Meath Peace Group
in association with the
Meath Archaeological and Historical Society
Decade of Centenaries Joint Seminar: “1915-16”
Saturday, 26th September 2015
St Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan
Meath Peace Group and the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society co-hosted a second Decade of Centenaries seminar in St Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, on Saturday, 26th September last. The all-day seminar focused on the 1915-1916 period and included presentations by a range of academic and local historians exploring national, international and local aspects of the Great War and the Easter Rising. Peter Connell (historian and editor of the M.A.H.S. Journal Riocht na Midhe) welcomed the speakers and the capacity audience among whom were members of several groups from Northern Ireland (Lurgan, Newtownards, Belfast, and Newry). Acknowledging the financial assistance given by the Department of Foreign Affairs Reconciliation Fund (through the Meath Peace Group) and the Ireland 2016 programme (through Meath Co Council), he called on Cllr Brian Fitzgerald, Cathaoirleach of Meath County Council, to formally open the proceedings:
Cllr Brian Fitzgerald thanked the organisers for the invitation and said that this was a very “timely event” in many respects. Meath County Council had a number of visitors from America recently and the “one thing they were all impressed with was our history and our archaeological heritage. I had great pleasure bringing them around various places in County Meath … and I was very proud to do so”, he said. He commended the members of the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society who had kept the Society going over the years and who had ensured that people would have an understanding about what we were about… “It is so important to have organisations like yours to continue to document our history and archaeology and make it available”.
Turning to the theme of the conference he said: “it is only right and proper that we remember the people of 1916, men and women who went out for no personal gain but they wanted to ensure they had the right to determine their own future after many hundreds of years of bloody war….. Most of us had relatives involved in that period – in 1916 but also in the 1914-18 war and the 1939-45 war – we should never forget them… But after 1916, and after our own bloody civil war which thankfully didn’t last too long, the people in this end of the island decided we were going to move forward irrespective of difference. Thankfully we did not have any further bloodshed in this part of the island since then, and this is something we all have to try and work towards in Northern Ireland … that people can work together in the best interest of everybody.” Paying tribute to the Meath Peace Group he said that the group “have been involved in bringing people together right through the bad bad periods – they have done a wonderful job”. He warned that unfortunately “their work is not finished; we should all remember that today in our deliberations – that we have to continue to try and bridge the gap between the various traditions in Northern Ireland.” It was once said to him that ‘we have two traditions in Northern Ireland but there is only one community’ – and “the day that we start talking about two communities will be detrimental. We have to continue to work and not take our eyes off the ball. …And I would ask those of you who have worked with the Meath Peace Group to remember that… I would like to see the dialogue continue in Northern Ireland and that spirit [of good will]… I thought it was achieved with the Good Friday Agreement and the St Andrew’s Agreement but unfortunately there have been differences of opinion and it has become a little rocky. Both governments have an obligation to keep this show on the road. …I would hope we could get back to the situation where people are working together in the name of all the people they represent…” In conclusion he said that “we should not be afraid of our history, we should be able to talk about it and move on together” and the seminar was formally opened.
In the first session, “Ireland and the Great War” (chaired by Frances Tallon of Meath County Library), Ethna Cantwell, secretary of the Navan and District Historical Society, outlined the involvement of Navan people in WWI. About one third of the Meathmen who died in the war came from Navan and its surrounding area. They fought in all the major theatres including the Western Front, Gallipoli, Mesopotamia, Palestine and Jutland, in British regiments but also in Canadian, Australian and U.S Infantry units. Priests, nurses and doctors from the town also served in the war, and the stories of some of the Navan men were outlined in the talk. In “Irish-Australian Perspectives”, Dr Danny Cusack, Convenor of the Meath History workshop, gave a fascinating insight into the vicissitudes and complexities of war as seen through the contrasting fates of two Tipperary-born men who served in the Australian forces: Fr John Fahey (1883-1959) who accompanied Australian troops as chaplain at the famous Gallipoli landing on 25 April 1915 and Martin O’Meara (1885-1935) who served on the Western Front, won a VC for his efforts but spent his last 16 years in the Claremont mental asylum. Meath involvement featured again in session three, when Fiona Ahern, researcher with Bellewstown Heritage Group, examined the role of the National Volunteer movement in Bellewstown and the increasing politicisation of a tiny Co. Meath village in the months before the outbreak of War. [Professor Keith Jeffery of QUB, who was due to speak on the overall theme of Irish involvement in the Great War, was regrettably taken ill before the seminar and was unable to attend.]
In the session, “Easter 1916” (chaired by Frank Cogan, M.A.H.S. Council member), Dr Eunan O’Halpin, Professor of Contemporary Irish History at TCD, presented an intriguing paper “Dublin Castle and Irish Sedition, 1915-16” in which he addressed the question of how much the British authorities in Dublin Castle knew about seditious activities in Ireland before the Rising, and why they were so reluctant to take firm action against known agitators. He also discussed why good intelligence about plans for the Rising which reached the Admiralty in London was not shared with the authorities in Dublin. In his paper, “Easter 1916 in 2016”, Dr Fearghal McGarry of Queen’s University Belfast, explored some of the ways the meaning of 1916 has changed over the past century. W.B. Yeats identified the sacrifice at Easter with resurrection, as Pearse had intended, while many veterans recalled it as a transformative moment. Dublin medical student Ernie O’Malley said that ‘before Easter Week was finished I had changed.’ He described ‘the strange rebirth’ that followed Pearse’s execution. But his generation recalled the rebellion from the perspective of the futures that they had anticipated prior to 1916, and the disappointments they subsequently endured. For each generation that followed, the Rising meant something different again, leading one ethnologist to ask: ‘When was 1916?’
