Meath Peace Group Talks
No. 62 – “Irish Involvement in the Great War, 1914-1918’
Held in association with the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society
Monday 12th June, 2006
Ardboyne Hotel, Navan, Co. Meath
Paul Bew (Professor of Irish Politics, Q.U.B.)
Tom Burke, MBE (Chair, Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association)
Cathal MacCoille (Journalist and broadcaster)
Vote of Thanks
Most Rev. Dr. Richard Clarke (Bishop of Meath and Kildare)
Introduction: John Clancy
Opening words: Cathal MacCoille (Chair)
Questions and comments
Vote of thanks: Dr. Richard Clarke
Closing words: Cathal MacCoille
Meath Peace Group 2006
Introduction and welcome: John Clancy (Meath Peace Group):“Good evening and welcome to tonight’s talk, the 62nd public talk organized by the Meath Peace Group. This is also the 2nd talk organized this year in association with the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society
Background to the talk: “This is a year for reflection, as we clearly understood when it was first announced that, on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the 1916, Rising, our Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, felt we should have a celebration. At the time of that announcement we were over in Rossnowlagh with the Guild of Uriel and we were discussing this, and we said we really had to address the totality of what happened in that period. And this is the second talk on this – we had Professor Charles Townshend’s talk on 1916 and the Insurrection [MPG talk 61, 24th April 2006] and we are now going to discuss that period where Ireland, and the people of the island of Ireland, participated in the Great War. In or about that time, in the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society, one of our colleagues from the Louth Historical Society came over with a book – The Unreturned Army – written by Donal Hall. It’s a very interesting book, it’s about those who fought in the war from Louth, but more particularly those that lost their lives. There are two statistics that struck me personally. According to the author, there were about 3,000 enlisted men from County Louth and of that, 814 lost their lives, which is an incredible statistic. And before I hand over to our distinguished chairman, Cathal MacCoille, who needs no introduction, I would just like to read the Foreword to this book … I thought the Foreword was rather apt. There are two parts, there’s what he says and then there’s a poem by Francis Ledwidge:
‘Many years have elapsed since the men and women listed in this book died. There has been much discussion over the years concerning the factors which motivated some men to participate in the war, and others to stay at home. This book remembers those who carried out their duty, whether in Flanders or in Ireland, and mourns the loss to their families and country of all of those who died.’
[from: Donal Hall, The Unreturned Army – County Louth Dead in the Great War 1914-1918. Dundalk, 2005, published by the Louth Historical Society]
The author then quotes from a poem by Francis Ledwidge, a Meath man whom we all admire. The author extracts a piece from a poem of his, The Soldier’s Grave, which I will quote, if I may:
‘Then in the lull of midnight, gentle arms
Lifted him slowly down the slopes of death,
Lest he should hear again the mad alarms
Of battle, dying moans, and painful breath.
And where the earth was soft for flowers we made
A grave for him that he might better rest,
So, Spring shall come and leave it sweet arrayed,
And there the lark shall turn her dewy nest.’
[Francis Ledwidge, A Soldier’s Grave]
“By way of introduction, I would ask you to read the biographies of the speakers in the handout [see end of this report] and the diary of events in the coming months. And now I would like to hand you over to our distinguished guest chair, Cathal MacCoille:
Chair – Cathal MacCoille (broadcaster and journalist)
“Thank you very much, John. It is a couple of weeks since I was here, it was at Dalgan Park at your last meeting when Charles Townshend lectured, and all that I heard afterwards reminded me yet again why people say this group – I am talking about the Meath Peace Group particularly – is special. So I am not going to take up any time before introducing the speakers to you, because what they have to say and what you have to ask them and what they have to say in reply is going to take time and I am really looking forward to it.
“We’re going to look at the wide focus first – of Irish involvement in the First World War – through historian Paul Bew, whose biography is very usefully and helpfully as always spelled out for you there in your yellow page of notes, and then the narrow focus – participation of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers – through the work of Tom Burke, and again his biographical details are here for you.
“So, I am not going to say anything more about either of the speakers, except about the first which is this: working on a morning radio programme is a bit like being at school because there is a job that you have to do and there is a job which you really shouldn’t be doing – by which I mean distraction – and one of the many pleasant distractions working on a morning radio programme is when you are getting ready to do three rounds with Enda Kenny or Brian Cowan or whoever, and in the meantime my colleague gets to do an interview with Paul Bew, at which stage it is very difficult for me to concentrate because you know that what Paul Bew is going to have to say is going to be first of all well worth while, well worth listening to, and also very very interesting. So, that’s enough of an introduction, Paul Bew:
1. Paul Bew (Professor of Irish Politics, Q.U.B.): ‘The political context of Irish involvement in the First World War’
“Thank you very much Cathal, that is very kind of you. I would also like to second what Cathal said about the Meath Peace Group, and I look forward to the question and answer session later, I’ve been at a number of the Meath Peace Group meetings and I have always felt a great debt to Julitta Clancy and all that she has put into organizing them……I am going to talk this evening about the politics – the domestic politics of Irish involvement in the First World War. The first thing is that I am very well aware of the fact that you’re actually on a loser once you get into questioning the origins of any nation state. You can make a very strong case, in the case of the United States of America for saying that had the Americans lost the war with the British state in the 18th century that all manner of civilized things would have happened – the Red Indians would have been treated much better, slavery would have ended much earlier… While those are very serious arguments – they’re almost certainly true – I guarantee you you would not be very popular round about July 4th in the United States of America if you attempt to advance this argument. In other words no nation, no state – and this is no exception – is particularly keen to re-examine its origins, and issues of controversy about origins. It’s always difficult. It always seems to be an act of self-hatred. And why would you make such an act of self-hatred or self-questioning when for most people an important aspect of their life is believing that ‘we’ve arrived here, we are as good as if not better than anywhere else?’
“So you’re going against the grain when you invite any group of people to say: ‘well, here are the origins of your national story. There are some problems, there are some difficulties, there are some things that are controversial and difficult and which probably ought to be faced up to’.
“And this country is no different, no better nor worse, than any other in this respect. And you cannot talk about Ireland in the First World War without actually facing that particular question.
Irish participation in the War – figures at time of Easter 1916: “By the time of the Easter Rising, just under 100, 000 Irishmen had joined British colours in the First World War, just under 100,000. It is disproportionately unionist and Protestant but Redmond thought about 45,000 of those were his supporters. And he couldn’t be too far out. Now the first thing to say about that is: that is more than the Irishmen who engaged in any of the insurrections of the 19th century put together – Emmet , 1848 and 1867.
“That is the first thing to say. And you could talk about the number who died, and there is an argument as to how many died – 35,000 is now more likely to be accurate than 49,000 as talked about a few years ago and so on … but what there is no doubt about is that it is well beyond the numbers of Irishmen who engaged in nationalist and patriotic rebellions in the 19th century. There’s just no question about that. That gives you some kind of fix on the significance of that figure by Easter 1916.
Remembrance: “And it is obviously the case, nonetheless, that the people who actually are more remembered – until recent times almost exclusively remembered in Ireland – are the men of 1916, which is a tiny minority compared to that much larger group. And this inevitably involved among other things – among many people – quite indisputably the violation of aspects of their own family history. Because, one of the consequences of the relative success of 1916 – at least in the sense that it led to the foundation of the Irish state that we have, and indeed to the partition of the island that we have – is that nonetheless … it’s a going concern. And all going concerns, all winners, write their own history.
Sean Lemass: “And it wasn’t until Sean Lemass in the ‘60s started to talk about the fact that the Irishmen who were on the other side of the argument had claims to patriotism, that there began to be that change in attitude, and a greater growing interest in the question of the Irishmen who served in the First World War, which has developed ever since Sean Lemass made it permissible, as a Fianna Fấil Taoiseach, to say ‘well the actual history of this is a little bit more complicated than up to that point the State had considered it as being….’
“So those figures are there – they are blunt and raw, just working with them as to what they are and what they actually mean.
Democratic leadership of Irish nationalism: “What I wanted to do today is talk about the politics of this, and what we are talking about is the eclipse of the democratic leadership of Irish nationalism.
1916 – was Ireland a democracy?: “In the last few weeks we would have all seen the debate, contributed to by myself in various ways, about 1916. And one of the arguments that many people will have seen is: ‘well, was Ireland a democracy in 1916?’ And there are all kinds of arguments you could make about that: women didn’t have the vote, the Parliament had already extended its natural life in 1910 by a year because of the war, so strictly speaking the government in power had not refreshed itself by the normal electoral mandate in Britain.
“There are actually quite reasonable technical arguments which say that Ireland is not a democracy in 1916. I’m leaving out the argument which says it is not a democracy because it is part of the Union, which is by definition true for nationalism, and by definition not true for people who are not nationalist. I’m just leaving that argument to one side.
By-elections and the Irish Party: “But what there is nothing in dispute about, it seems to me, is where the democratic will of Irish people actually was. There are five by-elections between the outbreak of the First World War and the Easter Rising, in the south and west of Ireland and so on. All of them are won by John Redmond’s party. Throughout this period up to the eve of the Rising. They’are not actually particularly effective performances. I have a view about this. My own view is that in particular for farmers, the Irish Party had been a very important instrument in delivering victory for the land question, or reforms in the land question which the farmers wanted, but that was gradually coming to an end. And not only that, basically the Irish Party had delivered the land to the farmers of Ireland but it’s not just in Washington that the question is asked of politicians ‘what are you going to do for me tomorrow? Not what you did for me last year or in the years that are past’. And the Irish Party had been obviously successful in this respect but victories won in the past are just that and the world does move on. And the land issue was an issue which they mobilized on very effectively but was losing its salience.
Prosperity for famers: “And not only that but the First World War sees great prosperity for Irish farmers. Not for Dublin – which is one reason why there was a constituency in Dublin for the Rising – but a great boost in prosperity. Indeed, Cllr Jasper Tully, Irish Party MP, is quoted in the Roscommon Herald – ‘I told the farmers that their hens would effectively be laying golden eggs when the war with the Germans came, and their hens are now laying golden eggs.’ Prices go up. It was a very very prosperous time. But the prosperity is not attributed to the Party. For once, farmers’ prosperity has nothing to do with the party.
Irish Party won all the seats: “So there’s a certain lack of that ‘zing’ which would characterize the Irish Party, attendance at meetings and so on in the countryside, are not what it was, all that is true but the fact of the matter is that they won…. At certain points they were challenged, certainly people with greener views, more nationalist candidates, stood against them, yet they won all the seats. Now in that simple sense, Ireland is a democracy. There are open democratic tests of opinion between 1914 and 1915, right up to 1916, about the direction of policy. And the Irish people had the chance at five by-elections to repudiate if they so wished John Redmond’s leadership. And they most certainly do not do so. And I think it is very simple, because so much of what is said, it strikes me as missing that very basic and simple fact. There is no reason to believe anything other than that in 1916 Redmond had the support of the majority of Irish nationalists. We have no reason to believe other, and every reason to believe he did have that support, because of the results of the by-elections which are not very impressive but nonetheless he has that support. It’s solid enough, it’s a solid majority, certainly as good as was later gained by his opponents. So I think that is something that really has to be borne in mind. …
1914: Redmond considered things were working: “And, against what you understand, Redmond considered that things were working. I want to give two quotations to show this attitude. The first is at Vinegar hill in Wexford just a few months into the war:
‘People talk of the wrongs done to Ireland by England in the past. God knows, standing on this holy spot, it’s not likely that any of us can ever forget – though God grant we all may forgive – the wrongs done to our fathers 100 and 200 years ago. But do let us be a sensible and truthful people, do let us remember that we today of our generation are a free people, we have emancipated the farmer, we have housed the agricultural labourer, we have won religious liberty, we have won free education. We have laid broad and deep the foundations of national prosperity and, finally, we have won an Irish Parliament and an Executive responsible to it, and I say to Ireland that all these things are at stake in the war.’
