MEATH PEACE GROUP TALKS
No. 45: “The Good Friday Agreement – Where Are We Now?”
Monday, 30th September 2002
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan, Co. Meath
Professor Paul Bew (Professor of Irish Politics, Queen’s University Belfast)
Michael McDowell, T.D., S.C. (Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform;
President of the Progressive Democrats)
Chaired by Ercus Stewart, S.C.
Official welcome by Cllr. Shane Cassells, Mayor of Navan
Welcome and introductions: Shane Cassells
Addresses of Paul Bew and Michael McDowell
Questions and comments
Closing words: Ercus Stewart and Julitta Clancy
Appendix A: UUC Resolution of 21 September 2002
Appendix B: Minister McDowell’s supplied script
Biographical notes and acknowledgments
[Editor’s note – context of talk: this talk took place in the immediate aftermath of the Ulster Unionist Council (UUC) meeting held on September 21st and just a few days before the events which led to the latest suspension of the institutions set up under the Good Friday Agreement. As the UUC resolution formed much of the context of the discussion, we have reproduced the text of that resolution motion in Appendix A of this report. Over 130 people attended this talk]
Official Welcome by Mayor of Navan, Cllr. Shane Cassells
Welcoming the speakers, the guest chair and the large audience, Cllr. Shane Cassells, Mayor of Navan, said that “the Good Friday Agreement for the first time ever brought together everyone on the island of Ireland and was formally endorsed by both sides”. On a personal note, he said that “when the Agreement was put to the people of Ireland, as a member of Fianna Fáil whose primary aim is the reunification of this country, I did not vote lightly on the Agreement that gave up our territorial claim but, like many other people, when we were voting for the Agreement we were voting for a greater good, and that can never be forgotten.” Mayor Cassells then introduced the speakers before handing over to the Chair, Ercus Stewart, S.C.
1. Paul Bew (Professor of Irish Politics, Queen’s University Belfast):
“The first thing I’d like to say is to thank the Meath Peace Group who have asked me to come here this evening. I have long been impressed by the interventions that group has made in the public domain, and I am very grateful for the invitation to speak, and I am grateful above all to you for attending in such large numbers, which indicates the seriousness of the topic and the interest that you all have in it.
Crisis facing the Good Friday Agreement: “Now I want to say a few words about the Good Friday Agreement and the crisis it currently faces before suggesting some tentative ways by which we might actually get out of that crisis and preserve that Agreement. I want to say that because sometimes in the last few months when I have been speaking on this matter and I have been trying to alert audiences to the fact that we were heading for a major crisis. Most recently in Oxford about three weeks ago, speaking to the British-Irish Association, a very large percentage of a well-informed audience simply did not want to hear that we were heading for a major crisis, and there is a very good reason why that should be so. From the point of view of many in Dublin – and completely understandably – the Good Friday Agreement solved the Northern Question and the less they hear about it the better in future, a mood which I have every sympathy with, I regard it as an entirely rational attitude. In Britain the same attitude prevails, they don’t want to hear that there are serious difficulties afflicting the course of the Agreement. I noted a strong tendency at the British-Irish Association at the beginning of September for people to have almost a mystical sense that somehow it would work, it would be all right on the night, that somehow the various problems that are afflicting the Agreement would solve themselves, they would go away and that it would be a mistake to listen too much to what were described as “Jeremiah-like prophecies”. My own speech there was referred to as a “Jeremiah-like prophecy”. One person in the audience came up to me and said nobody seems to have realised, or to have looked in their Bible recently in this audience – unfortunately Jeremiah was right! The events since then demonstrated unfortunately that Jeremiah was right in this particular case. But the events were entirely predictable and indeed not as bad as they might have been.
Commitment to the Agreement: “But, stressing the existence of the crisis, and the reality of the crisis, I want to leave you in no doubt of my own personal commitment to the Agreement. It is something I believed was possible and argued for throughout the early and mid-1990s when the conventional view was that it was impossible. One reason why it was widely believed to be impossible, in terms of Dublin opinion, was an assumption about Unionist/Protestant/Presbyterian traditions. The assumption was that these traditions are so reactionary that they will not actually make a power-sharing deal with their neighbours, taking into account also an Irish dimension. I would draw attention to the fact that very few people argued against that view, very few people said it would be possible to mobilise a majority in the Unionist community in favour of this Agreement. That is what actually happened on the day of the referendum in 1998 – it was possible to do it. I still feel that a large part of Nationalist Ireland has not really changed its mindset on that point and come to terms with the fact and the implications that it was possible to do it. But it was actually possible to do it and I would remind you of that.
Nature of the problem: “The problems that we have in the Agreement are nothing to do with the problem of equality in Northern Ireland. If you go up to the Northern Irish Assembly, you will find even the DUP perfectly happy sitting in committees with Sinn Fein. You will find that these committees are working perfectly well. There is no problem in terms of people from different groups in society working together. The problem of equality is nothing to do with the crisis of this Agreement and it is very very important to grasp that. The problem is a very much more profound problem and I will come to it. Because I wish it was the problem of equality, because if it were, it would be more easily soluble, actually. But it isn’t, unfortunately, and therefore is so much more difficult to come to terms with.
“But the simple reality that I would remind you of is, that a majority of Unionists and Protestants voted for this Agreement in 1998, a much larger majority of Catholics and Nationalists, and the difficulties that have arisen and exist today do not exist because people don’t want a new beginning in Northern Ireland. They do not exist because people do not understand that you have to make compromises for peace. And so much of the commentary – perhaps 90% of it – misses this point which a moment’s thought would stare you in the face. And I think to get into the reality framework which we have to be in to get ourselves out of this mess, that’s the first thing that you actually have to do. They do not exist because Mr David Trimble did not sell this Agreement. They do not exist because he doesn’t believe in this Agreement. One of the difficulties that happened in the Ulster Unionist Party in the last two or three weeks is that he was very slow, and late in the day, to see the scale of the forces that were ranged against him, very very late in the day. And one of the reasons for that – not the only reason, but one of the strongest reasons for that – was his commitment to the Agreement, which, at a private level, is fervent and idealistic.
Realities: “There is no possibility however of going out into the streets of Northern Ireland and selling a happy-clappy version of this Agreement. There is no possibility, none at all in the real world, of trying to revisit the mood of the referendum, of April 1998. We all understand impossibilities in Irish politics. Nobody in this room believes it is possible that the [Irish] Government will get an 80% majority in the Nice Referendum, for example. The realities in the North are just as real now. The reality is you cannot return to that mood that existed then because too many people have gone wrong, and I’ll try and explain what they were.
“But there is no possibility that some active will of super-salesmanship is going to come to the rescue here. Now why? I wish it were true, by the way, because I can arrange the act of will, I can arrange the super-salesmanship. I have been there when there were other acts of will and other dramas and super-salesmanship. I just know that this can’t be done, in this particular occasion.
Nature of the difficulties: “We have to face up to the difficulties and what they actually are. They spring from two sources – the first which I will acknowledge quite explicitly is the scale of Protestant violence within Northern Ireland coming from loyalist paramilitary groups which, inevitably, have dragged the IRA in certain places into violence as well. And the destabilising effects of that over the summer. I am quite prepared to concede the version of the police, and I think it is probably right, that the majority of that inter-communal violence comes from disenchanted loyalist groupings. And there seems to me to be no point in arguing about it, this is the truth and it is a major problem.
“However, there are two other major difficulties which are creating the current malaise.
Colombia: “One is Colombia and the question of what the IRA is doing in Colombia. The grim realisation that it cannot, for a Unionist leadership, be swept under the carpet. Let me remind you of something – look at the first page, the statement of principles which underpins the Good Friday Agreement. On that first page, look at para. 4. It states quite explicitly that it is not a matter simply of having a prohibition against political violence, the threat or the use of violence in Northern Ireland against this Agreement, it said anywhere in any context. The parties involved in this are not committed to non-violence locally in the six counties – they are committed anywhere in the world not to use violence to change political arrangements. It is a very simple point. In other words, the explanation often given for Colombia is that I don’t know what the IRA were getting up to there, it has nothing to do with the Northern Irish peace process. I’m afraid anybody who reads the first page of the Good Friday Agreement can see that that is not an explanation that will work. And of course, by the way, the most benign interpretation of the reason why these three gentlemen were in Colombia is that they were being paid….. [tape unclear] That’s at its most benign! The most malign is that new weapons are being tested for re-importation back here. But the most benign interpretation that’s being given is that large sums of money are passed from FARC to the IRA. The richest political party on this island is Sinn Fein by some long way, and you will feel the effects of that as you did in your last election. You will feel it shortly in the Nice Referendum campaign. Now that is a problem for any liberal democrat.
Re-commitment to principles of Good Friday Agreement: “When Mark Durkan calls for a recommitment to the founding principles of the Agreement on page one I could not agree with him more. But the truth is the parties of government in Northern Ireland could not credibly make that recommitment at this moment. There is a gaping hole right through the heart of the philosophy of the Good Friday Agreement, and it is not going to go away, the consequences of that, it is not going to go away when the trial begins, and so on. And it can’t be said that it is something that just happened somewhere else. It is at the heart of our politics and it won’t go away.
Castlereagh [raid on Castlereagh police station]: “Now similarly again there is the problem of Castlereagh. This is an enormously messy complex series of events but we are assured by the former acting head constable that the view of the police now is that most of their investigations are focused on the IRA. We are now facing the news that the chef, who was allegedly involved in all these things, is to be extradited back to the country. Widespread throughout this society is the story of what happened and how this happened.
“Now let me just explain at a practical level the problem. I was at a dinner party about a month ago; a chap arrived late, and he said “I am very sorry I am late, my brother had to move house today. He’s a policeman, and because of the Castlereagh raid his details have fallen into the hands of terrorists and he had to move house and I had to help him”. …. Most of the people around the table were Ulster Unionists. And what struck me about this was that this was being repeated at near enough 100 dinner parties in Northern Ireland that night, all of them exactly the sort of people at that dinner party who attended the Ulster Unionist Council, all of them in social class and outlook exactly the same sort of people. It does not require a huge effort of imagination to realise how destabilising this is, how difficult it is then for Mr. David Trimble to say “the politics of threat are over, we are in a new order, the IRA is in a transition, it may not have got down the road as far enough as we would want but it is going in the right direction”. That’s what he wants to say, that was the message of his speech in Oxford, that’s what he wants to say but he is just running up against a brick wall of bad news.
“And that is why this Agreement is in crisis, not because of inequality problems, but because of these real problems which the minute you live in Belfast you can’t miss any more than you can miss the fact that the City Hall is in the centre of the town. And it is very very important to come to terms with what the problem is if you want to see a way around this.
Slippage in Unionist support for the Agreement: “Now in Oxford David Trimble said something else which I think some people did listen to carefully and pick up on. He said – and this would be my own view too – in fact I am filling out what he said but this is what he was in essence saying: if you ask people today about the Good Friday Agreement in the Unionist community there is no question but that support has dropped and the polls which showed near enough 60% not that long ago now are showing – well the conventional view of most people is that Unionists/Protestants are now 6:4 against. And this is being reflected in the de-selection of pro-Agreement candidates in the last week and so on. It is being reflected in the crisis that goes on in the Ulster Unionist Council.
“But if you ask them the question, “do you still love the Agreement in the way you did?” you’re going to get a dusty answer, and it is something like asking someone four years into a marriage “is your wife still as beautiful as she was the day you married her?” Or “do you still love your wife as much or do you still feel the same way?” Now the answer might very well be, and realistically for most people it is, “I am perfectly happy in this marriage, I wish it could continue, but do I feel exactly as I did on my wedding day? No probably I don’t, we’ve had several quarrels since” and so on.
“Now this is the same situation with the Agreement. I don’t think you should become over-alarmed by the fact that in all human affairs a certain jadedness sets in, and I don’t think we should become over-alarmed at that, even if one should face up to the problem. I think instead, and David Trimble drew attention to this, the important question is this – to all the political parties in Northern Ireland: “you are a supporter of the Ulster Unionist Party, the Democratic Unionist Party, Sinn Fein, SDLP – do you want your party now to withdraw from the institutions?”
“That is the real question. Not “are you still in love as you were in April 1998, do you still feel as optimistic?” Too many bad things have happened, but “do you want your party to withdraw from the institutions?”
Potential source of stability: “Now in my view, all the pollings we have, and there will be a new polling shortly on this question, is that neither the supporters of the UUP nor the DUP want their parties at this point to withdraw from the institutions. Now that may be changing but I still think it is likely that the polls will show that there is still a majority there. Now that is a potential source of stability working for the Agreement in a context where there are so many other sources of instability working against the Agreement.
