31 – “Overcoming Barriers – The Work of the Northern Ireland Women’s Political Forum”
Monday, 30th November 1998
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan, Co. Meath
Lily Kerr (Workers’ Party)
Cllr. Sarah Duncan (Alliance Party, Castlereagh Borough Council)
Joan Cruthers (Progressive Unionist Party)
Patricia Lewsley, MLA (SDLP)
Chaired by John Clancy (Meath Peace Group)
Questions and Comments/1
Patricia Lewsley (late arrival)
Questions and Comments/2 – decommissioning and other issues
1. Lily Kerr (Workers’ Party):
“It’s always nice to come to Navan and see some friendly faces in the audience. Julitta thanks us for taking the time to come down, I have to say I thank you for taking the time to care and giving us the space to tell you some of the more positive things that are going on in the North of Ireland and that have been going on for quite a long time. The person I have the most admiration for at this table here tonight is Joan Cruthers who was stepped into the breach literally last night at ten o’clock. Her colleague from the PUP who was meant to come had a bit of a family crisis and couldn’t come and Joan volunteered. I was thinking about it on the way down and you know – Joan had only met me once and she had never met Sarah but it’s indicative of the work that the Northern Ireland Women’s Political Forum is doing that Joan felt quite comfortable – nobody told her about my driving by the way at this stage! – to come with women she didn’t know because she knew there would be a trust there and I think that actually speaks volumes.
Background to the Northern Ireland’s Women’s Political Forum. “We were founded in February of 1996 and it’s interesting how we were born. We were born the morning after Canary Wharf. A woman called Nina Warden from Joan’s party (PUP) telephoned me at home. She didn’t know me. She got my number from someone else as she knew I was active in the Workers’ Party and telephoned me to say “look, we as women cannot allow Canary Wharf to end all of this. I think it’s time we women took a hand. Can the women in your party and the women in my party meet?” So we met the following Tuesday night at the PUP’s headquarters on the Shankhill road in Belfast. About twenty of us got together and we decided, yes, we are going to work together. That was February and we were conscious that International Women’s day was coming up on the 8th of March. After talking for about three hours we decided we will do something jointly for International Women’s Day. We decided that as the talks were going on at Stormont and the parties were talking at Stormont we thought we might as well kill two birds with the one stone and we might as well make an assault on Stormont – the male bastion! We decided we would have an International Women’s Day event in Stormont. Baroness Denton heard about it and she asked if she could come along. The Alliance Party heard about it and said right, wonderful idea we’ll come along too. Also the Ulster Democratic Party who were involved in bi-laterals, and the Democratic Left and the SDLP, they all turned up on that day. It was nothing heavy on that day, we brought some wine and we brought some roses and we brought some bread and we even brought our children to Stormont. After having the nice time we decided there is the making of something here and we met every fortnight in Stormont in Castle buildings when the talks were going on.
Controversial issues: “We decided as women that we would perhaps tackle the controversial issues first to see how we got on with each other and we came up with a joint paper on policing and prisoners – probably the two most controversial issues at that time- and we were able to find common ground on all of those issues and we went on to develop papers on health, on transport and all of the other issues. I want to tell you because nobody else will tell you that even before the men got talking in Stormont we were there! We’ve had a number of events since that.
Sectarianism: “In September of that year we had a conference on sectarianism, probably one of the best conferences that any of us have ever been to because it was based on honesty, on people being able to have their say in the nicest possible manner. We prided ourselves from the word go that we would far rather have an uncomfortable honesty than a comfortable dishonesty and we’ve always been straight with each other and I think the women learnt early on into the game that they did not have to sacrifice any principle, any great political principle or any principle. All they were required to do was to come together.
“We have built up a trust and we have been going steadily since. We had a conference again in 1997 on sectarianism and we managed to get permission to use Hillsborough Castle, which was a first. The Meath Peace Group attended that conference and we were delighted to have them. I’ve always been particularly happy for the Meath Peace Group to allow us to share some of the work we’ve done. I don’t consider it us doing you a favour coming down to talk, I consider it you putting yourselves out on a limb for us to want to listen to us and to want to expose your tender young to us! Going into that secondary school [St. Joseph’s Navan] with all those young women! We’ve done an amazing amount of work. We go from strength to strength. We’ve even been known for helping each other out as women, writing speeches for each other, discussing with each other what should be said at party conferences etc. We have proved that people can come together in Northern Ireland, that different political parties can sit down and agree on common ground. Because the one thing we should all know about Northern Ireland, the one thing we should know about any country is, that there’s much more unites us than divides us. I’ll stop now and let someone else have a say. I’ll be happy to answer any of the questions anyone wants to put.”
2. Cllr. Sarah Duncan (Alliance Party): “… I’m a councillor in Castlereagh Borough Council. There are twenty-three councillors in Castlereagh. Eleven of them are in the Democratic Unionist Party, the two most prominent being Peter Robinson and his wife Iris Robinson. The rest of the council consists of four unionists, three of whom would have voted “no” to the Agreement and who vote along with DUP all the time. So the only effective opposition in the council is the four Alliance councillors and the two SDLP councillors and every vote for positions of power in Castlrereagh Council has been 17 to 6 – there’s no sharing. The DUP and all types of Unionists vote together and the four Alliance and the two SDLP vote together whether we say “yes” to the Agreement or whatever – the votes are always solidly 17:6. There’s no power sharing at all. It’s one of the most bigoted district councils in Northern Ireland I would think. I’ve only been there for a year and a half and it’s not easy. My role in politics is in very small politics and local politics, from campaigning against planning issues – every blade of grass being covered with housing – to too much traffic. The big issue, it being quite a middle-class area, believe it or not, is dog’s dirt. Every door I go to complains about dog’s dirt or traffic….
Women’s Political Forum: “I’ve been a member of the NI Women’s Political Forum, not since the beginning but since the time I went to the conference on Sectarianism which was held in the YMCA and then to the second conference in Hillsborough castle. I and the rest of the members of the Alliance party found it invaluable to hear what the women in other political groupings think, to hear what the Workers’ party or the PUP think and to find how much common ground we have. I think mostly because we’re women and we’re very sane and we don’t fight with each other. I often thought that men in our parties could really learn a lot because although they meet at Stormont, we meet together in the Shankhill Stress Centre at times, which was unknown territory to some, or the Workers’ Party headquarters on Grosvernor Road which would be sort of unknown territory to me, or in SDLP headquarters on the Ormeau Road or Alliance Party headquarters on University Street.
