27. “Nationalism and Republicanism – A Vision for the Future?”
Tuesday, 18th November 1997
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan, Co. Meath
Dr. Martin Mansergh (Head of Research, Fianna Fail; Special Adviser to An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern)
Anne Speed (member of Ard Chomhairle, Sinn Fein)
Cllr. Alex Attwood (Leader of SDLP group on Belfast City Council)
Proinsias de Rossa, TD (Leader of Democratic Left)
Chaired by Brendan O’Brien (Senior reporter, RTE)
Addresses of speakers
Questions and comments
Appendix: Brendan O’Brien: “Understanding the Political Margins”
Biographical notes on speakers
Introduction: Brendan O’Brien (Chair): “Thank you all for coming …..The four speakers we have here tonight span the spectrum of nationalist opinion and nationalist political thought on this island . It is very appropriate that they should be here at this particular stage in the peace process and in the talks that are going on in Northern Ireland. What they have to say will be very interesting and very directly relevant to the kind of political dialogue going on inside and outside the negotiating chamber in Stormont …..”
1. Dr. Martin Mansergh (Head of Research, Fianna Fail, and Special adviser to the Taoiseach):
“I would like to thank and congratulate members of the Meath Peace Group for their active involvement in and support of peace for some time past. The weight of public opinion behind the principle that political differences must be resolved solely by peaceful political means has been one of the most decisive factors in the peace process, without which very little could have been achieved.
“I am not one who sees a healthy Nationalism and Republicanism, or indeed a healthy Unionism and Loyalism as an obstacle to peace. Whether we like them or not, we have to harness the forces that exist in our society and on our island in a positive way, not abandon them to those that would misuse them, or try to reject and isolate them, even when they are willing to participate constructively.
“Even though the nation and the State are not coterminous in Ireland, the Republic is nonetheless a nation State, the unit which is the basic building block of the international community, including regional organisations such as the EU. In the developed world, nations have by and large ceased to fight each other, but they still compete economically, in culture and in sport and in other ways. They also co-operate in establishing a framework for constructive and mutually beneficial interactions. Nationalism in such a context is pride in country, in its distinctive cultural qualities, a desire for it to do well, a desire to achieve the highest possible quality of life, that is inclusive of all its people.
“All European opinion polls show that the Irish compared to others have an exceptional pride in their country. Much of our history has been unhappy. But we established our independence, and despite many difficulties, setbacks and mistakes along the way, we have in 75 years transformed our country. Recent progress has been spectacular. If we can sustain the path we are on, we can catch up with and maybe even overtake many of our wealthier partners. Let us hope that in raising our standard of living we can ensure a higher quality of life for all. While a rising tide is lifting many boats, we also have to build channels to make sure it reaches everywhere and that no one remains stranded.
“The greatest Irish political philosopher, Francis Hutcheson, of Ulster Presbyterian stock, who taught in Dublin and Glasgow, and who was one of the leading figures in the Scottish Enlightenment and who had a great influence on the American revolution, insisted on the accountability of rulers to the people who had the right to replace them. He believed the best State was a small Republic, where people and governors would be close to each other.
Republicanism: “A Republic is a democratic system, where both the Government and the Head of State are elected. In a Republic, sovereignty is vested in the people, not in a monarch or in parliament. We are not subjects, but citizens. There is little doubt that a Republican democracy, provided a sense of idealism can be maintained, as has been successfully achieved for over 200 years in the United States, is equal if not superior to any other.
“If we believe that in the past our Republicanism or our Nationalism was too narrowly based, then the answer to that is to broaden out our understanding of them, not to abandon them.
“The Republicanism on which this State was founded was overwhelmingly democratic in character. The United Irishmen were democrats, who wanted to forge a national identity out of a union of members of all denominations. Young Ireland, the Fenians, the leaders of 1916, Griffith, Collins and de Valera all sought to establish a national democracy, even if some elements of that might have been curtailed in time of conflict.
Concept of ‘the nation’: “The concept of the nation has undergone many transformations in Irish history. We have had a Catholic nation, a Protestant nation, the nation of the United Irishmen and Young Ireland, and the historic Irish nation based on the primacy of a Gaelic past. Today, our concept of the nation is a more pluralist one, with some uncertainty and debate as to whether or not it does or should include Northern Unionists, many of whom say they do not consider themselves part of it, at least in the political sense, because they are British.
“A right and developed understanding of key concepts such as Republicanism, Nationalism and indeed self-determination and consent is in my opinion vital to the establishment of peace.
Majoritarianism: “As all the classical writers on democracy the American Federalists, Alexis de Tocqueville, John Stuart-Mills taught, pure majoritarianism without regard to the rights of permanent or semi-permanent minorities is not democracy. No matter how much Northern Nationalists have a justified grievance and feel cheated by what happened in 1920-1 and subsequently, in other words the fact, manner, and experience of partition, a reversion to 1918 and an all-Ireland majoritarianism is not going to solve the problem now of a divided Northern Ireland, as Seamus Mallon pointed out forcefully at the SDLP Conference on Saturday. The majority on this island has neither the power nor the right to beat Unionists into submission, and, as de Valera accepted as far back as the summer of 1921, coercion is not going to work against Unionists, any more than it has worked against Nationalists. Once it is accepted coercion is both in principle wrong and as a matter of verifiable fact does not work, then all resort to violence to achieve or further political aims is clearly wrong and unjustifiable in every sense. If talks fail, other methods of political advance have to be explored.
“It may well be that recent remarks [of Cllr. Francie Molloy, SF] were taken out of context and there has been welcome clarification, because if to go back to “what we know best” were to mean a reversion to armed struggle, it would be not only a general disaster, but a devastating recognition of political defeat.
“In 1923, mainstream Republicanism which had been defeated in this jurisdiction abandoned violence, and the overwhelming number resolved single-mindedly and with clarity of purpose to pursue their aims by exclusively democratic means. It has literally never looked back. It would be my hope, that Northern Republicans, having established a strong political base, will be able to follow the same path, which to my mind is the only path that has any chance, though no certainty, of leading in time to a united Ireland achieved by agreement.
United Ireland: “The entire peace process, the Downing Street Declaration and the Framework Document are based on the proposition that a united Ireland achieved by peace and agreement is an entirely legitimate and respectable aim, as indeed is any other outcome of the free exercise in concurrent self-determination without external impediment.
“While there is a widespread recognition that the conditions are unlikely to be present any time soon, I regard it as unhelpful, when people inside or outside the jurisdiction appear to say that people should abandon entirely and forever any thought of a united Ireland, and recognise that it will never happen. That is shaking one of the pillars on which the peace process is based. None of us have the gift of prophecy. As a country that was unjustly partitioned, we have every right to seek eventual Irish unity peacefully and by agreement. I well remember in Germany in the 1980s elements of the German Left pouring scorn on the notion that there would ever be German unity. They were proved wrong quicker than anyone expected, though I of course accept there are many important differences in the Irish and German situations.
“Any united Ireland of the future would be as different from notions of it in the past, as the united Germany of Chancellor Kohl is quite different in nature from that brought about by Bismarck. It is not in any case an immediate prospect. If it is to be achieved, it will be peacefully and by a process of natural evolution. Peace, justice, reconciliation and mutually beneficial co-operation must all come first. The people of this State would only want a united Ireland, if it was on the basis of much greater agreement and harmony than we could have at present. There is no desire whatever to spread conflict, division and instability into the entire island.
“As far as any definition of the nation is concerned, and that has been fluid in the past and will continue to be so in the future, our best approach perhaps is that reflected in our nationality and citizenship laws. The door is open to anyone from the North born after 1922, who wants to be Irish and declares themselves to be such. We do not force Irish citizenship on those who do not want it or reject it. There are no neat or tidy lines. All-Ireland loyalties exist in most of the Churches, the trade unions and sporting organisations.
“Are not even those who serve in the Royal Irish Regiment carrying some kind of national label in their title? That point was also part of Lord Brookeborough’s objections to the title of Northern Ireland, arguments which the British Government of the time refused to accept. In the future, with a single market on the island, under a common currency, business activity will inevitably have an important all-Ireland dimension.
“Among Unionists, political allegiance is to Britain, but even leaving aside immigration since the 1950s, Britain is a multinational State that includes three nations and part of a fourth. David Trimble has an alternative conceptual framework to the Irish Nationalist one, when he uses the term Ulster British, which, as he explains it, incorporates Ulster English, Scots, Welsh and Irish, which is an overarching identity encompassing four nations at one remove. By the open door approach, which leaves us open to development in the future, we do not give up on the common name of Irishman or Irishwoman, nor do we reject anyone, but equally we do not force a particular label on those who do not want it even as part of a dual identity.
“We should not regard as absolutely predetermined future evolution or choices with regard to identity, especially when that identity was viewed in a number of different ways in the past. We should not fall into the trap described by the old Soviet bloc joke, “The past might be unpredictable, but the future is certain!”
“When Eamon de Valera visited St. Columba’s College, Rathfarnham in the 1930s, he was told by the headmaster that the pupils regarded themselves as British. That all changed in the space of a generation. When King George V opened Stormont in 1921, he appealed to all Irishmen to pause and reach out the hand of reconciliation. I for one will never warm to a “two nations” theory, which largely predetermines one’s nationality according to religion and ancestry. It excludes rather than includes, and I see nothing particularly pluralist about it. We should not treat the Irish identity in the North as exclusively the property of the Nationalist community. There is a wider Irish dimension, as was recognised by the Unionist founders of the Irish Association for Economic, Social and Cultural Relations, Lord Charlemont and Hugh Montgomery.
“I am convinced that as this State blossoms and flourishes in all directions more people in the North will want to participate for some purposes at least in national life. Two days ago I attended a 1798 Commemoration Committee meeting in Dublin, and there is a high level of interest in it in the North across the community. At the Presidential inauguration I met Councillor Harvey Bicker from Ballinahinch, who introduced himself as Chairman of the County Down 1798 Commemoration Committee. The Presidential election showed that we are open to the Northern contribution at the highest level. The SDLP even passed a resolution at the weekend calling for Northerners to be allowed a vote in it. As a Senator of long standing said to me last week, the election was a boost to Southern Nationalism, a healthy nationalism, just as much as its confidence-building impact on Northern Nationalists.
“We must complete the move away from political beliefs or identities that are carried to such extremes that they justify violence against one’s neighbours. Many -isms, capitalism, imperialism, communism, nationalism, have caused huge casualties this century. We need to develop identifications, which are consistently civilised and humane in their attitude to and treatment of others and which do not go beyond legitimate democratic bounds.
“This island has huge potential, if we can overcome the conflict and find a reasonable accommodation, that will provide the basis for peace, stability and reconciliation. The talks are moving towards a phase of what I hope will be serious engagement, bilaterally and multilaterally. We need to encourage all those seriously committed to the process, and to indicate our lack of patience, with any talk of opting out or backsliding from any quarter. We must approach the many inevitable difficulties with patience and with a willingness to try and find solutions or ways round them. Thank you.”
