No. 33 -“The Human Rights Agenda”
Monday, 26 April 1999
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan, Co. Meath
Professor Brice Dickson (Chief Commissioner, NI Human Rights Commission)
Dermot Nesbitt, MLA (Assembly Member, Ulster Unionist Party)
John Kelly, MLA (Assembly Member, Sinn Féin)
Mgr. Denis Faul (PP, Carrickmore, Co. Tyrone)
Chaired by Ercus Stewart, S.C.
Introduction – Julitta Clancy
Addresses of speakers
Questions and comments
Appendix:- NI Human Rights Commission
Editor’s note: the decommissioning impasse provides the immediate context for this talk
Julitta Clancy [extract] “..Listening to the radio today, I heard a young victim of the Troubles say that the Good Friday Agreement hadn’t changed anything, as far as his community was concerned. Now we all recognised in the midst of the jubilation last year that the Good Friday Agreement was not going to deliver peace immediately – the violence last summer is proof of that. The Agreement represents a unique and unprecedented compromise between the majority of people living on this island, but it will never work unless all of us who voted for it, from whatever tradition we have come, are fully behind it and behind the compromises that we signed up to, and it won’t work unless we all – but especially the parties involved – are enabled to recognise each other’s genuine difficulties and work to make their compromises easier to digest. As said to us by a loyalist member of the audience last year, this Agreement has made us all guardians of each other’s rights and we all have a role and responsibility in helping it to work, so that everyone, especially the young people of Northern Ireland, can look forward to a future free of violence and where they can all feel respected and included. Our thoughts and prayers are with the parties trying to find a way out of the difficult impasse that has arisen.
Chair, Ercus Stewart, S.C. “I’m delighted to be here. Now we have four speakers…. I’ll try to keep some limit on the time – hopefully around twenty minutes maximum per speaker. I’m conscious we’re a bit late starting and I’m conscious it’s more important to have discussion, questions and answers… So I’ll try to be a bit more disciplined than some of the tribunals that are going around! ….I’ll hand you over now to our first speaker, Professor Brice Dickson.
ADDRESSES OF SPEAKERS
1. Professor Brice Dickson (Chief Commissioner, NI Human Rights Commission) “Thank you very much for inviting me here – its a pleasure to be here. I’d just like to pay tribute to the work of the Meath Peace Group. I’ve been here before and I’ve read your publications and I think you’re a fantastic outfit so keep up the good work and well done! As the chairman said I think it’s probably better to have a discussion rather than a “jug and mug” type presentation so I’ll try and keep my presentation fairly short.
Human Rights Commission: “You should have a one-page document from me about the Commission. It sets out our duties and powers and our mission statement [see Appendixto this report]. Let me just remind you that the Commission was promised in the Good Friday Agreement along with a Human Rights Commission for the Republic of Ireland, and that Agreement, as you know, was heartily endorsed by 72% of the population in Northern Ireland and 94% in the Republic of Ireland. So there certainly is popular support for things contained in the Good Friday Agreement.
“The Northern Human Rights Commission officially came into being on the first of March this year. There are ten of us on the Commission – I’m the only full time person, there are nine part-time people. We were appointed after responding to adverts in newspapers, being shortlisted and being interviewed by a panel of people including an external assessor – a panel of people put together by the Northern Ireland Office with an external person. The names then went to the Secretary of State who officially appointed people.
Representativenessof the Commission: “There have been some remarks as to whether we are representative or not. The legislation requires the Secretary of State to appoint a commission which is as representative as is possible – or as is practical, I think the phrase is in Northern Ireland. Of the ten of us there are five women and five men. To be crude about it there are six people who would be perceived as Protestants and four who would be perceived as Catholics. There are six people who have a legal qualification, although only one of those six actually practises law – the others are academic lawyers or are working in a different capacity. If I was facetious I would say it’s just as well we’re not as representative of Northern Ireland as the Assembly members are because if we were we would never agree on anything! But I won’t say that!
“Having chaired several meetings as Commissioner I am confident that a very broad range of opinions on human rights is represented on the Commission in Northern Ireland. We’ve had vibrant debates about some things. So far we’ve been able to reach a consensus on matters we’ve wanted to take action on and I hope that will continue to be the case. We also have the power to set up committees on which non-commissioners can sit. So, for example there is no disabled person on our commission and if we were doing work on disability it would be right and proper I think, that we appointed at least one or two disabled people onto the relevant committee to help us with our work. And to the extent that we are not representative – of course representativeness has a huge number of dimensions in any society – we can try to rectify that by bringing on other people onto the committees. There’s only one person, for example. on the Commission who lives outside the greater Belfast area – she comes from Derry. There’s nobody from Armagh or Tyrone on the Commission.
Concept of human rights: “There is, let’s be honest about it, a certain chill factor at work in Northern Ireland with regard to the very concept of human rights. It has traditionally been seen as a concept that is more favourable to those of a nationalist disposition than those of a unionist disposition. Now I think that is a misconception of the concept and certainly for as long as I’m Chief Commissioner I will try to ensure that the Commission on Human Rights works for the benefit of everyone in Northern Ireland because everybody does have something to gain from the effective protection and promotion of human rights. The legislation does not define what human rights means in this context. It gives us those functions which are laid out on that piece of paper that I’ve given you, but it doesn’t say what human rights are. All it says is that human rights includes the rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, which, as you may or may not know, are already being incorporated into the law of all parts of the UK by the Human Rights Act 1998. What we as a Commission have decided to do is to define human rights as being those rights which are internationally recognised by inter-governmental organisations as being deserving of protection. Now there’s a very wide range of such rights – there are numerous documents issued by the United Nations, by the Council of Europe, by the EU, by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe etc., the International Labour Organisation for example. There are lots and lots of these internationally agreed documents and we have chosen in our Mission Statement [see Appendix] to measure all laws, policies and practices in Northern Ireland against those internationally recognised standards. “We think that is a safe way of proceeding. It should be an uncontentious way of proceeding.
“I’m not pretending that everything in those international documents is unambiguous – if that were the case there would be no need for international courts and tribunals to decide what the various words mean in those treaties. But they do provide a platform, a solid platform from which to work and that’s what we’ve chosen to do.
Bill of Rights: “..Probably the two most important functions of the Commission are numbers four and five. Number four is, in effect, our duty to draft a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. Now I think I ‘m right in saying that every political party in Northern Ireland, including those parties that voted “No” to the Agreement are in favour of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. They may differ as to what it should contain but they are in agreement on the principle, and we see it as our job to bring the politicians together on that issue and try to draft those rights which are acceptable across the political spectrum.
Promoting understanding of human rights: “..Function number 5 on that list is to promote understanding and awareness of the importance of human rights and we intend to do that by getting out and about and discussing human rights with as many people as we can in Northern Ireland – individuals and organisations. We want to hear people’s views… We already had a number of consultative meetings, in Derry and Enniskillen and there was an event in Belfast on Saturday that a few of us were at. The overwhelming message we got – certainly from the Enniskillen and Derry events – was that the rights that people want to see protected most of all are the socio-economic rights, i.e. the right to a proper standard of healthcare in society, the right to a proper education system, rights for disabled people etc. We had lots of stories from, say, mothers of dyslexic children who couldn’t get proper education facilities for those children; we had disabled people saying they couldn’t get access to buildings; we had people saying that there was no local maternity unit and this was endangering mothers who were about to give birth. At neither the Derry nor the Enniskillen meetings were the words “police” or “criminal justice “ mentioned by any of the people attending. Now it’s true that the audience consisted mainly of people from community and voluntary organisations. They weren’t otherwise politically active, or party politically active people, but I do think the message to be drawn from those two events is that there’s a great deal of work to be done on the socio-economic front, never mind the civil and political front – the more traditional and more controversial front that human rights are normally associated with.
Promotion of human rights culture: “We will have the power to go to court either in our own name or to support other individuals who’ve got human rights disputes but I think it’s fair to say that we’re not going to be – with respect, chairman – a gift to the lawyers. We’re not there to put money in the lawyers’ pockets. If there are disputes over human rights we will try to get those disputes solved out of court, amicably by negotiation, by settlement, and in doing so we hope to promote a human rights discourse or, as the jargon puts it, “promote a human rights culture”. Now I admit in saying that that there is a danger as well. A human rights analysis cannot solve all of our society’s problems and we would be wrong to think that it could. There are problems which only politicians can solve by accommodating their differences and no amount of human rights analysis will ensure a solution. It can facilitate a solution – it can provide the right language, provide the right principles …. We as a Commission will try and facilitate the politicians and other people in society who have got disputes but we can’t promise solutions.
Examples of complaints: “The sorts of complaints that have been taken to us already range very widely (we don’t actually have the powers to take these to court until 1st June). But to give you some sort of illustration: we’ve had some people come to us and say that the law doesn’t protect their rights to custody to their child in a case where the parents separated; we’ve had people say that they don’t have proper access to healthcare – that they’re being ignored by the local health clinic or social security offices; we’ve had members of ethnic minorities coming to us saying that they had been discriminated against. We’ve had an individual coming to us and saying he wants to join the Labour Party (the British Labour Party). You may or may not know, If you live in Northern Ireland you cannot join the Labour Party – they have a rule saying you are excluded from membership so in effect you could argue in the North that we’re all governed by a party in Westminister or Whitehall that we cannot join. Some people think that’s an abuse of human rights. Whether we will be able to do too much about that, I don’t know.
Legislation against terrorism: “We have issued a consultation paper, or rather a response to the government’s consultation paper on legislation against terrorism. I can go into our recommendations on that front if you would like me to. We’ve made presentations internationally and I think we will see it as our role, given our mission statement, to present ourselves internationally not in a threatening way to anyone in Northern Ireland or the British Government but in as helpful a way as possible.
Republic’s Human Rights Commission: “We also have the duty .. to interact with the Republic’s Human Rights Commission. The heads of the Bill to create a Commission here in the Republic are currently being debated in Dail committees and I’m told that legislation should be passed in June and your Commission should be appointed in July. It is going to have greater investigative powers than we do. We can’t, for example, compel people to give us evidence, although the government did say in the debates in Parliament that they would fully co-operate with any investigation we sought to carry out. It looks as if your Commission is going to be appointed by the government rather than selected after a public advertising system… Chairman I’m going to finish there in the hope that there will be questions at the end. Thanks very much.”
2. Dermot Nesbitt (UUP Assembly Member, spokesman on the Economy and member of the Talks Team): “Thank you … It is genuinely a pleasure to be here…. But equally as the pleasure I’m also confronted with a yearning, a genuine yearning to be in a peaceful and stable environment that you living here in the Republic find yourselves in. It’s very nice to drive along the Boyne Valley, of all the valleys of all in this island … it was lovely and I yearn for peace.
“I’ve twenty minutes to give you a few ideas. What Julitta said to me was the “Human Rights agenda – a Unionist perspective”. I’ll say very briefly at the outset that all of those eight points in front of you [extract from Good Friday Agreement chapter on “Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity”] – the rights to free political thought, the right to expression of religion etc. – the Ulster Unionist party subscribes to all those rights. We wish to see those implemented.