“So we’re going into each other’s territory as well as listening to what other people have got to say. I find it invaluable and so has everyone else. It’s brilliant the way we can all come together and get on with each other and listen to each other. We’ve got a lot in common. That’s a very important thing we have found out how much we do have in common. I’m not sure what else to say, I’m willing to answer questions. I myself am head of a nursery of fifty children in a very deprived area in Belfast called Woodstock Row, where children are brought up to be sectarian as soon as they can speak, sectarian statements come out of their mouths because of their backgrounds. When they get a little older most of them go to the Ian Paisley Sunday school and Ian Paisley’s church…
“So it’s not an easy school and it’s right across the peace line from Short Strand, just a stone throw from Short Strand and that’s what did happen in the Troubles. A lot of the fathers of the children that I teach would have been involved in the UDA and UVF. I did teach David Ervine’s son and David Ervine’s grandson in my school and I know his wife very well so I know a lot about the PUP really. Where I am councillor is a middle-class area but I know what life’s about on Woodstock Row. I’d be willing to answer questions on anything you want to know. Thank you very much for inviting me to come.”
Chairman: “Now as Lily said, Joan Cruthers has come down at the last minute to speak on behalf of the PUP. So I would like if you would give her a very warm welcome please.”
3. Joan Cruthers (PUP): “It’s nice to be here. My only time spent with the women’s forum was at Hillsborough and it was quite an experience – the conference on Sectarianism – as I had never actually sat down with anybody from a nationalist or republican background and debated with them or talked with them before. I heard their point of view and I listened and I had never heard it before. Never before in my life had I heard somebody from the Catholic community explain to me why they wouldn’t wear a poppy – I just didn’t understood why they wouldn’t wear a poppy and they didn’t understand why I didn’t want the Irish language taught in my school. All that has changed, it has completely and utterly changed my point of view. I now don’t mind if the Irish language gets taught in my school, why should it not? It made me realise my Irish identity because I had for so long fought the Irish identity. I didn’t realise that it was part of me and part of my life. Why should my children not be learnt Irish?
Progressive Unionist Party: “Big issues like that come up all the time within the PUP because we do quite a lot of cross-community work. Believe it or not – one third of our party is made up of women. Unfortunately we don’t all participate as much as we would like but we’re trying to address that, we’re trying to change things. But the ones who do, go regularly across to West Belfast, Catholics from West Belfast regularly come over to us and we sit down and we talk things out. Now we may not always agree but we have a common knowledge that we want to live together – we do live together, every day in our lives. That’s really just where we’re coming from within the Women’s Commission. We have a Women’s Commission in the PUP and they are presently now undertaking training on domestic violence, addiction, child protection – all trying to address things we have to deal with every day, not just who’s going to fight at the end of our street. I actually have the privilege of working in a place called Tiger’s Bay. It’s right on the peace line in North Belfast. I do say it’s a privilege to work with the children because I have a chance to influence them, to stop them rioting, to explain the other side’s point of view and believe it or not, it works. That’s what I do in the Progressive Unionists party.
“I’m just sorry I don’t take so much of a role in the Northern Ireland’s Women’s Political Forum but the last couple of years have been very busy up in Stormont so I haven’t had really much to do with it but things are going to change. We’re really starting to recruit. ..That one conference was definitely a stepping stone for me in politics. Just sitting down with people I have never met in my life, listening to their point of view, giving my point of view and hoping they can come to an understanding and if anybody knows the PUP’s record over the last number of years, you can see that it’s actually working. So any questions, just ask away and I’ll try to answer them as best I can.”
[Editor’s note: Patricia Lewsley’s contribution follows the first section of Questions and Comments below]
CHAIR (John Clancy): “It’s interesting the kind of thoughts that are coming up – “uncomfortable honesty” and “comfortable dishonesty”. I think that is a very succinct way of summing up the kind of discussions that may be taking place and should be taking place which is that uncomfortable honesty where you challenge. Joan touched on that – by being honest and straightforward you actually learn a lot more and see issues that aren’t issues any more. Cllr. Sarah Duncan talked about small politics, but small politics are actually big politics when you come to it. Working in a council that is so divided, so weighted in one direction but still working away. It’s the courage of Lily and Sarah and Joan and many, many other women who are maybe building a new reality within the island of Ireland. I won’t go on any longer. If there are questions and dialogue let’s have it.”
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS/1
Q1: [Irish identity]: “I would just like to take a point up on what Joan said. She said she now feels that she has no objection to Irish being taught and that as well as having an English identity she also has an Irish identity. I think this is a very positive thing and I think it shows all is well with the future and I’d just like to cast you back to Brian Keenan, the erstwhile hostage and he struck me as a person who, when it wasn’t fashionable, realised that as well as having a British identity he had an Irish identity as well. And I’d just like to refer back to three gentlemen we had at the last talk from the Orange Order and conversely as Joan can see that there’s merits in exploring her Irish identity. I also would like to say as someone from the Northern Catholic community originally, I feel that the loyalist community has nothing to be ashamed of. It’s unique in Ireland, it’s unique in the British Isles or as some people like to refer to them as “these Isles” and it’s unique in Europe and I think they’re entitled to pursue that culture and I sort of feel that perhaps the people of Garvaghy Road don’t understand this. … If the two cultures could try and accept each other and learn about each other but I was very, very pleased to hear you say what you said. I think you’re on the right track.”
Lily Kerr: “I’d just like to follow up on from that point. What Joan has said, it’s not done to throw down a challenge to the nationalist people in Northern Ireland but if Joan can say “I accept that this is part of my history”, it also makes the rest of us believe that we live on that part of the island and part of the culture that you’ve talked about and part of the British culture is part of our shared culture too. We have to eventually accept and stop being ashamed that there’s a bit of Britishness in us as well for want of a better word. We do have a shared culture. ..”
Questioner: “Yes we do have a bit of Britishness that perhaps the population of the 26 counties do not have. The Northern Catholic population has that – whether they accept it or even admit it is another thing, but it is there certainly.”
Lily Kerr: “Particularly when it comes to Orange culture, I mean the Apprentice Boys of Derry is as much part of my history and should be as much part of my history as it is for the Unionist / Protestant / Loyalist population of Derry. We have a shared history.
Questioner: “I’m not being facetious but I mean they are great bands-men, they do march terribly well and they’ve lovely uniforms. Could we not get them as part of a folk culture? I’ve said enough!”
Cllr. Sarah Duncan: “You’re saying you’d like to have them as folk culture, the Orangemen?
Questioner: “No, I don’t mean it that way. If the catholic population could accept them as less threatening. I don’t mean it in a derogatory way. As I did point out they are a unique culture.”