Brendan O’Brien: “.. Thank you very much indeed for a very interesting speech which has opened up a number of absolutely critical areas which I hope some of the other speakers will address…. Dr. Mansergh told us that there was no coercion of the unionists, and this was also de Valera’s policy, but he also said that there was no returning to the majoritarianism of 1918 and that nationality or the concept of a nation was fluid, which is not where a lot of leading republicans were in 1918 and it is not where a lot of them are today. Because fluidity and different options of nationality is at the heart, it seems to me, of the current process in order to try and arrive at an agreement from decisions that are not fixed in the first place. He did put his finger on one of the most current questions which is before us at the moment which is whether or not, on the republican side, the IRA will return to armed actions if the negotiations are not successful. Certainly what was said in Cullyhanna, South Armagh, at the weekend, that the republican movement would return to “what they know best” was clearly understood locally to mean a return to armed action if the talks did not succeed…. That is not to say that he was speaking with authority for the IRA , which obviously he wasn’t, but the rhetoric which was used was understood in that sense.
“So with that air of reality facing us at the moment, I’d like to introduce Anne Speed.
2. Anne Speed (Sinn Féin)
“I’m not here to speak for the IRA – I’m here to speak for Sinn Fein. But I can say on behalf of every republican that I know, and even those that I don’t know, all are deeply committed – deeply, sincerely and fundamentally committed to the peace strategy which we’ve adopted. We’ve worked hard at this peace strategy for over ten years and if it takes us another ten years to complete that process, we are committed to that…. We are seriously attempting to engage in the talks at Stormont; unfortunately the major unionist parties are not. The minority unionist parties or the loyalists are, to some extent, conducting a form of dialogue, but when it comes to Mr. Trimble, he sends in his representatives but even they don’t engage in any dialogue across the table (Mr. Paisley isn’t there as you know). We are entering a series of bilaterals via the chairman, Senator Mitchell, and we are hopeful that will open up some developments, but it remains to be seen. Republicans are there with serious political intent and we will continue on that road.
“Brendan pointed out in his remarks that we didn’t want to return to the majoritarianism of republicans who lived and struggled at the beginning of this century, but I want to remind Brendan and everyone else in this room, that not all republicans who lived and struggled were conservative. If you read the Proclamation you will find it is one of the most radical documents of our time, and I have yet, outside of our own party, to see a political party adopt a manifesto or a political charter that contains all or some of those basic fundamental principles.
“But let’s move on to 1997 – the kind of agreed and united Ireland that we wish to see will be based, we hope, on the six fundamental principles on which we have based our political programme and on which we base our political practice. They are:
• We adhere to the notion of separatism. By that I do not mean the isolationism of the 1930s or 1940s. We’re talking about breaking the connection with Britain and exerting the right to self-determination, we’re talking about the establishment of a 32-county Irish republic.
• We believe in anti-sectarianism: we wish to substitute the common name of Irish person in place of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter. We believe that sectarianism serves British interests and that republicans have a responsibility and a political duty to promote anti-sectarianism but we believe that this cannot be addressed within the present six-county state.
• We are also committed to secularism: that is we want to see the complete separation of church and state, and we want to avoid domination by any one religious group in any 32-county state.
• We believe in socialism: the ownership of Ireland by the people of Ireland, and the subordination of the interests of private property to public right and public welfare. Socialism must create a vision of freedom and democracy in Ireland and it depends on the democratic participation of all the people to succeed.
• We believe in feminism: men and women are born equal. Society must regulate itself to ensure this equality and there can be no real national freedom without women’s freedom.
“All of that amounts to our vision of Irish republicanism which we believe is a progressive, radical and relevant political analysis, and we believe that it should and must include all the people of Ireland.
Way forward: “Now I wish to address three basic arguments we would make in terms of the way forward: we would say that:
partition has failed,
that in moving forward self-determination is the key, and
we would argue that there are benefits resulting from Irish unity.
1) Partition has failed: After 75 years of partition it is universally accepted that the division of Ireland has damaged the political, social, economic and cultural development of the island. The Northern state is a failed entity – in this we agree with Fianna Fail – which has depended for its survival on discrimination, repression and injustice. There has been an absence of democracy in this state and the cost in human and economic terms has been enormous. Over 3, 000 people have been killed, many more have been injured and crippled, the scars of sectarianism, division and fear run deep. Since 1969 it is estimated that the military costs of the North for Britain have been between 20 and 25 billion pounds. The drain on the 26 counties has also been substantial – here too citizens have been killed and injured. In 1994 it was estimated that since 1969 the Dublin Government had spent over 2.5 billion pounds on security. In real terms this means that annually the Irish government has been spending twice as much on maintaining the border as it has on its budget for the Industrial Development Authority.
“Apart from the political conflict and sectarian divisions which partition has reinforced, the social and economic consequences have been disastrous for working people North and South. As the New Ireland Forum stated, the division of the island has been a source of continuing cost, especially for trade and development in border areas, but in general also the two separate administrations have borne this cost which have been pursuing separate economic policies on a small island with shared problems and resources. The North was not, is not, and never will be a natural economic or administrative unit, and its separation from the rest of the island, resulting in separate approaches, rather than a single policy for each sector, without provision even for joint planning or capital investment programs, has had heavy economic penalties. In addition, there has been duplication of effort at official and private levels and an absence of economies of scale in the transport, tourism and energy sectors and in the health and education services.
“With the opening up of the peace process, we are attempting to deal with those, to grapple with those, in terms of cooperation between the social partners, between the trade union movement, in the community organisations, but in the absence of a political settlement, these efforts will not come to their fruition. “One obvious example of this failure has been the way in which the Industrial Development Authority in the South and the Industrial Development Board in the North each compete throughout the world, seeking to attract multinational industries, and occasionally pushing up the cost to their respective economies by bidding against each other. The consequence of this is that each economy has to carry extra costs in funding these programmes. The border counties have also been devastated by partition. They divided up naturally-balanced local economies, depriving them of the ability to be commercially viable. Partition destroyed businesses on both sides of the border, increased emigration and rural depopulation as families moved to urban centres. Clearly, as far as we are concerned, partition has failed the peoples of this island, nationalists and unionists. It has failed for the British too. The political structures and institutions in the North, born out of partition, failed the democratic test.
2. Self-determination: “We believe that self-determination is a key human and civil right. If the peace process is to be both meaningful and enduring it must address the root causes of the conflict. The refusal to allow the Irish people to exercise our right to self-determination has been and remains British Government policy. That policy is the root cause of conflict in Ireland. This policy, in conjunction with the economic, repressive and discriminatory measures taken to maintain it are the causes of division in relationships within the Irish peoples themselves and between Ireland and Britain. Self-determination is universally accepted to mean a nation’s right to exercise the political freedom to determine its own social, economic and cultural development without external influence and without partial or total disruption of the national unity or territorial integrity. These criteria are not observed in Ireland. We believe that British Government policy has stunted and eroded the social, economic and cultural development of Ireland.
“We had a trades council meeting last Saturday with a panel of speakers. One of those speakers was Billy Hutchinson. As you know Billy Hutchinson has played a leading role in the conflict – in the pursuance of the conflict and hopefully in the resolution of the conflict. He described himself as politically British but culturally Irish. He described how his family had emigrated to Scotland for employment, how he had deep connections there, and how he felt that this influenced the way he looked at the world. A couple of speakers from the audience talked about their families emigrating from this part of Ireland because of economic circumstances, how they too had connections with Britain, how republicans were quite prepared to share the jurisdiction of this island, the administration of this island, the political and economic problems of this island. The difference was that in Billy Hutchinson’s part of the island, the jurisdiction of Britain had remained and how here it had ended 75 years ago. That remains the key difference – who should decide these matters? Who has the jurisdiction? Is it Billy Hutchinson and Anne Speed or is it Tony Blair? That’s the key issue as far as republicans are concerned.
3. Benefits of Irish unity: “We believe that there are benefits of Irish unity. We believe that there is no longer any economic advantage for those who used to benefit from partition. In recent years an increasing number of business and financial institutions and individuals have come to the realisation that an all-Ireland economy can be of enormous benefit. In 1991, IBEC and the CBI established a joint business council to promote cross-border trade, business co-operation and development. “The Council subsequently commissioned a corridor task force to promote the development of an economic corridor along the east coast of Ireland. In his opening remarks to the conference, the Council’s chairperson, George Quigley of the CBI, described the corridor project as the unblocking of a vital artery which increases the flow of oxygen, and enables the heart of the island, the whole economy to function more efficiently. Business leaders, economists and politicians now support the formation of a single economy through the island and this general theme, which is at the heart of republican politics, has been increasingly taken up by others. In an island of 5 million, as we face into a single currency, a unified financial system, tax harmonisation and so on, make absolute and utter sense.
“Other aspects of economic development, such as infrastructural development, electricity generation, tourism, agriculture, fishing, rural development and much more can be advanced and can significantly improve the standard of living of all the people on the island of Ireland. I am particularly addressing these issues as I work in the labour movement and I know from that work what the real benefits of an agreed and united Ireland can be. If the economic benefits are there, if the social benefits are there, then we have a political responsibility to create the political system that allows that economic development to progress.
“Are we not more capable, do we not have a greater incentive than British ministers who fly in and out and on and off this island to determine the needs and harness the resources and make the decisions necessary to improve the quality of life of our people? We don’t need British ministers to rule us. We Irish in this room are well able to agree our own future and dictate the direction which it will take, and by that I mean unionist and nationalist. We believe that nationalists and unionists, republicans and loyalists can do a much better job of running our economy, of running this island, of using all the resources in the interests of the ordinary people of this island and looking after our health service, our elderly, our young, our urban and rural communities, than any British Government residing at Westminster. Freed of the shackles of partition and division and foreign interference, we believe we can transform Irish society. We can create new political alliances among the people of Ireland, and perhaps there will be occasions when I will agree more often than not with Proinsias de Rossa. At the moment we don’t agree, but I am quite sure on a number of social and economic matters, given a new political framework, that we will find more to unite us than separate us, that we can remove inequalities, tackle poverty, redistribute wealth and protect civil and religious liberties. This is our vision of a new Ireland. This new society can we one in which we can live together in mutual respect and work together in mutual regard and partnership, a society in which peace is not a mere interlude between wars, but an incentive to the creative and collective energies of all the people of the island of Ireland.
Vision: “This is what we are committed to. This is what our vision is. This is what we are going to aim for. We are not going to talk down our aspirations. It has been suggested to us that this is not a vision which we should strive for now, but put on the back burner for a later stage. I believe – I’ve always believed – that if the vision of this state were put on a back burner, we wouldn’t have the freedom we have and our forebears would not have struggled and fought and created the democracy that we do have and the rights that we do have in this state. So we say, as Irish republicans, the time is now, our aspirations are just and valid and we intend to go forward to seek to achieve them. Thank you.”
