MEATH PEACE GROUP TALKS
No. 63 – “Towards a Shared Future”
Monday, 13th November 2006
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan, Co. Meath, at 8pm
(CEO, Community Relations Council)
Esmond Birnie, MLA
(UUP, south Belfast)
(Good Relations Officer, Belfast City Council)
Dr Colin Coulter (Dept. of Sociology, NUI Maynooth)
Welcome: Anne Nolan
Opening words: Colin Coulter (Chair)
Questions and comments
Closing Words: Canon John Clarke
©Meath Peace Group
‘Towards a Shared Future’
“The overall aim of this policy is to establish, over time, a shared society defined by a culture of tolerance: a normal, civic society in which all individuals are considered as equals, where differences are resolved through dialogue in the public sphere and where all individuals are treated impartially. A society where there is equity, respect for diversity and recognition of our interdependence” (A Shared Future: Policy and strategic framework for good relations in Northern Ireland, Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, March 2005)
Welcome and introductions: Anne Nolan, a founder member of the Meath Peace Group, welcomed the speakers and the audience to Dalgan Park, before handing over to the guest chair, Dr Colin Coulter of the Dept of Sociology, NUI Maynooth …
Dr. Colin Coulter (NUI Maynooth):
‘Thanks very much. Can I just start by returning your thanks and I just want to express my appreciation for the opportunity to come and chair this evening’s talk on ‘A Shared Future’ and the possibility of a shared future for Northern Ireland. It is a very opportune time, it always seems to be an opportune time for these discussions in the context of Northern Ireland. There are a number of deadlines looming in Northern Irish politics, perhaps an influx of choreography towards what seems to be a pre-ordained end of, perhaps, a re-instalment of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Perhaps Esmond will have more insights into that later on.
“I think that when the original ceasefires were declared in late summer/early autumn of 1994, and certainly when the Good Friday Agreement was signed back in 1998, a lot of people were very hopeful for the future of the North of Ireland, particularly the future for community relations and so on. And certainly there are signs of progress in the North but unfortunately as ever there are also signs that things are moving in some context in the opposite direction. It’s sometimes hard to sum these things up and capture what’s really going on, but certainly some people are optimistic about the future and others are not. Certainly the assumed ‘peace dividend’ of what has been going on over the last generation in the North in some parts of working-class Belfast doesn’t seem to have come to fruition. The research of a former colleague of Duncan’s and a good friend of mine, Pete Shirlow, would suggest that in certain parts of the north and east of the city that what you might call sectarian feeling and hatreds not only haven’t evaporated … but if anything they appear to have hardened. Research by other people such as Paul Connolly in the North would suggest that sectarian recognitions and the beginnings of sectarian enmities begin perhaps as young as among 3 year olds….
“What perhaps I think is particularly depressing is that certain forms of ethno-nationalist sectarian feeling in the North seem to persist in certain areas, some people would say they have hardened. But what has happened of course more recently – and this has got rather lurid headlines that possibly over-stated the problem but it is I think unfortunately a problem – is that pre-existing traditional long-established forms of prejudice have been complemented by other forms of perhaps slightly newer prejudice in the form of racial intolerance. I’m sure many of you have seen those perhaps slightly hysterical headlines about Belfast being the sectarian capital of Europe. There’s been a number of these including a recent BBC NI ‘Spotlight’ documentary about this problem.
“So in the context of this political flux at the level of political elites, and in the context of ongoing enmities, stereotypes, on the ground, we are here to have this particular debate/discussion, sharing of ideas and so on, talking about a shared future for the North of Ireland. Some of you will have seen the document which has been presented from the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister which talks about the possibility of a shared future, not merely among Protestants and Catholics, but of course among the other ethnic groupings that exist in Northern Ireland.
“To put it in perhaps a slightly brief context, hopefully the rest of our speakers who have more experience of Northern Ireland – I have been very happily in exile in Co. Kildare for the last few years and I have enjoyed it very much, but of course one of the problems of living that distance, even a distance of 100 miles, you don’t necessarily have a feeling for what’s going on on the ground and obviously the four speakers here tonight will have more of a grasp of the nuance of things as they are lived day and daily in Northern Ireland than I certainly would.
“The first of our speakers – and I will introduce them in turn, everybody has been given biographical details of the four speakers so I won’t say too much about them [Editor’s note: biographies included at end of report]. But I just want to introduce our first speaker and he will speak for 15 to 20 minutes – Duncan Morrow. Duncan is an academic, a political scientist by training, and he has written particularly about issues of religious identity and religious intolerance in Northern Ireland and has been seconded as Chief Executive of the Community Relations Council….
1. Duncan Morrow (CEO, Community Relations Council)
“Thank you very much indeed, and thank you for inviting me. It’s always nice to come and speak to a new group. Julitta has been trying to get me to come here for a while and it’s good to take leave of your traditional routes if you’re from Northern Ireland every now and again, so thank you very much indeed.
“My name is Duncan Morrow, as Colin said. I am chief executive of a very unique organisation – I don’t know if it has any parallel – called the Community Relations Council which was established in 1990 as an attempt to try to engage a wide range of people across particularly Northern Irish society but it has always tried to reach past that in discussion as to how we might move forward on a collective and a shared basis. So our fundamental reason for being is to explore from a grassroots level what that might look like and what the specific issues might be, and we have a degree of finance and money which we put as far as possible to good use to promote and support people who are trying to do that kind of work.
“But recently, and really since I came into the job, our focus has been on how we ‘mainstream’ – that’s the word, the language, the jargon of the time – this whole idea of sharing. The Government – the British Government I suppose and I will talk about that at some point – in 2002 launched a strategy and a consultation to try to look at what this might look like in practice, and it was called ‘ A Shared Future’. And I suppose there was a certain kind of unforeseen beauty in the whole concept of what they were trying to talk about. In talking about a shared future the notion was to focus people on what kind of future are we going to have, some point of common interest, I suppose that’s the first point – that we all have a common interest in this future.
“And usefully – certainly for somebody whose organisation was up for grabs and we as an organisation were part of the review, so that was also important from my point of view of course but that is not really what I am here to talk about today – but this document did not have, or it missed out, a question mark. It simply stated it: ‘a shared future’.
“Now since then I have had various typos put my way in relation to this, one of which talked about a ‘shared failure’, another which talked about ‘a sharded future’, and then it had ‘scared future’ and ‘snared future’ since then, which basically starts to show how quickly you can move off track here.
“It was useful for me when we were going around trying to engage people in thinking about a shared future to avoid the possibility of a question mark, to actually put it as a statement, to say ‘we are here together, we live together, we have some interest in the future, the only question is what kind of future is that shared future going to be?’ And then to try and focus people on that.
“But I want to, at least here, and I do this a wee bit more in the North than I have been doing of late, focus the minds on the fact that in these kinds of situations a question mark is the backdrop against everything. A question mark about whether there is a shared future is the backdrop which comes out of decades, and even centuries if you want to go back, of conflict as the daily reality of people’s experience and certainly of division.
Mark of progress: “So the first thing I want to say is: to get to the point where a Shared Future has no question mark is of itself a remarkable achievement and as such possibly is still a sleight of hand, possibly is still a sleight of hand, although I hope not. But I want to at least set the backdrop of progress in terms of – first of all the absence of a question mark.
Perceptions of community relations: “I also want to say that ‘community relations’ – too often the work that I have been involved in is focused on good relations, nice talks. I did a piece of work before I went into this job where we asked people what they thought community relations actually was. Now first of all we got a whole load of people who expressed their political fears. Most of the unionists told us they thought it was an ill-disguised plot to rumble them into a united Ireland against their will, and most of the nationalists told us it was a British Government counter-insurgency strategy! But the most damning of all came from the civil service, a leading civil servant now retired – I won’t mention his name but he is retired and I’m sure his ghost still haunts the corridors – he told us that it was the ‘cucumber sandwiches of policy’ – nice people talking about nice things harmlessly. And you don’t even need teeth – you can take the crusts off.
“Now, the difficulty with all of this is, he is associating all this stuff with the soft end of work, and as soon as you are called ‘soft’ in government be very careful because you are on the slippery slope and a vast slippery slope towards oblivion. Because after soft comes ‘hopeless’, ‘harmless’ and then ‘meaningless’.
Community relations as ‘hard policy’: “Actually, in my view, this isn’t soft at all. It’s hard and harder. This is harder policy, and it’s harder policy because what you are trying to do is put two magnets with polarised opposites against each other together. You are trying to do policy which other people don’t have to do because they assume that the nation is a point of social cohesion. That’s the great language of our day – ‘social cohesion’, what brings us together. And the notion that most people have is that we’re all members of a nation. And the notion that Gordon Brown in Britain has is that Britishness will bring us all together. I have to say ‘try to apply that in the Falls Road and you will see’, but I also have to say that 1916 rerun by Bertie [Ahern] was the idea of social cohesion for the Irish Republic, and I have to say that ‘it doesn’t work on the Shankill Road either’. And we have a problem about what it is that is going to bring us together in this shared future. What is our point of social cohesion? What is the thing that joins us together?
“And I would also like to say that trying to make policy for this is therefore not soft – it is asking people to do what we don’t know how to do, it’s asking us to learn what we don’t know how to learn, which is: how do we trust people who it is rational for us to fear? And it’s rational on the basis of evidence… I don’t know about down here but up North there’s talk about ‘evidence-based policy-making’ and the evidence is not in favour of trusting them to share the future….