“So that is Redmond’s definition of the situation as it exists in 1914. That, basically, the quarrel with England is over, that various instalments of justice had been made and self-government had been conceded. And that is why we have an interest in taking the same side as England in this war. It is very important to understand this. It is very important to understand that for Redmond Home Rule
is not a second best. It actually is the best, what is to be desired. It reflects the realities… . he would regard separatism as unrealistic, it does not as a policy reflect the actual connection that exists between the Irish and English people which had formed over centuries.
Social reforms and subsidization: “Above all, of course, with the coming of old age pensions under the first great liberal and social reformist government, Ireland is being subsidized, and that’s another major factor in this – for Redmond believing that continued links with Britain were desirable, because old age pensions and other social reforms are being paid for by the British taxpayer from 1908 onwards and these are reforms which it is unlikely Ireland could afford out of its own resources. And it turns out to be the case: when Irish independence comes old age pensions have to be cut. So he believes there are profound economic reasons, profound political reasons which reflect the fact that a moment in history has been reached, of rapprochement: a fair deal has been reached.
North: “There is the problem of the north. But don’t forget the understanding which he had reached in 1914: no Stormont parliament, direct rule. Don’t forget Redmond’s assumption that after Home Rule Irish MPs would stay in Westminster which means that nationalist MPs would be able to scrutinize the operation of direct rule in the North. Something like direct rule with a green tinge – which is exactly what was regarded as a great triumph when negotiated by Garret Fitzgerald in 1985, but was actually available in 1914/1915, before 1916 changed everything with respect to the northern settlement and led to the unionists getting a much better deal and northern Catholics getting a much worse deal than they would otherwise have got. That’s important, I think, to understand, where Redmond is coming from. And there is no sense in which Redmond is in any despair about how things are going.
Redmond disconnected from Dublin realities: “There is a very interesting patch in Emily Lawless and Michael McDonagh’sbook [Ireland],which gives you some sense of where Redmond thought things were. And I think there is a sense of course that Redmond was I think disconnected from Dublin realities. It’s not that he didn’t come back to Ireland, but his house in Dublin was boarded up, he didn’t live there, he had a small flat in London and he would go straight to Wicklow, to his own shooting lodge, where he would be surrounded by his own people. I think there was an awful lot going on in Dublin which he just quite literally never paid any attention to. He would go straight to Wicklow when he was in Ireland and he tended to stay there among people he trusted, a particular culture of its own, all very loyal to him, mostly speaking Irish most of the time, a world he was very relaxed in.What was bubbling away in Dublin was something which didn’t really catch his eye in a way it should have done actually.
“This is how Michael McDonagh who knew him well describes him on the eve of the Rising in 1916:
‘Redmond looked upon all that was going on – the apparent preparations for a Rising – as play-acting by nobodies, a manifestation of the histrionic side of the Irish character by persons of no consequence. He was without fear for his position in Ireland, had got his influence over the coalition, prevented the threatened disruption of Irish civil life by conscription, and had not the south and the west voluntarily joined the colours to the number of 45, 000? That indeed was a remarkable response, everything considered, and, looking to the future, Redmond saw the reconciliation of north and south and Home Rule established by general consent.’
Redmond’s calculation: “And Redmond thinks two things. One is he actually hopes that the war will bring north and south together, that fighting together on the same side will actually humanize the differences and reduce the differences. There is some evidence something of that happened before 1916 but you may say it is unrealistic. That’s not all he thinks about this, that is only a part of his thinking. The other part of his thinking is that you cannot actually argue for Home Rule as he and Parnell … had done and say to the British the crucial thing is that in any international conflict you can safely give us Home Rule because we will back you, and then not do it.
“You cannot say, as nationalism had been saying throughout the 19th century, ‘there is no strategic problem in giving us political freedom, no danger for your own security, we will be there for you when it comes to the crunch’, and not be there. That is critical. He believes that if the unionists are the only people to do that then there is absolutely no doubt that the divisions in Ireland will be deeper, that the unionist bargaining position at the end of the war will be stronger. As indeed it was because of 1916 and the Somme. The accommodation was much stronger than what it was at the beginning of the war. There was much greater emotional leverage over the British political establishment and the British state….
Redmond not a man in despair: “So it’s important to understand the calculations that were in Redmond’s mind for a settlement that was penciled in in legislation – direct rule with a green tinge, and all the politics of it. He is not a man in despair. For example, throughout 1915 the government is reconstituted. Everybody accepts it’s a bad moment with people like Carson coming into government, everybody accepts that there is going to be disdain in nationalist Ireland. Had not Carson been leading an illegal opposition to Home Rule before 1914? All perfectly good reasons why nationalists should be offended. But Redmond was not. It’s very important to understand this. It has been said that the unionists were offered a seat but Redmond wasn’t. He was offered a seat, he turned it down! There’s a bit of a comedy about it. They were sent down from the Castle, banged on the door of the shooting lodge, said ‘we are from the Castle’, and the cook said ‘get out Mr Redmond, they’ve come to arrest you.’ Actually what they had done is they had come down to offer him a place in the Cabinet! He said no because it was the position of all Parnellites and nationalists that until Home Rule is won you do not take office. His view was that once it was won, there was no reason why Irish politicians – those who remained in Westminster – didn’t play as great a role as was possible to them, as the Scots do today even though Home Rule has been granted to Scotland. That was his view, but not before, as it wasn’t in effect, he wasn’t going to do it. The very fact that he was offered a place in Cabinet gives a very strong sense of the leverage that he had over British policy – not always effective, not in terms of the proper recognition of Irish Brigades and so on, but pretty effective, and in a lot of what went on Redmond could always guarantee he would be taken at least seriously by the British state.
Easter Rising: “So that is the situation on the eve of 1916. This is why it is so important to actually get what’s at stake here, and what happens in 1916. I know Charles Townshend [Professor of History, Keele University] talked to you about whether or not 1916 is designed as a blood sacrifice or as a serious military operation [Meath Peace Group talk no. 61, 24 April 2006]. The truth is I believe you can separate these two things. It had to be serious enough, because if it is patently obvious that all you are doing is a blood sacrifice then that’s just not going to work with public opinion. It’s perfectly obvious to me that they actually had no sense of succeeding. If you look at the interviews, look at people who knew the leaders who survived, they knew they had no sense of succeeding. The fundamental thing was to do better than the Fenians had done in 1867, to do better than the Young Irelanders had done in 1848, and to do better than Emmett had done in 1803. And that’s what they do. And they do substantially better than that.
“And the second thing is that once it’s actually done, then you have to create a situation where you are not regarded by ordinary Irish people as crazies. And there’s an uneasy mood at first. Everybody knows this. Everybody knows that the initial reaction is very uneasy, a lot of ordinary Irish don’t know who these people are. ‘Who are these guys? We never heard of them, we never elected them to anything’, and so on. Their names are famous today, their names were not known to the great majority of Irish people in the Spring of 1916. What are they doing?
Badge of identity – Catholicism: “Which is why it is tremendously important that the whole badge of Catholicism has to be in this situation. Language is a badge but let’s be honest, most Irish people then and now do not speak Irish. It’s a political badge in other countries but most Irish people then and now don’t speak Irish. The badge is there, it is the emotional appeal in establishing: ‘we are your brothers and sisters, we are not crazies, ultra-leftists, Marxists, mad people’. That’s why Pearse is so relieved when Connolly – whose record as a Catholic was, to say the least, not perfect – when Connolly makes his peace with the Church. And why does Connolly do that? He asks his wife, as a Protestant, to convert. Now what does this tell you? This Marxist internationalist socialist proletariat knows how you have got to be seen by the plain people of Ireland. And they have to identify with you against the British, and the common link is religion. It is just so crucial to what happens here.
“All the most emotional accounts in the Catholic Bulletin and so on, by Fr Flanagan – effectively the unofficial priest of the Rising – stresses the bravery, the heroism, the non-drinking of the men involved, all of which is true, but above all that they are good Catholics. That is the message, and it has to be because it is the only way to reach out to the community as a whole. That they were good socialists and brave – that.would not have done it.
Exclusion:“The problem is that once you make that identification, a quarter of the people of the island of Ireland are going to be made even more cold and even more outside. That is one unavoidable consequence. Those people who are not Catholic are going to be outside this emotional drama that is established after the executions between those who participated in the Rising and the plain people of Ireland.
Executions change everything: “My view is that from the moment of the executions it’s over for Redmond. I know there are people who argue that later negotiations and so on might have led to Home Rule, my view is that the genie was out of the bottle and everything is changed. And if you actually look at what the men of 1916 say in their memoirs, they will say that ‘immediately after the Rising the people of Dublin were contemptuous of us but at the time we were taken off to Frongoch a few weeks later, after the executions, we were heroes’. And I think that everything changes. But it changes through that identification.
“And they knew it all along. Eamon Ceannt knew it, for example. Look at his letters to his wife. He tells her how she is to going to conduct herself as a leader of this new nation. He hasn’t the slightest doubt. He participated in a rising which has gone down to a heavy note of defeat and he doesn’t even have the slightest doubt in his letters that his wife is going to be one of the first ladies of the new independent Ireland. He doesn’t even have the slightest doubt! And look how he dies: clutching a crucifix, blood spattered all over the place. Everybody reads it. Can you imagine the emotional impact of that, the drama? And you can’t escape it. Can you imagine the profundity of that emotional impact?
“And that is why this thing then takes off, because they have established ‘we are yourselves, we are the neighbour’s children’, to use Nell McCafferty’s expression, ‘we are not weirdos, outsiders’. And most people do go with it on that basis. They cannot say no. They cannot reject people who have established themselves so clearly – by their actions and by their heroism – as basically Irish with the rightful claim to the support of Irish people, certainly as opposed to what – the British State in Ireland? British soldiers on the streets of Dublin? Opposed to that, there is no contest.
