Tuesday, 31st May 1994,
St. Joseph’s (Convent of Mercy) Secondary School, Navan. (In association with St. Joseph’s Peace and Justice Group)
Rev. Martin Smyth, MP (UUP), Grand Master of the Orange Order
Chaired by John Clancy (Meath Peace Group)
Editor’s note: Rev. Martin Smyth, Unionist M.P. for South Belfast, addressed over 100 people at St. Joseph’s (Mercy) Secondary School, Navan on Tuesday, 31st May. The talk was organised by the Meath Peace Group in association with St. Joseph’s (Mercy) Peace and Justice Committee and followed Fr. Denis Faul’s talk the previous week. Louise Oakes (4th year student) formally welcomed the speaker who responded that he was very glad of the opportunity to speak in Navan and share his perspective, as a member of the Unionist community, with people in the Republic. In the course of the talk, Rev. Smyth explained the Unionist perspective and suggested ways in which people in the Republic could help to bring peace and stability. Earlier in the day Rev. Smyth was interviewed by local radio (LMFM). The talk was not recorded but a summary was published in the Meath Chronicle.
Extracts from text of address given by Rev. Martin Smyth:
“I welcome the opportunity to speak to you. I often feel that, as a grouping, unionists do not take the opportunities available to explain their perspective. For my own part, I take whatever opportunity comes along. I have just completed my fourth visit to the USA within a year which has also included a trip to Australia and New Zealand.”
“I am an Irishman – in that I live on the island of Ireland.
I am an Ulsterman – my family have lived in the province for several hundred years.
I am Scottish in that my religion and cultural background come from those roots.
You will remember of course, that the Scots were originally Irishmen who could swim!
And finally, I am British by heritage and way of life.”
“Many of you here will live in Southern Ireland. You will see yourselves as being Irish. Many will, as I do, feel strongly about their religion. Some will take a keen interest in Gaelic culture. A substantial number, if you delved back in family history, would find that they are descended from Norman stock or are the fruit of generations of integration and inter-marriage with occupying soldiers.
“I bring this out to illustrate the point that national and racial purity are illusions. You can note the names of some prominent members in English public life – Callaghan, McNamara, O’Brien: staunch English names you’ll agree. A glance at names in Ulster public life – such as Hume and Adams – may make you wonder how strong names from the Scottish borders came to rest on fervent Irish nationalists.”
“The first point I wish to make is that things are seldom as they seem, and to suppose that Northern Ireland is divided along sectarian lines would be incorrect. In my Party we talk of the “greater number”. This includes the many Roman Catholics who support the union. Father Denis Faul has estimated that if it came to the crunch, only around 23% of the [nationalist community] would vote for a united Ireland…”
Outlining briefly the history of Northern Ireland since the establishment of the State, Rev. Smyth went on …
“At the start of this century, the issue had devolved into one of self-determination for the Irish people. As you will know, the unionist community in Northern Ireland objected to partition. However, it seems now to be forgotten that all sides signing the Treaty agreed that partition was the only acceptable solution and that, over a period, relations between the two parts of the island would stabilise and grow closer together. Eventually, such a process could lead to an agreed re-unification. “From recent research into the life of Michael Collins, it is clear that he and the IRA had no intention of allowing such stability, and, while he was talking to the unionists, he was ordering his units into action across the border.
A speech by Eamon de Valera also expresses the warmth and friendship expressed to unionists at that time. He described unionists as “a rock on the road to Irish freedom. We must, if necessary, blast it out of our path.”
“Following Partition, contrary to modern nationalist myth, efforts were initially made to involve members of the nationalist community in the administration of Northern Ireland. However, their leaders, under pressure from Collins, refused to take part and relationships never recovered.
“It is undeniable that, subsequently, discrimination did take place, but such actions should perhaps be measured against the prevailing situation. Those who believe that only the unionists were at fault should perhaps study the effect of Partition on Anglo-Irish and unionist supporters who were left in the South, and decide whether they were treated any differently. The scale of attacks, the widespreaddestruction of their property and the rapid decrease in their numbers may give you some indication of the effect…
Feelings of betrayal and mistrust:
Rev. Smyth went on to explain the feelings of betrayal and mistrust felt by many unionists at this time – the fear among so many, especially since the Anglo-Irish Agreement, that the British Government is trying to disengage from Northern Ireland and the general feeling that somehow the violence of the IRA has won…
“The [Anglo-Irish] Agreement was signed without any consultation and was widely viewed as another betrayal. Even last year, we discover that the British Government, despite repeated denials, has been in communication with the IRA – responsible for thousands of deaths and massive destruction in our province over the past 25 years.
“I am trying to convey to you a mood of betrayal and mistrust which has pervaded the collective mind of the unionist community in Northern Ireland ever since. You will gather that we’re not too strong on trust. And it may be possible to understand why some in our community have a so-called siege mentality.