Chair (Brendan O’Brien): “Thank you very much indeed. As Anne said, she and Proinsias de Rossa don’t agree on some of the fundamentals but I think it is a very good thing that we have the two of them together on this platform. It does illustrate the degree to which things are moving on this island although we sometimes take these things for granted. One of the things Anne did say was that the key question was the question of self-determination and quite obviously it is. But different people have different views of what that means, and it does seem to me that in relation to the main topic here tonight – “Nationalism and Republicanism – A Vision for the Future” – there has yet to be a coming together as to what that self-determination is. .. It does seem objectively that the broad range of nationalism, as represented by successive Irish governments and the majority of nationalists in the north have come to the view that there ought to be a separation of a kind between north and south – in effect that the separate jurisdiction of Northern Ireland ought to have a separate right to opt in or opt out of an all-Ireland state of some form. That in itself is a very radical thing, but quite clearly, as Anne has spelled out, her party doesn’t take that view, and in order to arrive at a vision for the future amongst nationalists, whatever about nationalists and republicans, there is a further journey on the road, clearly, to be made in that regard.
“I would like to introduce now our next speaker – Alex Attwood, leader of the SDLP group on Belfast City Council:
3. Cllr. Alex Attwood (SDLP):
“Thank you. I welcome in particular Anne’s recommendation to the content of the New Ireland Forum Report on the economic effects of violence and I just hope that in future when that document is invoked as an authority, it is invoked in full, when it talked not just about the economic and social costs of violence, not just about the costs of maintaining the military establishment in the North and around the border, but it also talked about the human costs of the violence and that people remember that a document that is now being invoked as an authority when it comes to analysing the conflict on our island, was written at the very time  when some people unambiguously supported the use of armed force in our country and at the very time when some people had an armalite and a ballot box strategy.
Obligations of nationalists and republicans: “You’ll have to forgive me – my content tonight is going to be more limited than the content of Martin, Anne and even of Proinsias, and that is to take up the theme mentioned by both your chair and Martin earlier, about the obligation to make sure that this peace, and this political process, come to fruition, because the last peace, so-called, the last cease-fire, collapsed for many reasons, some of which were default, some of which were lack of attention, whatever they might be. I think it’s important that we acknowledge the situation that we face at the moment and the obligations that we have over the next six months up till May. And that’s going to be the limit of my vision tonight – it’s not going to look into the future or the next millennium – I am merely going to look at the obligations that we have over the next six months, as nationalists and republicans.
Understanding the debate in unionist community: “The first obligation we have is actually to the unionist people. Over the next six months we have an obligation to understand the dynamic and danger of what is going on within the unionist community at the moment. Because it’s quite clear that there is uncertain and undeclared civil war being fought out at the moment within the unionist community, between those, on the one hand, who resist all change, and those, on the other, who accept change, even if they’re not prepared yet to fully accept the consequences of the change that we desire. “We need to understand that debate and conflict that’s going on within their community – because it’s only by understanding that debate and conflict that we might be able, all around the table at the talks in Stormont at the moment, to see that process to some fruition. It’s quite clear in my view that there is that sort of civil war being fought within their ranks. On the one hand you have the church, commercial and community leadership who are prepared to accept change, who demonstrated time after number at the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation that they were beginning to define themselves not just in terms of the Union and the North, but also in terms of North – South.
Critical mass who want to accept change: “John Hume, speaking at the weekend, said there were 2, 000 businesses in the North who now have North-South trading links. That is only an insight in my view into an element that is beginning to develop critical mass within the unionist community generally who want to accept change and re-define themselves in terms that previously they would not have considered. That critical mass, uncertain and under threat that it is, needs to be understood by nationalists and republicans in order that it comes to fruition and agreement. Because on the other side to them, you have those elements within unionism who resist all change – who are represented in Harryville, are represented in the marching conflict, are represented by those who are not in the talks and are represented by those who planted the bomb in Dundalk last night. We need to support those who are trying to move forward and be aware of the difficulties that they face as they try to move forward. That does not mean that we indulge the tactic being used by David Trimble and others whereby they have gone into the talks building but have not gone into talks. And Anne is quite correct in her analysis of what the Trimble leadership, at least up to this week, has done in going into negotiations. Because all they’ve actually done is gone into presentations of a minimum policy position that doesn’t move the thing forward at all. That must not be indulged, it has to be challenged, and has to be focused by the British Government, the Irish Government and the talks chairs to ensure that they actually move into negotiations. But nonetheless we have to see the wider dynamic, I think, as nationalists and republicans of what is going on in that community, and that is going to be very important over the next six months.
Republican community. “The second thing I’m going to talk about is what’s going on within the republican community at the moment. Clearly some people somewhere don’t like some of the peace. We have to also understand some of the dynamic and some of the danger of what is going on within the republican community at the moment.
“The first is that whatever the media might report and whatever the difficulties, real or imagined that might be within the republican community at the moment, the republican community does not believe in the advantage to war, does not want to live with the cost and consequences of war and has clearly demonstrated over a long time that they will sustain leadership that wants to move that community away from war. That in my view was one of the powerful elements that led to the first cease-fire, and it was also one of the powerful elements that in the event of the breakdown of the first cease-fire ensured that the IRA was constrained in what it militarily did, because they knew that their own community was resisting the direction in which they were going. And I think that still is very strongly the case – that the republican community does not wish to return from whence it came, and it is also my judgment that the current republican leadership intends this IRA cease-fire to be permanent.
Local difficulties: “But we must also acknowledge that there appears to be some minor local difficulties. Tomorrow’s newspapers will be full of what happened in Armagh and Lurgan tonight where for the first time since July in republican areas there have been armed and hooded people on the ground hijacking vehicles and burning them. All to do with the Colin Duffy situation. And there’s going to be hysteria tomorrow because of that – just as there are some doubts about the IRA cease-fire because of what someone in the Police Federation said today, or because of what some of the media have been reporting over the last while. Now in my view, we must not get that out of context, and it must not become exaggerated. Because in my view those who may have some dissatisfaction within the republican movement at the moment know that their own community does not want a return to war – they know it, and they know as a consequence that they cannot seriously organise or seriously prepare for a return to war. But the problem is, that if within the next six months, that constituency does not see the negotiations, not necessarily coming to a conclusion, but at least beginning to come to fruition, then a situation could arise – not likely, but nonetheless could arise – whereby a constituency who had resisted a return to war, there could be elements within that constituency who could say that that talks process was a sham like the previous one, that previously the British Government wouldn’t confront the unionists outside talks and this British Government wouldn’t confront unionists inside talks. In that situation there could be a constituency within the republican community generally who, led by some disaffected and marginal elements, could create a problem. We have to be very conscious as a consequence of the obligation upon all of us to ensure that that talks process or the concept of talks generally is developed and developed rapidly into some sort of dynamic process, because at the moment it has yet to enter into a dynamic process as opposed to being a process per se.
Vision for the future: “The third thing is that we as nationalists and republicans within that process have a number of obligations. I noted very carefully the six themes that Anne introduced. Well I will introduce six themes as well, about the obligation of nationalists and republicans around the negotiating table over the next six months. This I think is a nationalist and republican vision for the future – one that we can begin to unite around now and that can inform us into the future:
1. Exclusively territorial perspective is over: “Every nationalist and republican around that table and on this island should accept what the New Ireland Forum said in 1984 – namely, to put a formal and final end to an exclusively territorial perspective on the conflict in our country. That’s one of the things we have to decide and agree on – that an exclusively territorial perspective on our conflict is over. Because we all know about the historic territorial perspective that everybody, or at least many people, including myself, in this room would have shared in years heretofore – about ‘Brits out’, the ‘fourth green field’, about ‘Irish unity or nothing’. That mindset and that concept – which may have had more relevance in the past but clearly has less relevance today – that mindset has to be purged and we have to think afresh on the conflict.
2. Nature of the conflict: “Arising from that, the second theme must be, that whatever the historical reasons that gave rise to conflict, whatever British economic, strategic and selfish interests might have been in our country, the conflict today in its modern expression is a conflict between two identities – that which calls itself British, and these are in general terms, and that which calls itself nationalist – between unionist and nationalist. Between those who primarily have a British way of life, a British identity, loyalty to the British Union and the British Crown and probably most people in this room who call themselves Irish, have an Irish identity and way of life, and who wish to share in the life of the rest of the Irish nation. That must become how we view our conflict now.”
3. Coercion has no place: “The third theme, that wasn’t mentioned by Anne, is that coercion has no place in resolving our political conflict. That must be something around which nationalists and republicans must unite in all the difficulties which are going to be immense over the next six months.
4. Self-determination: “The Irish people have a right to self-determination. It is only the people on this island who have that right, but that right has to be expressed subject to a principle …. that it must have the consent and agreement of a majority in the North, and that as a consequence there will be a valid expression of the Irish peoples right to self-determination when a majority representing both communities in the North and a majority on the island, representing the Irish peoples right to self-determination, vote in support of an agreement. That has such critical and moral legitimacy that what the Irish people vote for is honoured by all, even if it is opposed by some, it is honoured and respected by all, because it is the Irish people who have sovereignty.
5. Facing realities: “We have to face up to some realities within the talks process, about our vision for the future. That is, that our vision for the future is not going to be delivered in the middle of May, when those negotiations come to fruition, and it is not going to be delivered when the Irish people, in an expression of self-determination, vote for whatever is agreed. That in six months time, or in nine months time – that is only part of the process of building vision in our country. We will not, in six or nine months time, have on the table everything we want as nationalists or republicans, or even as unionists, but we will have a process – a process that can develop and mature in time.
North-South co-operation: “John Hume, speaking at the [SDLP] conference at the weekend, gave only one example of where that process might go, and it is only one example, a narrow example, and it is not an example that gives satisfaction to my political aspiration or political identity, but it does give an insight into some of the direction we’re going to have to go in six months and thereafter. He said that a key part of the way forward, though not the only one, is to build a North-South co-operation towards a fully functioning all-Ireland economy. Europe through the Single Market has created an economic space where we can grow together instead of dwindling apart. In almost every sector the main groupings and interests on both sides of the border are calling for a more integrated, harmonised and united approach to marketing, to planning, to taxation and to regulation. This is not some meaningless and trivial sop to the nationalist entity as some unionist leaders seem to understand it. No, it is the minimum which is necessary to enable us, unionists and nationalists alike, to compete and survive in the modern independent world of real lives and real jobs. All Hume was saying was that if the unionists think that in six months time there is going to be a package of proposals and that is it, then they are sadly misled, because their own community, in the commercial, community and church leadership, have already defined themselves in a different way, and their business sector has defined itself in the way Hume was talking about. We need to be aware in our minds and in our political judgments that what arises in six or eight months time, or whenever it might be, is not the end, but is a package as part of a process where it can develop and mature by agreement over time as the Irish people deem fit. When that happens, then control, or much more significant control, will be vested in the Irish people about how we determine our destiny.
