MEATH PEACE GROUP TALKS
No. 47 – “Acts of Completion and Beyond – Beginning the Reconciliation Process“
Tuesday, 18th February 2003
St Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan, Co. Meath
David Ford, MLA (Leader of the Alliance Party)
Cllr. Dr. Chris McGimpsey (UUP, Shankill Road, Belfast)
Trudy Miller (NI Women’s Coalition, South Down)
Cllr. Francie Molloy, MLA(Sinn Fein, Mid-Ulster)
Chaired by Andy Pollak (Director, Centre for Cross-Border Studies, Armagh
Introduction (Andy Pollak)
Questions and Comments
Closing words: Andy Pollak and Julitta Clancy
Andy Pollak, Director of the Centre for Cross-Border Studies: “Thank you for inviting me to chair this session. We have a very distinguished panel here tonight. … I’m just going to say one wee tiny thing about reconciliation, because it’s a difficult term, “reconciliation”. Just to try and concentrate people’s minds a little bit: Hizkias Assefa, who is one of the international authorities on reconciliation, defines it as “honest acknowledgment of the harm or injury each has inflicted on the other, sincere regrets and remorse for the injury done, readiness to apologise, readiness to let go of the anger and bitterness, commitment by the offender not to repeat the injury, sincere effort to redress past grievances that caused the conflict and compensate for the damage caused, and entering into a new mutually enriching relationship”.
“So it’s a hard old station, reconciliation, a lot of work involved.
“So, having sort of semi- defined what is a very difficult term I’m now just going to go straight to the first speaker who is Cllr. Dr Chris McGimpsey. I’ve known Chris for many years – he is one of the most outspoken and courageous liberal unionists. He represents part of the Shankill Road area in Belfast on Belfast City Council, so when he talks about unionism and working class unionism he really knows what he is talking about….
1. Cllr. Dr Chris McGimpsey (UUP)
“Can I thank you for the invitation? It’s a great privilege always to travel across the border and speak to our friends in the other section of our island. I think it was 1981 was the first year that I went across the border, with a fair degree of youthful enthusiasm, to speak to a group in the Irish Republic – a group of nationalists. And I think that was possibly the first unionist to have done that since the famous time when John Taylor led the Queens University Young Unionists to meet with Young Fine Gael in Dublin North Central, I think it was, which would have been about 1963 or 1964, so it was about 15 or 18 years previously. Interestingly the Young Unionists from Queens got away with it and the Young Fine Gael branch were expelled or suspended by the Fine Gael leadership! So I did a lot of this, and then over the last number of years I sort of fell out of the loop with things somewhere, and people just never invited me back. Maybe something was said, I don’t know, but anyway I feel here tonight – particularly with the speakers I’m sharing a platform with, and of course Andy who’s an old hand with these things – I feel almost like a professional footballer coming out of retirement! I had a good run for 20 years and now everyone’s saying now he’s back.
Grassroots approach: “… I want to look at a couple of things … Can I take first of all the disclaimer? I’m not speaking here on behalf of the Ulster Unionist Party. I have not been given a secret text to slip into my speech by David Trimble. It may not surprise you to learn that David Trimble deals with the important issues of State within the Unionist Party – you know all those issues. My work is on the ground. I leave early in the morning because I’ve got a disability living allowance tribunal to fight, to try and get a wee man his disability living back – his allowance has been cut and he is losing £42 a fortnight. So there are different roles in politics: the role that I perform on the Shankill Road is very different from the role that others – indeed my brother [Michael McGimpsey] for example – would perform within the Ulster Unionist Party. So I’m going to give you a wee bit more of a grassroots approach. I saw my role here tonight was to make a few opening comments, give you a few ideas of where we move from here and then probably involve myself in the questions.
Pressures within Protestant working-class community: “I have over the last two to three years invested a fair bit of time in helping people who have been expelled from their homes, people who have been burnt out, people who have been shot at. I sat in a woman’s house on Friday night who was being expelled from her home by the UDA. By the way every single case I’ve dealt with – which has probably been about 150 in the past three years – have all been Protestants expelled from their homes by Protestants. We have had widespread burning out – Protestants burning Protestants out, other Protestants intimidating Protestant, Protestants shooting Protestants. This has been sort of endemic in the Shankill for the last three years. …. Friday night I spent talking to a couple … they were being expelled by the UDA and I managed to make contact, asked the UDA if they wouldn’t expel them (through a community worker), and the word came back saying “no”. So by Saturday they were out of their home, the house was sealed up and they were away. Whether they are in Northern Ireland or not I do not know, and it’s probably better that I don’t know.
“That’s the sort of work that I’m involved in. I mention that, chairman, because a lot of this stuff that’s happening is because there are so many unanswered questions, and so much unfinished business within the Protestant working class community in Belfast, that the pressure is building up within the community – the community has turned upon itself. That’s a lot of what is happening. Ironically, many of the moves towards reconciliation, many of the moves towards a peaceful settlement in Northern Ireland, have actually led us to a situation where the community is turning on itself. You know Belfast well – who would have thought five years ago if I’d said to you that a loyalist flute band would walk up the Shankill Road and a large crowd of Protestants will attack them, and two hours later they will come back with guns and shoot up a Protestant bar in the middle of the Shankill Road? You would have thought you were nuts, but that’s exactly what happened in August two years ago.
Belfast Agreement: “The pressures are building up within our community. And within our community, the sort of people I represent – the people I work with – are drifting away from the Agreement. Can I say first of all, I voted ‘yes’ to the Belfast Agreement. Two weeks before I was voting ‘no’ and then I was voting ‘yes’ and I thought I would probably go ‘no’ and then I wasn’t too sure, and I guess with everybody it was like that in our community. There were so many pluses and minuses that I met very few people that were 110% ‘no’ or 110% ‘yes.’ Everybody was thinking. There were actually five votes in my house. Three people in our house voted for the Agreement and two opposed it. Two of my sons voted ‘no.’ They are not anti-peace, they are most certainly not anti-Catholic. … One of them’s just not interested in politics, religion or anything. He just spends his time like most wee lads of twenty-two, going out and drinking beer and trying to pick up girls. Which is reasonable enough when you’re that age. It would be a wee bit infra-dig for me to start that, but I mean it’s reasonable enough at his age. But that’s the point I’m making – our community split, our family split, everybody split on the issue. But I felt this was the way forward.
Compromises on both sides: “Five years since the Agreement where are we? The Assembly is now prorogued. If we don’t get a deal within the next four to five weeks it’s going to go down the tubes, I suspect. We have had claim and counterclaim. We have claimed that nationalists are not serious about trying to work in co-operation with unionists. Sinn Fein have claimed we don’t want a Catholic about the place. You’ve heard it all. There is no point in rehearsing it any more. Unionists five years ago were asked to make three or four concessions: we were asked to accept Sinn Fein in government – effectively an enforced coalition based on proportionality. We were asked to agree to prisoner releases. We were asked to work cross-border bodies, and we were asked to, if you like, acquiesce in some of the less acceptable elements of Patten. Nationalists and republicans, by the same token, were asked to make certain compromises also: they were asked to accept the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. They were asked to enter into government on a proportional basis. They were asked to support the new police force, the Police Service of Northern Ireland. That’s quite significant. And they were also asked to disarm, to disband the IRA and to stand down paramilitary structures. The loyalists incidentally were also asked that.
Commitment to exclusively democratic means: “And those were the compromises, and that’s how I saw it at that time: we’re being asked to swallow a lot of nasty medicine here and so are they, and we can get away with this without compromising core principles, and nationalists tell us they can as well. So we have the basis of a deal. But the key for unionists, and the key as we stand at the moment, is that all people must endorse exclusively democratic means. The paramilitaries have demonstratively not done that. Over 110 tons of weapons came into Ireland from Libya, as well as all the stuff that has been posted in since the ceasefires from … Florida, the man from Philadelphia, and all this stuff that has been going on. We have had all that and the break-in at Castlereagh, and the spy ring in Stormont. All that indicates that there is not a commitment to exclusively democratic means that the republicans have signed up to.
Sitting on the fence: “There can really be no sitting on this particular fence. Now we all try to straddle fences. I think this Agreement would never actually have happened, if they hadn’t been able to make out grey areas, but we all try to straddle fences. But in Ireland now, I think, either you’re in favour of constitutional and democratic change, or you’re on the other side of the post and you support the right of a paramilitary group to go out and kill and bomb and so on, on their own terms. You can’t be on that fence, you can’t sit on it. You all know what the paramilitaries are about. I mean I’m sure there are people here – Francie [Molloy] will know about para-militarism. If you want to know about it ask me. Trust me, they’ve threatened to shoot me twice in the last two years and I’m not talking about the IRA.
“You see there is no qualitative difference between loyalist and republican violence and loyalist and republican paramilitaries. They are all involved in the same things. So unless we can get a situation where the paramilitaries demonstratively, clearly and unequivocally, turn their back on violence, then I’m afraid what we voted for five years ago is not going to work.
Importance of decommissioning: “Commitments must be made to democrats on both sides of the border. I remember being down here the time the Agreement was being signed. People were convinced, as I was convinced in the North, that five years down the road there would be no IRA, there would be no UVF, no UDA, the structures would be gone, they’d all be ‘old comrades associations’ and they could all sit about and do various things, but as fighting paramilitary forces, they were gone. That hasn’t happened and that is the key to why decommissioning is important, that explains why we have got to try and move beyond this. There has to be a shift.
Options: “Now we have a number of options. One of the options is to compromise and co-operate on moving things forward. Unfortunately, I would say, every time some movement has been needed from republicans, for example, when they responded, they have always responded with too little and they have been too late. The potential benefits dissipate due to the begrudging nature in which republicans respond to requests to live up to what really was their commitment of five years ago. So they have got to decide what they are about. The loyalists are the same, but they are a different issue. The UDA are a different issue. One of them said to me one day after they had shot some guy, he said, about the new dispensation: “what are you going to do – put us out of the Assembly?” Ironic, you see they are not in the Assembly, there was no stick to beat them with. The UVF are in the Assembly of course, they have got two seats, but they’ll never be in government, because people in the unionist community tend not to vote for parties that are linked to para-militarism.
Renegotiation: “Now the other option that Ireland faces is renegotiation. In my opinion, this is not an option. But if renegotiation was an option, if that was the way we were moving – into renegotiating the whole Belfast Agreement – we would not need elections in May, we would not need an Assembly. Effectively we would not need 108 highly paid negotiators. What you would do is put the whole thing into mothballs and you would start working the way you did prior to the Agreement being brought up. But in my humble opinion, full and formal renegotiation a la the Peter Robinson model is not an option. It’s not an option because most of the parties don’t want it, so I don’t know who the DUP are going to renegotiate with, but they are not going to be renegotiating obviously with nationalist Ireland, and I don’t see us really getting involved in it.
“Third option – admit it’s a failure: “The third option I’ve got to tell you is quite simply based on the premise that if after all we did for the Belfast Agreement five years ago, if we haven’t managed to get it right now after five years, if we can’t put the gun beyond use after five years, if we can’t get Protestants and Catholics, unionists and nationalists working together after five years for a new peaceful Northern Ireland with recognition and all the rest of it from the Irish Republic. If, after five years, we can’t do this, then the thing has failed. We just pat ourselves on the back and say: “it was a good try, we did our best. Maybe we got closer than we have on many other times, but, that said, it’s failed”. And then we just simply admit our failure and try something else.
Other options: “Unionists believe that there are other options for the good government of Northern Ireland. Many unionists favour integration. Others believe that the way forward is back to a form of direct rule with increased powers for local government. I’m not advocating either of those two options over the Assembly, I’m just telling you these are the other two options. So the unionist cupboard isn’t bare if the doors are swung open.
