48 – “Parades, Protests and Human Rights: The Quigley Review”
Monday, 7th April, 2003
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan, Co. Meath
Philip Black (LOL 44, Lurgan; Co-Chair of Ulster Human Rights Watch)
Austen Morgan (Barrister at Law)
Dr. Michael Hamilton (Research Student, University of Ulster)
Brice Dickson (Chief Commissioner, NI Human Rights Commission)
Chaired by Lt. General Gerry McMahon (retd.)
(Former Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Chair of the Irish Peace and Reconciliation Platform)
Introduction: Lt. Gen. Gerry McMahon
Questions and comments
Lt General Gerry McMahon (Retd): “Thank you … … I’m an old retired guy and I’m delighted to be asked to come here tonight and to act in the capacity of Chair. This evening’s session is devoted to the subject of Parading Disputes and Human Rights – the Quigley Report. Now the Quigley Report was presented to the Secretary of State by its author, Sir George Quigley, CBE, in September of last year. It’s a review of the Parades Commission since it was set up and how it has operated, and it also includes a review of the legislation which underpins it.
Quigley Report – main recommendations: “In summary … in a non-legalistic, simplistic way, I would like to just say that the Quigley Report came up with three options:
Option 1: let the present Commission continue on its way and over a period of time gradually guide the protagonists towards local accommodation.
Option 2 was more brisk. It said: ban contentious parades for at least the foreseeable future, but of course it did point out that this was a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Option 3: and the third option proposed an overhaul of the current arrangements and the existing regulatory machinery underpinning it.
“Now Quigley took option three – overhaul – and he came up with some proposals . He saw an initial facilitation function in the solving of disputes by those in contention at local level, a facilitation function at that local level. A determining body separate from the chief facilitator to make decisions on issues unresolved at local level, by local contact, but with feed-in from the facilitator. And then he gives instruction that the determination be clear and unambiguous. Now I’m virtually surrounded by lawyers up at this table to night, and they’re wonderful people, but for a simple person like me “clear and unambiguous” and making a legal statement that covers all the options, can sometimes be mutually exclusive, but I’m sure they’ll give me a bash when they get on to that side. The final suggestion or proposal was the use of the European Convention on Human Rights to simplify the current underpinning legislation rather than what exists.
“The discussion tonight is very timely, given the Bush, Blair and Ahern meeting tomorrow and what might follow … the May elections and the approaching marching season … commencing at Easter and running through until September.
“The rules of procedure that I will follow tonight will be that each of our four speakers – I will introduce them to you before they start to speak – has been allocated 10 to 15 minutes to get their message across. I will get fidgety about 12 minutes in and when they’ve a minute to run I’ll warn them. At the end of the four presentations we’ll take a question and answer session and, depending on how fast and furious the questions are coming, I might take them in threes or fours or whatever and then invite members of the panel as appropriate to comment. The last function in these introductory remarks would be to give the running order of the speakers. The first speaker tonight will be Philip Black. The second speaker, Austen Morgan, the third speaker, Michael Hamilton, and the fourth speaker, Brice Dickson.
“The first speaker is Mr Philip Black – Philip is a former councillor for Craigavon, he’s a lifelong member of Loyal Orange Lodge 44 in Lurgan. He has family connections to the Order which can be traced back five generations. He was a member of the deputation of the loyal orders who met the Secretary of State recently on the Quigley Report, which is the centre of our discussion today, and he is co-chairman of Ulster Human Rights Watch. I would like you to give a welcome to Philip Black.
1. Philip Black (member of LOL 44, Lurgan, and Co-Chair, Ulster Human Rights Watch) [replacing Cllr. Nelson McCausland who was unable to attend]
“Thank you Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen. As you probably know and realise, in any democratic society worth its salt, the basic human rights enjoyed and ensured for the people, include freedom of association, freedom of peaceful assembly and the right to manifest and express one’s religion. The Orange Institution supports those principles, indeed we could do no other as our own Constitution says “civil and religious liberties for all, with special privileges for none”. In fact we are probably the first human rights organisation in Northern Ireland, predating those “Johnny come-latelys” in the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission by several hundred years.
Increase in contentious parades: “In Northern Ireland, the fundamental rights I refer to have been under sustained attack over the past ten years, both by the government through its legislation and its appeasement of violence, and by Sinn Fein/IRA which has adopted a strategy which targets the loyal orders in order to deny them their basic human rights and to increase tension. Don’t forget the statement of Adams when he said that Drumcree “didn’t happen by accident” but was the result of very careful planning on their behalf. The success of this strategy in creating tension and denying human rights can be seen in the way the number of contentious parades has increased over the past ten years. In 1992, there were less than 10 contentious parades. In 1997, following the introduction of Mr Adams’ strategy, there were approximately 20. Following the implementation of the North Report, which was supposed to solve or at least improve the situation, the number of contentious parades climbed to 220. I can tell you that if Quigley is implemented in its present form there is the potential for every parade to become contentious that is, the total figure could rise to over 3,000. The government legislation has so far not dealt with the parading issue in a manner which either upholds the right of freedom of assembly or reduces tension. In fact exactly the opposite has been the effect.
Human Rights Commission: “Now we must ask: how has the body charged with the responsibility for promoting and maintaining our human rights in Northern Ireland dealt with this sustained attack on basic human rights? I’m talking of course about the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, and we’re honoured to have Professor Dickson here tonight. Here I have the document Making a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland which was produced by the Commission, I think it was in 2001, September or October. And the parades issue was, in the words of Professor Dickson himself, one of the more contentious areas. Indeed it was one of the special circumstances of Northern Ireland which the Commission was tasked to address in its mandate from the government. So how many pages of the 158 of this document, do you think, was devoted to the freedom of assembly issue? Well we turn to page ….78. There we see it. Out of 158 pages we have from here to here [indicates portion of document] on this very important and vital issue for Northern Ireland. They did try to bolster their rather meagre offering by referring to an external report – I think it was produced by yourself, Michael, was it? – Parades, Protests and Policing – which is a very good report as a source of information on these matters, but which came to no definite conclusions. So the human rights body which is responsible for protecting our human rights has, in a cowardly and disgraceful fashion, avoided this issue and abdicated its responsibilities.
“As an aside, I may say that this is not the only central and vital issue to the people of Northern Ireland which they have ignored. We have had a campaign of terrorism for 30 years in which over 3,000 people have been killed. Many have been maimed and tortured and it’s still ongoing. Yet do you know what word is not mentioned in this document which is supposed to be to protect our human rights? The word “terrorist” or “terrorism” is not mentioned, or, if I put it another way, for Professor Dickson terrorism would seem to be “the love that dare not speak its name”.
North Report: “Anyway we’re currently left with the North Report as the predecessor of Quigley to dictate policy on freedom of assembly with no effective human rights oversight or watchdog. The current legislation based on North never had the democratic support of the public in general, or the loyal orders in particular, and has failed to address the principles or problems surrounding this issue. And the setting up of the Quigley review process was of course itself an admission by the government of the abject and miserable failure of North and the Parades Commission.
Quigley Report: “Some – one or two isolated individuals – within our Order have suggested that Quigley should be supported but because North and the Parades Commission were so bad that anything would be better than North. I don’t need to tell an intelligent audience like this, that that conclusion does not follow logically from the premise. However, even a very quick look at Quigley shows that not only has he repeated some of the basic flaws of North, but he has gone further in restricting basic human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Four-stage process: “The Quigley Review Report is ambiguous and unclear in its analysis and recommendations, perhaps intentionally, like the Belfast Agreement itself. But, through the murk, we can discern a four-stage or quadruple lock system which is designed to make it difficult and costly to exercise the basic human right of peaceful assembly and designed to afford the maximum opportunity to those who would wish to deny this right. Those who wish to exercise the right have to succeed at each stage of the four-stage process. Those who wish to prevent you exercising your right, or wish to dilute it, have only to be successful at one of those stages. Now a right is something that by definition should be easy to assert and enjoy. If it is made too difficult to exercise your right then it is by definition no longer a right. Quigley has debased the right and turned it into something that has to be fought and struggled for. Under Quigley the right of freedom of peaceful assembly, ceases to be a right in any real sense or by the normal definition of the word.
“Looking at the first stage will give you some idea of what I mean, at least I hope it will. First of all you’ve to notify every parade you wish to have in the following year by the first of October in the previous year. You are then expected to enter into a lengthy period of negotiation – several months perhaps – with residents’ groups who will no doubt be fronted in many cases by supporters of terrorism. You can only move to the next stage of the process if you either come to an agreement with those whose aim is to deny your rights, which will inevitably reduce and debase the exercise of the right, or, if not, you require a certificate to be issued to say that you negotiated in good faith. Or, if it is not issued, then your right is completely obliterated at this point. There are then further stages where you have to defend your right in a court-like system. Then your rights may be negated by violent protest. And finally, when the parade takes place – if it ever does – a further opportunity for protestors to object and perhaps ensure that the parade is banned or further restricted in future years.
Final nail in the coffin: “I think you can understand why, if Quigley is implemented in its present form, it is seen by many as the final nail in the coffin for the principle of freedom of peaceful assembly, and as a means to target and destroy the culture, tradition and religious freedoms of the loyal orders, and therefore of the Protestant ethos in Northern Ireland. And of course it should be noted that up to date the guardian of our human rights in Northern Ireland – the Human Rights Commission, and its Chief Commissioner, who is the white knight in shining armour whom we would expect to charge to our rescue – has supported Quigley’s proposals with only slight reservations.
“But all is not lost. The Quigley Report has had the effect of uniting the main loyal orders, and indeed a large proportion of the pro-Union people of Northern Ireland, in opposition to this blatant denial of their human rights. Indeed Quigley is the latest of a long line of insults to democracy and human rights which have taken place within the framework of the Belfast Agreement, and some would say, could be the last straw for the long-suffering majority in Northern Ireland and could even be the issue to bring down the Agreement.
Proposals of the loyal orders: “The loyal orders’ leadership, who have always taken a constructive and positive approach to these matters, have recently had an important meeting with the Secretary of State and his advisers emphasising the serious repercussions of Quigley in its present form on the overall peace and stability for the future of Northern Ireland. They emphasised to the Secretary of State their willingness to work together towards a real and meaningful solution, a solution which will uphold and respect the rights of all of the people of Northern Ireland.
“They stressed the need to extend the window of opportunity in the consultation process, in order to get the freedom of assembly issue right this time, and not to rush to repeat the mistakes of the past. They also emphasised that it would take more than lip-service paid to the principles of human rights, but will require the government to be courageous enough to end the appeasement of those who would use violence, or the threat of violence, for their own political ends in Northern Ireland. The Order has made very positive proposals to the Secretary of State to work together for the benefit of all the people of Northern Ireland.
“In conclusion, I would say that we look forward to this opportunity being grasped by the government with a positive response on their part. We look forward to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission awaking to their responsibilities or, if I could put it differently, Brice, “Awake from thy slumber, Oh why art thou silent, O voice of they heart?” [laughter]
“And we look to those democrats both North and South of the border – including yourselves – for support for the basic right of freedom of peaceful assembly, and to the day when parades in Northern Ireland are as uncontentious and unopposed as the yearly parades in Rossnowlagh in Co. Donegal. Thank you very much.“
Chair: Lt. General MacMahon:
“Ladies and gentlemen, our next speaker is Austen Morgan. His background is in law, in academe and he’s an author. He practices as a barrister in London and Belfast. He was educated at Bristol and Queen’s and he’s taught at Queens University, Trinity College Dublin and Warwick University. He has written extensively on working class politics and on political biographies …. and he was involved professionally in the Belfast Agreement on which he has written a practical legal analysis. I would like you to welcome Austen. Thank you.”
2. Austen Morgan (Barrister at Law):
“Thank you very much, General. I don’t normally allow those things to be disclosed. I am professionally a lawyer and I try to begin and end as a lawyer and only speak as a lawyer. I do acknowledge that I had a previous incarnation when I did something very unlawyerly. It is slightly embarrassing to have my past brought back.
:Anyway, when I was told that the Chief of Staff of the Army of the Irish Republic would be chairing this session, I was slightly apprehensive as to who was the occupant of that current position. It was a great pleasure when I found out that I am dealing with the only army of the Irish Republic that is recognised by the Constitution and, being a lawyer, I believe in behaving constitutionally, so I am very indebted and honoured to be disciplined this evening by a former Chief of Staff of the only army of the Irish Republic!
Interest in the parading issue: “I want to speak on this issue, not because I have any personal background in it. As I enjoy telling meetings of Orangemen and Orangewomen, I lack a certain qualification if I ever aspire to membership, and sometimes that sends them into difficulty about what I’m referring to. Sylvia Hermon was once at a meeting I was addressing made up of Orangemen and Orangewomen, and one of the women said: “what does he mean, what does he mean?” and Sylvia Hermon said “he’s too young to join”! At least that’s one theory as to why I’m not eligible to join. However I do have a professional interest in this, not just because human rights has been the most important theme for practical lawyers in the last two years. I do human rights literally every day. It is an uphill struggle but I do human rights. Anyway, for one reason or another, I have for a number of years taken an interest in the parading issue in Northern Ireland.
“Now I want to talk very briefly about four topics:
The first is the British Constitution, and what King William and Queen Mary was all about and how that is still with us.
The second is Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights which is now the law in Northern Ireland but not yet in the Republic formally.
The third thing I want to talk about is: what would I say to the loyal orders, of whom Philip is an eminent member, what advice would I give as a lawyer?
The fourth thing I want to talk about is Quigley.
British Constitution and Bill of Rights 1688: “In order to try and understand the loyal orders as an outsider – which I am – does require a reading of 17th century English, Scottish and Irish history. There is a Bill of Rights in the United Kingdom State. It dates from 1688/89 and that Bill of Rights talks about the liberty of the liberties and the freedoms of the subject. Now that Bill of Rights is what today lives in the minds of the members of the loyal orders. You might say “it’s over 300 years old”, but in constitutional history a document that’s over 300 years old tends to have proved itself by surviving. So when the loyal orders talk about these ancient rights they really believe in them, and therefore one can see why Philip is indignant about the failure of government in Northern Ireland to accept and indeed respect those rights. The problem about those rights is that they were never really specified, certainly not in Magna Carta, certainly not subsequently. There is an idea that an individual has rights except where government decides to restrict those rights for some reason or other. So one has a large bag of rights, except where Parliament takes them away, and one is entitled as an individual to enjoy one’s rights except where that right conflicts with someone else’s rights. Now that has to be understood and accepted – not just as our constitutional history in the United Kingdom – but it has to be understood as part of the consciousness, the ideology, of the loyal orders in Northern Ireland.
Peaceful assembly: “In terms of peaceful assembly, which is the only right I’m interested in – I’m not interested in the right to assembly in order to ferment a riot, I’m only interested in the right to peaceful assembly – the UK hasn’t been particularly exemplary about recognising that right. The approach to parades throughout the UK has essentially been one of public order: “well, you can have your demonstration but if it’s going to cost trouble, we’re going to stop it”. That’s been the general view. Now that is a public order view, and a public order view has been much more prominent in Northern Ireland than it was in England, Wales or Scotland.
Article 11 of ECHR: “However – and this is my second point, Article 11 – in the year 2000, human rights entered into force within the UK. The European Convention on Human Rights acquired an additional effect within domestic law. Now what does article 11 say? Well, I have a copy of it here….Article 11 (1) says: “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly”. To a lawyer, that is a beautiful piece of legal prose. “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly”.
Restrictions on right of peaceful assembly: “Then in Article 11(2) it goes on to qualify that, but it begins by saying: “no restriction shall be placed on the exercise of this right” – the presumption is that the right should be enjoyed rather than restricted – other than “such as are prescribed by law”, in other words, the restriction has to be lawful. But I here I get slightly complicated as a lawyer. There is a principle of legality which would constrain even Parliament from, in a sense, denying people the right to enjoy a fundamental right. The restrictions also have to be necessary in a democratic society – that’s another limitation – and essentially, before the State denies someone a right, they have to have a good reason to do it, and the way they’re doing it has to be, essentially, not a sledge hammer designed to crack a nut. It has to be what is now called “proportionate”. And then there are particular reasons why the right to peaceful assembly can be denied. There are four of them:
1. The first one is “national security or public safety”. Now national security and public safety are different. I cannot imagine a demonstration threatening national security. I can imagine a demonstration, in certain circumstances, threatening public safety.
2. “For the prevention of disorder or crime”. Well that’s probably quite a low threshold, because surely some disorder may well result from a demonstration.
3. The third reason given is “health and morals” which never really is litigated in our courts, except – I should add in parentheses – when it comes to computer pornography.
4. Fourthly, “for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.
Now that’s what the debate in Northern Ireland has been about – the rights and freedoms of others. And essentially the argument has been that the loyal orders have an Article 11 right to peaceful assembly, and then some people – and I shan’t mention Brice Dickson by name – said “ah, but other people have got other rights” and when we balance those two rights, the other right always wins. Well that’s what it feels like appearing before the judges I appeared before in London. They always do seem to have the law rigged, and it always seems to be rigged against my clients. That is not just a vulgarisation of the law, that’s a complete distortion of the law. The issue is between the loyal orders and the State, and it’s not between one group of citizens and another group of citizens. In fact, when it comes to the argument between those who wish to peacefully assemble and those others who wish to stop them, for whatever reason, the law says the emphasis should be on those who wish to peacefully assemble.
Advice to the loyal orders: “The third point I want to lay before you by way of introduction is: what would I say to the loyal orders? Well, the loyal orders may well not want to listen to me, and I wouldn’t particularly blame them for that. But at one point a few years ago I did write 10 things that they should do, and I’ll just briefly list each one of them to give you a sort of conspectus on my view on this problem.
“The first is that they should actually learn from their own best practice, because what is actually noticeable is the way the three different orders in different parts of Northern Ireland are actually handling this question, and there are extreme differences. For example, the Apprentice Boys of Derry have pursued one strategy which has produced results for them. At the other extreme, the Orangemen of Portadown have pursued another strategy, or rather a number of strategies, and as yet, and I suspect for some time, they will continue to be unsuccessful. Now there is a third trouble spot that I’d like to refer to and that’s the Lower Ormeau in Belfast, and I might come back to that later on if someone asks me a question as to why I think the Lower Ormeau is particularly significant.
“Anyway my ten points are briefly as follows.
The first one is: the loyal orders should look to where they’re achieving something and try and follow that example rather than look to where they’re not achieving something.
The second thing is that they should see the Human Rights Act, which came into force in 2000, as theirs as well as everybody else’s.
The third thing is that they should have actually taken the phrase “Freedom of Peaceful Assembly” and proclaimed it from the housetops in the year 2000. And I would have liked them not to have used 17th century rhetoric, I would have preferred 21st century rhetoric, so “public place” rather than “Queen’s Highway”.
The fourth thing is that they should have engaged with the Parades Commission. I still think they should engage with the Parades Commission for however long the Parades commission will survive legally.
The fifth thing – and they have done this – they should actually analyse the problem they face. Namely, it is a problem of the residents’ groups – and Sinn Fein has a big role in that, though there may well be a problem of residents’ groups that are, shall we say, autonomous, in other words not entirely under the control of the republican leadership.
My sixth point is that they should have engaged from 1998 with the Northern Ireland Office much more actively than they did. In 1998 I said: “look, the legislation on parades will be out of date when human rights come on stream”. Now that is what Quigley is now saying, but it has been out of date for a number of years.
The seventh thing – and Brice will be surprised at this – they should have engaged with the Human Rights commission. Now, I’ve never said anything good about the Human Rights Commission and I’m not going to change my position tonight – I will endorse everything that Philip has said in the most friendly way about Brice and the antics of his colleagues.
The eighth thing is that the loyal orders have a problem created by the residents groups, and whinging and complaining is one way to deal with the problem. The other way is to formulate a strategy and try and out-intelligence people who actually are not very intelligent, or not very formidable, but are able to win with very little human skill.
The ninth thing is that there isn’t just an Article 11 issue here about peaceful assembly, there’s also an Article 9 issue here about “freedom of thought, conscience and religion”. In fact there are a number of other rights involved, and I think it would have been better for the Orange Order to have – if you like – got out of politics and gone into religion, culture and everything else, the whole hog, and then sought political allies to defend their freedom of peaceful assembly.
Tenth – and the Orange Order itself did in fact take a little bit of this message on board – they actually needed advisors to help them. Now there’s nothing wrong in having advisors. The President of the United States has advisors – he doesn’t actually run the world single-handedly. He does need people to help him out, and the Orange Order could have done with a bit of help in the last few years.
Quigley Report: “My last point is about Quigley and here I dissent in a ….
Philip Black: “friendly sort of way?”
Austen Morgan: “I was going to say in a Presbyterian sort of way! I dissent most strongly from what Philip said about Quigley. I couldn’t believe Quigley. I couldn’t believe how good it was. First of all, where did Quigley come from? Well Quigley was conceived at Weston Park which might have suggested a rather sickly child would be born, or a rather ugly child would be born, given some of the other outturns from Weston Park! But Quigley was the only thing David Trimble has succeeded in winning in the last number of years. He succeeded in limiting the damage on many other fronts but Quigley is the only thing David Trimble has actually achieved.
What Quigley did. “Quigley learned the lesson from these horrible type inquiries – one is called Patten, and the other is called the Criminal Justice Review. These things are insults to one’s intelligence, they are policy abominations, but they are what the British government felt it had to do in order to solve the problem of Northern Ireland. Quigley’s different. Its well written, it’s got a strange style, why he took 300 pages to say what he could have said in 30 pages I don’t know. Well actually I do know the answer to that question: it’s because he’s playing leap politics like everybody else in Northern Ireland who is trying to be a key player. But I like Quigley, and I don’t just like Quigley because I recommended one thing to him which other people recommended to him, and we all think that Quigley has accepted our advice. Now I don’t think Quigley has accepted my advice, because he didn’t accept one key idea I put to him.
Parades Commission: “But he did accept my advice in the sense that, I believe the Parades Commission is damaged goods. The Parades Commission exists to stop the Drumcree Parade. It’s done it five years in a row. And it’ll do it six years in a row, and forever long it exists it will continue to stop the Drumcree Parade, and that’s very sad because I don’t think the Parades Commission set out to find itself in that position, but it’s in that position. And because it’s done that successfully my worry is that the Parades Commission has a great friend in the Irish Government, and also has a great friend among the two main parties of Northern nationalism. So Philip might be delighted to hear this: I’m not so confident that Quigley is ever going to get up on his knees let alone stand up walk and run. I can see a very serious campaign to preserve the Parades Commission so it can continue to do what it knows best.
Why do I like Quigley? I like Quigley because it’s practical and I like Quigley because it’s different from a room of wise men who decide who marches and who doesn’t march, and they decide this in secret. And what it does say is: instead of one body we’re going to have two bodies, and the first body can do the facilitation and mediation stuff, which is necessary, and the other body can do the determination stuff which is who marches and who doesn’t march and where and when. But they will do it in an accountable way and they will do it in public. In other words, I’m a lawyer and I’m talking about what I know best which is a court.
Parades tribunal: “And I proposed to Quigley that we need a parades tribunal, and he’s come back with something that’s got five words in the title, but, lo and behold, it’s a parades tribunal! Now you might well conclude that I would think that courts were the best things in the world, because I’m a lawyer and there’s a professional opportunity for me. But I’ll just give you a couple of analogies: I think that children should be looked after by their parents, but, when their parents are not willing or able or anything else, then somebody has to step in, and after the social workers have not been entirely helpful, and after all the neighbours have not been entirely helpful, we end up with the courts, the bottom line. Another example: employment. We used to believe that relations between workers and employers were private economic relations. Now that is heavily regulated in the Republic and in the UK. Thirdly, an area I know quite a lot about, immigration, well there are some people who say: “anybody who wants to come into the United Kingdom is entitled to come to the United Kingdom”. There are other people who will say: “well, we’ll let in the good ones and we’ll not let in the bad ones.” Well, somebody has to decide who the good ones are, and who the bad ones are, so again a court is the way to do it. So a court is not simply something a lawyer advocates out of economic self-interest. A court is something a lawyer advocates out of despair of any other solution working, it becomes the only one that does work, and the good thing about a court is accountability, transparency and reason. ”
Chair (Lt. General McMahon): “I would like to thank, on your behalf, Philip and Austen for presenting a perspective, or indeed shades of a perspective, on this issue, and I will now switch to my left hand side and introduce the first of two speakers. I should thank Philip and Austen in that Philip came in two minutes under, and Austen came in three minutes over, so you won’t be here all night!
“I’m moving on. The first speaker is Michael Hamilton: again a legal background – currently at the School of law, University of Ulster. He’s lectured widely on human rights law and parades and the theories of public order. He’s closely followed the work of the Parades Commission and is a founder member of the working group on freedom of assembly. I would ask you to welcome Michael Hamilton.”