The fourth session, “Meath and 1916” (chaired by Kieran Cummins, M.A.H.S. President), looked at Meath involvement in the Easter Rising, and the subsequent rise of republicanism in Meath. In his paper, Noel French, historian and Meath County Councillor, asked “What are we commemorating and why should we commemorate it?” The main action of 1916 in Meath was the battle of Ashbourne which was fought largely by the North Dublin men. The men in Dunboyne were also out briefly. So why, he asked, should we commemorate it? His illustrated lecture documented Meath personages and links with the Rising. The “Rise of Republicanism in Meath, 1917-21” was the theme of Ultan Courtney’s paper in which he outlined the impact of the Rising on the population and the RIC and demonstrated how 1916 influenced the growth of the republican movement both militarily and politically in the county at the expense of the Irish Parliamentary Party and the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
In the final session, “History, Commemoration and 1916”, the local historians were joined on the panel by the chairpersons and also by Meath County Librarian Ciaran Mangan. Chairing the lively question and answer session, author Helen Litton first outlined her family connections to 1916 – her granduncle Edward Daly was in charge of the Four Courts garrison and was later executed, while her grandaunt was Kathleen Daly, a founder member of Cumann na mBan and widow of Tom Clarke. Alongside this republican tradition, there was also a strong pacifist stream in her family background. A range of questions relating to the topics of the day were discussed and expanded, and some thorny issues raised which await further discussion to address and hopefully resolve.
On behalf of both groups, Julitta Clancy, thanked all who assisted in making the day so successful – in particular the speakers for presenting their research so clearly, illuminating some of the many complexities of the 1915-16 period, and the chairpersons for their watchful diligence in keeping the sessions to time. Special thanks were due to the hard-working volunteers on the day – Liz Fleeton, Marie Cosgrave, June Wilkinson, Clarendon Wilkinson, John Clancy, Leona Rennicks, Anne Nolan and Kieran Cummins – to co-organiser Peter Connell and the council members of both the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society and the Meath Peace Group, to the Columban Fathers at Dalgan Park and to Lisa (housekeeper), Derry and the catering staff who had provided welcome refreshments and a delicious lunch. Finally she thanked the audience for their active participation. Acknowledging the presence of groups from both traditions in Northern Ireland, she said that the people of 1915-1916 had responded with sincerity to the challenges of their day – whether in joining up in World War One or taking part in the Easter Rising, or otherwise, and today we heard some of their stories. In 1915, she said, Pearse had called up the memories of “the Fenian dead”, but in 2015 we have a more pressing challenge – the legacy of the thousands killed and injured in the recent “Troubles”, a conflict which had raged for almost 40 years and which had left untold hurt, mistrust, trauma, and increased division in its wake. She commended the many voluntary groups in NI – such as Lurgan Community Outreach and Decorum NI (both represented at the seminar) – and local groups such as the Meath Peace Group and the Guild of Uriel in Louth (founded in 1993 and 1995 respectively) – who were working to foster understanding and trust, healing and reconciliation, between divided and hurt communities. Understanding and discussing together the complexities of our history – and particularly the 1912-23 period – were important components of that work, she concluded, and it was hoped to hold an “Ethical Remembering” course in Navan in the Spring of 2016 to facilitate this.
Meath Peace Group summary report 2015 – seminar “1915-16”, 26th September 2015
Proceedings recorded by John Clancy (audio) and Kieran Cummins (video)
An edited transcript will be posted when available
MEATH PEACE GROUP TALKS
No. 50: “Reconciliation, Peace-building and the Churches” – summary
6th October 2003
St Columban’s College, Dalgan park, Navan
Most Rev. Dr Robin Eames, Archbishop of Armagh
Msgr. Raymond Murray, PP, Cookstown
Rev. Doug Baker, Convenor, Peace and Peacemaking Committee, Presbyterian Church
Chaired by Fr Tommy Murphy, Regional Director, Columban Missionary Society
SUMMARY REPORT ONLY
[Editor’s note: further work to be done drawing on the tapes and notes]
1. Archbishop Robin Eames:
“Sectarianism is alive and well in every strata of our society. It is the ultimate anti-Christ, the ultimate conflict and challenge to be faced by the Christian churches” said Most Rev. Dr. Robin Eames, Archbishop of Armagh, and Primate of All Ireland, addressing the Meath Peace Group public talk “Reconciliation, Peacebuilding and the Churches”held at St Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan. The meeting was also addressed by Msgr. Raymond Murray, PP Cookstown, a former prison chaplain and human rights activist, and Rev. Doug Baker, Convenor of the Presbyterian Church’s Peace and Peacemaking Committee. Fr. Tommy Murphy, Regional Director of the Columban Missionary Society, chaired the talk and Canon John Clarke, Rector of Navan, and a founder member of the Meath Peace Group, welcomed the distinguished speakers and the audience of over 150 people, including many parish clergy and the Bishop of Meath, Most Rev. Dr. Michael Smith.