Breaking the logjam: “Those are the options that face us. We have at the minute a logjam which must be broken. It will be broken if concessions come from all sides, but the key concessions will have to be on the arms issue and will have to come from republicans, and only then will Trimble have enough to be able to sell to the unionist community.
Why the Shankill voted for the Agreement: “We were promised a peace dividend in the Shankill. I’d say the majority of people in good old hard-line Shankill Road – the place everybody loves to hate or else hates to love – the majority of our people voted for the Agreement. We voted for the Agreement because we had suffered more than the people in North Down, or other areas of Northern Ireland. We voted for the Agreement because we had put in more of a commitment to the fight, so we were more committed to the peace. We voted for the Agreement because we were sick, sore and tired of the violence. We voted for the Agreement because we recognised some of the outrageous harm, some of the outrageous crimes that we had committed against the other community, whilst never for one second ever forgetting the outrageous crimes that have been committed upon us as a community.
Drift away from the Agreement: “We don’t vote for the Agreement now – the majority of the people on the Shankill would be opposed to the Agreement. The peace dividend saw our two largest employers close: O’Hara’s Bakery and Mackey’s – they’re gone. The peace dividend has produced virtually nothing on the ground, virtually nothing has been produced from this Agreement. The fact that so many people continue to support it for so long, I think, is a testament to our commitment to peace, but unless the politicians – and this is where we get back to what I was saying about Trimble at the very start – unless the David Trimbles, the Francie Molloys and the David Fords, and those who are going to be going back to whatever is the equivalent now of Weston Park, unless those people get together and can produce something, be absolutely sure we are going to drift back. There’ll be other options looked at, hopefully they won’t be violence, but we’re going to drift away from this Agreement. I am still committed to the principles of the Agreement and I still believe that that is our way forward, our best way forward, but I am a distinctly minority voice in West Belfast.”
Chair: Andy Pollak: “The next speaker is the only one of the speakers that I hadn’t known until tonight, so I’m going to have to stick to the notes here. Trudy I suppose to you is the most interesting, because she comes from Oldcastle, Co. Meath, although she has been a Northerner for over 20 years and she joined that wonderful voice of common sense and moderation, the NI Women’s Coalition, who in their small and not so small way played a huge role in providing the cement that brought the Good Friday Agreement, the Belfast Agreement into existence in the first place, and has held it together since. She is a former teacher and primary school principal and she’s on the executive committee of the NI Women’s Coalition and the education policy team, and is party candidate for South Down.
2. Trudy Miller (NI Women’s Coalition)
“I am delighted, needless to say, to be back in County Meath. I know the road well, I lived down near Oldcastle. I left it a long time ago, but I’ve taken that journey many a time. I am from the Women’s Coalition – I’m not so sure how familiar you may or may not be with it down here. Just to say that a fairly illustrious fellow called Tony Blair said that we have more common sense than an awful lot of other people put together. So we could do with that common sense spread in Northern Ireland. The Women’s Coalition came into being in 1996. It was literally a coalescing, a getting together of women who felt that their voice had to have an input into what led up the original talks, the Peace Forum. It basically set a pattern, and it has been acknowledged that we were the first party that brought the kind of thinking to the peace table in 1996. In October 2000, the United Nations Security Council validated what we did. It introduced a resolution which mandated negotiation in conflict situations to include women, because I do believe women bring a different perspective on to any sort of war situation.
Talking: “That said, you are now talking about where we are and what’s happening in Northern Ireland. Just to illustrate to you perhaps how things can work out, and it really works out through talk, and just getting around and continuing to talk. We can decommission tomorrow, we can do all the things tomorrow, we can sit on police boards, everything can happen, but what has got to be recognised is that there is no magic wand…. nothing is going to suddenly change. It is all a process and it is going to take time. The Agreement was not considered to be something that was going to work overnight. It was really a vision for the next twenty years and each time we have to go back to the table, and we have got to sit around, and we have got to continue talking. And a small illustration of that would be, say, in the Springfield Project in West Belfast, where ex-combatants get together each week, come up, come down, come whoever’s talking or not talking to whoever on the larger stage of politics, they talk. They have moved on from dependence. As children we are dependent. Then we become independent. They have recognised that the source of wisdom is interdependence.
“That is what really we need to bring to bear on the whole of the political system in Northern Ireland. We have much more in common than we have apart, and no magic wand is going to be waved overnight, no matter what happens. It really has got to be recognised that it is a lengthy process and we have got to continue to talk, no matter what is not happening or happening …. You can debate forever the nitty gritty of these things.
Normalisation: “Now the Women’s Coalition have certain proposals and they are really in regard to the normalisation of our society. I would have taught in England in, I suppose you’d call them, denominational schools. It didn’t seem to matter a hoot when you went to work, but I think it is a different society here. So some of the Women’s Coalition proposals are integrated education, integrated housing. Now that seems totally ridiculous at the moment, but it can come about, and it can come about with trust in each other and that comes about through talking.
Beliefs: “I’ll just go through some of our beliefs. We believe that there are three issues relating to para-militarism and decommissioning: When the IRA does something, it must be received appropriately and it should be recognised for what they have done. On the other hand, we must recognise that the unionists are not a single party, as it were. They are a homogenous group with different contentions within them, and that has got to be taken into account. However the Women’s Coalition believe that we should remain in touch, that the British and Irish governments have a huge role to play to determine sufficiency and acceptability of movement within the decommissioning process. We believe that the implementation of the Belfast Agreement has been bedeviled by exchanges of too many gifts. On one side the gifts of decommissioning, on the other side the gift of power sharing. This undermines both sides and it continues to be a form of sectarianism from both parties, no matter what is said. On the one hand it is still slightly sort of bullyboy tactics, no matter what fancy name we may call some of these things. The Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition sees the implementation of the Agreement as fundamental to the solving of this crisis. It has not been fully implemented, never mind renegotiated. It has not been fully implemented, and, as I said, it is a lengthy, lengthy process.
Alienation of loyalists: “Loyalists are currently feeling alienated from the political process. Those who are pro-Agreement perceive a disparity in treatment between themselves and that of Sinn Fein, the latter afforded more legitimacy, being courted. And if the IRA deliver, loyalists will be expected to reciprocate without having been in the same negotiations, or having received, or appeared to have received, the same treatments or tradeoffs. Political loyalism cannot sell this to their followers, especially in the light of the growth in anti-Agreement sentiment. While it is recognised by the Women’s Coalition that pressure must also be placed on the loyalist paramilitaries to decommission, every effort must be made to afford political support to those loyalists who remain pro-Agreement.
Normalisation: “I went to London a couple of weeks ago with my daughter and she was fascinated with the police stations. She said “they’re lovely – you could walk into one of those”. I think she imagined it as “Dixon of Dock Green”. But I suddenly realised what she was talking about. It’s sort of a different world in Northern Ireland. We see the implementation of this section of the Agreement as crucial. It is not only a confidence-building measure, but is intrinsic to how a normal society should function, without the armies patrolling the streets, or the imposition of militarised bases on police stations. The issue of normalisation is not just about getting rid of the army presence, our aim is to achieve a normal society where people work, live and are educated together. Removing the symbols of conflict will not automatically result in a society that is no longer in conflict. It just doesn’t happen like that. And the long-term goals of communities living together in mixed housing, attending integrated schools, working together – and included in that would be the Bill of Rights which has been fairly widely consulted all around the province. It will be a charter for all the people of Northern Ireland and everybody should feel safe in it. However we recognise that demilitarisation will have to take place nonetheless at some point.
Policing: “The Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition sees Sinn Fein taking their place on the policing board as a de facto statement that the war is over. In fact it is the recognition of the Northern Ireland State. A paramilitary force is rendered unnecessary by a police force which is acceptable to all the community. And I hope we are on our way to that. It was one of the things that struck me when I came to live where I live now, out the country in Northern Ireland. It was the custom around Easter time to burn the whins, the furze bushes, and the youngsters who weren’t old enough to go to the pub I presume, used to think it was kind of a craic on an Easter Monday to go out and burn the bushes.
“And I remember going out and saying “why are my neighbours not out looking?” because they could throw a match on the fence as they passed by, and I thought somebody should call the police, but nobody called the police. I’m glad to say that things seem to have moved on since then in this community, this rural area where I lived, and to me that is a good sign. It’s a process of normalisation in the flesh.
Women in politics: “I think I will stop there. I will repeat again that integrated education, integrated housing, the normalisation of society and I think a woman’s way – and we are not exclusive, we merely use that title “Women’s Coalition” to highlight the fact that women are so under-represented in public life and in politics. We have 14% women in politics, 52% of the electorate in Northern Ireland are women. I really think that we can bring some common sense to bear…. We are the peace-makers in the home, we are the managers and I think really, small as we are, we have bundles of common sense, and if we had some power in proportion to the common sense we have, I think things would be a lot different and better actually. Thank you very much.”
Chair (Andy Pollak): “Thank you Trudy. We will now pass to Cllr. Francis Molloy who is a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly for Sinn Fein, representing mid-Ulster. Francie is one of the most senior and influential and distinguished members of Sinn Fein. You can be sure that when the senior council of Sinn Fein are meeting to decide what they are going to do, Francie will be there. As you can see from the notes he goes back to the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the early days of the republican movement, and was director of operations for both Bobby Sands and Owen Carron. On a personal note he is also a great supporter of the work of the Centre for Cross-Border Studies and I thank Francie for that.”
3. Cllr. Francie Molloy, MLA (Sinn Fein):
“Thank you very much, I am very pleased to be here. I wish that I had all that power, Andy, and that the party consulted me as much as what you say, but unfortunately that’s not the situation and we are here as humble beings within it all. I think it is important that we are here in a discussion, and I think, you know, that we can all put our party positions in, that’s natural enough, but I think we also have to open up this whole discussion if we are going to move into new situations and develop new situations.
Effect of Sinn Fein going into Stormont: “While it is important to state and to know where parties stand in all of this here, that’s why it is important for me to go back slightly into how the Agreement came about – because I don’t believe that unionists understand fully, or even at all, the whole issue of Sinn Fein going into Stormont and the effect that had on our base and our supporters. Because for 80 years we had said we would never sit in Stormont and then all of a sudden we turned our party policy – two ard-fheiseanna right enough it took to do that – into a situation of actually saying we would take our seats. And not only that we would take our seats, but we would actually be there in the administration and be Ministers within that Assembly. I often have been misquoted on this, but I think it is important. Our critics within the republican movement, and those who have become dissident within the republican struggle, would also claim that we are administering British rule in Ireland, because we are Ministers within our Assembly. And I don’t believe that unionism has ever actually taken that on board and to know the effect that has in trying to bring the base with you in this type of situation.
The Agreement: “To me the Agreement and the coming around of the negotiations, was all part of the coming to terms with a number of situations, both for republicans, for nationalists and for unionists, and whenever we signed the Agreement, I was one of those who naively thought that everyone would now be pulling together to actually try to make the administration work. And I was surprised whenever it took so long, first of all to get the administration up and running and to actually start to get the machinery into position. And I think that that gap that happened was the first note of sourness and actually was the first sign that we really hadn’t moved that much further than we had before, because David Trimble basically refused to work that coalition in a way that originally had been intended. And it is a forced coalition. No one got all they wanted within the Agreement. And the Agreement wasn’t to me a settlement of the all-Ireland context. It was a bringing together of all those within the Northern context that actually would work together to administer and to start to try and build trust within the different parties, and also to try and prove to people on the ground that the local people could actually run the Six Counties better than what British Ministers coming across one or two days a week, or maybe even once a month, to actually administer, could do.