(6) Window of opportunity: “One final thing I want to say, to move away from what Michael Collins said the practical politics of our time” – and forgive me if I am too involved in the practical politics of our time and not involved in the vision-making that other people might have wanted to hear. I think those points need to be heard at this time, because we do have a window of opportunity that to some degree is time-limited, that to some degree is events-limited, and which places obligations upon those in government, and those outside the formal political process, in order to ensure that the peace process and the political process is sustained.
Breaking the bondage of fear: “The ultimate vision I have is something which Fergal Keane talks about in his book on South Africa, The Bondage of Fear, when he asks how do people overcome their fears?“, in South Africa, just as how do we overcome our fears in the North, because the fears on both sides are equal and great. At the opening of the book he poses the question, and at the end he answers the question. He starts by quoting Alan Patton from Cry the Beloved Country:
“For it is a dawn that has come, as it has come for a thousand centuries never failing. But when that dawn will come, of our emancipation from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear, why that is a secret.”
“In April 1994, the South African people answered that question, as ultimately the people on this island will answer the same question. At the end of the day, the South African election was not about the details or even the percentages of victory and defeat. It was about something much greater – the triumph of the human spirit. It was as if the South African people – black, white and brown – had taken a collective deep breath and blown away the blinding cobwebs of the past. In the final analysis it was they who had reclaimed their beloved country, they who had broken the bondage of fear. Thank you.”
Chair (Brendan O’Brien): “Thank you very much Alex. You needn’t apologise for concentrating on the next six months because that was obviously an extremely authoritative insider view of some of the realities facing the people across the table in the talks … [Alex] also addressed himself directly to nationalists as to whether or not they should curb the mindset that unity is about territorialism. … On how self-determination is to be exercised, Alex has put his finger on the heart of what this process is about … that is the question of North-South, and, as it is expressed in the various documents – the Downing Street Declaration, the Framework Document, the Ground Rules document which governs the talks – which says there will be referenda North and South, in two separate jurisdictions, putting effectively the same question, putting a settlement to the people, and both governments have committed themselves to effectively standing back making constitutional change and leaving the constitutional future of Northern Ireland in the hands of a majority of its people. That focuses in effect, in layman’s terms, on a separate right of self-determination by the people of Northern Ireland . That does put your finger on the nub of it. And he raised this question as to whether or not the IRA cease-fire is permanent, and his belief was that the leadership intended it to be permanent – and I would agree with him on that. But in putting his finger on this question of territorialism versus a new form of self-determination divided North and South, that is exercising the minds of a lot of people within the republican movement and within the IRA. “In particular they are putting their finger on the Mitchell Principles which Alex doesn’t mention but he does raise in saying that he hopes that everybody agrees to work the settlement even if they don’t vote for it or agree to it. At the heart of the dissidents within the IRA at the moment … is that very question – that if Sinn Fein and the republican movement have signed up to the Mitchell Principles, they have signed up to a formula of peace and not to oppose any settlement that they disagree with by force of arms – only to oppose it peacefully. That is a debate that’s going on – it will determine whether or not armed struggle is over for the majority or for the few or how that works out. That is an absolutely critical question….
“That allows me to introduce our next speaker who comes, as I said earlier, from a particular background to a particular destination which I don’t need to spell out now – Proinsias de Rossa:
4. Proinsias De Rossa, TD (Leader of Democratic Left)
“Thank you…. I propose to deal with tonight’s topic in terms of republicanism and its roots and I also intend to draw on an article that I wrote in the Irish Times two weeks ago on questions relating to the nature of a settlement …. but I intend also to take up a few of the items brought up by the previous speakers.
“Brendan spoke earlier of my journey – I think the vast majority of people who are rational thinkers are on a journey from the day they are born until the day they die … I remember reading what Maynard Keynes said when he was being attacked for saying something different from what he had said before:. “When I discover I am wrong I change my mind – what do you do sir?” By and large – not in all cases I admit – I try to apply that principle. In the nature of politics you will find a lot of the time that you have been wrong.. Politics is a double-edged profession or craft if you like. Politicians tend to state absolutes. Martin picked up a point I made – that there will never be a united Ireland. And I may be proven wrong – I don’t think I will. Certainly not in the sense that a united Ireland is traditionally thought of, certainly not in the sense that Anne explained here tonight – I simply don’t think it is humanly possible, unless there’s mass conversion.one way or the other amongst every single individual in Northern Ireland and in the Republic.
Compromise: “The point I’m making is that politics is about the clash of ideas and the compromising of positions in order to get movement. It is reflected in the current coalition government of Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats, it was reflected in the Rainbow Coalition …and the earlier coalition government of Fianna Fail and Labour. Politics is about compromise. The problem with republicanism as we know it today is that it finds compromise exceedingly difficult. That has been true of the republican movement in its modern form – since the Civil War right through most of this century. It deals in absolutes and doesn’t take account of changes in society and changes in the world around it.
Partition: “The reality is that partition hasn’t failed – it hasn’t failed for the Republic of Ireland – we have the most prosperous booming economy in the European Union. British imperialism, or British occupation of Northern Ireland if you like to call it that, has not prevented that. One wonders in what way has it stunted the growth of the Republic – there may be ways, but certainly not in the sense of prosperity as is defined by traditional economists. We have a state that has been reasonably successful – it is democratic, it by and large guarantees the civil and human rights of the citizens within its border.
“I take issue with the claim that it has cost this state 2 billion pounds to maintain the border. What it has cost this State 2 billion pounds to do is to defend the lives and the property of the citizens of this State against people who took it on themselves to arrange that people would die in various ways. I’m not just talking about the republican movement – I’m talking about the loyalist paramilitaries as well, and all kinds of paramilitaries, going right back to the early seventies, and I don’t exclude the Official IRA or any other organisation from that. That’s what the money was spent on – to defend you and I against paramilitaries… If that violence wasn’t there that money would not have to be spent. It’s wrong to misrepresent and I think if we’re going to make progress we have to some extent to move away from the rhetoric of one’s position and try and engage in real thought.
‘Nationality’, ‘Nationalism’, ‘National identity’, ‘Self-determination’, ‘Sovereignty’, ‘United Ireland’ – these are all catch-phrases which we all use at various times, by and large unthinkingly. I’m not a nationalist – I’m neither a British nationalist nor an Irish nationalist, but I’m Irish – I hold an Irish passport, my nationality is Irish, but I’m not a nationalist in the traditional sense. I do not want a united Ireland on the basis that Sinn Fein want it. Certainly I would have a lot in common with what Alex was talking about – the evolution of a new kind of relationship between the people who live on this island . Hopefully the current negotiations will produce a settlement which will enable that to evolve. It is my view that it will evolve in a way that will not result in the traditional idea of a territorial unity on this island where unionists will over time be indistinguishable from nationalist Irish.
Fundamental conflict: “The fundamental conflict as I see it is a conflict between national allegiances – not just identity. There are people in the Republic who have a British identity – who live in Ireland, who may well be Irish in the sense that they are born in Ireland, but they have an allegiance to this State. Allegiance and identity are not the same thing. What’s at issue in Northern Ireland is a conflict of allegiance – between people who owe allegiance to the British State and people who feel they owe allegiance to the Irish State….Nobody knows if every single person who identifies himself as a nationalist in Northern Ireland feel they owe that allegiance, or even every single person who identifies himself as a unionist feels they owe that allegiance to the UK … but as far as elections are fought we must assume that that is the case – it has never been put to the test.
Sovereignty: “The question of sovereignty is another issue that has to be addressed. What does it mean? It means independence in decision-making. In this world of today can anyone reasonably say that any country on this earth makes independent decisions – independent of all other interests and pressures…Take the currency market, for instance – we have no control over it. The idea that used to be a core principle for socialism – that you should nationalise the banks – is no longer feasible. Banks are no longer owned nationally. Capital in banks is no longer owned by the States in which they are placed. … People press buttons at 6am and money is transferred in the flash of an eyelid. Your currency could be wiped out overnight without you having any influence. It happened here a few years ago when the “Snake” system … was virtually wiped out. Our currency came under pressure and we had no control. So where does sovereignty come into it? We have ceded very large powers to the European Union – we are still an independent State in that we have an army, gardai, we make our laws, by and large ourselves, but our laws are made with an eye on what’s going on in Europe. When the EU makes a directive, we are obliged under our Constitution …to comply with those directives. So where does sovereignty come into this whole question of the future of this island?
Self-determination: “The point has been made that the people on this island are the only ones who can decide the future of this island. That’s fine as far as it goes if it actually results in the IRA and the loyalists saying ‘ok, we’ll call it a day, the people have decided’ and so on… But what does self-determination mean and what will it be deciding? Will it be deciding that for all intents and purposes that the territorial claim will no longer be there in our Constitution. I would argue that if it doesn’t do that you’re prolonging the agony.
“I made the point in a fairly long article in the Irish Times … that there has been a theme running through the republican movement since the early twenties – that the War of Independence did not complete its business – that Britain still occupies the North of Ireland – that until that unfinished business is completed there will never be peace on this island. I think that is nonsense and it is a recipe for continued slaughter on this island. We have to look at our sacred cows – the issues of sovereignty, self-determination, nationalism, nationality, identity, united Ireland…. We have to look at this question of unfinished business and decide that the settlement that is going to be made in Northern Ireland is the end of the business – that’s what the people want when they vote for it, and it’s not an escalator to a united Ireland or anything else..That’s what the people want and that’s what it is for the foreseeable future. Because some young one out there will say “these people have betrayed the past – they have betrayed their history, they have betrayed Collins, Pearse, Connolly and so on, and that we have a mandate from history and we are going to keep this war going until we get the Brits out of Ireland”. Unless we reach the point that we accept there has to be an end to this unfinished business in a way that is satisfactory to everybody who lives on this island and accept that those who are unionists are unionist not because there is a better standard of living in Northern Ireland, or that people are nationalists because there is a better standard of living in the Republic … but because it is a particular belief they have.
Nationalism: “I’ve come to the conclusion that nationalism is the most pernicious “-ism” on this earth – it has resulted in the deaths of hundreds upon hundreds of millions of people. The point that Martin made that nationalism equals pride in country is part of the root of the problem, because it leads to the view “my country right or wrong“. There can’t be a philosophy of “my country right or wrong” and survive on the face of this earth, given the interdependence there is.
“But I need to move on – I’ve spent too long dealing with the issues that have arisen.
Irish Republicanism: “I want now to say a few words about Irish Republicanism and give you my view of where it is at the moment:
“Irish Republicanism drew its philosophical basis from the American and French revolutions. It inspired a flourishing radical press – the Northern Star was a hugely popular paper and political pamphlets were read the length and breadth of Ireland. Tom Paine’s The Rights of Man was a best seller. Political clubs abounded and vigorous political debates took place in the coffee houses of which there were many in the Dublin of the 1790s.
“The United Irishmen were radical democrats with the best interests of Ireland at heart. They had the potential to create the basis of a mass democratic movement. Unfortunately, however, in my view, they were seduced by the siren call of revolution and mistook widespread unrest for a revolutionary situation. Consequently, they made two mistakes which were to prove fatal for republicanism in Ireland.
