No. 38 – “MAKING A DIFFERENCE – THE NEW N.I. EXECUTIVE AND ASSEMBLY”
Monday, 12th June 2000.
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan
Robin Wilson (Director, Democratic Dialogue)
Cllr. Anne Carr (Coordinator, Women Together Moving On)
Jim Lennon (Chairperson, SDLP)
Dermot Nesbitt, MLA (UUP) Junior Minister, Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister)
Chaired by Fergus Finlay
Introduction and welcome: Cllr Brian Fitzgerald (Chair of Meath County Council) and Fergus Finlay
Addresses of speakers
Questions and comments
Closing words: Julitta Clancy
Appendix A: “Making a Difference ….” extracts (Robin Wilson, June 2000)
Appendix B: Biographical notes on speakers
INTRODUCTION AND WELCOME:
Cllr. Brian Fitzgerald, Chairman of Meath County Council: – “It gives me great pleasure to welcome all our distinguished guests here from Northern Ireland this evening, in particular I would like to welcome Dermot, who is the first sitting Minister to attend one of our meetings here…. It is wonderful to see somebody like Dermot give up his time at a very critical time in Northern Ireland to come here and speak to you. Also Robin Wilson, Cllr. Anne Carr and Jim Lennon of the SDLP – you are all very welcome here this evening… Of course I would also have to welcome my old friend and colleague over the years, Fergus Finlay, who has played a tremendous role in a quiet way in trying to foster peace and reconciliation…
“I believe that we have tremendous opportunities in this country for the coming years. We in this county which is extremely close to Northern Ireland – there’s not much land between us – I believe there are tremendous opportunities for us both to work together both from an economic and social and indeed from a tourism point of view, and I sincerely hope that Dermot and his many colleagues in the Executive and on the Assembly will be frequent visitors to County Meath. You will always be very welcome.
“I would like to say one special word of thanks to the Meath Peace Group who down through the years have worked tremendously hard during a period when a lot of people had thrown their hands up to heaven and said “there’s no hope”. The Meath Peace Group kept plugging away, they kept bringing people here to debate, discuss, have a cup of tea; from various walks of life in Northern Ireland, to get a better understanding. They just kept plugging away and at times I often said how do they do it? They achieved something that we could not achieve in the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, they brought members of the Unionist Party here to speak with other colleagues with whom they had very much opposing views. They kept going. The way Dermot gave up his time tonight is an example of the esteem in which you are held. I will finish by saying Dermot, if you could organise a good road-map of Belfast, please supply Fergus Finlay with it – he got lost a few times up there! Enjoy your evening and I wish you all the best, good luck with the Assembly, good luck to all your colleagues up there. Good luck to the Meath Peace Group – please keep up the good work, you have succeeded to date. Thank you very much.”
Chair, Fergus Finlay: “Can I on your behalf thank Brian Fitzgerald who – it’s a most disloyal and treacherous thing for me to say – is still the best Labour man in Meath. I look forward to the day when he’ll be doing what he’s doing in his proper home. He mentioned earlier the necessity for a good road-map of Belfast and I think he was referring to an occasion when he, unknown to a lot of people, managed to strike up a dialogue with the sort of person that I suppose you wouldn’t really want to meet on a dark night, especially if you’re from down here, and he persuaded me on one occasion to go and meet some of them and in fact it was the beginning of a dialogue which contributed, I think, in some small way anyway, to the loyalist cease-fire. But the first time we went up, I drove and we both talked about how well we knew N.I. and how well we knew our way around .. and we had to find a venue quite near the university. We ended up hopelessly lost and I eventually pulled up outside a shop and I looked up … and there was a street sign on the corner which said Shankhill Road. I said to Brian “get out and go in and ask for directions” and he said “I’m not getting out, you go in and get directions!” I was the spin-doctor and he was the elected politician at the time – he pulled rank and made me go into the shop to get directions and to my surprise they couldn’t have been more friendly, they couldn’t have been more hospitable or welcoming and they sent us on our way. In fact they walked to the corner of the street to make sure we didn’t get lost … One of the things I learned to value most about Brian over the years is that he does the work that he does without looking for thanks or reward or without looking for acknowledgement for it, and I think that it’s only appropriate that, in a time when an awful lot of people are mentioned in history books and are mentioned in television documentaries and are mentioned in their own memoirs as having made a major contribution, that I should acknowledge the not insignificant role that a Labour Party backbencher played in a very quiet, but very important way….”
“.. Tonight’s meeting takes place against a background of very considerable hope and of very considerable optimism. There are still problems and there are still difficulties – the issue of policing is still causing difficulties, the issues of flags and emblems are still causing difficulties and of course we’re at the start of the perennial marching season which always has its potential. This time it’s all happening against a background of genuine solid, well-founded progress. It’s an honour I think for the peace group, and certainly I feel honoured, that we have with us tonight a number of people, not least of them Dermot Nesbitt who have made a very significant contribution to where we are now. Our first speaker is Robin Wilson, director of Democratic Dialogue, which is a kind of “think-tank” – a luxury in democratic politics very often, but an extraordinarily important one. Robin Wilson did one of the most difficult things that anyone could possibly do in Northern Ireland over a long number of years: he kept a fair-minded, open magazine going against all the odds and he graduated from that magazine (Fortnight) into someone who has become an important facilitator of dialogue and thought in Northern Ireland. ..
1. Robin Wilson: “Making a Difference – Preparing the Programme for Government”
“Thank you very much Fergus. Thank you too to the Meath Peace Group. and thank you all for coming. I’m very pleased to be here. I’m going to talk about some issues that are raised in a paper we’ve recently published on the Programme for Government called “Making a Difference” ..[Note – extracts from this report are reproduced in Appendix A below]. I will be rather skimming over the surface of a number of issues but basically what I’m going to try and do in ten or fifteen minutes is to look at the background to the Programme for Government, why it’s so important for the Executive Committee and some of the things which I think are going to be important issues to address in terms of preparation of the Programme and some of the positive outcomes that that process can generate. ..
Lack of policy debate: “I am going to start by talking about the problem of the lack of prior debate in Northern Ireland about what the new Executive Committee should do. There has actually been remarkably little discussion in the past number of years of what a devolved administration in Northern Ireland should do. There have been lots of discussions about lots of other issues but what we actually haven’t established has been something which is of obvious concern to the citizens of Northern Ireland and the rest of this island – that has actually been very much under-discussed. Most of .the discussions have been on the institutions that will be established eventually under the Belfast Agreement, and what these institutions would do, and indeed the background of this was the system of direct rule where there really wasn’t any serious policy debate for politicians to get involved with. There really wasn’t much point in getting too much involved in policy issues because obviously the Westminster administration ran things.
“All politicians in Northern Ireland were effectively in opposition. There was no discussion in the media over policy questions and there was very little likelihood that a party that got very interested in policy issues would gain electorally as a result.
Hard choices: “Direct rule was very unfortunate in many respects and one of the ways that it was quite unfortunate was that it led to a failure to address, or lack of experience in addressing, the “hard choices” that people in government have to face from day to day, hard choices which involve for example deciding to spend money on “X” and not spend it on “Y”, rather than saying – as politicians could do under direct rule in Northern Ireland – “please spend it on X and on Y”.
Unifying role of Programme for Government: “The Programme for Government which the parties are required to agree under the Belfast Agreement and the Northern Ireland Act, has a whole number of different roles. One of the roles which I want to focus on first is the potential role it has to unite the Executive Committee. You will be aware that, apart from the First and Deputy First Ministers – David Trimble and Seamus Mallon – the other ten members of the Executive Committee are drawn from four different parties; the Ulster Unionists, the DUP, the SDLP and Sinn Fein. It’s a four-party coalition which is a fairly extraordinary number of parties in coalition in itself. Add to that the fact that these four parties were flung together in what is in effect an involuntary coalition, where they’re simply appointed under the so-called D’Hondt mechanism, rather than coming together because they previously agreed about the programme as would be the case in the coalition for example in the Republic. Given the underlying sectarian tensions … the tendencies towards fragmentation in this Executive are obviously fairly self-evident. I therefore consider it important an Executive does agree a Programme which everyone agrees, from which ministers try and “glue” this rather unusual, in fact completely unprecedented, structure together.
Public understanding and involvement:: “.. One of the other functions it’s important to advert about the Programme for Government is the importance of it generating public understanding of a sense of what the Executive Committee of the Assembly is trying to do. Democratic Dialogue ran some focus-groups across Northern Ireland last year and asked people what they thought about the future of the Executive, and one of the things that people said again and again was how frustrated they were about what they saw as the hassle of the constant polarisation of argument between the fixed positions presented in a very adversarial way one against the other. ..People wanted to see Northern Ireland politicians co-operate more and to address other issues more, and to address ways in which the two communities in Northern Ireland could grow closer together rather than, as has continued to happen in recent years, in many ways further apart. …
Unrealistic expectations: “In fairness to the politicians there’s a danger that citizens in Northern Ireland have unrealistic expectations as to what devolved government can do. In the big wide world these days people are used to having governments that they vote in to office, there’s a fair degree of cynicism about what governments can do. But I must say that on this side of the border there’s a fairly high level of cynicism and there is what one minister in the Northern Ireland Executive described as a culture in Northern Ireland of protest and demand .. and there is a need to have a better understanding amongst the public at large of what government is about so that people’s expectations can be more realistic as to what can actually be permitted. ….
“Joined-up” government: “One of the buzz words used these days in discussion about governments anywhere is “joined-up” government… The reason that people use that language more and more these days is because it’s increasingly evident that departmental structures in government often get in the way of solving problems that people experience on the ground. Most of the problems that ordinary people experience, for example problems with your health or worries about education are actually issues which you can’t simply resolve with the Health Department or the Education Department themselves, they have to be resolved by a cross-departmental effort. With these ten different departments for a population of 1.7 million people, the dangers of things falling into these so-called departmental silos are quite evident.
“Wicked” issues: “This is particularly so for problems that people have come to describe as “wicked” problems, that is to say the most intractable ones. These often are problems which straddle different government departments and there are two which are very obvious in Northern Ireland among many that you could pick. One of them is the problem of sectarian divisions which cuts across all areas of social life and needs to be addressed in a holistic kind of way… Another is horizontal division between haves and have nots, the problem of social exclusion which scars so many, mainly Catholic but also some Protestant, working class ghetto areas… So it’s a big challenge in that sense that the Programme for Government needs to take account of which is how you manage to co-ordinate work across departments and to avoid ministers being bogged down day to day in their departmental responsibilities. ..