UUC resolution: “Now, one of the reasons why I am mentioning this – and I have to say that I am speaking purely personally – is that in my view we are looking at an Ulster Unionist Council about four months from now or just under, and the crucial question will be the mood of those people when they meet. Do not get tied up in the details of the resolution that was passed. Some of it is a wish list. I do think the resolution indicates a very serious problem that the Ulster Unionist Council wants to meet in the middle of January feeling that it has some reason to believe that Sinn Fein is moving away from the world of paramilitarism. And somehow or other, raids on police stations, the seizure of intelligence documents, adventures in Colombia, it just doesn’t feel like that.
Gerry Adams: “By the way, I am totally convinced that Mr Adams is committed to peace here, totally committed to peace on these matters. This is not a comment on his personal position within these matters. I think he has every incentive, both good and bad, to maintain this process. But what has actually happened here in essence is that his means of man-management are that he allows adventures, he allows young fellows their adventures, and he allows these adventures and he asks David Trimble to pick up the pieces. That’s what is going on here, starkly in front of your eyes. He asks David Trimble to live with the problems and the consequences within his constituency when they read Castlereagh, Colombia, in particular. That’s the problem. It represents a real human political problem, but if I was thinking about this I would be thinking more about this group of people meeting in a context in which they felt more confident about the future.
Assembly elections: “Now one problem that is very real is the imminence of the election. One reason why now the Ulster Unionist Party is prepared, in a way it was never prepared before, to challenge the existence of the institutions is that a lot of those people who meet believe these institutions are done for anyway. They certainly believe that an election in a very short few months is coming up, and that that election is either going to be an horrendously polarising election – most of them believe, and I think most commentators believe that the SDLP is finished, it’s a particularly sad development, heartbreaking development from my own point of view, but nonetheless we again need not fantasise, we have to face the realities. They think therefore that they are going to be faced with a massively polarised election in which they will be very seriously challenged by the DUP. Let me say this: the SDLP I think is finished, the UUP is not yet finished. There is a distinction between the crises that they both face here, and again I think most realists understand that. But the SDLP I think, sadly, is – at least in the sense that it will not return a majority of Nationalists and will not have the say on who the Deputy First Minister is going to be – and in that crucial sense it is a goner. It may very well be as Dr. Brian Feeney says that actually within Northern Nationalists it is going to be 70:30 in favour of Sinn Fein.
“But even if that doesn’t happen, there is nobody who believes the SDLP can produce a majority in this situation. So, looking into this vista, those people no longer feel the need to protect – they are instinctively a conservative group of people, they instinctively are not inordinately dissatisfied with the way the institutions currently operate.
“But looking into that vista, they do not feel they are being irresponsible because they think these institutions are going down the Swanee anyway, pretty damn quick. So you have to realise that, and understand why this shift in their mood is occurring.
Postponing date of elections: “And one of the things I think that ought to be very seriously considered here is the simple reality that this Assembly was intended to work for four years. By May it will not have been in existence for four years. Because of the suspensions, the delay in having it set up and so on, we will have had a little over three years of devolved government in actual practice. In my view it was the intention of Parliament to at least allow a four-year working practical devolution experiment. And in my view that was the original intention, the Agreement makes no specifications about dates for elections, and in my view the case for a delay in election at least until the full four years has operated – in other words it would effectively delay the election until the beginning of 2004. In my view that ought to be very seriously considered, because at that point, this group of people who meet will not be challenging, if they are in a bloody-minded mood, institutions which they think are shortly about to go down the tubes anyway, but they would be challenging the institutions which have a year’s life or more ahead of them. And I think that you have to understand the instinctive conservatism of most Ulster Unionists, and indeed their instinctive happiness – happiness is an overstatement – their instinctive willingness to accept the working of devolution. It’s more common among the people who attend the UUC, more pleasure in the fact that there’s a local Parliament back, than there is in the population.
Cynicism about the institutions: “One of the reasons why people are so wrong to say that David Trimble could sell devolution harder is that the population as a whole is quite cynical. The population as a whole – and the polls make this perfectly clear – think it’s not very good value for money, it’s a bit of a white elephant, and so on. They do, though, think that if we don’t have it things are going to get nastier. And that’s the best you have in the population. That might be enough to work with but the population does not have a rosy view particularly of the working of devolution. Every poll tells you that. They do not believe, for example, that their economic well-being is intimately linked to it. The polls tell you that quite clearly. But they do believe life would be that bit worse and nastier. And that’s enough to work with, and they will accept that. There is a widespread willingness to accept things as they now are – it’s the fear of the consequences after the election. And, as I said, in my view anyway, the intention always was that one should have four years of fully working experiment, and I think that would change the mood of this group of people.
Border poll: “I have argued in the past very strongly that I also believe that there is a case for having a border poll on the day of the next Assembly election, whenever it is held. This is often misunderstood, and particularly I think in Dublin there is a view that this argument was something to do with allowing Unionists some great flag-waving exercise. Or indeed that it was all about getting out moderate Unionist voters. I can tell you now it’s not absolutely certain to do it, it probably will do it – the history of large turnouts, which a border poll will certainly bring about, is that Unionists who come to polls in a large turnout tend to be more moderate.
“That’s what happened on the day of the referendum. But it may be that it’s not like that. It will certainly prevent a UUP meltdown………..[break in tape] In the context of the next election, where Unionists may have to live with Sinn Fein advancing Gerry Adams as Deputy First Minister rather than an SDLP candidate, the Unionist community needs the strength of a victory on the day of the election which is – not by some abstract reflection on the principle of consent, but a reality that Northern Ireland for the foreseeable future is going to remain part of the United Kingdom. And from that position, they may be in a position to come to terms with what will be an extremely difficult thing – which is to accept a Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister.
Ed Moloney’s book: “If you think it’s easy, just read Ed Moloney’s book about Mr Adams. This is not an anti-peace process book. It argues that for a very long time, fifteen years, Mr Adams has known that the Republican project was doomed, that he hid this from his colleagues, but pugnaciously and with great brilliance carried on a process which eventually led to the Agreement that we currently have. But on the other hand, there is quite enough detail of a human sort – I’m not on here about political judgment – about what the IRA did under this leadership to make the hair stand on the back of your neck. It is gruelling reading. By the time of the election tens of thousands of people will have read it and it should remind you of some things: just the sheer horror of what actually went on.
Loyalist violence: “And I accept Loyalist violence is a very large part of it – 30% or so of those who died died at the hands of Loyalist paramilitaries, most of them innocent and not connected Catholics. But the most important figure of the Troubles, the one that is never fully internalised within the Nationalist body politic, is that Republicans and their allies, INLA, and so on, took 58.8% of the fatal casualties, did the killing of just under 60% of those who died. That is the lion’s share of the killing. And this is based on the philosophy that the way to preserve political objectives in Ireland is through a project of human sacrifice. And some things are particularly horrifying – the murder of a mother of ten and the disappearing of her body. There are other things in the book which are particularly horrifying. And these are things which Mr Moloney argues the current political leadership of Sinn Fein is intimately connected to. It surely does not require a feat of extraordinary imagination or empathy for another set of people – Unionists, Orangemen, Protestants, who are very full of faults, very tiresome, very stubborn people – it surely is not asking for too much empathy to realise that accepting a Deputy First Minister from such a party is one hell of a swallow. After all, your own government has made clear that it is not willing to do that, in the strongest terms, and the Irish people at the last election, the exit polls, said that they were no more willing to have Sinn Fein in government than they were five years previously. So it cannot be a hugely difficult thing to understand why it is a problem.
Co-Premiership: “But let me say, ‘First Minister’ and ‘Deputy First Minister’ in Northern Ireland are slightly misleading titles. This is a co-premiership. The position of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in terms of actual influence over governmental processes is the same. The person who is Deputy First Minister is not a John Prescott like figure while the real power lies with the First Minister. It is a co-premiership, and there is going to be a huge difficulty in facing up to the fact of a Sinn Fein [Deputy] First Minister, and you have to look at means and ways in which the Unionist community might be able to do that. Unless you are in that market, unless you are thinking about that, you are not thinking about the crisis of the Good Friday Agreement. If you are just saying somebody should be selling it, or it’s all about equality, you’re not thinking about the crisis in the Good Friday Agreement. You have to think about that problem, that is the nub of the problem, and you have to get your head around it.
Coming to terms with Sinn Fein as major nationalist party: “And in my opinion there are ideas – and I’ve just mentioned two – which help to create a context in which you might see the Unionist community coming to terms with the emergence of Sinn Fein as the dominant force within Northern Nationalism. Because I am totally committed to this Agreement, I am totally committed to the idea that there is no other way out, I think that if the majority of Northern Nationalists support Sinn Fein then that is something which the Unionist community has to come to terms with. There is no way of evading it, and it is best that it be done within the framework of the institutions that we currently have and that would be the most benign outcome. But it is going to be an incredibly difficult operation – you know that phrase of getting the rich man through the eye of the needle, something like that – and you have to realise what it is going to be.
Process requires Trimble: “And so far what disappoints me over the summer months is neither government actually is formally addressing the problem – as it really actually is. If we are going to save the Agreement you have to identify and address this problem as it actually is. I don’t think the Agreement is much weaker, I have to say, because of the events of the Ulster Unionist Council. Had David Trimble been defeated – which very nearly happened, had he lost his leadership – and it came within an inch of that happening, then I think we would have been in a mess because essentially this process requires Trimble and the people around him who are committed to making the thing work. And if you remove that from the centre of the political framework you have nothing. He is the boy with the finger in the dike. And, however crazy and irritating he gets, you have to remember that, because if he takes his finger out of the dike you’ll feel the water on your heads – every corner of this island, if he takes his finger out of that dike. And you must remember it. Now, in fact, he survived. In fact he still has the direction of his party policy. And that is crucial.
One chance left: “There is one more chance to put this right. Don’t, as I say, over-obsess about the terms of the resolution, think instead of 800 people emotionally conservative, torn both ways, meeting in the middle of January, a group of people most of whom in the past have supported this Agreement, and think what you might do to make them say “we should try to keep this going a bit longer.” And if you start thinking about that, I think ideas such as delaying the timing of the election – by the way it’s an idea which you can find in all the parties in the Assembly, with the exception I would say of Sinn Fein, but even for Sinn Fein there is no great hardship here, eventually they are going to beat the SDLP, it’s going to happen, and there is no great hardship in delaying that if it allows other people more time to come to terms with that almost inevitable development.
“Therefore if you think in terms of that group of people who meet, think in terms of their mood, certain other things may happen anyway, in terms of a ceasefire monitor which may help a little bit.
Ceasefire monitor: “Again, in my opinion, the British Government in this case was amazingly dilatory. If it is right to have a monitor today, it was right to have an agreement on this going ahead in July. If we had agreement going ahead in July, Trimble might not have been – and probably would not, in the view of most of those closest to the process – been confronted with the crisis that happened in his own party.
“If it was wrong, sure, it’s wrong. If it is a bad idea, sure it’s wrong. But if it was right, it was right in September, it was right in July. If it had been done in July his position would have been significantly stronger going into this meeting. Instead of which he looked like somebody who was unable to get even a minimal concession of respectability from the two governments. That is a mis-reading.
“I think for some long time Downing Street has actually believed in this policy, believed it was a useful thing to try, and it is a misreading of the situation, but one that did enormous harm to Trimble in the late summer and in September.
All is not lost: “We are entering into this crisis but all is not lost. But it requires people to escape from the world of self-serving rhetoric, it requires people to look coolly at the balance of forces that there are in Northern Ireland, it requires people to work with what remains. What remains is an unwillingness to bring down these institutions if they seem to have a bit of life in them. What remains is a fear that things could be nastier without them, a perfectly reasonable fear. A lot of people – this includes people who are formally anti-Agreement – are very very worried about the consequences of some awful smash-up, and it seems to be that the British and Irish governments have an overriding interest in preserving this Agreement , they have an overriding interest in working with that sentiment, and creating the situation that when those 800 people meet in the middle of January they don’t meet in the agitated negative frame of mind that they met last week, and that they meet in a better frame of mind. And if that is the case there is every chance this Agreement will be preserved. Thank you very very much for your attention.”
