Meath Peace Group Talks
51 – “THE DUP’S VISION FOR THE FUTURE”
Monday, March 29th, 2004
St Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan, Co. Meath
George Dawson, MLA (DUP)
Mervyn Storey, MLA (DUP)
Chaired by Ercus Stewart, S.C.
Introduction: Ercus Stewart
Questions and comments (summary)
Closing words: Julitta Clancy
Appendix: Extracts from DUP paper Devolution Now
[Editor’s note: Prior to the talk, the two new members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, George Dawson and Mervyn Storey, were welcomed by local TDs John Bruton (former Taoiseach), and Damien English, who wished them well in the upcoming talks.]
Ercus Stewart, S.C. “Good evening … Our first speaker, George Dawson, is convinced that the structures established under the Belfast Agreement are “top-heavy, bureaucratic, wasteful and inefficient”. At first I thought he was talking about some of our institutions, but no, he tells me it’s the other side of the border – but maybe he’ll teach us how to improve! Furthermore – and this is important to us here – in his various media statements he consistently highlights the unfairness, undemocratic nature and appeasement of terrorists in the current political process, and again this is one of his important points.
“Just a few points on his background: apart from joining the DUP in 1979 – he hasn’t yet told me at what age, I can tell you Mervyn Storey joined the DUP at age 14 so both of them have a long involvement with the DUP – but his grandfather signed the Ulster Covenant. Now, I’m going to share with you my ignorance and see if anybody here can help me apart from the people sitting up here – how many people do you remember from your history signing the Ulster Covenant in 1912? I did not know, I guarantee you – it was in the order of about 400,000! I’m now going to ask George to address you.
1. George Dawson, MLA: “I would like to thank Damien [English] for the welcome from the political representation in the area and we were delighted to meet Mr Bruton when he joined the group earlier this evening. We were very pleased that he was able to be with us and to welcome us to the event this evening.
“The reference has been made to the Ulster Covenant, and I believe there are people here tonight from Monaghan and Cavan. My grandfather signed the Ulster Covenant in Dartry parish church between Monaghan and Cavan on Ulster Day, 1912. He was from that particular area and so the people here tonight from counties Monaghan and Cavan have a friend and perhaps a relation in me this evening. I proudly own the Covenant which he signed in his own handwriting and I also own his Ulster Volunteer Force armband from that particular time as well, they are very valued heirlooms within the Dawson family. We still have relatives in that particular area, so it’s a home-coming for me to some extent to be here this evening.
NI Political landscape: “Turning to the main meat of the evening, the Northern Ireland political landscape changed on the 26th November last year. On that occasion, the Democratic Unionist Party became the largest political party in Northern Ireland, it became the largest unionist party in Northern Ireland, and it is the only party with a representative in every single constituency across Northern Ireland. For the future of unionism that has been a dramatic shift and of dramatic importance for our people in Northern Ireland. That has given to our people a degree of confidence which they lost with the signing of the Belfast Agreement. The strength and the confidence and the ability of our people to represent themselves was sapped away with the signing of the Belfast Agreement which we opposed at that particular time. And if there is one single event which has given heart to our people, courage to our people and confidence to our people, it is that single election result which occurred on the 26th November last year. Because they realised – unionist people have come to realise – that the appeasement to terrorism, the concessions to terrorists and the one-way traffic in political life has come to an end. Sadly, the leaders of unionism prior to that time were all too willing to do whatever had to be done in order to appease IRA/Sinn Fein. But on the 26th November that ended, it will not recommence again, the appeasement is over, the concessions are over and, on our watch, there will be no more recognition of terrorism in the heart of government. And that is a message which Mervyn will reiterate when he comes to dealing with our attitude to terrorist organisations.
Border not a question: “The result of the election in November also very clearly outlined once again that the question of the Border is not a question. Because, of the representatives who were elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly, 65 out of the 108 representatives are of a unionist persuasion of various shapes. Over 60% of the poll is unionist, leaving 40% or thereabouts of the poll supporting a united Ireland. So the question of the Border is not a question. The Border is there to stay and will remain in place for quite a significant period to come. And that is again a very clear result of the election which occurred. So there will be no change to the Border.
Failings of the Belfast Agreement: “We have in place in Northern Ireland, currently, under the Belfast Agreement, a structure of government which has been delivering concession after concession to terrorists, a structure of government which is one-sided, a structure of government which was designed to undermine unionism and undermine the unionist position. It is not stable, it is not democratic and it is not accountable. I think the lack of stability is clearly evidenced by the fact that it has collapsed four times. No government, or no system of government, which collapses so easily and so dramatically can ever be a system of government which a democratic country can accept.
Instability: “What we want to achieve is a stable system of government which lasts, a system of government which will survive regardless of what the terrorists do, a system of government which will take all of our people forward into the future, a system of government which has the support of unionists and the support of nationalists. The Belfast Agreement certainly had the support of the nationalist community within Northern Ireland. It is questionable whether it ever had the support of the unionist community – Roy [Garland] might disagree with me on that. It is questionable whether it ever had the support of a majority within the unionist community but certainly today the Belfast Agreement does not have the support of the unionist community across Northern Ireland. It is an agreement which was unstable.
Undemocratic agreement: “It is an agreement which was undemocratic because it brought into the heart of government those who were still wedded to, and using, violent means to achieve political ends. Yes, they may say that the guns were silent, but the guns were being used as a bargaining chip within … negotiations. In effect, the IRA was saying to Government, North and South: ‘Here is a pile of weapons, give us a series of concessions and we will deal with this pile of weapons.’
Decommissioning: “Now much of the decommissioning which was proclaimed as taking place was, I believe, a conjuring trick with guns. Because we don’t know how many guns were ever decommissioned. We don’t know where they were decommissioned, we don’t know how they were decommissioned and we cannot verify the fact that anything was decommissioned, except we have the word of the Decommissioning Commission that some acts happened which were significant, but when questioned on the meaning of significant, the General in charge of the Decommissioning Commission said that a small quantity of Semtex would be a significant act of decommissioning. So of all of the vast shipments of weapons which the IRA had, many of them are still intact within North and Southern Ireland. And indeed we already know that they have been importing further weaponry since the time of the signing of the Belfast Agreement.
Agreement not stable: “So the Agreement was not stable. The Agreement was not democratic in that it introduced terrorism into the heart of government.
Accountability: “And the Agreement was not accountable because Ministers in their fiefdoms could make decisions without reference to the Assembly, without reference at all to the democratically elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland. They could take decisions in their Departments without having to come back to the Assembly for the Assembly to ratify those decisions. As a result of which, the Minister for Education wiped out the 11-plus Examination in Northern Ireland, the transfer of children from primary school to secondary school. As a result of which the Minister for Health, Bairbre de Brun, decided that the maternity hospital for Greater Belfast would be in her constituency, because of the fact that she could make those decisions against the wishes of the Assembly
“So the Agreement was not stable, it was not democratic and it was not accountable. And for all these reasons and others we have consistently opposed the Belfast Agreement.
Devolution Now: “Recently we published a document, which you can get a copy of this evening, called Devolution Now. And the Devolution Now document is consistent with our election pledges, it is consistent with the documents we used during the time of the referendum on the Agreement, and also since that time in critiquing the Agreement, in which we set out seven principles and seven tests. And you’ll be able to read those for yourselves later on if you wish to take a document with you. [Editor’s note: extracts from the Devolution Now document are reproduced below in the Appendix to this report]
Breaking the log-jam: “Having recognised that there are principles and tests which we will apply to any Agreement, having recognised the failings with regard to democracy, stability and accountability within the current Agreement, we have proposed 3 possible methods of breaking the log-jam.
Voluntary Coalition: “Our first and preferred method of breaking the log-jam is to enter into a Voluntary Coalition with other constitutional parties. We will not enter into a coalition with IRA/Sinn Fein while they maintain their terrorist arsenal, while they continue to exile people from Northern Ireland, while they continue to target members of the security forces, while they continue to beat people in the streets who don’t agree with them, while they continue to kidnap people because they take a contrary view to IRA/Sinn Fein. While all of those activities go on we will not regard IRA/Sinn Fein as a normal democratic party, and we will not enter into coalition with them while all of those activities continue. But we are prepared to enter into a voluntary coalition with any constitutional party in Northern Ireland, and that includes the SDLP because they are a constitutional nationalist party. And we would enter into a voluntary coalition with them very similar to the type of arrangement which you would have here where, post-election, parties will get together, have discussions about a programme of government, have discussions – and horse-trading – about the things which would be included in a programme of government and move forward on that agreed basis to implement a governmental arrangement within our jurisdiction. So option number one – our preferred option – is a voluntary coalition existing within Northern Ireland. We have to say that at this moment in time we don’t believe that that preferred option is likely to happen. There are some indications that the SDLP may be moving in that direction but apparently they are not ready for that particular move. Sadly they are afraid to break away from the militant nationalism of IRA/Sinn Fein, it would seem. We wish they would come with the rest of the democrats and the constitutional parties in a voluntary arrangement. We believe there would be benefits for them electorally if they were delivering to their people on the ground many of the things that a government, an Executive, in Northern Ireland could deliver and we would wish for them to make that particular break. We have suggested some ways of them enhancing their position within the body politic in Northern Ireland, perhaps with arrangements on a North-South basis which I don’t want to get into this evening.
Mandatory Coalition: “The Mandatory Coalition which, under the Belfast Agreement, includes IRA/Sinn Fein, is not something which we would be moving towards now. As I say, if Sinn Fein/IRA stopped all of the paramilitary activities and paramilitarism went away, that would transform the situation but again we see no evidence of that happening in the very near future because they seem wedded to their paramilitary past, wedded to their paramilitary present and it would seem to us that they are wedded to their paramilitary future.
Corporate Governance: “Given that the Mandatory Coalition option is closed at this moment in time, given that the Voluntary Coalition option – it would seem – is closed at this moment in time, we have proposed another method of governing Northern Ireland which we have called the Corporate Governance model. During all of the time of Northern Ireland’s political and paramilitary difficulties the local authorities – the councils in Northern Ireland – operated with all parties in membership and attendance at the local councils, Sinn Fein included. All parties were elected to the local councils, all parties participated in local council structures, all parties participated in local council decisions. That has worked, that has been stable, that has delivered for people on the ground all of the services that you would expect local government to deliver on a day-to-day basis. While we have said that it is not our preferred option, and we have said while it is not something which is the best – because it is obviously not the best – it may be that it is the only option which is available now for Northern Ireland to move from where there is no devolution to a period where devolution is possible, looking at it from the best possible case scenario.
IRA activities: “And we’re fundamentally of the view that the IRA Army Council should not be able to dictate the pace of political progress in Northern Ireland. At the moment the Assembly collapsed four times because the IRA Army Council failed to do what they were supposed to do. And it cannot be right in a democracy that the army council of a terrorist organisation has a veto on political progress in any jurisdiction, whether it be in Northern Ireland or any place else in the world. Under the Corporate Governance model, it would operate and continue to operate regardless of the activities of the terrorists beyond the doors of Stormont, regardless of what activities they got up to because within the Assembly, within the Corporate Governance model, the activities of Sinn Fein/IRA would be irrelevant.
Key Vote system: “Now you would say to me, I’m sure: ‘what protection do those models hold for members of the nationalist community?’ Again we have addressed this matter. Within the old Assembly there was a designation system – when you became a member of the old Assembly you had to designate yourself either nationalist or unionist and on important votes or votes which required a cross-community voting mechanism there had to be a majority of the nationalist community and the unionist community voting together before such a vote would pass. Again we have said that we are happy for that to be maintained within the new system – there would have to be a majority of both unionists and nationalists voting together for a matter to pass which was controversial. But we have also proposed – and this is something which we are in agreement with the Alliance Party on. The Alliance Party as you probably know is a centre-ground party and the Alliance Party have felt that under the designating system that their votes have been somewhat of an irrelevance because the Alliance Party votes are not counted, as it were, as either unionist or nationalist – and so to accommodate that position we have said that alongside the weighted majority system or the majority of both communities a matter could also pass if there were 70% support within the Assembly at large. Now obviously to have 70% support within the Assembly at large you would need the support of at least one part of the nationalist community to support a particular vote in order for that particular vote to pass. So, under the Key Vote system, within both the Corporate Governance model and within the Voluntary Coalition model, the rights and responsibilities of minorities are fully protected and the minority position within that model would have nothing to fear whatsoever.
DUP ready for government: “So we have a way of moving Northern Ireland forward from being held back by terrorism to a position where government can happen immediately. And I can say to you this evening that we are ready for government tomorrow. We are ready for government either in the Corporate Governance model or in the Voluntary Coalition model which we have indicated both to the parties in Northern Ireland and to both governments and to the electorate at large. We would welcome the opportunity of getting into government on that cross-community basis, with the Key Votes which I have clearly outlined to you.
Efficiency Commission: “Now alongside the political issues which I have outlined, we have proposed an Efficiency Commission because, as has been outlined in the introduction, certainly from my business background and from my experience of interfacing with government departments, Northern Ireland is over-administered. For a population of 1.7 million people, we have11 Government Departments, we have 108 Assembly Members, we have 26 local authorities, we have 5 health boards, we have 4 education boards, we have 130 non-Departmental public bodies, we have I think around 400 quangos at the last count, all in Northern Ireland, seeking to administer government within that place. Now I don’t think you need to be a graduate of any of the universities of Ireland to understand that that is an awful lot of administrators for a very small piece of territory and a very small population. So there is need for efficiency and there is need for cutting through many of the layers of government. We have proposed that the Assembly be reduced from 108 to 72. That obviously would mean that some Assembly Members from my party would lose their seats, that would mean that some Assembly Members from other parties would lose their seats as well, but we are ready for that, we are happy that that would be the case. We have proposed that the number of Departments should be reduced to at least 8 Departments, possibly more but at least 8 – down from the current 11 Departments. We are putting proposals to the Review of Public Administration with regard to the number of local authorities we should have and the other non-Departmental public bodies which we have. There is a real opportunity to save money within the political structures of Northern Ireland so that money can be put to front line services such as health and education and housing. It may interest you to know that of the total budget for housing in Northern Ireland, 80% is spent on administration! On the total budget for education in Northern Ireland, a similar proportion is spent on administration. Now that cannot be good for any country, and we must get a way of cutting away that wastefulness out of government so that more and more of the money can be put to meeting front-line services such as health, education and housing and other aspects. If you came to Northern Ireland you would find that the waiting lists for our hospitals are a disgrace. We are the worst in the United Kingdom with regard to the waiting lists in our hospitals, and yet health equates to more than 50% of the total Northern Ireland Government spend… Those things must be dealt with in an efficient and effective manner. And those are the sort of things that we would want the Efficiency Commission to have a look at as well.
North-South arrangements: “Now I’ve concentrated very largely on the arrangements within Northern Ireland because those are the details that we have published to date. You may be interested in the arrangements we will be proposing for a North-South relationship. Now what I cannot do this evening is go into those in any great detail because they have not as yet been published – they were to be published about three or four weeks ago but when the IRA kidnapped Bobby Tohill on one Friday evening in Belfast everything was put on hold. Our Assembly team has been divided into three groups – one dealing with the internal Northern Ireland arrangements, one dealing with the North-South arrangements and one group dealing with a range of other matters pertinent to the Agreement. Group Two had the arrangements for North-South ready for printing when the Tohill affair broke. Everything was put on hold at that particular moment, and we are still on hold, again because of the activities of the Provisional IRA.
“But I think within the Devolution Now document you can see some key principles. Just as the Departments of Government in Northern Ireland have to be accountable to the Assembly, so any arrangements on a North-South basis would have to be accountable to the Assembly. Under the previous arrangement a Minister in his or her own Department could make whatever arrangements they wanted to make on a North-South basis without reference back to the democratically elected Assembly in Northern Ireland. That could not continue, and so whatever arrangement develops on a North-South basis it would have to be accountable to the Assembly.
“I would also say that whatever arrangements develop on a North-South basis they would have to be driven by need and not politics. Some of the North-South structures which developed previously developed – it would seem to us – because there was a political desire to have certain things done and certain things said. That is no good reason to develop North-South structures. If there is a need, a clearly demonstrated need, to cooperate North-South, then there should be no bar on our part in putting those arrangements in place. And there are a range of activities where North-South arrangements could be put in place very quickly and on a structural basis. But it has to be driven by need and not politics.
Lasting settlement: “And just in conclusion, and I thank you for your patience with me, let me throw out something which may or may not appear in our documents. You will recall that when South Africa – which is much promoted as a model to us in Northern Ireland – came through all of its political difficulties and reached a settlement which was going to last, and let me use that as another point – the settlement in Northern Ireland which is developed as a result of the political discussions which are underway must be a settlement which will last. Part of the reason for the failure of the Belfast Agreement was that it was not in fact a settlement, it was at best a series of Heads of Agreement, because so much was left undone. And again it was not a settlement because the IRA kept coming back for more and for more and for more, and the undoing of David Trimble was the fact that Sinn Fein still kept coming back for more and for more because there was no agreed settlement.
Commonwealth: “So there must be a settlement which is going to last. And part of the settlement which South Africa achieved was that South Africa would rejoin the Commonwealth. Now I throw that out as a challenge this evening, to this audience. If you are serious about North-South relations being on an equable and fair basis, if you are serious about reaching out the hand of friendship to your brethren and sisters across the Border, why would you not rejoin the British Commonwealth of Nations? Thank you very much for your patience.”
Chair (Ercus Stewart): “Thank you. Our next speaker, Mervyn Storey, has had a very very long involvement in politics and is also a member of the Assembly. He is also actively involved in the Loyal Orders. Thank you Mervyn…
2. Mervyn Storey, MLA:
“Can I say how delighted I am to be here this evening and to have this opportunity along with my party colleague and personal friend, George Dawson, to represent our party on this occasion. Can I also give a word of thanks to our hosts in the Meath Peace Group? This is not the first time that George and myself have been in the Republic, and we count it a joy that we again were invited. Circumstances have somewhat changed in our own personal political journeys as has been described. The last occasion we were here we weren’t elected, and some might have even said we weren’t electable! Thankfully, being a good Calvinist, I believe and I trust that the rafters of this building won’t fall around me for having made such a statement as that! I believe in Providence and George and I were elected on the 23rd November 2003 to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Dr Ian Paisley: “I have had the personal joy and privilege for many years in being associated on a personal and on a family and on a political level with the leader of our party, Dr. Paisley. To some that may be looked upon as being an awful burden to bear and as being an awful association to have but I count it an honour to have had such an association, and I can assure you that the public perception that is given of our party leader is far from the reality of the person that he really is. I have found in him a great source of encouragement, and I believe I have the great opportunity in serving probably one of the best political apprenticeships – from the year 2000 through to 2003 I have had the opportunity of working along with him in his constituency, with Dr Paisley and with his family and Ian Junior. Then in 2003 we were elected in the same constituency as Dr Paisley. I was just sharing with our friends when we were having a meal, some people would say that it is not good to be associated with Ian Paisley. I will just give you a practical example of how it benefited me – as you know in Northern Ireland, the same as here in the Republic, we have proportional representation, and for me to be elected on that particular occasion I required somewhere in the region of 6,000 first preference votes. When the votes were counted I had 3, 700 so I was considerably short, but whenever the surplus which Dr Paisley had, and the surplus which Ian Paisley Junior had, I ended up almost having 8,000 votes, with a surplus that had to be divided. So I said to Dr Paisley when the count was over, and he was getting somewhat irritated with me because I was very nervous and I was walking up and down in the count centre and he said: ‘will you sit down, you’re making me nervous, you’re like a father waiting for a child to be born, everything’s going to be fine”, and so we did, and everything was fine.
“I always find it difficult to move onto issues of substance coming after George Dawson because he always says the things you want to say… I see we have members of the clergy with us tonight and it reminds me of the story of the young man who went to hear a great preacher and he was enthralled by the preacher, he was just riveted by every word he said, and he had preached on the text ‘Peter’s wife’s mother was sick’. And the young man was totally enthralled and he said ‘that was the greatest exposition I’ve ever heard.’ Some months later, he heard that the preacher was back in another town and he went to hear him. And, lo and behold, as he sat waiting to hear the text announced, the preacher got up and announced his text and it was ‘Peter’s wife’s mother was sick of a fever’. And so the young fellow was somewhat disconcerted about that but he thought, ‘well, I suppose, if you’ve a good sermon you will use it again’ – and if you were George and I you would use it again and again! But a few months passed again and he went to hear the same preacher and, lo and behold, he preached the same thing. On the way home, he was getting into the train and the preacher was in the same carriage and they sat in the same carriage and the preacher, looking out the window, said ‘oh look there’s a funeral going past’. The young man said ‘it must be Peter’s wife’s mother’! So there we have it.
“I want to read you something tonight: “We must not decommission democracy to accommodate those who must decommission weapons.” That was a statement, not from a DUP politician, but from your own Justice Minister, Mr McDowell. And I could give quote after quote in many of the things that he has said in relation to the attitude of the current Irish Government as to the activities of Sinn Fein/IRA. George has given us an overview of the issues in relation to the political situation in Northern Ireland. Just let me pass some comments in regard to those issues.
Subversion of democracy: “The people of Northern Ireland were promised a ‘New Beginning’ in the April of 1998. That New Beginning was to be delivered by the Belfast Agreement – that was to be the vehicle to deliver a new dawn for Northern Ireland. At the time, our own party warned that such a deal would bring neither peace nor stability to the Province but would create an environment in which decent law-abiding citizens would find democracy subverted to accommodate unrepentant terrorists. When that was said, we were laughed out of court. We were told that that was not the case, that those who had committed themselves to the Belfast Agreement and to the Mitchell Principles and to all the mechanics that were being presented to them would deliver. Unfortunately, the contrary is the case. Terrorism was whitewashed and legitimised. Its front men were regarded as socially concerned politicians, of genuine principles, who were really about jobs and health and education and peace. And the murder of our friends and families was a distraction, a side issue. There was a wholesale release of terrorists of the worst kind, both loyalist and republican, onto our streets, to peddle the slow lingering murder that drugs bring, and to incite rioting and fear.
Paramilitary crime: “I’ve come today from a meeting with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. A most amazing meeting, one that could only take place in Northern Ireland. That meeting was to discuss a factory in my constituency, Gallagher’s Tobacco Factory. It’s ironic that I should come here tonight on the smoke-free day and the commencement of the new dawn for smokers in this country! But today I was representing Gallagher’s … at a meeting with the Secretary of State. That meeting wasn’t to argue about the issue of the tax/levy on tobacco sales. That meeting wasn’t to discuss more investment for a manufacturing base in my constituency. That meeting was to discuss the safety of the delivery of tobacco from Ballymena to Dublin because the IRA had – in the terms of the Secretary of State – engaged in a ‘heist’ at Christmas time and stole almost a million pounds’ worth of cigarettes. We could get no guarantee that the main route between the two cities in Ireland could be safeguarded! That is an absolute shame and a disgrace. Let me tell you what Gallagher’s are now doing – and they’re going to have to pay the price of the events of today, the Government legislation – but what are they doing to get their product to the Republic of Ireland? They are taking it from Ballymena to Belfast, they are shipping it to Liverpool and then they are shipping it from Liverpool to Dublin.
“And we are told we have peace.
Uncontrollable mafia: “You see what we have done, and it’s so sad, is that we have now taken those who have been engaged in violence for over thirty years, and they were engaged in activities that I know everyone in this room would condemn – the murder of our kith and kin – and they have legitimised them. And now they have become an uncontrollable mafia along the border. I think, ladies and gentlemen, in the light of all that we hear across the world we ought to rise with indignation, not only against the activities in Madrid, and in New York and in the United States on September 11, but also against the activities of rogues on this island, both loyalist and republican.
Loyalist paramilitaries: “Because, let me tell you, I treat with the same indignation and disgust those loyalist paramilitaries – so-called – who have peddled and still do peddle their trade in destruction and death. My wife works in a post office, and just a couple of weeks ago the post office was robbed… it was a horrendous experience. But I have some idea that those who were involved would have been loyalist paramilitaries, given the location, given where the car came from, and so on. A week later, I was in the Assembly and I met David Ervine, the leader of the Progressive Unionist Party, linked to the UVF. And of course he shed crocodile tears, he said ‘Mervyn it was terrible what happened to your wife’ and I said ‘yes, and David, probably some of your colleagues were involved.’ Because that’s the reality.
“Those days have to go, and those who have given political cover have to be exposed.
Moral challenge: “And so we find ourselves in the situation in Northern Ireland where there is a challenge, but I think that George has very eloquently and very succinctly given the political context and the political challenge, but I say to you at all times there is a moral challenge that we all face. And the moral challenge is this: it would be easy for me to come here tonight and to sound as though we were high and pious and everything was somebody else’s fault. But the moral challenge is to ensure that we collectively do not allow those who still are wedded to violence to have their agenda continually on the table.
Concessions are over: “And for me the election in November 2003 did give that signal of hope, that the concessions were over. You know there’s a great attack by us as a party politically on David Trimble, for all the right reasons – he has given away everything but the family silver. The mortgage was on the table, everything was up for grabs, unfortunately. But in November, that ended, and those concessions by unionists came to an end and now there are unionists – ourselves – at the table. We are not going to be unreasonable, we’re not going to be unfair, and our requirements are no less than those of your own Government.
Trust and friendship: “I was honoured when John Bruton came tonight to welcome us here. I’m sure you’ll find this strange, that a close colleague – and I count him a personal friend of mine – is Eamon Ó Cuiv, a Minister in your Government. You may think that is the strangest alliance, the grandson of de Valera who has a personal friend in a Protestant Calvinist in the person of Mervyn Storey! You might think that strange, but you know friendship ought to know no bounds. And the one thing that marks out Eamon – and he comes from a republican background, he comes from a history that I would not sit comfortably or content with – but the one thing that is different today is this: I trust him. Because when he says that his aims and objectives will only be pursued by political means, I know he means it. But I sit on a council, a local authority, with a representative of Sinn Fein/IRA, and I have to say I don’t trust him. Why? Because the evidence stacks up against his party. Remember Gerry Adams said – and he didn’t say this ten years ago, he didn’t say this some fifteen years ago, he said this back in 2002 at an IRA commemoration dinner – he said that the campaign of the IRA was ‘noble and honourable’.
“Ladies and gentlemen, in my view there was nothing noble and honourable about the devastation and destruction that was heaped on Northern Ireland – on Roman Catholics and on Protestants, because death knows no religious boundary. And whatever your political ideology is, if it has to be sold at the barrel of a gun, it is not worth it
Sinn Féin in Government: “The DUP has been accused in the past of having some strange alliances. I know that Roy Garland is here tonight – I have to say that I sort of look to Roy with great admiration. He almost destroyed my political career! He writes a column in the Irish News in Northern Ireland, and he said of me on one occasion that Mervyn Storey wasn’t a bigot. Well, I was really disappointed in that! And Dr Paisley pulled me in the next day and he questioned me for four hours to see if this was the case! “There are those who would say that in the past our party had some strange alliances and friendships. But I have to say this: the DUP has as its goal and its aim the same political requirements as your own Government. Remember the Dublin Government and Administration said that Sinn Fein was unfit for government. Well I have to say, respectfully, that if they are unfit for government in Dail Éireann, they are unfit for government in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Why? Because we don’t recognise or respect their mandate? I do respect their mandate, but Hitler had a mandate, and a mandate never justifies mass murder. And we have to face up to that reality.
Challenges that lie ahead: “In the weeks and months that lie ahead there are challenges for us, there are challenges for us within the institutions and beyond the institutions, but I think that we are up for that challenge. I believe that we have conviction.
Honesty and integrity: “You know, there are some people, even within our own party, who look sceptically at George and me because we are always the two that are wheeled out to come across the border and do these things, so we’re sort of looked upon with a wee bit of suspicion. But you know, for too long, I have to say this, almost for too long we allowed unionists to come to groups like this and they sold you a message that wasn’t the case, that wasn’t the reality.
“And they weren’t prepared to say the things that were true. I have no intention of, I trust, offending anyone in this gathering tonight, and if I have, I don’t do it intentionally, but I want you to see that there is something of honesty, there is something of integrity, there is something that palpitates within my breast that wants to ensure that what is good enough for the people in the Republic is good enough for the people in Northern Ireland.
Republican movement: “And I trust that we can, on the basis of our own proposals, see movement politically, but I am not convinced, as is the Irish Government, that the republican movement is up to that challenge. You ask me: how do I make that conclusion? Ask yourself this question: why did the IRA want to take out Bobby Tohall? He was one of their own. He was highly respected within the armed wing of the republican movement. Why did they want to take him out? What is going on within that organisation and why have we had such a cloak of secrecy over the activities of the leading members of Sinn Fein? These are questions that I leave with you.
Conclusion: “It’s been a joy and an honour for us to be here tonight, and I trust that when we come back – someone reminded me that it was three years since we were here before, not at this location but another location – that when we come back, if we are invited, that George will probably be a junior Minister, I know he’s a lot older than I am but he’ll be a junior Minister, and I’ll get the opportunity to drive the car …and I trust that we will have changed things and I look forward on that occasion to being in your company!
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS (summaries of main points)
Chair (Ercus Stewart): “Thank you. I will now open the discussion to the floor – does anyone want to start the ball rolling?”
Q.1: “Is it fair to say that others have done the hard work and you are reaping the benefits of their labour? Do you not feel that they have broken the ground and you have benefited in terms of votes?”
George Dawson: “From my perspective they have given us a harder job. They haven’t done the hard work, they have taken an easy route. Because it is always easy to give things away. The job we have now is to draw back and to get some of the concessions which were given away brought back again to our community, and to stop some of the one-way traffic. Certainly the unionist community have walked away from the Ulster Unionist Party in great numbers and will continue to do so, but they have suffered that because they have not had the confidence to stand by the unionist convictions. If they’d had the confidence to stand by the unionist convictions, they’d have been saying what we were saying, they’d have been doing what we were doing, and they would not have given us the very very difficult job that we have today.
Mervyn Storey: “I think it’s more difficult to keep terrorists in jail than to open the door and let them out. It’s easier to open the door and let terrorists out than to keep them in. It’s easier to give in and cave in on key issues, rather than fight your corner in a normal democracy and say ‘there are certain things that we will not do’. We haven’t reaped the benefit, we have reaped the harvest, and it’s been an awful harvest. Violence has increased. You only have to look at the statistics in relation to the activities that have taken place recently, and we published this document on the Joint Declaration and it makes it abundantly clear on the figures that were given in the House of Commons as a result of a question by one of our MPs. During the period before and after the signing of the Belfast Agreement until 2001, shootings were up 16.7%, bombing incidents were up 61%, and devices found were up 217%. That is not reaping the benefit of the hard work of others. I think that’s reaping the harvest.
