Meath Peace Group Talks
No. 59 – ‘Devolution and Cross border Cooperation: Prospects and Realities’
Monday, 27th March, 2006
St Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan, Co. Meath
Sean Farren, MLA (SDLP)
Francie Molloy, MLA (Sinn Féin)
Jim Wells, MLA (DUP)
Chaired by Michael Reade (Presenter, ‘Loosetalk’, LMFM Radio)
Introduction and welcome: Julitta Clancy, Cllr Brian Fitzgerald and Michael Reade
Questions and comments
1. Written text of Sean Farren’s address
2. Extracts from MPG talk 55: 7 March, 2005
3. Biographical notes on speakers
4. Meath Peace Group – update on activities 2005-06: public talks, schools programme and heritage study days
INTRODUCTION AND WELCOME
On behalf of the Meath Peace Group, Julitta Clancy welcomed the audience, guest chair and speakers to the 59th public talk held by the group since the series commenced in 1993: “Our first speaker, Sean Farren MLA, (SDLP) previously addressed the group in 2000 and in 2005, and has a long experience in politics in Northern Ireland. Last year when he came, his wife Patricia was injured in an accident and had to spend some time in hospital here. Thankfully she is with us here again tonight, but it was most unfortunate for them both. At her insistence Sean went ahead with the talk last year and we are indeed very grateful to see them here again. … Our second speaker, Francie Molloy MLA (Sinn Féin), first addressed the group in early 1995 and again in 2003 and we congratulate him on being elected mayor of Dungannon for the second time. Our third speaker, Jim Wells MLA (DUP), first came to talk to the group a year ago and I am delighted to say that he features quite regularly on our local radio, LMFM, on Mike Reade’s ‘Loosetalk’ [current affairs] programme.
“Now, before handing over to the guest chair, Michael Reade, I would like to invite Cllr. Brian Fitzgerald, Chairman of Meath County Council and former TD for Meath, to say a few words. Brian was involved in the early stages of the peace process, with the Labour Party and Dick Spring, going north in those very early days with Fergus Finlay, in precarious and often dangerous times….. He was also very involved in the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation for two years when it first started. He has attended several of our meetings here, and has been a great friend to this group from the beginning….. Thank you, Brian, for taking the time to come again tonight….”
Cllr. Brian Fitzgerald, Chairman, Meath Co Council: “Thank you Julitta. Good evening ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of our county I would like to warmly welcome Francis, Sean and Jim – I have just met Jim for the first time. I think the two subjects which you intend to deal with – devolution and cross-border cooperation – are very fitting. I don’t intend to comment on devolution because I know my colleagues here will have plenty to say on that. But on the other area, the area of cooperation, I would just like to say a few words.
Cross-border cooperation: “I honestly believe that it is of critical importance, that we on this island start to cooperate with each other, particularly from an economical point of view, because if we don’t we’re just going to perish separately. We are trying to attract investment into this country from America and beyond. They are looking at this island as a very small island with a very small population, relative to what they have. I honestly believe that there is huge potential in this country, in this island, if we can work together. We need to put the brains of this island together, and the area that we believe that will bring greater prosperity to the country, is whole area of research and development. The traditional industries are gradually moving elsewhere and I think that that is fairly evident in this county and in many other counties in recent times. There are certainly other areas which we should be cooperating on even more.
Health: “One area is health. During the times we did have health boards in this country – they have been abolished, something that I very much opposed – we were able to have a clear identity of where both our colleagues in Northern Ireland and in the south could come together, let it be in the North Western Health Board, the North Eastern Health Board and with our respective colleagues in Northern Ireland. That has been taken away from us and I think it is more the pity because people will suffer in the long-term because we do not have the resources separately to meet the demands of the people that require today to be met.
Tourism: “I was involved a few years ago when we were setting up Tourism Ireland, where we brought together the Tourist Board of Northern Ireland and Bord Failte. A huge number of issues had to be dealt with at that particular time. We were bringing staff together, we were bringing different cultures together, the way you do your business together. …You had even in England alone, in London, you had two different boards operating side by side. All those difference were set aside and each one was challenged and together we worked. We put together what we now know as Tourism Ireland, which is marketing this island. I believe that is an example, that if it is applied in the areas of health and in the areas of social and economic development that this country and this island can become the most prosperous in Europe.
“And with those few words I would like to wish our three speakers and Michael as chairman the very best of luck – I know he will do a fine job – and my sincere welcome to you on behalf of the people of Meath.
Chair: Michael Reade: “Thank you very much Councillor Fitzgerald for outlining the importance of some sort of resolution in what affects everybody on this island and as usual I am not going to stand on ceremony because I don’t believe that there is anything that I would have to say that would be of much interest relative to what our eminent speakers have to say….. We’ll be continuing the debate on my programme on LMFM. As Julitta said, Jim Wells is a regular guest now. Unfortunately, Sinn Fein and the DUP don’t interact directly ….. It is unfortunate that Sinn Féin doesn’t speak to the DUP or the other way around or whatever way you want to do it. ….I’ve been to quite a few of the meetings and it seems to be stalemate at the moment, I wonder if that has resulted in some sort of apathy, which is understandable, but maybe that will be kick-started in the next couple of weeks as Jim Wells again was discussing today [on LMFM] with Sean Farren. We’re going to be doing it in the next couple of weeks whether it is accepted or rejected or leads to anything or to a plan B. But this is a critical time whether people realise it or not, and I am going to be very brief, so that we can get down to the questions and answers which is the piece that I like best. So we will have about ten minutes from each of our speakers first of all.
1. Sean Farren, MLA (SDLP): “Thanks very much indeed, and again thanks to the Meath Peace Group for the invitation to be with you this evening. Just before I get into my stride there are two things that I wanted to do. First of all, in light of the accident that Julitta referred to last year that my wife experienced, I want to thank the Meath Peace Group for the concern, the sympathy and indeed the care that they expressed throughout Patricia’s stay in hospital … in Navan and then Drogheda and back again to Navan. .. But Patricia’s here and she obviously survived, thanks to the care and the attention that she received, after she had the accident.
North/South Make Sense: “Second thing I want to do very briefly is – I don’t know if the Meath Peace Group hold a library but given that the second of the themes tonight is North-South Relations, the SDLP recently published a document “North/South Make Sense” and I simply want to present it in order to put on the record with the Meath Peace Group our thinking about North/South matters in more detail than the ten minutes afforded me will enable me to do…..I notice that Jim with his typical missionary zeal has been spreading the gospel according to the DUP amongst you! [DUP document North South East West]. Unfortunately I didn’t think that I would be matched and more than matched by the likes of Jim and I only brought one copy along, but if you visit the SDLP’s website, you will find the full document there. And I suppose if you are like me nowadays, you get fed up receiving so much written material that the web is the place to go, so that you know what you want to keep and what you don’t want to keep.
2005 – what has changed since then?: “Now to the themes of tonight’s discussion. Very helpfully we were provided with some extracts from things that were said last year [see Appendix to this report, extracts from MPG talk no. 55]. I am looking at what I am reported to have said and I just wonder whether or not I shouldn’t have dug out the script I had last year and use it again, because the little bits that are here are as apt today as they were twelve months ago!
“I am quoted as saying: “We may well as politicians” – and here the politicians are us in the North – “be faced with a sense of ‘a plague on both your houses: you had the opportunity and you didn’t take it’” – and that is in bold if you have the document that was circulated in front of you. And then further down the same paragraph, again in bold and I think quite relevantly in bold: “maybe we do have to be forced to take more responsibility for ourselves. I think the pressures on ourselves to resolve our problems have not been such that they have impelled us with a greater sense of urgency towards addressing those problems.”
“Well, all that has changed in the twelve months since I was here and made those remarks is that the time is fast coming when it does seem as if we are going to have to face up to the responsibilities that we have as politicians, elected remember at an Assembly election in November 2003, an Assembly which at that time was already more than a year in suspension so that now we are into the fourth year of suspension! The three of us here – I don’t know what their memories are like, the other two of my colleagues – but some of the memories are fast-fading of that experience of attempting to work our institutions and if we don’t take the offer that is going to be made available to us and if we don’t try to use it to the best of our capacity, then we truly will have failed the people that elected us in November 2003.
Good Friday Agreement: “It would seem as if next week, almost on the eve of Easter, and Easter has all kinds of resonances – indeed you are going to have a debate on the anniversary of the 1916 Rising [MPG talk no. 61, 24 April 2006] – but Easter remember was also a time when the Good Friday Agreement itself was signed, Good Friday morning. Many of us were awake all night the previous night trying to cobble together the last remaining details of the document that became the Good Friday Agreement and we triumphantly emerged on Good Friday with what we thought was going to be the beginning, hoped was going to be the beginning, of a new era in terms of our politics. And indeed after 18 months we managed to put the Executive together in the Assembly. We managed to put the North/South Ministerial Council together and then we really thought we were on our way.
Downsides of failure: “I am not going to revisit the problems that we encountered, all we need to know is that we are now being given another opportunity. It may well be beyond us to turn that opportunity into the full operation of all of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement. But if that is what happens, I think we should consider for a moment some of the downsides to that.
Economic prosperity: “You visit the North today. You will probably be struck by the fact that there is a considerable degree of economic activity. There is an air of reasonable prosperity. If you look at the statistics – they pale into significance in some respects with the degrees of prosperity, economic development and so on that is being experienced here – but the North has degrees of normality, degrees of progress about it, which certainly become apparent to a first time visitor.
Deep divides continue to exist: “But scratch the surface and things are not as cosy and not as progressive as they might appear on the surface. Big and deep divides continue to exist. We live still and increasingly so in a highly segregated – residentially speaking – society. And despite many of the efforts, the kind of efforts the Meath Peace Group and others like you have been involved in, inviting people down and others up the North inviting people from across the divide to meet and to engage with each other, there are still considerable levels of segregation, where wearing the wrong t-shirt, the wrong school uniform, can have fatal consequences sometimes. Where transporting people from sporting events, the buses doing so frequently being subject to attack if they pass through or close by another neighbourhood, a neighbourhood of the other side. And where we still, and maybe increasingly so, jealously measure the investments and initiatives that take place in the other community against those that take place in our own, in case we see that there are investments and initiatives being taken which are not being replicated in our own, whether some kind of advantage is being granted to the other side. That ‘them and us’ mentality remains deeply, deeply ingrained.
“And the failure to recreate, re-establish, our own political institutions in which representatives from both sides can be seen to work together in partnership – not to dissolve our distinct identities, not in a sense to pretend that I as an Irish nationalist can somehow or other abandon the aspirations that I have or that Jim and his colleagues can be made to ignore or abandon even their aspirations and their sense of identity – but …partnerships which transcend and bring together the best of both sides in the greater interest of the whole community.
Benign form of apartheid: “Unless we provide those kinds of role models in terms of political leadership we will run the serious risk of entrenching those divisions and what at best may emerge is what I would describe as a benign form of apartheid, where everyone has equality before the law, but the links and the relationships are tenuous between us. That is certainly not the kind of legacy that I want transmitted to the next and succeeding generations. It certainly doesn’t match my aspirations for bringing the people of the North together, not to talk about bringing the people of North and South together, because if we can’t create positive relationships within the North, what chance have we of creating positive relationships across the whole of the island?
North-south cooperation:“And so to the second part of the theme that we were asked to address tonight, north/south relationships. The Good Friday Agreement- the Belfast agreement as Jim might label it – provided for politicians North and South to come together to create mechanisms, and to foster mechanisms for cooperation, and to foster cooperation for the mutual benefit of people on both sides of the island. And Brian in a sense has referred to this particular thrust and has exemplified it by referring to the establishment of Tourism Ireland, which has done a remarkable job, given the constraints within which it is obliged to operate under the terms of suspension.
“And indeed the same could be true of several of the other North/South bodies. They are not realising by any means their potential. They have considerable potential and, on two parts of the island have together great potential, not just in terms of the functional relationships that we created to foster economic development, to foster community contact, but in promoting a greater sense of understanding and ultimately reconciliation between both parts of the country.
Opportunity created by the Agreement: “Because ultimately what I see the Good Friday Agreement having done, maybe even if it did no more than this, it created the opportunity, an opportunity that was availed of for the people of the whole of the island, for the first time ever to endorse a set of political institutions in which they could all operate and operate comfortably knowing that their identities and their aspirations would be respected and that this island could take it’s place alongside our neighbouring island in fostering more positive relationships and take our part together in the new Europe and indeed in the new global order that is emerging.
“All of that – or a considerable part of it if not all of it – is being put at risk, certainly is being stalled, and if we don’t take the opportunities that are going to be available to us in the next few weeks, we will pass over responsibility to the two governments. They will make their best judgements as to how to manage the situation but that is a far different situation to one in which we as the political representatives together with political representatives down here and indeed across the water can join together and try to do as democratically elected representatives of the people.
“It will give me no pleasure to see Dublin taking responsibility along with the British Government for the affairs of the North. Maybe it is the best that can be done in the circumstances, but it is certainly far from what the Good Friday agreement intended should be the case, so let’s hope that we do face those responsibilities, that we don’t point excuses and that whatever challenges are there, we will work to the best of our ability to overcome them. Thanks very much.”
Chair (Micheal Reade): Thank you, Sean. I am sure you all have the handouts that Julitta made available to you and there is a background to the speakers there so I won’t take up time. It will mean we have more time for questions and answers later on. Our next speaker is Sinn Fein’s Francie Molloy:
2. Francie Molloy, MLA, Mayor of Dungannon (Sinn Fein): “Good evening, thank you very much for the invitation back to Meath. I am sort of mixture of Tyrone, Armagh into Meath. It wouldn’t matter what foot you’re kicking with, you’re going to be kicked on for being on the football field! But it is great to be back here and the Meath Peace Group have certainly done good work in putting together various different talks and discussions.
“Devolution and Cross-border cooperation: I think we’ll look at that and then talk about the prospects and realities. Certainly with the Good Friday Agreement, people actually thought the prospects were good, that things had moved on, that people had actually come to that compromise that would allow us to develop and to build throughout that compromise the structures which would take it into a new era. From a republican point of view….. I feel particularly let down because I was arguing within Sinn Féin that we actually needed to be in there, we needed to be making our case in there and that the opportunity was there, whenever we had a mandate and the people had spoken, that the government was really under an obligation to let that mandate run.