Cllr. Sarah Duncan: “They are unique. I live very near Shaw’s Bridge where the Orangemen march to, every year on the Twelfth of July and it is a great spectacle all the banners and the uniforms, but I find it quite sinister to watch the Orangemen. Some of them are very sincere but there are lots of hangers on carrying beer cans, very threatening, people who are not part of the procession who are actually frightening on the 12th of July, frightening to both sides. Could I say that the Alliance Party is perceived by some people as a Unionist party and by some members of the Alliance Party not a Unionist party. I come myself from a very strange background in that this is 1998 and I’m very proud of 1798 as my father was a Presbyterian and I know all about Henry Joy McCracken and everybody else to do with the United Irishmen who were Presbyterians and I’m very proud of the part the Presbyterians played in attempting at that stage to have a United Ireland. The other half of my background is very unusual in that my mother was Jewish and so that I’m a complete outsider as I’ve never met anyone in my life who was half-Jewish and half-Presbyterian.
“So I’ve never felt that I belonged anywhere, and still don’t and possibly that’s why I joined the Alliance Party! When I was a child I lived in a street .. in a totally Protestant area and I was excluded in that street and my best friend who was a Catholic was also excluded and we came to be outsiders, because we didn’t fit in. Neither of us were perceived to be Protestants so from a very early age I experienced sectarianism. When lots of other people would have thought that it wasn’t around in Northern Ireland I experienced anti-Jewishness from a low age at school. As people don’t realise I am half-Jewish they don’t realise why I am withering up and dying when people make anti-Jewish remarks in my presence. So I’ve always felt for both sides in the conflict although but didn’t feel part of it at all and would be outraged at any sectarian remark about Catholics or about Protestants but wouldn’t really feel that I belonged to either of them as I don’t go to Church and brought my children up not going to church and called them “Catherine” and “John” so that no-one could figure out what religion they were, being as our surname is Duncan and can’t be identified. So we’re accepted wherever we go as being whatever people want to think we are. But I think it’s a very sad indictment that I had to call them John and Catherine because they’re of the age; one’s thirty and the other’s twenty-eight and they were born when things were really bad in Northern Ireland – when you had to think of things like the importance of names and surnames. That’s a bit of a divergence now on what was being said but it’s just what I wanted to say to you.”
Q2. [Women in politics]: “Lily spoke about the lovely image of the bread and roses in Stormont, and with all the talk about the 50/50 in Scotland and the Scottish Parliament and the campaign there to have 50/50 representation within the parliament, of women. I’m just wondering about the Women’s Political Forum – presumably you are looking for some sort of an outcome in Northern Ireland so that you will have representation of women. It would be nice to see the 50/50 carried through because if it’s acceptable in Scotland, I think it’s very acceptable in Northern Ireland as well. But what exactly is happening?”
Lily Kerr: “I really agree wholeheartedly and once they have got over the shock we will become a dangerous group of women because we will start to challenge the establishment. That’s one of the reasons we were together because of a mutual understanding, but we are all political women and we know the barriers in society and those barriers we are talking about breaking down and overcoming aren’t just the perceived religious barriers. They are the barriers that are there against women, they are the barriers that are in the South, they are the barriers in the North and they are the barriers that are global.
“There is an issue about gender and we hope to support each other and that’s what our constitution is, to give expression to those issues which affect women and challenge society on them and to increase women in political life and to ensure when we talk to each other, for example my party has a 40% quota for our NEC we expect when we run candidates that 40% will be women. You share these experiences with people from other parties and I know that the PUP has similar things. So we’re learning from each other, we’re encouraging each other and we’re supporting each other so I would anticipate that things will change. I know there’s not that many women in the Northern Ireland assembly but if you look at the British Parliament and indeed if you look at Dail Eireann, there’s not that many women there either. Women not being in Stormont isn’t a symptom of the so-called “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, it’s a symptom of the problem with society that still by and large will not accept that women have an equal role to play, albeit that we do happen to be 51% of the voting population. I think things will change and things should change.”
Questioner: “In terms of the Civic Forum, is that part of the Agreement and what’s happening with that now?”
Lily Kerr: “Yes, it has not been decided yet but there are a number of groups including ourselves and community groups as well and even some of the Church organisations are saying that it should reflect society. So I’m hoping that a Civic Forum will reflect that and that there will be a proper gender balance. Now we get a problem when it comes to try and balance rights. In Northern Ireland they look at how many Protestants they can get on it and how many Catholics, and you know what they’ll do with the gender balance – if they can sort out the gender balance and the religious balance at the one time you’ll probably find if they can find a Catholic woman or a Protestant woman they’ll say they’re killing two birds with the one stone and we ain’t about to let that happen. We are not about to let that happen…”
[Editor’s note: Patricia Lewsley, SDLP Assembly Member arrived at this point]
CHAIR: “We’ll just continue with this discussion and then maybe we’ll ask Patricia to talk …. I think we have another question from the hall.”
Q3:Kitty Harlin, ICA: “My name is Kitty Harlin. I’m from the Irish Country Women’s Association. Rosemary [Wallace, also present] is President and I was a former national president. We had a lot of communication down through the years with the Women’s Institute in Northern Ireland so we know them very well and we have an awful lot in common with them. My own guild where I attend the meetings regularly, for the past seven years we’ve had exchanges with a coach load of women, possibly 50, from the Knocka area from Antrim and other parts of Northern Ireland to our own area here in county Meath and every second year we go up and meet their people and are taken to all the places.
“We’ve met Lord Mayors and whatever, likewise here they have met our politicians and we have had them overnight very recently, a coach load stayed with us. We had a lovely day and night with them. So we have always had women’s discussions of all descriptions. We keep away from politics because both our organisations are non-party political so we do not discuss politics, apart from the fact when things happen like Omagh, our hearts went out to them and we told them so and we cried for them. I know many of our women who met them recently had actually cried and cried when they watched the television. We felt – I wonder were any of them involved and surely their relations were involved. We were communicating all of the time and we built up a great relationship so therefore I was wondering do any of you have any communication with the Women’s Institute of Northern Ireland and how do they fit in or do they fit in at all and do they have any part in the process? Also listening to the speakers tonight it was wonderful to hear their attitudes and to hear what they have to say. I can’t help but feel that it will take time but with the attitudes that they have they’re bound to pass this on to the future generations and it just brings to mind a sort of an idea that where the seed of peace begins in the peaceful heart of everyone and I think that is what you are doing, it has to take root, it has to pass on and it has to be a success. “
Lily Kerr: “They don’t have any formal connection or even informal connection but I can tell you when we had an International Women’s Day event in the Wellington Park Hotel in 1997. We had an exhibition of millworkers photographs and the Women’s Institute were having a function in the same hotel. Some of them did wander in and some of them stayed and felt that what they saw going on was quite worthwhile. I think they probably still take the attitude that they should shy away from party-politics. Now while I accept that people may not want to be party-political, politics actually affects us from when we get up in the morning to when we go to bed at night and we can’t ignore it.