Dr. Eames described sectarianism as a cancer at the core of society. “It eats away, it corrodes and it is inherited just as many an illness is”. As a church leader he was ashamed of things that were done in the name of Protestantism: “I have absolutely no doubt that Catholics have suffered discrimination, they have suffered inequality and they have suffered desperately over the history of Northern Ireland
“ ….there is no possible answer to the fact of the alienation which they were given and had imposed upon them in the history of Northern Ireland through the manifestation and the use of power by the majority.”
During the 30 years of misery the churches played the role of a social ambulance service, he said. “They buried the dead, they sympathised with the bereaved, they met the pastoral needs of their people.” The result was that they lost the freedom to be the prophetic voice. “Many many clergy of all denominations found they were literally chaplains to a tribe, chaplains to their own people and succumbed to the human trap of being over-identified with the outlook of the people to whom they ministered”.
The churches were now at a crossroads he said: “we are now being given the little space that we didn’t have in the 30 years to be the prophetic voice, to see the lessons of the past, to look ahead and, please God, to say things that have to be said.” The churches have got to work out a new agenda for peace he said. “We are on a journey, we haven’t reached there yet, and because we say we are the Christian churches we have to constantly keep a vision before us and be prepared to take risks and be prepared to take the dangers of being misunderstood and criticised in our step. He had hope for the future: “I’ve grown to believe that the Gospel I have always tried to practise is working out a solution in Northern Ireland despite the problems”.
Dr. Eames paid a warm tribute to the Meath Peace Group: “I’ve often heard of the work of the Meath Peace Group – unlike many groups that seek to be working under the umbrella of peacemaking you have been prepared to bring to your gatherings people who, in normal circumstances, might never meet. I congratulate you on that and I wish you well.”
2. Msgr Raymond Murray:
Msgr. Murray recalled the words of Martin Luther King in his inspirational “I have a Dream” speech to a civil rights demonstration in Washington in 1963. “I would borrow that dream for my vision of a future Northern Ireland… I hope to see one day the people of Northern Ireland walking free together in harmony, in the humility of conscious brotherhood and sisterhood, walking with peace and justice, respect and trust, and recognising the dignity of every human being. Free from state violence, free from persecution, intimidation and oppression by secret and secretive societies, depriving persons – Catholic and Protestant – of their free speech and their human need of civil and commercial rights. Free from disparaging blood-congealed nicknames that bespeak fear and hatred in the soul”.
He spoke of his first experience of Northern Ireland politics when he took part in the civil rights marches in 1968. “It stood to reason in the 1960s that reforms should be granted and granted quickly. Unfortunately reforms came too slowly and were sometimes so weak as to be spurious. The bubble burst, Martin Luther King’s cry for dignity was forgotten, in the end we all emerged as the guilty people of Ulster. Now we must gather our forces and head for the front, to face the sectarian foe, this time bearing our peace banners and thirsting for reconciliation”.
3. Rev. Doug Baker:
Rev. Doug Baker, who was ordained in the Presbyterian Church in the USA and first came to work in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s, said that the Gospel puts reconciliation as the core challenge for the churches. “It is right at the core of the Christian faith”.
Reconciliation is central to the gospel, he said, “God’s agenda”, but it hasn’t always been viewed that way by our churches as institutions. “It’s been viewed as a kind of optional extra for people who might be interested in that sort of thing. But I am heartened by the fact that I think the churches as institutions are changing in this regard, are really saying that this is core to what we are called to be about.” It’s not just about sectarianism he said, but it applies to other divisions as well: “increasingly there are challenges to us looking at how do we apply the vision of reconciliation in terms of racial and ethnic diversity, across age barriers, across gender, across economic divisions, there are all kinds of places that this journey of faithfulness to the gospel takes us. It’s about being able to learn to live positively and creatively with difference.”
Rather than being a threat, diversity is actually a gift of a larger God, he said. “Racism and sectarianism are about distorted relationships, relationships that have been distorted from the way they ought to be”. Peacebuilding is a long-time process and it must be integrated with everything we do. It is not an optional extra, he said, we must think consciously as to how we are to give it priority. “In doing so, not only will we have good news to share but we will also find the renewal of the churches themselves.
Fr. Tommy Murphy said that the old saying “Charity begins at home” is also true for reconciliation. “Reconciliation also begins at home, and it is great for us to be coming together at home, in this country, from different perspectives to address this issue.”
In the question and answer session, the speakers were asked whether there was a need for some form of Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Dr. Eames outlined the South African experience but felt that such a model would not be suitable for the Northern Ireland situation – “we haven’t reached that point yet”. Msgr Murray said people who have suffered don’t like the word closure. “You can’t close off what they have suffered. Most are not interested in pursuing justice but they want the truth to be told”. However he felt that those who were responsible for the violence – republicans, loyalists and security forces – would not want a Truth Commission – “there is not enough humility and honesty there”. However, the victims want to tell their story and many of their stories are now being heard and recorded. This had happened in his own parish – people were moved to tears, and the families were strengthened.
Fr. Gerard Rice, PP Kilcloon, spoke of the importance of memory and the problems of history teaching in Northern Ireland. As a teacher he was shocked to find that in the state secondary schools in NI only imperial history was taught. “Nobody studied the history of the North”, he said and that attitude to history had led to myth which is adversarial by nature. Archbishop Eames agreed and he felt that while things had improved, Irish history was still not being given the priority it deserved. Msgr Murray said that a quiet revolution had been taking place with the growth of local historical societies where people were coming together and learning about each other’s traditions.