Local administration did work: “And I think the proof of that has been that the local administration did work. I chaired the Finance Committee within that, and all the parties within the Assembly were there – DUP, Ulster Unionists, Sinn Fein, Alliance, all the structures, and everyone was working well together. And so this whole issue that is created sometimes – that the DUP weren’t actually part of it – is all a myth that has been created by them to actually fool their own people at the end of the day. Because every one of those worked within the two years in meetings, and only once was there an actual vote taken because everyone agreed to compromise and to work it out and to actually represent the different constituencies in the various different ways. So I think there is an indication there that certainly the politicians in the North could make things work if they are given the opportunity.
British Government and British interest in Ireland: “So what stops that from happening? One is that the British Government continued to play outside of the Agreement by actually having the power to disband and eliminate whenever the Ulster Unionists were in difficulties. And on a number of different occasions that happened when we had the threats to walk out of it and to disband it and various different things. Whenever preconditions were being set, whenever the unionist demands were that the republicans would do A, B and C, instead of actually negotiating or instead of actually debating it within the Chamber or negotiating it out, what happened was that ultimatums were set and it wasn’t until 5 o’clock on the day that the whole thing was brought down. And we saw that with Peter Mandelson, and we saw it with the various different Ministers over that time that actually brought it down. And again we saw it with the British Government, having known that the Ulster Unionists had decided to actually bring the institutions down on 18th January, and that they were going to walk away from it, the British Government contrived a situation around what has been known as “Stormontgate”, in the lines of the “who was feeding who information” and “what and who was taking information from who”, because I think at the end of the day the whole thing was a conspiracy which was actually set up by the British Government.
“Whenever they needed to be able to pull the whole thing down like a deck of cards, that’s what they did and they simply took the power from everyone, including David Trimble, whenever they suspended the institutions. And that is acting outside of the Agreement because there is nothing in the Good Friday Agreement – Belfast Agreement, whatever you want to call it – there’s nothing there which actually says that the British Government has the power to suspend those institutions. So that’s the first failure I think, and an indication that, at the end of the day, if faced with the difficulties, with faced with pressure from unionists, that the British Government will do what the British Government have always done, and that is to play the Orange card. And this is what happened once again. So the preconditions that have been set, and someone said what republicans had to do – but it is important if you are looking at an Agreement, and the British Government have over the years from the Treaty of ‘21 to the present day, in every Treaty there were a number of loopholes there to make sure that it never actually happened. The Treaty of ‘21 was supposed to have a Council of Ireland which maybe would have brought together the politicians North and South to actually work that institution. The Boundary Commission was set up to actually try and negotiate where the boundaries would be, and again all of that fell to one side. But even in the present day – we can say that all happened in the past – but even in the present day it is all happening in the very same way: the British Government, in order to save the British interest in Ireland, have continued to administer and to pull the carpet whenever it actually was required.
Unionists: “So the institutions are down and I think there is no clear indication at the present time that they will ever be up again. And people will say “well it’s up to republicans”, or republicans will say “it’s up to unionists”. In fact I would say it is up to the British Government, it’s up to the two Governments. Because this is an international agreement and the people of all Ireland voted for it, and the Constitution here was changed – I think it was changed for the better in that situation because it actually meant that for the first time anyone born in Ireland, no matter where their parents came from, could actually claim to be Irish, or, if they wanted to claim to be British, they could do that also. But those changes were made to accommodate the unionists’ demands, and yet whenever those demands were met they were pocketed and they walked away, and what we have now is more demands being made. And I do believe that Ulster Unionists – and in fact one of them at one stage, a senior politician, said that “whenever the Assembly was up and running the DUP were making gains on Ulster Unionists, and now that the Assembly is down the Ulster Unionists start to come back into the ascendancy”, because at the end of the day they have more integration with Britain than with the devolved administration.
“So we have today, I think, the opportunity for David Trimble to actually continue on direct rule and … co-ordination with Britain in order to secure his own position, and for the British Government to secure British interests in Ireland. But we haven’t got a coming together of the acceptance of the Agreement.
Moving forward: “And I still believe that the only way we can move forward is whenever we do get the proper discussion, we do get people coming off their perches and actually dealing with the reality on the ground. Because the Assembly was working, the councils are working, and the various different parties are co-operating in various different ways. I know in our own council in Dungannon we had for the first time a nationalist majority came into operation 18 months ago, and we brought in the D’Hondt system, similar to what they use in the Assembly. This means that every party, including the one Independent, also has a position of chair or vice-chair of the various different committees, or the mayor and vice-mayor over the four-year period. Now if that is working at local government level, why can it not work at the Assembly level? If it is working to actually try to administer the changes that are happening at local government, and will happen at local government, then it should work within the Assembly.
Managing the change: “But it comes back to the point I think that people feel still that there wasn’t really a constitutional settlement. That unionism still see [themselves] as being undermined and under threat and pressure coming from things like the census… and the voting there, how it would work in a referendum and what would change, would the numbers going to be one way or the other. And then we have from the nationalist/republican point of view the idea that we actually need to insure that we actually have a majority if we change the Constitution. And I believe that we have to look at alternative ways to do that.
“And while sovereignty is certainly key for me as an Irish Republican – to actually bring about Irish sovereignty – that we actually do have a clear line, and that unionism actually starts to manage the situation of transfer and the situation of transition from where we are at the present time to where things most likely will happen in the foreseeable future. And we look to how do we manage that best between us. Not on the lines of grandstanding, but on how we actually might manage it on the ground. And we [ask] – is it necessary to have just simply one government in the whole of Ireland? And this is not a party position. In the same way as Chris has actually set a ‘health warning’ at the start, I suppose I should also say that I am not speaking party policy, I am actually speaking more on the lines of an Irish Republican in a discussion as regards how do we manage the change that is actually going to happen. And I do believe that, for the foreseeable future, even in an all-Ireland situation, that you most likely will have an Assembly in the North where unionists will be still the dominant force as regards numbers at that particular time. That we actually can administer the whole of Ireland in various different ways to deal with our unique situation and allow that to develop over a period of time. Because we’re in this for the long haul, not simply to change things tomorrow and that’s the end of it, because that won’t happen. The reality is that we need to administer the change, what actually is going to happen and the transition……….
Implementing the Agreement: “So I do believe that we need to start to discuss openly and frankly what are the alternatives. We can just simply disband the Assembly and walk away, but that’s going to create a vacuum, and what fills a vacuum? If politics aren’t working then other things will fill the vacuum. That’s not threatening, that’s simply dealing with reality … The same thing that Chris was talking about on the Shankill Road, where a vacuum was created there the paramilitaries took over and the situation was developed from there and you lose control ….. So I believe that you can’t simply suspend the Assembly and the institutions. You need to implement the Agreement in full. I agree with Tony Blair that he hasn’t implemented the Agreement in full and neither have the parties in the North implemented the Agreement in full. But we all need to actually do that in order to make the Agreement work. Let’s get into the discussion about how we manage the change. Because, whatever people may think, the change is happening, it’s happening on a daily basis, we can’t really hold it back. We can either manage it, or we can allow it to drift and we can allow others to manage it for us. We have an opportunity – I think a unique opportunity – to build a new structure, new institutions, which actually can work. For the first time we have republicans sitting in Stormont in a Northern Assembly. We have unionists and republicans and nationalists all working together to administer that. We have the North-South bodies that can bring about the structures of change within the Irish Government and cross-border institutions. All of those structures are there.
“Now we can say: “well, nothing has happened, there has been no benefit or no change to anyone” but I think it would be a denial to actually say that there has been no benefit or change to everyone. Lets get down on the ground and actually administer the change because if we allow this to drift, if we allow it to be dismantled, then I think it will be impossible to rebuild it in our time. Thank you very much indeed.”
Chair (Andy Pollak) “Thank you Francie. And for the final speaker, we are honoured to have the leader of the Alliance Party, David Ford, with us. … I first met David during the Opsahl Commission – thank you Julitta for the kind words on that – when he was General Secretary ofthe party, and he has held various posts in the party since then and was elected party leader in October 2001. He has a very difficult job because he is the voice of the main moderate party in Northern Ireland which is being squeezed. One of the by-products of the Good Friday Agreement – and there have been good and bad, and violence is one of them, a bad by-product ……[tape unclear] there is a kind of ethnic block policy, and the only parties that don’t speak that kind of ethnic block language now are the two small parties, the Womens’ Coalition and the Alliance Party, so the Alliance Party plays once again a hugely important role in the centre of Northern Ireland politics.
4. David Ford, MLA (Alliance Party):
“Thank you, Chair, for that warm welcome. The advantage of speaking last on an occasion such as this is, first of all, when you arrive late, you can slip in without being noticed too obviously, and, secondly, you’ve heard what everybody else says so you get the chance to respond. The disadvantage when you are the fourth speaker is that everybody is sitting in the audience with their questions bubbling up inside them and the last thing they want is for the fourth speaker to go on too long in case they forget them! So I should try to steer a careful line somewhere between those two. And I suppose I should say, since I am the leader of the party, I can’t really disclaim – as Francie and Chris did – my responsibilities, except to say that, as Alliance is a democratic party, policy is made by the elected party council and not by the leader standing on his feet in County Meath!
Peace at the expense of reconciliation: “Acts of Completion” was the title, but I was interested, just as I came in Andy, you were actually reading through that definition of “reconciliation”, and it reminded me of a comment which I don’t know how many times I’ve heard since 1998, or indeed since the ceasefires, that “to some extent we have achieved a kind of uneasy peace in Northern Ireland, and a fairly unsatisfactory kind of peace, at the expense of reconciliation”. And hopefully – and other speakers have done this – we can look beyond the immediate problems to where we will actually be really establishing reconciliation in Northern Ireland.
Republican obligations: “But just to refer to you the immediate crisis. It seems to me quite clear that there is now a position that republicans have an obligation to demonstrate to us that the war is over. And, as far as I am concerned, I have criticised enough anti-Agreement Unionists, including notably my MP, Mr. Burnside, who Andy as a journalist covered not getting elected in a by-election, and spending an evening on the streets with me seeing the reaction of some of my constituents to that ambiguous nature of Unionism on it. But there is clearly a point where we will know an act of completion when we see it, but it’s not our job to tell republicans what they do.
Unionist obligations: “By the same token, there is clearly a need to tell the Ulster Unionist Party thatthey have to start to give the impression that they are whole-heartedly selling the Agreement. I think Francie made a number of interesting points. I also think he should be aware that many of his comments about the begrudgery, and the taking concessions and banking them, are of course precisely those which people from other backgrounds perceive Sinn Fein as carrying out. I believe David Trimble is a man who showed great leadership – for 15 minutes on the afternoon of Good Friday 1998 – and unfortunately I believe, and Chris will doubtless dispute this, that he could have made a much better job since then, if he had continued to fight the case for the Agreement within his party, rather than giving the impression to those of us who agree with him on a number of things, and disagree on others, that he has actually been running from the begrudgers in his own party too often, rather than taking them on. And I think that is part of the test of leadership. Each leader has to work out how to manage his own party. He has taken a particular decision to work the way he has done. I happen to think that it has not always been the most helpful.
DUP obligations: “I think there are also obligations, interestingly enough, on the DUP at the moment. I spoke recently to a Westminster MP who was having his first ever tour around the parties in parliament buildings. And he went from the DUP to Alliance and he told me that during the conversation somebody said from the DUP side: “well what’s going to happen if we are the biggest party in May, ha, ha?” To which he said: “you’ll have to accept the responsibilities the electorate have given you to lead the people of Northern Ireland and to take on your democratic mandate”. And they all sat around with their mouths open. Because if you are DUP it is great to say: “we are anti-Agreement, ha, ha” and not accept that they also have responsibilities.