Expansion/expulsion:“A truth about Northern Ireland is that we have lived in a politics where the goals historically were expansion and/or expulsion. In other words: ‘we take over you but there’s no possibility of you taking over us, so we will expand and if necessary we will expel.’ Sharing sits for me at the opposite of the politics of both expansion and expulsion. If colonialism is expansion, then getting rid of them is expulsion. And at the end of it we have to decide when people say ‘is the war over?’ What the war being over means that the policy of expansion and expulsion are replaced… And that ask is huge, and it’s the one thing that the political traditions of this island find extremely difficult to both acknowledge that that’s at their heart and that that’s the problem, but also to row back from, or to find another space from.
“Because the antidote to their expulsion is our expansion and the antidote to their expansion is our expulsion. They’ve always been answers to each other. We have to find a different answer altogether if we are to move past it, and a shared future at the end of the day, taking off all the wrappings, is actually about saying something new has to happen here. But I don’t want to be here as Mr Naïve either, that’s why it’s hard and hard, not hard and soft, none of that is soft, not one bit of it is soft.
Zero sum game: ‘I think that to have lived in communities in Northern Ireland which have been at loggerheads is to grow up with the presumption and – a big academic word again here – antagonism. What does ‘antagonism’ mean? Antagonism means that our future depends on their defeat, it’s the so-called ‘zero sum game’. The zero sum game is: if I go up one, you have to go down one, if you go up one it means me going down one. Plus one minus one equals zero. That’s the notion of the zero sum game. Therefore antagonism is ‘if they go up, we’re going down, if we go up, then they go down’. And therefore the truth of it is that if antagonism and ‘they’re out to get us’ was not the lie… And huge amounts of violence over time, certainly of organised keeping apart, have been the story, and trauma of actual experience is in the middle of that. Sharing isn’t logical, to be honest. So in some sense or other being asked to share is already a big question.
Is it right to ask me to ‘share the future with my abuser’? “Number two: if you believe – as most of our communities appear to believe – that ‘we only did what we did because of what they did to us first’, in other words, we agree on who the problem in Northern Ireland is and it’s nearly always ‘them’, and if the problem is ‘them’, then they have to do the changing because they’re responsible. And we can’t change actually because if we do they’ll take it and it’ll be a further act of injustice. So if we are the abused community, if we are more sinned against than sinning – which is the line – then the logic, the imperative of it is that actually we the sinned against are being asked to make a deal with the sinners on the basis of equality and that’s not an appropriate equality. The peace we should be looking for is the victory of the sinned against over the sinners. And so it is fundamentally unjust to be asked, even to be asked, to deliver anything in this context. And I suppose – to modernise that up from sins and sinners into a less religious context – if we believe we are the abused, is it right to ask me to share the future with my abuser? Do we do that in child abuse cases, do we do that in rape cases? No we do not. And there are many who believe that their community is the abused one, is the sinned against, and that being asked is an ask too far.
“So I suppose the fact that it has taken 12 years to get from ceasefires to now – and we’re trying to do it on a voluntary basis – is hardly surprising. I’m going to take that and twist it around and say it is another reason for optimism. Another reason for optimism is that we have got further along this road than we dare hoped that we would ever get.
Hard conversations: “A lot of people think community relations is nice talking, and we are absolutely plagued with the notion that community relations is harmony. People think you come away with a nice feeling, that it is a kind of organised new-age thinking in which the main feeling is a kind of a spiritual glow.
“It’s not that at all. It’s under what circumstances can we have real conversations, so paradoxically it is about finding the spaces in which we can have the hardest and the most difficult conversations, not the lightest ones, not the easy ones. And progress is measured because more comes into the realm of the possible.
Massive progress: “There is simply no way to discuss paramilitarism and politics and policing in Northern Ireland without risking that these will be controversial issues. There is simply no way to deal with how we share government without there being difficult questions. And so, in my view, the fact that we now can is massive progress, massive progress. These are now things we don’t resolve in people being killed or walking out, they result in people taking the issues home and re-thinking them. Now I think that’s progress. But I have to tell you we haven’t made the click yet but we might be closer to the click than anywhere we have ever been before and we might be beginning to see the scale of the thing.
NI one of the best examples of ‘conflict management’: “Finally, British-Irish cooperation: we have had big advantages over a lot of different places and one of them is the fact that, over time, Britain and Ireland have ceased to be the enemies they once were. That has consequences I have to say. What it means is that in some sense or other, Northern Ireland is one of the best examples of conflict management anywhere in the world. … Basically, in 1920 when partition happened, anti-Britishness, anti-Irishness, was rampant across both of these islands and in some sense or other it got wrapped up and reduced and managed in the 6 Counties. The rest of Britain and the rest of Ireland moved away. They weren’t dragged into an everyday experience of violence and trauma. It was possible to go on. But Northern Ireland continued internally to have the same discussion, rolling round and round in a circle.
“In 1970, or 1969, when Britain and Ireland re-engaged in Northern Ireland, the British Government had lost India and they didn’t care about Ahoghill. The Irish Government thought about stopping standing idly by and then generally did stand idly by. In the end of the day, Northern Ireland was ‘The North’, it was a place apart, it was now a different place. But even since then – and this is to meet Colin’s point – even since then we have had an incredibly successful conflict management strategy. After 1975, 95% of the people who were killed in Northern Ireland were killed in 3 measurable groups: they were the poor in urban Belfast, particularly north and west, they were the people who lived in contested rural districts, mostly the border areas and mid-Ulster, and the security forces who by nature of their work went into those zones. After that the rest of us managed to live past it.
“Now the result of that is that unpacking this means that it is very discomfiting for people who were quite comfortable with the conflict. The truth is that the conflict as it was was expensive, financially, but it was only difficult at a once-removed way for Britain and Ireland, and then for the middle classes in Northern Ireland or those who were not directly affected. And so to be asked to change, if we’re asking everybody to change, it may be more uncomfortable than living the conflict with some other people paying.
“So conflict management is something which has worked, and I think has been a great success, I am here to say that it has been a success and that it has downsides because as we go into reverse on it, it may ask people who were comfortable to become uncomfortable, and that’s going to be a complicated and difficult process. And in some sense or other we are now at that point where everybody has to engage.
“I have two more things to say and one of them is about this document, you’ll be glad to hear!
Different world: “I suppose that we live in a different world now. The world is changing very rapidly. Not only are we getting migrants coming through the door at the most profound rate that Ireland has ever seen, we have moved as an island from being a place of emigration and poverty to a place now of migration and wealth, or seen as such.
“And that’s true even in Northern Ireland where 70,000 people have arrived since 2001. So the whole nature of the bipolarity of Northern Ireland begins to alter with that.
Western Europe: “But we have also other things. We live in western Europe and thankfully western Europe has two things: first of all, it’s an acknowledgment, I think, after World War I, that the wars of empire had stuck, and an acknowledgment after World War II that actually nationalism which doesn’t know its limits also must be stuck. And so Northern Ireland lives with those two advantages, that we do have specific pressure to find a deal which is not about expulsion and expansion.
“Antonio Gramsci who is an Italian Marxist wrote: ‘the crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born. In the interregnum – in that pause in between – a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.’ I think we are living in the time of the morbid symptoms. The old is gone, it still hasn’t any morbid symptoms, and the question is can we bring something new to birth here, in Northern Ireland?
Shared Future: “Let me go on quickly to talk about the Shared Future. ‘A Shared Future’ as a document was actually by the British Government. And there’s a set of paradoxes in all of that. The last Executive could not agree on a document to consult on, it was one of the things that after ten months of disagreement they had to leave on the shelf when the Executive collapsed. That is its own kind of tragedy. The British Government under Des Brown …. then pushed the document out, not this document but the consultation document, which has left a lot of people thinking that it is a British Government document but I certainly think that it is very important that the devolved executive would get its hands on it and agree what it is that people want although it was extremely widely consulted on. 10,000 people at least directly took part, through various submissions and written submissions and so on. It’s a huge consultation on a policy document. And the outcomes in it are here [document]
Vision for NI: “The document has a number of things I still want to hold to. One is the Government adopted the first Executive’s vision for Northern Ireland which is very very general and very high level and nevertheless needs to be clung on to, in my view: ‘ a peaceful, inclusive, prosperous, stable and fair society firmly founded on the achievement of reconciliation, tolerance and mutual trust and the protection and vindication of human rights for all to be founded on partnership, equality and mutual respect …’ That was something agreed by the parties prior to them collapsing.
Normal, civic society: “It then put in this second one which is: ‘the establishment over time of a normal, civic society in which all individuals are considered equal, where differences are resolved through dialogue and where all people are treated impartially, a society where there is equity, respect for diversity and a recognition of our interdependence.’
Recognition that change needed ‘at all levels and policy’: “So there’s all these high-faluting words. And nevertheless, the critical element of it for me is that government at some level or other bought in that this isn’t a work for NGOs just, this isn’t just a work for nice people at tea parties, this is the work which, if people are serious about a shared future, will require change at all levels and policy.
“And for the first time in a government document it starts to spell that out, and in spelling that out I suppose it starts to hit at vested interests and the reality that this will not be a quick process but a slow process of dialogue and recognition and exchange.
“It says housing, education, it says working on interfaces, it says the whole issue of flags and emblems, it says that planning and all sorts of other areas of public life like youth policy will all have to be considered now with what difference does it make that we are shared rather than that we are a defensive mutually antagonistic society?
Making trust credible: “How do we begin to build things now from a different point? If we take that as our starting point and that as our end goal, what would we do differently and how would we get there? And it starts to say this isn’t a 2-month, or even a 5-year agenda. This is about a direction, about turning a tanker, about beginning to take policy choices across the room all of which over time begin to add up to a different direction for Northern Ireland, on the basis of one thing: on the basis that – and I’m giving you this – that as we take these steps there may be another history begins to emerge, the history that trust is credible. Because the critical issue in moving from conflict management to conflict transformation is to make trust credible.