On behalf of the Meath Peace Group Julitta Clancy thanked the speakers and all who had travelled to the talk. She believed that all would take hope, inspiration and renewed energy from the discussion.
November 29th, 1994
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan
Rev. Roy Magee (Presbyterian Ministry, Dundonald)
Billy Mitchell (Progressive Unionist Party)
Eddie Kinner (Progressive Unionist Party)
Chaired by John Clancy (Meath Peace Group)
Editor’s Note: This talk took place a few weeks after the announcement of the loyalist ceasefire in October. Through the agency of Rev. Roy Magee and Isobel Hylands of the Lurgan Interfriendship group, some members of the Meath Peace Group met with members of the Progressive Unionist Party in Belfast prior to the ceasefire and it was agreed that they would send representatives to speak in Dalgan after their ceasefire was announced. 9 PUP representatives including several ex-prisoners came to Dalgan (for most of these it was their first time south of the border). Over 70 people attended the talk and the audience included several people from Northern Ireland who had travelled especially for the talk. Aftermath: in the months following, Billy Mitchell came back several times to talk with secondary school students in schools in Navan and Trim. The talk was not recorded.
1. Rev. Roy Magee (Presbyterian Ministry, Dundonald):
“Building the peace and resolving the conflict” are the greatest challenges facing all of us today, according to Rev. Roy Magee, who was one of the speakers at a meeting organised by the Meath Peace Group in St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan, on November 29th 1994, on “the Way Forward”. The other speakers were Billy Mitchell and Eddie Kinner of the Progressive Unionist Party.
Rev. Magee, who mediated with the loyalist paramilitaries and helped bring about the loyalist ceasefire in October, said that up to now there had been no serious attempt to resolve the conflict and he stressed the need and urgency to take up the challenge now, or stand condemned in the eyes of our children. “We have the choice, ” he said, “either to actively seek to resolve the conflict, or contribute to the conditions giving rise to conflict. None of us is blameless, we may not have pulled the trigger or planted the bomb, but can we stand uncondemned? ”
He spoke of the walls of division – walls of nationalism, religion, politics, culture and tribalism. Many see the demolition of these walls as a threat to their existence and are afraid, many feel that the conflict can never be resolved, he said, but he believed that movement towards resolution is possible and that the ceasefires had given us the opportunity to do this. He felt that both governments had not yet begun to address the conflict. They should seek help from outside experts to help to get the two sides talking, he said.
Recalling the atrocities of the Shankill and Greysteel just one year ago, he said that the ceasefires had come about because of ordinary people on both sides saying “this has got to stop”. Criticising the negative attitude of some politicians and churchmen to the ceasefire announcements, he said “the ceasefires may be fragile, but they are light years ahead of people being murdered and maimed.” It was the duty of every citizen to be constructive, he said, and he appealed to politicians and media especially to be “sensitive in everything they say and do”. We must be building on the peace process now, he said, and we must stress the importance of this to our politicians – “people’s lives are at stake and we must do everything possible to secure the peace”.
There must be determination to move forward, but not with too much haste, he continued. The Downing Street Declaration had paved the way for movement, he said, and he praised the work of Albert Reynolds and Dick Spring in this process. The tragedy in Northern Ireland is that “we cannot agree to differ”, but this has to be overcome . “We need to recognise the legitimacy of each other’s aspirations and put in place legislation that will accommodate them”, he said. He deplored the fact that children were not given the opportunity to mix at primary level – it was too late at secondary school stage to redress this, he said.
Prisoners: Turning to the question of prisoners, he suggested the use of the release on licence system. He knew this was very difficult for many people, but if we want to move forward, we must show forgiveness, he said. The licence system should ensure that prisoners would be re-arrested if killings or punishment beatings resumed.
Policing: On the RUC, Rev. Magee said they would need retraining – they were not experienced in peace time work – but dismantling the force was not the answer.
Fringe unionist parties: On whether loyalist fringe parties should be allowed to take part in negotiations, he said that these parties were more statesmanlike than many of the mainstream politicians – their response to the Declaration was positive and constructive. The loyalist paramilitaries were not the extremists on the unionist side, he said. They broke the law and caused great heartbreak, but many did it in response to the rhetoric of the politicians, many of whom, he asserted, had secretly condoned and encouraged the killings.
Rev. Magee spoke of the damaging effects of institutional violence, of bad planning and appalling living conditions in urban areas, of the lack of power in local government, the need to empower local communities, and the urgent need to address the problem of young people who had been involved in paramilitary activity.
“We need a massive injection of funds so that we can set in place job-creation schemes and resettlement offices manned by people in their own areas”, and “we need unequivocal assurances from both governments that they will actively pursue those who get involved in terrorist activities. Never again should a small minority of ruthless people hold Northern Ireland to ransom”, he said.
2. Billy Mitchell and Eddie Kinner (P.U.P.) (extracts)
The speakers from the Progressive Unionist Party, representing working-class Protestants in the Greater Shankill area, then addressed the meeting. Speaking frankly and openly, they explained how, as ex-prisoners, they had come together with many others after the Shankill bombing, determined to work for an end to the violence . Along with many others at that time, they felt that that they were not being represented by the unionist leadership and joined the Progressive Unionists in order to highlight the positive aspects of unionism and provide proper representation for the working class and underclass. They spoke of their determination to build the peace and to use the past, and their past experiences, to improve the future. They spoke of the need for reform of the RUC, but, unlike Sinn Fein, they do not want the force to be dismantled.