Focusing on outcomes: “One of the things that lots of people tend to say these days about government is that we need to try and move beyond a focus on the outlook of government to looking at an outcome, a real problem solved, a real difference to people on the ground. For example in Northern Ireland one of the problems about the health debates is that it has been almost entirely about the acute hospitals services in Northern Ireland when there’s an outstanding and glaring problem which is the very high levels of mortality and morbidity in Northern Ireland associated, for example, with cancer and heart disease and, frankly, addressing these problems is a far, far bigger question than whether this or that hospital should be kept..”
“That leads us to focus more on the performance of government and what it actually achieves and I think one of the things that’s important for the new administration in Northern Ireland is to make sure it thinks about what it is trying to achieve in a way which recognises the need to bench mark its performance against what is happening elsewhere in the UK
Citizens’ panel: “It is also important to focus on citizens and their problems and one of the things that I think would be a positive benefit in Northern Ireland would be to establish a standing citizens’ panel of maybe 500 people whom the government would poll on a regular basis to monitor its performance, so that there was an external view on what it’s doing ….
Setting clear policy goals: “… Following on from what I’ve just said particularly about the focus on outcomes rather than outlooks I think it’s critical that the new Administration should set very clear policy goals for itself, very definite outcomes that it really wants to see achieved, and I’ll give you some instances of what that might be in a moment. That’s going to be very important if devolution is something that will make a difference. … You might get a situation … where with the best will in the world ministers are working every hour that God sends them and they might not be very much different from direct rule unless very clear policy goals are set up by the new administration which hasn’t been the case in the past. If a small number of relatively clear policy goals are set then it makes it easier for the public at large to understand what the government is doing or says it is doing and to assess its performance against that. … I think that one of the dangers otherwise would be that the Programme for Government emerges by a process of private discussions between the parties which involves a set of endless trade-offs which are very comprehensible to the politicians involved in them but when the report comes out into the public domain it turns out to be a huge volume which is totally unmanageable and which ordinary people find very difficult to get a handle on.
Possible policy goals: “…In our focus groups … we spoke to a complete mixture of groups – Protestant, Catholic, whatever gender or class and so on – and the big thing they all said was that they wanted to see the government do as much as it could to foster better relationships between the two communities and support thevictims of violence. That I think is the crucial thing. There’s no doubt that victims of violence in Northern Ireland, wherever that violence has come from, whether it’s the State or more usually paramilitaries, feel very neglected and that situation needs to be changed. I talked earlier about the huge problem of social exclusion in N.I. which needs to be addressed by promoting equality of life-chances.. … By comparison with the Republic, Northern Ireland’s economic development has not been superb over the last couple of years which is hardly surprising given the background of political instability. That has to change and in particular unemployment has to diminish. The unemployment figures in Northern Ireland … conceal a very high level of economic inactivity particularly in ghetto areas. As I mentioned earlier, there are huge problems in public health which need to be tackled … there are also major problems in terms of education.
“It is true that the top end of the educational scale in Northern Ireland with its selective schooling system do very well, but there is a very long tail of kids who come out of school with very low levels of qualification which is really a disadvantage to them in terms of the modern labour market.
“Other issues which arose from the focus groups is the enhancement of physical mobility and the environmental fabric. The public transport system in Northern Ireland is absolutely appalling – it’s a huge issue which needs to be addressed. In terms of the environment what was mentioned in our focus groups was that many housing estates in Northern Ireland are very dilapidated and bring an air of depression which only adds to the problems people have to face.
Maximising links to the rest of the world: “Last but not least, it’s critically important that Northern Ireland should not turn in on itself after all this time, but should maximise its links to the rest of the island, to the rest of the UK and to the rest of Europe.
Self-performance indicators: “If we go down this road that I’m suggesting the Programme for Government should go, I think one of the useful things that can be done is to establish self-performance indicators when focusing on outcomes like getting down unemployment or improving levels of public health. You can measure these things and of course you can be called to account as to whether you achieved those outcomes or not when your performance is going to be monitored. This is an effective way, I think, by which people can begin to take a different attitude to government, which is reflected in people voting according to whether the government or parties within government do well or don’t do well in terms of what they achieve. I think also this is a useful way of how we’d get from the situation of the direct rule administration to make it a real difference; if we adopted this approach I think it’s possible for us to look at how we could maybe ditch some programmes from the direct rule administration which don’t seem to fit in with the policy goals that I talked about, or could they refine those a bit better to give us some more scope in public spending, welcome new programmes and support some new projects and perhaps adopt some fresh approaches.
Financial questions: “Having said that, I think that there are some big financial questions to resolve. Frankly it’s not going to be possible for the new administration to do everything one wants to do on the basis it will do everything it did already and do all this on top, because obviously that’s going to be financially unsustainable, but whether there are cuts in programmes whether they were unsuccessful in the past or not, there are some hard decisions that have to be taken about charges and taxes. I think it was unfortunate that in the debate leading up to the Good Friday Agreement the question of tax-varying powers for the N.I. Assembly – the nettle wasn’t grasped as it was in Scotland for example where the Scottish Parliament has a power to vary income tax by 3p in the pound. There will however be ways in which charges can be produced and I think they’ll have to be produced to address the local problems.
“I mentioned earlier how awful public transport is in Northern Ireland. I don’t see how we’ll get around that problem without investment, I don’t see how we’ll do that without bringing in something like congestion charges which I know some private motorists will not like but are in the wider public interest.
Comprehensive Spending Review: “N.I. exists as part of the UK and is therefore feeding into the Comprehensive Spending Review and there are big questions associated with the so-called Barnett formula which distributes money to different parts of the UK. The Stormont Parliament is doing very well out of that – it gets about one-third more of the public spending per head than the UK average – but there will be lots of pressures over the coming years to reduce that, particularly as devolution becomes more transparent across the UK, and particularly as London with its new mayor starts to flex its muscles and get angry about the degree to which it subsidises N.I., and I think we’re going to need to have a situation where the financial position of the Northern Ireland Executive is on a firm-footing by UK- wide needs assessment.
Civil society: “Civil society is a phrase that has become more used in N.I. over the last decade. I think it’s very important this whole question of how people, whether as individuals or as members of organisations, can be involved in a process of government, particularly because these days government is not so much doing things but about facilitating people doing things, acting as a broker, a problem-solver, rather than as an executive. .. In that there is obviously lots of experience in this jurisdiction of the idea of social partnership and the role that social partnership can play in both legitimising what government does, also in terms of delivering what government does, and I think that that social partnership idea which has been very successful on this side of the border and has had some impact in Northern Ireland… that’s something we want to see developed in future…
Relating to the Wider World: “… N.I. has been in a long dark tunnel for 30 years since it last had its own administration …. In those 30 years lots of things have changed in the world and these days regions have a much bigger significance in a globalising context than they used to have. Things aren’t going to be done by the nation state anymore. Of course Europe has integrated onto a very significant level and in that way it’s really up to the regions themselves either to pull themselves up by their boot-straps and succeed or to remain dependent and to fail. One of the more cruel comments about N.I. ..is that for many years it has been like the Mezzogiorno in Italy, the very dependent, backward part of Italy which has had lots of money pumped into it but apparently to no real positive effect. I think that has changed ……
Happily one of the things that has proved much less controversial this time about the Agreement, unlike Sunningdale in 1974, is the whole area of North/South structures, these are much more acceptable now than in the past. Obviously in terms of the potential mutual economic benefits in the context of the Celtic Tiger, but also in moral terms in terms of creating a climate of reconciliation in the island and perhaps allowing situations where we can all be at ease with a notion of Irishness which is all-inclusive and which perhaps doesn’t carry some of the ideological baggage it might have carried in the past.. …
“It is certainly most important that Northern Ireland does by the same token develop good relationships within the UK including the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. There are lots of ideas that are going to develop in these other assemblies and parliaments across the UK in the coming years and it would be unfortunate if Northern Ireland wasn’t to digest them. For example there’s a very interesting idea in Wales for a new system a bit like the Leaving-Cert here which is a Baccalaureate system which would be a much better system than the A-levels in Northern Ireland, and it’s one example of how you might begin to do things differently if you start looking elsewhere.
“More broadly Northern Ireland has got to link on to the European stage. If you take for example Catalonia is a successful region partly because it’s put itself up on the European stage – it’s got its own problems of a national question but it’s found a way of sorting out its future in a way that most people can come to live with, and it seems to be that the future of Northern Ireland, if we can bed down the institutions, will be where it is not only internally inclusive but also on a fairly catholic basis – if I dare say that – to the rest of Ireland, the rest of the UK, the rest of Europe….
“In conclusion, I know it has been a fairly rushed-over course but I tried to stress that this process of preparing the Programme of Government is a big challenge which if it’s going to last properly can do a lot of things. In a way it is starting from a clean sheet … and I think it really can make a difference to people’s lives in N.I. and I think it can really bring Northern Ireland “kicking and screaming” into the 21st century. “
Fergus Finlay: “Thank you very much Robin. I think we would all agree that Robin paints on a very large canvas and has set out a whole series of very ambitious goals. .. Most of us down here probably have accustomed ourselves to believing that if this government survives for five years that’s the most valuable outcome of all! Our next speaker is I think – in both practical terms and, I hope she won’t mind me saying this, symbolically – highly indicative of the kind of difference that can be made. I think it’s very difficult to imagine a more profound difference than the kind of difference that’s inherent in the title “Women Together Moving On”. Although she’s a member of the Women’s Coalition and a councillor, Anne Carr is speaking here tonight in her capacity as co-ordinator of Women Together Moving On and I’d like you to give her a good welcome please.
2. Cllr. Anne Carr: “I’m delighted to be here with you this evening and as has been said, I’m actually here speaking tonight on behalf of the “Women Together, Moving On” organisation. Women Together was established 30 years ago. This is the thirtieth anniversary of an organisation that was established at the very beginning of the Troubles when a Protestant and Catholic woman got together and said “.. people are having to move out of their homes because of the violence. This can’t be right we should be able to solve our differences by sitting down around a table and talking them out”.
