Mr Stewart Eldon, and Mr Patrick Reilly from the British Embassy, and a special welcome to those of you who have come very long distances …
We also welcome the media present: LMFM (local radio), the Meath Chronicle, BBC Northern Ireland and RTE, and we would like to especially thank the Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, for coming to Meath in the middle of a very very busy time for him, to fulfil a promise and come to talk to us. We very much value that. He came here three years ago [Public talk no. 45, 30 September 2002] just before the Stormont Assembly collapsed, and we are looking forward to hearing him again tonight. I hand over now to our guest chair, Michael Reade, of LMFM radio.”
Chair: Michael Reade (Presenter of ‘Loosetalk’ on LMFM radio): “I am not going to take up much of your time but I do want to congratulate Julitta and the group on this and all of the talks that have taken place. They really are most interesting and worthwhile and I’m sure tonight will be exactly the same… The Minister will speak for about a half an hour and there will be a question and answer session immediately after the Minister’s opening address. I’m going to ask you to think about what you would like to ask the Minister. I know a lot of people are here for a purpose and we are going to be as strict as possible with you in that we are going to ask for one question per person at a time. The reason for that is obviously to give everybody a chance to speak. So without standing on ceremony I would like to ask Minister Mc Dowell to begin…”
Opening Address of Michael McDowell, TD, Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform
“Thank you very much. Mr. Convenor, distinguished guests and friends, it is three years since I was invited to speak to the Meath Peace group in Dalgan Park and a number of things have happened since then, a number of things have changed profoundly since then and a number of things haven’t changed at all. And therefore when Julitta wrote to me and asked me would I come here this evening, I did the usual thing and said: ‘you have given me a long period of notice before this meeting and things may have changed’.
Situation in 2002: “So once more I venture onto the stage here before you in circumstances where there is great uncertainty. Can I just remind you – if you weren’t here when I was at Dalgan Park – of what the situation was then? Paul Bew and myself were speaking to a meeting in Dalgan Park and the issue of that time was what the prospects were for the political process in Northern Ireland – whether there should be election or should not be elections. What Paul Bew’s prognosis was for the political parties in Northern Ireland, he at that stage was very pessimistic about the future for the SDLP and effectively considered they would be the major casualties of an early election, and he was at the same time defending the position of David Trimble and outlining the difficulties that he had come across.
Unfinished business: “Things have changed, obviously, and I’m not going to attempt a synopsis of recent electoral outcomes in Northern Ireland. But what the last year has demonstrated beyond any doubt is that the fundamental issues which have bedevilled the Good Friday Agreement and it’s implementation remain unfinished business and that until they are addressed in their entirety and comprehensively, we are not going to have further political progress in the restoration of the democratic institutions in Northern Ireland, in particular the Assembly and the Executive.
Republican philosophy – reconciliation of Orange and Green: “I come before you this evening, as I came before you then, as an Irish republican. By that I mean that I believe in the establishment of a republican society on this island, that I believe in the unity of the Irish people, that I believe it should be brought about – and that I believe that it can only be brought about – on the basis of the very implication of the tricolour, which is that there has to be a reconciliation between Orange and Green and the society that merges in Ireland must be one with which both traditions are at home and are reconciled, one with the other, in developing a society which is both pluralist, tolerant and inclusive – one based on equal respect for all and based on a mutual respect for each others traditions.
Anti-republican political ideology: “My claim to be an Irish republican is I think sometimes challenged by those who use the term to describe their own form of politics. They believe that republicanism involves use of violence, use of force. They believe that it involves bringing an armed conflict to the heart of Northern Ireland and dealing with the unresolved business in Northern Ireland by the use of force and that form of political ideology is in my view anti-republican and the people who espoused violence in those circumstances are in my view not entitled to use the term republican.
Polarisation politics a betrayal of republicanism: “And I’m also strongly of the view that they are people who have set back the cause of reconciliation between Orange and Green and have betrayed the fundamental vocation and challenge of the Irish tricolour. They have damaged and seriously undermined the inclusive and progressive republicanism of Wolfe Tone and of Thomas Davis and of so many other people who served in their own way the cause of the establishment of an Irish Republic. I make no apology for being critical of the Provisional movement because I believe in my heart the only way in which this island can be united, and the only way in which the people of Northern Ireland can achieve a fair and reasonable way of life for them and their children, is the reconciliation of Orange and Green. And I believe that politics which is based on polarising Northern society, rather than reconciling it is retrogressive and, as I say, a betrayal of genuine republicanism.
Personal and family background: “Can I just put on the record my own background? I am 54 years of age, I am a barrister, I was brought up in Dublin. My forebears came in the main from Northern Ireland. The MacNeills came from Glenarm in County Antrim. Eoghan MacNeill was the youngest son, the one for whom there was not much money left to spend on his education. His elder brothers were sent to Belvedere in Dublin and he was sent to St Malachy’s in Belfast. They got good jobs and he had to take a job as a clerk in the Four Courts in Dublin. Of his £2 a week he spent 10 shillings receiving Irish grinds because of his interest in Irish nationalism and the Gaelic movement. That was in the 1870s, 1880s. He was a co-founder of the Gaelic League. He was a man who was passionate about two things: the separate identity of the Irish people and their culture. He married a woman called Agnes Moore, and some of you may know that the Moore family is another Belfast family who descended from Presbyterians but they became Catholics in the mid-19th century. Brian Moore, the author, was my mother’s first cousin and his grandfather was somebody who regularly had his house stoned in Ballymena at Orange demonstrations in the 1850s and ‘60s.
“On my paternal side, they were from Belfast as well, Whiterock in County Antrim, McDowells. He was an editor of the predecessor of the Irish News in Belfast. He was a Parnellite, he came to Dublin and became editor of the Freeman’s Journal. So that was his kind of politics, they were more Redmondite than Republican or separatist in the MacNeill sense. Eoghan MacNeill’s eldest son Niall was an officer in the Free State Army as was his third son Turlough, but their middle son, Brian, was killed on the top of Ben Bulben fighting for the Republican side in the Civil War in what would now be generally described as a ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy or incident. He was one of Sligo’s ‘noble six’ and I have on my office wall in Stephen’s Green the funeral flag which lay on his coffin, a tricolour with a large black sash sewn onto it.
“And on my wife’s side, my wife’s grandfather was a Fianna Fail TD and before that he was a Republican hunger striker during the Civil War in Mountjoy Prison and yesterday, on the occasion of my wife’s mother’s death, one of her relatives was showing to me a letter which he had written on hunger strike in Mountjoy, on the Republican side, to his parents.
United Ireland: “I say all of those things simply to say this: I have a real appreciation of history like most people in this room. I do not come from a point of view which is hostile to republicanism, I classify myself as a republican and I believe in the unity of Ireland and I believe that Irish people, Protestant and Catholic, nationalist and unionist, will eventually be reconciled in a single society in Ireland. I want to say on top of that that I believe it makes good sense that that should be so, that the interests of the present majority in Northern Ireland coincide much more with the interests of the rest of us on this island, and that their economic future would be far better developed and progressed through a closer relationship with the rest of us, and that their interests in the last analysis are interests which coincide with ours.
Inclusive view of Irishness: “And I make one last point in relation to the general philosophical points that I want to make, and that is that it is much much easier to portray yourself as an Irish patriot by struggle and violence sometimes, than by doing the much more difficult thing and that is setting out to reconcile Orange and Green on this island, as Tone and Davis had as their ambition to do. And it is much more difficult and more challenging to advance a view of Irishness which is inclusive and which is open to all of the people on this island, which recognises the complexity of Irish history and which recognises that there is validity and respect due to both major traditions on this island. That the Protestants who fought at the Boyne were not simply people trying to tyrannise Catholics.
“They were people who in their own minds were honourably fighting for what they thought was civil and political liberty against absolutism. And that the Protestant tradition in Ireland, whereas it has been traditionally portrayed – and with a good deal of truth – as being closely linked to the notion of English Ascendancy, is at the same time a tradition which is a rich part of our heritage. Yeats, Synge, all our architects, Swift, all our great institutions, that these are part of the heritage which we as republicans should value rather than despise. And that the complexity of Ireland, whether it is from soccer playing, rugby playing and Gaelic playing, is something to be revelled in rather than to be regarded as evidence of a mutation from some pure national strain of Gaelic nationalism.
Polarised politics easier than politics of reconciliation: “What I want to emphasise is my driving spirit and my vocation as an Irish republican in the opening years of the 21st century: that the task which is now before us, which is the process of reconciliation which justifies and requires and demands implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, is a very challenging task. It is not something that is simple, it is not something for the namby-pambies, building centre ground in Northern Ireland is not something for the soft-hearted or the soft-headed. It is the most difficult task to create bridges between the two communities in Northern Ireland. It is far more difficult to do that than to go out in front of a microphone and give out about which side was right or wrong when violence breaks out at a parade of this kind or that. It is far more difficult to talk about those values of reconciliation than it is to talk about community grievance one way or the other. And it is far easier to engage in polarised politics, be it the politics of the DUP or the politics of the Provisionals, than it is to engage in the politics of reconciliation. And that the politicians who pose now as Mandela are frequently closer to Mugabe.
Recreating history verging on fascism: “That those who stand up now and advance the views that they are part of history and making history, are in fact in many cases shredding history and trying to recreate history in their own mould. And I want to say in particular, and this I want to say particularly about the Provisional movement, that the notion that we can recreate history, and we can incorporate all that they have done, as part of a central expression of Irish nationalism and the essence of Irishness, is a very dangerous one and it is one that does verge on the edge of fascism – this notion that you can recreate history now to your own likeness and pretend that things have been moving inexorably towards where you want them to go and in fact they have been quite different.
Monuments and commemorations: “And all across Ireland now there are many monuments erected and many demonstrations held, particularly by Provisionals, around the country in the memory of volunteers, as they put it, who have died in the course of their campaign. But there aren’t memorials, and there are no parades, to the Protestant workers who were taken off the bus at Kingsmill and machine-gunned. And there aren’t memorials, and there aren’t parades, to all the people who were shot down in cold blood. There’s no memorial anywhere to the proxy bomber who was strapped into a truck and blown into pieces together with a checkpoint. There’s no annual commemoration of Jean McConville, there’s no annual commemoration of the Disappeared, there’s no annual commemoration of the many hundreds and thousands of victims of violence. We are in danger, in other words, we are in danger of creating a new history of this island which is false and which seeks to elevate one set of people to the status of heroes while abasing everybody else to the level of people who just did not understand or were obstructive. And that’s wrong in principle and it’s something which I think we should stand up against.
1905 Sinn Féin party not the same as Provisionals: “I’ll give you a very simple example. This year it has been claimed by the Provisional movement that we are in the 100th anniversary of the foundation of their party by Arthur Griffith in 1905. Nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, it is curious that in 1948 that very issue was brought to the Irish High Court. I have here, and I will leave it with Julitta, a decision of the Irish High Court [Buckley and Ors. v. Attorney General 84 I.L.T.R. 9] as to whether the party which, through several splintering processes, ended up in the Provisional movement today, was in fact the movement founded by Arthur Griffith. And the High Court judge who heard the case delivered a very powerful judgment examining the whole history of the party and came to the conclusion that it was not the same party and could not claim to be the same party that was founded in 1905. So we do live in an era where appearances are hugely important, where spin is everything, where PR is hugely important, but we have to remember that our history is slightly more complicated than all of that. And those of us, as I say, who are Irish republicans, should not either yield the tricolour, or the term ‘republican’ to those who have abased those terms and betrayed them, in my view.
Provisional criminality: “I want to talk about another difference that came to light in the last year. Some of you may recall that approximately 15-18 months ago I had to use on the radio a somewhat uncomfortable phrase, I have to say, because it smacks slightly of arrogance – ‘I know what I know’. And the context in which I had to use that was when I was asked to stand up my proposition that the Provisional movement was engaging in major criminality in the Irish State. And I can tell you now what I was talking about then. In Dublin there had been a Dublin brigade of the IRA active, fund-raising for the Provisional movement throughout the ceasefire period, and a number of its senior members were suspected by the Northern command of the Provisional movement of actually hanging on to some of the money. And they were brought north of the border, to South Armagh, and there shot in the legs, and the Dublin Brigade was stood down as a fund-raising unit. And many people thought that this was part of a graduation away from criminality, but the truth was slightly different, the truth was that the adjutant of the IRA in Belfast began to organise major robberies in the South, directly using proxies in the South. As a result, a series of major high value goods robberies took place in the Dublin area which were eventually detected by the gardaí and the involvement of the senior Provisional command in Belfast in their organisation was laid bare. That’s what I was talking about at that time.
“Time passed and in Northern Ireland a series of major robberies – the Makkro robbery, the Gallagher robbery, the robbery in Strabane among others of a similar kind – took place. We are now talking about the period running up to the summer of 2004. At the same time we were being told that the Provisional movement was asking Dublin and London, in accordance with the Joint Declaration, to advance the Good Friday Agreement.
Acts of completion negotiations, autumn 2004: “And so it was that in the autumn of 2004 the two governments put together a package which was designed to bring about acts of completion of the Good Friday Agreement process, to enable the restoration of all the democratic institutions in Northern Ireland and the full implementation of the Agreement. Unfortunately at that time, and at the time of the Leeds Castle discussions, the Provisional movement systematically rejected efforts by both governments, and particularly the interlocutors in the Dublin government, to formulate words which the IRA would agree to issue and publish which would indicate a complete and total end to violence and criminality of all kinds. Eventually the negotiations produced a formula that henceforth the IRA would respect the rights and safety of all persons. And when the red line went through that particular phrase it became clear to a number of us in government that we had a serious problem with the Provisional movement, that it was intent on keeping ‘elbow room’ to endanger the rights and safety of other persons, to engage in other words in criminality and the threat of violence.
Northern Bank robbery: “We did not know at that time that the Northern Bank robbery was being planned by the Provisional IRA, but what we did know was that An Garda Siochana were keeping under surveillance at that time the development of a channel of money laundering, which development they did not understand themselves at that time but found in January and February of 2005, this year, was the means whereby a significant portion of the Northern Bank money would be attempted to be laundered within this State. And again, senior Provisional figures were involved in that.
“So when it came, first of all, to the attribution of responsibility to the Provisionals for the Northern Bank robbery, and, secondly, when proof positive of the involvement of the Provisionals in the laundering of the money came some time later with the magnificent Garda operation in Cork, Dublin and other places in Ireland, it became abundantly clear and it is now beyond contradiction that the Provisional movement had been looking for that elbow room with a view to being able to continue fund-raising in that way.
Fund-raising: “And those funds, my friends – 26 million of which the Irish State has recovered or accounted for in burnings roughly about 5 million euro – those funds were being raised for the purpose of financing the Provisional movement’s next phase which was the political phase. And we have no doubt that it is their intention to get rid of their heavy armoury of weapons, hundreds and thousands of Kalashnikovs are of no use to them, neither are tons of Semtex, but what is of use to them is the resources which violence and criminality produce to fund their political campaigns North and South. As free democrats in a free society we in this State believe that that is a mortal threat to Irish democracy and we will stand up to those people who engage in it. We will not engage with politenesses or excusatory language, we will not engage in fictions that the Provisional movement were not involved in these matters, and we will not ignore the reason for which they were raising that money which is to progress what they call their revolutionary struggle for the creation of a socialist republic on this island.
Robert McCartney killing [January 2005]: “Now, I want to say in relation to the McCartney killing, that the McCartney killing was one which was perpetrated, not for the purposes of the Provisional movement obviously, but it demonstrated that if areas of particularly nationalist enclaves in Northern Ireland fall victim to the reign of fear and subjugation which the Provisional movement have carried out whereby what they call civil administration units of the IRA can summon people to Sinn Féin offices, warn them about their behaviour and, if ignored, take them out and break their legs, shoot them in the hands, torture them and beat them up with baseball bats and the like. That is the kind of reign of terror that gave rise to the feeling of invincibility among those who murdered Robert McCartney and attempted to murder his companion on that day, that they could get away with it, that they could subjugate a community and terrorise a community into not testifying or cooperating with the police, and that they could do their level best to abolish the forensic evidence that might be available if there had been an uninterrupted police investigation. And it was the Provisional movement that called out the youngsters onto the street to try and make the immediate follow-up operation impossible, and it was members of the Provisional movement who carried out the process of cleaning up the pub in question to prevent their being any evidence found, and it was the Provisional movement which intimidated the people who stood up against them in the Short Strand. And it also was the Provisional movement who issued the public statement offering the McCartney sisters the doubtful honour of having the perpetrators shot by the Provisional movement as retribution for the acts in question.
Intentions of Provisional movement: “And all of those events call into question now the intentions of the Provisional movement. And I am very hopeful that the logic of their situation now, and the fact that they are facing into a cul-de-sac if they don’t give up criminality, if they don’t give up paramilitarism, if they don’t …[tape break]… accept the rules of democracy, that the logic of all that is going to force them sooner or later to make the requisite declarations and to deliver to the Irish people what the Irish people were always entitled to on foot of the two referenda adopting the Good Friday Agreement. I am hopeful that that will happen, and sooner rather than later.
No concessions needed to end criminality: “But I want to say this: that when it does happen it’s not a matter of further argumentation or further dealing or further negotiation. It’s ours as of right that this campaign should end. And no one needs concessions to end brutality, criminality and the like. Nobody needs concessions, nobody is entitled to concessions for that. Republican democratic politics don’t require to be bought by concessions to end that kind of thing.
Present situation: “If you ask me therefore where I feel we are now, I believe we are in a different position from the one that Paul Bew described three years ago. Obviously, the SDLP didn’t have the demise that he predicted for them that evening in Dalgan Park, obviously his own party took a bigger tumble than he imagined likely at that time. Obviously, the Democratic Unionist Party is not going to be outflanked on the right of unionism, if I may use that phrase, and is a more formidable group of people for the Provisionals to have to take on politically than perhaps the middle ground of unionism was.
DUP: “But I believe, again optimistically, that the Democratic Unionist Party will engage with the other parties in Northern Ireland to bring about devolution in Northern Ireland. And there’s only one basis in which devolution will come about and that is the Good Friday Agreement. I believe that, whatever else its characteristics might be, the Democratic Unionist Party is a devolutionist party. It is not a party of, how would I put it, integration into the United Kingdom, political integration, it does believe that the people of Ulster, as Ian Paisley would put it, have the right to determine how their own society is run and I believe will act on foot of that.
Optimism: “So I am not pessimistic, I’m optimistic that the Good Friday Agreement’s institutions will be put back in place. I’m optimistic that the North-South institutions provided for under that Agreement will be made to work and flourish, I’m optimistic that economic interests North and South will increasingly emerge as united. I’m optimistic that in the Republic and in Northern Ireland a new spirit of reconciliation can be built. I’m optimistic that those of us who consider ourselves to be republican will be able to use that term without offence or threat to those people with whom we aspire to be reconciled. And I’m optimistic that the Ireland of the next 10, 15 and 20 years will continue to be a place which is growing in prosperity, which is developing in a normal way, which offers a good place to live to all its people – whether they are immigrants or people here of long standing, whether they are people of the nationalist or unionist tradition – that this island will become an increasingly warm place for all and a cold place for practically nobody.
Tribute to Meath Peace Group: “Those are my optimistic views tonight. And what I want to say to all of you, particularly in the Meath Peace Group, is I want to salute all the work you are doing for reconciliation because that vocation that I mentioned about reconciliation is the true vocation, not merely of Christians, not merely of patriots, not merely of people of good heart, but, as I say, of Irish republicans. And those of us who have noticed what the Meath Peace Group has been doing for so long, can only now feel a great sense of gratitude for your constant and unrelenting pursuit of reconciliation and mutual understanding. That is the way forward. And I feel proud to have been invited here this evening and grateful to be invited back in these circumstances and I feel as well as that a great sense, as I said, of optimism and of confidence that things are going in the right direction.
Tribute to Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern: “I want to finally pay tribute to Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern. These two men have been faced with difficult history, difficult circumstances, difficult politicians – it has to be said – and difficult sequences of events, and they have, together with the President for the time being of the United States, whether it be Bill Clinton or George Bush, they have put enormous effort into bringing about the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. People such as George Mitchell and many other people who have come to this island to assist in the process, haven’t been doing it out of a sense of self interest. Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern are not acting on the basis of what the next opinion poll will bring or what the political advantage to them today, tomorrow, or the next day actually is. They feel the hand of history on their shoulder and they feel that the time is right now for the people of this island to look forward to a much brighter future. And I believe myself that the best way to achieve that is on the basis of honesty not cant, truth not falsehood, history not propaganda, and a sense of hope, not a sense of pessimism. And in the last analysis a sense that the people of Ireland have more uniting them than dividing them and that some day a generation of young Irish people will be able to live in a society that fully reflects that reality. Thank you very much.”
Chair (Michael Reade): “Thank you very much, Minister. Now, as I said, you are welcome to ask questions. Let it be known, if you would, by raising your hand if there is a question that you would like to put to the Minister. Before you do that you might want to consider that we are recording this evening for broadcast purposes and you will be able to hear substantial excerpts from this evening as well during the week on my own programme, which is ‘Loosetalk’ on LMFM, the local radio station.
Marching season fears: “So, while I am looking for the first questioner, Minister, perhaps I could ask you an immediate question, an immediate pressing matter according to Fr Aidan Troy. I was talking to him today and he is extremely concerned about reconciliation between the Orange and the Green, as you outlined earlier on, going into the marching season. He’s fearful about a loss of life. He’s calling on both governments to intervene. Will that intervention happen?
Minister McDowell: “Well, you may take it for an absolute certainty, Michael, that the two governments are most concerned about the potential for violence involved in the marching season this year. And expressions of pessimism from both sides of the divide in Northern Ireland on this issue shouldn’t be allowed to mask the deep duty of everybody involved in the process in Northern Ireland to ensure that violence of that kind doesn’t happen. I got a report from the Department of Justice’s representative in Belfast in relation to what happened the other day in the Ardoyne, and I have to say – and I am going to be blunt about it – that the marchers were complying with their legal obligations and they were the subject of a violent outburst which was not justifiable. I regret to tell you that there was contact made with Dublin in the aftermath to ask what the Dublin government was going to do to defend the nationalist people in Ardoyne. So we have to be very very wary of people who will exploit all of this for propaganda reasons and create a sense of dependency in the communities based on fear of sectarian violence. And that’s the big problem now, that there are some people whose interest it is to create a sense of fear, especially among those who feel threatened by sectarian violence in the marching season, a dependency designed to justify taking steps or doing things which are not in accordance with the law.”
Chair (Michael Reade): “So there won’t be direct government intervention?”
Minister McDowell: “Well there is a Parades Commission and there is constant government political activity to ensure that everyone engages with that Commission, that everybody obeys the law and that the marching season in Northern Ireland is not turned into a tinder box of sectarianism.”
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS SESSION
Chair (Michael Reade): “We’ll go to the first question from the floor…. One question per person at a time, but also if you would identify yourself as you ask the question as well.”
Q.1. Re murder of Cllr. Eddie Fullerton:
“Hello Minister, I would like to ask you at what level of importance do you put the murder of my brother, Eddie Fullerton, who was an elected member of Donegal County Council and a politician of this State? And what are you going to do about it? And how long have we to wait for justice after 14 years? Thank you.”
Chair (Michael Reade): “Minister, will there be an independent inquiry as has been called for?”
Minister McDowell: “Well the first thing I want to say is, in relation to what level of importance do I put on it, I put the killing of any person – any person from whatever background or whatever community – at the highest level of importance. And I condemn absolutely and totally the use of violence, and more particularly lethal violence, for any political end. And I have no doubt in saying that murder is murder, no matter by whom it is committed. And Eddie Fullerton should be alive today and those who were responsible for his cowardly murder have a huge moral blame attaching to them. I would say to you that I am considering whether there is a basis for an inquiry into whether there was police collusion north or south of the border into the death of Eddie Fullerton.