Q4: “Just talking to Sarah there for a minute when she came in and the way they all came together in the one car. I never heard of men all coming together and I suppose my memory goes back to when we were just getting ready for the Good Friday Agreement where some of the women came out [of the Talks] and they were talking about coming from different camps and they seem to be relating that exactly…”
Joan Cruthers: “It’s building up a trust. I mean you were there two years so obviously you just didn’t sit around the table, you got to know all the participants, you got to know their natures, you got to know if they were approachable or not approachable; well I’ll not tell you the ones I didn’t want to go up to sometimes! That’s really how you work it out. You build up friendships with people from the other side of the community. Debate really helped. You got to like these people whatever their beliefs.
“You got to like them as actual people. You got to respect them and they respected us back. It worked.”
Q5: “You mentioned small politics and big politics. I have a feeling, correct me if I’m wrong, that all politics in Northern Ireland and the years before have been conducted at the level of small politics and that it is only now that Northern Ireland is getting used to big politics. … Am I right or wrong?”
Cllr. Sarah Duncan: “Until 1972 we did have our own parliament so that was big politics from the 20’s until the 70’s, but it was what politicians did with the big politics that we have to take a good hard look at. The politics were completely sectarian between the 20’s and the 70’s so that now we have a chance to have non-sectarian, big politics up at Stormont and I hope it works “
Lily Kerr: “I think what you have confused is that in the past we had the democratic deficit where there was actually no political institution in Northern Ireland and it’s going to be interesting to see when the Assembly beds down and settles down, we tackle the political issues that exercise our minds. Because believe you me no matter what side of the so-called divide you came from in Northern Ireland, when I woke up in the mornings my first thought was not “will the border fall today?”, we wondered about all the things other people worry about – health, education, have I got enough money, unemployment all of those things, and the politicians in Northern Ireland are going to have to address those all very soon. I mean it’s always been very easy to oppose everything because it was always someone else making the decisions. Now they’re going to have to take those decisions. It’s going to be interesting to see how it pans out and Patricia’s probably better placed to talk about that than any of us as she is going to be one of those decision makers.”
4. Patricia Lewsley (SDLP Assembly Member): “First of all I’d like to thank you very much for inviting me here tonight to speak and I have to apologise for being late but unfortunately I got lost and was driving in circles for about an hour. So I am glad I’m here now, the other issue is I’m not quite sure what you want me to say but what I’ll do is I’ll just give you a quick background of where I come from and where I am today. I joined my party, the SDLP, about 14 years ago because I believed they were the politics for me and I believed in their policies. I would have voted SDLP from when I was able to vote at 18. I lived in what we would term a mixed area, which is Catholics and Protestants living together in a working class part of South Belfast. As I said about 14 years ago I got involved with the party and up until about five years ago I wasn’t really motivated to do much except be a member. Five years ago I was elected onto Belfast city council for four years and I realised how little women were involved in politics and yet it was one of the areas where we had no power and there was still decisions being made for people on the ground and women didn’t have an input in that.
“Also I had to realise the reason why women didn’t get involved in politics over the last 28/30 years because of the Troubles and because many of them were the home-makers and the women who kept the body and soul together. Right through the whole Troubles they were the mothers of the sons and daughters who were either imprisoned or killed and the wives of the husbands who were either imprisoned or killed. I find that women now wish to be able to have part and ownership of what their future is about and obviously that happened in the referendum in May of this year.
Women in the Assembly: “I went on to stand in the elections in June and was elected. I am one of 14 women out of 108 in the Assembly, which isn’t good but it’s better than what we had hoped for. We had hoped for 8 and we actually got 14 women. That’s made up of three SDLP, five Sinn Fein, one DUP, two UUP’s, two Women’s Coalition and one Alliance. We’ve come together as a group informally in the Assembly to support each other and also to talk about our commonalities that we have.
Women’s Political Forum: “I got involved in the Forum about 18 months or 2 years ago. I felt it was important at that time that women across all the parties should get together because as the leader of my party would say “we have more in common than we have to divide us as people” and we found that we did have and we found that the biggest learning process for us was about respect for each other and being able to take on board the differences without causing any kind of division or bitterness between us. Also an awful lot of understanding, especially for many of us who tried to understand what the marching season was all about and what it meant to other people.
“I think the two conferences that we’ve had on sectarianism have been again another learning process for us from the point of view of where we would have invited people from the community and who couldn’t believe that even four of us here tonight from different political backgrounds and perspectives could sit down at the one table and talk civilly to each other. That was the biggest thing to come out of any of the conferences that I’ve been to.
“I’m now as I said part of the Assembly and I feel that now it’s time that the grass-roots issues will be addressed and that we won’t be talking permanently about constitutions and all those kinds of things. I do believe that many of the people in the Assembly don’t realise the responsibility they’ve taken on and the hard line decisions that we’re going to have to make but here’s hoping that it’s going to work and I believe that it will work and it’s the only thing we have to look forward to in the future, especially for our young people.”
Chair (John Clancy): “If I may I’d like to put this question to Patricia as an Assembly member – as to how she sees things panning out in the Assembly over the next week or two with the stand-off between the Unionists and Sinn Fein in connection with decommissioning. I think some of us would be very grateful for a view and possibly an insider’s view on that.
Patricia Lewsley: “Well I do know that over the past couple of weeks I’ve been at gatherings like this, particularly women’s organisations that I’ve been to. I was in one centre … on Friday and women were saying “we voted “yes” in the referendum, we voted for these people to be elected into power, why can’t they just get on with it?” The problem is that the situation as you understand is still very fragile at this stage. I believe that the impasse will be got over. Don’t ask me how because if I knew how it would have been sorted out weeks ago! I do think that the will of the people and the voice of the people is being heard and I do believe that we will get over it. You see the people are saying “but the deadline was the 31st of October”, but it wasn’t a deadline, it was a target date. It’s the first target date that we haven’t kept to. [tape ends here]
Q6: Do you believe there will be decommissioning?
Patricia Lewsley: “I think there will be decommissioning but I don’t think that decommissioning should be a precondition. The problem is when that will come within the two years. But it’s in the Agreement, it’s written into the Agreement that it has to happen but whether it will happen tomorrow, next week or six months down the line, I think that it will happen. We see the LVF where they’re talking about decommissioning and the whole issue and I think this is where the General [de Chastelain] comes in and I think that this is his job and I think that he might have to bring out a report of some sort..
CHAIR: “Would anyone else care to comment on the decommissioning issue, Sarah would you have a view on that?”