Chair (Ercus Stewart): “Thank you. We will take questions at the very end, with the aim to try and finish by 10pm. Our next speaker needs no introduction – Minister Michael McDowell:
2. Michael McDowell, T.D. (Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform): “Ladies and gentlemen, first of all thank you very much for inviting me here this evening. When Julitta – who I know and trust and cherish as a friend and a long-standing collaborator on various other projects which most of you wouldn’t be too worried about – they are to do with law publishing and the like – when she asked me would I come here today, I hesitated, because one of the problems of being Minister for Justice in the Irish Government is that if you commit yourself to be present on an occasion and on a particular topic the ground shifts beneath you with such rapidity that you may find yourself pretty isolated or beached. Therefore – and I don’t think it is a terrible secret to say – she modified the topic of this evening’s discussion from one in which we were going to discuss a united Ireland – the pros and cons of it – to one which is the “Good Friday Agreement – Where Are We Now?”
“I want to, if I may, compliment the Meath Peace Group for all the work it has done and echo what Paul Bew has said about what valuable work it does to achieve understanding on this island. I know that sometimes the task of looking at the centre ground is a difficult one, and sometimes the task of reaching over the void in Irish politics to understand other people’s attitudes is difficult, but nonetheless it lies at the heart of any chance we have of achieving reconciliation between the people who live on this island. However you describe that form of reconciliation, it is a matter of leaping over the void of understanding which is at the heart of many of our problems.
Supplied script: “Now I have to say that another great aspect of being a Minister for Justice is that people work long and hard to provide me with supplied scripts, and it occurs to me that if I were to confine myself, or indeed to major on what I have come here with under my arm, I might not do justice to the points that Paul Bew has made. On the other hand, it is extremely perilous to depart from your supplied script because every word, comma and all the rest of it is subject to intense scrutiny. But here goes! [Editor’s note: the Minister’s supplied script is reproduced below in Appendix B]
Paul Bew’s analysis: “I have to say that I found Paul Bew’s analysis very interesting, candid, honest, but very much one-sided. And it’s not that he wasn’t leaning over backwards – as many people have done in the South – to understand the Republican point of view, because I don’t really expect him to spend too much time doing that. Where I would take issue with what he said is that I don’t agree with his premise, I don’t agree with his analysis, and I don’t agree with his conclusions. His primary point, and the one on which he ended, was that if a number of things happened then it is possible that when the Unionist Council meets on the 18th January, they will be meeting in happier times, more relaxed atmosphere, less fraught, and therefore in circumstances where it could decide to proceed with the implementation of the Agreement.
Four-year period for institutions to bed down: “And there are two legs to that argument as I understood them – one of which is that he believes that the whole of the Good Friday Agreement was predicated on an assumption that the institutions would bed down over a four-year period of co-operation where the benefits of the Agreement would become apparent to all sides and that in those circumstances, I suppose, the centre ground, or those who were willing to co-operate from either side, or to put their hands out across the void that I spoke of, would feel more confident about it and that it would be politically more viable for their leadership to engage in that exercise. Well, there are two points about that. Yes indeed a four-year period was envisaged, but we will have to recall that a lot of time was spent at the outset on this prior decommissioning issue which chewed up time, chewed up a lot of time, and that was done at the behest of people who said that if they didn’t get a concession on that they couldn’t go on with it at all. That’s the first thing.
Postponing the Assembly elections: “And the second point of course is, that if the implication is that the elections should be postponed, Paul argues – and he is closer to some aspects of Northern society than I am – he argues that in those circumstances most of the parties would be secretly relieved, with the exception of Sinn Fein. Now, I don’t think the DUP would be secretly relieved, Paul, because I think this is a plan to ensure that they fail in becoming the majority party. And I would defer to you in most things, but I don’t believe that if a question were put to a DUP politician tomorrow, either secretly or unsecretly, as to whether he would like a postponement of the Assembly elections to get a better run at the UUP and to wipe them out by putting them two more years of torture, then he would say “yes, I prefer a delay”. I don’t believe that. I think that piece of analysis is not correct – I do accept, and I agree with him, that Sinn Fein wouldn’t agree to this proposition – but there’s a point on which I disagree with his analysis.
“The second point I would make is that it has not been suggested yet that a two-year extension of the life of the present Assembly would, in fact, create circumstances in which there would be a cross-party agreement to postpone a lot of issues and to just get on with the business of co-operation.
“And if you look to what has happened in the involvement of the UUP with the process, I don’t accept the proposition that the further two years would be spent on normalisation.
“Because I think that we have to remember too – and Paul, in fairness to him, conceded this – that as more and more candidates are being nominated for the Assembly the tilt of the Ulster Unionist Party is becoming more and more hostile to the Agreement. Instead of pro-Agreement candidates being nominated and selected by constituency associations across Northern Ireland for the Assembly elections, it is hostile anti-Agreement candidates who are edging the pro-Agreement candidates out. So I feel pessimistic on a second count, that the UUP is a body which just needs two more years of normality and that is somehow the key to solving the problems in Northern Ireland.
SDLP: “I was struck – because again I believe that this is totally honestly said, and it may be true, Jeremiah may be true on this – but that effectively the SDLP is finished is part of the analysis that Paul is putting before you. So he is effectively saying – and I hope I am not caricaturing his arguments but it seems to me to have this force – that the SDLP is finished, Sinn Fein is going to be the largest Nationalist party, let’s get on with the job and let’s do everything we can to accept that that is the case and therefore the only people who can do business with Sinn Fein, on the Unionist side, are the UUP. And the two governments should, effectively, acknowledge those things, because I mean it’s been said openly here tonight – get on with the process of killing off the SDLP by engaging in an electoral strategy which is based on the proposition that they are going to fade away. Well I don’t accept that the SDLP are finished. And I don’t accept, by the way, that it would be good for the centre ground in Northern politics for either of the two governments – and I believe they will not accept this proposition – that the centre ground should be swept away on the Nationalist side in order that the centre ground, insofar as the Unionist Party is the centre ground, can prosper on the Unionist side of the equation, especially when you have growing evidence that the UUP internally is mutating into a party which is fielding more and more anti-Agreement candidates. I don’t accept that proposition, I don’t accept that analysis.
“And I don’t accept that it makes sense to write off the SDLP and to go ahead full board towards a strategy in which, effectively, David Trimble will be there to deal with Martin McGuinness, or whoever the candidate for Deputy First Minister would be thrown up by Sinn Fein as the majority party after the election. I don’t accept that that’s a reasonable way of going about the business at all. And I do believe, though – and again I compliment Paul on his honesty – I do believe that that is the Ulster Unionist Party attitude, right from the top to the bottom: contempt for the SDLP, for their political prospects, and saying “we’ll deal with Nationalism, and we’ll be quite content to deal with it under Sinn Fein management because we know the enemy then.” That’s not a healthy attitude, really, for us to say should be a cornerstone of our analysis here. I don’t think that that is a constructive approach, I have to say.
“I’m being blunt now with you Paul, because I think you have been blunt on the facts as you see them.
Ceasefire monitor: “On the question of a monitor, I am interested to note what Paul said about the monitor, and, as he suggested, a sense of foot-dragging on the part of the Westminster government to appoint a monitor to the ceasefire at the behest of David Trimble.
“There isn’t opposition at a governmental level to monitoring the process, either in Dublin or in London. Clearly Sinn Fein regards it as a device which is hostile to their interests, but there isn’t such opposition at a governmental level. And if it is delivered, I don’t think it will change the attitude of the Unionist Party at all. I think, in effect, it was something which was more useful to demand and not have delivered than it will be when it is delivered, and that’s a problem about it.
Border poll: “But on the question of a border poll, the argument – and Paul has advanced it before – the argument is, that if you have a border poll on the same day as the next Assembly election you ensure a maximum turnout, just looking at it on the Unionist side of the fence. And that by doing that it is hoped – but Paul again is honest enough to say that he can’t guarantee that this would be the consequence – that a lot of people will go down to the polling booths and vote UUP rather than DUP, but they will come out to save the Union and to have their heads counted. That may be something that suits the Unionist Party, it may be a device that suits the Unionist Party, and I’m not sure that it would have that effect.
Polarisation: “Because I think that an equally plausible effect is that the months running up to the election, or the weeks running up to the election and the border poll day, would be one of intense and increasing polarisation. It would be like bringing in the Twelfth season back into May, or whenever this poll coupled with a plebiscite would be held. It will be a circumstance in which it would be Orange versus Green – you know, empty your graveyards and bring everybody down to the polling station for the tribal headcount. And in that process I ask you this: who is going to prosper and who is going to fail? It plays straight into Sinn Fein’s hands to give them that particular outcome. Straight into their hands.
SDLP: “And effectively it is another re-echo of the remarks that Paul has made, and that is that the SDLP is finished, that it’s effectively a write-off. But worse than that, it accelerates the process, because the SDLP in those circumstances would be fighting in a battle where it was Green versus Orange, where moderation was of diminished interest to people, where, on my view of it, the chances of an SDLP person throwing their third or fourth or fifth preferences across the political divide to an Alliance Party person, or to a moderate Unionist standing in their constituency, would be thrown away, because they would know that the name of the game on the day was the usual old head count about a border poll.
“So I don’t believe that it would have of the effects for which Paul canvassed. I believe it would polarise Northern Ireland. And I think that the process whereby the future of Northern Ireland, within the UK or not within the UK – which is not now in issue, there is nobody suggesting for instance – under the legislation the Secretary of State is entitled to hold such a poll when he wishes but legally obliged to hold such a poll where there is reason effectively to believe that the underlying attitude of the population of Northern Ireland towards the Union has changed. I believe that the holding of such a poll in those circumstances would produce massive polarisation, create a political season in which everybody had to go back to the atavistic headcount of old, where moderate parties in the centre would suffer most – I mean, if you’re writing off the SDLP you might as well write off the Alliance as well, and the Women’s Coalition and the rest of it – and in which a cannibalistic enterprise was put forward instead, in which it’s survival at all costs for the Unionist Party regardless of whether it internally is mutating to the point where a majority of candidates are taking what is broadly described as an anti-Agreement point of view.
“I just wonder – is that wisdom, or is that desperation? I just pose that question to you, because it doesn’t convince me at all….[Editor’s note: break in tape here]
UUC resolution of 21st September: “Now I take on board what has been said by Paul about the wording of the motion which was passed the other day by the Ulster Unionist Council. But with respect, Paul, that motion was the result of careful negotiation which took place at the meeting – we all read about it in the papers.
Every single word of it was parsed and analysed. And all the stuff in it, about reversing Patten, stopping 50/50 recruitment, revisiting the symbols of the police force and the like, isn’t just simply stage furniture. It shows a regressive attitude on those issues to those who aren’t present in that meeting. [Editor’s note: the text of the UUC resolution is reproduced in Appendix A below]
Patten reforms: “And it isn’t simply good enough to say to the SDLP who were outraged by the motion that was passed – and let’s, before we write them off, at least say that they have made a very substantial sacrifice in terms of building the Good Friday Agreement – if they were outraged by it, by the terms of that resolution, are we to say that they are wrong? That this is mock outrage on their part? That a carefully tailored resolution which seems to be rowing back on the Patten reform, which seems to be getting back to the old agenda, that that resolution is, as Paul is arguing before us now, to be ignored in its detail because effectively on the basis that “they would say that, wouldn’t they?” and that when they get together in more reasonable humour, with weeks to go to this election, that they would be less demanding and less negative in their approach. I doubt it. I doubt it. All I would say to you in relation to that particular issue is that Paul has amply described the group of people there as being of conservative demeanour – and I agree they are of conservative demeanour – but there does seem to me, in all of these uncertainties, to be a huge appetite to revert to old certainties and to revert to old positions, and to pretend that what has happened hasn’t happened, and to go back to all the business, you know, that “Patten wasn’t really necessary, Patten was a bad thing, Patten isn’t part of the deal”. Patten most certainly is part of the deal.
Good Friday Agreement still commands respect: “Now, rather than be proved wrong in whatever it is, 6, 7 or 8 months time, and just simply have Paul come before you at a replay of this match and say “I told you so”, I have to put to you the following propositions. That the Good Friday Agreement is one which has tremendous potential – on that we are both agreed. That the Good Friday Agreement is one which demands a very considerable movement on the part of all sides in Northern Ireland – and Paul has on other occasions acknowledged the extent of the Sinn Fein movement. And whether it’s put in terms of Gerry Adams acknowledging the failure of the Republican enterprise, which is one way of putting it, or the triumph of democratic politics over sectarian violent politics, which is another way of putting it, that Agreement is one which in my view still commands our respect and still is the set of principles in which we all have to place our hope.