“But what of my thoughts on rights? Well we know the world is ever-changing, we know the world has always problems to solve, and we know it’s always more easy to define a problem than it is to define a solution.
Minority rights protection: “There are times in life when there are dramatic changes that make new problems to be solved. I believe one such dramatic change was the demise of the USSR and that has brought with it many more problems in Europe. The problems are more within states than between states. It requires what is commonly known as group accommodation – minority rights protection. Indeed what was viewed as a unique problem – the Northern Ireland problem – is now a problem which finds itself in many places throughout Europe, so therefore I believe that we are not now standing in a unique situation, but rather a situation found elsewhere.
“If I can give you a brief definition – because unless we, from a rights point of view, from a unionist or nationalist point of view, can actually understand, define the problem, it is therefore very difficult to determine a solution in a rights context. I’ll quote not a unionist but a nationalist, Austin Currie, a senior member of the Oireachtas. He said about the Northern Ireland problem and I quote: “Fundamentally the Northern Ireland conundrum is one of conflicting national identities – between those who believe themselves Irish and those who believe themselves British. There are religious, social, political, cultural and other dimensions to the problem but they are only dimensions of a central issue.”
“Now I use the word “minority” – let me just say something about that from the outset because I don’t actually like using that word minority because it does connotate in one’s mind the feeling of somehow being of lesser importance than the majority. As Brice said a moment ago there are many aspects in the international community. One of them is the Council of Europe and it has defined the minority in the context of Northern Ireland as follows: people who display a distinctive ethnic, cultural, religious or linguistic characteristic and they are motivated by a concern to preserve together that which constitutes their common identity and they should be sufficiently representative, although smaller in number than the rest of the population in that state or region of a state.
“That reflects what I view as a minority, merely a smaller number – nothing other than that. How have we approached this problem? We did say in our Manifesto to the Forum election that rights “were the fundamental building block of any agreement regarding the future governance of Northern Ireland”. A fundamental building block as regards the future governance of Northern Ireland. Indeed those basic rights which should be there, they are fine, as Brice has rightly said, within international human rights. They embrace many categories: civil, political, economic, social, religious and cultural.
“Our problem in Northern Ireland is how we actually manage the differences that exist within Northern Ireland and at the same time be consistent with democratic principles and practices that apply elsewhere – how we manage the conflict but also align with principles and practices that apply elsewhere in a democracy. That’s the challenge wefaced in the talks, that’s the challenge I believe we have succeeded in resolving. But I say in the same breath that’s the challenge I say to you that I believe from the unionist community we have gone that extra mile, we have put that extra effort to try and find a settlement that all can feel at ease with.
“Let’s just look at that very briefly because these rights that Brice again talks about – I quote from the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation (an Irish government event) – from one of their documents – and they state: “human rights to be protected are defined by established conventions drawn up by international agreement, as such they form part of international law and must not be thought of as bargaining between parties as to what they represent.”
Nationalism and unionism: “I want to make something very clear before we look at what I view as a unionist …. we respect nationalism; nationalism we believe has that legitimacy as does unionism. We are not about trying to trample nationalism, and I say that with all the sincerity that I can say. There is a difference in International law between nationalism and unionism as I perceive it. They are both legitimate rights. The right to be a unionist and the right to be a nationalist – both have equal legitimacy, but in legal terms there is a difference. Northern Ireland in international law is a region of the United Kingdom – the UK comprises Great Britain and Northern Ireland according to international law. Irish nationalism’s right is the right – and a legitimate right – to change that legal position …..
“In the United Nations – the most overseeing over-arching international body – the ambassador to the UN from the state I live in is the ambassador from the UK. There is legitimacy to change that but that is the legal position. The principles of human rights therefore flow from that. The latest example – as was described also in a document to the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation – I’m talking about the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, and it was described as “the first multi-national instrument devoted in its entirety to the protection of minorities” and it contains much more detailed provisions on such protection than any other international instrument. The party that I represent made strong advocacy within the talks that the United Kingdom Government ratify that Convention. It subsequently has ratified it and it is now in force within the UK – the Irish Government has agreed to ratify it, but as yet it is not ratified.
“Many of those rights that are protected are in front of you in those eight points – cultural, linguistic, educational and religious rights.
International standards: “There are certain other principles of international law which is the last part I wish to address .. I’m watching my time carefully… I welcome Professor Brice Dickson’s comments that it’s the international instruments, the international standards that he wishes to see practised in Northern Ireland. Let us look for a moment at those international standards and let us see how we respond to those international human rights standards in the context of the problem in Northern Ireland. The starting point if you look throughout Europe where they try and resolve conflicts like here in Northern Ireland – and there are many, Kosova is the most problematical one at the moment…. But the starting point always is that you start with in a state and you get functioning democracy within that state within that region. Unionism wished for that – a regional government in Northern Ireland. Unionism was prepared and did accommodate that we would have to get an agreement in all of its sphere before there was any implementation of any aspect, within Northern Ireland north,south, east and west – that is an accommodation from what would be an accepted law.
“The second point – and again this is established in law – where there is strident nationalism borders are to be recognised, they are to be recognised.
“Article 21 of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities – remember it’s a ratified statement initially signed by over 40 nations, described as the most effective method for the protection of minorities – and in Article 21 it says, and I quote it verbatim “Nothing in the present Framework Convention shall be interpreted as implying any right to engage in any activity or perform any act contrary to the fundamental principles of international law and in particular of the sovereign equality, territorial integrity and political independence of states“ That’s a fundamental principle of international law that transcends all other mechanisms of human rights. I say to you – not in an aggressive way but in an open and frank way, I realise I’m in your country, this part of the island whatever way you wish to phrase it… The Constitutional guarantee – your constitutional change over claiming NI – is a conditional change. What you did on the 22nd of May last year was you gave the government the right to change the Constitution but your Constitution has not been changed – it will only be changed if your government is satisfied on the various governmental structures that will be set up, north/south east/west and within Northern Ireland. That’s conditional to our integrity, not found anywhere else in the democratic world, but we have accepted that and I say that genuinely. I could go on further but it’ll come up in questions as I’ve only five minutes left.
One further element that is found in international law is that where there is dissension within a region or a state regarding the validity of that state, autonomous self-government should be set up embracing as many parties within that region as possible. I believe genuinely that what we have agreed to in Northern Ireland – the automatic inclusion in government, namely the right to discharge responsibility on behalf of the executive – the higher level of government. There is a conditional right for all to participate in that – that is maximising an embracing form of government so as there will be a maximum allegiance to and affinity with it. We wish to see that implemented and I’d like to see that come up in discussion. Rights also have attaching to them responsibilities and with the right to be in Government goes the responsibility to demonstrate absolutely a commitment to peace, democracy and therefore stability. That’s a maxim in the democratic world, we subscribe to that maxim.
“Another international trait: where there is dissension across borders – like north and south Tyrol, like Czeckoslovakia or the Czech Republic and Bavaria, like Hungaria and Slovakia, like Bulgaria and Romania….. there are many examples where there is a dissension across the border because there are people living in one country and they have an affinity with the neighbouring country. Where that occurs, what is to happen is that trust and confidence are to be built up slowly and institutional links across the borders if they are to occur are to be built up over time on the basis of an already existing structural government.
“We have bought into institutional links across this border and yet there is no institutional government in Northern Ireland; we bought into it as a package. Again that is not something that is found elsewhere in the deomocratic world.
Questions for Brice Dickson: “… I just want to pose a few questions to the first speaker, Professor Brice Dickson – I have noted on at least three occasions in Northern Ireland he has made reference to the international standards of human rights, and that is what we should subscribe to. I also noted again that he made reference to international standards of human rights tonight. I do believe in that context of international human rights and standards that the Human Rights Commission could perform a very significant function especially at this present very difficult and very delicate situation in Northern Ireland. I believe he can make a significant contribution.
Question 1: “I appeared on “Saturday Live” on RTE radio a few Saturdays ago and Mitchel McLaughlin from Sinn Fein made it very clear that he was in the business of trying to create an environment by which voluntary decommissioning could take place. He added that what he wished to see was an “open, democratic and inclusive society”. Dermot Ahern, cabinet minister, responded that those conditions “are now in place”. I ask Brice – from the point of view of International rights practice – would he agree with Dermot Ahern, that the conditions are now in place and therefore decommissioning should now commence?
Question 2: “…Secondly and more generally, international human rights andstandards that apply elsewhere, as it says in the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, must be within the rule of law and also respect territorial integrity. In other words … there can be no place for an illegal operation or a potential for illegality. It doesn’t square with democracy. Therefore I say again, from an international human rights point of view, do you agree that, in line with international standards, that decommissioning should now commence?
Question 3: “… Final one, the rule of law – what is right and what is wrong. Democratic government on the one hand and linkage with illegality is non-compatible. Therefore again, looking at the principles and practices and standards of international human rights law, can you agree that a political party with an inextricable linkage with illegality cannot participate in government? Hard questions.
“In conclusion, I genuinely wish to see as inclusive a form of government as is possible – I’ve said it publicly often, on the national media. I want to see unionism, nationalism and republicanism in government, becauseI believe only with the most composition of that government will we have that which is most stable and that which we’ll have the most affinity to. But I’m asking for that. This is not a question of “yes” camp versus the “no” camp in Northern Ireland, it’s not a question of unionism versus nationalism, or it’s not a question of unionism wishing to exclude republicanism. It is not that. Indeed it’s not even a question of the BeIfast Agreement. It’s much much more deep than that because it goes to the heart of international human rights standards. It goes to the very heart of democracy. That’s what it’s about. It’s about right and wrong. It’s about democracy versus non-democracy. It’s about the rule of law and illegality.
“Those are the rights from a unionist perspective I put to you. I genuinely wish to hear you question me on that. I’m delighted to be here. I believe …the Belfast Agreement does offer a wonderful opportunity for all of us on this island because it reflects both a political and geographical reality. The political reality that Northern Ireland is a region of the UK but that there is a large number within it who would wish to be owing allegiance to the neighbouring state. It also reflects the geographical reality of the British/Irish isles. When Tony Blair visited the Oireachtas in November, Ireland came of age because it didn’t view the English as coming in as some oppressor. And Ireland is of age – you have a wonderful economy. Can we not build together within the island and between these islands – unionism and nationalism? Because Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland – they’re having devolved government now in Scotland and Wales. I listened to your new consul general being appointed to Edinburgh, two days ago, where he said we’re setting up our consul office in Edinburgh because there’s much in common between us and Scotland and there’s much we can do together. You already have an implementation body … gas linkage between Scotland and Ireland, Kinsale gas. There’s a wonderful opportunity to go forward – to give us peace, stability and prosperity, for all on this island – unionist, nationalist, Protestant, Catholic, Dissenter or whatever. It must be built on solid, durable foundations of democracy, peace and stability and, yes, the rights of law to protect it. Thank you”.