Cllr. Sarah Duncan: “I have a gut feeling that there won’t be any decommissioning soon, not until the executive has been set up and the North/South bodies. Then when people see that that has happened and Sinn Fein have positions in the executive, then I think there will be decommissioning. The Alliance party feels as it says in the Good Friday Agreement that decommissioning is not linked to executive powers being set up. There is not one word in the Good Friday Agreement saying that, just that all Parties work towards decommissioning within the 2-year period. But nothing in the Good Friday Agreement says that the IRA, the UVF etc. must decommission before the executive is set up. I think it’s wrong to link the two things as the DUP and Unionists are doing at the moment. Of course I do see Unionist and DUP fears. I would be concerned by the fragmentation of the Unionist party, if the Unionists decided to get rid of Trimble and hard-liners took over, then I think the whole thing would fall apart.
“I can’t see the DUP sitting down and working with Sinn Fein. The whole thing is fraught with difficulties but certainly my party doesn’t link decommissioning with setting up the executive and doesn’t link letting out of prisoners with that either but I’m sure Joan would have something different to say.”
Joan Cruthers: “I would actually agree with Sarah on most of those issues and we do believe that decommissioning will happen but I don’t believe it’s going to happen right away. It’s going to take time to build up trust before there is going to be any arms handed over. It is the PUP’s policy to get rid of all illegal weapons from Northern Ireland and we hope to see it done. At the present we feel it’s far more important to make sure them weapons aren’t lifted up and used. …”
Lily Kerr: “Just before I deal with the decommissioning issue – I would share Patricia’s optimism that things aren’t going to fall apart up at the Assembly. We’re dealing with good old Northern Irish politics and we like a crisis every other week, we like our “Mexican stand-offs”. Someone will have to wean us off them. So in my view most of the parties that are up there even those like the DUP and the UK Unionists who say that this Agreement was terrible and everyone has been sold out are quite comfortable. Any time I go up to Stormont they all seem quite happy and have fitted in quite nicely so I don’t that there is going to be this big fall like Humpty Dumpty!
“The issue of decommissioning, while it’s not a prerequisite, while there are no organic links in the Agreement [between the executive and decommissioning] I think we would have to be honest and say there is an expectation on the part of the Irish people that guns will come out of politics. There is a genuine expectation. There is an expectation from people on both sides of the border who voted for the Agreement in the Referendum that the gun would be taken out of Irish politics once and for all. … There’s a lot of talk going on about how the paramilitaries are going to have to learn to trust each other before guns are handed over. There are over a million people who don’t have guns who can’t seem to be able to trust without guns being taken out of Irish politics, so in a sense it’s a chicken and an egg situation and we have to in all fairness look at David Trimble and the position he’s in. I mean he cannot at this moment in time set up the executive without some word or deed…. It has not been helped by statements saying the IRA will never decommission because they see it as surrender and I’d like not to dwell on it …but I was listening to “Talkback” the other day and I heard Eugene McEldowney from the Times talking and he said he had spoken to one senior republican who said “the arms are not ours to give over because we need to keep them for a future generation”. I wanted to stop the car and be sick because I thought my God what kind of a statement is that? Why would we want to hand on a legacy of weapons, a legacy of instruments to kill to anyone?
“The sooner the gun is out of politics the better. If we’re going to have a crisis – and people have said this to me on the street – I would much prefer it now than two years down the road when everything’s in place and there’s no decommissioning. Because whether we like it or not the Agreement says decommissioning within two years. We’re already nearly a year into that two year time span. So I think it’s not helpful. It can all be very easy to point fingers at the Unionists and say they are the people that’s holding this up. When we’re pointing fingers we’d better have plenty of them to point all around the place and apportion blame in that way. “
Q7: [Phil Cantwell, Ind. Councillor, Trim]: “I agree with Lily there. I had the opportunity to go into the House of Commons during the summer and watching the body language of David Trimble there’s no doubt about it, in my opinion it’s a testing ground for David Trimble… I think he’s very, very exposed … and certainly I believe that Trimble sees that this is his testing ground and he feels that the sharks are going to get him and that it’s more to do with that than decommissioning for the sake of decommissioning so I think I would be very fearful of that.
“Can I ask the women would they see the handing up of semtex or arms as a sign of surrender because that’s the big thing from the republican side down here…..The idea of handing up one bullet … The final thing I wanted to say to you is that in politics I have to say it’s great to see women because they have a much more practical approach. I see every night of the week in politics what goes on amongst men and it’s appalling. It took Mary McAleese to go out to Belgium recently and we felt so proud.”
Lily Kerr: “I think the important thing you’ve said is would we see the handing over of weapons as surrender. Absolutely not! There’s no room in politics for this old notion that if one gives something it has to be an absolute surrender. It’s time we got rid of that type of thinking. We would see it as a victory for common-sense, as a victory for decency but in the nicest possible way there’s absolutely no talk about surrender nor do I think it fair for the people who are asking for decommissioning seeing it in terms of surrender. This business of surrender to be perfectly honest, seems to be in the mind of some hard-liners amongst those groupings who are holding on to guns at the moment. The ordinary people on the streets do not see it as surrender.”
Cllr. Phil Cantwell: “Again, this has been put to me by republicans and various other people – there is no inventory of what arms are there….. What’s the issue, is it more important to keep talking rather than trying to hand up a few weapons which could bring down the talks?”
Lily Kerr: “I think the issue has to be, and I say this as a negotiator and one who makes my living negotiating. … Whether we like it or not or whether the republican movement likes it or not it is a part of the Good Friday Agreement that decommissioning will happen within two years. Now I agree with them when they say that the unionists can’t rewrite certain aspects of the Agreement. They can’t rewrite certain aspects of the Agreement either. I take the point, there is no inventory and you can nearly turn that argument back on them and say well why all the hassle about giving over something – you can hold something back if you want. It is more of a symbolic gesture. It is a gesture that people are waiting long to see – for once in Ireland we’re going to have politics in the normal way that we expect it to be without being done through the barrel of a gun. You mentioned semtex. Some of the arguments being used is that we need the guns for defensive purposes. I’ll never accept that but if I accept that twisted logic, how can semtex be considered as a defensive weapon? The people in Omagh would disagree with that.”
Patricia Lewsley: “I have to say that I look at it slightly differently from Lily in a way because I don’t see it as a surrender or a victory. I see it as part of the process. It’s been written into the Good Friday Agreement that decommissioning will happen in two years so therefore they signed up to the process so therefore they have to give it. I’ve said to Unionists you know we’re not being naive when we say we don’t know how much is out there so how will we ever know whether it’s fully decommissioned? Let’s be honest they could decommission today and recommision tomorrow. They will say to me but it’s the token gesture, it’s the confidence-building measure that people are assuming they’re serious about the whole process and if that’s all it takes is a wee bit of something to give from one side to the other, I don’t see it as a surrender or a victory for one side for either. I see it as a future for our younger generation. When you talk about women, there is only 14 of us out of 108 so it’s a start. The difference in women and men is that women don’t want to compete with each other, they want to co-operate because they can see the good of working together for everybody not for one side more than the other but for everybody. That’s why we need more women than men.”