“Thirty years on there’s still a need for the organisation, they have certainly not solved all the problems and we have had thirty years of violence. Thank goodness now we have cease-fires and we have our Agreement, and we are all looking forward and working through that new beginning which is hopefully going to achieve the vision that those two women had thirty years ago…
Role of ordinary people: “I have known Julitta and members of the Meath Peace Group for many years through my work as co-ordinator of the Women Together organisation. We in Women Together too had to take a look at where we were as we move on, looking forward to that new beginning in society and where our organisation actually fitted into all of that. So we have become very recently “Women Together Moving On” a project-led organisation which is very much looking at how we as ordinary people can actually involve ourselves in that moving on process. Because it can’t be left to the politicians. We have elected politicians to an Executive and to an Assembly and we certainly are supporting their moving on, their working towards the Programme of Government that Robin has been talking about, but we as people and as a society have to support them and have to develop the intra-personal relationships in our society which have been lacking over so many years of violence.
Talking through the differences: “There’s been so much fear around that we haven’t done the talking we should have done over years. We’ve lived in divided communities, we’ve talked in safe company amongst ourselves. We all have developed very sectarian attitudes about things. And also we’ve all been hurt, we’ve all been angered, and we all are still angry about things that are going on at this moment of time, but we have to work our way through that. So we in Women Together are encouraging people to sit down round tables to talk through the differences, to tell others how they feel about something that’s happening, or something that’s happened in the past, so that we can all get a better understanding of where we all have come from, and how we are all here now and the importance of remembering what happened in the past. We don’t want it repeated in future generations.
We can make it work: “The war is over as far as I’m concerned. Violence is not the way forward – we’ve all learned very hard lessons in relation to that. We can make it work, we can all work together, we can build that society which is never going to be perfect but certainly a society where difference can be appreciated, where we can look at someone across a table and not feel the touchstones of anger within us – because that person’s different from me – rising. That doesn’t have to happen. We can try and understand who they are and where they are coming from and that is going to build the sort of society that we can all be part of.
Sense of belonging: “A sense of belonging for all of us is what we want and it’s certainly what I want as a Protestant mother of 4 Catholic children, from the Shankhill Road area of Belfast where my mother and father still live, and all the hurts that that has brought with it over now 27 years of marriage. Even on Saturday when I went up to my mother’s on the Shankill Road my father said to me “Oh that Gerry Adams!”. .. I get it all the time you know … but I move on, I try and work with him. My father has not read one word of the Agreement, not one word. He supports the DUP, he doesn’t feel he has to read it because it’s not something that Ian Paisley said he should read. My father in-law, on the other hand,.who died two years ago, was a very staunch nationalist and he and I had third-world-war discussions around the kitchen table, and if he heard Ian Paisley on the radio I could hear the motor-bike coming to the door and he was in to tell me what he thought of him!
“That’s what it’s about, it’s about working through all that, it’s all about our history, it’s all about the fact that we haven’t understood each other in the past but we will in the future, and that’s what Women Together Moving On is all about.
Good Friday Agreement: “So we decided this [Agreement} is very important to us and I hope to all of you, because an awful lot of effort went in to creating this document. It’s very easy for people to say “get rid of it – it’s not what I want.” It’s not what the Unionist people of Northern Ireland want or it’s not what the Republican people or certain elements want. It took an awful lot of effort to get this Agreement and within this Agreement there’s a lot that has to happen to ensure that all of this Agreement is implemented. You can’t pick one or two issues from this Agreement and say “right, this hasn’t happened, therefore the Agreement should be thrown out the window”. It’s a long process, and we all have to remember the effort in getting that Agreement and the effort it’s going to take to implement that Agreement in full.
People Moving On campaign: “People Moving On” is a project which Women Together Moving On has helped support. It started at the beginning of the Mitchell Review – we desperately wanted our Agreement to be implemented and we were very concerned that the government had not been established in Northern Ireland, and we felt that if we could get our Executive and Assembly up and running it would certainly help move other things on. We know that decommissioning has been the big bugbear there, but we felt that if we had the Executive up and running, decommissioning would happen. Anyway during the Mitchell Review “People Moving On” started to do a bit of campaigning outside Stormont. We decided that our first campaign would be the day the politicians came back from holiday, in August 1999, so we would have breakfast with the politicians outside Stormont, and 150 of us went up and welcomed the politicians back and encouraged them to get on with the work, to get our Agreement implemented, to get our institutions up and running. That was the beginning of it and we had lots of different campaigns during the Mitchell Review to ensure that the Agreement was moved on, that our peace process was moved on and that it was remembered that the peace process and the Agreement belonged to all of us.
“We actually voted in a referendum on this and 71.12% in the North and … 94% in the South voted for it. An awful lot of people decided that within this Agreement was the beginning of a recipe towards a new way forward. We didn’t want to forget that, we didn’t want other people to tell us that that was going to be thrown out the window, and wasn’t going to happen. We worked continuously through the Mitchell Review and obviously we were delighted when the Executive got up and running, short-lived as it was. We’re also delighted now with the IRA statement and the movements that have been made on decommissioning and we now just know that the obligations within this Agreement will be met. It’s going to take time, but we’re certainly on our way forward.
Audit of the Agreement: “In the midst of all that, we decided as people, just ordinary people, that we didn’t really remember all that was in this Agreement, we certainly knew that there’s a section on decommissioning within this Agreement and we certainly knew that there was a government that had to be got up and running, but we weren’t too sure that we knew everything else that was in this Agreement so we decided that we would do an audit of the Agreement. One of our volunteers who has now retired (she was a business analyst in England and has come home to Northern Ireland to live) came along to one of our meetings and she did a baseline document for us, an audit document of the Good Friday Agreement. We then sent that out to people working in the fields of human rights, prisoner’s issues, victim support groups etc. and asked them to tell us, as the Agreement had been broken down phrase by phrase, whether or not this particular section of the Agreement had been implemented or not, or whether it was in progress, whether it was on the way, whether it was in train. We found this a very, very useful exercise. Out of all of that, in a couple of weeks time, we are hoping to have a launch of the results of our audit which actually are very interesting. .. Quite a bit of our Agreement has actually been implemented, so it’s not being thrown out the window, it’s not disappearing. It actually is happening, people are working day in and day out to implement this Agreement. An awful lot of it is in place. It’s a process, it’s going to take time for all of it to happen but an awful lot of it is already happening.
Issues needing attention: “We noted as well a few things that we feel could be given attention within the Agreement:
(1) Civic Forum: “One of those issues is the establishment of a Civic Forum which we feel should be established as soon as possible – and maybe Dermot will be able to tell us what actually is happening in relation to the Civic Forum. We feel that when there are difficulties, when there are strained relationships between some of our politicians, if we had the Civic Forum up and running, and ordinary people from a very wide public sector were sitting together discussing some of those issues, it certainly would help to keep things moving on and to prevent that vacuum being created. I’ve heard the timescale for the establishment of the Civic Forum is perhaps September 2000 but I really don’t know an awful lot about its terms of reference and how issues can be discussed, what will be discussed, who will decide what will be discussed etc. etc. So the Civic Forum is something we would like to see up and running as soon as possible.
(2) Joint parliamentary forum: “I understand that the North/South Ministerial Council are saying that consideration should be given to establishing a joint parliamentary forum, bringing together equal numbers from both the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Oireachtas for discussion of matters of mutual interest and concern.
(3) Independent consultative forum. Also discussed is the establishment of an independent consultative forum appointed by the two administrations, representative of civil society and comprising of social partners and other members with expertise in social, cultural, economic and other issues. We feel there is merit in establishing these two bodies as soon as possible as well as the Civic Forum. In particular we see that the independent consultative forum can progress outside the powers of the Parliamentary Assembly or Oireachtas. As members will be drawn from civil society they would not be sacrificing parliamentary time to attend, representatives would not be committed to any party, they would be expected to work within the “spirit of concord” defined in the Agreement.
(4) Human rights: “We also feel that the issue of human rights is ongoing and needs more work and more attention. All participating parties must show in their day to day relationships mutual respect and legitimacy of the rights of others as well as their own. We are estimating in our review that only about 15% of the human rights section has actually been implemented, most of it is being implemented at the moment and needs constant attention and constant work. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has been established and has been given the responsibility of consulting widely on a new Bill of Rights which will, in addition to those in the European Convention on Human Rights, provide for areas which are particular to Northern Ireland. We feel that the budget for this is small and there’s a lot of work to do and very important work to do in that respect. The comparable steps by the Irish Government are also in train but we feel that that work is slow and late and we would like to see that prioritised within the responsibility of the Irish government. This would then allow the envisaged joint committee of representatives of the two Human Rights commissions, north and south, to be established for important work in considering human rights issues on the island of Ireland and even establishing a charter which would reflect and endorse agreed measures for the protection of the fundamental rights of everyone living in the island of Ireland.
Cherry-picking of the Agreement: “All of that is in our Agreement. All of those are issues which are being progressed. It’s very easy to progress some and just forget about others and we all know, we’ve heard it all along, there’s no cherry-picking of our Agreement. It all has to happen, it all works together and the process is so important. We need to be moving forward on everything and not forgetting some of those, even some of those smaller issues which if they were worked on and if prioritised a little bit more would certainly help to help those relationships, those inter-personal relationships which are so important in our society to develop and encourage people to see that this Agreement is working.
“Bread-and-butter” issues: “We talked about the need for the government, our new devolved government, to be able to say “we have done this” and “we have done that”. That’s all-important because people are concerned about the “bread-and-butter” issues, they want to know that things are going to happen. We’ve a lot of work to do in the media… It’s very difficult to get the media interested in what they would see as the mundane bread and butter issues, but in a society like ours that has not had their own government for so long, those are important issues. And it’s not unrealistic expectations, it’s just to know that our own politicians are working together to move forward what is important to us – the bread and butter issues, the things that matter to us in our everyday lives.
“This is ordinary people who I represent doing their little bit to try and understand what our Agreement is all about and to tell others and to encourage the politicians to remember that we are interested, that we do care. And though at times we know things are strained, relationships are strained, and we have to live with the sectarian realities of Northern Ireland and all that’s going to happen in the summer season – we have the marching season, we always have these tensions – but that we are working towards something new. We understand it’s a process, we understand it’s going to take time.