Experiences before suspension: “And one of the difficulties was that the Assembly was slow in getting running. It was there for a short period of time in between times. But I know that there was really good work done and the Assembly itself was popular. There were people on the ground, they were getting decisions made, maybe not full power as they would like. But really we were just in the learning curve before the whole thing was closed down again. And we are back into the conspiracy theories where that happened and all that happened around it. But within the Good Friday Agreement we actually had the possibility of building the trust within the Assembly, working together with the other political parties and building the structure which would develop an assembly for the people to have their say within it.
“We had the All-Ireland bodies ….. and from Sinn Féin’s point of view while we would be in the Assembly we weren’t going to go into a six-county partitionist settlement in any way whatsoever which didn’t have the opportunity to build the All-Ireland structures within that.
“And to have that ministerial contact between ministers of the North and ministers of the South, and building the all-Ireland structures for implementation of the Agreement and development of the Agreement and that will go along.
Assembly Committees: “There was cooperation within the Assembly, when you look around the various different committees that we were operating. Sean was Finance Minister for a number of months and I was Chair of the Finance Committee and we had obviously different views on different subjects. But the thing about it was that the Finance Minister was coming to the committee and the opportunity was there to cross-examine and to deal with the issues around budgets and around all the issues of finance. And that kind of thing was developing as we were going along, and we were starting to get the power of those committees in a joined-up approach: to be able to challenge and to become like the official opposition within the Assembly in actually trying to scrutinise and to develop the structures. So I think there was good work done within that and that developed as we went along.
Suspension and aftermath: “We then had the reality of the situation on the ground, that we have basically been in suspension since the last election. If that was happening in any other country in the world, where the government was elected and then it wasn’t able to meet for four years, then you would start to ask questions about where was the mandate and how was that respected within it. The government never called together a meeting to see if it would go up or not. Now obviously there were problems within that. But in any government where you try to put together a coalition, and you can’t do it, you can’t elect a Taoiseach or you can’t elect a Prime Minister, then you go back to the country and you look for another mandate. Then either the people get tired or the politicians get tired as they start to lose their mandate and you develop within it. So we haven’t had the opportunity of meeting. And I attended a number of meetings there, talking to educational people and … when you are talking to groups from other parts of the world they can’t understand why the Assembly members are not coming in and doing their work…and not getting on with the business. And then you explain: well the government actually don’t allow it, they haven’t actually called it together, so we can’t do that at the present time. That … certainly brings home to people just the reality.
New opportunity: “Now they are going to have another attempt to put it together. I don’t know whether that will work, but the one thing that our party has actually made very clear is that we are not going into a shadow form. We have a mandate there. There has to be… [an Executive] in place and we have to have structures in place to allow it to develop in the way the Good Friday agreement put together. So without taking …changing that around, we need to deal with the realities on the ground. Now bringing together the Assembly …. Let’s see what happens, because there is an opportunity for the public, for them to make the decision to go back to the public and either the mandate will be reduced/increased or satisfied, but I think the people have the right after this period of time to say: ‘you have done a bad job, you haven’t delivered on the mandate you agreed’……
Local government – power-sharing experiences: “At the other level of the situation we have the District Councils that have been operating right across the political divide, have been doing a good job on the ground delivering at local level. Ok, they haven’t got the responsibility that we’d want them to have with the power, but there is a reason for that. The reason is that it was misused in the past and some would say ‘well that is in the past, let’s move on’, but my first political activity on the ground was …in the Civil Rights campaign when Dungannon Council allocated the house…and I am wondering what has changed, because if you look at Lisburn Council today, the DUP in charge, and Unionists in charge, no allocation of posts to the Sinn Fein councillors, limited I think to other parties, but certainly, the roll-out of power-sharing or of cooperation or responsibility doesn’t exist. The same applies to a number of other councils where you have unionist control and particularly where you have DUP control within that.
“As president of ….. the Northern Ireland Local government Association I was invited to speak at Newtownards Council, on the whole issue around the new council model that is coming in ….. The unionist councillors decided that they wouldn’t allow me to speak … there was a chief executive but they wouldn’t listen to me as president because I was a Sinn Féin councillor. That’s why the wee clippings of television…. looking back over the number of years would show that the present situation is really no different when it comes to local government.
Dungannon Council: “And yet we find in our own Council, where we have all parties within the structure, DUP, Ulster Unionist, SDLP, Sinn Féin, we have a good working relationship within the Council. We run the d’Hondt system, in fact the DUP would have got the Mayor and Deputy Mayor at the end of this term, because of the d’Hondt mechanism and because of the power sharing within the arrangement, and that is as it should be.
Cross-border cooperation:“…We actually have a good relationship between exploring cultural diversity between Dungannon council and Donegal council. There is a cooperation across the border in developing that and building the structures in political terms and most of the councillors meeting together, developing projects …. bringing together the rugby, football soccer, whatever the case may be, into the various different councils on sporting days and also then sharing the tourism experiences …. and between Kinsale and Cork and Donegal and Killybegs and Dungannon trying to share the experience of bringing together two different projects and people working together …
Immigration: “And within Dungannon – Sean and I were speaking at several different meetings together some years back so he would have heard this before – for the first time since the Flight of the Earls 400 years ago, we actually have people coming back into the country, people who had emigrated were now coming back bringing their expertise with them and bringing their financial reward with them, but also workers coming in. 400 years ago O’Neill was forced out of Dungannon and fled to Portugal and Spain and now we have a thousand Portuguese in Dungannon! So we had the return of the Earls back into Dungannon in that situation.
Heritage and history as a means of bringing communities together: “We looked at how do we use that situation and how do we develop from it – to use the Flight of the Earls as a period of history without rewriting it and focus the council and the council members on bringing people back into Dungannon to get the tourism going, trying to get that sense of focus within the council and also then tying that in to the Plantation of Ulster. Because, after the Flight of the Earls – it was a number of years later – the Plantation of Ulster happened, and instead of looking at it from a nationalist point of view as in the past, and without rewriting history, but to look at the potential that came out of that situation, the new towns that were developed, the structures that were developed around it. I am quite certain in O’Neill’s day we wouldn’t have had a great sort of experience either, if we were the ordinary peasant on the ground, we would have still been the peasants on the ground. At least now we have an opportunity I think of focusing the council, to look at the Flight of the Earls and the Plantations and to use that as a means of pulling both communities together, both celebrating. ……
Cross-border cooperation: “So I think we do need to look at the structures of how we build that communication and cross-border cooperation, the cooperation that is required, because there are vents there for both communities, for all communities within it and the structures of the councils are one way of doing it because they have the links there at grassroots level, we have the support on the ground, we have the good working relationship which is in all the councils and the opportunity to actually develop that there. Now it is a small island. … It is possible to … eradicate the border in economic terms within that and I think we shouldn’t let that opportunity pass. Otherwise we in the North will continue to suffer because of business coming out, and particularly in the present time with the Ministers [from Westminster] ….the water charges coming in, all the different sort of bad government and more bad government.
Challenge to us all: “Peter Hain’s answer is ‘well if you don’t like it, then get into the Assembly and change it’. And that I think is the challenge to us all because if it continues the way it is at the present time, then you will see more interested in moving to the south because of the taxation and the rates and the various different things are going to be to costly in the north, so they will go across the border. So there is an opportunity I think at local government level and at Assembly level to take control of the situation, an opportunity for the future, and we can start to develop as an island economy and within that to build the structures. Without being outdone within both the two spheres, we actually have Sinn Féin’s proposals … on Irish unity which we are asking government to actually take on … I have a brochure – there isn’t one for everyone in the audience, but there are certainly a number of copies for the Meath Peace Group. Thank you very much for listening. ….”
Michael Reade: “Thank you. Just before we move to Jim Wells, can I ask you to clarify the plans to be published in two weeks or so, it is believed that the proposal be a restoration of the assembly, an attempt to form an executive. … and if a further attempt to form an Executive isn’t reached by the autumn, then it is all bets off and salaries will be pulled and so on. Is that acceptable?
Francie Molloy: “Well I think one big thing is that we try continue to run the Assembly as it is. I don’t accept that members are not doing anything. I certainly think that members maybe go a bit harder in constituency business, than they would be in the Assembly, but I think there is a situation developing where if the Assembly members don’t want to take control of the situation, if the unionists – and the DUP particularly – don’t want to share power with the rest of the elected members, then I think the option there is to go back to the government, to seek a new mandate or scrap the Assembly and move on to the next stage: the two governments starting to take control of the situation. That is not the ideal option. I want to be part of the decision-making process at local level. But I think the options are not good for us at the present time. ….”
Chair, Michael Reade: “… Let us hear from our final speaker now, the DUP’s Jim Wells.
3. Jim Wells, MLA (DUP Environment Spokesperson): “Thank you….. As you all know, I am affectionately known as the ‘green wing’ of the DUP and that is a very lonely existence …. I am also perhaps the only vegetarian of the DUP. ….It reminds me of the May 2004 European election, when I knocked on the door of a prominent Ulster Unionist – now that is a very rare and endangered species, Ulster Unionists died out quickly but there are still a few left – and an altercation occurred and eventually [the lady] got so angry she came and booted my car and left two other sizeable dents in the door and I rapidly reversed as quickly as I could out of her laneway. And about a week later there was a band parade – a unionist/loyalist band parade, ie one you wouldn’t have in Dublin, but we have in South Down – and I went up to one gentleman and explained to him what this lady did and he said to me: ‘Jim, I am not surprised, in fact she is a complete lunatic – I’ll tell you how mad she is, she is a vegetarian!’
“….I also do a wee bit of broadcasting on wildlife as well as politics in Northern Ireland. That causes a bit of confusion. I did a piece in March on the wildlife of Belfast Lough for the BBC … A couple of days later somebody in Banbridge stopped me in the street and said he really enjoyed it – I spoke a lot of sense, ‘unlike that other fellow called Jim Wells – that bigot from the DUP!’ And it was a wonderful experience explaining to him that the guy he was talking to and the bigot from the DUP were the same person!
DUP a logical, democratic party: “Now I hope that one of the things that we have been able to do from coming down here and speaking on ‘Loosetalk’ [LMFM current affairs programme] … in fact my wife is getting very suspicious because at 8 o’clock in the morning, Kate from Loosetalk rings me and asks can I appear on the show, and my wife wants to know who Kate is! …. So what we hope we try to do from this is to explain that the DUP don’t have horns and a forked tail, that we are a logical, democratic party that produces very sound policies and that if people in the Republic would listen you would realise that it makes sense what we are saying.
Belfast/Good Friday Agreement: “Indeed I spoke recently at Glencree [Reconciliation Centre] and somebody came up to me afterwards and said, ‘you know that is eminent sense, it is brilliant, but it is not the Good Friday Agreement’. And…. the problem that Sean [Farren] has is: each morning Sean gets up and bows and he makes sacrifices and supplication at the temple of the Belfast Agreement. The Belfast Agreement is infallible holy writ. What you have to remember is that Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments and the Belfast Agreement. It is holy writ, it is perfect. Anyone who should dare criticise one comma or one jot … there should be a jihad against those who would dare to question the Belfast Agreement!
There is a better way: “But what we are saying is there is a better way. There is a better way in dealing with cross-border bodies and cross-border cooperation and there is a better way for devolution.
DUP view on cross-border cooperation: “Now what is the DUP view on cross-border cooperation? I think it is a bit like if my wife strikes up a friendship with a rather burly good-looking young man who lives next door, I am not so much worried as to what they are getting up to, but what is his motivation?
“Now if his motivation is to help my wife to cut the joint hedge that separates our two gardens and they are working together in close harmony in order to manage that area of common interest then I am happy. But if I discover that his motivation is perhaps that he is after my wife, then I become worried. And I must say I hear all these great claims of looking to have better cross-border cooperation between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and I think what is the motivation? Is the motivation genuinely to meet, doing better tourism, better lighthouses, better inward investment? Well maybe, but is that coming from the same Irish Republic that for 60 years claimed jurisdiction over us, who in fact claimed that we are the lost six counties, that really if we were talked to and persuaded of the error of our ways that we would want to rush back to the fold of an all-island republic? I think perhaps …the events in Dublin a few weeks ago [February 25th riots] would indicate that maybe it isn’t the great [republic] that it claims to be…. But the point is we believe in cross-border cooperation and I think if there was a settlement you would be pleasantly surprised just how cooperative the DUP would be.
DUP tests: “But we have five fundamental tests for any cross-border institutions and …..cooperation. First of all, is that cooperation in the interests of Northern Ireland? Is it being done for some party political dogma or is it being done as a practical and beneficial change which benefits Northern Ireland? If we are going to build a motorway from Belfast to Dublin, it might be helpful if both ends met at the border. If we are going to drain a river along the border, well then it might be good sense if we had our diggers on one side and the equivalent body in the Irish Republic had it’s diggers at the other side. There are issues where clearly for practical purposes…it is important that the two governments have some form of cooperation. …..
Practical benefit or political motivation? “Are they of practical benefit or are they merely politically motivated? I believe much of what is being portrayed as cross-border cooperation has nothing to do with the best interest of that function. It is being done out of political motivation and of course it is logical, because if you give power to free-standing bodies – such as the implementation bodies established under the Belfast Agreement – and you give them power over inward investment and tourism …. and then you think of other issues where you can have joint policies, perhaps planning or roads or whatever, and bit by bit you hand over those controls to free-standing bodies without democratic control, eventually you reach the stage where so much has been handed over to those bodies, that in fact you have a de facto United Ireland situation, because if independent governments can’t control those functions, then the effect is they have lost their sovereignty. So we will have to decide are they practical or are they politically motivated? …..
Accountability to NI Assembly: “Cross-border institutions…..must be answerable to the Northern Ireland Assembly, and I am glad to say that this is an issue which we negotiated on in December 2004 and, against the opposition of Sean Farren’s party, we won the point. All future cross-border institutions will be accountable to the Northern Ireland Assembly and in the Assembly we can vote to stop it and that is a major concession that has been made and won by the DUP.
“In other words if there is something, say a fishing licence for instance and the majority of anglers in Northern Ireland don’t want it, then the Assembly can vote to stop it. Now no other Western democracy would tolerate a situation where its own internal affairs are controlled by external free-standing bodies which are under the control of an outside government, that is totally unacceptable! So let’s have cooperation where we decide the rules and we decide if things have gone too far. It would have to be accountable.