3. Dr. Michael Hamilton (Research Student, University of Ulster):
“Thank you very much. I must admit I’m feeling slightly confused ….unless I’m mistaken the council of war is in Hillsborough, not down here! And I think what is slightly unfortunate in the debate we’ve had so far is that the focus has been more on the Human Rights Commission, and that the Parades Commission, which was the thrust behind Quigley’s recommendations, has got off somewhat lightly. So I’d like to couch my remarks more in terms of the recommendations that Quigley has made and the implications of those for the Parades Commission. As has been said, Quigley arose out of the Weston Park Talks and that has in many ways coloured the responses to the Quigley Report because Quigley was perceived – and accurately perceived – to be a concession, as Austen has said, to David Trimble and to Unionism.
Reviews of the Parades Commission: “Before I go any further, I should say that the Quigley Review was actually the third review of the Parades Commission within the last three and a half years. We had, first of all, the Northern Ireland Office review which came to very little, then a review conducted by the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee, and then the Quigley Review. And this constant state of being under review has, I think, presented difficulties of its own because it’s led some people to persuade themselves that the Parades Commission is something of a lame duck: that it’s about to be put down, and that therefore there’s no point in engaging with it.
Assessing progress: “I’d like to begin really by asking the question: how do you measure the success of the Parades Commission? How do you gauge whether the parades issue has moved forward at all? …(tape break) … … A survey was conducted in the early part of 2001 on attitudes to the Parades Commission, and that survey revealed that 35% of Catholics and 8% of Protestants felt that the Commission had improved the situation – not a great number – with 50% of Protestants and 14% of Catholics believing that the Parades Commission had actually made the situation worse. You could also look at the number of parades that are held every year, the number of parades that are deemed contentious every year, but if you look at those over the last few years, as Philip pointed out, the numbers did increase significantly once the Parades Commission was instituted. But that, to my mind, comes down more to how you define what is a contentious parade. If you look at the numbers over the last five years, there’s very little to be gained in terms of determining a trend or an overall improvement in the situation.
“Another way to assess progress would be to look at the cost of policing, or to look at the average number of man-hours worked by the police overtime during July. And if you look at those figures over the last three years there is a slight downward trend, which would suggest that things may be improving. Nonetheless, the Chief Constable last year said that it would cost £6.5 million to put police officers and equipment along the route of contested parades. So, by any assessment, the issue isn’t solved.
Quigley Report: “Moving onto the Quigley Report itself, undoubtedly one of its greatest weaknesses is its very complexity, and it would be impossible in – I thought I was going to have 20 minutes – but in 12 minutes to outline all the recommendations of Quigley, let alone comment on all the recommendations. So I’ll try and concentrate on Quigley’s main criticisms of the current arrangements, and say something about his recommendations as I go along. Philip has actually summarised the process of what Quigley recommends quite well. I’ve done a diagram which tries to put in one page the process that Quigley recommends [see appendix].
“First of all he suggested there should be an extension of the notification period for parades from the current 28 days to 6 months. And, after a parade has been notified, then, under his proposals, objections to the parade have to be registered within a month.
Then what happens is what Quigley calls one of his new bodies, the Parades Facilitation Agency, which might be regarded by some as an unfortunate choice of name. The Parades Facilitation Agency which, even under Quigley, would draw largely from the current Parades Commission Authorised Officers, but which is entirely separate from the adjudicatory body – and I’ll say a bit more about the arguments between separating the adjudication and the mediation functions in a moment or two. But that body begins a period of facilitation and it is hoped that will get underway at least 5 months before the parade is due to take place.
What I think actually Quigley does is he overstates the quiescence of the Parades Commission as it currently works, because the Authorised Officers at the moment don’t wait until a parade is notified before they go and talk to the various parties. And so the reason that Quigley extends the notification period to 6 months doesn’t, I think, stand up itself.
“Then what happens is that a report from the Chief Facilitation Officer goes to the adjudicatory panel – and Philip mentioned that in securing the rights that are so often talked about it seems that the loyal orders are the ones having to jump through all these hoops, and yet the residents only have to jump through one or succeed at one stage. In actual fact, this Chief Facilitation Officer’s report requires both parties to demonstrate their good faith efforts to engage, or at least, if it’s not direct engagement, to have been involved in the facilitation process and to participate in a manner designed to resolve the issues.
“Then, as Austen has highlighted, if no agreement is reached there’s an open hearing – and Austen alluded to the fact that this was more of a court-like setting. This openness is something which I think Quigley has got exactly right. While I wouldn’t be very keen at all for it to go down a very legalistic route, provide jobs for lawyers, even though the Quigley Review has recommended the chief commissioner be appointed by the Lord Chancellor, it does offer a more open and transparent way of dealing with the issues. And at that open hearing the police would have a role to comment and answer questions, because both the parties would be obliged to present their case at this hearing.
“The determination of the Rights Panel, which is what Quigley calls the adjudicatory body, would be issued 28 days before the parade is due to take place, which can be contrasted with the current arrangement where it’s 5 working days and sometimes less. And then it would be 14 days for a protest to be notified, and after that the police could restrict the parade further on public order grounds – I’ll come back to that in just a moment.
Local accommodation: “One of the main points I want to make about Quigley is that – and Philip’s right about this – he doesn’t depart at all from the policy which has underpinned the Parades Commission. He doesn’t depart from the North recommendation that, first of all, all efforts should be channelled into achieving local accommodation, and the determination should only be issued as a last resort, and if agreement isn’t reached between the parties.
What Quigley has got right: “The second point I want to make – and a general point about Quigley – is that overall I do agree with Quigley’s diagnosis of the problems with the weaknesses in the current set-up. What I don’t agree with are a number of his recommendations. As I said already, I think his ideas on transparency are exactly right. What he says about the Commission’s boiler-plated determinations and their indecipherability is absolutely right. What he says about the need to develop risk assessment skills, to develop stewarding, and about broadening the remit of the adjudicatory body, not just to include parades but to enable it to also take decisions on protests. Those are all things which I think Quigley has got right.
Difficulties with Quigley: “But I do have difficulty with the separate structures that he creates: this Rights Panel and the Parades Facilitation Agency, and, in particular, the difficulty with the role he ascribes to the police.
Criteria for determinations: “Under the Public Processions Act – the current legislation – the Parades Commission have to consider 5 criteria when they’re arriving at their determination: 1) the impact of the parade on community relations, 2) the potential for public disorder, 3) the potential for disruption, 4) the compliance of the paraders with the Code of Conduct, and, 5) the desirability of allowing a parade customarily held along a particular route to continue to be held along that route. All Quigley does is that he recommends that those criteria be dropped and replaced by the 4 criteria, in a sense, that come from Article 11(2) of the European Convention, which Austen has already outlined.
Article 11 criteria: “So what you would have now, in place of those 5 criteria, are:
Public order and public safety, and I would put those two more of a likeness rather than the public safety and national security.
The impact of a parade on relationships within the community, or, sorry that’s wrong: the impact of the parade on the rights and freedoms of others.
Thirdly, the impact on health and morals which isn’t likely to raise itself.
And, fourthly, the national security grounds.
“And I think that Quigley’s absolutely right in recommending this change because at the moment what you have are two sets of criteria which aren’t always easy to align with one another and it leads to confusion. Ultimately the Parades Commission has to act in a way which is compatible with the European Convention. So it makes sense, as Quigley has concluded, that the criteria be modelled purely on the European Convention rights.
“And I could say a lot more about the implications of that – the fact that we will lose the impact on community relations criteria, and we’ll lose the traditionality criteria, but I don’t have time to do that, maybe in questions we might. So Quigley’s right to recommend the changes to the criteria.
Guidelines Document: “He’s also right, I think, to suggest that the Commission’s guidelines – the Commission’s required to produce three statutory documents, one of those being a guidelines document which explains how the Commission will interpret the statutory criteria – and this is where I think that some of the confusion arises about the role of the Human Rights Commission in clarifying a possible Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, how the rights might be interpreted. To my mind the best way of clarifying how the different rights – and Philip’s absolutely right: in all the determinations that the [Parades] Commission issues, the Commission does simply pay lip-service to a whole host of rights: Article 8, the right to privacy, Article 1 of Protocol 1, the right to peaceful enjoyment of one’s possessions, sometimes even Article 2, the right to life. And the Parades Commission hasn’t yet clarified how exactly it interprets those different rights, and, rather than that being done in a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, to my mind the best place for that to be done and worked out is in the guidelines document which the Parades Commission itself produces.
“And the Commission has recently funded a working group which the Human Rights Commission and the Parades Commission had observers sitting on. It was run under the auspices of Democratic Dialogue. We had lengthy discussions about how the different rights should be interpreted in the particular context of Northern Ireland.
Separation of facilitation and adjudication: “I’ll move swiftly on, because time is quickly running out, to talk about the facilitation function which Quigley talks about. The question of the relationship between the adjudicatory function and the mediation function of the Parades Commission is one of the most vexed issues – it’s one that I arrive at one conclusion today and possibly if you ask me again tomorrow, I’d have swung quite the other way. But what Quigley recommends is that the only link between the facilitation function – which is the mediation and other such efforts – and the adjudicatory function, would be this report from the Chief Facilitation Officer, and that is only a report which says whether or not the parties have agreed, and the extent to which they have tried to find a solution in good faith. The report crucially doesn’t say anything about the substance of any dialogue which might have taken place – whether it’s been shuttle dialogue or direct dialogue – and the problem with this idea is that Quigley tries to separate the two functions. The reason which is always suggested for separating the functions is that because the mediation, the Authorised Officers of the Commission, report to the Commission at the moment, the only reason that people might get involved in the mediation process is because they want to carry favour with the adjudicatory body. It’s kind of a box–ticking exercise. So by separating the two functions you take away at least that motivation for getting involved in the mediation process. And it also means that, if the Parades Commission were to come out with a determination which upset one or other of the parties, if the two processes were separate that would have less potential to undermine any ongoing mediation process.
Conversely, the arguments for keeping the two processes linked are that, unless there’s a link between the two processes, parties have no incentive to get involved in mediation. And while it’s a somewhat perverse argument it actually does reflect the situation. And what I think that Quigley has done is that he hasn’t gone really down either one of these two routes because of the Chief Facilitation Officer reports, and he hasn’t gone for separation, he hasn’t gone for continued linkage in the way that we have at the moment. And what he does, I think, is sow the seeds of misconception which he says himself he’s trying to dispel.
Reactions to Quigley: “I want to just come back to the question I started with at the beginning when I asked how you evaluate progress of the Parades Commission. I said that reactions to Quigley have largely been coloured by the fact that it came out of Weston Park, and the Orange Order have had an ambivalent reaction to it. On their website their first comment was “it’s an important step in the right direction”, and they congratulated Quigley on his implicit finding that the Parades Commission has failed. Quigley doesn’t say the Parades Commission has failed. From the nationalist perspective, there’s been a very strong knee-jerk reaction which has, in a sense, been very critical of Quigley, and again I suggest that’s largely because of where it came from. Mark Durkan for example said that the recommendations were “totally unacceptable, ill-conceived and unworkable”, and what I’d like to suggest is that neither of those reactions is particularly helpful.
We were talking about progress. Neither too are the statistics particularly helpful. Frank Wright once commented, when he was characterising the relationships in the North as being about communal deterrence. He said that “deterrence does not gradually melt into trust despite there being periods without overt violence”. So, even though parades aren’t getting the same front page headlines they once were, I would suggest that this would caution all those working to resolve parade disputes against complacency.
“There are important things which Quigley does recommend which can be taken forward and which can improve the situation. But, given that the recommendations have now been put back until 2005 by the Northern Ireland Office, there are equally important measures that need to be taken by the Parades Commission in this two-year stay of execution if you like. Thank you.”
Chair: “Ladies and gentlemen, our final speaker tonight is Brice Dickson, currently Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. His background is legal and academic… He’s published extensively on the legal system of Northern Ireland, on comparative law and human rights. He’s author of a book on the European Convention on Human Rights and contributed a Northern Ireland chapter to the UK text Human Rights Law and Practice. I would ask you to welcome Brice.”
4. Brice Dickson (Chief Commissioner, NI Human Rights Commission):
“Thank you very much, Chairman, and can I thank the Meath Peace Group for the invitation to be here again. This is not my first visit, and I’m very pleased to be back and I’d like to congratulate the group on all the very fine work it does.
Human Rights Commission: “I will be short. I think I will not take my 10 minutes, largely because I’m grateful to Michael for his returning us to the actual recommendations of the Quigley Report and away from the rhetorical presentations we had from Philip and Austen. I heard very much the same from a colleague of Philip’s, and from Austen himself, when all of us were at a conference organised by the Orange Order about this time last year. I’m sorry to say that I’m still hearing the misrepresentations of the Human Rights Commission today that I heard then. The Human Rights Commission promotes and protects the rights of everyone in Northern Ireland without fear or favour.
“We are not cowardly, we do not act in a disgraceful way, Philip. We are not lovers of terrorism, and that is the kind of language which costs lives in Northern Ireland.”
Philip Black: “Sorry, that was a [unclear] reference, I don’t know if you picked it up?”
Brice Dickson: “I might have misheard you.”
Chair: “I would prefer if the discussion could take place, perhaps we’ll interweave it with the questions.
Philip Black: “My apologies.”
Brice Dickson: “The Human Rights Commission is against violence. We all of us on the Commission are against violence. We work hard to reduce the amount of violence in Northern Ireland. The Bill of Rights document we issued was a bona fide attempt to do what we were required to do under the Northern Ireland Act and the Good Friday Agreement.
European Convention on Human Rights: “As Austen has reminded us, the European convention on Human Rights is part of our law in Northern Ireland, unfortunately not yet in the Republic – the only country in Europe where it is not yet part of the law – and the starting point therefore in all of this must be Article 11 of the European Convention. In the analysis that was done for the Human Rights Commission of the way in which the European Court has applied Article 11 – done by Michael and other colleagues – very useful information was supplied on the principles which the judges in Strasbourg have used. We in the Human Rights Commission endorsed that analysis, and one reason why we think we’re justified in endorsing that analysis, and in saying that Article 11 should be the test and is the test that is currently applied in Northern Ireland, is that all the challenges to the courts in Northern Ireland against determinations by the Parades commission have, to my knowledge, failed. If the Parades Commission is doing a bad job, if the European Convention standard is being misapplied, if Article 11(2) is being distorted, then no judge in Northern Ireland has been persuaded to that. And Austen may think it’s just an accident that when he and others put those arguments to the judges they disagree. It may be that they disagree because you, Austen, are wrong. It may be that the law is on the judges’ side and that they are applying it properly.
Human Rights Commission response to Quigley Report: “To return to the particular recommendations of Quigley, the Human Rights Commission has not yet made its formal response to Quigley. We will be doing so in the next couple of weeks, and therefore anything I say should not be taken as a definitive representation of what we’re going to be submitting to Quigley.
Facilitation and determination: “But it is likely that we are going to say that it is a good idea to separate the facilitation function from the determination function, partly for the reasons that Michael has given.
Notification period: “It’s likely we’re going to say that to require people who are organising marches to give notice of doing so 6 months ahead of time is both unrealistic and unnecessary.
Protests against marches: “It’s likely that we’re going to say that it’s good that the facilitation and determination agencies should look at protests against marches as well as at marches themselves, provided of course that leaves open the possibility for spontaneous protests against other things that might be happening in society, such as the war in Iraq at the moment.
Transparency: “It’s likely we’re going to say that it is good that there would be greater transparency in the work of the facilitation agency and determination agency. Copies of all objections to protests are going to be made available to the organisers of the procession, and can therefore be scrutinised in a more effective way than at the moment. It is possible to argue – and I said this last year at the Orange Order event – that the current system denies the organisers of processions the proper right under Article 6 of the European Convention to challenge the objections being made to those marches.
Duration of determinations: “It’s likely that the Human Rights Commission is going to say that the determination agency should not be making determinations for as long a period as 5 years. Things have changed very quickly in Northern Ireland and to try to concretise or finalise things for as long a period as 5 years is, I think we’re going to say, inappropriate.
Promotion of greater understanding: “The Human Rights Commission has already said that the Parades Commission has not done enough, as it is required to do under statute, to promote greater understanding of issues concerning public processions amongst the general public. So we’d like more of that outreach work to be done, and, insofar as the facilitation agency will achieve that that would be a good thing.
No right not to be offended: “We are going to emphasise – as we have done and as I have done on many occasions – the fact that there is no right not to be offended. People cannot legitimately stop a march by saying that the march would offend them. When you live in a democracy you expect to be offended, that is the essence of a democracy. There must be views that offend you. Once those views, of protests or marches or whatever they, are spill over into violence, or incitement to violence or hatred, then the law can legitimately step in to curb the speech or the march. And that’s the position of the Human Rights Commission.
Right to respect for honour and recognition of dignity: “There is one proposal in the Quigley report that hasn’t yet been mentioned tonight, and that is that Article 11, by replacing the criteria which Michael went through in section 8(6) of the Public Processions Act, Article 11 should be supplemented by a provision saying that “in the exercise of their right to freedom of peaceful assembly all have a right”, or the law should say that all have a right, “to have their honour respected and their dignity recognised” and that they must themselves “respect the honour and recognise the dignity of others”. Now the Human Rights Commission is currently discussing that, and I think it’s fair to say there is disagreement within the Commission as to whether we should endorse that or not. Personally, I would endorse that, because the whole concept to me of human rights is based on the fundamental principles of honour, and respect for honour and dignity. And it’s only when we get those values embedded in our society in Northern Ireland that we’ll be able to move forward in a way that allows us to live harmoniously, or at least more harmoniously together.
Record of Human Rights Commission: “I’m going to stop there, Chairman, but I would just like to emphasise the point that it’s easy to knock a body like the Human Rights Commission. It’s easy to pick one aspect of its work and say that shows that it’s completely out of order or doing a terrible job. I would submit – I would say this wouldn’t I, given my position? – I would submit that any objective analysis of what the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has done over the last four years – for we have been up and running four years unlike the Commission in this part of the island which has only been up and running for a matter of months – that all we’ve done has been unbiased, has been done in good faith and has been done in accordance with the international standards on human rights. Thank you.”
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS [SUMMARIES ONLY]
Chair (Lt. General McMahon): “Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank the four speakers on your behalf, and thank them doubly for keeping to the time constraints because military people are always hung up on time, so you’ll have to bear with me, that’s my cross.
“I would move on now to the question and answer session and discussion. I would like to indicate to you how I intend to run this: I will ask for questions from the floor, I will ask if any of you wish to ask a question in a certain area. I would then ask if anybody else, who was about to ask almost the same question – one in the same general area – if you’ll come in at that stage as well. So I can take them in threes and fours. Otherwise, we could be here all night. The mike will be removed from me and will go around so again I would ask you to use the mike. Some of us are a bit deaf! And I would also ask that we would have no speeches. We have spoken tonight about the rights of others, we’ve had four speakers, so just the question please. And finally, on the matter of introducing yourself before you ask the question, or remaining anonymous, I don’t care, whatever you want. So I would open the floor now to questions…”
Q. 1. “I would like to thank the panel for a tremendous display here tonight of knowledge. But I’d just like to put one point. I’m up from the country, and I travel the country a lot, they say when you have to go to law, and you have to go through the rigours of the courts and interrogation, you’ve already substantially lost the battle. And I ‘d just make a point, perspectives and realities, and the harsh interface of history, creates a lot of problems for all sorts of reasons. And I’d just like to bring in Saint Patrick, frozen and starved on the hill of Slemish, and one hundred years after he came, we were in the Dark Ages of Europe… [tape unclear] I would just like to ask the panel ….. if love is not generated in a society in a collective capacity… if that doesn’t happen, if that isn’t manifested in a generosity of spirit, surely we’re heading into more difficult times, which maybe the present times don’t allow. I’d like to ask the panel, on that particular element, bearing in mind that we’re entitled to Christian healing, could we not explore the possibilities from this side of the equation? Thank you very much indeed.”
Chair: “Thank you. We had another questioner here but unless it’s in the same area, I’ll take you in a moment. Is there anybody else who would like to ask a question in that general area?”
Q. 2. Roger Bradley (member of Education Committee, Grand Orange Lodge): “I was very interested in what that gentleman behind me had to say. First of all, may I introduce myself. I’m Roger Bradley, and probably I’m the only other Orangeman that’s in the room. Any others raise your hand please! [laughter] I belong to a lodge called The Cross of St. Patrick, and I was quite taken by the reference to St. Patrick that was made behind me. We are devoted to cherishing the memory of St. Patrick, and to try to follow his teachings that are recorded in his own writings, and if you haven’t read the Confessio or the Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus, I’d recommend you do that, it is entirely biblical. But I was also interested in four words that Professor Dickson actually made reference to: offence, honour, dignity and respect. I’d like to give a simple example and ask a question: in what way can my honour and my dignity and my respect be afforded, and in what way can I not cause offence? … The example is quite simple, and it’s a recent example. My lodge, the Cross of St. Patrick, wanted to hold a church service in Saul Memorial Church. The Cross of St. Patrick was dedicated in Saul Memorial Church in 1968. It’s our spiritual home, if you like. It’s where we return to, we have been banned from that church. We’re not wanting to hold a parade. My lodge is a small lodge, under 20 members. I visited Saul Memorial Church last Sunday afternoon to remind myself of what the lie of the land was like. It’s very rural, it sits in a copse on Saul hill. If my lodge were inside the grounds of the church, I don’t think anybody would see us, never mind even know we were there. But as a lodge, I am being deprived of what I regard as my birthright – to go to my spiritual home, where my lodge was actually dedicated. The church has not permitted us to hold a service in the church, and that may be their right to do that. That may be the right of the select vestry to do that, I don’t challenge that.
But the question is: how can I have my dignity and my honour respected, and am I causing offence? Thank you very much.”
Chair: “We had one other question in that area I thought…at the very back.
Q. 3. James McGeever (Cavan): “The Decree on Religious Freedom of Vatican II suggested that the right to religious freedom should be recognised as a human right, and in that regard I’d like if Philip could confirm if the Portadown Orangemen consider that when they’re parading are they giving witness to their cross and faith, and are they giving witness to their determination to defend it? Because, if the answer is “yes”, it seems to me that the Declaration on Religious Freedom of Vatican 11 would defend the right to march unhindered along the Garvaghy Road. If I could read out the relevant section ….
Chair: “How long will it take? … Could we cut it to thirty seconds, please?
James McGeever: “Yes. ‘All men should be immune from coercion on the part of individuals, social groups… and every human power so that, within due limits, no one is forced to act against his convictions, nor prevented from acting according to his convictions, in religious matters, in private or in public, alone or in association with others’, and the only precondition that I can see there is the responsibility for the church requirements to be honoured….”
Chair: “Thank you very much. Anybody else in that general area? We have had three questions and three mini statements. They were in the area of Christianity, which we all share, I think, dignity, respect for one another, not giving offence. That basket of questions which are very thought-provoking. I would ask the panel perhaps to comment briefly, starting with Philip.
Philip Black: “Well, the questions that have been asked, particularly the last one, really raise a very important principle. And we haven’t really talked tonight about Article 9 of the European Convention, which is the right to manifest one’s religion, which sounds almost the same as what the Vatican II statement from the Pope said, and I appreciate that and respect it. When the Order goes out to parade, especially, and more so when it is a church parade, for example like the Drumcree church parade, they are going out to manifest and to protest their Protestant religion. They’re carrying banners which carry the Christian message, which carry biblical scenes, which carry quotations from the Bible. Now it is perhaps a slightly different flavour of Christianity than that from most of the people in this room. But it’s still Christianity, and I would have thought that in a Christian country, as we would claim to be both in Northern Ireland and south of the border, that should be respected without let or hindrance. When the brethren wish to, they go to their church service and they then wish to return from it along the main route which they have always gone down. Their banners carry no offence to anyone and certainly not to anyone who is a Christian. They parade with one accordion band with little girls, and they play hymn tunes, and that cannot be seen, as far as I see it, as an offence to anyone. And it is really sad to think that in a Christian country there are those who would oppose that peaceful manifestation of one’s religion and wish to prevent it.
“Sadly, there are people like that, I’m sure there aren’t any in this room tonight but until we have dealt with that problem and we have engendered an atmosphere of tolerance for the views of others, that Professor Dickson has been talking about, then we’re not going to move forward very fast. But we must work at engendering that respect, and that’s certainly what we endeavour to do in the Orange Order, and certainly we endeavour to do in the other organisation I’m in which is the Ulster Human Rights Watch.”
Chair: “Austen, would you like to comment in the general area?
Austen Morgan: “I’ll pass because by the time I get round trying to explain how little I know about these issues, I’ll have wasted a lot of time!”