Joan Cruthers: “I would agree. I wouldn’t look on it as a surrender. We want to see the arms taken out. It’s just a matter of time.”
Q8: “Just about decommissioning would it not be more important for semtex to be got rid of rather than the weapons?”
Patricia Lewsley: “Well it probably would be but I think at this stage anything handed in would be seen as some kind of a gesture. I mean we can’t say well if we’re talking about decommissioning we’ll just have the semtex, forget about the guns.
Questioner: “In terms of damage done recently, such as blowing up town centres or whatever the semtex has done more damage.”
Lily Kerr: “Could I come back on that and make the point that all weapons potentially do damage. There are a number of people, over 3,000 dead in Northern Ireland. They weren’t all killed by bombs, some of them were killed with guns. Young men and young women with their knees blown off don’t have them blown off with semtex. But I would take your point – if it’s about making a gesture in the first instance and I go back to the point that I made to Phil – if I use their weird logic that we need these weapons to defend themselves then they should make a gesture with semtex… But I don’t think we can give anyone the luxury of saying there are certain arms that are instruments of death that we find less offensive so you can hang on to them. The whole kit and kaboodle should go if and when.”
Questioner: “Because they are illegal weapons I agree. There are guns that are held legally too.”
Q9: “That’s a very good point. Is it not that the IRA are the ones that are not decommissioning. I think that if they did the others would decommission too. I think they’re trying to bargain away illegally held guns. … Is it not connected to the Patten Commission and that they want the RUC disarmed as a bargain for decommissioning and I think that’s the fundamental problem that’s stopping it. What do you think of that?”
Patricia Lewsley: “The problem for me is decommissioning. At the end of the day we can get into the detail of it, we can get into the nitty gritty of it and we can go around in circles for the next six months and you’re still not going to be any further down the road. The bottom line is that decommissioning is part of the process in the Good Friday Agreement and until we get to the end of the two years nobody’s going to know how much is ever going to be decommissioned. I’m just sorry that everywhere I go this is the topic because there’s more to it than decommissioning. The biggest priority for the 108 people that are in the Assembly at this given moment is that as long as they’re talking, as long as they’re negotiating, as long as they’re even arguing, there is fewer people being killed on the streets.”
Lily Kerr: “I think that’s a very valid point but while there’s talk of decommissioning – I think we can very easily lose the point that if Trimble is backed into a corner. It’s not about Trimble and his own personal decision. If we don’t have the Ulster Unionists in the Assembly, we don’t have an Assembly. We can forget any notions that we can operate without the Ulster Unionist party – we can’t. We need them there and we need the likes of Trimble who has shown courage .. and sometimes even going against his own people. We need to recognise that and we need to give him the bit of space.
“I take the point Patricia made. There’s no deadlines being broken and all this talk about deadlines being broken and we have to review the Agreement and review the implementation etc. etc. is just about hyping up the issue. There has been one target date missed as Patricia said. There’ll be other target dates missed and the sky won’t fall in!”
Chair: “Could we just move the dialogue on at this stage and ask the question: In the discussion about the portfolios, in relation to the ministries that will be, have they been agreed at this stage?”
Patricia Lewsley: “No. We haven’t even agreed on the number. The maximum number we can have is ten. At present there are six departments. There’s talk of the DUP splitting into two so there could be seven departments. We as a party would be going for ten and that’s the maximum we can have and it still hasn’t been sorted.”
Chair: “What apportionment would the ten give to the parties?”
Patricia Lewsley: “It goes on the D’Hondt system. For anybody who doesn’t know what the D’Hondt system is – it starts with the largest party and then works its way down. It would work out like this – if we had ten departments there would be three ministers for the UUP, three ministers for the SDLP, two ministers for the DUP and two for Sinn Fein. There would be none for the smaller parties.”
Chair: “There is in fact another scenario of the six portfolios only, which would mean that Sinn Fein, as I would understand it and the DUP… wouldthey get one each is it or what would the apportionment be?”
Patricia Lewsley: “They would get one each and the bigger parties would get two each.”
Chairman: “Is that linked to the decommissioning debate in any way?”
Patricia: “I don’t think so. At the end of the day it’s irrelevant whether there is two Sinn Fein or one Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein would still be at the table.”
Lily Kerr: “There seems to be talk that it’s linked to expenditure and all these arguments going on. Let’s be honest about it, the more ministries you create the more money it takes to run them and the Unionists seem to be saying at the minute that six is sufficient and I take Patricia’s point that it is not another engineered effort of keeping Sinn Fein out. They’re in there whether there’s one of them or two of them. It’s nice if we want to be really optimistic about this, and I know my good friend Patricia will take this the right way, there is a bit of normality about it – they’re already fighting over the spoils.
Q10: “When the country voted in favour of this why do we have to have obstacles like decommissioning? After all the people said to go ahead with the Assembly. Could we not bypass that and sort of accept the fact that we have to go ahead with legislation and get on with the talking?”
Lily Kerr: “There is one slight flaw in that the Ulster Unionists and other parties are saying that we’re not going to bypass that and part of the problem is that we’ve one group of people who are paying a lot of attention to it and another group who are pretending that the decommissioning issue does not exist. It’s hard to re-square those circles but I think they will be squared. I seriously do think they will be squared. Remember what I told you earlier on about good old Northern Irish politics; we like to go toe to toe. The problem is – just watch our history – the more we pin ourselves into a corner, the bigger capacity we have for getting out again. There’s 108 Houdinis up in Stormont !”
Q11 [Julitta Clancy]: “Will we always have to be running to the Americans?
Lily Kerr: “I would hope not.”
Patricia Lewsley: “I don’t think we really run to the Americans. I think if we underestimated the type of help or assistance that President Clinton gave to Northern Ireland we would be very unfair. Even the Southern government with Bertie Ahern and the previous Taoiseach, I think the whole point was that everybody… and I mean Northern Ireland’s on the map around the world, it’s not just kept to itself and everybody wants to see peace there and everybody wants to see a future for the younger generation and I think that if anybody from outside can help in any way we shouldn’t stop them.”
[Member of audience]: “Seamus Mallon said a day or two ago that the time with one side looking over their shoulder to the South of Ireland and the other side looking over their shoulder to the British was over… They should look to each other and that is the answer. First and foremost.”