“And if I found that there was a credible basis for the suggestion, for instance, that members of An Garda Siochána – as has been claimed – had anything to do with it, I would be the first to have an inquiry into that issue. And, as you know, in relation to collusion matters, the Irish Government at Weston Park committed itself to inquiring into a number of acts of collusion. Judge Peter Cory requested us to do it and I have established in recent times one public tribunal of inquiry into that matter.
No hierarchy among those who were murdered: “Can I just add to that that the killing of Eddie Fullerton was murder, and the killing of Jean McConville was murder, and there is no qualification of that in my mind, none whatsoever, and I deprecate any politician who would say that Eddie Fullerton was murdered and Jean McConville was not murdered. You can’t dine a la carte at the table of human rights. And there is no distinction to be drawn between those who are disappeared and buried here in Meath and other places, and Eddie Fullerton either. All of them are human beings. And Pat Finucane’s murder was murder, Eddie Fullerton’s murder was murder, in my mind. Jean McConville’s murder was murder, in my mind, and so were all the killings of the Disappeared. And, unlike other politicians, I don’t create any hierarchy among those who were murdered.
Chair (Michael Reade): “Minister, would the role of the Gardaí in Donegal and the findings of the Morris Tribunal make that statement any different?”
Minister McDowell: “No. I mean the events into which Judge Morris is inquiring are located in Donegal but they are quite different from the murder of Eddie Fullerton and I don’t see that they are part of a sequence of events. But, as I say, if a credible basis is put forward by anyone for believing first of all that Eddie Fullerton’s murder was in any way contributed to by a member of An Garda Siochána, and that an inquiry is capable of establishing the truth of such a proposition, I wouldn’t shy away from it for one minute.”
Chair (Michael Reade): “And the Gardaí in Donegal obviously, in your view, deserve a presumption of innocence?”
Minister McDowell: “Sorry, in relation to the Eddie Fullerton matter, I have not seen credible evidence that suggested that they are involved and I don’t believe that the great majority of Irish people believe that there is at the moment any great credible evidence of that proposition.”
Q.2. Cllr. Tomás Sharkey (Sinn Féin):
(i) Re murder of Eddie Fullerton: “Good evening, Minister, my name is Tomás Sharkey, Sinn Féin Co Councillor in County Louth. Just before I deal with my main question, on the issue of Cllr. Eddie Fullerton, who was murdered 14 years ago last week, I do believe that it’s incredible that we can sit here tonight and hear you making announcements about the guilt of the IRA in robberies, and to stand over your statements that you know what you know, without anything having been proven in a court of law and yet when a documentary aired by TG4 clearly gives new evidence and new eyewitness accounts of suspected collusion in the murder of a county councillor and an elected councillor for Donegal County Council, I find that hard to take. Last week Donegal County Council unanimously called for a public independent inquiry by an individual of international repute to look into the murder of Eddie Fullerton, and I think that should be acted upon because that motion will be put before Louth County Council shortly as well.
(ii) Re immigration law: “Why I did want to ask a question is: I was very interested in your talk, and I thought it was very informative. In the first couple of minutes you mentioned how you wanted to see a society in Ireland that is pluralist and tolerant and equal. As an elected public representative in County Louth, I meet many people, but the case that most struck me was a family of asylum seekers in Dundalk. The mother of that family described how her teenage daughter had been dragged from her home and was mutilated and bled to death, and how she fled with her youngest daughter to Ireland, and was going through the trauma and indignity of having to appeal to you and your good office for permission to stay in this State. And the most telling thing about that meeting was when the family left my office, the Sinn Féin office in Dundalk, the young child turned around and said: ‘slan go fóil, agus go raibh míle mhaith agat’ [goodbye and thanks].
“But then, later on that week, I saw you on television talking about ‘cock and bull’ stories that you allege are being made up by families. And I wonder where’s the pluralism and where’s the tolerance? And when you declare that inequality can be a good thing, I wonder what are your credentials and what is your vision for equality, tolerance and pluralism in this State?”
(i) Re murder of Eddie Fullerton: “Well first of all … you’re an elected member of Sinn Féin, and what I am astonished by is that senior members of your party – and I don’t know if you are one of them but you can tell us if you are not – are willing to say that killing Jean McConville wasn’t murder but killing Eddie Fullerton was…. and maybe you can explain how one was justified and the other wasn’t and how one fits into one category and the other doesn’t.”
(ii) Re immigration law and asylum-seekers: “In relation to the question of immigration law, I have a difficult job as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, in that I have to run the State’s asylum-seeking law, its visas and immigration law, in large measure. And I have always told the Irish people the truth about these matters. There is a huge amount of asylum-seeking in Ireland which is basically motivated by economic interests. There’s a lot of misinformation as well. Right across Europe, the success rate of first instance of Nigerian asylum-seekers is less than 2% which means that 98 out of every 100 asylum seekers, in every country in Europe where they make applications, are rejected at first instance.
“Now, you don’t see all the reasons that they give for coming to Ireland but I do. And I have to say to you that if I was at liberty to publish everybody’s file you would be satisfied, in the great majority of cases, that the consideration of whether they are entitled to protection by the Irish State and the appeal process is very fair. Let me just tell you a couple of things about our system. If you come to Ireland claiming to be an asylum seeker, you have a hearing in the office of the Refugee Applications Commission. For that hearing you are given legal assistance, translators, officials hear the case, take a case history from you and decide whether your case does or does not merit protection under the 1951 Geneva Convention. If you lose that case you are then given the right of appeal to an independent Refugee Appeals Tribunal. It reconsiders the case, again you are fully legally aided, you can make all the points you want to make and you get a hearing before that body. If you are turned down a second time you are given a notice that, notwithstanding the fact that it has been adjudicated that you are not entitled to refugee status, that you can apply to remain in Ireland on the basis of humanitarian need to remain, and that that will be considered by the Department of Justice and in the last analysis, the decision taken by the Minister.
“Anybody who is deported from Ireland has gone through all of those processes and has also been offered the right to go home, voluntary repatriation with assistance arranged at the International Organisation on Migration. And nobody is deported unless they have gone through all of those stages and have decided not to go home voluntarily but to remain on in Ireland. Now these are facts which the Irish people just simply aren’t told about. They are told about dawn raids and swoops, they are not told about the huge files that grow as each stage of that process is gone through.
Ireland’s asylum law: “And Ireland has a system of asylum law which is totally open to UN inspection and which is very highly spoken of by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. But in the last analysis we have to have a system whereby if your case is rejected on credibility grounds, or on legal grounds, and it has gone through all of those arrangements, that in the last analysis you must be liable to be deported. If we didn’t have that, our system would fall into disrepute. And the consequences of it falling into disrepute would not be favourable at all, it would play straight into the hands of those in Irish society who would use racism and xenophobia and fear of immigration to exploit that for political ends. We don’t have to look far across Europe to see that even in societies which the Irish would regard as progressive liberal societies, such as Holland, Denmark, Austria and other places, that in those societies the fear of migration, fear of asylum seeking, has been ruthlessly exploited by opportunistic politicians to attempt to grab for themselves 10 or 20% of the vote and a place in Parliament.
Constitutional referendum on citizenship (2004): “Now I have stood up for a fair system of migration law into Ireland. I changed the citizenship law in order to prevent it being abused by people who came to Ireland under the guise of asylum, had a child in Ireland and then said that because they have an Irish child they wanted to remain in Ireland or to go elsewhere in Europe. When I say I changed it, I proposed an amendment to the Irish people and it was passed by 80% of them. Your party, Mr Sharkey, told me I was a racist and that it was a racist referendum. 80% of the Irish people – and you are a republican – voted for it because they knew it was necessary to bring sanity to Irish law.
“And secondly, in relation to that issue, I said at the time that I would – once that referendum was passed – deal with the Irish-born children issue in a fair, humane and commonsense way. And I want you to know that I published a scheme earlier this year and all the parents of Irish-born children who remained with their children in Ireland were free to avail of that scheme and, if they were of good character and they were genuine people, they are entitled to remain here for two years and then a further period of three years, and then after that period they will be entitled to remain in Ireland indefinitely. 18,500 people have applied to remain in Ireland under that scheme. I believe I have been more than reasonable, more than fair, and I have lived up to my word. And secondly I want to say that those 18, 500 people give the lie to the media suggestions at the time that I was raising an issue over a handful of people and that there was no significant issue, and that I was manufacturing figures to suggest there was a problem. 18, 500 people are staying in Ireland on foot of the scheme that I put through.
“And I reject, I have to say, the Sinn Féin line that the referendum was racist or that the decision of the Irish people was racist. And what’s more I’ll tell you, that when your canvassers went door to door with leaflets saying that, they gave up very soon and concentrated on the other issues in the local election because they realised they were getting doors closed in their face on that basis. So I would ask you not to be opportunistic on that subject.”
Chair (Michael Reade): “Minister, if I could come back, I just want briefly – because
we really should be talking about Northern politics – but just to expand briefly if you
wouldn’t mind, Minister, do you believe that the system for processing applications is
too slow and cumbersome to ask some people to wait as long as 4 years because by
that stage they have integrated into society, and that whilst the deportations may be
justified, the system for administering justice is somewhat cold?”
Minister McDowell: “I do agree that there was a huge volume of backlogged applications at the beginning, and that was because Ireland was a country of net emigration which suddenly became a country of immigration, it wasn’t prepared for the asylum-seeking phenomenon on the scale that we experienced it. But I do make the point that 90% of the applications for asylum in Ireland were not justified and no amount of spinning one way or the other can change that state of affairs. Likewise, the cost of asylum-seeking in Ireland is very significant. 370 million euro per annum is the estimated cost across all government agencies of dealing with the asylum issue. It’s not an inconsiderable issue, and when 90% of it is not warranted, it does require that someone in my position is straight about the issue and deals with it effectively.
Huge change: “But again what the media have not been reflecting, in my view, adequately, and tonight’s a good opportunity to begin to correct that, is that there has been huge change. We’ve now reached the point in relation to the prioritised country that applications are being dealt with from beginning to end through all the stages that I mentioned earlier in a number of weeks. You mentioned families who have been here for some time. And yes there have been families who have been here for some time and asked to go home. Each of those families has gone through the process that I have mentioned and Ireland has been – not like Australia, we haven’t put people into detention centres or segregated them from the population. Our approach to asylum-seeking has been very open. The children of asylum seekers go to the same schools as our own children in Ireland. We have operated on the basis that while they are here they are welcome guests in our community. But they aren’t entitled to, say for instance, a status which is better or superior to a visiting worker who is working in Ireland and who at the end of his or her visa has to go home and bring their children with them.
“And whether it is an American executive coming to Intel, who stays here for 3 years and for whatever reason is required to go home, he has to bring his children with him even though that involves breaking their friendships at school, and all the disappointments that that entails. The same applies to someone who comes to Ireland, seeks the protection of the Irish State, goes through due process and must go home at the end of it. ….[tape break]…..
Q. 3. Nuala McGuinness (Nobber). Re federal/confederal state.
“My name is Nuala McGuinness, originally from Co. Down [now living in Meath]:
“Minister, I would like your opinion on having a federal or confederal state in this
country. Thank you.”
Minister McDowell: “Nuala, I do believe that Irish unity is inevitable. I believe it is inevitable for a number of reasons. I think the people of these islands want Irish unity, the great majority of the people of the island of Britain want Irish unity whenever their opinions are asked in opinion polls or whatever. So I think it is going to happen some day and then the question is is it going to happen in some kind of click of the fingers, suddenly everybody wakes up in an all Ireland single unitary state or is it going to be something which will be accommodated in stages or accommodated in a confederal or federal arrangement. My own view is that it is more likely that at some stage the economic and cultural integration of both parts of this island will lead to a situation where even with NI remaining part of the UK for a while it will for instance develop much enhanced connections with the South of Ireland. One thing that I have often thought is that if the Irish state was really interested in unity we should have permanently on offer to the people of NI the right to share our membership of the European Union and to share the way in which we exercise that membership without prejudice as to whether you are a unionist or a nationalist.
Real political progress comes in stages: “I think it is unlikely that there will be a big bang revolutionary change one morning, some kind of political ‘Tet’ offensive where everyone will wake up, suddenly there will be a single unitary Irish state. I think it is more likely that it will go in stages, looking at our history from the Treaty to de Valera’s 1937 Constitution, to Costello’s declaration of the Republic, to the Good Friday Agreement via Sunningdale. If you look at all of that I think that real political progress is done in stages, not in revolutionary big bank political upheavals. So I do actually believe that, if the Good Friday Agreement beds down and if there is power-sharing in Northern Ireland between both communities, and if equality and mutual respect and respect for each other’s positions beds down and the politics of polarisation being practised by the DUP and Sinn Féin are eclipsed or at least moderated to the point where normality was centre ground emerges, that the institutions in NI will gain a life of their own of some kind, and that there will be some federal or confederal arrangement. And even Sinn Féin in times past looked to a confederal or federal Ireland as a way forward. And even if you look at de Valera’s Constitution of 1937, he talked about legislatures other than Dail Eireann operating in parts of the country. So my function this evening is not to map out what happens over the next 25 or 30 years but I do believe that if you ask me to say whether those kind of models are more likely than not to be part of the process of establishing political and cultural and economic unity on this island, I would say the answer is yes.”
Q. 4. Brendan Markey, re Disappeared:
“Minister my name is Brendan Markey and I live in Wilkinstown, 6 miles north of Navan, Co. Meath. I happen to own a few acres of land in Wilkinstown called Coghalstown Bog, and – peace and reconciliation – two young men were murdered by Sinn Féin/IRA in the early 70s. One of those young men was a month short of his 17th birthday. Their family meets me regularly and they walk the bog. We’ve been able in this community of Wilkinstown to think of those two young men. I would love to call on you Minister to assist, because local knowledge, as you said one time ‘I know what I know’. The people who carried out this butchery murdering antics in north Meath back in the early 70s, the mother of the young 17 year old has been in mentally handicapped hospitals for the last 23 years. I would like to examine can we look for those bodies and return them to the families and put together the past and unite the families? Thank You.
Minister McDowell: “Thanks. The answer to that by the way is, first of all, of the 9 people whose bodies were not accounted for arising out of the murder campaign of the Provisionals, 5 of them are still missing, and it is believed that for 3 of them their bodies are buried in Co. Meath. And the Commission which was established under the chairmanship of the former Tanaiste John Wilson has made every effort in the past to try to locate those remains and to reunite them with their loved ones.
Forensic expert: “And of recent times a proposal has been made that an expert in forensic geography who was involved in the investigations into the Moors Murders in Britain should be retained to assist in yet another effort to locate those graves and to reunite the loved ones of those people who died with their remains and a proper Christian burial for them. And the two governments have agreed that that should be done and yet another effort should be made to find them. Certainly I would urge anybody with local knowledge, or local intuition… If you know a bog, for instance, you’d know if you’d walked it as a child the bits that haven’t been disturbed, then you might be in a better position to identify it to experts coming in the bits that could be in the frame and the bits that could not be. So I would thank you very much for what I would presume is your offer that you and your neighbours would assist in any way these experts in making another search.
Physical and psychological torture: “And can I just finish by saying this in relation to the Disappeared. Each and every person who the IRA decided to kill after interrogation was put through a form of psychological terror called a court martial and many of them – and I don’t want to say this to disturb any people whose relatives have been found or have not been found – many of them underwent physical and psychological torture of the worst kind before they were killed. And many of them were terrorised into making tapes admitting that they had informed or whatever, as an inducement to save their skins, and those tapes were then sent to the relatives as proof that they were so-called ‘guilty people’.
IRA Army Council: “The rules of the IRA – and this is something that the Irish media should again bear in on – are that nobody can be, as they call it, ‘executed’, as I call it, ‘murdered’ – at the end of a court-martial unless that sentence as they call it is sanctioned by the Army Council of the IRA. It’s written into the Green Book of the IRA. And even after torturing somebody and getting whatever they wanted out of them, or even if they didn’t, they got no admission, that nobody could be shot in the head and dumped on the border or buried secretly in Meath or Louth without the sanction of the IRA Army Council.
“And I just want to say that the people who populated that Army Council during all those years, many of them are now posing on the stage as Mandela rather than Mugabe. Those people have direct responsibility for the deaths that they sanctioned in each and every case. Posturing as being concerned when you and your colleagues actually gave the direction that a bullet was to be put through the head of this person or that, is outrageous and an exercise in gross hypocrisy.
Governments restarting the process: “But angry though it is possible to feel about the hypocrisy that we have to put up with by people who were directly involved in making those decisions now posturing as being concerned about retrieving the bodies of the people whose murder they sanctioned, the two governments are absolutely committed to doing anything that is reasonable to recover the remains of those people and bring closure in so far as they can to people who have spent years in the circumstances you described of complete agony wondering whatever happened. And you know that Templetown beach [Co. Louth], nearly the whole beach was taken away and it turned out afterwards that the information that we were given was a half a mile out. The same has happened in other places but if I have any reason to believe that I can in fact with any reasonable prospect – I am not creating absolutely false hopes – repeat any search or carry out any new search that will bring closure to those people’s lives insofar as losing their loved ones is concerned, we will do it. And the Irish and British governments have recently taken steps to restart that process with the assistance of an expert to try and see what we can do and I would appeal to anybody either side of the border, I would appeal to anybody who lives anywhere near any of these places, to come forward with any hunch they have or any information they have, or any local knowledge of the topography they have, to assist with the process.
Chair (Michael Reade, LMFM): “Could you expand on the expert that you are referring to, is it a forensic expert?”
Minister McDowell: “Yes I have forgotten the gentleman’s name, it goes out of my head at the moment, he is an individual who assisted with the investigation of the Moors Murder. I spoke the other day to Peter Hain about this and we both have initiated an approach to the Victims’ Commission and to this expert, to restart the process and to re-engage with his assistance to see if that can advance the whole situation.”
Q.5. Peadar Toibín (Sinn Féin, Navan):
(i) Re allegations of criminality and due process: “My name is Peadar Toibín. I would like to thank you first of all for coming down to Navan today. There have been a lot of very interesting points made. But at the very start of the meeting I think was a very educational point. The last time you were down in Navan [30 September 2002] was very close to the fall of the Assembly and I suppose we all know why the Assembly fell: there were allegations of a Sinn Féin spying ring and a number of known republicans were arrested, and then the Assembly fell which was a travesty and a major injustice. But then we saw that when the eyes of the media were diverted, that the people whom the charges were made against, the charges were actually dropped, and recently the PSNI were asked what stage was the investigation in, and the PSNI admitted that the investigation was over. So what we have is the PSNI were either inept – they could not find enough evidence to put these people into prison – or they had actually concocted the whole story to bring about the end of the Assembly. Now many in the establishment including yourself at the time also gave out about this republican spy ring, and again no evidence came there.
Due process: “And the question I would like to ask you Minister, is: why do you expect me, in a liberal democracy, to believe you when you state you know what you know, and you can condemn groups around the country. Surely in a liberal democracy people have due process, surely they have presumption of innocence Minister, and it strikes me as something that would happen in Chile under Pinochet, where a Minister would condemn great numbers of people without people bothering to give them the right to a trial amongst their peers, a trial in front of a jury, or a trial in front of a judge. Now I know what kind of an answer you are going to give me, Minister, you’re going to give me examples again of some things republican members have done.
(ii) Re Minister’s condemnation of republicans: “”But I would just like to say one other thing, you also said that you were as equally interested in finding justice for the Fullerton family as you were for the McConville family, and I would commend you if that were true, but the whole energy of your ministerial journey so far has been attacking people who call themselves republicans. If you were to put the same energy into trying to bring about the end of loyalist murders, loyalist criminality, I would believe you Minister but you haven’t. In this whole speech tonight you’ve spent all your time condemning republicans, people who want to bring about a united Ireland.
Chair (Michael Reade): “I would just mention to you Minister that was a member of Sinn Féin and Brendan Markey who spoke earlier is a member of Fianna Fáil.”
Minister McDowell: “Can I make the point to you, Peadar, that I happen to know that the Provos carried out the Northern Bank job, I happen to know that the Gardaí have fully investigated a money laundering operation involving senior members of your party who were found in possession of large sums of money. And I happen to know that an ongoing criminal investigation is at hand in relation to those issues. And I will not be browbeaten by any political party into concealing from the Irish people the truth about these matters. There’s a difference between admissible evidence in a court and intelligence. If I don’t tell the Irish people what is actually happening on the basis that there has been no court case yet, it could spell the end of Irish democracy.
Dublin robberies: “For instance, I earlier spoke about the series of robberies in Dublin which were conducted by the IRA under the aegis of the adjutant in Belfast. None of those have resulted in prosecutions and the reason they haven’t – I’ll tell you now the reason they haven’t. First of all, in relation to the last of those robberies, the consignment of stolen goods was traced to a warehouse on the west side of Dublin. And Gardaí raided that warehouse and recovered the goods. They interrogated a number of people concerned with the warehouse and established that they were not aware of the fact that the goods were stolen and that they were innocent of any part in the robbery of the goods or the storage of them on that site. But it’s very interesting to note that one of the individuals who the Gardaí arrested and interviewed in relation to this issue was subsequently visited by two leading members of your party – Provisional Sinn Féin – one of whom had been released from prison for serving a sentence of 40 years for the capital murder of an Irish garda.
“So concerned were the Gardaí about the safety of the man whom they were going to visit to find out what happened, that they intervened and arrested all three of them. Those were two members of your party, Peadar, who were arrested in the aftermath of that robbery, inquiring of that man what happened. And what’s more, so that you should know the truth, Peadar, the group of people who had done the robbery were summoned to a meeting with the adjutant of the IRA who is based in Belfast and threatened that if the events ever took place again, they would be shot dead.
Intimidation: “Now those are the facts, Peadar, you can try and escape them any way you like, but your party, and senior members of it, and the adjutant of the IRA in Belfast who is rubbing shoulders with the people who you cheer at ardfheiseanna – these are the people who perpetrated that robbery. And if you think that the Irish people shouldn’t be aware of these facts because due to intimidation – the same kind of intimidation, let me just finish, that reduced the murder charge in Jerry McCabe’s case to a manslaughter conviction – if you think that the Irish people will be kept away from the truth by Provo intimidation of this kind, and that I won’t tell the Irish people what’s gong on because the Provos can – by threatening people – prevent the truth emerging in criminal courts and prevent admissible evidence, proof beyond reasonable doubt, from being made available to the Director of Public Prosecutions, you are very very wrong.
Determination to put facts before the people: “I am determined, and I will make a habit of it as long as it is necessary to do so, Peadar, to put the facts before the Irish people so that people who masquerade as being interested in human rights while at the same time organising major criminality and threatening people with execution don’t support that movement with funds which they steal from ordinary citizens in Ireland.”
Peadar Toibín: “If I could, Mr McDowell, I would like you to answer the question I asked you – why should anybody expect, why should you expect me to believe your point of view or your opinion on these things? In a liberal democracy we have a right to due process where the Northern Bank issue, all these other issues, people will get a chance, a day in court. It strikes me as undemocratic for a Minister for Justice to use his position, without giving evidence to the population of their peers, to use his position to condemn groups of people or individuals. I ask you why do you expect me to believe you without you putting it in court?
Minister McDowell: “I’ll tell you exactly why I expect them to believe me, because I have a record of telling the truth, unlike Gerry Adams who has a record of telling lies, saying he was never in the IRA and pretending he was never in the IRA, I don’t deny my past –[interruptions]… your friends over there are getting active, Peadar, but the fact is I tell the truth and I have a record and a reputation for telling the truth, that’s why you should believe me.