Q. 2: “Listening to you speak, it strikes me that you seem to have omitted to talk about the SDLP. It’s quite extraordinary that you all the time emphasise Sinn Féin. After all, the SDLP is a nationalist party, it was at one stage the largest nationalist party. Also, I feel you’re making an incorrect assumption that drugs and cigarettes etc are part of political activity. It may be implemented by people who were IRA or whatever, but it is a police job to monitor and to stop those activities. It’s nothing to do with politics. It’s nothing to do with the Good Friday Agreement. And it seems to me that it is quite true that the bombs have actually stopped, the explosions have stopped. What’s happening up there at the moment, as far as I can gather, is that various paramilitaries are kneecapping each other. But the bombs have stopped, they are silent. And it would seem to me better if you emphasised the actual relative peacefulness that is there as a result of the Good Friday Agreement”
Mervyn Storey: “Could I just say in relation to the issue of the cigarettes and the contraband – yes, that is the case that we unfortunately would have that in what might be deemed a normal society. There are criminals in every jurisdiction. But I think that what you have to remember is that the Belfast Agreement initiated the Patten proposals with regard to policing, and we now have in the PSNI one of the most demoralised police forces in western Europe. Because the high expectation in paper of how that force is expected to deliver has been raised but the resources to accomplish that expectation have not been given. In fact, the contrary is the case. We have somewhere in the region of 2, 500 officers who have left the police force since the imposition of Patten. And those officers are at the highest level and rank with some of the greatest expertise in their field. And no one will convince me either in economic terms or in manufacturing, business or any other industry, that you can take out key personnel from any organisation and you can replace them with new recruits just out of a training depot and that you will have the same service delivery. It just won’t work.
Border: “And the issue of along the border: the police are not welcomed by republicans along the border, and there is a clear political agenda that is followed to ensure that ‘sensitive’ policing is carried out. And of course republicans and the IRA have taken full advantage of that, and in the absence of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and in the absence of the backup from the British Army, they will have a field day, and that is what they are having. And we have to set it in the context: we are not talking about Ballymoney in my constituency where windows are broken on a Saturday night and so on. We don’t analyse those figures in terms of terrorist activity and non-terrorist activity. That’s criminality. But along the border it is a completely different issue. One third of all fuel in Northern Ireland is smuggled, and it’s smuggled by the Provisional IRA. Now that is a statistic which is undeniable, and we cannot allow their political representatives to reap the benefits of that and also the political process. They have to make a choice.
George Dawson: “With regard to the SDLP, as I said in my speech, we would be more than happy tomorrow to enter into a voluntary coalition arrangement with the SDLP. That is our preferred option of government, and we would be delighted if the SDLP would join with us in a voluntary coalition for the governance of Northern Ireland. That’s clearly our preferred option, and the option which I outlined during the talk. So the SDLP are, as we see it, part and parcel of the governance of Northern Ireland for the future and we would be very happy if that were the case.
IRA activities: “In relation to the other part of your question. I trust you’re not suggesting to us that because somebody stops bombing us that we should automatically reward them by giving them a place in government. I trust that was not what your suggestion would be this evening. Because I don’t accept that. If somebody’s shooting me and they stop shooting me, well they shouldn’t have been shooting at me in the first place and they don’t deserve a reward for stopping. Our Prime Minister, in the House of Commons on the 1st of May last year, admitted that the IRA at that stage were still involved in paramilitary activity, they were still involved in military attacks, they were still involved in training, they were still involved in targeting of members of the security forces and politicians. They were still involved in intelligence gathering, they were still involved in the acquisition and development of arms and weapons and they were still involved in the preparation of other terrorist campaigns. As well as that they were involved in punishment beatings … and involvement in riots. And also sectarian attacks and intimidation against vulnerable communities. Those are the things that the IRA are still involved in today in Northern Ireland in order to get their political will within the political process.
“And alongside that they are seeking to trade guns for concessions: ‘we will give you this amount of weaponry if you take away the watchtowers along the border, we will give you this amount of weaponry if you take some further steps with regard to imposing a united Ireland on the people of Northern Ireland.’ That cannot be right in a democracy. So, the bombs may be silent, to take your point, in relation to being exploded, but they are certainly not silent in relation to politics because they are speaking more loudly today in achieving concessions than they ever spoke when they were being exploded in the streets of Northern Ireland.
Mervyn Storey: “I think too, on the issue of the SDLP, it is very sad that a nationalist party that I would have no difficulty having a working relationship with, took a decision to clutch the viper of militant republicanism to its breast, and ultimately that viper has spread a poison through the body politic of Irish nationalism, from which the SDLP will not recover. The political reality is that the SDLP are now facing political annihilation at the European elections. But remember John Hume, who has contributed, from a nationalist perspective, much to the ‘peace process’, was more keen to take on board and to sanitise Sinn Féin/IRA than he was to have a deal with unionists. But he has paid the ultimate price. And his party, very sadly – and I take no comfort in the demise of the SDLP, but there are political realities that we have to face in Northern Ireland. People have to question why that has taken place…”
Chair (Ercus Stewart): “And if they take up your invitation, what would the effect be on them at the next election?”
George Dawson: “I believe that if they were seen to be delivering good government on the ground, and delivering better housing and delivering better education, and better health results, to the nationalist people of Northern Ireland, I think their vote would recover.”
Mervyn Storey: “And I think that people would see – even people here would see – that when it comes to the real politics, Sinn Féin are not at the races. They are good at the propaganda. Look at their European allies – who they are going to align themselves with if they are successful in the European election. The most extreme elements, the most Marxist elements, within the European establishment. So if we lift the lid of their politics – that’s where the SDLP, if they were to take up our offer, people would begin to see the SDLP within an administration, and a unionist administration, working in conjunction with ourselves, we would be able to deliver for the people of Northern Ireland. I think that would be a challenge, and it is a challenge.
Q. 3: “I was amazed to hear these two gentlemen speak about integrity… integrity is the ability to listen and to talk to everybody else. Any party who sits up there and says ‘I will not talk to somebody else who is elected’, I don’t think that they should be there themselves. Now Nelson Mandela in South Africa was willing to talk to everybody else, he was willing to look at what the other people stood for, and if you cannot look at the beliefs of other people, well then you’re stuck in your own beliefs, and you’re assuming that your own beliefs are absolutely true. None of our beliefs are absolutely true. We have to look around, we have to see what people fought for, what people stood for, where people are now and where people want to go to. I’m not saying you’re wrong … But I can’t see where there’s any health in not talking to, and listening to, and deciding among yourselves what’s good for the whole lot of you together.”
Mervyn Storey: “Well I think on that issue, we haven’t excluded Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin have excluded themselves. And our bottom line is no different from your own Taoiseach, from your own Justice Minister, and from your own Cabinet. And that is, that’s what not good enough for Dail Éireann is not good enough for Northern Ireland. And remember, Sinn Féin/IRA have, by their associations, excluded themselves from what everyone of us in this room deems to be normal democratic principles. And you can’t have both. It’s not that I want to be obnoxious, and overbearing and so self-righteous that I have all the answers and nobody else is right. That’s not the case. But I only come to the table with no other mandate than the mandate that I’ve been given via the ballot box. And remember, one of the Assembly Members of Sinn Féin/IRA, Francie Molloy, said during the last process that, if republicans didn’t get what they were looking for – his words – they would go back to what ‘they do best’. And what was that? Enniskillen  – 11 Protestants blown to pieces. La Mon  – Roman Catholics and Protestants burned to death. Murder after murder after murder. I hope you’re seriously not suggesting that, by talking to people like that, until they have given up and renounced their violence, that that is a logical and a sensible way forward.
George Dawson: “I have no difficulty talking to anybody … the difficulty I have with IRA/Sinn Féin is that while I come to the table on the basis of my argument and the strength of my argument, on the basis of the strength of my mandate, they would come to the table with those things, granted, but they also come to the table with arms, with semtex, with bombs, with murder in their heart. Now, there is no equality within that.
Questioner: “But you’re assuming, and you’re generalising – as was Ian Paisley, who is your master, he is an extremely great one for generalising and for rabble-rousing. All of us here must accept the reality that other people have beliefs. Unless we sit down and we talk to them we have nothing. ….
George Dawson: “We have engaged with many people from the nationalist community, and the SDLP, over a long period of time. We have engaged with your government in dialogue across the table, and we will continue to do so. We will continue to engage in dialogue with the SDLP, but we will not engage in dialogue with those who hold weaponry across the table from us. When someone is prepared to shoot me if I don’t agree with him, or her, I will not discuss the future of my country with that group of people. If they put the guns to the one side, if they renounce violence, and the guns are silent and completely silent, they can come to the table on the basis of democracy, the same as everybody else. And I will listen to their argument. But while their argument is found in the barrel of a gun, I’m sorry, my ears are closed and will continue to be closed.
Questioner: “But what’s democracy so? These people were also elected…”
Mervyn Storey: “Can I just say that I have proved, I think, in my short political life, that even those who I would deem as being at the other extreme politically from me – Eamon Ó Cuiv is a prime example, I have already cited that, I am not saying this now to try and scurry under the table with an excuse. It is a clear record of fact that Eamon O Cuiv comes from a political background that is totally adverse to everything I believe, both religiously and politically. His [grand] father was the founding father of this State and I have grave difficulties with all that history, but the difference with Eamon Ó Cuiv and Martin McGuinness is that I can trust him, I know that he only has in his heart moral political arguments. We live in Northern Ireland. We know what Sinn Féin/IRA have done and are doing, and there is no indication that they are prepared as a body in totality to move from their stated position of violence being morally justifiable. It was morally justifiable, Gerry Adams said, to murder 3,000 people. Well I’m sorry, I concur with George – until they leave their past behind and their ideology does not justify murder, the same as September 11th or what we’ve seen in Madrid. Remember, President Clinton said that the Oklahoma bombers ‘had no place in a democratic society’. If that is the benchmark for democracy, then Martin McGuinness – and he has publicly stated – self-confessed commander of the IRA in Londonderry at a time when 27 members of the security forces were murdered and he has never once been interviewed, he has never once been questioned about those murders. He was the commander in chief at the time when those men were put to death. Now, if they’re prepared to shift and change. I’m not asking republicans to come down on their hands and knees and kiss my feet. I’m not asking for them to be humiliated. I’m not asking for them to go into acts of contrition that please my political persuasion, but I am asking them – the same as Bertie Ahern… the same as any other democrat across the world – you can’t have violence and politics. They have to make the choice. If they make the choice, then I believe the DUP has clearly committed itself to ensuring that there is a future and that future they can participate in.
George Dawson: “With all of that no one is excluded from the democratic process. Democracy, in this jurisdiction, across the world, allows people to be elected to the Dail, or to the House, or to the Assembly. But democracy does not afford to any party automatic rights to government. And that’s the difference. Rights to government are for democrats alone. They are fully entitled to their privileges of the democratic process, to be elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly, just as they are fully entitled to be elected to Dail Éireann. But they will not be in government in Dail Éireann because your government and your ministers have said that they will not be in government in Dail Éireann. What’s good for you is good for us.
Q. 4: “Tony Blair had the guts to go and meet Colonel Gadaffi. Would it not be appropriate for Dr. Paisley to meet Gerry Adams? ….”
Mervyn Storey: “Probably if there was oil or gas or some other very worthwhile commodity found in West Belfast, anything is possible, but I think that it is clear, unfortunately our Prime Minister I believe made a very miscalculated judgment in relation to Colonel Gadaffi. I believe that it was done not for the real reasons of normalising politics but for personal vanities, or for financial gain and benefit. I think there is more to the issue of meeting Gadaffi. And there is no evidence, there’s no evidence that Gadaffi or his regime has changed. And I do not agree that he should have met him. I think it was a calculated mistake, and I think he will ultimately pay a big price for that misdemeanour.”
Questioner: “But after all he is your Prime Minister!”
Mervyn Storey: “Yes, and I am entitled to disagree with him!
George Dawson: “In the past of course, our government and the American government have supported Saddam Hussein, and Osama Bin Laden. They were wrong then and they are wrong today.
Q. 5: “I’ve been at most of the meetings here over the years, most of the people here would know my background, I’m a moderate person. I’ve spent 14 years in the six counties, worked there and enjoyed every minute of it. I’m a constant visitor. In the last two weeks I’ve been all over your area – Ballymena, Portglenone, Castle Dawson… I know it intimately and I have to say I’m utterly saddened at what I hear today. I really am. In the last 2 weeks I’ve met a huge cross-section of people who I would consider as being from the unionist population. But I haven’t heard those attitudes. I thought they were consigned to the bin, and that we were getting into constructive politics… Not about the people of 1912 who signed the Covenant. Some of them did it in blood… you’ve got to get away from that. Someone mentioned earlier about the SDLP. You didn’t mention them at all…
George Dawson: “That’s not true. I’m sorry, you must have been at a different meeting than I was at. Because I referred to the SDLP.
Chair: “He actually did refer to the SDLP in his presentation…”
Questioner: “Maybe once. There’s another man here, he is a unionist. I said to him at a meeting here: ‘I came here to listen to something constructive and all I heard all night was IRA/Sinn Fein.’ … That sort of talk should be gone to the bin long ago. People should be more constructive and looking to the future. Now I know you don’t like the Good Friday Agreement – and I notice tonight you called it the ‘Belfast Agreement’ …. I remember years ago someone used the term “PTAs” and I said ‘what’s that?’ And he said ‘protestants’. And I said ‘do you mean Protestants?’ And he said ‘No’, I mean protestants – those people are professional protestants.’ You are always protesting. Why not come with a little bit of joy about what you are going to do, not what you are going to block?
Commonwealth: “You said about the Commonwealth. If you look around the world today and you look at Cyprus – the Brits were there. Look at Palestine – the Brits were there. Look at Iran – the Brits were there. Look at Iraq – the Brits were there. Look at Afghanistan… They were everywhere. They were down in Africa. Why would anyone want to get involved with that sort of thing? I mean if you thought about it, you would put it out of your mind. You might be better employed getting involved with the people in the South…
George Dawson: “From your long list of the places where the Brits were involved, I take it that I have to forget the history of Northern Ireland but you’re not prepared to forget the history of Britain in the world!
Deal that will stick: “Leaving that to one side, we put three positive proposals with regard to devolution in Northern Ireland. The unionist community are happy with the result of the last election. The unionist community are vibrant as a result of the last election. The unionist community are ready to engage as a result of the last election. And more than that, we are ready to engage to such an extent that whatever deal is struck it’s a deal which is going to stick. The deal which we do with your Government, the deal which we do with the SDLP, the deal which we do with the British Government, is a deal which is going to stick. So from your point of view you should welcome the fact that we are prepared to engage at that level. The deal which David Trimble did was a deal which fell 4 times. The deal which David Trimble did was a deal which he could not sell to his own community. When we do a deal, I can guarantee to you that that deal will last because we will make it last. We will sell the deal to our community. We will go to the length and breadth of our community to make sure that that deal sticks. And the three basic elements which we put to you are very simple. Tomorrow we can go into government with the SDLP. Not a problem. I stated that during the course of my speech. I stated it again to our friend across here…
Questioner: “You are repeating yourself – we all know that.”
George Dawson: “But you said I didn’t mention the SDLP…”
Questioner: “You mentioned them once…. And I don’t know if you know the pub where that poor fellow [Bobby Tohill] was taken from. Do you know the pub?”
George Dawson: “I know where it is. I don’t know the pub.”
Questioner: “Well it’s known as ‘Kelly’s Tavern’ …I know the pub. And that started off as a pub brawl…”
George Dawson: “This is Gerry Adams’ propaganda!… There are three concrete proposals on the table from our party which potentially can take Northern Ireland forward in a deal which is going to stick. Either a voluntary coalition with the SDLP, a corporate governance model which includes Sinn Fein if they wish to be there, and indeed we are prepared for a mandatory coalition – we don’t like it – but we are prepared for a mandatory coalition when Sinn Fein/IRA meet all the requirements which our Prime Minister – and your Taoiseach – has put upon them. Now when they meet those requirements we are happy to do business with them as well, but at this moment in time we are sticking with the Prime Minister on this matter and we are sticking with your Taoiseach on this matter.”
Questioner: “I am not into propaganda… For 14 years I exhibited at the Royal Show in Belfast and on one year in my category I won 1st prize, and guess who gave me the rosette? Rev. Ian Paisley! He’s a man with a great sense of humour.”
George Dawson: “He is indeed!
Questioner: “And he came down and we had a good time together. He’s not a drinking man as you know… but he stayed and he treated us in the nicest way possible. I’ve got nice memories too, but honestly I think you should change.”
Mervyn Storey: “Can I just answer in relation to the issue of negativity of our presentation? I quote from an article in a newspaper which has never normally been a friend to the DUP – the Belfast Telegraph of February 6th, 2004: ‘when a party that is notorious for saying ‘No’ comes up with constructive proposals it behoves everyone to sit up and take notice. Today the DUP unveiled its blueprint for political progress in Northern Ireland and nobody should dismiss it.’ And then they concluded by this statement: ‘the pragmatism of the DUP’s proposals may surprise some in both sections of the community, but they have been carefully drafted and are worthy of serious debate and consideration. It could well be a case of devolution now or never.’ And I have to say: it is not disingenuous – we have a history, and I am not wanting to forget my history, I am not wanting to in any way dishonour those who were needlessly put to death and then, at a whim and a fancy, bring those who supported their deaths into government when their mandate gives them no other rights than any other democrat. I think we have to be real, we have to face up to those realities….”
Questions 6 – 12
Chair: “I’m going to take 2 or 3 questions on this side and 2 or 3 on this side together because we are getting obviously short in time.”
Q. 6: Roy Garland (UUP member and co-chair, Guild of Uriel): “My name is Roy Garland, a member of the Ulster Unionist Party.. I’m a supporter of David Trimble…. I am very pleased to see Mervyn and George here today. I’ve known them a long time. I come from the same place – I used to attend Dr Paisley’s church, for a number of years, I’ve been at his home, I’ve broadcast from his home, I’ve gone on parades, I paraded around Westminster with banners. But there came a point when I began to wonder – I was also involved in paramilitary organisations which Dr Paisley knew about. I also began to reflect on where we came from – the Northern Ireland State and how it was set up was mentioned earlier, the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Ulster Covenant. It was reactivated in the 1920s, unofficially reactivated in the 1930s, and, I believe, was reactivated in the 1960s. You also had the UVF, Tara, LVF, UDA, all these organisations. Now I am not suggesting that the DUP support those but I think it’s a bit hypocritical for unionists … and I am not trying to make a snide political point. I feel, having engaged in conversations with republicans of all kinds – and I make no exception, whether they are involved in violence or not – and I am not doing it as a politician, it’s me, and I think that as long as we don’t talk, and we don’t reach out we don’t understand…
Reaching out: “I once shared a platform – and I was nearly thrown out of the Ulster Unionist Party for it – with Martin McGuinness in 1995, in Conway’s Mill on the Falls Road, and the place was absolutely packed with working class republicans from the Falls Road, plus one or two Orangemen, believe it or not and one or two unionists. And the atmosphere was absolutely electric… My feeling after being in that meeting and seeing the hope in those people, the one thing that came into my head – and it is still there – was ‘why did you never do this before? Why did you never reach out to nationalists on the Falls Road, never mind the republicans?’ We never did it. I am reading a book at the moment by Mark O’Halloran on O’Neill’s era, and what comes across is that the nationalist community at that stage was quiescent, quiet, they weren’t doing anything. I was in a wee business which sold to all around the Falls Road, the Shankill Road and other parts of Belfast. There was no militancy. In 1962 I wore my Ulster Covenant badge down the Falls Road. I paraded as an Orangeman on the Falls Road, and nobody ever lifted a finger. Eventually in 1969 I was told not to come back, but that’s another story.
Civil rights movement: “It seems to me that nationalists tried to get a place in society and we didn’t give it to them. With the start of the civil rights movement – and ok I know there were IRA in the civil rights movement because I am actually friendly with some of their relatives and I know there were – but they were demanding ‘One Man One Vote’ and a fair allocation of housing. Simple demands which should have been met. Some of my friends went and protested and tried to block Armagh city and other places against them. I had the wit then to know – even though I thought it was a republican conspiracy – that to deny people their civil rights in that sense was wrong. And it seemed to me that there was as much violence coming from one side as the other and when people were denied, the anger came about and there was bitterness and there was violence on both sides. And some of my friends were defending their area – loyalist Shankill where I grew up – and the republicans were defending the republican areas… What I am trying to say is that it is such a bitter horrible and awful history that until we begin to talk together…. I know there are hard decisions to be made … and I don’t see things that are done as necessarily concessions, but I do believe we have to understand. Until the talking starts and continues we will never make peace. And I welcome the progress that the DUP has made, but I believe that until they break that we will never have peace, because it’s like a slap in the face. I was with Gregory Campbell, one of your MLAs, when he met some republicans actually face to face, and they tried to welcome him to the Falls Road. I knew Gregory didn’t want to do this but he felt it was something he had to do… And I know some republicans and I know they genuinely welcomed him there, and I feel it’s just rubbing their noses in the ground, and I feel we could open this place up. And I believe that as soon as possible the IRA should seriously decommission and get rid of the IRA. I believe that’s a real possibility …”
Q. 7: “I’d like to say a few words to George Dawson. Early on in your speech, you mentioned the Belfast Agreement and I take exception to some of what you said. You said on a few occasions that the Belfast Agreement was undemocratic. Now 95% of this State voted for the Good Friday Agreement and in Northern Ireland there was a huge majority as well. For all its faults, and the United States Government, and the British Government, your Prime Minister and our Taoiseach, worked hard for it. It has been accepted that it was the best that was available at the time, despite its faults. … Politics is the art of the possible. I think it is a bit disingenuous of you and your colleague to be ridiculing it and not to be offering hope to people. This is what people want, they want hope for the future, to see that politics works. And the fact that you didn’t take part in the discussions that led to the Belfast Agreement, I think it is disingenuous of you to be saying it was not democratic, because it was voted for by the people.
Q. 8: “I’d like to compliment and thank our guests for their honesty, their integrity and their directness in coming down here into what they might believe is the lion’s den. …It’s been a very stimulating discussion. … I just want to bring a bit of perspective. History is a long haul. Patrick was a slave boy, he was brought up to the hills of Antrim, he was starved and beaten, he went away and came back and everyone wanted to poison him and knife him… yet 100 years after his death we were an island of saints and scholars…Now this is a Columban house, a house of missionary activity. There have been many great missionaries in the British expansionist tradition, even though, let’s be straight about it, British expansion also involved the gun. One hundred and fifty years ago, Daniel O’Connell held huge popular democratic meetings at Clontarf and Tara and the British brought in the gun. That wasn’t democratic.
“Sin, evil and crime are a continual battle. I am delighted to hear the moral tone, particularly coming through from Mervyn… and he’s a law and order man. ….. Civilisation calls for leadership. It’s a huge ebb and flow. It’s a battle. For reformative success we need a divinely inspired discussion that will lead to effective and functioning democracy. That, and only that, with the power and the hand of God will combat evil in all its forms. Now I just want to go back on another perspective, a global situation…. Where we have resource problems, environmental degradation and so on. We have so many problems, and there will be many more situations like Madrid [bombing]. There will be many more problems. It behoves us all to sit down in a spirit of honesty and decency and decent Christian fellowship and pull things together and get our house in order We are a small population, about 5 million on the island. I’m not shouting about a united Ireland. You only unite things through the heart and communal activity. We all claim to follow Christ in one form or another and I often think it is time we took Christ off the cross in terms of the Good Friday Agreement and had a bit of Easter Sunday, a genuine resurrection.
“That being said I want to say that you are very very welcome here and we are delighted to have this discussion. Long may there be discussion as, without it, the alternatives are frightening.”
Q. 9: “…George talked about corporate social responsibility work. It has been documented that a lot of new investment in Northern Ireland, since the beginning of the peace process, has been in relation to the arms industry……I am wondering do the DUP have a policy on investment in Northern Ireland given that Britain in general has relied heavily on the arms industry as part of its economy? Do the DUP have a policy on ethical investment in Northern Ireland, and specifically on the arms trade?”
Chair: “That’s a straight question. I’ll just take a question from this man here. How many more want to ask questions?…”
Q. 10: “I would like to ask George one simple question: he talked about overgovernance, and structures being over elaborate in Northern Ireland. Does he think that the structures that existed before that were adequate, democratic, pluralist and inclusive? To Mervyn, I am not speaking for any political party, I am asking personally: Mervyn puts his faith on the table and says he is a Calvinist on conviction. Does he believe in forgiveness and redemption?”
Chair: “Another two straight questions. Thank you.”
Q. 11: “…..Would the DUP be prepared to admit publicly that for a nationalist it is a noble aspiration to look for a united Ireland, to be won of course by peaceful means through mutual respect, mutual trust, and the gun to be taken completely out of Irish politics?”
Chair: “That’s a straight question, thank you. Are there any more because I am going to ask our speakers to conclude? …”
Q. 12: “I would just like to make a comment. Mr Storey was talking about the way in which John Hume clasped the poisonous snake to his bosom and he was troubled by it. The trouble is unfortunately, and I think it was admitted by another gentleman, that if there were a coalition between the SDLP and the DUP, it would destroy the SDLP. In other words, what I am saying is at the moment that one of the facts of life is that the biggest representatives of the nationalist community in the North are people who are called Sinn Fein. Others call them ‘Sinn Fein/IRA’, and unless there can be a central accommodation between all these people you’re back to the position that you were in in the old Northern Ireland that didn’t work – where you had a minority, a substantial minority, excluded from the processes of government, and if they are perpetually excluded the result unfortunately is being sour and they want to destroy, as it were, the State. And I don’t see any alternative except something like the Belfast Agreement where the republicans are involved in the processes of government. ….
“I will just finish by saying: you talked about Bertie Ahern not letting Sinn Fein in government. But in the North, for better or for worse, they seem to represent a growing number of the nationalist community. And in fact if perhaps the SDLP are going in the way they seem to be going they will be the representatives of the nationalist community. They can’t be left out in the cold. Thank you.”
Replies to questions 6-12
George Dawson: Re discrimimation: “Just coming to Roy’s point first of all. You’ll not find any support from me for any of the allegations of discrimination which can be levied against Northern Ireland in the past. I’m a unionist. My family was unionist. The pedigree of my family is in the notes which were given out this evening. But my father had to pay for the key of his council house in Northern Ireland, just the same as nationalists had to pay for the key of their council houses. We had no privileges as a working-class Protestant family in Northern Ireland because, at that stage, Northern Ireland was ruled by a fur-coat elite. Big House unionism ruled the day at that time in Northern Ireland and you will find no support from me for any emergence of Big House unionism. I take the point which Roy made. A previous MP for County Armagh, the late Harold McCusker, wondered on one occasion in the House of Commons how being a unionist benefited him in his terraced two-up two-down house with a dry toilet out the back, just the same as his nationalist colleagues who lived on the street around the corner. So there were many unionists – ordinary working-class unionists – in Northern Ireland who suffered the same discrimination that some working-class nationalists suffered in Northern Ireland in the past. I will not issue any support for the actions which the party to which Roy belongs is responsible for.
Engagements and discussions: “Coming to the comment with regard to the ‘lion’s den’. We are happy to be here, delighted to be here. I don’t regard it in the slightest as being the lion’s den. It’s part of an engagement with those who traditionally we would perhaps not have engaged with. And I’ve been engaged in this type of activity for quite some time and will continue to be engaged in this type of activity. I was engaged in this type of activity before I was a member of the Assembly and, as I’ve said to some people, I haven’t changed because I’ve become a member of the Assembly. I’m happy to come south, I’m happy to engage with all democrats of whatever persuasion, listen to what you have to say, reflect on what you have to say, factor in what you have to say to my thinking, and yes, I have to say that over the years my thinking has developed and a lot of the thinking of our party has developed over the years as a result of engagements and discussions such as this.”
Environmental issues and CSR: “One comment was made with regard to environmental degradation and that type of activity. Yes, I would agree that there are issues of environmental degradation and CSR [corporate social responsibility] issues which come to the heart of the areas of cooperation which I mentioned could be possible between North and South. Because those are issues which are to do with substance and not simply political optics, because the environment knows no boundaries political or otherwise. And emissions from factories etc., know no boundaries, our waste problem doesn’t recognise the border and indeed you are exporting some of your waste to us at the moment and dumping it illegally. I’ve already raised with our Department of Environment in Northern Ireland, based on the ‘polluter pays’ principle, that the area of origin of that particular waste should be the area that pays for the clean-up of that particular waste. Those issues are areas of cooperation which are very real and practical and can develop.
Arms trade: “With regard to the arms trade, and the CSR issues, Northern Ireland currently has less than 93,000 manufacturing jobs in the entire economy. We welcome inward investment from wherever that inward investment will come. We need more manufacturing jobs in Northern Ireland to build the economy of Northern Ireland from where it currently is. And, yes, there have been companies come to Northern Ireland based on the arms trade, but I take a view which was taught to me many years ago in negotiations with the trade union movement as I was at one side of the table and they were at the other. Felix McCrossan was the full-time trade union official in the business that I was involved in, and we had many difficult discussions and many difficult negotiations but often at night we would sit back in the office and reflect upon the difficulties of the day’s work. And I remember saying to him on one occasion, ‘you’ve given me a hard time today with regard to the deal that we are trying to do’ (with regard to the wages going forward and all those types of things), ‘and if you were giving inward investment the same type of hard deal as you’re giving to me, I doubt if some of the inward investment would actually land in Northern Ireland’. And he had welcomed another clothing company to Northern Ireland at that particular time, and to be frank, the terms and conditions of that company were far worse than we were providing to Felix’s members at that particular time. Felix’s answer was very clear and straight to me.
He said: ‘yes, George, but when I get them in I can then work on them to improve the situation. I’ll take the jobs, I’ll get them in and then I’ll work to improve the situation.’ My attitude to those arms companies is exactly the same. I’ll take the jobs and while they’re there in our jurisdiction we can work on those companies to improve their corporate social responsibility within our jurisdiction. The arms trade is a fact of life, it’s run by governments. Sadly, it’s run by governments. The world-wide impact of that can’t be affected by a small factory based in Derry or whatever…. But while they’re within my jurisdiction we can do all that we can to improve their responsibility to the community and to the environment in the area in which they are. …
Structures prior to Belfast Agreement: “”With regard to the structures of Northern Ireland prior to the Belfast Agreement. No I don’t think they were the best. They could have been improved upon as well. And that’s part of the task that we have, is to not accept the past, but to try and move into a future which is better for everybody and has the agreement of both sides of our community, and clear up some of the legacy of bad government in the past as well as the additional bad government which has been added to us by the Belfast Agreement.
SDLP: “With regard to the SDLP, I don’t believe that if the SDLP broke free from Sinn Féin that it would lead to their destruction ……… …. Coupled with that, if they were delivering good effective measures for people on the ground in Northern Ireland, I think that their fortunes could be significantly enhanced. That’s a personal view, that is not a party view.
United Ireland: “With regard to the question on a united Ireland, it is absolutely legitimate and honourable for a member of the nationalist community – and nationalist parties – to pursue their goal of a united Ireland by democratic and peaceful means. I have absolutely no difficulty with that whatsoever. That is a legitimate right and I would defend to the death a nationalist’s right to express those views and to campaign for those views. “
Questioner: “Could the DUP admit publicly that it is a noble aspiration for a nationalist to aspire to a united Ireland to be won by mutual reconciliation?
George Dawson: “Of course”
Questioner: “Would Dr Paisley stand up and say that? It would make the IRA say ‘at least Rev. Paisley admits that those who work for a united Ireland are aspiring to a noble idea.”
George Dawson: “I think he actually has said that, in the past. I think he has put on record – I think it was in the House of Commons – I think he put on record that it was a legitimate, I’m not sure if he used the term ‘noble’…..
Questioner: “Would he admit that it is a noble aspiration?”