3. John Kelly, MLA (Sinn Féin Assembly Member)
“Good evening … Some people say, in Stormont do you ever meet unionists and talk to them. We do occasionally, and Dermot Nesbitt and I have a common problem with a bad back so we sometimes discuss our bad backs with one another but that’s about it! Outside, before we were having our photograph taken, Dermot said he was the only unionist here having his photograph taken, but I reminded him that I was also a unionist – a unionist who believed in the unity of the island of Ireland as opposed to his unionism. It was a facetious remark but nevertheless it captured the very kernel of the problem that has beset us over the last eighty years …
“When I was asked to address you it was to give a republican perspective of human rights. By the way I’m glad to see an old friend of mine here Sean Mac Stiofain in the audience.
Minorities: “I’m an old-fashioned republican who believes in the idea of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter living under the common name of Irishman. That brings in the question of minorities. I don’t like the word minority either because it conjures up ideas that there is and continues to be a deprived section of any society whether it’s Irish society, English society or universal society. I also believe in the 1916 Proclamation which, when you read it carefully, was a very well thought out and well-constructed document. And particularly when it talks about “cherishing all the children of the nation equally”. Dermot said when he came down, driving along the Boyne, how glad he was to see the kind of peaceful society that exists on this side of the border. As he said that I wondered – is it peaceful by default? Is it peaceful because people have excepted or resiled from the idea or the concept of the 1916 proclamation which said you should cherish all the children of our nation equally. Because I don’t think by any judgment, nationalist or unionist … that the children of the 26 counties are cherished equally in this society. So I just wondered that perhaps while the violence is in the Northern part of the state – and we get all the bad publicity from it, all the bad press, people in Dublin when they see something on the news about the North of Ireland they want to turn off their televisions. So it’s a cosy existence and Fulton Sheen once said, talking about the east and the west, that the east had the Cross without Christ and the west had Christ without the Cross…. I sometimes think that we in the North of Ireland suffer unduly for the problems that were created by the island and the islands as a whole or as a totality.
“In paragraph 4.15 of the New Ireland Forum – I read this today and it was going through my mind and I thought to remind ourselves and to remind myself of it certainly – it says that “the solution to the historic problem and the current crisis in Northern Ireland and the continuing problem of relations between Ireland and Britain necessarily requires new structures that will accommodate together two sets of legitimate rights. The right of nationalists to effective political, symbolic and administrative expression of their identity and the right of unionists to effective political, symbolic and administrative expression of their identity, their ethos and their way of life.” It goes on to say “so long as the legitimate rights of both unionists and nationalists are not accommodated together in new political structures acceptable to both, that situation will continue to give rise to conflict amd instability.” I think those words are worth repeating because the absence of those structures gives effect to the continuing conflict that lies at the heart of our problem – the reconciliation of two sets of cultures, two sets of ideas of what this nation should be and how we should arrive at an accommodation that fulfills all our expectations, that fulfills all our yearnings for human rights, for equality, for basic dignity.
Human rights: “We talk about human rights. I just wondered when Brice was talking, it becomes a kind of charter for lawyers in many ways and I agree with all that he said in the points that were laid out, but in many ways it becomes a very legalistic way of looking at human rights. What are human rights if they are not an attempt at dignity of the human being, if it’s not to aspire to a society that gives and enhances our dignity as human beings?
“Indeed the most fundamental human right of all is the right to life and yet we, not just us from the six counties, have murdered one another in the name of human rights or in the name of an ideal, in the name of a concept, in the name of freedom indeed. And that applied to the whole island – I’ll come back on this that we all had a responsibility in this, not just those of us who are prisoners, or captives of the political situation that was left to us to solve.
“Prisoners have human rights, but prisoners are not free. We could all have human rights and still not have our freedom. I accept that everyone can’t have absolute freedom, we must have certain constraints in our society and the societies within which we live. Dermot spoke eloquently from a unionist perspective and I’m attempting to speak to you from a republican perspective.
Treatment of minority in the Northern state: “…I don’t wish to provoke an argument, or to provoke a row with Dermot or to any other unionist that is here, but it’s undeniable that since the inception of the state of Northern Ireland rights were denied to those who were considered to be the minority. They were denied to them because those who formed that majority …felt that to treat us as equals would endanger their majority, endanger their rule.
“So we had the perpetuation of this monolithic dictatorship in the six counties. We had one-party government for nigh on 60 years and no way of changing that government, no way of changing it in a democratic fashion, no way of changing it by the ballot box. There was nothing in nationalist minds to convince them that the political process was the way forward to achieve what they considered to be their fundamental and basic human rights which they were denied. I don’t say that to be dissentious …Those are the facts that existed within the sociey in which I grew up as a young republican – I don’t say nationalist which is different in many ways for me as I’m a republican, I still hold to that concept, I still believe in the Presbyterian concept of liberty, equality and fraternity of the United Irishmen. That was the thing that imbued us as young men and perhaps people would say that we were misguided, who’s to say, but it was our way of expressing our independence, it was our way of expressing our resentment and our rejection of the state of which we felt prisoners and we were prisoners.
Historic opportunity: “We have now come to a new plateau, we have now come after 30 years of inflicting suffering, pain and hardship on one another. We’ve now come – I hesitate to use the word “crossroads” because with Terence O’Neill it conjures up bad memories – but we have come to a crisis and we have come to a point where we in the Northern part of this island and we in all of this island and in Britain have an historic opportunity to resolve once and for all, and for all time, the ongoing conflict that has beset this island, not just for 30 years or 50 years, but for 800 years. We have an opportunity – and Dermot mentioned this in the last part of his address – to remove once and for all, to take out once and for all the gun from Irish politics, to make obsolete any reason by any group, by any section of our society to resort to physical force as a means of achieving a political objective. We have at this time now an historic opportunity to grasp that victory and it would be a victory, not for us, not for me and my generation or indeed for Dermot’s generation but for our children and our children’s childrenand those coming after them because I see us as just being caretakers of the present political process. I see us in a caretaker capacity and we will not be forgiven lightly by those who come after us, if they look back on history and say in 1999 we set of politicians in the North of Ireland, in the south of Ireland and in Britain, had an opportunity to bring to an end the bloody war that is the Irish Question.
Decommissioning: “And so Dermot, it’s not about decommissioning as far as republicans are concerned. Republicans are anxious and eager to take the gun out of Irish politics. I don’t know any republican who wishes to continue the armed conflict. If the political structures are in place that allow us, all of us, to work within that political structure, to work within that political framework, to work towards our differing political objectives, free from censorship, free from harassment, free from all the things that a Bill of Human Rights entails, that should and must be afforded us now.
Leap of political faith: “We all have to be courageous and I think republicans have been very courageous. Dermot I think made light of Articles 2 and 3. It wasn’t easy for republicans to swallow the bitter pill of resiling from Articles 2 and 3. Neither was it easyfor republicans to give recognition to a 6-county state, a six county political parliament if you like, and that’s only two aspects. So republicans have come a long journey in a short time and they were successful, by and large, in that journey because they went to their grass roots and they took them with them and they educated them politically on the wayforward and the grass roots accepted it by and large, apart from those who one might term dissenters, and we were all dissenters at one stage. And so I say to Dermot – and I’m saying this as honestly and openly and sincerely as I can – Sinn Fein cannot deliver on decommissioning. Sinn Fein should not be asked to deliver on that which they are unable to deliver…
“Sinn Fein entered this Agreement and have pursued it honestly and sincerely for the last year, attempting to find a political accommodation amongst all of us. To erect this barrier, this impediment now at this stage can only be seen as another way of exercising the unionist veto. I’m not saying that that is the case for Dermot, but I’d ask you to consider – as we are attempting to consider the very genuine problems that face unionism – to consider the very genuine problems that confront and face republicanism and nationalism. And surely if we can reach out with some degree of trust….this is a holy place I suppose here in Dalgan – if we can make a leap of political faith and say “let’s go for it, let’s give it a chance, forget our fears”. I mean nothing was ever achieved on this earth by people who were afraid to try. What was it Kennedy said? – “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”. That’s my honest belief at the present time – that we have nothing to fear except fear itself. I believe that there is sufficient goodwill between both our communities in the North of Ireland and between our communities throughout the island of Ireland to make that leap of faith and I would say to Dermot, let’s make that leap of faith. Thank you.”
4. Mgr. Denis Faul (PP, Carrickmore)
“Thank you…. Now I’m a republican too, just like Bertie Ahern and John Bruton. But I’m also an Irish unionist which means I’d like all the people of Ireland to be united in charity, generosity and courage. I’m not particularly interested in territorial unity because I don’t see much of it, all my parishoners in Carrickmore get their diesel and petrol from the south, so there is no economic border there, and politics tends to follow economics. If the Celtic Tiger keeps going I’m sure some of the Belfast people will come down to get some of the money. I would think the Catholic people in Northern Ireland – and I base this on surveys in the Belfast Telegraph – are not particularly worried about the border. Everybody’s worried about their rights. In that survey in the Belfast Telegraph it says: “want border to go” – 30% say “no” and 40% say “we don’t know” (you ask the Irish a difficult question they say “I don’t know” !)
Education: “I think the majority are happy enough because they have a marginal advantage in education, and in health you’ve somewhat more money to spend. Education is the great weapon of liberation and it is the great weapon in Northern Ireland for it has liberated the Catholic community. I think outside our churches and schools we should have a statue of Rab Butler, he was a politician as you may know in Mr. Churchill’s government during the war and in 1944 he passed the Free Education Act and it came into force in Northern Ireland in 1948, and you only have to say 1948, 1968 when the civil rights came – 20 years. It just took three generations of Catholic school children to go through the grammar school and university system then stood up and said “we want equality, we want our rights, we’re as good as you are”.
“John Hume, Austin Currie, Bernadette Devlin…all got their education free and went to university. So education is what liberates people, not violence. I wish we could apply it to the Third World. Things happened. When we looked for human rights, as you know, the Catholics were met with violence. In 1969 they burned down the Falls Road and killed eight eople and a policeman…. So one thing led to another, and violence is a spiralling thing – a spiral of violence creates another spiral of violence. That’s why we have to get rid of it.
Human rights and human rights bodies: “Human rights worries me a great deal because it’s very often a phoney thing. Human rights bodies can do a great deal of good and can do a great deal of damage. Many of the human rights bodies that I know of and many of the people associated with them for example are in favour of abortion. The “fundamental right to life”, as John Kelly just used that expression – if a human rights bodies deny the fundamental right to life, either for the unborn or the elderly, and I’m an old-aged pensioner myself so I’m worried. So I’ve no respect for a lot of these human rights bodies, I’ve no respect for the people who are in them ..because I know that they are in favour of those kinds of things. The fundamental right to life, from the unborn baby to the old person who needs nutrition.. It’s all been passed in the laws of the Republic which to my mind brings the laws of the Republic of Ireland into contempt and the judiciary are in contempt and I’ve never had any respect for the judiciary since. Other people don’t seem to like them at present! So we have a lot of human rights politicians who are involved in the destruction of the lives of the weakest and these rich countries who are controlled by human rights bodies, they interfere radically with the poor nations to engage in birth prevention. It would be a very good point to leave with Brice that at the moment we strongly suspect that the Labour Government in England and Mo Mowlam and so on, are going to bring in abortion into NI through an Order in Council …and it will be brought in and I wonder will the Human Rights Commission take it up and fight it. It’s fundamental, absolutely fundamental. I’ll have no respect for the Human Rights Commission if they’re not prepared to fight abortion.