Respect for NI’s constitutional status: “Do they respect Northern Ireland’s constitutional position within the United Kingdom? I am glad to say on various interviews recently with Dermot Ahern [Minister for Foreign Affairs], he has actually discovered the phrase ‘Northern Ireland’. Well done. Maybe he will discover that the city on the Foyle is called Londonderry. Maybe RTE would discover that we are not ‘the North’, ‘the 6 Counties’, and that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, is not ‘the Northern Secretary’. So we are making some progress bit by bit, but I must say it does hurt me greatly, when under the Belfast Agreement, the Irish government is supposed to have respected our position as a part of the United Kingdom and yet you still come out with this language which clearly indicates that you just regard it as the lost 6 counties. [Peter Hain]… is not the ‘Northern Secretary’. He is ‘Her Majesty’s Secretary for Northern Ireland’. And it always will be ‘Londonderry’.
“If we started to call you ‘the Free State’ or ‘King’s County’ or ‘Queen’s County’ you would quite rightly be annoyed. Similarly with us. So it has to respect our constitutional position and most importantly it has to be value for money.
DUP policy: “So those are the tests the DUP has established for future cross border-cooperation and we have our document here [North South East West] – ours happens to be red and white….I will just indicate what we want.
Border poll: “We want a referendum, a border poll which establishes a decision on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland, as to where they want to go constitutionally. I believe the vast majority of unionists – 99% of them – would vote to stay within the United Kingdom and a very significant proportion of the Roman Catholic population would also vote to stay within the UK. We have a phrase in Northern Ireland: ‘everyone wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die on Tuesday!’ There are an awful lot of ordinary nationalists who may have some mystical thought in their mind of a United Ireland, but if they thought it was coming next Saturday they would vote against it. I talked to some Roman Catholics in Banbridge the other day. One said to me: ‘my wife works in the bank, I am a teacher. A crisis in our life is whether we have two weeks at Christmas in the sun or three, that is a crisis. If this is 60 years of misrule and British oppression, we will have another 60!’ And there are many other Roman Catholics who are not unionist but who realise that there are enormous benefits to them and their familes in remaining within the large country that is the United Kingdom, a strong economy, a strong democracy, a world power. And they will not be voting for a United Ireland. So therefore we are confident that if we put that message to the people of Northern Ireland, there will be a very significant majority who will vote to stay British.
No further border poll for 30 years: “That having been achieved, we will then say ‘no more referenda for 30 years. Let’s put this aside for an entire generation. Let’s give the unionist community, the entire community, the confidence to know that there is going to be no further testing of their constitutional position for a generation. And I believe if that issue can be set aside and buried, as it were, then we can move forward with confidence.
Constitutional contract: “Following that we want a constitutional contract, where the leaders of all the parties sign a document which says there is an unalterable situation which will remain for a generation: no change in Northern Ireland’s constitution….. That doesn’t mean they have to set aside their long-term aspirations, but it means that that issue which causes so much uncertainty in Northern Ireland, will be put to the side forever or at least for my lifetime.
New body needed to represent totality of relationships: “Then we believe that rather than having the present institutions which are prevalent in the Anglo-Irish and Belfast Agreements, that we have a new system and that system, instead of having two bodies – one which looks at the relationships between North and South and the other which is East and West – that we combine them and we have a body which represents the totality of the relationships between London, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Dublin and Belfast ….. with its own secretariat. Because the problem at the moment is that the institution which deals with North-South relationships has met five times more often than the institution which deals with East-West relationships. Yet Northern Ireland sells more produce to Scotland than it sells to the Irish Republic! The vast bulk of our trade, our communications and our day-to-day affairs are heading east, rather than heading south. So therefore we need to build up that relationship within the totality of the British Isles and I know that is not the phrase that maybe everybody likes, but it is the commonly used phrase for the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic. So we don’t get this imbalance … that we have at the moment of concentrating far too much on North-South. I believe if we put in other structures into place you will be very pleasantly surprised how well Northern Ireland unionists and Republican Irish could get on.
Improved relationship between DUP and Irish Republic: “I have been up and down the motorway to the Irish Republic that often and the only thing I could notice is if I stood in the road, I could run over other DUP delegations coming down the same road. There has been a [warming]…of relationships between the DUP and the politicians in the Republic in this last four or five years, and I don’t believe people have been given credit for making those brave steps of going down and talking to the Irish Republic about important issues of mutual concern.
“And I believe if we had the confidence that we know our position is not under threat, you will be surprised just how much cooperation there can be, but based on issues of mutual interest rather than any attempt to take over one side or the other. Now that I see as important.
No prospect of executive in foreseeable future: “But of course none of that is going to happen unless we have some major change in the present political structures in Northern Ireland. It is quite clear the penny has dropped in terms of the two governments. There is absolutely no prospect of a full-blown executive coming about in Northern Ireland in the foreseeable future. We have to accept that. The position where Martin McGuinness could ever get back in control of our children’s education seems to me to be very much on the long finger, because if we are still negotiating about decommissioning – and frankly I don’t believe that full decommissioning has occurred, I have to be honest with you and many, many ordinary unionists in Northern Ireland believe that as well.
Sinn Féin links to criminality: “But even if that did happen, we have still got a party that is inextricably linked to criminality. We have still got a party that won’t support the security forces. We have still got a party that won’t sit with the police force. Now we have a ridiculous Alice in Wonderland situation here in relation to ‘Slab Murphy’. Slab Murphy’s home was raided by the Assets Recovery Agency and congratulations to those bodies who took part in that raid. £600,000 was found in his hayshed! He has properties in Manchester worth many millions of pounds and yet we have the leader of Sinn Féin trying to portray him as white as the driven snow! If you listened to Gerry Adams you would think he was the chairman of the Crossmaglen choral society instead of being widely acknowledged as a leading republican, who like many others has lined his pocket with vast amounts of wealth as a result of criminality. Now I ask the simple question – and I am relying on the chairman to keep me right for time: if the Progressive Democrats or the Greens or the Labour Party in the Irish Republic, if it was discovered that anyone of their prominent members was involved in the same level of criminality that many Sinn Féin members were involved in, would they survive in a coalition in the Irish Republic for five minutes? Of course they wouldn’t, they would be driven from office immediately.
Alternative proposal: “But what many are saying to us, those who worship at the temple of the Belfast Agreement, they say that we must accept individuals who are up to their necks in criminality in our government. The answer to that is no, it can’t happen. Now the old penny is beginning to drop, it’s quite clear it is beginning to drop, and the government I believe are going to put forward new proposals which is going to have some form of alternative assembly without an executive. And the DUP have been saying all along that there is a vast chasm between direct rule and full-blooded executive devolution and we are happy to try and explore that chasm and try and find some way of making progress which doesn’t represent the optimum, but at least represents progress. I would suggest all sorts of models that we are prepared to negotiate on, to try and bring that about and that would bring some degree of accountability to the situation of Northern Ireland, represent real and tangible progress, but would not be the Holy Grail of an Executive.
Dublin Corporation model: “Now I will give you an example and people laughed at me, when I suggested this when I was down in Dublin recently. Dublin Corporation runs Dublin, it has a similar population to Northern Ireland under its control and a similar budget. It doesn’t have an executive. There is no Minister for Roads in Dublin Corporation, no Minister for Education. There are 50 or 60 individuals who meet in a room and make decisions for roads, hospitals, social services and unfortunately planning – we will not go into that issue! But they make corporate decisions on behalf of the people of Dublin. No one is demanding that Sinn Féin becomes Minister of Education in Dublin, because there is no minister. Why for instance in Northern Ireland, can you not have a corporate assembly making decisions on those important day-to-day issues? Why?
Belfast Agreement won’t work: “Again, people say to me: ‘it’s a wonderful idea, but it is not the Belfast agreement’. The mantra keeps coming out time and time again: ‘it’s not the Belfast Agreement’. Now folks if you are looking to the Belfast Agreement or nothing, it will be nothing. The unionist people in Northern Ireland have made it very clear they have had it up to here with the Belfast Agreement. Since we last met, we have had a stunning election victory, where the DUP won 9 Westminster seats and the Ulster Unionist Party won 1. It leads to the joke: ‘what’s the difference between the Ulster Unionist Party and a see-saw? A see-saw has got 2 seats!’
“They were absolutely decimated during that campaign and the unionist community wreaked a terrible revenge on those who negotiated away so much of what they perceived to be their rights, so therefore the unionist people have well and truly made their views known.
No decision in Northern Ireland can proceed without the DUP: “That question came up on ‘Loosetalk’ [LMFM] today: ‘can you not go ahead without the DUP?’ Well you can’t because even the Belfast Agreement said that nothing can proceed without the majority of the unionist community supporting it. The DUP is in such a strong position that you can’t bypass it. So therefore it is absolutely clear that the DUP holds a whip hand, and sometimes the electorate have an awful habit of coming up with decisions you might not agree with. But you cannot ignore the mandate of the DUP obtained last May. So let us see what is coming up. The DUP are …prepared to study it, we are prepared to go in there and we are prepared to try and see what we can do that’s best for the people of Northern Ireland, in the difficult situation we are in
Republican criminality continues: “Am I any more hopeful than I was on 5 March 2005, that Sinn Féin are going to detach themselves from the criminality? Not a bit, because I can think of 26.25 million good reasons why I am not completely confident, because they haven’t handed back one pound of the loot they took from the Northern Bank in Christmas 2004. It is quite clear they are still up to their necks in criminality. Why is it for instance, that recently the four biggest oil companies in Europe – BP, Shell, Texaco and Burmah – all announced that they were pulling out of Northern Ireland? Because they could not compete with the vast amount of fuel smuggling and diesel laundering undertaken by friends of Mr. Molloy on the border, republicans who are making vast amounts out of that sort of illicit activity. So therefore there has been no change.
DUP prepared to work for benefit of all the people of NI: “We have to accept that we are not going to get change in the foreseeable future, but we must move on, come up with something which is not what everybody wants. Everybody believes that full-scale devolution is the aspiration we should all aim for but accepting that that is not going to happen, then we have to come up with something which is second best, but which represents progress and the DUP are prepared to get in there and do our best to achieve something which brings benefit to all the people of Northern Ireland. I am hoping when that happens then we can implement our policy on cross border cooperation and I think you will find that unionism is a lot easier to deal with on those issues than you think so.
“It is a privilege to have been here today to speak to you, I was the first person from my party ever to set foot across the border and speak at a meeting in the Irish Republic in 1987. I came back alive! I reported that they didn’t try to poison me, they didn’t try to beat me up, they were actually quite friendly people and since then, there have been many of us down ever since. And I have always been treated with great respect and very courteously, unlike my colleagues from South Down who were down in Dublin recently [February 25th] which I think is a blot on your landscape and unfortunately does consolidate the view that frankly the expression of Protestant culture in the South is not one that is welcome. So thank you for listening and … I think that normally in these situations the audience often speak with more sense than the speakers and ask much more searching questions and make very valid points. Thank you.”
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS (Summary of main points)
Q.1. Chair (Michael Reade): “Obviously the idea now would be to hear from you, whatever questions you may have based on what you have heard. You have heard every end of the spectrum there.
While I am waiting for a first question, Francie Molloy – would you care to address what we heard there a moment ago in relation to cross-border smuggling and Thomas Murphy[‘Slab’Murphy]? He is under investigation but who is he? We know he is a ‘good republican’ and that he has ‘played an important part in the peace process’. What does that mean?”
Francie Molloy: “Well I don’t know the gentleman that you are talking about, so I can’t enlighten you any further on it. But I know the statement that Gerry Adams made, that he was a ‘good republican’ and that he had known the background … so I could just take it on that line. And certainly I think there has been a lot said about him. But there was lots said about various different issues that actually happened as well. If we take it on the lines of the Stormont [raid], that Sinn Fein were bugging Stormont and then it turned out that there was a British agent, that the British had an agent working within Sinn Fein! …
“So I think sometimes you have to deal with this and often republicans will say, ‘well that is a conspiracy theory’. But I think that some of our conspiracy theories actually have been proved quite right recently and I think more of them actually will come to be proved right.”
Michael Reade: “But you don’t know if he is a member of Sinn Fein?”
Francie Molloy: “I don’t know the man.”
Michael Reade: “But you wouldn’t know anything other than what you saw on the TV?”
Francie Molloy: “No.”
Michael Reade: “It is remarkable to think that with such a high profile story that nobody in Sinn Fein has consulted with the Party President, isn’t it?”
Francie Molloy: “No, there is nothing unusual about it. If you put all the different people who have been libelled by the newspapers on very intelligent sources…
Michael Reade: “I am not talking about anybody libelling the man now. I am talking about the statement made by the party president in relation to a high profile sting operation, behind that then lie these allegations. But the statement that your party president made that he was a ‘good republican’ and a huge ‘contributor to the peace process’ or words along those lines, surely somebody in the party would ask, ‘well Mr. Adams who is he?’”
Francie Molloy: “Well I obviously haven’t had the opportunity to do it to start off with, but secondly I think the word has been spoken from someone who actually does know him or is clear enough within that. So I think the issue is, for instance what you are talking about earlier in light of – or what Jim talked about – a number of properties in Manchester. I think that already has been proved to be erroneous and the legal documents that are produced around that proves [that]…. So I think as this story starts to develop and be revealed it may be red faces on different organisations and different parties, not Sinn Fein’s.”
Michael Reade: “Apparently.”
Sean Farren: “Very little has been proved under any legal test as to whether the association with Manchester has been proved and I raise my eyebrows when I hear that, I am sure …. Unless I have missed the evidence the suspicion is still there and the gentleman from Crossmaglen has been in the news on many, many occasions. He took a case against the Sunday Times and historically lost the case and the evidence … there certainly seemed to convince an awful lot of people as to what his associations were. I am not going to get into the debate. In one sense, I think it is a bit of a distraction.”
Michael Reade: “But isn’t it remarkable? If Mark Durkan made a similar statement about somebody who had been involved in a high profile sting operation, cross border smuggling etc, would you ask him….?
Sean Farren: “Yes, I would want to ask Mark Durkan why did he express the opinion that he expressed. I mean what is the evidence for it? And certainly he would want to. I am surprised that over all the years that Mr. Murphy’s name has been in the public arena that somebody like Francie Molloy hasn’t inquired as to the man’s health or background or anything about him and he tends not to know anything about him. I am very surprised at that. But ‘Slab’ Murphy is a bit of a distraction for tonight’s purposes. It is maybe more about the issues that we have to face over the next few weeks that we should be concerned.
Disappointment with DUP position: “If I may just take a brief opportunity to comment. I must say I am very disappointed with what I heard from Jim tonight because on the one hand, he says ‘if it is the Belfast Agreement or nothing, then it is nothing you will have’. But on the other he seems to be saying ‘unless you are going to take the DUP analysis and the DUP set of proposals, then it is nothing!’ Because he dwelled a lot on what he sees as the shortcomings of north/south and indeed of the operation of the Assembly and the Executive and all of that and then says that they have got a magic formula which is going to work without any negotiation with anybody else. It is the DUP set of proposals.