“And what worries me about Paul’s analysis is this: that you wouldn’t have to be very very cynical to say that the name of the game was to get the Unionist Council from here to next January, so that in next January they can go into, effectively, opposition mode, withdraw from the institutions, and contest the elections, effectively as outsiders, having demonstrated their Unionist purity by being seen not to be wreckers at first instance, but being seen to be people who are driven, in their view, by Republican intransigence and paramilitarism to taking a stance on principle at long last, which will given them enough time and a window of opportunity within which to succeed in the election and to appear to be the champions of the Union, rather than the ‘Lundies’ or whatever that the DUP will throw at the UUP if things go on as they are. You wouldn’t have to be totally cynical to see things in that light.
“So am I pessimistic now, having heard Paul Bew, who is a very influential figure in terms of commenting and, I think, influencing some at least of Unionist opinion in Northern Ireland? Am I now driven to total pessimism and despair, having heard this analysis? I’m not. Because I don’t accept that the great majority – and he agrees with me on this – that the great majority of people in Northern Ireland, or in these islands, have abandoned the principles of the Good Friday Agreement, or think there is a better Agreement out there on offer. And I think everybody agrees with that.
Economic stability and growth: “And I also make the point that the Belfast Agreement – or the Good Friday Agreement, call it what you will – has in it the prospect for economic stability and growth. And Paul said that talk about economic well-being wouldn’t effectively cut much mustard, at this point, with the Unionist Council, because they don’t see the economic well-being that is there. Well, that’s strange, because every time I speak to people who are in the business community and in civil society and not in politics in Northern Ireland, they do see the enormous improvements in their economic well-being, and they are substantial, and they are real. I think that a lot of people would look to them and say “do I want to throw all of this away?”
Two Governments will not walk away from the Good Friday Agreement: “And the second question is: throw it away for what? Because the two governments have as their fundamental project a partnership between London and Dublin to ensure that Northern Ireland is no longer run in a way that excludes either section of that community. So that if, for whatever reason, the political parties in Northern Ireland find themselves unable or unwilling to operate those institutions, nothing substantially different in terms of outcome is going to be pressed upon the two governments as a result of that co-operation, or lack of co-operation. The governments are not going to walk away from the terms of that Agreement – or its principles – and deliver a different result because the two sets of politicians in Northern Ireland cannot find their way to operate it, whosever fault that may be. And therefore the notion of ending devolved power and devolved authority in the interest of the purity of the Unionist position is not a notion which I think is well thought out at all, and in this I think there has been an element of weakness in Unionist rhetoric and in Unionist politics in the last two years.
No renegotiation: “Because there is not going to be renegotiation of that Agreement. There can be withdrawal. There can be people who say “we won’t work it”. But the two governments, London and Dublin, will nonetheless proceed to implement the fruits of that Agreement, and the methodology of that Agreement and the values of that Agreement, as far as they can, even if there is a failure or a vacuum in terms of operating devolved institutions for the time being. So there is no “Plan B” which is of greater interest to either moderate Nationalists or moderate Unionists. There is nothing better out there on offer. And I would just make that point, that anybody who thinks that we are going into a process of renegotiation, and that the governments will walk away from the principles of this Agreement, faced with an impasse as a result of an election, I think is engaging in a bit of wishful thinking. It’s simply not there. And particularly from a moderate Unionist point of view. I think in large measure that Agreement – and I’ll come to the paramilitary situation in a moment – that Agreement is as good as it gets, and it ain’t going to get no better.
Transformation of paramilitarism into democratic politics: “Now I come finally, if I may, to the question, Chairman, of paramilitarism. As I see it, nobody is tougher on the subject of paramilitarism than I am. And nobody is quicker, if I can, to acknowledge the shortcomings of anybody or any group which taints its involvement in the democratic process with paramilitarism. I defer to no one in hostililty to paramilitarism or the way in which it threatens democratic society. The purpose of getting an inclusive result in Northern Ireland was to woo the radical elements on all sides, but particularly on the Republican side, into democratic politics, to persuade the Republican movement, if they required to be persuaded, of the obvious proposition that the way forward was to engage in democratic politics within a Northern Ireland that was based on partnership and which was open to the democratic achievement of their particular aim. Part of the process of transformation of paramilitarism into democratic politics is persuading those who wanted to have it both ways that they can’t have it both ways any more, and that they must move decisively and irreversibly towards the democratic path.
“If the Republican movement were represented by politicians who simply cast aside their roots and said “that’s the end of our connection with the Republican movement, because it carries within it people who have in the past espoused paramilitarism”, the purpose of the Belfast Agreement wouldn’t be served if the result of that was that the political leadership of Sinn Fein became an isolated rump. The idea is to bring the whole of the Republican movement into the democratic tent in more or less one piece. Now hesitation on that point clearly creates distrust. And I agree with Paul that the Unionist population of Northern Ireland must look to Colombia and other events and say “what is going on here?” And the monitor process is one means whereby there can be on the ground some mechanism to assess whether the commitment to democratic politics is irreversible and definite. But what I am arguing for strongly is that the process of bringing Republicanism into the democratic tent isn’t going to take place at the click of a finger, and isn’t going to take place in circumstances where it is seen to be at the behest of people who are hostile to the Republican point of view.
Orange Order delegation on Ulster Unionist Council: “Bear in mind that from a Republican perspective – and I would not share this – you could criticise the Ulster Unionist Council meeting as a meeting at which 200 of the delegates, at least, come from the Orange Order. This isn’t a normal political party. The SDLP doesn’t have 200 AOH members. Fianna Fail doesn’t have 200 Knights of Columbanus members at its Ard-fheiseanna! …. But, from a Republican point of view, what happened the other day, they are not dealing with people who, in their view, they trust completely. They point to the detail – that Paul has asked us to ignore – of the resolution and say “that’s what they are really talking about, that’s their real motivation, that’s their real agenda, and, if it weren’t their real agenda, why did David Trimble make those concessions in rolling back Patten in order to survive? Why did he do that?
Squaring the circle: “So I’m saying it is a process in which we are – use any cliché you like – trying to square a circle. And it’s the people who are in favour of circles point to the square aspects of the other people’s arguments, and vice versa. But what we are about in all of this is bringing forward the democratic process in Northern Ireland and persuading those who looked to it suspiciously on either side that they should plunge their entire political effort into making it work. And whereas Paul is arguing here for a scenario that effectively says “it’s all hands to the pump, save David Trimble” there is another side which the two governments have to bear in mind, and say “we can’t, for instance, cast aside the SDLP and say moderate Nationalism doesn’t matter, hand the victory to the Republican end.” We can’t just do that, it wouldn’t be responsible politics. We can’t premise our strategy on such propositions.
Ambivalence of UUP: “It’s true that David Trimble has taken a fair amount of stick from commentators in the South in particular – and in Britain – for failing to sell the positive aspects of the Agreement to the Unionist population of Northern Ireland. It’s true he takes a fair amount of stick on that and it’s true that his life on occasion has not been made as easy as it might be. But, on the other hand, I am strongly of the view that there is some truth in the proposition that the Unionist Party has remained ambivalent in some respects on some aspects of the Agreement, and that this is perceived in the Republican community as giving them justification for the snail-like progress that they have made so far.
Conclusions: “So, I come down to this point of optimism. I do believe that the principles of the Belfast Agreement will win out in the end. I don’t believe that the two governments can ever reward those who do not operate the Agreement. I don’t believe that it makes sense to predicate a political strategy on the atrophying of the centre ground. I don’t believe, in particular, that we can possibly take an attitude based on the proposition that the SDLP is effectively to be discarded as a spent force and let’s get down to the real struggle afterwards. I don’t accept that proposition. I think that Northern Irish society is more complex than that, and the truth is more complex than that, and the solutions to the truth will be more complex than that, and that no single party should look simply to its own electoral success as the starting point for the next phase.
“No single party should simply say: “the better we do, the better it will be for the Agreement”, regardless of the consequences for other parties. And I say that very conscious of one thing: that in the last election the lesson was borne in, on me particularly, but on many, that if you don’t get your seats, you’re really not at the races. There’s no point in being right, from either the sidelines or from being excluded from office. But I make this point too: the idea that the Agreement can be pursued, or that the interests of the Agreement can be pursued, wholly on the basis that the Unionist Party must be saved, and that every effort must be made to bolster up the Unionist point of view, even to the extent, for instance, of having a border poll, that, in my view, would be a mistaken approach and I think would end up producing a worse situation than the one which David Trimble claims up to now has been intolerable. So, if you didn’t get the script, you can ask the reporters for it!”
[Editor’s note: text of the Minister’s supplied script is reproduced at Appendix B below]
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS
Questions 1 and 2:
Q. 1. Roy Garland (Ulster Unionist, Co-chair of Guild of Uriel in Louth): “Just a couple of points in passing for Minister McDowell. As a long time member of the Ulster Unionist party, I am very, very strongly pro-Agreement. … In my view the Unionist Party remains pro-Agreement, but, as I think Paul Bew was suggesting, what has happened has leached away that support for the Agreement. There were always doubts, there were doubts in both communities, and the doubt was whether an organisation that had committed acts of terrorism was prepared to move into the democratic process, and Colombia and these other items has not strengthened that and it’s leached away support, much to my dismay, and I’m still working on the ground. But I listened to Jeffrey Donaldson a week or so ago and the conclusion most people at the meeting came to was: Jeffrey Donaldson is not anti-Agreement.
“The main thrust is: how can we sit in government with what he calls “unreconstructed terrorists”, in view of Colombia, Castlereagh and so on and so forth?
SDLP: “I don’t believe Unionists are full of contempt for the SDLP. As one who spoke at the SDLP conference last week, there was not the slightest criticism or suggestion that the SDLP are contemptible. In fact it’s the very opposite. The difficulty is, if the SDLP is not going to be a right-off, Unionists are wondering why they are moving too much towards the Sinn Fein camp and emphasising Irish unity and the approach that is really likely to alienate Unionists.
Border poll: “The thing about the border poll, just a quick comment on that, about it being polarising. I understand the worries about it being polarising. It’s very difficult to appreciate the position David Trimble and the people who support him are in, and if there’s a border poll … there will be a very precise result in that border poll. It would settle the Unionist community and if the Unionist community pick up enough strength, they will do a deal, even at this stage with Sinn Fein….
Q.2. Fr John Feighery (member of Irish Association): “Speaking as a very non-expert commentator from the North, it struck me that we were very, very privileged this evening. We have heard two outstanding contributions. Paul Bew, in my view, has for a very long time been an outstandingly lucid and objective commentator on the North, and I think now we need to remind ourselves that the Minister and his party have had a very liberal and generous view of the position of the Unionists, and of course has taken a very courageous view on paramilitarism. Now I thought Paul’s analysis was very convincing, and especially in establishing the drift towards the destruction, unfortunately, or withdrawal of the Unionist Party from the institutions, however might we lament that. What we are dealing with here is a pathology, not necessarily a rational process, because the Minister and Paul will agree that the Agreement is in the best interests of all the community. I thought the Minister put some very good objections, but I didn’t hear him say clearly anything to convince me that the Irish Government, as of the moment, have the ideas that will arrest the drift to the collapse of the institutions.
Loyalist violence: “Two things Paul said that could perhaps be commented on later. He talked about the fact that most of the violence now is from the Loyalist side. Is there a possibility that in some way that can be combated and, in some measure, arrested?
Republican “adventures”: “Secondly, he spoke about the fact that Gerry Adams lets the “boys”, get up to their tricks in Colombia and Castlereagh, something which is incredibly provocative and upsetting to the Unionist community. Is that something that he and his leadership could take seriously and in some way meet the Unionist concern? The overall suggestion tonight, and Paul, as a Professor of politics might have something interesting to say here: we all know that hard-liners become soft-liners once they are in power. Is it possible, Paul, that the Minister is correct in saying that this is the only game in town and if then Jeffrey Donaldson or somebody else replaces David Trimble that in fact he will essentially pursue the Trimble agenda with perhaps a rather different rhetoric?