Blaming others: “Just to finish off, I would like to mention a campaign which “People Moving On” ran very recently and I have postcards here. I would be delighted if you could take some of them and send them to anyone you feel might be interested in receiving one or might actually think if they received one. The message reads “Pointing the Finger is Missing the Point”. It’s very easy to blame others for where we are, to blame others for where we’ve been, but at the end of the day none of us fell down from outer space. I’ve lived through nearly 48 years of my life, 36 of them in Northern Ireland and I have responsibilities, I have to change. We believe that peace is people choosing to live differently, not somebody else making that choice – me deciding what my choice is. So instead of blaming others for all that’s gone wrong in our society, maybe we could blame a little on ourselves and think about what we can do to change and change in our own lives to make sure that we have a better future. We actually had this on a billboard campaign for two weeks recently in Belfast and we had eight billboards up around Belfast. We have it up on our web-site and we’re inviting comments on the image which is a very shocking image and it produced quite a bit of emotive responses when people saw that image but it’s simply saying that if I point the finger at you, there’s three pointing back at me and maybe I could start to do something in my life to help build that new society we all want for our children in our future generations. Thank you.”
Chair (Fergus Finlay): “Thank you very much Anne. It’s sometimes said down here that the Taoiseach is as anxious as everybody else is to set up the joint parliamentary tier – apparently he’s sending Jackie Healy-Rae up to give demonstrations on how practical day-to-day politics really work!
“Our next speaker is Jim Lennon who has what I often think one of the more thankless tasks in politics. It tends to be a low profile job and an extremely hardworking job nonetheless. The SDLP in Northern Ireland has long been famous for the strength of its personalities and for its ability to present a coherent and united front despite the strength often pulling in opposite directions of those powerful personalities. When you see that happening you know that a great deal of the credit for the unity of purpose within a party has to go to the party chairperson and I have no doubt whatsoever that Jim Lennon must have learned an awful lot of patience in the time that he has been chairman of the SDLP, so I’d grateful if you welcomed him now to address us.
3. Jim Lennon (Chairman of SDLP): “Thank you Fergus. Chairman’s jobs sometimes are thankless but there are occasional rewards like getting invited down by the Meath Peace Group and getting fed in an hotel! Not only that but you also made us feel very welcome. I just live about 8 miles from Monaghan on the south Armagh border so I’m no stranger to this part of the world… On my way here tonight, I came via Slane and I was thinking about what I was going to talk about tonight, I was thinking about cultural differences, administrative differences, machinery of government, programmes of government, all those sort of things, but as I came to a ruined monastery with a round tower at the side of the road the first thing I saw was “Navan says No” and I thought – Northern Ireland has exported something! I’m not sure whether Castlereagh Borough Council still have a large banner up “Castlereagh says No” – you can ask Sammy Wilson or Peter Robinson, when you next invite the DUP here!
“In terms of the topic tonight there are a number of issues I want to try and focus on – the role of the Executive, the role of the Assembly, the role of the devolved institutions and the machinery and structures are important but there are 3 other key aspects I would like to talk about. The first one is hope, the second one is perception and reality, and the third is leadership.
Hope: “Fergus referred to me as the internal bureaucrat working away while others are in front of the radio or TV but part of what I’ve been doing for the past two years, since I became chairman, I’ve commissioned a whole series of polls on behalf of the party to address a whole range of issues in terms of our image and whatever. But particularly over the period since the signing of the Agreement, what we wanted to try and work out was – what is it that people, those who voted for us, either collectively as a party or those who voted for the Good Friday Agreement, and those who didn’t vote for it, about 30% – what do they expect of the future? What precisely when they sit down and think in the quiet of their own homes, what is it they are thinking of? It’s quite interesting because the results of those polls – they were conducted by MRBI – have been very consistent. They haven’t shown any great significant change between the “yes” and the “no” voters – there’s been some change in various constituencies and you’ll be aware of the trauma that the Ulster Unionist Party had to go through recently and there’s been a change probably there – but really it’s marginal at the end of the day. In terms of the question “was the Good Friday Agreement better or worse for Northern Ireland?”, the unambiguous answer is “yes”.
“In terms of what people’s expectations were, when there were difficulties on the road – whether it was over the setting up of the institutions or decommissioning – what you saw all the time was a continual return to the concept of hope. They had voted for something that they believed would offer them a way forward. It didn’t offer everybody all that they wanted, everybody in terms of political leaders, in terms of parties or in terms of various pressure groups who were advising the parties at the time, but it offered a way forward that the people had solidly accepted and they never lost hope. It was interesting because we haven’t received the formal data from the current poll, but a lot of the survey took place since the re-establishment of the Agreement and the preliminary results seem to indicate that again there’s been a surge of hope. If you look at the other key indicators in Northern Ireland, if you look at factors to do with the economy, to do with perceptions with respect to investment – is this a good place to invest?, if you look at the G7 which is the major business and social partners who offer opinions regularly, then again when the Agreement’s going well and when problems are being overcome there’s a resurgence of hope.
“In terms of what difference will the Agreement make, in terms of the future, I’m addressing some of the issues that Robin Wilson has asked. I think there are two different answers you can give depending on whether you adopt a short-term view or whether you adopt a longer-term view.
Short-term view: “I think if you look at the short-term view first of all. If you look at what’s going to happen over the summer – and you will have heard over the weekend Drumcree again is on the boil – yes we are going to have a series of repetitive incidents or reruns of history. That is going to be a recurrent feature of Northern Ireland. So in the short term the deep divisions that exist in our society, the naked sectarianism that exists is going to continue. There will be continuing problems over issues like flags, there will be continuing problems over Patten, over criminal justice reform.
“But there is a way around them and when we talk to people and when we look at the results of the polls what they continue to show is there is a belief that as long as the political institutions are working i.e the Assembly and in the fullness of time the other elements, the Civic Forum, North-South bodies and probably, in the longer term future… the east-west dimension that concludes the remainder of the devolved parliaments in the British Isles including Westminster. Those will significantly increase the level of wellbeing in Northern Ireland.
Sectarianism: “In terms of the short-term issues, I think that the big issue that we still have to face that will underly a lot of the Programme of government and will underly a lot of the actions and work that the Executive, the Assembly and the other elements of the machinery of government have to address is this issue of sectarianism. It’s a much broader issue than most people perceive it to be. In my last professional job I was head of statistics in the Northern Ireland Civil Service, and I commissioned reports by Will Glendinning of the Community Relations Council. I looked at my own constituency because there is this perception, you get it when you talk to people from the country areas who say “we live very well with our neighbours”. A lot of us in the civil service didn’t believe these views, because what we were finding on the ground was that when you came to make micro-decisions about the allocation of resources – and in my case it was the Department of Health – you began to get anomalies appearing. People would not travel one mile to a doctor but would go six miles the other way. People would not go to a primary school half a mile down the road, you’d have to get a bus put on for four miles down the road. You began to question was the decison-making economic or rational or was there something else underneath it? We looked at two villages that are about a mile and a half apart in South Armagh; Dunane and Whitecross, and what we found was, very briefly, that they had a very different social life, they had a different economic life, they had a different cultural life and they had a different approach to what is supposed to be the neutral machinery of government, the health service, access to schools, access to other automatic services. Whitecross went to Newry, Dunane went to Portadown. There was very little intermixing.
“If you look at Belfast, yes you can see the results of sectarianism. It’s walls up and down the centre of the city, particularly in the north of the city. But that model exists throughout most of Northern Ireland. There will be people who tell you it doesn’t happen in my little part of the world – the reality is it probably does. That’s the first reality we’ve got to address. That’s the first reality that the Assembly and Executive have to address. In terms of sending out a very strong message, they are sending out a message about leadership because for the next 5-10 years it is going to be a series of incidents, it’s going to be one crisis after another. It’ll be decommissioning this week, and something else next week. And if you think the fun is only started with decommissioning, wait till you see whenl we start looking at the re-allocation of resources – see what impact that makes! You’ve had a foretaste of what will happen in terms of the decision over the Royal Maternity Hospital in Belfast. These are key issues that need to be addressed but to do that we need to understand the basis of which many people make what are supposedly rational decisions in their normal life….
Respect for national identities: “I think there’s another issue that we need to look at which is a short to longer term issue, and I speak from, although I don’t like using it, a nationalist perspective, because that’s what I’m labelled, but I’m not a nationalist, I’m Irish. I think there is a major issue that will underpin quite a lot of work in the Assembly and it is to do with respect for national identities.
“That respect means you don’t try and clone everybody in to some sort of quasi-neutral type citizen of Northern Ireland, where you’ve mixed the green, white and gold and the red, white and blue and something else blocks out the middle. It is about recognising, in all our diversity, that we are all part of a people who share one piece of land. In reality we all pay lip-service to that and if you talk to any politician they’ll tell you that… But in terms of what we need to do on the ground it means, from my perspective, we need to recognise certain rights, we need to recognise that though we might not like things like the Orange Order, they represent a cultural tradition, we need to recognise that. It also means that in dealing with symbolism; flags, emblems and other issues that we need to recognise what it means to a particular community, and I mean in a way that recognises the value that it has to them and ultimately the value it has to us if we pretend that we want to live in a society at ease and at peace with itself. …
Longer-term issues. “I think there’s a view about that the nature of the institutions themselves will change as the political process becomes much more about what you down here would term “normal politics”, i.e. economic politics, social politics, the allocation of resources, issues of that nature. There is a view that the nature of the political insitutions will themselves change to reflect that political stability. There are a number of different polls and opinions about to suggest that you will see the emergence of parties of the right and parties of the left based on models of either socio-economic co-operation or socio-economic politics. That realistically is probably 10-15 years down the road. The Agreement itself does contain provisions within it for change of the machinery of government.
Over-management: “There is a view about that with 108 members of the Assembly we are probably slightly over-governed, and in terms of the number of district councils that we have, and the number of what we call quangos, semi-state bodies, we certainly are over-managed. There will have to be at some level a shake-out there in terms of the whole administrative machinery of government.
Civil society: “The most important element that underpins quite a lot of that is the notion that we are moving from a society that is very heavily based around division, paramilitarism or formal military structures, to one in which a civil society takes its proper place. Part of that in the Agreement was the whole idea of a CivicForum and one of the interesting attributes in Northern Ireland if you look at it even in comparison with the Republic or with the rest of mainland U.K., we have a very very strong community or social sector, there are very strong community groups. Now some of them you might query, but there are also very strong genuine ones who operate purely in the interests of either their local community or in the interests of particular groups. whether that be victims, whether that be social deprivation, housing or whatever. That again will both support the work of the Executive in underpinning the vote that was taken to approve the Good Friday Agreement, but also underpin the programme of government and underpin the measures necessary to tackle some of the most blatant elements of sectarianism and the results of division within our society.
“In terms of other issues, I was compiling a list because we have a special conference coming up .. in terms of things that needed to be put on the agenda and I was getting inundated with all my MPs and MLAs pet projects.