State terrorism: “Amnesty International would be one of the ones that I would have great respect for because it fights against governments. Most governments control the human rights situation. From the 15th to the 17th of October 1998 the EU Parliamentary Union held a conference in Strasbourg on terrorism. I was at it, as a representative of the Holy See, and it was rather extraordinary, there was nobody there from the Irish Government, nobody there from the British Government. The nations who were there all talked about the rights of governments to fight terrorism. The Spanish had their minister there, the French, the Israelites, the Turks who were noted for torture – they were there in large numbers, all the government officials were there and they all spoke eloquently: “We’re all democracies, we trust each other, there’s no chance of any ill-treatment of prisoners.” The only ones who spoke against it were Kevin McNamara from England and Conor Gearty from Co. Longford. There was no mention of State terrorism which in the 20th century has been the most frequent form of terrorism – you can go back to fascism in Germany and so on.
“To give you an example of the way that works – since 1968 not a single RUC man has served a day in jail for killing persons with plastic bullets, for ill-treating or torturing persons .. where are the rights of all those people? It was all documented – the British government paid out £3 million in damages but the State does not convict its servants when they commit acts against human rights. The same thing for the British Army – about four of them went to jail, they got out after a year or two. And yet I can give you a list of around 150 innocent, unarmed people killed by lead or plastic bullets and I could give you a list of 2000 people who were tortured and ill-treated. So much for human rights and governments, governments just use human rights. Mr. Dickson here has a very difficult task ahead of him.
“They say you can work through the law, well the law is open to everyone like the Ritz Hotel, the richest people get the best lawyers to defend themselves. Lord Patrick Devlin was a distinguished British judge whose father came from Arboe, Co. Tyrone. He owned a pub in Dungannon, went over to England and made a lot of money and sent his two sons to school at Stoneyhurst. One became a Jesuit priest, Fr. Christopher. Patrick lost the faith but nevertheless was a distinguised judge who contributed a good deal to the release of the Guildford 4…. He said that “the law gives you the minimum” – like the Ten Commandments,- they state the minimum, but “to live properly you need the maximum which is the Sermon on the Mount.” In my opinion that is the only solution to the problem of Northern Ireland – the Sermon on the Mount. The law is concerned with the minimum not the maximum. .. So if you can get an impartially-created human rights body, bound to the sacredness of human life from conception to natural death, that would help to stabilise NI….
Removing the threat: “The big problem in Northern Ireland at the moment is that people all feel under threat in different ways and therefore the solution must be based on removing the threat from the people, individual groups within the two sides of the community and between both sides of the community. People want to feel security and to love each other. Catholics feel threatened by the IRA on their own side of the community, by the police and the British army in the middle, by the Loyalists and the extreme Orangemen on the other side. The Protestants – and I prefer to use that word, Protestant, Catholic, because it is religious – I saw that last week when Mr. Trimble went to see the Pope and all the old stuff surfaced again. Protestants feel threatened by the IRA, their own loyalists, and some of them even by the police. The least sign of trouble and everybody gets into the trenches.
“How do we remove the threat? That’s the problem. Can we remove it by a Human Rights Commission? I’m not too sure. We had an Equality Commission established, it was put together by the merger of 3 commissions …. I was at the meeting and the impression I got was that this was a bureaucracy, an unmanageable bureaucracy …. I hope that doesn’t happen to Brice Dickson’s Commission. I noticed there’s no one in it from west of the Bann – nobody from South Armagh, Tyrone, Fermanagh or south Derry, so I don’t know whether we have any human rights in those places!
Loyalist violence: “We want to try to remove this threat from the people and it’s a very real threat. We have the pipe bomb – you know the UFF, they’re really behind all the pipe bombs. That’s going on and that seems to be tolerated. That can’t go on and something will have to be done about it …. One “law” in Northern Ireland that you must remember is this … whenever the Catholics show any signs of advancing in legal, political or civil rights they are assassinated and burned out. It happened in every decade, it happens every time. The idea for example of two SDLP men or two Sinn Fein men going into the Assembly and the executive of the Assembly – that will immediately produce from the fanatics assassination of Catholics and burning down of Catholics until they are second-class citizens. That’s a very very big problem – it seems to be impossible to deal with. It comes up in every generation. A lot of it stems from the second paragraph of the Loyalist ceasefire of October 1994. Gusty Spence read this out – that they will start fighting again if the IRA started fighting again or they would start fighting again if there was a danger to the Union – Catholics getting into important positions to these lunatics, and they are lunatics these people on the fringe of loyalism…. and they have the guns and they have the bombs … They think any advance by Catholics – Bertie Ahern appears half a dozen times in Belfast in one week and they think “my God, Dublin is taking over” and out they go and they feel justified for this and they can even give phoney religious reasons for doing it! That all has to be tackled and that’s the responsibility of the British Government. It’s built into the core of certain sections of the people and until that is removed Catholics will feel the threat.
“Both sides feel the threat but how do you remove the threat? It takes patience to do it – patience and the spirit of seeing that things are done right. That is essential for democracy. The richer people can look after themselves but the poor people will be bullied at the point of a gun….
IRA intimidation: “I’ll give you an example from the other side. About 4 weeks ago a young man in South Armagh – only 25 miles from here – he was an excellent footballer, heading for the Armagh team, an excellent electrician, 25 or 26 years of age. He had a row with another family who happened to be what they call “republicans”, IRA with a gruesome reputation, some of them. He had a fist fight with him at a wedding and a fist fight with another brother at a football match, young people tend to do that. 8 or 9 men came into his house and broke his two legs and arm – he’ll never play any more football, they broke his arm in several places. His parents were terrified, wouldn’t tell the RUC, wouldn’t tell the press, wouldn’t allow anybody to do anything. There is an intimidation of the Catholic community in Northern Ireland because the IRA still have their guns. That’s why you’ve punishment beatings …and 400 inadequate poor people have been expelled from Northern Ireland…. A lot of them are people who have just criticised the IRA or got in a row or got involved in some family feud. That’s the reality. So it’s not just the UFF, it’s the IRA because they have the guns, they know they’ll use them. They beat you up with hurley sticks and bats and break your legs, if you complain to the police they will use the guns. … This thing about the IRA guns are silent, that’s not true. People are under threat and as I said the threat must be removed from all the people in Northern Ireland, from whatever side it comes or whatever particular paramilitary groups have the guns and are prepared to use them. These are poorinadequate people who have nobody to speak for them because everybody is afraid to speak for them… They probably won’t arrive at Mr. Brice Dickson’s doorstep.. they’ve nobody to show them the way….
Human responsibilities: “When you use the term human rights you must use the term “human responsibilities” for every right carries a responsibility. People are too fond of shouting about their rights. A right to this and a right to that – we all have responsibilities to each other. In the modern Ireland – and I note it very much down here – people tend to avoid responsibilities, they tend to avoid making any decisions that might help another person – they hide behind rules, vast numbers of rules, and they say, well, it was against the rules…You need charity, generosity and kindness to get past the rules and deal with these problems…It’s very important.
“The attempt to bring the extremists in from both wings has not worked, they’ll be there as long as they get their own way which is “my way or no way”. They hide behind the rules, they’ll not make the necessary decisions. Thanks be to God there are some merciful, humanitarian exceptions to these rules but we would be worried that government commissions set up so far are there to protect unionism – to protect that sort of privileged part of Northern Ireland, not here to help the poor and the oppressed.
“It’s not easy to be democratic… you must listen to all points of view and all the rights of all persons must be considered. The popular way is show me a grievance and I’ll march in protest…..One wonders how many politicians extinguish the hope of peace because the strife suits them …
“I would love to see the Assembly meet, I would love to see 110 politicians who are taking £30million away from hospitals, schools and the executive taking another £90million away – they’re just after closing the hospital in Dungannon – now you can’t get your baby born they’ve closed all the baby clinics in Co. Tyrone, they say they’ve no money. Throwing money out to this assembly and executive. If they had to go in there and work the way the TD’s do in the south and the way the MP’s do in England and assume their responsibilities to be fair and just to all sides…..
“At the moment I think, we haven’t got a peace process, we’ve got a power process. It’s like a poker game they’re playing their cards, seeing how much power they can get. People are not interested in the letter of the Good Friday Agreement. What they voted for was partnership, co-operation and an end to guns, bombs and murders. Personally, at the referendum I was very tempted to write down, I prefer direct rule – another 10 years of direct rule is what we need in Northern Ireland. Only the removal of threats of being shot, of being beaten up, or expelled, or having your house burned, can bring peace and security to all the people and open up the future of calm and security.
National security certificates: “Can I make one practical suggestion to Brice now that he is here – could he please deal quickly with National Security certificates? I brought this up at the Equality Commission and they said that it’s a matter for the Human Rights Commission, so I hope Brice won’t say that’s a matter for the Equality Commission.
“Take a lad of 16 way back in 1968 – John would understand what I am talking about. He was arrested and brought into the police station and beaten up in the usual way, signed a statement saying he was a member of Fianna Eireann, he may not have been a member of Fianna Eireann. Now he is banned, whether he was convicted or not, he is banned from holding any job under the government, in any branch of the civil service, any government job… He also cannot get compensation, if he’s shot by loyalists he will get no compensation. When Bernadette Devlin was shot by loyalists … she got no compensation because she was convicted of rioting in Derry and served 6 months for it. It’s most unjust…You had the same thing down here but it was removed by a case in the Supreme Court, the Cox case. It was a school-teacher called Cox from Longford … but it happened to a lot of poor people down here too in the early part of the Troubles. School-teachers and others who got mixed up in support for the IRA or whatever, once they lost their job they were banned from all State employment. That’s a terrible thing and it affects thousands of young people in Northern Ireland, both Catholic and Protestant. The same thing would apply for loyalist youngsters who got mixed up, were brought in, probably forced to make false statements, tortured and all that, and then they were banned…. and that’s something that will have to be removed and I would like Brice to do that.
Conclusion: “I’ll conclude by saying I think at the moment that it is the duty of every patriot – and we should all consider ourselves patriots – and every Irish Christian, to work for peace, partnership, cooperation, the building of trust and confidence among the one and a half million people who live in Northern Ireland. To heal the wounds of the victims: 3,500 murdered, 40,000 injured. Now too many substantial groups have turned their faces against understanding other peoples point of view. The only merciful procedure that has taken place really has been the release of prisoners which I supported very much because of what I said at the start. There are no policemen or soldiers in jail, there shouldn’t be any prisoners in jail.