SDLP obligations: “I think too, if I am knocking everybody else from these four parties that form the executive, I think there are clear obligations on the SDLP, both to show how they will defend the institutions in the Agreement, using the Agreement in a way I believe they failed to do last Autumn, and also to show that they can move forward on issues like policing, without engaging in what one of my colleagues termed ‘Patten fundamentalism.’ We are nearly at the point, theologically speaking, where we are now discussing how many angels can dance on Chris Patten’s nose, and all the time the kind of crimes that were discussed in the very beginning of this talk by Chris [McGimpsey] are happening, not just in the Shankill estates, but all over Northern Ireland, because we don’t have adequate numbers of properly trained police officers out and about doing the policing job. You know about crime on this side of the border as well, but there is no doubt that Northern Ireland is experiencing a huge problem in the lack of police resources and the lack of police manpower and yet we are engaging in ever more arcane discussions about the perfections of policing, and it really is time that the SDLP who lead a lot of that stopped it.
Where we are going as a society: “But I want to look beyond that, having had the sort of easy slam at everybody else, because it’s good fun and it gets me warmed up! I want to look beyond that to where we are actually going as a society, because I think that is actually a much more fundamental issue. If we solve the current problems on the short time-scale which we now have, with the Assembly due to be dissolved on the 21st of March pending an election. And I must say from everything I pick up is that there will be an election on the 1st of May whether or not we have solved the current problems, because that is what the legislation specifies, that’s what the Agreement specified.
Reviewing the Agreement: “It is absolutely clear that there is no point in suggesting that we’re going to renegotiate the Agreement afterwards, because the DUP when they go into the room marked “renegotiation” are going to find there is nobody else there. And whatever the faults and imperfections of the Agreement, we need to review the Agreement, we do not need to renegotiate it. There’s not much difference between the words, but there is a very strong difference between the implication of it.
Community relations: “We as a party, as Andy has referred to in the introduction, have made a very strong stance on a number of issues with regard to the promotion of community relations. And I was interested that we have had some of those highlighted already this evening. And there is no doubt, that when I talked about peace at the expense of reconciliation, in many aspects of community relations Northern Ireland is now in a worse position than it was at the time of the Agreement. Partly because hopes were so high, and when hopes are high and are dashed, it leaves people in an even worse position than before those hopes were raised. But there is no doubt that we have a society which is becoming increasingly divided and increasingly sectarian on the one hand, whilst on the other hand there is an increasing proportion of people who are rejecting the traditional definitions of politics. I caused a slight stir in the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation a few weeks back, when I pointed out that Life and Times surveys – official surveys carried out over the last few years – have shown that something in excess of 25% of Protestants do not define themselves as in any sense unionist, and a slightly higher proportion of Catholics do not define themselves as in any sense nationalist. Yet we have a society in which we are all supposed to fit into one or other of those two pigeonholes!
“And there is clearly an issue there, when we talk about normalisation of society as to what that means if we continue to shove people into those pigeonholes, if we are ceasing to allow them to represent themselves. That is why when the Alliance party published a policy paper on community relations in January, we called it “Building a United Community“, because the sub-text is, that since 1998 we have been seeking to manage a divided community and we haven’t actually done it very well.
“I accept that there are at this stage a larger number of people who would wish to identify themselves as unionist or nationalist, than would see themselves as part of the Centre, which is the term we have used in the Assembly, or “others” as we are inelegantly described by others in the Assembly, but there is also no doubt that the kind of views which we represent, represent those of a significant group of people, even if the Alliance Party’s current voting strength only gives us six members in the Assembly. And if we ignore as a society the fact that there are people who do not wish to be slotted into that easy divide, then we are actually consigning the whole population of Northern Ireland to being left with the 17th century mindsets. And we need to ensure that as we carry out reviews, and as we look at the operation of the Agreement, we see that those are all covered.
Integrated education: “We have mentioned the issues of integrated housing or integrated education recently. Why is it that in Northern Ireland the most over-subscribed schools are nearly all integrated schools? Why is it that in my area, the local integrated school has more than two applicants, first choice, for every place, whereas the either Catholic-maintained or effectively Protestant State-schools mostly have a first place application for less than half of the places they have on offer? What does that say about the way people want their children to be educated? And why is it that public finance is not provided to encourage the transformation of existing schools in that direction?
Mixed housing: “Why is it that we have a public agency like the Housing Executive, which has a duty to provide housing for those in need, which has as no part of its responsibility promoting and assisting those people who wish to live in mixed areas? Why do they pretend they can do it in a – I almost said a colour-blind, but an orange/green colour-blind mentality – when that actually, in many cases, is adding to the problems of social tensions? Now I’m not suggesting that we are at the point where we can immediately start bussing people from Divis Flats to live in the Lower Shankill. I mean you can’t get Protestants who want to live in the Lower Shankill these days, so there aren’t going to be many Catholics who wish to. But in areas such as the constituency I represent in South Antrim, in Antrim town, in Newtonabbey, there are large numbers of housing areas, whether publicly owned or privately owned, which are to some extent mixed, that people wish to remain mixed, and yet there are people painting paramilitary murals and painting kerbstones in a deliberate attempt to drive the community apart and virtually nothing is being done by either the Housing Executive, or the Police Service, or the road service or other public agencies to stop that.
Designation issue: “And I think if we are starting to look beyond the “acts of completion”, we really do have to look to what happens to those in society who don’t fit into what the Chair described as the “divided society”, which the Agreement has given us. It was very easy in 1998 to say: “unionists and nationalists working together is a step forward, is progress”. Of course it is. It’s a million times better than what went before, but to suggest that that is actually the model for the long-term, rather than ensuring a way in which people can work together without being slotted into rigid pigeonholes, seems to me to be an absolute necessity. And the most obvious example of that was what happened in the Assembly, a month after I was elected party leader, when, following the first act of IRA decommissioning we had a vote to elect David Trimble and Mark Durkan as First Minister and Deputy First Minister and it failed, and three days later we had the same vote and it passed. And what was the difference? Three Alliance members pretended they were unionists for 22 minutes, because that was the only way in which we could get the two of them elected! And I really think we have to ask what is wrong with a system which requires people to pretend to be what they are not. People who have actually spent a political lifetime seeking to unite a community having to pretend they belong to one side or other, and there has to be some way of dealing with that designation issue which is also part of the matters which needs to be looked at in the review. But I think, looking at my watch, you’ve probably had rather more of me than you want so far. “
Chair: Andy Pollak: “Thank you very much, David. Ok, the floor is yours … so does anyone want to come in on any of those points? If I could maybe, can I just throw up a couple of things, to get you started? It seems to me there are a couple of provocative points which came out from some of the speakers. I was struck by the way Chris McGimpsey and Francie Molloy agreed on their pessimism, they seemed to agree on their pessimism that they’d be surprised if the institutions are going to get up and going again. That’s not the official line – the official line in Dublin and London is that they will get up and going.
“There seems to be a slight difference, and this is always a tension underlying discussions between nationalists and unionists, in that Francie seems to be talking about managing change towards Irish unity, and Chris and David Trimble seem to believe what Tony Blair said in his first speech in Belfast in 1997 that no-one in that audience, including the youngest, would see Irish unity in their lifetime. So a good contradiction there.
“And then the final point that David [Ford] made which is: are we about – or are the politicians in Northern Ireland about – building a united community, or are they about managing a divided community while they jockey for their respective ethnic nationalist positions, holding the line on any movement towards a United Ireland, or moving towards a United Ireland as fast as possible. So I’ll just throw those up as points, maybe to try and provoke something. So is there anybody who wants to come in there? I mean don’t take those points necessarily, but you’ve had the speakers. Go ahead.
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS (Summaries of questions only)
Q1: [To Francie Molloy, re British interest in Northern Ireland]. “… I’m originally from Co. Antrim, but have lived in Australia for a long time. If I understood correctly, Cllr. Francis Molloy said that the British were interested in protecting what they have in Northern Ireland and I am wondering what interests do the British have in Northern Ireland at the present time? I would have thought that perhaps they might be glad to get rid of the troubles in Northern Ireland.“
Q2 (Bellinter resident) [To Chris McGimpsey, re “integration” option]: “You voiced two options at one stage – one was integration and the other I’m not quite sure what it was. If you could say a little more about the word “integration” in the context in which you were speaking …”
Q3 (Duleek resident): “If after the election on the 1st of May …if one side or the other comes out with a big majority on the loyalist or the nationalist side, where there’s a big majority, what happens then? Do we have power sharing? It may not happen this time but it may happen the next election or the one after that.”
Andy Pollak: “Are you talking about whether Sinn Fein or the DUP have a majority?”
Questioner: “Maybe not Sinn Fein or the DUP, but we’ll call them the nationalists, the SDLP and Sinn Fein combined on the one side, and the unionists on the other.”
Q4: [To Francie Molloy, re reconciliation]: “ … The word “reconciliation” is actually in the title of tonight’s talk, but I actually heard very little from Francie about reconciliation. I was very disappointed that, for somebody who represents an organisation I suppose which is the embodiment of resistance to the overtures of the British Government, that for some reason a large part of his talk was about the fact that the British government had a crucial role to play in moving unionists forward. From my experience of the organisation that he belongs to, the British Government have very very little power in moving people when their mindset is particularly opposed to what they want to do. So I believe that we need to hear more about reconciliation.”
Replies to Questions 1-4:
Chair (Andy Pollak): “Ok, so of these four questions two are really for Francie – what are the British interests in Northern Ireland and what does Sinn Fein think about reconciliation? and one for Chris – integration, what does that mean? Why is that an option? And what would happen if there was a significant majority for one side or the other, the nationalist side or the unionist side, after the next election or after a future election?
Francie Molloy: “First of all, as regards the British interests, one of the things that I often say is, if you go back to the early civil rights campaign we were told at that time that the British Army came in to protect the Catholics, I actually always believed they came in to protect British interests.
“And they showed that over the period of time. ……. [Some say] the British are now getting out of the North, I don’t go along with that because I think they had ample opportunity over the years to do that, the indication would be otherwise that the British were actually trying to stabilise the situation, and even in the present situation what they have tried to do was to stabilise the situation to wear down republican resistance, from our point of view, and to create as big a vacuum as possible before taking any action. And the admission from Tony Blair that they actually had not implemented the Agreement, or lived up to the commitments they had given, is a clear indication that they weren’t serious about implementing the changes that they had agreed to, the commitments that they had given to nationalists. And … people will actually say: “why do you expect the British Government? The British Government in my view, as an Irish republican, are the occupation force, they are the people who are there imposing their rule in part of Ireland, so they are the people who have to make a change …….and they have used unionists, and they have used religion and Protestantism over the years … as tools to ensure that British rule continues in Ireland over the period of time.
“So I think it is up to the British Government, at least to live up to the commitments they have given …. and I think republicans for the first time actually challenged the British Government, because if you go back the whole issue was if you just had an IRA ceasefire, if you just had peace, then everything would be rosy in the garden, everything would be solved, no problem whatsoever, that it was all coming from the IRA. Then we had an IRA ceasefire and nothing changed. We still have an IRA ceasefire and nothing has changed, and what we seem to be having from the British Government is simply that they actually want to stabilise their position and continue to control as they have in the past.
Integration: “I’ll leave the integration one to Chris because he has a better understanding of that one, but my impression from a republican nationalist point of view is that a devolved administration is for unionists a dangerous position because it’s changing, whereas integration with British rule and British rule continuing to occupy the Six Counties is not as dangerous for unionists because it is not something that is going to change by a vote of the people of the North and that’s where the difference comes in.