Good Friday/Belfast Agreement not holy writ: “As for the Good Friday Agreement – I have never said that it was the last word. I never made any analogy with Moses coming down with the Ten Commandments. I have always said the Good Friday Agreement is a living document and, like any living document, constitutional or otherwise, it can be modified and changed in the light of experience. In fact in the recent exchange that I had with Nigel Dodds a year ago …. you would see that I am expressing tonight the very same views that I expressed in a set of exchanges with Nigel. The review of the Good Friday Agreement showed that there were many lessons to be learned about making its operation much more effective. I deal with the DUP, we have proposals, we will sit down and talk to them but we are not going to take a DUP bible and simply say ‘yes’ and genuflect to that. I certainly don’t get up every morning as he tried to suggest. I am a much more intelligent politician than that seems to suggest, that I get up and bow to the Good Friday Agreement even though I know he is probably exaggerating to make a point. The Good Friday Agreement in it’s completeness as an Agreement written in 1998 is not holy writ to the point where operationally and in some other respects it is not going to change. The Irish Constitution was adopted in 1937 as a Constitution that probably seemed to answer all the questions at the time. It has been modified many times since. The American Constitution has been modified. Any country with a constitution modifies it in the light of experience and new requirements that society throws up as it changes and develops. So why don’t we regard the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement in those terms?”
Michael Reade: “Well obviously not all of us do, but was anybody in the room not shocked about what Jim Wells had to say about the Good Friday Agreement?”
Q.2. Robin Bury (Dublin): “No, I wasn’t a bit shocked to be honest with you. I think there is a huge amount of scepticism around now in this country about the Belfast Agreement. It has just dragged on and on and is it four years since the Assembly fell?”
Michael Reade: “Three and a half.”
Robin Bury: “Three and a half years and there have been so many efforts to try to get people to talk, in order to get it up and running again. And just finally Suzanne Breen who works for the Sunday Tribune. She was on ‘Questions and Answers’ [RTE television] recently and she said: ‘believe it or not, people in Northern Ireland are actually quite happy going along every day of their life peacefully with no Belfast Agreement and with Direct Rule. It is a point she made and she is a Catholic and a republican.”
Michael Reade: “True but I suppose as we said I don’t want to keep talking about it. … This man here has a question…”.
Q.3. John Keaveney (Ratoath). “I take your point that you have a veto basically…. but what about the point that so have Sinn Fein? We are back to the old tired argument: you can’t do anything without Sinn Fein or the SDLP, they can’t do anything without you. It is the old veto politics again. What would you say? I am not saying this now…. But it seems to me that you have a failed political entity again because you have a veto on progress but so have the other two here. And are we not at a stalemate?”
Jim Wells: “Well we are if we believe that the only solution is to try and rehash the Belfast Agreement. ….. for instance, what would happen the Irish Republic if there was a similar situation? You would have a series of behind the scenes negotiations to form a coalition. That is what would happen. The Greens or the PDs or whatever we drag along and you bring together a mishmash, rainbow coalition or whatever and you form a government. Well why not have that in Northern Ireland?”
John Keaveney: “Because the divides are sectarian, it is sectarian.”
Jim Wells: “Yes well a voluntary coalition would have a strong representation of the nationalist community, i.e. the SDLP. But what it wouldn’t have is Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein would be the opposition. Now you are saying to yourself that isn’t acceptable, why? Well for six years it was perfectly acceptable to exclude the DUP from that Agreement because you knew that if the DUP were excluded, we wouldn’t go and bomb anywhere. That we’d go and send out more literature, put an ad in the paper ….
“But you know that if you spooked Sinn Fein, you would run the risk that they would go back to killing and bombing and shooting. That is what is behind that question.
“And that is why people still are not convinced that Sinn Fein have completely got rid of their violent past and that is the fear. Now Sinn Fein still only represent 25% of the people of Northern Ireland. The DUP represent far more than that. We don’t have the cutting edge of an armed wing that could still be revived and that is why they are demanding an all-inclusive Executive. Why not have an Executive representing 75% of people of Northern Ireland – which is more than any other coalition anywhere in Europe – representing Protestant and Catholic and let Sinn Fein be the opposition until they get their act together and become democrats? “
John Keaveney: “I am not disputing. I am not demanding anything. I am only pointing out the impossibility basically.”
Michael Reade: “Ok you will have to give him the answer. So we will need a response then from Sinn Fein. Why will Sinn Fein not give a guarantee that there will never be a return to violence?”
Francie Molloy: “Well Sinn Fein actually have given guarantees. Within the document it is very clear as well. The position is that you have …within the Good Friday Agreement and for years unionists actually said they needed the issue of consent, that until you had the recognition of the consent of the people of the north for a change, until that actually happened you couldn’t have agreement. We had that. All parties signed up to the Good Friday Agreement, accepted the issue of consent. There will be no change until the majority actually want it.”
Michael Reade: “But we don’t need an armed campaign by the IRA?”
Francie Molloy: “Well I can’t speak for the IRA obviously, I don’t know who can. But what I am saying is, unless we provide the alternative political structures then who knows what the future is? It is not that long since Jim Wells’s colleagues were walking about with red berets and importing weapons into the north. So those weapons never have been legal at all … ‘Ulster Resistance’. And they were brought around the town halls where Paisley and his colleagues were in the red berets. So no, I can only deal with Sinn Fein …. Sinn Fein have a very clear mandate: to represent and also a mandate that actually said we have to make politics work. So that is what our job is to do.”
Michael Reade: “If somebody somewhere …. close to the IRA, speaks on their behalf … would that make much of a difference?….
Jim Wells: “It would have to be proved over a period of time: the ‘Proinsias de Rossa test’, whereby after a period of time, we prove beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you have genuinely given up violence. But on your very programme [LMFM], you put that question to Arthur Morgan [Sinn Fein TD for Louth] several times: ‘Can you guarantee me that the IRA will never return to violence?’ Do you know he squirmed and he prevaricated and he never would say it. So here is the situation where exactly the same things happen to Mr. Molloy. He will not stand up here and be recorded and say ‘the IRA will never return to violence’. What confidence does that give the unionist community when they won’t even do that?”
Francie Molloy: “But there is a clear line. I cannot speak for the SDLP and I can’t speak for the DUP on what they are likely to do in the future, so how can I speak for the IRA? I don’t represent them.”
Micheal Reade: “Can we just hear from Sean Farren on this, because the SDLP would have been sidelined to some degree during the talks as an acting representative of a political party because you couldn’t represent the IRA regardless of what other people thought.”
Sean Farren: “Well I certainly can’t speak for the IRA, but look if we’re going to look for cast-iron guarantees about everything and particularly about fundamental issues then we will never be satisfied. If the DUP are going to demand that Sinn Fein or the SDLP or anyone demonstrate that they are whiter than white we are seeking perfection. That is never achievable. We had the observations and reports from the Monitoring Commission of significant decommissioning. We have had an IRA statement saying that, as I understand it, instructing their members – whom I never believed had a mandate to do what they did over thirty years of murder and bombing – to turn to the political approach.
“Sometime we have to start working on the assumption that that is how it is going to be for the foreseeable future. I can’t give a guarantee that in some time in the future some members of the SDLP are not going to start recommending that violence be used for whatever political purpose they seem to be very incensed about at the time. Nobody in any political party can give a guarantee about the future. All they can do is commit themselves to a set of values at the present time and then hope that those values and those commitments will be accepted. Otherwise there is no basis at all for moving forward. Now I recognise that the republican movement almost – if I can use a completely inappropriate metaphor – ‘shot themselves in the foot’ over the issue of decommissioning. They prevaricated, said it wasn’t necessary, said it was a red herring and then in the heel of the hunt they turn around and do a massive – if we believe General de Chastelain – act of decommissioning, something they said was unnecessary and just a distraction from the whole process! If it was such a distraction, why on earth in the end did they carry it out and lose the impact – if they had done it earlier – of carrying it out during the term when the Good Friday Agreement said it should have been carried out, within two years of the signing of the Agreement?
Criminality: “Ok that is all history. We are over that hurdle. Now I recognise that the suspicions about criminality are serious and that it is up to republicans to demonstrate that they have no hand, act or part, they certainly don’t wish to have any hand, act or part in it and if they were to support the police that would be a significant move to demonstrate that they are totally against crime and want to dissociate themselves with it, in whatever form they have been associated with it up to now. But they haven’t done that and that leaves room for suspicion on the part of people like Jim Wells. Certainly it leaves suspicion on my part.”
Q.4. Ray (Dublin): “…I think I must be the only person in the audience here to actually know ‘Slab’ Murphy. But if anyone wants to ask me….”
Jim Wells: “Well I’d be happy …. [to know about] that £600,000 in loose notes and sterling lying in bales of straw…… ”
Ray Kelly: “I don’t know anything about these things. The only people that are privy to that are the Garda Siochána
Chair: “Do you believe them?”
Ray: “I don’t know anyone here that knows where the man lives. Have you ever been in Crossmaglen, anyone here? Have you ever been around the area where he is in? It is pretty rough … I am very much involved in the music industry, my personal interest was in Irish traditional music and I spent a huge amount of social time in Mullaghbawn, in Crossmaglen and that general area. There is a huge amount of music in that area … There is a lot of culture going back hundreds of years and that is why I went…. The border runs right through his house. Now who put the border there? It was the most gratuitous thing that ever happened to the man. Who changed the difference in the rates of excise on fuel? It certainly wasn’t Slab Murphy! …. I know the man, I know his brother too from a different point of view, nothing political, and he is a decent sort of fellow. He is the sort of fellow that I would expect to find down in Kerry on the side of a mountain, a wiry old fellow. … I don’t wish to digress here but did you ever wonder, you probably know this Jim, because there is a lot of Italian names [involved in smuggling] …….and on the southern side of the border. They were there way before Slab Murphy. So if foreigners could come in and make a penny I’d say well done to you Slab.”
Q 5: John Clancy (Meath Peace Group): “I don’t know how you can follow that! I am going to just ask some added on questions to Jim. …Last year I felt we were making steps in getting towards a hopeful situation. We did have your scenario in front of us but it seems that the set has changed and it is still far, far away. And yet, from our perspective, a lot seemed to have happened in the meantime. There are two questions I really have: 1) If Francie Molloy is correct in what he stated – that within the local authorities controlled by Sinn Fein there is power-sharing … and that in the DUP-controlled councils there is not power-sharing particularly with Sinn Fein and the SDLP – why is that the case? And, if it is the case, how can you maintain the case you are putting here that if you have an authority [like Dublin Corporation] that you will be generous and accommodating and all of that?
2) “The final question is this. You were talking about Sinn Fein [providing a guarantee re IRA violence]….. Are you prepared to say that the DUP could never take to violence? They are the two questions I want to ask.”
Jim Wells: “Well first of all can I say I am in Down Council which is SDLP-controlled with some help from Sinn Fein. For 27 years we were given absolutely nothing: never a chair, never vice-chair, never chair of a committee, never sat in any deputations, never elected to any outside bodies. There were 776 appointments over those years and the DUP never got one of them. So when the boot was on the other foot we were treated as badly as you are alleging.”
John Clancy: “I wasn’t alleging, I was just asking the question.”
Jim Wells: “But in places like Banbridge we elected three SDLP mayors, Lisburn – we elected an SDLP mayor no problem whatsoever so don’t lecture the DUP.”
John Clancy: “No I am not lecturing, I am just….”
Jim Wells: “And it was only after we goaded the SDLP for dot number of years, and I bet you out of pure embarrassment they gave us the crumbs from the table as it were …. It is the same as discrimination. Discrimination was as bad in nationalist-controlled councils in fifteen years as it is alleged to have been in unionist-controlled councils, only the other way around. That is the first thing. Secondly, would the DUP ever return to violence? The DUP never was involved in violence.”
John Clancy: “Would you resort to violence?”
Jim Wells: “We wouldn’t. The only situation where we would resort to violence is if someone tried to impose a United Ireland on us against the will of the majority.”
Michael Reade: “So you would?”
Jim Wells: “But that is the situation where our democratic rights would be completely destroyed. But what I am saying to you is, if the DUP were ever convicted of being involved in any form of violence or even alleged violence or any form of smuggling on the level that Sinn Fein are involved, then we are not fit for the government of any part of the United Kingdom including Northern Ireland. We should be immediately expelled. For instance if Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds were caught laundering 300,000 litres of diesel fuel here and lining our pockets with a vast amount of money, lying in cash at our hedge gates would we be fit for government? No. But a leading republican ‘Slab’ Murphy was and there was an opportunity there for Sinn Fein last week to come out and say: ‘we disown this man, we want nothing to do with criminality or smuggling or any form of criminality’. What did they do? They portrayed him as a quiet boy and that is why unionists still do not trust Sinn Fein. We believe they are up to their necks in criminality and there are tens and tens of millions of pounds being taken out of the British economy by these characters and they control the cartel for smuggling on the border, drugs, protection rackets, you name it. They are up to it.”
Michael Reade: “Gerry Adams did say as well that smuggling is wrong.”
Francie Molloy: “I also said that criminality was wrong and Peter Robinson is the one person who has been convicted on this side of the border for trying to take over a Garda station in Clontibret so there have been acts of violence and criminality on the part of the DUP … Dr. Paisley was out of the country at the time and Peter stood down …. but he got himself into court and got fined for it and paid his punt to relieve the problem. On certain occasions the DUP has been involved in acts of criminality and violence. As Jim says, forced into the situation and I found this one time, discussing around community relations that whenever you force certain people into certain positions it is surprising the number of people who actually would themselves become aggressive, become violent, when the situation was as they found it the last resort. As Jim says the DUP as a last resort to the situation would fight to defend what they see as the north and their control of their north.”
Michael Reade: “OK we will take another question.”