Redmondites weakened by participation in the war: “Now there might have been a contest with Redmondite Ireland but this is where you have your difficulty. Even on the eve of the Rising in Cork, the Redmondites on St Patrick’s Day were demonstrating and anti-Redmondites were demonstrating….. There were two demonstrations on the same day – something like 600-700 radicals, the sort of people who get involved in the Easter Rising, and something like about 400 Redmondites. They’re in the minority. They are carrying a banner saying ‘400 of us are at the Front’. One of the crucial things you have to understand is that the Redmondites are weakened by the fact that so many of their brave young men have gone, many of them never to return. It’s as simple as that. In every town, in every village in Ireland, what you can actually see from the police reports, what happened on the St Patrick’s Day demonstration in Cork in 1916 is reproduced. It’s a tremendously important thing to understand. This other grouping, it’s just not there, it’s gone.
Two worlds:“It affects things in certain ways. Some of you may well have read Sean MacBride’s memoirs. He talks about the day of Kevin Barry’s execution. Everybody knows the song, everybody knows the emotion – the ‘lad of eighteen summers’ – the British soldier he killed is actually younger. Is there a person on the island of Ireland who hasn’t heard the song? I don’t believe it. Thousands of Irish people have been moved by it, it is one of the great songs of the revolutionary period. MacBride says something, he says UCD medical school, where Kevin Barry was a young, not particularly active student, was totally ‘cold’. MacBride actually gets three or four, or five or six friends and puts together a little demonstration just to make the point because he couldn’t believe it. I’ll tell you why UCD medical school was totally cold. Do you know how many UCD doctors got Military Crosses in the British Army in the First World War? 47 Military Crosses alone from UCD medical school! And it is not an accident that in Kevin Barry’s own college – although not in the pubs of Ireland – for subsequent decades there is coldness, because it reflects the actual history of that particular place and the commitment of others. 47 from UCD medical school got Military Crosses. There are some actually who received more distinguished military honours.
“That is a very very substantial contribution, an entirely different culture, coming from an entirely different place, but it is something which is important to understand.
Internecine split: “To give you another example of this, where two worlds address each other. A chap who had been at school with De Valera in Blackrock – I’ll see if I can find the quote – there is a letter which appears in the Irish Independent [July 1917] saying ‘I notice that Eamon de Valera was commander in charge of Boland’s Mill garrison …what I want to remind him is’ – and this was a guy who was in school with him and who was in the British Army. He said: ‘I have just come back’ – and he describes a particular battle scene where four boys from Blackrock were carried across the battleground by British soldiers trying to save their lives, two of them didn’t make it. ‘We were all at school together’. You have to realize that this is an internecine kind of split within Catholic nationalist Ireland – of deep profundity – when you read that letter. ‘People we were in school with, Eamon, and look what you did.’ He was coming from a totally different perspective. There’s no reply to that letter addressing de Valera.
“But what I am trying to say is that what you are dealing with here, if you are talking about the Irish involvement in the war, you are talking about something which is deep and which has crucial implications for what subsequently happens within Ireland itself. And these are matters which until recently – but I have to say, that from the moment [Sean] Lemass uttered those words [in 1966] there has been a greater willingness to talk about and to open out these issues.
Redmond’s project defeated by Irish nationalists: “So what you have is the situation where in Ireland you have thousands of young men, in 1915/16, who wanted the adventure of war but they don’t want it on Britain’s terms. That’s actually a quote from Stephen Gwynn, the nationalist MP for Galway for ten years, and a loyal Redmondite, and the author of the book John Redmond’s Last Years. And when writing of Redmond’s last years, in 1921, what Gwynn says is this:
‘for all the opposition that he received from unionism, the Home Rule crisis and Carson and so on, the people who actually defeated Redmond’s project were Irish nationalists, not his erstwhile enemies.’
“Now that is something that when Gwynn argued this even in the Freeman’s Journal, which is more or less the nationalist paper at that time, there is actually shock: ‘how could you actually be saying that? We all know that sadly John Redmond went down, but it was all the unionists’ fault, the British fault’…. That was not Redmond’s own view of what actually happened. What Gwynn is saying is that he was actually defeated by other nationalists, people who share his ideal or objective of a self-governing Ireland.
Implications for the North: “But the consequences of this are so profound and so difficult to deal with that there is a need to actually put it in a corner and not actually debate and discuss these issues. The implications for the North are painfully obvious. The actual existence of a unionist state at all is a function of 1916 and of the return of violence to Irish politics. It is the next logical step. There is no discussion or argument before the war of actually establishing any form of unionist state. The existence of ‘B’ Specials and so on is a function of the violence introduced in 1916 and the introduction of the use of the gun into Irish politics. I have to say the unionists introduced the play for the gun between 1912 and 1914. That is a fact that cannot be avoided, but it is important to say that it is not actually used. But there is absolutely no question that many of the things we see as most deforming as a function of 20th century Ireland, particularly the circumstances of Belfast in the early 1920s and the formation of the unionist state, are all directly related to the events of 1916 and the way in which Ireland’s involvement in the war actually worked out. Exactly what Redmond feared came about, that Ireland at the end of war was not in the position to be able to say to Britain ‘in an international crisis, we will be standing by you.’ And in consequence, the unionists were able to get a far better deal – and a far more negative deal from the point of view of northern nationalists – than they would have got otherwise from the British establishment and the British State
Difficult questions: “So these are very difficult questions. They are difficult questions to raise. I started by saying that in any country in the world there is difficulty, unease and a reluctance to entirely understand or be bothered in actually looking at the roots of one’s own national existence, and the American example is not that bad a one.
Need for acknowledgment: “The truth of the matter is that all national states have their origins in the use of force, ambiguous and so on. The mature thing now – there is no question that this happened, there is no question that the Ireland we have is the Ireland we have, and it does flow very largely from 1916 and nothing is ever going to change that – the mature thing, though, is to acknowledge at least some of the downsides of a particular process. That I think is all that one could do here. To attempt to reconstruct, to play games of what might have been – a Home Rule Ireland or whatever, or a different development for Ireland – is really fruitless. It has happened, and we have the Ireland that we have, and we have all the circumstances that we have, but it doesn’t seem to be realistic to say that that means that therefore we shouldn’t consider some of the negativities and the downsides which have flowed from the 20th century, from the nature of Ireland’s involvement in the First World War and the political consequences that flowed from it. Thank you very much.”
Chair (Cathal Mac Coille): “Thank you very much, Paul. … you’ve been talking about something which, just listening to you, it occurred to me, that this was something we didn’t do, or it wasn’t done in this country in the ‘20s or ‘30s, or ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s, that particularly the side that you were talking about, the side of people who went to fight on the British side in the First World War, they almost went underground. I met some of these people – not people who fought in the First World War but who fought in the Second. But they became people who for one reason or another kept the head down. Now it wasn’t all the fault of the other side – we are in some ways dealing with a dialogue here of positions taken and decisions made by people to fight with one army or another army, or to fight on one military side or the other. And I wonder was there ever a dialogue between them? I doubt if there was…”
“As a journalist I had the privilege of meeting people who fought – for example I remember, at the time of the first IRA ceasefire in 1994, talking to people who had participated in D-Day and also speaking on various occasions as a journalist to people who had fought in UN service or who had served on UN duty. But one of the things that came through to me very strongly was the respect that these people had for each other: that this was not an argument that these people wanted to pursue, in fact there wasn’t any argument. They didn’t see a dichotomy in what they did and what someone else did – fighting or serving in either a British army or an Irish army. Of course there are differences, and what is fascinating about what Paul is writing about and talking about is that in some ways this is stuff that we just didn’t do. Unfortunately when these people were alive, they could have talked or they could have written, I don’t know. That letter you mentioned in the Irish Independent…?
Paul Bew: “Yes that was in July 1917…”
Cathal MacCoille: “…. We’re coming to this late. Anyway that’s the wide view, we are now going into the specifics and somebody … a glimpse of what brought Tom Burke to the work that he has done on the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, a fascinating story, the genesis of Tom Burke’s research, and he has built on that in ways that are very impressive as we are now going to hear….
2. Tom Burke (Chair, Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association): ‘The Royal Dublin Fusiliers in the Great War’ [illustrated talk]
“Thank you very much for having me here. … What I hope to do is to try and put a human face on what Paul was talking about earlier on. To bring a bit of humanity back into something that’s totally abstract. I mean history is in the past, it’s long ago, it’s far away. You can’t touch it. But we all have brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers. The loss of a loved one through accident, natural cause or conflict is painful. That pain is a commonality we share with that generation who went through the Great War because it gives us a feeling of what they went through and endured.
“Now Paul has spent the last 45 minutes giving us the picture about what happened from a political context. You cannot talk about the First World War and the history of Ireland in that period without linking the two together. I could summarise Paul’s debate with these two photographs here [slides]. The one on the left shows a Dublin Fusilier, we know by his cap badge. The other Dubliner is Sir Edward Carson. It’s interesting to note that the Dublin Fusilier was a member of the National Volunteers who wanted Home Rule, and Carson, as you know, did not.
Outbreak of war: “The debate about Home Rule in Ireland came to a head at a conference in Buckingham Palace on the 23rd of July 1914. And on the 24th, the day that the Buckingham Palace Conference failed, Herbert Asquith went into the House of Parliament and he informed the House that the conference on Irish Home Rule had failed and so too had the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia. On the 29th July 1914, the Austrians bombarded Belgrade.
“I am not going to discuss the origins of the Great War. In terms of Germany invading France, the real prize for the Germans was in fact Russia. Their thinking was that if they were going to fight a battle to control Europe, they couldn’t fight it on two sides. The first thing they had to do was to knock out the French, and then take on the Russians before their huge army could mobilise. To knock out the French – there was a plan devised in 1905 by the Chief of the Imperial Staff, Field Marshal Von Schlieffen. His plan was to sweep through Belgium, take Paris and take the French armies from behind.
British Expeditionary Force and 2nd Dublins: “The British response to the invasion of Belgium was to send an expeditionary force known as the BEF which was made up of about 100,000 men. Their plan, and again it was pre-planned, was to come in alongside the French and assemble at the village of Maubeuge in northern France. This initial expeditionary force sent to France contained every Irish regiment of the British Army other than the Dublin Fusiliers. The Dublin Fusiliers had two regular battalions at the outbreak of the Great War. The 1st Battalion (nicknamed ‘The Blue Caps’) was in Fort St George in Madras in India. The 2nd Battalion (nicknamed ‘The Old Toughs’) was at home, and home for the 2nd Dublin Fusiliers was in Bordon Barracks in Gravesend – it’s now a supermarket. They were kept at home because the British War Office feared that there would be a German invasion of Britain, so they were kept at home to defend Britain. For fear of being over-run by superior German firepower and infantry, the French 5th Army began to withdraw and for the same reasons on 24 August, the BEF began to retreat from the Belgian City of Mons. It was during this retreat that the 2nd Dublin Fusiliers, as part of the 4th Infantry Division, were brought over from England and placed around the town of Le Cateau. Their objective was to provide a rear guard force that would cover the retreating BEF.
Dublin casualties: “Now, the consequences of all the great intrigue and high political drama that occurred in Europe and Ireland over the past months and year filtered its way down to a side street off Dorset Street in Dublin.