“What we see in Northern Ireland at the moment, I’m afraid, is a rising sectarianism, a “no surrender” attitude, the mailed fist and the unbrotherly face – those who should be neighbours and brothers in peace. It’s all very disappointing – a year gone by. Honestly I don’t think the change will be brought about by laws and rules. Only if the Sermon on the Mount is proclaimed and lived in the spirit of the One who preached it can there be sufficient generosity, kindness and charity necessary for a lasting peace in our community. The final point – in Northern Ireland we are one community, not two communities. Thank you.”
Chair (Ercus Stewart): Thanks to all the speakers – now it’s up to you. I’m going to open the floor for questions
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS (Summaries)
Q1. Arthur O’Connor (Trim). To Dermot Nesbitt re unionist dissidents: “Is there any chance of bringing the rest of your people with you – Jeffrey Donaldson and others?.. There are a lot of dissidents… I see you on TV a lot – you seem to be more liberal, there’s a bit of daylight coming through ….”
Dermot Nesbitt: “Thank you very much for your complimentary comments. All I can say is what I reflect and what I present is the policy of the Ulster Unionist Party in 1999. I abide by it and subscribe to it and the policy is a modern policy. It is a forward thinking policy. There could have been in the past those who viewed us to be bigoted, hard-line sectarian, and in fact dyed-in-the-wool, “not an inch” type mentality. Yes there are dissenting voices within Unionism, yes there are those who state quite clearly even if the IRA decommission all weapons of war they still would not support Sinn Fein in government. That is not the policy of the party. So all I can say is – will they come along with us? I think we have, as John Kelly said, a glorious opportunity. … Those who dissent in Unionism, that will dissipate if we can get a functioning democracy in Northern Ireland that subscribes to the genuine principles and practices of international standards that apply elsewhere. We do want to go forward. I can’t say that more strongly, and in front of you tonight I believe we can go forward.”
Q2.Dublin resident: re discrimination: “I associate myself with the remarks made by the previous speaker about Dermot…. But would he like to comment on the views of the Unionist party regarding the discrimination that took place in Northern Ireland over the past 60 years?…”.
Dermot Nesbitt: “I may be giving a cop-out but I prefer to look forward than to look back, but in saying that there were wrongs on both sides….No community was the sole preserve of right or the sole preserve of wrong. There are statistics that will demonstrate that the Catholic population – and I don’t like using that term, but the unemployment and employment statistics are based on Catholic/Protestant headcounts – even way back in 1971 the proportion of Catholics in work was about 3% less than Catholics seeking work. That 3% difference is still there almost 30 years later. Now I remember very clearly Patrick Shea’s autobiography, “two wrongs don’t make a right”. He was the first head of the Northern Ireland Department of Education who was a Catholic, the first permanent secretary. He wrote that as he participated in the State he felt somewhat alienated by his community – they were his words, not mine. So all I’m saying is – yes there were wrongs but the wrongs were on both sides. I prefer to look forward not backwards and all I can say is that where the unionist government is supposed to have done what it has done, it’s almost 30 years since there was a unionist government. Unionism hasn’t had power to either use it properly or as some might think abuse it. They haven’t had that power for 30 years. …Mgr Faul made a comment which I say in his presence I found most disturbing, genuinely, most disturbing, where he said when Catholics get economic or social advancement they are then assassinated or beaten up. That does not reflect reality – there are 9 socio-economic groups in the employment perspective; 40% of those seeking work today are Catholic, they have 44% representation in professional and administrative grades. I don’t say that in any disparaging way, the Catholic population is extremely well represented in the professions, in academia and in education generally. I just want that to be recognised and let us build for the future and not look to the past.
Q 3 – Could a similar question be put to Brice as to what his view is?
Q4. Frank Duff (Dublin solicitor) [to Dermot]: “.. I am very familiar with the biography of Patrick Shea. You’re a little selective now in what you quote from the story, there were a lot of down sides to the situation too. We won’t discuss Patrick Shea at length here….He was the son of an RIC man, but it says a lot for the situation that he was the only man who rose to that rank in the Northern Ireland civil service…if you want to quote from the book there would be a lot of other things you could quote which would not be very complementary to the unionist tradition…. You picked one thing to suit yourself….”
Chair (Ercus Stewart): I’m going to let Professor Dickson and Mgr Faul in here.
Brice Dickson: “There was clearly discrimination throughout the unionist period, but I think that David Trimble himself has admitted recently there were mistakes made during this period. … I think the consensus amongst academics, Protestants and Catholics, is that there was discrimination during that period. But I couldn’t agree more with Dermot – the need now is to look to the future and not to the past and put in place proper safeguards and mechanisms to ensure that no one in Northern Ireland can abuse any one else’s rights.
Mgr Faul: “There was serious discrimination in employment in Northern Ireland and there still is…. Of the eight or nine chief secretaries in the civil service at the moment only two are Catholics….Most of the Catholics who are high up in the professions got there because of their Catholic education, the Christian brothers and the nuns and priests….Good cheap education…Look at the inspectors in Northern Ireland schools – I met many of them, very few were Catholics … The thing is it’s getting better undoubtedly but it’s slow enough and then in the semi-state bodies, the rate of Catholic employment is not up to scratch. Mr. Cooper says there is 2.5 times more unemployment among Catholics than Protestants. The wholesale business in Northern Ireland is entirely in the hands of Protestants – except for drink which is naturally run by Catholics, unfortunately. Even the banks interfere very substantially…… it’s a very unfortunate business. Things have improved simply because the Catholics have money, they got the education now they have money, now the business people want to keep in with them, it’s as simple as that….
“Just could I say on the point I made about Catholics being assassinated and burned out, that is the lunatic fringe but you can see it happening. 1969 was a classic example – the Catholics looked for civil rights and the population was attacked and burned out on the Falls Road and in Dungannon and other places …. I said it to Patrick Mayhew – it seems to pass without much action on the police side,,, they have improved substantially since 1986, that is true. …We Catholics also have our suspicions maybe unfounded, that there is a conspiracy against us from Orange men and free masons to keep the Catholics down in Northern Ireland.
Q5. Cathal Courtney (School of Ecumenics student). “We [in the Republic] very often have a tendency to look at Northern Ireland and see all the abuses there. .. I’d recognise quite a great deal of disrespect for children’s rights in this state. Some of the areas where I teach I doubt very much that those children will ever receive a third level education and I think when we’re looking at the situation in Northern Ireland as people living in the Republic, we have to particularly examine our situation here. I take the point the speakers have made already about looking to the future.
“But the situation that strikes me as being particularly important at the moment is the situation in Portadown where there is what I perceive as 2 very legitimate rights – people’s right to assert their culture and heritage is in conflict with another group’s right to live in peace. I’d like to ask John Kelly in particular would he have any recommendations for the situation in Portadown – how can both rights be accommodated and respected at the same time?
Q6.Tom Hodgins (Drogheda Ecumenical Peace Group): (I) for Dermot Nesbitt: “….There have been linkages between the democratic wing and the armed wing on all sides in their formative years, on both sides of the divide. I just wonder is the Unionist party not prepared to accept the republican promise to make obsolete the use of force?
(ii)for Brice Dickson – “If there’s only one full-time person being appointed to the Human Rights Commission, how seriously are human rights going to be taken?
Q7. Mary Humphreys (Dublin): re decommissioning: “I’d like to thank all the speakers for their excellent presentations, in particular Dermot Nesbitt for coming. My point is to do with the decommissioning of arms… I think both groups, unionists and nationalists, have come a long way, they’ve made a great effort, the Agreement is in place. I think the people of Ireland will find it very difficult to forgive the politicians if the Agreement is not pushed forward…. The decommissioning of arms is something that has arisen at this point – there are two years for decommissioning to be dealt with… I think the important thing is the guns are silent. Surely it is within the ingenuity of the politicians to find some way out of this impasse?… There is an impasse. There’s good will, it’s quite evident that Dermot Nesbitt and John Kelly are both men of good will. We hear Seamus Mallon speaking about it, John Hume, we hear men of good will trying to find a way out. It has to be found, the people of Ireland will not forgive this generation of poltiticians if a way is not found around this.”
Q8. David Thompson [chairman of Portadown branch UUP] “I listened with interest to your speakers tonight … Fr. Faul, there were some things which you said which I find difficult to agree with. But that I think is a matter of detail and as you properly pointed out we’re not going to make a future by rules. I would agree with you totally that we need to find a way of removing the threat and there is a threat. I can assure you, having being born in Portadown and having been baptised in the Church of the Ascension in Drumcree, I’m well aware of the fact that it’s not people with my economic success that suffer in Portadown. It is actually the weakest in our community and that doesn’t matter whether it’s the nationalist or loyalist community .. it is actually the vulnerable, the insecure who are actually being damaged.
“I want to address a point that was made earlier on. In 1972 I wasn’t old enought to vote for Stormont because you had to be 21 and it was gone before I had the opportunity. I don’t know about the rights and wrongs of the Unionist government before that, I can’t do anything about that. Equally, nobody’s asked my opinion since 1972 because I’ve been ruled by the government of England … and I’ve had very little voice in my own community in Portadown. As Fr. Faul said, when violence or the threat of violence occurs, what do people do? They don’t hold out the hand of friendship, in fact if you do that you’re likely to get shot by both sides. So the problem is violence or the threat of violence. If you look at Ireland, Ireland doesn’t seem to me to be a success, north or south. When I look at privilege being exercised and misused in your State, and when I look at privilege being used and misused in the past and the present in my own state in the UK, and that doesn’t mean just Northern Ireland, then clearly there is a problem with privilege… and I agree with Fr Faul that there is probably a failing in Christian duties somewhere which allows us to justify some of these things….
Opportunities: “I listened to John Kelly and I heard him say that he was hesitant to use the term “crossroads”. I remember Terence O’ Neill. In fact, because I wasn’t successful in education, I went to a technical school and it was integrated and I remember debates in the late 60’s with my classmates about civil rights … and it didn’t seem to be such a bad thing and I could understand a lot of what Terence O’ Neill was talking about, and yet it didn’t happen. Maybe it was a crossroads then and an opportunity lost too. Because maybe as unionism was starting to change and become weak, nationalism was starting to become strong. And somehow or another we lost the opportunity because we were both moving but in different ways. John, I would say to you at the moment we are going to succeed, because we are not on a crossroads, we are on a motorway, the problem is that it is being built and there are detours and there are slip roads if people wish to leave, but you can’t turn back on a motorway. I don’t know how we’re going to solve this problem.