“We need a police service accountable to the people”, Mr Mitchell said.
Decommissioning: The PUP members felt this should not be a precondition for talks – the problem would have to be addressed, illegal arms were unacceptable, but much confidence-building would have to be done first. They believed that social deprivation and educational disadvantages were the greatest danger to the peace now. According to Billy Mitchell, politicians in the Republic should look towards satisfying the aspirations of working class people – they were the ones who had suffered the mostin the last 25 years, he said, and the ones with the greatest to offer. Issues that really matter should be tackled at the Forum, he said, and reconciliation should be levelled at working class people. “Unless these issues are tackled, there can be no peace”.
Forum for Peace and Reconciliation: Asked if the Progressive Unionists would ever consider making a submission to the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation [in Dublin Castle], Mr Mitchell replied that until the unionist people in general found the Forum acceptable, they could not really take part. They needed to pace themselves and work with their own communities first. They were a small party and could be marginalised, he said.
Mr. Mitchell spoke of his aspiration for a pluralist State with structures built in to protect the individual and the family. Describing himself as a “Christian socialist”, he believed everyone had the right to free expression and religious belief, and the political structures should represent all the people.
The Progressive Unionists were diametrically opposed to violence, he said, and were not the political representatives of the UVF. Their main job at the moment was to politicise former paramilitaries and find a new way forward for Northern Ireland. The Progressive Unionists advocated a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland and sharing of responsibility at all levels.
Identity: Mr. Mitchell said he had no problem about his Irishness. He was an Irishman who “happened to be British”. He said that we in the Republic should be able to acknowledge our British dimension.
Questions: There were many questions but regrettably these were not recorded. An SDLP member from Fermanagh, spoke of the transformation of life in N.I. since the ceasefires, and thanked the speakers for the part they had played in this. She said she was very interested to hear the views of the people of the Shankill – it was refreshing to see people who are prepared to “listen and open up”.
Closing words: on behalf of the Meath Peace Group, Julitta Clancy thanked the speakers and paid special tribute to Rev. Magee for all he had done to bring about the ceasefire. Local representatives Brian Fitzgerald, TD and Cllr. Phil Cantwell of Trim UDC, also welcomed the speakers. Deputy Fitzgerald said that the question of resettlement had to be addressed by both Governments. He welcomed the enlightened thinking coming from the loyalist parties and appealed to Rev. Magee and the people whose views he represented, to consider bringing their views to the Forum.
Meath Peace Group report: December 1994
Compiled and edited by Julitta Clancy
Contact names 1994: Julitta Clancy, Parsonstown, Batterstown, Co. Meath; Anne Nolan, Gernonstown, Slane, Co. Meath; Susan Devane, Slane; Felicity Cuthbert, Kilcloon; Philomena Boylan-Stewart, Longwod; Pauline Ryan, Navan.
Plans for further talks:
1) Tuesday, 7th February 1995, to be addressed by a community worker from West Belfast and two representatives of Sinn Fein; 2) Tuesday, 28th February, to be addressed by representatives of the DUP.
Other News: The first Meath Peace Group/Interaction youth exchange took place on December 2nd-4th 1994, with young people from Batterstown, Kilcloon, Klbride, Slane and Drogheda joining a cross-community group from Craigavon, Co. Armagh. Youth leaders from Meath also travelled with the group. A return weekend is planned for May 1995 in Navan. Exhibition: At the invitation of the Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, members of the Meath Peace Group brought the exhibition “Count the Costs” to the Cathedral, where it went on display at the end of November. The exhibition, which lists the names of all who have died as a result of the political situation in N.I. since 1969, was compiled by Isobel Hylands, of Lurgan, Co. Armagh, and has been shown in schools and churches in Meath, Drogheda, Dublin, Maynooth and Limerick over the last year. At the invitation of the Warrington Project, the exhibition was also brought to Warrington schools in November.
Tuesday, 31st May 1994,
St. Joseph’s (Convent of Mercy) Secondary School, Navan. (In association with St. Joseph’s Peace and Justice Group)
Rev. Martin Smyth, MP (UUP), Grand Master of the Orange Order
Chaired by John Clancy (Meath Peace Group)
Editor’s note: Rev. Martin Smyth, Unionist M.P. for South Belfast, addressed over 100 people at St. Joseph’s (Mercy) Secondary School, Navan on Tuesday, 31st May. The talk was organised by the Meath Peace Group in association with St. Joseph’s (Mercy) Peace and Justice Committee and followed Fr. Denis Faul’s talk the previous week. Louise Oakes (4th year student) formally welcomed the speaker who responded that he was very glad of the opportunity to speak in Navan and share his perspective, as a member of the Unionist community, with people in the Republic. In the course of the talk, Rev. Smyth explained the Unionist perspective and suggested ways in which people in the Republic could help to bring peace and stability. Earlier in the day Rev. Smyth was interviewed by local radio (LMFM). The talk was not recorded but a summary was published in the Meath Chronicle.
Extracts from text of address given by Rev. Martin Smyth:
“I welcome the opportunity to speak to you. I often feel that, as a grouping, unionists do not take the opportunities available to explain their perspective. For my own part, I take whatever opportunity comes along. I have just completed my fourth visit to the USA within a year which has also included a trip to Australia and New Zealand.”