Pte. John Boland: “Here’s a photograph of four Dublin Fusiliers [slide]: one chap in the photograph is Private John Boland. He came from No.18 Russell St which is just off Dorset St. Had he survived the war his next door neighbour would have been Brendan Behan who lived in No.20 Russell St. The house is gone. Before the war, John was a messenger boy in a little retail shop in Dorset St. In 1913, the year of the General Lockout, he lost his job and he joined the army. He was killed just outside the village of Le Cateau near Clary. John was 19 years of age when he died. I want you to remember that little French villageof Le Cateau because it has implications towards the end of this little talk.
“On the same day that John was killed, Matthew Sharkey from Corporation Buildings in Foley St., George Fraser from Pembroke St in Dublin, and a local man named Sgt. Joseph Lynch, aged 33, from Slane, Co. Meath was also killed. This is the last letter John wrote home to his mother [slide], from ‘ Bordon Barracks, 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers, Gravesend.’ … He could read, he could write. In his last lines, he talks about his friend Carney getting the handy job as an officer’s servant. He wrote. ‘ I’ll close now, will write soon, I remain your loving son, Jack’. That was his last letter sent home.
“Three things happened to the 2nd Dublins during that rear-guard fighting around Clary and Le Cateau: some were killed, some were taken prisoner, and some survived.
Prisoners of war – Limburg: “Those that were captured were put into a prisoner of war camp at Limburg. This is a photograph taken by Fr. Crotty who was sent up from Rome to act as chaplain to the Irish soldiers in Limburg. Limburg was a prisoner-of-war camp. It was the prisoner-of-war camp that Roger Casement went in to try and recruit a brigade. He went in to recruit a brigade of soldiers from a group of men who had come through utter hell with each other. They had seen their mates butchered and cut to ribbons by German machine-gun fire and shrapnel. These Irishmen had come through hell. They were not going to betray their fellow soldiers beside whom they had fought and died. Casement misjudged these Irishmen’s loyalty to each other. Out of 2,500 Irish soldiers who were congested in Limburg, Casement managed to recruit 40. One of them was a Dublin Fusilier.
Christopher McDonald: “One of the Dublin Fusiliers that spent the entire war in Limburg was Christopher McDonald. Before the war Christopher was a gardener, he was one of the first babies born in Holles St. Christopher was in the 2nd Dublins. He survived Limburg and came back to Ireland in what, as Professor Bew has told us, was a difficult time for British soldiers. He left Dublin and went to Glasgow, got a job on the railways and died in 1972.
Irish memorial at Limburg: “This little cross [slide] is a Celtic Cross put up in Limburg just after the war. Fr Crotty blessed it and it lists the Irishmen – I think there were about 45 Irishmen – who died in Limburg. That particular cross went into ruin over the years. However, recently the Taoiseach’s Office issued a grant to a group of local and Irish people to restore the cross.
Recruitment campaign: “Back in Ireland, a recruitment campaign was going on. The Secretary of State for War, General Kitchener, had no time for ‘political’ armies. In fairness to him he was consistent on this issue. Lloyd George wanted to set up the 38th (Welsh) Division and he wanted to recruit Welsh officers who spoke only Welsh. In Ireland, three infantry divisions were raised by voluntary recruitment.
Recruitment figures: “The recruits came from every section of Irish society. The Dublin and Wicklow Manure Company lost 200 to recruitment. UCD – 400 undergraduates volunteered, Trinity College Dublin – 869 undergraduates. Clongowes Wood College – 516 ex-students and 6 Jesuit priests who were members of staff. Derry National Volunteers – 600 joined, some of whom went into ‘C’ Company of the 6th Royal Irish Regiment. Approximately 500 Belfast nationalists enlisted, many of whom went into the 6th Battalion of the Connaught Rangers. What’s interesting is the rejection rates. Most of them were rejected because they had varicose veins and bad teeth!
Guinness’s: “Guinness brewery in Dublin – 645 members of staff enlisted. They and Jacobs’ employees who enlisted had the luxury of their job back if they were lucky enough to survive the war. 103Guinness employees were killed in the First World War. While away at the front, wives of married men received half their husband’s wages.
Pals’ units: “The recruitment people in Ireland used all kinds of interesting psychological techniques and touched on Irish sentiments such as Irish patriotism. Recruitment notices appeared in the Irish Times and other newspapers. The concept of a ‘Pals’ unit’ was born in the recruitment campaign in the Great War. Bring along a pal with you was the idea. One picture showed a group of Dublin Fusiliers who had a board beside them upon which was inscribed the words ‘everybody’s doing it’, i.e. enlisting.
Recruiting offices: “One of the biggest recruiting offices that existed on the island of Ireland was in Pearse St. – Great Brunswick St. then. And the interesting thing about the building is that it is still there today. The Pearse family stone works is next door to it! I often wondered what Patrick Pearse thought of having a big recruiting office next door to the family business.
Recruiting tram: “There was a recruiting tram that travelled through Rathmines, down through Harcourt St and down into the centre of Dublin. It stopped at Foster Place. The point was that if a potential recruit couldn’t get to the recruiting office, the recruiting office got to the recruit. So nobody was going to be left out. On the tram were the words, ‘Irish men enlist today’.
“Now back to war.
Western Front: “By the end of 1914, the Western Front as we know it today had essentially formed itself by default. The Germans withdrew back to the Marne, the French and British couldn’t get across the Marne so they went around it. And when they went around it, the Germans went round them, and then the British went around them again. What happened was a kind of outflanking movement of armies heading north until they got to the North Sea. That out-flanking movement was called the ‘Race to the Sea’. By the time the race ended, the British ended up around the city of Ypres in Flanders. On their left was the small Belgian army and on their right were the French.
Ypres: “The British had very logistical reasons to be in Ypres. The army was supplied from the ports of Dover and Southampton to Calais and Le Havre. They settled into this region of Flanders and by the end of 1914, the war of movement on the western front had stopped.
Christopher Rogers: “In the months leading up to Christmas 1914, many infantry battalions called up their reserves to replace the men who were killed or taken prisoner in the battle that took place along the Western Front in the previous months. These were men who had served their time in the regular army and went onto the army reserve list. One of these army reserve men was Christopher Rogers, a carpenter who lived with his wife and children in … Bishop Street, Dublin. He was called up and went to the 2nd Dublins who were near Armentieres in France. He wrote home to his wife telling her everything’s grand. And she wrote back to him saying, ‘you would be surprised to see the children, Mary Ellen is always watching the letter man for a letter from daddy, Christy is getting to run about’. Christopher Rogers was not long in France when he was killed by a sniper in Christmas week
Chemical weapons (1915): “By the beginning of 1915 the Western Front had been well established and the war of movement was going nowhere. Recruitment carried on with a pace back in Ireland. For the first time in the history of modern warfare the Germans introduced chemical weapons. To use the present-day term, they were indeed weapons of mass destruction. In April 1915, German chlorine gas released from cylinders, blew over the British lines just north of Ypres. It first hit Canadian troops and French-Nigerian, colonial troops. The killing was appalling and a gap appeared in the Canadian lines. In order to plug this gap, hundreds of troops were rushed northeast of Ypres to stop the German advance. Some of these troops were from the 2nd Dublins and 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers.
Pte. Hugh Lynch: “Private Hugh Lynch of the 2nd Dublins came from Railway St., Dublin. He lost his job as a messenger boy, in Amiens St., and at the age of nineteen he joined up in1913. According to family, he was a religious young fellow. The War Office in London wrote to Mrs Lynch and told her. ‘In reply to your letter of the 13th May, I am directed to tell you that the regimental number …. Hugh Lynch, 2nd Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers, has not appeared on our casualty lists.’
“His body was never found. The poor chap was blown to bits. His mother cut that little paper clipping of her son’s death and for years she kept wrapped up in a Sacred Heart scroll.
Dichotomy of Irish history – the Malone brothers: “The Germans never exploited the break in the line in the April gas attack. They launched a similar attack on the St. Julien line again in May 1915.It was during this attack on a Farm called ‘Mouse Trap Farm’ that Sgt. Willie Malone of the 2nd Dublin Fusiliers was killed. In April 1916 during the Easter Rising, his brother, Volunteer Michael Malone of the Irish Volunteers was killed at 25 Northumberland Road near Mount Street Bridge in Dublin. If there was ever a simpler example of the dichotomy of Irish history, it is the death of these two men. The interesting thing about Michael and Willie Malone was that their sister, Bridget Malone, married Dan Breen. William Malone was a carpenter before he joined up. On the wall of the house at 25 Northumberland Road, there’s a memorial to Volunteer Michael Malone, ‘C’ Company, Ốglaidh na hẾireann,. There will soon be a memorial at Mouse Trap farm to remember his brother, Willie Malone.
Tragedy of war – brothers killed: “A paper cutting from the Irish Independent dated May 1916 summarises what we have been talking about all night, the tragedy of war. The cutting records the deaths of three brothers and their mother asking the people of Dublin to pray for her three sons in the parish of St Nicholas of Myra, off Francis St. They were the McDonald brothers, Peter, Patrick and John, from Bride St. in Dublin. There are mothers in the audience tonight. One day you get a letter home telling you your son has been killed, your eldest son is dead. A week or two later, you get a second letter telling you your other two sons are dead. There is only a certain amount of grief that any human being can take. Bride St. was a tenement part of Dublin, it was poor, a no-hope part of Dublin’s inner city. They joined the army because perhaps there was nothing else for them to do.
Gallipoli: “Gallipoli is a little peninsula at the tip of the Dardanelles. The attack on Gallipoli was Churchill’s brainwave. His idea was to create a new front, draw German troops from the Western Front and supply the Russians with guns and ammunition. Having one of Germany’s allies, Turkey, out of the war would give the Allies a morale-boosting victory. Apparently the night before the Allies went in on D-Day in the Second World War, Churchill couldn’t sleep, worrying about what was going to happen – was the fiasco at Gallipoli going to happen all over again?
“In terms of the Dublin Fusiliers and the other Irish regiments: the 1st Battalion of the Dublins were in Fort St. George in Madras in India. They were sent back to England to re-train and re-fit and, as part of the 29th Infantry Division, to set sail for Gallipoli and attack the Turks. On 25 April 1915, they landed on the shores of Cape Helles at the southern tip of the Gallipoli peninsula. A beautiful old Byzantine fort stands above the beach on which they landed. Along with the Munster Fusiliers and the Royal Hampshire Regiment, they landed off a steam collier called the SS River Clyde. Sides had been cut out of the Clyde and the landing plan was for the men to run down galley planks onto pontoons that had been dragged near the shore alongside the ship. From the pontoons the men would jump onto the beach and advance inland to fight the Turks. A firing machine gun would cover the men coming ashore. The German commander advising with the Turks, General Von Sanders, knew that Cape Helles was a vitally important part of the peninsula to defend so he heavily defended it with barbed wire under the water, and along the ridge he placed more wire and machine-gun placements.
“The Dubs, Munsters and Hampshires did not stand a chance. Further round the coastal head, Australians and New Zealand forces tried to land as well. They too were held back by brave Turks.