Addressing each other’s constituency: “One of the things Fr. Faul said was we have not yet addressed the problem of addressing each other’s constituency – that’s not quite how he put it, but that is true. On the 30th of June last year I said to Daire O’Hagan (SF Assembly Member for Upper Bann) “our problem is that you have to persuade our constituency that the war is really over and we have to persuade your constituency that we are really interested in an accommodating, inclusive, equitable, peaceful future.” We cannot persuade our electorate that the war is over and you cannot persuade your electorate of our interest in a totally inclusive, accommodating, peaceful community. That’s where we’ve failed, we haven’t achieved that and I don’t know how we will. And I say to you in all sincerity, John, sitting as I am with a branch that supports David Trimble, with a branch that voted “yes” in Portadown, with members in it who voted “no” but are still included in that branch, in an Orange hall that is clearly associated with the protest at Drumcree, a branch that stood in that situation supporting the party policy as Dermot has outlined. I will not be able to take that branch with me and with David Trimble if he tries to move without decommissioning starting and that is unfortunately what I find throughout the unionist community. We just can’t do it. I’ve heard the word surrender used, I’m not interested in surrender, the only thing I want to surrender is the past. If I can offer you some suggestion, if you are or can or somebody can persuade those associated with all terrorist groups, I don’t just mean the republicans, to start to get rid of the armaments by however they could I would consider it as an investment in the future but I don’t know how we’re going to achieve it. We have to persuade everybody…..
Answers to questions 5-8:
CHAIR (Ercus Stewart): “I think, David, judging by the audience’s reaction you may regret you spoke because you’ll be up here the next time! Now the responses are in this order, John Kelly will respond first, then Dermot, then Brice, then Mgr. Faul and then I’ll take more questions.
John Kelly: re Garvaghy Road: “It’s almost surreal now… looking from above at this confrontation between Orangeism and nationalism over a stretch of road, we’d almost wonder what kind of people occupy that part of the island, but unfortunately that’s the way it is. It’s about consent basically, it’s very simple. If the Orangemen in Portadown would talk to the nationalists in Garvaghy Road and sit down and talk to them about both rights. From a nationalist perspective Orangeism and Orange marches are territorial – they’re saying to nationalists that “we do not require your consent because you have no territory, this is our territory” wherever it might be in Northern Ireland, that’s the difficulty and that’s how Nationalists perceive it. And that’s the way it has been…. It’s difficult to understand why we can’t accommodate one another in such an almost simple exercise of one tradition vying with another tradition or attempting to accommodate another tradition and I think it is by dialogue, it is by people on the Garvaghy Road, from whatever form of nationalism they come, they sit down and they talk and they attempt to gain consent or consensus, I think that is the only way forward. If it’s done in a triumphalist way as it seems to be from the nationalist perspective then you’re going to have this confrontation….. Can I just say to the last speaker [David Thompson] that I very much appreciate what he said…. The unfortunate thing is that you cannot bring your branch with you if the IRA doesn’t decommission and Gerry Adams can’t bring his branch with him if the IRA do decommission. So how do we resolve that dilemma? It is a dilemma for Trimble and for Adams, but resolved it has to be. Thank you.
Dermot Nesbitt: [reply to Q6(i)“democracy working hand in hand with the swordat an earlier time”] -“that is correct – no country in the world was formed by peaceful means, they were all formed by the movements of people, by warfare, by breaking treaties, that’s the history of civilisation. So it’s not new. You only have to look at the history of the United States… whenever an American says to me “Go home, leave Ireland to the Irish” and I say to him are you going to go home and leave America to the American-Indian? All modern countries are formed by the movements of people, so our history is littered with warfare. I think it’s true from an historical point of view that more Irish have been killed by the Irish than the English have every killed. What we’re saying now is that there are certain norms and maxims laid down by the UN in 1948 and all other principles fall from that….. The EU says to those 9 countries who want to join – “stabilise your borders where there is dissent”.
Decommissioning: “Now that leads to this aspect – because the Belfast Agreement has got those essential ingredients….. – the question do we as a Unionist commjunity accept the promise? I was very conscious of the clap that the lady received when she said that “politicians will not be forgiven” – that is correct, they will not be forgiven if they do not get it right. But I don’t see it as an equal position. David Thompson and John [Kelly] said exactly the same. Gerry can’t move if there’s decommissioning, David can’t move if there isn’t decommissioning. There’s an impasse. The lady said it’s just now it has arisen. It hasn’t just arisen now. Two years ago unionism said “there must be decommissioning before there are talks”. The republican movement said “let’s see what the settlement is before we consider decommissioning” – in other words, decommissioning after the Agreement. Senator Mitchell and the international arms decommissioning body came up with a compromise position – decommissioning during the talks. Well, we didn’t have it before the talks, we didn’t have it during the talks, it’s over a year since the completion of the talks and we still haven’t had a commencement to that process. Sean Farren in the SDLP has written quite eloquently about this as a nationalist. …
“The unionist community has moved beyond the norms of democracy… Yes there were many things wrong in history, I don’t deny that, but I say we’ve moved byond those norms. We’ve accepted a conditional position on our border, we’ve accepted an automatic right to government – I don’t believe that’s anywhere else – we’ve even accepted the aspects of inbuilt cross-border co-operation. It’s not found anywhere else, we’ve moved to the norm and beyond the norm and we agreed to implement that. Sinn Fein – yes it has moved a lot, yes it has recognised Stormont when it said it wouldn’t, yes it had to change it’s constitution and yes it is sitting in a building it doesn’t want to be in. But it still hasn’t moved up to the norm of democracy … and we’re not looking for surrender, we’re not looking for humiliation, I’ve said it on RTE – we’re just looking for an outward sign of that inward commitment that is there for peace. … Even then it’s not unionism wishing to exclude republicanism. The gentleman rightly questioned me at the start – there are some dissenting unionists who wouldn’t want republicans in government, but that’s not our position. It’s a question of what are the principles of democracy. What we’re asking is for Sinn Fein and it’s linked armed organisation to subscribe to the principles of democracy that operate elsewhere and to begin that process, we’re not asking for its completion until that time. I believe that’s a genuine request.
Dermot Nesbitt [Reply to Q7] “Finally, yes politicians will not be forgiven. There must be a way out. … If the two people have a difficulty – Gerry Adams and David Trimble – it has been suggested that if they both have difficulties they both can jump together, or both blink together. In other words can a way of sequencing or a way of finding a procedure be found ? Because if Sinn Fein sees, as we see, that there has to be some form of decommissioning, and there has to be an inclusive form of government, .. then there is a way of getting to that, the Hillsborough declaration before Easter gave us a possible way of doing it… It wasn’t us who said no, it wasn’t even the SDLP that said no, it was your prime minister and my prime minister that advocated it as a way through the impasse, but it was Sinn Fein who said no. The Belfast Telegraph said in an editorial about 10 days ago – and I say this straight to John – it asked why will the arms not be given up? It can only be for two reasons: 1) The IRA wish to use them again or, 2) they wish to use them as a means of trying to influence the outcome of certain situations. So yes we’ll not be forgiven, yes unionism I believe is there willing to do it and John say let’s jump together because I believe we will jump together.
Brice Dickson: [reply to Q 6(ii)re Human Rights Commission] “It’s true I’m the only full-time member, and there are 9 other people who travel to the Commission one day a week. We will of course be appointing full-time staff, we will probably have within a few months 15 full-time staff and that will go all the way towards meeting any problems we might have.
“Could I just take a few minutes to answer some of the other questions directed to me by the speakers. Dermot is quite right in saying that international human rights standards require those who are claiming human rights to themselves give human rights, that is quite clearly laid down in Article 17 of the European Convention. Unfortunately human rights are not absolute and I think they do have to be accommodated – my right to free speech has to be accommodated … even the right to life sometimes has to be accommodated. We decide to allow the speed limit on the roads to be 60 or 70 miles an hour knowing that there is a statistical certainty that people will be killed as a result. That’s a compromise society makes.
“The Commission will certainly try and do something about the national security certificate position Fr.Faul mentioned, it will also be doing more work on sex discrimination, including discrimination by private organisations such as churches. We will be seeking to celebrate diversity rather than to seed dissension in diversity…. I would take issue with Fr. Faul when he said “we are one community in Northern Ireland” – I think we are lots of communities in NI. There are people who want to be Irish, who want to be British, people who want to be both, people from ethnic minorities who don’t identify with either country in particular, there are people who don’t think they’re a political identity at all who just want to get on with their own lives and be good citizens. The Human Rights Commission want to work with all those different sectors.”
Chair (Ercus Stewart): “Fr. Faul has graciously given over his right of reply… Now it’s getting late …The speakers have travelled a long way and a trip along the Boyne is less comfortable going back…. I’ll take the next questions together…”
Q9: John Keaveney (Kilbride teacher) [re decommissioning]: “… I just want to thank the speakers from Sinn Fein and the Unionist Party here – It’s a step in itself to see them debating together here tonight…Sinn Fein favour the word “demilitarisation” and the unionists favour “decommissioning”… The two prime ministers are kind of sitting back and trying to let the two who I think are kind of holding up the process – Sinn Fein and the Official Unionists – sit and sit and get nowhere. … If the IRA could decommission some weapons then maybe the legal weapons could be got out of circulation as a quid pro quo, or maybe the British might withdraw some troops. I know this is very dangerous for the unionists but if it was a way out that the whole military set-up in the North could be reduced – how does Sinn Fein feel about that and how would Dermot respond to that as a way out?
Q 10: Cllr. Phil Cantwell (Independent, Trim UDC): “..In the south we have our own skeletons in the cupboard and the same happened in the North. I think it was a bit disingenuous of Dermot Nesbitt to say that there were problems on both sides, there was a little bit more on one side than on the other, and there was a little bit more murders on one side than on the other…. The threat to the Good Friday Agreement is not decommissioning – it’s politicians who have come up with road-blocks…. People on both sides are afraid of each other, people of the unionist persuasion are afraid of the IRA, people of the nationalist persuasion are afraid of the RUC and the army. It’s a question of trust – and as far as I’m concerned it’s an unreal situation in Northern Ireland and you must put the idea of decommissioning to one side. I would say to Dermot Nesbitt – please you’ve come a long way, you should go the extra mile. Forget the decommissioning, make the Agreement work and in due course the decommissioning will take care of itself….
Q11: Ray Kelly (Dublin): [Q. to Dermot] . “By the time this Meath Group meets again, the Scottish elections will be over – in the event that the Scots begin to march out of the Union where will the unionists of the six counties march to?”
Q12: James McGeever (Kingscourt, Cavan): [Q to Dermot Nesbitt]: “You’re more or less refusing to admit that there has been discrimination in the north. If you admit there’s discrimination and if you admit it publicly, that’s a confidence- building step towards the resolution of the problem in Drumcree. The Drumcree problem is essentially a struggle against inequality, injustice and bias in employment. That’s what the Garvaghy Road Residents’ Coalition claim is the basis of their struggle. If the unionist party were to admit that there has been discrimination and if Mr. Kelly were to admit that all the children of the nation are to be cherished equally – which means that he has to cherish Mr. Gracey the Protestant Orangeman [tape ends] ..I urge that Trimble and Sinn Fein would work for a resolution to the problems at Drumcree”
Q13: John Clancy (Meath Peace Group). [to John Kelly]: “…The Agreement was affirmed by the majority on the island – part of the deal was decommissioning – why don’t the IRA acknowledge the wish of everybody on this island to move forward? You have another year left for decommissioning, or the IRA does, why do they not they start it now? We all on this island voted democratically. Or are you laying down another foundation for another generation to disregard the democratically elected government, the democratic wishes of the people of this island?