Re killing of Jean McConville: “And a second point, and I’ll ask you now Peadar, since you’ve talked about liberal democracy, would you stand up there again and take the microphone in your hand and tell me: was the killing of Jean McConville a murder?”
Chair: “It would be unusual I think for somebody in this locality outside of Arthur Morgan to answer that question.”
Peadar Toibín: “First of all, again you did say – [interruptions from members of the audience saying repeatedly ‘answer the question!’] – I asked the question, you said because you should believe me, Peadar, on this. For anybody to say – [interruptions from audience] – in the case of Jean McConville, I actually think that the killing personally was a murder, so I have no problem in saying that at all.”
Minister McDowell: “Why can’t Gerry Adams …?
Peadar Toibín: “He will answer his own questions, Mr McDowell. But I want you to put the same efforts as you have put in in the case of Mrs McConville, to put the same effort into the case of the Fullerton family here. It’s not a one-way street, Mr McDowell. There are other people in this room who have suffered from the Troubles. All I am saying is try to represent both sides fairly and stop putting your energy trying to demonise people like me and other republicans around the country.”
Minister McDowell: “Can I put this to you Peadar? Any killing, any murder, was wrong, and I am glad that you had the moral courage to distance yourself from the prevarication and the hypocrisy of Gerry Adams who pretended that the killing of Jean McConville was not a murder, and likewise Mitchel McLaughlin and Mary Lou McDonald who couldn’t admit these propositions.
Inquiring into past murders: “But can I make the other point to you? That if we are going down the road of uncovering the perpetrators of every murder, do you expect me to show the same zeal now to try to find out who were the team of IRA gunmen who took the 10 Protestants off the bus at Kingsmill and drew them aside machine-gunned them? Do you think that I should pursue that with the same zeal? Do you think that we should spend the last 20 years working out who did set off the bomb at Birmingham, who did let off the bomb at the Le Mons restaurant, who did let off the bomb at Enniskillen – [interruption from audience] … and who let off the Monaghan bombs, I am doing something about that, and I’ve spent many years as Attorney General and as Minister for Justice progressing the Dublin-Monaghan bombing and pressing for a full revelation of the truth in relation to that.
Liberal democracy requires that everyone obeys the rule of law: “But I ask you – rather than engage in this propaganda in which you are engaging of saying that I am in some sense being cavalier with the rights of the Provisional movement by pointing out when they are engaging in crime when they are – to concentrate on this issue, that a liberal democracy requires that everyone upholds the rule of law and there isn’t a la carte dining at the table of human rights, or at the table of the protection of the law, that every punishment beating is wrong.
Jean McConville killing: “And if you are a member of Sinn Féin, Peadar, you are in a much closer position to stand up at your Ard Fheis and say that the murder of Jean McConville was murder, but I don’t recall ever hearing you ever doing that, and I’d be interested if you go and repeat that at the next Ard Fheis, I’d be interested to see what kind of reception you get from your fellow delegates.
Q. 6. Sean Collins (Drogheda Cross-Border Focus Group):
“You’re welcome to Navan, Minister. I am a stranger here myself so I feel welcome. I have heard you called a lot of things over the years but Pinochet, that’s the best yet. You couldn’t possibly be using your campaign, or your position as Minister for Justice to condemn the IRA because you have been doing it for years, long before you were ever Minister for Justice, so fair is fair.
(i) Re Ardoyne disturbances (17 June): “I sat on Friday night with a group of women from staunchly nationalist Short Strand working with a group of women from staunchly loyalist inner east Belfast, and they all recoiled in horror at what they saw on TV, the pictures that were transmitted of the golf balls flying across the land rovers at the bandsmen marching. It reminded me of over 30 years ago now, I suppose, it’s nearly an eternity away – Burntollet Bridge – when the TV cameras opened the eyes of the world to what was happening in Northern Ireland with the proud B Specials beating up the people campaigning for civil rights. It reminded me a lot of that because I think Friday night’s events opened the eyes of a lot of people North and South.
(ii) Have Sinn Féin lost it? “The thing that strikes me, and I’m curious to ask at your level – if it is possible to ask – I’ve admired Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness for a number of years for bringing the IRA or Sinn Féin, or whatever they are, together, into the Good Friday Agreement, and I’ve admired them for that because I believe that was a very hard job, but in the light of the Northern Bank robbery and a number of other events and to see Gerry Kelly helplessly trying to control the events on Friday night, has Sinn Féin – are they losing it or have they lost it? Or they not leading so-called nationalist Northern Ireland any more?
Minister McDowell: “Well Sean, they are not losing it. Everything they do is very carefully planned. It’s not a question of losing it at all. You say what those women who are trying to do what I was talking in earlier – engage in the vocation of reconciliation across the peace line in Belfast – you say what their reaction was to those scenes on TV but I know that a senior member of Sinn Féin, on the following day, contacted the Dublin Government arising out of that incident and asked what the Dublin Government is going to do to protect the nationalist people of Ardoyne. I know that that’s what the reaction was, the following day.
Personal courage doesn’t mean your cause is right: “So I mean we have to be very very careful here, that we don’t allow people to pervert truth for their own purposes, and you know, I’ll give you this, I give the Sinn Féin people here, the minority of this audience which is Sinn Féin, I give them this: that many people in the Provisional movement displayed personal courage over the years, but many people in the Japanese Army in the Second World War displayed personal courage, and indeed in the German Army in the Second World War displayed personal courage, but the fact that people display courage doesn’t mean that their cause is right, or what they were doing was justifiable. And we have to distinguish between propaganda – for instance, I believe that Bobby Sands was sentenced to imprisonment for serious crimes and I also believe that many people in Northern Ireland salute his courage in making the sacrifice of his own life … but the fact that people show courage doesn’t mean that their cause is right, no more than the suicide bombers in Iraq today are justified in what they are doing even though it obviously takes huge courage to blow yourself to pieces in order to make some kind of point or whatever, it doesn’t make killing other people right.
Real challenge for republicanism: “And this is why the Irish people have to move to a new plane, and we can’t all the time dwell in the past, we can’t spend our lives marching up and down in lines at memorials all around Ireland to Volunteers, the rest of us have got over all of that and have moved on to the real challenge for republicanism which is reconciling the people of this island, North and South.
Bodenstown commemorations: “And you know I was very interested, just looking at today’s papers, at the picture of Bodenstown, and you have to hand it to the Provos, instead of the usual colour party with berets, black glasses and polo necks, there are fellows in golf club type blazers now leading off the parade.
Provisional movement is moving: “So they are moving, and it’s all very carefully orchestrated, and somebody sat down and ordered those blazers yesterday and somebody …[tape break]… they are moving, and the only thing that will force them to move, and the only thing that has been effective in the past in forcing them to move, is that the rest of us stand up against them and say: we don’t accept the propaganda, level with us, deal with us in ordinary democratic language, and accept the ballot box as the only measure of moral entitlement to engage in political activity, don’t ask us to say that you have a mandate from history which excuses you from obeying the criminal law and which allows you to kill people or allows you to rob, or whatever.
Honest speaking: “I mean, I am very very confident that Irish society has moved ahead of the Provisional movement and that they are now catching up and that they will make all the necessary steps to catch up, but will only have to happen if we reject the cant, if we say to Gerry Adams we don’t believe you when you say you weren’t in the IRA, we know you were. If we say to Adams and McGuinness we know you were on the Army Council when all these things were done, don’t give us this guff that you weren’t. If we’re honest with them, they will be forced to address us in honest terms, if we constantly appease them by using their kind of Provo speak – parallel universe stuff – that they are the legitimate government of Ireland and that’s what there in Dublin is some compromise rump of Uncle Tom, if we appease them in all of that language they will take liberties with us, but when we say no, enough, they actually respond much better than the fudge and wink type of politics.”
Q. 7. Hazlett Lynch (West Tyrone Voice):
“Hazlett Lynch, director of West Tyrone Voice victims’ group, west of the Bann in Northern Ireland. Mr McDowell, this has been a tremendous experience for me, and I know for the people who are with me, to be here tonight and to hear some straight talking. We have appreciated over the years, since you became Justice Minister here in the Republic, the things that you have said, the clear thinking that you have been able to articulate and the passion with which you have held your views. And it has encouraged us enormously, in Northern Ireland, to hear somebody in the Republic speaking the way you do. I would to God we had people in Northern Ireland and in the UK Government who would speak the way that you speak.”
Recent elections – demise of PUP: “There is a mantra that seems to be repeated time and time again by the media and politicians both in your country and in our country that gives the impression that the opposite party or political ideology to Sinn Féin/IRA is the DUP. That, sir, is manifestly untrue.
“The opposite of Sinn Féin/IRA is the PUP, David Ervine’s crowd. And what happened in the last election was this: unionist voters decided significantly to rob the PUP of half of its members in the Assembly, reducing them to one. That was a tremendous encouragement to the unionist people in Northern Ireland, to see that they were prepared to put their mark on the ballot paper to try and marginalize as far as they could any political grouping that was associated with armed terrorism.
Nationalist community: “The disappointing thing is that within the nationalist community the reverse was recorded – that there was an increase in support for IRA psychopathic murderers and killers, people who as terrorists are masquerading as politics. I am delighted to hear you using terms similar to that.
Amnesty for on-the-runs: “But one of the things that really does cause us concern in Northern Ireland is that these people, these self-same people, who you describe so accurately and on terms that I can identify with very very well, these same people have been asking for, and being granted by both governments, a de facto amnesty for on-the-run terrorists who are living in your country. Now victims of terrorism find it very very difficult in their daily lives to have to walk past and to see the people who murdered their loved ones and who put their lives under threat. This amnesty is to be activated this summer. I would ask you, sir, I don’t know if it is possible, but I know that you are concerned for law and order, I know that you are committed to promoting decency in your country and in our country, can I ask you, as a victim whose brother was murdered by the thugs who have their fellow workers, fellow-travellers with us tonight, can I ask you to do all in your power to stop the granting of political forgiveness or amnesty to psychopathic killers who will return to Northern Ireland again and harass and intimidate and torture those who were responsible for putting them behind bars in the first place?”
Minister McDowell: “thank you for your kind remarks at the beginning. What the Good Friday Agreement was about in part was a decision to draw a line across history and to say we have to have a new beginning. And, for many people, the widows of the policemen who were shot both North and South of the border, it was a bitter day to see the people who shot their husbands go free under the Good Friday Agreement. And for many people, I agree with you, that the prospect of closing the files on many of those cases are bitter fruits indeed, because they hoped against hope that the system of justice would at least establish the truth even if it wasn’t going to exact punishment. My own judgment about these matters – and you may find this slightly disappointing but it’s true in my view – there has to come a time when, on both sides of the divide in this country, we say that we are going to look forward to the future together rather than continue to require a determination of past wrongs.
Unbalanced approach to inquiries into past events: “But what I would like is that the Sinn Féin people in this audience to dwell and reflect for a moment on the intensity of the words you just used, because what I have noticed is that there was an absolute determination by the Provisionals that the on-the-runs should be excused and that the prisoners should be released, but at the same time, an absolutely unquenchable demand that every wrong done on the other side should be the subject of intense inquiry and scrutiny. And that I find difficult to take.
“If the name of the game is drawing a line across the page of history, people will have to realise that the pain you feel, obviously, and the loss of your brother, and the notion that the likes of his killers will be able to return even without facing a criminal trial, that that pain is real and substantial as you just announced it there, and that those who keep demanding, incessantly and insatiably, further and further inquiries – which suit their political purpose – into events 10, 15 and 20 years ago should realise how unbalanced that approach is. That what’s reasonable to ask you to accept, in their mind, which is that your brother’s killers should walk past you in the street, free or unconvicted as the case might be, is equally full of the implication for them that they cannot constantly recreate history and pretend that all of the injustices done to their side of the equation should be the subject of tribunal after tribunal, inquiry after inquiry, and the like. And that the Police Service of Northern Ireland at some stage – like the Gardaí here – should be free to police that society and to protect today’s youth from having their legs broken by thugs, rather than trying to work out at a distance of 20 years ago what happened in the murky days of a dirty war.
“So, you may find what I am saying slightly disappointing, because I do believe that, just as it makes sense to say to the men of violence on either side you may go free from prison, and have your punishment set aside, it may make in certain cases sense to say that those who have not yet been accused but are suspected should go uninvestigated and unconvicted and that may be part of the price of bringing normality.
Sense of injustice felt by victims: “But I want to say this, and finish on this note again, that the pent-up anger and sense of injustice that you have articulated here today should be listened to, particularly by the Provisionals, because when they demand, in retrospect, that all of their selective grievances should be fully investigated and pursued to the nth degree, they seem to be ignoring the pain and suffering that you have and what has already been accorded to them, at your psychological and emotional and sense of justice expense.
On-the-runs: “You asked me to oppose a policy of non-prosecution of the on-the-runs. I have to take a pragmatic view of that. It may be that it would be justified to bring an end to all the violence but the quid pro quo is that we don’t get the nonsense, the propaganda and the cant, that only people who in the new official Provo history of Ireland suffered injustice are the members of the Provisional movement or their supporters. That it was the mainly decent people on either side of the community who suffered most at their hands, and that most of that is going to go uninvestigated, unconvicted and unpunished. And I think that’s where the balance of history, where the pendulum will end up, it may not be satisfactory to you but I think it would be remiss of me to imply that you can let people out after serving a small fraction of a mandatory 40-year jail sentence for shooting a member of An Garda Siochana dead, as happened here, and you can’t see it as equally pragmatic in some circumstances to say to people who are suspected of similar offences in Northern Ireland that the process of criminal justice should be stayed in the interest of a brighter future for everyone.
“And those may be harsh words to you, but you praised me for straight talking, and you’re getting a bit of it now.”
Chair (Michael Reade): Re Sinn Féin leadership and IRA Army Council: “And Minister, do you believe that the Sinn Féin leadership, McGuinness, Adams and Ferris, remain on the IRA Army Council or has that changed in recent times?”
Minister McDowell: “I think they are now in the process, Michael, of actually trying to get out of it. But it’s purely cosmetic, they are in total charge of the Provisional movement, and as long as the IRA was a lethal force which was the backbone of the Provisional movement they remained centrally involved and in charge of it, and I regard it as a good thing that they are now trying to get out of it because it suggests that it is not going to be the centre of their political struggle in the future.”
Q. 8. William Smith.
“My name is Smith, William Smith. I am not a political supporter of the Minister but every time he speaks his mind to condemn the Provisional IRA, and … the IRA, and every time he condemns torturers and murderers and robbers, I am 100% behind him, as every decent Irishman should be, as every decent Irishman is…… And I am more than four score years and It’s time for me to shut up I suppose, I keep making myself unpopular and what I am going to say will make me more unpopular.
“I remember 73 years ago, 73 years now in January, going with my parents to the local polling booth where they were going to vote for Eamon Duggan. And for those people here who never heard of Eamon Duggan, he was one of the signatories of the Treaty, the Anglo-Irish Treaty, and that was the treaty which was the basis of the formation of this State which was led by W.T. Cosgrave and was opposed all those years – over 80 years now – by Republican Sinn Féin [tape unclear] ….and it is my understanding, I remember in the 1930s Thomas MacCurtain turned around in Patrick Street in Cork and shot a policeman in the stomach, and I will say this for de Valera who was not one of my favourite people, but he did during the early years of the 1940s stand up to them and when they tried to blackmail him by having a hunger striker in Portlaoise…… he stood his ground and let the man die which happened much later in Northern Ireland with all sorts of condemnations. But fair play to de Valera he wasn’t afraid to shoot people …..
Will Gerry Adams bring in the extremists? “To get to my question, does the Minister believe that when Gerry Adams eventually gets old enough and tired enough, and less ambitious, and adopts the road of democracy, is he equally going to bring all his followers with him? People who live in the sewers, those kind of people who still continue to believe in murder, torture and robbery as a means to achieving their political future… Does he believe that they will not become – I don’t want to use the word Omerta – but .. what happened in the United States and in Sicily, people who will be self-propagating and self-fulfilling, mé féiners, and does he believe that …?
Chair (Michael Reade): “Minister, before you respond that there are more questions than we have time left, and I am sorry to those of you in advance, but the question very simply is: will there be an old boys’ club, will that be acceptable?”
Minister McDowell: “William, can I say this? I can see where your politics are, from what you say there, can I say this too that my three sons, as I said earlier at the beginning, will number among their ancestors people who died for the Republic in the Civil War, people who put their lives on the line for the Free State in the Civil War, people who were on hunger strike for the Republic in the Civil War and people who later became Fianna Fail T.D.s. They number all of that, my sons will number all of that among their ancestry. And I believe that if you look back across the history of independent Ireland – from the Treaty onwards to de Valera taking power in 1932, to the 1937 Constitution and the like – that where things were wrong was when people pushed their ideology before their republican democratic values, and when things went well it was because republicans accepted that the will of the people was superior to their own theory of history.
Pernicious doctrine – IRA legitimacy: “And I believe that the greatest and most pernicious doctrine that the Provos at top level still believe is that the handful of survivors of the Second Dail in 1938, December 1938, handed over to the IRA the legitimate powers of the Irish State which they said was founded by the people in the 1918 and the next election, and the IRA declared itself to be the legitimate government of Ireland thereafter. That’s a very pernicious doctrine and totally anti-republican in view of the fact that the great majority of people who were in 1916, people who put their lives on the line to create an independent Irish State, brave people like Collins and De Valera, those people knew that the way to be a genuine republican and democrat was to work with what you had to transform it, to build a republican society on this island. And I look back across my own family history and across Irish history and I am willing to salute on both sides of the Civil War divide, and in subsequent political struggles and bitter disputes that there were, the genuine patriotism of those who went before the people, Duggan and others as you mentioned, and sought a democratic mandate and abided by it, and thought that there was no higher mandate than the vote of the people who supported them, and didn’t have an each-way bet on the armalite and the ballot box.
Provisional movement in democratic politics: ““You asked me the question, if Adams and McGuinness bring the Provisional movement to a totally political level and they just participate in democratic politics on the same way as the rest of us, will they bring their extremists with them? And my answer to that is, probably there will be a few hangers-on who will then revert to violence. I mean we have had indications the last number of months of people who have done precisely that, people who were in the past associated with the Provisional movement now they are simply using violence for their own personal gain. And we still have the dissidents and the CIRA and the RIRA there on the edges, but if you ask me do I believe that Adams and McGuinness will bring the Provisional movement with them largely speaking intact into democratic politics, if that is their choice, my answer is yes, they are in total control, they are in total control of that movement. They are not facing an internal mutiny, they are not facing an internal challenge, they are not facing a group of people who, for instance, will say well if you go down that road we’re hanging on to all the arms and the bunkers and all the rest of it, and the Semtex. I believe there will be decommissioning. I believe that they will bring the Provisional movement across the threshold – if they choose to do it – into democratic politics.
Need to stand firmly with conviction: “What I equally believe is that as long as people like you and me offer them the opportunity to have one foot on one side of the threshold of paramilitarism and democratic politics, and one foot on the other, as long as we were willing to tolerate that they were willing to exploit that witness on our part.
“And it is only when we say that the door to democracy is open and remains open but you must cross that threshold and stand with two feet on the democratic side of that line, it is only when you say that with absolute conviction and totally unwavering commitment to that proposition that they will actually make the shift. And the reason I am here tonight and I am making the points I am this evening and in other places is to articulate what I believe is the determination of what you describe as all decent Irish people – that this must be an unequivocal, irrevocable and non-negotiable movement from one position to another, and if the Provo leadership understands that that is the only show in town, I am confident that they will make that decision.
Appeasement: “If they are appeased, and there are appeasers, there are people in the media who criticise me for naming them and the members of the IRA Army Council. There are people in the media – and they know who they are, I am not going to dignify them by mentioning them because frankly they are not even worth a mention – who attacked me last year for standing up against the Provos when I knew what I knew. I am saying that if we go down the road of appeasement it will be exploited to create ambiguity and to allow them have this each-way bet of undemocratic activities… and it is only if we are absolutely rock-solid unshakeable that there is no way forward other than an exclusively peaceful and democratic political commitment from the Provisional movement, to operate within the rules of the laws on both parts of this island from now on, it’s only if we show that degree of determination and moral courage that they will make the inevitable break from the past and come in, like many others did before them, into democratic politics.”
Q. 9. Cllr. Michael Gallagher (Meath Sinn Féin):
Re Bobby Sands:“You’re very welcome to Meath, Minister. A few questions I would like to ask you. You’re very proud of your ancestors, and rightly so. How do you relate your grandfather to Bobby Sands? Do you class your grandfather as republican and Bobby Sands as a criminal? And the Provos that had to go out and defend our houses and properties in the ‘70s, and they were let down by this State, and you seem to have an awful lot of information on the Provos, it took 14 years to find out the criminality that was in the Guards in Donegal. Go raibh mhaith agat.”
Minister McDowell: “I don’t really see the question there.”
Michael Gallagher: “What is the difference between your grandfather as a republican freedom fighter, and Bobby Sands whom you classed as a criminal?”
Minister McDowell. “Bobby Sands, as you well know, was sent to jail for firearms offences as part of the Provisionals’ campaign in Northern Ireland. And just so that there should be no misunderstanding, from 1976 onwards use of violence in Northern Ireland – murder, explosives, firearms – was an offence against the Southern State’s laws as well, under the Criminal Law Jurisdiction Act . It was a breach of our law, it was a breach of the law of Northern Ireland. And I’m not in the business of condemning Bobby Sands for his hunger strike, and I’m not in the business of taking away the courage that that must have entailed, but I do say that people like John Hume, who took the peaceful path and were derided by the Provos and Sinn Féin for their stance, those people deserve a lot more hero-status in Ireland, than the people who engaged in the campaign of violence in Northern Ireland.
“And I also make this point: that you and I both aspire to be republicans, but what the Provisional movement did – in relation to setting back the process of reconciliation between Orange and Green in Northern Ireland – will take people like me many many decades to reverse. “
Member of audience: “Why did you oppose the Hume-Adams talks?”
Chair (Michael Reade): “Ok, I am just taking two more questions…”
Minister McDowell: “Because I will tell you why. At the time I believed that the Provisionals were going to try and have it both ways, and when you see the Northern Bank robbery you know that I wasn’t all wrong.”
Chair (Michael Reade): “I’ll take a few more questions, and I ask you to be brief, just ask the question.”
Q. 10. Ronnie Owens (Slane). Re rights and responsibilities: “Ronnie Owens, farmer and community worker, living close to where Brendan was referring to, where bodies were buried and I know about them since that time. Just in relation to today’s culture, if you like, bringing this whole issue of attempting to put solutions to problems, we talk nowadays about knowledge-based economy, most of us know about the ill effects of rampant consumerism, globalisation and commercialism. Would you agree that as an instrument to kind of inform people – Christianity was good at saying that people are duty bound to inform their conscience – one of the things that I see in many of the Bills of Rights that are put up nowadays in political form, they do not put down in equal standing, or equally articulated, they do not put down the responsibilities.
“I would have liked to have seen alongside the rights, the duties in equal form. I think looking at a lot of kids today, and a lot of demonstrations, people are very quick to engage in marches and protestations about their rights but there are very few marches about people’s responsibilities. In other words, as an instrument to maybe give people more courage, citizens – you talked earlier on about the foundations of republicanism, being republicanism of equality and fraternity in relation to all the citizens being equal to get the benefits, but I think they must equally inform themselves of their responsibilities.
“And in that sense people would be more courageous about refusing to be intimidated because I know locally people are intimidated, they know stuff and they are afraid to speak up about a lot of things, not just Sinn Féin/IRA stuff, but all kinds of other needs in society. So would you agree that maybe when Bills of Rights are being drawn up they should equally refer to responsibilities and it would be much more informative In people’s minds about the balance that should take place?