Policy goals: “There were 3 key issues that came out in terms of things people wanted done: The first one was about economic growth; the second one was about the 11-plus or more widely about the education system; and the third one was about the health service. Now in terms of setting three or four clear goals, if the Assembly and the Executive move on those sort of issues then it will build on the confidence, it will build on the hope and it will build on the goodwill that exists within Northern Ireland and much further afield to make it a success. If it falls down on some of those issues, then it will bring into question the effectiveness with which it is moving forward. But the evidence to date is that there is a very strong level of support within our community and there is a very strong belief within all the parties that are participating in both the Assembly and the Executive that they have the wherewithal and the ability to make decisions on those issues that reflect the particular local circumstances that we find in Northern Ireland and that are different from both here and the rest of the U.K.
Quality of leadership: “On that basis I think I would say there is hope for the future, and in terms of the quality of leadership to date that has been displayed by all the parties, even the DUP. There is criticism among all political commentators of the DUP but if they had wanted to bring the show down, they had an opportunity earlier on this week with the Appropriation Bill where they could have forced the issue on the floor and they could have brought down the Assembly – they didn’t do that and that tells you something, that tells you that they believe it’s here to stay, that they believe it’s going to work. The reality is that they understand the basic numbers game – 71.12% of the people want this to work and they’ve invested their hope in this and woe betide any politician who fails to deliver. Thank you.”
Chair (Fergus Finlay): “Jim, thank you very much indeed. I think it’s probably beginning to be clear that there is indeed a degree more common ground than we might have thought in Northern Ireland about the need for what we might call ordinary politics to kick in, and the kind of issues that will rise to the surface as and when ordinary politics kicks in. If the institutions work in the next 5 years, if they achieve the several ambitious goals, one person who will undoubtedly have a key role to play will be the person whose job it is in official terms to act as the bridge between David Trimble and Seamus Mallon. It’s hard to imagine a more difficult job. I was trying to figure out which two politicians in my own experience you wouldn’t want to be a junior minister to – Albert Reynolds and Dick Spring came to mind very quickly!
“Our next speaker has that extraordinary difficult and challenging job to do and, according to friends and supporters alike, in the first period of the Assembly he did it with tremendous skill. When he first came to prominence in the Republic he attracted the label which is generally speaking regarded as a kiss of death in Northern Ireland politics – he was described down here as a “reasonable unionist” which we used to see as a kind of contradiction in terms and is now seen “up there”, as they say, as a gross insult! I asked someone who had observed Dermot Nesbitt at close quarters, I won’t tell him who it was, but it was an Irish civil servant who’d observed him at close quarters in the Castle buildings negotiations – was he indeed a “reasonable unionist”? This person said that he was tough, fair-minded, honest and direct. He said there was good news and bad news. The bad news was that David Trimble had taught him to negotiate and the good news was that he had taught David Trimble to listen! Given that he has all those skills and talents I think we should give Dermot Nesbitt a very warm welcome indeed.
4. Dermot Nesbitt, MLA (UUP): “Thank you. .. The first thing I will say, there’s a gentleman at the back who comes from a party in this jurisdiction [Fianna Fail] and during a conversation I once had with him I said I would love to give him a “flea in the ear” down that mobile, and he said to me on a later occasion there was a time that he would love to give me a “flea in the ear”. Such was the interchange of views North and South at certain times. But it’s a pleasure to see you Derek … and the rest! It’s an actual pleasure to be here and I genuinely mean that.
Making a difference: “Making a Difference – Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly? Yes! The last time I was here [April 1999] I represented the Ulster Unionist Party, tonight I represent an administration, not wearing a unionist hat, not even to speak for or to advocate unionism, but to advocate that which I represent which is an administration comprising four parties. That is making a difference.
“Secondly, the last time I was in Dublin, no in fact the penultimate time .. I was in Dublin Castle. I remember the press conference, sitting in Dublin Castle with all the fabric, with all the persona that represents old colonialism – the pictures are still there, the lords and ladies of the Manor are still there. It could still be colonial Dublin. There was I sitting in the room, the same room, facing in the same direction as I did during the Talks. But eighteen months previously I spoke for the exclusion of Sinn Fein from the Talks in that very room. That day at the press conference, Martin McGuinness and I were the two ministers from Northern Ireland with Michael Woods in the middle, giving a press conference on education within the island of Ireland, representing two political jurisdictions. That makes a difference…. I wouldn’t say it was a defining moment, not at all, but perhaps it had the potential for a defining dispensation … perhaps. You know your position, you know your parties. I noted carefully, Fergus, when you said the Chairman [Meath County Council Chairman Cllr. Brian Fitzgerald] was the best Labour man you had, and he gave me a wink because he had told me where he was now in politics. So yes, know your catch when you come here so as you can understand the nuances as they come about you. So yes we all have our division within politics and within parties but none has moved further than we have for that difference to be made by that representation I did that day in Dublin Castle and here tonight representing the administration.
“This is a good time to come. It’s a time when we have just reinstated devolution, and we have begun the process…. There’s another difference – I forgot to tell you – I’m here tonight in a ministerial car, I’ve got my private secretary, I’ve got the PR person and I’ve got the driver with me and – guess what – I’ve got a speech from the civil service that I must deliver! ….
“Yes, we have 108 people elected.which ..could be over-representation. We have an Executive comprising four parties. Yes it is an involuntary coalition as someone has said. Yes we have 10 departments of government, we have a First Minister and Deputy First Minister and they are like Siamese twins – if one resigns the other must also go, because you can’t have one without the other. If one was accidentally killed in a road accident tomorrow, the other would automatically resign and you would have to make two new joint appointments of a First and Deputy First Minister.
“Yes, chairman, you used the words challenging and daunting to describe my position. I’ll give you another word – it’s fascinating. Because not only have I Denis Haughey this way which is the opposite to me, but I’ve also got Seamus and David that way and then I’ve got it all around me, these civil servants who are trying to pull us in every way but the way you want to go, so it is fascinating, I can assure you of that!
Programme for Government: “This Executive Committee, as Robin rightly alluded to .. it’s got a very precise definition of what it is to do. It is to deal with cross-cutting exercises, “joined-up” government; 10 silent departments – we must make them work together. That’s the first thing it says. It also says that it has to have a Programme for Government allied with a budget. Now think of the words very carefully there because Robin said Programme for Government and I hope he doesn’t mind me saying this because quite often he said “Programme of Government” …. There’s a difference and we are having a “Programme for Government”. It’s not of the government because we are to consult more widely and bring forward all views, of the government for the people. It’s a programme for government not derived solely of government but to come from others. …..a programme for the governing of Northern Ireland.
“Yes it will make a difference, Robin said bringing people together. Most important thing of all, of the administration I represent, is that I feel when I go out that I represent a grouping, a body, that the people of Northern Ireland by and large have an affinity to and owe an allegiance to. Those are two difficult things to have in Northern Ireland – an affinity with it and an allegiance to it. That is making a difference as well.
North-South/East-West dimensions: “Yes we have the North-South Ministerial Council and, yes, we have the British Isles dimension as well. That will make a difference. That does represent political and geographical reality.
The island as a geographical unit, the British-Irish Isles as a geographical unit and the political dimension that there are different jurisdictions within those islands. That will make a difference because it reflects reality.
“If you do not reflect reality you will not be sustained and therefore you will not really make a difference, you will only be of short-term benefit. I participated in two of those North-South Ministerial Councils, one I have already alluded to and the other one with your Minister for Agriculture and Brid Rogers as well.
Normal politics: “Of course this administration is elaborate from a voting point of view – checks and balances, First and Deputy First Ministers must act as one, we try to coalesce and coordinate that, that all does make it cumbersome. … But believe you me it is much more provocative within parties than one may feel. I was away a short few days ago … and we were talking about a Programme for Government and 11-plus and various other things – nothing crystallises the mind more than having to make a decision that you’re responsible for. Yes we’ve had the politics of opposition, yes we’ve made many demands and many wants for things we would love to have, but .. nothing crystallises the mind than having to live within your budget and that we have to do… So yes, normal politics and all the normal failings, weaknesses, inter-party, intra-party, tantrums, fights, that will go on … backbenchers versus the administration, pressure groups that try and make you do this that you don’t want to do but you, Sir, are responsible, don’t blame Westminister, you decide. That’ll make a difference for me as well ….
Economic growth: “But I wouldn’t at the same time in the new administration do a down too much. We have had the highest growth rate in Northern Ireland of any region of the UK over this past number of years, mindful of the violence we’ve had. Yes you have your Celtic economy and Celtic Tiger, and yes … Temple Bar is a blossoming, youthful, dynamic region of Dublin…. Yes, that’s in Belfast now as well and, yes, Belfast has dramatically changed from what it was in the 70’s – dramatically changed …. This Programme for Government is a key priority and I need not say anymore because Robin has said much about that aspect! …….
“The Civic Forum I come to, and I suppose I’ve got 4-5 minutes left .. and that reminds me the most important part of the evening is the questions because that’s the bit I enjoy the most so I want you to fire very provocative questions to us all. The joint ministerial committee, there’s another aspect which is being formulated which I should mention in passing to show “making a difference” which is the theme of this evening. The east-west dimension was mentioned … The administration and the government in NI is now not unique within the UK. The previous one, up to 1972, was a unique form of government within the UK. Now there is devolution to Scotland and to Wales and to Northern Ireland. In fact the celtic fringe now have devolution within the UK. The Gallic Scots and Irish and Manx, “X” Gallic as distinct from the “Y” Gallic connection of history of thousands of years. That makes a difference.
“There is a memorandum of understanding – wonderful phrase devised by the great and the good – a concordat, which of course Dr Paisley said in the Assembly last week, was a doctrine derived by a “papal nuncio of agreements”, well he would have to say that in that sense…….
“Importantly that day I spoke on behalf of that memorandum of understanding which is a concordat of the relationships and agreements as to how government will interact in the UK between Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and London. That very day, the first meeting involving the Northern Ireland administration chaired by Prime Minister Blair in London in Downing Street, speaking on health were David Trimble and Bairbre de Brun…. Making a difference? Yes! Think of the history, think of the background of what each represented, what Martin McGuinness and I represented in Dublin and then ask yourself – are we making a difference? The answer has to be – potentially, “yes”.