Q 14: Arthur O’Connor (Trim) [to Dermot Nesbitt]: “Is it or is it not Sunningdale Mark 2 and what exactly does the “Irish dimension” mean? Is it two delegates coming in to Dail Eireann and vice versa, two from Dail Eireann coming in to the House of Commons? … The difference between the current negotiations …is miles ahead of 1921, because there was a truce in 1921 in July and there were Irish delegations going back and over and Lloyd George was always one-sided …and he said there would be an immediate and terrible war unless they accepted. The current situation, bad as it is, at least everybody’s talking…..
CHAIR (Ercus Stewart): “Thank you … Oddly enough there were no questions to Fr. Faul or to Professor Dickson but I’m going to give Fr. Faul the right to reply and remember the tea’s getting cold!”
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS 9-14:
Mgr. Denis Faul: “As you know peace is based on good will … we’ve got to have good will in Northern Ireland – that means the removal of the threats, and that eventually means the removal of all guns, bombs and explosives. The Catholic communuity after Omagh and the murder of Rosemary Nelson are most anxious to have all guns or bombs removed. The same goes for the lunatic fringe of the Protestants who are attacking Catholic communities at the moment because there are Catholics in the Assembly and maybe in the executive .. then there is a temptation to hold onto arms. However there are three problems we were discussing tonight – Drumcree, decommissioning etc. I think the British have sold us a pup – they always do… The Assembly itself has nothing to do with security. The defence of the people has nothing to do with the Assembly. The British are responsible for my security and Mr. Nesbitt’s and Mr. Kelly’s security. The British government, are in control of the police, the judiciary and the army.… When I see Mr. Blair coming over and landing in Ireland with a big smile on his face I say “beware of the smiling Englishman”. They’re laughing at us you know. ….We should get a proper and impartial police force, regulate the army and negotiate all this stuff about arms. I think really we’re dealing with something of a false problem. I know Mr.Nesbitt and Mr. Trimble have a problem with the fears, this is again coming back to the fears of the Protestant people and the fears of the Catholic people, how do we remove the threats? …There are continued attacks by the loyalist people on the Catholics, that is the responsibility of the British government. The whole problem should be pushed back to Mr.Blair and the Assembly should get on with its work….Either that, or if Mr.Adams were to do a De Valera in the Assembly and bring the 90% of republicans with him – I don’t think the remaining 10% would get much sympathy, they wouldn’t get safe houses after what happened in Omagh …
Re Drumcree: It’s terrible to see the town torn asunder, the Catholics are being locked into Garvaghy Road, they’re being squeezed out like tooth-paste. They’re burning down shops and they’re burning down the Catholic houses and they’re forcing down the markets. It’s a tragedy and I think it should be solved by a compromise. The compromise in 1995 was very desirable – it allowed about 300 Orangemen, that’s the content of the Church, and remember it is a church parade in memory of the battle of the Somme, now that’s something serious for Unionists, it’s important… I would like to see the Catholic community, all in good-will, allow 300 Orangemen go down the road at 1pm, after the Catholics have gone to Mass. I put this to the Garvaghy Road residents and they said “oh we’ll be out praying in the grave-yard when the parade is on” …. Let them come down the road peacefully. I don’t like this stuff – “no Orange feet on Garvaghy Road”…
“The dispute is always tied up with all the other inequalities in Portadown … they are things that should be solved separately by the Assembly. There should be a compromise there, it’s the same with the decommissioning issue. No one will lose by a gesture, especially if it will save lives and cause goodwill. …There are all sorts of hidden agendas in Northern Ireland as some speakers have remarked – political ambitions and arms deals instead of peace deals. I think it’s essential … that Mr. Trimble or some of the Portadown people speak to the Garvaghy Road residents, after all they are residents of Portadown and therefore they should have dialogue. Thank you.
John Kelly: “I think I will just take the question on decommissioning and demilitarisation and John Clancy’s question on the referendum and perhaps include Dermot’s remarks vis a vis the Good Friday Agreement and decommissioning. Sinn Fein has been at the peace process not for the last two years but since 1985. It’s important to remember that, that the Hume-Adams initiative dates from 1985. John, there’s no way in which SF or the republican movement is laying the foundations for another go at what you call the democratic process by not decommissioning. Sinn Fein – it’s important, without being contentious – Sinn Fein and the republican movement want to see the gun removed from Irish politics forever – finished and done with – so that not another Irishman or Irishwoman would have to suffer, martyrdom or death or whatever. One remembers the hunger strikes, the drip drip drip of death. Denis Faul was there. So no one wants to envisage another generation going through what my generation and the generation before me had to go through.
“As to the referendum – remember John, Sinn Fein accepted the verdict of the people north and south of the border. One very critical issue for the republicans was Articles 2 and 3. It was a very critical issue for republicans to accept and …….the history was written in the very traumatic debates that went on within the republican family to arrive at the position that we are at today. It’s not really about decommissioning. The argument about the Good Friday Agreement as Dermot has said, what should have happened a year ago whenever the first and second ministers were appointed – the executive should have been formed. That’s what the Agreement said. It didn’t say it had to have decommissioning before it could be formed. It said it had to be formed. That’s what the governments agreed, that’s what the lawyers agreed, that’s what everyone agreed. Mitchell agreed, De Chastelain agreed….that that was the procedure in the Good Friday Agreement, that was the way it was structured, and then we had this prolonged, false debate about decommissioning, and nationalism generally, not alone republicanism, began to see it as a tactic as a way of stalling the procedure of the Good Friday Agreement, as a way of denying to nationalists and to republicans an accommodation in a power-sharing government. That has been the perception of decommissioning not alone in the republican community, but in the nationalist community generally. And as I said at the outset, can one just imagine where we would be at today had the Good Friday Agreement been followed in the spirit and the letter, had the executive been allowed to be formed? I guess we wouldn’t be sitting here talking about decommissioning.
John Clancy: “Would there be decommissioning if an executive had been formed?”
John Kelly: “I think so, I also think that unless the structures of government are in place, the scaffolding, the platform of government whereby nationalists and unionists can feel secure in pursuing their political objectives, then no one’s going to feel secure. And I think that to use this argument – this false argument of decommissioning – is to impede the implementation of the Agreement, that’s how nationalism generally sees it. Again I don’t want to say anything that would crush the fragile flower that we have now but that’s the reality as far as nationalists are concerned.
Loyalist violence: “There also is the factor, the increasing factor that inhibits any movement apart from it not being a pre-condition for the formation of the executive, there’s also the continuing attacks on nationalists and republicans either by renegade loyalist groupings or those who are acting in the name of official loyalist paramilitaries and while that continues and while that is ongoing, it makes it increasingly difficult for the IRA to decommission and that’s what I’ll be saying.. Implement the Agreement to its full as it is then I think that decommissioning will take a back place in our discussions.
John Keaveney : “Will there be decommissioning if there’s a quid pro quo on legal arms or british army withdrawal?”
John Kelly: “Sinn Fein believes that there should be total disarmament or demilitarisation, whatever word you want to use. That is the Sinn Fein belief…. If you make decommissioning a pre-condition that doesn’t exist within the Agreement – it’s not in the Agreement that the formation of the executive is predicated on decommissioning. The formation of the executive is free-standing, it’s there in it’s own right. Now that’s agreed by Bertie Ahern, by Blair, by Bill Clinton, even Bob McCartney accepts it.
John Keaveney: “Don’t you see the dilemma? If you don’t show good will, you’re throwing away the flower. Would you decommission as a quid pro quo if legal arms were removed?”
John Kelly: “I’m saying to you that the decommissioning argument is a false argument. I’m saying to you that what we signed up to, what the referenda were about, was about the Good Friday Agreement and the implementation of that Agreement and there was nothing in that agreement to which Sinn Fein acquiesced and signed up to.which stated that predicated decommissioning …The executive was part and parcel of the Good Friday Agreement and should have been in place a year ago and that’s why we’re still arguing today.
Dermot Nesbitt: “I’ve five questions, the first two are related, on the aspect of decommissioning. It’s interesting that John did not say whether or not they would ever decommission. You mentioned the words decommission versus demilitarisation. What decommissioning probably means is the paramilitary weapons – which is what is the actual phrasing in the Belfast Agreement. Demilitarisation as I would understand is, as John has stated Sinn Fein want to see the gun removed from Irish politics forever. Let’s look at the balance of those, because the legal arms as it were – because I’ve seen it written that the IRA view their fight not with Protestants not with unionists but with the British military…. When the British military presence is demilitarised as is the Irish military presence – I came down here tonight, unlike many other times I did not see a soldier, a policeman, a check-point or anything, from when I left home till when I reached here. I drive across the border, there’s no ramps or check-points. There are no armed militia of either the Garda Siochana, the Irish army or the RUC or the British army at the border – the troops have also gone back to barracks and are going back… they haven’t all gone but the process of demilitarisation has commenced on the part of the army aspect.
“Now this aspect of the Belfast Agreement. The way we see it there were very clear obligations – there is a clear chronological link between decommissioning and the release of prisoners and the link is very simple – that the law to permit release of prisoners and the law to permit decommissioning was to be in force by June of 1998, a clear chronological link. By year of June 2000 all qualified prisoners that were not released, the remainder were to be released. By June 2000 all decommissioning that had not taken place was to be completed because it talks about a completion by the year 2000 of decommissioning. The word completion implies that there was a beginning. Now take those two chronological sequences – both to be completed by 2000, law in place by June ‘98 to enable both to commence. Prisoner releases have commenced, in other words the demilitarisation, the return to family and loved ones of those who viewed themselves as political prisoners …. That process has commenced. ….There is only one element of the obligations contained in the Belfast Agreement that has not commenced, and that is decommissioning. Now “out of commission”, “decommission”, “put beyond use” – we are not getting into the semantics. That is the only one element that has not commenced.
“Now where would we be today if the government had been formed? The question was asked but it was not answered. … We got the First Minister, Deputy First Minister formed in June, we got the government process up and running. We had to agree the departments of government. We weren’t sure whether there were going to be six or whether there were going to be ten. You couldn’t form ministers until you knew how many departments you’re going to have. Some wanted six, some wanted seven and some wanted ten. But over that long summer period of two to three months, the prisoners began to be released. I hoped, I wished, I believed, that decommissioning would commence and then government would be formed and north/south bodies. But that obligation wasn’t being fulfilled. That’s how unionism sees it. Not as preconditions, not as pre-requisites, but as an obligation to be fulfilled clearly from a chronological point of view.