“Firstly, they made common cause with the Defenders. Secondly, they sought to import revolution into a situation where revolution was not going to happen. By forming an alliance with the Defenders, the United Irishmen embraced the tradition of agrarian terror associated with the Whiteboys and the Ribbonmen. This tradition is best encapsulated in William Carleton’s story, The Wildgoose Lodge, a story based on actual events which were uncannily echoed in the La Mons fire-bombing by the IRA in 1978.
“By seeking to import revolution, the United Irishmen took the fate of the Irish people out of their own hands. Who is to say that the French, having come to liberate Ireland, might not have remained to occupy it? Such events are not unknown in history. In any event, subsequent generations of self-styled republicans were to collude with both Imperial and Nazi Germany. All for Ireland, of course.
“By that time, of course, republicanism had been subsumed by nationalism. Genuine republicans were as thin on the ground as Freethinkers. It was not the United Irishmen, but Daniel O’Connell, who led the first great mass democratic movement in Ireland. The potential for radical democratic politics was lost in the oath-bound conspiratorial politics of extreme nationalism. It can be argued that this, at least, led to the settlement of 1921 and the establishment of an Irish state – a stepping stone” to the Republic? But it also led to a bloody Civil War which cost more lives than the War of Independence.
“It is ironic to consider that the United Irishmen espoused the unity of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter, while those who claim to be their successors today have achieved the exact opposite. Never has Northern Ireland been so polarised as it has in the past 25 years. This is the situation that faces us today. But it is not a hopeless situation. The current inter-party talks present the opportunity for a peaceful and democratic settlement to the Northern Ireland conflict. Not all parties are represented, unfortunately, but sufficient parties are represented to reach an agreement with the capacity to command the support of the great majority of people on this island. And we should not lose sight of the fact that the great majority are steadfastly in favour of peace and democracy and are strongly in support of equality of citizenship in Northern Ireland.
Common bond of humanity: “Neither should we lose sight of the fact that there are stronger bonds than nationalism or unionism. Our common bond of humanity is far more enduring and stronger than either. But this bond has been lost sight of in the conflict between nationalism and unionism. Thank you.”
Brendan O’Brien: “Thank you very much indeed. … Proinsias has indicated very strongly that his vision of nationalism and where Ireland is going is quite different from that laid out by Anne Speed…. Before taking questions, I would just like to say something which does come to the heart of one of the things which Proinsias said .. that republicans find compromise exceedingly difficult and people on the republican side deal in absolutes. I’m not going to speak for Anne Speed … but one thing is true to say: if you examine the last 10 to 8 years of where the current republican movement leadership has brought its people you can trace your way through an internal and external debate which has I think objectively moved them from absolutes to a position of flexibility, though not as far as some people would like.
“I think if you look in particular at the bedrock of the current peace process from their point of view, which is what is called the Hume-Adams agreement – what they call the Irish peace initiative – which was presented by the Irish Government effectively to John Major as an opening gambit in the negotiations which led to the Downing Street Declaration which, from many people’s point of view within the republican movement, fell short of the Irish Peace Initiative. But I think it’s worth looking at what the leadership of the republican movement – IRA and Sinn Fein – collectively signed up to. I would put my finger on three ingredients which I think does illustrate the extent to which their thinking has changed and their political decision-making has changed to allow them into a process – into a talks process, a negotiating process – whilst British jurisdiction still prevails in Northern Ireland, against a great deal of what they said in the earlier phase of what they call the “Struggle”:
• What’s been happening in Europe and the European Union inevitably will change the nature of the conflict between Britain and Ireland, and that is an illustration, I think, of external thinking – of looking around at the world and accepting fully that things are different now to where they were when the IRA started its armed campaign back in 1970-71.
• Secondly, they said in this document that self-determination, the right of the Irish people collectively to Irish national self-determination, should be recognised in law by the British Government and this to be done over a period of time.
• Thirdly, they said that self -determination by the Irish people can only be arrived at by the consent and agreement of the people of Northern Ireland.
“Now I think using language like that illustrates to me that there was considerable flexibility in the thinking that led the current leadership – the Adams/McGuinness leadership – to where the republican movement is today. In effect, if I could put it in simple terms, what it comes down to is that the leadership of the republican movement has moved from a position of absolutes – that the “war”, as they call it, would go on until Britain declares its intention to leave – to a position where they well accept interim arrangements and a healing process, a process of reconciliation without the need of an armed campaign – that politics would take over. And that, if there was to be separate consent and agreement of the people of Northern Ireland, this would be a matter for the Irish people and not for the British. So if the Irish people decided that the people of Northern Ireland required separate consent and agreement, that this was the Irish people exercising their self-determination – that it wasn’t imposed by Britain. That is subtle thinking but in my view considerable movement from where the current leadership of the republican movement was some time back.
“I will now open it up to questions … putting Proinsias’s view that a united Ireland is impossible, back to back with the Sinn Fein view, not expressed here by Anne, but certainly expressed recently, that a United Ireland is inevitable – two very contrasting positions.
Editor’s note: Brendan O’Brien’s paper to the Glencree Summer School 1997 on his research into change and movement of thought within the republican leadership isreproduced in the Appendix to this report by kind permission of the author.
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS [summaries and main points only]
Q1. [Whether ending armed struggle in pursuit of Irish unity is a betrayal or is it the right thing to do?]
Anne Speed: I don’t speak for the IRA – I speak for Sinn Fein. As a political party we are not engaged in armed struggle. I think those who have decided to engage in armed struggle will have to make that judgment for themselves. It is our view that the opportunity to engage our political opponents in dialogue provides everybody with the opportunity to move forward. That is if it’s serious, open and honest dialogue. But, as Alex Attwood said, we don’t have dialogue – we don’t have real engagement, we have game-playing in Stormont. He did stress, not only the concerns with what is happening among unionists – and I concur with him in this – but he also spoke about the frustrations and difficulties of nationalists. Let me tell you … peace has not broken out in the six counties – there is a great deal of coercion of the nationalist community by the forces of the State – the army and the RUC. Numerous raids, people arrested. Brendan O’Brien talked of the experience of Colin Duffy … No wonder conflict has broken out on the streets of Northern Ireland. If the nationalist people do not see real engagement and real progress then unfortunately or regrettably there may be an instance or instances where those who believe the political process has failed them will return to armed conflict. It is not our intention that should happen. It is not our wish, it is not our preference, but if you are asking me to guarantee that won’t happen, I will give you an honest answer. Neither I nor anyone in Sinn Fein can give you that answer. If the political process, and all those engaged in it, provide the opportunities to move forward then I believe all human beings will grasp the opportunity. Nobody wants war or conflict. But it’s down to all of us to prove that the political process will not fail the nationalist people – it has so far. They’ve been forced to live in a sectarian state, they’ve been denied their democratic rights, they’ve been politically disenfranchised, and any ground that has been gained has been gained through massive conflict and struggle. So we have to ensure that the opportunities for dialogue and talks continue, but if you’re asking me to guarantee that, I can’t. Because there are other parties to this conflict – the unionists, the British Government, the Dublin government and its responsibilities. We are only part of this process. We will do everything in our power to make this process work. But we can’t give guarantees.
Q2. “Can the talks achieve anything? … Why should we be talking about flags etc. when there are serious issues affecting people’s lives – drugs, social questions to be dealt with. There’s too much focusing on flags etc. … I’m amazed that the former Minister for Social Welfare hasn’t talked about these….
Proinsias de Rossa: It would be very easy for me to list a whole range of things. When I was Minister for Social Welfare I did introduce reform of the free travel system which enables every person who qualifies for assisted travel in N.I. to have free travel in the Republic and likewise everybody in the Republic who has free travel now has free travel in N.I.. That has resulted in thousands of people travelling to Northern Ireland from the Republic and from Northern Ireland to the Republic. That was a practical thing – it wasn’t just put on the agenda, it was done. I didn’t manage to persuade my British counterparts to pay for their leg of it, but .. I did persuade the Irish government that we should pay for it all and they did so, and I’m proud of that fact ….“There’s a general point to be made – in a sense it’s an inversion of the Connolly dictum that until the national question is solved, you won’t have peace in Ireland. But I would argue that until such time as the constitutional status of NI and its relationship with the Republic and the UK is resolved then other issues such as social welfare, housing, drugs and so on in Northern Ireland will be subsumed and cast aside, because people are constantly living under this threat either of being subsumed into the Republic or being massacred by some gang or other or the nationalists feeling they’re being deprived of their rights and so on. It is essential that a constitutional settlement be arrived at and that it be a definitive settlement – I’m not talking about a final settlement – so that people can get on with their ordinary normal everyday lives
Brendan: “Do you think a settlement is achievable?
Proinsias: “Yes, provided the people participating in the negotiations accept that fundamental compromise is necessary…
Brendan: “I would just like to ask Alex and Martin very briefly whether they think a settlement is going to be arrived at.
Alex Attwood: “Yes. There is a convergence of many forces at the moment. You have a talks process that can be inclusive once the DUP and the UK Unionists decide to go into it; you have an agenda where everything is on the table, that all three strands ha to be addressed; you have two new governments, and you have some stability in those governments; you have the involvement of the American administration in an impartial manner, independent chairs,.. you have immense community goodwill… People are beginning …to have a sense of what peace and political stability can bring to the quality of their lives. all those events are beginning to converge. It may be there will be outbreaks of violence. As that convergence continues and until agreement is reached. As in South Africa .. even though you have a conflict transformation process going on violent conflict is still manifest.
Brendan: “Martin .. as someone centrally involved in bringing about the first and second IRA cessations, do you think there will be a settlement that would satisfy the republican movement?
Martin Mansergh: “I’m not going to speak for the republican movement, especially when you have a representative here. A settlement is achievable, but I certainly wouldn’t go counting any chickens before they are hatched. There’s a lot of water to flow under the bridge – even if you take next May as the deadline. I think it will need a lot of intelligent political leadership on all sides to bring that about. I would have to say also, responding to something that Anne said, there needs to be a clear recognition at all levels of the republican movement – they have the perfectly respectable legitimate aim of bringing about a united Ireland. There needs to be a crystal-clear recognition that further violence will not advance that one iota – on the contrary it will actually push it backwards. That message needs to be understood. Of course I understand the provocation, the difficulties and so on – not everyone on the British state side is responding properly to the present circumstances. But I think the republican movement must decide their own strategy and not have it dictated by elements in the British security forces that might be out to provoke them.
Q3. “I want to comment on Dr. Mansergh’s excent paper. It’s very good to hear that it’s actually legitimate to seek a united Ireland – in some media coverage one would feel it wasn’t the thing to do. I realise of course, as many would in the Republic, we are not seeking it in a violent ay – we’re looking for consent of people North and South. This consent is going to be very hard to get … and it’s not going to happen by May. But something obviously will happen in May. One would regard that as a stepping stone towards a settlement – a bringing together of the peoples on this island. Therefore we all have to work very hard. It’s up to the media and everybody to encourage the peacemakers. Occasionally one finds that the media focuses on the negative and not on the positive statements coming out and I don’t think that’s helpful.