George Dawson: “I’ll put it to him, but I think he has come very close to using those words in the past and he has no philosophical objection whatsoever to a nationalist or a republican aspiring to a united Ireland…”
Belfast Agreement: “Just one further comment, I used the term ‘undemocratic’ with regard to the Belfast Agreement. That was based on one underlying principle: that was the fact that it included within it at its heart the undemocratic use of violence for political ends. And that is why I have consistently said that the Belfast Agreement was undemocratic in its structure, and will continue to say that the Belfast Agreement is undemocratic in its structure, regardless – and it’s my democratic right to oppose that, and I will continue to oppose that.
But, moving beyond that, what we need then is an agreement which has the support of nationalists, and unionists, within Northern Ireland. It’s not good enough to have an agreement which has the support of one side of the community. It must have the support of nationalists and unionists. That’s what we want to try to get to…..”
Questioner: “It’s very interesting to hear you say that, but your party, the DUP … did not take any part in the negotiations so it’s a bit rich for you to be saying that….”
George Dawson: “They were part of the negotiations until IRA/Sinn Féin were introduced …”
Mervyn Storey: “Some of the ground rules were completely changed … everybody changed the goal posts to ensure that Sinn Féin/IRA had an unfair advantage in relation to what they were bringing to the table. The Mitchell Principles were completely and absolutely thrown out the window, and I think that 6 years on from the Belfast Agreement we have seen the lip-service that Sinn Féin/IRA have paid to the Mitchell Principles. And I have to disagree – Bobby Tohill being taken out of the bar in Belfast. It was not a brawl, it was a highly sophisticated IRA operation to take out completely Bobby Tohill. … all the paraphernalia and all the equipment necessary to end life. Bobby Tohill owes his life to the PSNI.
Segregated education: “Now can I just conclude by saying that, first of all, the issue has been raised about permanently excluding nationalists. I think it is somewhat ironic that now nationalists in Northern Ireland continually ask to be included, when from the inception and creation of Northern Ireland in 1921, they purposefully excluded themselves. And remember – and George knows this is a personal hobby horse of mine – but if we want to see real change in Northern Ireland where should we begin? I don’t believe that we should begin with the politicians. I don’t believe we should begin with the voters. I believe we should begin with our children. Now if we want to get to the heart of sectarian division, it begins in primary schools in Northern Ireland because in 1943 there was an insistence by the Roman Catholic Church to educate its own children in its own schools, separate from Protestant children.
“Now we have lived with the legacy. I believe that segregation until this present day has been extremely detrimental to the whole concept of equality, inclusion and partnership, the very aspirations of the Belfast Agreement. There was a campaign not to join the civil service, in the 1920s and 30s. There was a campaign not to join the police force. There was a campaign to denigrate anything that was deemed to be part and parcel of the new Northern Ireland.
Civil rights and discrimimation: “And when we come to 1969 – and I was only a young boy in short trousers at that time – but George is absolutely right: Big House unionism discriminated against my parents, my grandfather. … George and I now sit in the Assembly at Stormont, and you can see why unionists behaved the way they did. It was the best gentleman’s club in Europe, and it was to their shame, to the colleagues of Roy’s party, that they allowed the situation to deteriorate the way they did. But the difficulty that they had was that there were those who were prepared to exclude themselves and they eventually gave rise to militant republicanism. And so I don’t come tonight with some form of guilt. Sometimes there is this impression that unionists should run around with their heads down and wear sackcloth and ash, and that we should somehow be remorseful and have a guilt complex about how nationalists were treated. My family, my father and my grandfather, were treated with the absolute same disdain, and that is why since I have had a vote I never ever voted for the Ulster Unionist Party in my life. Because of Big House unionism. For the DUP has come from a completely different perspective and I think that if there is going to be inclusion we are not in the business of permanently excluding anybody other than those who by their own credentials exclude themselves.
Forgiveness and redemption: “Now a gentleman asked about forgiveness and redemption. Yes I believe in forgiveness and redemption but I believe also in repentance. I don’t want to go down the road tonight of a theological exposition or else I think this might be Peter’s wife’s mother wake instead of her funeral! I have to say that there is no forgiveness without repentance. And I have to say that those elements of Christian faith are very dear to me but it’s not – and I have to clarify this – it’s not that I want to humiliate anybody. But is there anybody in this room who really believes that the campaign that the IRA conducted for over 30 years in Northern Ireland was morally justifiable? Is there anybody?
Questioner: “I believe that it started out of a justifiable cause because you would say in your own right you were only a boy… You don’t understand how the people felt, how the people were down-trodden….
Another member of the audience: “Does that give people the right to take up violence and kill people? … Violence is not the answer. You weren’t up there at the time were you?
Questioner: “When violence erupted I was there. I felt it. …I am not saying that killing people is the answer, but that is the way it developed and it was the only way that it could develop at the time because at the time the people were downtrodden and nobody gave a damn. It was similar to the case in South Africa, it was similar to most other countries where British imperialism ruled”
Mervyn Storey: “All I can say is if that is the basis of the explanation for the campaign then why did unionists from my community not take up arms against the British state? Because remember we were discriminated against. And this is a facet that people conveniently forget. But behind it there was an opportunity seized by those who had lain dormant within republican circles to take their moral high ground and use the circumstances as the justifiable reason for their deeds. And I have to say, in the light of all that has happened in Madrid, and September 11th, and all the other atrocities around the world, surely we haven’t still people who believe that if you can’t get at the table politically your argument across, that you still have to resort to bombs and bullets. I thought that Ireland had moved on substantially from that ideology. And we have to move away from it, and republicans, whether they like it or whether they don’t, if they want to have the fruits of normal democratic politics they have to be prepared to be at the table on the same basis as I am. The only mandate I have is the mandate that people gave me in November 2003. …. “I sit on Ballymoney Borough Council with a representative of Sinn Féin/IRA and one night he was giving us all the issues that were so bad about Northern Ireland, a police force that was unrepresentative and all of these things. And I asked through the mayor could the representative of Sinn Féin/IRA give me on social issues, housing issues, job issues – I went through a whole range of issues – could he tell me how he was more disadvantaged than I was. There wasn’t one. He has access to social security the same as I have, he has access to housing the same as I have, he has access to jobs the same as I have, he has access to all the machinery of government the same as I have.
Republicans have to deliver: “The IRA have no more – they never had – moral or economic or political justifiable reasons for their existence, and they should do the honourable thing and disappear for good. And then, that will put the onus on us to fulfil our obligations under the terms of Devolution Now. And if republicans were cute that’s what they would do, and they would turn the tables on us and say ‘right, we have now done that, put it over to you.’ And I can assure you that we will not be found wanting in the sense that if the DUP says it – the one thing about us even though it might not be the most palatable of messages – the one thing that we have always sought to be is to be honest in what we say and honest in what we believe. And I think it is now up to republicans to deliver, and if they do, well, they will see what the benefits of that will be.”
Chair (Ercus Stewart): “… I think it has been a very open debate, it was getting more open in the last ten minutes! It was an open debate not only from the floor but also from here, and I think straight talking on both sides. It would be great if we could keep going but I have to bear in mind that both speakers have to travel back. I think we will welcome them back, we welcome them here tonight despite the questions [applause]… “
Julitta Clancy (Meath Peace Group): “…. I think we are ending on a positive note in what Mervyn just said. Over the years, in the Guild of Uriel and the Meath Peace Group we’ve come to realise that dialogue does help us all move on and towards understanding. When we met George a few years ago, I had never before met someone from the Independent Orange Order. It was an incredible discussion that night. It made me think. ….And he invited us last year to a number of Independent Orange Order centenary conferences. We were very privileged to be there. It was quite a unique experience, and I learned a lot. Over the years I have been very critical of militant republicans because I come from a republican background in part, and I am very ashamed of the things done in our name. But we have talked and dialogued and I have never found it a useless exercise. It has always been a learning experience. And I have been privileged in those republicans I have met who have also moved on, and have sincerely moved on. I have no truck with violence as you know – I have spoken out and our group has spoken out – because not only is it immoral it is also useless and has done nothing for anyone. It has divided the peoples on this island more than anything else. But I would encourage you to enter into dialogue…”
Acknowledgments: On behalf of the Meath Peace Group Julitta Clancy thanked the speakers for their honesty and frankness, she thanked the audience for their attendance and their valuable contributions to the debate, the guest chair Ercus Stewart and all who had helped with the organisation, planning, catering and taping of the talk. Thanks were also due to the Columban Fathers for their hospitality and to the Department of Foreign Affairs for sending a representative and for their generous grant of financial assistance towards the costs of the talks. She also thanked the British Embassy for again sending a representative and for their generous hospitality on the occasion of the award of an Honorary MBE in February. The group was honoured by the award which “was accepted on behalf of all of the people who over the 11 years of the group’s existence, in private and public meetings have come together and challenged and listened….” She mentioned some of the other work of the group, the private meetings, the work done in conjunction with the Guild of Uriel in Louth and the annual transition year schools programme. She also welcomed Eugene Markey from the Cavan Museum, who had put together an impressive and inclusive exhibition of banners and regalia of the various rural fraternal societies of 100 years ago, currently on display in the Museum and attracting large numbers of visitors.
©Meath Peace Group. Meath Peace Group report 2004
Taped by Oliver Ward and Jim Kealy.
Transcribed by Judith Hamill and Julitta Clancy. Edited by Julitta Clancy.
George Dawson, MLA: After graduating from QUB, George Dawson entered the business world. For a number of years he was Manufacturing Director with an international company with responsibilities in NI, England, Scotland and N. Africa. Latterly he has been involved in promoting Corporate Social Responsibility within the business community in NI. With extensive experience of Strategic Development, Business Process Re-engineering, Human Resource Initiatives and International Quality Initiatives George brings a professional business mind to local politics. In addition, for much of his career in business he has been involved in regular negotiations with employee’s representatives, customers, suppliers and government departments. His various contacts with government departments in the Stormont regime have added to his conviction that the structures established under the Belfast Agreement are “top heavy”, bureaucratic, wasteful and inefficient. He is determined to continue to expose and tackle this waste of money. As a regular contributor to the BBC Radio Ulster Sunday Sequence programme he has consistently highlighted the unfairness, undemocratic nature and appeasement of terrorists in the current political process. George’s special interests include Economic Development, Environment and Social development. He has been instrumental in establishing a number of Credit Unions in recent years. George has been a member of the DUP since 1979 and has held various positions within the structures of the party. Additionally his family has a long association with Unionist politics. His Grandfather signed the Ulster Covenant in 1912 and was active in resistance of Home Rule at that time. His father was a foundation member of the DUP. George is married to Vi and has two children Emma and Sara. He is currently Grand Master of the Independent Orange Order.
Mervyn Storey, MLA: Mervyn Storey was born in Armoy, in the heart of North Antrim, where he attended the local primary school. His secondary education was completed at Ballymoney Intermediate. Mervyn is married to Christine and has three children Lydia, Philip and Jonathan. He was elected to Ballymoney Borough Council in 2001 where he is Vice-Chairman of the Economic Development Committee; he also serves on the Glebeside and Castle Street Community Associations and the Somme Association. As a Board member of Ballymoney Local Strategy Partnership Mervyn has a keen interest in delivering meaningful resources to the local community through the distribution of European money. He is also a Board member of the recently formed Regional Partnership for Northern Ireland. Mervyn serves on the Fire Authority for NI, he is actively involved in the work of the Audit, Appeals and Joint Negotiating Committees. A member of the Loyal Orders and Vice-Chairman of the Caleb Foundation, he is also a committee member of Ballymoney Free Presbyterian Church.
Ercus Stewart, S.C. Ercus Stewart is a Senior Counsel practising at the Bar since 1970.
He is also a member of the Bars of Northern Ireland, England and Wales and Australia (N.S.W.). He also acts as arbitrator in commercial arbitration, international and domestic and is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and a former chairman of the Irish Branch of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. He lectures to various institutions, including King’s Inns, and UCD and is a Panel Member/Registered Chartered Arbitrator with: Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, London, and AAA., I.C.D.R. and I.C.C. He is former Chairman of the Irish Society for Labour Law, the Irish Association of Industrial Relations and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission. Ercus is also a member of Amnesty International and Co-Operation Ireland (formerly Co-operation North) and is Chairman of the Law Library Credit Union. He is married to Ria and they have 4 children: Cillian, Alida, Elsa and John.
APPENDIX : Devolution Now – The DUP’s Concept of Devolution (2003)
SECTION ONE: OUTLINES OF DUP POLICY AND PRINCIPLES
Seven Principles of the DUP:
The DUP is a devolutionist party. We believe in democratic, fair and accountable government.
No negotiating with the representatives of terrorism but we will talk to other democratic parties
Those who are not committed to exclusively peaceful and democratic means should not be able to exercise unaccountable executive power.
Terrorist structures and weaponry must be removed before the bar to the Stormont Executive can be opened.
Any relationship with the Republic of Ireland should be fully accountable to the Assembly
The DUP will work to restore the morale and effectiveness of the police force
We will strive to ensure genuine equality for all including equality in funding.
Any Agreement must command the support of both Nationalists and Unionists
Any Assembly must be democratic, fair and accountable. Any executive power must be fully accountable to the Assembly
Only those committed to exclusively peaceful and democratic means should exercise any Cabinet-style Ministerial responsibility
Within any new Agreement any relationship with the Republic of Ireland must be fully accountable to the Assembly
A new settlement must be able to deliver equality of opportunity to unionists as well as nationalists
Agreed arrangements must be capable of delivering an efficient and effective administration
The outcome must provide a settlement within the UK, not a process to a united Ireland. It must provide stable government for the people of Northern Ireland and not be susceptible to recurring suspension
A New Agreement Must Be:
Stable: The Belfast Agreement was not stable and was incapable of delivering stable government. An alternative needs to be established which takes cognisance of parties behaviour but is sufficiently robust to withstand pressure
Accountable: Ministers were not accountable to the Assembly for their decisions. A mechanism for holding individual Ministers to account must be established
Effective: The Agreement failed to provide clear direction or effective decision making thus rendering the process cumbersome. The alternative is a system which is responsive, removing unnecessary levels of bureaucracy
Efficient: Political bureaucracy spiralled out of control under the Agreement. The alternative must provide value for money and cut back the costs of government.
SECTION TWO: PROPOSALS
72 Member Assembly
Cross-community support required in the Assembly – by means of Key Vote majorities
Assembly to have executive and legislative responsibility for areas which were the responsibility of the 6 NI departments before 1999 [but responsibility for Social Security would rest at Westminster and responsibility for the Human Rights and Equality Commissions would be devolved. Other issues only transferrable with the consent of Parliament and a Key Vote of a NI Assembly]
Maximum of 8 Government Departments in Northern Ireland
Abolition of the Civic Forum
Assembly, by Key Vote, would determine how executive power was exercised.
Administration could either be in some form of an Executive or an arrangement where the Assembly would be a Corporate Body responsible for decision making in an agreed manner.
Executive could either be a
Voluntary Coalition, or
with arrangements for accountability and effective decision making
Executive to be subject to a vote of confidence at any time and would require a Key Vote majority to survive
If an Executive could not be formed or if an Executive collapsed, powers would be transferred from the Executive/Ministers to the Assembly
Fixed 4-year term for the Assembly
Efficiency Commission to make recommendations about the efficiency of every aspect of the devolved institutions
Voting in Assembly to consist of Normal Votes and Key Votes
Normal Votes require a majority of Members present and voting to pass
Key Votes would be important votes – e.g. formation of an administration – or votes triggered by a petition of concern.
Key Votes could be passed either by
– more than 70% present and voting or
majority of Assembly Members which also included a majority of designated unionists and a majority of designated nationalists
Meath Peace Group Report 2004 ©Meath Peace Group
The Meath Peace Group is a voluntary group founded in April 1993 with the following aims
·To promote peace, and the fostering of understanding, mutual respect, reconciliation and trustthrough dialogue between people North and South
· To encourage and facilitate ordinary people, particularly in Co. Meath, to recognise their role and responsibility in helping to promote peace, reconciliation and understanding, and to assist in the empowerment of people in the long-term work of building the foundations for a lasting peace on the island.
· To raise awareness and improve information, and to encourage and contribute to debate and meaningful dialogue on issues of conflict.
MEATH PEACE GROUP TALKS
No. 45: “The Good Friday Agreement – Where Are We Now?”
Monday, 30th September 2002
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan, Co. Meath
Professor Paul Bew (Professor of Irish Politics, Queen’s University Belfast)
Michael McDowell, T.D., S.C. (Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform;
President of the Progressive Democrats)
Chaired by Ercus Stewart, S.C.
Official welcome by Cllr. Shane Cassells, Mayor of Navan
Welcome and introductions: Shane Cassells
Addresses of Paul Bew and Michael McDowell
Questions and comments
Closing words: Ercus Stewart and Julitta Clancy
Appendix A: UUC Resolution of 21 September 2002
Appendix B: Minister McDowell’s supplied script
Biographical notes and acknowledgments
[Editor’s note – context of talk: this talk took place in the immediate aftermath of the Ulster Unionist Council (UUC) meeting held on September 21st and just a few days before the events which led to the latest suspension of the institutions set up under the Good Friday Agreement. As the UUC resolution formed much of the context of the discussion, we have reproduced the text of that resolution motion in Appendix A of this report. Over 130 people attended this talk]
Official Welcome by Mayor of Navan, Cllr. Shane Cassells
Welcoming the speakers, the guest chair and the large audience, Cllr. Shane Cassells, Mayor of Navan, said that “the Good Friday Agreement for the first time ever brought together everyone on the island of Ireland and was formally endorsed by both sides”. On a personal note, he said that “when the Agreement was put to the people of Ireland, as a member of Fianna Fáil whose primary aim is the reunification of this country, I did not vote lightly on the Agreement that gave up our territorial claim but, like many other people, when we were voting for the Agreement we were voting for a greater good, and that can never be forgotten.” Mayor Cassells then introduced the speakers before handing over to the Chair, Ercus Stewart, S.C.
1. Paul Bew (Professor of Irish Politics, Queen’s University Belfast):
“The first thing I’d like to say is to thank the Meath Peace Group who have asked me to come here this evening. I have long been impressed by the interventions that group has made in the public domain, and I am very grateful for the invitation to speak, and I am grateful above all to you for attending in such large numbers, which indicates the seriousness of the topic and the interest that you all have in it.
Crisis facing the Good Friday Agreement: “Now I want to say a few words about the Good Friday Agreement and the crisis it currently faces before suggesting some tentative ways by which we might actually get out of that crisis and preserve that Agreement. I want to say that because sometimes in the last few months when I have been speaking on this matter and I have been trying to alert audiences to the fact that we were heading for a major crisis. Most recently in Oxford about three weeks ago, speaking to the British-Irish Association, a very large percentage of a well-informed audience simply did not want to hear that we were heading for a major crisis, and there is a very good reason why that should be so. From the point of view of many in Dublin – and completely understandably – the Good Friday Agreement solved the Northern Question and the less they hear about it the better in future, a mood which I have every sympathy with, I regard it as an entirely rational attitude. In Britain the same attitude prevails, they don’t want to hear that there are serious difficulties afflicting the course of the Agreement. I noted a strong tendency at the British-Irish Association at the beginning of September for people to have almost a mystical sense that somehow it would work, it would be all right on the night, that somehow the various problems that are afflicting the Agreement would solve themselves, they would go away and that it would be a mistake to listen too much to what were described as “Jeremiah-like prophecies”. My own speech there was referred to as a “Jeremiah-like prophecy”. One person in the audience came up to me and said nobody seems to have realised, or to have looked in their Bible recently in this audience – unfortunately Jeremiah was right! The events since then demonstrated unfortunately that Jeremiah was right in this particular case. But the events were entirely predictable and indeed not as bad as they might have been.
Commitment to the Agreement: “But, stressing the existence of the crisis, and the reality of the crisis, I want to leave you in no doubt of my own personal commitment to the Agreement. It is something I believed was possible and argued for throughout the early and mid-1990s when the conventional view was that it was impossible. One reason why it was widely believed to be impossible, in terms of Dublin opinion, was an assumption about Unionist/Protestant/Presbyterian traditions. The assumption was that these traditions are so reactionary that they will not actually make a power-sharing deal with their neighbours, taking into account also an Irish dimension. I would draw attention to the fact that very few people argued against that view, very few people said it would be possible to mobilise a majority in the Unionist community in favour of this Agreement. That is what actually happened on the day of the referendum in 1998 – it was possible to do it. I still feel that a large part of Nationalist Ireland has not really changed its mindset on that point and come to terms with the fact and the implications that it was possible to do it. But it was actually possible to do it and I would remind you of that.
Nature of the problem: “The problems that we have in the Agreement are nothing to do with the problem of equality in Northern Ireland. If you go up to the Northern Irish Assembly, you will find even the DUP perfectly happy sitting in committees with Sinn Fein. You will find that these committees are working perfectly well. There is no problem in terms of people from different groups in society working together. The problem of equality is nothing to do with the crisis of this Agreement and it is very very important to grasp that. The problem is a very much more profound problem and I will come to it. Because I wish it was the problem of equality, because if it were, it would be more easily soluble, actually. But it isn’t, unfortunately, and therefore is so much more difficult to come to terms with.
“But the simple reality that I would remind you of is, that a majority of Unionists and Protestants voted for this Agreement in 1998, a much larger majority of Catholics and Nationalists, and the difficulties that have arisen and exist today do not exist because people don’t want a new beginning in Northern Ireland. They do not exist because people do not understand that you have to make compromises for peace. And so much of the commentary – perhaps 90% of it – misses this point which a moment’s thought would stare you in the face. And I think to get into the reality framework which we have to be in to get ourselves out of this mess, that’s the first thing that you actually have to do. They do not exist because Mr David Trimble did not sell this Agreement. They do not exist because he doesn’t believe in this Agreement. One of the difficulties that happened in the Ulster Unionist Party in the last two or three weeks is that he was very slow, and late in the day, to see the scale of the forces that were ranged against him, very very late in the day. And one of the reasons for that – not the only reason, but one of the strongest reasons for that – was his commitment to the Agreement, which, at a private level, is fervent and idealistic.
Realities: “There is no possibility however of going out into the streets of Northern Ireland and selling a happy-clappy version of this Agreement. There is no possibility, none at all in the real world, of trying to revisit the mood of the referendum, of April 1998. We all understand impossibilities in Irish politics. Nobody in this room believes it is possible that the [Irish] Government will get an 80% majority in the Nice Referendum, for example. The realities in the North are just as real now. The reality is you cannot return to that mood that existed then because too many people have gone wrong, and I’ll try and explain what they were.
“But there is no possibility that some active will of super-salesmanship is going to come to the rescue here. Now why? I wish it were true, by the way, because I can arrange the act of will, I can arrange the super-salesmanship. I have been there when there were other acts of will and other dramas and super-salesmanship. I just know that this can’t be done, in this particular occasion.
Nature of the difficulties: “We have to face up to the difficulties and what they actually are. They spring from two sources – the first which I will acknowledge quite explicitly is the scale of Protestant violence within Northern Ireland coming from loyalist paramilitary groups which, inevitably, have dragged the IRA in certain places into violence as well. And the destabilising effects of that over the summer. I am quite prepared to concede the version of the police, and I think it is probably right, that the majority of that inter-communal violence comes from disenchanted loyalist groupings. And there seems to me to be no point in arguing about it, this is the truth and it is a major problem.
“However, there are two other major difficulties which are creating the current malaise.
Colombia: “One is Colombia and the question of what the IRA is doing in Colombia. The grim realisation that it cannot, for a Unionist leadership, be swept under the carpet. Let me remind you of something – look at the first page, the statement of principles which underpins the Good Friday Agreement. On that first page, look at para. 4. It states quite explicitly that it is not a matter simply of having a prohibition against political violence, the threat or the use of violence in Northern Ireland against this Agreement, it said anywhere in any context. The parties involved in this are not committed to non-violence locally in the six counties – they are committed anywhere in the world not to use violence to change political arrangements. It is a very simple point. In other words, the explanation often given for Colombia is that I don’t know what the IRA were getting up to there, it has nothing to do with the Northern Irish peace process. I’m afraid anybody who reads the first page of the Good Friday Agreement can see that that is not an explanation that will work. And of course, by the way, the most benign interpretation of the reason why these three gentlemen were in Colombia is that they were being paid….. [tape unclear] That’s at its most benign! The most malign is that new weapons are being tested for re-importation back here. But the most benign interpretation that’s being given is that large sums of money are passed from FARC to the IRA. The richest political party on this island is Sinn Fein by some long way, and you will feel the effects of that as you did in your last election. You will feel it shortly in the Nice Referendum campaign. Now that is a problem for any liberal democrat.
Re-commitment to principles of Good Friday Agreement: “When Mark Durkan calls for a recommitment to the founding principles of the Agreement on page one I could not agree with him more. But the truth is the parties of government in Northern Ireland could not credibly make that recommitment at this moment. There is a gaping hole right through the heart of the philosophy of the Good Friday Agreement, and it is not going to go away, the consequences of that, it is not going to go away when the trial begins, and so on. And it can’t be said that it is something that just happened somewhere else. It is at the heart of our politics and it won’t go away.
Castlereagh [raid on Castlereagh police station]: “Now similarly again there is the problem of Castlereagh. This is an enormously messy complex series of events but we are assured by the former acting head constable that the view of the police now is that most of their investigations are focused on the IRA. We are now facing the news that the chef, who was allegedly involved in all these things, is to be extradited back to the country. Widespread throughout this society is the story of what happened and how this happened.
“Now let me just explain at a practical level the problem. I was at a dinner party about a month ago; a chap arrived late, and he said “I am very sorry I am late, my brother had to move house today. He’s a policeman, and because of the Castlereagh raid his details have fallen into the hands of terrorists and he had to move house and I had to help him”. …. Most of the people around the table were Ulster Unionists. And what struck me about this was that this was being repeated at near enough 100 dinner parties in Northern Ireland that night, all of them exactly the sort of people at that dinner party who attended the Ulster Unionist Council, all of them in social class and outlook exactly the same sort of people. It does not require a huge effort of imagination to realise how destabilising this is, how difficult it is then for Mr. David Trimble to say “the politics of threat are over, we are in a new order, the IRA is in a transition, it may not have got down the road as far enough as we would want but it is going in the right direction”. That’s what he wants to say, that was the message of his speech in Oxford, that’s what he wants to say but he is just running up against a brick wall of bad news.
“And that is why this Agreement is in crisis, not because of inequality problems, but because of these real problems which the minute you live in Belfast you can’t miss any more than you can miss the fact that the City Hall is in the centre of the town. And it is very very important to come to terms with what the problem is if you want to see a way around this.
Slippage in Unionist support for the Agreement: “Now in Oxford David Trimble said something else which I think some people did listen to carefully and pick up on. He said – and this would be my own view too – in fact I am filling out what he said but this is what he was in essence saying: if you ask people today about the Good Friday Agreement in the Unionist community there is no question but that support has dropped and the polls which showed near enough 60% not that long ago now are showing – well the conventional view of most people is that Unionists/Protestants are now 6:4 against. And this is being reflected in the de-selection of pro-Agreement candidates in the last week and so on. It is being reflected in the crisis that goes on in the Ulster Unionist Council.
“But if you ask them the question, “do you still love the Agreement in the way you did?” you’re going to get a dusty answer, and it is something like asking someone four years into a marriage “is your wife still as beautiful as she was the day you married her?” Or “do you still love your wife as much or do you still feel the same way?” Now the answer might very well be, and realistically for most people it is, “I am perfectly happy in this marriage, I wish it could continue, but do I feel exactly as I did on my wedding day? No probably I don’t, we’ve had several quarrels since” and so on.
“Now this is the same situation with the Agreement. I don’t think you should become over-alarmed by the fact that in all human affairs a certain jadedness sets in, and I don’t think we should become over-alarmed at that, even if one should face up to the problem. I think instead, and David Trimble drew attention to this, the important question is this – to all the political parties in Northern Ireland: “you are a supporter of the Ulster Unionist Party, the Democratic Unionist Party, Sinn Fein, SDLP – do you want your party now to withdraw from the institutions?”
“That is the real question. Not “are you still in love as you were in April 1998, do you still feel as optimistic?” Too many bad things have happened, but “do you want your party to withdraw from the institutions?”
Potential source of stability: “Now in my view, all the pollings we have, and there will be a new polling shortly on this question, is that neither the supporters of the UUP nor the DUP want their parties at this point to withdraw from the institutions. Now that may be changing but I still think it is likely that the polls will show that there is still a majority there. Now that is a potential source of stability working for the Agreement in a context where there are so many other sources of instability working against the Agreement.
UUC resolution: “Now, one of the reasons why I am mentioning this – and I have to say that I am speaking purely personally – is that in my view we are looking at an Ulster Unionist Council about four months from now or just under, and the crucial question will be the mood of those people when they meet. Do not get tied up in the details of the resolution that was passed. Some of it is a wish list. I do think the resolution indicates a very serious problem that the Ulster Unionist Council wants to meet in the middle of January feeling that it has some reason to believe that Sinn Fein is moving away from the world of paramilitarism. And somehow or other, raids on police stations, the seizure of intelligence documents, adventures in Colombia, it just doesn’t feel like that.
Gerry Adams: “By the way, I am totally convinced that Mr Adams is committed to peace here, totally committed to peace on these matters. This is not a comment on his personal position within these matters. I think he has every incentive, both good and bad, to maintain this process. But what has actually happened here in essence is that his means of man-management are that he allows adventures, he allows young fellows their adventures, and he allows these adventures and he asks David Trimble to pick up the pieces. That’s what is going on here, starkly in front of your eyes. He asks David Trimble to live with the problems and the consequences within his constituency when they read Castlereagh, Colombia, in particular. That’s the problem. It represents a real human political problem, but if I was thinking about this I would be thinking more about this group of people meeting in a context in which they felt more confident about the future.
Assembly elections: “Now one problem that is very real is the imminence of the election. One reason why now the Ulster Unionist Party is prepared, in a way it was never prepared before, to challenge the existence of the institutions is that a lot of those people who meet believe these institutions are done for anyway. They certainly believe that an election in a very short few months is coming up, and that that election is either going to be an horrendously polarising election – most of them believe, and I think most commentators believe that the SDLP is finished, it’s a particularly sad development, heartbreaking development from my own point of view, but nonetheless we again need not fantasise, we have to face the realities. They think therefore that they are going to be faced with a massively polarised election in which they will be very seriously challenged by the DUP. Let me say this: the SDLP I think is finished, the UUP is not yet finished. There is a distinction between the crises that they both face here, and again I think most realists understand that. But the SDLP I think, sadly, is – at least in the sense that it will not return a majority of Nationalists and will not have the say on who the Deputy First Minister is going to be – and in that crucial sense it is a goner. It may very well be as Dr. Brian Feeney says that actually within Northern Nationalists it is going to be 70:30 in favour of Sinn Fein.
“But even if that doesn’t happen, there is nobody who believes the SDLP can produce a majority in this situation. So, looking into this vista, those people no longer feel the need to protect – they are instinctively a conservative group of people, they instinctively are not inordinately dissatisfied with the way the institutions currently operate.
“But looking into that vista, they do not feel they are being irresponsible because they think these institutions are going down the Swanee anyway, pretty damn quick. So you have to realise that, and understand why this shift in their mood is occurring.