Julitta Clancy: “Can I just clarify what I meant? … I value very much what the Americans have done for us particularly what George Mitchell did but I’m saying that we now have an Agreement. How on earth are we going to work things out on this island together if parties are forever calling in the US? I’m just wondering that if a crisis arises, are we always going to run to the Americans.. and I sense that President Clinton is also saying this to us that “you can’t go running to us”. We’ve got to sort this out ourselves and talk it out and the difficulty is, I feel myself as a person who signed up to that Agreement and campaigned for it that our views are being ignored by a lot of people. When I signed up to it I remember saying to people that decommissioning would be part of it and to me it was never a red herring because it was coming up all the time.. It isn’t surrender, it’s just taking the normal route that you have to take in democratic politics to get rid of those weapons and it’s part of the Agreement. I can’t see how that executive can ever work if this hurdle isn’t got over now. “
Patricia Lewsley: “Well I think that part of the problem always is that when you’re starting something, especially something as fragile like this as a peace process, and there was so much that really went into the Agreement that there were probably details that were missed, maybe one of these details was a start date rather than a finish date for decommissioning. Again it’s all part of the process of how we get through it and I agree with you and obviously with what Seamus Mallon says that at the end of the day that we have to sort this out ourselves, nobody else. I don’t believe that the people outside are actually sorting it our for us, they’re giving us a helping hand. They’re not coming in saying you have to do this and you have to do that. But they are there as a means of support of some kind. It will only be the people in Northern Ireland who can sort it out, nobody else. With regards to decommissioning there are details and there will probably be something else further down the road that a detail has been missed on and it depends on how it’s got through to get us through for the future.”
Q. 13: [Re the role of the Women’s Forum in helping to promote possibly the various formations of the entities within the Assembly including the North/South bodies]. “Do you see the Forum as having a role in that regard?”
Lily Kerr: “We actually are unique in the Forum .. we created a bit of history by the way and the media did not pick it up, the media ignored us. We as a Women’s Political Forum had a joint press conference and a joint canvass on the “Yes” campaign. We called for a “Yes” on all of the issues within the Good Friday Agreement, the North/South borders etc. because we know with working with groups like the Meath Peace Group, with working with the Women’s Political Association in the South we learnt that there are non-threatening ways of working with each other. There’s good sensible ways as well in the North/South bodies. I don’t believe by the way that the North/South bodies are a really big bugbear to many people, other than the Jeffrey Donaldsons and the Bob McCartneys and Ian Paisleys. If there wasn’t that to give out about it would be something else they’d be complaining about. Once they start complaining you know you’re on the right track, you know you’re going the right way.”
Patricia Lewsley: “I would see the Women’s Political Forum as one route to including everybody and the North/South bodies are as important to us in the North as they are to the Women’s Political Association or anybody else in the South. I personally believe that part of the remit of the Women’s Political Forum is to educate and inform women of the whole political arena and of the whole political agenda as much as possible. I know we as a party particularly in March of next year are having a joint conference with our sister parties, the British Labour Party and the Irish Labour Party. The topic of that conference will be the Council of the Isles, the North/South bodies, the European dimension and young women within the parties and what impact that will have on women and how women can input into those bodies so that they can be part of the decision making and so it is a topic for everybody. As I said the North/South bodies are as important to us as to the south, women or otherwise. I can only go back to saying about the lack of women within politics and mainstream politics particularly and the reasons for that over the years. I mean it wasn’t very safe or sexy to be in politics five or six years ago when I joined first, I can assure you. “
Q14: “This question is particularly to Sarah as coming from Castlereagh and the population of Castlereagh is about 5% Catholic; in terms of that figure, as a woman and as a mother possibly – I’m not too sure of her status – how does she see the future and the integration of the children in that area into a truly inclusive society that will actually go forward and without the prejudice which she feels are already in groups of children as young as pre-school children. It’s very difficult within an area like that and I know there’s very little cross community education in that area as well. Is there anything happening in that area?
Cllr. Sarah Duncan: “It’s actually 10% Catholic, believe it or not and 90% of the other, well I would say 70% of the other persuasion, there must be 20% like myself of no particular persuasion. There is a lot of cross community work. All primary schools do Education for Mutual Understanding [EMU] – each primary school within Castlereagh would be linked, not necessarily with another Castlereagh primary school but in other words state primary schools are linked with Catholic primary schools. Under EMU and community relations in schools they meet from about P4 or P5 upwards. All schools do, my school does. They would meet children from other schools, they would visit other schools, they would go to the zoo together and they would go on outings together. Not particularly in Castlereagh now but in the school which I teach they would have been linked in with programmes where they went… one Catholic child went to America with families. There’s a lot of work done in primary schools and in secondary schools with understanding people from different persuasions.
“Also in Castlereagh there’s an integrated school called Lagan College. I was at it last Wednesday with another member of my Party and it’s 50:50 obviously and the staff are 50:50. It’s growing all the time and there’s a primary school linked with it as well which is expanding all the time. It keeps having to get more and more mobile classrooms so I think that that’s a very healthy state of things. All the schools within the Castlereagh area would link up with other schools. There would be a lot of mixing among children and being where I actually live, and the area that I represent is a very middle-class to upper middle-class area and so the housing is mixed and people get on very well, being where it is. There are other areas of Castlereagh … which would be totally not-mixed housing estates. There’s a large housing estate near where I live which would have perhaps 20% Catholics in it, 80% Protestant but a lot of other housing estates would be completely Protestant and always would have been, a safety point of view I expect. Even Castlereagh Council is not that sectarian in it’s own way. When our mayor switches on the lights in each of the four electrical areas of Castlereagh, there will be children from State schools and children from Catholic schools singing carols together. I think there’s a lot of hope … the actual residents of Castlereagh are not any more sectarian than any where else in Northern Ireland, but it’s not easy within Castlereagh Council if you’re in a non-sectarian party as I am and being opposition, it’s not easy to survive the sarcasm… I’ve had to learn too keep my mouth shut and to look at Peter Robinson as a woman and – this is my feminine psychology on him – and I found it worked, only don’t tell him that!”
Q15. [Paschal Kearney, Ardbraccan]: “Just talking about the media and how the media’s role in all of this is so crucial and yet Lily you said that some time ago you had a very important meeting of the Forum, a press conference which they didn’t turn up to. I think because Ian Paisley was down at the City Hall. How do you deal with it? How do you deal with the media?”
Lily: “On that particular occasion I was down here on that day and I came in to talk to those poor students of yours [in Navan] and I was white with rage – the whole way from Belfast to here… Patricia and company in my absence picketed the BBC and UTV and we got press coverage on the picket – we got press coverage for the negative thing we did and did not get press coverage for creating that bit of history. We have a problem dealing with the media because by and large they marginalise us, they ignore us. If they’re carrying anthing to do with women in politics they will usually carry it with the Women’s Coalition and leave it at that. They ignore by and large all of the good work we do so it is extremely, extremely difficult. But we’re not going to be beat by it.”