“Now the aspect of legal arms – that is an important point, but as someone said a lot of those legal arms are shotguns owned by Catholic and Protestant, unionist and nationalist. The other aspect of legal arms – they are all ballistically tested – they are not illegal, they are legally held – and if any legally held weapon was used to murder it would lead straight to the person legally entitled to hold it, because they’re all ballistically tested before they are licensed. So that’s why we say obligations, all other aspects have moved, especially on this demilitarisation aspect – it’s visual, you see it coming across the border, there is no border.
“The lady said put decommissioning to one side. ..It’s about building trust. I want to believe that the war is over. As I said to you, I yearn for the peace you have, the stability you have, I yearn for that. I want to believe it. What I want to see is that process starting. Now John says – I listened very carefully – that there’s intimidation, shootings going on. But we’re not asking for all weapons today to be handed in – we’re asking for a commencement to a process of credibility, decommissioning – that’s not much and I still say it to Brice – and he didn’t answer me – that international principles and practices say that should happen, not unionism. Because you must operate legally within the law…
Referenda: “Another aspect was about the referendum in the South and the referendum in the North. I believe – I could be wrong – but the IRA did say that part of its legal position, and I look and I know who’s present, Mr. MacStiofain, part of it I believe – and I’m trying to convey my unionist perspective – was that the IRA said we are pursuing what is the constitutional imperative to reunite the island of Ireland, in other words “we are the soldiers of destiny and we’ve a legal right to continue the war because Ireland is to be united”. Now it could be phrased differently. There was a referendum on the 22nd of May where the people of Ireland spoke and therefore the constitutional and moral authority as perceived by the IRA ..in a sense could have gone, so the IRA could even say “we begin this process because the constitutional position is now settled, there is no need for us to continue”. I’m trying to phrase it as a unionist and I mean it, as perceived by the IRA and republicanism perceives it, and I’m genuinely trying to understand and to try and see that there’s reasons why you could begin to do this because the constitutional moral authority that republicans perceive to wage war is now no longer there – the people have spoken.
“As to the third question – if the Scots march out of the Union where will the Unionists go? That’s a good one. .. In international law there is technically no right to secession, no part of a state can secede – right or wrong, Brice?
Brice Dickson: “In principle, correct. “
Dermot Nesbitt: “In principle correct – it’s as near to saying yes as he could. What he means maybe is – in practice correct, but if a government permits you to secede you can secede but you don’t have a right of self-determination yourself within that region to secede. You know Quebec has the right, but it’s a federation, to say we wish to leave the federation.
Ray Kelly: “But Dermot you’re using lawyer speak …”
Dermot Nesbitt: “No I’m not. I’m using reality. The Basque region in Spain wishes to separate but it can’t. In fact the funny thing about it is the Russian Federation could go into Chetsnya … from an international legal point of view the Russians were permitted to go in there, but not to go into Afghanistan because it’s a separate and sovereign nation….”
Ray Kelly: “I asked as a serious question, I’m not being flippant”.
Chair (Ercus Stewart): “I think in fairness. Can I just say, the agenda tonight is the human rights agenda, I’m going to exercise my prerogative now…”
Dermot Nesbitt: “The Human rights agenda – have you or have you not the right to secede? It’s a very important human rights agenda in the context of Northern Ireland and this island of Ireland. The question was whether Scotland has the right to secede. I was giving the background. I know you’re a lawyer but I’m putting it in that context, and the right to secede, it’s a fundamental right whether or not we have it.”
Chairman: “We’ll have another night on that!”
Dermot Nesbitt: “Can I just finish these few points? If the Scots go – well I do believe that they will not go because what we’re having is a new British/Irish Isles of Scotland, Wales, Ireland – north and south – and England. There’s far more Gallic spoken in Wales than there is Irish spoken in Ireland. I want to be Irish, in fact I am Irish in my nationality and British in my citizenship, and you can be both. I believe that operates and opens up a whole new era of co-operation within these British/Irish isles, so that’s my answer. If they do go and Westminister says they can go, then so what?
Discrimination: “Yes there was discrimination but I can assure you there was discrimination on both sides. I would take you to legal cases in the North where Protestants in the North were discriminated against…”
Re question on Sunningdale Mark 2: “… Yes but I think it’s a better one, for many reasons. First of all I do believe this time, compared to ‘74, we have a recognition of the constitutional position of Northern Ireland because for one of the first times the status is defined., of what Northern Ireland is. Your referendum accepts that the status of Northern Ireland remains as part of the UK until it’s changed by peaceful means. Secondly I believe that the new North-South co-operation is founded more on the basis of mutual benefit to each other, and thirdly, unionism …fundamentally has learned and wishes to see genuine participation within Northern Ireland between unionists, nationalists and republicans. So I believe we’ve all learned from Sunningdale, we’ve all learned from the past and therefore we’ve all given and we’re all trying to take and therefore I believe this is a better opportunity….
“Final point – the Conservatives used to tell us unionists “oh you must have devolution because it’s good for you, it’s good for you to stay in the Union”, and then they’d turn and say to the Scots “oh you don’t want devolution because that will lead to the break up the Union” that’s what the Tories said. To us devolution seemed to be making us different from the rest of the UK whereas now I see it in quite the reverse. It’s a mechanism whereby all of us in the British/Irish isles can flourish, have separate identities and co-operate and live in the latter part of the 20th century and the new part of the 21st century when practically all borders are more diminished. When I say all I don’t just mean North/South, I also mean East/West.
CHAIR (Ercus Stewart): “One last contribution from Chief Commissioner Dickson and then I’m going to close”.
Brice Dickson: “I think the agenda has moved on somewhat from what the topic was meant to be tonight. I’m perhaps more glad than ever that we don’t have politically active people on our Commission because otherwise our meetings would never end! … The Good Friday Agreement already commits the parties to go beyond international law because there isn’t anything in international law giving minorities the right to participate in government – in governing a divided society. The D’Hondt mechanism in the North gives that right to a minority in the North, that is innovatory. That is already going beyond international law and the Human Rights Commission may well have to devise other mechanisms for going beyond international law when it is devising principles of mutual respect for the identity and ethos of both communities and for parity of esteem, that’s one of our obligations……
Dermot Nesbitt: “May I just ask you is that a signal that unionism has been more accommodating by having an inclusive form of Government?”
Brice Dickson: “Yes I think it is.“
David Thompson (UUP member):[re Portadown]. “.Can I just say something? ..Portadown has two minorities in it … There’s the nationalist majority which is very much focused in one part. There’s also a unionist working-class minority … which is actually spotted in a number of estates and which to some extent is surrounded by the better-off unionists and they are sometimes forgotten. …Unfortunately the conflict in Portadown is between two sections of two parts of the community in Portadown, the Garvaghy Road residents and the Orange Order, and I’m not a member of either. During the summer I was David Trimble’s envoy to the Garvaghy Road residents and I’m also the chairman of a cross-community inter-relations body in town, the secretary of which is actually a Jesuit who lives on the Garvaghy Road.
“Before I came out today I had a long conversation with Orla Maloney, one of the negotiators on the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition. [Editor’snote: – Orla Maloney addressed the Meath Peace Group public talk on Parading Disputes held in October 1998]. Tomorrow we’ll be bringing together a cross-community group in Portadown to try and start building and healing and doing a little of what’s called dialogue, actually listening, because that group has almost been decimated as a result of the summer. At some stage later this week I will speak to Brendan McKenna. Brendan and I would speak to each other probably once every two or three months. It’s not a part of any process but it’s an opportunity to exchange views… There are positive efforts being made in Portadown. One of the problems we have is we have virtually no space where we can listen to one another, there’s no safe space for listening – not talking – we’re very good at talking at each other but we don’t often listen. There are positive things going on and listening to Orla, talking to Brendan and listening to other people like Harold Gracey… It’s a very complex problem. Portadown is my town. I would say to you there are people trying to resolve it. It’s not just a simple thing. When I was living in Portadown it was integrated, by the time I came back from university in the mid-70’s it had become segregated.
Chair (Ercus Stewart): “Thank you for that last contribution. I want to thank the organisers tonight and I want to thank you the audience for your patience, but most importantly I want to thank the four speakers here, you must realise that they have a long distance to travel … I saw no chauffeur-driven stretch limousines outside so they have a long journey and I’m grateful to all four of them.
On behalf of the Meath Peace Group Julitta Clancy thanked the speakers for giving so generously of their time. Special thanks were due to the Guest Chairman, Ercus Stewart who had kindly stepped in, replacing Michael McDowell, S.C.who was called away on urgent business. She thanked the audience for their attention and patience and acknowledged that some of the audience had also come long distances. As always she thanked the Columban Fathers for the use of the facilities at Dalgan Park.
APPENDIX: NORTHERN IRELAND HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission will work vigorously and independently to ensure that the human rights of everyone in Northern Ireland are fully and firmly protected in law, policy and practise. To that end the Commission will measure law, policy and practice in Northern Ireland against internationally accepted rules and principles for the protection of human rights and will exercise to the full functions conferred upon it to ensure that those rules and principles are promoted, adopted and applied throughout Northern Ireland.
In carrying out its functions the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission will be independent, fair, open and accessible, while maintaining the confidentiality of information conveyed to it in private. It will perform its functions in a manner which is efficient, informative and in the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland.
1. To keep under review the adequacy and effectiveness of law and practice relating to the protection of human rights
2. To advise the Secretary of State and the Executive Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly of measures which ought to be taken to protect human rights.
3. To advise the Assembly whether a Bill is compatible with rights.
4. To advise the Secretary of State on the scope for defining, in Westminister legislation, rights supplementary to those in the European Convention on Human Rights (such legislation, when conjoined with the European Convention, to be called a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland).
5. To promote understanding and awareness of the importance of human rights in Northern Ireland by, for example, undertaking or commissioning research and educational activities.
6. To do all it can to ensure the establishment of a Joint Committee with the proposed Human Rights Commission in the Republic of Ireland.
7. To make recommendations to the Secretary of State within two years on how the Commission’s effectiveness could be improved.
1. To assist individuals who apply to it for help with proceedings which involve the protection of human rights.
2. To bring proceedings itself which involve the protection of human rights.
3. To conduct such investigations as it considers necessary or expedient for the purpose of exercising its other functions.
To publish its advice and the outcome of its research and investigations.
Meath Peace Group Report: June 1999. © Meath Peace Group
Transcribed by Sarah Clancy from video tapes recorded by Anne Nolan. Edited by Julitta Clancy. The Meath Peace Group is a voluntary group founded in April 1993. 33 public talks have been held to date. The Meath Peace Group gratefully acknowledges the assistance given by the Community Bridges Programme of the International Fund for Ireland.
Meath Peace Group committee 1999: Julitta and John Clancy, Parsonstown, Batterstown, Co. Meath; Anne Nolan, Gernonstown, Slane, Co. Meath; Pauline Ryan, 112 Woodlands, Navan, Co. Meath; Philomena Boylan-Stewart, Longwood, Co. Meath; Michael Kane and Paschal Kearney, An Tobar, Ardbraccan