Conflict management and apartheid: “Because conflict management is extremely extremely plausible: just manage this, let’s have apartheid. Well let me just say very quickly why I think it won’t work. I don’t think you can have apartheid without having inter-community defence forces springing up to defend it, I think you can’t get over apartheid while not having what they call in the North ‘the pike in the thatch’, holding out the possibility that you might have to defend it.
Equality: “I also think that unless we have a common shared sense of mutual obligation to each other, equality will always look like a competition, not like something we give to each other as citizens.
Housing: “I also think that if you have apartheid you have inevitable sectarian clashes, around, for example, housing. If only some people can live in one area and some people can live in another, then what happens is that if more people want housing on one side and there’s empty houses on the other, then you have to negotiate change and that starts to look like territorial defeat rather than just adjustment to new demographics.
Poverty: “I think the reality of poverty is that if you have antagonistic communities continuing, the reality is not just does that create poverty but that poor people are people who live in the middle because everyone else gets out. If you have economic choices you don’t live beside the interfaces, and the reality is that violence causes poverty just as much as poverty causes violence. There is no way to get investment into those areas, there is no way to get educational purpose into those areas because as soon as you invest in it people leave. So conflict management which does not address this issue is simply another recipe for maintaining things as they are and it will continue to penalise the poor in my view. It lets off the rest. It has all sorts of labour market problems. The problem with management isn’t management. It’s done very well, but we can’t settle for it.
Task for a shared future: “So the task for a shared future is … can we make sharing plausible? And to make it plausible it has to be serious, and I don’t know if we are still at the point where we really really buy in that we have a shared future. Because fundamentally it is a decision and it is a decision not for strategic purposes, for tactical purposes, it’s an actual understanding that one way or another and in what other jurisdiction, the British-Irish question can’t be solved by expansion and expulsion any more in the North. It has to be solved by something else, whether under Ireland, whether under Britain or whether under any other jurisdiction. Thank you very much indeed.’
Colin Coulter: ‘Thank you very much, Duncan Morrow. Our second speaker is Esmond Birnie. Esmond was an economist in Queen’s University Belfast and since 1998 has been a member of the legislative assembly for the Ulster Unionist Party.
2. Esmond Birnie, MLA (UUP, south Belfast):
“Thank you very much for inviting me. I believe I was last here in 2000 I think and obviously over the last 5 to 6 six years quite a lot has happened.
“The theme is ‘A Shared Future’ as Duncan has been outlining, and I also want to talk about community relations and the policy in general. I certainly agree with Duncan that this is a matter of great significance. It is also clearly a difficult subject and there are no easy solutions.
“I will start by outlining what you might call my own perspective. I have lived in Northern Ireland for most of my life. I suppose like anyone who has – if we can use that phrase today – ‘patriotic feelings’ I do want what is best for the country I live in. All of my own children are under the age of five and I now have that added good reason to feel – as I think many people in Northern Ireland feel now – in the middle of the 2000s in terms of the experience of the Troubles since 1968, please never again. So how can we stabilise the relative peace that we have and indeed improve it and entrench it so that we do not repeat what happened between 1968 and more recent years?
Unionists and community relations: “I also obviously speak as a unionist. Now it is true I should say right from the start that the view of unionists such as myself on community relations has sometimes been criticised. I think Duncan was too polite to go into that but we have been criticised.
Perceptions of unionism: “It has been said, first of all in this context, that we lack political vision to help build or entrench the new society which, arguably, we should be striving for in Northern Ireland. Or it has been said: ‘well, if unionists do have a vision with respect to community relations and all of that, it is at best one of ‘leave us alone’, in other words it is said unionists such as myself that what we really want is an uncomplicated world where there are no Irish nationalists living in Northern Ireland and indeed there is no Dublin government south of the border to annoy us: ‘if only all these things would go away’. That’s the sort of caricature of the view that some unionists are alleged to have. Most seriously it is sometimes alleged that unionism cannot comprehend community relations, in a sense can’t even go to the first base in this, because it is argued that unionism is necessarily about dominance, about dominance of one sectarian grouping over another.
“Well, how do I evaluate all of that? It is sadly true, I think it is undoubtedly true, that some unionists do lack vision – but then that’s probably true of all political camps within Northern Ireland – and that some do hanker after some perceived past nirvana, maybe it’s the 1950s, I’m not sure what the decade is they would imagine, but some time in the past when they imagine that political life was much less complicated and indeed had far fewer compromises. And yet this lack of vision or narrowness of vision, I would submit to you, is not true of all unionists, it may be true of some.
It is also sadly true that some unionists are, I have to confess, bigoted, some are deeply sectarian and indeed – Colin was referring to this point about race attacks etc – some are indeed also racists. But then that would be true of some nationalists and republicans on both sides of the Irish border.
And none of this proves that unionism as an ideology is necessarily about ethnic or race supremacism. It’s precisely because I want UK – United Kingdom – rights for all that I personally am a unionist in Northern Ireland and I am proud of the United Kingdom’s essential nature as a multi-national multi-ethnic unit.
A Shared Future – essential elements: “But what of my vision as a unionist, and indeed as an Ulster Unionist member of the Northern Ireland Assembly regarding the shared future? Well I believe any shared future should include the following elements:
“A Northern Ireland that works, and that is true on a number of levels, obviously politically but also socially, and indeed – as both Colin and Duncan were referring to – there is the economic aspect which we have been devoting a lot of attention to over recent months.
“It should also be a Northern Ireland ‘at ease with itself’ to quote from a phrase from the former leader of my party, David Trimble. And part of being at ease, but not the only part of it, is a decisive end to terrorism and it has to be said we have not yet got completely to that point, as well as bring an end to the problem of the organised crime which is being spawned from the paramilitary groups. So it moved to a new franchise, from political violence to commercial threat and violence
“Whatever ultimate constitutional aspirations various people have, as part of a shared future I hope there will be some shared loyalty to Northern Ireland as a region or province, depending on what your preference is for nomenclature, which we have in common. And such loyalty can be part of the multiple identities which most individuals have, so within these islands I think it is rare for people to have single identities, people think of themselves as having a variety of different national and indeed regional and cultural identifications.
“I think there needs to be some working assumption that the constitutional status quo – what we currently have – is what we will work with as long as a majority so wish; that, after all, is part and parcel of the terms of the original 1998 Agreement and it hasn’t actually been changed by the subsequent semi-agreement – if it turns out to be an agreement – at St Andrew’s in Scotland last month.
“Now all the above has to be allied to the recognition that it would neither be in my view realistic or right to attempt to create some sort of bland ‘neutral homogenous identity’ within Northern Ireland.
Role of government – balance needed: “Regarding the role of government in all of this, I think a balance is needed. Government action, and indeed even on occasions legislation, can sometimes have a valuable role in signalling and therefore nudging society in the direction it should move. In other words, it can encourage social attitudes to shift, though I think fundamentally government cannot really change attitudes. And yet we do need to be very careful. World history in the 20th century demonstrates limits of social engineering and how attempts to build heaven on earth often lead in practice, as it were, to the other place being attained.
Lessons of history: “In any case a particular identity is very much part and parcel of who each of us are so it may well be that it’s simply morally wrong for governments to attempt to re-engineer individuals in such a radical manner. The 20th century historical record – using that again – in various European countries also shows that increases in social integration between, for example, ethnic and religious groups – which after all is what we are concerned about in the Northern Ireland context – are no guarantee that communal violence will not subsequently occur. Compare, for example, Tito’s Yugoslavia where there was considerable integration of Croats, Serbs and Muslims, and that did not stop the subsequent bloodbath that came about during the disintegration of Yugoslavia after 1991. The more positive way to look at the lessons of history, and indeed European history of the last 100 years, is to see that it is possible to have a somewhat pillarised society – ‘pillar’ as in door pillar – that is between the various confessional and sectarian groups in society and yet also have a peaceful society. Good examples of this were provided by Switzerland and the Netherlands between roughly the 1880s up until roughly the 1950s.
“By that stage secularisation would have somewhat but not entirely removed the former entrenchment of the pillars – Protestant, Catholic and indeed then also the non-religious socialist trade union pillar – in each of those continental countries.It might well be objected that we are not the same as those continental successfully pluralist societies. True, but in a sense that’s precisely my point, because any prospect of a shared future in this part of Europe – Northern Ireland, that is – has been undermined precisely because we have what is unusual relative to Switzerland and the Netherlands: a 4-decade or so terrorist campaign plus chronic instability between constitutional options.
“And I fear the latter, the instability regarding Northern Ireland’s constitutional destination, has not yet been removed.
Shared Future document: “To make some more detailed comments on the Government’s ‘A Shared Future’ document which was published in March 2005. Now there are some things in that document which I can agree with, and indeed my party can agree with, so I am only going to highlight a few areas – areas where my party and I have particular concerns.
Support for a shared society: “Page 4 of the document, one which Duncan didn’t quote, says: ‘there is overwhelming support for a shared and inclusive society’. I hope that is true but I have to wonder if everyone has the same understanding of what that society might entail.
Flags: “Then when it comes to actions through public policy, the first one to be mentioned in the document is the removal of – as it terms it – ‘visible manifestations of sectarianism and racism’. Particular stress is placed on flags flying in our streets etc. In the first instance there will be attempts, the document says, to remove these through local agreement. Failing that then the police will step in and try to bring the flags down. Now the document claims that two-thirds of people want to see paramilitary flags, i.e. flags relating to the IRA, UVF, UDA etc, removed. I would certainly support that. Like many others I find such flags, including those relating to the loyalist groups – some of which actually have in the past hung in the street where my house is – deeply offensive.