Minister McDowell: “the answer to that is I radically and profoundly agree with you, in relation to that. When I was a student of law in UCD, the late John Kelly was the man who lectured us in legal philosophy, and he constantly said what you are saying, a right without a corresponding duty is nothing …[tape break]… and it is certainly the case that in this day of huge concentration on human rights and rights-speak as a language, that everybody is articulating their grievances or their demands as denial of rights whereas nobody is stepping up to the plate and saying that other people must owe a duty for every one of these rights, and that we collectively, if we live in a society of rights, must live in a society of duties. That is undoubtedly the case and there is a huge moral vacuum in political discourse in Ireland based on that exact thing – that everybody is now articulating their views as an issue of rights. And in particular in relation to things which are political arguments, there’s a huge tendency now to put what you believe are your demands in the language of rights being denied to you rather than just simply say this is a political demand or a political policy which I am willing to advance. Everything is put in this business of if you don’t have X, somebody’s rights are being denied. Now I think that is a poison in the coinage of our political language, that we have forgotten the whole area of moral responsibility and moral duty, and personal individual responsibility, just as much as personal rights.
“Because it must be the case, it must be the case, that if we live in a society which accords everyone their personal fundamental human rights, that they must acknowledge that they have personal fundamental human duties to society, institutionally, and to their fellow citizens. And I find I have to say that that kind of language and that kind of debate has evaporated largely in recent circumstances. And in the whole area of rights and duties, if we go down the road of concentrating exclusively on a culture of rights and rights-speak, we then forget all of the duty-based reality on which civilised society relies.
Irish Constitution and political duties of citizens: “I’ll give you an example: the phrase ‘duty’ in the Irish Constitution, I think it appears in two contexts: the rights and duties of parents, and it also appears curiously in Article 9 of the Constitution which says that fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State are fundamental political duties of all citizens. And the right to sit in Dail Éireann, for instance, is restricted to citizens of Ireland. You can’t sit in Dail Éireann if you are not a citizen of the Irish State. And the right to seek election to Dail Éireann is restricted to citizens, and it is restricted, therefore, to people who owe this fundamental duty of fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State established by the 1937 Constitution.
“So that means that anybody – whether they come from Sinn Féin or the Progressive Democrats, or an independent candidate – who seeks election to Dail Éireann, undertakes a duty to all the people that vote for them to show loyalty to the State that the Irish people created by their Constitution in 1937.
“And you can’t sit in Dail Éireann and claim that the State is illegitimate, and you can’t sit in Dail Éireann and say that the State’s laws don’t apply to you, or that you can rob or you can kill because you have a higher authority. That’s not loyalty to the Irish State. And you can’t participate in Dail Éireann’s politics under the Irish constitutional scheme of things unless you acknowledge that you are exercising your citizenship under the 1937 Constitution and that you are undertaking that duty of loyalty to the Irish State. So I totally agree with you, Ronnie, I totally agree with you, but some people seem to talk an awful lot about rights, and I never ever hear them make a single speech about duty. And they are not so far away from you there.”
Q. 11. Eithne Casey:
“Michael, it seems extraordinary I feel I have to say, after what you have said about fundamental duties, that it is a fundamental duty not to pull a trigger on another human being. And I remember sitting at my grandfather’s knee who fought in Bolands Mills  and who was then taken up the docks and interned in England, and I remember him saying as a child ‘oh, we stopped fighting because the people of Dublin were getting killed.’ And he said ‘and then the women of Dublin spat at us as we were going to the docks because of what we did in Dublin.’ So, for everybody who does anything, they do it for different reasons, and so many different views.
(i) Fear of not being able to speak out: “But in my early twenties I worked in the murder triangle in Northern Ireland which was west of the Bann and east of [?] and one thing I do remember, as I got used to living in the community there, working in the community, I could no longer bear it, after about a year and a half, or nearly two years, because you got to know the fears of people who were living there, the fear of not being able to speak out and not being able to speak their minds.
(ii) Polarisation: “And I noticed that in many times, and one time in particular, the second Ulster loyalist strike, you saw the immediate polarisation among educated middle class people. And what’s wonderful about tonight is that we are hearing the views so bluntly expressed, because at that time you would never have heard talk like this in Northern Ireland.
(iii) Dr Paisley: “And also what is extraordinary, and I am just changing the emphasis a little bit here, and would just love a comment on – I never would have thought that I would see Dr Ian Paisley come down to Dublin and walk into Government Buildings, and that itself is also a tremendous achievement because once there is contact, and it’s human contact, a cup of tea, I have friends coming down from Northern Ireland who have never come before, and then we cannot have – in most cases – we cannot have the same old views, the same old ideas, about the other side.
(iv) Reclaiming republicanism: “And when you use the word, two words I think, ‘republicanism’ – we have to reclaim that word for everybody here who wants to use it. We don’t live under royalty so we are republicans and there is nothing to be ashamed about that.”
(v) Reconciliation through direct human contact: “And then the other thing is reconciliation, and the only way reconciliation can come about is by direct human contact, sitting in the same room. And it is extraordinarily difficult, and you can see it today, because people are so highly motivated on the Sinn Féin side, how difficult it is to face the fact that you cannot take a human life for your beliefs, and then those who have had their lives or their families taken away from them, to come in the same room is a great movement. And I just hope that the government encourages more politicians to come down all the time, and likewise vice versa, and of course people at every level should have exchanges north and south of the border. And then you can’t have devils, and you can’t project all the evil onto one side, and all the grievances on to yourself. You know we are human beings, and we have a terrible shadow – we have this capacity to kill and we must confront it and stop it.”
Chair: “Minister, I’ll take that as a statement…”
Minister McDowell: “One of the comments that I would like to make if I can, Michael, and that is that I am afraid of leaving here this evening without saying the following things: that Northern Ireland was a place in which there was huge injustice, that the Catholics took more than their fair share of injustice over many years, that many many Catholics were killed because they were Catholics.
Loyalist criminality: “That loyalism is as pernicious, and in fact more pernicious in some respects than Provo-ism because many of its chief people are just simply lining their own pockets and engaging in every form of monstrous activity, drug distribution, racist attacks on minorities in Northern Ireland, and control over rackets and blackmailing and all the rest. I just want to put that on the record, just in case anyone thinks I am selective in my views on these matters. I am not, but I have to address the issues as they are now, and as was said here earlier the loyalist thugs have little enough purchase on Northern Ireland politics and the voters in Northern Ireland, whereas thuggery is present in the Provisional movement and has to end.
Hopeful signs: “And to reply just briefly to what Eithne said, I know it was more a statement and I agree with her statement. I just want to say she’s right, the very fact we can have these conversations here tonight, and there is vehement disagreement here and a lot of masked opposition to each other’s position, but the very fact that we are sitting in relatively civilised circumstances discussing these issues, and the very fact that I could meet Ian Paisley in the Irish Embassy in London and that he has come to Dublin to discuss economics with businessmen, these are immensely hopeful signs.
Duty of Provisionals and DUP to make society work: “And it doesn’t mean that the DUP is not a party which is free from its sectarian past, it isn’t and I don’t pretend it is, but likewise we have to look to the positives because having demolished the centre ground, the Provisional movement and the Democratic Unionist Party have now – to go back to the point that Ronnie was making – the duty to make their society work, and they will only do it if the rest of us make unequivocal demand, in unequivocal straight-talking terms, that they do face up to their responsibilities and duties as people who got seats and got votes, and take them into democratic [action?].”
Chair (Michael Reade): “My apologies to anybody I didn’t come to this evening, we’ll just take a final question from Julitta Clancy and then I am going to ask the Minister if he will give another couple of minutes of his time to talk a little bit about the future conclusion, and my apologies to anybody – because there are a lot of people who have had to travel long distances – if we have held you up. ….”
Q. 12. Julitta Clancy “I preface my question by thanking you Minister for spending so long with us, and thanking all those who got up and spoke here, and people who came – regardless of difference – to share their views. And we very much are grateful for people coming. It was difficult.
(i) Reclaiming the spirit of the Agreement: “Somebody mentioned ‘balance’, and I think Eithne referred to ‘reclaiming republicanism’…. I think we should also be trying to reclaim the spirit of the Agreement that so many of us, particularly in the South, put all our hopes in despite all its flaws, and with the knowledge that possibly a bare 50% of unionists voted for that Agreement, and in the years in between – because of the way it was being implemented and brought in – unfortunately that number went down and down. And therefore the pain of the victims increased, and it increased on all sides. And we spent a very pleasant day in Fermanagh on Saturday, a few of us, as guests of the Dooneen Community Education Centre, the Guild of Uriel and members of the Ulster Unionist Party, Sinn Féin, the SDLP and others, and it was to me such a huge difference from the days when we went up monitoring disputed parades in Fermanagh.
(ii) Interface tensions and marching season: “But I want to turn your attention to
the interface areas of Belfast particularly, because those are areas that some of us
have had the privilege of being invited into in recent years, both in republican and
loyalist areas, and we have seen the pain on both sides, the difficulties on both sides
and the great efforts being done by many good people on the ground there to diffuse
tensions and to get away from the situation it was in a few years ago.
“But there is also the fact that those people cannot yet talk to each other like we are
doing because of difficulties, and if there is any way that that can be helped, in any
way, because the dangers of what now looks like could happen in the marching
season, if it goes back to that a lot of good steps will be reversed. And it is the
suffering of those people, who have suffered so much, on both sides there, I would
(iii) Have we done enough in this State? “And my last point is, Minister, do you think that we in the South have done enough to embrace and to live up to the spirit of that Agreement and should there not be more groups like us engaging – not as we did in the beginning with peace rallies and all of that – but engaging in this type of dialogue across the divide? Thank you.”
Minister McDowell. “Michael, can I complete my two minutes that you were going to say to finish up with my answer to Julitta?
Good Friday Agreement – a deal is a deal: “Firstly, I do agree with you that we are in danger of forgetting the spirit of the Agreement which was there in the first place. And I do believe that the period of time that has elapsed since then has allowed a lot of people to get sceptical, cynical and to forget the moral force of that Agreement. And, if I may say – though there aren’t many here – to people of the unionist persuasion, and particularly to the Democratic Unionist Party I would say this: a deal is a deal, the people of Ireland and Britain through their governments did a deal.
“The people of both parts of this island did a deal. The Irish State has transformed its relationship with Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom into one of which, instead of the claim made in Articles 2 and 3 as they then were, there’s an acknowledgment that a majority in Northern Ireland will determine its constitutional status on terms of a deal. And the deal is that it is a society based on mutual respect, that it is a society in which Irish nationality is not simply tolerated but respected, and that those who feel themselves to be Irish nationalists and republicans in Northern Ireland are free to give their loyalty and fidelity to the Irish State as its citizens as I mentioned earlier.
DUP rhetoric: “And therefore some of the Democratic Unionist Party rhetoric that Dublin should be seen as a foreign state is inconsistent with the terms of that Agreement. We are not just a foreign state, we are not just to Northern Ireland what Norway is for Iceland. We are a state that did a deal with a sovereign state, the United Kingdom, registered with the United Nations and it’s a deal that gives the North-South dimension and the sense of Irishness and all of those institutions real substantial legal status. And I think that we have to recreate in our own minds an understanding of that deal that we did and say to Ian Paisley and Nigel Dodds and Peter Robinson: you’ve done a deal and a deal has been done with us by a sovereign government and the people of the United Kingdom, as a sovereign entity in which you believe, have made a compact with us for a new dispensation in Northern Ireland, and have indicated that they will back a united Ireland and implement it when it becomes the choice of a majority of the people in Northern Ireland.
“That’s the deal, and we are not going to allow anybody walk away from that deal, and by making the institutions unworkable it will only redouble the determination of Dublin that that deal will be adhered to and delivered on.
Marching season: “And the second point you make about the marching season, I really do fear that in the vacuum that now exists that people – instead of facing up to the responsibility of their mandate from the ballot box – will instead look to sectarian conflict arising out of the marching season as a justification of some kind for reneging on their democratic responsibilities. And that applies on both sides of the issue. Those who have obstructed the Parades Commission, denigrated it, torn down its efforts to produce fair and reasonable solutions on both sides, and those who will use violence, or threaten violence, in order to avail of the marching season as an opportunity just simply to reassert atavistic polarised politics, and to justify their own position as defenders of their community.
Have we done enough in this State? “And the last question you asked is: have we done enough in this State to deliver on our side of the Good Friday Agreement? That’s a question on which the jury is out. But I am certain of this, that – above the hurly burly of politics and arguments about ASBOs, and pubs and all the rest of it, airports and all the rest of it, -I am certain of this that we should have a generation of politicians who aspire at least in this one area to be remembered as statesmen and stateswomen, and that is that they articulated a sense of Irishness which was based on the views of Tone, the Sheares brothers, Emmet and Davis, an inclusive sense of Irishness, a thing totally bereft of sectarianism and of polarisation. And I really do believe, if you ask have we done enough, that we haven’t done enough on that. That we still, in this part of the country, have a view of Irishness which is not as open to Protestants and unionists as it might be, which is alien to them in some respects despite our best efforts to make substantial reforms in our political culture. And that there are many many things that we could all do to emulate what this group has done to extend the hand of friendship, to build bridges, and to build links between the two parts of this island. How sad it is, that 20 years ago in days of privilege, the unionists in Northern Ireland sent their children to be students in Dublin, how sad it is that that has trickled to practically nothing and they are to be found in Sterling and other places in Scotland rather than even in their own universities in Belfast.
Identity: “And have we actually engaged on a North-South basis, on a generous basis, to re-involve those people in Northern Ireland with our society – to acknowledge what I was saying earlier about the wealth of the Anglo-Irish part of our culture, to acknowledge that we are all mongrels in one respect or another, we are all born of Normans and Scots, and Scots Irish and English, and now that we have a new wave of immigration into Ireland, rather than pure descendants of a Gaelic society which is not the patrimony of most Protestant unionists on this island. And that we have a sense of our identity which is capable of embracing all of those views rather than being seen as sinister or hostile to people who aren’t of the main stream of Catholic nationalist Ireland.
Lack of genuinely inclusive vision: “I genuinely believe, Julitta, to answer your question, that we are not doing enough on those fronts and that we are not doing as much as we could, and that just as you have garden centre unionists in Northern Ireland who have fled the scene and abandoned it to the DUP and Sinn Féin, the centre ground people, so also in the South there’ll be your garden centre nationalists and garden centre Irish in that we do not have a genuinely inclusive vision and any sense of political vocation to really engage with the unionist community on the logic of the tricolour.
Challenge before us to create a new dynamic of Irishness: “That’s my strong view, and I will share with you, first of all compliment you and all your colleagues for what you are doing, going up to the interfaces and working with people there, but you asked me that hard question – are we doing all we can? And the answer is most certainly not, and it’s a challenge to everybody in this room, from Sinn Féin to unionists to Fine Gael, to Fianna Fail, to PDs, to Labour, to whatever persuasion you are, there is a challenge there now to rise up towards the real goal which is to create a new dynamic of Irishness on this society. And its not for the faint-hearted, it’s not for the politically lazy, it’s not for the opportunists or the night watchmen of history, it’s for the statesmen and the stateswomen of Ireland, for the new generation of Irish politicians to bring about a radically different approach which is based on reconciliation and based on generosity. Thank you.”
Chair (Michael Reade): “Just finally, one final question, do you expect to live long enough to see a united Ireland?”
Minister McDowell: “Well, yes.”
Chair (Michael Reade). “Before you go home, transcripts will be available later from the Meath Peace Group, significant segments of this evening’s talk will be broadcast on LMFM over the course of the next week. Congratulations to Julitta and the group. There’s a cup of tea at the end of the room, thanks to everybody for coming, as it was mentioned this evening this evening was progress in itself and part of that was having such an important and distinguished guest speaker. Ladies and gentlemen, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell.”
Meath Peace Group report ©Meath Peace Group 2005
Talk recorded by Judith Hamill (audio) and Jim Kealy (video). Transcribed and edited by Julitta Clancy
APPENDIX A: Biographical notes: Michael McDowell, T.D., S.C. was educated at Pembroke School and Gonzaga College, Dublin. He is a graduate in Economics and Politics from UCD. He qualified as a barrister in 1974 and was made a member of the Council of King’s Inns in 1978. In March 1987 he was called to the Inner Bar. He is a founder member of the Progressive Democrats and was first elected to the Dáil for the Dublin South-East constituency in 1987. He was re-elected in 1992. Having lost his seat in the 1997 election he was successful in the 2002 General Election, when he was once again returned for the Dublin South-East Constituency. He was Chairman of the Progressive Democrats from 1989 to 1992 and was appointed President in February 2002. Between 1992 – 1997, he held spokesmanships successively in Foreign Affairs, Northern Ireland, Trade and Tourism and Finance. He was appointed by the Tánaiste to chair the Working Group on Company Law Enforcement and Compliance. In 1999, he was appointed by the Government to chair the Implementation Advisory Group on the Establishment of the Single Regulatory Authority for the Financial Services Industry. In July 1999 he was appointed Attorney General of Ireland and served in that post until June 2002, when – on the formation of the new Government – he was appointed Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
APPENDIX B: Meath Peace Group update June 2005
School programme: Our annual TY peace studies programme at St Joseph’s Secondary School, Navan, concluded with a Fair Trade seminar on 9th May addressed by the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Michael Nangle, Fergal O’Byrne of the Green Party and representatives of Oxfam. Local TDs Damien English and Shane McEntee attended, as well as students of St Michael’s Loreto, staff, students and parents from St Joseph’s and members of the Navan business community. Our 2004-05 programme focused on experiences of interface communities in North Belfast and guest speakers included Chris O’Halloran of the Belfast Interface Project, Conor Maskey of Intercomm Ltd and Sean Ó Baoill of Mediation NI. The Spring 2005 term included a visit to Belfast on 11 April, taking in the Conflict exhibition at the Ulster Museum, and visiting the New Lodge Area as guests of Intercomm Ltd. Other topics studied were World Trade, Fair Trade, Immigration, Poverty and Debt Reduction, and mental health. Workshops were conducted by Michael O’Sullivan, Michael Murray and members of the Samaritans and West Papua groups. The overall programme was organised and conducted by Julitta Clancy and Judith Hamill with the assistance of teachers Mary Maguire and Julie O’Dwyer.
Recent public talks:
No. 56 “Bombings and their Aftermath” was held on 9th May and was addressed by Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Michael Nangle, Jacinta de Paor of Glencree and Gareth Porter of the H.U.R.T. group. The talk was chaired by Michael Reade. Prior to the talk, the chair of Meath County Council, Cllr. Tommy Reilly, made a presentation to the Lord Mayor on behalf of the Council.
No. 54: “The Good Friday Agreement – The Future” held on 25 February 2005, and addressed by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, TD, John O’Dowd, MLA (Sinn Féin) and Dominick Bradley, MLA (SDLP).
No. 55: “Where do we go from here?” held on 7 March 2005, and addressed by Professor Paul Bew (QUB), Sean Farren, MLA (SDLP) and Jim Wells, MLA (DUP).
Acknowledgments: Grateful thanks are due to all who have helped with the planning, publicity and organisation of the public talks, and all who have supported the work of the group, over the past 12 years. We thank all those who have come to participate in our talks, members of the audience as well as speakers and guest chairs. We thank the Department of Foreign Affairs Reconciliation Fund for much-needed assistance towards the running costs of the public talks and Transition Year programmes.
Meath Peace Group Committee 2005: Julitta and John Clancy, Batterstown, Co. Meath; Michael Kane, An Tobar, Ardbraccan; Anne Nolan, Gernonstown; Canon John Clarke, Boyne Road, Navan; Philomena Boylan-Stewart, Longwood; Olive Kelly, Lismullen; Leona Rennicks, Ardbraccan; Catriona Fitzgerald, Warrenstown; Judith Hamill, Ross, Dunsany
MEATH PEACE GROUP TALKS
No. 45: “The Good Friday Agreement – Where Are We Now?”
Monday, 30th September 2002
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan, Co. Meath
Professor Paul Bew (Professor of Irish Politics, Queen’s University Belfast)
Michael McDowell, T.D., S.C. (Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform;
President of the Progressive Democrats)
Chaired by Ercus Stewart, S.C.
Official welcome by Cllr. Shane Cassells, Mayor of Navan
Welcome and introductions: Shane Cassells
Addresses of Paul Bew and Michael McDowell
Questions and comments
Closing words: Ercus Stewart and Julitta Clancy
Appendix A: UUC Resolution of 21 September 2002
Appendix B: Minister McDowell’s supplied script
Biographical notes and acknowledgments
[Editor’s note – context of talk: this talk took place in the immediate aftermath of the Ulster Unionist Council (UUC) meeting held on September 21st and just a few days before the events which led to the latest suspension of the institutions set up under the Good Friday Agreement. As the UUC resolution formed much of the context of the discussion, we have reproduced the text of that resolution motion in Appendix A of this report. Over 130 people attended this talk]
Official Welcome by Mayor of Navan, Cllr. Shane Cassells
Welcoming the speakers, the guest chair and the large audience, Cllr. Shane Cassells, Mayor of Navan, said that “the Good Friday Agreement for the first time ever brought together everyone on the island of Ireland and was formally endorsed by both sides”. On a personal note, he said that “when the Agreement was put to the people of Ireland, as a member of Fianna Fáil whose primary aim is the reunification of this country, I did not vote lightly on the Agreement that gave up our territorial claim but, like many other people, when we were voting for the Agreement we were voting for a greater good, and that can never be forgotten.” Mayor Cassells then introduced the speakers before handing over to the Chair, Ercus Stewart, S.C.
1. Paul Bew (Professor of Irish Politics, Queen’s University Belfast):
“The first thing I’d like to say is to thank the Meath Peace Group who have asked me to come here this evening. I have long been impressed by the interventions that group has made in the public domain, and I am very grateful for the invitation to speak, and I am grateful above all to you for attending in such large numbers, which indicates the seriousness of the topic and the interest that you all have in it.
Crisis facing the Good Friday Agreement: “Now I want to say a few words about the Good Friday Agreement and the crisis it currently faces before suggesting some tentative ways by which we might actually get out of that crisis and preserve that Agreement. I want to say that because sometimes in the last few months when I have been speaking on this matter and I have been trying to alert audiences to the fact that we were heading for a major crisis. Most recently in Oxford about three weeks ago, speaking to the British-Irish Association, a very large percentage of a well-informed audience simply did not want to hear that we were heading for a major crisis, and there is a very good reason why that should be so. From the point of view of many in Dublin – and completely understandably – the Good Friday Agreement solved the Northern Question and the less they hear about it the better in future, a mood which I have every sympathy with, I regard it as an entirely rational attitude. In Britain the same attitude prevails, they don’t want to hear that there are serious difficulties afflicting the course of the Agreement. I noted a strong tendency at the British-Irish Association at the beginning of September for people to have almost a mystical sense that somehow it would work, it would be all right on the night, that somehow the various problems that are afflicting the Agreement would solve themselves, they would go away and that it would be a mistake to listen too much to what were described as “Jeremiah-like prophecies”. My own speech there was referred to as a “Jeremiah-like prophecy”. One person in the audience came up to me and said nobody seems to have realised, or to have looked in their Bible recently in this audience – unfortunately Jeremiah was right! The events since then demonstrated unfortunately that Jeremiah was right in this particular case. But the events were entirely predictable and indeed not as bad as they might have been.