Postponing date of elections: “And one of the things I think that ought to be very seriously considered here is the simple reality that this Assembly was intended to work for four years. By May it will not have been in existence for four years. Because of the suspensions, the delay in having it set up and so on, we will have had a little over three years of devolved government in actual practice. In my view it was the intention of Parliament to at least allow a four-year working practical devolution experiment. And in my view that was the original intention, the Agreement makes no specifications about dates for elections, and in my view the case for a delay in election at least until the full four years has operated – in other words it would effectively delay the election until the beginning of 2004. In my view that ought to be very seriously considered, because at that point, this group of people who meet will not be challenging, if they are in a bloody-minded mood, institutions which they think are shortly about to go down the tubes anyway, but they would be challenging the institutions which have a year’s life or more ahead of them. And I think that you have to understand the instinctive conservatism of most Ulster Unionists, and indeed their instinctive happiness – happiness is an overstatement – their instinctive willingness to accept the working of devolution. It’s more common among the people who attend the UUC, more pleasure in the fact that there’s a local Parliament back, than there is in the population.
Cynicism about the institutions: “One of the reasons why people are so wrong to say that David Trimble could sell devolution harder is that the population as a whole is quite cynical. The population as a whole – and the polls make this perfectly clear – think it’s not very good value for money, it’s a bit of a white elephant, and so on. They do, though, think that if we don’t have it things are going to get nastier. And that’s the best you have in the population. That might be enough to work with but the population does not have a rosy view particularly of the working of devolution. Every poll tells you that. They do not believe, for example, that their economic well-being is intimately linked to it. The polls tell you that quite clearly. But they do believe life would be that bit worse and nastier. And that’s enough to work with, and they will accept that. There is a widespread willingness to accept things as they now are – it’s the fear of the consequences after the election. And, as I said, in my view anyway, the intention always was that one should have four years of fully working experiment, and I think that would change the mood of this group of people.
Border poll: “I have argued in the past very strongly that I also believe that there is a case for having a border poll on the day of the next Assembly election, whenever it is held. This is often misunderstood, and particularly I think in Dublin there is a view that this argument was something to do with allowing Unionists some great flag-waving exercise. Or indeed that it was all about getting out moderate Unionist voters. I can tell you now it’s not absolutely certain to do it, it probably will do it – the history of large turnouts, which a border poll will certainly bring about, is that Unionists who come to polls in a large turnout tend to be more moderate.
“That’s what happened on the day of the referendum. But it may be that it’s not like that. It will certainly prevent a UUP meltdown………..[break in tape] In the context of the next election, where Unionists may have to live with Sinn Fein advancing Gerry Adams as Deputy First Minister rather than an SDLP candidate, the Unionist community needs the strength of a victory on the day of the election which is – not by some abstract reflection on the principle of consent, but a reality that Northern Ireland for the foreseeable future is going to remain part of the United Kingdom. And from that position, they may be in a position to come to terms with what will be an extremely difficult thing – which is to accept a Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister.
Ed Moloney’s book: “If you think it’s easy, just read Ed Moloney’s book about Mr Adams. This is not an anti-peace process book. It argues that for a very long time, fifteen years, Mr Adams has known that the Republican project was doomed, that he hid this from his colleagues, but pugnaciously and with great brilliance carried on a process which eventually led to the Agreement that we currently have. But on the other hand, there is quite enough detail of a human sort – I’m not on here about political judgment – about what the IRA did under this leadership to make the hair stand on the back of your neck. It is gruelling reading. By the time of the election tens of thousands of people will have read it and it should remind you of some things: just the sheer horror of what actually went on.
Loyalist violence: “And I accept Loyalist violence is a very large part of it – 30% or so of those who died died at the hands of Loyalist paramilitaries, most of them innocent and not connected Catholics. But the most important figure of the Troubles, the one that is never fully internalised within the Nationalist body politic, is that Republicans and their allies, INLA, and so on, took 58.8% of the fatal casualties, did the killing of just under 60% of those who died. That is the lion’s share of the killing. And this is based on the philosophy that the way to preserve political objectives in Ireland is through a project of human sacrifice. And some things are particularly horrifying – the murder of a mother of ten and the disappearing of her body. There are other things in the book which are particularly horrifying. And these are things which Mr Moloney argues the current political leadership of Sinn Fein is intimately connected to. It surely does not require a feat of extraordinary imagination or empathy for another set of people – Unionists, Orangemen, Protestants, who are very full of faults, very tiresome, very stubborn people – it surely is not asking for too much empathy to realise that accepting a Deputy First Minister from such a party is one hell of a swallow. After all, your own government has made clear that it is not willing to do that, in the strongest terms, and the Irish people at the last election, the exit polls, said that they were no more willing to have Sinn Fein in government than they were five years previously. So it cannot be a hugely difficult thing to understand why it is a problem.
Co-Premiership: “But let me say, ‘First Minister’ and ‘Deputy First Minister’ in Northern Ireland are slightly misleading titles. This is a co-premiership. The position of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in terms of actual influence over governmental processes is the same. The person who is Deputy First Minister is not a John Prescott like figure while the real power lies with the First Minister. It is a co-premiership, and there is going to be a huge difficulty in facing up to the fact of a Sinn Fein [Deputy] First Minister, and you have to look at means and ways in which the Unionist community might be able to do that. Unless you are in that market, unless you are thinking about that, you are not thinking about the crisis of the Good Friday Agreement. If you are just saying somebody should be selling it, or it’s all about equality, you’re not thinking about the crisis in the Good Friday Agreement. You have to think about that problem, that is the nub of the problem, and you have to get your head around it.
Coming to terms with Sinn Fein as major nationalist party: “And in my opinion there are ideas – and I’ve just mentioned two – which help to create a context in which you might see the Unionist community coming to terms with the emergence of Sinn Fein as the dominant force within Northern Nationalism. Because I am totally committed to this Agreement, I am totally committed to the idea that there is no other way out, I think that if the majority of Northern Nationalists support Sinn Fein then that is something which the Unionist community has to come to terms with. There is no way of evading it, and it is best that it be done within the framework of the institutions that we currently have and that would be the most benign outcome. But it is going to be an incredibly difficult operation – you know that phrase of getting the rich man through the eye of the needle, something like that – and you have to realise what it is going to be.
Process requires Trimble: “And so far what disappoints me over the summer months is neither government actually is formally addressing the problem – as it really actually is. If we are going to save the Agreement you have to identify and address this problem as it actually is. I don’t think the Agreement is much weaker, I have to say, because of the events of the Ulster Unionist Council. Had David Trimble been defeated – which very nearly happened, had he lost his leadership – and it came within an inch of that happening, then I think we would have been in a mess because essentially this process requires Trimble and the people around him who are committed to making the thing work. And if you remove that from the centre of the political framework you have nothing. He is the boy with the finger in the dike. And, however crazy and irritating he gets, you have to remember that, because if he takes his finger out of the dike you’ll feel the water on your heads – every corner of this island, if he takes his finger out of that dike. And you must remember it. Now, in fact, he survived. In fact he still has the direction of his party policy. And that is crucial.
One chance left: “There is one more chance to put this right. Don’t, as I say, over-obsess about the terms of the resolution, think instead of 800 people emotionally conservative, torn both ways, meeting in the middle of January, a group of people most of whom in the past have supported this Agreement, and think what you might do to make them say “we should try to keep this going a bit longer.” And if you start thinking about that, I think ideas such as delaying the timing of the election – by the way it’s an idea which you can find in all the parties in the Assembly, with the exception I would say of Sinn Fein, but even for Sinn Fein there is no great hardship here, eventually they are going to beat the SDLP, it’s going to happen, and there is no great hardship in delaying that if it allows other people more time to come to terms with that almost inevitable development.
“Therefore if you think in terms of that group of people who meet, think in terms of their mood, certain other things may happen anyway, in terms of a ceasefire monitor which may help a little bit.
Ceasefire monitor: “Again, in my opinion, the British Government in this case was amazingly dilatory. If it is right to have a monitor today, it was right to have an agreement on this going ahead in July. If we had agreement going ahead in July, Trimble might not have been – and probably would not, in the view of most of those closest to the process – been confronted with the crisis that happened in his own party.
“If it was wrong, sure, it’s wrong. If it is a bad idea, sure it’s wrong. But if it was right, it was right in September, it was right in July. If it had been done in July his position would have been significantly stronger going into this meeting. Instead of which he looked like somebody who was unable to get even a minimal concession of respectability from the two governments. That is a mis-reading.
“I think for some long time Downing Street has actually believed in this policy, believed it was a useful thing to try, and it is a misreading of the situation, but one that did enormous harm to Trimble in the late summer and in September.
All is not lost: “We are entering into this crisis but all is not lost. But it requires people to escape from the world of self-serving rhetoric, it requires people to look coolly at the balance of forces that there are in Northern Ireland, it requires people to work with what remains. What remains is an unwillingness to bring down these institutions if they seem to have a bit of life in them. What remains is a fear that things could be nastier without them, a perfectly reasonable fear. A lot of people – this includes people who are formally anti-Agreement – are very very worried about the consequences of some awful smash-up, and it seems to be that the British and Irish governments have an overriding interest in preserving this Agreement , they have an overriding interest in working with that sentiment, and creating the situation that when those 800 people meet in the middle of January they don’t meet in the agitated negative frame of mind that they met last week, and that they meet in a better frame of mind. And if that is the case there is every chance this Agreement will be preserved. Thank you very very much for your attention.”
Chair (Ercus Stewart): “Thank you. We will take questions at the very end, with the aim to try and finish by 10pm. Our next speaker needs no introduction – Minister Michael McDowell:
2. Michael McDowell, T.D. (Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform): “Ladies and gentlemen, first of all thank you very much for inviting me here this evening. When Julitta – who I know and trust and cherish as a friend and a long-standing collaborator on various other projects which most of you wouldn’t be too worried about – they are to do with law publishing and the like – when she asked me would I come here today, I hesitated, because one of the problems of being Minister for Justice in the Irish Government is that if you commit yourself to be present on an occasion and on a particular topic the ground shifts beneath you with such rapidity that you may find yourself pretty isolated or beached. Therefore – and I don’t think it is a terrible secret to say – she modified the topic of this evening’s discussion from one in which we were going to discuss a united Ireland – the pros and cons of it – to one which is the “Good Friday Agreement – Where Are We Now?”
“I want to, if I may, compliment the Meath Peace Group for all the work it has done and echo what Paul Bew has said about what valuable work it does to achieve understanding on this island. I know that sometimes the task of looking at the centre ground is a difficult one, and sometimes the task of reaching over the void in Irish politics to understand other people’s attitudes is difficult, but nonetheless it lies at the heart of any chance we have of achieving reconciliation between the people who live on this island. However you describe that form of reconciliation, it is a matter of leaping over the void of understanding which is at the heart of many of our problems.
Supplied script: “Now I have to say that another great aspect of being a Minister for Justice is that people work long and hard to provide me with supplied scripts, and it occurs to me that if I were to confine myself, or indeed to major on what I have come here with under my arm, I might not do justice to the points that Paul Bew has made. On the other hand, it is extremely perilous to depart from your supplied script because every word, comma and all the rest of it is subject to intense scrutiny. But here goes! [Editor’s note: the Minister’s supplied script is reproduced below in Appendix B]
Paul Bew’s analysis: “I have to say that I found Paul Bew’s analysis very interesting, candid, honest, but very much one-sided. And it’s not that he wasn’t leaning over backwards – as many people have done in the South – to understand the Republican point of view, because I don’t really expect him to spend too much time doing that. Where I would take issue with what he said is that I don’t agree with his premise, I don’t agree with his analysis, and I don’t agree with his conclusions. His primary point, and the one on which he ended, was that if a number of things happened then it is possible that when the Unionist Council meets on the 18th January, they will be meeting in happier times, more relaxed atmosphere, less fraught, and therefore in circumstances where it could decide to proceed with the implementation of the Agreement.
Four-year period for institutions to bed down: “And there are two legs to that argument as I understood them – one of which is that he believes that the whole of the Good Friday Agreement was predicated on an assumption that the institutions would bed down over a four-year period of co-operation where the benefits of the Agreement would become apparent to all sides and that in those circumstances, I suppose, the centre ground, or those who were willing to co-operate from either side, or to put their hands out across the void that I spoke of, would feel more confident about it and that it would be politically more viable for their leadership to engage in that exercise. Well, there are two points about that. Yes indeed a four-year period was envisaged, but we will have to recall that a lot of time was spent at the outset on this prior decommissioning issue which chewed up time, chewed up a lot of time, and that was done at the behest of people who said that if they didn’t get a concession on that they couldn’t go on with it at all. That’s the first thing.
Postponing the Assembly elections: “And the second point of course is, that if the implication is that the elections should be postponed, Paul argues – and he is closer to some aspects of Northern society than I am – he argues that in those circumstances most of the parties would be secretly relieved, with the exception of Sinn Fein. Now, I don’t think the DUP would be secretly relieved, Paul, because I think this is a plan to ensure that they fail in becoming the majority party. And I would defer to you in most things, but I don’t believe that if a question were put to a DUP politician tomorrow, either secretly or unsecretly, as to whether he would like a postponement of the Assembly elections to get a better run at the UUP and to wipe them out by putting them two more years of torture, then he would say “yes, I prefer a delay”. I don’t believe that. I think that piece of analysis is not correct – I do accept, and I agree with him, that Sinn Fein wouldn’t agree to this proposition – but there’s a point on which I disagree with his analysis.
“The second point I would make is that it has not been suggested yet that a two-year extension of the life of the present Assembly would, in fact, create circumstances in which there would be a cross-party agreement to postpone a lot of issues and to just get on with the business of co-operation.
“And if you look to what has happened in the involvement of the UUP with the process, I don’t accept the proposition that the further two years would be spent on normalisation.
“Because I think that we have to remember too – and Paul, in fairness to him, conceded this – that as more and more candidates are being nominated for the Assembly the tilt of the Ulster Unionist Party is becoming more and more hostile to the Agreement. Instead of pro-Agreement candidates being nominated and selected by constituency associations across Northern Ireland for the Assembly elections, it is hostile anti-Agreement candidates who are edging the pro-Agreement candidates out. So I feel pessimistic on a second count, that the UUP is a body which just needs two more years of normality and that is somehow the key to solving the problems in Northern Ireland.
SDLP: “I was struck – because again I believe that this is totally honestly said, and it may be true, Jeremiah may be true on this – but that effectively the SDLP is finished is part of the analysis that Paul is putting before you. So he is effectively saying – and I hope I am not caricaturing his arguments but it seems to me to have this force – that the SDLP is finished, Sinn Fein is going to be the largest Nationalist party, let’s get on with the job and let’s do everything we can to accept that that is the case and therefore the only people who can do business with Sinn Fein, on the Unionist side, are the UUP. And the two governments should, effectively, acknowledge those things, because I mean it’s been said openly here tonight – get on with the process of killing off the SDLP by engaging in an electoral strategy which is based on the proposition that they are going to fade away. Well I don’t accept that the SDLP are finished. And I don’t accept, by the way, that it would be good for the centre ground in Northern politics for either of the two governments – and I believe they will not accept this proposition – that the centre ground should be swept away on the Nationalist side in order that the centre ground, insofar as the Unionist Party is the centre ground, can prosper on the Unionist side of the equation, especially when you have growing evidence that the UUP internally is mutating into a party which is fielding more and more anti-Agreement candidates. I don’t accept that proposition, I don’t accept that analysis.
“And I don’t accept that it makes sense to write off the SDLP and to go ahead full board towards a strategy in which, effectively, David Trimble will be there to deal with Martin McGuinness, or whoever the candidate for Deputy First Minister would be thrown up by Sinn Fein as the majority party after the election. I don’t accept that that’s a reasonable way of going about the business at all. And I do believe, though – and again I compliment Paul on his honesty – I do believe that that is the Ulster Unionist Party attitude, right from the top to the bottom: contempt for the SDLP, for their political prospects, and saying “we’ll deal with Nationalism, and we’ll be quite content to deal with it under Sinn Fein management because we know the enemy then.” That’s not a healthy attitude, really, for us to say should be a cornerstone of our analysis here. I don’t think that that is a constructive approach, I have to say.
“I’m being blunt now with you Paul, because I think you have been blunt on the facts as you see them.
Ceasefire monitor: “On the question of a monitor, I am interested to note what Paul said about the monitor, and, as he suggested, a sense of foot-dragging on the part of the Westminster government to appoint a monitor to the ceasefire at the behest of David Trimble.
“There isn’t opposition at a governmental level to monitoring the process, either in Dublin or in London. Clearly Sinn Fein regards it as a device which is hostile to their interests, but there isn’t such opposition at a governmental level. And if it is delivered, I don’t think it will change the attitude of the Unionist Party at all. I think, in effect, it was something which was more useful to demand and not have delivered than it will be when it is delivered, and that’s a problem about it.
Border poll: “But on the question of a border poll, the argument – and Paul has advanced it before – the argument is, that if you have a border poll on the same day as the next Assembly election you ensure a maximum turnout, just looking at it on the Unionist side of the fence. And that by doing that it is hoped – but Paul again is honest enough to say that he can’t guarantee that this would be the consequence – that a lot of people will go down to the polling booths and vote UUP rather than DUP, but they will come out to save the Union and to have their heads counted. That may be something that suits the Unionist Party, it may be a device that suits the Unionist Party, and I’m not sure that it would have that effect.
Polarisation: “Because I think that an equally plausible effect is that the months running up to the election, or the weeks running up to the election and the border poll day, would be one of intense and increasing polarisation. It would be like bringing in the Twelfth season back into May, or whenever this poll coupled with a plebiscite would be held. It will be a circumstance in which it would be Orange versus Green – you know, empty your graveyards and bring everybody down to the polling station for the tribal headcount. And in that process I ask you this: who is going to prosper and who is going to fail? It plays straight into Sinn Fein’s hands to give them that particular outcome. Straight into their hands.
SDLP: “And effectively it is another re-echo of the remarks that Paul has made, and that is that the SDLP is finished, that it’s effectively a write-off. But worse than that, it accelerates the process, because the SDLP in those circumstances would be fighting in a battle where it was Green versus Orange, where moderation was of diminished interest to people, where, on my view of it, the chances of an SDLP person throwing their third or fourth or fifth preferences across the political divide to an Alliance Party person, or to a moderate Unionist standing in their constituency, would be thrown away, because they would know that the name of the game on the day was the usual old head count about a border poll.
“So I don’t believe that it would have of the effects for which Paul canvassed. I believe it would polarise Northern Ireland. And I think that the process whereby the future of Northern Ireland, within the UK or not within the UK – which is not now in issue, there is nobody suggesting for instance – under the legislation the Secretary of State is entitled to hold such a poll when he wishes but legally obliged to hold such a poll where there is reason effectively to believe that the underlying attitude of the population of Northern Ireland towards the Union has changed. I believe that the holding of such a poll in those circumstances would produce massive polarisation, create a political season in which everybody had to go back to the atavistic headcount of old, where moderate parties in the centre would suffer most – I mean, if you’re writing off the SDLP you might as well write off the Alliance as well, and the Women’s Coalition and the rest of it – and in which a cannibalistic enterprise was put forward instead, in which it’s survival at all costs for the Unionist Party regardless of whether it internally is mutating to the point where a majority of candidates are taking what is broadly described as an anti-Agreement point of view.
“I just wonder – is that wisdom, or is that desperation? I just pose that question to you, because it doesn’t convince me at all….[Editor’s note: break in tape here]
UUC resolution of 21st September: “Now I take on board what has been said by Paul about the wording of the motion which was passed the other day by the Ulster Unionist Council. But with respect, Paul, that motion was the result of careful negotiation which took place at the meeting – we all read about it in the papers.
Every single word of it was parsed and analysed. And all the stuff in it, about reversing Patten, stopping 50/50 recruitment, revisiting the symbols of the police force and the like, isn’t just simply stage furniture. It shows a regressive attitude on those issues to those who aren’t present in that meeting. [Editor’s note: the text of the UUC resolution is reproduced in Appendix A below]
Patten reforms: “And it isn’t simply good enough to say to the SDLP who were outraged by the motion that was passed – and let’s, before we write them off, at least say that they have made a very substantial sacrifice in terms of building the Good Friday Agreement – if they were outraged by it, by the terms of that resolution, are we to say that they are wrong? That this is mock outrage on their part? That a carefully tailored resolution which seems to be rowing back on the Patten reform, which seems to be getting back to the old agenda, that that resolution is, as Paul is arguing before us now, to be ignored in its detail because effectively on the basis that “they would say that, wouldn’t they?” and that when they get together in more reasonable humour, with weeks to go to this election, that they would be less demanding and less negative in their approach. I doubt it. I doubt it. All I would say to you in relation to that particular issue is that Paul has amply described the group of people there as being of conservative demeanour – and I agree they are of conservative demeanour – but there does seem to me, in all of these uncertainties, to be a huge appetite to revert to old certainties and to revert to old positions, and to pretend that what has happened hasn’t happened, and to go back to all the business, you know, that “Patten wasn’t really necessary, Patten was a bad thing, Patten isn’t part of the deal”. Patten most certainly is part of the deal.
Good Friday Agreement still commands respect: “Now, rather than be proved wrong in whatever it is, 6, 7 or 8 months time, and just simply have Paul come before you at a replay of this match and say “I told you so”, I have to put to you the following propositions. That the Good Friday Agreement is one which has tremendous potential – on that we are both agreed. That the Good Friday Agreement is one which demands a very considerable movement on the part of all sides in Northern Ireland – and Paul has on other occasions acknowledged the extent of the Sinn Fein movement. And whether it’s put in terms of Gerry Adams acknowledging the failure of the Republican enterprise, which is one way of putting it, or the triumph of democratic politics over sectarian violent politics, which is another way of putting it, that Agreement is one which in my view still commands our respect and still is the set of principles in which we all have to place our hope.
“And what worries me about Paul’s analysis is this: that you wouldn’t have to be very very cynical to say that the name of the game was to get the Unionist Council from here to next January, so that in next January they can go into, effectively, opposition mode, withdraw from the institutions, and contest the elections, effectively as outsiders, having demonstrated their Unionist purity by being seen not to be wreckers at first instance, but being seen to be people who are driven, in their view, by Republican intransigence and paramilitarism to taking a stance on principle at long last, which will given them enough time and a window of opportunity within which to succeed in the election and to appear to be the champions of the Union, rather than the ‘Lundies’ or whatever that the DUP will throw at the UUP if things go on as they are. You wouldn’t have to be totally cynical to see things in that light.
“So am I pessimistic now, having heard Paul Bew, who is a very influential figure in terms of commenting and, I think, influencing some at least of Unionist opinion in Northern Ireland? Am I now driven to total pessimism and despair, having heard this analysis? I’m not. Because I don’t accept that the great majority – and he agrees with me on this – that the great majority of people in Northern Ireland, or in these islands, have abandoned the principles of the Good Friday Agreement, or think there is a better Agreement out there on offer. And I think everybody agrees with that.
Economic stability and growth: “And I also make the point that the Belfast Agreement – or the Good Friday Agreement, call it what you will – has in it the prospect for economic stability and growth. And Paul said that talk about economic well-being wouldn’t effectively cut much mustard, at this point, with the Unionist Council, because they don’t see the economic well-being that is there. Well, that’s strange, because every time I speak to people who are in the business community and in civil society and not in politics in Northern Ireland, they do see the enormous improvements in their economic well-being, and they are substantial, and they are real. I think that a lot of people would look to them and say “do I want to throw all of this away?”
Two Governments will not walk away from the Good Friday Agreement: “And the second question is: throw it away for what? Because the two governments have as their fundamental project a partnership between London and Dublin to ensure that Northern Ireland is no longer run in a way that excludes either section of that community. So that if, for whatever reason, the political parties in Northern Ireland find themselves unable or unwilling to operate those institutions, nothing substantially different in terms of outcome is going to be pressed upon the two governments as a result of that co-operation, or lack of co-operation. The governments are not going to walk away from the terms of that Agreement – or its principles – and deliver a different result because the two sets of politicians in Northern Ireland cannot find their way to operate it, whosever fault that may be. And therefore the notion of ending devolved power and devolved authority in the interest of the purity of the Unionist position is not a notion which I think is well thought out at all, and in this I think there has been an element of weakness in Unionist rhetoric and in Unionist politics in the last two years.
No renegotiation: “Because there is not going to be renegotiation of that Agreement. There can be withdrawal. There can be people who say “we won’t work it”. But the two governments, London and Dublin, will nonetheless proceed to implement the fruits of that Agreement, and the methodology of that Agreement and the values of that Agreement, as far as they can, even if there is a failure or a vacuum in terms of operating devolved institutions for the time being. So there is no “Plan B” which is of greater interest to either moderate Nationalists or moderate Unionists. There is nothing better out there on offer. And I would just make that point, that anybody who thinks that we are going into a process of renegotiation, and that the governments will walk away from the principles of this Agreement, faced with an impasse as a result of an election, I think is engaging in a bit of wishful thinking. It’s simply not there. And particularly from a moderate Unionist point of view. I think in large measure that Agreement – and I’ll come to the paramilitary situation in a moment – that Agreement is as good as it gets, and it ain’t going to get no better.
Transformation of paramilitarism into democratic politics: “Now I come finally, if I may, to the question, Chairman, of paramilitarism. As I see it, nobody is tougher on the subject of paramilitarism than I am. And nobody is quicker, if I can, to acknowledge the shortcomings of anybody or any group which taints its involvement in the democratic process with paramilitarism. I defer to no one in hostililty to paramilitarism or the way in which it threatens democratic society. The purpose of getting an inclusive result in Northern Ireland was to woo the radical elements on all sides, but particularly on the Republican side, into democratic politics, to persuade the Republican movement, if they required to be persuaded, of the obvious proposition that the way forward was to engage in democratic politics within a Northern Ireland that was based on partnership and which was open to the democratic achievement of their particular aim. Part of the process of transformation of paramilitarism into democratic politics is persuading those who wanted to have it both ways that they can’t have it both ways any more, and that they must move decisively and irreversibly towards the democratic path.
“If the Republican movement were represented by politicians who simply cast aside their roots and said “that’s the end of our connection with the Republican movement, because it carries within it people who have in the past espoused paramilitarism”, the purpose of the Belfast Agreement wouldn’t be served if the result of that was that the political leadership of Sinn Fein became an isolated rump. The idea is to bring the whole of the Republican movement into the democratic tent in more or less one piece. Now hesitation on that point clearly creates distrust. And I agree with Paul that the Unionist population of Northern Ireland must look to Colombia and other events and say “what is going on here?” And the monitor process is one means whereby there can be on the ground some mechanism to assess whether the commitment to democratic politics is irreversible and definite. But what I am arguing for strongly is that the process of bringing Republicanism into the democratic tent isn’t going to take place at the click of a finger, and isn’t going to take place in circumstances where it is seen to be at the behest of people who are hostile to the Republican point of view.
Orange Order delegation on Ulster Unionist Council: “Bear in mind that from a Republican perspective – and I would not share this – you could criticise the Ulster Unionist Council meeting as a meeting at which 200 of the delegates, at least, come from the Orange Order. This isn’t a normal political party. The SDLP doesn’t have 200 AOH members. Fianna Fail doesn’t have 200 Knights of Columbanus members at its Ard-fheiseanna! …. But, from a Republican point of view, what happened the other day, they are not dealing with people who, in their view, they trust completely. They point to the detail – that Paul has asked us to ignore – of the resolution and say “that’s what they are really talking about, that’s their real motivation, that’s their real agenda, and, if it weren’t their real agenda, why did David Trimble make those concessions in rolling back Patten in order to survive? Why did he do that?
Squaring the circle: “So I’m saying it is a process in which we are – use any cliché you like – trying to square a circle. And it’s the people who are in favour of circles point to the square aspects of the other people’s arguments, and vice versa. But what we are about in all of this is bringing forward the democratic process in Northern Ireland and persuading those who looked to it suspiciously on either side that they should plunge their entire political effort into making it work. And whereas Paul is arguing here for a scenario that effectively says “it’s all hands to the pump, save David Trimble” there is another side which the two governments have to bear in mind, and say “we can’t, for instance, cast aside the SDLP and say moderate Nationalism doesn’t matter, hand the victory to the Republican end.” We can’t just do that, it wouldn’t be responsible politics. We can’t premise our strategy on such propositions.
Ambivalence of UUP: “It’s true that David Trimble has taken a fair amount of stick from commentators in the South in particular – and in Britain – for failing to sell the positive aspects of the Agreement to the Unionist population of Northern Ireland. It’s true he takes a fair amount of stick on that and it’s true that his life on occasion has not been made as easy as it might be. But, on the other hand, I am strongly of the view that there is some truth in the proposition that the Unionist Party has remained ambivalent in some respects on some aspects of the Agreement, and that this is perceived in the Republican community as giving them justification for the snail-like progress that they have made so far.
Conclusions: “So, I come down to this point of optimism. I do believe that the principles of the Belfast Agreement will win out in the end. I don’t believe that the two governments can ever reward those who do not operate the Agreement. I don’t believe that it makes sense to predicate a political strategy on the atrophying of the centre ground. I don’t believe, in particular, that we can possibly take an attitude based on the proposition that the SDLP is effectively to be discarded as a spent force and let’s get down to the real struggle afterwards. I don’t accept that proposition. I think that Northern Irish society is more complex than that, and the truth is more complex than that, and the solutions to the truth will be more complex than that, and that no single party should look simply to its own electoral success as the starting point for the next phase.
“No single party should simply say: “the better we do, the better it will be for the Agreement”, regardless of the consequences for other parties. And I say that very conscious of one thing: that in the last election the lesson was borne in, on me particularly, but on many, that if you don’t get your seats, you’re really not at the races. There’s no point in being right, from either the sidelines or from being excluded from office. But I make this point too: the idea that the Agreement can be pursued, or that the interests of the Agreement can be pursued, wholly on the basis that the Unionist Party must be saved, and that every effort must be made to bolster up the Unionist point of view, even to the extent, for instance, of having a border poll, that, in my view, would be a mistaken approach and I think would end up producing a worse situation than the one which David Trimble claims up to now has been intolerable. So, if you didn’t get the script, you can ask the reporters for it!”
[Editor’s note: text of the Minister’s supplied script is reproduced at Appendix B below]
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS
Questions 1 and 2:
Q. 1. Roy Garland (Ulster Unionist, Co-chair of Guild of Uriel in Louth): “Just a couple of points in passing for Minister McDowell. As a long time member of the Ulster Unionist party, I am very, very strongly pro-Agreement. … In my view the Unionist Party remains pro-Agreement, but, as I think Paul Bew was suggesting, what has happened has leached away that support for the Agreement. There were always doubts, there were doubts in both communities, and the doubt was whether an organisation that had committed acts of terrorism was prepared to move into the democratic process, and Colombia and these other items has not strengthened that and it’s leached away support, much to my dismay, and I’m still working on the ground. But I listened to Jeffrey Donaldson a week or so ago and the conclusion most people at the meeting came to was: Jeffrey Donaldson is not anti-Agreement.
“The main thrust is: how can we sit in government with what he calls “unreconstructed terrorists”, in view of Colombia, Castlereagh and so on and so forth?
SDLP: “I don’t believe Unionists are full of contempt for the SDLP. As one who spoke at the SDLP conference last week, there was not the slightest criticism or suggestion that the SDLP are contemptible. In fact it’s the very opposite. The difficulty is, if the SDLP is not going to be a right-off, Unionists are wondering why they are moving too much towards the Sinn Fein camp and emphasising Irish unity and the approach that is really likely to alienate Unionists.
Border poll: “The thing about the border poll, just a quick comment on that, about it being polarising. I understand the worries about it being polarising. It’s very difficult to appreciate the position David Trimble and the people who support him are in, and if there’s a border poll … there will be a very precise result in that border poll. It would settle the Unionist community and if the Unionist community pick up enough strength, they will do a deal, even at this stage with Sinn Fein….