“I am an Irishman – in that I live on the island of Ireland.
I am an Ulsterman – my family have lived in the province for several hundred years.
I am Scottish in that my religion and cultural background come from those roots.
You will remember of course, that the Scots were originally Irishmen who could swim!
And finally, I am British by heritage and way of life.”
“Many of you here will live in Southern Ireland. You will see yourselves as being Irish. Many will, as I do, feel strongly about their religion. Some will take a keen interest in Gaelic culture. A substantial number, if you delved back in family history, would find that they are descended from Norman stock or are the fruit of generations of integration and inter-marriage with occupying soldiers.
“I bring this out to illustrate the point that national and racial purity are illusions. You can note the names of some prominent members in English public life – Callaghan, McNamara, O’Brien: staunch English names you’ll agree. A glance at names in Ulster public life – such as Hume and Adams – may make you wonder how strong names from the Scottish borders came to rest on fervent Irish nationalists.”
“The first point I wish to make is that things are seldom as they seem, and to suppose that Northern Ireland is divided along sectarian lines would be incorrect. In my Party we talk of the “greater number”. This includes the many Roman Catholics who support the union. Father Denis Faul has estimated that if it came to the crunch, only around 23% of the [nationalist community] would vote for a united Ireland…”
Outlining briefly the history of Northern Ireland since the establishment of the State, Rev. Smyth went on …
“At the start of this century, the issue had devolved into one of self-determination for the Irish people. As you will know, the unionist community in Northern Ireland objected to partition. However, it seems now to be forgotten that all sides signing the Treaty agreed that partition was the only acceptable solution and that, over a period, relations between the two parts of the island would stabilise and grow closer together. Eventually, such a process could lead to an agreed re-unification. “From recent research into the life of Michael Collins, it is clear that he and the IRA had no intention of allowing such stability, and, while he was talking to the unionists, he was ordering his units into action across the border.
A speech by Eamon de Valera also expresses the warmth and friendship expressed to unionists at that time. He described unionists as “a rock on the road to Irish freedom. We must, if necessary, blast it out of our path.”
“Following Partition, contrary to modern nationalist myth, efforts were initially made to involve members of the nationalist community in the administration of Northern Ireland. However, their leaders, under pressure from Collins, refused to take part and relationships never recovered.
“It is undeniable that, subsequently, discrimination did take place, but such actions should perhaps be measured against the prevailing situation. Those who believe that only the unionists were at fault should perhaps study the effect of Partition on Anglo-Irish and unionist supporters who were left in the South, and decide whether they were treated any differently. The scale of attacks, the widespreaddestruction of their property and the rapid decrease in their numbers may give you some indication of the effect…
Feelings of betrayal and mistrust:
Rev. Smyth went on to explain the feelings of betrayal and mistrust felt by many unionists at this time – the fear among so many, especially since the Anglo-Irish Agreement, that the British Government is trying to disengage from Northern Ireland and the general feeling that somehow the violence of the IRA has won…
“The [Anglo-Irish] Agreement was signed without any consultation and was widely viewed as another betrayal. Even last year, we discover that the British Government, despite repeated denials, has been in communication with the IRA – responsible for thousands of deaths and massive destruction in our province over the past 25 years.
“I am trying to convey to you a mood of betrayal and mistrust which has pervaded the collective mind of the unionist community in Northern Ireland ever since. You will gather that we’re not too strong on trust. And it may be possible to understand why some in our community have a so-called siege mentality.
“This instability has manifested itself in a dramatic increase in loyalist violence. For several months now, the Chief Constable of the RUC has been warning that it was only a matter of time before the UVF and the UFF got hold of explosives and the recent attack in Dublin shows that this has now happened. Loyalist terrorists have developed dramatically since the Stevens Enquiry. That setback motivated them to re-organise and they took the IRA as their model – setting up cell structures and using only highly motivated, well trained operatives.
After the revelation that the British Government had been meeting and listening to the IRA, the loyalist paramilitaries decided that they also should be heeded. The lesson from the IRA experience was that increasing the level of violence would bring attention and the offer of a seat at the talks table. Hence the present worsening situation.
I set all this out before you as a background against which to consider some thoughts on the present political situation and the possible ways ahead.
Republic of Ireland: “Many in the unionist community see the Republic of Ireland as a belligerent state. The position of Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution were reaffirmed in the 1990 Supreme Court ruling against the McGimpsey brothers. They see the border towns of Dundalk, Monaghan, Clones and Letterkenny crawling with IRA terrorists, on the run from Northern Ireland and mounting cross-border attacks on a regular basis. “
He stated that many people believe that the Irish Government could do more to stop the IRA and that there could be more co-operation between the Irish and British armies on the ground.
Downing Street Declaration (1993)
“The Downing Street Declaration has been allocated all sorts of magical powers and is hailed as the beginning of a peace process. It is an agreement between two sovereign states and does not directly affect political parties in Northern Ireland. It does, however, contain some useful principles which may be of use in helping to stabilise the situation. In particular, the principle of consent and the Irish Government acceptance, for the first time, that the status of Northern Ireland will not change without agreement from the unionist community. These are important steps on the road to stability.