Q.6. Sean Collins (Drogheda): “Just one or two points before the question and I have to congratulate you Jim – you are a unionist in the true style of Carson, because he was the first man to advocate violence in this country …. ‘you’re introducing Home Rule so that is the reason we will fight you’. That was the bottom line of unionism in this country. Listening to your points tonight is what I have come to expect from the DUP over the years and that is not going to change and I am used to that at this stage. Well I have been involved in welcoming groups down south … and I was a little bit disappointed with your comments in relation to our ‘blotting the copybook’ in Dublin about three weeks ago with the events that took place which I certainly could not condone [February 25th riots]. But I have a problem with the fact that the man that worked to present that walk in Dublin [Willie Frazier] – he used the platform of the media down the south – LMFM for instance and the Sunday Tribune. Twelve months before he was refused a gun licence in Northern Ireland by the authorities because of his known association with loyalist paramilitaries. Was I supposed to go out and welcome him? I couldn’t find anybody I deal with particularly in the unionist community in Northern Ireland -even the Love Ulster group in Belfast. They wouldn’t attend it, they wouldn’t come because of him……you know it was a sad occasion…. Why did you not come yourself?
Jim Wells: “I was speaking at a conference in Scotland and I certainly would have been there if it wasn’t for that occasion. …There is absolutely no proof whatsoever – that allegation against Willie Frazier. Secondly, could I say that I doubt if those who were attacking that parade were doing so because of some deep personal problem with Willie Frazer. It was quite clear from the vox pops that were done in Dublin that day that an awful lot of Catholic nationalists in Dublin did not see the right of a group of Northern Ireland unionists to have any right to march anywhere in Dublin. I heard some very surprising and very sectarian comments and I have to say folks that I wasn’t dreaming it up – that was on CNN, it was on BBC World Service … and that showed up Dublin I have to say as being a very bigoted, anti-Protestant, anti-Northern Ireland unionist city. I have to say that and I know that maybe it wasn’t representative of Co. Meath or Dublin generally, but it was vicious, it was nasty, it was sectarian and it was anti-Protestant.”
Michael Reade: “Was it the fact that Willie Frazer’s licence wasn’t granted because it was suspended?”
Jim Wells: “If Willie Frazer hadn’t been there I am still convinced exactly the same thing would have happened….”
Michael Reade: “But he wasn’t given a licence. It wasn’t removed because of suspected associations?”
Jim Wells: “That is what the police told him. Yes I perceived that as well. What I am saying to you is he denies that. I don’t believe for one minute that is the reason why a thousand republicans launched a vicious attack on that parade.”
Sean Collins: “In that case, do you believe the police in this instance – of Willie Frazer being refused a licence?”
Jim Wells: “No.”
Q.7. Clare Norris (Dublin): ‘….Why in the interests of the stability of the people of the North of Ireland will Sinn Féin not join in supporting the PSNI?”
Francie Molloy: “We actually have said that when the conditions which have been sought are right – accountability of the PSNI to the Assembly and Policing and Justice transferred to the Assembly – that Sinn Féin with the right conditions will recommend it at a special Ard Fheis … and Sinn Féin would then make a decision. I can’t predict what that decision will be or whether they would actually support the PSNI or not. But there is a lot of history around that particular issue of policing and I don’t think the issue has been dealt with completely and I think there are many issues that have happened since the setting up of the PSNI, which indicate that there is no great difference between them and the RUC. Of course there wouldn’t be any great difference because most of them are the same people. There is just a different uniform and a different name. So Sinn Féin would have to be convinced and I am not convinced at this stage that there is any difference or any change.
PSNI raid on SF offices in Stormont: “And that goes for a number of different instances that happened, in particular the way that they allowed themselves to be used in the raids at our offices in Stormont where you had a large number of landrovers and PSNI personnel to raid an office that was open. Also, 24 hours a day the security was in there, they could have searched any number of nights or days that they actually wanted to. Then to come out with one disc which was more an issue with the computer itself, nothing to do with the content and they handed that back the next day. So it was a PR exercise which was designed to create the image of Sinn Féin being the problem and also to save David Trimble. So they had to close down the Assembly. That is what it was about. So if the PSNI were allowing themselves to be used as a political tool in that way, then there is nothing to indicate that their masters or their direction has changed.”
Sean Farren: “… the idea that the raid was designed to save David Trimble I find absolutely unbelieveable. But in a sense what we have here is this: Francie calls for a police force that is whiter than white. Jim calls for a political party that is whiter than white. Perfection is never going to be reached…”
Francie Molloy: “We want an accountable police force and that is not saying lily white. That is saying we want it accountable to the Assembly and we want Policing and Justice transferred to the Assembly. Now a lot of republicans actually say: ‘what do you want to give Policing and Justice to the Assembly for?’ But because of the change of political direction there within it, you can create that within an accountable Assembly.”
Sean Farren: “Of course, and we had it at the time when the Policing Board was established and you faulted. We had the beginning of accountability by the establishment of a Policing Board which contained political representatives to which you were invited to participate along with the SDLP. You fluffed it then and you are finding excuses. …”
Francie Molloy: “You called it wrong then.”
Sean Farren: “Please don’t interrupt me.”
Francie Molloy: “You called it wrong.”
Sean Farren: “If I have misquoted you, you can come back and correct me and I’ll accept your correction, if that is what it is. Look, we’ve got to show political leadership on a lot of issues, and if we wait until the last member of our constituency is ready to jump with us, we will be waiting for ever. Political leadership means making a judgement that the time is right to do something for the sake of the people that we represent and indeed for the wider community, that it is necessary, indeed essential to do so. And what I fear is: ‘oh yes, we’ll wait and we’ll wait and we’ll wait until the last colluding or alleged to be colluding policeman is removed from the police force.’ Now we are going to be waiting forever and that is what we are being condemned to: a future in which one party sees you as having to prove you are so white that you will never be able to match their criteria for whiteness and you looking for excuses with respect to policing, that the police will never be able to match in terms of demonstrating their whiteness to your satisfaction. And we’ll end up, as I said in my opening remarks, with the two governments unfortunately taking responsibility and representatives of the people being left to one side and if that’s the case we deserve to be cast into outer darkness. And any prospect of any movement on your part towards what you believe is your form of a United Ireland is absolutely unrealisable in the short or longer term. And any sense that nationalists are going to enthusiastically remain or embrace the UK and all that it connotes, is also not going to be achieved.
“We have got to compromise together, without sacrificing principle if we are going to move forward. That is what the Good Friday Agreement began to offer us the hope of doing and it is almost my last word.”
Michael Reade: “I think most would agree that Sinn Féin has given a lot over the years of this process in terms of compromise, because compromise requires giving by two sides of the dispute. If Sinn Féin has done its part …. has it got to a stage that you think it can’t give any more without getting something back first?”
Francie Molloy: “Well I think it’s not just in the mind of Sinn Fein … what Sinn Féin have done is that they have convinced others to make make moves at different times to try and secure that and to keep the Assembly going and to keep the institutions up and running and that wasn’t successful a number of different times. Some soul-searching had to go on from a republican point of view. But we said from the very start of this whole thing that if this was about the surrender of republicanism then we weren’t up for it and we weren’t going to surrender, because we had nothing to surrender for. I think what we have now is a continuous line and we predicted this at the start that it would be on line of weapons. …. and then the next step would have to be policing…..and there is nothing to say that even if Sinn Fein signed up to the Northern Policing Board that it would change anything whatsoever or that it would be more acceptable to the DUP…. Jim started off talking about five conditions that the DUP put on any sort of progress and then he want on to add to those five and I counted about ten more conditions that actually had to be met before they reached that situation… so I think there comes a point where you say …”
Michael Reade: “Give us one condition for taking your place on the Policing Board.”
Francie Molloy: “I am not putting any conditions on it at all. What I am saying is that you create the conditions where there is accountability within the Assembly and that you have Policing and Justice in the Assembly where local people have the control of it and local people can start to develop that and that immediately builds the trust within it. But that is not putting a precondition on it. That is saying we actually should move to get the Assembly up and running and get the local institutions up.”
Q.8. Nuala McGuinness (Nobber): “Do any of you think that you might become redundant now that we are becoming a multi-cultural and multi-racial society?”
Jim Wells: “Northern Ireland isn’t as multicultural as perhaps you are becoming in the Republic. But what I can say to you is that I hear all these people who tell me that there is great surge of support for the middle ground and people want to hone in on issues such as health, education etc. and that is said before the election and then the vast majority go out and vote for the four main parties which are the SDLP, DUP, UUP and Sinn Féin. Now indeed the whole middle ground is becoming totally squeezed. They are just losing seats time after time and the Alliance Party, if it wasn’t for the fact that there are a few prominent individual personalities, if they weren’t there it would just simply collapse. So don’t think that there is pluralism occurring in Northern Ireland with the middle ground spreading. It isn’t happening. If you look at the sectarian geography of Northern Ireland – in terms of people living in solely Protestant estates or solely Catholic estates – Northern Ireland has never been more polarised. So this great Belfast Agreement hasn’t brought the pluralism that you think about. Will I be redundant? Well I could well be within 6 or 7 months. I have been through the process in 1986 when the old Assembly collapsed…….. But will that change my view one iota about my stance against this Agreement and my view of the need to replace it with something better? Not one bit. …….I will need to refer back to the choices that I am facing, that that will not be moving one inch. I will simply come up and down this road as an unemployed politician rather than a paid one!”
Nuala: “I am referring to all the foreign people coming in from all over the world to this island and it’s going to change in the next ten, fifteen years and I just wonder… you are experienced politicians. Do you feel that Irish society will change, that you will all have to change? But to get back to the Agreement. I didn’t vote for the Good Friday Agreement, I am one of the 5% here that didn’t vote for it. I am a Northerner, although I have lived around here for a number of years. I voted this way as a matter of conscience because I felt that one side got too much and the other side got too little and I have a lot of unionist colleagues and neighbours from my previous existence there. They all feel they have been caught and cornered.
25th February parade and rioting: “I was at the parade in Dublin. In the past few years there have been two attempts to stop Orangemen walking in Dublin. It’s a crazy situation. And I would just like to draw attention to the St Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin every year.
“You have bands from every country in the world, half-naked girls – why they didn’t all get pneumonia this year I do not know – and still we cannot let a few top class musicians from North East Ulster come down. Can we not forget all the past? It is just ridiculous that in a St. Patrick’s Day Parade there are bands from everywhere and you can’t let a few people from North East Ulster parade in Dublin.”
Michael Reade: “And there are big St Patrick’s Day parades, big celebrations in London as well.”
Nuala: “Exactly. I mean we are supposed to be a democracy…. I was there at great uncertainty, but I am a veteran of riots having experienced them in the past, inadvertently I might add, in Belfast, Newy and Armagh, and I felt hatred and venom and I removed myself very promptly to get off the street. But I am sorry I also have to say that I experienced venom and hatred in Armagh round about 1968/9 when Paisleyites came to a demonstration in Armagh and only that I was with a cousin, a male cousin who is a Londoner and he had an English accent. I said ‘for goodness sake will you start talking and get us out of here’ and he did and we got out safely. … And that was a long, long time ago and I would hope that the Paisley people have changed, I think they have. But certainly the parade in Dublin was a fiasco. You do not have a government in the south of Ireland and you do not have a democracy, and they should hang their heads in shame and I speak as a Northerner…..”
Q.9. Cllr. Brian Fitzgerald: “Quite honestly, this is the probably the most frustrating and depressing night I have put in here in this hall for quite a long time. I am old enough to remember when … Captain O’Neill was ousted out of office by your leader [Rev Ian Paisley] when he met with Sean Lemass. I am old enough to remember that when Brian Faulkner took risks to try and bring together the people of Northern Ireland he was driven out of office by your leader. ….Had the Sunningdale Agreement survived, the IRA would not have been the force that it ended up being over the following 20 odd years, if there was a little bit of give from the person who leads your party today. But no that did not happen, the IRA grew and grew. But also the UVF grew, the UDA grew and every one of their offshoots grew and we saw over three thousand people dead and thousands upon thousands maimed in one form or another.
When David Trimble came along after all of that and tried to do business on behalf of the unionist community with the SDLP and with Sinn Féin – who themselves had to take serious risks, risks from their own people as much as people from outside – he was also ousted from office as a result of your leader who continuously said ‘no’, ‘no surrender’, ‘not an inch’.
“We are now in a situation that he is the leading party leader of Northern Ireland and I don’t believe he has the guts to do what Brian Faulkner did, to do what Captain O’Neill did or to do what David Trimble did and I believe he is prepared to sacrifice all the people of Northern Ireland and all the efforts that people like John Hume and many, many more like him who have devoted hours upon hours and years and years to try and resolve the difficulties in Northern Ireland. And we can all sit here tonight in the belief that violence will never return to Northern Ireland. You know and I know that that is no hard guarantee by anybody, so for God’s sake will you start having a look at yourselves … and try and do something for the interests of the people of this island so as they will have the luxury of living in comfort and not in fear for the rest of their lives and the generation to come. Quite honestly what I am listening to here tonight is just what I listened to as a young boy in the early 1960s when Captain O’Neill and your party leader came on the television for the first time. Nothing has changed and the sooner you realise that yourself the better. You are a young man. So are many of your party. For God’s sake, don’t be looking back. Look forward and try and do something for everybody’s sake and not get us into another 25 year cycle of war with all sides involved.”
Michael Reade: “Let’s start here with Sean Farren.”
Sean Farren: “Just very briefly, picking up some of the points that have been made a few minutes ago. In response to what was said about the Dublin riots, I believe that while they may have been unrepresentative in terms of the majority of the people on the island the fact that on two occasions now the Orange Order, or those associated with it in whatever form – and I know the second proposed parade was not strictly speaking an Orange parade – have been unable to march is something that we – I say we because I am a southerner originally – have to examine and consciences have to be examined.
“And particularly as we are embarking on what seems to me very likely to be a decade-long commemoration of 1916. Simply looking back at 1916 is not adequate and sufficient for the needs of our society today. 1916 – without opening a huge debate – took place, in my view, without any real consideration as to the implications for relationships with the north or within the north. And for all the high-minded and idealistic expressions that the Proclamation contains, it – and the events that happened in the few years afterwards – copperfastened partition. Partition wasn’t a product of 1916, because it was there from 1914 in the Home Rule Act, but it certainly cemented the attitudes that we have lived with, and if you think about it, as I said earlier, not until 70 years later in 1998 did the people of Ireland come together.