Q.2. Fr John Feighery (member of Irish Association): “Speaking as a very non-expert commentator from the North, it struck me that we were very, very privileged this evening. We have heard two outstanding contributions. Paul Bew, in my view, has for a very long time been an outstandingly lucid and objective commentator on the North, and I think now we need to remind ourselves that the Minister and his party have had a very liberal and generous view of the position of the Unionists, and of course has taken a very courageous view on paramilitarism. Now I thought Paul’s analysis was very convincing, and especially in establishing the drift towards the destruction, unfortunately, or withdrawal of the Unionist Party from the institutions, however might we lament that. What we are dealing with here is a pathology, not necessarily a rational process, because the Minister and Paul will agree that the Agreement is in the best interests of all the community. I thought the Minister put some very good objections, but I didn’t hear him say clearly anything to convince me that the Irish Government, as of the moment, have the ideas that will arrest the drift to the collapse of the institutions.
Loyalist violence: “Two things Paul said that could perhaps be commented on later. He talked about the fact that most of the violence now is from the Loyalist side. Is there a possibility that in some way that can be combated and, in some measure, arrested?
Republican “adventures”: “Secondly, he spoke about the fact that Gerry Adams lets the “boys”, get up to their tricks in Colombia and Castlereagh, something which is incredibly provocative and upsetting to the Unionist community. Is that something that he and his leadership could take seriously and in some way meet the Unionist concern? The overall suggestion tonight, and Paul, as a Professor of politics might have something interesting to say here: we all know that hard-liners become soft-liners once they are in power. Is it possible, Paul, that the Minister is correct in saying that this is the only game in town and if then Jeffrey Donaldson or somebody else replaces David Trimble that in fact he will essentially pursue the Trimble agenda with perhaps a rather different rhetoric?
Replies to questions 1 and 2:
Paul Bew: Re SDLP “I will immediately address the issue of the role of the SDLP. It is something I am very worried about, in the discussion so far, and it’s not the Minister’s fault. It was an amazing bravura performance. But it’s this: because I am and have been for twenty years a friend of David Trimble’s, you should not assume that the views that I have put tonight are his views – unless you know it to be the case. Now in the case of the border poll, you know it is to be the case. But I think it is very important to understand -this goes back on something that Roy Garland has said – that actually there is no contempt in the Ulster Unionist Party for the SDLP. And I have a view, which I have expressed to you, which I think is the realistic view of the great majority of political commentators in Northern Ireland: that it may not be as Dr. Brian Feeney says it is going to go to seventy-thirty rapidly among Nationalists, but that it is as certain as we can be sure about any electoral result that the majority of members returned to the next parliament from the Nationalist community will be Sinn Fein rather than SDLP. This is actually a commonplace of contemporary discourse. I said myself, I used the phrase “heartbreaking”. That was my genuine attitude towards that, but I do not think that you should presume that the First Minister believes this, because in my view he still retains a totally open mind on this question.
Border poll: “And, if I can add further, he believes that there is no evidence that the border poll will weaken the SDLP. The advice from pollsters is: a high turnout in the Catholic community is likely to help the party which has the least organisation. That there will be a high turnout of Catholics, and they will in the great majority of cases be voting for a united Ireland, but it will actually help the party which doesn’t have the organisation on the ground. So it is absolutely vital that my remarks – which are not in any way original, the conventional wisdom of all political commentators to be honest in Belfast, the only difference between me and the majority of commentators is that I regard it with horror. A lot of people are worshipping now at the rising sun of Mr. Adams – but that my remarks are not taken as his [David Trimble’s] particular view on this particular point. He is still of the belief that the way forward is the strengthening of the centre for Ireland, if that is at all possible, and he is still of the view that the border poll does not conflict with that. It is vitally important that what I have said should not be run in to any opinions of his, I’ve just been made very nervous about that.
Alternatives: “Now John [Feighery] has raised a crucial question which is: should we be obsessed with personalities? And he’s raised the possibility – and it’s in Roy Garland’s remarks as well – where is Jeffrey Donaldson on these matters? Jeffrey Donaldson, the day of the referendum said, as a democrat, he’d lost the referendum. He is still saying that we want to retain Stormont, but we do not want to pay the price of dealing with what he calls “unreconstructed terrorists”, but that is obviously a concept that is open to debate. What is an “unreconstructed terrorist”? There is obviously a space there. I would go further. I think that there are people in the DUP – and Peter Robinson is an obvious example – who are looking desperately for ways to preserve Stormont. … These people are afraid of a smash-up. There is no belief that there is a better deal for Unionists on offer. I should warn the Minister – and he may be flattered by this – there is a bit of a view in the Unionist community which is that, “well, so what if there is joint authority or there is a united Ireland or whatever? I’d rather have that nice Michael McDowell as Minister for Justice, than some of the candidates I’m likely to have in Northern Ireland”. That view is there, believe me!
“And its quite a widespread view that “so what, this is dirty, this current arrangement, unless Sinn Fein are made to clean up their act somewhat, I can’t tolerate this and don’t bother me about there’s going to be direct rule and Irish input, there’s going to be joint authority”. In actual fact I think the British government would be very wary of joint authority for profound reasons of it’s own: self-interest and financial interests and so on. The point is the electorate is not frightened, it’s not even frightened of a united Ireland. The mood is quite different. It is not motivated in most cases – except by a few cadres of the Ulster Unionist Party and not the people – by the idea that a better deal is possible. It’s very important to understand that aspect of the mood, very important indeed.
DUP cannot save the Agreement if UUP moves hard to the right: “But the DUP cannot deliver if the Ulster Unionist Party is driven hard to the right. The DUP delivers what it currently delivers, via Peter Robinson, to keep the institutions afloat, because the Ulster Unionist Party is in the centre, and that then creates a pressure on the DUP to keep the thing going. It is vitally important to understand this. There is no possibility of Peter Robinson riding to the rescue of this Agreement if David Trimble goes down. None. Dr. Ian Paisley will make absolutely certain that doesn’t happen. Trimble has to be there in place, or somebody like him, with something like those policies, to create the incentive for the DUP to carry on. It’s a complete failure of understanding of dynamics to believe that the DUP can suddenly save the Agreement in a context in which the Ulster Unionist Party has moved hard to the right.
Border poll: “And it’s not really all that much about the election, I have to tell you. The election is stupid, stupid, if you have an election, which is going to be an election to nothing, and all the candidates know it is an election to institutions which are going down. And let me say this, it will be horribly polarised. If I can say – well John [Feighery] is here and he knows my background in this matter, we both worked together in the Irish Association. I actually believe in that approach to Irish affairs, very profoundly. I believe in the moderate consensus coming together. I am totally opposed to sectarianism and therefore why am I taking about a border poll here, which has such a risk? I’ll tell you two reasons: one, without it I suspect this election is going to be horrendously polarising and destabilising anyway, it’s not going to add much to that. But secondarily, I have come to realise from the days when John and I were running around organising the Irish Association in Dublin and Belfast, that you have to take as a given the passions of the population of Northern Ireland – either Nationalist, Republican or Catholic or Unionist, Protestant and so on – and there is no point in wishing they were different. You have to look at where they are and then you have to say “well now that’s where they are, but they’re not bad people and they’d rather have peace than war, so how can we arrange it that we allow their better emotions and their more common-sense emotions to triumph?”
Ingrained sectarianism: “That what the ideas that I put to you tonight are all about and I’m afraid you just have to accept the ingrained sectarianism in most people in Northern Ireland. Something I came extremely reluctantly to, very much in my forties, but I’ve had a lot more success in terms of the influence of benign political developments in Northern Ireland once I came to terms with that simple logic. So it’s just no good to say we don’t want it polarising, it’s going to be awful. The question is what’s the outcome going to be? Imagine the outcome, imagine that you actually get the situation with a Unionist community, because of a border poll, had enough confidence to make a deal with Sinn Fein. That’s the prize that we’re talking about here.
Difficulty about being prescriptive: “Just a final word on all of this. There’s a very tricky referendum now on Nice [Nice Treaty]. I could not honestly give you serious analysis of that referendum. Now, I’m a Professor of Irish politics, my family comes from Cork, I’ve written books – two books – about the politics of the Republic. I still would not be able to advise the Minister on the right course to get a “yes” vote. I couldn’t do it, because the rhythms of the society in the Republic today, I’m not sufficiently attuned to, even though I know a lot more about it than most people who live in Northern Ireland. I spend a lot more time there. Now, I do think it behoves even the most brilliant members of the Irish Government to come to terms with the possibility, just the possibility, that there is a difficulty about being prescriptive about the balance of forces in the North, which is similar to the difficulty that I would have if I started telling you how to run a Nice referendum campaign and what the right buttons to press are and what they are not. Thank you.”
Q. 3: “It’s interesting to hear the government telling the Unionists that they have to accept former terrorists in government. In the next five years, or whenever the next Flood Tribunal report comes out, the Government might well have to share power with Sinn Fein, and then what is their attitude to that going to be?”
Q.4: “I think that there’s a fundamental contradiction in much of what Paul was saying tonight. On the one hand he’s saying that he’s in favour of the Good Friday Agreement, and at the same time he says he’s disheartened at the rise of Sinn Fein. Well, to my mind the whole idea of the Good Friday Agreement was to bring people like Sinn Fein into the democratic process, so if you support the Good Friday Agreement, you’ve got to support the rise of Sinn Fein, because that is what it was all about and that was what was going to happen. If you want to see the demise of Sinn Fein, then what I suggest is that if you don’t support the Good Friday Agreement then you encourage them to go back to war.
Q.5 Cllr. Sean Collins (Fianna Fail, Drogheda): “If you say that the SDLP are on the slide, what is the answer? What should they do? What would make them hungry enough to fight back? You know, history, I think, is repeating itself in many ways. If you look to 1926, with the establishment of Fianna Fail and the appearance of the “bogey man” in De Valera. Same way as Adams is the “bogey man” today. Sinn Fein today are in many ways like Fianna Fail was then: they were hungry then, they’ve got out on the ground they’ve organised themselves. I couldn’t believe the result of the last general election in the South, to see them take so many seats and you know in this constituency, they could possibly have taken another one. What would make the SDLP hungry enough to fight back?
Q. 6. Cllr. Phil Cantwell (Ind., Trim UDC): “I was recently at a mass in the Short Strand and there used to be a very, very strong voice, a priest there called Fr. O’Brien and unfortunately and he’s gone from the area, so I was just wondering how does the influence of Fr. O’Brien – which would be equivalent to Fr. Troy – I wonder is that missed? Because what concerns me is that at that church I was rather intimidated by a group of individuals, obviously they were in the IRA, with dark glasses marching on a Sunday morning through the Short Strand, and then I was worried to see graffiti on the wall which said: “the Village supports Sharon” [Ariel Sharon] I was wondering is that an ominous trend? And the question I want to ask is, did the ‘missing’ of Gary McMichael in the process, had it any influence on the infighting of the Loyalist groups and is the exclusion by the Irish Government of Sinn Fein, has it been causing problems?
Q.7: Senator Mary White (Fianna Fail, Dublin): “I would like to ask Paul Bew why David Trimble doesn’t criticise more the Loyalist paramilitary activity in North Belfast and East Belfast? There doesn’t seem to be any mainstream Unionist leadership on the paramilitary activity on the Loyalist side.
Q.8: [Slane resident] “May I make some comment, not specifically on the Nice referendum here, but on the issue of globalisation, because that’s what the Nice referendum to some extent is about. The increased sovereignty within Europe as a bundle of countries and maybe slightly decreased sovereignty in some senses of Ireland as an island, but that these issues may contribute a lot in terms of dissipating this localised Republican versus Loyalist heat. We end up with maybe a couple of ghettoes, a few small ghettoes when this process is over, because a lot of the younger generation in the North are actually voting with their feet, walking out and walking away from this kind of localised, tribalised violence. That may be, as Minister McDowell said, economic prosperity takes away the need for tribal warfare, but that there is a global consumerist issue which may be a greater political threat to everybody. We sense the younger generation not interested in political thought and communal responsibility and that these are issues, global issues, that often supersede many of these smaller local republican problems that we have.
Q.9: [Kells resident]: “The speaker referred to the Westminster pro-Patten legislation about to be introduced. On an optimistic point of view I would suggest that it seems likely that Sinn Fein will join the Police Board in the event of it being to their satisfaction. That could all happen before the January meeting, in which case it may free up the decommissioning problem, and maybe things will free up, a list of events that will follow as a result of it. Thank you.”
Q.10: Cllr. Jim Cousins (PD, Dundalk): “…. Paul Bew said about these agreements with the Unionists, these propositions that come up, these motions that come up, Paul Bew more or less said “pass no remarks on them”, it’s just word-playing. But Mark Durkan issued a warning tonight, that if that kind of thing goes through, the SDLP will withdraw from the Police Board …. because the Unionists have more or less said, you know, they want to change Patten. And I don’t agree that the SDLP is a party that’s on the down. There have been plenty of parties here in the South that people thought were wiped out, but we came back with a bang.
Replies to questions 3-10
[Initial fragment of this section inaudible on tape]
Minister McDowell: Re SDLP: “… I don’t want to seem to be scoring points here and I’m conscious that it may be that when Paul said that the SDLP are finished – it was his phrase not my phrase – that he was purely saying that as the larger of the two parties in Northern Ireland on the Nationalist side they were finished, and there is a nod there in agreement and I’m glad of that at any rate, because to see them as a party, which was finished in the ordinary understanding of that term is to me a deeply and profoundly depressing scenario.
Sinn Fein’s Marxism: “Let’s be clear about Sinn Fein: Sinn Fein as far as we know, is a party whose ideology on economic matters is old-fashioned Marxism. In so far as they ever make themselves clear on these issues – and it’s mainly in internal documents and party productions of one kind or another which the rest of us are fortunate enough not to have to read – the gist of what they are saying is old-fashioned Marxist, socialist analysis of an economic kind. They’re not in the mainstream of modern, liberal democracy as far as the economic side of it is concerned. There is no point in calling a spade anything other than a spade. And, therefore if people say to me “would you coalesce with them?” No. I went into politics to oppose Marxism. I opposed it when it came from the Worker’s Party, I opposed it when it comes from Joe Higgins’ Trotskyite form of Marxism, I oppose it when it comes from Sinn Fein. That’s the first thing.
“The second thing is I don’t ever envisage a circumstance in which I will sit down around a Cabinet table with a group of Marxists to try and plan out our economy, because I believe that I fundamentally differ with them on what this country needs. So people who say to me, you know, “why would you rule out Sinn Fein?” – it isn’t solely their paramilitary side that disqualifies them. In my view they are not what I would consider to be people with whom I could do business with on economic issues. That’s my personal point of view, you may like it or dislike it, but that’s the way it is as far as I’m concerned.
Sinn Fein joining the Police Board: “Sinn Fein could easily join the Police Board, if they chose to do it, but at the moment it’s quite clear that they’re keeping their options open on that, because they say they’d consider doing it in certain circumstances, and they are playing a hard game of electoral poker, because they consider that they have an advantage over the SDLP by withholding support for the policing institutions of Northern Ireland at the moment. It may well be that they might decide that they are so advantaged in the present thing, and that Paul’s pessimistic view about the SDLP’s prospects are so correct, that they could take the risk of going into policing before the Christmas or before the next Assembly election. Somehow I doubt that. And the reason I doubt that I have to say very simply is that the Republican movement isn’t simply a whole load of Sinn Fein electoral offices or a whole load of Sinn Fein cumann meetings. It is a whole way of thinking, part of which regards itself as more legitimate as a group of people to decide what happens in the Short Strand, or the Bogside or anywhere else, than any police force. And that suits a lot of people because it gives them on a local basis power over their neighbours: power to determine disputes, influence, the right not to be insulted at its very least, the right to coerce other people to their way of thinking at the very worst. And therefore dismantling paramilitarism and adopting the police force of Northern Ireland as legitimate is going to require quite a wrench. I’m not saying it’s something which I justify withholding for a moment, but withholding support is something which is easier for them to do at the moment and present circumstances politically than not doing. That’s not a justification for that, it’s just a statement of fair analysis and fact.
UUC resolution: “I heard what was said here earlier, but I come back to this point: we cannot take it as a position that we are to disregard the fine print of the motion passed at the Unionist Council the other day. We just can’t do that. And, tempting though it is, Paul, to say “that’s just the usual guff” and “they would say that wouldn’t they” and all the rest. This was a composite statement put together by David Trimble with his antagonists. This was a means of uniting the Unionist Party and in order to get the degree of unity that David Trimble thought was necessary on the occasion in question, he and his supporters agreed to language which seems to threaten the Patten dispensation. And they can’t have it both ways, because whereas that may be okay, that’s the equivalent of letting the “lads” go to Colombia as far as other people in Northern Ireland are concerned. You can’t have it. You can’t say “we’re pro-Agreement, but let’s unravel Patten a little bit”, and at the same time say “you on the other side are breaching the Mitchell Principles” – which undoubtedly the Provisional movement has done in the past – but “your fault is something which is irremediable and is something serious, but just ignore us we do these strange little things from time to time on our side of the equation”.
Ethnic cleansing in Larne and Carrickfergus: “And I do take the point that was mentioned earlier about violence in Northern Ireland, and I do believe – and it’s a thing by the way which didn’t occur to me in recent weeks because it’s a thing that since I have been Attorney General and since I have been a Minister has been occurring to me more and more strongly – you can argue about who threw the first stone, or who fired the first firework or who put the first petrol bomb over the peace line here or there in Belfast. You can’t argue with what’s happening in Larne and Carrickfergus. There is systematic ethnic-cleansing going on there. Systematic ethnic-cleansing of Catholic families. They are being forced up the coast of Antrim to places like Glenarm and Cushendal. They are being forced out of their homes, and I do say that the pro-agreement Unionists and the SDLP could make a huge impression by going and standing in solidarity against that form of violence. And it’s very easy for politicians – not for the SDLP, because they find it very difficult in fact to get into interface areas and to fly the flag – but it’s easy for Republicans to stand on one side of a riot and say “look at the PSNI, look at the Loyalists and all the rest of it”. It’s easy for David Trimble to stand on the other side and say “here is the golf ball that was thrown at me in front of a ‘welcome to hell’ slogan”, but the real trick, if I may put it in those terms, would be for Mark Durkan and David Trimble – and I think this is where Unionism has most to give – to go up to the estates in Carrickfergus and in Larne and to stand up against vicious sectarian violence against ordinary people who have done no harm to anybody at all.
Countering sectarianism: “I accept Paul’s point, but it is a profoundly depressing one, that you have to address the fundamental sectarian nature of Northern Ireland’s society and that if you fail to do that, I suppose he’s effectively saying you are in the “Pollyanna” mode rather than in a real analytical mode. But sectarianism must be countered by the emergence of the centre, not by the two extremes. …The two extremes thrive on sectarianism. Sinn Fein thrives on sectarianism, in a sense that it is well served by the Loyalist viciousness which it claims to protect the Catholic people from, and it is well-served by vicious bigotry against isolated Protestants in border areas. That is the stuff on which Sinn Fein thrives. It’s the centre-ground, the SDLP, who oppose sectarianism, the people who vote for mayors of other parties, the people who try and bring out co-operation between the centre parties. It’s there that sectarianism will be challenged. And accepting, as I do, Paul’s statement that the SDLP was finished, meant only that they were finished in his view as the likely majority party within the Nationalist community, though I don’t agree with that proposition myself. Accepting that that’s his view, it still strikes me that the Unionists as a community should realise that they need the SDLP to be as strong as possible as it can be, and that that requires sacrifice on the Unionist side and that the tribalistic headcount and this pernicious, nasty, obnoxious election that Paul is referring to now, that that is not the way in which moderate politics are going to prosper and people are going to cross over the sectarian divides with their third, fourth and fifth preferences.
UUC resolution can’t be disregarded: “I know that Paul telling me that it would be hard for him to offer advice on the Nice referendum which was valuable, I know that what he was saying by implication was that I should be equally careful about making prescriptions about Northern Ireland, but, unsubtle thought that point was, we all live on an island, we all live in two islands, and the great majority of people on these two island are completely on the side of supporting the centre, the moderate centre. And we can’t be asked, as I say, to turn our eyes away from the small detail of the resolutions that are passed by the Unionist Council. We just can’t be asked to do that, because there two sides to this story and if you want to get SDLP people – and the point was made by Jim Cousins here – if you want Mark Durkan to survive in all of this, he has to respond to a motion which has as one of it’s elements the unravelling of the Patten Report. And you just can’t say “ignore that, we’ll just get on with it and after the election we’ll all sort this out”. If that is the price of Unionist unity it is an indication that public hostility to one of the cornerstones of the Good Friday Agreement, which is the Patten Report, is necessary to sustain the Unionist Party and that’s very hard to reconcile with the claim being made that it is an unambiguously pro-Agreement party. Thanks.
Prof. Paul Bew: “I am grateful to the Minister for just the whole spirit that he has approached that. I think we should all realise that we are all obviously privileged. For a Government Minister to come in and put aside his prepared script and engage with the issues the way that Michael has done is something, in most countries in Europe today, simply would not happen, and I’m extremely grateful to him for the way that he has done it, and also very glad to clarify my own remarks, which were probably ill-chosen.
SDLP: “I hope that there was no misunderstanding in the first place, but he is quite right, I simply meant finished as the largest Nationalist party, and I sincerely hope that the scenario of others like Dr. Brian Feeney, as I think I did indicate, that it is going to go very quickly to seventy-thirty within Nationalism, that that scenario is not the case and I’m not at all sure at this point that that is true, not at all sure, that that scenario of Dr. Feeney’s is right.
Policing and UUC resolution: “On the [UUC] motion, I quite accept the Minister’s point. I don’t think it’s possible for Mark Durkan not to say that this is a silly motion to which he takes objection and looks like an attempt to put the clock back. I could make points about why there are genuine Unionist concerns about policing. I could say that the Good Friday Agreement, in the language which prefaces and leads into the discussion on the need for something like the Patten Report, says that this must go on in the context in which it’s accepted the police force that cannot keep public order will have lost all respect. And we had the acting Chief Constable six weeks ago saying that there was now a police force that couldn’t keep public order. So there is a problem here about the Agreement, a non-fulfilment of it and it’s not all, the problem about non-fulfilment of the Agreement on policing matters is not simply a matter of: there are these Patten provisions that should be carried out.
“It’s also important language in the Agreement, which, by the open and explicit statements of the leadership of the Police Service of Northern Ireland themselves, have not been met. So the non-fulfilment of the Agreement on policing is a two-sided matter actually, not a one-sided matter, and it’s because of comments like that, which people visibly see on their streets every day. It’s because of comments like that that you do get part of the sentiment which leads into a motion, which personally I think was silly.
“I think that it’s perfectly credible if, in my opinion, worrying, for the Ulster Unionist Party to say “we have a problem with this transition, what is it about Castlereagh and Colombia that you don’t understand? Does anybody honestly believe that the day of the referendum you had told David Trimble that you are going to have to get by in the face of your supporters reading about such events in your newspaper?” There is a problem as to where the Republican movement is and clear signs that they are not, to many people, in the process of making a transition. I personally believe they are in the process of making that transition, but it’s a hard, hard argument to make now. There’s a lot of common sense that goes against it. Okay. So that’s the difficulty, that is the difficulty and that is the position that he’s in.
David Trimble: “I’ll tell you something now, David Trimble believed that when decommissioning was achieved that was it, it was over and the Agreement was safe and he had climbed his personal Everest, the breakthrough was done. He wasn’t too worried in the next election. Perhaps the DUP beat him. If so, in many ways he’s quite prepared to be – what you would understand in your own terms – the Liam Cosgrave of the situation, as somebody who established the institutions, got them up and running and, if another political party then takes over and runs them, there and good. That’s the worst-case scenario that he thought was the case after decommissioning. He found himself in an entirely different position. He has his weaknesses.
Countering sectarianism: “I quite agree with those who have raised the issue about his speaking out on sectarianism. He has done so, but not often enough in the situation in North Belfast, and I think what the Minister said about the situation in Carrickfergus and Antrim is entirely right, unfortunately, and that is something which, if the centre were working together better, at least more of a fist could be made of doing it. Which is not to say that those two men have not made a fist of trying to do things, for example Mark and David together in North Belfast. But unfortunately you have a situation where a great deal of Unionist political energy is taken up with this wretched internecine warfare. Other better things just quite frequently do not get done.
Trimble’s commitment to the Agreement: “But, you must remember, when you complain about Mr. Trimble’s commitment to this Agreement, who in this room has seen their wife kicked by a mob in the name of this Agreement? It’s very simple, there is really absolutely no doubt about his commitment to this Agreement and you should always bear this in mind.
Policing motion a Unionist “wish-list”: “It is going to be very difficult, I agree, this motion is a problem. I am not saying that as a matter of real political fact, people are not going to pick up on it and make the arguments – of course they are. I am saying that also as a matter of real political fact the truth is that the legislation is going to be introduced in the House of Commons, it’s going to take time going through parliament, these matters are not going to be sorted out on the 18th [January].
“What that resolution says: it expresses a Unionist wish-list on policing on some of the more reactionary members of the Ulster Unionist Party. That’s what it is – it’s a wish-list. If you want to say “well, I’m not going to think about how I’m going to save the Good Friday Agreement, because I’m so insulted about what they’ve said about policing”, you’re very welcome to say it, but then don’t tell me how you are “dying for the Agreement”, to use the phrase, because I think it is absolutely a futile thing to do. It expresses a Unionist wish-list.
“I want to just leave you with a thought. All the time just think of human beings, other human beings different from yourselves, and imagine what they might actually think. And the truth of the matter is that you have a group of people in the Ulster Unionist Assembly Party, you have a group in the DUP Assembly Party. I have absolutely no doubt, the DUP will issue a statement tomorrow saying let’s have an election and we’re going to romp home and so on, that this is said with a sickness in the heart, because they know that it’s an election to nothing in all probability, the way things are going now and they know we are heading for a smash-up the way things are now. And, most of these people basically are afraid of a smash-up, they want somehow to keep this show on the road, above all. That is the Assembly members, that is the people who will actually meet again on January the 18th . And they do not want to be responsible for a smash-up. They may not believe that the Agreement has made the Northern Irish economy flower in ways it didn’t flower before. They don’t. By the way they’re probably right, but they do believe that it would be a nastier place without it and they do not want that responsibility and I think you should focus on that.
Republican movement: John [Feighery] raised a key question here – is there anything the Republican movement could do? Well at this point, before this trial in Colombia is over, it is hard, but if it is over or if it happens quickly and if, for example, people are found guilty it would be very helpful indeed if we had an honest explanation, possibly even something along the lines of an apology for what actually happened there. An acceptance of the fact that it does fly in the face of the principles on the very first page of the Agreement. I actually believe that the governments are in a position to move the Republican movement along those lines. It’s impossible to do it before the trial, but I do think it is something that should be considered.
Border poll: “Now I am going to conclude by saying I have argued a case for the border poll, which I do believe in, although I totally accept some of the things which the Minister says about the risks, but at this point I would be perfectly happy with a statement from both governments that they were taking the matter under review and they were going to think about it for a good long time.
Delaying the Assembly election: “At this point it is more important to look at the issue of delay of the election. At this point, if you want to get stability into the politics of the North again, I think it very important. …. At this point I don’t think it is at the centre of the discussion. I believe it could come back. I believe, by the way, had the governments gone for it earlier in the year, we’d be in a totally different political situation now. And why? Because of a simple political fact: Jeffrey Donaldson and David Burnside wanted it, and it would have put them in a pro-Trimble alignment, because they believe for one reason or another it would work. And had that happened, then the Donaldson-Burnside pincer movement against Trimble did not happen this autumn. I believe a massive opportunity was missed to avoid the crisis that we’re now in. But it’s missed now, it’s water under the bridge, and at this point I think the important thing is simply that people in both governments look seriously at the proposal. At this stage what disappoints me is that the thinking in both governments – perhaps less in the British government – is still at a kind of very early stage, and the complexities of this thing have not been thought through, and people are still reacting on the basis of half an understanding on what’s actually at stake here. … And, as I say, this is not necessarily David’s view, but it is mine at the moment, but I do think you have to look seriously into a crucial issue which is this: the fact that if this election happens next May, this Assembly will only have been working for just over three years and it is clearly the original intention that it would work for four, and circumstances which are nobody’s fault have meant it hasn’t worked for that time. It seems to be entirely in the spirit of the Agreement. It doesn’t involve changing a word of the Agreement.
Need for review of mechanism for electing First and Deputy First Minister: “Now why do I say these things about the problem about Sinn Fein? Of course the Agreement is about bringing in Sinn Fein, but the truth of the matter is that the two parties who principally negotiated it – both the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists – in a fit of hubris, for which they are both guilty, agreed to arrangements for the election of the First Minister which now challenges both of them. In the last two or three days of the negotiation, those two parties had the power to do something which the Minister has talked about: strengthen the centre ground. And to strengthen the centre ground by privileging, not just in the voting for First Minister and Deputy First Minister, getting a certain percentage of the vote, they made a huge mistake by putting it at 50% rather that 40% and they made the huge mistake of not privileging your acceptability to the other side in the mechanism that was reached. And the reason why they did was that the SDLP believed on the eve of the Good Friday Agreement they were going from strength to strength. It never occurred to them, and I quite agree, it didn’t occur to me so I am not criticising them, that they would be unable to produce the 50% and that’s why they put it in and they didn’t put in safeguards that they were supposed to have done. And the Ulster Unionist Party the same. They are both equally guilty of a negotiating failure which could have saved all this worry about the next election and a review of the agreement now could deal with that. I will point out to you Senator George Mitchell was hinting at that a couple of years ago when he talked about the need to alter its architecture. That is another way out. If we actually simply moved and changed the provision under review to 40%: 40% to the election of First Minister and Deputy First Minister. That again would introduce that air of stability.
“But the simple point is: yes the Ulster Unionists in the Assembly and the DUP may be very reactionary, very silly, but most of them do not want to see a smash-up of this Agreement. Most of them are happy with the way it works and that includes working on a daily basis with Sinn Fein and we have to provide a means of concentrating, not on the detail, but the fundamental facts of people’s political psychology to turn this thing into a more benign context than we are currently in. Thank you very much.”