Patricia Lewsley: “Just to agree with what Lily has said. On that day we decided that enough was enough and we had to make a stand and we stood outside UTV and they sent out one of the women out, they didn’t send one of the men out, and we gave a letter of complaint in. I got a phone-call back as I was the Press officer for the Forum and he told me if I wanted a profile to start my own party first and that was the gist of it. The seven women who were on that table that morning weren’t just ordinary members of parties, they were quite high up, they were chairs and vice-chairs of the parties and women who had sat at the talks tables and councillors and different types of people. The media is a problem in the first place. I mean we were “Yes” women, we weren’t “No” men and that’s probably why we didn’t get coverage. “
Lily Kerr: “The interesting thing about the line-up of the press conference…it was amazing as it galvanised us…there was actually the Worker’s party, the SDLP, the PUP, the Alliance party, the UDP, the Women’s coalition and the Ulster Unionist party. There was not only a cross section – we crossed the sectarian divide, the political divide, we came from all classes and all cultures and it was nearly standing up with one voice. There would even have been people, dare I say it, who would have been considered from the “blue rinse brigade” and the one common cry was “this is happening to us because we’re women and we ain’t going to stand for it”. It was marvellous that reaction that those women, all from different backgrounds and different political parties realised at that single instance that this is because we’re women and we’re having no more of it. They did us a favour in a sense.”
Sarah Duncan: “I just wanted to say that the press don’t just ignore the Women’s Political Forum – they ignore all the women in politics in Northern Ireland with the exception of the new, sexy Women’s Coalition… We would all feel – people who have been involved in politics over 25 years – our contributions have been ignored – in my party and the SDLP and the Unionists, the PUP and all the other political parties. Press don’t want to know that there are women in those parties beavering away. Mo Mowlam herself imagines that the only women in politics in Northern Ireland are Monica McWilliams and Jane Morris. It’s very hard for the other women in Stormont to have an acknowledgement at all. Within my party, 50% of the executive of the Alliance Party are women but even within my own party… the men ignore the contribution of women. So I’d like all you men in this audience to talk up the contribution of women in politics in Northern Ireland and women in community groups in Northern Ireland and women who have kept Northern Ireland together really, it certainly wasn’t the men.”
Joan Cruthers: “Just an example of what was written in one of our local papers the Sunday Life, this Sunday. The DUP had their conference on Saturday and the Women’s Coalition had their conference as well. The whole page was taken up with Ian Paisley, Ian Paisley Junior, Peter Robinson. – the whole page – and right down at the very bottom – I just took this as an insult to women regardless of being the Women’s Coalition – “there was a 10-line paragraph of the Women’s Coalition, and that 10-line paragraph spoke more sense than what the whole page said on the DUP had said at their conference and that is just a prime example of what women in Northern Ireland face.”
Q15. [Cllr. Phil Cantwell]: “.. Let me assure the women that it’s not just in Northern Ireland that this happens. I see it in the council and where are the media tonight? It isn’t an issue to come out to a peace meeting but if there was a fight here they would be here tomorrow morning…”
Rev. John Clarke (C of I Rector, Navan): “… I think it’s the fact that you’re made up of different political parties. It’s like as if we had Methodist Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Church of Ireland people at an ecumenical gathering. It wouldn’t quite get the press coverage. …If there was a particular problem or otherwise within a particular denomination it’s highlighted by the media and I’m afraid it’s something we’ve got to live with. But really when you get a conglomeration of people together, I’m not suggesting that you’re not at the coal front you are as individuals and within your own parties and working together as women and so on, it’s those that are at the coal face are getting the media coverage at the moment.”
Patricia Lewsley: “I just have to say that I know that the day my own party launched the “Yes” for the referendum, our own campaign…. one of the journalists asked “Why did all the parties who were for the Yes vote not come together to campaign for the Yes referendum?” We did that as women and nobody took any heed of us.”
Lily Kerr: “That’s actually the point – because it was women that whole contribution was undermined because someone in the media deemed it wasn’t important – it was important.”
Rev. Clarke: “There must be women involved in the media and surely there must be an inroad there, who’d like to cover what you’re doing.”
Lily Kerr: “You’ll get women in the media but – the women in the media will tell you this – it’s always someone else in the production team or elsewhere who decides what’s going to get covered.”
Patricia Lewsley: “I also have to say in defence of one journalist called Julie O’Connor who writes for the Mirror – she was the only one who came that day and she actually had been with us a couple of days before and gave us a piece in the Mirror and she followed it up then the next day with the bad response that we had, but it was only one woman.”
Lily Kerr: “To be fair to the Irish Times they ran the story the day beforehand complete with photograph, they were the only two but the Northern Ireland press ignored us.”
Julitta Clancy: “…Even though it is a reality it’s an extremely important issue – the media and their treatment. We need to educate them – how can we do that – in this Peace process. Take our experience – we only learnt about Northern Ireland .. from the press and all we got in the press, until we started going up to Northern Ireland and talking to people, was the negative … We never heard anything about the tremendous work that was going on….”
Patricia Lewsley: “I think it goes back to our culture because for years the media covered the Troubles and what was happening. Now that we’re going forward to a peaceful process they will have to deal with all the other issues because they will be the things that make the news…. It’s a bit like somebody said over here a while ago the press will always, always fight each other for something that is negative and contentious. They won’t come out as quickly with something that unites us and is good. Hopefully the future will hold more of that and so therefore they will have to print it.”
John Clancy (CHAIR): “Thank you very much. With that last contribution we will draw tonight’s more formal session to a close…. May I say thanks to Patricia Lewsley, Lily Kerr, Councillor Sarah Duncan and Joan Cruthers for coming down. I think at our last talk in October a lot of people were depressed with what we perceived as an entrenched attitude between the various participants on the Drumcree issue… Mind you they were nearly all men who talked if I remember correctly. Isn’t it amazing when we sit down here and we have a very broad-spectrum of political opinion in Northern Ireland and are able to sit down and agree that they’ve more to agree on than disagree. It’s women that are putting this forward, the common sense attitude and down-to-earth. I think there’s great hope and I think we’ve been very reassured I have to say by tonight in terms of what each of the speakers have said that there is great hope in Northern Ireland…. There’s great hope there and I think we’ve all seen it tonight and let’s pray that this hope is nurtured and developed and knocks some sense into people in Northern Ireland and also down here as well. … Thank you all very much”
Meath Peace Group Report. January 1999. (c) Meath Peace Group
Compiled by Sarah Clancy from video tapes taken by Anne Nolan; edited by Julitta Clancy
Meath Peace Group – contact names: John and Julitta Clancy, Parsonstown, Batterstown, Co. Meath; Anne Nolan, Gernonstown, Slane, Co. Meath; Pauline Ryan, Woodlands, Navan, Co. Meath; Philomena Boylan-Stewart, Longwood, Co. Meath; Paschal Kearney, Michael Kane, An Tobar, Ardbraccan, Navan, Co. Meath