Commitment to the Agreement: “But, stressing the existence of the crisis, and the reality of the crisis, I want to leave you in no doubt of my own personal commitment to the Agreement. It is something I believed was possible and argued for throughout the early and mid-1990s when the conventional view was that it was impossible. One reason why it was widely believed to be impossible, in terms of Dublin opinion, was an assumption about Unionist/Protestant/Presbyterian traditions. The assumption was that these traditions are so reactionary that they will not actually make a power-sharing deal with their neighbours, taking into account also an Irish dimension. I would draw attention to the fact that very few people argued against that view, very few people said it would be possible to mobilise a majority in the Unionist community in favour of this Agreement. That is what actually happened on the day of the referendum in 1998 – it was possible to do it. I still feel that a large part of Nationalist Ireland has not really changed its mindset on that point and come to terms with the fact and the implications that it was possible to do it. But it was actually possible to do it and I would remind you of that.
Nature of the problem: “The problems that we have in the Agreement are nothing to do with the problem of equality in Northern Ireland. If you go up to the Northern Irish Assembly, you will find even the DUP perfectly happy sitting in committees with Sinn Fein. You will find that these committees are working perfectly well. There is no problem in terms of people from different groups in society working together. The problem of equality is nothing to do with the crisis of this Agreement and it is very very important to grasp that. The problem is a very much more profound problem and I will come to it. Because I wish it was the problem of equality, because if it were, it would be more easily soluble, actually. But it isn’t, unfortunately, and therefore is so much more difficult to come to terms with.
“But the simple reality that I would remind you of is, that a majority of Unionists and Protestants voted for this Agreement in 1998, a much larger majority of Catholics and Nationalists, and the difficulties that have arisen and exist today do not exist because people don’t want a new beginning in Northern Ireland. They do not exist because people do not understand that you have to make compromises for peace. And so much of the commentary – perhaps 90% of it – misses this point which a moment’s thought would stare you in the face. And I think to get into the reality framework which we have to be in to get ourselves out of this mess, that’s the first thing that you actually have to do. They do not exist because Mr David Trimble did not sell this Agreement. They do not exist because he doesn’t believe in this Agreement. One of the difficulties that happened in the Ulster Unionist Party in the last two or three weeks is that he was very slow, and late in the day, to see the scale of the forces that were ranged against him, very very late in the day. And one of the reasons for that – not the only reason, but one of the strongest reasons for that – was his commitment to the Agreement, which, at a private level, is fervent and idealistic.
Realities: “There is no possibility however of going out into the streets of Northern Ireland and selling a happy-clappy version of this Agreement. There is no possibility, none at all in the real world, of trying to revisit the mood of the referendum, of April 1998. We all understand impossibilities in Irish politics. Nobody in this room believes it is possible that the [Irish] Government will get an 80% majority in the Nice Referendum, for example. The realities in the North are just as real now. The reality is you cannot return to that mood that existed then because too many people have gone wrong, and I’ll try and explain what they were.
“But there is no possibility that some active will of super-salesmanship is going to come to the rescue here. Now why? I wish it were true, by the way, because I can arrange the act of will, I can arrange the super-salesmanship. I have been there when there were other acts of will and other dramas and super-salesmanship. I just know that this can’t be done, in this particular occasion.
Nature of the difficulties: “We have to face up to the difficulties and what they actually are. They spring from two sources – the first which I will acknowledge quite explicitly is the scale of Protestant violence within Northern Ireland coming from loyalist paramilitary groups which, inevitably, have dragged the IRA in certain places into violence as well. And the destabilising effects of that over the summer. I am quite prepared to concede the version of the police, and I think it is probably right, that the majority of that inter-communal violence comes from disenchanted loyalist groupings. And there seems to me to be no point in arguing about it, this is the truth and it is a major problem.
“However, there are two other major difficulties which are creating the current malaise.
Colombia: “One is Colombia and the question of what the IRA is doing in Colombia. The grim realisation that it cannot, for a Unionist leadership, be swept under the carpet. Let me remind you of something – look at the first page, the statement of principles which underpins the Good Friday Agreement. On that first page, look at para. 4. It states quite explicitly that it is not a matter simply of having a prohibition against political violence, the threat or the use of violence in Northern Ireland against this Agreement, it said anywhere in any context. The parties involved in this are not committed to non-violence locally in the six counties – they are committed anywhere in the world not to use violence to change political arrangements. It is a very simple point. In other words, the explanation often given for Colombia is that I don’t know what the IRA were getting up to there, it has nothing to do with the Northern Irish peace process. I’m afraid anybody who reads the first page of the Good Friday Agreement can see that that is not an explanation that will work. And of course, by the way, the most benign interpretation of the reason why these three gentlemen were in Colombia is that they were being paid….. [tape unclear] That’s at its most benign! The most malign is that new weapons are being tested for re-importation back here. But the most benign interpretation that’s being given is that large sums of money are passed from FARC to the IRA. The richest political party on this island is Sinn Fein by some long way, and you will feel the effects of that as you did in your last election. You will feel it shortly in the Nice Referendum campaign. Now that is a problem for any liberal democrat.
Re-commitment to principles of Good Friday Agreement: “When Mark Durkan calls for a recommitment to the founding principles of the Agreement on page one I could not agree with him more. But the truth is the parties of government in Northern Ireland could not credibly make that recommitment at this moment. There is a gaping hole right through the heart of the philosophy of the Good Friday Agreement, and it is not going to go away, the consequences of that, it is not going to go away when the trial begins, and so on. And it can’t be said that it is something that just happened somewhere else. It is at the heart of our politics and it won’t go away.
Castlereagh [raid on Castlereagh police station]: “Now similarly again there is the problem of Castlereagh. This is an enormously messy complex series of events but we are assured by the former acting head constable that the view of the police now is that most of their investigations are focused on the IRA. We are now facing the news that the chef, who was allegedly involved in all these things, is to be extradited back to the country. Widespread throughout this society is the story of what happened and how this happened.
“Now let me just explain at a practical level the problem. I was at a dinner party about a month ago; a chap arrived late, and he said “I am very sorry I am late, my brother had to move house today. He’s a policeman, and because of the Castlereagh raid his details have fallen into the hands of terrorists and he had to move house and I had to help him”. …. Most of the people around the table were Ulster Unionists. And what struck me about this was that this was being repeated at near enough 100 dinner parties in Northern Ireland that night, all of them exactly the sort of people at that dinner party who attended the Ulster Unionist Council, all of them in social class and outlook exactly the same sort of people. It does not require a huge effort of imagination to realise how destabilising this is, how difficult it is then for Mr. David Trimble to say “the politics of threat are over, we are in a new order, the IRA is in a transition, it may not have got down the road as far enough as we would want but it is going in the right direction”. That’s what he wants to say, that was the message of his speech in Oxford, that’s what he wants to say but he is just running up against a brick wall of bad news.
“And that is why this Agreement is in crisis, not because of inequality problems, but because of these real problems which the minute you live in Belfast you can’t miss any more than you can miss the fact that the City Hall is in the centre of the town. And it is very very important to come to terms with what the problem is if you want to see a way around this.
Slippage in Unionist support for the Agreement: “Now in Oxford David Trimble said something else which I think some people did listen to carefully and pick up on. He said – and this would be my own view too – in fact I am filling out what he said but this is what he was in essence saying: if you ask people today about the Good Friday Agreement in the Unionist community there is no question but that support has dropped and the polls which showed near enough 60% not that long ago now are showing – well the conventional view of most people is that Unionists/Protestants are now 6:4 against. And this is being reflected in the de-selection of pro-Agreement candidates in the last week and so on. It is being reflected in the crisis that goes on in the Ulster Unionist Council.
“But if you ask them the question, “do you still love the Agreement in the way you did?” you’re going to get a dusty answer, and it is something like asking someone four years into a marriage “is your wife still as beautiful as she was the day you married her?” Or “do you still love your wife as much or do you still feel the same way?” Now the answer might very well be, and realistically for most people it is, “I am perfectly happy in this marriage, I wish it could continue, but do I feel exactly as I did on my wedding day? No probably I don’t, we’ve had several quarrels since” and so on.
“Now this is the same situation with the Agreement. I don’t think you should become over-alarmed by the fact that in all human affairs a certain jadedness sets in, and I don’t think we should become over-alarmed at that, even if one should face up to the problem. I think instead, and David Trimble drew attention to this, the important question is this – to all the political parties in Northern Ireland: “you are a supporter of the Ulster Unionist Party, the Democratic Unionist Party, Sinn Fein, SDLP – do you want your party now to withdraw from the institutions?”
“That is the real question. Not “are you still in love as you were in April 1998, do you still feel as optimistic?” Too many bad things have happened, but “do you want your party to withdraw from the institutions?”
Potential source of stability: “Now in my view, all the pollings we have, and there will be a new polling shortly on this question, is that neither the supporters of the UUP nor the DUP want their parties at this point to withdraw from the institutions. Now that may be changing but I still think it is likely that the polls will show that there is still a majority there. Now that is a potential source of stability working for the Agreement in a context where there are so many other sources of instability working against the Agreement.
UUC resolution: “Now, one of the reasons why I am mentioning this – and I have to say that I am speaking purely personally – is that in my view we are looking at an Ulster Unionist Council about four months from now or just under, and the crucial question will be the mood of those people when they meet. Do not get tied up in the details of the resolution that was passed. Some of it is a wish list. I do think the resolution indicates a very serious problem that the Ulster Unionist Council wants to meet in the middle of January feeling that it has some reason to believe that Sinn Fein is moving away from the world of paramilitarism. And somehow or other, raids on police stations, the seizure of intelligence documents, adventures in Colombia, it just doesn’t feel like that.
Gerry Adams: “By the way, I am totally convinced that Mr Adams is committed to peace here, totally committed to peace on these matters. This is not a comment on his personal position within these matters. I think he has every incentive, both good and bad, to maintain this process. But what has actually happened here in essence is that his means of man-management are that he allows adventures, he allows young fellows their adventures, and he allows these adventures and he asks David Trimble to pick up the pieces. That’s what is going on here, starkly in front of your eyes. He asks David Trimble to live with the problems and the consequences within his constituency when they read Castlereagh, Colombia, in particular. That’s the problem. It represents a real human political problem, but if I was thinking about this I would be thinking more about this group of people meeting in a context in which they felt more confident about the future.
Assembly elections: “Now one problem that is very real is the imminence of the election. One reason why now the Ulster Unionist Party is prepared, in a way it was never prepared before, to challenge the existence of the institutions is that a lot of those people who meet believe these institutions are done for anyway. They certainly believe that an election in a very short few months is coming up, and that that election is either going to be an horrendously polarising election – most of them believe, and I think most commentators believe that the SDLP is finished, it’s a particularly sad development, heartbreaking development from my own point of view, but nonetheless we again need not fantasise, we have to face the realities. They think therefore that they are going to be faced with a massively polarised election in which they will be very seriously challenged by the DUP. Let me say this: the SDLP I think is finished, the UUP is not yet finished. There is a distinction between the crises that they both face here, and again I think most realists understand that. But the SDLP I think, sadly, is – at least in the sense that it will not return a majority of Nationalists and will not have the say on who the Deputy First Minister is going to be – and in that crucial sense it is a goner. It may very well be as Dr. Brian Feeney says that actually within Northern Nationalists it is going to be 70:30 in favour of Sinn Fein.
“But even if that doesn’t happen, there is nobody who believes the SDLP can produce a majority in this situation. So, looking into this vista, those people no longer feel the need to protect – they are instinctively a conservative group of people, they instinctively are not inordinately dissatisfied with the way the institutions currently operate.
“But looking into that vista, they do not feel they are being irresponsible because they think these institutions are going down the Swanee anyway, pretty damn quick. So you have to realise that, and understand why this shift in their mood is occurring.
Postponing date of elections: “And one of the things I think that ought to be very seriously considered here is the simple reality that this Assembly was intended to work for four years. By May it will not have been in existence for four years. Because of the suspensions, the delay in having it set up and so on, we will have had a little over three years of devolved government in actual practice. In my view it was the intention of Parliament to at least allow a four-year working practical devolution experiment. And in my view that was the original intention, the Agreement makes no specifications about dates for elections, and in my view the case for a delay in election at least until the full four years has operated – in other words it would effectively delay the election until the beginning of 2004. In my view that ought to be very seriously considered, because at that point, this group of people who meet will not be challenging, if they are in a bloody-minded mood, institutions which they think are shortly about to go down the tubes anyway, but they would be challenging the institutions which have a year’s life or more ahead of them. And I think that you have to understand the instinctive conservatism of most Ulster Unionists, and indeed their instinctive happiness – happiness is an overstatement – their instinctive willingness to accept the working of devolution. It’s more common among the people who attend the UUC, more pleasure in the fact that there’s a local Parliament back, than there is in the population.
Cynicism about the institutions: “One of the reasons why people are so wrong to say that David Trimble could sell devolution harder is that the population as a whole is quite cynical. The population as a whole – and the polls make this perfectly clear – think it’s not very good value for money, it’s a bit of a white elephant, and so on. They do, though, think that if we don’t have it things are going to get nastier. And that’s the best you have in the population. That might be enough to work with but the population does not have a rosy view particularly of the working of devolution. Every poll tells you that. They do not believe, for example, that their economic well-being is intimately linked to it. The polls tell you that quite clearly. But they do believe life would be that bit worse and nastier. And that’s enough to work with, and they will accept that. There is a widespread willingness to accept things as they now are – it’s the fear of the consequences after the election. And, as I said, in my view anyway, the intention always was that one should have four years of fully working experiment, and I think that would change the mood of this group of people.
Border poll: “I have argued in the past very strongly that I also believe that there is a case for having a border poll on the day of the next Assembly election, whenever it is held. This is often misunderstood, and particularly I think in Dublin there is a view that this argument was something to do with allowing Unionists some great flag-waving exercise. Or indeed that it was all about getting out moderate Unionist voters. I can tell you now it’s not absolutely certain to do it, it probably will do it – the history of large turnouts, which a border poll will certainly bring about, is that Unionists who come to polls in a large turnout tend to be more moderate.
“That’s what happened on the day of the referendum. But it may be that it’s not like that. It will certainly prevent a UUP meltdown………..[break in tape] In the context of the next election, where Unionists may have to live with Sinn Fein advancing Gerry Adams as Deputy First Minister rather than an SDLP candidate, the Unionist community needs the strength of a victory on the day of the election which is – not by some abstract reflection on the principle of consent, but a reality that Northern Ireland for the foreseeable future is going to remain part of the United Kingdom. And from that position, they may be in a position to come to terms with what will be an extremely difficult thing – which is to accept a Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister.
Ed Moloney’s book: “If you think it’s easy, just read Ed Moloney’s book about Mr Adams. This is not an anti-peace process book. It argues that for a very long time, fifteen years, Mr Adams has known that the Republican project was doomed, that he hid this from his colleagues, but pugnaciously and with great brilliance carried on a process which eventually led to the Agreement that we currently have. But on the other hand, there is quite enough detail of a human sort – I’m not on here about political judgment – about what the IRA did under this leadership to make the hair stand on the back of your neck. It is gruelling reading. By the time of the election tens of thousands of people will have read it and it should remind you of some things: just the sheer horror of what actually went on.
Loyalist violence: “And I accept Loyalist violence is a very large part of it – 30% or so of those who died died at the hands of Loyalist paramilitaries, most of them innocent and not connected Catholics. But the most important figure of the Troubles, the one that is never fully internalised within the Nationalist body politic, is that Republicans and their allies, INLA, and so on, took 58.8% of the fatal casualties, did the killing of just under 60% of those who died. That is the lion’s share of the killing. And this is based on the philosophy that the way to preserve political objectives in Ireland is through a project of human sacrifice. And some things are particularly horrifying – the murder of a mother of ten and the disappearing of her body. There are other things in the book which are particularly horrifying. And these are things which Mr Moloney argues the current political leadership of Sinn Fein is intimately connected to. It surely does not require a feat of extraordinary imagination or empathy for another set of people – Unionists, Orangemen, Protestants, who are very full of faults, very tiresome, very stubborn people – it surely is not asking for too much empathy to realise that accepting a Deputy First Minister from such a party is one hell of a swallow. After all, your own government has made clear that it is not willing to do that, in the strongest terms, and the Irish people at the last election, the exit polls, said that they were no more willing to have Sinn Fein in government than they were five years previously. So it cannot be a hugely difficult thing to understand why it is a problem.
Co-Premiership: “But let me say, ‘First Minister’ and ‘Deputy First Minister’ in Northern Ireland are slightly misleading titles. This is a co-premiership. The position of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in terms of actual influence over governmental processes is the same. The person who is Deputy First Minister is not a John Prescott like figure while the real power lies with the First Minister. It is a co-premiership, and there is going to be a huge difficulty in facing up to the fact of a Sinn Fein [Deputy] First Minister, and you have to look at means and ways in which the Unionist community might be able to do that. Unless you are in that market, unless you are thinking about that, you are not thinking about the crisis of the Good Friday Agreement. If you are just saying somebody should be selling it, or it’s all about equality, you’re not thinking about the crisis in the Good Friday Agreement. You have to think about that problem, that is the nub of the problem, and you have to get your head around it.
Coming to terms with Sinn Fein as major nationalist party: “And in my opinion there are ideas – and I’ve just mentioned two – which help to create a context in which you might see the Unionist community coming to terms with the emergence of Sinn Fein as the dominant force within Northern Nationalism. Because I am totally committed to this Agreement, I am totally committed to the idea that there is no other way out, I think that if the majority of Northern Nationalists support Sinn Fein then that is something which the Unionist community has to come to terms with. There is no way of evading it, and it is best that it be done within the framework of the institutions that we currently have and that would be the most benign outcome. But it is going to be an incredibly difficult operation – you know that phrase of getting the rich man through the eye of the needle, something like that – and you have to realise what it is going to be.
Process requires Trimble: “And so far what disappoints me over the summer months is neither government actually is formally addressing the problem – as it really actually is. If we are going to save the Agreement you have to identify and address this problem as it actually is. I don’t think the Agreement is much weaker, I have to say, because of the events of the Ulster Unionist Council. Had David Trimble been defeated – which very nearly happened, had he lost his leadership – and it came within an inch of that happening, then I think we would have been in a mess because essentially this process requires Trimble and the people around him who are committed to making the thing work. And if you remove that from the centre of the political framework you have nothing. He is the boy with the finger in the dike. And, however crazy and irritating he gets, you have to remember that, because if he takes his finger out of the dike you’ll feel the water on your heads – every corner of this island, if he takes his finger out of that dike. And you must remember it. Now, in fact, he survived. In fact he still has the direction of his party policy. And that is crucial.
One chance left: “There is one more chance to put this right. Don’t, as I say, over-obsess about the terms of the resolution, think instead of 800 people emotionally conservative, torn both ways, meeting in the middle of January, a group of people most of whom in the past have supported this Agreement, and think what you might do to make them say “we should try to keep this going a bit longer.” And if you start thinking about that, I think ideas such as delaying the timing of the election – by the way it’s an idea which you can find in all the parties in the Assembly, with the exception I would say of Sinn Fein, but even for Sinn Fein there is no great hardship here, eventually they are going to beat the SDLP, it’s going to happen, and there is no great hardship in delaying that if it allows other people more time to come to terms with that almost inevitable development.
“Therefore if you think in terms of that group of people who meet, think in terms of their mood, certain other things may happen anyway, in terms of a ceasefire monitor which may help a little bit.
Ceasefire monitor: “Again, in my opinion, the British Government in this case was amazingly dilatory. If it is right to have a monitor today, it was right to have an agreement on this going ahead in July. If we had agreement going ahead in July, Trimble might not have been – and probably would not, in the view of most of those closest to the process – been confronted with the crisis that happened in his own party.
“If it was wrong, sure, it’s wrong. If it is a bad idea, sure it’s wrong. But if it was right, it was right in September, it was right in July. If it had been done in July his position would have been significantly stronger going into this meeting. Instead of which he looked like somebody who was unable to get even a minimal concession of respectability from the two governments. That is a mis-reading.
“I think for some long time Downing Street has actually believed in this policy, believed it was a useful thing to try, and it is a misreading of the situation, but one that did enormous harm to Trimble in the late summer and in September.
All is not lost: “We are entering into this crisis but all is not lost. But it requires people to escape from the world of self-serving rhetoric, it requires people to look coolly at the balance of forces that there are in Northern Ireland, it requires people to work with what remains. What remains is an unwillingness to bring down these institutions if they seem to have a bit of life in them. What remains is a fear that things could be nastier without them, a perfectly reasonable fear. A lot of people – this includes people who are formally anti-Agreement – are very very worried about the consequences of some awful smash-up, and it seems to be that the British and Irish governments have an overriding interest in preserving this Agreement , they have an overriding interest in working with that sentiment, and creating the situation that when those 800 people meet in the middle of January they don’t meet in the agitated negative frame of mind that they met last week, and that they meet in a better frame of mind. And if that is the case there is every chance this Agreement will be preserved. Thank you very very much for your attention.”
Chair (Ercus Stewart): “Thank you. We will take questions at the very end, with the aim to try and finish by 10pm. Our next speaker needs no introduction – Minister Michael McDowell:
2. Michael McDowell, T.D. (Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform): “Ladies and gentlemen, first of all thank you very much for inviting me here this evening. When Julitta – who I know and trust and cherish as a friend and a long-standing collaborator on various other projects which most of you wouldn’t be too worried about – they are to do with law publishing and the like – when she asked me would I come here today, I hesitated, because one of the problems of being Minister for Justice in the Irish Government is that if you commit yourself to be present on an occasion and on a particular topic the ground shifts beneath you with such rapidity that you may find yourself pretty isolated or beached. Therefore – and I don’t think it is a terrible secret to say – she modified the topic of this evening’s discussion from one in which we were going to discuss a united Ireland – the pros and cons of it – to one which is the “Good Friday Agreement – Where Are We Now?”
“I want to, if I may, compliment the Meath Peace Group for all the work it has done and echo what Paul Bew has said about what valuable work it does to achieve understanding on this island. I know that sometimes the task of looking at the centre ground is a difficult one, and sometimes the task of reaching over the void in Irish politics to understand other people’s attitudes is difficult, but nonetheless it lies at the heart of any chance we have of achieving reconciliation between the people who live on this island. However you describe that form of reconciliation, it is a matter of leaping over the void of understanding which is at the heart of many of our problems.
Supplied script: “Now I have to say that another great aspect of being a Minister for Justice is that people work long and hard to provide me with supplied scripts, and it occurs to me that if I were to confine myself, or indeed to major on what I have come here with under my arm, I might not do justice to the points that Paul Bew has made. On the other hand, it is extremely perilous to depart from your supplied script because every word, comma and all the rest of it is subject to intense scrutiny. But here goes! [Editor’s note: the Minister’s supplied script is reproduced below in Appendix B]
Paul Bew’s analysis: “I have to say that I found Paul Bew’s analysis very interesting, candid, honest, but very much one-sided. And it’s not that he wasn’t leaning over backwards – as many people have done in the South – to understand the Republican point of view, because I don’t really expect him to spend too much time doing that. Where I would take issue with what he said is that I don’t agree with his premise, I don’t agree with his analysis, and I don’t agree with his conclusions. His primary point, and the one on which he ended, was that if a number of things happened then it is possible that when the Unionist Council meets on the 18th January, they will be meeting in happier times, more relaxed atmosphere, less fraught, and therefore in circumstances where it could decide to proceed with the implementation of the Agreement.
Four-year period for institutions to bed down: “And there are two legs to that argument as I understood them – one of which is that he believes that the whole of the Good Friday Agreement was predicated on an assumption that the institutions would bed down over a four-year period of co-operation where the benefits of the Agreement would become apparent to all sides and that in those circumstances, I suppose, the centre ground, or those who were willing to co-operate from either side, or to put their hands out across the void that I spoke of, would feel more confident about it and that it would be politically more viable for their leadership to engage in that exercise. Well, there are two points about that. Yes indeed a four-year period was envisaged, but we will have to recall that a lot of time was spent at the outset on this prior decommissioning issue which chewed up time, chewed up a lot of time, and that was done at the behest of people who said that if they didn’t get a concession on that they couldn’t go on with it at all. That’s the first thing.