Chair: Ercus Stewart, S.C. “It’s just left to me to close down, and I want to thank both of our speakers. Clearly you have seen both of them – and I was delighted to see Michael putting aside his speech, although I hope we will read the other speech in the papers in the morning – both were clearly frank and forthright, they were definitely enthusiastic, all the elbowing and knees I gave to both of them wouldn’t shut them up! Both of them, I think, spoke forthrightly and frankly and it was a delight and a refreshing experience, whether you agree or disagree. I want to thank both of them, I want to thank those of you here who came and asked questions, those of you who came and listened, and those who came just to support. I think, last of all, neither speaker would be here, and none of us would be here, including myself, except for the Meath Peace Group, so I will hand over to Julitta for the last word…
Thanking the speakers and Chair, Julitta Clancy said: “I would just like to echo the Chairman’s words. I very much appreciate the honesty and candour of both speakers tonight. This is a very sensitive and serious issue and it needs honesty – honest talking and honest facing up to the difficulties of each side. We would hope that over the next few months there will be a lot of honest talking and listening, both publicly and privately. We need the public element also, because we need the people on the ground to carry whatever is going to be brought forward, we need a base to support it. Some of us were at the recent SDLP conference which Roy [Garland] addressed. It was the same day as the UUC meeting [21st September]. The news of the resolution came through while we were there, and one delegate, whom I have known for several years, said to me: “the reality is they just don’t want to share power with us, that’s it”. And I heard the same from several other delegates. What I am trying to say here is, that while a huge amount of work has been done at the leadership level in these parties – and there has been a lot of talk here tonight about the “centre” – there has been very little done, among those parties, to actually work together to start understanding and respecting each other, something which groups like ours and the Guild of Uriel in Louth, have been doing for many years now, working with small groups of people. There is a need for the pro-Agreement parties in particular to get down there and start facilitating the listening process, listening to the real concerns of the other…. Because sometimes it’s not the issues that are actually causing the problem: often it’s not being listened to. In the opening chapter of the Agreement the parties committed themselves to working for reconciliation, and while great progress has been made in setting up institutions and delivering reforms, that commitment to reconciliation has often taken second place The word “reconciliation” is sometimes seen as a dirty word in some quarters and the work of reconciliation is viewed with suspicion, but whatever we call it, the commitment [in the Agreement] is surely about the bringing about of an understanding and harmony between the two main traditions on this island. That is still the greatest challenge facing us and, in my view, it is the only way to effectively overcome sectarianism in the long term.”
Meath Peace Group report, October 2002. © Meath Peace Group
Transcribed by Julitta Clancy and Catriona FitzGerald, and edited by Julitta Clancy. Taped by Oliver Ward, Catriona FitzGerald, and Anne Nolan.
APPENDIX A: UUC RESOLUTION OF 21 SEPTEMBER 2002
1. The Ulster Unionist Party reaffirms the commitment that we gave to the people of Northern Ireland in our election manifesto in 1998, namely that “we will not sit in government with reconstructed terrorists.”
2. The Ulster Unionist Party further affirms its commitment to the Mitchell Principles of democracy and non-violence and its determination to achieve a real and lasting peace, with stable government in Northern Ireland. The Ulster Unionist Party will judge all the terrorist organisations in terms of the level of their commitment to the Mitchell Principles. In particular, the UUP will continue to demand the total disarmament and disbandment of all terrorist groups including the IRA.
3. The Ulster Unionist Party supports devolution and has worked hard in the Assembly to deliver good government for all the people of Northern Ireland. Whilst we wish to sustain the institutions of government through the Assembly, we are equally determined to protect the democratic integrity of those institutions. In view of the failure of Sinn Fein/IRA to honour their commitment to exclusively peaceful means, the Ulster Unionist Party will, with immediate effect, adopt a policy of non-participation in meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council involving Sinn Fein, at both plenary and bilateral level. In the absence of Ulster Unionist ministers, the NSMC will cease to function.
4. The Ulster Unionist Party will seek an urgent meeting with our Prime Minister to place before him our demand that he honours the pledge he gave on April 10th, 1998, to provide an effective exclusion mechanism to enable Sinn Fein/IRA to be removed from ministerial office. The Prime Minister will be informed that the UUP will not return to the NSMC and will take further action in relation to our participation in the executive unless he honours his pledge.
5. The Ulster Unionist Party will initiate talks with the other parties and the Government over the next three months to ensure that there is a viable basis for the future governance of Northern Ireland and that unless upon the conclusion of such talks it has been demonstrably established that a real and genuine transition is proceeding to a conclusion, the party leader will recommend to a reconvened UUC meeting on January 18th, 2003, the immediate resignation of all Ulster Unionist ministers from the administration.
6. The Ulster Unionist Party reiterates its full support for the police and the rule of law. We will press the Prime Minister to set aside or vary the discriminatory 50/50 recruitment policy to enable additional officers to be recruited on the basis of merit alone and to give a firm commitment on the retention of the full-time reserve. The Ulster Unionist Party will oppose further unnecessary changes to the policing legislation and gives notice that it will withdraw from the Policing Board in the event of the government capitulating to the unreasonable demands of Sinn Fein/IRA for further police reform including places for convicted terrorists on district policing partnership boards.
7. The Ulster Unionist Party will press the government to introduce appropriate legislative measures and provide adequate resources in support of the Organised Crime Task Force to ensure that the criminal activities of the paramilitary organisations are closed down and that greater accountability is created.
8. The Ulster Unionist Party will further press the government to establish a special unit to support those who have been illegally exiled from Northern Ireland by terrorist organisations and will demand that these people and their families be enabled to return home. The UUP will also press for the formation of a Victims Commission to oversee and co-ordinate support for the innocent victims of terrorist violence.
9. The Ulster Unionist Party will continue to vigorously oppose any amnesty for IRA terrorists “on the run”.
APPENDIX B: WRITTEN SPEECH OF MINISTER MICHAEL MCDOWELL.
[Editor’s note: In responding to Professor Bew’s analysis, Minister for Justice Michael McDowell departed from his supplied script. We reproduce below the text of the original script for his talk as supplied on the night.]
“At the outset, I wish to thank the organisers of this evening’s event, the Meath Peace Group, and especially Julitta Clancy and our Chair for tonight, Ercus Stewart, for providing the opportunity for frank and constructive engagement and discussion of this topic which is vital to all people on this island. The Group continues to provide a constructive platform for debate on Northern Ireland related matters and I commend its success in developing contacts within Northern Ireland, particularly within the unionist community. I feel that the Group continues to perform a very useful outreach function.
I am especially pleased that the Group has also invited Paul Bew to be with us this evening. While he and I might reach different conclusions and judgements I believe that all of us find his perspective, insight and analysis extremely valuable.
I suppose that it is a measure of the complex and fraught nature of developments in relation to the Good Friday Agreement that, in considering in advance whether to accept an invitation to speak on the subject, one never quite knows what developments – positive or negative – will have taken place by the time the speaking engagement arrives. So, on the face of it, it might have been easier for me to take a more upbeat stance this evening if the developments at the Ulster Unionist Council last Saturday week hadn’t come about. But all of us who are committed to the process we are engaged in should remember that, while its course may never run as smoothly as we would wish, we would try to keep our eyes on the enormous prize that that process can deliver. It is very easy to point to what might be called crisis after crisis that seem to have bedevilled the process. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that through the persistent efforts of all the parties involved many of these problems have been worked through.
So, in attempting to address the question “where are we now?” I’m sure you will understand why I chose to accentuate the positive. And it is the case that, on four core issues of the Agreement – policing, decommissioning, security normalisation and the stability of the institutions – very substantial progress has been made. While this progress may have been obscured by negative developments emerging from other quarters in the process, it does not diminish the scale or importance of what has been achieved thus far.
A real example of encouraging and productive progress on the implementation of the Agreement can be seen in the process of change in policing. The Police Service of Northern Ireland has been established and its first cadre of recruits, representative of both communities, have taken up duty. A Policing Board, involving political representatives from both the nationalist and unionist traditions, is well established. It has been required to show maturity, cohesion and responsibility in addressing the major challenges which came its way over the last 10 months. Notwithstanding that all of these issues involved partisan pressures for the Board, it is fair to say that many people have been impressed with the distinction and determination members of the Board have shown in fulfilling its responsibilities.
The Irish Government has congratulated Hugh Orde on his appointment and we wish him well in his new post. The Garda Commissioner, Pat Byrne, and I have met him and we look forward to working closely with him in the months and years ahead.
It is very disappointing that Sinn Fein has not felt itself able to participate in the new policing structures. The view of the Government and of the SDLP was that, taken in their totality, the proposals of 1 August 2001 had the capacity to deliver the substance and spirit of the Patten Report. We believe that impressive developments since then have vindicated that judgement. I want to commend the SDLP for taking this great leap on behalf of nationalists. Their decision enables us to establish a vital foundation for lasting peace – a police service whose ethos and composition reflects the society it seeks to police and, in turn, merits the full support of that society. The current policing reviews and the forthcoming legislation, promised by the two Governments last August, provide the vehicle by which Sinn Fein can come on board, if it so chooses. I hope that Sinn Fein will make the decision to constructively engage with the new dispensation. But I think that it is important to stress that the issue of policing is not one to be seen in terms of concessions to one side of the community or the other. Too often developments in this area have tended to be judged, not on their objective merits, but on whether particular parties support or oppose them. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that a police force that has the support of all communities is clearly in the interests of all communities.
On 29 April last, my predecessor and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland signed the Inter-Governmental Agreement on the implementation of the Patten recommendations on structured cooperation between the Garda Siochana and the PSNI. This landmark Agreement allows for closer liaison, joint investigations, an annual conference, joint emergency planning, exchange of personnel, and cooperation in the area of training. It also makes provision for reciprocal arrangements for lateral entry and secondment with policing powers between the two police services, thereby offering new opportunities for police officers in both services. In keeping with the intent of the Good Friday Agreement and the Patten Report, we are now laying the foundations for a new era of policing in Ireland.
Since September 2001 we have also seen two acts of decommissioning by the IRA. The Independent International Commission on Decommissioning described the first as a significant event in which the IRA had put a quantity of arms completely beyond use. It characterised the second act as involving a substantial and varied quantity of weapons. Regrettably, the reaction from some quarters was to minimise the importance of that step. What was once regarded as the litmus test of the bona fides of republicanism was, once it happened, dismissed by some as a cynical and tactical act. Given the sensitivity of this issue and its fundamental significance for the republican movement, any fair-minded observer must recognise that the achievement of two acts of decommissioning was a profoundly significant step forward in the peace process.
Welcome progress has also been made in the area of security normalisation. Two announcements in October and January last heralded the demolition of three observation towers in South Armagh, the dismantling of Magherafelt army base and the closure of Ebrington barracks in Derry. While all these decisions have got to be made in the context of an ongoing threat assessment, we should also recognise the confidence-building potential of such moves for communities which, in the past, have been heavily militarised. The more we normalise security arrangements on the ground, the more we reassure the affected communities that the promise of the Agreement is being realised.
Despite many challenges, the last year has also been a remarkably fertile period in the operation of the institutions of the Agreement. The Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive have been providing good and accountable government for the people of Northern Ireland. Substantial work and activity has also been going on in Strands 2 and 3 of the Agreement. As well as numerous Ministerial meetings at sectoral level, there have in the past year been two summit meetings of both the North/South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council. The fact that the operation of these institutions has not attracted a great deal of media attention is testament to the absence of discord in their proceedings and to the quiet success of the business at hand.
As I see it, these are the gains of the last year and they are, compared to where we were even twelve months ago, both considerable and impressive. And yet, as Ambassador Richard Haas has said, even before the developments of the last fortnight, the glass for many people is half empty rathern than half full. As well as gains, there have undeniably been strains over the last year. Cumulatively, these have had a debilitating effect on confidence in the capacity of the Agreement to deliver the promised new beginning.
These corrosive issues, including events in Colombia and the ongoing sectarian violence are of legitimate concern and must be addressed. However, they should first of all be addressed in the contexts in which they arise, rather than imported as crises into the institutional heart of the Agreement.
Community confidence in the outworking of the Agreement has been particularly affected by the constant media images of violence on the streets, rioting at the interfaces and the despicable sectarian attacks on innocent victims. That deficit of confidence exists in all communities and extends, not just to the actions of the paramilitaries, but also to the ability of the forces of law and order to protect people from sectarian attack. While North and East Belfast have dominated the news, minority communities in Larne, Antrim, Carrickfergus, Coleraine and Derry have also been victims of sectarian attack. I welcome the avowed determination of the new Chief Constable to identify and take action against those responsible.
In addition, effective and consistent policing will be required on the interfaces to get a firm grip on the instigators of violence and ensure they face the rigours of the law. Whoever started the trouble, whoever responded and whoever perpetuated it, the end-result in East Belfast has been a nightmare for the ordinary people who live in and around the Short Strand. I welcome the fact that recent policing tactics – involving a larger deployment of PSNI officers at this interface – seem to be having a positive impact on the ground.
However effective and robust, security and policing policies alone will not defuse the tensions in these interface areas. The communities themselves can assist by anticipating difficulties, providing an early alert to the other side of the community divide and managing trouble if it breaks out.
While the street violence experienced this summer has been intense, we can take some comfort from the fact that this year’s marching season passed off reasonably peacefully. While Drumcree Sunday saw some disgraceful scenes, they were at least short-lived and the PSNI managed the situation effectively and sensitively. In other areas, the parades passed off without incident or with relatively little trouble.
Considerable credit is due to the range of people who exercised a positive influence managing these parades and, where they were unwelcome, in urging calm and restraint. The considerable progress that has been made in Derry in recent years, involving dialogue between the loyal orders and the local residents, is a model which, in time, may commend itself to other contentious parades in Northern Ireland.
The Irish Government believes that the Parades Commission has been doing a good job in carrying out what is a very difficult task. The current Review being undertaken by Sir George Quigley will, we hope, add value to the work of managing contentious parades.
And yet, despite all the progress I have outlined above, there are some who believe that Northern Ireland society is now more divided, and that sectarianism is more deep-rooted, than ever before. While I understand why such a view might be advanced, I do not share it.
To those who assert that there is a deficit of confidence in the current process that must be addressed, I say – I agree. However, that deficit and the fear and suspicions I have just mentioned can only be addressed collectively and all sides have a contribution to make. The Agreement was a collective endeavour as was the ongoing effort to implement it. Sustaining confidence in the Agreement likewise requires a collective commitment.
I am on record as having said that the stakes are high and our responsibility great, and, previewing the period ahead, that remains the case. In the next year, the people of Northern Ireland pass verdict on those who have been the custodians of devolution in Northern Ireland. Inevitably, political decisions and positioning are increasingly influenced by the prospect of this electoral rendezvous. As one who, only a few months ago, emerged from a lengthy general election campaign, I can hardly decry the reality that, for all politicians, the first priority is to get elected. However, the second reality is that, once elected, those who have been entrusted by the people must be able to form a government.
Perhaps this is an appropriate point to say a few words about what was decided at the Ulster Unionist Council meeting last Saturday week. Obviously I don’t want to say anything which would be unhelpful but I cannot pretend that the outcome of that meeting was not disappointing and a matter of concern to the Irish Government. Partnership government and the full and inclusive operation of the institutions of the Agreement are the cornerstone of devolution in Northern Ireland. If there is to be devolved government, it must be on a basis which serves the interests of both communities and reflects the principle that the institutions are interlocking and independent. Of course, we recognise that further progress needs to be made in respect of all aspects of the Agreement. But our view is that experience has shown that this can be best advanced by fully working the Agreement. As the Taoiseach has pointed out, impeding its operation retards, rather than advances, the process of implementation and the achievement of political stability. In accordance with the Agreement, it is the responsibility of the two Governments, in consultation with the political parties, to address difficulties which may arise in its implementation. As you will know, last week Brian Cowen met John Reid as part of that process and consultations with the parties will, of course, continue.
I know that you would not expect me to come before you tonight to map out a detailed strategy as to where exactly we go from here. But, as always, the approach of the Irish Government will be to remain steadfastly committed to the fundamental principles of the Agreement: the constitutional status of Northern Ireland being grounded on consent; partnership and inclusive government open to all who use only democratic and non-violent means; the operation of the various institutions on an interlocking and interdependent basis; and the entrenchment of equality and civil and political liberties to protect both communities in Northern Ireland, irrespective of its constitutional status.
The months – and indeed the years – ahead will, without doubt, be challenging. However I believe those who had the courage to negotiate the Agreement and break out of the zero-sum mindset will be vindicated by the people. Because, in the final analysis, there is no visible alternative to the kind of balanced accommodation offered by the Agreement.
Partnership politics is at the core of the Agreement – partnership within the Assembly and Executive, between both parts of the island and between the peoples of these islands. The political institutions of the Agreement are the mechanisms through which those partnerships are formed and developed. They are partnerships which are not just worthy in themselves but deliver practical benefits for the people they are entrusted to serve. Within Northern Ireland there can be no gainsaying the fact that partnership is providing effective and accountable government. All shades of political opinion are involved in that process of government – even if the terms of their participation differ.
Partnership is also at the heart of the North/South structures, involving Ministers from the different traditions on this island working together. While my partners may come to the North/South table with different political values and identities than mine, their engagement had been motivated by a common desire to make a positive difference in the lives of the people they serve. The outputs of North/South partnership deliver mutual benefit to both parts of the island. They are the outworking of practical, sensible co-operation which threatens nobody’s cherished interests or aspirations. I am convinced that all of these initiatives represent win-win scenarios and, quite frankly, it makes all the more deep my sense of disappointment when the operation of these institutions is called into question for reasons not related to the benefits which they can bring to all the people of this island.
I should also mention the partnership and co-operation at the core of the British-Irish Council. This is working in a unique way to the mutual benefit of all the peoples of these islands.
So to return specifically to the question posed this evening: where are we now? I suspect not as far as many of us would have wished but, for all that, a lot further than many of us would have dared to hope even a decade ago. I do not seek to minimise the difficulties which we face. But I believe that we have to be clear about one thing: realistically we can only seek to address the difficulties which we face within the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and the principles of partnership which underpin it.
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES ON SPEAKERS AND CHAIR
Paul Anthony Bew was born in January 1950 and was educated at Campbell College, Belfast, and Cambridge University where he was awarded a Ph.D. in 1974. He is Professor of Irish Politics at Queen’s University Belfast and has lectured at the Ulster College, the University of Pennsylvania (Visiting Lecturer 1982-83), and Surrey University (Visiting Professor, 1997- ) and was Parnell Fellow at Magdalene College, Cambridge, from 1996-97. Professor Bew served as President of the Irish Association for Economic and Cultural Relations from 1990-92 and has been an Executive Member of the British-Irish Association since 1995. He is historical adviser to the Bloody Sunday Tribunal and is the author of numerous publications, articles and reviews including: Sean Lemass and the Making of Modern Ireland (1983), Conflict and Conciliation in Ireland, 1890-1910 (1987), The Dynamics of Irish Politics (1989), The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 1993-96 (1996), John Redmond (1996) and Northern Ireland: A Chronology of the Troubles (revised edition 1999)
Michael McDowell, T.D., Senior Counsel, was born in May 1951 and was educated at Gonzaga College, Dublin, UCD, and the King’s Inns, Dublin. He has been a member of the Council of King’s Inns since 1978 and was called to the Inner Bar in March 1987. His political career began when he was elected to the Dail for the Progressive Democrats in the constituency of Dublin South-East in 1987. Re-elected in 1992, he was party spokesman successively in Foreign Affairs, Northern Ireland, Trade and Tourism and Finance, and was appointed by the Tanaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to chair the Working Group on Company Law Enforcement and Compliance. In 1999 he was appointed by the Government to chair the Implementation Advisory Group on the Establishment of the Single Regulatory Authority for the Financial Services Industry. He served as Attorney General from July 1999 to June 2002. In February 2002 he was appointed President of the Progressive Democrats and was appointed Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform following his re-election to the Dail last June.
Ercus Stewart, Senior Counsel, was born in March 1949, and was educated at Colaiste Mhuire, Dublin, UCD and the King’s Inns, Dublin. He was called to the Inner Bar in 1982 and is also a member of the Bars of N.I., England and Wales, and Australia (N.S.W.). He acts as arbitrator in commercial arbitration, both international and domestic, is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, and has wide experience in dispute resolution and mediation. He lectures to various institutions, including King’s Inns, UCD and DIT, and has published books and articles on labour/employment law and commercial arbitration law. He is a former chairman of the Irish Society for Labour Law, the Irish Association of Industrial Relations and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, and is currently a member of Amnesty International (Lawyers Section), the European Lawyers’ Union, the International Bar Association and Co-operation Ireland.
Meath Peace Group Report. October 2002.
Transcribed by Julitta Clancy and Catriona FitzGerald, and edited by Julitta Clancy. Taped by Oliver Ward, Catriona FitzGerald, and Anne Nolan.
Acknowledgments: Meath Peace Group would like to thank the speakers and guest chair, Ercus Stewart for giving so generously of their time. We thank all who attended the talk, many coming from long distances, all who assisted in the planning, organisation, publicity and recording of the talk, all who prepared and served refreshments afterwards, and all who made contributions towards the costs of the talk. Special thanks as always to the Columban Fathers for permitting us the facilities of St. Columban’s, Dalgan Park, and to the Dept. of Foreign Affairs Reconciliation Fund for assistance towards the running costs of the talks.
Meath Peace Group talks: This is the 45th talk since the series began in September 1993 – a full list of talks is included in our information sheet, and reports for most of our previous talks have been produced and many are now available on our website.The Meath Peace Group was founded in March 1993 and is a totally voluntary group.
Meath Peace Group Committee 2002: Julitta and John Clancy, Parsonstown, Batterstown, Co. Meath; Pauline Ryan, Woodlands, Navan; Fr. Michael Kane, An Tobar, Ardbraccan; Anne Nolan, Slane; Canon John Clarke, The Rectory, Navan; John Keaveney, Ratoath; Philomena Boylan-Stewart, Longwood; Olive Kelly, Garlow Cross, Lismullen; Leona Rennicks, Ardbraccan; Catriona Fitzgerald, Warrenstown.
©Meath Peace Group 2002
No. 37. “The Good Friday Agreement – Two Years On”
Monday, 10th April, 2000
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan
Sean Farren, MLA (SDLP Assembly Member; Minister for Higher Education in the NI Executive)
Dr. Esmond Birnie, MLA (UUP Assembly Member; Chairman of Higher and Further Education Committee; UUP Spokesman on North-South Relations)
Cllr. Gary McMichael (Leader of the Ulster Democratic Party)
John Bruton, TD (Leader of Fine Gael; Former Taoiseach)
Chaired by Ercus Stewart, S.C.
Addresses of speakers
Questions and comments
Appendix: Biographical notes on speakers
Editor’s note: This report is, as far as possible, an accurate transcript of the presentations and discussion on the night – items between square brackets refer to portions of the written speeches of the speakers which were not delivered due to time considerations
1. Sean Farren, MLA (SDLP). “Thank you. Can I say that I’m very pleased to be here, to have the opportunity of speaking to the Meath Peace Group. I’ve been aware of the Group’s activities. Its involvement goes beyond simply holding meetings, important as it is to hold meetings like this, but it’s involvement goes beyond that to direct encounters across the border and indeed elsewhere, with people at all levels involved in the political, social and other aspects of life in Northern Ireland, all focussing on reconciliation and the creation of a stable, peaceful, political situation there.
Scale and scope of the Agreement: “Can I just begin by reflecting with you a little bit on the Good Friday Agreement? Much that you probably know in detail yourselves. But I think it would be helpful to reflect on the scale and the scope, and indeed the ambition that lay behind the Good Friday Agreement. It would be very easy tonight – given the protracted impasse that we find ourselves in – to reflect more on the negative sentiment which is undoubtedly out there in Northern Ireland, and indeed throughout the South and elsewhere where people take an interest in our affairs. It would be easy to reflect the sense of disappointment – to put it no stronger – that people feel two years on, and indeed the question more on people’s lips and in their minds is “whither the Good Friday agreement now?”
“The Agreement has been compared with the Sunningdale Power-sharing Agreement reached in 1973. But on reflection it is much deeper – it attempts to address much more comprehensively all of the issues relating to the relationships that the people of Ireland, north and south, and indeed the people in Ireland and Britain enter into by virtue of the historic legacy which in a sense lproduced the conflict, let the conflict to simmer and to boil, on what A.T.Q. Stewart described as the “narrow ground” of Northern Ireland. But the Good Friday Agreement – looking comprehensively at all of the relationships that form part, or indeed the whole of that legacy – is an Agreement which, despite the difficulties of the last two years, is, I think, going to stand the test of time. It addresses the legacy in terms of its political relationships within the North, between North and South, and between Ireland and Britain, in a very comprehensive way, through the political institutions that it proposed be established and that became tantalisingly close to giving firm roots to last November, and throughout December and into early February.
Sense of self-respect: “Those political institutions began to demonstrate a degree of confidence that people in Northern Ireland in particular – and between North and South – could take political responsibility, and through that political responsibility begin to restore or indeed give for the first time for many a sense of self respect. That their own political representatives could do things together for the benefit of the whole community, and between North and South to begin to work – as the Agreement itself says – to the mutual benefit.of the communities on both sides of the border.
“We had that tantalising sense of restoring the self respect to ourselves through those institutions in that short period of time. That remains there as something which, because we have sensed it I think we will, undoubtedly in the short or the longer term, restore to ourselves, because without it we condem ourselves to failure.
New civic order: “But the Agreement is much more than the political institutions. It addresses many of the issues which were a cause or a contributing cause – if not a root cause – to the problem. The equality agenda, the human rights agenda, the vexed question of prisoner releases, the vexed question of police reform, and – maybe less vexed, depending on what side of the fence you stand on – the issue of criminal justice reform. And indeed all the other associated issues in the cultural sphere, the social sphere and the economic sphere. All of those in the Good Friday Agreement were being given frameworks to be addressed effectively and positively, and in ways which, hopefully, would enable us to create a new civic order – a civic order in which people would feel comfortable, no matter what their allegiance, no matter what their identity, no matter what their aspiration.
Prisoner releases: “Undoubtedly some of those are much more problematic for one side of the community than for the other – trying to bridge the problems associated with policing, and through the release of prisoners – an issue which undoubtedly has caused a great deal of pain. And I have to say, as someone looking at the manner in which the unionist community has received that issue and has responded to it, I have a great deal of admiration for the equanimity with which the unionist community, which bore a great deal of the pain and the tragedy which was inflicted by many of those in prison, responded. We all know there have been responses which have expressed some of the bitterness associated with that, that was not to be unexpected. That equanimity is reflected also within the nationalist community, because there have been many prisoners released who have inflicted a great deal of pain on people from the nationalist community. But particularly I think I should acknowledge, from within the nationalist community, the manner in which I observed the unionist community responding to the release of so many prisoners, many of whom who will live not very far from those very people on whom their actions brought so much tragedy. And yet that has been accepted….
Policing reform: “Alongside of that there is the vexed question of policing. We all noted the reactions within the unionst community to that. There my own reflections might not be so generous in reflecting on their response to the Patten Report, as I have just reflected with respect to their response to prisoner release… But nonetheless there is an acceptance that change and reform of a significant kind is necessary if we are going to create a police service in which people from both sides of the community will comfortably serve, and in turn be accepted through their service by both sides of the community.
Criminal justice system: “Likewise, although we haven’t yet begun in public to debate the recommendations that have come out of the criminal justice review – changes there will, we hope, create a new set of attitudes which will allow the criminal justice system to be one which is accepted with a greater sense of equality and fairness being delivered to people on both sides of the community too.
Political stability: “All of these issues, alongside the political issues, are intended to create the confidence, the trust, that would enable the whole of the Good Friday Agreement to go ahead and progress in a manner that would enable us to reach stability within a political framework in which the identities of all sides are accepted, recognised and respected. And that whatever the destiny of Northern Ireland is to be, that it will rest on the principle of consent – perhaps one of the most fundamental dimensions of the Good Friday Agreement which has led to the constitutional change here in the South – a change that many indeed in the South would have argued for and wanted to see effected long before this. But nonetheless it has been accepted now as a working principle for constitutional change within the North.
Impasse: “Yet despite what the Good Friday Agreement has both promised and indeed begun to deliver, we are at the impasse that I’m sure is going to be the focus of a great deal of our discussion this evening. We all know where the focus of that impasse lies – it lies on the one remaining confidence building measure on which there has been not sufficient progress. You’ll gather that I’m being a bit hesitant in formulating my words and views at this particular point. But there’s been so much debate that perhaps it is important to recognise that while we say progress has not been sufficient, or that no progress has taken place at all, nonetheless we are living in days which compare much more favourably than the days of the early 90s and late 80s and stretching back into the decades before then. We do have a greater sense of freedom from violence, we do have a greater sense of security. And that sense of security – that sense of freedom from imminent danger of violence – comes from the fact that the ceasefires have held since 1997 in particular. They haven’t been complete. I recognise there have been punishment beatings. I recognise that punishment beatings are turned on and off, almost to mirror political developments – almost to remind us at this critical time, that “they haven’t gone away you know”, on either side, And they come back with their terror – that’s what it is in the areas where the paramilitaries seek to exercise their control – to remind us of that very obvious fact, that they haven’t gone away.
Our entitlement: “And of course, underlying that is the question we are all asking – will there be any more progress on decommissioning? Will there be what I regard as our entitlement – I’m talking here about the people of Ireland, north and south who voted so overwhelmingly in the referendum just two years ago. Their entitlement to live free from the threat, free from the actuality of paramilitary violence. That is what we have said to the paramilitaries. And the response, while it exists in the form of the ceasefires – inadequate as we may regard them from time to time because of the punishment beatings – nonetheless they have a responsibility to go beyond that and to give us some sense of reassurance, some clear sense that the threat no longer exists, that there is no danger of a return – insofar as that can be guaranteed and there are no absolute guarantees – that there is no imminent danger of a return to politically-motivated violence.
“That’s our entitlement, that’s what we asked for when we voted “yes” in the Good Friday Agreement. Amongst all of the other things, we did ask for that.
Decommissioning: “The Agreement recognises that “decommissioning is an indispensable part of the process”. The conditions that we’re reminded of that will bring it about – the full operation of the Agreement – seem at times, by those who put it in that way, to remove decommissioning from the Agreement, and to suggest that it would be a desirable extra which would come after everything else has been put into effect. If that’s the attitude and that’s the approach… when is everything else going to be in effect to the point where decommissioning can take place? I don’t accept that it is apart from the Agreement – I see it as an essential element. It needs to be progressed along with all of those other matters I’ve just reminded you of that are also essential parts of that Agreement..
Obligations of paramilitaries: “We do need a reassurance – not only do we need it, we’re entitled to it. We’re entitled to it because we said that that was the wish of the Irish people overwhelmingly. If the Irish people are sovereign, if the Irish people have the right to express themselves openly and freely and democratically through a referendum accepted by all of the pro-Agreement parties, then the paramilitaries associated directly or indirectly with those parties have an obligation to respond to what we have asked for and what, as I say, is our entitlement. So far they haven’t done so sufficiently. They have begun to come closer to it in recent months – some of the things they said before the 31st January, some of the things which are reflected in the de Chastelain report of 11 February – where there is an indication that arms might be put beyond use in a way to maximise public confidence – seem to be nudging the argument on their side in that direction.
Need for clear response: “But the language is still the language of “might”, “maybe” and “perhaps”. We do need at this stage, if the project is to move forward in the near future and not become a victim to electoral considerations – we do need a clear response. That’s your entitlement, that’s our entitlement in the North most particularly. Without it the Agreement is likely to be further arrested and become a victim to electoral considerations. If that’s the case, then I think the Irish people need to know very clearly what is happening and to give their response accordingly. Thank you…….”
[The following paragraphs are taken from Sean Farren’s written speech – sections which could not be delivered due to time considerations on the night:
Peace and stability or a return to sectarian politics– the choice:
“Despite their clearly expressed desire for reconciliation, stability and peace through the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, the people of Northern Ireland are being now faced with the prospect of a return to the poison of sectarian politics. Having voted overwhelmingly for the Good Friday Agreement the people of Ireland, North and South, face being betrayed, ironically and tragically, not by political parties in the “no” camp, but by parties who proclaimed themselves in favour of that agreement. The impasse is the result of a failure to build confidence and trust through an open and generous approach to implementing the agreement. For this republicans and unionists share a grave responsibility.”
Breaking the current impasse:
(i) “If we are to deliver on the hopes and expectations of the Agreement there has to be a real commitment from the republicans and loyalists to ensuring that political violence is over and done with. Without that commitment trust will not develop between all those who want the Agreement to succeed.