“Let me be brutally frank with you. After 25 years of murder and mayhem, there is no prospect of the unionist community agreeing to a united Ireland in the foreseeable future. Neither is there any prospect of the unionist community agreeing to any form of system which involves the Dublin Government in joint authority. Such a move would almost certainly lead to civil war.”
The future of Northern Ireland: “The future of Northern Ireland lies in stabilising the situation, in building confidence within the community, in developing political institutions with which all parties can identify. But most important, it must be developed on democratic lines and must not include any organisation which uses or supports the use of violence to get their way. As I have stated publicly, to some odium from my own people, the terrorist groupings can join the talks process only when they renounce violence and have been proved to have done so.”
Blueprint for Stability: Rev. Smyth went on to outline the main features of his Party’s “Blueprint for Stability “, produced earlier in the year, which set out what they consider to be the best options ahead, concentrating on 3 fronts – Westminster, Stormont and local councils. He believed that the 1992 talks process showed there was substantial agreement on many areas between the different parties. On the future talks process, he stressed that terrorist groups could only join when they renounce violence permanently – not only should the violence cease, but it must also be seen to cease. Then the British troops could be cut down to nominal garrison strength and taken off the streets.
Rev. Smyth concluded by stating that recent events had put pressure on the IRA to join the political process. The people of Ireland must say “enough”. We cannot give tacit, implicit or active support to paramilitaries. There is so much to be gained by friendship between the two nations and between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
John Clancy of the Meath Peace Group, summed up the talk and outlined the aims of the Meath Peace Group which are to find ways to promote peace, improve understanding and develop relationships of friendship and trust with people from both communities in Northern Ireland. Isobel Hylands (from Lurgan), who compiled the exhibition that has been shown in secondary schools in Meath and Drogheda over the last few months, thanked the Meath Peace Group for their work which she felt was very encouraging to people working on the ground in Northern Ireland and these words were echoed by Brian Devlin, Community Relations Officer, Craigavon, who had also visited Navan schools on a previous occasion.
Susan Devane (Slane) announced that this was the last talk before the summer break. She also announced that Sunday, 3rd July had again been designated by Bishop Michael Smith and Bishop Walton Empey as a day of prayers for peace throughout the Diocese of Meath. On behalf of the Meath Peace Group, Ms Devane thanked the Mercy Secondary School, the acting-principal, Ms. Mary McNally, the 4th year students who helped with the talk – Chlair Ni Shionoid, Karen Mulligan, Melissa Mulligan, Niamh Kennedy, Caitriona Mac Mahon, Judith Hamill, Lynette Magee, Louise Oakes, Judy Calt and Lara Monaghan, and their teacher, Ms. Susan Dillon.
Meath Peace Group report: June 1994. Compiled by Julitta Clancy
Contact names 1994: Julitta Clancy, Parsonstown, Batterstown, Co. Meath; Anne Nolan, Gernonstown, Slane, Co. Meath; Susan Devane, Slane; Philomena Boylan-Stewart, Longwood; Felicity Cuthbert, Kilcloon; Pauline Ryan, Navan
May 24th, 1994
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan, Co. Meath
Fr. Denis Faul (St. Patrick’s Academy, Dungannon)
Editor’s note: Fr. Denis Faul spoke to an audience of over 100 people in Dalgan Park, Navan, on the theme “How people in the Republic can help the Peace Process.” The talk was not recorded
Fr. Faul warned people in the Republic not to be led astray by talk of peace from the Provisional IRA while their violent campaign continues. “The most essential element of any peace process is sincerity and respect for the human rights of the other party. Violence and peace are not compatible.” Fr. Faul doubted that the Provisionals would make any statement on the Downing Street Declaration because “Provo power depends on violence, not on the will of the Irish nationalist people…They use violence to dominate.” He stated that 70-80% of people in the North don’t want a united Ireland at this time. 90% of the people are moderates who want to work together and live together, to end the fear and violence. Catholics reject violence but they need security of life and home, equality and fair play in employment, respect for their religion and politics, and freedom from harassment and ill-treatment. “In the end it is the moderate Catholic and the moderate Protestant people who will make peace. They must all be active for peace to-day and every day.”
“What is needed now is to remove the fear”. We in the South can help by building relationships of trust and friendship with people from Northern Ireland. We should visit the North more and invite people down. We must show them that no one wants to coerce them.
“We can also help by putting pressure on the Provisional IRA to stop their campaign of terror. “People must speak out against violence and hatred on every possible occasion.” Equally, our government must put pressure on the British government to do its duty to defend the Catholic population. The majority of sectarian murders in the past two years have been committed by the loyalists. Fr. Faul said that “the British Government should devote the greater part of its security resources to curbing this terrible threat. Instead of spending millions of pounds and tying up personnel in Crossmaglen, the crack regiments should be placed in the loyalist areas from which the assassins come.”
Fr. Faul concluded by stating that the problems of Northern Ireland would take a long time to work out, but that it was important that we in the South contributed to the process of building trust and friendship. “The Downing St. Declaration is based on the word “trust” – it is mentioned nine times in the document.” Trust is the way forward and this can be encouraged by more cross-community and cross-Border development.”