Postponing the Assembly elections: “And the second point of course is, that if the implication is that the elections should be postponed, Paul argues – and he is closer to some aspects of Northern society than I am – he argues that in those circumstances most of the parties would be secretly relieved, with the exception of Sinn Fein. Now, I don’t think the DUP would be secretly relieved, Paul, because I think this is a plan to ensure that they fail in becoming the majority party. And I would defer to you in most things, but I don’t believe that if a question were put to a DUP politician tomorrow, either secretly or unsecretly, as to whether he would like a postponement of the Assembly elections to get a better run at the UUP and to wipe them out by putting them two more years of torture, then he would say “yes, I prefer a delay”. I don’t believe that. I think that piece of analysis is not correct – I do accept, and I agree with him, that Sinn Fein wouldn’t agree to this proposition – but there’s a point on which I disagree with his analysis.
“The second point I would make is that it has not been suggested yet that a two-year extension of the life of the present Assembly would, in fact, create circumstances in which there would be a cross-party agreement to postpone a lot of issues and to just get on with the business of co-operation.
“And if you look to what has happened in the involvement of the UUP with the process, I don’t accept the proposition that the further two years would be spent on normalisation.
“Because I think that we have to remember too – and Paul, in fairness to him, conceded this – that as more and more candidates are being nominated for the Assembly the tilt of the Ulster Unionist Party is becoming more and more hostile to the Agreement. Instead of pro-Agreement candidates being nominated and selected by constituency associations across Northern Ireland for the Assembly elections, it is hostile anti-Agreement candidates who are edging the pro-Agreement candidates out. So I feel pessimistic on a second count, that the UUP is a body which just needs two more years of normality and that is somehow the key to solving the problems in Northern Ireland.
SDLP: “I was struck – because again I believe that this is totally honestly said, and it may be true, Jeremiah may be true on this – but that effectively the SDLP is finished is part of the analysis that Paul is putting before you. So he is effectively saying – and I hope I am not caricaturing his arguments but it seems to me to have this force – that the SDLP is finished, Sinn Fein is going to be the largest Nationalist party, let’s get on with the job and let’s do everything we can to accept that that is the case and therefore the only people who can do business with Sinn Fein, on the Unionist side, are the UUP. And the two governments should, effectively, acknowledge those things, because I mean it’s been said openly here tonight – get on with the process of killing off the SDLP by engaging in an electoral strategy which is based on the proposition that they are going to fade away. Well I don’t accept that the SDLP are finished. And I don’t accept, by the way, that it would be good for the centre ground in Northern politics for either of the two governments – and I believe they will not accept this proposition – that the centre ground should be swept away on the Nationalist side in order that the centre ground, insofar as the Unionist Party is the centre ground, can prosper on the Unionist side of the equation, especially when you have growing evidence that the UUP internally is mutating into a party which is fielding more and more anti-Agreement candidates. I don’t accept that proposition, I don’t accept that analysis.
“And I don’t accept that it makes sense to write off the SDLP and to go ahead full board towards a strategy in which, effectively, David Trimble will be there to deal with Martin McGuinness, or whoever the candidate for Deputy First Minister would be thrown up by Sinn Fein as the majority party after the election. I don’t accept that that’s a reasonable way of going about the business at all. And I do believe, though – and again I compliment Paul on his honesty – I do believe that that is the Ulster Unionist Party attitude, right from the top to the bottom: contempt for the SDLP, for their political prospects, and saying “we’ll deal with Nationalism, and we’ll be quite content to deal with it under Sinn Fein management because we know the enemy then.” That’s not a healthy attitude, really, for us to say should be a cornerstone of our analysis here. I don’t think that that is a constructive approach, I have to say.
“I’m being blunt now with you Paul, because I think you have been blunt on the facts as you see them.
Ceasefire monitor: “On the question of a monitor, I am interested to note what Paul said about the monitor, and, as he suggested, a sense of foot-dragging on the part of the Westminster government to appoint a monitor to the ceasefire at the behest of David Trimble.
“There isn’t opposition at a governmental level to monitoring the process, either in Dublin or in London. Clearly Sinn Fein regards it as a device which is hostile to their interests, but there isn’t such opposition at a governmental level. And if it is delivered, I don’t think it will change the attitude of the Unionist Party at all. I think, in effect, it was something which was more useful to demand and not have delivered than it will be when it is delivered, and that’s a problem about it.
Border poll: “But on the question of a border poll, the argument – and Paul has advanced it before – the argument is, that if you have a border poll on the same day as the next Assembly election you ensure a maximum turnout, just looking at it on the Unionist side of the fence. And that by doing that it is hoped – but Paul again is honest enough to say that he can’t guarantee that this would be the consequence – that a lot of people will go down to the polling booths and vote UUP rather than DUP, but they will come out to save the Union and to have their heads counted. That may be something that suits the Unionist Party, it may be a device that suits the Unionist Party, and I’m not sure that it would have that effect.
Polarisation: “Because I think that an equally plausible effect is that the months running up to the election, or the weeks running up to the election and the border poll day, would be one of intense and increasing polarisation. It would be like bringing in the Twelfth season back into May, or whenever this poll coupled with a plebiscite would be held. It will be a circumstance in which it would be Orange versus Green – you know, empty your graveyards and bring everybody down to the polling station for the tribal headcount. And in that process I ask you this: who is going to prosper and who is going to fail? It plays straight into Sinn Fein’s hands to give them that particular outcome. Straight into their hands.
SDLP: “And effectively it is another re-echo of the remarks that Paul has made, and that is that the SDLP is finished, that it’s effectively a write-off. But worse than that, it accelerates the process, because the SDLP in those circumstances would be fighting in a battle where it was Green versus Orange, where moderation was of diminished interest to people, where, on my view of it, the chances of an SDLP person throwing their third or fourth or fifth preferences across the political divide to an Alliance Party person, or to a moderate Unionist standing in their constituency, would be thrown away, because they would know that the name of the game on the day was the usual old head count about a border poll.
“So I don’t believe that it would have of the effects for which Paul canvassed. I believe it would polarise Northern Ireland. And I think that the process whereby the future of Northern Ireland, within the UK or not within the UK – which is not now in issue, there is nobody suggesting for instance – under the legislation the Secretary of State is entitled to hold such a poll when he wishes but legally obliged to hold such a poll where there is reason effectively to believe that the underlying attitude of the population of Northern Ireland towards the Union has changed. I believe that the holding of such a poll in those circumstances would produce massive polarisation, create a political season in which everybody had to go back to the atavistic headcount of old, where moderate parties in the centre would suffer most – I mean, if you’re writing off the SDLP you might as well write off the Alliance as well, and the Women’s Coalition and the rest of it – and in which a cannibalistic enterprise was put forward instead, in which it’s survival at all costs for the Unionist Party regardless of whether it internally is mutating to the point where a majority of candidates are taking what is broadly described as an anti-Agreement point of view.
“I just wonder – is that wisdom, or is that desperation? I just pose that question to you, because it doesn’t convince me at all….[Editor’s note: break in tape here]
UUC resolution of 21st September: “Now I take on board what has been said by Paul about the wording of the motion which was passed the other day by the Ulster Unionist Council. But with respect, Paul, that motion was the result of careful negotiation which took place at the meeting – we all read about it in the papers.
Every single word of it was parsed and analysed. And all the stuff in it, about reversing Patten, stopping 50/50 recruitment, revisiting the symbols of the police force and the like, isn’t just simply stage furniture. It shows a regressive attitude on those issues to those who aren’t present in that meeting. [Editor’s note: the text of the UUC resolution is reproduced in Appendix A below]
Patten reforms: “And it isn’t simply good enough to say to the SDLP who were outraged by the motion that was passed – and let’s, before we write them off, at least say that they have made a very substantial sacrifice in terms of building the Good Friday Agreement – if they were outraged by it, by the terms of that resolution, are we to say that they are wrong? That this is mock outrage on their part? That a carefully tailored resolution which seems to be rowing back on the Patten reform, which seems to be getting back to the old agenda, that that resolution is, as Paul is arguing before us now, to be ignored in its detail because effectively on the basis that “they would say that, wouldn’t they?” and that when they get together in more reasonable humour, with weeks to go to this election, that they would be less demanding and less negative in their approach. I doubt it. I doubt it. All I would say to you in relation to that particular issue is that Paul has amply described the group of people there as being of conservative demeanour – and I agree they are of conservative demeanour – but there does seem to me, in all of these uncertainties, to be a huge appetite to revert to old certainties and to revert to old positions, and to pretend that what has happened hasn’t happened, and to go back to all the business, you know, that “Patten wasn’t really necessary, Patten was a bad thing, Patten isn’t part of the deal”. Patten most certainly is part of the deal.
Good Friday Agreement still commands respect: “Now, rather than be proved wrong in whatever it is, 6, 7 or 8 months time, and just simply have Paul come before you at a replay of this match and say “I told you so”, I have to put to you the following propositions. That the Good Friday Agreement is one which has tremendous potential – on that we are both agreed. That the Good Friday Agreement is one which demands a very considerable movement on the part of all sides in Northern Ireland – and Paul has on other occasions acknowledged the extent of the Sinn Fein movement. And whether it’s put in terms of Gerry Adams acknowledging the failure of the Republican enterprise, which is one way of putting it, or the triumph of democratic politics over sectarian violent politics, which is another way of putting it, that Agreement is one which in my view still commands our respect and still is the set of principles in which we all have to place our hope.
“And what worries me about Paul’s analysis is this: that you wouldn’t have to be very very cynical to say that the name of the game was to get the Unionist Council from here to next January, so that in next January they can go into, effectively, opposition mode, withdraw from the institutions, and contest the elections, effectively as outsiders, having demonstrated their Unionist purity by being seen not to be wreckers at first instance, but being seen to be people who are driven, in their view, by Republican intransigence and paramilitarism to taking a stance on principle at long last, which will given them enough time and a window of opportunity within which to succeed in the election and to appear to be the champions of the Union, rather than the ‘Lundies’ or whatever that the DUP will throw at the UUP if things go on as they are. You wouldn’t have to be totally cynical to see things in that light.
“So am I pessimistic now, having heard Paul Bew, who is a very influential figure in terms of commenting and, I think, influencing some at least of Unionist opinion in Northern Ireland? Am I now driven to total pessimism and despair, having heard this analysis? I’m not. Because I don’t accept that the great majority – and he agrees with me on this – that the great majority of people in Northern Ireland, or in these islands, have abandoned the principles of the Good Friday Agreement, or think there is a better Agreement out there on offer. And I think everybody agrees with that.
Economic stability and growth: “And I also make the point that the Belfast Agreement – or the Good Friday Agreement, call it what you will – has in it the prospect for economic stability and growth. And Paul said that talk about economic well-being wouldn’t effectively cut much mustard, at this point, with the Unionist Council, because they don’t see the economic well-being that is there. Well, that’s strange, because every time I speak to people who are in the business community and in civil society and not in politics in Northern Ireland, they do see the enormous improvements in their economic well-being, and they are substantial, and they are real. I think that a lot of people would look to them and say “do I want to throw all of this away?”
Two Governments will not walk away from the Good Friday Agreement: “And the second question is: throw it away for what? Because the two governments have as their fundamental project a partnership between London and Dublin to ensure that Northern Ireland is no longer run in a way that excludes either section of that community. So that if, for whatever reason, the political parties in Northern Ireland find themselves unable or unwilling to operate those institutions, nothing substantially different in terms of outcome is going to be pressed upon the two governments as a result of that co-operation, or lack of co-operation. The governments are not going to walk away from the terms of that Agreement – or its principles – and deliver a different result because the two sets of politicians in Northern Ireland cannot find their way to operate it, whosever fault that may be. And therefore the notion of ending devolved power and devolved authority in the interest of the purity of the Unionist position is not a notion which I think is well thought out at all, and in this I think there has been an element of weakness in Unionist rhetoric and in Unionist politics in the last two years.
No renegotiation: “Because there is not going to be renegotiation of that Agreement. There can be withdrawal. There can be people who say “we won’t work it”. But the two governments, London and Dublin, will nonetheless proceed to implement the fruits of that Agreement, and the methodology of that Agreement and the values of that Agreement, as far as they can, even if there is a failure or a vacuum in terms of operating devolved institutions for the time being. So there is no “Plan B” which is of greater interest to either moderate Nationalists or moderate Unionists. There is nothing better out there on offer. And I would just make that point, that anybody who thinks that we are going into a process of renegotiation, and that the governments will walk away from the principles of this Agreement, faced with an impasse as a result of an election, I think is engaging in a bit of wishful thinking. It’s simply not there. And particularly from a moderate Unionist point of view. I think in large measure that Agreement – and I’ll come to the paramilitary situation in a moment – that Agreement is as good as it gets, and it ain’t going to get no better.
Transformation of paramilitarism into democratic politics: “Now I come finally, if I may, to the question, Chairman, of paramilitarism. As I see it, nobody is tougher on the subject of paramilitarism than I am. And nobody is quicker, if I can, to acknowledge the shortcomings of anybody or any group which taints its involvement in the democratic process with paramilitarism. I defer to no one in hostililty to paramilitarism or the way in which it threatens democratic society. The purpose of getting an inclusive result in Northern Ireland was to woo the radical elements on all sides, but particularly on the Republican side, into democratic politics, to persuade the Republican movement, if they required to be persuaded, of the obvious proposition that the way forward was to engage in democratic politics within a Northern Ireland that was based on partnership and which was open to the democratic achievement of their particular aim. Part of the process of transformation of paramilitarism into democratic politics is persuading those who wanted to have it both ways that they can’t have it both ways any more, and that they must move decisively and irreversibly towards the democratic path.
“If the Republican movement were represented by politicians who simply cast aside their roots and said “that’s the end of our connection with the Republican movement, because it carries within it people who have in the past espoused paramilitarism”, the purpose of the Belfast Agreement wouldn’t be served if the result of that was that the political leadership of Sinn Fein became an isolated rump. The idea is to bring the whole of the Republican movement into the democratic tent in more or less one piece. Now hesitation on that point clearly creates distrust. And I agree with Paul that the Unionist population of Northern Ireland must look to Colombia and other events and say “what is going on here?” And the monitor process is one means whereby there can be on the ground some mechanism to assess whether the commitment to democratic politics is irreversible and definite. But what I am arguing for strongly is that the process of bringing Republicanism into the democratic tent isn’t going to take place at the click of a finger, and isn’t going to take place in circumstances where it is seen to be at the behest of people who are hostile to the Republican point of view.
Orange Order delegation on Ulster Unionist Council: “Bear in mind that from a Republican perspective – and I would not share this – you could criticise the Ulster Unionist Council meeting as a meeting at which 200 of the delegates, at least, come from the Orange Order. This isn’t a normal political party. The SDLP doesn’t have 200 AOH members. Fianna Fail doesn’t have 200 Knights of Columbanus members at its Ard-fheiseanna! …. But, from a Republican point of view, what happened the other day, they are not dealing with people who, in their view, they trust completely. They point to the detail – that Paul has asked us to ignore – of the resolution and say “that’s what they are really talking about, that’s their real motivation, that’s their real agenda, and, if it weren’t their real agenda, why did David Trimble make those concessions in rolling back Patten in order to survive? Why did he do that?
Squaring the circle: “So I’m saying it is a process in which we are – use any cliché you like – trying to square a circle. And it’s the people who are in favour of circles point to the square aspects of the other people’s arguments, and vice versa. But what we are about in all of this is bringing forward the democratic process in Northern Ireland and persuading those who looked to it suspiciously on either side that they should plunge their entire political effort into making it work. And whereas Paul is arguing here for a scenario that effectively says “it’s all hands to the pump, save David Trimble” there is another side which the two governments have to bear in mind, and say “we can’t, for instance, cast aside the SDLP and say moderate Nationalism doesn’t matter, hand the victory to the Republican end.” We can’t just do that, it wouldn’t be responsible politics. We can’t premise our strategy on such propositions.
Ambivalence of UUP: “It’s true that David Trimble has taken a fair amount of stick from commentators in the South in particular – and in Britain – for failing to sell the positive aspects of the Agreement to the Unionist population of Northern Ireland. It’s true he takes a fair amount of stick on that and it’s true that his life on occasion has not been made as easy as it might be. But, on the other hand, I am strongly of the view that there is some truth in the proposition that the Unionist Party has remained ambivalent in some respects on some aspects of the Agreement, and that this is perceived in the Republican community as giving them justification for the snail-like progress that they have made so far.
Conclusions: “So, I come down to this point of optimism. I do believe that the principles of the Belfast Agreement will win out in the end. I don’t believe that the two governments can ever reward those who do not operate the Agreement. I don’t believe that it makes sense to predicate a political strategy on the atrophying of the centre ground. I don’t believe, in particular, that we can possibly take an attitude based on the proposition that the SDLP is effectively to be discarded as a spent force and let’s get down to the real struggle afterwards. I don’t accept that proposition. I think that Northern Irish society is more complex than that, and the truth is more complex than that, and the solutions to the truth will be more complex than that, and that no single party should look simply to its own electoral success as the starting point for the next phase.
“No single party should simply say: “the better we do, the better it will be for the Agreement”, regardless of the consequences for other parties. And I say that very conscious of one thing: that in the last election the lesson was borne in, on me particularly, but on many, that if you don’t get your seats, you’re really not at the races. There’s no point in being right, from either the sidelines or from being excluded from office. But I make this point too: the idea that the Agreement can be pursued, or that the interests of the Agreement can be pursued, wholly on the basis that the Unionist Party must be saved, and that every effort must be made to bolster up the Unionist point of view, even to the extent, for instance, of having a border poll, that, in my view, would be a mistaken approach and I think would end up producing a worse situation than the one which David Trimble claims up to now has been intolerable. So, if you didn’t get the script, you can ask the reporters for it!”
[Editor’s note: text of the Minister’s supplied script is reproduced at Appendix B below]
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS
Questions 1 and 2:
Q. 1. Roy Garland (Ulster Unionist, Co-chair of Guild of Uriel in Louth): “Just a couple of points in passing for Minister McDowell. As a long time member of the Ulster Unionist party, I am very, very strongly pro-Agreement. … In my view the Unionist Party remains pro-Agreement, but, as I think Paul Bew was suggesting, what has happened has leached away that support for the Agreement. There were always doubts, there were doubts in both communities, and the doubt was whether an organisation that had committed acts of terrorism was prepared to move into the democratic process, and Colombia and these other items has not strengthened that and it’s leached away support, much to my dismay, and I’m still working on the ground. But I listened to Jeffrey Donaldson a week or so ago and the conclusion most people at the meeting came to was: Jeffrey Donaldson is not anti-Agreement.
“The main thrust is: how can we sit in government with what he calls “unreconstructed terrorists”, in view of Colombia, Castlereagh and so on and so forth?
SDLP: “I don’t believe Unionists are full of contempt for the SDLP. As one who spoke at the SDLP conference last week, there was not the slightest criticism or suggestion that the SDLP are contemptible. In fact it’s the very opposite. The difficulty is, if the SDLP is not going to be a right-off, Unionists are wondering why they are moving too much towards the Sinn Fein camp and emphasising Irish unity and the approach that is really likely to alienate Unionists.
Border poll: “The thing about the border poll, just a quick comment on that, about it being polarising. I understand the worries about it being polarising. It’s very difficult to appreciate the position David Trimble and the people who support him are in, and if there’s a border poll … there will be a very precise result in that border poll. It would settle the Unionist community and if the Unionist community pick up enough strength, they will do a deal, even at this stage with Sinn Fein….
Q.2. Fr John Feighery (member of Irish Association): “Speaking as a very non-expert commentator from the North, it struck me that we were very, very privileged this evening. We have heard two outstanding contributions. Paul Bew, in my view, has for a very long time been an outstandingly lucid and objective commentator on the North, and I think now we need to remind ourselves that the Minister and his party have had a very liberal and generous view of the position of the Unionists, and of course has taken a very courageous view on paramilitarism. Now I thought Paul’s analysis was very convincing, and especially in establishing the drift towards the destruction, unfortunately, or withdrawal of the Unionist Party from the institutions, however might we lament that. What we are dealing with here is a pathology, not necessarily a rational process, because the Minister and Paul will agree that the Agreement is in the best interests of all the community. I thought the Minister put some very good objections, but I didn’t hear him say clearly anything to convince me that the Irish Government, as of the moment, have the ideas that will arrest the drift to the collapse of the institutions.
Loyalist violence: “Two things Paul said that could perhaps be commented on later. He talked about the fact that most of the violence now is from the Loyalist side. Is there a possibility that in some way that can be combated and, in some measure, arrested?
Republican “adventures”: “Secondly, he spoke about the fact that Gerry Adams lets the “boys”, get up to their tricks in Colombia and Castlereagh, something which is incredibly provocative and upsetting to the Unionist community. Is that something that he and his leadership could take seriously and in some way meet the Unionist concern? The overall suggestion tonight, and Paul, as a Professor of politics might have something interesting to say here: we all know that hard-liners become soft-liners once they are in power. Is it possible, Paul, that the Minister is correct in saying that this is the only game in town and if then Jeffrey Donaldson or somebody else replaces David Trimble that in fact he will essentially pursue the Trimble agenda with perhaps a rather different rhetoric?
Replies to questions 1 and 2:
Paul Bew: Re SDLP “I will immediately address the issue of the role of the SDLP. It is something I am very worried about, in the discussion so far, and it’s not the Minister’s fault. It was an amazing bravura performance. But it’s this: because I am and have been for twenty years a friend of David Trimble’s, you should not assume that the views that I have put tonight are his views – unless you know it to be the case. Now in the case of the border poll, you know it is to be the case. But I think it is very important to understand -this goes back on something that Roy Garland has said – that actually there is no contempt in the Ulster Unionist Party for the SDLP. And I have a view, which I have expressed to you, which I think is the realistic view of the great majority of political commentators in Northern Ireland: that it may not be as Dr. Brian Feeney says it is going to go to seventy-thirty rapidly among Nationalists, but that it is as certain as we can be sure about any electoral result that the majority of members returned to the next parliament from the Nationalist community will be Sinn Fein rather than SDLP. This is actually a commonplace of contemporary discourse. I said myself, I used the phrase “heartbreaking”. That was my genuine attitude towards that, but I do not think that you should presume that the First Minister believes this, because in my view he still retains a totally open mind on this question.
Border poll: “And, if I can add further, he believes that there is no evidence that the border poll will weaken the SDLP. The advice from pollsters is: a high turnout in the Catholic community is likely to help the party which has the least organisation. That there will be a high turnout of Catholics, and they will in the great majority of cases be voting for a united Ireland, but it will actually help the party which doesn’t have the organisation on the ground. So it is absolutely vital that my remarks – which are not in any way original, the conventional wisdom of all political commentators to be honest in Belfast, the only difference between me and the majority of commentators is that I regard it with horror. A lot of people are worshipping now at the rising sun of Mr. Adams – but that my remarks are not taken as his [David Trimble’s] particular view on this particular point. He is still of the belief that the way forward is the strengthening of the centre for Ireland, if that is at all possible, and he is still of the view that the border poll does not conflict with that. It is vitally important that what I have said should not be run in to any opinions of his, I’ve just been made very nervous about that.