Pte. Tom Errity: “One of the Dublin Fusiliers killed was Pte. Thomas Errity, aged seventeen from Newtownmountkennedy. He and his family of nine lived on a small farm. He joined up in 1913. The Roman Catholic Chaplain to the Dublin Fusiliers, Fr. Flynn, was killed giving absolution to a dying fusilier . Tom Errity is buried in a cemetery on the beach in Gallipoli. It was once called the ‘Dublins ‘ Cemetery’.
Joseph Berrils – youngest RDF casualty: “The youngest Dublin Fusilier to die in the entire war was a young fellow called Joseph Berrils from Drogheda, Co. Louth. He was only fifteen years of age when he died at Gallipoli. He should never have been there, a mere child.
Peter Byrne: “Peter Byrne joined up in 1912. He was shot in the lungs and was taken back to Ireland and spent the rest of the war in Leopardstown Park Hospital….. In May 1941, the Germans bombed North Strand in Dublin. Peter Byrne had a job with the Irish Independent and he was coming home the night the Germans bombed the North Strand and he had just gone over Annesley Bridge and the bomb went off. He looked back and he said. ‘Ye bastards, you missed me in the first one, you missed me in the second one and you’ll never get me now.’ Peter Byrne died in 1975.
Suvla Bay: “In terms of the objectives, the April attack on Cape Helles failed. In order to out-flank the Turkish defences, the Allies, which contained Australian and New Zealand divisions (ANZACs) attacked what they called Suvla Bay on the western side of the peninsula in early August 1915. The 10th (Irish) Division was used in this attack. These were the men both Kitchener and John Redmond had encouraged to enlist. These were the civilian volunteer soldiers.
‘Pals’ battalions: “As previously mentioned, Pals battalions were set up from groups of men who for example were from a football club, a factory or a town. They were bank clerks, insurance officials and salesmen. In Dublin, the Dublin Fusiliers set up their own Pals unit which was ‘D’ Company of the 7th Dublin Fusiliers who fought at Suvla Bay in August 1915. Rugby footballers from the various Dublin Clubs enlisted as a Pals unit. In September 1914, they assembled in Lansdowne Road and paraded through the streets of Dublin on their way to the Curragh for training. The President of the IRFU in August 1914, was Mr. F. Browning. He encouraged Rugby footballers to enlist. At the outbreak of the Easter Rising, Browning was killed by Irish Volunteers near Beggars Bush Barracks He was leading a group of what were called ‘gorgeous wrecks’, a group of elderly British ex-Servicemen, hence the name ‘gorgeous wrecks’ who went off on route marches at the weekend. They were coming back to Beggars Bush barrack when they got caught up in the rebellion near Mount St.
Ernest Julian: “Amongst their ranks was Ernest Julian, the Reid Professor of Criminal Law at Trinity College. He was from Birr, Co. Offaly. In 1998, when the Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association opened our first exhibition in Dublin’s Civic Museum, we presented President McAleese with a photograph of Ernest Julian. She knew all about Julian. Her predecessor, President Mary Robinson, was also Reid Professor of Criminal Law. Today Ivana Bacik currently holds the Chair. Sadly, Ernest Julian was killed as he landed at Suvla Bay with the 7th Dublins in August 1915. His body was never found.
Stanton family: “Examples of Dublin Fusiliers who came from the tenements of inner Dublin or from poor rural farming stock around Ireland have been given. Men – and indeed women – at the other end of the social spectrum came forward too and enlisted. One example of the latter was the Stanton family from Cork. Mr John Stanton ran a family law firm in Cork. The boys went to CBC and the girls to private ‘finishing schools’ in Cork and in England.
“Bob Stanton had graduated with an Honours degree in Law at Trinity College Dublin. He was the eldest in the family and when he graduated he went back to the family practice in Cork. He fell in love with a postmistress and wanted to marry her. His father forbade the marriage as he believed there was a history of TB in her family. In disgust, Bob left the law firm and went to Dublin where he enlisted into the 6th Battalion Dublin Fusiliers. Bob was killed at Suvla Bay. His brother, George Stanton, a medical graduate from Trinity College, also enlisted. He joined the Royal Army Medical Corps, went to France, was wounded on the first day of the Somme and sent back to England to recover. Sadly he died soon after surgery. His father and mother wanted his body brought home to Cork and the War office sent the family a bill to bring his body home to Cork. Tom Stanton joined up with the Royal Engineers, he was a Trinity engineering graduate and fought in Egypt. Luckily he survived the war.
Women – the ‘Roses of No Man’s Land’: “Alice Stanton enlisted as a VAD, Voluntary Aide Detachment, a volunteer medical assistant. She served as a VAD at a hospital in Arras. These VADs were, in my opinion, wonderful people. The VADs were mainly young women. These women of Ireland were once called the ‘Roses of No Man’s Land’. I cannot say enough about the Irish women who helped these men on the Western Front. They were incredible people. One of them, whom you all know was Mother Mary Martin. She came from the family of the well-known Dublin Builders providers, T and C Martins. Mary Martin volunteered as a VAD nurse in Gallipoli. Her two brothers enlisted as well. One enlisted in the Connaught Rangers and he was killed in Salonica, the other enlisted into the Dublin Fusiliers. Mary went to Malta and helped the wounded from the Gallipoli campaign.
When she came back to Ireland, she set up the Medical Missionaries of Mary and the hospital in Drogheda. She probably never would have set up the Medical Missionaries of Mary had she not gone to Gallipoli and witnessed the appalling suffering.
Stantons: “The rest of the Stanton family got on with their lives. The father died in 1919. Every father, every human being has a breaking point with grief.
Irish casualties in Gallipoli: “The Allies withdrew in January 1916. Kitchener came to visit the peninsula and believed the best solution to the stalemate that had developed was to simply get out. And what a price was paid for achieving a stalemate. There was young Joseph Berrils, he was fifteen years of age, from Drogheda. The three Donovan brothers from the parish of St.Anne’s in Cork lie together in Gallipoli. So too do the two Mallaghan brothers from Newry. In total 3, 411 were killed from the 10th (Irish) Division of which 830 were Dublin Fusiliers.
Salonica: “After Gallipoli, the 10th (Irish) Division went to Salonica. They went from the desert conditions of Gallipoli up to blizzard conditions of Macedonia. They remained there for several months through the winter and into the summer of 1916. Their main enemy was the dreadful swarms of mosquitoes and consequent malaria. Salonica marked the end of the 10th(Irish) Division. There is a Celtic Cross put up in Salonica similar to the one put up in Guillemont in France to commemorate the 16th(Irish) Division’s roll in the battle of the Somme, 1916. A couple of years ago, members of the Irish Defence Forces on UN service in Kosovo cleaned up the base of the cross.
Easter Rising – attitudes of Irish soldiers in France: “The first casualty of the rising was a Dublin Fusilier as he was killed in Westmoreland St. at 12.30 am on Easter Monday morning. He was in his uniform; he was shot and died in Mercer’s Hospital. There were about twelve Dublin Fusiliers killed in the Rising in Dublin. In terms of the Irish men fighting in France with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and other Irish regiments of the British army, one of the more interesting questions was what was their attitude to the Rising in Dublin? By far their main feeling was one of disappointment. That disappointment ranged from sheer anger to indifference.
“There is a wonderful series of letters written by Dublin Fusiliers after the Easter Rising contained in the archive in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers Archive called the Monica Roberts collection in the Dublin City Archives. Many of these letters express the real sentiments some of the Dublin Fusiliers felt towards the rebels and ‘Sinn Feiners’ as they called them. Some of the Dublins believed the rebels should be shot, and as we now know, they were. In my opinion, I think the Easter Rising were the first shots in the Civil War in this country. 2nd Lieut. (later Captain) Richard (Dick) Burke served with the 3rd Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment who fought the Irish Volunteers in Moore Street. Dick was born in Dingle, Co. Kerry. His father was the manager of the National Bank in Dingle, he studied in St. Vincent’s College in Castleknock and worked with his father in the bank when the family moved to Kilrush. Dick enlisted in 1914 for a bit of adventure. He was delighted to think that his regiment had taken Moore St…..The interesting thing about the Easter Rising is that many of the Irish regiments, in the initial stages of it, took part in putting down the Easter Rising. The 10th Royal Dublin Fusiliers, who were training in Dublin at the Royal (Collins) Barracks fought the Irish Volunteers at the Mendicity Building and in fact arrested Seán Heuston.
National Volunteers: “The Easter Rising was a source of disappointment to the Irish soldiers in France, it’s well documented. The question is why? By 1916, approximately 24,000 National Volunteers had joined the British Army. These were nationalists, these were the men who supported John Redmond, to have a Home Rule Parliament. They, i.e. the National Volunteers who had enlisted, felt stabbed in the back.
Eugene Sheehy: “Just to conclude on the Easter Rising and the Irish regiments. Eugene Sheehy, was an officer in the 4th Dublins. His sister Mary Sheehy married Tom Kettle who was killed in the war in September 1916 fighting with the Dublins at Guillemont. Sheehy’s other sister, Hannah Sheehy, married Francis Skeffington. Eugene wrote about the Easter Rising [in 1951].
‘The Rising in Easter Week was a source of heartbreak to me and to the many tens of thousands of Irish nationalists who joined the British Army. We had done so at the request of our leaders who were the elected representatives of the people, and the vast majority of the nation applauded our action. The Rising was not even approved by the leaders of Sinn Fein.’
German posters: “The Germans knew all about the rising in Dublin. They put up a poster in front of the Munster Fusiliers which read “Irishmen! Heavy uproar in Ireland, English guns are firing on your wives and children.’
Irish Casualties in France in Easter Week: “During Easter Week the Germans launched another gas attack at a place called Hulloch. It is near Lens in northern France. John Redmond made a statement about this in the House of Parliament, describing the tragedy of Dubliners killing each other and Dubliners dying in France. There were six Louth men killed during that gas attack on 27 April 1916. It was the first major casualties suffered by the 16th (Irish) Division since they arrived in France back in December 1915.
Somme: “From a strategic perspective, the Somme was a failure. The tragic loss of life from the ranks of the 36th (Ulster) Division (5,500) should never be forgotten. These were our fellow Irishmen. Beside the Ulster Division was the 29th Division who had come from Gallipoli, which contained the 1st Battalion Dublin Fusiliers. There were men from the inner city of Dublin who died beside Ulstermen from Belfast’s Shankill Road. There were 19, 640 men killed in one day, 60,000 injured. The only positive to come out of the Battle of the Somme was the huge advancement up the learning curve of the British Army. But at the learning came at a terrible price in human lives.
Executions: “Pte Albert Rickman of the 1st Royal Dublin Fusiliers went missing on 1 July, the day his battalion attacked the Hawthorn Ridge. He was picked up a few weeks later and shot at dawn, in September 1916. If there wasn’t enough bloody killing going on! This poor fellow had to be shot for some obscure reason best known to those who condemned them. He was an Englishman, the son of a peasant farmer from Hampshire.
Tom Kettle, MP. “Tom Kettle was an Irish nationalist born in Artane, on the north side of Dublin. He was devoted to his men and he passionately believed that the cause he was fighting for was just and honourable. On 9 September 1916, he was killed when his 9th Dublins attacked Ginchy during the Somme campaign. He was a barrister, Member of Parliament and Professor of National Economics at UCD. What a terrible loss this man, and thousands like him, was to Ireland.