“The document does also note, and rightly so, that there is additionally a tradition of what it terms ‘popular flag flying’ in Northern Ireland. I assume that’s a reference to the flags and bunting that go up before the 12th July and so forth. I would add that whilst I do not think street lamp-posts should be changed into flagpoles – in that I am with the policy – it is, I believe, and my party would say, proper and right to have regulated flying of the national flag in Northern Ireland – which is the Union flag – from government buildings
Education: “A shared education, that’s another theme in the document. Now here the terminology used is, I believe, significant. It does note the existence of the so-called integrated school sector – about 5% of secondary level pupils at the moment – and yet it places, and I would say rightly so, most stress on attaining more integration within the existing school sectors be they State schools, Catholic Church schools or indeed now the growing Irish language school sector.
Higher education: “Now at one point, I wonder if the shared future document is being too complacent. It simply in a sense, it seems to me, assumes that higher education – that is the universities – are already highly integrated. And I wonder if we can take this for granted given that there has been for many years now differential migration between the two main communities in Northern Ireland at age 18. In practice, Protestant school leavers are much more likely to leave Northern Ireland to study at universities in England, Scotland and Wales. There are a variety of reasons for that but this is now being reflected in the student bodies of the two Northern Ireland universities – Queen’s Belfast where Colin and myself used to teach, and indeed the University of Ulster as well.
“There’s already in those two student bodies an increasing disproportionate Catholic composition of the student body, and it may well be getting towards the tipping point at which that becomes cumulative and self-reinforcing. I think that’s bad for community relations, and bad in a number of other social and economic and indeed political senses.
Sport: “I also wonder if the document was being more optimistic than realistic when it talked about the potential to use sport as a means of binding people together rather than dividing people.
Language: “Similarly, the document’s emphasis on so-called ‘language diversity’ – we would suggest that the UK Government sticks to its obligations under the European Charter for regional or minority languages with respect to the role of the Irish language and indeed the Ulster-Scots language in Northern Ireland.
“Any attempt to foist a level of bi-lingualism, or indeed even official tri-lingualism, which is not justified by the level of real demand amongst the population will, I believe, only divide our society further.
Constitutional status of NI: “Finally now, going back to the politics – because I think this will fundamentally determine whether the Shared Future policy actually works – the notion of a shared future only works if there is a party political consensus that the future to be shared is within Northern Ireland as it is. If however one section of the electorate – the 40% plus represented by Sinn Fein and indeed the SDLP – believes that the future is to be shared within a Northern Ireland which is being nudged out of the United Kingdom and into a so-called ‘united Ireland’, then the logic underpinning ‘A Shared Future’ strategy will unfortunately prove to be very dodgy indeed. Put bluntly, you cannot have a shared future against a background in which the political parties continue to squabble over the constitutional status of Northern Ireland.
“Now I do not wish to imply that the strategy is entirely wrong. Let me quote from one government minister in the Spring of this year (Lord Rooker): ‘by creating a culture which is both generous and co-operative, Northern Ireland will attract new investment, tourism and newcomers. The growing diversity of Northern Ireland is to be welcomed, not feared’. That view is entirely correct but my fear is that the Shared Future strategy in practice may represent on the part of Government a deliberate and long-term exercise in social and political engineering. It may be that the Government – or I should say the two governments, London and Dublin – are actually trying to create an environment in which an all-Ireland constitutional and economic framework is given preference over Northern Ireland which is unambiguously recognised as an integral part of the United Kingdom until such time as a majority of people freely express otherwise.
If that is the case, then it may transpire that the Shared Future strategy – for all its good intentions – will create rather than resolve problems. Thank you very much.”
Colin Coulter: “Thanks very much, Esmond. Our third speaker is Caroline Wilson who is working as a Good Relations Officer with Belfast City Council.”
3. Caroline Wilson (Good Relations Officer, Belfast City Council):
“Thank you very much for the invitation and for coming out this evening. I have worked with the City Council for three and a half years now on the Good Relations programme. Traditionally, community relations within local government, within district councils, has been fairly peripheral and, as Duncan alluded to, would have been seen as the soft end. A community relations officer in an unnamed district council a number of years ago – about 6 to 8 years ago – when she first started, she was told that one of the main things that she had to fund out of her quite restrictive budget was the Christmas lights. And she wondered ‘why would I fund Christmas lights?’
“And the answer back was ‘well because Protestants and Catholics both look at them and it kind of creates a feel-good factor in the city’! And that’s the way community relations may sometimes have been seen in local government.
Deaths from the Troubles: “Within Belfast, the kind of bleak picture that Colin talked about, Belfast would have suffered disproportionately in terms of the conflict. About 50% of the total deaths in Northern Ireland were located within the Greater Belfast Area, and of those about 80% happened within a kilometre of an interface wall or a peaceline. So the moral case for Belfast to look at what is a very lived experience for people is quite astounding, it’s in your face a lot of the day.
Segregated service delivery: “One of the effects of this has been a conflict management tool of segregated service delivery. Where Belfast City Council has delivered one community centre on one side of a wall, it has had to open another community centre on the other side of the wall. Similarly for leisure centres and for different workforces within the city.
“And this has been the way, right across the public sector, they dealt with the conflict. They segregated and lived with the reality of people living in segregated communities.
“So that’s the bleak picture.
Belfast City Council. “There are 51 members in Belfast City Council. 4 of them are members of the Alliance Party and they hold a balance within the Council. The other 2 groups would be fairly evenly split: I think it is about 25/24 between the unionist parties and the nationalist/republican parties. In 2001, Belfast City Council decided to make promoting good relations a corporate objective. And promoting good relations looks primarily at good relations between people of different political and religious beliefs and different ethnic backgrounds.
“S. 75 was a piece of legislation which came out of the Northern Ireland Act in 1998, out of the Good Friday Agreement, and that brought a new impetus to good relations, really trying to move it away from the softer end and moving it into the harder issues.
“One of the things about Good Relations within Belfast City Council is that it’s both internal and external. It’s not something that the Council does on to the community, it’s something that the Council is challenged internally to do. How does it promote good relations within the building as well as out of the building?
Steering panel: “Some of the things the City Council has engaged in. They set up a Good Relations Steering Panel which is unique within the City Council committee structure, and it is 6 elected members from each of the different party political groups in the Council as well as 12 civic representatives. And it’s a semi-private space within the Council, to really start to talk through some of the more sensitive issues. My boss would talk about the ‘too difficult’ tray. For many years in Belfast City Council many things were filed in the ‘too difficult’ tray. We couldn’t go there because it would end up in an argument in the Council chamber. So the Good Relations Steering Panel is a place to start to work through some of the issues, particularly around flags and symbolism and cultural celebrations in the city.
St Patrick’s Day: “One of the pieces of work that we have been involved in has been the St Patrick’s Day celebrations in the city which traditionally have been fairly controversial over whether we should fund them or not. So through various discussions with the communities, with the political groups, we were able this year – for the first time in a number of years – to fund an outdoor festival event. And that really sends out a very big symbol of hope for the city.
“There were still difficulties, I mean there were still a small number of tricolours flying and there were still people who felt that they couldn’t participate, there were still some issues around anti-social behaviour, but it was a massive step forward for the city
Bonfires: “Similarly this year I worked on the Bonfires project in Belfast. Each Eleventh Night, the 11th of July, a number of bonfires across the city would be lit as part of the Twelfth celebrations. And these have often included paramilitary symbolism, they have included the burning of the Irish tricolour. One of the good things that we have managed to do through engaging with communities is to say ‘why is it necessary to burn the Irish tricolour? What needs to change in the city for that not to be important any more?’ And it is a very different conversation, we are not in any sort of solution yet, but at least it is being spoken about and that’s for me a symbol of hope.
Suffolk/Lenadoon project: “Some of the other things that we would fund within the city are a number of community projects. One of the projects is at Suffolk and Lenadoon. It’s a project where a very small Protestant/unionist enclave [Suffolk] of about 600 families, with Lenadoon which would be a large Catholic/nationalist community across the road, and between them they have managed, through some very difficult times, to negotiate a shared space at the interface.
“They have interface workers on both sides, in both communities, trying to develop a sense of citizenship within the communities but also a sense of shared citizenship. They have a building now that has a number of shops in it, they have a café which both communities use, they have entrances into both communities so neither community has to walk into what they consider to be not their territory, and it is a meeting place which is really very important in a city where there are few meeting places.
North Belfast forum: “We have another project in North Belfast called the North Belfast Conflict Transformation Forum. They are a group of community activists from both sides of the interfaces in the north of the city and, as Duncan and Colin both said, north of the city was again disproportionately affected. And these are people who have contact particularly at times of tension to work across the interface and to communicate with one another and to look at ways of trying to reduce levels of tension and reduce incidents at the interface. They are now looking at a more pro-active role: rather than just managing conflict and fire-fighting conflict they are looking at how do we start preventing conflict in the first place? What work needs to be done with young people in those communities? What work needs to be done with the broader communities, the adult community because often – I’m sure Jeremy will talk about this – often times it’s all about young people and it’s really a question of asking ourselves as adults ‘what is it that I have to do to change things?’ So the North Belfast Conflict Transformation Forum is doing that sort of work. One of the interesting things is that they have really challenged the statutory sector in how they engage in the north of the city and how as a statutory sector they, in some way, leave the status quo as it is in terms of segregation and in some ways reinforce the segregation. So it has been a very interesting dialogue between the statutory sector and this group of community activists, looking at what a Good Relations strategy for the north of the city would be: what are the agreed points around economic regeneration, environmental regeneration and the youth strategies?
Belfast City Hall: “Within City Hall, one of the things we looked at is the memorabilia in City Hall. We had a group of experts who came in to City Hall and they looked around and they said that predominantly the symbolism within City Hall was ‘white, male, unionist and middle class’. But one of the key things in changing the City Hall was that to take anything away, some people would feel a sense of loss. And it was important to guard against that, that people needed not to start feeling that they had to defend their right to be symbolised within the city institution. Equally, there needed to be a place for people who were not represented within that symbolism. So, between the party groups there was a lot of discussion about how we could address that. And it goes to Duncan’s idea of zero sum – if you win something what am I losing?