Brendan: “Thank you. You’ve mentioned the dreaded word ‘stepping stone’ which Michael Collins was berated for in the history of republicanism. I think Gerry Adams wouldn’t thank you for looking at a settlement which was described as a ‘stepping stone’, but we all know what you meant … but those kind of words show you the difficulty we have in arriving at a settlement.”
Q4. “I would like to thank the speakers for very stimulating contributions. .. I have a couple of comments Firstly, by no stretch of the imagination could you believe that true republican principles were manifest in this state. As to the United Irishmen – I often wonder how united they were. Quite often there’s no mention of the religious element … We’re here as part of a peace group, part of the process of learning about our northern brethren, and the Northern conflict, so that we could have a greater understanding etc.. What I find very frustrating as a citizen of the republic is to hear the leaders of the major unionist parties in the North displaying outrageous religious bigotry and racism ….
Brendan: “The speaker finds what he calls the ‘outrageous bigotry’ of the unionists hard to take. There’s been a lot of comment about unionists not properly engaging in the present talks – I can put the question to the panel, but is there anyone on the floor who would like to take up that point ?
Member of audience: “I would like to comment very briefly – I’m from Co.Down originally, I worked for 18 years in the civil service and the social services in Northern Ireland and across the water. I moved south when I married 20 years ago. I would just like to inform the gathering here – I don’t suppose there is a unionist here. In Northern Ireland. I was a supporter of the Alliance Party. As to what this gentleman said about unionist bigotry, there’s bigotry on both sides. As someone who has lived in both parts of Ireland, I find bigotry this side of the border as well as in Northern Ireland. I would like to pay tribute to my former work colleagues and neighbours in Belfast, Co.Down, Antrim and Armagh. There’s no one here to speak for them. …If at some future time they should ever decide that their identity or that their future lies with the rest of us in some shape or form I feel they have a lot to contribute – I admire their honesty, their hard work, their business acumen and their freedom of conscience in the whole area of sexual morality which is causing havoc on this side of the border with referenda for this, that and the other ….
Brendan: Thank you, it’s a pity we don’t have more time, but that was a very valuable contribution…”
Q5. “Given the importance your northern speakers attached to the all-Ireland economy, I’d be interested in the reaction in Northern Ireland to Minister for Tourism Jim McDaid’s decision to come out of the all-Ireland tourism promotion.
Martin Mansergh: “There was an unfortunate disagreement on aspects of the promotion… Joint promotions are proceeding. There have been some discussions since the disagreement – and I believe that issue has been largely smoothed over….. If I can pick up on one of the other issues raised. I don’t think it fair, in a blanket way, to accuse all unionists of religious bigotry and sectarianism … There are pockets of it. I heard Dr. Paisley earlier this week on radio saying, at one of these rallies, that you had to unite against ecumenism, Romanism, nationalism and republicanism – that is undoubtedly a strand. Equally there are others who are trying to rise above it. I’ve heard David Ervine in the last few months saying that people must make clear that sectarianism isn’t socially acceptable. I wouldn’t like to brand a whole community.for?? the faults of some.
Q6. “You try and make peace with your enemies – there’s no point in making peace with your friends. Currently in the Stormont talks, Mr.Trimble doesn’t seem to be talking to anybody. He’s talking to his friends, trying to keep Mr.Paisley happy … he’s not addressing the nationalists. De Clerk did it with Mandela … why can’t Trimble do it with the nationalists?
Martin Mansergh: “Point of information, he [Mr. Trimble] had a meeting with David Andrews yesterday, he’s having a meeting with Bertie Ahern later in the week, and I understand he had a meeting with the SDLP yesterday. Now he’s not meeting with Sinn Fein
Brendan: “Maybe Anne would have a view on that?
Anne Speed: “My understanding is that inside the corridors nothing is happening, except people are scurrying up and down them. We have engaged in informal talks with David Ervine and others – but they represent 3.5% of the unionist population. .. We’re being exhorted by people on the platform and people in the audience in terms of giving leadership – well let’s see a bit of leadership from the unionist leaders. I very much take the point – there isn’t any real engagement, none whatsoever. I think Billy Hutchinson, David Ervine and others represent a small section of the electorate – but they do represent the possibility of broader and deeper thinking and maybe something hopeful for the future. The major unionist parties have to be shifted into some form of meaningful dialogue. I do hope that they [Bertie Ahern and David Andrews] will be impressing upon them that … if you don’t speak to your political opponents you never move the situation forward. We are not the enemies of these people – we are their political opponents – we do disagree; we have differences of opinion and we are striving for our aspirations. We make no apology for that.
Brendan: “I would like to pose a question to Anne which arose from a couple of the speakers. One of the things the unionists are saying is that the republican moment and Sinn Fein at the talks is not interested in compromise …. Is Sinn Fein in the business of compromise?
Anne Speed. “You have all the political questions worked out here. Unfortunately we don’t have enough time. I’m certainly not going to negotiate Sinn Fein’s position here. As a professional negotiator I know you never enter a set of negotiations by putting up your bottom line first…. Obviously through the process of negotiation and dialogue, republicans and nationalists will have to take a view in terms of what’s on the table. “But let me tell you, when we talk about consent, we’re talking about the consent of the nationalist people to be governed within a sectarian state. They are at least 45% of the population – that’s going to grow. Secondly there’s the question of sufficient consensus – there must be sufficient consensus on the unionist side and also on the nationalist side. In order to put a question to a referendum, There must be an agreement based on these principles … We will have to allow that process to develop, to grow and to arrive in that position and then we can all make a judgment. But if you’re sitting here and asking me now … are we going to compromise on our aspiration for a united Ireland, clearly the answer is no. We’re not going to take that position at this point in time. We’re going to have to look at the shape, the size, the structure, the potential, the possibilities of an agreement and then make a decision. We’re not going to try and determine the endgame now, and it would be ill-advised for any commentator in the media or any political leader to adopt that position.
Alex Attwood: “Firstly, nobody should underestimate the impact of the breakdown of the first cease-fire on those in the unionist community who were prepared to change and enter into negotiations. Nobody should underestimate that, because whatever the liberal opinion might have been… a lot of them were severely disappointed by the breakdown of the Provisional IRA’s first cease-fire. From their point of view I can understand why they are reticent and cautious about what they’re doing now. That dynamic has to be understood within their community.
“Secondly, I had a conversation with a senior republican last September, and when I … pushed him on what he meant by consent, his reply was ‘our consent’. That was the reply. If that’s what republicans mean then this talks process is going to go into the sands, because that is giving unto them a veto which nobody has a right to assume unto themselves. If the unionists haven’t engaged fully .. maybe republicans haven’t engaged fully in the process so far. Because when you analyse their contribution to the process so far, it has been a restating of obsolete doctrines and outworn slogans. Maybe they have a responsibility, just as the unionists have a responsibility, to begin to demonstrate in word and deed a degree of flexibility. I would suggest to them that the place where whey should start is the document from the Forum for peace and Reconciliation where all the nationalist parties on this island, save themselves and the Greens, from a nationalist perspective, signed up to what was an agreed position in relation to our self-determination and the principle of consent. If Anne is prepared to invoke the New Ireland Forum as an authority… then I would suggest she revisits the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, sign up to that, and then you might have some progress in the talks.”
Brendan: “Thank you. I’ll just take two more questions together:
Q6. “Do you agree that the constitutional guarantee in Articles 2 and 3 should be on the table in order to show flexibility from the nationalist perspective when asking for flexibility from the unionists?”
Q7. [Julitta Clancy]: Our last talk was about whether we in this State turned our backs on the North. … We want to know from panel members how we in the south can contribute to understanding .. There’s a huge level of lack of understanding, and the Forum particularly helped groups like us…. How can we on the ground contribute to understanding?
Brendan: As we’re running out of time ..we’ll take three more minutes to answer these briefly.
Alex Attwood: “1. Whatever the future Irish Constitution says, it must recognise that I’m part of the Irish nation – and it must express that I have a right to aspire to a political outcome in the future that I think is in our best interests. Articles 2 and 3, especially Article 3, may not be the best wording for those aspirations and that identity, but any Constitution of our country must have those two core elements as part of my reassurance and political aspirations.
2. Articles 2 and 3 are used tactically by the unionists as a method of not coming to terms with the rest of the people on the island. Articles 2 and 3 have to be considered in the negotiations, and the Irish Government have given every reassurance that they will be, but you have to understand that they are used tactically by the unionist leadership as giving a reason why they are not coming to terms and coming into a fruitful and agreed relationship with the rest of the people on this island, just as previously it was: they couldn’t trust Reynolds, they couldn’t trust Haughey, they couldn’t trust Fitzgerald, it was a Catholic State, you couldn’t have divorce. They’re always positioning issues in order to not come to terms with the rest of the people on the island.”
Proinsias de Rossa: “First of all, I did indicate in my opening remarks that I felt Articles 2 and 3 should at least be amended. I think however, in return for that, the unionists have to accept a north-south body with real powers to enable nationalists in Northern Ireland to have an identification with the Republic. I think as well there needs to be development of an East-West dimension…. Also, Anne Speed said Sinn Fein can’t give guarantees that people won’t return to violence – that’s true, no one can give such a guarantee. But what Sinn Fein can guarantee is that Sinn Fein won’t support anyone returning to violence. There is a critical issue there for Sinn Fein to decide.
Anne Speed: “I can just remind Proinsias that Sinn Fein, along with the other parties, endorsed the Mitchell Principles. But can I say also that we also have a responsibility to our constituents and to the people we were elected to represent. In reply to the questioner – we don’t take any position in relation to Articles 2 and 3, or should I say nationalists or republicans don’t draw their political response to the conflict in Northern Ireland from Articles 2 and 3. We take our position from our electorate – that’s on the whole of the island but particularly within the six counties. And also people who have chosen at stages through our history – nationalists and republicans – to resort to armed struggle have taken their mandate from the reality of their lives within that state: the brutality, the repression and the discrimination. And republicans and nationalists will tell you that. Very briefly, I take Alex’s point [about the conversation he had with a senior republican] – but what I said and this is in our position is that we recognise that within the ground rules for these talks there is a clear understanding that there has to be sufficient consensus. And as we now represent a significant section of the nationalist people we will have to be part of that sufficient consensus and we think that’s our legitimate and political right. We expect other people to observe that. We are not going to be routed into any situation …or boxed into a corner as there was an attempt to do so in the Dublin Forum – the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. And I note what Alex said – but we were not the only party who had reservations. The Green Party had reservations… To be honest, my own personal view is that it was ill-advised and pre-emptive for that Forum to try and seek to arrive at a consensual position among Irish nationalists in the total absence of any response from unionism. As I said, a professional negotiator, you don’t put all your eggs in one basket and you certainly don’t start out with your bottom line. We will resist if there is any political attempt to do that. I sincerely hope there won’t be a repeat of that exercise.