DUP: “One final point I’ll just mention in passing. Yes we do have a little problem with the DUP in the Administration. They did make a statement when they said they would not partake in the Executive Committee, that that party would not uphold the pledge of office and it would go to the very heart of government and expose it for what it was doing. That calls into question the integrity of confidentiality within the Administration. The Administration agreed last week that it would seek an assurance from the two DUP executive members that they are obliged to abide by their obligation to confidentiality. Until that assurance is given then certain Executive papers will not be released to the two DUP executive members. That is a difficulty. We do hope we will overcome it, because remember the more inclusive that government is, the better – unique as it is… You need to remember that thirty years of violence is what we are trying to come out from, and above all the intrinsic value of the Adminsitration is not perhaps the dramatic change in policy outlook, though there is a big expectation for that, it is that the institutions of government are functioning with allegiance given to those institutions across the spectrum.
Tax-varying powers: “I take one point for example that Robin mentions … he used the words that we did not “grasp the nettle” of tax-varying powers as in Scotland. We could have a wonderful debate about that … Scotland does have tax-varying powers and if it raised it’s income tax a full 3p it would only raise £400 million – big bucks you might say but compared with a spend of £14 billion it is very small … The true value of the tax-varying power is that it makes you reach your decision on the best way of allocating your funds….
Full implementation of the Agreement: “But while I say “grasping nettles”, the real nettle has been grasped – the real difficult one. As you know with all nettles – if you take Robin’s analogy – you hold it tight and it doesn’t sting you, play with it and be loose with it and it will sting. We have grasped this nettle of devolution. There are obligations to be fulfilled by all. There are commitments to implement – all. There is a commitment by the IRA in its aspect as well. Grasp that nettle tightly. All can be delivered and none of us will be stung. That’s what it is about – grasping it, running with it, and delivering it. The priority of all democrats in Northern Ireland must now be to deliver and develop a cohesive government … in a sense we are going for regeneration, we are going for rebirth. We are not going for conflict The past is gone, the present we know, the future can – must be – better. Thank you”.
Chair (Fergus Finlay): “There must be some lesson in it when the only full-time politician here is the one who has stuck to his time! I’m going to give a quarter of an hour for questions and then review the situation, as they say in the best executive circles… “
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS (SUMMARY ONLY)
Q.1 (Nuala McGuinness, Nobber resident): “I would just like to say how very pleased I am as a native of Co. Down, living in Meath to see Mr. Nesbitt here – I know he’s been here before but I wasn’t here then. I would first like to make a point to Anne – first of all I would like to compliment her for her ecumenical Christian outlook. She mentioned personal relationships …. about two years ago at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Belfast, the incoming moderator … made a very strong speech that the members of his church should reach out to people who are different, and more specifically to Roman Catholic people that they work with and they meet wherever they go. He said “don’t do it tomorrow, don’t do it next week or next month, do it now, don’t leave it to the politicians and community workers, each individual is responsible”.
Re Orange march in Dawson Street: “The second point I want to mention is in relation to something Jim said. I don’t mean to be derogatory, but he talked in a somewhat grandiose fashion about shared nationalism and so on … and about different cultures. I would like to ask the people here from the twenty six counties – I felt very strongly about the Orange march that was cancelled in Dawson Street. It was only a token march and I was absolutely disgusted as a person from Northern Ireland who’s lived half my life in NI and now I’m in Meath. Dublin city could not stage that walking down the street a couple of hundred yards. Even the speakers here tonight – they’re all blaming Northern Ireland for this, that and the other, but southern Ireland to me has shown tremendous political immaturity. I was quite disappointed that neither the government nor the opposition parties in the south had not a word to say about it. I would just like to ask what other people think.”
Fergus Finlay: “Yes and you’re perfectly entitled to do that”..
Member of the audience:. “The reason the Orange march was cancelled was because a terrorist organisation used their influence to prevent the march…. “ [rest of comment inaudible on tape]
Q2 (Slane resident):Re: Bill of Rights: “… Dermot talked about one of the ways – it’s almost like the advice a psychologist would give to somebody trying to give up cigarettes – “get up and do something else”, but the temptation comes. In other words he’s saying, we’ve now been given the responsibility to act on social policies, educational policies of various kinds – that takes the attention off the patriotic debate. Has anyone suggested that when they’re drawing up the charter of rights that they should also put up alongside that, word for word, a charter of responsibilities. … People have got to understand that they have got to do something as well. It’s not just a passive perception that rests on somebody else, it’s an act of dispersal of those rights for the people … Would the panel agree?”
Dermot Nesbitt: On the first point made – “I agree … Alban McGuinness was speaking the other day in the Assembly and he was saying about dealing with this and I quote “we would not then be concentrating on the National question”, we know what he meant by that. Second point, yes, rights do have responsibilities. I could not agree more with that. Many people demand rights from both sides. This question here exemplifies that. … Yes, rights must be upheld but equally so also must responsibilities be clearly seen to be reflected.”
Anne Carr: “.. Just in relation to what was said about rights – I think this card is about the importance of each and every one of us taking responsibility. We actually had a discussion on putting together a Bill of Rights just last week and it’s a very difficult thing to do. You come up with a right that you would like to see but then you have to actually ask yourself; are there any absolute rights? Because there are always responsibilities which have to accompany these rights. At the same time, I think by having a discussion around the whole issue of human rights, we are encouraging people to think that they must take responsibility, because we’re now thinking about a new society, it’s a different society. It brings in all the issues around respect for difference, all the issues around the Orange march and on both sides all the things we find difficult. As [someone] once said “too often justice is just us” and that is what I always remember. It’s very easy just to think about what I want in any Bill of Rights. The challenge is to think about the responsibility that goes with that and looking at somebody else’s rights.”
Fergus: “I think it probably is worth making the point – and I’m sure I’ll be corrected if I’m wrong – that there is an onus in both jurisdictions, on both governments, to make progress on human rights issues. As I understand it at the present rate of progress, progress will be complete in Northern Ireland long before it has been established down here and that’s something worth thinking about….
Julitta Clancy (Meath Peace Group): “Just to take you up on that Fergus. there has been a Human Rights Commission in Northern Ireland for two years now. We have had several public talks on human rights here and we have been assured that our Commission is going to be set up soon. I think in a lot of areas … we are actually way behind Northern Ireland in terms of the amount of change you’ve gone through in the last few years on both sides. … We’re expecting you all to be moving and changing and yet there was that incident in Dublin … when it came to putting a plaque up in Dublin to another tradition, recording an historical event, it really threw us and we actually don’t seem able to do these things. We see it in our attitudes towards asylum seekers …. Maybe you have to lead us on that because I feel that we need a forum down here of the people, linking into your forum, where we can honestly explore and have understanding between us….”
Robin Wilson: [re identity politics]: “I wanted to comment on two or three of the things people have said because they’ve all raised what is a tremendously difficult set of issues which underpin many of the very difficult political arguments in Northern Ireland, most obviously the argument about what flag or flags, if any and what possible combination or when might flags might fly… So these are issues which are really crunch issues which need to be addressed. The difficulty is that these are issues which are hugely important all over the world. People refer to it by shorthand as identity politics. I went to a conference last September in Bristol, an academic conference on nationalism, identity, minority rights. There were about a thousand people there – 37 countries, about a fifth of the world’s countries represented there and there were hugely difficult issues that people were trying to get their heads around. For example, what do you do in terms of how tolerant you are to people who are intolerant. That’s a hard question. If you’re too tolerant won’t they walk all over you, if you’re not tolerant won’t they become more intolerant?
“There are big questions about what kind of rights you might include in the Northern Ireland Bill of Rights …. the simple bit is the early bit, that is to say the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights which is being done in both jurisdictions. It’s simple because that’s just about abstract rights that any citizen is entitled to – like freedom of expression or the right not to be detained against your will, the right to a fair trial etc etc. When it comes to the rights that are attached to individuals as members of particular groups it all gets hugely more complicated. There has been some effort in the 1990s to begin to address some of these issues, for example via the Framework Convention on National Minorities which the Council of Europe promulgated some years ago and which is now being incorporated into UK law.
“There are big, big problems there which need an awful lot of thought. For example, I’m someone who is, in theory, from the Protestant community but I don’t want to be aligned with a claim of group rights that assumes I am part of a “cultural tradition” which all my community is meant to share and which has certain conventional connotations like Orangeism and so on. I happen to have two of my father’s sashes but I don’t wear them very often. It happens to be the case that in the Council of Europe Framework Convention it says “individuals have the right not to be considered as members of groups, if they so wish”.
“The reason it’s so important links into what Jim said earlier about sectarianism. One of the things that has been evident in recent years in Northern Ireland , particularly in recent days, has been the profusion of flag-flying, illegal flag-flying all over the place; union-jacks, tricolours, paramilitary flags … Really what that’s about is about saying if you’re in this area, whatever you might want to be, forget it you’ve no choice, you are defined as nationalist, unionist whatever. I think it’s crucially important for us to make progress towards a new Northern Ireland, that people can make a distinction, like the distinction Jim made between being nationalist and being Irish, and I’m happy to sign up to being Irish too. I’m not actually unionist but I’m from a Protestant background. We have to be allowed the freedom to make those kinds of choices which hasn’t to a degree been the case. I think we’ve also got to see whether it’s not possible to create new senses of identity which might be more complicated than the simple unionist, nationalist, either or.
Parity of esteem: “I used to do discussion classes with IRA prisoners before my captive audience got out, so to speak… One of the discussions we had was about this issue of “parity of esteem” as it is called in Northern Ireland, and at the end of the discussion while I was waiting for the person from the prison service to take me out of the H-block one of the guys said to me, “you’ve talked about identities, what would you say you were?” Knowing it wasn’t going to be the answer he wanted I said I was a liberal socialist, and he said “apart from being a liberal socialist, what are you? – When I get up in the morning I listen to Radio Ulster, then I turn over to RTE. I go into the office I read the Irish Times and then I read the Guardian. I have an Irish passport, I’m interested in politics in Britain and Italian football. Make of that what you will and until such times as we can have that kind of hybrid identity in Northern Ireland it’s going to be very difficult for us to sort out some of these issues that are so contentious.”
Fergus: “I’m tempted to say that anyone who listens to RTE and Radio Ulster between the Irish Times and the Guardian also needs to get a life!…”
Q4:[Slane resident, re Euro]: “I wanted to ask an economic question actually. The economic performance in Northern Ireland is going to be critical …… Dermot, what is your attitude or the Unionist Party’s attitude towards the Euro, the economic issue of all economics. What would the attitude of the Ulster Unionists be if there was a referendum on this issue? ….”