Good Friday Agreement: “I am prepared to accept that there are imperfections in the Good Friday Agreement. At least an overwhelming majority of people expressed high hopes that day. In my constituency and in many, many others, more people voted on that day than ever turned out in any popular test of opinion before or since. In North Antrim the majority of people may have voted against the Agreement. But 59,000 people voted in the referendum. The average turnout for other elections is about 46,000 and that is repeated across all the constituencies and in the overwhelming majority of them, the vote was in favour and … many people haven’t obviously voted since. We have let them down. But as we embark on the decade long commemoration of 1916, we might begin to reflect on 1916, 1998 and the whole concept of national reconciliation or reconciliation – Jim mightn’t agree with me – as a new debate and discuss and reflect and look back and maybe we are doomed to failure and the odds are not great. In the discussion with me this morning on the radio [LMFM], I heard Jim say it was 1000:1 against any Executive being formed and maybe slightly less, but nonetheless very significant odds against anything significant happening. Maybe we need to reflect on how we can re-engage with ourselves, because I believe that even if the Good Friday Agreement is in Jim’s mind dead and we were to start again, I don’t think we would end up a million miles away from what we signed on that Good Friday, eight years ago. It might be called something else. Now I am not suggesting that we do so, because I think it would be unnecessary to do so. It is a living Agreement. It can be modified and developed in the light of experience and everybody within the Assembly would have an opportunity to contribute to that process of modification in the reviews that the Agreement makes provision for.
Need to take risks: “But if we don’t take risks and if we simply say it is our set of proposals – as unfortunately I think, certainly in the very beginning of his remarks, Jim seemed to suggest very clearly there is only going to be one set of proposals and he talked as if the DUP represented the whole of Northern Ireland. There are other people living in Northern Ireland as well, with whom Jim has to develop a relationship. Unless the DUP – and what I say about the DUP I apply also to myself, my own colleagues and to other political parties – unless we are going to approach this in a spirit of wanting to create real partnerships within the North, and between North and South as John Hume frequently said and indeed between east and west – and north and south does not preclude east and west as Jim seems to suggest would be the motivation – unless we are prepared to do that… I mightn’t be around when we are celebrating the centenary of the rebellion or whatever, but we may still be going around the same issues and whoever is leading the Meath Peace Group will be organising a similar symposium to tonight and actually ending up just as frustrated as many people feel and I certainly feel quite frustrated tonight.”
Michael Reade: “Is that what you are going to make Julitta do, Jim Wells?”
Jim Wells: “I hope our leader will be around for 2016. I am sure he will! Could I say first of all, just the comments made by the Chairman of the Council. I take it from your comments that I haven’t won you over by my earlier contribution. That having been, said remember this: Ian Paisley has stood at election after election, he has never lost an election since 1966. He has held the highest personal vote ever recorded in any Western European election, in the five European elections which he stood in. At the last election the DUP returned the largest number of seats to Stormont … Whether you like it or not, Ian Paisley …. puts his policies to the people and the unionist people return him with an overwhelming majority. Now I know democracy can throw up results you don’t like, but no-one is going to tell me that that election held last May wasn’t an exercise of democratic rights. He walked it, his party walked it and I have absolutely no doubt: for me, Ian Paisley is a hero, let’s not beat about the bush. The reason I am in the DUP – I was attracted to the policies of Ian Paisley. I am attracted to the personality of Ian Paisley and walking down any street in Northern Ireland, they are coming out to slap him on the back, to shake him by the hand, bring out their children to meet him. He is an extremely popular politician. So don’t think that he is some megalomaniac that is leading people astray. He is loved and cherished and honoured by a huge proportion of the unionist people in Northern Ireland. Now David Trimble put his policies before the people in May and he was thumped electorally, absolutely wiped off the floor by Ian Paisley. So that is the unfortunate thing you have to accept.
“And the thing that Sean has to accept is he keeps bringing out this whole chest of ‘the vast majority of people of Ireland voted for this in 1998’. But the vast majority of people voted for Fine Gael in elections in the early 1980s. What happened five years later? They were totally vanquished by Fianna Fáil. People keep coming back for a fresh mandate. You put a party in. You test them. You see if their policies are effective. Garett Fitzgerald said they weren’t effective, so they voted him out. Here we are eight years later and they are still bringing up the same result. Let’s have another referendum now on the Belfast Agreement and see the result, because people’s opinions have changed. I am not saying the set of proposals I outlined tonight are the only ones. What I am saying to you is, there are lots of options between full blood devolution and direct rule and we are prepared to sit down and explore those. ….
DUP not anti-republican: “And finally let’s nail this lie that we are anti-republican, that we are anti putting republicans into government. For fifteen years we had a party in Northen Ireland called the Irish Independence Party … They were very strong in Londonderry, Omagh and in Fermanagh. We sat with them, we negotiated with them, we shared power with them in councils, we socialised with them, because the Irish Independence Party had exactly the same political philosophy as Sinn Féin but the difference was they didn’t reserve the right to kill people. Our problem with sharing power with republicans is not because of their ideology. It is because Sinn Féin reserves the right to use violence and criminality to obtain their aims and that is absolutely unacceptable. That is the route they have gone that cannot be crossed and I have asked this question several times tonight and no one has answered. If the PDs were up to half of what Sinn Fein are up to, would they be in the coalition? And all you did when I suggested that is you looked at your toes, because you know the answer. You know it would never be acceptable in the Irish Republic to let a bunch of gangsters in to the running of your country!”
Michael Reade: “But Michael McDowell ….”
Jim Wells: “…Michael McDowell has been very clear because he has said that he wouldn’t be in a coalition with Sinn Fein/IRA. Now is there anyone in this room who will defend the right of gangsters to be involved in a coalition of any Western democracy?”
Michael Reade: “ … [Sinn Fein] are politically and philosophically miles apart from the Progressive Democrats….”
Jim Wells: “Well the Greens or Democratic Left or Labour – would any of those parties be accepted if they were involved in gangsterism in a coalition in the Republic? They wouldn’t last a weekend if it came out, if any of them were caught. So therefore, nobody has yet put up their hand to say it is right to have criminals in the government of any Western democracy.”
Q. 10. Cllr. Conor Ferguson (Sinn Fein): “I am sorry to disappoint you there. I have no criminal record. None of my party has any criminal records. My grandfather came from your area in the 1930s, which is supposedly a quiet time…. The other points, policing and things like that. Would the police or the army, who you support, your government supports, would they have been allowed into the police down here? Would they be allowed into the Irish Army to carry on the way they went on, I won’t say for the last 30 years, for hundreds of years? Would they be allowed in?”
Jim Wells: “I see no reason why not….”
Conor Ferguson: “… OK we will go another way. The killers of Pat Finucane. You are saying your party had no militia like Sinn Fein. …. We will have our different opinions on that. Your militia was the B-Specials. Your militia is still going on … the young lad that was killed there maybe three, four years ago, stabbed, and the British Army won’t go and arrest the people they know did it. They won’t go and arrest them, because they are British agents. The people that caused Pat Finucane’s murder, five of them, all British agents. And you are telling me, the best way to have it, the best thing in Ireland is British rule. Is that it?
“Another thing, I can go back to the polls the same way. I can visualise people are going to vote for the DUP, I can visualise it. I can visualise people voting for Sinn Fein and the SDLP, but when they are actually voted in, I expect them to go and sit at a table. I expect them to talk. That is what I put them in for. That is what they are elected to do. Has anyone an argument for that? They are elected to go and talk and speak for the people they represent. What you are saying is anybody who voted for Sinn Fein, is a second class citizen, a second class vote. We are not …..and Francie cannot say, nobody here can say that in another ten, fifteen years, if you keep going the same way that you are going now, that some young fellow is not going to say will I put up with this. I am being treated as a second class citizen … I have a right to want a united Ireland and so has everybody else. I believe a Tyrone man is as much an Irish man as a Kerry man. …. The pictures there behind you, the barbed wire, it reminds me of the Civil Rights …. and the barbed wire your country brought in. It was enforced, your state has been enforcing us. You are a minority within a majority. Now the Good Friday Agreement is not working. ….I didn’t want to see Sinn Fein going into Stormont. I don’t want to be in Stormont. I’d rather that Ireland be led from Dublin, but Sinn Fein went into it. They pushed for the dropping of Articles 2 and 3 and the same again with the decommissioning. There we are again. It was a red herring, because you are going to keep throwing things up the whole time. Your job is to sit down and talk. I mightn’t agree, I don’t agree with a lot of the things people would say to me at the political table. The point is I have to talk to them. But I’d still like to welcome you down to Meath and say thank you for coming South.”
Michael Reade: “I’m going to take a couple of questions and come back to you and then finish up. I am just conscious of the time. It is about a quarter past ten and usually at these meetings, people have long distances to travel back.”
Q.11: “I can endorse the anger that is reflected in Brian Fitzgerald’s comments that we should rightly be angry about this intolerant language that we are hearing, particularly from the two far right sides here. Sean Farren speaks conciliatory language I think in general. But I want to pinpoint maybe a couple of things in terms of intolerant language. Francie is quite happy to dismiss criminal activities or whatever of individuals, that is fair enough. But he is not entitled to say that the IRA’s business, is the IRA’s business. The IRA are very, very closely associated with Sinn Fein and he must at this point say there is no place for an Irish Republican Army. If they decommission their weapons, well that’s it. The IRA should be gone, they should be prepared to say they are gone, there is no need for them now for as long as we can see into the future. Now that is just an example of that kind of intolerant failure to concede that there must be peaceful language and hopeful language for the future.
“In relation to Jim Wells, there is no point in endorsing the doctor. …. I found it quite interesting that Paisley is now getting the pseudonym ‘Doctor No’. And that is the language of never entering into negotiations. I think that the last man conceded that Sinn Fein at least went into the talks. One of the reasons the DUP are disenchanted about the Good Friday Agreement is that they refused to go into the talks and they are now five, six, seven years later saying ‘oh these are discussions, affairs, agreements and we want to renegotiate them’. But I will just give you an example of the kind of language you came out with. You uttered five conditions about Cross-Border Cooperation. This is interesting. The very first one you quoted, you said you’d only enter into those bodies if it is in the interest of Northern Ireland. Now you didn’t see the obvious omission that it should also be in the interests of southern Ireland. …”
Jim Wells: “It’s not our country, it is your country.”
Questioner: “But you talked about it in the context of Cross-Border Cooperation. There must be equal and participative benefits to both people. Otherwise you don’t sit around the table. There are benefits to be gained from both parties sitting down talking to each other. But your language in all the conditions you had, it is all veto type language, that everything has to be accountable back to me. There are other people in your community besides the ‘Doctor No’ kind of philosophy. That is why I think that polarised language has got to be stopped and we should rightfully be intolerant of it. And that is why if I can say anything tonight, I think it is that people should be rightfully angry at that intolerant language. It is very important to get together and start talking, to get out of this continuing mess.”
Michael Reade: “There are a number of points there Francie Molloy, that you might want to pick up on?”
Francie Molloy: “Yes, I think the point is – and the last speaker referred to it as well – Jim talked about sitting down and negotiating … but he won’t sit down with all the parties. He will only sit down with three or four of the parties. He won’t sit down with Sinn Fein in the room and actually negotiate this out. An elected member, whatever party they come from, has a mandate to speak on behalf of the parties. I don’t accept that it is the two extremes, because whether we like it or not and Jim quotes one side of the result on the night of the DUP vote, it’s up to the largest unionist party, Sinn Fein is also the largest nationalist party. That is not the two polarised, that is actually the centre now and what needs to be done is to develop and to negotiate that situation. So we need all the parties sitting around the table and to start to work.
“….It is not an occasional situation of saying I can’t speak for the IRA ….. I tell you I was speaking some time ago on behalf of Sinn Fein and said the wrong thing and got suspended from the party for a while, so I wouldn’t like to start to speak for the IRA on what they did. But secondly I think the IRA have said themselves that the war is over, the weapons have been disposed of and they have advised their members to become involved in the political process. So I think that is as clear a statement that we have ever had on the line of the war over and moving on and getting involved in politics and trying to make politics work.
“And one thing I think you will find in any political party or organisation or anything else that wants to take a particular strategy, it is a long-term strategy. It is not something that you’re in for six months and try it and then simply revert back. And I think that is very clear in this situation and there is one statement I have often been quoted for … on the lines that ‘if everything else fails, we will go back to what we do best’ and of course the statement ends there. …. The next line is we will negotiate ….. because it is about negotiations. It is about everyone starting to develop and to build on the strategy and going into Stormont from Sinn Fein’s point of view was all about working with the other parties, building that trust at local level, developing to deliver to our own communities but also to all the communities because everyone of us representatives for a constituency represent all the different interests within that constituency, not just our own, the people who voted for us. In the same way effectively, TDs would operate like that…
“I came into this whole particular thing through the Civil Rights movement. That was people looking for a passive way of dealing with a situation, looking for very basic rights. Those rights were denied and the State couldn’t deliver those and one thing added to the other, and you got into a situation then of an armed struggle. The Civil Rights campaign had very basic demands of a house and a job and the right to vote, those things were denied because the State was built around gerrymandering.
“So when Jim talks about the majority, he is talking about the majority in the 6 Counties, he is not considering the rest of Ireland as part of the country at all and talking about two countries. It is one country and you can’t deny that situation. If you took any part of England, Scotland or Wales and took a wee section out of it and said: ‘we are the majority here, we are going to hold on to that’ ….
“Now we have even gone further ….. to try and move the situation on we actually did go within the Good Friday Agreement to recognise that there would be no change unless there was a substantive majority of the people in the six counties. So that is a very clear endorsement of the whole situation. But unfortunately as people feared, particularly at the start of this whole process, that unionism would pocket everything, that they would demand, take the good out of it and then demand more. And that is exactly what we were getting tonight again – that everybody else has to jump to the tune of the DUP.
No recognition of movement made: “And there is no recognition of the movement that others have made of any political parties, because they have all moved to some extent to actually try and accommodate and to deal with it. …. I believe if you are looking back on the last twenty years, no one would envisage that we actually would have had the situation that we have today, that the republicans have disarmed. They have moved into recognising the North as regards its own entity and then moving in the situation of sitting in Stormont. And those were all big steps for republicans whatever others may think about it. And big steps have been taken, pain has been gone through, but we find now that there is no change, that the situation is demanding more and more and more.
Stage 2 scenario – an All-Ireland community: “…If you continue to demand more, people just give up and what then are the options? If unionists don’t want to share power within the Assembly with Sinn Fein and with republicans and with nationalists, well then let’s not worry about the Assembly. Let’s move onto stage 2 which is what we want to get into anyway and that’s definitely the “All-Ireland”, because in that way then the two governments can actually put the mechanisms together to implement the Good Friday Agreement, to deliver that, to build a cross-border development with ministerial responsibility north and south and then to start to build and to eradicate the border completely not just in economic terms. And I think maybe we have reached that point. Maybe it is now time to move into the next stage and build those structures of All-Ireland community.