Martin Mansergh: “On that point about the Peace Forum – on the day the vote was taken Fianna Fail actually sought a postponement of that. That was opposed by a number of parties including Sinn Fein who didn’t want the thing put off any longer.
“I certainly don’t have any difficulty, and I hope other parties wouldn’t in principle that a settlement is going to mean compromise on all sides – I think the Irish Government clearly recognises that it’s going to need compromise and I don’t think that is giving away anything of one’s position in saying that and I just hope that all parties at every end of the spectrum would approach that in the same manner.
“On Articles 2 and 3 – Alex Attwood’s points are well noted. Change will be discussed in the context of a settlement. Change will have to be balanced by some change on the British side as well with regard to their constitutional doctrines, but there are certain bottom lines in that and they are very roughly as Alex expressed them.
“Finally, the question from Julitta – I did say at the beginning of my contribution that I do think the force of public opinion that thinks through the issues in groups like this is absolutely critical. I don’t think any one among the so-called players could do anything very much except against the background of a wider, educated and intelligent opinion. So I would strongly encourage you to keep up the work and I’m sure that’s why most of us are here tonight because we do recognise of course that it isn’t something that’s going to be solved by a few politicians and a few civil servants behind closed doors. It’s something that’s going to involve the whole people of the island – North, South, whatever tradition they come from. Continuous discussion and consideration of where we are going, what we have to do, what changes we have to make – all that is vital. I finish by paying tribute again to the work of the Meath Peace Group …
Brendan O’Brien: “Thank you very much for listening and contributing – it shows as always that when you turn it over to the floor you suddenly realise that time starts to run out. .. It does show the value of dialogue and the need to have understanding of what is going on. With reference to what Dr. Mansergh said about the need to know and understand, I often think that governments, particularly our government, ought to distribute to every household key documents like the Framework Document – because in this process the devil is in the detail, and some of the questions people raise at public meetings or in other fora are actually answered, and are on the public record on those documents. Also… the media has a primary responsibility to ensure that people understand the details and don’t engage all the time in old-fashioned rhetoric. And this is where the Meath Group and Glencree play a very big part in bringing people together to hear the inside view and the authoritative view.”
APPENDIX: Paper by Brendan O’Brien: “Understanding the Political Margins”
(This paper was first delivered at Glencree Summer School, 22 August 1997, reproduced here by kind permission of the author)
Irish nationalism: “I think it’s fair to say that the struggle of Irish nationalism has been primarily non-violent. The goal was, in general, a form of independence, not a full-blown republic. But where there were militarists, they tended to seek a republic. These broad generalities tell us that in the past two hundred years, when modern republicanism came on the agenda, those who sought a republic were on the political margins and those who sought it by force of arms were even more marginalised.
In the 20th century you could point to two major exceptions to this rule. The upheavals of the 1916-22 period and the eruptions in Northern Ireland of the late 1960s and early 1970s. On both of those occasions non-violent nationalism in broad measure came to support more extreme methods, before reverting to type and backing the non-violent, political route. Those who had stayed outside the mainstream, like the IRA, diminished in numbers, almost to vanishing point, in a sense deliberately marginalising themselves, holding on to the true republican ideal as almost all others sold out”.
To-day, although they wouldn’t put it this way themselves, the IRA and Sinn Fein are coming back into the mainstream, accepted back in only because they have stopped using violent methods. Those still outside, like Republican Sinn Fein, Continuity IRA (and to an extent the INLA), have consciously taken the decision to remain on the margins, firm in their belief that they hold the true, principled, republican position.
Of course, I have used generalities here and nothing is that simple or that comfortable for those sitting nicely in the middle ground.
Republican oath of 1919: Take a little return trip to the heady days of 1919, when a triumphant Sinn Fein, riding on the back of a violent rebellion, established the illegal Dail Eireann. All elected members of that Dail, those that weren’t in gaol of on the run, took an oath. It said, in part: “… I … do swear that, to the best of my knowledge and ability, I will support and defend the Irish Republic and the Government of the Irish Republic, which is Dail Eireann, against all enemies foreign and domestic, and I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same …”
Among those who took this oath were: Eamon de Valera (member for Clare East and Mayo East, beaten in Falls, Belfast, by a nationalist!), Michael Collins (member for Cork South) and William Cosgrave (member for Kilkenny North).
This was pretty mainstream stuff as far as a majority of the Irish nationalist electorate of the time was concerned – not at all marginal. Here was a fusion of two extreme positions, republicanism and the use of force, brought centre stage and given a popular mandate. Even though that mandate from the 1918 election was not as broad as some would have us believe (less than a majority of votes actually cast in the 32 counties), that republican position became the official” political position within Irish nationalism – the accepted, rightful and ultimate goal, by all main political brands, as encapsulated by De Valera, Collins and Cosgrave, and their political successors.
To reject republicanism from the 1920s onwards was to adopt a marginal political position within Irish nationalism.
“None of this was ever properly squared with the position of the unionists, who became political non-people, Irish nationalists waiting to be discovered. Neither was it properly squared with the pledge by IRA and Sinn Fein leaders, De Valera and Collins included, that the North must not be coerced into a united Ireland, or that, in December 1925, a legitimate Irish government signed up to the Confirmation of Amending Agreement Act, confirming the existence of the border.
Accepted norm: “As time went on the accepted norm among Irish nationalists, as enshrined in the 1937 Constitution – again by minority popular mandate on the island as a whole – was that a unitary Irish republic, ruled from Dublin, was Ireland’s rightful inheritance. That remained mainstream; what went back into the margins, rejected by de Valera and Irish nationalists generally, was the use of force to achieve that goal. In many ways it was as simple as that – no further thinking required. But the Republic was not, and could not be, delivered as simply as that.
“Yet the 1919 oath lingered on, in the political margins, the vow to support and defend the Republic from all enemies foreign and domestic – just hanging there as embarrassing unfinished business, clawing at the consciences and then forgotten altogether.
IRA ban, 1936: “Hardly surprising that the militarists felt they had a just cause, especially after de Valera’s government banned the IRA in 1936. It only added to the conviction of the dedicated few that they were right all along about taking the constitutional political path. It would only lead to a sell-out on the Republic.
“Two years later, in 1938, the pieces were put in place for a further phase of militarism.
The powers of government” were formally handed over to the Army Council of the IRA by the then existing members of the executive of the original Dail. Holding the powers of government” of the true Republic gave the IRA full legitimacy, in their eyes, to support, defend – and reinstate – the all-Ireland Republic.
1949: “When the republican movement was re-formed in 1949, with that objective, Sinn Fein came together again with the IRA on the understanding that the 1938 decision held fast, namely that the powers of government” rested with the IRA Army Council. This supreme authority, vested in the IRA leadership, has not changed, even though Sinn Fein is also an independent and autonomous political party. Sinn Fein would have to split from the republican movement to change this relationship, an event which would lead to further splits and faction fighting and is most definitely not on the cards. The present process is about bringing everyone forward together into the mainstream, not back into the margins.
Today’s situation is complex and I’ll come back to it later. Suffice to say that a great deal of baggage had been collected since the 1930s and a great deal has had to be off-loaded.
Bombing of Britain: “With their legitimacy intact, their numbers small and at times very divided, the IRA engaged in a failed bombing campaign in Britain during the Second World War. It’s worth noting that the IRA Chief of Staff of that campaign, Sean Russell, thought his mission sufficiently legitimate and correct – the fight for the Republic – that he sought and seemingly expected de Valera’s government to support the endeavour.
Border campaign 1956-62: “When the re-constituted IRA carried out a drawn-out border campaign from 1956 to 1962, de Valera in government again found himself faced with the logical consequences of his earlier armed actions and his republican oath. Dev’s answer was that there could only be one government and one army, that the use of force is only legitimate with a popular mandate, and that, a bit lamely, those who fought in 1916 received what Dev called post factum” authority from the people through subsequent elections.
Still, the ‘official’ goal of the 32-county Republic remained intact. So too did the border.
1965: “When, as Taoiseach, Sean Lemass switched tactics in the mid-60s and effectively sought nationalist recognition of the border through rapprochement with the unionist Prime Minister Terence O’Neill, it looked for a while as though the political margins on the nationalist side could be satisfied by peaceful reform. It failed for long and complex reasons.
About thirty years on, it’s being tried again, which is why we’re here discussing the subject in an atmosphere of prickly hope. In between, militant republicanism has been virtually unremitting in pursuing the goal targetted in arms and officially” maintained for three quarters of a century.
Provisional IRA: “The first Easter message of the Provisional IRA, in 1970, made it clear that they opposed the Treaty and the existing government institutions North and South:
“The free Republic we seek will not be won by recognition of and participation in the institutions which were set up by England to overthrow the Republic but by leading the Irish people in the building of an alternative 32-county parliament.”
In time a horrendous killing and bombing campaign was in motion, not for civil rights or in defence against loyalist attacks, or even for the overthrow of the Stormont Parliament, but for the full-blown 32-county Republic. They were intent on putting the republican oath of 1919 into practice. The IRA leadership was massively encouraged in their belief to hold the “powers of government” when, in 1972, the Northern Secretary, William Whitelaw, met a delegation which included Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, for talks in London. Though, let’s be honest, most of the IRA activists were sixtyniners, products of the street conflagrations of ‘68 and ‘69, not really wedded to or even aware of the events of 1919. This would have its effects much later as old certainties were shredded or re-shaped.
But the old certainties are not really that old.
Moral justification: “Throughout their long war IRA volunteers were “green booked” – right into the 1990s. Their ‘Green Book’, the IRA training manual, instilled a conviction about killing for a cause. Volunteers had what was called ‘moral superiority’.
“The Irish Republican Army“, it said, as the legal representatives of the Irish people, are morally justified in carrying out a campaign of resistance against foreign occupation forces and domestic collaborators. All volunteers are and must feel morally justified in carrying out the dictates of the legal government“
Two front pages of An Phoblacht ten years apart tell a story about the strength of that conviction but also the failure of the strategy: One, in April 1974, headlines “Brits get ready to pull out” and gives reasons for their belief that Britain was about to disengage from Northern Ireland. The other, of January 1984, says: “We fight on until Brits go.” The headline from an authorised IRA interview which ended with the spokesman saying:
“This war is to the end. There will be no interval as in the disaster of partition… When we put away our guns Britain will be out of Ireland and an Irish democracy will be established in the thirty-two counties with a national government.”
1994 cessation: “Ten years later again, in August 1994, the IRA decided that a pause would be required – that is, interim or transitional arrangements. Astonishingly, there would be an indefinite end to the armed campaign without any guarantee of a British withdrawal. It was breath-taking and historic stuff. Within a week came the triple handshake of Gerry Adams, John Hume and Albert Reynolds. Extraordinarily, this took place on the steps of Government Buildings in Dublin, powerhouse of the very institution, Dail Eireann, which generations of IRA activists had railed against on the basis that it usurped the 1919 Dail, that it was, as the Green Book described it, “an illegal, puppet regime”, and on the basis that the powers of government of the legitimate Republic were vested in the Army Council, the very bedrock of their “moral justification” for the use of armed force.