Michael Hamilton: “Thank you General. I’d like to go back just to the way the initial question was phrased, to say that ‘by the stage we go to law, we’ve lost the battle’. And I think that’s exactly right. In a sense, that’s the premise on which the Parades Commission was founded and it’s only to intervene as a last resort. The legal intervention only comes in when we have, in a sense, lost the battle. And it brings the question round to what is the purpose of human rights? And we do get a lot of human rights talk, whether it’s the 17th century rhetoric or its more 21st century less rhetoric, we do get a lot of it in Northern Ireland. And my answer to the question is really that the purpose of human rights is, as Brice has said, to secure the respect and the dignity of the human being. What human rights do though, are only a minimal standard. They fall far short of the love, the Christian love, that people are talking about, and I think that’s perhaps the most important aspect of the clause that Brice had read out of the Quigley Report, in terms of securing honour, respect and dignity, what it also says in the second half of the sentence is that those asking for their dignity and honour to be respected must themselves respect the honour and recognise the dignity of others. So it’s a mutual recognition. And what human rights can do in that struggle for recognition, if you like, is to provide a floor, but by no means should human rights be regarded as a ceiling.”
Brice Dickson: “Just to endorse that, chairman. I think it was Martin Luther King who said that the law can punish us for hating people or taking steps that lead to violence, but it can’t force us to love one another. That, as Michael said, has to be a spiritual thing. I don’t know the details of your case Roger, concerning Saul. The church being a private institution can decide of itself whether to allow any march or –
Roger Bradley: “I’ve accepted that …It wasn’t going to be a parade. We were just going to have a service. We’re only 20 in numbers…. It’s a small church…”
Brice Dickson: “But are you saying that the Parades Commission denied you the right to march to the church?”
Roger Bradley: “No, it’s the church”
Brice Dickson: “Well, even private institutions can be caught in a way by the Human Rights Act, as we know. The newspaper industry has, I’m glad to say, been caught by the Human Rights Act, so potentially there would be a case there. If you want to bring it to us, we’ll have a look there for you.”
Roger Bradley: “I might take you up on that”.
Chair: “We had a question from the back which was not in the area that we’ve just covered, so I’ll give you an opportunity.”
Q.4 John Feighery. “My name is John Feighery. I’d like firstly to congratulate the Meath Peace Group for bringing such excellent speakers and I thank them for coming such a distance. My question is particularly directed to Philip Black and it is more in the area of psychology than either law or politics. I think that we’d all agree that there is an absolute right, in principle, to parade in favour of your beliefs, or religion, or whatever. And I was very disturbed by what he said about the fact that when this became an issue – that it was politically contentious – there was a great increase in the number of such parades …..
“Now, my question really relates to the whole phenomenon of parades, because, unless I’m greatly mistaken this is a relatively unique characterisation of Northern Ireland. I’ll give you an example of a where I’m coming from. As a Christian, I frankly would not care very much … if the St. Patrick’s Day parade became an issue in contention, whether in Ireland or abroad, I would think it’s not worth it, honouring the saint, honouring the national day, to allow division and hatred and maybe chaos. And speaking even more specifically – and I’m a Catholic priest – I would not believe that it was worth the candle, the incense, the banners, if, in the name of religion, I encouraged a parade or a procession which was causing sectarian strife. I would simply say the time has passed, it’s not appropriate.
“Now what I would like Mr. Black to explain to us is: why it is so important in the loyalist tradition to continue with parades? Because I think that, while obviously political liberty, religious liberty must be defended and must be expressed, can this not be done in a more private way, in schools, in political organisations? Even at a more personal level, in clubs, in houses, in football matches?
“Why is it so important to proceed along a public way knowing that you are going to pass through areas where you will not be welcome? Now I respect Mr. Black’s convictions but I don’t share his psychology and I would like him to explain.”
Chair: “Any more questions in that general area? Roger, perhaps, as the only other Orangeman in the company tonight, you would come in as well, but there were two or three others with questions in the same area, please.”
Q. 5. Anne McQuillan. “My name is Anne McQuillan, I’m a member of the SDLP, actually I’m the constituency chair for Fermanagh /South Tyrone. …… I made a few notes before I came and since I’ve been here … so here’s number one …. Are the Protestant ethos and the Orange Order synonymous? Also, if it’s a religious order, as you proclaim, why can any member sit by rights on the Ulster Unionist Council? And Professor [Brice Dickson], I’d like to say to you that I think you do very good work and I know that your Human Rights Commission is very much underfunded. Now we have had this problem in our village of Newtownbutler in Co. Fermanagh, and it seems to me that it comes down to this: why can they not talk, why can the two sides not talk together? I’ve been involved in the discussions every year, and every year mediation groups come and do a very good job, meet the two groups separately, but the Orange Order will not meet the residents’ groups, and it seems to me that an awful lot of trouble and an awful lot of money could be saved if they would. It also seems to me that the present [Parades] Commission does a perfectly good job without having to employ fairly expensive judges and so forth. But again I’ll come back to it and it seems to me the crux of the matter, if the two parties would meet face to face and would explain their objections to one another, this thing could be settled without the trouble that it causes …”
Chair: “Anybody else in that general area? We’re in the area of parades, religion, Protestant ethos, and we’ve gone a little bit in “Why don’t the two sides talk?”
Q. 6. Marie MacSweeney. “My name is Marie MacSweeney. I belong to a small but growing minority in this country. To put it into context: I think it’s not just about Catholic or Protestant. I am a theologically educated convinced unbeliever, and my feelings and my sensibilities are hardly ever taken into account in any part of this island … I have two questions, one is for Professor Dickson. You talked about challenging objections ……so I was just wondering in what way do you see this happening? …….To challenge the objections, especially those of the bussed-in people whose feelings are hurt? How can they be challenged?
“The second question is for Austen Morgan To put it into context: the first speaker talked about the Quigley Report being ambiguous. But I put it to him that, for very many people who look at the Orange marches with as much openness as possible, they appear to be ambiguous. I see them as sometimes as religious rights asserted in a public way, at other times they appear to be political rights asserted under the cover of religion. I’d like to ask Austen Morgan, when he made his recommendations, I think it was the ninth or tenth recommendation you mentioned … you said that you recommended that the Orange Order eschew politics entirely …….I just wanted to see how that recommendation was received. Thank You.”
Q. 7: Mick McCarthy. “My name is Mick McCarthy from Co. Cork. Just on the issue of parades. Down in Cork, watching the ‘Troubles’ develop, we saw what we thought was a sort of territorial and pseudo-tribalism often accompanied by louts and all sorts of criminal types fuelled often by drink and drugs, whatever about religious convictions and beliefs. And I’d just like to say one thing. I’ve often discussed it down in Cork, it’s a very scenic area, and people have often said…. that if people agreed to a peaceful, orderly and respectful parade of rights, it’s a lovely part of the world, we would invite anyone down and they could have a parade …because the thing seems to be locking tighter and becoming more intense and wearing people and communities down with all sorts of external agendas…..”
Q. 8: Rev. John Clarke, Rector of Navan. “My name is Canon John Clarke, Church of Ireland Navan union of parishes. In relation to the first question that came in this particular batch, in relation to parades to church services. They may be very much a part of the ethos of Protestantism in Northern Ireland. I live right here in the Republic of Ireland and it’s probably dangerous to speak on matters in other parts, but, with the exception of Kilmore diocese as a young boy, I was never at a service where there was an Orange aspect to that service. I recall one occasion being at one, when I was probably 4 or 5. I remember the sashes in the front row. Apart from that, I have served my entire ministry I the Church of Ireland and I have never found a need to profess my faith through the Orange Order. I see it as no consequence whatsoever to the faith that I profess, I see it as no consequence to the Church of Ireland. It may be to Protestantism in Northern Ireland. I can’t see that it is much similar here ….. It certainly plays no part, no part whatsoever, in the faith I profess, and it’s nothing got to do with the Church of Ireland as far as I’m concerned.”
Chair: “Thank you very much. I will offer that basket of questions to the panel, plus Roger if he would like to come in, and I’ll start with Philip.
Philip Black: “Thank you Mr. Chairman. I think your method of basketing the questions together, and a chairman’s job is very difficult, but it does mean by the time I’ve listened to the last question, I’ve practically forgotten what the first one said. But to the gentleman over there, who said “why do we have to parade?” Well I would say to him: I don’t tell you how to practice or manifest your religion and I would expect you to give the same respect to myself. And if there is discord which arises out of a peaceful religious parade, then we must look at those who are caught in the discord, and if it’s not the paraders who are causing it, then in any properly run democratic society it should be those who are causing the trouble and who are attacking the parade who are dealt with. That should not be, violence should not be something which should stop people peacefully going about their business.
Newtownbutler: “There was a lady from Newtownbutler, a very good example, because in Newtownbutler over the past few years because of violence, or the threat of violence, the orders in Newtownbutler have been permitted to walk to church but they have not been permitted to walk back again. That was until the Sunday before the Twelfth when a parade did get going back from church, a very reasonable thing in any society you might think. At that parade there was violence, there were death threats to those who were parading, there were things thrown at the paraders. There were remarks which I won’t repeat here like “go on, you Orange b…s, and other less savoury remarks. Two of the people in the parade had been intimidated out of Newtownbutler by the IRA. They received verbal death threats in that parade. Now I don’t think that’s a very savoury state of affairs, but look at the aftermath. Two weeks later, or three weeks later, there was an exactly similar parade – the first one had been the Orange Order, the second was the Black Institution – but it was comprising more or less the same people and again it was a parade to church. And the parade back was banned by the Parades Commission. And It was banned because of the violence which had taken place, which had not come from the paraders but had come from those who had opposed the parade in a violent way. This is so contrary to normal justice or toleration that I really don’t think anybody could defend that.
“You did talk about “why can’t we talk to those who oppose us?” In Newtownbutler we have the Newtownbutler Area Residents Association. They call it the Area Residents Association because most of the people do not come from Newtownbutler itself, so that they have to talk about the Newtownbutler area. But the residents’ association has Sinn Féin in it. Despite all of this, shuttle mediation went on all last year up until coming up to the July period, actually through the Revd Brian Crowe [an authorised officer of the Parades Commission], because the loyal orders would not talk directly to these people. And I have a record of that negotiation because we were called in and, although the orders don’t go to the Parades Commission, under my hat – the Ulster Human Rights Watch – I went to the Parades Commission and also Brian Crowe. But the record of that negotiation was that it appeared that the people on the residents’ group were not interested in real negotiation. Each time an issue was put up and it was dealt with by the loyal orders they brought up another issue and another, and when they’d exhausted those they went back to the start. Now that’s one of the practical reasons why negotiation does not succeed with people who have no wish to make it succeed, and who only want to use that negotiation in order to deny you your rights, and in fact it’s one of the basic flaws. I know that Austen here is a – I won’t say a Quigley groupie – but he sees such merit in the Quigley Report. But that is one of the basic flaws which is carried on from North: that people who want to peacefully protest, who have not offered any violence, are expected to negotiate with those who are, in many cases, supporters of terrorism, and who, if they do not get their way, will attack the parade as they did in Newtownbutler. So that’s a semi-answer, not perhaps a very full answer about talks.
Protestant ethos: “Whether the Orange Order is identical with the Protestant ethos, well, all I can say on that one is that within the Orange Order we have a full spectrum of Protestant society in Northern Ireland both in socio/economic terms and in terms of religion. I have been in a lodge where I have sat down with country farmers and with others, and also with another gentleman who happened to be a millionaire, and I would say a multi-millionaire, and it would really impress you if – perhaps for obvious reasons like Austen you could not be at that lodge meeting – but to see the equality and respect for each other that goes on within that where a multi-millionaire is treated the same as others, and what I really started to say was that in a sense the Orange Order certainly does stand for the whole Protestant population, both in terms of rich and poor and both in terms of Protestant religion. Because you will find within it Free Presbyterians, Church of Ireland, Baptist, the whole spectrum. So in that sense the Orange Order perhaps does express the whole Protestant ethos within itself. Well, Canon John Clarke may have found no need or no relevance to the practice of his religion to be in the Orange Order. All I can say is that there are other people who do and find it a comfort, religiously inspiring and bringing themselves closer to God, and I don’t think he should deny that to others simply because he has seen no requirement for it himself. I tried to deal with all the questions, Mr. Chairman, but I may have left one or two out. “
Chair: “I think you’ve covered them more than adequately. Certainly I had them listed and you’ve hit every ball thrown in your direction…”
Anne McQuillan: “… He didn’t answer the question about the Ulster Unionist Council, that the Orangemen have a right to be on the Council.”
Philip Black: “It’s strange you should say that because we were discussing it as we came down in the car. And maybe I should leave that one to Roger if you want to deal with it.”
Chair: “I’m going to move now to Roger who is outside the panel but I appreciate very much that he has given us of his time.”
Roger Bradley: “I’ll answer this gentleman over here first of all and then I will go on to your question at the end. Well, basically we don’t set out to walk through republican areas. That’s not what we’re about. We parade because it’s our tradition, and it’s a tradition which we cherish. I’m struck that at Rossnowlagh where the Orange parade takes place it is met or supervised by two gardai at the front and maybe two at the back and that is the sum total of the security force or policing force that is required to supervise the parade. It’s easier to parade in the Republic and seemingly it doesn’t cause offence to anybody. It only seems to be in Northern Ireland that it causes offence, and I would maintain that it causes offence because it is a manufactured offence that has been created by Sinn Féin and I think that is fairly obvious to everybody. I am also struck by people who I work with – Roman Catholics I work with – who tell me “when I was a child my parents used to take me to see the parades”. So obviously in years gone by it didn’t cause offence especially when Roman Catholics were quite prominent in going to observe the parades and seemed to enjoy them. So why should that be the case 30 years ago or more but it’s not the case now? So that’s a matter of observation. It’s also interesting to note that, especially in rural areas, there was a great deal of cooperation between members of the Hibernians and members of the Orange, farmers who’d assist their Orange neighbours to attend the Twelfth July. And on the fifteenth of August the reverse was the case.
Neighbourliness: “So why has everything gone wrong? Well, I would submit that the reason why everything has gone wrong is because in this country, which is supposed to be a Christian country – and certainly in Northern Ireland there are more churches, mission halls, chapels per square mile than probably any other country in the world – but we have forgotten how to treat each other as neighbours. We have forgotten how to be neighbourly to each other, and if we learned to be neighbourly to each other we then wouldn’t have the problem that we currently have. And that is fundamentally a Christian principle. It is a Christian principle to be neighbourly. Therefore if you have routes that are unneighbourly, therefore they’re unchristian, I would suggest to you, maybe that’s something that our two clergymen in the audience might want to address. So how do we learn how to actually become neighbourly? The parading issue or problem is not an Orange Order problem, it’s not a Roman Catholic problem, it’s a societal problem. And it’s a problem because we’ve forgotten how to be neighbours and it’s as simple as that in my view.
Orange delegates on UUC: “I‘ll come to the point now about Orange delegates, I speak as an ex-Orange delegate – I am no longer an Orange delegate – from my own personal point of view, I favour the link be broken. Simply because within the Orange Order there are members of more than one political party, and I believe that the Order should seek to have an influence in all of the parties not just one. Does that answer your question?
Anne McQuillan: “Yes.”
Chair: “Could I ask Austen to come in – he had one or two demi-questions pitched in his direction.”
Austen Morgan: “Well yes, I was asked one question and I will answer it. But I want to make five points in brief.
Socially pathological society: “The first one is that the parades issue is a serious issue and it’s related to what is happening in Northern Ireland. And it remains my view that that is a place that is socially pathological. It is a society with a major problem, and the problem is not necessarily getting better. In fact I increasingly find myself using the rhetoric of tribalism and it’s a phrase a lot of commentators use about Northern Ireland, they talk about the “two tribes”. And that’s not pejorative or patronising, it’s critical. So I kept the parades issue separate from all the other stuff and only recognised a few of the connections like Weston Park, but nevertheless, it’s a symptom of a wider Northern Ireland problem and I believe that you deal with problems one by one, you recognise that they’re all inter-related.
Generosity of spirit: “The second point is the rhetoric used by one of the first speakers in the audience which was ‘generosity of spirit’. Well that’s actually a slogan of my own and all I have to say from my own personal view is: I would love if tomorrow the Garvaghy Road residents said, either face to face or across the airwaves, “we’re going to drop our objections to the Drumcree parade”, and then I would love it if the Portadown Orangemen, in a reciprocal spirit, said “well, in that case, actually we don’t want to march next year”. I would love that to happen, that’s the sort of society I’d like to live in, but I don’t actually believe it is going to happen and I don’t believe that mediation is going to get you to that solution. I do believe that a form of public regulation is the only way, and the fact that one is talking about a rather complicated from of public regulation is a degree of the measure of what the problem is about: parades in the context of a socially pathological society.
Underdogs: “The third thing is that I have no great familiarity – I did, Roger, attend Orange Order parades as a kid, and I didn’t think they were mine but I didn’t think they were anything other than well, what’s this interesting thing coming down the street? So you know part of your mythology is correct in that sense, in that I knew what they were, they weren’t mine but they were there and they didn’t offend me. The loyal orders are most definitely underdogs in terms of the system of government that Northern Ireland has. Most certainly the underdogs, and my instincts always go out to the underdogs.
Orange Order should choose to leave the UUP: “My fourth point is the answer to Marie’s question about the advice. Well, when I was in an elevated position enough to speak to the Grand Master of the Orange Order on a specific point, it was pretty obvious that the Orange Order is about Protestantism or about a version of Protestantism, and I thought as a lawyer looking at human rights that they should use not just Article 11 but Articles 9, 10 and 11 [ECHR] and that they should increasingly see themselves as a religious and a cultural and a social fraternal organisation. Now that did mean getting out of politics, and so that’s why I said the Orange Order of it’s own motion should choose to leave the Ulster Unionist party, as opposed to being kicked out of it, which would be the David Trimble view. And then, once they were out of politics, they should approach all parties – including the nationalist parties – about their religious rights. Now that is the advice I am giving from a medium distance, and it still is the advice I am giving, and I gave it knowing precisely that there were people like you two making the same point from a different position as it were. I mean it seems to me silly that there are DUP people sitting in the UUP. That just seems absurd, just as it’s silly that there used to be communists sitting in the Labour Party through the trade unions. That’s just silly.
Co-existence: “My last point is I live in London and it is wonderfully multi-cultural, it’s wonderfully multi-national and we don’t talk a lot about rights and the things that irk us continue to irk us but we don’t have a Northern Ireland response to them. Yes, we have problems in London but we do find co-existence … … So what I’m saying is that I’m not seeking to impose a London solution on Northern Ireland. But there are many different ways of existing, and Northern Ireland is a very strange form of co-existence, whether it’s in the form of sectarian violence or whether it’s in the form of peaceful co-existence or whatever. I cannot stress too much how much of a mad place I do think it is. Almost anybody who has anything to do with it ends up looking or sounding mad at the end of the day, and madness is not a congenital condition that one has to be condemned for. Madness is a condition that is perfectly treatable.”
Chair: “Thank you very much. Michael, would you care to come in?”
Michael Hamilton: “Yes, none of the questions was directed to me, but I do have a couple of points. I’ll go back to the question of ‘why don’t the parties just talk?’ It’s a position that I would have a great deal of sympathy with. I do think that much of the violence could be avoided if everybody did sit down and talk. I also think that very often people are quick to criticise the Parades Commission for failing to resolve it when they themselves don’t turn every stone in their efforts to try and resolve the disputes. At the same time, if parties don’t want to talk I don’t think that they should be forced to talk, and I don’t think that the enforced talk would necessarily bring about the resolution that we’re looking for. And I think there are other ways of going about it which don’t necessarily bring in direct engagement. One of the focuses of the Parades Commission’s time in office in a sense, which Quigley recommends should be more so, is the behaviour associated with parades – the question of stewarding, of ensuring that flags and emblems that are flown, tunes that are played, are not done in an intimidatory way. I mean it strikes me as well – and this sounds critical of the loyal orders – it’s not critical point blank because there are a lot of church parades that go ahead which don’t pose any threat, they are innocuous and inoffensive and that is, I think, accepted a lot more widely than sometimes recognised. But there seems to be this amnesia almost that when people talk about law-breakers, the violence doesn’t always come from so-called residents groups, you only have to look at Drumcree in ‘95 and ‘96 to think of where the threat of violence for overturning the police decision to go down the road came from.
European Court of Human Rights: “And Philip mentioned our report that we did for the Human Rights Commission coming to no conclusion. One of the conclusions that it actually came to was that the European Court, when it looked at this question of whether the determining body should be concerned with the source of disorder when making it’s decision, even the European Court hasn’t been concerned with the source of disorder, and the European Court has been prepared to uphold restrictions and rights even if the threat of violence comes from others. And that’s why I make the point that there is much to be developed – and the Parades Commission is uniquely positioned to do this in Northern Ireland – to maybe move beyond that perhaps inadequate understanding of what’s acceptable and what’s not.
Rights dialogue: “And the final point I just want to come to ties this up in a sense, and it’s what the value of the language of rights can be in a dialogue situation. One of the greatest problems with the Quigley Report, I think, is that he compartmentalises the different discourses. He talks about public order being the preserve of the police, the rights issues being the preserve of the Rights Panel and the mediation aspect being the preserve of the Facilitation Agency. And I think that is a fundamentally flawed way to look at the discourses, if you like, because what needs to happen, to my mind, is that rights have to infuse all the efforts to reach agreement, so a rights dialogue has to be at the centre of engagement between the parties, and it’s only when the rights issues – what are the rights and freedoms of others for example – are talked about between the parties that some of the holes in the European Convention will begin to be filled in. The historian E.P. Thompson once said in relation to the rule of law that it was an unqualified human good, because those governments who adhered to the rule of law became prisoners of their own rhetoric. And in some ways I think the value of rights is that if parties are held to account they then become prisoners of their own rhetoric.”
Brice Dickson: “Again, I would endorse a lot of what Michael has just said. Taking up one of his last points about the role of the police, I think the Human Rights Commission is going to also say that Quigley is wrong in saying that the determination agency should take decisions on restrictions on the right to march but not decisions on the public order aspects of the right to march. Quigley says that should be left to the police. I think we’re going to say that that should be left to the determination agency as well. At the end of the day, if things go wrong the police must step in of course and police the parade as well as they can.
Dealing with objections: “I think there were two particular points made to me chairman, both I think coming from Marie. How to deal with the objectors? How should the determination agency deal with the objections and how should they copy them to the people who want to march? The report itself is a little bit vague to me on this. I don’t know whether Michael has got more out of it than I have, but it talks about the hearing that would take place allowing all the objections to be given to the other side and then all sides would discuss the actual objections. It doesn’t go into detail as to whether the people who made the objections, the identity and addresses of those people, would be revealed or not. Because of course that has been one of the worries in some situations. But I think if there were this hearing and if things were more transparent than they are at the moment, then the bona fides of the objectors can properly be scrutinised.
Newtownbutler: “And I do think – and I agree with Philip as regards the Newtownbutler and the Dunloy example where his group has brought this to our attention. I think there are particular cases where the Parades Commission, putting it at its lowest, has acted strangely in banning a march on the apparent evidence that there would be violence from certain objectors when there is no real evidence that there would have been violence.
But the other point that Marie made, and I would just like to endorse in this context, is that non-believers get a very raw deal in Northern Ireland, to the extent that when 14% of the population in the recent census either did not answer the question about what religion they were, or said that they had no religion, what do the people analysing those figures do? They reallocated all those people to be Protestants or Catholics! It’s ridiculous, totally ridiculous. Despite the fact that that was the biggest increase in any of the categories in that section of the census. To my mind, speaking as a non-believer myself, the sooner we get away from categorising people on the basis of their religion the better.
Chair: “Thank you, Brice. I would like to point out that your guests here tonight at the table have all long journeys ahead. It’s now 10.20, the tea may be overbrewed! What would the general feeling be? Do you think I should bring it to a close or try one more basket? Oh we have a basket of three and that’s all I’ll allow…”
Q. 9. (Dunsany resident). “Just one question. I wasn’t sure if you were agreeing or disagreeing with Quigley’s recommendations to separate the facilitation and determination functions….?”
Q. 10. Robin Bury (Reform group). “My name is Robin Bury…. I have a question about the European Convention on Human Rights. Austen, I think you said it wasn’t recognised in the Irish Constitution?
Austen Morgan: “No I said it was not in Irish law”
Robin Bury: “You mentioned the Irish Human Rights Commission was slow to get up and running, I’m just wondering why? …..”
Q. 11. (Nobber resident). “My question is a general one to the panel. I’m from Northern Ireland originally and I’m living here in the south of Ireland. My background is in sociology and the social sciences. Like Austen I would not exactly come from the Orange Order tradition, and like him marches don’t bother me, I’m quite neutral, but to me it seems it’s a matter of a sociological thing in that I feel that the Orange Order is a unique tradition, it’s unique to Northern Ireland, it’s unique in the island of Ireland, it’s unique in these islands which were formerly known as the British Isles. It’s also unique in Europe. I feel it’s all about education, and I would like to ask the gentlemen: how do they feel that they could they market the Orange Order as such, as a unique culture and identity? How could we get the nationalist population in Northern Ireland to accept it as such? I’d just like to end on a lighter note and say: I have seen Orange marches all my life in Co. Down, I have to say they have great bandsmen, they’ve fabulous uniforms and they’re great marchers, and could we not get our act together and look on them as part of our culture on the island which is now becoming multi-cultural? Thank you.”
Chair: “… Right, I’m going to reverse the order of return this time, and I will also ask Roger if he’d like to come in after Philip. So, first of all Brice.