Meath brothers: “On the same day that Tom kettle was killed, there were two brothers from Curraha, Co. Meath, John and Christopher Mitchell, killed.
Sgt Bob Downie, VC: “Sgt. Bob Downie created a bit of regimental history with the Dublin Fusiliers, he won a Victoria Cross during the later campaigns in the Battle of the Somme. He took out a German machine gun post killing some and taking prisoners. As he ran at the guns he screamed in his broad Glaswegian accent, ‘Come on the Dubs.’ Downie was a Scot from Springburn in Glasgow. In fact one could call him an Irish Scot – his father came from Donegal to pick potatoes at the turn of the century. He was a very quiet man. When he came home to Glasgow to receive his VC from the King, he got a hero’s welcome. He was a member of the United Irishmen and they came out and presented him with a silver coin. He was an ardent Glasgow Celtic supporter. At the end of the war he was outside Celtic Park (Parkhead) queuing in the Veterans and Unemployed queue. The manager of Celtic recognised Downie in the queue and he asked him. ‘What are you doing? You won the Victoria Cross, why are you here?’ Downie replied. ‘Well, I am an unemployed veteran’. So the Celtic manager gave him a job as a grounds man in Celtic Park. He worked at Parkhead for the rest of his life. Bob Downie VC died in 1968. He lived long enough to see his beloved Celtic win the European Cup in 1967.
Paschendaele and after (1917): “The Third Battle of Ieper or Passchendaele which began in July 1917 with great hopes of a breakout from the stalemate in Flanders, ended in November 1917 at the village of Passchendaele. Its ending also marked the end of the volunteer battalions of many of the Irish regiments who went to France with the 16th (Irish) and 36th (Ulster) Divisions. They simply no longer existed. Their regular battalion regrouped and courageously survived the German offensive of March 1918 to go on to victory in 1918. The Redmondite volunteers, those that were left alive, returned to an Ireland, that had utterly changed. Redmond’s brand of Irish nationalism had died at Hulluch, Gallipoli, Salonika, the Somme, Wijtschate (Messines) and at Passchendaele. New heroes had been born in Ireland since they had left. In the years that followed, like the men themselves, their memory and place in Irish history died with them.
‘Remembered at last’: Stephen Gwynn was an officer in the Connaught Rangers and an MP of the Irish Nationalist Party. In thinking what lay ahead of these Irish veterans of the First World War, he hoped that one day in the future, Ireland would welcome these men home. And we did.
‘It may be, O Comrade, that Ireland, casting a backward glance on the road she has travelled, will turn and yearn in her heart for the valour she once rejected. ….Will cry to her own sick heart: ‘My faithful, my children, my lovers who never hurt me – you also are Ireland.’
“Go raibh mile mhaith agaibh”
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS [Summary of main points]
Cathal MacCoille: “Thank you very much Tom. The floor is open, there are a host of questions there ….”
Q. 1. John Gavin (Vice-President of Meath Archaeological and Historical Society).
“It’s not really a question. I’m going to relate a short little story told by my mother. Along with her many school friends during the 1913 and 1914 period in Dublin, she was a Dublin girl, they used to go in the evening time to see the soldiers boarding the ships at the North Wall, and she used to relate a very interesting or neutral story. This evening there was this woman screeching up at her husband – he was on the deck of the ship – and she says ‘Goodbye Mickey, and I hope you beat the Germans the way you used to beat me!’ That’s only one of the stories.”
Q. 2 Michael Dowdall (Dundalk, Guild of Uriel): ‘I also have a story. A long time ago I lived in Dublin, and I lived with a … Private John McCormack, and he enlisted, and he used to say to me that he ended up in [a regiment] in Kent, and he was sent out to Gallipoli. And he said to me when they landed off the boats, when they jumped into the water there was barbed wire under the water and a shot rang out …and his best friend dropped dead beside him. And he ran up onto the beach, and he said the Turk, whoever the Turk was, saw him …… Anyway, he got malaria from the Dardanelles, and he survived the war and went to America for nearly forty years. But in 1968 when I met him he used to have bouts of malaria, and he would roar and scream and all sorts of problems, and his dear wife … would get the doctor and he would give quinine and he would calm down. And I happened to know someone working in the Department of Social Welfare in Merrion Square and we decided that maybe after all this time – because after the war when he was demobbed he went to America straight. He said the queue was too long to look for money, it was ‘a mile and a half long sonny and I wasn’t going to wait’. But we put in a claim in 1968 for compensation for war wounds and malaria, and the British Department assessed him and awarded him a lump sum of £280 for wounds and problems received fifty odd years previous. They didn’t really forget him.”
Q. 3. Patrick Lynch (Batterstown): “So far we’ve dealt with the human side of the story… There’s another side to the story which was that the British authorities at the time who knew that these young men like Mr Birrell were under-age and the Parliamentary Papers will show that they deliberately turned a blind eye, because there was a military necessity to have large numbers because technology had moved on from previous times and they needed this mass attack, this total war. They thought they were coming home for Christmas and they went out, as we would go to a rock concert or the World Cup, so the premise on which they went in was for smaller nations and someone else had a larger strategy and these were only small observers…..Maybe something should be said about that?”
Tom Burke: “…… There were people under age and indeed over age, if you look at the death casualties … but there is no doubt, and a certain time in the war when things were looking bad, they would have taken anybody. The age of recruitment was 18. So certainly that was overlooked in some cases.….
Member of the audience: “There was a young boy from Waterford who was 14.”
Tom Burke: “Yes, John Condon was 14, but there were plenty of John Condons’ killed in that terrible war…”
Patrick: “We also need to put on record that there were Chinese prisoners being forced and they were executed at the end, that it wasn’t just this glorious war…
Tom Burke: “War is not glorious, there is nothing glorious about war. I would like to find out what was the source of the Chinese being executed. ”
Patrick: “I’m saying that these young people did not know what they were getting themselves into and that woke them up, and it gave rise to a totally different perspective in Ireland and in Europe.”
Q.4. John Clancy (Batterstown): “Just a point, each generation that has the onus of going to war also goes through the same process as you put it, about discovering the reality and brutality of war. But I would like to go to that photograph there [Islandbridge War Memorial] and I would just like confirmation of the figures from Tom. That place is very near my work, and I walk there nearly every day, it’s a wonderful place if you ever get a chance to go… But on this circular space with the cross in the middle, it’s in memory of the 49,400 Irishmen that gave their lives in the Great War. And I think that’s something to ponder in terms of Irishmen on this island. And we’re part of that great tragedy that was the First World War that was the making of another war. Could you just confirm that that is the casualty figure, and what was the proportion between what we would describe as Ulster and the rest of the country in terms of casualties? …..”
Tom Burke: “…When the German bullets flew, they never distinguished between a Catholic and a Protestant, and I’m not going to either.”
John: “Hear hear.”
Tom Burke: “I do not get into the debate about how many Catholics versus how many Protestants were killed. When you give a statistic, it can be twisted into whatever agenda you like. These people were human beings, and I’ll leave it at that. As to the 49,000, yes, you can debate that. There have been several studies done. What you have to remember is that a lot of Irishmen served in British regiments other than Irish regiments. For example, take the Dublin Fusiliers: 28% of the Dublin Fusiliers who were killed were not Irish. There’s a paper I had published in the Irish Sword which breaks it down… but again, I go back to my old story. When the bullets flew, they didn’t distinguish. And I don’t intend to get into the argument of Protestant versus Catholic casualties. The most common number of Irish casualties regularly quoted is around the 32,000 mark.”
Q. 5. Ruth Lawler (Clonmellon): “What you said about the Irish who died in the First World War, you excluded the ones who fought in the Australian Army. You did mention New Zealand, but the ANZACs were Australian and New Zealand, and a good majority of them were Irish as well.
Tom Burke: ‘…. At Messines, when [William] Redmond was killed at Messines on the 7th June, 1917, there was a Book of Condolences opened up by General Hickie and the 5th or 6th name in it was a Private P. Ryan, VC. AIF. He was in the Australian Infantry. I looked him up in the lists of VCs and he was born in Tipperary. He went out to Australia, he worked on the railways and enlisted, came to Flander with the Australians and won the VC. He was a stretcher bearer and repeatedly pulled men in from No Man’s Land under heavy fire.”
Ruth: “There is a black and white film from years back which mentions 8 Irish VCs for Australia……….”
Q. 6. “Paul mentioned that when Redmond came back from London he stayed in the country lodge in Co. Wicklow. A lot of critics of Redmond say he was a recluse there. But I believe there was a railway station near there. Redmond was not a recluse, he could easily go to any part of the country from there.”
Paul Bew: “I’m following Stephen Gwynn who was very pro-Redmond. ….indeed he made a number of speeches around the country and I have quoted from one, but Gwynn, who is very pro-Redmond, goes out of his way to say that actually perhaps he just was too much into the private world he was comfortable with … and that was why all these guys, these fellows of 1916 like Connolly and Pearse, they really were for Redmond very serious weirdos… Redmond was convinced that Casement deserved to be executed – nothing to do with the Black Diaries, but because of his attempt to get those people to desert. … There was a whole kind of hubbub going on, a kind of cultural change on the island and so on that I think it is fair to say he was not sensitive to. That is different from saying he had lost out… because I think there is no question that he still remained the popular elected leader of Irish nationalism. The Sheehy family, Edward Sheehy was a Redmondite MP, this is the same family as David Sheehy and also the same family as Conor Cruise O’Brien… a major nationalist family, and would have a very strong sense of the strength of the democratic tradition of Irish nationalism.
Darkening of the heart – unleashing of demons: “What I am trying to say about this is that if you say, as Redmond did, ‘look, that’s it, we’re calling it quits … we can’t forgive but we’ll try and forget, we’ll put this behind us’, the point is that once you say ‘no no, sorry, it’s not the way I see it, I’m still angry, we’ve still got things to work out, the grievances of history are still sufficiently so great that I will go out into the streets and I will shoot RIC and other men …,’ once you do it, it’s a darkening of the heart, there’s no way to avoid it. You might say ‘Ireland is wonderful today … the Irish Army will be marching down O’Connell St.’ and so on. All that is true but it involves a darkening of the heart, the refusal to say ‘we’ve got to reach some compromise, we’ve got a step that we can work with, you just can’t go unleash demons.’ I think it avoids the fact that what happened in 1916 is an unleashing of demons, and some of those demons are actually still with us.
Modern Ireland – new discourse: “At the same time we are actually uncomfortable with the demons. So that even now … one of the things which is very interesting, if you listen to the Taoiseach for example, there is almost an equivalence of both sets of honest men now, in the official discourse of modern Ireland. And it’s very interesting… Certainly there is now no sense that somehow or other Germany was right in the First World War, still less in the Second. Widely held views by radical Irish nationalists in both cases….. To the men of 1916 they were the ‘gallant allies’. Now I’m not making a judgment about Germany, I’m just saying that nobody actually today talks about the ‘gallant allies’… But those people who made 1916, they meant that, they actually meant that. Again, it’s disappeared… It’s very interesting the new patriotism that is going on, and there is a reason….. And this is something Stephen Gwynn says. In the middle of the 1930s he says something like this.