Cessation: “There’s no doubt the IRA’s complete cessation of military operations represented a huge turnaround, an historic turning away from much of their past rhetoric.
Militarists: “For many, too, it represented a huge failure of the military effort. Some of those are still inside the republican movement. Some have been on the outside since 1986 when the IRA and Sinn Fein took the first big change of direction, the dropping of the abstention policy on taking seats in Dail Eireann. Those groupings, Republican Sinn Fein and the Continuity Army Council, have held fast to every facet of the traditional position – allegiance to the 1919 Republic and the republican oath. Significantly, the Continuity Army Council has claimed to be the legitimate leadership of the Irish Republican Army. What was generally regarded as little more than a Sinn Fein walk-out was, in fact, a split in the IRA.
So, small as they are, these groupings have publicly declared their intentions to continue the struggle, including an armed struggle, for a British withdrawal from Northern Ireland. It doesn’t take big numbers to keep the flame ignited, or to do real damage. History tells us that, after the Second World War, an apparently dead and defunct IRA was given the kiss of life by a handful of hopefuls in a Dublin pub. Even if those remaining on the margins of Irish republican politics stay small, the very existence of a British presence in Ireland is enough to ensure that the militarists will seek another round of armed action.
That is the legacy.
Can the current peace hold? “The question then is, can the current peace hold? Has the Provisional IRA truly come in from the margins or has nothing really changed?
I believe the answers are complex. The evidence is that the IRA leadership has changed. But there is no guarantee that they can hold the peace in a united manner when the nature of the settlement and the smell of the compromise on offer becomes clear to the activists. Having put it that bluntly, I believe there is every chance that the great bulk of the republican movement will go with the settlement that’s achievable, though not without a great deal more engagement in the process. The negotiations themselves will ensure that engagement and the internal debate that comes with it.
“One influential Belfast figure from outside the republican movement said to me recently: “Once Sinn Fein gets to the table the war will be over, and once the justice issue is dealt with there’ll be no popular will or support for another armed round.”
Time will tell. But let’s look at the evidence that real change has occurred.
Republican family: “Firstly, while I have talked only about the IRA and Sinn Fein, the “struggle”, as they call it, has uniquely involved what they also call the republican family”.
At first, the Provisional IRA fought a purely military campaign, seeking and expecting early victory, a repeat of what happened in the 1918-21 War of Independence. But when no victory came, and the armed campaign went into a long war strategy – running into decades if needs be and as it happened – a broad community base was deliberately developed to sustain the long campaign and to avoid being isolated and defeated, as happened with the _40s and _50s campaigns. Women, in particular, asserted their right to have a say, dirty protest campaigns, hunger-strike campaigns and all. The rest involved whole families, streets, housing estates, communities.
Politically, Sinn Fein went from a policy of ignoring or tearing down the entity of Northern Ireland to a policy of joining its local government institutions. From a stance of complete hostility to the State, Sinn Fein and the broad “republican family” has moved to one of confidence that their voice is strong enough to be heard.
In other words, the IRA’s decision to call a halt is broad-based, deep-rooted and a reflection of changed attitudes in their communities.
More than anything, it is the communities which have come in from the margins. It was ordinary people and community leaders who resisted attempts by the out and out militarists to return to a full-blooded ‘Brits out’ campaign once the first cessation collapsed.
In their cessation statement of August 1994, a statement which also covers the present cessation, the IRA leadership reflected this sense of community and political confidence:
“We are entering into a new situation in a spirit of determination and confidence, determined that the injustices which created this conflict will be removed, and confident in the strength and justice of our struggle to achieve this.”
Changing circumstances within Irish nationalism:
“Confident they may be but, in reality, their hand was also forced by changing circumstances within Irish nationalism.
At the start of the current conflict, a unitary Irish State was still the unchallenged goal of mainstream nationalism. Even in 1983, the leader of Fianna Fail, Charles Haughey, felt comfortable in proposing to the New Ireland Forum an all-round constitutional conference as a prelude to British withdrawal.
Consent formula: “Two years later, the Anglo-Irish Agreement enshrined in Article One a quite different bedrock position, agreed by both governments, namely:
“That any change in the status of Northern Ireland would only come about with the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland.”
Gerry Adams, as Sinn Fein President, opposed the Agreement, saying it copperfastened the unionist veto. Mr. Haughey, then in opposition, also opposed it. But back in government in 1989, Mr. Haughey reaffirmed the Anglo-Irish Agreement when it was reviewed by both governments.
The bedrock consent formula was further embedded, when Albert Reynolds signed the Downing Street Declaration in 1993. It was agreed then that in determining consent for any new settlement, two separate referenda, one in Northern Ireland and one in the Republic, would be required. The traditional “official” nationalist position of one nation, one entity, one legitimate jurisdiction, had changed.
No foreseeable Irish government would return to the old position.
The IRA was hemmed in, undefeated certainly, and that was success enough for many, but politically hemmed in. Fighting on for unfettered British withdrawal, over the hands of the unionists, was increasingly seen as a lost cause. Dialogue with unionists was the new necessity, not bombing their towns and villages and killing their men in uniform. In addition confidence was building within the “republican family” that change was possible, and that the Hume-Adams axis was highly valuable, even more so when it was joined to the government in Dublin.
The price for all of that was an end to the IRA’s armed campaign.
Of course, coming in from the political margins was more complex than that. This was the first serious attempt, probably since partition, by the Southern political establishment, both to redefine its republicanism and to engage militant republicanism in that process. That in itself unlocked much of the marginalised mind-set in Northern nationalist heartlands, for so long conditioned by the bitter belief that the South didn’t care, that its verbal republicanism counted for nothing. And, let’s be honest, the South didn’t care that much and verbal republicanism delivered little more than Southern comfort.
Irish Peace Initiative: “The first tangible product of this combined nationalism re-definition came in the form of what was known as the Hume-Adams agreement, what was, in effect, a Hume-Adams-Reynolds agreement in mid-1992. That agreement, which the IRA and Sinn Fein styled the “Irish Peace Initiative” is visible evidence that IRA thinking, and language, had radically changed. The agreement came in the form of a Sinn Fein proposal for a joint declaration to be made by both governments – it was the forerunner to the Downing Street Declaration.
Paragraph 2 of the proposal had both governments agreeing that: “The development of European Union fundamentally changes the nature and the context of British-Irish relationships and will progressively remove the basis of the historic conflict still taking place in Northern Ireland.”
“Paragraph 3 said both governments: “… Recognise that the ending of divisions can come about only through the agreement and cooperation of the people North and South, representing both traditions in Ireland.”
Paragraph 4 had the British Government accepting: “..The principle that the Irish people have the right collectively to self-determination, and that the exercise of that right could take the form of agreed independent structures for the island as a whole.”
This was balanced in paragraph 5, by a quite dramatic turn of direction for militant Irish republicanism. It had the Irish Government accepting that: “The democratic right of self-determination by the people of Ireland as a whole must be achieved and exercised with the agreement and consent of the people of Northern Ireland.”. There was no unvarnished demand for a British withdrawal.
All of this confirms a major shift, opening the way for a settlement which is both partitionist and all-Ireland, with a continuance of British jurisdiction in Northern Ireland, where that jurisdiction is fully recognised for the first time by the Southern State and which puts in placed agreed institutions to develop evolving and dynamic relationships across the island.
This is not to say that the republican movement has abandoned its goal of Irish unity. But ending armed actions to negotiate so-called “interim arrangements” is a seismic shift for the long war strategists. It also suggests that in negotiations Sinn Fein will come to accept the consent formula which they couldn’t sign up to in the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. Those words – which I believe Sinn Fein was close to accepting – said that a settlement democratically ratified North and South would: “.. Represent a valid and legitimate exercise by the people of Ireland as a whole of their right to self-determination.”
Ground Rules: “In addition, I would say that it is not without significance that the IRA and Sinn Fein have accepted the Ground Rules document for the up-coming negotiations. These make it plain that, whatever greater ambitions the participants may have, the process is to agree three interlocking relations: within Northern Ireland, on the island as a whole, and between the British and Irish Governments. The Ground Rules also reaffirm in writing both Governments’ intention to submit the outcome of negotiations for public approval by referenda North and South.
“I think it’s reasonable in the circumstances to be hopeful that on the republican and nationalist side the outer margins are, in most part, prepared to come in from the cold. Change has been in the air for some considerable time and has very broad support. Yet what’s happening is being led by the current IRA and Sinn Fein leaderships combined.No one can speak for future leaderships.
I cannot, in all honesty, predict that the IRA will disband and tear up its constitution or that the new millennium will see the final end of armed force in pursuit of the Republic”.
MPG TALK 27 – BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES ON SPEAKERS
Brendan O’Brien: Senior reporter with RTE current affairs: worked on Seven Days, Today Tonight and Prime Time. Jacob’s Award winner for investigative journalism, especially on drugs and serious crime. Reported on all aspects of the Northern Ireland conflict since 1974. Author of two books on the IRA: The Long War and A Pocket History of the IRA.
Dr. Martin Mansergh: Special Adviser to the Taoiseach and Head of Research, Fianna Fail, since 1981. His father Nicholas Mansergh was well-known historian and expert on Anglo-Irish relations, author of The Irish Question and many other books. Dr. Martin Mansergh entered the Dept. of Foreign Affairs in 1974 and joined the Taoiseach’s Department in 1981. Special adviser to Charles Haughey, Albert Reynolds and Bertie Ahern. He was nominated with Fr. Alex Reid and Rev. Roy Magee as a winner of the 1995 Tipperary Peace Prize for his role in the peace process. He has published a number of articles on the peace process and related Irish historical subjects
Cllr. Alex Attwood: Leader of SDLP group in Belfast City Council.
Anne Speed: Elected member of Sinn Fein’s Ard Chomhairle and served on that body since 1990. She is a full-time trade union official and also chairs the Sinn Fein National Women’s Committee. She has been an activist in the Women’s movement for over 25 years. This includes being a founder member of the Campaign to Legalise Contraception. Anne Speed has also joined the party team at the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation and the Stormont talks.
Proinsias de Rossa, T.D: Elected to the Dail, 1982 (Dublin N.W.) Elected to European Parliament for Dublin in 1989; Vice-Chairman of the Regional Affairs Committee of the EP. Resigned from the EP in 1992 to concentrate on national politics. Elected President of Workers’ Party (1988). Under his leadership the party won 7 seats in the Dail and its first seat in Europe. In February 1992 he resigned from the WP and was joined by 5 WP TDs, its MEP, over 30 councillors and majority of party members in the establishment of Democratic Left. Elected leader of DL in March 1992. Minister for Social Welfare in the Rainbow Government 1994-1997. Served on Cabinet Sub-Committee on N.I.. Founder member of the Peace Train organisation
Meath Peace Group Report – January 1998. Compiled and edited by Julitta Clancy.
(c)Meath Peace Group