(ii) “Alongside that commitment it has to be clear that the political institutions will function free of any threat either to undermine or suspend them. Any future difficulty or crisis facing these institutions must be fully and openly addressed by all pro-agreement parties and both governments. Precipitate and unilateral action by either government of any party such as happened on the 11 February must be ruled out. Otherwise the trust essential to making those institutions work will never develop.
(iii) “To break the current impasse the implementation plan being prepared by both governments must, therefore, be comprehensive. It will not be sufficient merely to deal with decommissioning and the re-establishment of the political institutions. The package must make clear that progress will be made on all of the other major issues as well. These include a clear timetable for reform of the police and of the criminal justice system, the full implementation of equality measures, parity of esteem for all our cultural traditions, the establishment of the civic forum as well as progress towards a North-South parliamentary tier and the North-South Forum.
“On this second anniversary of the Agreement, all pro-Agreement parties, together with both governments, must rededicate themselves to fully realising the hopes placed by the people of Ireland, North and South, in the Good Friday Agreement]
2. Dr. Esmond Birnie, MLA (UUP) [Note: additional text in square brackets is taken from Dr Birnie’s written speech]:
“ Thank you very much – It’s the first time I’ve addressed this group and I’m very grateful for the opportunity…. We live in interesting and challenging times in Northern Ireland and throughout the island….. My presentation tonight is in two parts – firstly I will address the immediate issues, and secondly, I want to say a little about some radical suggestions as to how the institutions might be developed in the future…
Part 1: Immediate issues
UUP commitment to the Agreement: “Under David Trimble’s leadership the Ulster Unionist Party has taken a huge leap away from what I do admit was a somewhat insular and exclusive past. David Trimble himself has taken personal, party and political risks – but I believe they were always calculated risks and indeed necessary risks for the good of the Northern Ireland people as a whole. He – more than anyone else – opened the door to a cross-community political partnership which had the potential to provide decent and stable government for everyone. It is against that background that I regard the criticism made, for example, by Sinn Fein of the Ulster Unionist Party – that we are not genuinely committed to the Good Friday Agreement – I would regard that criticism as nonsensical.
“Because in fact we do believe in inclusive government, and indeed we proved that by participating in the Executive between November of last year and February of this year.. But inclusivity is not an unqualified virtue. We believe it does have to be qualified by two things – first of all any government needs to be based on democratic principles, and secondly we cannot govern if we govern under a threat of a return to violence. Sean made that point very well and I would agree with him… In November 1999, the Ulster Unionist Party did take a risk – a calculated risk. Why did we do that? We did that because we felt it was worth making one final effort to bring the IRA – and the other paramilitaries – in from the cold. We did decide to take them on trust. And we hoped that when we – and other parties like the SDLP – took major steps towards implementing the Agreement, we hoped that the paramilitaries and those parties linked to them would reciprocate They didn’t, sadly.
What we were asking for: “It’s important to stress what we were asking for and what we weren’t asking for, because again Sinn Fein propaganda has clouded the issue. My party was not insisting upon a public handover of arsenals prior to the devolution of power. We weren’t certainly asking for surrender. We weren’t asking for the abandoning of power-sharing or indeed the Irish Dimension. We weren’t asking those who had an aspiration to a united Ireland to abandon that aspiration, provided they worked entirely through a democratic political platform. All we were asking in November of the IRA was that it would set itself the immediate task of outlining a process whereby the decommissioning of arms would begin, be continued and be completed. Now in April of this year we’re still waiting to see if the IRA and Sinn Fein are going to offer such a process….
[“There were many people in the Ulster Unionist Party who believed that David Trimble was wrong to take the risk. Not, as Sinn Fein pretend, because they don’t even want inclusive government, but because they believed that the IRA would never make a gesture on decommissioning. It was because David Trimble believed that the IRA were serious about decommissioning that he underwrote the risk by offering his own resignation and further risking his own position as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party. Since November 1999, the IRA have done nothing to help either the Agreement or David Trimble, and if both are now in a vulnerable and perhaps terminal position, it is the IRA who must take the blame”]
IRA problems with the Agreement: “I do recognise that the IRA have awful problems with the Good Friday Agreement. From their perspective it is probably not a very good agreement at all. It has involved, quite rightly from my point of view, the amendments to Articles 2 and 3 of your Constitution. The so-called British presence has been entrenched in Northern Ireland. To some degree it is an internal settlement – though of course arguably it is much more than that. It does involve a return to a parliament at Stormont, a Unionist First Minister and a unionist input into, and veto, over the activities of the cross-border implementation bodies. [Neither the paramilitary nor political wings of republicanism has been able to win the political and constitutional war and for the the IRA there is still a sense of unfinished business].
“Militant republicanism in particular, and republicanism in general, to some degree is built upon a martyr-worshipping culture. That may be why they find pragmatic things represented in the Belfast Agreement hard to swallow That sort of militant republican culture does I think have a passion for tortured, imprisoned, law-defying, freedom-fighting or indeed dead heroes. They cannot cope with anything which smacks of surrender and I think they do have a difficulty with a political settlement which in effect involves recognition of something of a stalemate with what they regard as their old historic enemy.
“In that context, I suppose some in republicanism view the handover of weaponry as a public acknowledgment that they have lost a military campaign [along with the political and constitutional battles]. Another huge dilemma for the IRA is that 95% of the republican/nationalist electorate within the island as a whole voted in favour of the Good Friday Agreement [and in favour of them decommissioning their weapons by May 2000 at the latest]. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the IRA haven’t got a clue what to do at the moment – and that is reflected in Sinn Fein policy at the moment – and nor do they appear to have the moral courage to face facts and start with the very simple statement that “the war is over”.
[“In September 1997 the UUP had to sit down with Sinn Fein in order to move the process forward. In December 1999 we sat down with Sinn Fein in the Executive to move the process forward again. We have delivered everything which was required of us by the Agreement and it is now up to the IRA to deliver the one and only thing we have asked of them – decommissioning.”]
Spirit of the Agreement: “They claim that the Good Friday Agreement makes no specific demand upon them to hand over a single bullet or ounce of Semtex. In one narrow sense I agree with them. In a strict legal sense the Agreement does not do that – if it did presumably we would have taken Sinn Fein to court. But beyond the technical, legal aspects of the Agreement is a concept which has come to be known as “the spirit of the Agreement”…. Even though there was no written guarantee that decommissioning had to happen, there was a hope and a real expectation on the part of almost every party that decommissioning would start soon after April 1998 and continue until it was completed well before May 22nd of this year. If in fact the IRA – and indeed Sinn Fein continue – to take refuge in legal niceties, it doesn’t set a good precedent to the establishment of a pluralist inclusive executive in Northern Ireland where Sinn Fein ministers would have major exercise of power.
[Long-term intentions of the IRA “When the determination to keep your weapons is justified by the legal nicety that no-one actually said that you had to hand them over at all, it does beg the question of the IRA’s sincerity and intentions. As I see it, the possession of weapons is not, in itself, a threat to the peace process. The simple fact of the matter is that the IRA could decommission tomorrow and then replace their arsenals in a relatively short time. Decommissioning does not necessarily mean either an end to the war or an end to the threat of war. What matters more than anything else is the long-term intentions of the IRA.”]
Terrorism still a tactical option: “Whilst I agree with Sean’s view that the extent of peace we have had in Northern Ireland over the last five years is a lot better than what we’ve had before, it is also true that in that time period, the IRA – and indeed the loyalist paramilitaries – have continued to recruit, train, target, intimidate, punish, purchase and stockpile weapons. They haven’t so much de-commissioned as re-commissioned. They have gone about all of the business which is required if they are to maintain their arsenals and organisation, as well as retaining their terrorist capability. The only conclusion which can be drawn from this evidence is that a return to terrorism remains an ongoing tactical option for the IRA. [And that option could remain ongoing even if the IRA began to decommission tomorrow. The continuing existence of that option is why my party has to draw the line at returning to government with Sinn Fein – for the brutal fact of the matter is that the shadow of the gunman would continue to hover over the Executive table. What sort of basis is that for the growth of trust and the success of democracy?
[“And Gerry Adams’ comments on Saturday [at Sinn Fein Ard Fheis], about a possible return to violence, is the clearest evidence we need that the terrorism option is still available. The IRA’s refusal to decommission, to disband, or to announce a formal and final end to their war suggests that they intend to remain an active terrorist organisation.”]
“The IRA cannot continue to have it both ways. Either they are part of the democratic process or they are not. Their bogeyman strategy, built around the threat that “they haven’t gone away you know” may appease the hawks in their own camp, but if they continue to act like that it will make it impossible for unionists such as myself to take them on trust. And I do want to try to trust them.. [Since the IRA failed to make a positive response to my party’s leap of faith in November 1999, I have to say that I would find it almost impossible to make a similar leap at a later stage]. I do want to see the Good Friday Agreement fully implemented and I want to see suspension lifted as soon as possible. But before that can happen, the element of ambiguity about the long-term intentions of armed republicanism has to go. [In other words, the lifting of suspension must embrace a palpable resolution to the problem of terrorists or their frontmen in government. At the moment it looks as if the IRA’s own survival is deemed more important to them than the survival of the Good Friday Agreement. It is up to the IRA to resolve this continuing impasse, for it is entirely of their creation. My party has nothing more to offer and nowhere else to move. David Trimble has repeated that we are willing to take part in the Executive and I support him.”]
Question to IRA: “I ask one simple question of the IRA: is the bogus god of a terrorist campaign for an unavailable united Ireland more important than the authentic mammon of a political settlement which has already been endorsed by 95% of the nationalist and republican electorate throughout the island?
[“The IRA blame us for insisting upon prior decommissioning and then they issue statements that they won’t decommission at all. They blame us for reneging on promises and yet they are recruiting the next generation of teenage martyrs. They blame us for belligerence and then take a baseball bat to some child who annoys a local godfather. What sort of crazy, convoluted, head-in-the semtex logic do these people actually live by? In the real world the breeze-block and democracy do not cohabit. The sooner the IRA understands that simple fact, then the sooner we will have the Good Friday Agreement back in action.]
Part 2: Institutions – suggestions for the future.
“It is worth mentioning at this stage that it is remarkable that the Good Friday Agreement is still in existence after two years. You may not think that’s much of an achievement. But remember the Sunningdale Agreement lasted for less than six months and in the intervening period there have been countless initiatives which have come and gone with great rapidity.
“I want this Agreement to work because I believe that it represents the basis for an honourable – and balanced – political settlement between all sides in Northern Ireland. [Whether it will survive or not depends upon the actions and reactions of terrorist groups and particularly the IRA.]
Widening the debate – danger of institutionalising sectarianism:
“But let me widen the debate a little bit. There is a faction within the unionist NO lobby which insists that even if we secured a deal on decommissioning and re-established the Executive, that the institutions would always be inherently unstable and unworkable. They are so because they institutionalise and indeed entrench sectarianism because the arrangements in the Belfast Agreement are very very complex. They involve dividing the politicians into designated unionists and designated nationalists or republicans, they involve balanced voting, qualified majorities, vetoes etc. [Rather than paving the way for a better future, they would leave us with the same old parties and the same old problems. The unionists would try and secure their own position while the nationalists worked to a united Ireland agenda.] And there is a quite respectable argument which says that this whole system would grind to a halt. They could point to other areas where such systems of institutionalised power-sharing in deeply divided societies have eventually broken down – and sometimes have broken down very messilty – Lebanon’s civil war is a good example of that. Arguably, Belgium and Austria are other examples…
“It’s arguable we may be in danger of such a system which will deadlock and simply institutionalise our divisions. We have to take that criticism seriously but it’s not insuperable. [We don’t have to live our lives according to the predictions of Mystic Meg and the No-is-me, woe-is-me pessimism of anti-Agreement unionists.]
“One of our problems, of course, is that the main political parties in Northern Ireland are built around their response to the constitutional issues. However, if we get devolution to work, with power returning to Belfast from London, our political parties will be confronting so-called “bread and butter” issues, because at the end of the day, whether you are nationalist or republican or loyalist or unionist or whatever, you need to send your children to school, you use roads, environmental services, hospitals etc….
“There is evidence, even in the short 72-day period when the Executive was in operation – Sean was a Minister and I was a chairman of a committee – we saw evidence that on key social, economic and welfare issues consensus could occur, and could occur across the lines of unionist, nationalist, republican and so on And perhaps there’s an interesting contrast with the old Stormont parliament between 1921-1972, because to a great extent it avoided debate on left, centre and right issues, because the Stormont unionist government tended to legislate in whatever way the national parliament in London did.
[“Stormont had a tendency to take social and welfare legislation which had been passed for the rest of the UK and then adopt it unchanged for Northern Ireland. This had the advantage of saving unionist governments, the split-risking problems associated with internal disputes over policy platforms. Unity of the party was always deemed more important than full debate on “left” and “right” issues.]
“Now I think that the Belfast Agreement could adapt to new-style politics in Northern Ireland. Indeed paragraph 36 of Strand One makes provision for review and adaptation: “After a specified period there will be a review of these arrangements and of the Assembly’s procedures, with a view to agreeing any adjustments necessary in the interests of efficiency and fairness.”
“Power-sharing is desirable in a deeply divided society such as ours, but it does not need to be sectarian-based only, let alone dependent upon the continued existence of the present political parties. There can be power-sharing between parties that take similar views on economic and social issues…. [A minority does not have to mean just nationalist or Roman Catholic. Many of the local parties actually have left-of-centre policies and beliefs and would probably agree on very much more than you might imagine at the moment.]
Political realignment: “Perhaps over time, if we get the institutions up and running, the various parties will experience a realignment towards a continental or European system of politics – towards Social Democrat or Christian Democrat or if you prefer the British political designations – labour and conservative parties. And indeed I would like to see all the United Kingdom parties – Liberal Democrats and Labour – organising and campaigning in Northern Ireland too, along with the Conservatives who are here already.
[“The truth is that most parties in Northern Ireland are little more than loose coalitions embracing everything from the far left to the far right. These differences would be exposed once the parties had to create policies rather than produce soundbites on the constitutional issue. It would be a tragedy if the rules governing the Assembly were so tight that they prevented the existing parties from fading away to be replaced by new parties based on a wide range of social and economic issues. Sectarianism will only become institutionalised if we choose to make it so. ]
Devolution the only way forward: “I believe that devolution is the way forward for Northern Ireland, in part because the United Kingdom constitution as a whole is undergoing reform and change. Devolution has already occurrred to Edinburgh and Cardiff, so Belfast is part of the bigger picture … . We should also bear in mind the growth of European regionalism and that has implications for Northern Ireland and the Republic.
[“It is essential therefore that we in Northern Ireland, irrespective of what we think about the present nature of mandatory power-sharing, grasp the present opportunity to pave the way for a new era of fairness, self-government and inclusiveness. We have to prove that we are capable of living together and governing together. The growth of regionalism has been one of the main consequences of our membership of the European Union (and at the European level it may prove to be somewhat of a mixed blessing) and it isn’t surprising that the Scots and Welsh and even the Irish want to ensure that their voice is heard at many different levels. It is equally vital that we in Northern Ireland are able to represent ourselves and make our case where it matters, rather than depending upon others to do it for us.]
“I believe in a unionism which embraces the whole of the British and Irish isles. I’m not talking of reversing the historic decision of 1921, but what I am saying is that we can recognise that Ireland and the United Kingdom have so much in common in terms of history, culture, to some extent in terms of language, and in terms of the movement of people back and forth between the two islands.. .I believe that the British-Irish Council has much scope in that regard..”
Sea-change in relationships: “I believe that the Belfast Agreement – when and if it is implemented – could provide the platform for an absolute sea-change in all the important relationships – relationships within Northern Ireland, relationships between Northern Ireland and the Republic, relationships between Northern Ireland and Great Britain and relationships between the Republic and the United Kingdom. [And the improvement in each and every one of those relationships will do far more to bring about a stable, decent and democratic society in Northern Ireland than our continuing and destructive obsession with the constitutional question.]
Commitment to the Agreement: “This is why I argue that there is no workable alternative to the Good Friday Agreement, even two years on. Yes, alternatives can be spoken of in a theoretical sense, but it has to be said to the anti-Agreement part of unionism – they have yet to produce an alternative which is either viable or available. [And the alternative which dissident republicans want involves decades more of struggle and slaughter.]
“My party will continue to do everything we reasonably can to save the Agreement and indeed to implement it. I ask others – Sinn Fein/IRA in particular – to join us in that task. David Trimble had to face down the rejectionists within unionism in order that he could bring his party this far. Sinn Fein/IRA will have to face down their own rejectionists, abandon their old ways of thinking, and meet us upon the common ground where the foundations for a genuine lasting settlement can be put in place.”
3. Cllr. Gary McMichael (leader of Ulster Democratic Party)
“Thank you very much for the invite. It’s a pleasure to be here. It’s a very important time – two years after the Good Friday Agreement. … I’m not going to get into the business of apportioning blame for the difficulties we face now. Because the Good Friday Agreement was a collective arrangement – a collective process to develop a solution to a long-standing problem… a very complex and wide-ranging Agreement with many part. And the reality is that if one part fails then it all fails. We didn’t sign up to those bits of the Agreement that we liked – we signed up to it all, and today the Good Friday Agreement doesn’t work. The question has to be dealt with – do we try and fix it, or do we try and look for something else? The deputy leader of the UUP said today it may be time to look for other options. I don’t think he means that seriously. I’d like us to concentrate minds. We have to deal with the problem now. Unless we try to deal with this problem now, then there will not be anything to fix.
“Sinn Féin have been tallking about instead of concentrating on the peace process they will be concentrating on their electoral process … Looking at the next general election and the subsequent elections, and the southern election also, and their ambition would be to take the majority from the SDLP within nationalism, perhaps thinking that that would put them in a stronger negotiating position. But the reality is that if this Good Friday Agreement is not corrected, then by the time those elections are held, they will only be negotiating with the DUP.
Process not about majority rule: “There’s no point in me trying to explain the different parts of the Agreement and what they mean for each of us. We all know what they mean… most of you voted yes in the Referendum – if you voted “no” you’re probably a unionist. Because when people talk about the 71.12% who voted for the Agreement, they forget that 50% of the unionist population voted against it. And that was one of the primary causes of the difficulties that we contended with in this Agreement. You mightn’t agree with the rationale of Ian Paisley and people like that – I certainly don’t agree – but it’s their Agreement as well, whether they like it or not. We have to understand that this process is not about majority rule – it’s not about saying “ok, we got an Agreement, 71% voted for it now implement it”…. We can’t just implement it. We have a growing crisis within this process which means that if we lose a majority of support within unionism then the Agreement is finished anyway. Therefore it has to be fixed and it has to work effectively.
Problems from a unionist perspective – “I would just like to deal with Unionism for the moment because Nationalism is very much pulling in one direction in terms of the peace process, whereas Unionism is pulling in many different directions. The two problems for Unionists revolve about Sinn Fein being in government and decommissioning. Most unionists don’t like the idea of Sinn Féin in government – and you can understand why – but it’s an essential part of the Agreement.
Decommissioning – “I don’t believe in decommissioning – never have. I don’t believe that the bona fides of people can be determined by how many guns they hold. I don’t care if the IRA have guns – I dont’ care how many tons they have – I just want to know if they’re going to use them. That’s the core issue. My view is a minority within the unionist community. …There are arguments about the spirit and the letter of the Agreement… The Agreement didn’t say decommissioning has to be completed by 22 May 2000…. the reality is that it is the least defined part of the Agreement, and the reason for that is we couldn’t have got an agreement if we had defined it… At the same time we have to also understand that this is a practical world and that the only way the Agreement is going to work is that everyone will work within the Agreement and work within the institutions it provides. There’s no point in having an Executive if people won’t work with each other, there’s no point in having an Assembly if it doesn’t command the support of the people. So we’ll have to find a way of making it work. I see the issue of decommissioning as being not about decommissioning… The only language being used within the Unionist community… since 1994, decommissioning was put at the top of the agenda by the British and Irish governments and Unionist politicians, and in every successive negotiation process since the Good Friday Agreement, rather than finding a way around the issue of decommissioning, getting it off the stage, we’ve actually made it more centre-stage….
Intent the essential issue: “The reality is, whether we like it or not, the terminology of decommissioning and what that represents is the only currency that is being used to measure intent. Essentially for me it’s about intent. I want to know what the intent of the republican community is. Because the intent of the republican movement will make a huge impact on what the behaviour of my community is going to be in the future. I come from a community which has resisted republicans face to face, which has participated in the war and will again if it felt it had to. But I also speak for my community in saying that we don’t want to see that. We need to know – is the war over? Has the option of force.been removed?
“If you understand the Unionist mindset, and it’s important we do, it’s a very simple issue. There’s a broad spectrum of opinion within Unionism…. It’s very difficult to get people within Unionism to agree on many things, but the one common thread throughout that whole spectrum is this – it is based on a failure to accept that the IRA is involved solely within the democratic process, and there is a desire to have that issue cleared up. When a unionist looks at the Agreement, or where we are today, he see a democratic process, he sees institutions which have been created by the Agreement – institutions based on co-determination, which means that both communities depend on each other for stability and future political progress. He sees Sinn Fein represented in government at the highest level, difficult and all as that is to accept. He looks at an equality agenda emerging where provisions are being made and will be evidenced through a future bill of rights – a protective mechanism…. He looks at RUC reform, the recent review of the criminal justice system, and he sees that in the context of all this Sinn Fein and the republican movement still need to hold on to the option of force.
“They can’t understand it. I can’t understand it. Either this peace process, which is about transition between war and peace, is actually about achieving peace through a democratic coming together of people who have existed outside the system and against the system, through their own negotiation, to create a new situation which they should all remain within, which embodies the framework through which they can pursue their objectives. Is that what we’ve agreed? If it is, do we need the option of force? I don’t think we do.
“The mindset of the unionist says – the concessions we make in order to keep the process alive, the concessions we make to republicans, “are those concessions which will lead to peace, or will those concesssions be taken and when they dry up the republican movement retains the right to use armed struggle again?” I think that’s an understandable fear. I think that the people in my community, that all of us, have the right to know – does the creation of the institutions and the placing of republicans in government represent the swapping of physical force for democracy, or is it a tactical shift on the part of the republican movement?
“Usually the best way not to get republicans to do anything is to ask them to do it, or particularly to demand them to do it. They don’t respond well to demands, certainly not to unionist demands or British demands. But I think a reasonable demand is to know whether this process is for keeps. I think it’s a reasonable demand for any of us to make. And I think it’s only reasonable to respond to that in an honest and clear way. Now the reality is that if the war is over for the IRA, then it’s over for us all – we all know that. But as long as the IRA hold on to that option, then we can’t have real peace. As long as the IRA retain the possible intent of armed force in the future, then I don’t think we’ll have a stable government. I don’t think we will have a government at all. Certainly what I want to see is a commitment from the republican movement, and from everybody – all paramilitaries have a responsibility in this regard. To know that as bad as it gets – as bad as it ever gets – that the problems will be sorted out through the democratic process. That we will commit ourselves to the risks and the rigours of democracy because that is what a peace process is about.
“My party’s position is hardening on this issue. We want to see the IRA commit itself to the unionist community that they have set aside the option of physical force for good. And if they do that then I think we will have a stable government, a government that will work and can command, through time, through its outworkings, the confidence of the entire community.
“But equally – and no one can doubt the commitment of my party and myself to the success of this Agreement, and in many ways we would be in the very moderate wing of unionist opinion – be under no illusion. If we believe, in the next talks process that is going to develop in the coming weeks, if we believe that the IRA and Sinn Fein are seeking to enter government while retaining the tactical use of force for the future, we will not accept that. I think this issue has to be dealt with once and for all… Myself and my party will go into a future process determined to see the decommissioning issue resolved, whatever the implications of that may be. I don’t believe in decommissioning but that doesn’t mean that that’s not part of what maybe is necessary in order to sort out this problem.
Expectations of failure: “People are looking now, we’re hoping to see some kind of process emerging by Easter. I think it’s important that that happens – that a vacuum isn’t allowed to continue to be created. We’ll find that the community out there is turned off… It’s not surprising that whenever the Assembly collapsed – this “holy grail” of unionism – there wasn’t any sense of real trauma within the unionist community, because what we have now is a growing sense that the community expects us to fail. After two years of the Good Friday Agreement not being able to get this thing up and running, not being able to resolve these problems – people are starting to expect us to fail. And that in itself will kill the Agreement off.
“The time is now for everyone to sit down, to share the collective responsibility, to share the implications of this collective failure and to collectively work towards resolving this problem once and for all, so that we can look at this next year and see an Agreement that is working, which does have an Executive that does include Sinn Fein, where the community is secure, where there is no prospect of physical force from one side or the other in the future, and where we have a stable environment. And then next year when we come here we’ll have something to celebrate. Thank you.”
4. John Bruton, T.D. (leader of Fine Gael)
“First of all I’d like to say that I’m very pleased to be here for the 7th anniversary of this group, and I think it’s very important that we should look at a meeting like this for a way out what is of an increasingly deep morasse into which the process is now sinking…
“If you want to know why decommissioning of weapons is important you simply have to reflect on the reality of punishment beatings because people would not “agree” to be beaten if there wasn’t a threat of a trigger being pulled if they didn’t agree to be beaten. Without the guns there wouldn’t be punishment beatings …
Formula to break the Northern deadlock:
“I believe that a formula to re-establish the institutions can be found. It contains three elements:
(i) Mutual respect
(ii) A renunciation by the British Government of the unilateral right that it has exercised to suspend the institutions.
(iii) A committal to the Mitchell Principles by all parties and by all paramilitaries associated with them.
(i) Mutual respect: “I would like to acknowledge some important positive contributions to the peace process in the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis over the weekend: Mr. Gerry Adams said, “We know that, by its very nature, this historic task [the peace process] cannot be completed unless unionism has ownership of it.” And later he added “by-passing unionists is not an option for us.”
“The latter comment is particularly important because it removes the possibility of some form of one-sided imposed solution, such as advocated for example in the Sunday Business Post some time ago… Gerry Adams has specifically rejected that. I believe that Unionists should seek to develop this issue in dialogue with Sinn Fein. It provides a solid basis for the sort of mutual respect that is essential for the success of the process.
(ii) Renunciation of suspension: “I would also urge Unionsts to develop a dialogue on this important issue on the basis of what Sinn Fein has said.
In his response to David Trimble’s Washington offer to re-enter an Executive in advance of decommissioning, the Chairman of Sinn Fein, Mitchell McLaughlin, said that “Sinn Fein would not itself re-enter the Executive unless the British Government gave a commitment that it would not unilaterally suspend the Executive again.”
“I believe that is something that could be conceded to Sinn Fein in return for some movement on other issues… It is a productive area for discussion between the Parties. I believe that a commitment not to unilaterally suspend the institutions again is one the British Government could and should give. It should not be forgotten that under the rules either the SDLP or the Ulster Unionists are big enough anyway by themselves to suspend the Executive, simply by resigning from it. The particular voting situation in the Assembly – the position concerning Weir and Armitage – that required Mandelson to exercise the suspension option rather than allow David Trimble to resign – or allow Josias Cunningham to resign him – is unique and would not be likely to recur in any relevant circumstance concerning resumed institutions. Therefore I believe that that Sinn Fein demand can be conceded without any loss on the part of the British Government. I believe that Unionists, the SDLP and Sinn Fein could agree between themselves that all would re-enter the Executive on the basis that the British renounce any unilateral right to suspend again.
“As I have said, either Unionists or Nationalists themselves can, in any event, bring the executive to an end if it is not working for them at any time. That is what the Agreement provides. They can and should be left to do make their own judgments on that without any assistance from the Secretary of State.
(iii) A Recommittal to the Mitchell Principles:
“There remains the problem of the “no guns, no Government” position of many members of the Ulster Unionist Party, and indeed the wider unionist community. These guns are held by paramilitaries. Paramilitaries were not parties to the Belfast Agreement. But they have now appointed interlocutors to deal with General de Chastelain. Therefore, since then, they are now in the process in a recognisable way and this engagement of the paramilitaries in politics does open up a method of breaking the deadlock over guns and government
No timetables: “Sinn Fein is right when it says that no timetable for decommissioning is contained in the Belfast Agreement. No timetable was included for anything else either, including the setting up of the Executive and North-South bodies, for that matter. There is no statement in the Agreement about the sequence of any of the steps in it. This is a fault in the Agreement. But it is a fault for which all the negotiators, not just some of them, have a responsibility. From their perspective, Unionist negotiators can be criticized for not insisting on a timetable for decommissioning. Equally, Nationalist negotiators can be criticized for not getting a timetable written in for the setting up of the institutions. It is just as pointless now for Unionists to complain about the lack of a date for the start of decommissioning, as it is pointless for Nationalists to complain about the Unionists making decommissioning a precondition. Both positions are unfortunately perfectly tenable under the vague terms of the Agreement as it was negotiated by all the same participants. We cannot rewrite what was written, and we cannot write now in the past what wasn’t written in the past. It wasn’t written, and it wasn’t clarified..
New formula: “The challenge now is to negotiate a new formula,which adds to the Agreement and which can get us over the current obstacle.
“I believe the answer is to be found in a return to the Mitchell Principles. These principles were antecedent to the entire negotiations. Everything, including the ground rules for the negotiations and the Agreement which emerged from those negotiations, stem from the Mitchell Principles. All Parties accepted these principles as their entry ticket to the talks. Unfortunately the parties did accept the Mitchell Principles, but the IRA Army Council, and the UDA and the UVF – though they were associated who were at the table in the talks – they did not accept the Mitchell Principles and they were not formally asked to do so. Because at that time they officially didn’t exist in political terms. They now do exist because they have all appointed interlocutors to de Chastelain, and that has changed the situation and that is why I think we can now take a new approach.
“If all the paramilitaries could now be persuaded to formally accept the Mitchell principles, as their sister political parties have already done long ago, a basis would then exist to restart the Executive and Institutions straight away without prior decommissioning.
“The Mitchell Principles involve a commitment:
(a). To democratic and exclusively peaceful means of resolving political issues.
Agreeing to this would be tantamount to the IRA saying the war is over. The UVF and UDA would then be redundant, in their own terms, because they only exist to prevent the IRA taking over..
(b). To the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations. In saying “yes” to this the IRA, the UVF and the UDA would be agreeing to disband and disarm.
(c). To agree that such disarmament must be verifiable to the satisfaction of an independent commission. Sinn Fein signed up to that, so did the UDP and PUP. If the IRA signed up to that it would involve re-engaging fully with de Chastelain…
(d). To renounce for themselves, and to oppose any effort by others, to use force, or threaten to use force, to influence the course or the outcome of all-party negotiations. At the stage that this would be agreed to the negotiations would be over, so in a sense this would be null.