After the election: “What happens after the election? What happens after an election in any country? The government is formed, if you can’t form a government between one set of coalitions you form a government with another. What has happened here a number of different times where you had coalition governments with various different makeups. And I do believe that Sinn Fein … will be the largest party in the Assembly and the DUP will be second largest. Now if that happens, then certainly I think we will have a working agreement. I think the DUP have positioned themselves for change. As I said I witnessed that within the Assembly, both in the Assembly commission working with Peter Robinson, and also within the Finance & Personnel committee working along with other DUP members, including Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds. I think the recent change where DUP were refusing to sit in studios, went through all the antics the Ulster Unionists went through ten years ago, but they are now coming to the exact same thing, and its an indication that change will happen over a period of time, and we will actually get people to work. And I do believe that Peter Robinson wants to be in government. And even from the DUP point of view, if you look back over the last 20 years where Ian Paisley wanted to be Prime Minister and he wanted O’Neill out, Chichester-Clarke out, Faulkner out, everybody else out, would he give up the opportunity of being the first DUP Prime Minister or first Minister in that situation, if he had to share that with Gerry Adams or Martin McGuinness? I don’t think so. I think ….if he had to be in there to protect the Union and to ensure unionists weren’t swamped by Sinn Fein, I think that’s not a problem from a DUP point of view, they are very practical.
Reconciliation: “Back to reconciliation, maybe I didn’t use the word “reconciliation”, and sometimes people actually are putting emphasis on words like “condemnation” and the whole issue of disband, the issue around disbandment, also the whole issue of disarmament and destruction, putting a lot of emphasis on words. And reconciliation for me is actually in the acts of reconciliation. And I thought that I did actually highlight the fact that republicans went into Stormont for the first time – that was the first act of reconciliation in relation to that, as regards trying to actually come to terms with the situation and be part of the administration there and be part of the structures. At Council level it would be very easy for the nationalists or republicans to simply go along the line that unionism had for years of actually, whenever you have a majority hold on to it, and make the most of it, whereas nationalists and republicans have demonstrated that they haven’t done that, they have actually shared local power and that’s what we want to do, and we are interested in building that. And we have made it very clear over the time that we have problems in various different ways that when we talk about the British interest in Ireland, we don’t mean unionists or we don’t mean Protestants. We are not talking religious denominations, we are talking about the British Government control and British occupation of part of the country.
Managing the change: “Certainly reconciliation is part of building the new structures, and I did say that what we want to do is to get down to grass-roots and discuss the very practical way that we build that trust, and build the new Administration which will govern the island of Ireland for the foreseeable future. And I welcome the opportunity to ask unionists once again to actually join with us in doing that, to manage that change. That change might take several years but I believe that change is on the way. And there’s two ways of doing it. You can either do it the way David Trimble is doing it, you can walk away from the talks, walk out of the negotiations, and simply go to Westminster, or you can sit down in an elected assembly in the North, and build the trust and build the institutions which I think will be there for the future.”
Chris McGimpsey [re integration option]: “I said there were two other options for the government of Northern Ireland which would be attractive to unionists. One was continuing with direct rule, which is what we have at the minute, and what we had prior to the Assembly, with an augmentation of local government powers. Local government in Northern Ireland doesn’t have anything like the sort of powers you have in local government in the Republic. I don’t advocate that – I advocate the Assembly, I advocate the Good Friday Agreement, but that I think would be acceptable to the majority of unionists. The other option is integration, and the thing is there that Northern Ireland be governed exactly the same way as all other parts of the United Kingdom. That there’d be no devolution because its not there in England, that the British parties in Britain would also organise in Northern Ireland. That we simply be governed in the same way. I don’t advocate that either, but I have to say that view became the guiding principle for Bob McCartney. He was a member of the integrationist movement, and then he subsequently lost his party ………
“But that’s what its about, its about purely organising and governing Northern Ireland exactly the same way as England is governed. No Assembly, no devolution, everybody goes to Westminster, again with increased powers for local government. I don’t advocate that. But those are the other two options and unionists will move towards one or other of those two options if the Good Friday Agreement option is seen to continue to fail.
British presence in Ireland: “I don’t know whether you want me to make comments on some of the other points. If I could just say briefly, all this talk of Francie’s about British, the “British presence”, “British interests”. In February 1984 ….. I gave evidence to what was then known as the Forum for A New Ireland, known now as the New Ireland Forum, I gave evidence to the New Ireland Forum and I pointed out in the Forum that day that the most significant, the only really important British presence in Ireland, is the fact that there are one million Irish men and Irish women living in the six north eastern counties of the island of Ireland who believe themselves to be British and who wish to continue to be ruled as part of the United Kingdom. That’s the real British presence and that is the British interest that unfortunately republicans have never been able to come to terms with. They can come to terms with the concept of “oh, it’s a colonial government, they are trying to play the Orange card, and do all sorts of stuff”. The real British presence that nationalists have got to come to terms with is the Irish man who lives in the next farm who actually feels himself to be British more than Irish, that’s the presence that has to be dealt with.
Trudy Miller [re British presence]: “Just to be brief …….I do believe when we talk about British presence – and taking on board what Chris says, it’s certainly a way of looking at things – but in terms of British presence as in the Westminster Government I think at the Treaty of 1921 it was a different scenario and they would have had an interest in holding a land base in Ireland then. I do not feel they are interested now really, that it’s an albatross to a degree, and if there were a peaceful solution they would be very glad to see us all get on very well together.
Integration: “The second questioner mentioned integration, I thought straight away of an integrated society, it was my first thought … because I think that is what we have to do, it’s the better option. I cannot see the British people, the British element, the people who consider themselves British in Northern Ireland, being particularly happy with direct rule or with integration in the whole British system. There are too many benefits. One looks at Northern Ireland 20 years ago and one looks at it now, it’s an entirely different place. And even since 1998, even though our last government was up and running with hiccups and up and down and all the rest of it, the whole ambience, the whole atmosphere, the whole energy that has come about the place is just something different, and I just don’t think it would be the same if it was integrated, Westminster rule or the continuance of direct rule.
After the elections: “In regard to question 3, if there is a majority of nationalists or DUP unionists, I think perhaps was the question, yes I take on board what Francie says, yes I could see some pragmatic maneuvers. That would be for government. But, on the other hand, it would be to operate two separate societies, two ghettoes, and we may then leave out all these “others” as they are sometimes termed. It would not be to the benefit of anyone, no matter even if they agreed to sit down together and run a government. It would be like the marriage where they agreed to lead two separate lives, there’s no communication there, there’s no interdependence which I began with, and it’s just not a very good scenario.
David Ford [re the British interest]: “Briefly, chair, on the British interest Chris is absolutely right. I don’t often agree with British Governments but when they say they have no “selfish, strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland”, they are absolutely correct. The British interest is a million people who want to be British. I believe that any British Government for the foreseeable would cheerfully push Northern Ireland out with as much enthusiasm as the majority of the people of the Republic would push to resist being integrated with it.
Unionist options: “In terms of the issue of the Unionist options, as Chris outlined, the problem with that Unionist position is like most Unionist positions, other than support of the Agreement, its actually way out of date. You can no longer govern Northern Ireland integrated with the rest of the UK in exactly the same way, because there is devolution in Scotland, there is devolution in Wales, there is devolution coming to the regions of England. It is a nonsense position. That is why Chris, and those who still support the Agreement as the best way forward, are the only ones who are being realistic within the Unionist Party.
After the elections: “The issue about whether there is a big majority for unionists or nationalists in May, there is of course a working unionist majority in the Assembly as currently is, the majority of our votes are decided, if they are decided on a party basis, by unionists outvoting nationalists. Sometimes unionists and us, sometimes unionists outvoting nationalists and us. The issue is only on certain specific points, where the particularly peculiar weighted majority voting system we have requiring designations comes in. If you want my halfpenny worth – and you can see what odds you get on this in the bookies tomorrow morning – after the election the largest party will be the Ulster Unionist Party, the second largest will be the DUP, the third largest will be Sinn Fein, the fourth largest will be the SDLP and the fifth largest will be Alliance.
Chair (Andy Pollak): “Thank you. I must say, if I could just add my two halfpence worth, I was disappointed to hear Francie come up with this old line about “British interest”. I understood, again a quote that David made, that there is “no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland”. That was Peter Brooke, the Northern Ireland Secretary of State back in 1991, who said that, and that was seen as a turning point, John Hume said this means that if the people of the island of Ireland can agree on a solution, can agree on structures, the British will step aside and will not interfere. I understood that it was on that basis that certainly all the parties, maybe except Sinn Fein, and maybe Sinn Fein are still stuck in this old idea that the British have a kind of a strategic interest in staying in Ireland. I understood that was a key change in the political climate back then which led to a lot of things that came after it.
Re DUP: “And also I am again disappointed to hear this line about the DUP, if the DUP are the biggest party or the biggest unionist party after the next election, they’ll do some deal with Sinn Fein. As far as I’m concerned, hell will freeze over before the DUP will share power with Gerry Adams. If you look at the last recent poll, I think it was 3% of DUP supporters said they would support any kind of power sharing. That’s with the SDLP not with Sinn Fein.
“I think what Peter Robinson wants, Peter Robinson is a very ambitious, very pragmatic politician, but whether he can bring a party along with him that is 97% against power sharing, into power sharing with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness and Sinn Fein, the ancient enemy, I find that really quite impossible to believe….. “
Francie Molloy: “I thought the Chair would be neutral in this situation. The reality is, and maybe Andy is slightly removed from reality in Armagh, but I think the reality on the ground, and I think I know it, is that the DUP are positioning themselves for change, and if people can’t see the signs of that, then I think they are the people who have got it wrong. But it’s not a matter for me………The situation is that the makeup of the Assembly as it is at the moment would mean that the largest unionist party and the largest nationalist party would become the First and Deputy First Ministers. That’s the way it’s actually organised, you mightn’t like it, and I know David and others have … proposed changes, but that’s the reality at the present time. And if the DUP are the largest unionist party – which I think they will be – and if Sinn Fein are the largest nationalist party – which I think they will be – then that’s where there will be a voting. It’s not a matter of a deal, but a vote which will actually ensure who is First and Deputy First Minister. And I do believe that it will work together, But if you want to ensure that the Assembly is up and running then I do believe that you have to have elections and, despite what Chris says, the Ulster Unionist Party are still trying to ensure that the elections don’t happen on the First of May.
David Ford: “A brief response to that. I think Francie’s completely wrong when he says that the largest unionist party and the largest nationalist party will necessarily supply the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. It’s not a matter that unionists elect the First Minister and nationalists elect the Deputy First Minister. There has to be a joint proposal of two names passed on the current system by a majority vote of designated unionists and designated nationalists. I think if anybody in this room believes that any unionist in the second week of May this year is going to vote for a Sinn Fein member to be Deputy First Minister, they really don’t understand unionists.”
Q.5 (Trim resident): “I was interested that Chris McGimpsey and Gregory Campbell [DUP], who addressed a meeting here some time ago, they seem to be singing out of the same hymn sheet, both cited all the republican side got and the other side didn’t. And one is for the Agreement and the other is not, can you explain that? Also, as regards the Southern participation in it, we voted for the deletion of Articles 2 & 3 and it didn’t seem to make any difference, and they were shouting from the rooftops about it all the time before … It’s gone and it made no difference. I wonder was it any good at all that the South voted for the new Agreement. What difference did it make, one way or the other, to us?”