Michael Reade: “…. I am going to take the final question of the evening and then ask for you to respond to the final question ….”
Q. 12. Julitta Clancy: “Thank you chairman, it is not really a question. I suppose like Brian I also feel a bit depressed hearing some of the things tonight…. And we in the Meath Peace Group have only been 13 years at it, you three have been many, many, many years at this and it must seem like ‘groundhog day’ over and over again. And yet there has been some progress. One of the things we got involved in over the last few years is meeting victims’ groups from all sides of the community, who have come down to Meath and have told of their pain in private and in public, even in classrooms. We have to keep bearing them in mind because it has been a pretty intractable problem …..
“So there is a bigger picture here and let us focus on that. Unlike Nuala I was one of the people who voted for the Agreement, because I voted in all sincerity and in all hope, that the commitments that I was reading there would be delivered on over a period of time, not immediately, but over a period of time, that there was the will there. I think a lot of people felt that good will within the Agreement coming out of a period of terrible suffering. But I am very disappointed not only with people in Northern Ireland who might not have delivered as much as I think they should have, I am very disappointed with ourselves down here. Take the rioting in Dublin [25th February]: it has been said that it wasn’t representative of us, that they were a minority, but it was an indication of the lack of work we have done. We made commitments in that Good Friday Agreement to understand and to respect the different identities, the different allegiances. …but we have never delivered on those in this State….. So we are not doing the education work that is needed to build respect and understanding ….
“We had a discussion in one of the schools in Navan recently [MPG transition year schools programme]: a unionist man who was working with a victims’ group representing families of the security forces, discussing with the students, and they got into the whole question of identity in the middle of it all, a huge discussion, and at the end one of the foreign nationals in our classroom asked: ‘what is the point?’ She wondered why people were getting so heated over this issue. And the speaker replied: ‘yet so many have died because of this’. The fact is that this new immigration into this country is asking questions, challenging, and they are showing us up. The peace process has enabled the economy to develop particularly in the south. We need to get our act together. There are issues we should be addressing.
“And I often wonder: in the Good Friday Agreement, did we put the cart before the horse? After the long period of pain and centuries of hatred, were we asking for too much in expecting the parties to get together in a power sharing executive? Should we not have gone a little bit slower in terms of educating our own people on the ground and healing?
“And as for talking to people: one of my grandfathers [Diarmaid Fawsitt] was involved in the old republican movement. He wasn’t active in 1916 as far as I know but he was deported at one time in 1915 for his activities and he went to New York. Recently I came across a box of his papers. I didn’t know till then that he was also in the IRB in 1913 but I did know he was one of the founders of the Irish Volunteers in Cork in 1913. In 1921 he was given a position [with the Ministry of Economics in Dáil Éireann] and in that year he went to Belfast to meet unionists and members of Belfast’s business community, and he left a report which indicated that many he had met were open to some form of political understanding with the rest of Ireland. There is a letter in his report from a member of the Ulster Unionist Council, a prominent businessman, which indicated …. that if the violence could be put away, the threat removed, that there would be a willingness to work with us, a willingness to cooperate.
[Editor’s note: the following is an extract from the letter: ‘We have been long enough in learning the lesson, but if there be any political wisdom left in us, surely we shall learn it now. There is no hope nor help for Ulster in English politics… there is no hope for us in English political alliances…. It seems to me certain that if we are to negotiate, and if our very life is the subject of negotiation, than we should be far safer negotiating with an avowed enemy than with a false friend… I believe Ulster is in a strong position. I believe Sinn Fein is desperately anxious to win her over… It seems to me certain that Ulster would gain her ends much more easily and much more certainly by negotiating with Sinn Fein direct…. Of course the great difficulty in the way of such direct negotiation is the very natural exasperation of Ulster caused by Sinn Fein tactics. The Boycott is a horrible piece of stupidity… the Ulsterman is the last man on God’s earth to be intimidated… What an effect might be caused in Ulster were some friendly advance to be made to her now – were the boycott to be called off and a real and lasting truce to be proclaimed? I verily believe that the one moment of all the centuries has been reached in which north and south might understand each other. …’]
“…Despite the obvious difficulties he met people who were willing to talk with him, knowing his background . … ”
“There have been over thirty years of dreadful pain…… Jim said that Rev. Paisley only used democratic weapons. But he also used a terribly powerful weapon, fear, and in my view he stoked up fear and he stoked up resentment….. Now we were brought up also ignorantly in the south …. So there is a lot of work to be done here and I don’t want to harp on it. I am just appealing to you to just remember the bigger picture: that terrible hurt and pain that is there and remember the willingness that is also there to build a better island to live in peaceful coexistence and to heal the wounds that are there……
“But thanks to all of you very much for all you have done and I wish you well in the coming months very sincerely.”
Michael Reade: “If we could ask for closing statements from Sean Farren first, then Francie Molloy and I will ask Jim Wells to finish.
Sean Farren: “At this late hour, I will try to be very brief. I think one thing that we are very bad at – and maybe this is true among politicians elsewhere – we are very bad at asking ourselves what is it that the other side requires of us in order for them to move forward and to bring their constituency with them. In other words, putting ourselves from time to time in the shoes of the other person. …Or maybe put it this way: what is the least that I and my colleagues have to do to help Jim Wells and his colleagues move their constituency forward and is that least too much for me and too much for my constituents? Does it breach some fundamental principles that I just couldn’t concede or is it something that I can move to accommodate? Because if we don’t appreciate what the others need of us, then we constantly simply move when they have conceded to us what we demand of them.
“I said this to Francie – remember he said we were both speaking at a conference up in Limavady the other day. Jim may not agree with me when I say that my assessment – at the time of the Good Friday Agreement being put together – of what the unionists most needed in order to be able to move, to call on their constituents to endorse the Agreement, was that they knew and knew as clearly as possible, that the war was going to be over. I never heard unionists out championing the need for power-sharing or cross-border institutions as their first priorities. They knew those were the prices they would have to pay in order to get us and Sinn Fein to agree. So in a sense we made, and had always made them, our priorities. But for them the knowledge that the siege was going to be over, was as far as I could read it, the most important demand or requirement. And the fact that decommissioning didn’t happen – to them it was the sign that the war was over, it was the outward sign of inward intent – meant that they were disappointed. I am prepared to concede this illusion.
“If we are going to put the thing together again, we have to have some sense of what the others require, the least that they can give, the least that we can give. We can hopefully be more generous than giving the least. We hope that they can be more generous than giving the least. But unless we are able to identify that and I think that applies when you are making any kind of contract in any aspect of life, you need to know what is absolutely key to delivering the whole package, not key just in terms of what you are demanding, but also what they can give.
Leaving it to the two governments not the best option: “I just don’t accept, I disagreed a lot with what Jim has been saying, but Francie’s last point that we leave it to the two governments. Maybe that is what we will end up with. It holds no attraction for me. It denies me and my constituents a direct say in affairs both within the north and between north and south and as a democrat I just find that unacceptable. I may be obliged to live with it, but it is only living with it because nothing else is on offer. But it is not something I would wholeheartedly embrace, because I don’t see it.
United Ireland: “And this was another point Francie made: maybe he can but I can’t, I don’t see it as laying any other paving stones in the direction of a United Ireland. I just don’t, because they are not certainly going to go along with it, if that is the direction in which they feel it is going to be pushed by either one or other of the governments.
“And so we are left back with the requirement, work out our own salvation together in the north and between the rest of us on this island and if we don’t do that, we make an uneasy peace. But it will be an uneasy peace and if that is our legacy, ok not a very satisfactory one. You might say it is the one that 1921 bequeathed to us for all the years since then, but it had very unhappy outcomes. Let’s hope that if that is what we bequeathed at least the unhappy outcomes won’t be the same as they proved to be in the last thirty years in the north. That is my final word on it.”
Francie Molloy: “Well first of all, I would make the point that was made earlier on … about keeping an eye on the issues: victims, families, all the people who may have lost people in deaths and all this hurt they went through over the last thirty, forty years and even before that, since partition. I had a little gathering the other night with eleven families, all who had lost one or more of their family, and they were telling their story. It wasn’t the politicians or anyone else talking to them. It was them telling their story and the issues that were actually involved. It was … them talking and just trying to get their opportunity to tell us what exactly the last thirty, forty years meant to them in the loss of loved ones. And it was emotional and moving and if we are to repeat that right across the north and even the south, with families in Dublin, bombings in Monaghan, various different locations where people are victims within it and the same story really comes out, because these families lost loved ones. … And the big picture is the very same. We have to make sure that doesn’t happen again and I don’t know what assurances we can give or how you can actually predict the future.
Civil rights: “But the only thing that I would say is that I came into this whole thing looking for basic civil rights …. and defence. The first sign that I saw of the ugly side of it, was whenever I was in Armagh in a civil rights march, when I was met with … pickaxe handles and nails and at the other side … a police charge. That was on peaceful protest. No arms, no weapons, no nothing except people just linked arm to arm and that continued for a number of years, and I believe that Paisley thought that the State couldn’t give those basic rights to people, because they would maybe stay then and they would outvote or maybe get a job, and they would be independent and they would have a house and they would again have the right to vote, because everyone didn’t have the right to vote at that time. So I think it is important to go back to, I think the difficulty is and Sean touched on it…. from whatever side or a political party to actually try and reach out. Because the DUP have been saying ‘no’ for so long that I can understand it is very hard now when you are in the majority to actually turn around to your party and say: ‘well now, we now want you to enact the Agreement and start making this work having said no we are doing nothing. And no to this and no to that and turn that around.’ It is like a juggernaut. It is very hard to turn around at times. That is one of the issues. There is the time also that you have to start and lead and develop the public because the onus is on the two large parties…. all the parties but particularly the responsibility is on the DUP and Sinn Fein and SDLP to try and deliver that. And sometimes I think that the DUP want the image of power, of going into Stormont, being seen to be in control of Stormont, but actually not take any responsibility, to let the British government make the decisions, to let the British government make the decision on water charges, to make a decision on the rates, to make a decision on bread and butter issues so that they can avoid the hard decisions. So responsibility also goes along with the mandate.
“Willie Frazier [‘Love Ulster’ group] talks about it. I can see no reason why these people couldn’t walk down O’Connell Street, I have no problem with it. I started off as I say walking on the streets and demanding that I can walk on a street, so I wouldn’t deny it to anyone. It has to be done in a proper way of course and around the Orange marches, you have to talk to the residents and deal with it and accommodate within it. But I have sat in rooms with Willie Frazier and I have discussed and debated the issues. I have also sat in rooms were he walked out in protest because the cameras were there, because it was Sinn Fein. But I have been invited to meetings and had discussions and we agreed to differ.
“Also as part of our programme [n Dungannon] in 2007, which we talked about earlier on, we have also included in that programme the 12 July in Dungannon as part and parcel of the programme of events for 2007. Sometimes it is hard work, because sometimes I find in councils particularly that you are continuously trying to make it not difficult for others, to try and accommodate and try to find ways of not backing people into a corner and they keep coming out and saying no. For instance, last week in Dungannon …. giving out achievements awards….. I found the DUP wouldn’t accept a prize from me because I was a Sinn Fein mayor of the council. Now either there is acceptance of democracy or there is not acceptance of democracy, because while you can shout about your mandate on one side, you also have to recognise the mandate of the other party as well and that I think is accommodation working. But we shouldn’t make it difficult where people are backed into corners. We should try and accommodate, and I think we can do that, but we also need the safeguards of the structures within the Good Friday Agreement, d’Hondt, and the various mechanisms that are there to safeguard and protect the rights, until we build that trust…. So that’s all I can do, I’ll say reassurance, sit there and don’t reserve any political right of armed struggle. We actually are saying we want to make politics work and letting politics work is working on a democratic mandate and that is the only assurance I can give you.”
Michael Reade: “Can we get an optimistic note to finish, Jim Wells?
Jim Wells: “Unfortunately not, because I have heard comments tonight that frankly I would never have associated with people who attend the Meath Peace Group. Heaven help us if this is moderate Irish nationalism! Some of the comments made vitriolic attacks on my leader, on my party, frankly what I would expect in some darkest part of North Kerry, because if this is the opinion of ordinary middle-ground Irish citizens about the DUP, well then we have got problems. That is the first point.
No balance in Belfast Agreement: “Secondly, we are told that the overwhelming majority of people North and South voted for the Belfast Agreement. I believe that I was absolutely right not to vote for it ……..What happened to relieve the fears and concerns of the unionist community? We lost the RUC, we had Sinn Fein in government, we had cross-border bodies with executive power. We had the removal of all traces of the British system in the court system. We have now the destruction of the Royal Irish Regiment. It went on and on and on. The gravy train of concessions all went the wrong way. There was no balance in the Agreement. There was no attempt to assuage the fears of unionism by at least making sure that the ‘goodies’ were served out evenly. The unionist people who voted for the Agreement felt betrayed and the electorate wreaked a terrible revenge on the people who supported it, i.e. David Trimble and his party. He looks a very forlorn, forgotten figure today.
“So therefore there was none of the reassurance Sean talks about in the Belfast Agreement. Everything has been a one-way gravy train of concessions towards Sinn Fein. Now we talked here about Sinn Fein being denied democratic rights. Remember this is the organisation that murdered 1800 totally innocent people, many of whom were Catholics. They were responsible for Le Mon, for Enniskillen and so many more… So when I refuse to be photographed with Mr. Molloy, and my colleagues in Dungannon refuse to receive awards from them, it is not because we are anti-republican, it is because we are anti-terrorism. And Willie Frazer was not a member of the DUP. Willie Frazer has no connection with the DUP. Many of those accusations were made, were made against people who had absolutely no connection with the DUP! If I or any member of the DUP was to go around intimidating or shooting someone, or blackmailing them, they would be expelled immediately it happened. Quite rightly so. So we have democratic rule for our party. Our weapons are our fax machines, our statements, our press releases. So don’t feel for one moment, that we align ourselves to anything like that.
“And remember even recently we were being reassured that Sinn Fein had decommissioned. I make absolutely no differentiation between Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA, absolutely none. They are exactly the same people. Although we were told that they had decommissioned, what had they planned? The Northern Bank Robbery, the murder of Robert McCartney and of course all the recent escapades with criminality in South Armagh. We still have not reached the position where they would get a full boxful of Protestants in Northern Ireland, who would believe that Sinn Fein are a democratic and legal party.