Dermot Nesbitt: “Fascinating question .. unfortunately we don’t have all night and I don’t mean that glibly. The Euro, it’s a bit like the European Union itself, it’s based on economic theory but sometimes in practice it doesn’t precisely work, because the European Union is a customs union whereby .. you have trade barriers broken down and therefore everyone’s better off, it’s a win-win situation. The Euro should be better because we’re all trading in one currency, therefore there is stability. And I find it interesting that the UK-based industries in London … were talking about fiscal stability through the Euro currency and here we were still trying to get political stability in Northern Ireland which is what industry looks for. However the Euro will function only if it is acceptable as an international currency, if you do not trade in the Euro the way they are trading in the dollar and the deutschmark then it will not become an acceptable currency to hold, therefore its value will not increase and if its value does not increase it itself will not become a viable currency. So it’s like any product, as it were, because money is only money for money’s sake. It’s of itself no worth, it’s paper money in a sense, it’s not real money. It’s a medium of exchange and as a medium of exchange it will only be valuable if people value it as that and until it becomes a currency that is acceptable as an international currency of exchange – in other words transactions are based on it – it may not get off the ground. From our point of view I think there may be a tendency within the EU to have greater problems with what happens in the expansion of the EU eastwards from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Poland down right through to Slovenia – that sliver of countries that used to be part of the Soviet Republic that now wish to join the European Union. That will become a bigger problem for the EU than whether or not this Euro functions.
“Therefore I would say that: a) the jury is out on the Euro for various fiscal reasons and, b) there are more important issues at this moment that might help or hinder the future benefit of Europe than the Euro.”
Questioner: “So I am therefore to assume that the Ulster Unionist position is….
Dermot Nesbitt: “The answer to that is I’m here representing the administration, not the Ulster Unionist Party!… It is a fascinating question.”
Fergus: “It doesn’t take full-time politicians long to learn the skills of full-time politicians! You wanted to come in, Jim.”
Jim Lennon: “I’ll give you the party position first because I’m not here representing the Administration. We, that is the SDLP, support the inclusion of the UK within the Euro zone, and that is partly because of our principles in respect of inclusion within the European Union and the fact that we see that as one way of breaking down some of the barriers. However if you look at the economic arguments – there’s two sets of factors and I’ll deal particularly with Northern Ireland rather than the UK as a whole. There are two sets of factors that you have to consider. Where I live, which is about 6 miles from Monaghan town, if you take a broad belt from Newry through to Strabane, effectively 20 miles north of the border is now Euro land. They trade effectively punt for pound because they have to do that to survive in business and if you look at towns that don’t do that, they close down.
“That’s one reality that we live with. However you also have to ask yourself some economic questions and if you look at the structure of the European economy, the european economy is largely a closed economy – about 80% of the European trade is in the European zone, it trades with itself. So whether the Euro is a trading currency in some respects doesn’t matter, because it only accounts for about 20% of foreign trade and that foreign trade is largely petro-chemical based, oil and a few other bits and pieces, high technology, which are trade in dollars anyway. The UK economy is different. The structure of the UK economy has markedly changed certainly in the last twenty years. It has moved from what I would call heavy metal [based] into mainly financial services and other services and technologically based services and I think about 60% of the UK trade is with the EU, 40% is with other trading blocks, so the issues for the UK economy are substantially different.
“Our problem in Northern Ireland is, we’re a bit like “piggy in the middle” – there’s an economy down here that now effectively is sucking between about 5% or 6% of our workforce across the border … where white vans are heading for Dublin every morning. If you look at factors that are influencing capital investment, take Xerox – my previous professional career was in IT and I would have had some dealings with Xerox in Europe and IBM. They purposely put Xerox in Dundalk because they wanted to get at Northern labour, the labour market down here effectively is running as full as possible which is why inflation is starting to shoot through the roof. So they are now putting plants along the border area. If you look at what’s happening in Donegal it’s the same story. We are affected by the Euro and to a certain extent our answer, I suppose in the longer-term, depends on how our own country develops. Now in Northern Ireland the economy has taken off over the last seven years, since the first cease-fire. You would have noticed if you look at the Belfast Telegraph, probably the main paper for jobs on a Friday night, there is a proliferation of IT and technologically service-based jobs in it and that’s the way it is happening in the belt from Belfast right through to Armagh, all the way down to Newry. So if our economy continues to travel that way then a lot of our trade will be in non-Euro-based currencies, particularly the American dollar so there are economic issues that we do have to face. “
Dermot Nesbitt: “Very quickly … . I would entirely agree with what Jim said… and that’s why I’m saying about currency of exchange being acceptable because it depends on where you do your trading.”
Q5: Rathmolyon resident [re new police service and 50/50 religious quota]: ]: “The emphasis is on recruits from the Catholic population joining the police service. What in the name of heavens has religion got to do with policing?….. A policeman should be a policeman. We’re all Christians surely.”
Dermot Nesbitt: “Very briefly. Realpolitik is not a matter of wants, it’s a matter of needs. Now I know historically when the police service in Northern Ireland was set up, 30% was provided for the Catholic community to join. For whatever reason they didn’t join, for whatever reason, only 8% of the police service in Northern Ireland [comes from the Catholic community]. It is viewed therefore to be unbalanced and we support a balanced police-force that reflects the community, that’s part of the reason of having an affinity with it. I’m not so sure if the 50/50 recruitment might be as skewed as one might think because the age population of school children is about 50/50 Catholic/Protestant, and the main recruits to the police service will be probably 18-25 year olds. So if the balance of applicants reflects the community then the success of applicants will be on a fair basis as it should be. I’ll conclude by saying that realpolitik requires that that be done so that we have policing like politics to reflect a society that all can have an affinity with.”
Questioner: “Why don’t they use the term “Christians” instead of Protestants and Catholics, what the blazes, aren’t we all Christians? ..”
Dermot Nesbitt: “I would agree that we are all Christians in that sense, but, as Robin says, there is a Framework Convention for the Protection of National minorities, where identity is defined. I think it’s article 14 of that Convention and identity is defined as culture, language, education and religion. Now we may like it to be different, but it isn’t. The former Yugoslavia deals with Muslims, which is religious, Bosnians, which is Orthodox, Croats which are Catholic…. In the Philippines where some people were kidnapped the other day, again it was a Muslim/Catholic conflict within the Philippines. Whether we like it or not, our culture is quite often identified by our religion. In the context of this island it is Catholic/Protestant, in other parts of the world it is different, but what is not different is that religion is a barrier to being together. “
Chair (Fergus Finlay): “… I am going to take two more questions ….”
Q7:Re committee system in the Assembly: “…Will the committee system have real power in checking and balancing decisions of ministers?
Robin Wilson: “The answer to that is that the jury is still out. There was an unfortunate experience which .. was already referred to – the decision about the location of the maternity services in Belfast … whether it should be in the City hospital which is in mixed south Belfast or at the Royal hospital which is in Catholic west Belfast. The unfortunate thing about that issue was that it went before the Committee and all the members of the Committee voted on lines which you could associate either with their sectarian or constituency affiliation which was unfortunate. It was even more unfortunate when the issue went to the Minister. She contradicted the Committee’s view, giving no reasons to the Committee as to why she had contradicted its view, before she went to the press and told them that she was taking the position she was taking, which she also hadn’t agreed with the other members of the Executive. Now that was nota model of good government, to put it mildly. Some of the committees one hopes will over time take on more of a scrutinising role so they do act more as a check on government. One of the things which they also haven’t done too well to start with in any case is to remain secret.”
Q8: Re: forgiveness and promise: “…One thing throughout the peace process that has impressed me has been the gutsy leadership that has been shown at times – leadership that has been based on two principles, one of forgiveness and one of promising…. The impressive leadership that has come, particularly from David Trimble, the ability to forgive and the ability to be liberated from the past you have talked about, and the ability also to promise or to be bound by our word some time in the future and I think I would like to bring this down to a personal level and to ask what each person is personally prepared to forgive and what each is personally prepared to promise in order to keep that dynamic going and keep the process moving forward.”
Fergus: “Now is that a reasonable basis on which to invite the panel to say their last word? What are you each personally prepared to forgive and what are you each personally prepared to promise?”
Anne Carr: “I’m personally prepared to forgive the loyalist killers who very nearly murdered my husband in 1971, only he wasn’t home that night. We were 18 years old and I had just left my then boyfriend and gone home and he was going to Spain that night on holiday with friends. A Catholic family living in the centre of Belfast, a quarter to twelve that night there was a knock on the front door – he wasn’t there, but if he had been there he would have answered that door. His young brother heard a knock, shouted through the door “who’s there?”, this was the middle of 1971, the hard “Troubles” and the guy on the other side of the door said “I want to speak to Terry about a football match”. If Terry had been there he would have answered the door, but instead two shots were fired through the door and one of them hit his brother’s shirt and he still has the shirt with the hole in it. You never know the names of these people, it was just tit for tat, an easy target, a Catholic family living in a Protestant area at a difficult time. The people who came to the door that night did not want a Catholic about. When he came home from Spain they had no house, they had nowhere to live and had to move to the country. .. We gave up our jobs and moved to London for two years. I desperately wanted to come home, so did Terry. We got married and came home. All these years later I have watched my father-in-law barricade the house every night before he went to bed because he thought these people would come back. I watched my husband sitting with a baseball bat beside the bed just in case these people would come back. But I forgive those people because I know the number of young people that were drawn into this conflict, they were drawn in by violence of thetongue that led so many people to lift a gun, those people on platforms shouting them why they should get involved, whether it was for “God and Ulster” or a “Free Ireland”. Those people led a lot of young people to do things that they would never, ever in their lives have done if they had lived somewhere else. I never found out who those people are but they’re still out there. I know the only way I can move forward as a human being, now with four Catholic children, who I hope will never have to face what we had to face as teenagers, I know we are moving to something different, so I can forgive those people and say, right, we all made mistakes in the past, we didn’t understand the hurt we were causing to one another and the barriers that we actually lived ….. all we knew was that we hated somebody else because they were different. I can forgive those people now because I know that we all have to forgive one another if we’re going to move on. I heard at a conference “if the light of the past is too bright it blinds us for the future”, I’m more interested in that light for the future than in the past. “
“In relation to my promise – my promise is that I will do all in my capability to ensure that I not only listen but hear people who are different from me whether it is culture, religion, race or whatever. I need to hear them, I need to walk around in their shoes to understand where they’re coming from and every day of my life I will try and do a bit of that.”