Brice Dickson: “Thank you, Chairman. When I mentioned the European Convention and Ireland I was simply pointing out that it was the only country of all 44 – I think it is – in Europe not to have incorporated the Convention into its law. I’m not saying that the existing law is necessarily that deficient but I’m just making a general point – the European Convention has not been incorporated, and I would like people in the Republic to put pressure on the government to make sure that that happens as quickly as possible. Likewise, the Irish Human Rights Commission was supposed to have been set up as a result of the Good Friday Agreement. It is no reflection on the people who’ve been appointed to the Commission, I hasten to add, I’m criticising the Irish Government for not putting more effort into setting it up, giving it premises, giving it resources. It has been the poor relation very much in this whole scenario.
Culture and identity. “The point about culture. That reminds me that I should have said when Philip said that our Bill of Rights document has one page on the interests of his organisation, there is of course a whole chapter in the book on rights to express your culture and identity, and we’re very strong on that, and that is an important aspect of what we are recommending.
Gender equality: “We’re also recommending gender equality, and I should have pointed out that we’re supposed to have a policy not to speak on panels where there is no gender mix, so apologies for that from my point of view. We challenged the composition of the Parades Commission on the basis that there is not one woman on it, and when we got into court the judges said “yes, the Commission has to be representative of the community in Northern Ireland”, but that means so many Prods and so many Taigs, it doesn’t mean so many women and so many men. Now, until our judges recognise that there are more dimensions to identity than what religion you are, there’s no hope for Northern Ireland.
Chair: “I would point out, in defending the gender imbalance at the table, that our controller in chief, commander in chief, Julitta, is of course a woman! Right, Michael..”
Michael Hamilton: “Thank you. If I could just concentrate on the one question because I think the question as to how I would sell the Orange Order, for example, is something I think they should be doing themselves…. The question raised about the separation of the facilitation and adjudication functions. At the moment the Parades Commission has 12 authorised officers, and the 12 authorised officers work in teams of two across Northern Ireland. They are responsible for, if you like, going out and being the eyes and ears of the Commission. In a sense that’s not what they were first set up to do because they were meant to be mediating, but in practice very little mediation has actually taken place. But the danger with that arrangement is that people see the authorised officers only as the long arm of the Parades Commission, the adjudicatory body, and that therefore informs their motives for engaging with the authorised officers, so that their motives, as I said, are to curry favour with the Parades Commission rather than to reach resolution of the issue. The alternative – separation of the two functions – would mean that mediation wouldn’t just be a box-ticking exercise, and it could also I think mean that, when a determination comes out from the adjudicatory body that upsets one party or another, that that doesn’t undermine any mediation process which is ongoing. Because there is no link between the two functions. I always err towards the separation of functions, but sometimes when I hear arguments coming other ways I find it very difficult to resist. But, if you want a clear-cut black and white answer, I would vote for the separation.”
Austen Morgan: “In answer to Robin Bury’s point about what was I referring to. Well, it’s the 5th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement this week, and the UK agreed to do quite a lot of things and went ahead and did them, and the Republic of Ireland agreed to do quite a lot of things and it didn’t rush ahead to do them. But we occupy a political culture where the accusations are always made about the dilatory Brits, or the Brits who don’t do what they promised to do.
“By and large they do do what they promise to do only they do it undramatically. And a great deal of criticism could be addressed at the Irish Government for not implementing its bits of the Belfast Agreement, and one of them was that, whatever the level of human rights protection in Northern Ireland was, that would be the level of protection in the Republic of Ireland, which is a pretty rash thing to agree but they did agree to it. And they have attempted to give domestic effect to the European Convention on Human Rights, but it’s been tack-handed and we still aren’t there yet. So, when anybody this week is criticising people for not implementing the Belfast Agreement, I hope there is going to be a section of the document which first of all indicts the Government of the Republic of Ireland for not doing what it promised to do, and then the Government of the Republic of Ireland says what it is going to do and in what timescale. And I hope Sinn Féin will be as interested in getting the Republic to do what it seems to be it’s interested in getting the Brits always to do.
Marketing the Orange Order: “Now the second point I want to make is, how does one market the Orange Order? Well, that is their task and, in fact, credit is due them because some time ago, it might have been 10 years ago, they came up with the concept of “the largest folk festival in Europe”, that’s what the Twelfth of July could work towards being. And that was actually quite clever, it’s quite broad-minded and it’s quite achievable. I mean, in the days when we had Left and Right in politics the French Communist Party used to organise festivals and fetes and take over towns for a day, and, all right it was for the believers in communism who went there, but I mean these were community festivals and there was all sorts of activity and all sorts of people participated. In Germany you have other types of regional movement, again, which are exercising public rights and occupying public space, so “the largest folk festival in Europe” – that was a slogan originated by Martin Smyth – was actually showing how creative the Orange Order could be. Now, the point is, those people who are not in the loyal orders should have immediately responded positively to that and said ‘right, that’s what we want you to do, therefore this is what we’ll do if you organise a folk festival, if the Twelfth is open we’ll come along with our deck chairs and all the rest of it.’ But no, what we had was war on the Garvaghy Road, war in the Lower Ormeau and we had a very serious communal struggle where, in place of what used to be a Protestant hegemonic society there was an attempt by Catholic sectarians to create a new form of Catholic triumphalism by defining territory as Catholic and telling Protestants ‘you’ve got no rights here’. Now that, to any liberal, to any democrat, it should have just raised their anger against the residents’ groups but that’s not what happened. What happened was that the Irish Government rowed in behind the residents’ groups, the British, who were interested in peace in Northern Ireland, decided to put in a Parades Commission. The Parades Commission did the only thing it could do and that’s why we still have a problem. The problem was not solved in the early ‘90s when it arose so it has to be solved in the 2000’s.
And, finally, don’t assume Quigley is in the realm of realpolitik… [tape break]…The Irish Government and Northern nationalists are so attached to the Parades Commission that they will succeed in frustrating Quigley’s very honest and conscientious attempt to move the issue forward.
Philip Black: “I’ll be as brief as I can. Certainly one of the difficulties of the Belfast Agreement is one that Austen has referred to, that while we go ahead hell for leather in implementing its provisions in the North, it was supposed to be a balanced agreement and applied equally to the South. And certainly the Human Rights Commission I understand was originally set up with 11 members, then 9 were replaced by the Taoiseach because he didn’t like them. The first Commissioner resigned, ostensibly on health grounds, and I don’t know to what stage it’s staggered at this particular moment. But I do know that it is required because while the focus is on Northern Ireland, and human rights in Northern Ireland, you do have your human rights problems in the South. I have here a summary of a report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. They did a survey of human rights in the South in 1992 and they updated it in 2001. One of their main conclusions was “Ireland has one of the most” – and they mean the Republic of Ireland, they don’t mean Northern Ireland by the way – “Ireland has one of the most unequal societies in Europe, a political system notorious for corruption and croneyism.” Now there are many people in the South and in the North who believe in a united Ireland. Is this the sort of Ireland you’re asking us to come into and participate in?
Marketing the Orange Order: “The question from the lady over there – Austen has already referred to the folk festival and I, well I don’t take exception to her remarks but at certain stages when she was talking about a unique tradition etc., I thought she was going to propose that I be stuffed and put in a museum with an Orange collar over me so that people could come and see me in a glass case, or perhaps we’ll have to embark on a breeding programme to ensure that this unique artefact did not die out! However, I agree on the PR aspect, I mean one thing that I would admit is that we in the Order, and perhaps Protestants generally in the North, are bad at explaining themselves, and bad at saying why they are, and I hope that what Roger and I have come tonight and said to you will have helped you to understand us better.
“But the Orange Order is also a real, living and vital organisation, and particularly a religiously vital organisation, and I wouldn’t want us to be turned simply into some sort of a tourist attraction for the North or the South of Ireland, but I agree that that can and should be a component.”
Chair: “Finally, if I could ask Roger to come in”
Roger Bradley:“Just taking up Nuala’s point – the Orange Order exists not only in Northern Ireland and parts of the Republic and the rest of the UK, but also Canada, America, New Zealand, Australia, Togo and Ghana, it is currently organised in all those areas. In fact, the Grand Orange Lodge in Canada historically by far has been much larger in terms of numbers and everything else than it ever was here. That’s just by the way.
Really diversity of culture is what you are touching on and I would simply add that diversity of culture is a sign of a mature society, and the fact that the Orange Order can be tolerated in its parades in Rossnowlagh is a sign that society, at least in that part of Ireland, is more mature than it is in the part of Ireland that I live in. But we do need to actually grow as a society and mature and gain a bit of self-confidence back and tolerate each other’s culture.
One thing that I will bring home with me is how to be more welcoming? And that’s a valid point and I take that on board.
Lastly, to comment on some matters which Austen touched on. I attended a carnival in Carrickfergus just before last Twelfth, and there was an entire period costume outfit celebration around Carrickfergus Castle which was very much enjoyed by anybody who attended it, and I’m quite sure there were many Roman Catholics there as well as Protestants. It was non-threatening, it was enjoyable, it was a spectacle, it was a beautiful day, a family day and perhaps that is something that we could do more of. And certainly, across the Province, there are re-enactment societies similar to the Civil War re-enactment societies in England. There are re-enactment societies in Northern Ireland. There are ones in Co. Down, in Kilkeel .. and they dress up in period costume for the very purpose of attending events such as the one in Carrickfergus which I described. And that is something which I think could be built on in the future because we can improve the diversity of the culture that we show and that we show to others… Yes, I want to be more welcoming to everybody, and I don’t want to intimidate anybody, and I don’t want people to intimidate me. It’s back to a point I made earlier. I want to be a good neighbour to everybody and I want them to be good neighbours to me.”
Lt. General McMahon: “Ladies and gentlemen, I would propose now to bring matters to a conclusion. A Chair is supposed to stay above the battle. I would like to thank all the participants and you the audience for making my job so easy here tonight. I know I’m not supposed to say anything but it’s something that makes me mad: I’m at a loss to explain why the adoption of European Conventions, why legislation, and various other things is so damn slow in the Republic of Ireland. I’m just at a loss – it’s not just in human rights, it’s right across the board, and I think it’s an absolute disgrace, we should be ashamed of themselves. When I look around for somebody to blame, and I’m aware there’s three of them sitting at the table with me, I think we have an over-legalistic view of things in the Republic which seems to drag everything on ad infinitum. It isn’t just that somebody has said ‘look, let’s slow down this’. It is just a slow system and something needs to move it along. I mean, I will give you an example – we’re the only country in Europe that has refused permission for Amnesty International to visit our prisons! I mean it’s a disgrace. Now, Chairman having sat above on a cloud all night and said nothing, I apologise for the outburst. Let’s have some tea!”
[Editor’s note: biographical notes to be added]
©Meath Peace Group 2003
No. 33 -“The Human Rights Agenda”
Monday, 26 April 1999
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan, Co. Meath
Professor Brice Dickson (Chief Commissioner, NI Human Rights Commission)
Dermot Nesbitt, MLA (Assembly Member, Ulster Unionist Party)
John Kelly, MLA (Assembly Member, Sinn Féin)
Mgr. Denis Faul (PP, Carrickmore, Co. Tyrone)
Chaired by Ercus Stewart, S.C.
Introduction – Julitta Clancy
Addresses of speakers
Questions and comments
Appendix:- NI Human Rights Commission
Editor’s note: the decommissioning impasse provides the immediate context for this talk
Julitta Clancy [extract] “..Listening to the radio today, I heard a young victim of the Troubles say that the Good Friday Agreement hadn’t changed anything, as far as his community was concerned. Now we all recognised in the midst of the jubilation last year that the Good Friday Agreement was not going to deliver peace immediately – the violence last summer is proof of that. The Agreement represents a unique and unprecedented compromise between the majority of people living on this island, but it will never work unless all of us who voted for it, from whatever tradition we have come, are fully behind it and behind the compromises that we signed up to, and it won’t work unless we all – but especially the parties involved – are enabled to recognise each other’s genuine difficulties and work to make their compromises easier to digest. As said to us by a loyalist member of the audience last year, this Agreement has made us all guardians of each other’s rights and we all have a role and responsibility in helping it to work, so that everyone, especially the young people of Northern Ireland, can look forward to a future free of violence and where they can all feel respected and included. Our thoughts and prayers are with the parties trying to find a way out of the difficult impasse that has arisen.
Chair, Ercus Stewart, S.C. “I’m delighted to be here. Now we have four speakers…. I’ll try to keep some limit on the time – hopefully around twenty minutes maximum per speaker. I’m conscious we’re a bit late starting and I’m conscious it’s more important to have discussion, questions and answers… So I’ll try to be a bit more disciplined than some of the tribunals that are going around! ….I’ll hand you over now to our first speaker, Professor Brice Dickson.
ADDRESSES OF SPEAKERS
1. Professor Brice Dickson (Chief Commissioner, NI Human Rights Commission) “Thank you very much for inviting me here – its a pleasure to be here. I’d just like to pay tribute to the work of the Meath Peace Group. I’ve been here before and I’ve read your publications and I think you’re a fantastic outfit so keep up the good work and well done! As the chairman said I think it’s probably better to have a discussion rather than a “jug and mug” type presentation so I’ll try and keep my presentation fairly short.
Human Rights Commission: “You should have a one-page document from me about the Commission. It sets out our duties and powers and our mission statement [see Appendixto this report]. Let me just remind you that the Commission was promised in the Good Friday Agreement along with a Human Rights Commission for the Republic of Ireland, and that Agreement, as you know, was heartily endorsed by 72% of the population in Northern Ireland and 94% in the Republic of Ireland. So there certainly is popular support for things contained in the Good Friday Agreement.
“The Northern Human Rights Commission officially came into being on the first of March this year. There are ten of us on the Commission – I’m the only full time person, there are nine part-time people. We were appointed after responding to adverts in newspapers, being shortlisted and being interviewed by a panel of people including an external assessor – a panel of people put together by the Northern Ireland Office with an external person. The names then went to the Secretary of State who officially appointed people.
Representativenessof the Commission: “There have been some remarks as to whether we are representative or not. The legislation requires the Secretary of State to appoint a commission which is as representative as is possible – or as is practical, I think the phrase is in Northern Ireland. Of the ten of us there are five women and five men. To be crude about it there are six people who would be perceived as Protestants and four who would be perceived as Catholics. There are six people who have a legal qualification, although only one of those six actually practises law – the others are academic lawyers or are working in a different capacity. If I was facetious I would say it’s just as well we’re not as representative of Northern Ireland as the Assembly members are because if we were we would never agree on anything! But I won’t say that!
“Having chaired several meetings as Commissioner I am confident that a very broad range of opinions on human rights is represented on the Commission in Northern Ireland. We’ve had vibrant debates about some things. So far we’ve been able to reach a consensus on matters we’ve wanted to take action on and I hope that will continue to be the case. We also have the power to set up committees on which non-commissioners can sit. So, for example there is no disabled person on our commission and if we were doing work on disability it would be right and proper I think, that we appointed at least one or two disabled people onto the relevant committee to help us with our work. And to the extent that we are not representative – of course representativeness has a huge number of dimensions in any society – we can try to rectify that by bringing on other people onto the committees. There’s only one person, for example. on the Commission who lives outside the greater Belfast area – she comes from Derry. There’s nobody from Armagh or Tyrone on the Commission.
Concept of human rights: “There is, let’s be honest about it, a certain chill factor at work in Northern Ireland with regard to the very concept of human rights. It has traditionally been seen as a concept that is more favourable to those of a nationalist disposition than those of a unionist disposition. Now I think that is a misconception of the concept and certainly for as long as I’m Chief Commissioner I will try to ensure that the Commission on Human Rights works for the benefit of everyone in Northern Ireland because everybody does have something to gain from the effective protection and promotion of human rights. The legislation does not define what human rights means in this context. It gives us those functions which are laid out on that piece of paper that I’ve given you, but it doesn’t say what human rights are. All it says is that human rights includes the rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, which, as you may or may not know, are already being incorporated into the law of all parts of the UK by the Human Rights Act 1998. What we as a Commission have decided to do is to define human rights as being those rights which are internationally recognised by inter-governmental organisations as being deserving of protection. Now there’s a very wide range of such rights – there are numerous documents issued by the United Nations, by the Council of Europe, by the EU, by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe etc., the International Labour Organisation for example. There are lots and lots of these internationally agreed documents and we have chosen in our Mission Statement [see Appendix] to measure all laws, policies and practices in Northern Ireland against those internationally recognised standards. “We think that is a safe way of proceeding. It should be an uncontentious way of proceeding.
“I’m not pretending that everything in those international documents is unambiguous – if that were the case there would be no need for international courts and tribunals to decide what the various words mean in those treaties. But they do provide a platform, a solid platform from which to work and that’s what we’ve chosen to do.
Bill of Rights: “..Probably the two most important functions of the Commission are numbers four and five. Number four is, in effect, our duty to draft a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. Now I think I ‘m right in saying that every political party in Northern Ireland, including those parties that voted “No” to the Agreement are in favour of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. They may differ as to what it should contain but they are in agreement on the principle, and we see it as our job to bring the politicians together on that issue and try to draft those rights which are acceptable across the political spectrum.
Promoting understanding of human rights: “..Function number 5 on that list is to promote understanding and awareness of the importance of human rights and we intend to do that by getting out and about and discussing human rights with as many people as we can in Northern Ireland – individuals and organisations. We want to hear people’s views… We already had a number of consultative meetings, in Derry and Enniskillen and there was an event in Belfast on Saturday that a few of us were at. The overwhelming message we got – certainly from the Enniskillen and Derry events – was that the rights that people want to see protected most of all are the socio-economic rights, i.e. the right to a proper standard of healthcare in society, the right to a proper education system, rights for disabled people etc. We had lots of stories from, say, mothers of dyslexic children who couldn’t get proper education facilities for those children; we had disabled people saying they couldn’t get access to buildings; we had people saying that there was no local maternity unit and this was endangering mothers who were about to give birth. At neither the Derry nor the Enniskillen meetings were the words “police” or “criminal justice “ mentioned by any of the people attending. Now it’s true that the audience consisted mainly of people from community and voluntary organisations. They weren’t otherwise politically active, or party politically active people, but I do think the message to be drawn from those two events is that there’s a great deal of work to be done on the socio-economic front, never mind the civil and political front – the more traditional and more controversial front that human rights are normally associated with.
Promotion of human rights culture: “We will have the power to go to court either in our own name or to support other individuals who’ve got human rights disputes but I think it’s fair to say that we’re not going to be – with respect, chairman – a gift to the lawyers. We’re not there to put money in the lawyers’ pockets. If there are disputes over human rights we will try to get those disputes solved out of court, amicably by negotiation, by settlement, and in doing so we hope to promote a human rights discourse or, as the jargon puts it, “promote a human rights culture”. Now I admit in saying that that there is a danger as well. A human rights analysis cannot solve all of our society’s problems and we would be wrong to think that it could. There are problems which only politicians can solve by accommodating their differences and no amount of human rights analysis will ensure a solution. It can facilitate a solution – it can provide the right language, provide the right principles …. We as a Commission will try and facilitate the politicians and other people in society who have got disputes but we can’t promise solutions.
Examples of complaints: “The sorts of complaints that have been taken to us already range very widely (we don’t actually have the powers to take these to court until 1st June). But to give you some sort of illustration: we’ve had some people come to us and say that the law doesn’t protect their rights to custody to their child in a case where the parents separated; we’ve had people say that they don’t have proper access to healthcare – that they’re being ignored by the local health clinic or social security offices; we’ve had members of ethnic minorities coming to us saying that they had been discriminated against. We’ve had an individual coming to us and saying he wants to join the Labour Party (the British Labour Party). You may or may not know, If you live in Northern Ireland you cannot join the Labour Party – they have a rule saying you are excluded from membership so in effect you could argue in the North that we’re all governed by a party in Westminister or Whitehall that we cannot join. Some people think that’s an abuse of human rights. Whether we will be able to do too much about that, I don’t know.
Legislation against terrorism: “We have issued a consultation paper, or rather a response to the government’s consultation paper on legislation against terrorism. I can go into our recommendations on that front if you would like me to. We’ve made presentations internationally and I think we will see it as our role, given our mission statement, to present ourselves internationally not in a threatening way to anyone in Northern Ireland or the British Government but in as helpful a way as possible.
Republic’s Human Rights Commission: “We also have the duty .. to interact with the Republic’s Human Rights Commission. The heads of the Bill to create a Commission here in the Republic are currently being debated in Dail committees and I’m told that legislation should be passed in June and your Commission should be appointed in July. It is going to have greater investigative powers than we do. We can’t, for example, compel people to give us evidence, although the government did say in the debates in Parliament that they would fully co-operate with any investigation we sought to carry out. It looks as if your Commission is going to be appointed by the government rather than selected after a public advertising system… Chairman I’m going to finish there in the hope that there will be questions at the end. Thanks very much.”
2. Dermot Nesbitt (UUP Assembly Member, spokesman on the Economy and member of the Talks Team): “Thank you … It is genuinely a pleasure to be here…. But equally as the pleasure I’m also confronted with a yearning, a genuine yearning to be in a peaceful and stable environment that you living here in the Republic find yourselves in. It’s very nice to drive along the Boyne Valley, of all the valleys of all in this island … it was lovely and I yearn for peace.
“I’ve twenty minutes to give you a few ideas. What Julitta said to me was the “Human Rights agenda – a Unionist perspective”. I’ll say very briefly at the outset that all of those eight points in front of you [extract from Good Friday Agreement chapter on “Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity”] – the rights to free political thought, the right to expression of religion etc. – the Ulster Unionist party subscribes to all those rights. We wish to see those implemented.
“But what of my thoughts on rights? Well we know the world is ever-changing, we know the world has always problems to solve, and we know it’s always more easy to define a problem than it is to define a solution.
Minority rights protection: “There are times in life when there are dramatic changes that make new problems to be solved. I believe one such dramatic change was the demise of the USSR and that has brought with it many more problems in Europe. The problems are more within states than between states. It requires what is commonly known as group accommodation – minority rights protection. Indeed what was viewed as a unique problem – the Northern Ireland problem – is now a problem which finds itself in many places throughout Europe, so therefore I believe that we are not now standing in a unique situation, but rather a situation found elsewhere.
“If I can give you a brief definition – because unless we, from a rights point of view, from a unionist or nationalist point of view, can actually understand, define the problem, it is therefore very difficult to determine a solution in a rights context. I’ll quote not a unionist but a nationalist, Austin Currie, a senior member of the Oireachtas. He said about the Northern Ireland problem and I quote: “Fundamentally the Northern Ireland conundrum is one of conflicting national identities – between those who believe themselves Irish and those who believe themselves British. There are religious, social, political, cultural and other dimensions to the problem but they are only dimensions of a central issue.”
“Now I use the word “minority” – let me just say something about that from the outset because I don’t actually like using that word minority because it does connotate in one’s mind the feeling of somehow being of lesser importance than the majority. As Brice said a moment ago there are many aspects in the international community. One of them is the Council of Europe and it has defined the minority in the context of Northern Ireland as follows: people who display a distinctive ethnic, cultural, religious or linguistic characteristic and they are motivated by a concern to preserve together that which constitutes their common identity and they should be sufficiently representative, although smaller in number than the rest of the population in that state or region of a state.
“That reflects what I view as a minority, merely a smaller number – nothing other than that. How have we approached this problem? We did say in our Manifesto to the Forum election that rights “were the fundamental building block of any agreement regarding the future governance of Northern Ireland”. A fundamental building block as regards the future governance of Northern Ireland. Indeed those basic rights which should be there, they are fine, as Brice has rightly said, within international human rights. They embrace many categories: civil, political, economic, social, religious and cultural.
“Our problem in Northern Ireland is how we actually manage the differences that exist within Northern Ireland and at the same time be consistent with democratic principles and practices that apply elsewhere – how we manage the conflict but also align with principles and practices that apply elsewhere in a democracy. That’s the challenge wefaced in the talks, that’s the challenge I believe we have succeeded in resolving. But I say in the same breath that’s the challenge I say to you that I believe from the unionist community we have gone that extra mile, we have put that extra effort to try and find a settlement that all can feel at ease with.
“Let’s just look at that very briefly because these rights that Brice again talks about – I quote from the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation (an Irish government event) – from one of their documents – and they state: “human rights to be protected are defined by established conventions drawn up by international agreement, as such they form part of international law and must not be thought of as bargaining between parties as to what they represent.”
Nationalism and unionism: “I want to make something very clear before we look at what I view as a unionist …. we respect nationalism; nationalism we believe has that legitimacy as does unionism. We are not about trying to trample nationalism, and I say that with all the sincerity that I can say. There is a difference in International law between nationalism and unionism as I perceive it. They are both legitimate rights. The right to be a unionist and the right to be a nationalist – both have equal legitimacy, but in legal terms there is a difference. Northern Ireland in international law is a region of the United Kingdom – the UK comprises Great Britain and Northern Ireland according to international law. Irish nationalism’s right is the right – and a legitimate right – to change that legal position …..