Replies to questions 1 and 2:
Paul Bew: Re SDLP “I will immediately address the issue of the role of the SDLP. It is something I am very worried about, in the discussion so far, and it’s not the Minister’s fault. It was an amazing bravura performance. But it’s this: because I am and have been for twenty years a friend of David Trimble’s, you should not assume that the views that I have put tonight are his views – unless you know it to be the case. Now in the case of the border poll, you know it is to be the case. But I think it is very important to understand -this goes back on something that Roy Garland has said – that actually there is no contempt in the Ulster Unionist Party for the SDLP. And I have a view, which I have expressed to you, which I think is the realistic view of the great majority of political commentators in Northern Ireland: that it may not be as Dr. Brian Feeney says it is going to go to seventy-thirty rapidly among Nationalists, but that it is as certain as we can be sure about any electoral result that the majority of members returned to the next parliament from the Nationalist community will be Sinn Fein rather than SDLP. This is actually a commonplace of contemporary discourse. I said myself, I used the phrase “heartbreaking”. That was my genuine attitude towards that, but I do not think that you should presume that the First Minister believes this, because in my view he still retains a totally open mind on this question.
Border poll: “And, if I can add further, he believes that there is no evidence that the border poll will weaken the SDLP. The advice from pollsters is: a high turnout in the Catholic community is likely to help the party which has the least organisation. That there will be a high turnout of Catholics, and they will in the great majority of cases be voting for a united Ireland, but it will actually help the party which doesn’t have the organisation on the ground. So it is absolutely vital that my remarks – which are not in any way original, the conventional wisdom of all political commentators to be honest in Belfast, the only difference between me and the majority of commentators is that I regard it with horror. A lot of people are worshipping now at the rising sun of Mr. Adams – but that my remarks are not taken as his [David Trimble’s] particular view on this particular point. He is still of the belief that the way forward is the strengthening of the centre for Ireland, if that is at all possible, and he is still of the view that the border poll does not conflict with that. It is vitally important that what I have said should not be run in to any opinions of his, I’ve just been made very nervous about that.
Alternatives: “Now John [Feighery] has raised a crucial question which is: should we be obsessed with personalities? And he’s raised the possibility – and it’s in Roy Garland’s remarks as well – where is Jeffrey Donaldson on these matters? Jeffrey Donaldson, the day of the referendum said, as a democrat, he’d lost the referendum. He is still saying that we want to retain Stormont, but we do not want to pay the price of dealing with what he calls “unreconstructed terrorists”, but that is obviously a concept that is open to debate. What is an “unreconstructed terrorist”? There is obviously a space there. I would go further. I think that there are people in the DUP – and Peter Robinson is an obvious example – who are looking desperately for ways to preserve Stormont. … These people are afraid of a smash-up. There is no belief that there is a better deal for Unionists on offer. I should warn the Minister – and he may be flattered by this – there is a bit of a view in the Unionist community which is that, “well, so what if there is joint authority or there is a united Ireland or whatever? I’d rather have that nice Michael McDowell as Minister for Justice, than some of the candidates I’m likely to have in Northern Ireland”. That view is there, believe me!
“And its quite a widespread view that “so what, this is dirty, this current arrangement, unless Sinn Fein are made to clean up their act somewhat, I can’t tolerate this and don’t bother me about there’s going to be direct rule and Irish input, there’s going to be joint authority”. In actual fact I think the British government would be very wary of joint authority for profound reasons of it’s own: self-interest and financial interests and so on. The point is the electorate is not frightened, it’s not even frightened of a united Ireland. The mood is quite different. It is not motivated in most cases – except by a few cadres of the Ulster Unionist Party and not the people – by the idea that a better deal is possible. It’s very important to understand that aspect of the mood, very important indeed.
DUP cannot save the Agreement if UUP moves hard to the right: “But the DUP cannot deliver if the Ulster Unionist Party is driven hard to the right. The DUP delivers what it currently delivers, via Peter Robinson, to keep the institutions afloat, because the Ulster Unionist Party is in the centre, and that then creates a pressure on the DUP to keep the thing going. It is vitally important to understand this. There is no possibility of Peter Robinson riding to the rescue of this Agreement if David Trimble goes down. None. Dr. Ian Paisley will make absolutely certain that doesn’t happen. Trimble has to be there in place, or somebody like him, with something like those policies, to create the incentive for the DUP to carry on. It’s a complete failure of understanding of dynamics to believe that the DUP can suddenly save the Agreement in a context in which the Ulster Unionist Party has moved hard to the right.
Border poll: “And it’s not really all that much about the election, I have to tell you. The election is stupid, stupid, if you have an election, which is going to be an election to nothing, and all the candidates know it is an election to institutions which are going down. And let me say this, it will be horribly polarised. If I can say – well John [Feighery] is here and he knows my background in this matter, we both worked together in the Irish Association. I actually believe in that approach to Irish affairs, very profoundly. I believe in the moderate consensus coming together. I am totally opposed to sectarianism and therefore why am I taking about a border poll here, which has such a risk? I’ll tell you two reasons: one, without it I suspect this election is going to be horrendously polarising and destabilising anyway, it’s not going to add much to that. But secondarily, I have come to realise from the days when John and I were running around organising the Irish Association in Dublin and Belfast, that you have to take as a given the passions of the population of Northern Ireland – either Nationalist, Republican or Catholic or Unionist, Protestant and so on – and there is no point in wishing they were different. You have to look at where they are and then you have to say “well now that’s where they are, but they’re not bad people and they’d rather have peace than war, so how can we arrange it that we allow their better emotions and their more common-sense emotions to triumph?”
Ingrained sectarianism: “That what the ideas that I put to you tonight are all about and I’m afraid you just have to accept the ingrained sectarianism in most people in Northern Ireland. Something I came extremely reluctantly to, very much in my forties, but I’ve had a lot more success in terms of the influence of benign political developments in Northern Ireland once I came to terms with that simple logic. So it’s just no good to say we don’t want it polarising, it’s going to be awful. The question is what’s the outcome going to be? Imagine the outcome, imagine that you actually get the situation with a Unionist community, because of a border poll, had enough confidence to make a deal with Sinn Fein. That’s the prize that we’re talking about here.
Difficulty about being prescriptive: “Just a final word on all of this. There’s a very tricky referendum now on Nice [Nice Treaty]. I could not honestly give you serious analysis of that referendum. Now, I’m a Professor of Irish politics, my family comes from Cork, I’ve written books – two books – about the politics of the Republic. I still would not be able to advise the Minister on the right course to get a “yes” vote. I couldn’t do it, because the rhythms of the society in the Republic today, I’m not sufficiently attuned to, even though I know a lot more about it than most people who live in Northern Ireland. I spend a lot more time there. Now, I do think it behoves even the most brilliant members of the Irish Government to come to terms with the possibility, just the possibility, that there is a difficulty about being prescriptive about the balance of forces in the North, which is similar to the difficulty that I would have if I started telling you how to run a Nice referendum campaign and what the right buttons to press are and what they are not. Thank you.”
Q. 3: “It’s interesting to hear the government telling the Unionists that they have to accept former terrorists in government. In the next five years, or whenever the next Flood Tribunal report comes out, the Government might well have to share power with Sinn Fein, and then what is their attitude to that going to be?”
Q.4: “I think that there’s a fundamental contradiction in much of what Paul was saying tonight. On the one hand he’s saying that he’s in favour of the Good Friday Agreement, and at the same time he says he’s disheartened at the rise of Sinn Fein. Well, to my mind the whole idea of the Good Friday Agreement was to bring people like Sinn Fein into the democratic process, so if you support the Good Friday Agreement, you’ve got to support the rise of Sinn Fein, because that is what it was all about and that was what was going to happen. If you want to see the demise of Sinn Fein, then what I suggest is that if you don’t support the Good Friday Agreement then you encourage them to go back to war.
Q.5 Cllr. Sean Collins (Fianna Fail, Drogheda): “If you say that the SDLP are on the slide, what is the answer? What should they do? What would make them hungry enough to fight back? You know, history, I think, is repeating itself in many ways. If you look to 1926, with the establishment of Fianna Fail and the appearance of the “bogey man” in De Valera. Same way as Adams is the “bogey man” today. Sinn Fein today are in many ways like Fianna Fail was then: they were hungry then, they’ve got out on the ground they’ve organised themselves. I couldn’t believe the result of the last general election in the South, to see them take so many seats and you know in this constituency, they could possibly have taken another one. What would make the SDLP hungry enough to fight back?
Q. 6. Cllr. Phil Cantwell (Ind., Trim UDC): “I was recently at a mass in the Short Strand and there used to be a very, very strong voice, a priest there called Fr. O’Brien and unfortunately and he’s gone from the area, so I was just wondering how does the influence of Fr. O’Brien – which would be equivalent to Fr. Troy – I wonder is that missed? Because what concerns me is that at that church I was rather intimidated by a group of individuals, obviously they were in the IRA, with dark glasses marching on a Sunday morning through the Short Strand, and then I was worried to see graffiti on the wall which said: “the Village supports Sharon” [Ariel Sharon] I was wondering is that an ominous trend? And the question I want to ask is, did the ‘missing’ of Gary McMichael in the process, had it any influence on the infighting of the Loyalist groups and is the exclusion by the Irish Government of Sinn Fein, has it been causing problems?
Q.7: Senator Mary White (Fianna Fail, Dublin): “I would like to ask Paul Bew why David Trimble doesn’t criticise more the Loyalist paramilitary activity in North Belfast and East Belfast? There doesn’t seem to be any mainstream Unionist leadership on the paramilitary activity on the Loyalist side.
Q.8: [Slane resident] “May I make some comment, not specifically on the Nice referendum here, but on the issue of globalisation, because that’s what the Nice referendum to some extent is about. The increased sovereignty within Europe as a bundle of countries and maybe slightly decreased sovereignty in some senses of Ireland as an island, but that these issues may contribute a lot in terms of dissipating this localised Republican versus Loyalist heat. We end up with maybe a couple of ghettoes, a few small ghettoes when this process is over, because a lot of the younger generation in the North are actually voting with their feet, walking out and walking away from this kind of localised, tribalised violence. That may be, as Minister McDowell said, economic prosperity takes away the need for tribal warfare, but that there is a global consumerist issue which may be a greater political threat to everybody. We sense the younger generation not interested in political thought and communal responsibility and that these are issues, global issues, that often supersede many of these smaller local republican problems that we have.
Q.9: [Kells resident]: “The speaker referred to the Westminster pro-Patten legislation about to be introduced. On an optimistic point of view I would suggest that it seems likely that Sinn Fein will join the Police Board in the event of it being to their satisfaction. That could all happen before the January meeting, in which case it may free up the decommissioning problem, and maybe things will free up, a list of events that will follow as a result of it. Thank you.”
Q.10: Cllr. Jim Cousins (PD, Dundalk): “…. Paul Bew said about these agreements with the Unionists, these propositions that come up, these motions that come up, Paul Bew more or less said “pass no remarks on them”, it’s just word-playing. But Mark Durkan issued a warning tonight, that if that kind of thing goes through, the SDLP will withdraw from the Police Board …. because the Unionists have more or less said, you know, they want to change Patten. And I don’t agree that the SDLP is a party that’s on the down. There have been plenty of parties here in the South that people thought were wiped out, but we came back with a bang.
Replies to questions 3-10
[Initial fragment of this section inaudible on tape]
Minister McDowell: Re SDLP: “… I don’t want to seem to be scoring points here and I’m conscious that it may be that when Paul said that the SDLP are finished – it was his phrase not my phrase – that he was purely saying that as the larger of the two parties in Northern Ireland on the Nationalist side they were finished, and there is a nod there in agreement and I’m glad of that at any rate, because to see them as a party, which was finished in the ordinary understanding of that term is to me a deeply and profoundly depressing scenario.
Sinn Fein’s Marxism: “Let’s be clear about Sinn Fein: Sinn Fein as far as we know, is a party whose ideology on economic matters is old-fashioned Marxism. In so far as they ever make themselves clear on these issues – and it’s mainly in internal documents and party productions of one kind or another which the rest of us are fortunate enough not to have to read – the gist of what they are saying is old-fashioned Marxist, socialist analysis of an economic kind. They’re not in the mainstream of modern, liberal democracy as far as the economic side of it is concerned. There is no point in calling a spade anything other than a spade. And, therefore if people say to me “would you coalesce with them?” No. I went into politics to oppose Marxism. I opposed it when it came from the Worker’s Party, I opposed it when it comes from Joe Higgins’ Trotskyite form of Marxism, I oppose it when it comes from Sinn Fein. That’s the first thing.
“The second thing is I don’t ever envisage a circumstance in which I will sit down around a Cabinet table with a group of Marxists to try and plan out our economy, because I believe that I fundamentally differ with them on what this country needs. So people who say to me, you know, “why would you rule out Sinn Fein?” – it isn’t solely their paramilitary side that disqualifies them. In my view they are not what I would consider to be people with whom I could do business with on economic issues. That’s my personal point of view, you may like it or dislike it, but that’s the way it is as far as I’m concerned.