(e). To agree to abide by the terms of any agreement reached in all-party negotiations and to resort to democratic and exclusively peaceful methods in trying to alter any aspect of that outcome with which they may disagree. That involves … the IRA accepting the Good Friday Agreement, something they never did. And I remember, I think, being the only politician in the broad nationalist community who made the point.in the euphoria that existed in the immediate aftermath of the Good Friday Agreement. Do remember the total suspension of critical faculties in the immediate aftermath of the Agreement when to ask a question was to be almost something equivalent to treason. I did point out repeatedly and painfully that Sinn Fein had accepted the Agreement, but the IRA had never accepted the Agreement. Well if they signed up to the Mitchell Principles they would be accepting the Agreement…
(f.). To urge that “punishment” killings and beatings stop and to take effective steps to prevent such actions. This would mean, if the IRA, UVF and UDA accepted the Mitchell Principles then punishment beatings would stop
“Sinn Féin, as I said, on behalf of the Republican movement, signed up to these principles before they even entered the all-party talks. The question is simply this. Can the IRA not do now what Sinn Fein have already done? Signing up to the Mitchell Principles cannot be portrayed as surrender, because Sinn Fein have already done it. If the IRA were to refuse to follow Sinn Fein’s political line, one would have to ask – why does Sinn Féin remain in political alliance with the IRA?
“The issue of peace and war – in any discussion of politics in any jurisdiction in the world – would have to be said to be the most fundamental political issue there is. No coalition could exist between political entities that had a different view on that question…. Peace and war is the fundamental question. Yet we have a situation where, in formal terms, the Mitchell Principles – which deal with peace and war – have been signed up to by Sinn Fein and rejected by the IRA, and yet the two remain apparently happily in alliance, and nobody asks any searching questions about the truthfulness of this alliance. The Mitchell Principles are about peace and war. Sinn Féin accepts them. The IRA does not. That is unsustainable. It is something that must be resolved.
“Exactly the same contradiction has to be resolved between the Loyalist paramilitaries and their sister parties. It is not possible for Gary McMichael to sign up for the Mitchell Principles and the associated organisation not to sign them. We’re either in or not in… And this is a rubicon that all the participants – not just Sinn Fein and the IRA – have to cross. The Loyalist paramilitaries and their political associates have to cross it too, and they haven’t. There is no point in my view in all the weight being placed on the shoulders of Sinn Fein and feeding that “martyr syndrome” which was referred to by Dr. Esmond Birnie where they’re able to feel or argue that everyone is against them, because. the finger is pointing at them. Of course it’s understandable it’s being pointied at them – they’re the only ones in government. The UDP and PUP unfortunately didn’t get enough votes to have Ministers – it would be good if they had, because then they would be under the same amount of spotlight as Sinn Fein now is. I might have voted for them myself just to get them into the embarrassing situation that Sinn Fein are now in. But that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be embarrassed, because they can’t be in a situation where they are talking democracy and yet they are associated with an organisation which opposes democracy and practises punishment beatings. It isn’t on, it’s hypocritical.
“There’s a lot of room on this island of ours for “blarney”, but I think we’ve probably had enough blarney, enough blarney from politicians associated with paramilitaries. There’s a time for a bit of old-fashioned plain old boring straight talk. We haven’t had it and I think we need it now.
“Let me say why I have come forward with this formula now.
Punishment beatings: “The recent increase in punishment beatings is a dramatic sign that the political situation is rapidly deteriorating. Punishment beatings – as was said already – far from being spontaneous expressions of local frustration, are in fact turned off and on centrally, as a means of signalling political satisfaction or political dissatisfaction with the activities of the powers-that-be.
“The paramilitaries, who use the shattered limbs of petty crooks and social outcasts as one of their chosen means of communicating their political messages to the outside world, are cynical and depraved. The peace process has asked many decent people to avert their eyes from such depravities in the greater interest of polite discourse, and to carry on as if nothing was happening. Punishment beatings are submitted to “voluntarily” by the victims. The victims “volunteer” to have their kneecap shattered for one reason, and for one reason only. That reason is that the paramilitaries – who are making these adjustments to their physique for them – have guns and will use them. The “volunteer” has an option between a broken leg, a bullet in the knee, or a bullet in the head. He only “volunteers” for one of the first two options, because the third option very definitely exists…. Remove the threat of the gun, and there would be no more punishment beatings.
Guns not silent: “The existence of punishment beatings and shootings demonstrates why paramilitary guns do remain such a central part of the peace process. These guns are not silent. They are being used – used when they are discharged into somebody’s kneecap, and also used when they are silently displayed in a threatening way, so as to encourage someone to “volunteer” to have their leg broken. Paramilitary guns are at the centre of politics. Gerry Adams said at the weekend: “We remain wedded to our objective of taking all of the guns out of Irish politics”. I agree with that. I do not agree with him when he went on to say, “There is no special onus on our party to do this over and above and beyond the responsibilities of every other party in the process.”
“Most political parties are not associated with a paramilitary organisation. Fine Gael is not. Fianna Fail is not. The Ulster Unionist Party is not. Nor is the SDLP. Nor the Labour Party. Nor Alliance. Nor is any other party in the Dail, except Sinn Féin. Nor was any other party in the suspended Northern Executive, except Sinn Fein. The only party in the Dail, or in the suspended Northern Executive, that is associated with a paramilitary organisation, is Sinn Fein.
Loyalists: “The UDP and the PUP do not have seats in the Dail or the Executive, but they are, like Sinn Fein, associated with organisations that have guns. Like Sinn Fein, they too have not severed those links. Like Sinn Fein, they too have failed to get their associates to start to decommission, in accordance with the political commitment in the Belfast Agreement. I ask at this stage, now that we have changed our Constitution, and taken out Articles 2 and 3 which made a claim to which the supporters of the PUP and the UDP might have reasonable objection – why won’t the loyalists be the first to decommission? Why are they taking the view that the first bullet to be deommissioned has to be an IRA one? Why can’t loyalkists lead by example, now that we’ve changed our Constitution to facilitate the removal of the threat that existed. Why can’t Loyalists take the first step? Why should they always be waiting for Sinn Fein and the IRA to move first? Why can’t they move first? I believe they should.
“I believe however, that the best way of all for that to be done would be that all of the parties and all the paramilitaries could be asked to re-commit to the Mitchell Principles. Those Principles are the fundamentals of democracy. There would have been no talks process and no Agreement if everybody who participated in the talks had not first signed up to those Mitchell Principles. All we’re asking now is that not only should the parties sign up, but that their allies on the paramilitary side should sign up too. It’s not an unreasonable request and I believe that with the other confidence-building measures I have mentioned – no suspension and building up mutual respect – I think we can and should solve this problem.
Time to move on: “It’s not an intractable problem. Northern Ireland shouldn’t be the subject of any more theses, or any more verbal gymnastics. We’ve had it all. We’ve heard all the weighty tomes of discussion. We’ve had all the people getting their pictures on the television talking about the problem, saying they’re moving the process forward and all this. It’s time for the attention-seeking to end and for decisions to be taken and to move on. This is not a complicated problem. Guns are irrelevant.. Guns have achieved nothing in Ireland – nothing at all.. Guns have achieved nothing for Loyalists except misery for their own people. Guns have achieved nothing for Republicans except misery for their own people. The people concerned don’t need to rely any more on the crutch of the bomb or the crutch of the Kalashnikov. It’s time to put it aside – it’s time to grow up and get on with it!.”
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS [main points only]
Questions 1-4 (taken together):
1. [to Gary McMichael} “Was Peter Mandelson right or wrong in relation to the suspension of the Executive?”
2. [re decommissioning] – I was told by a Sinn Fein supporter – “if you give them 10 guns, they’ll ask for 20, if you give them 20, they’ll ask for 40”. What is the UUP position on that?
[to John Bruton]: “The Meath Peace Group and others have asked for the re-constitution of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation or something similar, possibly starting in Louth and Meath. While there is a very strong peace movement in Louth and Meath, there is also a very strong presence of Real IRA in those counties… Would he consider calling for the re-constitution of the Forum?
3. “How would you persuade paramilitaries to sign up to the Mitchell Principles?”
4. Re statement of intent, what wording is suggested?
Replies to questions 1-4
Q3. ….My understanding is that the UDA accepts the Mitchell Principles…It was the only paramilitary group following the Agreement was made to come out and support it and call on its members to vote for it. … Whenever the Mitchell Principles were announced, the IRA had difficulties with them – they had difficulties with the idea of resolution of differences by exclusively peaceful and democratic means….
Q4. Re intent: “one of the problems is the notion of republican “doublespeak” – what we want to hear directly from the IRA… in a sense all we need… that in the context of the Good Friday Agreement there is no justification for the use of force….
Dr. Esmond Birnie:
Q1. [decommissioning]: “I can see the problem…. what we have said is we want a substantial verifiable process to start. and in a sense we have recognised the problem by devolving the responsibility for checking the process away from the 2 governments, away from the army and the police. It’s in the hands of a neutral international observer – General de Chastelain and the decommissioning Commission – it’s for him to judge. The sad thing that made suspension necessary if deeply regrettable is that de Chastelain as a neutral observer was unable to report substantial progress
Q3 – Re Mitchell Principles… “ I think that was an excellent suggestion. Paramilitaries are subject to pressure, so the influence of public opinion does matter.. The influence of various governments matters, in particular your own government and the government in Washington… if you look at the shifts in the position of the IRA as reported by de Chastelain, there was some progress … between the end of January and the middle of February and that shows to me… that opinion was having some effect… There needs to be maximum public opinion and pressure
John Bruton: Q3. “I think the merit of trying to get the paramilitaries to sign up to the Mitchell Principles rather than some other new formula is 1) that they are there already, 2) their associate political parties have already signed them…3) they’re actually very demanding, and 4) their author is an American.. George Mitchell has acquired, in political terms, the nearest thing to sainthood – and deservedly… I also think that the player who has exercised the least pressure is President Clinton.. He could have exercised far more pressure on the republican movement than he did. They really do need the oxygen of support from the United States… It was a great pity that the opportunity of the St. Patrick’s weekend was lost … pressure was put on Trimble rather than the Provos… The pressure should have been put on them to get movement on the arms issue … America is far more important than Dublin. The amount of influence the Irish government has on Sinn Fein and the IRA is very limited, yet the amount of influence the White House has is enormous … Perhaps President Clinton was concerned not to lose some of the Irish vote for Gore… I’m not so sure if that is a factor – the Irish vote is not all that important in a Republican/Democrat contest in the United States nowadays… I think that that the Americans could take more risks … in pressurisng on this issue.
Q2: “I regret to say I wouldn’t be in favour of a re-constitution of the Forum…. The assumption would be that talk could do no harm, and the more talk you have the better. I think we’re at the point now of decision, and the setting up of the Forum would be just an alibi for more talk and more indecision… The issues are very clear – it’s not a seminar we need, it’s jumps……
Julitta Clancy (Meath Peace Group): “I would just like to clarify what we were looking for when our group talked about a Forum. We were not looking for a forum as a method of getting out of a crisis – we were looking for a Forum throughout the island – a Forum of the people. Grass-roots understanding is not being built – you will get groups like this in Meath and Louth, but it is not being done around the country. We wanted something that would move around the country and would enable unionists and nationalists to start working out our differences….
John Bruton: “I would have no problem with that. I just don’t want to create another alibi. That’s my only concern.”
Q5. “Did Mandelson get an impossible task ? There was no communication between Mandelson and de Chastelain. Was it stage-managed?… The thing was inevitable – the dogs in the street knew it was going to be suspended
Q6. “I am glad to see everyone here making a contribution – this wouldn’t have happened two years ago. . Everyone perceives things differently … unfortunately Northern Ireland is slightly different to here….there are many organisations in NI who have guns … I come from Northern Ireland .. for people in the South to understand the mindset that could accommodate the concept of decommissioning – it’s not the decommissioning of arms we want, it’s the decommissioning of mindsets that requires the need for arms… Gary McMichael, Gerry Adams, billy Hutchinson, David Ervine have lived their lives bearing witness to what happens to families… Gary McMichael cries the same tears as Billy Wright’s father – we have to make a quantum leap in accommodating… If Gary McMichael who has lost his father can make that quantum leap of accommodating, of listening to and sitting down with people who have perpetrated unbelievable injustices against his people, and Gerry Adams can do the same … that is the future … I think the UUP party leader is trying his damnedest, but he doesn’t have the grass-roots intellectual rationale built up to facilitate the accommodation that is required…….
Q7: “I’m an Ulster Unionist from Portadown…. I worked very hard to get the referendum passed in my area … One of the things you need to be careful of when you address rejectionist unionists is to see them as some sort of enemy… At the time of the referendum, 50% of unionists did not have confidence in the Belfast Agreement to vote for it. Don’t get the impression that that 50% don’t want to accommodate an inclusive government in Northern Ireland. They didn’t have the faith to put their vote to it – that didn’t mean they didn’t want what it aspired to…. In all sections of the community in NI we have people who are basically bad – it’s a human trait. The vast majority of the unionist population do want to look to a new vision of the future… they’re not trying to wreck it.
“I do not like phrases such as “they don’t want a Catholic around the place” – because that is not true. They want to feel safe – they want to feel as secure as their fellow nationalists do…. What has happened to those people since is that their fears have been confirmed … … we have confirmed the fears of 50% of the Unionists, we have undermined the feeling of support for the Belfast Agreement of a significant section of the other 50%. who voted for the Agreement. How in a very short period of time.. do we instil confidence and security? Does a complicated formula of words and techniques involving phrases like the Mitchell Principles and parity of esteem – and all that spent language which is going to be heard… We need something much more concrete. Esmond is absolutely right – we’re not looking for surrender, or handover of arms.
“We just simply want to know that as we take this difficult job and bring it forward, that somebody else is not going to beat us.. Is it not the case, that as with beauty it is very difficult to define, but it’s something you know when you see it?… As I said once to the Sinn Fein Assembly member for Upper Bann – you have to persuade our electorate that the war is over and we have to persuade your electorate that we’re interested in totally democratic and inclusive means… I can assure you as long as David Trimble and the present leadership is there we will do our damnedest to make sure this Agreement works. And we will continue to go anywhere, any place we can to show our intent on making it work. We do need some reciprocation from Sinn Fein.
Q8. [To Dr. Birnie] – you stated your party as a whole wants the Agreement to work – In the light of the UUC vote perhaps you are overstating the amount of support for the Agreement?
Q9. [To the unionist speakers]: It might be useful for us to find out what their problem is with the Agreement, not with IRA and Sinn Fein… I feel that tonight I’ve heard from the speaker from the UUP an awful lot about what other people’s problems are and not about what their own problems are…
Q10. I find decommissioning frustrating and hypocritical because even if the republicans hand over all their guns it is still only symbolic. It’s heart -warming to hear Gary McMichael say that so prudently by saying he personally didn’t believe in decommissioning, because they can always be replaced. So what I heard Gary McMichael say is that it’s the real thing they want, a guarantee which inspires trust and will last so that they won’t go back to war again… I can’t help getting the impression that both sides are using decommissioning as a political football to delay the process, and is it because London is moving too fast? I would like to ask Gary McMichael — why can’t he come out straight and demand the real thing – since decommissioning is only symbolic?…
Q11. The gentleman from the UUP spent two-thirds of the night talking about the IRA and Sinn Fein – I would have liked to have heard the position regarding unionists… At an earlier talk I asked if and when the SNP marches out of the Union, where will the unionists go?
Q12. If every party handed over their guns, can we say that any one individual in each party knows where all the guns are – and who can certify at any time that all guns are handed over? Also, in many countries in the last 2 centuries agreements have been agreed and adhered to before any guns are handed over by either side…
Replies to questions 5-12
Esmond Birnie [re confidence-building measures] – “I think first of all we need a statement directly from the IRA that the war is over, secondly a timetable about when decommissioning will start and the process and speed with which it will be completed. We thought back in November ..that that what would happen in December and January, our understanding was that that was the subject-matter which the interlocutor from the IRA would talk about with the Commission… But they didn’t sadly, so that’s what we need now…
“Also, I think the London government need to deal in a balanced manner with the very contentious matter of reform and change, and perhaps necessary modernisation of policing services in Northern Ireland. One of the most contentious elements has been what are they going to call the police… I would suggest a reasonable statesmanlike compromise as suggested by Denis Faul, – that we use both names.. It’s long and inelegant but many aspects of the Belfast Agreement are complex and inelegant.. but it would be a confidence-building measure which, rightly or wrongly… would help that section of unionism which has been “iffy” – on the margins of the Agreement – to come back to it, and …come back to supporting David Trimble…
Re level of extent within UUP for the Agreement – “my party is a broad church. Arguably over the past couple of weeks it has become so broad that the ceiling may collapse and we’ve got two different choirs singing from different hymn books as it were… Having said that, David Trimble has been re-confirmed as leader, he got 56% of the vote …The percentage change against David Trimble between November and 2 weeks ago is only 1 point something percent which I admit is bad… but in the light of the difficulties we faced – IRA intransigence – it is hardly surprising, I think the majority of the party is still behind the Agreement if only because no viable alternative has yet been suggested…
Re criticisms: I was asked about unionist problems about the Agreement -,there are many. The Agreement is complex, it is rigid. There is is a danger that we would simply institutionalise sectarianism rather than facilitate the fading away of the two predominantly sectarian based blocks… A mistake was made, not so much in the Agreement but rather in the legislation that followed – in that the release of paramilitary prisoners was not made conditional on delivery or disposal of weapons.. ..Obviously there is a moral difficulty … that Sinn Fein get into government notwithstanding what Sinn Fein were associated with in the past… Yet on balance it was a good agreement – it was a compromise, but anything negotiated between political parties will be a compromise…
Re last question directed to myself – you said I spent too much time on Sinn Fein and the IRA. But they are the root of the blockage.. if Sinn Fein and the IRA had done things differently we would be talking about the success of the Belfast Agreement….
Esmond Birnie: Re implications for NI politics if Scotland left the Union:
“I am Scottish, born in Edinburgh, educated in Northern Ireland – I don’t think it’s likely to happen – the opinion polls suggest maybl about 30% of Scots.. that leaves 70% as unionists… If Scotland did want to go independent then I would suspect that Northern Ireland would remain within the RUK – “residual UK” … I don’t think it would change the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – nationalists need to recognise that….
John Bruton: Re question on suspension: “I can only rely on second-hand information – Sir Josias Cunningham had received a letter of resignation – he was told he could table that letter at whatever time he judged right .. He told Peter Mandelson that if the suspension wasn’t announced by the 6 o’clock news, he would be handing the letter to Lord Alderdice… Peter Mandelson decided to suspend rather than let this happen… Because if David Trimble had resigned… Peter Weir and Pauline Armitage had indicated that they would not vote for a reappointment of David Trimble or Seamus Mallon.. .. Resignation had to be avoided and suspension was chosen as a less bad alternative… because If resignation had occurred they couldn’t have put it back together again… through suspension they can put it back again…. I believe Mandelson had no choice whatever.. I can’t understand why the Irish government appeared to be criticising him – they didn’t come out and criticise publicly, they had their spokespersons out criticising, which meant they didn’t have to answer for their criticism because it was done third-hand. I think that was not very honest. I think they should have actually said “this was an impossible position and he did all he could possibly have done”. I think that would have been a more courageous thing for the Irish government to have done – it would have enhanced their standing with the participants in trying to put the whole thing back together… …
The IRA knew that General de Chastelain was going to produce his first report on 30 January… They only met de Chastelain twice in the whole two months…. and then didn’t table anything until the final day, and even then that was inadequate. They took de Chastelain in a car … to an unknown location, where he was handed bits of paper… He didn’t actually have anything until about 5 o’clock that evening… I think that was gamesmanship on the part of the IRA. They wanted the appearance of doing something without actually doing anything of substance…
Re other organisations having guns – “I assume you are referring to the UDR and RUC and the British Army. There is a big difference between the UVF, say, and the British Army… The UVF are not amenable to the law, they don’t take orders from politicians. So I don’t think you can compare them. The RUC, British army, UDR ar subject to the law – they may do things that are wrong, but they subject to accountability which may be inadequate but which are there… the IRA, UDA etc. are accountable to no one… You can’t compare the guns held by one with the guns held by the other.
“There is a problem with the very large amount of legally-held licensed weapons in the unionist community .. That is something that should be regulated… there aren’t that many rabbits around……
“The issue was raised about 50% of the unionists voting against the Good Friday Agreement. … Many people believe that the reason the Sunningdale Agreement fell is because Harold Wilson was too cowardly to stand up to the .. .Ulster workers’ strike. That isn’t the whole story. The truth is that in the previous Westminster election, the Faulkner unionists had got 13% of the vote and the anti-agreement unionists had got 53% of the vote… 80% of the unionists were against Faulkner staying in the Executive… The truth of the matter is that no agreement in Northern Ireland will work unless it has a majority of unionists supporting it and the majority of nationalists … no agreement will work without that. That is why it is so important that David Trimble wins the day, because there will be no progress unless he wins the day and holds the majority of unionism – and he’s coming very close to losing that at this stage.. And I think that the sort of temporising we see from Sinn Fein .. is highly irresponsible.. because they know the sand is going out of the glass as far as a majority within unionism prepared to support the Agreement is concerned – and they are just sitting there letting it happen, taking some pleasure in the discomfiture of the old enemy.. the new politics is one in which the old enemy is the new friend, and they aren’t realising that and not acting accordingly… They are losing an historical opportunity of enormous proportions….
Re decommissioning issue only symbolic — “decommissioning is only important because people are refusing to do it.. If they were willing to do it it wouldn’t be an important question. But it is the fact that they refuse that makes it important… So decommissioning is an important question only because people are refusing to do it. Why do they need guns if they are in a genuine peace process? They can’t answer that question. I know people disagree with me on this point…
Questioner. The process hasn’t worked, John
John Bruton: “the process has worked – the executive was set up, Bairbre de Brun was Minister for Health aking decisions, Martin McGuinness was Minister for Education making decisions. It had been delivered… It was there but there was no decommissioning. Two meetings between the IRA and de Chastelain – two measly meetings – no decisions, no delivery. Why? It is that refusal to deliver that makes me think the republican movement is actually taking an each-way bet. They want to keep their guns, for the next round – they want to pocket all that has been conceded, keep their guns, and when the time is right, start all over again. That’s the fear a lot of us have about the IRA… the more they delay now, the less that fear is being allayed.
“I would like to address what I think is the thinking about the question re Scotland – that somehow or other this is all about catching the unionists out… If Scotland pulls out – there’s no longer a union there for the unionists, so therefore the unionists are washed out… That’s not the point at all.. This is an Irish problem. The truth of the matter is that, saving your presence, Esmond … this has nothing to do with the island of Britain at all – this issue! … It doesn’t matter if the UK were dissolved into 40 different counties – or if the island of Britain disappeared – there would still be a problem on this island.. The problem is that the Ulster unionist people feel they are different from the rest of us – I personally don’t feel they are all that different actually, but they feel they’re different, and it’s what they think that counts… And we think we’re different from them too, because there isn’t a huge welcome out there for the proposed Orange march in Dawson Street – if we thought they were the same as us, wouldn’t we be all clapping this march…. saying “this is part of our culture” – “they’re us” …But we’re not saying that, because they’re not in our minds “us”… We believe they’re different too, that’s the problem…
“It doesn’t really matter if the UK disappeared and It’s not a question of tricking them – it’s a question of finding a way of getting along with them. I ultimately believe that Ulster Unionists have more in common with us in Dublin than they have with anyone else in the world … I think for that reason I believe a united Ireland is actually inevitable but it’ll happen as long as we don’t talk about it and ignore the issue. We may evolve in that direction by stealth.. but it’ll only happen if everybody wants it….
Gary McMichael: Re new negotiations “… one of the problems with the last talks, was that Sinn Fein and the UUP essentially were more involved than the other parties – we had to take their interpretation, and we had to sell it.. .. That didn;t work … so we won’t be selling anything we didn’t negotiate ourselves…
Re problems unionists have with the Agreement:: Policing – we would have preferred if control of the RUC was transferred to the Assembly… The electoral system used in the Assembly electiosn… there was a different electoral system going into the negotiations… But the most important problem is the possibility of a referendum every 7 years, because while cross-community consensus is needed for contentious decisions in the Assembly, the most contentious decision will be based on majority rule….
Re legally held weapons – I don’t want to take the guns off the farmers. Re British army guns etc. – I want to see soldiers off the streets. Re Scotland leaving the Union – “you’re getting us all wrong – I’m a unionist but essentially what I want to see is a 32-county Ulster!”
Sean Farren: “It’s getting quite late but I’d like to deal with one or two issues.
Firstly, on the issue of decommissioning – I’ve heard all the points made here umpteen times – the question about rusty guns, and how many more would be asked tomorrow, and about how they could re-arm tomorrow – the insinuation is that the issue is a bit of a red herring.. Well if it was only a red herring it shouldn’t have been in the Agreement. But it is in the Agreement and therefore it is disingenous to try and dismiss it.. it’s there, and however vague the language, the first paragraph refers to the fact that all parties are agreed that decommissioning is indispensable – now that means it is an essential part of the Agreement, however difficult it is to achieve that objective. And it places an obligation on parties to work to achieve that end, and it does set down a time-frame for it. .. obviously we will have to look at that timeframe again in the light of present circumstances… But since I am in a religious house tonight – some of you may have learned your Catechism the way I did … in that Catechism the question is asked “what is a sacrament”? The answer I learned is is that a sacrament is an “outward sign of inward grace” .. And decommissioning is the outward sign of inward intent – the intent not to pose any threat by holding onto arms – not to threaten directly or indirectly through the continued possession of arms a return to political violence – in other words that the war is over.. There is no guarantee that if we so declare this war to be over, there won’t be other wars… Every war that has ended has ended …with remarkable declarations by all of the combatants never again to resort to arms. But you need that, however much history has demonstrated that the .. practice doesn’t live up to the promise of those words.. But we need it in order to build confidence in the present generation that at least we have a chance of going forward together.
“At the end of the day …implementing the Agreement is a confidence-building process in which there has to be a positive response to all of its elements. Maybe, as John remarked, we should have timetabled things more precisely … I would make the point that they weren’t precisely timetabled because there was confidence at the time the Agreement was signed that progress would move ahead in parallel and that indeed if we timetabled things we would log-jam by cross-referencing progress on one thing to another part entirely. But of course when there isn’t progress after a considerable period of time on one or other of the elements… it’s not surprising that people say ”hold on here – why are we continuing to push forward with the aspects we are more responsible for, while others who have a responsibility are not matching in any way the progress we are making?” … So we are probably going to .. find ouirselves required – in order to get out of the impasse and create the confidence – to so timetable things. Because having been disappointed.that the kind of spontaneity that we expected with respect to movement across all the elements was absent with respect of one key element – it’s not surprising then that specificity is required. As Seamus Mallon said.in the debate on the Suspension Bill we want to know whether or when……
“But really what we are asking for is reassurance that the threat is lifted.. we can’t be expected to implement all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement while some participants however directly or indirectly involved in the Agreement … retain arms on the scale which we believe them to hold and which the mere possession of them implies a threat….
Guns: “It’s been said, what about the police and the army and what about the 100, 000 weapons? I agree we should regulate the possession of weapons… but I was at a meeting of an SDLP branch in a rural area some time ago – I asked how many had shotguns….Most of those present had shotguns, they have them for gun clubs, for leisure activities and putting down vermin.. Those weapons are not all held by unionists… and in the course of all the Troubles not many legally held weapons were used, unless they were legally held weapons that were stolen and used by paramilitaries.. … Regulation obviously is required..
Demilitarisation: “I agree with what John Bruton said about the police and the army. The demilitarisation aspect of the Good Friday Agreement is being put into effect.. I cross the border in a number of different places quite regularly… fortifications at the border crossings are closed – those on the hills are not… The troops are not on the streets in anything like the numbers they were previously, and police patrol without flak jackets… The demilitarisation process has been progressing … it’s not complete… I don’t live in South Armagh, I’m not familiar with the security situation there… but it’s quite obvious from both Garda and RUC evidence that it was from that part of the country that the bomb which devastated Omagh came and was transported … So there is obviously some security risk
Accountability: “Furthermore we have the evidence of the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday – evidence of an intent to make the security forces accountable in a very public way… When can I ask will those who perpetrated the Le Mans atrocity, when those who murdered six people, two from my own constituency, returning from work at Omagh on a Friday evening, when will the truth about that situation be exposed? When will what even the IRA themselves admit was a tragic mistake – Bloody Friday in Belfast when 20 bombs were set off within two hours and devastation and tragedy visited on totally innocent people. When will a truth and reconciliation commisison sit and hear evidence from those responsible for that atrocity and every other atrocity for which nobody has been made accountable?… Maybe we should draw lines – maybe we should try and build the trust and the confidence and try in doing so to allow the past to recede and the wounds to be healed through the reconciliation and confidence that we build… But we need contributions from all sides and at this particular point – and I agree with the urgency John Bruton expressed in his remarks… it will only fester if we don’t resolve it.and all the hopes and expectations of the Good Friday Agreement will recede… I believe that even if they do recede we will have to come back to something like the Good Friday Agreement next time around. Now that we have it I believe it would be almost polticially criminal for us to allow it to so recede…”
APPENDIX: BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES ON SPEAKERS:
Sean Farren, MLA (SDLP) was elected to the new NI Assembly for North Antrim in 1998, and was Minister for Higher Education in the Executive set up in November 1999. His previous career in politics included membership of the Assembly for N. Antrim (1982-86), and SDLP chairman (1981 to 1986). He was a negotiator in the Brooke-Mayhew talks from 1991 to 1992. Elected to the NI Forum in 1996, he was an SDLP talks delegate in the multi-party talks which concluded in the Belfast Agreement.
Dr. Esmond Birnie, MLA (UUP) was elected to the new NI Assembly for South Belfast in 1998. He held the post of Chairman of the Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment Committee in the Executive and is currently the UUP spokesman on North-South Relations and British-Irish Council Prior to his election, he was research assistant at the NI Economic Research Centre, and lectured in Economics at Queen’s University, Belfast, from 1989-1998.
Cllr. Gary McMichael (UDP) was active in community politics at the age of 17 and became involved in the wider political arena at the age of 18 after the murder of his father, John McMichael. He was elected to Lisburn Borough Council in 1993 and became leader of the UDP following the murder of Ray Smallwoods by the IRA in July 1994. He was the principal UDP negotiator for the Loyalist cease-fire. In September 1995 he led the first loyalist delegation to meet the Irish Government in Dublin. On 8th February 1996, he became the first Loyalist to take part in a live TV debate with Sinn Fein. Elected to the NI Forum in 1996 he served as Vice-Chairman of the Political Affairs Committee. He led the UDP delegation at the multi-party talks (1996-1998).
John Bruton, T.D., Leader of Fine Gael, was Taoiseach in the Coalition Government from 1994-1997. He was first elected to the Dail in 1969, and held numerous offices in the party before becoming leader of Fine Gael in 1990. From 1982 to 1986 he held the post of Leader of the House. He served as Minister in several departments, including Finance (1981-82 and 1986-1987) Public Service (1987), Industry and Energy (1982-83), Industry, Trade, Commerce and Tourism, (1983 to 1986). He was a Member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe from December 1989 to January 1991, President of the European Movement from 1990-96, and President in Office of the European Council, June to December 1996
Meath Peace Group Report: 16 April 2000. © Meath Peace Group
Transcribed and edited by Julitta Clancy from video tapes recorded by Anne Nolan.
Acknowledgments: The Meath Peace Group would like to thank the Columban Fathers for their support and encouragement and for permitting the use of Dalgan Park for the series of talks, and we gratefully acknowledge the assistance given by the Community Bridges Programme of the International Fund for Ireland. Contact names: Julitta and John Clancy, Parsonstown, Batterstown, Co. Meath; Anne Nolan, Gernonstown, Slane; Pauline Ryan, Woodlands, Navan; Philomena Boylan-Stewart, Longwood; Michael Kane, An Tobar, Ardbraccan, Navan
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