“In the United Nations – the most overseeing over-arching international body – the ambassador to the UN from the state I live in is the ambassador from the UK. There is legitimacy to change that but that is the legal position. The principles of human rights therefore flow from that. The latest example – as was described also in a document to the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation – I’m talking about the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, and it was described as “the first multi-national instrument devoted in its entirety to the protection of minorities” and it contains much more detailed provisions on such protection than any other international instrument. The party that I represent made strong advocacy within the talks that the United Kingdom Government ratify that Convention. It subsequently has ratified it and it is now in force within the UK – the Irish Government has agreed to ratify it, but as yet it is not ratified.
“Many of those rights that are protected are in front of you in those eight points – cultural, linguistic, educational and religious rights.
International standards: “There are certain other principles of international law which is the last part I wish to address .. I’m watching my time carefully… I welcome Professor Brice Dickson’s comments that it’s the international instruments, the international standards that he wishes to see practised in Northern Ireland. Let us look for a moment at those international standards and let us see how we respond to those international human rights standards in the context of the problem in Northern Ireland. The starting point if you look throughout Europe where they try and resolve conflicts like here in Northern Ireland – and there are many, Kosova is the most problematical one at the moment…. But the starting point always is that you start with in a state and you get functioning democracy within that state within that region. Unionism wished for that – a regional government in Northern Ireland. Unionism was prepared and did accommodate that we would have to get an agreement in all of its sphere before there was any implementation of any aspect, within Northern Ireland north,south, east and west – that is an accommodation from what would be an accepted law.
“The second point – and again this is established in law – where there is strident nationalism borders are to be recognised, they are to be recognised.
“Article 21 of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities – remember it’s a ratified statement initially signed by over 40 nations, described as the most effective method for the protection of minorities – and in Article 21 it says, and I quote it verbatim “Nothing in the present Framework Convention shall be interpreted as implying any right to engage in any activity or perform any act contrary to the fundamental principles of international law and in particular of the sovereign equality, territorial integrity and political independence of states“ That’s a fundamental principle of international law that transcends all other mechanisms of human rights. I say to you – not in an aggressive way but in an open and frank way, I realise I’m in your country, this part of the island whatever way you wish to phrase it… The Constitutional guarantee – your constitutional change over claiming NI – is a conditional change. What you did on the 22nd of May last year was you gave the government the right to change the Constitution but your Constitution has not been changed – it will only be changed if your government is satisfied on the various governmental structures that will be set up, north/south east/west and within Northern Ireland. That’s conditional to our integrity, not found anywhere else in the democratic world, but we have accepted that and I say that genuinely. I could go on further but it’ll come up in questions as I’ve only five minutes left.
One further element that is found in international law is that where there is dissension within a region or a state regarding the validity of that state, autonomous self-government should be set up embracing as many parties within that region as possible. I believe genuinely that what we have agreed to in Northern Ireland – the automatic inclusion in government, namely the right to discharge responsibility on behalf of the executive – the higher level of government. There is a conditional right for all to participate in that – that is maximising an embracing form of government so as there will be a maximum allegiance to and affinity with it. We wish to see that implemented and I’d like to see that come up in discussion. Rights also have attaching to them responsibilities and with the right to be in Government goes the responsibility to demonstrate absolutely a commitment to peace, democracy and therefore stability. That’s a maxim in the democratic world, we subscribe to that maxim.
“Another international trait: where there is dissension across borders – like north and south Tyrol, like Czeckoslovakia or the Czech Republic and Bavaria, like Hungaria and Slovakia, like Bulgaria and Romania….. there are many examples where there is a dissension across the border because there are people living in one country and they have an affinity with the neighbouring country. Where that occurs, what is to happen is that trust and confidence are to be built up slowly and institutional links across the borders if they are to occur are to be built up over time on the basis of an already existing structural government.
“We have bought into institutional links across this border and yet there is no institutional government in Northern Ireland; we bought into it as a package. Again that is not something that is found elsewhere in the deomocratic world.
Questions for Brice Dickson: “… I just want to pose a few questions to the first speaker, Professor Brice Dickson – I have noted on at least three occasions in Northern Ireland he has made reference to the international standards of human rights, and that is what we should subscribe to. I also noted again that he made reference to international standards of human rights tonight. I do believe in that context of international human rights and standards that the Human Rights Commission could perform a very significant function especially at this present very difficult and very delicate situation in Northern Ireland. I believe he can make a significant contribution.
Question 1: “I appeared on “Saturday Live” on RTE radio a few Saturdays ago and Mitchel McLaughlin from Sinn Fein made it very clear that he was in the business of trying to create an environment by which voluntary decommissioning could take place. He added that what he wished to see was an “open, democratic and inclusive society”. Dermot Ahern, cabinet minister, responded that those conditions “are now in place”. I ask Brice – from the point of view of International rights practice – would he agree with Dermot Ahern, that the conditions are now in place and therefore decommissioning should now commence?
Question 2: “…Secondly and more generally, international human rights andstandards that apply elsewhere, as it says in the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, must be within the rule of law and also respect territorial integrity. In other words … there can be no place for an illegal operation or a potential for illegality. It doesn’t square with democracy. Therefore I say again, from an international human rights point of view, do you agree that, in line with international standards, that decommissioning should now commence?
Question 3: “… Final one, the rule of law – what is right and what is wrong. Democratic government on the one hand and linkage with illegality is non-compatible. Therefore again, looking at the principles and practices and standards of international human rights law, can you agree that a political party with an inextricable linkage with illegality cannot participate in government? Hard questions.
“In conclusion, I genuinely wish to see as inclusive a form of government as is possible – I’ve said it publicly often, on the national media. I want to see unionism, nationalism and republicanism in government, becauseI believe only with the most composition of that government will we have that which is most stable and that which we’ll have the most affinity to. But I’m asking for that. This is not a question of “yes” camp versus the “no” camp in Northern Ireland, it’s not a question of unionism versus nationalism, or it’s not a question of unionism wishing to exclude republicanism. It is not that. Indeed it’s not even a question of the BeIfast Agreement. It’s much much more deep than that because it goes to the heart of international human rights standards. It goes to the very heart of democracy. That’s what it’s about. It’s about right and wrong. It’s about democracy versus non-democracy. It’s about the rule of law and illegality.
“Those are the rights from a unionist perspective I put to you. I genuinely wish to hear you question me on that. I’m delighted to be here. I believe …the Belfast Agreement does offer a wonderful opportunity for all of us on this island because it reflects both a political and geographical reality. The political reality that Northern Ireland is a region of the UK but that there is a large number within it who would wish to be owing allegiance to the neighbouring state. It also reflects the geographical reality of the British/Irish isles. When Tony Blair visited the Oireachtas in November, Ireland came of age because it didn’t view the English as coming in as some oppressor. And Ireland is of age – you have a wonderful economy. Can we not build together within the island and between these islands – unionism and nationalism? Because Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland – they’re having devolved government now in Scotland and Wales. I listened to your new consul general being appointed to Edinburgh, two days ago, where he said we’re setting up our consul office in Edinburgh because there’s much in common between us and Scotland and there’s much we can do together. You already have an implementation body … gas linkage between Scotland and Ireland, Kinsale gas. There’s a wonderful opportunity to go forward – to give us peace, stability and prosperity, for all on this island – unionist, nationalist, Protestant, Catholic, Dissenter or whatever. It must be built on solid, durable foundations of democracy, peace and stability and, yes, the rights of law to protect it. Thank you”.
3. John Kelly, MLA (Sinn Féin Assembly Member)
“Good evening … Some people say, in Stormont do you ever meet unionists and talk to them. We do occasionally, and Dermot Nesbitt and I have a common problem with a bad back so we sometimes discuss our bad backs with one another but that’s about it! Outside, before we were having our photograph taken, Dermot said he was the only unionist here having his photograph taken, but I reminded him that I was also a unionist – a unionist who believed in the unity of the island of Ireland as opposed to his unionism. It was a facetious remark but nevertheless it captured the very kernel of the problem that has beset us over the last eighty years …
“When I was asked to address you it was to give a republican perspective of human rights. By the way I’m glad to see an old friend of mine here Sean Mac Stiofain in the audience.
Minorities: “I’m an old-fashioned republican who believes in the idea of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter living under the common name of Irishman. That brings in the question of minorities. I don’t like the word minority either because it conjures up ideas that there is and continues to be a deprived section of any society whether it’s Irish society, English society or universal society. I also believe in the 1916 Proclamation which, when you read it carefully, was a very well thought out and well-constructed document. And particularly when it talks about “cherishing all the children of the nation equally”. Dermot said when he came down, driving along the Boyne, how glad he was to see the kind of peaceful society that exists on this side of the border. As he said that I wondered – is it peaceful by default? Is it peaceful because people have excepted or resiled from the idea or the concept of the 1916 proclamation which said you should cherish all the children of our nation equally. Because I don’t think by any judgment, nationalist or unionist … that the children of the 26 counties are cherished equally in this society. So I just wondered that perhaps while the violence is in the Northern part of the state – and we get all the bad publicity from it, all the bad press, people in Dublin when they see something on the news about the North of Ireland they want to turn off their televisions. So it’s a cosy existence and Fulton Sheen once said, talking about the east and the west, that the east had the Cross without Christ and the west had Christ without the Cross…. I sometimes think that we in the North of Ireland suffer unduly for the problems that were created by the island and the islands as a whole or as a totality.
“In paragraph 4.15 of the New Ireland Forum – I read this today and it was going through my mind and I thought to remind ourselves and to remind myself of it certainly – it says that “the solution to the historic problem and the current crisis in Northern Ireland and the continuing problem of relations between Ireland and Britain necessarily requires new structures that will accommodate together two sets of legitimate rights. The right of nationalists to effective political, symbolic and administrative expression of their identity and the right of unionists to effective political, symbolic and administrative expression of their identity, their ethos and their way of life.” It goes on to say “so long as the legitimate rights of both unionists and nationalists are not accommodated together in new political structures acceptable to both, that situation will continue to give rise to conflict amd instability.” I think those words are worth repeating because the absence of those structures gives effect to the continuing conflict that lies at the heart of our problem – the reconciliation of two sets of cultures, two sets of ideas of what this nation should be and how we should arrive at an accommodation that fulfills all our expectations, that fulfills all our yearnings for human rights, for equality, for basic dignity.
Human rights: “We talk about human rights. I just wondered when Brice was talking, it becomes a kind of charter for lawyers in many ways and I agree with all that he said in the points that were laid out, but in many ways it becomes a very legalistic way of looking at human rights. What are human rights if they are not an attempt at dignity of the human being, if it’s not to aspire to a society that gives and enhances our dignity as human beings?
“Indeed the most fundamental human right of all is the right to life and yet we, not just us from the six counties, have murdered one another in the name of human rights or in the name of an ideal, in the name of a concept, in the name of freedom indeed. And that applied to the whole island – I’ll come back on this that we all had a responsibility in this, not just those of us who are prisoners, or captives of the political situation that was left to us to solve.
“Prisoners have human rights, but prisoners are not free. We could all have human rights and still not have our freedom. I accept that everyone can’t have absolute freedom, we must have certain constraints in our society and the societies within which we live. Dermot spoke eloquently from a unionist perspective and I’m attempting to speak to you from a republican perspective.
Treatment of minority in the Northern state: “…I don’t wish to provoke an argument, or to provoke a row with Dermot or to any other unionist that is here, but it’s undeniable that since the inception of the state of Northern Ireland rights were denied to those who were considered to be the minority. They were denied to them because those who formed that majority …felt that to treat us as equals would endanger their majority, endanger their rule.
“So we had the perpetuation of this monolithic dictatorship in the six counties. We had one-party government for nigh on 60 years and no way of changing that government, no way of changing it in a democratic fashion, no way of changing it by the ballot box. There was nothing in nationalist minds to convince them that the political process was the way forward to achieve what they considered to be their fundamental and basic human rights which they were denied. I don’t say that to be dissentious …Those are the facts that existed within the sociey in which I grew up as a young republican – I don’t say nationalist which is different in many ways for me as I’m a republican, I still hold to that concept, I still believe in the Presbyterian concept of liberty, equality and fraternity of the United Irishmen. That was the thing that imbued us as young men and perhaps people would say that we were misguided, who’s to say, but it was our way of expressing our independence, it was our way of expressing our resentment and our rejection of the state of which we felt prisoners and we were prisoners.
Historic opportunity: “We have now come to a new plateau, we have now come after 30 years of inflicting suffering, pain and hardship on one another. We’ve now come – I hesitate to use the word “crossroads” because with Terence O’Neill it conjures up bad memories – but we have come to a crisis and we have come to a point where we in the Northern part of this island and we in all of this island and in Britain have an historic opportunity to resolve once and for all, and for all time, the ongoing conflict that has beset this island, not just for 30 years or 50 years, but for 800 years. We have an opportunity – and Dermot mentioned this in the last part of his address – to remove once and for all, to take out once and for all the gun from Irish politics, to make obsolete any reason by any group, by any section of our society to resort to physical force as a means of achieving a political objective. We have at this time now an historic opportunity to grasp that victory and it would be a victory, not for us, not for me and my generation or indeed for Dermot’s generation but for our children and our children’s childrenand those coming after them because I see us as just being caretakers of the present political process. I see us in a caretaker capacity and we will not be forgiven lightly by those who come after us, if they look back on history and say in 1999 we set of politicians in the North of Ireland, in the south of Ireland and in Britain, had an opportunity to bring to an end the bloody war that is the Irish Question.
Decommissioning: “And so Dermot, it’s not about decommissioning as far as republicans are concerned. Republicans are anxious and eager to take the gun out of Irish politics. I don’t know any republican who wishes to continue the armed conflict. If the political structures are in place that allow us, all of us, to work within that political structure, to work within that political framework, to work towards our differing political objectives, free from censorship, free from harassment, free from all the things that a Bill of Human Rights entails, that should and must be afforded us now.
Leap of political faith: “We all have to be courageous and I think republicans have been very courageous. Dermot I think made light of Articles 2 and 3. It wasn’t easy for republicans to swallow the bitter pill of resiling from Articles 2 and 3. Neither was it easyfor republicans to give recognition to a 6-county state, a six county political parliament if you like, and that’s only two aspects. So republicans have come a long journey in a short time and they were successful, by and large, in that journey because they went to their grass roots and they took them with them and they educated them politically on the wayforward and the grass roots accepted it by and large, apart from those who one might term dissenters, and we were all dissenters at one stage. And so I say to Dermot – and I’m saying this as honestly and openly and sincerely as I can – Sinn Fein cannot deliver on decommissioning. Sinn Fein should not be asked to deliver on that which they are unable to deliver…
“Sinn Fein entered this Agreement and have pursued it honestly and sincerely for the last year, attempting to find a political accommodation amongst all of us. To erect this barrier, this impediment now at this stage can only be seen as another way of exercising the unionist veto. I’m not saying that that is the case for Dermot, but I’d ask you to consider – as we are attempting to consider the very genuine problems that face unionism – to consider the very genuine problems that confront and face republicanism and nationalism. And surely if we can reach out with some degree of trust….this is a holy place I suppose here in Dalgan – if we can make a leap of political faith and say “let’s go for it, let’s give it a chance, forget our fears”. I mean nothing was ever achieved on this earth by people who were afraid to try. What was it Kennedy said? – “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”. That’s my honest belief at the present time – that we have nothing to fear except fear itself. I believe that there is sufficient goodwill between both our communities in the North of Ireland and between our communities throughout the island of Ireland to make that leap of faith and I would say to Dermot, let’s make that leap of faith. Thank you.”
4. Mgr. Denis Faul (PP, Carrickmore)
“Thank you…. Now I’m a republican too, just like Bertie Ahern and John Bruton. But I’m also an Irish unionist which means I’d like all the people of Ireland to be united in charity, generosity and courage. I’m not particularly interested in territorial unity because I don’t see much of it, all my parishoners in Carrickmore get their diesel and petrol from the south, so there is no economic border there, and politics tends to follow economics. If the Celtic Tiger keeps going I’m sure some of the Belfast people will come down to get some of the money. I would think the Catholic people in Northern Ireland – and I base this on surveys in the Belfast Telegraph – are not particularly worried about the border. Everybody’s worried about their rights. In that survey in the Belfast Telegraph it says: “want border to go” – 30% say “no” and 40% say “we don’t know” (you ask the Irish a difficult question they say “I don’t know” !)
Education: “I think the majority are happy enough because they have a marginal advantage in education, and in health you’ve somewhat more money to spend. Education is the great weapon of liberation and it is the great weapon in Northern Ireland for it has liberated the Catholic community. I think outside our churches and schools we should have a statue of Rab Butler, he was a politician as you may know in Mr. Churchill’s government during the war and in 1944 he passed the Free Education Act and it came into force in Northern Ireland in 1948, and you only have to say 1948, 1968 when the civil rights came – 20 years. It just took three generations of Catholic school children to go through the grammar school and university system then stood up and said “we want equality, we want our rights, we’re as good as you are”.
“John Hume, Austin Currie, Bernadette Devlin…all got their education free and went to university. So education is what liberates people, not violence. I wish we could apply it to the Third World. Things happened. When we looked for human rights, as you know, the Catholics were met with violence. In 1969 they burned down the Falls Road and killed eight eople and a policeman…. So one thing led to another, and violence is a spiralling thing – a spiral of violence creates another spiral of violence. That’s why we have to get rid of it.
Human rights and human rights bodies: “Human rights worries me a great deal because it’s very often a phoney thing. Human rights bodies can do a great deal of good and can do a great deal of damage. Many of the human rights bodies that I know of and many of the people associated with them for example are in favour of abortion. The “fundamental right to life”, as John Kelly just used that expression – if a human rights bodies deny the fundamental right to life, either for the unborn or the elderly, and I’m an old-aged pensioner myself so I’m worried. So I’ve no respect for a lot of these human rights bodies, I’ve no respect for the people who are in them ..because I know that they are in favour of those kinds of things. The fundamental right to life, from the unborn baby to the old person who needs nutrition.. It’s all been passed in the laws of the Republic which to my mind brings the laws of the Republic of Ireland into contempt and the judiciary are in contempt and I’ve never had any respect for the judiciary since. Other people don’t seem to like them at present! So we have a lot of human rights politicians who are involved in the destruction of the lives of the weakest and these rich countries who are controlled by human rights bodies, they interfere radically with the poor nations to engage in birth prevention. It would be a very good point to leave with Brice that at the moment we strongly suspect that the Labour Government in England and Mo Mowlam and so on, are going to bring in abortion into NI through an Order in Council …and it will be brought in and I wonder will the Human Rights Commission take it up and fight it. It’s fundamental, absolutely fundamental. I’ll have no respect for the Human Rights Commission if they’re not prepared to fight abortion.
State terrorism: “Amnesty International would be one of the ones that I would have great respect for because it fights against governments. Most governments control the human rights situation. From the 15th to the 17th of October 1998 the EU Parliamentary Union held a conference in Strasbourg on terrorism. I was at it, as a representative of the Holy See, and it was rather extraordinary, there was nobody there from the Irish Government, nobody there from the British Government. The nations who were there all talked about the rights of governments to fight terrorism. The Spanish had their minister there, the French, the Israelites, the Turks who were noted for torture – they were there in large numbers, all the government officials were there and they all spoke eloquently: “We’re all democracies, we trust each other, there’s no chance of any ill-treatment of prisoners.” The only ones who spoke against it were Kevin McNamara from England and Conor Gearty from Co. Longford. There was no mention of State terrorism which in the 20th century has been the most frequent form of terrorism – you can go back to fascism in Germany and so on.
“To give you an example of the way that works – since 1968 not a single RUC man has served a day in jail for killing persons with plastic bullets, for ill-treating or torturing persons .. where are the rights of all those people? It was all documented – the British government paid out £3 million in damages but the State does not convict its servants when they commit acts against human rights. The same thing for the British Army – about four of them went to jail, they got out after a year or two. And yet I can give you a list of around 150 innocent, unarmed people killed by lead or plastic bullets and I could give you a list of 2000 people who were tortured and ill-treated. So much for human rights and governments, governments just use human rights. Mr. Dickson here has a very difficult task ahead of him.
“They say you can work through the law, well the law is open to everyone like the Ritz Hotel, the richest people get the best lawyers to defend themselves. Lord Patrick Devlin was a distinguished British judge whose father came from Arboe, Co. Tyrone. He owned a pub in Dungannon, went over to England and made a lot of money and sent his two sons to school at Stoneyhurst. One became a Jesuit priest, Fr. Christopher. Patrick lost the faith but nevertheless was a distinguised judge who contributed a good deal to the release of the Guildford 4…. He said that “the law gives you the minimum” – like the Ten Commandments,- they state the minimum, but “to live properly you need the maximum which is the Sermon on the Mount.” In my opinion that is the only solution to the problem of Northern Ireland – the Sermon on the Mount. The law is concerned with the minimum not the maximum. .. So if you can get an impartially-created human rights body, bound to the sacredness of human life from conception to natural death, that would help to stabilise NI….
Removing the threat: “The big problem in Northern Ireland at the moment is that people all feel under threat in different ways and therefore the solution must be based on removing the threat from the people, individual groups within the two sides of the community and between both sides of the community. People want to feel security and to love each other. Catholics feel threatened by the IRA on their own side of the community, by the police and the British army in the middle, by the Loyalists and the extreme Orangemen on the other side. The Protestants – and I prefer to use that word, Protestant, Catholic, because it is religious – I saw that last week when Mr. Trimble went to see the Pope and all the old stuff surfaced again. Protestants feel threatened by the IRA, their own loyalists, and some of them even by the police. The least sign of trouble and everybody gets into the trenches.
“How do we remove the threat? That’s the problem. Can we remove it by a Human Rights Commission? I’m not too sure. We had an Equality Commission established, it was put together by the merger of 3 commissions …. I was at the meeting and the impression I got was that this was a bureaucracy, an unmanageable bureaucracy …. I hope that doesn’t happen to Brice Dickson’s Commission. I noticed there’s no one in it from west of the Bann – nobody from South Armagh, Tyrone, Fermanagh or south Derry, so I don’t know whether we have any human rights in those places!
Loyalist violence: “We want to try to remove this threat from the people and it’s a very real threat. We have the pipe bomb – you know the UFF, they’re really behind all the pipe bombs. That’s going on and that seems to be tolerated. That can’t go on and something will have to be done about it …. One “law” in Northern Ireland that you must remember is this … whenever the Catholics show any signs of advancing in legal, political or civil rights they are assassinated and burned out. It happened in every decade, it happens every time. The idea for example of two SDLP men or two Sinn Fein men going into the Assembly and the executive of the Assembly – that will immediately produce from the fanatics assassination of Catholics and burning down of Catholics until they are second-class citizens. That’s a very very big problem – it seems to be impossible to deal with. It comes up in every generation. A lot of it stems from the second paragraph of the Loyalist ceasefire of October 1994. Gusty Spence read this out – that they will start fighting again if the IRA started fighting again or they would start fighting again if there was a danger to the Union – Catholics getting into important positions to these lunatics, and they are lunatics these people on the fringe of loyalism…. and they have the guns and they have the bombs … They think any advance by Catholics – Bertie Ahern appears half a dozen times in Belfast in one week and they think “my God, Dublin is taking over” and out they go and they feel justified for this and they can even give phoney religious reasons for doing it! That all has to be tackled and that’s the responsibility of the British Government. It’s built into the core of certain sections of the people and until that is removed Catholics will feel the threat.
“Both sides feel the threat but how do you remove the threat? It takes patience to do it – patience and the spirit of seeing that things are done right. That is essential for democracy. The richer people can look after themselves but the poor people will be bullied at the point of a gun….
IRA intimidation: “I’ll give you an example from the other side. About 4 weeks ago a young man in South Armagh – only 25 miles from here – he was an excellent footballer, heading for the Armagh team, an excellent electrician, 25 or 26 years of age. He had a row with another family who happened to be what they call “republicans”, IRA with a gruesome reputation, some of them. He had a fist fight with him at a wedding and a fist fight with another brother at a football match, young people tend to do that. 8 or 9 men came into his house and broke his two legs and arm – he’ll never play any more football, they broke his arm in several places. His parents were terrified, wouldn’t tell the RUC, wouldn’t tell the press, wouldn’t allow anybody to do anything. There is an intimidation of the Catholic community in Northern Ireland because the IRA still have their guns. That’s why you’ve punishment beatings …and 400 inadequate poor people have been expelled from Northern Ireland…. A lot of them are people who have just criticised the IRA or got in a row or got involved in some family feud. That’s the reality. So it’s not just the UFF, it’s the IRA because they have the guns, they know they’ll use them. They beat you up with hurley sticks and bats and break your legs, if you complain to the police they will use the guns. … This thing about the IRA guns are silent, that’s not true. People are under threat and as I said the threat must be removed from all the people in Northern Ireland, from whatever side it comes or whatever particular paramilitary groups have the guns and are prepared to use them. These are poorinadequate people who have nobody to speak for them because everybody is afraid to speak for them… They probably won’t arrive at Mr. Brice Dickson’s doorstep.. they’ve nobody to show them the way….