“So the strategy they came up with was balancing up: that no symbolism within City Hall would be removed but new symbolism would be introduced. So one of the recent statues that was put in, was a bust of Mary Anne McCracken. And looking at what has been the untold history of Belfast in terms of her work with women, with young people, with the working class in the city.
“So that is the challenge internally to City Council.
Need to learn how to share: “The Chief Executive of Belfast City Council is very supportive of good relations, and he would often say that 80% of decisions within Belfast City Council are taken without a vote between all of the parties yet it is the other 20% that we see in the media. And it’s really about building that consensus and building the civic leadership within the city. We have to learn how to share, it is new.
“We don’t know what sharing feels like but it will be a progress over time. And it’s about keeping the faith, and knowing what is safe. As City Council we can’t suddenly say ‘right, there’s going to be one leisure centre and everybody’s got to share it.’ It’s about developing a dialogue around how do you make it safe enough for people to share, how do you take into account people’s very real lived experiences in the city, and what we hope to be a new shared future for the city. So it’s bringing it to the surface and talking about it.
Legacy of conflict: “I suppose there are a couple of challenges for the city in terms of a shared future. One is the very real legacies of conflict – in terms of trans-generational trauma of young people, children and young people who have not had any direct experience of the conflict but who are displaying signs of the stress of conflict, people who have very flawed relationships because of the context within which we have lived.
Territoriality and new communities: “And that includes territoriality. If it’s ok to say ‘this is my area and I will expel anybody out of this area if they do not belong to my group’ where do the new Polish migrants live, where do the new Lithuanian migrants live in the city of Belfast? Belfast needs those new communities to rebuild the city and really bring it into the future. So that’s a key issue.
Shared space: “We also have issues around securing shared spaces in the city. What does a shared space look like? Is it neutral, is it devoid of any symbolism, is it harmonious because nobody feels offended by anything? Or how do we start to introduce symbolism where people feel that they can belong and they are not unwelcome at best, and under threat at worst, in a particular area because of the symbolism?
Separation not sustainable: “Finally, the key message of a shared future is that separation is not sustainable. And whether that is in terms of the new Europe or whether that is economically, Belfast City cannot survive as a segregated city. But the challenge is how do we learn to share? And enabling that process requires political leadership, it also requires community support. And I think it is a collective task for the city of Belfast.
Hope for the future: “But in terms of a bleak picture, Colin, I would be very hopeful about some of the work that is going on, both within the Council and very definitely within the community. This summer was the most peaceful summer for many many years and that did not happen on its own. That happened with an extraordinary amount of work, at 3am in the morning, with people going out on the streets and making sure the summer was peaceful. And my hope is that the City Council takes that on board and together we can build a shared future for the city of Belfast. Thank you.”
Colin Coulter: “Thank you. Our final speaker is Jeremy Gardiner who is community relations development officer for Youthlink which represents the four main Christian churches in the North.”
4. Jeremy Gardiner (Community Relations Development Officer, Youthlink):
“Hi, now the heavyweights are over you get me to lighten it at the end – and I don’t mean by weight! I’m Jeremy and I am a youth worker in Belfast.
Ballymena: “Just to give you a little background about Ballymena – I worked in Ballymena for the last two years as a youth pastor in a Presbyterian church. I am just going to give you a little background about what my work involved there in the last two years obviously in regard to a shared future. Ballymena is predominantly Protestant: the split is roughly about 70:30. In the past few years it has largely been unaffected by the Troubles which has actually made it a town which has never had to ask the questions in regard to community relations work. In fact, to be honest with you, the loyalist community within Ballymena don’t even recognise that it is a shared space. They see it as Protestant, and when you have to work in that that’s quite difficult for moving forward.
Catholic community a ‘community without a voice’:“As Duncan said – and when he said it he actually put a light on – Ballymena has been comfortable in the conflict that it has engaged in for the past 30 years because it has never had to ask the questions. In regard to the Catholic community, the 30%, it really has been a community without a voice.
“And I remember talking to one of the parishioners from a Catholic church there and they said: ‘when it comes to July what we do is we put our heads down and don’t even say anything’. That’s the environment they live in, they didn’t want to put their heads above the parapet because they were just so afraid of getting it shot off or whatever. This is reflected in regard to the Council within Ballymena. The Catholic community don’t have a lot of representation. They have a few in regard to SDLP and one Sinn Fein councillor. But it’s predominantly DUP, it’s predominantly Protestant. They don’t have a lot of representation with regard to the town itself.
Dissident republicans and identity issues: “Over the last 4 years, Ballymena has seen an influx of dissident IRA republicans which has brought its own problems. Last summer, the summer of 2005, Ballymena had its first republican march in the town which definitely brought out a lot of contentious issues in regard to the loyalist community. Even to the Protestant community they didn’t know, it was a very contentious time. The actual march went off quite well but there was a bit of reaction which I will tell you about later. I think the dissident IRA, or the dissident republicans who have moved into Ballymena at this stage, are really trying to find a voice for the Catholic community which hasn’t had a voice in the past 30 years. That’s creating tension. It’s creating loyalists trying to find identity in their town again and trying to work out who they are. So there’s a lot of identity issues going on there within the loyalist communities and Protestant communities.
Harryville chapel graffiti: “In regard to my work, I worked in a church called High Kirk Presbyterian up until about a month ago which is in Ballymena itself, I was a youth pastor there. And over the last two years of working within Ballymena I obtained a few nicknames particularly within the loyalist community. Some of them I’ll not be able to tell you but one specifically – I am known as the ‘chapel cleaner’. I don’t know if you remember, it was in the summer of 2005, in July, there was some graffitti written on the Harryville chapel – I am sure you all know of Harryville chapel, a Catholic church within a loyalist estate – and there was some graffiti written on the church and myself and a few other people out of our church decided to go down and clean the doors of the church. So that was a Protestant church reaching out to a Catholic church within Ballymena. And if I had known how contentious that would be, I don’t know if I would have done it, I have to be honest with you, because it was such a contentious issue. And the area of Harryville was so contentious that it sparked a whole discussion.
“And one of the things that came out of that was, particularly within the Christian community, the church-going community, it really engaged them. They asked questions specifically around the issue of sectarianism. And one of the things that came out was that within Ballymena sectarianism is not just rooted within the loyalist, within the working-class communities. We have a mindset that it is. But specifically within Ballymena, it’s in the middle class upper communities. Sectarianism can be dressed in suits. And that’s what we really found from this. I had a number of people come to me who go to church and whatever else and they said to me ‘we will never forget you for what you have done’. When you are working with that in that community, it’s quite unique. How do you say something like that and hold Christianity hand in hand? I don’t know.
“But that’s the real community in which we live, and that’s what Ballymena is.
Shared future: “In regard to a shared future, as Duncan said, when I think about this and read it, it’s almost an impossible task when you consider the uniqueness of areas, specifically like Ballymena.
“And it’s not a one-size-fits-all strategy. It is a strategy that is going to need to find local solutions to local problems, it’s going to need to find community leaders coming together, church leaders coming together, the police and Council members coming together and trying to find solutions to the problems within the local community. That’s how this is going to play out. The unfortunate thing about it is is that everyone has to buy into it. It’s not just one person, we are all going to have to buy into it.
“And when I think about Northern Ireland, with what’s happening politically and everything else, I really see that we have an opportunity. Some people say to me: ‘you must be really devastated working within that community and having to go through those types of things, and those types of comments that are made about you’. And I have to say that I’m not, I am actually quite positive about it because at the end of the day we have an opportunity. Northern Ireland is changing whether you like it or not, and people are going to have to change, and the demographic change in Northern Ireland, the way it is happening, is forcing people to mentally change. And I think that’s a good thing.
“So right now there’s an opportunity for that to happen. And I think that how this is going to actually physically play out is that for everybody to engage with it and not just use the words ‘tolerance’ and ‘mutual respect’ as buzzwords at conferences like this, but actually that they become words that describe the communities and towns in which we live. I think that’s what we are aiming for when it comes to a shared future. Thank you.”
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS [summary of main points]
Q.1.Gerry (Belfast): ‘A few questions: 1) “In the Northern Ireland context what would define resistance – to policing and the problems of policing? 2) Is there a possibility that the armed struggle and the resistance which we have suffered over the last 35 years has now produced so-called ‘political heroes’? A question for the panel. 3) How much longer do we have to suffer this indignity in this robust statement about the ‘two communities’? I just think there is only one community. 4) Is there a possibility that religious leadership has fallen behind the political leadership in Northern Ireland, because …. no matter what happens there is no condemnation or criticism from the churches for any of the recent atrocities. 5) Has the Chief Constable betrayed the people of Northern Ireland by his appeasement and playing to Sinn Fein regarding policing? Thank you.”
Colin Coulter: “Duncan, do you want to start us off? There are half a dozen questions there, so maybe you want to just try and blend them together in some way?
Duncan Morrow: “A very complicated set of questions and I hope I will do justice to them.
Two communities: “I will start with the question of one, two or six or eight communities. It depends in what sense you are talking. In one sense or another the entire population of Northern Ireland lives in Northern Ireland and therefore is a community. Part of the difficulty we have had politically is that it has split those who were happy with that and those who were not, and that had profound political and social results because people lived so close together, people went to school together. So it is almost as if we live in this world in which what you mean by Northern Ireland depends on where you lived and who you were and of course that is all then splintered down by locality, by class, by all these different things. You can say that there are lots of exceptions to this, but one of the persistent facts about Northern Ireland is that politics created two political groups/tribes/communities within which the question was the very profound one ‘to be or not to be?’ and that was not the basis of the division anywhere else on these islands. It really wasn’t.