‘They know in Russia, they know in Slovakia, and we know in Ireland, what it is to live in a country where there’s been a successful revolution motivated by hatred.’
“For a nationalist MP to write that: ‘they know what we know’ – that actually people are not comfortable with that. And that is why, at this point in the history of modern Ireland, people want to move away from it, that is why the Foreign Minister was saying ‘we cannot have two histories always in opposition.’
“This is actually a very very positive thing, that when people stare grimly into it, they want to move away from it, they want to say ‘there were both sets of brave men in 1916’ and so on. And it tells you something about what is actually going on, and a mutation of consciousness which is occurring in modern Ireland, which is actually very interesting and in my view a very positive mutation of consciousness. So what Gwynn said is very very striking, and that poem that you read is also very striking, that we know what it is to live in a country, like Slovakia, where there has been a successful revolution motivated by hatred….
Unionism and the British State: “And one final point, about the Somme, sometimes it is forgotten that you could hear the battle in Kent, you could actually hear it. So you get a relationship between the Ulster Unionists and the British State. …A leading writer in the early 1920s… comes and makes a speech in Belfast and says: ‘I will never forget, sitting in my garden in Kent, when the wind was blowing, the Ulstermen were there defending Kent.’ Now again, that is a relationship between unionism and the British State……. it’s something very very important to understand about the Irish involvement in the war, it changes the relationship between Ulster Unionism and the British State. A lot of people regarded Carson as boring and bigoted in 1912/1914. You could actually hear the Battle of the Somme in Kent, you could hear it, and that changes their relationship and gives them a leverage in the period after the war that they would not have had…”
Q. 7. Robin Bury (Dublin): “Regarding Redmond and 1916. I think I am right in saying .. that Stephen Gwynn said that the leaders of 1916 were really striking against Redmond and his party, as opposed to the British and the British presence in Ireland. Of course they obviously did that. But getting to the actual executions, it is said by quite a lot of people … if Maxwell had not executed the 15 and over a long period of time, very painstaking, that perhaps the 1916 leaders would have been a footnote in history?”
Paul Bew: “Well that was W.T. Cosgrave’s view [tape unclear] …. My own view for a long time, because I dislike simple explanations, and I would look at the land question in the countryside, social issues in Dublin, or the constitutional debates that go on between 1916 and 1917, and the Irish Convention, and I was very reluctant to accept the simple explanation that it was the executions. Having looked at all these things for years and all the other political reasons … I have now come to the explanation that yes, it was the executions, stupid. And, by the way, that was Gwynn’s view as well. That if they had been treated… We talk about it and it was disastrous from the point of view of British policy, the truth is, just looking at James Stephens’s Insurrection at Easter – Stephens has the advantage of being a very good writer who wrote at the moment, at the time, so it’s a particularly important memoir… and Stephens writes on the basis that he expects all [to be executed], his assumption the day after it happens is that there would be hundreds of executions. In fact 15 were executed… but nonetheless… the truth is that when you actually look at it, actual insurrectionaries – very few of them die, if you actually look at it. Lots of other people die, but they themselves are the smallest group of all the casualties. Soldiers die, ordinary Dubliners die … in the Easter Rising, the single smallest category is actually the insurrectionaries themselves, which is about 150 or thereabouts. And also the element of an alliance with Imperial Germany means that it’s not completely surprising that … but it is the executions that changed things, and every account … is the same thing: ‘when we were led away at the end of it, ordinary Dubliners sneered at us. Within a matter of weeks we were heroes.’ That really changed the story.”
Tom Burke: ‘Just one point on the executions. The British military command executed 306 of their own men for crimes that in their view were far less serious. The executions were a military decision. Maxwell was a General. I wonder if it were a political decision, would the executions have been carried out?
Paul Bew: “It was much less than James Stephens expected….”
Q. 8. Jim Nolan (Enniskillen, Guild of Uriel): “I come from north Roscommon originally. … I am very interested in Professor Bew talking about the five by-elections that the Nationalist Party had won. North Roscommon happened to be the first one, the turning point in 1917, which was won by Count Plunkett. And a local clergyman, the curate there, was Fr. O’Flanagan, and I am told by my parents that he used to say every Sunday, ‘why leave the gaiety all to the laity, why can’t the clergy be Irishmen too?’ And just thinking about the organizing of the Volunteers at the time, and the Citizens’ Army, and organizing for the Rising, where would you think the turning point came? … All those people were divided as well, you know MacNeill sent the countermanding order, they had a row in a flat in south Dublin about whether they would have the Rising on that particular day or not. Would you think that the Rising affected the change in the popular vote in 1917?
Paul Bew: “First of all, I think the divisions you are talking about – among those planning the Rising – actually probably disabled the authorities more than it disables the insurrectionaries. … … this organizational division ….was one reason why the British State did not believe that the serious thing was going to be attempted. They were aware of the countermanding orders, and so on. By the way, the UWC strike in 1974, is another example. There had been so many failed loyalist strikes, and cock-ups and imitations, and play-acting, that they didn’t actually expect them to come out, and once it’s bitten you’re too late, ‘oh God, they’re serious this time’. And 1916 is an example. Certainly by the chaos …. chaos has its advantages…
“One of the most important things about Fr. O’Flanagan of course is his deep commitment to what we call the ‘two nations theory’…. On the one hand a radical republican, and vice-President of Sinn Féin in 1917, but on the other hand deeply committed to the fact that any attempt to coerce the unionists would be wrong. He used to say: ‘the British have tried to coerce us for twenty years to give up our nationality, they failed and they deserved to fail. If we try to do this with the Ulster Unionists we will fail too and we will deserve to fail’. Another famous line is ‘a geographical entity is not necessarily a political entity. Spain and Portugal are two political entities but … the Iberian Peninsula is a geographical entity’, and so on. He was deeply committed to the idea that the two peoples in Ireland both had the right to self-determination. He could say that and be vice-President of Sinn Féin and it was not a problem in Roscommon. Which tells you how little the north is at issue in the rise of Sinn Féin. The vice-President of Sinn Fein …. was openly expressing these views throughout 1917, and it didn’t stop them winning in north Roscommon. In fact he was a key figure in them winning, he was very popular, very active on land issues as well.
1918 elections: “So if somebody says to you ‘well, 1918 was the democratic vote of the Irish people that the whole of Ireland – and the unionist North – must be included in an Irish State’, well Sinn Féin was led by somebody who was openly telling Irish people it was not on, it shouldn’t be done, and you shouldn’t do it. It wasn’t a problem. 1918 is not about the North. It’s a vote for the maximum possible political autonomy that could be achieved, even theoretically asking for a Republic, but it is not actually about the North, which is an important thing to understand. So I think that the Rising is important in changing opinions, all the executions, the threat of conscription and remaining land issues – and O’Flanagan is very important … there is going to be a need for the remaining grievance of the land question, and that is part of his significance in this period ……But a very very strong – what is called today a ‘two nations’ man.
Jim: “In a speech … in Co Cavan for Arthur Griffith, he seemed to direct most of his anger at Lloyd George….”
Paul Bew: “Yes, that would be O’Flanagan all right!”
Cathal Mac Coille: “I’m going to allow two more questions…”
Q. 9. James McGeever (Cavan): “The 1916 Proclamation speaks of ‘cherishing all the children of the nation equally’. I wonder does that put an obligation on us to uphold the Proclamation, to sympathetically understand not just the nationalists, but also the aristocracy and the gentry and the ordinary Anglo-Irish Protestants who fought in the Great War, doing – as they saw it – their duty?” …. James Connolly spoke of honouring and praying for all the brave men who did their duty according to their lights.”
Cathal: “I’ll take the two questions together….”
Q. 10. Sean Collins (Drogheda): “Just a couple of pointers. Firstly, to get back to the executions: recent work on the executions tells us that it was a political decision to stop it. Maxwell would have come in and shot all and sundry, as far as he was concerned, but when political pressure was brought to bear, that’s when he stopped, and that’s what the most recent work has told us…..This notion of these men going off to fill regiments to fight for Britain. Surely this was nothing new? There hasn’t been a study done on it as has been done on the Great War, as it was called. But the Great War I would believe was the first time that we really had proper records kept, and the media was opening the world, opening people’s minds. I have a recording of a man who was 90 years of age, relating a story his grandmother told him about how she baked brown bread and put it in two pillowcases and walked down to the Dublin Road in Drogheda to hand it to her sons who were going off to fight in the Crimea, leaving Dundalk Barracks, marching to Dublin to get the boat, never to be heard of again….So the notion of filling British regiments is nothing new.
“On the notion of the Rebels in Dublin betraying them, I was always of the opinion that the bulk of them went for jobs not for any great political ideal, and nearly everybody Tom mentioned tonight he told us how they lost their jobs so they joined the British Army. There’s questions to be asked there.
Respect: “The one thing that would concern me though is this, as a regular attender here for many years and many sessions, I felt the ideal of this organisation [Meath Peace Group] was to get a better understanding of people’s traditions and respect each other’s traditions. I really feel that that’s what peace is all about. And it’s not enough that we have problems with people in the North of Ireland and what their traditions might be, whether they are Orange or Green or Unionist or Nationalist, or Catholic or Protestant, or wherever they might be, but when we are bothered by the emblems that they erect in memory of each other, I really think we are on the road to trouble. We must learn to respect what people’s views are, whether their ancestors were in the GPO, whether they were signing the Ulster Covenant with Carson, or whether they were off fighting in Gallipoli or the Somme or wherever. We will never have the peace that the Meath Peace Group desire until people just respect each other’s traditions, and whether they are remembered on Mount St. Bridge, or not remembered on Mount St. Bridge, I really think that’s irrelevant.”
Tom Burke: “I think it is important that they are remembered – on Mount St. Bridge and in France. Because if you forget … There’s a point to be made about forgetfulness. Perhaps it was good for our own history to lose the memory of these men for eighty years, because now we can look back without an agenda. We can now look back with some kind of humanity, without any blinkers or an agenda. So I do think it is important that we do have some kind of respectful memory and memorials, whether it’s in Flanders or whether it’s in Dublin.
1916 Proclamation: “The second point, this gentleman raised about the Proclamation. …. ‘Our gallant allies in Europe’ and then ‘including all the children of the nation’. Now ‘our gallant allies in Europe’ – half the ‘children of the nation’ were fighting ‘our gallant allies’ in Europe. There’s a slight contradiction there in terms of the philosophy.