Human responsibilities: “When you use the term human rights you must use the term “human responsibilities” for every right carries a responsibility. People are too fond of shouting about their rights. A right to this and a right to that – we all have responsibilities to each other. In the modern Ireland – and I note it very much down here – people tend to avoid responsibilities, they tend to avoid making any decisions that might help another person – they hide behind rules, vast numbers of rules, and they say, well, it was against the rules…You need charity, generosity and kindness to get past the rules and deal with these problems…It’s very important.
“The attempt to bring the extremists in from both wings has not worked, they’ll be there as long as they get their own way which is “my way or no way”. They hide behind the rules, they’ll not make the necessary decisions. Thanks be to God there are some merciful, humanitarian exceptions to these rules but we would be worried that government commissions set up so far are there to protect unionism – to protect that sort of privileged part of Northern Ireland, not here to help the poor and the oppressed.
“It’s not easy to be democratic… you must listen to all points of view and all the rights of all persons must be considered. The popular way is show me a grievance and I’ll march in protest…..One wonders how many politicians extinguish the hope of peace because the strife suits them …
“I would love to see the Assembly meet, I would love to see 110 politicians who are taking £30million away from hospitals, schools and the executive taking another £90million away – they’re just after closing the hospital in Dungannon – now you can’t get your baby born they’ve closed all the baby clinics in Co. Tyrone, they say they’ve no money. Throwing money out to this assembly and executive. If they had to go in there and work the way the TD’s do in the south and the way the MP’s do in England and assume their responsibilities to be fair and just to all sides…..
“At the moment I think, we haven’t got a peace process, we’ve got a power process. It’s like a poker game they’re playing their cards, seeing how much power they can get. People are not interested in the letter of the Good Friday Agreement. What they voted for was partnership, co-operation and an end to guns, bombs and murders. Personally, at the referendum I was very tempted to write down, I prefer direct rule – another 10 years of direct rule is what we need in Northern Ireland. Only the removal of threats of being shot, of being beaten up, or expelled, or having your house burned, can bring peace and security to all the people and open up the future of calm and security.
National security certificates: “Can I make one practical suggestion to Brice now that he is here – could he please deal quickly with National Security certificates? I brought this up at the Equality Commission and they said that it’s a matter for the Human Rights Commission, so I hope Brice won’t say that’s a matter for the Equality Commission.
“Take a lad of 16 way back in 1968 – John would understand what I am talking about. He was arrested and brought into the police station and beaten up in the usual way, signed a statement saying he was a member of Fianna Eireann, he may not have been a member of Fianna Eireann. Now he is banned, whether he was convicted or not, he is banned from holding any job under the government, in any branch of the civil service, any government job… He also cannot get compensation, if he’s shot by loyalists he will get no compensation. When Bernadette Devlin was shot by loyalists … she got no compensation because she was convicted of rioting in Derry and served 6 months for it. It’s most unjust…You had the same thing down here but it was removed by a case in the Supreme Court, the Cox case. It was a school-teacher called Cox from Longford … but it happened to a lot of poor people down here too in the early part of the Troubles. School-teachers and others who got mixed up in support for the IRA or whatever, once they lost their job they were banned from all State employment. That’s a terrible thing and it affects thousands of young people in Northern Ireland, both Catholic and Protestant. The same thing would apply for loyalist youngsters who got mixed up, were brought in, probably forced to make false statements, tortured and all that, and then they were banned…. and that’s something that will have to be removed and I would like Brice to do that.
Conclusion: “I’ll conclude by saying I think at the moment that it is the duty of every patriot – and we should all consider ourselves patriots – and every Irish Christian, to work for peace, partnership, cooperation, the building of trust and confidence among the one and a half million people who live in Northern Ireland. To heal the wounds of the victims: 3,500 murdered, 40,000 injured. Now too many substantial groups have turned their faces against understanding other peoples point of view. The only merciful procedure that has taken place really has been the release of prisoners which I supported very much because of what I said at the start. There are no policemen or soldiers in jail, there shouldn’t be any prisoners in jail.
“What we see in Northern Ireland at the moment, I’m afraid, is a rising sectarianism, a “no surrender” attitude, the mailed fist and the unbrotherly face – those who should be neighbours and brothers in peace. It’s all very disappointing – a year gone by. Honestly I don’t think the change will be brought about by laws and rules. Only if the Sermon on the Mount is proclaimed and lived in the spirit of the One who preached it can there be sufficient generosity, kindness and charity necessary for a lasting peace in our community. The final point – in Northern Ireland we are one community, not two communities. Thank you.”
Chair (Ercus Stewart): Thanks to all the speakers – now it’s up to you. I’m going to open the floor for questions
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS (Summaries)
Q1. Arthur O’Connor (Trim). To Dermot Nesbitt re unionist dissidents: “Is there any chance of bringing the rest of your people with you – Jeffrey Donaldson and others?.. There are a lot of dissidents… I see you on TV a lot – you seem to be more liberal, there’s a bit of daylight coming through ….”
Dermot Nesbitt: “Thank you very much for your complimentary comments. All I can say is what I reflect and what I present is the policy of the Ulster Unionist Party in 1999. I abide by it and subscribe to it and the policy is a modern policy. It is a forward thinking policy. There could have been in the past those who viewed us to be bigoted, hard-line sectarian, and in fact dyed-in-the-wool, “not an inch” type mentality. Yes there are dissenting voices within Unionism, yes there are those who state quite clearly even if the IRA decommission all weapons of war they still would not support Sinn Fein in government. That is not the policy of the party. So all I can say is – will they come along with us? I think we have, as John Kelly said, a glorious opportunity. … Those who dissent in Unionism, that will dissipate if we can get a functioning democracy in Northern Ireland that subscribes to the genuine principles and practices of international standards that apply elsewhere. We do want to go forward. I can’t say that more strongly, and in front of you tonight I believe we can go forward.”
Q2.Dublin resident: re discrimination: “I associate myself with the remarks made by the previous speaker about Dermot…. But would he like to comment on the views of the Unionist party regarding the discrimination that took place in Northern Ireland over the past 60 years?…”.
Dermot Nesbitt: “I may be giving a cop-out but I prefer to look forward than to look back, but in saying that there were wrongs on both sides….No community was the sole preserve of right or the sole preserve of wrong. There are statistics that will demonstrate that the Catholic population – and I don’t like using that term, but the unemployment and employment statistics are based on Catholic/Protestant headcounts – even way back in 1971 the proportion of Catholics in work was about 3% less than Catholics seeking work. That 3% difference is still there almost 30 years later. Now I remember very clearly Patrick Shea’s autobiography, “two wrongs don’t make a right”. He was the first head of the Northern Ireland Department of Education who was a Catholic, the first permanent secretary. He wrote that as he participated in the State he felt somewhat alienated by his community – they were his words, not mine. So all I’m saying is – yes there were wrongs but the wrongs were on both sides. I prefer to look forward not backwards and all I can say is that where the unionist government is supposed to have done what it has done, it’s almost 30 years since there was a unionist government. Unionism hasn’t had power to either use it properly or as some might think abuse it. They haven’t had that power for 30 years. …Mgr Faul made a comment which I say in his presence I found most disturbing, genuinely, most disturbing, where he said when Catholics get economic or social advancement they are then assassinated or beaten up. That does not reflect reality – there are 9 socio-economic groups in the employment perspective; 40% of those seeking work today are Catholic, they have 44% representation in professional and administrative grades. I don’t say that in any disparaging way, the Catholic population is extremely well represented in the professions, in academia and in education generally. I just want that to be recognised and let us build for the future and not look to the past.
Q 3 – Could a similar question be put to Brice as to what his view is?
Q4. Frank Duff (Dublin solicitor) [to Dermot]: “.. I am very familiar with the biography of Patrick Shea. You’re a little selective now in what you quote from the story, there were a lot of down sides to the situation too. We won’t discuss Patrick Shea at length here….He was the son of an RIC man, but it says a lot for the situation that he was the only man who rose to that rank in the Northern Ireland civil service…if you want to quote from the book there would be a lot of other things you could quote which would not be very complementary to the unionist tradition…. You picked one thing to suit yourself….”
Chair (Ercus Stewart): I’m going to let Professor Dickson and Mgr Faul in here.
Brice Dickson: “There was clearly discrimination throughout the unionist period, but I think that David Trimble himself has admitted recently there were mistakes made during this period. … I think the consensus amongst academics, Protestants and Catholics, is that there was discrimination during that period. But I couldn’t agree more with Dermot – the need now is to look to the future and not to the past and put in place proper safeguards and mechanisms to ensure that no one in Northern Ireland can abuse any one else’s rights.
Mgr Faul: “There was serious discrimination in employment in Northern Ireland and there still is…. Of the eight or nine chief secretaries in the civil service at the moment only two are Catholics….Most of the Catholics who are high up in the professions got there because of their Catholic education, the Christian brothers and the nuns and priests….Good cheap education…Look at the inspectors in Northern Ireland schools – I met many of them, very few were Catholics … The thing is it’s getting better undoubtedly but it’s slow enough and then in the semi-state bodies, the rate of Catholic employment is not up to scratch. Mr. Cooper says there is 2.5 times more unemployment among Catholics than Protestants. The wholesale business in Northern Ireland is entirely in the hands of Protestants – except for drink which is naturally run by Catholics, unfortunately. Even the banks interfere very substantially…… it’s a very unfortunate business. Things have improved simply because the Catholics have money, they got the education now they have money, now the business people want to keep in with them, it’s as simple as that….
“Just could I say on the point I made about Catholics being assassinated and burned out, that is the lunatic fringe but you can see it happening. 1969 was a classic example – the Catholics looked for civil rights and the population was attacked and burned out on the Falls Road and in Dungannon and other places …. I said it to Patrick Mayhew – it seems to pass without much action on the police side,,, they have improved substantially since 1986, that is true. …We Catholics also have our suspicions maybe unfounded, that there is a conspiracy against us from Orange men and free masons to keep the Catholics down in Northern Ireland.
Q5. Cathal Courtney (School of Ecumenics student). “We [in the Republic] very often have a tendency to look at Northern Ireland and see all the abuses there. .. I’d recognise quite a great deal of disrespect for children’s rights in this state. Some of the areas where I teach I doubt very much that those children will ever receive a third level education and I think when we’re looking at the situation in Northern Ireland as people living in the Republic, we have to particularly examine our situation here. I take the point the speakers have made already about looking to the future.
“But the situation that strikes me as being particularly important at the moment is the situation in Portadown where there is what I perceive as 2 very legitimate rights – people’s right to assert their culture and heritage is in conflict with another group’s right to live in peace. I’d like to ask John Kelly in particular would he have any recommendations for the situation in Portadown – how can both rights be accommodated and respected at the same time?
Q6.Tom Hodgins (Drogheda Ecumenical Peace Group): (I) for Dermot Nesbitt: “….There have been linkages between the democratic wing and the armed wing on all sides in their formative years, on both sides of the divide. I just wonder is the Unionist party not prepared to accept the republican promise to make obsolete the use of force?
(ii)for Brice Dickson – “If there’s only one full-time person being appointed to the Human Rights Commission, how seriously are human rights going to be taken?
Q7. Mary Humphreys (Dublin): re decommissioning: “I’d like to thank all the speakers for their excellent presentations, in particular Dermot Nesbitt for coming. My point is to do with the decommissioning of arms… I think both groups, unionists and nationalists, have come a long way, they’ve made a great effort, the Agreement is in place. I think the people of Ireland will find it very difficult to forgive the politicians if the Agreement is not pushed forward…. The decommissioning of arms is something that has arisen at this point – there are two years for decommissioning to be dealt with… I think the important thing is the guns are silent. Surely it is within the ingenuity of the politicians to find some way out of this impasse?… There is an impasse. There’s good will, it’s quite evident that Dermot Nesbitt and John Kelly are both men of good will. We hear Seamus Mallon speaking about it, John Hume, we hear men of good will trying to find a way out. It has to be found, the people of Ireland will not forgive this generation of poltiticians if a way is not found around this.”
Q8. David Thompson [chairman of Portadown branch UUP] “I listened with interest to your speakers tonight … Fr. Faul, there were some things which you said which I find difficult to agree with. But that I think is a matter of detail and as you properly pointed out we’re not going to make a future by rules. I would agree with you totally that we need to find a way of removing the threat and there is a threat. I can assure you, having being born in Portadown and having been baptised in the Church of the Ascension in Drumcree, I’m well aware of the fact that it’s not people with my economic success that suffer in Portadown. It is actually the weakest in our community and that doesn’t matter whether it’s the nationalist or loyalist community .. it is actually the vulnerable, the insecure who are actually being damaged.
“I want to address a point that was made earlier on. In 1972 I wasn’t old enought to vote for Stormont because you had to be 21 and it was gone before I had the opportunity. I don’t know about the rights and wrongs of the Unionist government before that, I can’t do anything about that. Equally, nobody’s asked my opinion since 1972 because I’ve been ruled by the government of England … and I’ve had very little voice in my own community in Portadown. As Fr. Faul said, when violence or the threat of violence occurs, what do people do? They don’t hold out the hand of friendship, in fact if you do that you’re likely to get shot by both sides. So the problem is violence or the threat of violence. If you look at Ireland, Ireland doesn’t seem to me to be a success, north or south. When I look at privilege being exercised and misused in your State, and when I look at privilege being used and misused in the past and the present in my own state in the UK, and that doesn’t mean just Northern Ireland, then clearly there is a problem with privilege… and I agree with Fr Faul that there is probably a failing in Christian duties somewhere which allows us to justify some of these things….
Opportunities: “I listened to John Kelly and I heard him say that he was hesitant to use the term “crossroads”. I remember Terence O’ Neill. In fact, because I wasn’t successful in education, I went to a technical school and it was integrated and I remember debates in the late 60’s with my classmates about civil rights … and it didn’t seem to be such a bad thing and I could understand a lot of what Terence O’ Neill was talking about, and yet it didn’t happen. Maybe it was a crossroads then and an opportunity lost too. Because maybe as unionism was starting to change and become weak, nationalism was starting to become strong. And somehow or another we lost the opportunity because we were both moving but in different ways. John, I would say to you at the moment we are going to succeed, because we are not on a crossroads, we are on a motorway, the problem is that it is being built and there are detours and there are slip roads if people wish to leave, but you can’t turn back on a motorway. I don’t know how we’re going to solve this problem.
Addressing each other’s constituency: “One of the things Fr. Faul said was we have not yet addressed the problem of addressing each other’s constituency – that’s not quite how he put it, but that is true. On the 30th of June last year I said to Daire O’Hagan (SF Assembly Member for Upper Bann) “our problem is that you have to persuade our constituency that the war is really over and we have to persuade your constituency that we are really interested in an accommodating, inclusive, equitable, peaceful future.” We cannot persuade our electorate that the war is over and you cannot persuade your electorate of our interest in a totally inclusive, accommodating, peaceful community. That’s where we’ve failed, we haven’t achieved that and I don’t know how we will. And I say to you in all sincerity, John, sitting as I am with a branch that supports David Trimble, with a branch that voted “yes” in Portadown, with members in it who voted “no” but are still included in that branch, in an Orange hall that is clearly associated with the protest at Drumcree, a branch that stood in that situation supporting the party policy as Dermot has outlined. I will not be able to take that branch with me and with David Trimble if he tries to move without decommissioning starting and that is unfortunately what I find throughout the unionist community. We just can’t do it. I’ve heard the word surrender used, I’m not interested in surrender, the only thing I want to surrender is the past. If I can offer you some suggestion, if you are or can or somebody can persuade those associated with all terrorist groups, I don’t just mean the republicans, to start to get rid of the armaments by however they could I would consider it as an investment in the future but I don’t know how we’re going to achieve it. We have to persuade everybody…..
Answers to questions 5-8:
CHAIR (Ercus Stewart): “I think, David, judging by the audience’s reaction you may regret you spoke because you’ll be up here the next time! Now the responses are in this order, John Kelly will respond first, then Dermot, then Brice, then Mgr. Faul and then I’ll take more questions.
John Kelly: re Garvaghy Road: “It’s almost surreal now… looking from above at this confrontation between Orangeism and nationalism over a stretch of road, we’d almost wonder what kind of people occupy that part of the island, but unfortunately that’s the way it is. It’s about consent basically, it’s very simple. If the Orangemen in Portadown would talk to the nationalists in Garvaghy Road and sit down and talk to them about both rights. From a nationalist perspective Orangeism and Orange marches are territorial – they’re saying to nationalists that “we do not require your consent because you have no territory, this is our territory” wherever it might be in Northern Ireland, that’s the difficulty and that’s how Nationalists perceive it. And that’s the way it has been…. It’s difficult to understand why we can’t accommodate one another in such an almost simple exercise of one tradition vying with another tradition or attempting to accommodate another tradition and I think it is by dialogue, it is by people on the Garvaghy Road, from whatever form of nationalism they come, they sit down and they talk and they attempt to gain consent or consensus, I think that is the only way forward. If it’s done in a triumphalist way as it seems to be from the nationalist perspective then you’re going to have this confrontation….. Can I just say to the last speaker [David Thompson] that I very much appreciate what he said…. The unfortunate thing is that you cannot bring your branch with you if the IRA doesn’t decommission and Gerry Adams can’t bring his branch with him if the IRA do decommission. So how do we resolve that dilemma? It is a dilemma for Trimble and for Adams, but resolved it has to be. Thank you.
Dermot Nesbitt: [reply to Q6(i)“democracy working hand in hand with the swordat an earlier time”] -“that is correct – no country in the world was formed by peaceful means, they were all formed by the movements of people, by warfare, by breaking treaties, that’s the history of civilisation. So it’s not new. You only have to look at the history of the United States… whenever an American says to me “Go home, leave Ireland to the Irish” and I say to him are you going to go home and leave America to the American-Indian? All modern countries are formed by the movements of people, so our history is littered with warfare. I think it’s true from an historical point of view that more Irish have been killed by the Irish than the English have every killed. What we’re saying now is that there are certain norms and maxims laid down by the UN in 1948 and all other principles fall from that….. The EU says to those 9 countries who want to join – “stabilise your borders where there is dissent”.
Decommissioning: “Now that leads to this aspect – because the Belfast Agreement has got those essential ingredients….. – the question do we as a Unionist commjunity accept the promise? I was very conscious of the clap that the lady received when she said that “politicians will not be forgiven” – that is correct, they will not be forgiven if they do not get it right. But I don’t see it as an equal position. David Thompson and John [Kelly] said exactly the same. Gerry can’t move if there’s decommissioning, David can’t move if there isn’t decommissioning. There’s an impasse. The lady said it’s just now it has arisen. It hasn’t just arisen now. Two years ago unionism said “there must be decommissioning before there are talks”. The republican movement said “let’s see what the settlement is before we consider decommissioning” – in other words, decommissioning after the Agreement. Senator Mitchell and the international arms decommissioning body came up with a compromise position – decommissioning during the talks. Well, we didn’t have it before the talks, we didn’t have it during the talks, it’s over a year since the completion of the talks and we still haven’t had a commencement to that process. Sean Farren in the SDLP has written quite eloquently about this as a nationalist. …
“The unionist community has moved beyond the norms of democracy… Yes there were many things wrong in history, I don’t deny that, but I say we’ve moved byond those norms. We’ve accepted a conditional position on our border, we’ve accepted an automatic right to government – I don’t believe that’s anywhere else – we’ve even accepted the aspects of inbuilt cross-border co-operation. It’s not found anywhere else, we’ve moved to the norm and beyond the norm and we agreed to implement that. Sinn Fein – yes it has moved a lot, yes it has recognised Stormont when it said it wouldn’t, yes it had to change it’s constitution and yes it is sitting in a building it doesn’t want to be in. But it still hasn’t moved up to the norm of democracy … and we’re not looking for surrender, we’re not looking for humiliation, I’ve said it on RTE – we’re just looking for an outward sign of that inward commitment that is there for peace. … Even then it’s not unionism wishing to exclude republicanism. The gentleman rightly questioned me at the start – there are some dissenting unionists who wouldn’t want republicans in government, but that’s not our position. It’s a question of what are the principles of democracy. What we’re asking is for Sinn Fein and it’s linked armed organisation to subscribe to the principles of democracy that operate elsewhere and to begin that process, we’re not asking for its completion until that time. I believe that’s a genuine request.
Dermot Nesbitt [Reply to Q7] “Finally, yes politicians will not be forgiven. There must be a way out. … If the two people have a difficulty – Gerry Adams and David Trimble – it has been suggested that if they both have difficulties they both can jump together, or both blink together. In other words can a way of sequencing or a way of finding a procedure be found ? Because if Sinn Fein sees, as we see, that there has to be some form of decommissioning, and there has to be an inclusive form of government, .. then there is a way of getting to that, the Hillsborough declaration before Easter gave us a possible way of doing it… It wasn’t us who said no, it wasn’t even the SDLP that said no, it was your prime minister and my prime minister that advocated it as a way through the impasse, but it was Sinn Fein who said no. The Belfast Telegraph said in an editorial about 10 days ago – and I say this straight to John – it asked why will the arms not be given up? It can only be for two reasons: 1) The IRA wish to use them again or, 2) they wish to use them as a means of trying to influence the outcome of certain situations. So yes we’ll not be forgiven, yes unionism I believe is there willing to do it and John say let’s jump together because I believe we will jump together.
Brice Dickson: [reply to Q 6(ii)re Human Rights Commission] “It’s true I’m the only full-time member, and there are 9 other people who travel to the Commission one day a week. We will of course be appointing full-time staff, we will probably have within a few months 15 full-time staff and that will go all the way towards meeting any problems we might have.
“Could I just take a few minutes to answer some of the other questions directed to me by the speakers. Dermot is quite right in saying that international human rights standards require those who are claiming human rights to themselves give human rights, that is quite clearly laid down in Article 17 of the European Convention. Unfortunately human rights are not absolute and I think they do have to be accommodated – my right to free speech has to be accommodated … even the right to life sometimes has to be accommodated. We decide to allow the speed limit on the roads to be 60 or 70 miles an hour knowing that there is a statistical certainty that people will be killed as a result. That’s a compromise society makes.
“The Commission will certainly try and do something about the national security certificate position Fr.Faul mentioned, it will also be doing more work on sex discrimination, including discrimination by private organisations such as churches. We will be seeking to celebrate diversity rather than to seed dissension in diversity…. I would take issue with Fr. Faul when he said “we are one community in Northern Ireland” – I think we are lots of communities in NI. There are people who want to be Irish, who want to be British, people who want to be both, people from ethnic minorities who don’t identify with either country in particular, there are people who don’t think they’re a political identity at all who just want to get on with their own lives and be good citizens. The Human Rights Commission want to work with all those different sectors.”
Chair (Ercus Stewart): “Fr. Faul has graciously given over his right of reply… Now it’s getting late …The speakers have travelled a long way and a trip along the Boyne is less comfortable going back…. I’ll take the next questions together…”
Q9: John Keaveney (Kilbride teacher) [re decommissioning]: “… I just want to thank the speakers from Sinn Fein and the Unionist Party here – It’s a step in itself to see them debating together here tonight…Sinn Fein favour the word “demilitarisation” and the unionists favour “decommissioning”… The two prime ministers are kind of sitting back and trying to let the two who I think are kind of holding up the process – Sinn Fein and the Official Unionists – sit and sit and get nowhere. … If the IRA could decommission some weapons then maybe the legal weapons could be got out of circulation as a quid pro quo, or maybe the British might withdraw some troops. I know this is very dangerous for the unionists but if it was a way out that the whole military set-up in the North could be reduced – how does Sinn Fein feel about that and how would Dermot respond to that as a way out?
Q 10: Cllr. Phil Cantwell (Independent, Trim UDC): “..In the south we have our own skeletons in the cupboard and the same happened in the North. I think it was a bit disingenuous of Dermot Nesbitt to say that there were problems on both sides, there was a little bit more on one side than on the other, and there was a little bit more murders on one side than on the other…. The threat to the Good Friday Agreement is not decommissioning – it’s politicians who have come up with road-blocks…. People on both sides are afraid of each other, people of the unionist persuasion are afraid of the IRA, people of the nationalist persuasion are afraid of the RUC and the army. It’s a question of trust – and as far as I’m concerned it’s an unreal situation in Northern Ireland and you must put the idea of decommissioning to one side. I would say to Dermot Nesbitt – please you’ve come a long way, you should go the extra mile. Forget the decommissioning, make the Agreement work and in due course the decommissioning will take care of itself….
Q11: Ray Kelly (Dublin): [Q. to Dermot] . “By the time this Meath Group meets again, the Scottish elections will be over – in the event that the Scots begin to march out of the Union where will the unionists of the six counties march to?”