“There was never that depth of a discussion and once violence [erupts]… you have got into a place which was: “we can’t actually live beside these people or we won’t actually live beside them”. It was whatever combination of that ‘can’t and won’t’. It starts to feel like you are living in separate places, the thing you need to know is: is he one of them or one of us? So…you can say historically it is one political community divided into a “them” and “us”, or two political communities sharing the same space. …..
“Re Peter Shirlow’s book – he didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know before. He interprets it depressingly, I think…. But the point is that he is now seeing something else happening which is that there are working class poor people left behind deeply divided and middle class people forgetting about them.
“Another way of looking at what has happened in Northern Ireland is that the outcome in practical terms on a day-to-day basis is you are either in or you are not. …That is certainly true if you look at what is occurring in some of the urban areas. The way you live life in the city of Belfast now depends very much on your economic and class position, because the working class are stuck in the middle of it and the middle classes are walking away.
Colin Coulter: “What about Peter’s arguments … re rising house prices, which would be very familiar of course in this part of the world?
Duncan Morrow: “Somebody said to me in terms of house prices … that house prices are now rising so fast that what will really change is that the middle classes will have to buy houses on interfaces because it is all it is left with and that is what is going to transform us! Now, that may be true but I don’t know. I have to look at the economics of it.
Political heroes and criminals: “… I think that the reality of a divided society is that history turns into a story you tell yourself, and it is the story of all the awful things that happened to us and all the things that we did to defend ourselves. And at various levels of distance to that, heroes – the same people who would be more or less our heroes are the same people who are regarded as criminals on the other side. That is a real big problem that is happening now, because another thing that is emerging is as people memorialise the past, then that is becoming a way of physically locating community and territorialism even deeper than it ever was before.
Policing: “But one of the issues around policing, I suppose the big question around policing – and I totally accept the thrust of Esmond’s point which is that without an agreed behavioural code, without the rule of law, you cannot move forward here …. but we also need to move into institutions and policing which are owned by everyone and to which everyone buys in. So I think the key question is not whether Sinn Fein comes in. I very much hope they do, but the price that everybody pays to get there, that at the end of it, we have a really clear legal order, which then binds us all. So for me, the question is that engagement itself is not appeasement. The core question of bringing people in and finding a way to create a new law in fact is certainly a critical core to any possibility of a shared future, because we have to know the basis in which we meet each other.
Esmond Birnie: “Thank you for those questions. I am also going to have to struggle in a sense that there are a lot of strands interwoven there. How many communities? It is certainly clear it isn’t a simple bipolar Protestant/Catholic, unionist/nationalist structure. Arguably it was never as simple as that and certainly it isn’t as simple as that now, because of the growing and in many ways welcome increase in ethnic diversity of Northern Ireland, following migrant worker, immigration and a number of other changes.
Justification of violence: “You refer to the creation of heroes and I think that is an important point. If we are now moving from what was sadly a ‘shooting war’ we may now be in the phase of our politics where it is going to be a war of arguments and of course in some ways that is better because at least people aren’t being killed. But the war of argument will be very much about to what extent was the violence – both from a republican and from a loyalist source – to what extent was it justified.
“As somebody who believes very strongly in institutional and entirely democratic politics, I think it is very important that this debate …. is won by the side which will argue that the violence was never justified, but of course many people in the IRA and Sinn Fein and the loyalist movements will if only to try and psychologically maintain their self-esteem now, they are going to have to try and argue very desperately that what they did can’t be rationalised, almost as some sort of “just war” scenario. So that is a debate we have started to have and we will carry on having.
Churches: “The point about the leadership of the main churches, if I understood you, were you saying that they didn’t do enough to condemn. Is that what you were asking or stating?
Questioner (Gerry): “In the last two months there were three murders. Two of those were committed by migrant workers and the third one was obviously local … but we have had no condemnation, nothing, no support for any of the families. The churches have condemned sectarian but not race-related killings.
Esmond Birnie: “I am glad you said that because I didn’t really understand the point you were making. You are saying that whereas during the periods of the so-called ‘Troubles’ – which hopefully we are moving beyond (though there have been killings by the paramilitaries in the last year) – you are saying they were condemned but now that we have race related killings, they are not. I am not sure what the factual position is. It is quite possible that church leaders have made statements either at the province-wide level or indeed at the local level and the media has simply not covered that. This is an occupational hazard which politicians are also familiar with. You are often criticised for not speaking out about something and then you say to somebody, ‘well here are my press releases! There is a telephone book thickness of them!’ The number actually covered by any newspapers, often you know it is a tiny fraction. But I am sure you are right. More could be done. We are all moved by the concrete example given by Jeremy.
….Civic society groups and the political parties haven’t always done enough.
Policing: “Finally, your point about policing and the Chief Constable, Hugh Orde. My assessment for what it is worth is that Sinn Fein will join the Policing Board. It’s only a question of timing and obviously they are playing a game – just as to some extent the DUP are doing from their point of view in a different direction – to get the maximum reward for playing their final chips or cards into the game, the political game. Given that they are going to join anyway, certainly as you might expect from a unionist background, I would be very reluctant to see further concessions made. My view is that the Patten reforms, both good and bad, should be the line drawn under the reform of policing, except for any obvious managerial, efficiency and administrative changes which should happen from time to time. … I think everybody in Northern Ireland – like I am sure many people here in the Republic – have a deep worry about rising levels of crime. That should be an issue that the Chief Constable and other senior policing people need to address urgently. Thank you.
Jeremy Gardiner: “In regard to the churches’ involvement, I can only talk about it from my own perspective within the local Ballymena area, specifically about Shirley Finley who was the girl who was killed. A Polish guy has been charged with that in recent days. We were involved in that as a church. There were a number of churches involved in that and of speaking out in a local capacity but also helping with her father and foster mother and stuff like that.
“So we definitely had contact there. So maybe it has not reached national press but it has actually been said at some level. That is really all I can speak for.
Policing: “In regard to the policing aspect, I shouldn’t really speak about this as a church person. But I think we are going to have real problems in regard to policing because we have put it out that it is just Sinn Fein and republicanism that are the ones with the issue. But I think loyalism has also an issue with policing which is going to play out at a community level because they don’t trust them and that is the fact.
“I think the issue – what was said earlier about trust being credible – I think that is really what is going to happen. Hopefully, the new development announced today on the news in regard to community officers etc, maybe that is a way forward, I don’t know.
Colin Coulter: “It is quite startling to look at the Police Ombusdwoman’s report, the one that came out during the summer. There were substantially more complaints from people from unionist backgrounds than nationalist backgrounds. ….
Caroline Wilson: “In terms of the two communities I would like to just reiterate what Duncan said. Belfast City Council has to draft a good relations plan for the city under A Shared Future. One of the ideals that all of the parties have agreed on is this notion of a shared city which is moving beyond the two communities model. However that has to be balanced as well with people’s need for safety and what their experience of living in the city has been. It has not been a shared city. So it has to be done sensitively and it requires a change within civic leaders to start talking beyond the two communities model. One of the things that interests me about the ‘newcomers’ to the city of Belfast is that we have lots of groups who want to talk about racism now and they don’t want to talk about sectarianism because they see that as completely different, completely separate. Nor do they want to talk about travellers, because they see that again as completely different, completely separate to racism. So I am cautious as to how the new communities within Belfast are going to be the dynamic for change. Ultimately the root of sectarianism and the root of racism is the same. We have to address those whether it is about our Protestant neighbours or whether it is about our travelling neighbours.
Political heroes: “In terms of political heroes, I think this is just part of a conflict transformation process. In one of the projects that we supported recently, there was great discussion about an invitation being issued to an individual who had served time as an IRA bomber. It stimulated great discussion where people felt that he should not be invited whereas other people were saying, ‘well, he is a representative of a festival committee and therefore is a legitimate person to receive an invitation.’ I suppose for me it is a process of dialogue – that both of those feelings are valid within different communities and it is about enabling dialogue on that very, very sensitive issue.
Churches: “As for the churches, maybe at the visible level they haven’t been seen enough. But within the city there are innumerable projects where the churches have been involved in a very grassroots level building good relations. Maybe it isn’t as vocal as it should be and it may be because as Esmond said, it is just not picked up in the media. But some of the work has gone on in the Good Relations steering panel where we have representatives of the four main churches. Some of the work that goes on in local communities where they are working to rebuild relationships within communities, that is again all a process. …
Policing: “Going back to what Jeremy was saying, one of the projects that we have funded in the north of the city is looking at rebuilding relationships between loyalist young people and the police. It is a very gradual process and people are depositing this dilemma around policing with republican nationalists and it is also very, very alive within loyalist communities in Belfast.
Q.2. Arthur (Trim): “Assuming that there will be a settlement, we all hope there will be, will the Orange Order gel with the then situation? We hear very little lately since Drumcree quietened down. Will they gel with the new situation, or will they join with the Ancient Order of Hibernians and all march together?
Colin Coulter: “Can we have another couple of questions?
Q.3 Paul (Dunshaughlin): “I found your discussion very interesting, the points that were made, and thought-provoking. A couple of things came across. One is the concept of social engineering. It seems to be almost abhorrent to members of the panel, yet it strikes me that every law that every government ever produces before the statute books is an attempt at social engineering as they attempt to modify our behaviour when we are not free to modify it ourselves. I am wondering has the panel considered maybe a more aggressive way of considered social engineering/legislature programme to make it possible for people to have an environment where they can integrate? There is social precedence for this in the southern states [USA] where the Federal Government imposed conditions on federal money for housing projects unless they were on integrated projects and it has taken a long time. It does work.