Alternatives: “Now John [Feighery] has raised a crucial question which is: should we be obsessed with personalities? And he’s raised the possibility – and it’s in Roy Garland’s remarks as well – where is Jeffrey Donaldson on these matters? Jeffrey Donaldson, the day of the referendum said, as a democrat, he’d lost the referendum. He is still saying that we want to retain Stormont, but we do not want to pay the price of dealing with what he calls “unreconstructed terrorists”, but that is obviously a concept that is open to debate. What is an “unreconstructed terrorist”? There is obviously a space there. I would go further. I think that there are people in the DUP – and Peter Robinson is an obvious example – who are looking desperately for ways to preserve Stormont. … These people are afraid of a smash-up. There is no belief that there is a better deal for Unionists on offer. I should warn the Minister – and he may be flattered by this – there is a bit of a view in the Unionist community which is that, “well, so what if there is joint authority or there is a united Ireland or whatever? I’d rather have that nice Michael McDowell as Minister for Justice, than some of the candidates I’m likely to have in Northern Ireland”. That view is there, believe me!
“And its quite a widespread view that “so what, this is dirty, this current arrangement, unless Sinn Fein are made to clean up their act somewhat, I can’t tolerate this and don’t bother me about there’s going to be direct rule and Irish input, there’s going to be joint authority”. In actual fact I think the British government would be very wary of joint authority for profound reasons of it’s own: self-interest and financial interests and so on. The point is the electorate is not frightened, it’s not even frightened of a united Ireland. The mood is quite different. It is not motivated in most cases – except by a few cadres of the Ulster Unionist Party and not the people – by the idea that a better deal is possible. It’s very important to understand that aspect of the mood, very important indeed.
DUP cannot save the Agreement if UUP moves hard to the right: “But the DUP cannot deliver if the Ulster Unionist Party is driven hard to the right. The DUP delivers what it currently delivers, via Peter Robinson, to keep the institutions afloat, because the Ulster Unionist Party is in the centre, and that then creates a pressure on the DUP to keep the thing going. It is vitally important to understand this. There is no possibility of Peter Robinson riding to the rescue of this Agreement if David Trimble goes down. None. Dr. Ian Paisley will make absolutely certain that doesn’t happen. Trimble has to be there in place, or somebody like him, with something like those policies, to create the incentive for the DUP to carry on. It’s a complete failure of understanding of dynamics to believe that the DUP can suddenly save the Agreement in a context in which the Ulster Unionist Party has moved hard to the right.
Border poll: “And it’s not really all that much about the election, I have to tell you. The election is stupid, stupid, if you have an election, which is going to be an election to nothing, and all the candidates know it is an election to institutions which are going down. And let me say this, it will be horribly polarised. If I can say – well John [Feighery] is here and he knows my background in this matter, we both worked together in the Irish Association. I actually believe in that approach to Irish affairs, very profoundly. I believe in the moderate consensus coming together. I am totally opposed to sectarianism and therefore why am I taking about a border poll here, which has such a risk? I’ll tell you two reasons: one, without it I suspect this election is going to be horrendously polarising and destabilising anyway, it’s not going to add much to that. But secondarily, I have come to realise from the days when John and I were running around organising the Irish Association in Dublin and Belfast, that you have to take as a given the passions of the population of Northern Ireland – either Nationalist, Republican or Catholic or Unionist, Protestant and so on – and there is no point in wishing they were different. You have to look at where they are and then you have to say “well now that’s where they are, but they’re not bad people and they’d rather have peace than war, so how can we arrange it that we allow their better emotions and their more common-sense emotions to triumph?”
Ingrained sectarianism: “That what the ideas that I put to you tonight are all about and I’m afraid you just have to accept the ingrained sectarianism in most people in Northern Ireland. Something I came extremely reluctantly to, very much in my forties, but I’ve had a lot more success in terms of the influence of benign political developments in Northern Ireland once I came to terms with that simple logic. So it’s just no good to say we don’t want it polarising, it’s going to be awful. The question is what’s the outcome going to be? Imagine the outcome, imagine that you actually get the situation with a Unionist community, because of a border poll, had enough confidence to make a deal with Sinn Fein. That’s the prize that we’re talking about here.
Difficulty about being prescriptive: “Just a final word on all of this. There’s a very tricky referendum now on Nice [Nice Treaty]. I could not honestly give you serious analysis of that referendum. Now, I’m a Professor of Irish politics, my family comes from Cork, I’ve written books – two books – about the politics of the Republic. I still would not be able to advise the Minister on the right course to get a “yes” vote. I couldn’t do it, because the rhythms of the society in the Republic today, I’m not sufficiently attuned to, even though I know a lot more about it than most people who live in Northern Ireland. I spend a lot more time there. Now, I do think it behoves even the most brilliant members of the Irish Government to come to terms with the possibility, just the possibility, that there is a difficulty about being prescriptive about the balance of forces in the North, which is similar to the difficulty that I would have if I started telling you how to run a Nice referendum campaign and what the right buttons to press are and what they are not. Thank you.”
Q. 3: “It’s interesting to hear the government telling the Unionists that they have to accept former terrorists in government. In the next five years, or whenever the next Flood Tribunal report comes out, the Government might well have to share power with Sinn Fein, and then what is their attitude to that going to be?”
Q.4: “I think that there’s a fundamental contradiction in much of what Paul was saying tonight. On the one hand he’s saying that he’s in favour of the Good Friday Agreement, and at the same time he says he’s disheartened at the rise of Sinn Fein. Well, to my mind the whole idea of the Good Friday Agreement was to bring people like Sinn Fein into the democratic process, so if you support the Good Friday Agreement, you’ve got to support the rise of Sinn Fein, because that is what it was all about and that was what was going to happen. If you want to see the demise of Sinn Fein, then what I suggest is that if you don’t support the Good Friday Agreement then you encourage them to go back to war.
Q.5 Cllr. Sean Collins (Fianna Fail, Drogheda): “If you say that the SDLP are on the slide, what is the answer? What should they do? What would make them hungry enough to fight back? You know, history, I think, is repeating itself in many ways. If you look to 1926, with the establishment of Fianna Fail and the appearance of the “bogey man” in De Valera. Same way as Adams is the “bogey man” today. Sinn Fein today are in many ways like Fianna Fail was then: they were hungry then, they’ve got out on the ground they’ve organised themselves. I couldn’t believe the result of the last general election in the South, to see them take so many seats and you know in this constituency, they could possibly have taken another one. What would make the SDLP hungry enough to fight back?
Q. 6. Cllr. Phil Cantwell (Ind., Trim UDC): “I was recently at a mass in the Short Strand and there used to be a very, very strong voice, a priest there called Fr. O’Brien and unfortunately and he’s gone from the area, so I was just wondering how does the influence of Fr. O’Brien – which would be equivalent to Fr. Troy – I wonder is that missed? Because what concerns me is that at that church I was rather intimidated by a group of individuals, obviously they were in the IRA, with dark glasses marching on a Sunday morning through the Short Strand, and then I was worried to see graffiti on the wall which said: “the Village supports Sharon” [Ariel Sharon] I was wondering is that an ominous trend? And the question I want to ask is, did the ‘missing’ of Gary McMichael in the process, had it any influence on the infighting of the Loyalist groups and is the exclusion by the Irish Government of Sinn Fein, has it been causing problems?
Q.7: Senator Mary White (Fianna Fail, Dublin): “I would like to ask Paul Bew why David Trimble doesn’t criticise more the Loyalist paramilitary activity in North Belfast and East Belfast? There doesn’t seem to be any mainstream Unionist leadership on the paramilitary activity on the Loyalist side.
Q.8: [Slane resident] “May I make some comment, not specifically on the Nice referendum here, but on the issue of globalisation, because that’s what the Nice referendum to some extent is about. The increased sovereignty within Europe as a bundle of countries and maybe slightly decreased sovereignty in some senses of Ireland as an island, but that these issues may contribute a lot in terms of dissipating this localised Republican versus Loyalist heat. We end up with maybe a couple of ghettoes, a few small ghettoes when this process is over, because a lot of the younger generation in the North are actually voting with their feet, walking out and walking away from this kind of localised, tribalised violence. That may be, as Minister McDowell said, economic prosperity takes away the need for tribal warfare, but that there is a global consumerist issue which may be a greater political threat to everybody. We sense the younger generation not interested in political thought and communal responsibility and that these are issues, global issues, that often supersede many of these smaller local republican problems that we have.
Q.9: [Kells resident]: “The speaker referred to the Westminster pro-Patten legislation about to be introduced. On an optimistic point of view I would suggest that it seems likely that Sinn Fein will join the Police Board in the event of it being to their satisfaction. That could all happen before the January meeting, in which case it may free up the decommissioning problem, and maybe things will free up, a list of events that will follow as a result of it. Thank you.”
Q.10: Cllr. Jim Cousins (PD, Dundalk): “…. Paul Bew said about these agreements with the Unionists, these propositions that come up, these motions that come up, Paul Bew more or less said “pass no remarks on them”, it’s just word-playing. But Mark Durkan issued a warning tonight, that if that kind of thing goes through, the SDLP will withdraw from the Police Board …. because the Unionists have more or less said, you know, they want to change Patten. And I don’t agree that the SDLP is a party that’s on the down. There have been plenty of parties here in the South that people thought were wiped out, but we came back with a bang.
Replies to questions 3-10
[Initial fragment of this section inaudible on tape]
Minister McDowell: Re SDLP: “… I don’t want to seem to be scoring points here and I’m conscious that it may be that when Paul said that the SDLP are finished – it was his phrase not my phrase – that he was purely saying that as the larger of the two parties in Northern Ireland on the Nationalist side they were finished, and there is a nod there in agreement and I’m glad of that at any rate, because to see them as a party, which was finished in the ordinary understanding of that term is to me a deeply and profoundly depressing scenario.
Sinn Fein’s Marxism: “Let’s be clear about Sinn Fein: Sinn Fein as far as we know, is a party whose ideology on economic matters is old-fashioned Marxism. In so far as they ever make themselves clear on these issues – and it’s mainly in internal documents and party productions of one kind or another which the rest of us are fortunate enough not to have to read – the gist of what they are saying is old-fashioned Marxist, socialist analysis of an economic kind. They’re not in the mainstream of modern, liberal democracy as far as the economic side of it is concerned. There is no point in calling a spade anything other than a spade. And, therefore if people say to me “would you coalesce with them?” No. I went into politics to oppose Marxism. I opposed it when it came from the Worker’s Party, I opposed it when it comes from Joe Higgins’ Trotskyite form of Marxism, I oppose it when it comes from Sinn Fein. That’s the first thing.
“The second thing is I don’t ever envisage a circumstance in which I will sit down around a Cabinet table with a group of Marxists to try and plan out our economy, because I believe that I fundamentally differ with them on what this country needs. So people who say to me, you know, “why would you rule out Sinn Fein?” – it isn’t solely their paramilitary side that disqualifies them. In my view they are not what I would consider to be people with whom I could do business with on economic issues. That’s my personal point of view, you may like it or dislike it, but that’s the way it is as far as I’m concerned.
Sinn Fein joining the Police Board: “Sinn Fein could easily join the Police Board, if they chose to do it, but at the moment it’s quite clear that they’re keeping their options open on that, because they say they’d consider doing it in certain circumstances, and they are playing a hard game of electoral poker, because they consider that they have an advantage over the SDLP by withholding support for the policing institutions of Northern Ireland at the moment. It may well be that they might decide that they are so advantaged in the present thing, and that Paul’s pessimistic view about the SDLP’s prospects are so correct, that they could take the risk of going into policing before the Christmas or before the next Assembly election. Somehow I doubt that. And the reason I doubt that I have to say very simply is that the Republican movement isn’t simply a whole load of Sinn Fein electoral offices or a whole load of Sinn Fein cumann meetings. It is a whole way of thinking, part of which regards itself as more legitimate as a group of people to decide what happens in the Short Strand, or the Bogside or anywhere else, than any police force. And that suits a lot of people because it gives them on a local basis power over their neighbours: power to determine disputes, influence, the right not to be insulted at its very least, the right to coerce other people to their way of thinking at the very worst. And therefore dismantling paramilitarism and adopting the police force of Northern Ireland as legitimate is going to require quite a wrench. I’m not saying it’s something which I justify withholding for a moment, but withholding support is something which is easier for them to do at the moment and present circumstances politically than not doing. That’s not a justification for that, it’s just a statement of fair analysis and fact.
UUC resolution: “I heard what was said here earlier, but I come back to this point: we cannot take it as a position that we are to disregard the fine print of the motion passed at the Unionist Council the other day. We just can’t do that. And, tempting though it is, Paul, to say “that’s just the usual guff” and “they would say that wouldn’t they” and all the rest. This was a composite statement put together by David Trimble with his antagonists. This was a means of uniting the Unionist Party and in order to get the degree of unity that David Trimble thought was necessary on the occasion in question, he and his supporters agreed to language which seems to threaten the Patten dispensation. And they can’t have it both ways, because whereas that may be okay, that’s the equivalent of letting the “lads” go to Colombia as far as other people in Northern Ireland are concerned. You can’t have it. You can’t say “we’re pro-Agreement, but let’s unravel Patten a little bit”, and at the same time say “you on the other side are breaching the Mitchell Principles” – which undoubtedly the Provisional movement has done in the past – but “your fault is something which is irremediable and is something serious, but just ignore us we do these strange little things from time to time on our side of the equation”.
Ethnic cleansing in Larne and Carrickfergus: “And I do take the point that was mentioned earlier about violence in Northern Ireland, and I do believe – and it’s a thing by the way which didn’t occur to me in recent weeks because it’s a thing that since I have been Attorney General and since I have been a Minister has been occurring to me more and more strongly – you can argue about who threw the first stone, or who fired the first firework or who put the first petrol bomb over the peace line here or there in Belfast. You can’t argue with what’s happening in Larne and Carrickfergus. There is systematic ethnic-cleansing going on there. Systematic ethnic-cleansing of Catholic families. They are being forced up the coast of Antrim to places like Glenarm and Cushendal. They are being forced out of their homes, and I do say that the pro-agreement Unionists and the SDLP could make a huge impression by going and standing in solidarity against that form of violence. And it’s very easy for politicians – not for the SDLP, because they find it very difficult in fact to get into interface areas and to fly the flag – but it’s easy for Republicans to stand on one side of a riot and say “look at the PSNI, look at the Loyalists and all the rest of it”. It’s easy for David Trimble to stand on the other side and say “here is the golf ball that was thrown at me in front of a ‘welcome to hell’ slogan”, but the real trick, if I may put it in those terms, would be for Mark Durkan and David Trimble – and I think this is where Unionism has most to give – to go up to the estates in Carrickfergus and in Larne and to stand up against vicious sectarian violence against ordinary people who have done no harm to anybody at all.
Countering sectarianism: “I accept Paul’s point, but it is a profoundly depressing one, that you have to address the fundamental sectarian nature of Northern Ireland’s society and that if you fail to do that, I suppose he’s effectively saying you are in the “Pollyanna” mode rather than in a real analytical mode. But sectarianism must be countered by the emergence of the centre, not by the two extremes. …The two extremes thrive on sectarianism. Sinn Fein thrives on sectarianism, in a sense that it is well served by the Loyalist viciousness which it claims to protect the Catholic people from, and it is well-served by vicious bigotry against isolated Protestants in border areas. That is the stuff on which Sinn Fein thrives. It’s the centre-ground, the SDLP, who oppose sectarianism, the people who vote for mayors of other parties, the people who try and bring out co-operation between the centre parties. It’s there that sectarianism will be challenged. And accepting, as I do, Paul’s statement that the SDLP was finished, meant only that they were finished in his view as the likely majority party within the Nationalist community, though I don’t agree with that proposition myself. Accepting that that’s his view, it still strikes me that the Unionists as a community should realise that they need the SDLP to be as strong as possible as it can be, and that that requires sacrifice on the Unionist side and that the tribalistic headcount and this pernicious, nasty, obnoxious election that Paul is referring to now, that that is not the way in which moderate politics are going to prosper and people are going to cross over the sectarian divides with their third, fourth and fifth preferences.
UUC resolution can’t be disregarded: “I know that Paul telling me that it would be hard for him to offer advice on the Nice referendum which was valuable, I know that what he was saying by implication was that I should be equally careful about making prescriptions about Northern Ireland, but, unsubtle thought that point was, we all live on an island, we all live in two islands, and the great majority of people on these two island are completely on the side of supporting the centre, the moderate centre. And we can’t be asked, as I say, to turn our eyes away from the small detail of the resolutions that are passed by the Unionist Council. We just can’t be asked to do that, because there two sides to this story and if you want to get SDLP people – and the point was made by Jim Cousins here – if you want Mark Durkan to survive in all of this, he has to respond to a motion which has as one of it’s elements the unravelling of the Patten Report. And you just can’t say “ignore that, we’ll just get on with it and after the election we’ll all sort this out”. If that is the price of Unionist unity it is an indication that public hostility to one of the cornerstones of the Good Friday Agreement, which is the Patten Report, is necessary to sustain the Unionist Party and that’s very hard to reconcile with the claim being made that it is an unambiguously pro-Agreement party. Thanks.
Prof. Paul Bew: “I am grateful to the Minister for just the whole spirit that he has approached that. I think we should all realise that we are all obviously privileged. For a Government Minister to come in and put aside his prepared script and engage with the issues the way that Michael has done is something, in most countries in Europe today, simply would not happen, and I’m extremely grateful to him for the way that he has done it, and also very glad to clarify my own remarks, which were probably ill-chosen.
SDLP: “I hope that there was no misunderstanding in the first place, but he is quite right, I simply meant finished as the largest Nationalist party, and I sincerely hope that the scenario of others like Dr. Brian Feeney, as I think I did indicate, that it is going to go very quickly to seventy-thirty within Nationalism, that that scenario is not the case and I’m not at all sure at this point that that is true, not at all sure, that that scenario of Dr. Feeney’s is right.
Policing and UUC resolution: “On the [UUC] motion, I quite accept the Minister’s point. I don’t think it’s possible for Mark Durkan not to say that this is a silly motion to which he takes objection and looks like an attempt to put the clock back. I could make points about why there are genuine Unionist concerns about policing. I could say that the Good Friday Agreement, in the language which prefaces and leads into the discussion on the need for something like the Patten Report, says that this must go on in the context in which it’s accepted the police force that cannot keep public order will have lost all respect. And we had the acting Chief Constable six weeks ago saying that there was now a police force that couldn’t keep public order. So there is a problem here about the Agreement, a non-fulfilment of it and it’s not all, the problem about non-fulfilment of the Agreement on policing matters is not simply a matter of: there are these Patten provisions that should be carried out.
“It’s also important language in the Agreement, which, by the open and explicit statements of the leadership of the Police Service of Northern Ireland themselves, have not been met. So the non-fulfilment of the Agreement on policing is a two-sided matter actually, not a one-sided matter, and it’s because of comments like that, which people visibly see on their streets every day. It’s because of comments like that that you do get part of the sentiment which leads into a motion, which personally I think was silly.
“I think that it’s perfectly credible if, in my opinion, worrying, for the Ulster Unionist Party to say “we have a problem with this transition, what is it about Castlereagh and Colombia that you don’t understand? Does anybody honestly believe that the day of the referendum you had told David Trimble that you are going to have to get by in the face of your supporters reading about such events in your newspaper?” There is a problem as to where the Republican movement is and clear signs that they are not, to many people, in the process of making a transition. I personally believe they are in the process of making that transition, but it’s a hard, hard argument to make now. There’s a lot of common sense that goes against it. Okay. So that’s the difficulty, that is the difficulty and that is the position that he’s in.
David Trimble: “I’ll tell you something now, David Trimble believed that when decommissioning was achieved that was it, it was over and the Agreement was safe and he had climbed his personal Everest, the breakthrough was done. He wasn’t too worried in the next election. Perhaps the DUP beat him. If so, in many ways he’s quite prepared to be – what you would understand in your own terms – the Liam Cosgrave of the situation, as somebody who established the institutions, got them up and running and, if another political party then takes over and runs them, there and good. That’s the worst-case scenario that he thought was the case after decommissioning. He found himself in an entirely different position. He has his weaknesses.
Countering sectarianism: “I quite agree with those who have raised the issue about his speaking out on sectarianism. He has done so, but not often enough in the situation in North Belfast, and I think what the Minister said about the situation in Carrickfergus and Antrim is entirely right, unfortunately, and that is something which, if the centre were working together better, at least more of a fist could be made of doing it. Which is not to say that those two men have not made a fist of trying to do things, for example Mark and David together in North Belfast. But unfortunately you have a situation where a great deal of Unionist political energy is taken up with this wretched internecine warfare. Other better things just quite frequently do not get done.
Trimble’s commitment to the Agreement: “But, you must remember, when you complain about Mr. Trimble’s commitment to this Agreement, who in this room has seen their wife kicked by a mob in the name of this Agreement? It’s very simple, there is really absolutely no doubt about his commitment to this Agreement and you should always bear this in mind.
Policing motion a Unionist “wish-list”: “It is going to be very difficult, I agree, this motion is a problem. I am not saying that as a matter of real political fact, people are not going to pick up on it and make the arguments – of course they are. I am saying that also as a matter of real political fact the truth is that the legislation is going to be introduced in the House of Commons, it’s going to take time going through parliament, these matters are not going to be sorted out on the 18th [January].
“What that resolution says: it expresses a Unionist wish-list on policing on some of the more reactionary members of the Ulster Unionist Party. That’s what it is – it’s a wish-list. If you want to say “well, I’m not going to think about how I’m going to save the Good Friday Agreement, because I’m so insulted about what they’ve said about policing”, you’re very welcome to say it, but then don’t tell me how you are “dying for the Agreement”, to use the phrase, because I think it is absolutely a futile thing to do. It expresses a Unionist wish-list.
“I want to just leave you with a thought. All the time just think of human beings, other human beings different from yourselves, and imagine what they might actually think. And the truth of the matter is that you have a group of people in the Ulster Unionist Assembly Party, you have a group in the DUP Assembly Party. I have absolutely no doubt, the DUP will issue a statement tomorrow saying let’s have an election and we’re going to romp home and so on, that this is said with a sickness in the heart, because they know that it’s an election to nothing in all probability, the way things are going now and they know we are heading for a smash-up the way things are now. And, most of these people basically are afraid of a smash-up, they want somehow to keep this show on the road, above all. That is the Assembly members, that is the people who will actually meet again on January the 18th . And they do not want to be responsible for a smash-up. They may not believe that the Agreement has made the Northern Irish economy flower in ways it didn’t flower before. They don’t. By the way they’re probably right, but they do believe that it would be a nastier place without it and they do not want that responsibility and I think you should focus on that.
Republican movement: John [Feighery] raised a key question here – is there anything the Republican movement could do? Well at this point, before this trial in Colombia is over, it is hard, but if it is over or if it happens quickly and if, for example, people are found guilty it would be very helpful indeed if we had an honest explanation, possibly even something along the lines of an apology for what actually happened there. An acceptance of the fact that it does fly in the face of the principles on the very first page of the Agreement. I actually believe that the governments are in a position to move the Republican movement along those lines. It’s impossible to do it before the trial, but I do think it is something that should be considered.
Border poll: “Now I am going to conclude by saying I have argued a case for the border poll, which I do believe in, although I totally accept some of the things which the Minister says about the risks, but at this point I would be perfectly happy with a statement from both governments that they were taking the matter under review and they were going to think about it for a good long time.
Delaying the Assembly election: “At this point it is more important to look at the issue of delay of the election. At this point, if you want to get stability into the politics of the North again, I think it very important. …. At this point I don’t think it is at the centre of the discussion. I believe it could come back. I believe, by the way, had the governments gone for it earlier in the year, we’d be in a totally different political situation now. And why? Because of a simple political fact: Jeffrey Donaldson and David Burnside wanted it, and it would have put them in a pro-Trimble alignment, because they believe for one reason or another it would work. And had that happened, then the Donaldson-Burnside pincer movement against Trimble did not happen this autumn. I believe a massive opportunity was missed to avoid the crisis that we’re now in. But it’s missed now, it’s water under the bridge, and at this point I think the important thing is simply that people in both governments look seriously at the proposal. At this stage what disappoints me is that the thinking in both governments – perhaps less in the British government – is still at a kind of very early stage, and the complexities of this thing have not been thought through, and people are still reacting on the basis of half an understanding on what’s actually at stake here. … And, as I say, this is not necessarily David’s view, but it is mine at the moment, but I do think you have to look seriously into a crucial issue which is this: the fact that if this election happens next May, this Assembly will only have been working for just over three years and it is clearly the original intention that it would work for four, and circumstances which are nobody’s fault have meant it hasn’t worked for that time. It seems to be entirely in the spirit of the Agreement. It doesn’t involve changing a word of the Agreement.