Q. 6. [Columban missionary, re reconciliation]: “I thought that the chairman’s definition of reconciliation at the beginning is a very accurate one, but also formidable, and indeed in every part of the world where it has been tried, it has proved formidable. I was just wondering if the speakers tonight, good as they have been, are still dodging the full implications that this would demand from each party. And I’d particularly like to hear from the representative of the Women’s Coalition as to how she sees the future of reconciliation.”
Q. 7 [Canon John Clarke, Navan. Re reconciliation]: “It’s probably much the same kind of comment and question as the last speaker, but I was certainly somewhat disappointed this evening. It’s been a little like giving an essay to children in school, asking them to write an essay on a subject and them not reading the subject properly, and then writing the essay. I am afraid that at least 50% – or much more than 50% – of the initial speeches have been very much about focusing on “biting the old bit”, as it were, and indeed, you know, apportioning blame. I do think that perhaps it might be much more profitable to have dealt with “acts of completion and beyond” and particularly focusing on reconciliation, as the last speaker has said.”
Chair (Andy Pollak): “I’ll go back to the panel. There were three points there – one is Articles 2 & 3 have gone, the South has made that sacrifice by voting them away, and what difference has it made? I’ll ask Chris that, because he has, as he’ll explain, a particular interest in that area. The second question was: it is a formidable definition of what reconciliation is and, particularly, the questioner asked what the Women’s Coalition felt.
“What this would demand of the parties and how they saw the future, the implementation of this formidable demand to reconcile. And thirdly, that the speakers hadn’t really addressed the title of the session of the talk, ‘Acts of Completion and beyond – Beginning the Reconciliation Process’, and there being a bit too much party political stuff, and also a bit too much apportioning blame. And, as I tried to say at the beginning, apportioning blame is the opposite. People have to say: ‘I’m to blame’, ‘I’m sorry, I’m to blame’, ‘my party is to blame’, ‘my community is to blame’, as Gusty Spence did so memorably there when the loyalist ceasefire took place. So if I could take those three points, I’ll start with Chris on Articles 2 & 3.”
Replies to Questions 5-7:
Chris McGimpsey [re Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution]: “You asked were Articles 2 & 3 important, their removal important. The short answer is “yes”. It was absolutely crucial. It was crucial in a couple of ways. Let’s look at it in one way from the South. I think it was important for the Irish Republic that it withdrew what was an irredentist claim over the people and territory of Northern Ireland. What the Irish Republic said in its Constitution, the ‘37 Constitution – Articles 2 & 3 denied the legitimacy of Northern Ireland, “pending the reintegration of the national territory”. The national territory is the “island of Ireland, its islands and territorial seas”. So it denied the constitutional integrity of Northern Ireland, that’s the first point. The second point where Articles 2 & 3 were important was that they gave a spurious legitimacy to the Provisional IRA’s campaign. Time and again, and you read, and I don’t know whether Francie will want to comment on this now, you read the old An Phoblachts, they used to say things like, the Free-staters condemn us in the South, but what are we doing? All we are doing is trying to put into action what is demanded in Articles 2 & 3 of our Constitution. That’s what they said all along. Gave a spurious legitimacy to the campaign. That is another reason why it was important. If the island of Ireland is to move forward to be reconciled with itself, with the two states to be reconciled, both states have got to accept the legitimacy of each other’s borders. Under the Treaty of Rome, to get into the European Community, you have to accept the legitimacy of each other State within the European Community. The Irish Republic was actually living a lie, by being in Europe and doing very well out of it and not being prepared to accept the legitimacy of the borders of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. So those were all things that had to be tidied up. I don’t know what people expected unionists to do when Articles 2 & 3 were removed, people say: “you bitched about it and then you got it and now you don’t mention it”. Well, no we don’t. I mean if asked was it important to us, it was absolutely crucial. It was crucial to bringing about unionist support for the Good Friday Agreement. It was crucial, we believe, to building a foundation for the two states to be reconciled, the one with the other. And that’s an integral part of reconciliation within this island.
Reconciliation: “The other two points were with regard to the speeches. You’re right – we didn’t work on reconciliation and we didn’t talk on reconciliation as much. I tried to lead it, and implicitly what I was saying was: the key act of completion that was promised to unionists five years ago was that the paramilitary groups would hand in weapons – not go down to the PSNI and hand them over the counter – but would put weapons beyond use, and that the paramilitary structures would disappear, that punishment beatings would stop, that expulsions would stop and all of the drugs and all of the other stuff would all stop. That was the key act of completion which we have been waiting for and that’s the one that I was trying to suggest without which this Agreement will not run any further. I think it’s run its course, unless an act of completion takes place. So I’d apologise, I didn’t maybe concentrate on reconciliation but with regard to the “act of completion” element, that was the key thrust of the point I was making. There was a third question which….
Andy Pollak: “The third question was particularly the political implementation of reconciliation, but the speaker was asking for the Women’s Coalition.”
Chris McGimpsey: “Ok, I’ll leave it at that. I can always come back if there is another point.”
Trudy Miller: [Re Articles 2 & 3]: “Briefly, in relation to the first question, the removal of the Articles, I think that’s an indication of maturity of the Irish State, and this is what I mentioned about ourselves in the North. We just have not seemingly reached that maturity. There has been such a lack of trust over the years. The Irish State was a very immature state in the 1950s and the 1960s. It seems to have just grown in that maturity. It can now release these Articles and I think that is an indicator of maybe where, it’s a model in a way to show us where they have arrived at, but it’s also to say how long it has taken and that is where I began at the beginning. It is a lengthy process. While Chris speaks of the Good Friday Agreement and the items that have not happened, really what he needs to also add is that so many things have been reduced: the number of beatings and shootings and there has been some acts of decommissioning. It is a lengthy process.
Dodging the issues: “In relation to question number two, are we dodging the issues? No, we are not dodging the issues. As the Women’s Coalition we came about, we are here, for peace. We saw that women were not going to have a position at the tables. It was touted to the other political parties to bring their women forward to speak in 1996 in what is known as the Forum Talks. They did not take it up. They did not take that invitation, so grass-roots women got together, and from community groups and various gatherings, and they said: “yes, we have got to have voting rights here, we have got to have a say”. And they are about peace. They also recognise that things cannot happen overnight. My own experience as a mother and as a teacher, you bring back the children several times. They may strut and they may storm, and we do have strutting and storming in Northern Ireland. The women have never walked out. Various people have stormed in and stormed out. The women have stayed.
Reconciliation: “And as regard apportioning blame, just to say that the Women’s Coalition representatives brought some items into the Forum, which never would have been brought on board, maybe not even thought of, and one of those was about implementation talks, that we would go on talking, and the second was in relation to the recognition of victims on both sides, and this is where reconciliation comes in comes in, and the wonderful definition we had this evening. Victims on both sides, that they do exist, and at the same time, it’s not to maintain a victimisation culture: we are victims of this, we are victims of that. It is to say things have happened, we have to move on, we have to recognise they have happened, and we have to move on from there. We can go around in a whirlpool all our lives, going in a downward spiral, or we can climb up and we can climb out through talk and that is what our party is about. Round the table dialogue, forget the monologues, round the table dialogue. Thank you.
David Ford [re Articles 2 & 3]: “Just a brief comment on the constitutional question. I hope this doesn’t embarrass you, Chris, because I want to agree with you on that one as well. The reality was: as long as Articles 2 & 3 existed in their old form they were a nagging sore. Once they were removed then people forget the nagging sore, because there are plenty of other things to worry about. I am old enough to remember when the 1974 power-sharing experiment took place for five months, when Ulster Unionists, SDLP and Alliance members in a voluntary coalition in a Stormont Assembly worked together. And when that executive was set up to share power, Oliver Napier, the then leader of the Alliance said if there was not change in the Republic to match that … specifically something to deal with Articles 2 & 3, then unionist resentment would bring down the power-sharing arrangements and five months later unionist resentment brought down the power-sharing arrangements. That’s why it was absolutely essential that Articles 2 & 3 changed.
Reconciliation: “In terms of the formidable task of reconciliation and the fact that we are not very good at looking beyond things. I am also conscious of what another former Alliance leader told some of us a while ago. In 1989, after the collapse of the 1982 Assembly, John Cushnahan went down to Munster to be elected as a Fine Gael MEP. And I remember him describing driving across somewhere in either south Limerick or north Cork canvassing, and as they drove into some small village somewhere ‘Cushie’ said ‘where do we start?’ and got the response: ‘we don’t canvass here, this has been Fianna Fail since the Civil War’. And ‘Cushie’, used to the campaigning that he did for the Alliance in Northern Ireland, said ‘we’re knocking doors here too.’ And I think, actually, when you look at the difficulties that you experienced in this jurisdiction after a relatively short Civil War, divided largely on the question of timing and tactics rather than the fundamental divisions which exist in Northern Ireland, you do have to recognise the problems that we have. However, in a spirit of non-reconciliation, I must say that I have found the performance of the Northern Ireland Executive to be extremely disappointing in terms of what they have done to promote community relations, to promote dialogue and reconciliation. They have actually been quite a good government in terms of much social and economic policy. They have been significantly better than Direct Rule Ministers in what they have done for health or transport or housing or agriculture. But we spent over a year waiting for a report from the Executive outlining a policy on community relations, and it only appeared under Direct Rule. And there is an issue about the ability of us as politicians and I am pointing fingers, but I entirely acknowledge that it’s not terribly easy for any of us, including those of us who are not represented on the Executive. To actually deal with the major divide in Northern Ireland society is a huge challenge, and there is a real need for politicians to be much more pro-active in supporting the range of groups across this community who are doing the real hard work.
“And the other thing that needs to be remembered when you talk about reconciliation is: reconciliation is an issue in the leafy suburbs and in the golf-club bars. There are not just problems of peace and reconciliation in areas where people throw half bricks at each other. There are real problems across the whole of Northern Ireland’s society and we need a real strategic approach to deal with it.”
Francie Molloy [Re reconciliation]: “On the issue of reconciliation and the acts of completion, I think sometimes … people are not recognising all that has happened. If we start off, and I’ll repeat, that the first issue was around why we had an IRA ceasefire and everything else was to grow from that. We did do that and then we had another demand for the disarmament and the whole issue of decommissioning which went on for ages. We had two acts of decommissioning which were simply dismissed by unionists as not enough, and this is what republicans actually have said, and this is what republicans are saying to us on the ground. It doesn’t matter actually what you do, it’ll never be enough, so why do anything is one answer.
Need to change: “There also is a failure to recognise the need to change. Chris was talking about what was printed in An Poblacht a number of years back. The big change that actually happened, and it happened at a Sinn Fein Ard Fheis and maybe went unnoticed again to a lot of unionists and maybe even to a lot of republicans, is that whenever Sinn Fein took the decision to go into Leinster House and actually whenever we put the onus on the Irish government to recognise all the people of Ireland and to work on behalf of all the people of Ireland, not just within the 26 counties. That actually for the first time we were recognising the Irish Government as a sovereign government and that, for a party that actually had always labelled the Irish government as simply another partitionist administration, North and South. So there was a serious recognition there for the first time, and it wasn’t about Peter Brooke. No, Peter Brooke actually made a statement, but he left out the main issue which was that Britain still had political interest in the North. So while he might have talked about not having a selfish, strategic or economic interest, he left out the issue which actually was political interest in the North. But it was a starting point, and certainly it triggered off a number of different discussions, and actually led I think to the overall opening up. And if Gay Byrnehadn’t put him on the spot [on the Late Late Show] who would have known what actually would have happened if he hadn’t sung ‘Oh my darling Clementine.’