“The second thing that I have thought about, what Duncan said earlier on, he described the alienation of the working class people and the poor people because they are not seeing the peace dividend and I just wondered, looking at the political structure today compared to what it was at the time the peace process was initiated, have the politicians in some way fed into that? Because we have seen the extremes of loyalism and republicanism where they have always tended to the extreme whether it is the DUP or Sinn Fein. The losers have been the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP …..Somebody else said, ‘well if the Shinners get something we will get something in place of that.’ It is playing into the extremist’s view. It would be interesting to hear your comments.
Colin Coulter: “Can we get a third one in there? We can run back in the opposite direction through the panel. Is there another? Anything else that anybody wants to ask?
Q.4. Geraldine Horgan (Dunsany) “I would be interested in hearing a little but about how Caroline and Duncan have worked together if at all.
Duncan Morrow: “Yes we work together!
Geraldine: “It strikes me that both of you are working on the same kind of issues and I would just be interested in hearing something about that.
Colin Coulter: “Ok thanks very much. We will start at the opposite end, alright?
Caroline Wilson: “In regard to social engineering, somebody accused me once of being a social engineer and I said, ‘yes, if it means engineering this society out of what it has been, then I am a social engineer and proud’. In terms of behaviours and attitudes – this is a kind of ongoing tension particularly within the City Council regarding the training and learning strategy we are looking at for all staff members. The underpinning question is what right does the Council have to change people who happen to work for them, to change their attitude? I suppose our starting point is about changing behaviour. If the behaviour is contrary to good relations then we will engage in training around that. I suppose we don’t have a right to change attitudes. My personal, individual hope would be that if the training is good enough it will ask people to reflect on their own attitudes and prejudices. But as a public authority we don’t have that responsibility. Politicians – that would be a P45 if I were to answer that question about politicians! … Politicians are often blamed as the reason that we have a segregated city. That simply is not true.
“Politicians do have a civic leadership responsibility. They are also of the community and of the city. They live amongst their constituents on a day on day basis. So I have a great deal of respect for politicians within the Council.
Community Relations Council: “In terms of the work that Duncan and I do together, Duncan sits on the Good Relations steering panel and the Community Relations Council would have been instrumental in a lot of the changes that Belfast City Council has gone through. The support in terms of policy development, the support in terms of additional funding – the work that we did with bonfires was funded through the Community Relations Council.
“A lot of the private dialogue work that I have just spoken about in terms of cultural symbolism, Duncan has had a key role in facilitating some of the dialogue that we have done. At the moment we are dialoguing about parading in the city. The loyal order parading in the city is one of the key community relations issues for the city. The Good Relations steering panel at the moment is doing some kind of ‘Chatham House’ discussions around what are the principles of cultural symbolism in the city. So, absolutely, the Community Relations Council has been key to our progress.
Jeremy Gardiner: “In regard to social engineering, I think it would be mad to think that it doesn’t happen. Even in regard to integrated education, it was a response wasn’t it? Even now in education, it has brought in citizenship as a programme that everybody in school has to go through, active citizenship. So politicians and everybody are responding and in a sense socially engineering what the outcomes going to ultimately be.
In Ballymena, because of the Michael McIlveen situation that happened earlier on this year, the nine post-primary schools, the headmasters and headmistresses of the schools, have come together to work together in collaborative learning specifically with fourth years. They share on cross-community issues and sectarianism, leadership, stuff like that. So again that is an element of social engineering.
In regard to the working class not seeing the dividends of the peace, I agree with that. There is no doubt about that. I know there is the issue in North Belfast right now – nine or ten guys who got issued with punishment beatings…. We were speaking to Fr. Troy about it. Again it is local issues. I go back to the coalface: local solutions to local problems. It is the only way forward in regard to community relations. It is not a ‘one size fits all’ strategy and unless we engage with the local issues, then we are not actually going to come up with local solutions to the problems.
Esmond Birnie: “I think there were two questions there. One about Orange marches, parades and the parades generally, and the other about social engineering. I should say to start off with that I am neither an Orangeman nor a member of the AOH. It would be an interesting solution if the two merged, but it’s not going to happen. That might be the sort of bland homogenisation policy which I don’t think anybody here is ultimately recommending and it won’t happen in any case. The figures – there are 3,000 parades every year in Northern Ireland of which roughly 1% are contentious. That is 30 out of 3,000! But of course those 30 cause great problems, and you referred to Drumcree which remains a running sore. What I would say is that the shared future which we should aim for – part of it should be that the public space which obviously should include roads should be available within certain broad limits for those who wish to express their civil and religious liberties by parading. Now it may seem a pretty quaint tradition to those who are not from that background. But those who are involved with it say that is part and parcel of who they are and indeed of ultimately their personal and religious identity. So there should be literally and metaphorically space for that.
Rights come with responsibilities: “But of course with rights in a properly functioning society come responsibilities. There are responsibilities on the Orange Order and I would not be uncritical of the policies they have adopted over the last dozen years or perhaps even before that, but notably over the last ten or so years with respect to Drumcree and so forth. I think quite literally they walked into a trap, a trap some degree engineered by Sinn Fein in terms of creating resident unease and then creating perpetual community unease, but the Orange Order should have used tactical flexibility and recognised that. What the responsibility on them is on certain occasions, whilst I believe they have a right to walk down public roads, perhaps they shouldn’t always exercise that right for the greater good.
Scottish experiences: “I had an interesting experience a month ago. I visited Scotland to investigate how various issues around sectarianism notably in the city of Glasgow are dealt with there, and we talked to the Orange Order in Scotland. In recent years they have greatly reduced the number of parades which they have, and indeed in many respects I wish that the leadership of the Orange Order in Ireland showed as much wisdom as their counterparts across the North Channel.
Social engineering and education: “Social engineering, now that is a fascinating question. It is really quite a question of political philosophy. You could be here all night. I would love to debate it. You are right to an extent but there is a crucial question of degree here. Probably today everybody in this room – there might be one or two exceptions – would accept social engineering in the form of government legislation to force us to wear safety belts in the car, seatbelts in the car, although when they came in they were controversial. Some people said, ‘this is an infringement of my liberty’. But I think there is a difference of degree between that and using state action to strongly direct people where they should live, who they should socialise with, what type of school should their children go to.
“You gave the example of the United States. Many of the American examples are quite fascinating. Obviously, yes, in the mid ‘50s the United States through the Federal Government did attempt to integrate their public or state-funded school system and indeed they used measures like bussing, use of the Federal guards, the United States Army etc., to enforce it. I really would argue most strongly that that is not the correct model for us to go down with respect to our schooling system. Northern Ireland has four different types of schools as you probably well know: State schools, Catholic Church schools, Irish language and of course the integrated school sector, the most recent. Whereas we probably all agree that it is immoral for schools to be segregated on racial grounds, I think we have to accept – and this is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – that it is a right for parents to determine the ethos of education of their children. Given that, whilst it is right for there to be an integrated school sector in Northern Ireland, and a considerable sum of money has been spent on developing it and starting it and providing it new buildings etc., the State also has an obligation to continue to provide for those parents who remain the majority at this time, and arguably will remain the majority for some considerable time to come – perhaps for many generations to come – who wish their children to be educated either in the State school sector or the Catholic Church school sector. So that is the case where I would see the limits to social engineering. Thank you.
Duncan Morrow: “Thank you very much. I will go through them in my own order here.
1) Politicians: “The first one is the politicians. You know one of the things after World War I was that because they made the German Liberals sign the deal, the people on the edge were able to say it was a ‘stab in the back’. There is something very important about getting the people who have led the view which is there is an alternative which is “we win” to the deal which says “we share”. So I don’t mind that. I also think it is fascinating that we are at the stage now where Dr. Paisley comes out and says ‘Ulster is at the cross-roads.’ I nearly died! This is about two days after he met [archbishop] Sean Brady. So it is over.
“It is also true that the big issue is: when are the IRA going to join up with the police? That’s a great problem to have now on the basis of them being the police rather than being the army/IRA! So I am very happy that these things are happening and looking at what people do, not what people say and let’s make a new community. There is a danger that it will only move glacially slowly, because everybody’s actual interest is to stop change. They are doing it. There is a great line which conservatives use… ‘for everything to stay the same everything has to change.’ So we have to go till we keep the same. So let us see. Anyway it is the same in a different way. I want to stay optimistic not pessimistic. I fairly much believe that maybe Sean Brady and joining the police were two things I wanted. So, hey, let us take them!
2) Parading: “On the issue of the Orange order, I also think you are hitting something very important which is a discussion on culture and where we will go with that in a shared future, this remains a ragged edge. I understand, because I have heard it many times, Esmond’s position, the liberal position which is that people should have a right …. and I understand that, but here is the other side: what it means is having ex-members of the Shankill Butchers walk down the Falls Road bashing drums on which there are images of people who shot people in Ardoyne. Now I don’t think that will do. That is what the Whiterock march looks like if you are Catholic. I don’t think it will do and I don’t think that the Orange Order can pretend that that is not part of their parade. It is the band bit, which is somebody else where responsibility is disowned. So for my money, there is something to be said about how we are in public together. There is a discussion about how we are and who we are in public together which is probably the most profound of the lot. I think we are in culture wars. I think you are right, and I think it has got to be resolved on a shared future basis and I think there’s a big discussion about parading to be had and to be sorted.