Sinn Fein joining the Police Board: “Sinn Fein could easily join the Police Board, if they chose to do it, but at the moment it’s quite clear that they’re keeping their options open on that, because they say they’d consider doing it in certain circumstances, and they are playing a hard game of electoral poker, because they consider that they have an advantage over the SDLP by withholding support for the policing institutions of Northern Ireland at the moment. It may well be that they might decide that they are so advantaged in the present thing, and that Paul’s pessimistic view about the SDLP’s prospects are so correct, that they could take the risk of going into policing before the Christmas or before the next Assembly election. Somehow I doubt that. And the reason I doubt that I have to say very simply is that the Republican movement isn’t simply a whole load of Sinn Fein electoral offices or a whole load of Sinn Fein cumann meetings. It is a whole way of thinking, part of which regards itself as more legitimate as a group of people to decide what happens in the Short Strand, or the Bogside or anywhere else, than any police force. And that suits a lot of people because it gives them on a local basis power over their neighbours: power to determine disputes, influence, the right not to be insulted at its very least, the right to coerce other people to their way of thinking at the very worst. And therefore dismantling paramilitarism and adopting the police force of Northern Ireland as legitimate is going to require quite a wrench. I’m not saying it’s something which I justify withholding for a moment, but withholding support is something which is easier for them to do at the moment and present circumstances politically than not doing. That’s not a justification for that, it’s just a statement of fair analysis and fact.
UUC resolution: “I heard what was said here earlier, but I come back to this point: we cannot take it as a position that we are to disregard the fine print of the motion passed at the Unionist Council the other day. We just can’t do that. And, tempting though it is, Paul, to say “that’s just the usual guff” and “they would say that wouldn’t they” and all the rest. This was a composite statement put together by David Trimble with his antagonists. This was a means of uniting the Unionist Party and in order to get the degree of unity that David Trimble thought was necessary on the occasion in question, he and his supporters agreed to language which seems to threaten the Patten dispensation. And they can’t have it both ways, because whereas that may be okay, that’s the equivalent of letting the “lads” go to Colombia as far as other people in Northern Ireland are concerned. You can’t have it. You can’t say “we’re pro-Agreement, but let’s unravel Patten a little bit”, and at the same time say “you on the other side are breaching the Mitchell Principles” – which undoubtedly the Provisional movement has done in the past – but “your fault is something which is irremediable and is something serious, but just ignore us we do these strange little things from time to time on our side of the equation”.
Ethnic cleansing in Larne and Carrickfergus: “And I do take the point that was mentioned earlier about violence in Northern Ireland, and I do believe – and it’s a thing by the way which didn’t occur to me in recent weeks because it’s a thing that since I have been Attorney General and since I have been a Minister has been occurring to me more and more strongly – you can argue about who threw the first stone, or who fired the first firework or who put the first petrol bomb over the peace line here or there in Belfast. You can’t argue with what’s happening in Larne and Carrickfergus. There is systematic ethnic-cleansing going on there. Systematic ethnic-cleansing of Catholic families. They are being forced up the coast of Antrim to places like Glenarm and Cushendal. They are being forced out of their homes, and I do say that the pro-agreement Unionists and the SDLP could make a huge impression by going and standing in solidarity against that form of violence. And it’s very easy for politicians – not for the SDLP, because they find it very difficult in fact to get into interface areas and to fly the flag – but it’s easy for Republicans to stand on one side of a riot and say “look at the PSNI, look at the Loyalists and all the rest of it”. It’s easy for David Trimble to stand on the other side and say “here is the golf ball that was thrown at me in front of a ‘welcome to hell’ slogan”, but the real trick, if I may put it in those terms, would be for Mark Durkan and David Trimble – and I think this is where Unionism has most to give – to go up to the estates in Carrickfergus and in Larne and to stand up against vicious sectarian violence against ordinary people who have done no harm to anybody at all.
Countering sectarianism: “I accept Paul’s point, but it is a profoundly depressing one, that you have to address the fundamental sectarian nature of Northern Ireland’s society and that if you fail to do that, I suppose he’s effectively saying you are in the “Pollyanna” mode rather than in a real analytical mode. But sectarianism must be countered by the emergence of the centre, not by the two extremes. …The two extremes thrive on sectarianism. Sinn Fein thrives on sectarianism, in a sense that it is well served by the Loyalist viciousness which it claims to protect the Catholic people from, and it is well-served by vicious bigotry against isolated Protestants in border areas. That is the stuff on which Sinn Fein thrives. It’s the centre-ground, the SDLP, who oppose sectarianism, the people who vote for mayors of other parties, the people who try and bring out co-operation between the centre parties. It’s there that sectarianism will be challenged. And accepting, as I do, Paul’s statement that the SDLP was finished, meant only that they were finished in his view as the likely majority party within the Nationalist community, though I don’t agree with that proposition myself. Accepting that that’s his view, it still strikes me that the Unionists as a community should realise that they need the SDLP to be as strong as possible as it can be, and that that requires sacrifice on the Unionist side and that the tribalistic headcount and this pernicious, nasty, obnoxious election that Paul is referring to now, that that is not the way in which moderate politics are going to prosper and people are going to cross over the sectarian divides with their third, fourth and fifth preferences.
UUC resolution can’t be disregarded: “I know that Paul telling me that it would be hard for him to offer advice on the Nice referendum which was valuable, I know that what he was saying by implication was that I should be equally careful about making prescriptions about Northern Ireland, but, unsubtle thought that point was, we all live on an island, we all live in two islands, and the great majority of people on these two island are completely on the side of supporting the centre, the moderate centre. And we can’t be asked, as I say, to turn our eyes away from the small detail of the resolutions that are passed by the Unionist Council. We just can’t be asked to do that, because there two sides to this story and if you want to get SDLP people – and the point was made by Jim Cousins here – if you want Mark Durkan to survive in all of this, he has to respond to a motion which has as one of it’s elements the unravelling of the Patten Report. And you just can’t say “ignore that, we’ll just get on with it and after the election we’ll all sort this out”. If that is the price of Unionist unity it is an indication that public hostility to one of the cornerstones of the Good Friday Agreement, which is the Patten Report, is necessary to sustain the Unionist Party and that’s very hard to reconcile with the claim being made that it is an unambiguously pro-Agreement party. Thanks.
Prof. Paul Bew: “I am grateful to the Minister for just the whole spirit that he has approached that. I think we should all realise that we are all obviously privileged. For a Government Minister to come in and put aside his prepared script and engage with the issues the way that Michael has done is something, in most countries in Europe today, simply would not happen, and I’m extremely grateful to him for the way that he has done it, and also very glad to clarify my own remarks, which were probably ill-chosen.
SDLP: “I hope that there was no misunderstanding in the first place, but he is quite right, I simply meant finished as the largest Nationalist party, and I sincerely hope that the scenario of others like Dr. Brian Feeney, as I think I did indicate, that it is going to go very quickly to seventy-thirty within Nationalism, that that scenario is not the case and I’m not at all sure at this point that that is true, not at all sure, that that scenario of Dr. Feeney’s is right.
Policing and UUC resolution: “On the [UUC] motion, I quite accept the Minister’s point. I don’t think it’s possible for Mark Durkan not to say that this is a silly motion to which he takes objection and looks like an attempt to put the clock back. I could make points about why there are genuine Unionist concerns about policing. I could say that the Good Friday Agreement, in the language which prefaces and leads into the discussion on the need for something like the Patten Report, says that this must go on in the context in which it’s accepted the police force that cannot keep public order will have lost all respect. And we had the acting Chief Constable six weeks ago saying that there was now a police force that couldn’t keep public order. So there is a problem here about the Agreement, a non-fulfilment of it and it’s not all, the problem about non-fulfilment of the Agreement on policing matters is not simply a matter of: there are these Patten provisions that should be carried out.
“It’s also important language in the Agreement, which, by the open and explicit statements of the leadership of the Police Service of Northern Ireland themselves, have not been met. So the non-fulfilment of the Agreement on policing is a two-sided matter actually, not a one-sided matter, and it’s because of comments like that, which people visibly see on their streets every day. It’s because of comments like that that you do get part of the sentiment which leads into a motion, which personally I think was silly.
“I think that it’s perfectly credible if, in my opinion, worrying, for the Ulster Unionist Party to say “we have a problem with this transition, what is it about Castlereagh and Colombia that you don’t understand? Does anybody honestly believe that the day of the referendum you had told David Trimble that you are going to have to get by in the face of your supporters reading about such events in your newspaper?” There is a problem as to where the Republican movement is and clear signs that they are not, to many people, in the process of making a transition. I personally believe they are in the process of making that transition, but it’s a hard, hard argument to make now. There’s a lot of common sense that goes against it. Okay. So that’s the difficulty, that is the difficulty and that is the position that he’s in.
David Trimble: “I’ll tell you something now, David Trimble believed that when decommissioning was achieved that was it, it was over and the Agreement was safe and he had climbed his personal Everest, the breakthrough was done. He wasn’t too worried in the next election. Perhaps the DUP beat him. If so, in many ways he’s quite prepared to be – what you would understand in your own terms – the Liam Cosgrave of the situation, as somebody who established the institutions, got them up and running and, if another political party then takes over and runs them, there and good. That’s the worst-case scenario that he thought was the case after decommissioning. He found himself in an entirely different position. He has his weaknesses.
Countering sectarianism: “I quite agree with those who have raised the issue about his speaking out on sectarianism. He has done so, but not often enough in the situation in North Belfast, and I think what the Minister said about the situation in Carrickfergus and Antrim is entirely right, unfortunately, and that is something which, if the centre were working together better, at least more of a fist could be made of doing it. Which is not to say that those two men have not made a fist of trying to do things, for example Mark and David together in North Belfast. But unfortunately you have a situation where a great deal of Unionist political energy is taken up with this wretched internecine warfare. Other better things just quite frequently do not get done.
Trimble’s commitment to the Agreement: “But, you must remember, when you complain about Mr. Trimble’s commitment to this Agreement, who in this room has seen their wife kicked by a mob in the name of this Agreement? It’s very simple, there is really absolutely no doubt about his commitment to this Agreement and you should always bear this in mind.
Policing motion a Unionist “wish-list”: “It is going to be very difficult, I agree, this motion is a problem. I am not saying that as a matter of real political fact, people are not going to pick up on it and make the arguments – of course they are. I am saying that also as a matter of real political fact the truth is that the legislation is going to be introduced in the House of Commons, it’s going to take time going through parliament, these matters are not going to be sorted out on the 18th [January].
“What that resolution says: it expresses a Unionist wish-list on policing on some of the more reactionary members of the Ulster Unionist Party. That’s what it is – it’s a wish-list. If you want to say “well, I’m not going to think about how I’m going to save the Good Friday Agreement, because I’m so insulted about what they’ve said about policing”, you’re very welcome to say it, but then don’t tell me how you are “dying for the Agreement”, to use the phrase, because I think it is absolutely a futile thing to do. It expresses a Unionist wish-list.
“I want to just leave you with a thought. All the time just think of human beings, other human beings different from yourselves, and imagine what they might actually think. And the truth of the matter is that you have a group of people in the Ulster Unionist Assembly Party, you have a group in the DUP Assembly Party. I have absolutely no doubt, the DUP will issue a statement tomorrow saying let’s have an election and we’re going to romp home and so on, that this is said with a sickness in the heart, because they know that it’s an election to nothing in all probability, the way things are going now and they know we are heading for a smash-up the way things are now. And, most of these people basically are afraid of a smash-up, they want somehow to keep this show on the road, above all. That is the Assembly members, that is the people who will actually meet again on January the 18th . And they do not want to be responsible for a smash-up. They may not believe that the Agreement has made the Northern Irish economy flower in ways it didn’t flower before. They don’t. By the way they’re probably right, but they do believe that it would be a nastier place without it and they do not want that responsibility and I think you should focus on that.
Republican movement: John [Feighery] raised a key question here – is there anything the Republican movement could do? Well at this point, before this trial in Colombia is over, it is hard, but if it is over or if it happens quickly and if, for example, people are found guilty it would be very helpful indeed if we had an honest explanation, possibly even something along the lines of an apology for what actually happened there. An acceptance of the fact that it does fly in the face of the principles on the very first page of the Agreement. I actually believe that the governments are in a position to move the Republican movement along those lines. It’s impossible to do it before the trial, but I do think it is something that should be considered.