“But we have a situation here where if we move the goalposts every time that change happens, then people will actually say well there’s really no point in making change. And the republican movement has for years resisted the whole idea, and it never happened before, on the whole issue of acts of decommissioning. Those have happened, they’ve been accepted by republicans, and yet as I say it has been thrown back in their face. If people want surrender, let’s be quite clear: it’s not going to happen. If people want republicans to lie down on the road and trample over them, it’s not going to happen. And if people think that republicans are actually going to lose their aspirations then it’s not going to happen, and what we need to do is see that we are not in a surrender situation, but we are in a situation of trying to build trust, trying to build new institutions, being part of the administration there and trying to build the North-South institutions which was a failure of the Irish Government for 70 years…..
Articles 2 & 3: “And Chris McGimpsey was the person who took the court case which clearly stated to the Irish Government that there was an imperative on them to actually deliver on the aspirations, not to simply have them in the Constitution. Because as an Irish nationalist … and whenever my neighbours have been murdered nightly by Gusty Spence’s UVF, I never found any support or any backup from the Irish Government, or any protection from the Irish Government, simply because it claimed Articles 2 & 3 and claimed jurisdiction. So, you know, there are a lot of people who need to get real in this whole situation if we’re going to actually move the thing along.
“But certainly, republicans are not losing their aspirations to build an all-Ireland structure, and we’re not losing our aspirations to change the situation on the ground. We are no longer going to be second-class citizens. We are very much first-class citizens and that’s the way we intend to maintain that. So we can actually build the trust and build the institutions or we can force change. We can work along with that change or we can continue to deny it and simply walk away from it.
Implementation of the Agreement: “The implementation process was put in place, but every time there were talks about the implementation process, David Trimble didn’t attend. He walked away from them. And yet he was demanding that republicans implement. David Trimble as First Minister had a duty to implement the Good Friday Agreement. He failed to do so. The British Government have at least admitted that they actually didn’t implement the Good Friday Agreement. I believe republicans have went further in actually implementing, and further than any republicans have went in the whole history of the republican movement, in actually bringing about change, in bringing the entire structure of our organisation basically with us, whilst there were some who left them and went away. And sometimes I think that the two governments would like to see the whole splintering of the republican movement, a feud situation, and to do what happened on the Shankill Road, to have a feud between republicans. But I don’t believe that’s going to happen either. So we have the opportunity to build trust and to reconcile and to work together to build that, or we have the opportunity simply to be in denial and walk away from it.
Chris McGimpsey: “…To make a couple of comments on that. Francie says it’s sensible to build trust. He doesn’t trust the unionists, he doesn’t trust the SDLP, he clearly doesn’t trust the Brits, he’s not too sure about the Irish, you know, and he wants to build trust! “
Francie Molloy: “Well it’s a starting point.” [laughter]
Chris McGimpsey: “We’ll assume he trusts Gerry Adams, I suppose that is a starting point! Let me make a couple of points here. There are a couple of things here that he said that are important. With regard to the British, he says that Peter Brooke didn’t mention the political. No, but the following year, Sir Patrick Mayhew gave a very famous interview in Germany in which he said – it was translated in the British press and in the Irish press as: “if the people of Northern Ireland wanted to be part of a united Ireland, we would let them leave, we would gladly let them leave”. What he actually said, and I’m told this is significant by people who know German – I don’t know any German – he says ‘we would let them leave, mit handkuss.’ You know, that doesn’t mean we would gladly, it was said as if to say “thank Christ to get rid of them”… So there’s your answer about whether or not they have a political interest in staying. He says, as soon as the people of Northern Ireland want out of the United Kingdom, they can go ‘mit handkuss’. [English translation “with a kiss of the hand”]
“To say that unionists, certainly pro-Agreement Ulster Unionists, did not welcome the acts of decommissioning is just not true. Go back and read the papers again to check. That is not true, they were welcomed, they were welcomed. You have got to remember, if you have got 110 tons of weapons, to destroy a few hundred bullets and half a dozen rifles, or a few hundred rifles and a half a dozen bullets, I don’t know what it was, because you’re not even allowed to be told what it was. But if you have 110 tons of weapons, and you’re now committed to democratic and constitutional effort only, you don’t need 110 tons of weapons. You know if you are seriously committed to democratic and constitutional change, you could give away 100 tons of weapons. You have more weapons than the Irish army. You could give away 100 tons of weapons and keep ten and still feel safe. That’s ten tons not ten weapons.
“And the last thing: I am glad the way the republican movement has changed. I know that the republican movement has changed its attitude towards the Irish Government, accepting the legitimacy of the Irish government. I wonder do they accept the legitimacy of the Irish army? Do they still believe the only legitimate armed force on the island of Ireland is the Irish Republican Army? I don’t know. “
Francie Molloy: “It’s already been stated, it’s already been stated.”
Chair: Andy Pollak: “It’s just gone 10 o’clock, five past ten. There are two more people, three more people. Okay, go ahead.”
Q.8 Derek Mooney: “I am secretary of the Fianna Fail group on the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, and you were talking about reconciliation. We have had two sessions so far. We’ve talked about going into a series of workshops over the next period of time … I see David Ford there and I know that the last two sessions of the Forum have been concerned with particularly the interfaces … I think it is particularly appropriate with Chris McGimpsey here, I think he said he attended the Forum in 1984 with publicity. Subsequently then Roy Garland came to the Forum in 1995 with publicity, and then they have had a large number of various people speaking, independently from the Unionist Party etc amid virtually no publicity. The only person who got publicity at the last Forum meeting was the spokesperson from the Orange Order, so they had a progression. What we’ve heard about the Forum is going to be…
Chris McGimpsey: “Well they wanted to expel me from the Unionist Party for going. Now it’s hard to find a unionist member who hasn’t been to the Forum.”
Derek Mooney: “I want to put it to you that there is progress, huge progress, that is the point I am making”.
Chris McGimpsey: “Oh yes.”
Derek Mooney: “David Ford made a point – I think that reconciliation is a bit like Billy Connolly’s musical appreciation, that when he went to school he would sit there at the back of the class and the teacher would play the piano and then shout down every so often ‘Connolly – appreciate!’ I think there is a certain element of that in reconciliation, in that people are telling you to go and reconcile yourselves, and I think David Ford put his finger on it in terms of where does this leadership come from? A lot of this has come from the ground in many cases. There are the organisations like this, Glencree, a whole range of organisations. Those people who came before us in the Forum to talk about the work that they had done. But the difficulty is that it comes down to trust, if they are not getting the leadership from the leaders. And I think they want confirmation that the elections are going to take place on the 1st of May … maybe some of the contributions tonight from the top table are absolute confirmation that the elections are going to take place on the 1st of May, because political parties are now into election-mode. And who am I to criticise them? It is the right thing to do. But I think we have moved forward. I think the questioner is indicating that we haven’t, but we have, we have made huge moves forward, and maybe sometimes we need to concentrate on that. As to what the outcome of the election is, who knows?
“David Ford made one point that I disagree with, and I think it may have been inadvertently said, when he turned around and said that the Belfast Agreement had given us a divided community or a divided society. It existed long before that. The fact that we have terms of designation … within the Assembly, the designation of nationalist or unionist … is just merely a reflection of what is there, and if you are going to solve a problem, you have to acknowledge that the problem exists and take that as your starting point. And I think maybe you should be working through the Assembly at some point to get rid of those designations, but I think from what we have heard tonight we are a long way off from that.”
Q. 9: [re policing]: “The speaker from the Women’s Coalition talked about a police force that is acceptable to all, as well as integrated education and housing … and I am wondering why in Northern Ireland there wasn’t a mutual protection force for the people there. I think if there had been, the IRA would never have needed all those arms …”
Q. 10. [Cllr. Phil Cantwell, Trim UDC]: “Could I give you the views of an Irish politician? Visiting Northern Ireland I’ve spoken to people in Ballymena, Ballymoney, and I agree with David Ford. Not everybody in Ballymoney is unionist, not everybody in the Shankill wants to be there. It seems to me that everybody in Northern Ireland is concerned about getting a health service, getting a job, and it seems to me that Sinn Fein has to become more republican and Dr. McGimpsey’s party has to become more unionist to be successful. It sounds to me … because I think that what the nationalists had to go through was appalling, and it’s a pity that Dr. McGimpsey couldn’t be generous enough to say that what was done against the nationalists was wrong. I am very impressed by the Women’s Coalition and the Alliance. Most people in Northern Ireland are neither nationalist nor unionist, they are in the middle. I think from what I’ve seen in Northern Ireland, politics is very wrong, and … we speak tonight about reconciliation: for God’s sake show a little bit of generosity on both the unionist side and on the Sinn Fein side. And I’ll say to Francie tonight: if peace is to work, tell the nationalist people to join the police force and have an acceptable police. That is where I am coming from. Because this evening in the South nobody questions a Garda if they are stopped on the road for drink driving or drunken driving or anything else. … But I have been in the Shankill and I’ve been in the Ardoyne, and those people are crying out for an acceptable police force. I think we all want it. So I’ll say tonight to Chris McGimpsey: don’t try to be more unionist, accept that the Catholics or the nationalists were walked on for years. Accept that. Don’t just leave it up to Gusty Spence, please say that. Trimble seems to becoming more like Paisley to become more acceptable with the unionists, that’s wrong. But I’ll say to Francie again tonight, please join and urge the nationalists to join the police force. Thank you.”
Q. 11 [Trim resident, re Treaty of 1921, and DeValera’s Constitution of 1937]: “ …I wonder are we reaping the half-baked Treaty that was signed in ’21? …[tape unclear]”
Replies to questions 8-11:
David Ford: “I’m going to give just a brief response to the points raised there. I don’t think I said the Agreement had given us a divided society. If I did I said it wrong, but what I do believe is that certain aspects of the Agreement have entrenched divisions and specifically, by promoting rewards for unionists and nationalists at the expense of all others, it in some respects makes reconciliation more difficult. That is the point which has to be addressed, which my party has been seeking to address and we will continue to. In terms of the issue, in company such as this I am no expert on the 1937 Constitution or even the 1922 Treaty. What I do know is that in 1998 we had an Agreement endorsed North and South. I believe the real danger of the Agreement is that for some people it is seen as the ceiling of their ambitions. We got so far in reaching towards each other and having reached the Agreement, that’s it, we can go back and play our own kind of politics. As far as I am concerned, the Agreement is the foundation on which we will build a united society in the coming years. “
Francie Molloy: “ … I think the very fact that we have the parties here around the one table, talking, is certainly a benefit and wouldn’t have happened a number of years back. If the Alliance party and the Women’s Coalition, and if everybody else in the North were in the middle, then they would be the largest parties. They are not. The reality is on the ground that the Ulster Unionist Party, the SDLP and Sinn Fein are the largest parties. I make no apology for being more republican, and I don’t make any response to that situation, but I am not simply hard line. I am dealing with the reality on the ground that I have to deal with. “
Policing: “In relation to policing, whenever we get that new beginning for policing, then certainly we will be the first to say so. But we are a long way off it. The British Government know what legislation is required to make that happen, and if they bring about the Patten implementation, then certainly I think it will happen. But the main thing is that we are to make politics work and we have to have the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement for to move on. Thank you.”
Trudy Miller: “Just briefly, I am glad to recognise the gentleman from Fianna Fail and Cllr. Cantwell, they both said they have moved on in the North, it is a slow process. I can remember, and maybe somebody can fill in, I can remember in the ‘50s the era of something called ‘An Toastal’, which I think De Valera initiated as a kind of a rejig of Irish nationalism, cum ‘wear your tricolour’ and all little shamrocks, and I can’t remember anything else really, but I was very little and I asked my mother what this was and I don’t know what the parlance of the day was but basically she said it’s a load of bull and I was very glad. The Irish State has matured since then, we all have to move on, and that is where we have made some progress. And I am optimistic, in spite of the things we said this evening, we are optimistic. It is not going to fall underneath and we are not going to be placed with these huge problems. People are going to talk. There is no alternative.”