Jim Lennon: “Very briefly, I believe our future doesn’t lie in our hands, it lies in that of our children. My promise is – I have 6 kids, I will teach them to respect their neighbours, respect the difference and to work with them in a way which probably wasn’t possible when I was a child. In terms of forgiveness, I don’t have the same experiences as Anne … however one of the things that I think we all have to do in Northern Ireland is …the mess of the last 30 or 70 years, depending on your view…passed on to us a perverted version of history that taught us, certainly when I was at school, that it was a glorious thing to die for your country and perpetuated a myth that – certainly from my perspective, from the community I came from – caused quite a significant amount of hurt, pain and distress that probably still hasn’t been fully recognised.”
Dermot Nesbitt: “… Forgiveness is a difficult thing. I think one should forgive those who have festered division. I listen to both sides and sometimes I say, you must not, because there’s more in common among us than there is a division to divide us. As regards a promise, I shall just keep doing what I’m doing because I genuinely believe what I’ve done, am doing, and what I will continue to do is for the best interests, not just of Unionism but also of Nationalism, not just those in Northern Ireland but those throughout this island and further apart…”
Robin Wilson: “Not having been touched directly, I can happily forgive all those sectarian protagonists and paramilitaries who have made the lives of many people in Northern Ireland a complete misery, those who weren’t touched by the violence directly ….. In terms of promise, like a lot of other people who have just spent the last many years, not being in leadership positions, not in the limelight but just working away solidly for something better, I’ll probably keep doing that.”
Fergus: “For my part I’m going to forgive the person who asked a difficult personal question which drew four very honest and direct answers from the panel and I’m going to promise to wind up the meeting now in the interests of ensuring that everyone gets a cup of tea! “
CLOSING WORDS AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
On behalf of the Meath Peace Group, Julitta Clancy thanked all the speakers and the Chair, Fergus Finlay, for giving so generously of their time. She thanked the audience for coming, and she again thanked the Columban Fathers for permitting the use of their facilities for the talks. All four parties in the new Executive had been invited to speak, she said, but the group had had no response from the DUP, and Sinn Fein had been unable to send a speaker.
Millennium Award: At the close of the evening, Cllr. Phil Cantwell, Chairman of Trim UDC presented a Millennium Award to the Meath Peace Group for their work in promoting peace and reconciliation.
APPENDIX A: “Making a Difference: Preparing the Programme for Government” (Robin Wilson, Democratic Dialogue, June 2000)
Extracts from Executive Summary:
1. “The stipulation in the Belfast Agreement that the parties involved in the Executive Committee governing a devolved Northern Ireland elaborate a Programme for Government has been subject to remarkably little public debate. Getting the institutions agreed, getting them up and running, and now getting them back up and running has dominated exchanges. This reflects the lack of prior policy debate during the decades of direct rule, when every party was in opposition and the hard choices of government were left to others .
2. “Yet the programme is not only crucial to the credibility of devolution to ordinary citizens. It is also critical to cementing a potentially fractious executive, with four parties thrown together in involuntary coalition. It provides the only means, in the absence of conventional arrangements for collective responsibility, for parties to subordinate their partisan concerns to the wider “common good”.
3. Focus-group evidence indicates that citizens of Northern Ireland feel alienated from a political discourse which is adversarial rather than collaborative. There is meanwhile insufficient public understanding of the political and financial constraints upon a devolved administration in the region. It is therefore crucial that key actors in civil society are engaged in the debate about the programme.”
4. “A growing concern in government everywhere is how it can be made more “joined up”. The “wicked issues” that cut across departments present a particular challenge. Northern Ireland is especially scarred by two of them: sectarianism and social exclusion. Developing the cross-departmental Programme for Government is a key requirement if such apparently intractable problems are to be addressed.”
5. “Governments … are increasingly concerned to demonstrate that they do not just have outputs (services), but outcomes – real change that makes a difference on the ground. Focusing on outcomes also favours better evaluation of what government does. But this should not just be internal: a standing “citizens’ panel” should be established to monitor the work of a devolved administration.”
6. “For all these reasons, the Programme for Government should be structured around the outcomes a “joined-up” administration would seek to achieve – the key policy goals for the region. These chapter headings might be –
• fostering intercommunal integration and supporting all the victims of violence,
• promoting equality of life-chances and securing social inclusion,
• pursuing sustainable economic development and reducing unemployment,
• reducing mortality and morbidity and improving public health,
• raising educational achievement and skills attainment,
• enhancing physical mobility and the environmental fabric,
• maximising Northern Ireland’s links to the rest of the world.
“This would make clear to the wider public exactly what difference devolution would be intended to make, and would in turn provide a focus for debate around the draft programme when published…..
7. “Outcomes tend to be measurable. So the programme should publish a series of indicators by which performance of the administration can be assessed over time. This offers a powerful tool for accountability to the Assembly and the public. It also requires, however, a liberal regime vis-a-vis freedom of information.”
8.” The first full year of a devolved administration should in part be devoted to a review of all existing government projects. Those inimical to the agreed policy goals should be discontinued or scaled back. Those at variance with the programme should be refined so that they dovetail better with it, and so with each other. The space should thereby be created for new projects to be introduced. A small Economic Policy Unit has been established in the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister; it should be enlarged and its remit broadened to embrace review and renewal in all policy domains.”
9. “The financial constraints on devolved government need to be eased, ultimately by Westminster legislation for tax-varying powers, as in Scotland. Meantime, hypothecated charges should be considered. In the context of UK-wide devolution, the Northern Ireland executive should support a new needs assessment to stabilise its public-expenditure allocation from the Exchequer.”
10.”Much of “government” is these days delivered by non-governmental organisations, or in partnership with them. NGOs may often be more appropriate vehicles to pursue policy goals straddling government departments. The Civic Forum envisaged by the Agreement can thus play a key role, not only in the debate around the programme but also in exploring how best it can be delivered.”
11. “Northern Ireland inhabits a globalised environment, and must relate to the rest of Ireland, the rest of the UK and the rest of Europe. The Republic’s government should be taken into confidence at an early stage of the drafting of the programme, so that potential synergies can be maximised. The Economic Policy Unit will be critical to keeping abreast of policy developments in Cardiff and Edinburgh, as well as London. And establishing effective official representation of the administration in Brussels is a priority.”
APPENDIX B: Meath Peace Group talk no. 38: Biographical Notes on Speakers
Cllr. Anne Carr was elected to Newcastle Council in 1997. She is a member of the Women’s Coalition, and is currently co-ordinator of Women Together Moving On. She worked for 10 years with Women Together for Peace and as coordinator has seen through the many changes involved in developing that group into Women Together Moving On. Winner of the Bahai Peace Award in 1999, it has been said about her that she truly “lives her beliefs”. She has been a great inspiration to many working for peace.
Fergus Finlay worked for three coalition governments from 1982 to 1997, as adviser to the Tanaiste and Labour Party leader, Dick Spring. He is the author of several best-selling books including, A President with a Purpose, about Mary Robinson’s election, A Cruel Trade (political thriller), and Snakes and Ladders, his own political memoir “packed with insights, incidents, and anecdotes about the most turbulent and eventful years in recent Irish politics”.
Jim Lennon is Secretary of the SDLP Newry and Armagh Constituency Council. He was elected to the SDLP Executive Committee in 1994 and has served as Assistant Treasurer and Treasurer of the party. He was elected Chairperson of the SDLP in 1998. He presently works in Armagh College of Further Education, having previously worked in the Health Service, Northern Ireland Housing Executive and the N.I. Civil Service. He holds a Masters Degree in Business Administration and Planning from the University of Ulster and Queen’s University, Belfast.
Dermot Nesbitt, MLA, a member of the UUP, is Junior Minister in the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. He has been actively involved in public life for many years, having been a District Councillor as well as a former Chairman of both the S.E. Education and Library Board and the Board of Governors of Stranmillis College. From 1992-1998 he served on the Standing Advisory Commission on HumanRights. He was the UUP’s South Down representative in the N.I. Forum (1996-98) and was a member of the party’s negotiation team at the Stormont talks. He was elected to the new Assembly in June 1998. Before becoming a full-time politician in 1998, he had been a Senior Lecturer in Finance at Queen’s University Belfast, and also head of the Department of Accounting and Finance.
Robin Wilson is Director of the Belfast-based think tank Democratic Dialogue, which he established in 1995. Democratic Dialogue has been involved in arguments about the evolving political architecture in Northern Ireland as well as exploring economic and social themes. Previously he was for eight years editor of the N.I. current affairs magazine Fortnight. During that time he helped establish the Opsahl Commission, which laid the template for what was to become the Belfast Agreement of 1998. He is the author of numerous journal articles on the region and has written and commented on Northern Ireland in a wide range of press and broadcast media.
Meath Peace Group Report. July 2000. (c) Meath Peace Group
Transcribed by Sarah Clancy, video-taped by Anne Nolan, and edited by Julitta Clancy.
The Meath Peace Group is a voluntary group founded in April 1993 with the aim of promoting understanding and mutual respect through dialogue. As part of its work the group has hosted a series of public talks in Meath mostly at Dalgan Park, Navan – 38 talks have been held to date, and over 135 speakers have addressed the group, representing political parties, community groups, victims’ support groups, human rights activists, women’s groups, peace and reconciliation groups, prisoners’ support groups, the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, the N.I. Human Rights Commission, the Victims’ Commission and the Victims’ Liaison Unit, Stormont, residents’ groups involved in parading disputes, and representatives of the Orange Order and Apprentice Boys.
Acknowledgments: The Group would like to thank the Columban Fathers for permitting the use of their facilities at Dalgan Park for the series of talks, and we gratefully acknowledge the practical assistance given towards the talks by the Community Bridges Programme of the International Fund for Ireland (1997-2000). We thank all our speakers and visiting chairpersons and all our supporters who have come to our talks, often from great distances and in all sorts of weather, all who have participated in our informal small-group discussions and all who have assisted with our schools programmes, involving students and teachers in secondary schools in Meath and Louth.
Contacts: Julitta and John Clancy, Batterstown; Anne Nolan, Gernonstown, Slane; Pauline Ryan, Navan; Philomena Boylan-Stewart, Longwood; Michael Kane, An Tobar, Ardbraccan, Navan; Olive Kelly, Garlow Cross, Lismullen
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