3) CRC and Belfast City Council: “The third one is co-working with Belfast City Council. If Caroline hadn’t said that I would have had to make that claim in the sense that they are one of our most important partners! Over the time we have developed a lot of different things. Caroline mentioned funding…. We can add a certain bit which takes it in the direction of good relations. For example on the bonfires, the political parties could take it as far as health and safety. We said, ‘ok it is more than health and safety. It is really about how do you take a tradition and stop it from being something which antagonizes and move it into something which is part of our tradition and our culture? How can we work on that theme?’ So we were able to do that together as a joint project with the Council leading up because I think in the long run it is important that the Council have the ownership, precisely because of the politicians. …
4) Politicians: “I agree with Caroline and Esmond – politicians represent their communities and they represent their communities’ fears and so when they articulate those fears, it is important somehow or other that they are worked through because what the community is looking for from their politicians is that they know that it is safe. So it is part of the negotiation that we have to do and work with.
5) Social engineering: ‘The final bit is on social engineering and I suppose I have two points to make on it. One is the word ‘engineering’ – it is too hard. It treats people as objects. People are people, but have no doubt whatsoever that the geography of Belfast is engineered by violence. Where people can live is not currently choice …. it is choice under threat. If there is no threat, I’ll tell you what will happen. People will move randomly into areas and we will get a much more mixed and variegated pattern of distribution of where people can live and do live. That will be the outcome. The current pattern of rigid segregation is rigidly enforced by gatekeepers and paramilitaries and violence. So anybody who believes that we have current free choice and I am an engineer, I absolutely reject. Number two. The issue about whether we put incentives in, which is different from force, whether we offer incentives and penalties on certain behaviours, I don’t think can be avoided. I think it is the question how far you go.
“But I do believe that ensuring that employment is equal has been useful in taking the workplace out of the issue in many ways. I do also think that we have choices here. We have huge redevelopment plans coming in. There is a redevelopment at Crumlin Road, I don’t know if any of you know that. It was a working class heartland which is an interface. The question is, do we try to do something which keeps it as an open space or do we just redesign the interface for millions? Now I am against redesigning the interface for millions because I think it is a waste of money. I am for trying to generate something new which drives a different economic future for north Belfast and a social future for north Belfast. I think those choices matter.
“To come back now to engineering. Sometimes it is about engineering. It is about bricks and mortar and how we build houses and those choices we take about houses put into stone where people are for generations. So you need to think very carefully about how you do your Titanic Quarter.
“Is it just going to be another blooming great lump or are we going to think and try to make that planning somehow turn it into a different type of a place? Because if we don’t think about it, it will happen.
6) Schools: “And the last one then, the very, very last one is that on schools: I don’t believe that you can bus or force. I am actually a diverse schooling person too. But I do believe that no school, no school in Northern Ireland, should be allowed to let any child leave who is not prepared for a diverse future and that means about how they are themselves and how they reflect on the culture they come from, but also how they relate to others in that society and that that needs to be planned. It needs to be planned in the curriculum. It needs to be looked at in structure and that needs to be ordered. Otherwise it does not happen.
“So I don’t know if that is called engineering. I actually think it is about recognising a problem and trying to use the resources appropriately and honestly and fairly to ensure that we don’t simply reproduce that problem…. And that is what a shared future is about actually. It’s about putting that at the front and saying ‘ok what does that look like?’ It looks like an experiment, and I will give you a final example of that. There are two schools in Fermanagh, a Protestant village school and a Catholic school, and they are not viable …. Now you have to shut one. You can bus them both eventually creating the residential pattern on the ground exactly, or you can create some kind of useful experimental model which allows the parental stuff and allows for parents to be able to bring their children up with whatever is important for them to be brought up. But it looks at experiment and change and that is why it is a step by step process so that fear is not in it and so that we actually take creativity as a positive possibility within a shared future rather than just simply a set of laws. Thanks”
Closing words and thanks: Canon John Clarke (Rector, Navan): “As a member of the Church of Ireland in our local area here, I spend most of my time on community relations in this area. So it falls upon me to say thank you to our panel this evening and I say a special thank you to Colin for chairing our meeting here this evening. I also thank Duncan and Esmond and Caroline and Jeremy. They have given us a wonderful evening here. We have not been disappointed. It has been wonderful, giving us a window into the work of a shared future, very valuable to us here. Finally I would just like to thank all of you very much for coming along. We need this sort of number attending our public talks. Anything less than this sort of number makes it very hard to have the enthusiasm of organising the public talks. So please keep the momentum going. We are at a very crucial time as expressed by our panellists here this evening in terms of the way forward and we don’t want to stop now. So please keep up the good attendance and thank you very, very much indeed for coming here this evening. Finally, I would like to thank the Columbans for their hospitality here and of course there is cup of tea available immediately afterwards as well. Thanks very much to the core committee for organising tonight and a special thank you to Julitta for pulling us all together and getting us here.
Meath Peace Group report 63 – 2006 ©Meath Peace Group
Taped by Judith Hamill and Jim Kealy. Transcribed by Julitta Clancy and Judith Hamill. Edited by Julitta Clancy
Biographical notes (in alphabetical order)
Esmond Birnie has been an MLA since 1998 (representing South Belfast for the UUP). He is currently Party spokesperson for Finance, Family and Children, North-South, British-Irish Council and Community Relations. During 1999-2002 he was chairman of the Assembly Committee for Employment and Learning. Prior to membership of the Assembly he was a Lecturer (later Senior Lecturer) in Economics at Queen’s Belfast. Educated at Ballymena Academy, Cambridge University and Queen’s Belfast. Married with 3 children. Esmond previously addressed a Meath Peace Group talk on April 10, 2000 when he appeared with the former Taoiseach, John Bruton, and others.
Colin Coulter is senior lecturer in the Dept of Sociology, NUI Maynooth. Originally from Belfast, Colin has published on various issues including Northern Irish society, social change in the Irish Republic, political conflict, social theory and popular culture. His publications include Contemporary Northern Irish Society: An Introduction (1999, Pluto) and The End of Irish History? Critical Reflections on the Celtic Tiger (2003, Manchester University Press). His forthcoming book Northern Ireland after the Troubles? A Society in Transition was co-edited with Michael Murray (Manchester University Press 2007). Colin has appeared regularly on television and radio and has been a contributor to various media debates on the Iraq war. He has also written on the issues surrounding the war in Iraq in a major report entitled ‘The Irish Republic, the United States and the Iraq War: A Critical Appraisal’.
Jeremy Gardiner is Community Relations Development Officer for Youthlink, an umbrella body representing and serving the four main churches (Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist and the Church of Ireland). He was formerly a Youth Pastor for High Kirk Presbyterian in Ballymena. Jeremy is also a committee member of Community Voice in Ballymena. ‘My work in Ballymena was focused on the young people within the church itself. However to effectively do this you had to understand the environment in which they grew up in. This lead to work in the local community and essentially stand up against issues such as sectarianism. My work now involves educating young people for youth work and community relations work.’
Duncan Morrow is the CEO of the NI Community Relations Council (CRC), the body with primary responsibility for funding and development of inter-community relations practice and policy in Northern Ireland. In recent years, the CRC has taken a leading role in promoting dialogue to underpin ‘A Shared Future’, the government’s long running strategy to promote improved relations in Northern Ireland. Previously, Duncan was active in many areas of community relations work as a member of Understanding Conflict and as Co-Director of Future Ways, a unique active learning agency within the University of Ulster. His interests included political education, organisational development work with public agencies and voluntary groups, community development, mediation and the facilitation of difficult conversations between people and groups in conflict. At the University of Ulster he was also a lecturer in politics with a particular interest in ethnic conflict, religion and violence. He has written numerous reports, books and articles including ‘A worthwhile Venture?’ (with Karin Eyben and Derick Wilson),’ Northern Ireland Politics’ (with Arthur Aughey) and ’Churches and Inter-community relationships.’ In 1998, he was appointed as a Northern Ireland Sentence Review Commissioner, the body responsible for implementing the early release of paramilitary prisoners agreed as part of the Good Friday Agreement. A native of Belfast, Duncan is married to Susie. They have three children.
Caroline Wilson is currently working as Good Relations Officer with Belfast City Council. She is responsible for the implementation of the Good Relations Strategy which aims to co-ordinate the Council’s work in the promotion of good community relations and the celebration of cultural diversity. Prior to this post, she worked with the Student Movement in Northern Ireland and a number of other youth organisations. Caroline is a Council Member of the Community Relations Council (CRC) and sits on their Victims and Survivors Core Funding Programme Committee. Belfast City Council Good Relations Unit: “Our vision is for a stable, tolerant, fair and pluralist society, where individuality is respected and diversity celebrated, in an inclusive manner.”
Both Caroline Wilson and Jeremy Gardiner visited Dunshaughlin Community College earlier in the day, to talk to 3 groups of transition year students as part of the Meath Peace Group peace education programme
Meath Peace Group Talk No. 63
Taped by Judith Hamill and Jim Kealy.
Transcribed by Julitta Clancy and Judith Hamill.
Edited by Julitta Clancy
Acknowledgments: Meath Peace Group would like to thank the speakers and guest chair for coming to address this public talk and for giving so generously of their time. A special thanks to all who came to the talk (some from long distances), those who took part in the discussion afterwards and all those who have given their continued support, encouragement and participation through the years. Thanks also to those who assisted in the planning, organisation, publicity and recording of the talk, to the Columban Fathers who have hosted most of our public talks, to the Dept. of Foreign Affairs Reconciliation Fund for financial assistance towards the running costs of the talks and school programmes, and to the staff and students of secondary schools who have taken part in our peace studies programmes
Meath Peace Group Committee: Julitta and John Clancy, Batterstown; Anne Nolan, (Treasurer), Gernonstown, Slane; Rev. Canon John Clarke, Navan; Judith Hamill, Ross, Dunsany; Philomena Boylan-Stewart, Longwood; Olive Kelly, Lismullen; Leonie Rennicks, Ardbraccan, Navan; Fr Vincent McDevitt, An Tobar, Ardbraccan
©Meath Peace Group (report no. 63)
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