Q12: James McGeever (Kingscourt, Cavan): [Q to Dermot Nesbitt]: “You’re more or less refusing to admit that there has been discrimination in the north. If you admit there’s discrimination and if you admit it publicly, that’s a confidence- building step towards the resolution of the problem in Drumcree. The Drumcree problem is essentially a struggle against inequality, injustice and bias in employment. That’s what the Garvaghy Road Residents’ Coalition claim is the basis of their struggle. If the unionist party were to admit that there has been discrimination and if Mr. Kelly were to admit that all the children of the nation are to be cherished equally – which means that he has to cherish Mr. Gracey the Protestant Orangeman [tape ends] ..I urge that Trimble and Sinn Fein would work for a resolution to the problems at Drumcree”
Q13: John Clancy (Meath Peace Group). [to John Kelly]: “…The Agreement was affirmed by the majority on the island – part of the deal was decommissioning – why don’t the IRA acknowledge the wish of everybody on this island to move forward? You have another year left for decommissioning, or the IRA does, why do they not they start it now? We all on this island voted democratically. Or are you laying down another foundation for another generation to disregard the democratically elected government, the democratic wishes of the people of this island?
Q 14: Arthur O’Connor (Trim) [to Dermot Nesbitt]: “Is it or is it not Sunningdale Mark 2 and what exactly does the “Irish dimension” mean? Is it two delegates coming in to Dail Eireann and vice versa, two from Dail Eireann coming in to the House of Commons? … The difference between the current negotiations …is miles ahead of 1921, because there was a truce in 1921 in July and there were Irish delegations going back and over and Lloyd George was always one-sided …and he said there would be an immediate and terrible war unless they accepted. The current situation, bad as it is, at least everybody’s talking…..
CHAIR (Ercus Stewart): “Thank you … Oddly enough there were no questions to Fr. Faul or to Professor Dickson but I’m going to give Fr. Faul the right to reply and remember the tea’s getting cold!”
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS 9-14:
Mgr. Denis Faul: “As you know peace is based on good will … we’ve got to have good will in Northern Ireland – that means the removal of the threats, and that eventually means the removal of all guns, bombs and explosives. The Catholic communuity after Omagh and the murder of Rosemary Nelson are most anxious to have all guns or bombs removed. The same goes for the lunatic fringe of the Protestants who are attacking Catholic communities at the moment because there are Catholics in the Assembly and maybe in the executive .. then there is a temptation to hold onto arms. However there are three problems we were discussing tonight – Drumcree, decommissioning etc. I think the British have sold us a pup – they always do… The Assembly itself has nothing to do with security. The defence of the people has nothing to do with the Assembly. The British are responsible for my security and Mr. Nesbitt’s and Mr. Kelly’s security. The British government, are in control of the police, the judiciary and the army.… When I see Mr. Blair coming over and landing in Ireland with a big smile on his face I say “beware of the smiling Englishman”. They’re laughing at us you know. ….We should get a proper and impartial police force, regulate the army and negotiate all this stuff about arms. I think really we’re dealing with something of a false problem. I know Mr.Nesbitt and Mr. Trimble have a problem with the fears, this is again coming back to the fears of the Protestant people and the fears of the Catholic people, how do we remove the threats? …There are continued attacks by the loyalist people on the Catholics, that is the responsibility of the British government. The whole problem should be pushed back to Mr.Blair and the Assembly should get on with its work….Either that, or if Mr.Adams were to do a De Valera in the Assembly and bring the 90% of republicans with him – I don’t think the remaining 10% would get much sympathy, they wouldn’t get safe houses after what happened in Omagh …
Re Drumcree: It’s terrible to see the town torn asunder, the Catholics are being locked into Garvaghy Road, they’re being squeezed out like tooth-paste. They’re burning down shops and they’re burning down the Catholic houses and they’re forcing down the markets. It’s a tragedy and I think it should be solved by a compromise. The compromise in 1995 was very desirable – it allowed about 300 Orangemen, that’s the content of the Church, and remember it is a church parade in memory of the battle of the Somme, now that’s something serious for Unionists, it’s important… I would like to see the Catholic community, all in good-will, allow 300 Orangemen go down the road at 1pm, after the Catholics have gone to Mass. I put this to the Garvaghy Road residents and they said “oh we’ll be out praying in the grave-yard when the parade is on” …. Let them come down the road peacefully. I don’t like this stuff – “no Orange feet on Garvaghy Road”…
“The dispute is always tied up with all the other inequalities in Portadown … they are things that should be solved separately by the Assembly. There should be a compromise there, it’s the same with the decommissioning issue. No one will lose by a gesture, especially if it will save lives and cause goodwill. …There are all sorts of hidden agendas in Northern Ireland as some speakers have remarked – political ambitions and arms deals instead of peace deals. I think it’s essential … that Mr. Trimble or some of the Portadown people speak to the Garvaghy Road residents, after all they are residents of Portadown and therefore they should have dialogue. Thank you.
John Kelly: “I think I will just take the question on decommissioning and demilitarisation and John Clancy’s question on the referendum and perhaps include Dermot’s remarks vis a vis the Good Friday Agreement and decommissioning. Sinn Fein has been at the peace process not for the last two years but since 1985. It’s important to remember that, that the Hume-Adams initiative dates from 1985. John, there’s no way in which SF or the republican movement is laying the foundations for another go at what you call the democratic process by not decommissioning. Sinn Fein – it’s important, without being contentious – Sinn Fein and the republican movement want to see the gun removed from Irish politics forever – finished and done with – so that not another Irishman or Irishwoman would have to suffer, martyrdom or death or whatever. One remembers the hunger strikes, the drip drip drip of death. Denis Faul was there. So no one wants to envisage another generation going through what my generation and the generation before me had to go through.
“As to the referendum – remember John, Sinn Fein accepted the verdict of the people north and south of the border. One very critical issue for the republicans was Articles 2 and 3. It was a very critical issue for republicans to accept and …….the history was written in the very traumatic debates that went on within the republican family to arrive at the position that we are at today. It’s not really about decommissioning. The argument about the Good Friday Agreement as Dermot has said, what should have happened a year ago whenever the first and second ministers were appointed – the executive should have been formed. That’s what the Agreement said. It didn’t say it had to have decommissioning before it could be formed. It said it had to be formed. That’s what the governments agreed, that’s what the lawyers agreed, that’s what everyone agreed. Mitchell agreed, De Chastelain agreed….that that was the procedure in the Good Friday Agreement, that was the way it was structured, and then we had this prolonged, false debate about decommissioning, and nationalism generally, not alone republicanism, began to see it as a tactic as a way of stalling the procedure of the Good Friday Agreement, as a way of denying to nationalists and to republicans an accommodation in a power-sharing government. That has been the perception of decommissioning not alone in the republican community, but in the nationalist community generally. And as I said at the outset, can one just imagine where we would be at today had the Good Friday Agreement been followed in the spirit and the letter, had the executive been allowed to be formed? I guess we wouldn’t be sitting here talking about decommissioning.
John Clancy: “Would there be decommissioning if an executive had been formed?”
John Kelly: “I think so, I also think that unless the structures of government are in place, the scaffolding, the platform of government whereby nationalists and unionists can feel secure in pursuing their political objectives, then no one’s going to feel secure. And I think that to use this argument – this false argument of decommissioning – is to impede the implementation of the Agreement, that’s how nationalism generally sees it. Again I don’t want to say anything that would crush the fragile flower that we have now but that’s the reality as far as nationalists are concerned.
Loyalist violence: “There also is the factor, the increasing factor that inhibits any movement apart from it not being a pre-condition for the formation of the executive, there’s also the continuing attacks on nationalists and republicans either by renegade loyalist groupings or those who are acting in the name of official loyalist paramilitaries and while that continues and while that is ongoing, it makes it increasingly difficult for the IRA to decommission and that’s what I’ll be saying.. Implement the Agreement to its full as it is then I think that decommissioning will take a back place in our discussions.
John Keaveney : “Will there be decommissioning if there’s a quid pro quo on legal arms or british army withdrawal?”
John Kelly: “Sinn Fein believes that there should be total disarmament or demilitarisation, whatever word you want to use. That is the Sinn Fein belief…. If you make decommissioning a pre-condition that doesn’t exist within the Agreement – it’s not in the Agreement that the formation of the executive is predicated on decommissioning. The formation of the executive is free-standing, it’s there in it’s own right. Now that’s agreed by Bertie Ahern, by Blair, by Bill Clinton, even Bob McCartney accepts it.
John Keaveney: “Don’t you see the dilemma? If you don’t show good will, you’re throwing away the flower. Would you decommission as a quid pro quo if legal arms were removed?”
John Kelly: “I’m saying to you that the decommissioning argument is a false argument. I’m saying to you that what we signed up to, what the referenda were about, was about the Good Friday Agreement and the implementation of that Agreement and there was nothing in that agreement to which Sinn Fein acquiesced and signed up to.which stated that predicated decommissioning …The executive was part and parcel of the Good Friday Agreement and should have been in place a year ago and that’s why we’re still arguing today.
Dermot Nesbitt: “I’ve five questions, the first two are related, on the aspect of decommissioning. It’s interesting that John did not say whether or not they would ever decommission. You mentioned the words decommission versus demilitarisation. What decommissioning probably means is the paramilitary weapons – which is what is the actual phrasing in the Belfast Agreement. Demilitarisation as I would understand is, as John has stated Sinn Fein want to see the gun removed from Irish politics forever. Let’s look at the balance of those, because the legal arms as it were – because I’ve seen it written that the IRA view their fight not with Protestants not with unionists but with the British military…. When the British military presence is demilitarised as is the Irish military presence – I came down here tonight, unlike many other times I did not see a soldier, a policeman, a check-point or anything, from when I left home till when I reached here. I drive across the border, there’s no ramps or check-points. There are no armed militia of either the Garda Siochana, the Irish army or the RUC or the British army at the border – the troops have also gone back to barracks and are going back… they haven’t all gone but the process of demilitarisation has commenced on the part of the army aspect.
“Now this aspect of the Belfast Agreement. The way we see it there were very clear obligations – there is a clear chronological link between decommissioning and the release of prisoners and the link is very simple – that the law to permit release of prisoners and the law to permit decommissioning was to be in force by June of 1998, a clear chronological link. By year of June 2000 all qualified prisoners that were not released, the remainder were to be released. By June 2000 all decommissioning that had not taken place was to be completed because it talks about a completion by the year 2000 of decommissioning. The word completion implies that there was a beginning. Now take those two chronological sequences – both to be completed by 2000, law in place by June ‘98 to enable both to commence. Prisoner releases have commenced, in other words the demilitarisation, the return to family and loved ones of those who viewed themselves as political prisoners …. That process has commenced. ….There is only one element of the obligations contained in the Belfast Agreement that has not commenced, and that is decommissioning. Now “out of commission”, “decommission”, “put beyond use” – we are not getting into the semantics. That is the only one element that has not commenced.
“Now where would we be today if the government had been formed? The question was asked but it was not answered. … We got the First Minister, Deputy First Minister formed in June, we got the government process up and running. We had to agree the departments of government. We weren’t sure whether there were going to be six or whether there were going to be ten. You couldn’t form ministers until you knew how many departments you’re going to have. Some wanted six, some wanted seven and some wanted ten. But over that long summer period of two to three months, the prisoners began to be released. I hoped, I wished, I believed, that decommissioning would commence and then government would be formed and north/south bodies. But that obligation wasn’t being fulfilled. That’s how unionism sees it. Not as preconditions, not as pre-requisites, but as an obligation to be fulfilled clearly from a chronological point of view.
“Now the aspect of legal arms – that is an important point, but as someone said a lot of those legal arms are shotguns owned by Catholic and Protestant, unionist and nationalist. The other aspect of legal arms – they are all ballistically tested – they are not illegal, they are legally held – and if any legally held weapon was used to murder it would lead straight to the person legally entitled to hold it, because they’re all ballistically tested before they are licensed. So that’s why we say obligations, all other aspects have moved, especially on this demilitarisation aspect – it’s visual, you see it coming across the border, there is no border.
“The lady said put decommissioning to one side. ..It’s about building trust. I want to believe that the war is over. As I said to you, I yearn for the peace you have, the stability you have, I yearn for that. I want to believe it. What I want to see is that process starting. Now John says – I listened very carefully – that there’s intimidation, shootings going on. But we’re not asking for all weapons today to be handed in – we’re asking for a commencement to a process of credibility, decommissioning – that’s not much and I still say it to Brice – and he didn’t answer me – that international principles and practices say that should happen, not unionism. Because you must operate legally within the law…
Referenda: “Another aspect was about the referendum in the South and the referendum in the North. I believe – I could be wrong – but the IRA did say that part of its legal position, and I look and I know who’s present, Mr. MacStiofain, part of it I believe – and I’m trying to convey my unionist perspective – was that the IRA said we are pursuing what is the constitutional imperative to reunite the island of Ireland, in other words “we are the soldiers of destiny and we’ve a legal right to continue the war because Ireland is to be united”. Now it could be phrased differently. There was a referendum on the 22nd of May where the people of Ireland spoke and therefore the constitutional and moral authority as perceived by the IRA ..in a sense could have gone, so the IRA could even say “we begin this process because the constitutional position is now settled, there is no need for us to continue”. I’m trying to phrase it as a unionist and I mean it, as perceived by the IRA and republicanism perceives it, and I’m genuinely trying to understand and to try and see that there’s reasons why you could begin to do this because the constitutional moral authority that republicans perceive to wage war is now no longer there – the people have spoken.
“As to the third question – if the Scots march out of the Union where will the Unionists go? That’s a good one. .. In international law there is technically no right to secession, no part of a state can secede – right or wrong, Brice?
Brice Dickson: “In principle, correct. “
Dermot Nesbitt: “In principle correct – it’s as near to saying yes as he could. What he means maybe is – in practice correct, but if a government permits you to secede you can secede but you don’t have a right of self-determination yourself within that region to secede. You know Quebec has the right, but it’s a federation, to say we wish to leave the federation.
Ray Kelly: “But Dermot you’re using lawyer speak …”
Dermot Nesbitt: “No I’m not. I’m using reality. The Basque region in Spain wishes to separate but it can’t. In fact the funny thing about it is the Russian Federation could go into Chetsnya … from an international legal point of view the Russians were permitted to go in there, but not to go into Afghanistan because it’s a separate and sovereign nation….”
Ray Kelly: “I asked as a serious question, I’m not being flippant”.
Chair (Ercus Stewart): “I think in fairness. Can I just say, the agenda tonight is the human rights agenda, I’m going to exercise my prerogative now…”
Dermot Nesbitt: “The Human rights agenda – have you or have you not the right to secede? It’s a very important human rights agenda in the context of Northern Ireland and this island of Ireland. The question was whether Scotland has the right to secede. I was giving the background. I know you’re a lawyer but I’m putting it in that context, and the right to secede, it’s a fundamental right whether or not we have it.”
Chairman: “We’ll have another night on that!”
Dermot Nesbitt: “Can I just finish these few points? If the Scots go – well I do believe that they will not go because what we’re having is a new British/Irish Isles of Scotland, Wales, Ireland – north and south – and England. There’s far more Gallic spoken in Wales than there is Irish spoken in Ireland. I want to be Irish, in fact I am Irish in my nationality and British in my citizenship, and you can be both. I believe that operates and opens up a whole new era of co-operation within these British/Irish isles, so that’s my answer. If they do go and Westminister says they can go, then so what?
Discrimination: “Yes there was discrimination but I can assure you there was discrimination on both sides. I would take you to legal cases in the North where Protestants in the North were discriminated against…”
Re question on Sunningdale Mark 2: “… Yes but I think it’s a better one, for many reasons. First of all I do believe this time, compared to ‘74, we have a recognition of the constitutional position of Northern Ireland because for one of the first times the status is defined., of what Northern Ireland is. Your referendum accepts that the status of Northern Ireland remains as part of the UK until it’s changed by peaceful means. Secondly I believe that the new North-South co-operation is founded more on the basis of mutual benefit to each other, and thirdly, unionism …fundamentally has learned and wishes to see genuine participation within Northern Ireland between unionists, nationalists and republicans. So I believe we’ve all learned from Sunningdale, we’ve all learned from the past and therefore we’ve all given and we’re all trying to take and therefore I believe this is a better opportunity….
“Final point – the Conservatives used to tell us unionists “oh you must have devolution because it’s good for you, it’s good for you to stay in the Union”, and then they’d turn and say to the Scots “oh you don’t want devolution because that will lead to the break up the Union” that’s what the Tories said. To us devolution seemed to be making us different from the rest of the UK whereas now I see it in quite the reverse. It’s a mechanism whereby all of us in the British/Irish isles can flourish, have separate identities and co-operate and live in the latter part of the 20th century and the new part of the 21st century when practically all borders are more diminished. When I say all I don’t just mean North/South, I also mean East/West.
CHAIR (Ercus Stewart): “One last contribution from Chief Commissioner Dickson and then I’m going to close”.
Brice Dickson: “I think the agenda has moved on somewhat from what the topic was meant to be tonight. I’m perhaps more glad than ever that we don’t have politically active people on our Commission because otherwise our meetings would never end! … The Good Friday Agreement already commits the parties to go beyond international law because there isn’t anything in international law giving minorities the right to participate in government – in governing a divided society. The D’Hondt mechanism in the North gives that right to a minority in the North, that is innovatory. That is already going beyond international law and the Human Rights Commission may well have to devise other mechanisms for going beyond international law when it is devising principles of mutual respect for the identity and ethos of both communities and for parity of esteem, that’s one of our obligations……
Dermot Nesbitt: “May I just ask you is that a signal that unionism has been more accommodating by having an inclusive form of Government?”
Brice Dickson: “Yes I think it is.“
David Thompson (UUP member):[re Portadown]. “.Can I just say something? ..Portadown has two minorities in it … There’s the nationalist majority which is very much focused in one part. There’s also a unionist working-class minority … which is actually spotted in a number of estates and which to some extent is surrounded by the better-off unionists and they are sometimes forgotten. …Unfortunately the conflict in Portadown is between two sections of two parts of the community in Portadown, the Garvaghy Road residents and the Orange Order, and I’m not a member of either. During the summer I was David Trimble’s envoy to the Garvaghy Road residents and I’m also the chairman of a cross-community inter-relations body in town, the secretary of which is actually a Jesuit who lives on the Garvaghy Road.
“Before I came out today I had a long conversation with Orla Maloney, one of the negotiators on the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition. [Editor’snote: – Orla Maloney addressed the Meath Peace Group public talk on Parading Disputes held in October 1998]. Tomorrow we’ll be bringing together a cross-community group in Portadown to try and start building and healing and doing a little of what’s called dialogue, actually listening, because that group has almost been decimated as a result of the summer. At some stage later this week I will speak to Brendan McKenna. Brendan and I would speak to each other probably once every two or three months. It’s not a part of any process but it’s an opportunity to exchange views… There are positive efforts being made in Portadown. One of the problems we have is we have virtually no space where we can listen to one another, there’s no safe space for listening – not talking – we’re very good at talking at each other but we don’t often listen. There are positive things going on and listening to Orla, talking to Brendan and listening to other people like Harold Gracey… It’s a very complex problem. Portadown is my town. I would say to you there are people trying to resolve it. It’s not just a simple thing. When I was living in Portadown it was integrated, by the time I came back from university in the mid-70’s it had become segregated.
Chair (Ercus Stewart): “Thank you for that last contribution. I want to thank the organisers tonight and I want to thank you the audience for your patience, but most importantly I want to thank the four speakers here, you must realise that they have a long distance to travel … I saw no chauffeur-driven stretch limousines outside so they have a long journey and I’m grateful to all four of them.
On behalf of the Meath Peace Group Julitta Clancy thanked the speakers for giving so generously of their time. Special thanks were due to the Guest Chairman, Ercus Stewart who had kindly stepped in, replacing Michael McDowell, S.C.who was called away on urgent business. She thanked the audience for their attention and patience and acknowledged that some of the audience had also come long distances. As always she thanked the Columban Fathers for the use of the facilities at Dalgan Park.
APPENDIX: NORTHERN IRELAND HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission will work vigorously and independently to ensure that the human rights of everyone in Northern Ireland are fully and firmly protected in law, policy and practise. To that end the Commission will measure law, policy and practice in Northern Ireland against internationally accepted rules and principles for the protection of human rights and will exercise to the full functions conferred upon it to ensure that those rules and principles are promoted, adopted and applied throughout Northern Ireland.
In carrying out its functions the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission will be independent, fair, open and accessible, while maintaining the confidentiality of information conveyed to it in private. It will perform its functions in a manner which is efficient, informative and in the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland.
1. To keep under review the adequacy and effectiveness of law and practice relating to the protection of human rights
2. To advise the Secretary of State and the Executive Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly of measures which ought to be taken to protect human rights.
3. To advise the Assembly whether a Bill is compatible with rights.
4. To advise the Secretary of State on the scope for defining, in Westminister legislation, rights supplementary to those in the European Convention on Human Rights (such legislation, when conjoined with the European Convention, to be called a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland).
5. To promote understanding and awareness of the importance of human rights in Northern Ireland by, for example, undertaking or commissioning research and educational activities.
6. To do all it can to ensure the establishment of a Joint Committee with the proposed Human Rights Commission in the Republic of Ireland.
7. To make recommendations to the Secretary of State within two years on how the Commission’s effectiveness could be improved.
1. To assist individuals who apply to it for help with proceedings which involve the protection of human rights.
2. To bring proceedings itself which involve the protection of human rights.
3. To conduct such investigations as it considers necessary or expedient for the purpose of exercising its other functions.
To publish its advice and the outcome of its research and investigations.
Meath Peace Group Report: June 1999. © Meath Peace Group
Transcribed by Sarah Clancy from video tapes recorded by Anne Nolan. Edited by Julitta Clancy. The Meath Peace Group is a voluntary group founded in April 1993. 33 public talks have been held to date. The Meath Peace Group gratefully acknowledges the assistance given by the Community Bridges Programme of the International Fund for Ireland.
Meath Peace Group committee 1999: Julitta and John Clancy, Parsonstown, Batterstown, Co. Meath; Anne Nolan, Gernonstown, Slane, Co. Meath; Pauline Ryan, 112 Woodlands, Navan, Co. Meath; Philomena Boylan-Stewart, Longwood, Co. Meath; Michael Kane and Paschal Kearney, An Tobar, Ardbraccan
21. “Building Trust in Ireland“
Monday, April 29th, 1996
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan
Hon. Judge Catherine McGuinness (Chairperson, Forum for Peace and Reconciliation)
Brice Dickson (Professor of Law, University of Ulster)
Chaired by John Clancy (Meath Peace Group)
Addresses of speakers
Closing words: Julitta Clancy
Editor’s note: This talk was the first of our talks after the breakdown of the IRA ceasefire in February
“BUILDING TRUST IN IRELAND”
Judge Catherine McGuinness: “Building Trust in Ireland – The Work of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation”
“May I begin by thanking Julitta Clancy and the other members of the Meath Peace Group for your kind invitation to address you this evening. I was delighted to have another opportunity to come again to Meath where so many of you have committed so much time and effort to the advancement of peace and reconciliation on this island. Indeed, it is worth noting that Meath has provided us with three Members of the Forum: the Taoiseach, John Bruton, and the Coordinators for Fianna Fail and the Labour Party, Deputies Noel Dempsey and Brian FitzGerald.
“I was particularly pleased to have the chance to meet some of the young people from the area who have been involved in several peace rallies last month and some of whom have participated in the Northern Studies programme recently. I am very pleased also that Professor Brice Dickson has been able to join us here too. Professor Dickson is a most distinguished academic and we in the Forum were very glad that he was able to prepare a very interesting paper for us which formed part of the recent Forum publication Building Trust which we shall discuss later. As a lawyer myself, I have studied Professor Dickson’s paper with special interest.
Canary Wharf bombing: “The days and weeks immediately after the bombing at Canary Wharf in February produced a strong and heartfelt response from thousands of Irish people, young and old – stronger, perhaps, than many might have foreseen. While the strength of that emotion in the immediate aftermath of Canary Wharf may not be at the same level today, I have no doubt that it continues to be expressed through a quiet, clear determination that violence should have no place in our society again. The people of Northern Ireland have experienced, some for the first time, a year and a half without bombs and bullets, although regrettably a number of other violent incidents have taken place. Many in the South have realised too what peace means, not only for the people of Northern Ireland, but also for the opportunities which now exist for greater contact between both parts of the island, offering a real chance for us and for our children to get to know each other better and to develop a real trust based on tolerance and respect.
Building of trust: “The building of trust has been a central objective and achievement of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation since its inception in October 1994. For those of you who are less familiar with the work of the Forum, let me outline what it set out to do and where, in my view much of its value lies.
FORUM FOR PEACE AND RECONCILIATION
“Unfortunately, because of the breach of the basis on which it was set up, the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation has had to postpone its meetings since 9 February, although the venue continues to be used for private meetings and ongoing research. This deferral of meetings has meant that I have had to frame much of these remarks in the past tense, but I very much hope that we will soon see re-established a basis on which we can bring our work to completion. However, one of the real results of the Forum’s work is daily in evidence: the existence of important relationships which have been constructed across significant divides and the growth of confidence between members who have come to know each other better over the past year and a half.