Chris McGimpsey: “… I notice the nerves are starting to get a bit rawer the later we go on in the night, so it’s probably a good time to finish. The Forum, massive changes to the whole concept of discussions between Irish men and Irish women on both sides of the border. Communication has opened up in a way that didn’t exist in 1984 when I went on the Forum. You wouldn’t believe the shit I took when I came back! “It seemed like a good idea at the time and I’m still glad I did it. But you are right, I think it is still important that we got to keep talking. Let me say one thing, all this talk about the majority of people don’t see themselves as unionists and nationalists. Every opinion poll in Northern Ireland indicates the majority of people in the Protestant community view themselves as unionists and the majority of people in the Catholic community view themselves as nationalist. … I don’t know, the councillor said about being on the Shankill … I haven’t met anybody on the Shankill that didn’t feel themselves to be a unionist or a loyalist and there’s a Shankill grown women sitting over there, ask her and if we don’t know what we are, we know what we aren’t. I am sort of attacked for not condemning the Specialist Powers Act. I got to tell you the reason I didn’t mention the Special Powers Act, I didn’t hear anybody mention the Special Powers Act in years, but it wouldn’t be my idea of the way we legislate for a modern, democratic society. Nor would I say the Offences Against the State Act, which you had in the Irish Republic and for all I know probably still have, and was indeed even more draconian than the Special Powers Act, wouldn’t exactly be my cup of tea either. “
“Nationalists, why not admit that nationalists were walked on for years? I think there is an element of that which is true. I think there is also an element of lots of people – a lot of working class people were walked on for years, and I think that the fact that in 80 years of self-rule that the Protestant population in the South dropped from 22% to 7%, and the Catholic population in the North went from whatever it is 38% to 48%, gives some indication that things are not just as black and white as people would suggest.
Policing: “Two points about the RUC. The lady from Australia, or from Co. Antrim rather, I must say shocked me a little bit. “Perhaps if the police force in Northern Ireland had been more neutral the IRA wouldn’t have needed their arms”. I mean I really don’t know how to respond to that.
Questioner: “Sorry I didn’t say police force, I said a neutral protection force”.
Chris McGimpsey: “Oh, well okay. You said if a neutral protection force had existed in Northern Ireland, people usually look upon, in civil society, the police being the protection force, the IRA wouldn’t have needed their arms. To justify what we have had over the last 30 years in saying: “well it’s all Northern Ireland’s fault”. There is nothing justifies some of the actions the IRA have undertaken and there is nothing.
Questioner: “I didn’t say that.”
Chris McGimpsey: “No, but you said maybe that is why the IRA needed their arms. I mean paramilitary groups if they don’t have arms, they don’t use them. They don’t get arms to use them.”
Questioner: “You have Catholic groups, and I know groups of eighty people in parts … where police men came into public bars and shot them.”
Chris McGimpsey: “Can I just say, the 20th century was never the part of Irish history that I studied. I have a Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh in Irish History. Can I just say I have never read of policemen going into pubs and machine gunning and killing eighty people…”
Questioner: “I didn’t say they killed them, the guns jammed.
Chris McGimpsey: “Oh the guns jammed. I would love to read … thirty years in journalism, I don’t know if you know what I am saying. Let’s pass over that, I just don’t believe that, certainly not in any of the pubs I’ve drunk in.
Treaty of 1921 and the Irish Constitution: “The 1937 Constitution was brought in unilaterally. That is the one thing you have got to remember. This state unilaterally brought in the Constitution. When the Treaty was set up, when the Irish Free State was set up, there was a thing called the ‘Confirmation of Agreement Ireland Act’ and it talked about the two states recognising the legitimacy, this was 1925, the legitimacy of the borders, each State of the other, and being “united in amity” the one with the other to foster good relations on the island of Ireland. The Irish Free State signed that, and so did the UK Government and that’s what De Valera threw away in ’37 with his Constitution and that is what we are bringing back. We are clawing back to a situation where people in the Republic and people in the Northern Ireland are united in amity to bring forward reconciliation on the island of Ireland.”
Andy Pollak: “Right I am going to finish on a positive note, because you could think, having listened to some of this conversation, that not much has changed in Northern Ireland, but actually a huge amount has changed. The last five years there has been a sea change in many things. People talk to each other, local councillors greet each other, things are happening across the border. I’ll give you three examples: The Lord Mayor of Belfast, Alex Maskey of Sinn Fein, going to the Somme memorial last summer. The involvement of unionist Ministers in regular practical North South co-operation talks. A magazine which is being run out of Monaghan by a group of loyalist and republican prisoners, ex-prisoners together. I could multiply that dozens and dozens of times. There is stuff going on. We have moved a great distance since the Good Friday Agreement. What we need to do now is not to lose that movement, not to lose that progress. So we are pessimistic, we are naturally pessimistic in the North, we have seen a lot of false dawns, but there are huge possibilities in the Good Friday Agreement, in the Belfast Agreement. And even on the level of IRA decommissioning, disbandment and British demilitarisation, there is great possibility of movement. Some of us would be very critical of the slow pace of British demilitarisation of the forts along the border, but it does mean that there is a bargaining card there. That if the IRA give up something considerable, the British Army can give up something considerable as well, so nobody is seen to be losing. There are possibilities there, there is hope there.
“So if I could just finish by thanking you all for coming out. I have to say I am very cheered and impressed. I sometimes think, as somebody who lives in Dublin but works in the North, I’d understand why people in the South would be a bit sick of the North now and these kinds of discussions, but it’s very impressive and very cheering that people in Co. Meath come out on a bitterly cold night in such numbers to talk about and listen about the North, and I’d just like to pay tribute to the Meath Peace Group for the vanguard work they do in keeping the vital, vital issue of Northern Ireland in front of people. I remember Julitta rightly rebuked me the last time I was on a public platform, about ten years ago, when I said that the people in the South should leave the people in the North to work out their own future together. And she rebuked me and she was right, and I just want to thank you all very much for coming out and making this such a very interesting and compelling occasion. Thank you very much. And if I could just thank the four speakers for coming down from Northern Ireland again on a cold night to address this occasion, if I could thank the speakers as well.”
Julitta Clancy: “On behalf of the Meath Peace Group I would just to thank Andy Pollak for so ably chairing the talk, and to echo his tributes to the speakers. Thank you all very much. You have all come very long distances today, coming out of your way to come here to talk to us and we very much appreciate that. I also want to again extend our appreciation to the audience here, who have come out on a very, very cold night, and have done so consistently for ten years, we have had very good attendances here. I don’t know how long more they can go on, maybe you’d want us to dissolve this year, but I just want to thank you very much. I am in the happy position that I never remember the rebukes I deliver to anybody else so I fortunately don’t remember that, Andy, but again thank you all and we wish you well in the coming talks and negotiations. And we hope, that if you can resolve these kind of immediate issues which are long outstanding and need to be resolved, that somehow some lesson will be learned from the last five years and that some way reconciliation – whatever it is – that we will start to really address it, because there is a gaping hole there and we are meeting groups privately and publicly and there are huge hurts and huge pains and lot and lots of misunderstanding and misperceptions and there is a need for the political parties to start giving leadership to the wider community. So thank you all again.”
Meath Peace Group report, March 2003 Transcribed by Catriona Fitzgerald and edited by Julitta Clancy. Taped by Oliver Ward, Catriona Fitzgerald and John Clancy. © Meath Peace Group
Acknowledgments: Meath Peace Group would like to thank all who assisted in the planning, organisation, publicity, recording and transcribing of the talk, and those who prepared refreshments. Special thanks as always to the Columban Fathers for permitting us the facilities of Dalgan Park, to the Dept. of Foreign Affairs Reconciliation Fund for assistance towards the running costs of the talks, and to all who made contributions to our expenses. We thank all our speakers for taking the time to come to address us in Meath and a special thanks to our guest chair, Andy Pollak.
Biographical Notes on Speakers and Chair
David Ford, MLA, Alliance Party (South Antrim). Before entering politicsDavid Ford worked as a social worker with the NHSS. He was appointed Gen. Secretary of the Alliance Party in 1990 and has been a member of Antrim Borough Council since 1993. He represented the party on the NI Forum between 1996 and 1998, and was elected to the Assembly (for S. Antrim) in 1998. He stood in the Westminster elections 1997, 2000, and 2001, and was appointed Alliance Chief Whip in 1998. Elected Party Leader in October 2001, he is currently the party’s Assembly Spokesperson on Agriculture and Rural Development, and on the Environment, and serves on several committees.
Cllr. Dr. Chris McGimpsey, Ulster Unionist Party (Shankill Road). Chris McGimpsey has represented the Court Electoral Area on Belfast City Council since 1993. He is Chairman of the Council’s Policy & Resources Committee, and is a member of the Contract Services Committee, the Client Services Committee and the Health and Environmental Services Committee. He has represented Belfast City Council on numerous bodies including the Advisory Committee on Travellers, Belfast Education and Library Board, and the Community Work Programme Regional Partnership Board. He is the UUP constituency chairman for West Belfast.
Trudy Miller, NI Women’s Coalition (South Down). Trudy Carrol Miller originally came from Co. Meath but has lived in South Down since 1981. She is a former teacher and primary school principal, and is a strong advocate of high quality education for every pupil and lifelong learning opportunities for every adult. She joined the NI Women’s Coalition in 2000, serving on the Executive Committee and the Education Policy team, and is party candidate for South Down. Trudy believes that the NIWC has brought new hope, new energy and new political thinking into public life She wants to encourage more women to get involved in politics and has been active on environmental and road safety issues in her South Down constituency.
Cllr. Francis Molloy, MLA, Sinn Fein (Mid Ulster). Francie Molloy has been involved with civil rights and republican movements since the 1960s. He was director of operations for the election campaigns of Bobby Sands and Owen Carron in 1981, and was first elected to Dungannon District Council in 1985 (representing Torrents area). In 1996 he was elected to the Northern Ireland Forum and was a member of Sinn Fein’s talks delegation between 1997 and 1998. He was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly (Mid Ulster constituency) in June 1998 and chaired the Finance Committee. He was also a member of the Environment Committee of the Assembly and is a former mayor of Dungannon.
Andy Pollak, Director of the Centre for Cross Border Studies, Armagh. For many years Andy Pollak served as a Belfast reporter, religious affairs correspondent and education correspondent with the Irish Times. In the early 1990s he was co-coordinator of Initiative ’92’s citizens’ inquiry into ways forward for Northern Ireland, and edited its subsequent report A Citizens’ Inquiry: The Opsahl Commission Report (1993). In 1999 he was appointed Director of the newly founded Centre for Cross Border Studies, based in Armagh, which researches and develops co-operation across the Irish border in education, health, business, public administration, communications, agriculture, the environment and a range of other practical areas. He is a former editor of the Belfast magazine ‘Fortnight’ and co-author of a political biography of Rev Ian Paisley.
©Meath Peace Group 2003
Meath Peace Group Committee 2003: Julitta and John Clancy, Parsonstown, Batterstown, Dunboyne, Co. Meath; Fr. Michael Kane, An Tobar, Ardbraccan; Canon John Clarke, The Rectory, Navan; Anne Nolan, Slane; John Keaveney, Ratoath; Philomena Boylan-Stewart, Longwood; Olive Kelly, Garlow Cross, Lismullen; Leona Rennicks, Ardbraccan; Catriona Fitzgerald, Warrenstown, Kilcock; Pauline Ryan, Navan