Border poll: “Now I am going to conclude by saying I have argued a case for the border poll, which I do believe in, although I totally accept some of the things which the Minister says about the risks, but at this point I would be perfectly happy with a statement from both governments that they were taking the matter under review and they were going to think about it for a good long time.
Delaying the Assembly election: “At this point it is more important to look at the issue of delay of the election. At this point, if you want to get stability into the politics of the North again, I think it very important. …. At this point I don’t think it is at the centre of the discussion. I believe it could come back. I believe, by the way, had the governments gone for it earlier in the year, we’d be in a totally different political situation now. And why? Because of a simple political fact: Jeffrey Donaldson and David Burnside wanted it, and it would have put them in a pro-Trimble alignment, because they believe for one reason or another it would work. And had that happened, then the Donaldson-Burnside pincer movement against Trimble did not happen this autumn. I believe a massive opportunity was missed to avoid the crisis that we’re now in. But it’s missed now, it’s water under the bridge, and at this point I think the important thing is simply that people in both governments look seriously at the proposal. At this stage what disappoints me is that the thinking in both governments – perhaps less in the British government – is still at a kind of very early stage, and the complexities of this thing have not been thought through, and people are still reacting on the basis of half an understanding on what’s actually at stake here. … And, as I say, this is not necessarily David’s view, but it is mine at the moment, but I do think you have to look seriously into a crucial issue which is this: the fact that if this election happens next May, this Assembly will only have been working for just over three years and it is clearly the original intention that it would work for four, and circumstances which are nobody’s fault have meant it hasn’t worked for that time. It seems to be entirely in the spirit of the Agreement. It doesn’t involve changing a word of the Agreement.
Need for review of mechanism for electing First and Deputy First Minister: “Now why do I say these things about the problem about Sinn Fein? Of course the Agreement is about bringing in Sinn Fein, but the truth of the matter is that the two parties who principally negotiated it – both the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists – in a fit of hubris, for which they are both guilty, agreed to arrangements for the election of the First Minister which now challenges both of them. In the last two or three days of the negotiation, those two parties had the power to do something which the Minister has talked about: strengthen the centre ground. And to strengthen the centre ground by privileging, not just in the voting for First Minister and Deputy First Minister, getting a certain percentage of the vote, they made a huge mistake by putting it at 50% rather that 40% and they made the huge mistake of not privileging your acceptability to the other side in the mechanism that was reached. And the reason why they did was that the SDLP believed on the eve of the Good Friday Agreement they were going from strength to strength. It never occurred to them, and I quite agree, it didn’t occur to me so I am not criticising them, that they would be unable to produce the 50% and that’s why they put it in and they didn’t put in safeguards that they were supposed to have done. And the Ulster Unionist Party the same. They are both equally guilty of a negotiating failure which could have saved all this worry about the next election and a review of the agreement now could deal with that. I will point out to you Senator George Mitchell was hinting at that a couple of years ago when he talked about the need to alter its architecture. That is another way out. If we actually simply moved and changed the provision under review to 40%: 40% to the election of First Minister and Deputy First Minister. That again would introduce that air of stability.
“But the simple point is: yes the Ulster Unionists in the Assembly and the DUP may be very reactionary, very silly, but most of them do not want to see a smash-up of this Agreement. Most of them are happy with the way it works and that includes working on a daily basis with Sinn Fein and we have to provide a means of concentrating, not on the detail, but the fundamental facts of people’s political psychology to turn this thing into a more benign context than we are currently in. Thank you very much.”
Chair: Ercus Stewart, S.C. “It’s just left to me to close down, and I want to thank both of our speakers. Clearly you have seen both of them – and I was delighted to see Michael putting aside his speech, although I hope we will read the other speech in the papers in the morning – both were clearly frank and forthright, they were definitely enthusiastic, all the elbowing and knees I gave to both of them wouldn’t shut them up! Both of them, I think, spoke forthrightly and frankly and it was a delight and a refreshing experience, whether you agree or disagree. I want to thank both of them, I want to thank those of you here who came and asked questions, those of you who came and listened, and those who came just to support. I think, last of all, neither speaker would be here, and none of us would be here, including myself, except for the Meath Peace Group, so I will hand over to Julitta for the last word…
Thanking the speakers and Chair, Julitta Clancy said: “I would just like to echo the Chairman’s words. I very much appreciate the honesty and candour of both speakers tonight. This is a very sensitive and serious issue and it needs honesty – honest talking and honest facing up to the difficulties of each side. We would hope that over the next few months there will be a lot of honest talking and listening, both publicly and privately. We need the public element also, because we need the people on the ground to carry whatever is going to be brought forward, we need a base to support it. Some of us were at the recent SDLP conference which Roy [Garland] addressed. It was the same day as the UUC meeting [21st September]. The news of the resolution came through while we were there, and one delegate, whom I have known for several years, said to me: “the reality is they just don’t want to share power with us, that’s it”. And I heard the same from several other delegates. What I am trying to say here is, that while a huge amount of work has been done at the leadership level in these parties – and there has been a lot of talk here tonight about the “centre” – there has been very little done, among those parties, to actually work together to start understanding and respecting each other, something which groups like ours and the Guild of Uriel in Louth, have been doing for many years now, working with small groups of people. There is a need for the pro-Agreement parties in particular to get down there and start facilitating the listening process, listening to the real concerns of the other…. Because sometimes it’s not the issues that are actually causing the problem: often it’s not being listened to. In the opening chapter of the Agreement the parties committed themselves to working for reconciliation, and while great progress has been made in setting up institutions and delivering reforms, that commitment to reconciliation has often taken second place The word “reconciliation” is sometimes seen as a dirty word in some quarters and the work of reconciliation is viewed with suspicion, but whatever we call it, the commitment [in the Agreement] is surely about the bringing about of an understanding and harmony between the two main traditions on this island. That is still the greatest challenge facing us and, in my view, it is the only way to effectively overcome sectarianism in the long term.”
Meath Peace Group report, October 2002. © Meath Peace Group
Transcribed by Julitta Clancy and Catriona FitzGerald, and edited by Julitta Clancy. Taped by Oliver Ward, Catriona FitzGerald, and Anne Nolan.
APPENDIX A: UUC RESOLUTION OF 21 SEPTEMBER 2002
1. The Ulster Unionist Party reaffirms the commitment that we gave to the people of Northern Ireland in our election manifesto in 1998, namely that “we will not sit in government with reconstructed terrorists.”
2. The Ulster Unionist Party further affirms its commitment to the Mitchell Principles of democracy and non-violence and its determination to achieve a real and lasting peace, with stable government in Northern Ireland. The Ulster Unionist Party will judge all the terrorist organisations in terms of the level of their commitment to the Mitchell Principles. In particular, the UUP will continue to demand the total disarmament and disbandment of all terrorist groups including the IRA.
3. The Ulster Unionist Party supports devolution and has worked hard in the Assembly to deliver good government for all the people of Northern Ireland. Whilst we wish to sustain the institutions of government through the Assembly, we are equally determined to protect the democratic integrity of those institutions. In view of the failure of Sinn Fein/IRA to honour their commitment to exclusively peaceful means, the Ulster Unionist Party will, with immediate effect, adopt a policy of non-participation in meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council involving Sinn Fein, at both plenary and bilateral level. In the absence of Ulster Unionist ministers, the NSMC will cease to function.
4. The Ulster Unionist Party will seek an urgent meeting with our Prime Minister to place before him our demand that he honours the pledge he gave on April 10th, 1998, to provide an effective exclusion mechanism to enable Sinn Fein/IRA to be removed from ministerial office. The Prime Minister will be informed that the UUP will not return to the NSMC and will take further action in relation to our participation in the executive unless he honours his pledge.
5. The Ulster Unionist Party will initiate talks with the other parties and the Government over the next three months to ensure that there is a viable basis for the future governance of Northern Ireland and that unless upon the conclusion of such talks it has been demonstrably established that a real and genuine transition is proceeding to a conclusion, the party leader will recommend to a reconvened UUC meeting on January 18th, 2003, the immediate resignation of all Ulster Unionist ministers from the administration.
6. The Ulster Unionist Party reiterates its full support for the police and the rule of law. We will press the Prime Minister to set aside or vary the discriminatory 50/50 recruitment policy to enable additional officers to be recruited on the basis of merit alone and to give a firm commitment on the retention of the full-time reserve. The Ulster Unionist Party will oppose further unnecessary changes to the policing legislation and gives notice that it will withdraw from the Policing Board in the event of the government capitulating to the unreasonable demands of Sinn Fein/IRA for further police reform including places for convicted terrorists on district policing partnership boards.
7. The Ulster Unionist Party will press the government to introduce appropriate legislative measures and provide adequate resources in support of the Organised Crime Task Force to ensure that the criminal activities of the paramilitary organisations are closed down and that greater accountability is created.
8. The Ulster Unionist Party will further press the government to establish a special unit to support those who have been illegally exiled from Northern Ireland by terrorist organisations and will demand that these people and their families be enabled to return home. The UUP will also press for the formation of a Victims Commission to oversee and co-ordinate support for the innocent victims of terrorist violence.
9. The Ulster Unionist Party will continue to vigorously oppose any amnesty for IRA terrorists “on the run”.
APPENDIX B: WRITTEN SPEECH OF MINISTER MICHAEL MCDOWELL.
[Editor’s note: In responding to Professor Bew’s analysis, Minister for Justice Michael McDowell departed from his supplied script. We reproduce below the text of the original script for his talk as supplied on the night.]
“At the outset, I wish to thank the organisers of this evening’s event, the Meath Peace Group, and especially Julitta Clancy and our Chair for tonight, Ercus Stewart, for providing the opportunity for frank and constructive engagement and discussion of this topic which is vital to all people on this island. The Group continues to provide a constructive platform for debate on Northern Ireland related matters and I commend its success in developing contacts within Northern Ireland, particularly within the unionist community. I feel that the Group continues to perform a very useful outreach function.
I am especially pleased that the Group has also invited Paul Bew to be with us this evening. While he and I might reach different conclusions and judgements I believe that all of us find his perspective, insight and analysis extremely valuable.
I suppose that it is a measure of the complex and fraught nature of developments in relation to the Good Friday Agreement that, in considering in advance whether to accept an invitation to speak on the subject, one never quite knows what developments – positive or negative – will have taken place by the time the speaking engagement arrives. So, on the face of it, it might have been easier for me to take a more upbeat stance this evening if the developments at the Ulster Unionist Council last Saturday week hadn’t come about. But all of us who are committed to the process we are engaged in should remember that, while its course may never run as smoothly as we would wish, we would try to keep our eyes on the enormous prize that that process can deliver. It is very easy to point to what might be called crisis after crisis that seem to have bedevilled the process. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that through the persistent efforts of all the parties involved many of these problems have been worked through.
So, in attempting to address the question “where are we now?” I’m sure you will understand why I chose to accentuate the positive. And it is the case that, on four core issues of the Agreement – policing, decommissioning, security normalisation and the stability of the institutions – very substantial progress has been made. While this progress may have been obscured by negative developments emerging from other quarters in the process, it does not diminish the scale or importance of what has been achieved thus far.
A real example of encouraging and productive progress on the implementation of the Agreement can be seen in the process of change in policing. The Police Service of Northern Ireland has been established and its first cadre of recruits, representative of both communities, have taken up duty. A Policing Board, involving political representatives from both the nationalist and unionist traditions, is well established. It has been required to show maturity, cohesion and responsibility in addressing the major challenges which came its way over the last 10 months. Notwithstanding that all of these issues involved partisan pressures for the Board, it is fair to say that many people have been impressed with the distinction and determination members of the Board have shown in fulfilling its responsibilities.
The Irish Government has congratulated Hugh Orde on his appointment and we wish him well in his new post. The Garda Commissioner, Pat Byrne, and I have met him and we look forward to working closely with him in the months and years ahead.
It is very disappointing that Sinn Fein has not felt itself able to participate in the new policing structures. The view of the Government and of the SDLP was that, taken in their totality, the proposals of 1 August 2001 had the capacity to deliver the substance and spirit of the Patten Report. We believe that impressive developments since then have vindicated that judgement. I want to commend the SDLP for taking this great leap on behalf of nationalists. Their decision enables us to establish a vital foundation for lasting peace – a police service whose ethos and composition reflects the society it seeks to police and, in turn, merits the full support of that society. The current policing reviews and the forthcoming legislation, promised by the two Governments last August, provide the vehicle by which Sinn Fein can come on board, if it so chooses. I hope that Sinn Fein will make the decision to constructively engage with the new dispensation. But I think that it is important to stress that the issue of policing is not one to be seen in terms of concessions to one side of the community or the other. Too often developments in this area have tended to be judged, not on their objective merits, but on whether particular parties support or oppose them. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that a police force that has the support of all communities is clearly in the interests of all communities.