Structure and work: “It might be useful at this point to recall the structure and work of the Forum from its inception in the wake of the IRA and loyalist ceasefires in 1994.
Building confidence: “The Forum has been about building confidence. That is needed more than ever now in this period leading to talks on 10 June. Confidence building is required at every level. The primary requirement is for the ceasefire to be restored. Anyone who has lived in or even visited Ireland in recent weeks must be struck by the depth of feeling amongst the wider public, North and South – they tasted the liberation of peace for 17 months and they are not going to let it go. There is a real sense of determination to rescue our peace, but also to achieve a lasting political settlement. Both North and South, there is a need to bring this force of public opinion to bear and to continue to include civil society, in all its diversity, in the peace process.
“That is the context in which the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, which I have the honour to chair, was established in October 1994, having been foreshadowed in the Downing Street Declaration of December 1993. It was clear to the Irish Government, whose initiative it was, that once ceasefires were brought about and declared, there was going to be a need for a place where, on a systematic, regular basis, politicians, groups and individuals interested in furthering peace could meet and talk. It comprises twelve delegations and a total of 39 Members. I would like to tell you a little about what it has done so far and how it fits into the wider peace process. There is provision for observers and we are happy to have such from the European Parliament and the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body attending a number of our meetings. We have also had an observer who has articulated the perspective of loyalist prisoners and former prisoners.
“The Forum is serviced by a small, independent full-time Secretariat drawn from the Irish Civil Service but reporting to me. The Forum has met on Fridays in Dublin Castle, in public plenary sessions – we have had 41 plenary sessions – and in private Committee meetings also.
Forum’s terms of reference: “The Forum’s Terms of Reference call for it to consult on and examine ways in which lasting peace, stability and reconciliation can be established by agreement among all the people of Ireland and on the steps required to remove barriers of mistrust. Its purpose is to identify and clarify issues which could most contribute to creating a new era of trust and cooperation on the island. Participation in the Forum is entirely without prejudice to the position on constitutional issues held by any party, a provision specifically included as an encouragement to the unionist parties to accept the invitations extended to them to participate.
“Invitations were sent to the Ulster Unionist Party, the Democratic Unionist Party and the two loyalist parties, but none has so far felt in a position to accept. This is, of course, a major gap in the Forum’s membership and it is the poorer for that absence. The work and approach of the Forum have three main elements, which I would summarise as dialogue, outreach and output.
Dialogue: “Dialogue is at the heart of what the Forum is about. I must confess to being more than a little exasperated when I hear complaints to the effect that the Forum is merely a talking shop. Perhaps if we had more talking shops in Ireland this past 25 years we might have had less killing fields. Moreover, we have paid too much homage for too many years to silence as a means of addressing differences and problems.
“The truth is that at this critical time in the history of Ireland we desperately need to find ways of talking to each other and places where we can do so. The Forum, as, for long, the only place where politicians from North and South could gather collectively on a regular basis, has therefore played an important role as a venue for dialogue.
“The internal dialogue has involved the Forum in probing, ahead of any formal negotiations in other arenas, some of the key issues that have to be dealt with as part of the transition from conflict to political agreement, from the mere cessation of violence to true peace and reconciliation. These internal debates also gave the delegations an opportunity to develop their thinking in the new circumstances presented by the ceasefires, then in operation, often under the challenge, sometimes very strong challenge, of other delegations’ viewpoints. And it must be remembered that at the inaugural meeting of the Forum many of the members were meeting each other, in such a framework of dialogue, for the first time. Initially, there was a considerable nervousness on all sides, but over the months, while differences in political outlook remained and led, at times, to quite sharp exchanges, an atmosphere and a process of dialogue built up.
“In addition to the formal debates and meetings, we sought to ensure that there were plenty of opportunities for what our American cousins call networking. It became quite clear observing what took place over lunches, and cups of coffee, that some of the real business of the Forum was taking place away from the microphones!
Outreach: “The second area of activity of the Forum involves our outreach activity. In the climate of public optimism which had been created by the two ceasefires and with the Forum viewed at the time of its inception as one of their first fruits, it was clear that the body would quickly have to establish its credentials as an inclusive exercise, which related directly and tangibly to people and to issues on the ground, issues such as the economic peace dividend and its distribution, the concerns of victims of violence and the future handling of issues relating to prisoners and former prisoners.
“A series of high profile hearings was set in motion at an early stage to give effect to this approach. In addition, advertisements were widely placed, North and South, calling for public submissions. To date, almost 450 groups and individuals have responded to that call and sent us written submissions. It was decided that, in addition to the hearings, a cross-section of those who had sent in written submissions would be called on to make an oral presentation to the Forum. About 80 groups were involved in these public hearings and presentations.
“At this point, may I record with particular appreciation the presentation of the Meath Peace Group last year. The Group continues to make a very important contribution to the process of reconciliation and has been very creative in finding ways of involving the wider community in this process – a point which we might return to later.
“A particular aim of the outreach process has, of course, been to facilitate some engagement with unionism, given the absence of the larger Unionist parties from the Forum’s membership. While not fully compensating for the latter, some success has certainly been achieved by the process in this regard.
“The public hearings have involved groups such as the Youth Council of Northern Ireland, the CBI (NI), the Ulster Farmers Union and Ulster cooperative body, a number of the Northern Ireland tourism organisations, the Corrymeela Community, the Community Relations Council of Northern Ireland, and a number of groups from the community and voluntary sectors, the membership of all of which are drawn heavily from the unionist community in the broadest sense, as well as a former loyalist prisoner and a young Protestant man who lost his wife in the Shankill fish-shop bombing.
“In addition, the public submissions process drew a good response from many sectors of that community and oral presentations as follow-up to these submissions have been made by groups and individuals such as the Presbyterian Church, the Evangelical Contribution on Northern Ireland (ECONI), a member of the Ulster Unionist Council, who gave, in a personal capacity, a presentation on the unionist view of the way forward; Mr Roy Garland, a Lisburn-based member of the UUP also appearing in a personal capacity, and Mr Glen Barr. Moreover, as I mentioned, the Forum also has had the participation of an observer who, in frequent contributions, has articulated the perspective of Loyalist prisioners and former prisoners and has been in a position to keep his sponsor constituency accurately informed on the Forum’s work. These developments, taken in their totality, and together with the contributions, as members, of the Alliance Party and the late Senator Gordon Wilson, with their understanding of attitudes and thinking within the broader Unionist community, have meant that there has been a worthwhile measure of encounter with non-nationalist perspectives, including those of unionism and loyalism.
“This may also be the place to say that, by reference to the differing views constantly expressed, the Forum’s delegations are very far from constituting a monolithic pan-nationalist front. But it is also important to stress that, in its outreach process, the Forum also gave the opportunity to those in the nationalist community who had lacked a platform on which to give public expression, directly to the politicians, of their concerns, anxieties, grievances and priorities, to do so. Thus, we heard moving testimonies from victims of state and loyalist violence, presentations from representatives of Republican prisoners, spokespersons for local economic development groups, and so on.
Output: “I used the word output to describe our third broad area of activity. This has the primary objective of producing a series of new published material from professionals acknowledged as experts in their field which could act as authoritative points of reference on the subjects covered, firstly to help nourish dialogue within the Forum itself, and, secondly, when political negotiations commence in other arenas. Our hope was that by adding to the store of expert information and research in these important areas, they would represent an important future contribution from the Forum to the overall peace process.
“I advertised to you earlier our most recent publication in that series, Building Trust in Ireland. We have also published a study by KPMG consultants on The Social and Economic Consequences of Peace and Economic Reconstruction. This is a major examination by a group of economic experts, North and South, of the implications of peace in economic and social terms. Further expert studies are all but completed on a longer-term perspective of an island economy in Ireland, and human rights protection, at the level of both the individual and the group. These, we hope, will be published over the coming months.
Paths to a Political Settlement: “I would like to inform you also about the Paper that the Forum released on 2 February last, entitled Paths to a Political Settlement in Ireland: Realities, Principles and Requirements. This Paper is probably the most important political document produced by the Forum and I have brought along some copies for you. Its production was the culmination of an intensive series of debates and exchanges inside the Forum. One of the first issues the Forum looked at following its inception in October 1994 was the concept of a common understanding of the problems we face, and of the principles which might underlie their resolution, as intermediary steps along the path to an overall settlement. Each Forum party presented policy statements on the idea and debated and examined them in detail in the Forum. To explore the extent to which, arising from these statements and debates, common ground existed between the various party positions, a Drafting Committee of the Forum, comprising two senior representatives from each of the 12 Forum delegations, and chaired by myself, was established. The Committee began its work last May and the result of that work is the Paper I mentioned. The Paper sets out a list of (a) key Realities which require to be addressed if a lasting political settlement is to be achieved in Ireland, and (b) the Principles and Requirements which should characterise such a settlement.
“A word firstly about the status of the Paper. While the parties were committed to securing, ideally, a document agreed in every detail, the primary objective was the exploring of positions and options and the gaining of a deeper understanding by the parties of each other’s approaches on the central realities and principles. I always recognised fully that when it came to core issues there was every likelihood that, within the context of the Forum’s consultative remit, establishing a single, common position would be problematic and that every party had the right ultimately to insist that these were more properly matters for decision in formal all-party talks.
“In the event, this eventuality came to pass. While overall there was full agreement in the Committee on the text as it stands in respect of all the Realities and most of the Principles and Requirements, two parties, Sinn Fein and the Green Party, for quite different reasons, were of the view that in respect of one issue – how agreement and consent of the people to the outcome of all-party talks are to be measured – final decisions on its resolution were more properly a matter for formal talks and that they were unable to accept the text as it stands on that issue. On all other issues agreement was reached on a common approach.
“It may be felt that in view of the announcements by the IRA on the end of the ceasefire and subsequently, there is a question-mark over the value or significance of the Sinn Fein endorsement of the great bulk of the document.
“Only time will tell the true story here, but I really believe that the work of the Drafting Committee was a very valuable out-working of the Forum’s mandate to clarify and explore issues at the heart of the problem. Much common ground was established between the parties on crucial issues and a deeper understanding was achieved of the issues in respect of which differences remain. It was a challenging and deeply instructive, educational exercise, whose legacy, I believe, will endure. Those many men and women who have represented Sinn Fein at the Forum are not going to disappear from the scene or lose all influence, and thus the positions to which they agreed remain a very significant benchmark.
“Very briefly, could I highlight some of the main findings of the Paper:
- There was a unanimous, explicit and solemn commitment by all parties to the principle of peaceful, democratic politics as the only means through which any goal can be pursued, including the establishment of a lasting, political settlement. You might consider this as being self-evident but its explicit endorsement all round is very important in the context of a society whose history has been characterised by resort – by all sides at various times – to violence or the threat of violence in the pursuit of political goals. It is a principle, of course, which runs through every other issue and if it were universally accepted it would represent a transformation of our overall situation in Ireland.
- All issues, no matter how central, including even such issues as consent, would then become political issues for resolution inside the political process. Part of the reason why we have so much mutual suspicion and mistrust is that for too long all sides have feared that the other side will seek to impose its viewpoint by force of arms or the threat of arms. That is the value of the key principle of the Paper, which, as I say, was subscribed to by all the Forum parties; my earlier remarks deal with the questions raised by and following Canary Wharf.
- Much of the work of the Drafting Committee centred on seeking to explore what each of the fundamental and related issues of self-determination and consent means in the Irish context. Time prevents me from exploring more fully today our findings in this thorny and complex area. The essential conclusion is that securing definitive agreement on how these principles are to be exercised will be a core task of all-party talks. It was in the are of measuring popular acceptance or endorsement of the agreed outcome of such talks that we ran into difficulty, but our paper contains what I believe is valuable material in terms of what constitutes the different elements of the debate. I would stress again, however, that these issues too are governed by the requirement, accepted by all, to pursue and resolve all objectives by exclusively peaceful, democratic means.
OBSTACLES IN THE SOUTH TO RECONCILIATION:
“Among the topics that the Forum has been looking at is the whole question of Obstacles in the South to Reconciliation. I am personlly strongly of the belief that it is not good enough for a body based in Dublin to devote itself exclusively to critiques of life in the North. It is important that at this watershed time we in the South should also examine how our attitudes, approaches and system of governance measure up to the requirements of diversity and generosity. It is clear that much of the development of our State since its foundation has taken place without reference to Northern Ireland, although I am hopeful that the recent divorce referendum will prove to have been a very crucial milestone on the journey towards the goal of creating greater room for diversity and space for minorities. In any case, it seemed to us that it was timely for the Forum to take a look at this whole area through the prism, as it were, of our new situation.
“The Forum publication Building Trust in Ireland draws together five papers prepared for us by experts on different aspects of the broad topic “Obstacles in the South to Reconciliation”. Among the papers are studies of the histories of minorities in the South since the foundation of the State, and of the role of the Roman Catholic Church in public policy there in the same period, and two very interesting papers by Northern academics, including Professor Brice Dickson who will discuss this theme in more detail later. I would like to commend the quality of the work and I am very hopeful that it will represent a valuable contribution to a better understanding of these issues.
“In the Downing Street Declaration, the Taoiseach made a commitment to:
“Examine with his colleagues any elements in the democratic life and organisation of the Irish State that can be represented to the Irish Government in the course of political dialogue as a real and substantial threat to the unionist way of life and ethos, or that can be represented as not being fully consistent with a modern, democratic, pluralist society.”
“At the outset of the Forum’s programme of work, we had two main objectives: First, to map out a series of debates, based on submissions from a wide range of people, North and South, and secondly, to identify certain core themes which would receive detailed attention from the Forum’s Sub-Committees. Obstacles in the South to Reconciliation was identified as one such theme. All 12 Forum delegations were represented on this Committee and had worked through a first draft of their Report examining aspects of life in the South. Regrettably, this work has been interrupted since the bombing at Canary Wharf on 9 February and the Committee has not met since that date. I hope that it will prove possible to finalise and publish this work.
“The Studies in our book were commissioned by this Committee. The actual Report of the Committee looks at key areas of Irish society – Education, Health, the Irish language, Constitution and other matters.
“During the Forum’s initial debates, several Forum members underlined the importance of changes in the south as a possible contribution to reconciliation. There was a measure of consensus that the general trend in the south towards a more inclusive, pluralist society was beneficial in itself and offered opportunities for reconciliation. Members of the Committee agreed that the Committee’s work should identify prevailing perceptions/misconceptions and identify areas where further change was required, with the overall aim of cultivating pluralism in the south.
“In my view, this work over the past year has had an inherent value in itself, offering a unique opportunity for the representatives of parties ranging from Alliance to Sinn Fein to undertake a cooperative, detailed analysis of our society and the various perceptions of it in Northern Ireland. It is important, both to identify aspects which might be improved, but also to illustrate that many things have changed for the better, and that in many respects a society has developed in the South which is more advanced and tolerant than is sometimes acknowledged. Sometimes, it is more difficult to overcome the perceived obstacles than the real ones. I hope that the Committee’s work to date and the publication of Building Trust will assist this process.
“In conclusion, I wish to thank you again for this opportunity to discuss the work of the Forum. Many of you here this evening are the ones who are finding ways of advancing peace and reconciliation in your day-to-day lives and have given inspiration and motivation to many of us in public life at times of difficulty. Your work, together with my experience as Chairperson of the Forum, strengthens my belief that we can find a lasting solution to the problems on this island and create a better future for us and our children.”
2. Professor Brice Dickson: “ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS ABOUT THE NORTH”
“I am very grateful for the invitation to speak at this meeting tonight. To my shame I have never been in Navan before. The Meath Peace Group is an excellent excuse for coming here; its work has been inspirational on many levels.
“I also wish to pay tribute to Judge McGuinness and to the Forum she heads. The work which has been carried out there has been very worthwhile – dialogue and outreach are surely the keys to long-term peace in the North. Martin Mansergh’s analogy with the Congress of Vienna is particularly apposite, since I believe the chairs used at that Congress are now housed at Mount Stewart in County Down, since Lord Castlereagh, of the Londonderry family, was the British Foreign Secretary at the time. I look forward to the day when the chairs used at the Forum are similarly prized.
Opsahl Commission: “The Forum’s work reminds me of the excellent community consultation exercise conducted by the Opsahl Commission in 1992, whose report, edited brilliantly by Andy Pollak, repays careful scrutiny. I believe only one person, of the 3, 000 or so who made submissions, complained that he had been misrepresented in that report.
“Having handed out the plaudits I now wish to say that I am not optimistic that the Forum itself will lead to a lasting settlement in Northern Ireland.
“This stems from the basic fact that Northern unionists simply do not want anything that smacks of moving one step down the road to Irish unity.
“Even if the South was the most just and most pluralistic society in the world, Northern unionists would still want to maintain a distance. They would say that they could preserve good relations without the need to institutionalise any closer links.
“The uncomfortable truth may be that the Obstacles Committee of the Forum has been asking the wrong question – rather than seeking to discover what the Southern obstacles to reconciliation may be, perhaps it should have been seeking ways in which to give Northern nationalists a clearer voice in the running of the North? The problem is to find some mechanisms in this regard which go further than those created by the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 (to satisfy the nationalists) but which do not incur the wrath of the unionists (who think that the AIA itself is completely unacceptable – they will not even take part in the Anglo-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body).
Irish dimension: “That Irish dimension in the North cannot be provided through changes to the judicial system there (the idea of a Southern judge sitting in the North is repellent to unionists), but it may be provided through harmonisation of the laws on relatively uncontroversial matters (mentioned in the Framework Document of February 1995). An organisation to which I belong, the Irish Association of Law Teachers, hopes to do further work on this topic in the near future. There is also scope for a lot more cooperation in the educational, sporting and cultural sectors.
What are the things most dear to the hearts of Northern unionists from a constitutional point of view?
First, the notion that the majority must rule (called the doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty by constitutional lawyers). In this context nationalists could do well to look at models of voting in some companies – the law in that area permits minorities to be reasonably well protected by a variety of voting techniques.
Second, the idea that people should exercise freedoms, not rights: unionists are suspicious of the notion that the State should be held to account to discontented groups or aggrieved individuals; they believe people should be free to do whatever they want to do provided there is not actually a law against it.
Third, first-past-the-post elections: though unionists have come to live with PR in local and European elections, they still see majority voting as very important for Westminster elections.
Fourth, the monarchy: even though the monarchy is under attack at the moment in Great Britain, Northern unionists still see it as much preferable to a Presidency, even as beneficent a one as you have at the moment here in the South.
But whether or not unionists get to keep these four things, there are some matterswhich ought to be addressed in the North regardless. Certain things are desirable per se there, whether there is political progress or not:
1. An increase in local district council powers – at the moment councils deal mainly with the infamous “Three B’s” – bins, bogs and burials. One could add a fourth – bulbs, for they deal also with street-lighting! Some councils do now share power in the North and the time may therefore be right to return to councils many of their former powers, e.g. over education, housing, health and social services.
2. There is room for a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland – even unionists admit that much provided the rights are not unlimited and not inconsistent with State’s duty to counter the use of violence for political ends. It should guarantee protection to social and economic rights as well as to civil and political rights; it does not need to be “entrenched” (I regard the so-called problem of entrenchment as a red herring) and the European Convention is a useful model to follow in the first instance but not in the longer term.
3. Finally, improvements to the policing system are urgently required. The Police Authority for Northern Ireland recently published the results of its community consultation exercise – although in my view the analysis it contains is weak, the information gleaned can surely form the basis for future reforms. Confidence-building measures are required on the policing and security fronts (especially as regards the right to march), while all the time adhering to international standards.
Right questions: “In conclusion, we need to focus on the right questions when discussing Northern Ireland. We must be realistic and imaginative. If it is necessary to institutionalise differences between communities in order to preserve the peace, so be it. Peoples within borders and across borders can be reconciled in their personal and private lives. The voluntary sector can be as vibrant as it likes. But if public reconciliation is to occur it must be the politicians who undertake the task – we therefore need to educate the politicians in the merits of reconciliation and co-operation, something which the Forum is indeed doing. Politicians are the people, like it or not, who wield power. The rest of us must try to influence them, otherwise we will be accused of whistling in the wind.”
Chair: John Clancy thanked the speakers and opened the question and answer session which ranged over a wide variety of issues, including the breakdown of the IRA ceasefire, the work of the Forum, the role of education, the findings of the Obstacles Committee. [Editor’s note: questions not recorded]
On behalf of the Meath Peace Group, Julitta Clancy thanked the speakers for coming to Navan to share their experiences and views on the subject “Building Trust in Ireland”. She also thanked the young people and their teachers who came to meet Judge McGuinness before the talk. These young people were from schools in Navan, Trim, Ashbourne and Kilcock and other areas who organised and took part in peace rallies etc. in February and March; some of the students had also taken part in a “Northern Studies” programme in St Joseph’s Secondary School, Navan earlier in the year.
This was the 21st talk since September 1993. The aim of the talks is to promote understanding and involve ordinary people in the peace process. “We believe that ordinary people, both North and South, have a major role and responsibility to play in bringing about the conditions for a lasting peace on this island”.
The Meath Peace Group had originally come together in April 1993, she said, with feelings of hopelessness, powerlessness and sheer frustration in the face of the continuing violence at that time. “We did not know what we could do, but we felt we had to do something. A whole generation had grown up in the period of violence and instability, and we felt there must be something we could do to help make sure that the legacies of bitterness and hatred were not passed on to future generations. We quite quickly learned that we knew very little about N. Ireland. Like most people in the South at that time we had lost contact with people in N. Ireland – most of us had never travelled North for over 25 years!
“So we set about trying to find ways to improve our knowledge and understanding and encourage others to do the same, to make friends and develop relationships of trust. We found this was not as difficult as we thought. Everywhere there were people willing to talk to us, to tell us their stories. We soon found out that the extreme images we knew from the media were not a true reflection of the people of Northern Ireland; everywhere we came across so many people of courage and determination, many of whom who had suffered greatly, who down through the long years, had kept alive the hopes of a new and peaceful future and had paved the way for the ceasefires to come about…
“In the last 3 years we have brought a wide variety of speakers to Co. Meath. Some have also visited local secondary schools. We have seen a great willingness on the part of local people to listen and engage in dialogue. We would like to see this continued and carried on in other areas throughout the country. There is a groundswell for peace that cannot be ignored – this was evident in the last few months. Young people particularly are demanding a new way forward. That desire and demand for peace must be built on and the work must go on in all levels and all areas of society. It is a long-term commitment. The politicians and governments must continue to do their part, which is by no means easy. But we also have a role, not only through developing contacts and friendships, through our clubs, associations and community groups, but also through active involvement in promoting understanding, and working to break down the barriers of mistrust and misconception.
“Violence and division have marked this island for generations. Each generation has left unaddressed the legacies of hatred and bitterness, with the terrible consequences that we have seen in the recent period of conflict. The threat of violent conflict is again before us. We owe it to all those who suffered, and to our own young people, to do what we can to address those divisions and differences and help to find a new way forward.
“In no way are we trying to minimise the divisions and differences that are there, nor are we trying to brush over the injustices and genuine grievances that must be addressed. But somehow or other we have to find ways to live together in harmony and justice on this island, to try and “reconcile the irreconcilable”, and the first basis of this must be awareness and acceptance of the equal rights and validity of identity and genuinely held beliefs of the other community. There must be genuine commitment to understanding: We must be prepared to listen, to open our hearts and minds, to be prepared to hear things we may not like, to seek new ways of going forward.
“There is nothing in this that should threaten us. We are not being asked to reject the past, to forget the sufferings and sacrifices of the past; rather, we are being asked to throw aside the domination of the past, to pass on something positive to our young people, to enable them to forge a new future for the peoples of this island, a future where all can feel comfortable, and all can have an opportunity to develop. We are being asked to show true citizenship and maturity – surely we are ready for that, surely the suffering of so many makes it an absolute imperative?
Resumption of IRA violence: “Our last talk was on January 29th. Since then we had the breakdown in the IRA ceasefire. Rallies throughout the county. Youth rallies. The IRA threat cannot be ignored – we have seen the terrible consequences of paramilitary violence – but we cannot be intimidated by it either. Isobel Hyland’s moving exhibition show us the human costs of the violence since 1966. It also shows the futility of violence. The peace process must be built on fair and just principles – violence can play no part in this. So we appeal to all concerned to do what they can to restore the ceasefire and allow the work of peace and justice to progress.
Building Trust. “How can we work to build this trust which is so essential? The Forum has worked very hard since its inception – taking submissions, commissioning papers, identifying areas of grievance and obstacles to reconciliation. Their work is an obvious starting-point for groups who want to get involved. We ourselves have witnessed the great amount of work that has been done in the Forum, both by the politicians, but also by the Forum Secretariat and particularly Judge McGuinness herself, and we hope that its suspension will not be for too long more. We would hope that somehow or other the Forum proposed for N.I. would be similar and would not be destroyed by narrow political motives. Thank you.”
Meath Peace Group report – May 1996. Compiled and edited by Julitta Clancy. Taped by Anne Nolan. (c)Meath Peace Group