“This instability has manifested itself in a dramatic increase in loyalist violence. For several months now, the Chief Constable of the RUC has been warning that it was only a matter of time before the UVF and the UFF got hold of explosives and the recent attack in Dublin shows that this has now happened. Loyalist terrorists have developed dramatically since the Stevens Enquiry. That setback motivated them to re-organise and they took the IRA as their model – setting up cell structures and using only highly motivated, well trained operatives.
After the revelation that the British Government had been meeting and listening to the IRA, the loyalist paramilitaries decided that they also should be heeded. The lesson from the IRA experience was that increasing the level of violence would bring attention and the offer of a seat at the talks table. Hence the present worsening situation.
I set all this out before you as a background against which to consider some thoughts on the present political situation and the possible ways ahead.
Republic of Ireland: “Many in the unionist community see the Republic of Ireland as a belligerent state. The position of Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution were reaffirmed in the 1990 Supreme Court ruling against the McGimpsey brothers. They see the border towns of Dundalk, Monaghan, Clones and Letterkenny crawling with IRA terrorists, on the run from Northern Ireland and mounting cross-border attacks on a regular basis. “
He stated that many people believe that the Irish Government could do more to stop the IRA and that there could be more co-operation between the Irish and British armies on the ground.
Downing Street Declaration (1993)
“The Downing Street Declaration has been allocated all sorts of magical powers and is hailed as the beginning of a peace process. It is an agreement between two sovereign states and does not directly affect political parties in Northern Ireland. It does, however, contain some useful principles which may be of use in helping to stabilise the situation. In particular, the principle of consent and the Irish Government acceptance, for the first time, that the status of Northern Ireland will not change without agreement from the unionist community. These are important steps on the road to stability.
“Let me be brutally frank with you. After 25 years of murder and mayhem, there is no prospect of the unionist community agreeing to a united Ireland in the foreseeable future. Neither is there any prospect of the unionist community agreeing to any form of system which involves the Dublin Government in joint authority. Such a move would almost certainly lead to civil war.”
The future of Northern Ireland: “The future of Northern Ireland lies in stabilising the situation, in building confidence within the community, in developing political institutions with which all parties can identify. But most important, it must be developed on democratic lines and must not include any organisation which uses or supports the use of violence to get their way. As I have stated publicly, to some odium from my own people, the terrorist groupings can join the talks process only when they renounce violence and have been proved to have done so.”
Blueprint for Stability: Rev. Smyth went on to outline the main features of his Party’s “Blueprint for Stability “, produced earlier in the year, which set out what they consider to be the best options ahead, concentrating on 3 fronts – Westminster, Stormont and local councils. He believed that the 1992 talks process showed there was substantial agreement on many areas between the different parties. On the future talks process, he stressed that terrorist groups could only join when they renounce violence permanently – not only should the violence cease, but it must also be seen to cease. Then the British troops could be cut down to nominal garrison strength and taken off the streets.
Rev. Smyth concluded by stating that recent events had put pressure on the IRA to join the political process. The people of Ireland must say “enough”. We cannot give tacit, implicit or active support to paramilitaries. There is so much to be gained by friendship between the two nations and between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
John Clancy of the Meath Peace Group, summed up the talk and outlined the aims of the Meath Peace Group which are to find ways to promote peace, improve understanding and develop relationships of friendship and trust with people from both communities in Northern Ireland. Isobel Hylands (from Lurgan), who compiled the exhibition that has been shown in secondary schools in Meath and Drogheda over the last few months, thanked the Meath Peace Group for their work which she felt was very encouraging to people working on the ground in Northern Ireland and these words were echoed by Brian Devlin, Community Relations Officer, Craigavon, who had also visited Navan schools on a previous occasion.
Susan Devane (Slane) announced that this was the last talk before the summer break. She also announced that Sunday, 3rd July had again been designated by Bishop Michael Smith and Bishop Walton Empey as a day of prayers for peace throughout the Diocese of Meath. On behalf of the Meath Peace Group, Ms Devane thanked the Mercy Secondary School, the acting-principal, Ms. Mary McNally, the 4th year students who helped with the talk – Chlair Ni Shionoid, Karen Mulligan, Melissa Mulligan, Niamh Kennedy, Caitriona Mac Mahon, Judith Hamill, Lynette Magee, Louise Oakes, Judy Calt and Lara Monaghan, and their teacher, Ms. Susan Dillon.
Meath Peace Group report: June 1994. Compiled by Julitta Clancy
Contact names 1994: Julitta Clancy, Parsonstown, Batterstown, Co. Meath; Anne Nolan, Gernonstown, Slane, Co. Meath; Susan Devane, Slane; Philomena Boylan-Stewart, Longwood; Felicity Cuthbert, Kilcloon; Pauline Ryan, Navan