Paul Bew: “I very much agree with what you said, but I do think that the change in tone in official Ireland is very marked – it’s actually very very profound in its meaning, and it’s to do with an attempt to move away from traditional meanings……and by the way, lest I be misunderstood, it’s as much to do with unionist history as it is of nationalist history. And it’s to do with an attempt to move away, the underlying reason for it was to move away from that story, so what has happened in terms of … commemoration, the attempt to achieve a balance … it is tremendously important that that effort was actually made, to achieve a balance. It tells you something about what is happening in modern Ireland and it is actually a very good thing…”
Q. 11. Joan Leech (Navan): “I would hate not to make the point that Pearse, MacBride, Plunkett, all the signatories – they were not calculating politicians. They were poets, teachers and visionaries. They did what in their consciences they felt they had an opportunity to do. And also, we’re told that Francis Ledwidge, the Meath poet, wrote home to his brother Michael at one stage and said that if the Germans were coming up the path in front of his little house at home, he would not join up again. I’d love Professor Bew to comment on that.”
Paul Bew: “That is a perfectly understandable, perfectly reasonable reaction.”
Cathal MacCoille: “Just one thing …. re the reference to ‘our gallant allies in Europe’. Maybe this is the kind of thing a journalist would say. What kind of allies are gallant allies? Who ever had dodgy allies? Now, to propose the vote of thanks, since it is a meeting held in association with the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society, I’m going to call on one of the Society’s patrons, Dr. Richard Clarke, bishop of Meath and Kildare…”
Vote of thanks. Dr. Richard Clarke, Bishop of Meath and Kildare
(Dr Clarke is a patron of the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society):
“Thank you very much indeed, on behalf of both groups, both the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society and also the Meath Peace Group. I’d like to thank all our speakers tonight, and I’d like to thank Cathal MacCoille for his time-keeping and also for his refereeing. But particularly I want to thank our two speakers because I think they did indeed, in one sense, show us the broad sweep of the ambiguity of what it is to be Irish. The broad sweep of the political ambiguities of 1914-18 and the flesh and blood of people dying, and people who had grown up on the streets of Dublin going out to die elsewhere. And if we can’t treasure that essential ambiguity in what it is to be an Irish person then I think there is very little hope for the future.”
Poetry of the Great War: “There was a mention of Ledwidge just a minute ago. And Julitta, knowing my love of the poetry of the war, asked when I was concluding would I just briefly make a couple of references to the poetry of the Great War because I think here we all come face to face with not only the awfulness but also in a way with somehow whatever it is within people that can face life and death, and hatred and shame.
Francis Ledwidge: “And of course the greatest ambiguity of all is that of Ledwidge, who, as we know, was anti-Redmond and yet a couple of weeks later he volunteers to join the Enniskillen Fusiliers! He comes back in 1916 and writes that beautiful poem about his friend MacDonagh (for which he is best known) and then he goes back to the front, which he needn’t have done.
“He goes back to the war. He could have got away with it, he goes back and he still writes poetry of a remarkable kind.
“But the poem of his that I want to read is actually one written early in the war, in Serbia. We spoke about Gallipoli earlier on, and in Serbia, literally hundreds of people died of frostbite. And he writes somehow a vision of the end of time. He wrote to [Lord] Dunsany and said ‘this is what I imagine it would be like at the end of the Book of Revelation, the end of time’ and he writes in this strange, wistful way, about what has been lost and what is there. It’s the poem ‘When Love and Beauty Wander Away’.
‘When love and beauty wander away
And there’s no more hearts to be sought and won
When the old earth limps through the dreary day
And the work of seasons cry undone
And what shall we do, the song to sing?
You have known beauty and love and Spring
When love and beauty wander away
And a pale fear lies on the cheeks of youth
When there’s no more gold to strive for and pray
And we live at the end of the world’s untruth:
Ah what shall you do for a heart to prove
Who’ve known beauty and Spring and love?
[Francis Ledwidge: ‘When Love and Beauty Wander Away’]
“An extraordinary poem from that amazing ambiguity.”
Charles Sorley: “I’m just going to finish with one short sonnet, from someone you probably won’t know as well as our Meath man Ledwidge. Someone from a totally different background, a person I have enormous interest in. This time it is a Scot, an aristocratic Scot, a cousin of Rab Butler, a man called Charles Sorley who went to an English public school, who died at the age of 20, killed by a sniper at the battle of Loos in 1915. He comes from a pious religious background, and in fact was, in some senses, a religious poet. And the reason I choose to finish with this? We have to ask not only what does the Great War tell us of what it is to be Irish, but also what does the Great War tell us of what it is to be a human being? Because there were two things in the last century – the trenches of the First World War and Auschwitz – and after either of those, you can never look in the same way again not only at what it is to be Irish, but also what it is to be a human being.
“And Charles Sorley was a person of piety, a religious poet who died at the age of 20 and whom Masefield said was actually one of the great losses to poetry. Some of the others could never been anything other than war poets, but probably Sorley would. He dies at the age of twenty. A couple of weeks before he has written some beautiful religious poetry, and this is what war does to people, when he can also write like this:
‘When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
Say not soft things as other men have said,
That you’ll remember. For you need not so.
Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
Say only this, “They are dead.” Then add thereto,
“Yet many a better one has died before.”
Then, scanning all the o’ercrowded mass, should you
Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.
Great death has made all his for evermore.
“That poem was found in his rucksack after he died. But to both our speakers, and to you Cathal, thank you very much indeed for what you have given us tonight.”
Closing words: Cathal MacCoille:
“Thank you very much, Dr Clarke. You have summed it up more than eloquently what this has meant to us this evening. … Just a few brief words, to mention that as the Meath Peace Group is not on its home grounds, there is a cup of tea afterwards…. I just want to say that I enjoyed this hugely. I expected to, I hadn’t heard Tom before but I really enjoyed what both have had to tell us and made us think about.
Need to think back into the heads of the people involved: “And I think what made people think…. it’s what one of my history lecturers drummed into me – this was after an essay which contained the phrase in the first paragraph ‘where Bismarck went wrong’ – and I won’t tell you what he said about that, but one of the things he tried to get through to us is in part one of the things about history we have been given here tonight: it’s not about what happened, what we think. It’s first of all, most importantly, and this came shining obviously out of what Tom came through: these people, they weren’t thinking of conscription, they weren’t thinking of the 1916 Rising, they weren’t thinking about what the Great War turned out to be, they weren’t thinking about partition, they weren’t thinking about the War of Independence, Civil War, all that came afterwards – that wasn’t where these people’s heads were at. And you can get a true appreciation of the decisions they made – whether to go, to take part in the First World War, or to stay or to do something else in the line of physical force. The first thing you have got to do is think back into heads of these people, not look out through the prism of where we are now.
Changing Ireland: “The last thing I want to say is to come back to one of the privileges I had. It’s now 13 years since I interviewed about 25 veterans of D-Day throughout Ireland, for the Sunday Tribune where I was working then. And what struck me at the time – this was 13 years ago – what struck me was that at least half of them either didn’t want me to reveal their addresses, or they didn’t want me to reveal their names. That’s just 13 years ago! And I am thinking about one of them who lives about two and a half miles from where I live in Dublin, and I remember realizing after about an hour and a half, when his wife made tea, the conversation was over in business terms, and I suddenly realized that his arm never moved from that position because he had been hit by shrapnel and had torn some muscles in his elbow and as a result his right hand was in the one position all the time. But I was thinking as I was coming up here tonight, this beautiful countryside – you live in a very beautiful place, you’re very lucky to live here – but I was thinking of that man who didn’t want his name or his address mentioned. And that was 1994, a couple of months before the start of the IRA ceasefire, and I was thinking of my young daughter – trying to tell her, that’s just 13 years ago!
We’ve traveled a lot since then, and yet when I try and think how I would describe to her why this man could be so afraid, so scared even of his name in a newspaper, although he was perfectly proud of what he had done, with good reason.
“Although I complimented him, as I complimented many veterans on what they did in that War, and they certainly didn’t feel any less Irish for having taken part in it, but he wanted to keep the head down because of all we know. And then I think of my 18-year old daughter, and I tried to think of what I would say to her, and suddenly I am feeling very very old. And I simply mention that because I think you think about these things, you come to these meetings, and I think you realize what being part of the Meath Peace Group in a changing world, in a changing Ireland. There are challenges for you, there are different things to do, different questions, different things to relate, one of which I think you addressed wonderfully through Paul Bew and through Tom Burke tonight. And I just want to add my thanks to Bishop Clarke for all they have told us tonight. Thank you.”
Professor Paul Bew 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, and Surrey University and was Parnell Fellow at Magdalene College, Cambridge, from 1996-97. Professor Bew was President of the Irish Association for Economic and Cultural Relations in 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). His article on the role of historians in the Bloody Sunday Tribunal was published in the Journal of Historical Research, and he has also worked on the Ireland volume in the Oxford History of Modern Europe (forthcoming publication). His recent article in History Ireland (March/April 2006) ‘Why Did Jimmie Die?’ gave a critique of official 1916 commemorations.
Tom Burke MBE, is chairman of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association which he set up in 1996 to create an awareness in Dublin about the tragic and forgotten history of the Irish men and women who took part in the Great War. The RDFA is mainly a history society and has a current membership of 450 spread throughout the island of Ireland and the UK. Each year they present public lectures and exhibitions relating to Ireland’s role in the Great War. Participation in remembrance services is an important activity of the RDFA. In December 2004, Tom was awarded the MBE for his work on the Great War and his contribution towards reconciliation. He proudly wears the medal alongside his GAA hurling medal. He has published articles on the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in journals such as The Irish Sword – Journal of the Military History Society of Ireland; Studies – Journal of the Jesuit Society of Ireland ; Stand To -Journal of the Western Front Association ; Dublin Historical Record – Journal of the Old Dublin Society. He is currently researching a book on the 16th (Irish) Division and 36th (Ulster) Division at the Battle of Wijtschate and Messines, June 1917. Tom works as an Engineer, which often gets in the way of the real work which is researching the Dubs.
Dr. Richard Clarke, Church of Ireland Bishop of Meath and Kildare, has an academic background in modern Irish history and the relationship between literature and theology. Dr Clarke has a particular interest in both the history and the poetry of the Great War and has visited most of the battle fields of the western front in the last 20 years. In a book published a few years ago, And Is it true?, he related some of the poetry of the First World War to questions of God’s existence, and present-day religious faith. Along with Bishop Michael Smith and Professor George Eogan, Dr Clarke is a patron of the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society which was founded in 1955.
Cathal MacCoille is well known throughout Ireland as a presenter on RTE Radio One’sMorning Ireland. He is now in his ninth year as a Morning Ireland presenter (his first stint was from 1986 to 1990, and his second since 2001). Cathal has a wide experience in journalism, having been a reporter on RTE’s staff in Belfast from 1978 to 1984, assistant editor of the Sunday Tribune from 1992-1996 and political correspondent with TG4 from 1996 to 2001. In addition, Cathal writes a weekly column on politics for the Irish language paper FOINSE. Awards received include the Jacobs Radio Award (1990) and Oireachtas journalist of the year (2003). Cathal is aged 53 and from Dublin. Two of his four children were born in Dublin, the other two in Bangor, Co Down. His pastimes are: cycling, swimming, hurling, history and France.
Meath Peace Group report 2006
Taped by Judith Hamill (audio) and Jim Kealy (video).
Transcribed and edited by Julitta Clancy
©Meath Peace Group.
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.