Need for review of mechanism for electing First and Deputy First Minister: “Now why do I say these things about the problem about Sinn Fein? Of course the Agreement is about bringing in Sinn Fein, but the truth of the matter is that the two parties who principally negotiated it – both the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists – in a fit of hubris, for which they are both guilty, agreed to arrangements for the election of the First Minister which now challenges both of them. In the last two or three days of the negotiation, those two parties had the power to do something which the Minister has talked about: strengthen the centre ground. And to strengthen the centre ground by privileging, not just in the voting for First Minister and Deputy First Minister, getting a certain percentage of the vote, they made a huge mistake by putting it at 50% rather that 40% and they made the huge mistake of not privileging your acceptability to the other side in the mechanism that was reached. And the reason why they did was that the SDLP believed on the eve of the Good Friday Agreement they were going from strength to strength. It never occurred to them, and I quite agree, it didn’t occur to me so I am not criticising them, that they would be unable to produce the 50% and that’s why they put it in and they didn’t put in safeguards that they were supposed to have done. And the Ulster Unionist Party the same. They are both equally guilty of a negotiating failure which could have saved all this worry about the next election and a review of the agreement now could deal with that. I will point out to you Senator George Mitchell was hinting at that a couple of years ago when he talked about the need to alter its architecture. That is another way out. If we actually simply moved and changed the provision under review to 40%: 40% to the election of First Minister and Deputy First Minister. That again would introduce that air of stability.
“But the simple point is: yes the Ulster Unionists in the Assembly and the DUP may be very reactionary, very silly, but most of them do not want to see a smash-up of this Agreement. Most of them are happy with the way it works and that includes working on a daily basis with Sinn Fein and we have to provide a means of concentrating, not on the detail, but the fundamental facts of people’s political psychology to turn this thing into a more benign context than we are currently in. Thank you very much.”
Chair: Ercus Stewart, S.C. “It’s just left to me to close down, and I want to thank both of our speakers. Clearly you have seen both of them – and I was delighted to see Michael putting aside his speech, although I hope we will read the other speech in the papers in the morning – both were clearly frank and forthright, they were definitely enthusiastic, all the elbowing and knees I gave to both of them wouldn’t shut them up! Both of them, I think, spoke forthrightly and frankly and it was a delight and a refreshing experience, whether you agree or disagree. I want to thank both of them, I want to thank those of you here who came and asked questions, those of you who came and listened, and those who came just to support. I think, last of all, neither speaker would be here, and none of us would be here, including myself, except for the Meath Peace Group, so I will hand over to Julitta for the last word…
Thanking the speakers and Chair, Julitta Clancy said: “I would just like to echo the Chairman’s words. I very much appreciate the honesty and candour of both speakers tonight. This is a very sensitive and serious issue and it needs honesty – honest talking and honest facing up to the difficulties of each side. We would hope that over the next few months there will be a lot of honest talking and listening, both publicly and privately. We need the public element also, because we need the people on the ground to carry whatever is going to be brought forward, we need a base to support it. Some of us were at the recent SDLP conference which Roy [Garland] addressed. It was the same day as the UUC meeting [21st September]. The news of the resolution came through while we were there, and one delegate, whom I have known for several years, said to me: “the reality is they just don’t want to share power with us, that’s it”. And I heard the same from several other delegates. What I am trying to say here is, that while a huge amount of work has been done at the leadership level in these parties – and there has been a lot of talk here tonight about the “centre” – there has been very little done, among those parties, to actually work together to start understanding and respecting each other, something which groups like ours and the Guild of Uriel in Louth, have been doing for many years now, working with small groups of people. There is a need for the pro-Agreement parties in particular to get down there and start facilitating the listening process, listening to the real concerns of the other…. Because sometimes it’s not the issues that are actually causing the problem: often it’s not being listened to. In the opening chapter of the Agreement the parties committed themselves to working for reconciliation, and while great progress has been made in setting up institutions and delivering reforms, that commitment to reconciliation has often taken second place The word “reconciliation” is sometimes seen as a dirty word in some quarters and the work of reconciliation is viewed with suspicion, but whatever we call it, the commitment [in the Agreement] is surely about the bringing about of an understanding and harmony between the two main traditions on this island. That is still the greatest challenge facing us and, in my view, it is the only way to effectively overcome sectarianism in the long term.”
Meath Peace Group report, October 2002. © Meath Peace Group
Transcribed by Julitta Clancy and Catriona FitzGerald, and edited by Julitta Clancy. Taped by Oliver Ward, Catriona FitzGerald, and Anne Nolan.
APPENDIX A: UUC RESOLUTION OF 21 SEPTEMBER 2002
1. The Ulster Unionist Party reaffirms the commitment that we gave to the people of Northern Ireland in our election manifesto in 1998, namely that “we will not sit in government with reconstructed terrorists.”
2. The Ulster Unionist Party further affirms its commitment to the Mitchell Principles of democracy and non-violence and its determination to achieve a real and lasting peace, with stable government in Northern Ireland. The Ulster Unionist Party will judge all the terrorist organisations in terms of the level of their commitment to the Mitchell Principles. In particular, the UUP will continue to demand the total disarmament and disbandment of all terrorist groups including the IRA.
3. The Ulster Unionist Party supports devolution and has worked hard in the Assembly to deliver good government for all the people of Northern Ireland. Whilst we wish to sustain the institutions of government through the Assembly, we are equally determined to protect the democratic integrity of those institutions. In view of the failure of Sinn Fein/IRA to honour their commitment to exclusively peaceful means, the Ulster Unionist Party will, with immediate effect, adopt a policy of non-participation in meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council involving Sinn Fein, at both plenary and bilateral level. In the absence of Ulster Unionist ministers, the NSMC will cease to function.
4. The Ulster Unionist Party will seek an urgent meeting with our Prime Minister to place before him our demand that he honours the pledge he gave on April 10th, 1998, to provide an effective exclusion mechanism to enable Sinn Fein/IRA to be removed from ministerial office. The Prime Minister will be informed that the UUP will not return to the NSMC and will take further action in relation to our participation in the executive unless he honours his pledge.
5. The Ulster Unionist Party will initiate talks with the other parties and the Government over the next three months to ensure that there is a viable basis for the future governance of Northern Ireland and that unless upon the conclusion of such talks it has been demonstrably established that a real and genuine transition is proceeding to a conclusion, the party leader will recommend to a reconvened UUC meeting on January 18th, 2003, the immediate resignation of all Ulster Unionist ministers from the administration.
6. The Ulster Unionist Party reiterates its full support for the police and the rule of law. We will press the Prime Minister to set aside or vary the discriminatory 50/50 recruitment policy to enable additional officers to be recruited on the basis of merit alone and to give a firm commitment on the retention of the full-time reserve. The Ulster Unionist Party will oppose further unnecessary changes to the policing legislation and gives notice that it will withdraw from the Policing Board in the event of the government capitulating to the unreasonable demands of Sinn Fein/IRA for further police reform including places for convicted terrorists on district policing partnership boards.
7. The Ulster Unionist Party will press the government to introduce appropriate legislative measures and provide adequate resources in support of the Organised Crime Task Force to ensure that the criminal activities of the paramilitary organisations are closed down and that greater accountability is created.
8. The Ulster Unionist Party will further press the government to establish a special unit to support those who have been illegally exiled from Northern Ireland by terrorist organisations and will demand that these people and their families be enabled to return home. The UUP will also press for the formation of a Victims Commission to oversee and co-ordinate support for the innocent victims of terrorist violence.
9. The Ulster Unionist Party will continue to vigorously oppose any amnesty for IRA terrorists “on the run”.
APPENDIX B: WRITTEN SPEECH OF MINISTER MICHAEL MCDOWELL.
[Editor’s note: In responding to Professor Bew’s analysis, Minister for Justice Michael McDowell departed from his supplied script. We reproduce below the text of the original script for his talk as supplied on the night.]
“At the outset, I wish to thank the organisers of this evening’s event, the Meath Peace Group, and especially Julitta Clancy and our Chair for tonight, Ercus Stewart, for providing the opportunity for frank and constructive engagement and discussion of this topic which is vital to all people on this island. The Group continues to provide a constructive platform for debate on Northern Ireland related matters and I commend its success in developing contacts within Northern Ireland, particularly within the unionist community. I feel that the Group continues to perform a very useful outreach function.
I am especially pleased that the Group has also invited Paul Bew to be with us this evening. While he and I might reach different conclusions and judgements I believe that all of us find his perspective, insight and analysis extremely valuable.
I suppose that it is a measure of the complex and fraught nature of developments in relation to the Good Friday Agreement that, in considering in advance whether to accept an invitation to speak on the subject, one never quite knows what developments – positive or negative – will have taken place by the time the speaking engagement arrives. So, on the face of it, it might have been easier for me to take a more upbeat stance this evening if the developments at the Ulster Unionist Council last Saturday week hadn’t come about. But all of us who are committed to the process we are engaged in should remember that, while its course may never run as smoothly as we would wish, we would try to keep our eyes on the enormous prize that that process can deliver. It is very easy to point to what might be called crisis after crisis that seem to have bedevilled the process. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that through the persistent efforts of all the parties involved many of these problems have been worked through.
So, in attempting to address the question “where are we now?” I’m sure you will understand why I chose to accentuate the positive. And it is the case that, on four core issues of the Agreement – policing, decommissioning, security normalisation and the stability of the institutions – very substantial progress has been made. While this progress may have been obscured by negative developments emerging from other quarters in the process, it does not diminish the scale or importance of what has been achieved thus far.
A real example of encouraging and productive progress on the implementation of the Agreement can be seen in the process of change in policing. The Police Service of Northern Ireland has been established and its first cadre of recruits, representative of both communities, have taken up duty. A Policing Board, involving political representatives from both the nationalist and unionist traditions, is well established. It has been required to show maturity, cohesion and responsibility in addressing the major challenges which came its way over the last 10 months. Notwithstanding that all of these issues involved partisan pressures for the Board, it is fair to say that many people have been impressed with the distinction and determination members of the Board have shown in fulfilling its responsibilities.
The Irish Government has congratulated Hugh Orde on his appointment and we wish him well in his new post. The Garda Commissioner, Pat Byrne, and I have met him and we look forward to working closely with him in the months and years ahead.
It is very disappointing that Sinn Fein has not felt itself able to participate in the new policing structures. The view of the Government and of the SDLP was that, taken in their totality, the proposals of 1 August 2001 had the capacity to deliver the substance and spirit of the Patten Report. We believe that impressive developments since then have vindicated that judgement. I want to commend the SDLP for taking this great leap on behalf of nationalists. Their decision enables us to establish a vital foundation for lasting peace – a police service whose ethos and composition reflects the society it seeks to police and, in turn, merits the full support of that society. The current policing reviews and the forthcoming legislation, promised by the two Governments last August, provide the vehicle by which Sinn Fein can come on board, if it so chooses. I hope that Sinn Fein will make the decision to constructively engage with the new dispensation. But I think that it is important to stress that the issue of policing is not one to be seen in terms of concessions to one side of the community or the other. Too often developments in this area have tended to be judged, not on their objective merits, but on whether particular parties support or oppose them. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that a police force that has the support of all communities is clearly in the interests of all communities.
On 29 April last, my predecessor and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland signed the Inter-Governmental Agreement on the implementation of the Patten recommendations on structured cooperation between the Garda Siochana and the PSNI. This landmark Agreement allows for closer liaison, joint investigations, an annual conference, joint emergency planning, exchange of personnel, and cooperation in the area of training. It also makes provision for reciprocal arrangements for lateral entry and secondment with policing powers between the two police services, thereby offering new opportunities for police officers in both services. In keeping with the intent of the Good Friday Agreement and the Patten Report, we are now laying the foundations for a new era of policing in Ireland.
Since September 2001 we have also seen two acts of decommissioning by the IRA. The Independent International Commission on Decommissioning described the first as a significant event in which the IRA had put a quantity of arms completely beyond use. It characterised the second act as involving a substantial and varied quantity of weapons. Regrettably, the reaction from some quarters was to minimise the importance of that step. What was once regarded as the litmus test of the bona fides of republicanism was, once it happened, dismissed by some as a cynical and tactical act. Given the sensitivity of this issue and its fundamental significance for the republican movement, any fair-minded observer must recognise that the achievement of two acts of decommissioning was a profoundly significant step forward in the peace process.
Welcome progress has also been made in the area of security normalisation. Two announcements in October and January last heralded the demolition of three observation towers in South Armagh, the dismantling of Magherafelt army base and the closure of Ebrington barracks in Derry. While all these decisions have got to be made in the context of an ongoing threat assessment, we should also recognise the confidence-building potential of such moves for communities which, in the past, have been heavily militarised. The more we normalise security arrangements on the ground, the more we reassure the affected communities that the promise of the Agreement is being realised.
Despite many challenges, the last year has also been a remarkably fertile period in the operation of the institutions of the Agreement. The Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive have been providing good and accountable government for the people of Northern Ireland. Substantial work and activity has also been going on in Strands 2 and 3 of the Agreement. As well as numerous Ministerial meetings at sectoral level, there have in the past year been two summit meetings of both the North/South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council. The fact that the operation of these institutions has not attracted a great deal of media attention is testament to the absence of discord in their proceedings and to the quiet success of the business at hand.
As I see it, these are the gains of the last year and they are, compared to where we were even twelve months ago, both considerable and impressive. And yet, as Ambassador Richard Haas has said, even before the developments of the last fortnight, the glass for many people is half empty rathern than half full. As well as gains, there have undeniably been strains over the last year. Cumulatively, these have had a debilitating effect on confidence in the capacity of the Agreement to deliver the promised new beginning.
These corrosive issues, including events in Colombia and the ongoing sectarian violence are of legitimate concern and must be addressed. However, they should first of all be addressed in the contexts in which they arise, rather than imported as crises into the institutional heart of the Agreement.
Community confidence in the outworking of the Agreement has been particularly affected by the constant media images of violence on the streets, rioting at the interfaces and the despicable sectarian attacks on innocent victims. That deficit of confidence exists in all communities and extends, not just to the actions of the paramilitaries, but also to the ability of the forces of law and order to protect people from sectarian attack. While North and East Belfast have dominated the news, minority communities in Larne, Antrim, Carrickfergus, Coleraine and Derry have also been victims of sectarian attack. I welcome the avowed determination of the new Chief Constable to identify and take action against those responsible.
In addition, effective and consistent policing will be required on the interfaces to get a firm grip on the instigators of violence and ensure they face the rigours of the law. Whoever started the trouble, whoever responded and whoever perpetuated it, the end-result in East Belfast has been a nightmare for the ordinary people who live in and around the Short Strand. I welcome the fact that recent policing tactics – involving a larger deployment of PSNI officers at this interface – seem to be having a positive impact on the ground.
However effective and robust, security and policing policies alone will not defuse the tensions in these interface areas. The communities themselves can assist by anticipating difficulties, providing an early alert to the other side of the community divide and managing trouble if it breaks out.
While the street violence experienced this summer has been intense, we can take some comfort from the fact that this year’s marching season passed off reasonably peacefully. While Drumcree Sunday saw some disgraceful scenes, they were at least short-lived and the PSNI managed the situation effectively and sensitively. In other areas, the parades passed off without incident or with relatively little trouble.
Considerable credit is due to the range of people who exercised a positive influence managing these parades and, where they were unwelcome, in urging calm and restraint. The considerable progress that has been made in Derry in recent years, involving dialogue between the loyal orders and the local residents, is a model which, in time, may commend itself to other contentious parades in Northern Ireland.
The Irish Government believes that the Parades Commission has been doing a good job in carrying out what is a very difficult task. The current Review being undertaken by Sir George Quigley will, we hope, add value to the work of managing contentious parades.
And yet, despite all the progress I have outlined above, there are some who believe that Northern Ireland society is now more divided, and that sectarianism is more deep-rooted, than ever before. While I understand why such a view might be advanced, I do not share it.
To those who assert that there is a deficit of confidence in the current process that must be addressed, I say – I agree. However, that deficit and the fear and suspicions I have just mentioned can only be addressed collectively and all sides have a contribution to make. The Agreement was a collective endeavour as was the ongoing effort to implement it. Sustaining confidence in the Agreement likewise requires a collective commitment.
I am on record as having said that the stakes are high and our responsibility great, and, previewing the period ahead, that remains the case. In the next year, the people of Northern Ireland pass verdict on those who have been the custodians of devolution in Northern Ireland. Inevitably, political decisions and positioning are increasingly influenced by the prospect of this electoral rendezvous. As one who, only a few months ago, emerged from a lengthy general election campaign, I can hardly decry the reality that, for all politicians, the first priority is to get elected. However, the second reality is that, once elected, those who have been entrusted by the people must be able to form a government.
Perhaps this is an appropriate point to say a few words about what was decided at the Ulster Unionist Council meeting last Saturday week. Obviously I don’t want to say anything which would be unhelpful but I cannot pretend that the outcome of that meeting was not disappointing and a matter of concern to the Irish Government. Partnership government and the full and inclusive operation of the institutions of the Agreement are the cornerstone of devolution in Northern Ireland. If there is to be devolved government, it must be on a basis which serves the interests of both communities and reflects the principle that the institutions are interlocking and independent. Of course, we recognise that further progress needs to be made in respect of all aspects of the Agreement. But our view is that experience has shown that this can be best advanced by fully working the Agreement. As the Taoiseach has pointed out, impeding its operation retards, rather than advances, the process of implementation and the achievement of political stability. In accordance with the Agreement, it is the responsibility of the two Governments, in consultation with the political parties, to address difficulties which may arise in its implementation. As you will know, last week Brian Cowen met John Reid as part of that process and consultations with the parties will, of course, continue.
I know that you would not expect me to come before you tonight to map out a detailed strategy as to where exactly we go from here. But, as always, the approach of the Irish Government will be to remain steadfastly committed to the fundamental principles of the Agreement: the constitutional status of Northern Ireland being grounded on consent; partnership and inclusive government open to all who use only democratic and non-violent means; the operation of the various institutions on an interlocking and interdependent basis; and the entrenchment of equality and civil and political liberties to protect both communities in Northern Ireland, irrespective of its constitutional status.
The months – and indeed the years – ahead will, without doubt, be challenging. However I believe those who had the courage to negotiate the Agreement and break out of the zero-sum mindset will be vindicated by the people. Because, in the final analysis, there is no visible alternative to the kind of balanced accommodation offered by the Agreement.
Partnership politics is at the core of the Agreement – partnership within the Assembly and Executive, between both parts of the island and between the peoples of these islands. The political institutions of the Agreement are the mechanisms through which those partnerships are formed and developed. They are partnerships which are not just worthy in themselves but deliver practical benefits for the people they are entrusted to serve. Within Northern Ireland there can be no gainsaying the fact that partnership is providing effective and accountable government. All shades of political opinion are involved in that process of government – even if the terms of their participation differ.
Partnership is also at the heart of the North/South structures, involving Ministers from the different traditions on this island working together. While my partners may come to the North/South table with different political values and identities than mine, their engagement had been motivated by a common desire to make a positive difference in the lives of the people they serve. The outputs of North/South partnership deliver mutual benefit to both parts of the island. They are the outworking of practical, sensible co-operation which threatens nobody’s cherished interests or aspirations. I am convinced that all of these initiatives represent win-win scenarios and, quite frankly, it makes all the more deep my sense of disappointment when the operation of these institutions is called into question for reasons not related to the benefits which they can bring to all the people of this island.
I should also mention the partnership and co-operation at the core of the British-Irish Council. This is working in a unique way to the mutual benefit of all the peoples of these islands.
So to return specifically to the question posed this evening: where are we now? I suspect not as far as many of us would have wished but, for all that, a lot further than many of us would have dared to hope even a decade ago. I do not seek to minimise the difficulties which we face. But I believe that we have to be clear about one thing: realistically we can only seek to address the difficulties which we face within the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and the principles of partnership which underpin it.
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES ON SPEAKERS AND CHAIR
Paul Anthony Bew was born in January 1950 and was educated at Campbell College, Belfast, and Cambridge University where he was awarded a Ph.D. in 1974. He is Professor of Irish Politics at Queen’s University Belfast and has lectured at the Ulster College, the University of Pennsylvania (Visiting Lecturer 1982-83), and Surrey University (Visiting Professor, 1997- ) and was Parnell Fellow at Magdalene College, Cambridge, from 1996-97. Professor Bew served as President of the Irish Association for Economic and Cultural Relations from 1990-92 and has been an Executive Member of the British-Irish Association since 1995. He is historical adviser to the Bloody Sunday Tribunal and is the author of numerous publications, articles and reviews including: Sean Lemass and the Making of Modern Ireland (1983), Conflict and Conciliation in Ireland, 1890-1910 (1987), The Dynamics of Irish Politics (1989), The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 1993-96 (1996), John Redmond (1996) and Northern Ireland: A Chronology of the Troubles (revised edition 1999)
Michael McDowell, T.D., Senior Counsel, was born in May 1951 and was educated at Gonzaga College, Dublin, UCD, and the King’s Inns, Dublin. He has been a member of the Council of King’s Inns since 1978 and was called to the Inner Bar in March 1987. His political career began when he was elected to the Dail for the Progressive Democrats in the constituency of Dublin South-East in 1987. Re-elected in 1992, he was party spokesman successively in Foreign Affairs, Northern Ireland, Trade and Tourism and Finance, and was appointed by the Tanaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to chair the Working Group on Company Law Enforcement and Compliance. In 1999 he was appointed by the Government to chair the Implementation Advisory Group on the Establishment of the Single Regulatory Authority for the Financial Services Industry. He served as Attorney General from July 1999 to June 2002. In February 2002 he was appointed President of the Progressive Democrats and was appointed Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform following his re-election to the Dail last June.
Ercus Stewart, Senior Counsel, was born in March 1949, and was educated at Colaiste Mhuire, Dublin, UCD and the King’s Inns, Dublin. He was called to the Inner Bar in 1982 and is also a member of the Bars of N.I., England and Wales, and Australia (N.S.W.). He acts as arbitrator in commercial arbitration, both international and domestic, is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, and has wide experience in dispute resolution and mediation. He lectures to various institutions, including King’s Inns, UCD and DIT, and has published books and articles on labour/employment law and commercial arbitration law. He is a former chairman of the Irish Society for Labour Law, the Irish Association of Industrial Relations and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, and is currently a member of Amnesty International (Lawyers Section), the European Lawyers’ Union, the International Bar Association and Co-operation Ireland.
Meath Peace Group Report. October 2002.
Transcribed by Julitta Clancy and Catriona FitzGerald, and edited by Julitta Clancy. Taped by Oliver Ward, Catriona FitzGerald, and Anne Nolan.
Acknowledgments: Meath Peace Group would like to thank the speakers and guest chair, Ercus Stewart for giving so generously of their time. We thank all who attended the talk, many coming from long distances, all who assisted in the planning, organisation, publicity and recording of the talk, all who prepared and served refreshments afterwards, and all who made contributions towards the costs of the talk. Special thanks as always to the Columban Fathers for permitting us the facilities of St. Columban’s, Dalgan Park, and to the Dept. of Foreign Affairs Reconciliation Fund for assistance towards the running costs of the talks.