On 29 April last, my predecessor and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland signed the Inter-Governmental Agreement on the implementation of the Patten recommendations on structured cooperation between the Garda Siochana and the PSNI. This landmark Agreement allows for closer liaison, joint investigations, an annual conference, joint emergency planning, exchange of personnel, and cooperation in the area of training. It also makes provision for reciprocal arrangements for lateral entry and secondment with policing powers between the two police services, thereby offering new opportunities for police officers in both services. In keeping with the intent of the Good Friday Agreement and the Patten Report, we are now laying the foundations for a new era of policing in Ireland.
Since September 2001 we have also seen two acts of decommissioning by the IRA. The Independent International Commission on Decommissioning described the first as a significant event in which the IRA had put a quantity of arms completely beyond use. It characterised the second act as involving a substantial and varied quantity of weapons. Regrettably, the reaction from some quarters was to minimise the importance of that step. What was once regarded as the litmus test of the bona fides of republicanism was, once it happened, dismissed by some as a cynical and tactical act. Given the sensitivity of this issue and its fundamental significance for the republican movement, any fair-minded observer must recognise that the achievement of two acts of decommissioning was a profoundly significant step forward in the peace process.
Welcome progress has also been made in the area of security normalisation. Two announcements in October and January last heralded the demolition of three observation towers in South Armagh, the dismantling of Magherafelt army base and the closure of Ebrington barracks in Derry. While all these decisions have got to be made in the context of an ongoing threat assessment, we should also recognise the confidence-building potential of such moves for communities which, in the past, have been heavily militarised. The more we normalise security arrangements on the ground, the more we reassure the affected communities that the promise of the Agreement is being realised.
Despite many challenges, the last year has also been a remarkably fertile period in the operation of the institutions of the Agreement. The Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive have been providing good and accountable government for the people of Northern Ireland. Substantial work and activity has also been going on in Strands 2 and 3 of the Agreement. As well as numerous Ministerial meetings at sectoral level, there have in the past year been two summit meetings of both the North/South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council. The fact that the operation of these institutions has not attracted a great deal of media attention is testament to the absence of discord in their proceedings and to the quiet success of the business at hand.
As I see it, these are the gains of the last year and they are, compared to where we were even twelve months ago, both considerable and impressive. And yet, as Ambassador Richard Haas has said, even before the developments of the last fortnight, the glass for many people is half empty rathern than half full. As well as gains, there have undeniably been strains over the last year. Cumulatively, these have had a debilitating effect on confidence in the capacity of the Agreement to deliver the promised new beginning.
These corrosive issues, including events in Colombia and the ongoing sectarian violence are of legitimate concern and must be addressed. However, they should first of all be addressed in the contexts in which they arise, rather than imported as crises into the institutional heart of the Agreement.
Community confidence in the outworking of the Agreement has been particularly affected by the constant media images of violence on the streets, rioting at the interfaces and the despicable sectarian attacks on innocent victims. That deficit of confidence exists in all communities and extends, not just to the actions of the paramilitaries, but also to the ability of the forces of law and order to protect people from sectarian attack. While North and East Belfast have dominated the news, minority communities in Larne, Antrim, Carrickfergus, Coleraine and Derry have also been victims of sectarian attack. I welcome the avowed determination of the new Chief Constable to identify and take action against those responsible.
In addition, effective and consistent policing will be required on the interfaces to get a firm grip on the instigators of violence and ensure they face the rigours of the law. Whoever started the trouble, whoever responded and whoever perpetuated it, the end-result in East Belfast has been a nightmare for the ordinary people who live in and around the Short Strand. I welcome the fact that recent policing tactics – involving a larger deployment of PSNI officers at this interface – seem to be having a positive impact on the ground.
However effective and robust, security and policing policies alone will not defuse the tensions in these interface areas. The communities themselves can assist by anticipating difficulties, providing an early alert to the other side of the community divide and managing trouble if it breaks out.
While the street violence experienced this summer has been intense, we can take some comfort from the fact that this year’s marching season passed off reasonably peacefully. While Drumcree Sunday saw some disgraceful scenes, they were at least short-lived and the PSNI managed the situation effectively and sensitively. In other areas, the parades passed off without incident or with relatively little trouble.
Considerable credit is due to the range of people who exercised a positive influence managing these parades and, where they were unwelcome, in urging calm and restraint. The considerable progress that has been made in Derry in recent years, involving dialogue between the loyal orders and the local residents, is a model which, in time, may commend itself to other contentious parades in Northern Ireland.
The Irish Government believes that the Parades Commission has been doing a good job in carrying out what is a very difficult task. The current Review being undertaken by Sir George Quigley will, we hope, add value to the work of managing contentious parades.
And yet, despite all the progress I have outlined above, there are some who believe that Northern Ireland society is now more divided, and that sectarianism is more deep-rooted, than ever before. While I understand why such a view might be advanced, I do not share it.
To those who assert that there is a deficit of confidence in the current process that must be addressed, I say – I agree. However, that deficit and the fear and suspicions I have just mentioned can only be addressed collectively and all sides have a contribution to make. The Agreement was a collective endeavour as was the ongoing effort to implement it. Sustaining confidence in the Agreement likewise requires a collective commitment.
I am on record as having said that the stakes are high and our responsibility great, and, previewing the period ahead, that remains the case. In the next year, the people of Northern Ireland pass verdict on those who have been the custodians of devolution in Northern Ireland. Inevitably, political decisions and positioning are increasingly influenced by the prospect of this electoral rendezvous. As one who, only a few months ago, emerged from a lengthy general election campaign, I can hardly decry the reality that, for all politicians, the first priority is to get elected. However, the second reality is that, once elected, those who have been entrusted by the people must be able to form a government.
Perhaps this is an appropriate point to say a few words about what was decided at the Ulster Unionist Council meeting last Saturday week. Obviously I don’t want to say anything which would be unhelpful but I cannot pretend that the outcome of that meeting was not disappointing and a matter of concern to the Irish Government. Partnership government and the full and inclusive operation of the institutions of the Agreement are the cornerstone of devolution in Northern Ireland. If there is to be devolved government, it must be on a basis which serves the interests of both communities and reflects the principle that the institutions are interlocking and independent. Of course, we recognise that further progress needs to be made in respect of all aspects of the Agreement. But our view is that experience has shown that this can be best advanced by fully working the Agreement. As the Taoiseach has pointed out, impeding its operation retards, rather than advances, the process of implementation and the achievement of political stability. In accordance with the Agreement, it is the responsibility of the two Governments, in consultation with the political parties, to address difficulties which may arise in its implementation. As you will know, last week Brian Cowen met John Reid as part of that process and consultations with the parties will, of course, continue.
I know that you would not expect me to come before you tonight to map out a detailed strategy as to where exactly we go from here. But, as always, the approach of the Irish Government will be to remain steadfastly committed to the fundamental principles of the Agreement: the constitutional status of Northern Ireland being grounded on consent; partnership and inclusive government open to all who use only democratic and non-violent means; the operation of the various institutions on an interlocking and interdependent basis; and the entrenchment of equality and civil and political liberties to protect both communities in Northern Ireland, irrespective of its constitutional status.
The months – and indeed the years – ahead will, without doubt, be challenging. However I believe those who had the courage to negotiate the Agreement and break out of the zero-sum mindset will be vindicated by the people. Because, in the final analysis, there is no visible alternative to the kind of balanced accommodation offered by the Agreement.
Partnership politics is at the core of the Agreement – partnership within the Assembly and Executive, between both parts of the island and between the peoples of these islands. The political institutions of the Agreement are the mechanisms through which those partnerships are formed and developed. They are partnerships which are not just worthy in themselves but deliver practical benefits for the people they are entrusted to serve. Within Northern Ireland there can be no gainsaying the fact that partnership is providing effective and accountable government. All shades of political opinion are involved in that process of government – even if the terms of their participation differ.
Partnership is also at the heart of the North/South structures, involving Ministers from the different traditions on this island working together. While my partners may come to the North/South table with different political values and identities than mine, their engagement had been motivated by a common desire to make a positive difference in the lives of the people they serve. The outputs of North/South partnership deliver mutual benefit to both parts of the island. They are the outworking of practical, sensible co-operation which threatens nobody’s cherished interests or aspirations. I am convinced that all of these initiatives represent win-win scenarios and, quite frankly, it makes all the more deep my sense of disappointment when the operation of these institutions is called into question for reasons not related to the benefits which they can bring to all the people of this island.
I should also mention the partnership and co-operation at the core of the British-Irish Council. This is working in a unique way to the mutual benefit of all the peoples of these islands.
So to return specifically to the question posed this evening: where are we now? I suspect not as far as many of us would have wished but, for all that, a lot further than many of us would have dared to hope even a decade ago. I do not seek to minimise the difficulties which we face. But I believe that we have to be clear about one thing: realistically we can only seek to address the difficulties which we face within the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and the principles of partnership which underpin it.
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES ON SPEAKERS AND CHAIR
Paul Anthony Bew was born in January 1950 and was educated at Campbell College, Belfast, and Cambridge University where he was awarded a Ph.D. in 1974. He is Professor of Irish Politics at Queen’s University Belfast and has lectured at the Ulster College, the University of Pennsylvania (Visiting Lecturer 1982-83), and Surrey University (Visiting Professor, 1997- ) and was Parnell Fellow at Magdalene College, Cambridge, from 1996-97. Professor Bew served as President of the Irish Association for Economic and Cultural Relations from 1990-92 and has been an Executive Member of the British-Irish Association since 1995. He is historical adviser to the Bloody Sunday Tribunal and is the author of numerous publications, articles and reviews including: Sean Lemass and the Making of Modern Ireland (1983), Conflict and Conciliation in Ireland, 1890-1910 (1987), The Dynamics of Irish Politics (1989), The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 1993-96 (1996), John Redmond (1996) and Northern Ireland: A Chronology of the Troubles (revised edition 1999)
Michael McDowell, T.D., Senior Counsel, was born in May 1951 and was educated at Gonzaga College, Dublin, UCD, and the King’s Inns, Dublin. He has been a member of the Council of King’s Inns since 1978 and was called to the Inner Bar in March 1987. His political career began when he was elected to the Dail for the Progressive Democrats in the constituency of Dublin South-East in 1987. Re-elected in 1992, he was party spokesman successively in Foreign Affairs, Northern Ireland, Trade and Tourism and Finance, and was appointed by the Tanaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to chair the Working Group on Company Law Enforcement and Compliance. In 1999 he was appointed by the Government to chair the Implementation Advisory Group on the Establishment of the Single Regulatory Authority for the Financial Services Industry. He served as Attorney General from July 1999 to June 2002. In February 2002 he was appointed President of the Progressive Democrats and was appointed Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform following his re-election to the Dail last June.
Ercus Stewart, Senior Counsel, was born in March 1949, and was educated at Colaiste Mhuire, Dublin, UCD and the King’s Inns, Dublin. He was called to the Inner Bar in 1982 and is also a member of the Bars of N.I., England and Wales, and Australia (N.S.W.). He acts as arbitrator in commercial arbitration, both international and domestic, is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, and has wide experience in dispute resolution and mediation. He lectures to various institutions, including King’s Inns, UCD and DIT, and has published books and articles on labour/employment law and commercial arbitration law. He is a former chairman of the Irish Society for Labour Law, the Irish Association of Industrial Relations and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, and is currently a member of Amnesty International (Lawyers Section), the European Lawyers’ Union, the International Bar Association and Co-operation Ireland.
Meath Peace Group Report. October 2002.
Transcribed by Julitta Clancy and Catriona FitzGerald, and edited by Julitta Clancy. Taped by Oliver Ward, Catriona FitzGerald, and Anne Nolan.
Acknowledgments: Meath Peace Group would like to thank the speakers and guest chair, Ercus Stewart for giving so generously of their time. We thank all who attended the talk, many coming from long distances, all who assisted in the planning, organisation, publicity and recording of the talk, all who prepared and served refreshments afterwards, and all who made contributions towards the costs of the talk. Special thanks as always to the Columban Fathers for permitting us the facilities of St. Columban’s, Dalgan Park, and to the Dept. of Foreign Affairs Reconciliation Fund for assistance towards the running costs of the talks.