Meath Peace Group: May 1994
Committee 1994: Anne Nolan, Gernonstown, Slane, Co. Meath; Julitta Clancy, Parsonstown, Batterstown, Co. Meath; Susan Devane, Slane; Philomena Boylan-Stewart, Longwood; Pauline Ryan, Navan; Felicity Cuthbert, Kilcloon
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan
Editor’s note: The Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) is an independent civil liberties organisation formed in 1981 to work for the highest standards in the administration of justice in Northern Ireland. The Committee is affiliated to the Federation Internationale des Droits de l’Homme and its membership is drawn from all sections of the community, including lawyers, students, community workers, unemployed people and academics. This talk was not recorded.
Martin O’Brien began by emphasising that the CAJ is opposed to the use of violence to achieve political goals in Northern Ireland. It takes no position on the constitutional question and does not get involved in party politics. Its main aim is to stimulate awareness of justice issues in Northern Ireland and encourage the adoption of safeguards. In the Committee’s view, not only are abuses of civil liberties wrong in themselves but, in the Northern Ireland context, they hinder the peaceful resolution of the conflict.
Outlining the work of the Committee, Martin O’Brien explained that in the early years its main focus was on the emergency legislation but gradually its range of interests extended to broader civil rights issues. It has recently published a handbook on Civil Liberties which deals not only with issues such as the powers of the police and the army, the questioning of suspects, and the impact of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, but also covers a wide range of social and economic issues. The CAJ has also campaigned for the introduction of a comprehensive Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland which it sees as a prerequisite to permanent peace and justice.
After the talk a lively discussion was held and questions were asked on a wide variety of issues including the question of human rights abuses by paramilitaries. The speaker explained that while the CAJ’s remit does not extend to this issue, it is now being addressed by Amnesty International and the F.A.I.T. group who recently came to Navan at the invitation of the Meath Peace Group.
March 4th, 1994
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park,
Navan, Co. Meath
Editor’s note: At the public talk in Dalgan Park, the speakers outlined the various activities of the group and gave an account of their own experiences. A summary of the work of FAIT is given below. The group visited Navan secondary schools on the following day, and were interviewed by local media. The talk was not recorded.
Families Against Intimidation and Terror (FAIT) was founded in 1990 by Nancy Gracey, after the “punishment” shooting of her son, Paddy, following sustained intimidation and harassment over a period of six months. Nancy decided to break the silence of fear and do something about the violence and intimidation that had become a part of life in many areas of Northern Ireland since the present “troubles” began. At the time her son was shot, no organisation existed to highlight and challenge human rights abuses by terrorists, so, with local community support, Nancy founded FAIT to help those who have suffered at the hands of the IRA and Loyalist organisations.
Membership: The membership of the organisation is representative of all shades of opinion of those who support the democratic process.
The management committee includes families, survivors, ex-paramilitaries and concerned individuals.
Range of work undertaken:
Support for individuals and families under threat.
Research and information.
Documenting and highlighting human rights abuses by terrorists.
FAIT collects statements about paramilitary atrocities, counsels victims and their families and supports those with the courage to speak publicly about their experiences. It also helps the families of known terrorists on the grounds that they too are victims. FAIT sends victims’ statements to human rights organisations such as Helsinki Watch and Amnesty International, as well as to the media. FAIT estimates that 90% of human rights abuses in Northern Ireland are perpetrated by paramilitaries. FAIT receives referrals from all the constitutional parties, from voluntary and statutory groups, from the RUC, from the clergy and from media work on it’s own behalf.
“It’s hard for you, or even me, to appreciate the bravery of Nancy Gracey” (Fr. Denis Faul)
FAIT: Washington House, 14-16 High St., Belfast BT 1 2BB
February 8th 1994
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan, Co. Meath
Editor’s note: At the public talk in Dalgan, the speakers outlined the various activities of the Group. They stayed overnight and on the following day visited 4 secondary schools in Navan, talking to students about their work, and were interviewed by local media. The talk was not recorded
The Peace and Reconciliation Group (PRG)
“Peace will only come when the major groupings in our society trust one another enough to plan and build the future together. Our job as reconcilers is to dismantle the real and painful barriers which stop this happening.“
(PRG Report, 1991)
The Peace and Reconciliation Group was founded in 1976 as a local group of the Northern Ireland Peace People, but two years later it became a completely independent body, so as to work effectively in the local context. The members of the Group come from different traditions and areas of the city – most are community workers in their localities, with a close knowledge of people and issues at “grass roots”.
Aims of the Group: One of the consequences of “the troubles” has been the breakdown of trust and communications between the two sides of the community. Each act of violence, whoever perpetrates it and whatever the reasons, widens that gap. The PRG see the task of reconciliation as the rebuilding of confidence and understanding, and the reduction of fear and tension at personal and community level. They believe that everyone has to play a part in making peace: ordinary people separated by prejudice and fear; community groups, political parties and churches; children and young people; present and former prisoners and their families; the security forces and the paramilitaries; the people of Britain and the Irish Republic as well as Northern Ireland.
Some of the Work of the Group:
Advice service to people whose lives are being disrupted by the consequences of “the troubles”.
Community reconciliation work.
Community relations meetings.
Representations and complaints to police and army .
Cross-community events: sporting fixtures; schools’ football; social events; children’s entertainment; community drama; annual “Friendship Week”; youth project; family holidays for mixed groups; community minibus service.
Conflict resolution and prejudice reduction workshops.
Wider contacts – Liaison with other organisations concerned for reconciliation in Derry; links with the many bodies working for peace, justice and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. Peace and Reconciliation Group: 18 London St., L’Derry BT48 6RQ