“So we have a long way to go, but remember the DUP have come a long way this last thirty years. A few years ago, it would be absolutely unimaginable to have me speaking in this room tonight … absolutely unheard of – a DUP MLA sitting talking with the Meath Peace Group ….. Maybe it was a bad decision to come down in the first place. But I still believe that what was said wasn’t totally representative of this group. There were some fairly extreme comments here tonight against my leader and all we stand for. We have come a long way I think but … the chances of us getting into bed with Sinn Fein and forming an executive are so remote, it is not going to happen.
“So therefore we are going to have to have something which is second best in terms of devolution and therefore we are going to have to sit down and come up with something that is a halfway house. I took part in rolling devolution in 1982. Could I thank the person who said I was a young politician. I have been in the DUP for 31 years, and I sat in the 1982 assembly! … But anyhow, I sat in that Assembly – rolling devolution. It didn’t roll, because Sean Farren who was also a member of that Assembly refused even to come in and talk to his fellow Ulstermen in that Assembly. That is how narrow-minded the SDLP were at that time, so at least they have come on a fair bit since then.
“Now we need to go back to some form of rolling devolution where it moves forward with some momentum and to give Sinn Fein/IRA the time it desperately needs to prove to me and to any other Protestant in the street, that they have changed. That is a long, long way away and there are so many things they have to do. But please – the question I have asked this audience all night and no-one has answered it: is there anyone in this room who believes that if the PDs were up to what Francie Molloy and his party were up to, that they would have a right to be in a coalition government of the Irish Republic? The answer to that has to be emphatically no, so why impose it on us?…
Brian Fitzgerald: “I think there are plenty of other reasons why they shouldn’t be in government.
Jim Wells: “Yes exactly, but that is the fundamental point. We have economic policies as well. But if it is not good enough for the Irish Republic, why is it good enough for the people of Northern Ireland? Nobody can ever square that circle with me. You all look at your toes. Nobody is prepared to answer, because it is an unanswerable question.
Q.13. Jim Nolan (Enniskillen): “Sorry, you are not comparing like with like.
Judith Hamill (Tara): “Yes exactly
Jim Wells: “Why?
Jim Nolan: “Different country, different issues.”
Jim Wells: “…. explain to me why they are not acceptable in the Republic, but must be inflicted on us.”
Q. 14: “So Willie McCrea didn’t share that platform with Billy Wright?
Jim Wells: “Did Willie McCrea murder anybody?
Questioner: “Can you agree that Willie McCrea did share a platform with Billy Wright?
Jim Wells: “Has he ever murdered anybody, has he ever robbed a bank?
Q.15: “Jim did say that… his party would take up arms to defend their constitutional position, no more than the IRA took up the arms with what they thought was their constitutional position…
Jim Wells: “What constitution?….
Questioner: “You said that your party would take up arms to defend what they could perceive was their current constitutional position. So you cannot call the kettle black. You are ready to take up arms yourself. That threat is there. That threat is there in your own words. So that is one of the reasons why people find it difficult to sit down around the table and talk with you.
Jim Wells: “What constitutional position was defended by the burning alive of twelve dog handlers in La Mon in 1978?
Questioner: “That is not acceptable.
Jim Wells: “Totally unacceptable, there can be no justification for burning La Mon and going into a church and murdering three people who were singing Gospel hymns. ….Now the difference is in 1912, the unionist people of Northern Ireland said that if you are going to force us against our will into an all-island Republic, we reserve a constitutional, democratic right; we have to resist that with any means. That is the only time that there is ever any justification where the will of the majority, as democratically expressed is overridden ….That is the only time that that can be justified. But we are not in that position and the DUP has no intention of being involved in anything which is remotely criminal or terrorist related. But the problem is finding half a dozen unionists in Northern Ireland who don’t believe that Francie Molloy and his party are still not up to their necks in criminality and to some degree still involved in terrorism.
Q.16: “When is the Ulster Resistance going to disarm?
Jim Wells: “It happened years ago.”
Questioner: “When did it happen?
Brian Fitzgerald: “… As I said earlier here tonight, it is very frustrating listening to what is going on. There is a huge effort that has been put in by a considerable number of politicians on this island to try to break the cycle of violence which we have all had to become accustomed to. A huge effort was put in by the likes of John Hume and many, many others.
Michael Reade: “I think we will have to call a halt because we are not going to find agreement. We wish you the very best of luck in finding agreement if at all possible. I hope regardless of what you thought about tonight, it was really a true and honest debate and that speakers this evening travelled long distances to be with us and I hope everybody appreciates that. Before we leave, Julitta wants to mention some future events …..
Julitta Clancy: “Thank you. Just to mention that we have a talk on April 10th on the Conflict Trauma Resource Group in Belfast who have done a study on the needs of UDR families. This is an example of the work that we are doing: we are looking at all sides and aspects of the conflict and all the pain that was there. Then on 24th April we have a talk on Easter 1916, the context of that legacy. I feel personally that rather than have jumped into the 1916 theme, this State should have prioritised how to work at building understanding and respect for all the traditions and how we give a more generous definition of Irishness than we have been giving up to now. But thank you very much and thanks to our three speakers and Mike Reade for chairing.” [Editor’s note: a further talk was held on 12 June ‘ Irish Involvement in the Great War’]
©Meath Peace Group
APPENDIX 1: Written speech of Sean Farren
Devolution and North-South Relations: Address to Meath Peace Group, 27 March 2006
“The prospect of some movement towards restoring the institutions of the GFA is now imminent. Before Easter the challenge will be put before all of the parties as to whether or not they want to participate in those institutions. The first step will be convening the Assembly elected in November 2003. We don’t have a very good record when it comes to facing such challenges but the coming opportunity is likely to be the last for some considerable time. Failure to achieve devolution and the restoration of the other institutions will amount to a significant lost opportunity. But it will not be a cost-free lost opportunity. Failure will mark a backwards step which will see key aspects of the Good Friday Agreement put on ice mean. More negatively because of the failure to develop political partnerships even deeper levels of apartheid than already exist are a likely consequence.
For some these may not be unwelcome outcomes. On the one hand there will be no requirement to power-share or develop partnerships with representatives of the other community. Secondly no commitment to participate in policing arrangements will be necessary. Furthermore, with direct rule ministers continuing to take decisions the difficulties of which will not have to addressed by local parties, the latter can continue to play the role of an irresponsible opposition. As long the economy continues to provide virtual full employment the levels of public dissatisfaction with direct rule will probably remain low. Indeed with the considerable injections of public funding promised over the next few years this is highly likely to remain the case. However, efforts to improve relationships between our communities will lack the example of public representatives making decisions together for the mutual benefit of all. Instead of working together we are very likely to continue regarding each other through the prism of our age-long suspicion and enmities.
In the event of failure to grasp the coming opportunity to restore our political institutions, similar comments can be made about North-South developments. In that situation North-South developments will focus almost exclusively on functional outcomes but will lack the transcending aim of promoting reconciliation and closer relationships between the people of Ireland, one of the key objectives of the Good Friday Agreement. The pace of North-South co-operation has undoubtedly intensified over the past decade. Evidence is to be seen in increased volumes of trade, the success of Tourism Ireland in boosting tourist numbers, the development of the Belfast-Dublin road and rail networks, the increasing number of cross-border hospital contracts for service provision, movement towards a single energy market for the whole island and plans to create an integrated North-South gas supply. Even cross-border roaming charges have figured as an important issue with Ireland leading the way for the rest of the EU on this matter.
These initiatives – and many others – highlight the ‘normalisation’ of practical co-operation with mutually beneficial outcomes. Indeed, the success of North-South co-operation in recent years is such that there is no longer a question over its capacity to deliver economic and social benefits on both sides of the border. But like the challenges facing us in terms of relationships between our communities, the scale of North-South co-operation is seriously constrained by the absence of the Assembly and of the North-South Council.
Moreover, this part of the Agreement has been disproportionately affected by suspension. Executive business is conducted by Direct Rule Ministers. British-Irish Council business continues. The SDLP is determined to ensure that that the potential of the North-South agenda is realised and that co-operation does not become a hostage to political stalemate. We want to see North-South co-operation raised to a new level of development – and we want as much of it as possible achieved under the auspices of restored political institutions. Beyond the political and practical case for broad-based North-South co-operation, there is growing acknowledgement of its importance in building trust and good relations between our communities within the North and across the island. As Co-operation Ireland has stated – “The promotion of effective North-South co-operation is an integral part of building peace on the island of Ireland.”
To maximise the benefits of North-South co-operation a step- change towards a much more integrated planning and delivery of projects is required. Nowhere is this more needed than in infrastructural development where between 90 and 100 billion euros are to be spent on the island’s infrastructure. We believe that unprecedented opportunities exist for not only the joint planning of projects but and for their joint delivery as well. We can do more together to get more together in terms of both more strategic outcomes and procurement and delivery gains. Obstacles of many kinds continue to impede North-South co-operation and partnerships, some minor, others of a substantial kind. These range from double charging and unnecessary delays in effecting financial transactions, to roaming charges and taxation anomalies arising from residence in one jurisdiction and work in the other. These need to be tackled with a real commitment to resolving the problems caused and removing barriers to mobility in people, goods and services throughout Ireland. The SDLP’s detailed proposals include plans for a new Transport and Infrastructure body, an all-Ireland Research Alliance, Marketing and Investment Co-operation, a Public Safety body and a joined-up anti-poverty strategy. In addition there are many other recommendations covering issues in health, education, the environment, agriculture, energy, etc. where enhanced forms of co-operation would yield enormous benefits. When it comes to such proposals, the real question has to be ‘why not?’ more than ‘why?’ But North-South can answer both questions and should no longer have to work so hard to justify itself or get a political start.
Because North South makes sense – and the arguments against it lack substance. It can deliver benefits to all of us: as consumers, as public service users, as workers, as entrepreneurs and investors, as service providers and as taxpayers. Not just along the eastern corridor between Dublin and Belfast, but for people living West of the Bann and West of the Shannon as well – where real investment is most needed. We can – and should – have a shared economy, shared spatial planning, shared approaches to community and social services, shared cultural experiences, shared health and educational services, etc. – all shared in a spirit of mutual respect and a common commitment to upholding human and civil rights in the manner set out in the Good Friday Agreement. It is critical that in meeting the challenge of the coming week we reflect seriously on the opportunities which are on offer for the people we represent and on the consequences if we fail to meet that challenge in the most positive ways possible. “
APPENDIX 2: Extracts from MPG Public Talk No. 55, “Where do we go from here?
7th March 2005, St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan
Professor Paul Bew (Dept. of Irish Politics, Q.U.B.): “We are in a new place. .. It may possibly be that the credibility of this process has taken a tremendous hit among ordinary people to the point that it actually becomes difficult to maintain. Even before all this happened, the NI Life and Times Survey showed that two thirds of Protestants and 50% of Catholics didn’t care if Stormont never came back”. And within the Irish Republic there is a crucial issue which is the survival of Irish democracy “because it is quite clear that the scale of what was going on was greater than the Irish Government believed last Autumn.” The institutions of the Agreement have only worked 19 months since 1998, he said. There were long delays on decommissioning and the present suspension was caused by the “extra-curricular activities of republicans”. Very few people now believe that the institutions would be restored this year but “there are people in the DUP who want to do this deal” and the republican movement has the incentive to come up with another form of words and to make some moves on the policing issue and IRA links. New ideas may have to be explored, said Professor Bew: “It doesn’t mean a deal without Sinn Féin in the governance of Northern Ireland. It means a new British-Irish Agreement. And there are certain things you could catch: the acceptance of the principle of consent, the fact that within unionism ‘north-southery’ is no longer as neuralgic in the way it once was, and that is one of the long-term achievements. That whole fear of the south within unionism has been drained, and therefore the possibility of putting together a package of North-South cooperation which was actually sustainable on a cross-community basis is there.”
Sean Farren, MLA: Former SDLP Minister, Sean Farren, agreed that there was widespread disillusionment which was shared to a considerable extent on both sides. “We may well as politicians be faced with a sense of “a plague on both your houses”, you had the opportunity, you didn’t take it.” The NI electorate could be called a cosetted electorate “when you think of the number of Assembly Members (108), the number of MPs (18), the number of local councillors (560) and 3 MEPs. All for a population of 1.7 million! Maybe we do have to be forced to take more responsibility for ourselves. I think the pressures on ourselves to resolve our problems have not been such that they have impelled us with a greater sense of urgency towards addressing those problems’. …He reminded the audience of unionist expectations from the Agreement. “At the top of their list would have been deliverance from a 30-year war, that, despite the rhetoric of it being directed against the occupying forces, was borne in much of its viciousness by the unionist/Protestant community.” The Agreement failed to build confidence in that particular aspect. “Commitments were made which were not delivered on. Some steps were taken. But they were always under pressure.” There was the Robert McCartney killing, and ‘on top of that the whole money-laundering, and the scale of criminality that is now beginning to unfold. This is not new. Underneath that there is a degree and a scale of criminality which is represented in diesel laundering, cigarette smuggling and so on. …So I believe that where we are at now is a watershed, a watershed that doesn’t require us to return and rewrite the Good Friday Agreement, but a watershed that is going to require a very firm stand on the part of the Irish Government. ….the scale and extent of what is now being revealed makes that, I believe, impossible for the Irish Government in a country the size of Ireland, to have a mafia-type organisation operating. And the big challenge that that poses to Sinn Fein in its association with that organisation is how to separate itself, can it separate itself?
The biggest problem is the whole future of policing arrangements. ”The new arrangement has worked remarkably well, given the circumstances … it is working remarkably well, it is transforming. And the number of southerners who are coming up to join the PSNI is quite significant.” However, a lot depends on the May election, “not least whether or not we can move into something that would revive, renew and maybe give us the prospect and the hope that some of the expectations that I referred to earlier can come back to motivate us in politics.”
Jim Wells, MLA: DUP environment spokesman, Jim Wells, MLA, said that in May 1998, “the vast majority of Ulster Unionists were prepared to make enormous concessions and to give up a tremendous degree of ground in order to stop their community being tortured by the Provisional IRA. It is difficult to comprehend the hurt and grief that has caused to the Protestant community and the extent to which they were prepared to go in order to take that terror out of the community.” However, he believed that all the DUP predictions about Sinn Féin/IRA intentions in May 1998 have proved to be right. “There’s one fundamental iceberg that you cannot get around. Is it right that any political party affiliated to terrorism and gangsterism should have a say or a place in any democratic society? I believe that no western democracy would tolerate it, and indeed your own Taoiseach said that there was no place for Sinn Féin in the government of the Irish Republic because they have a private army. “Should we allow the entire political process in Northern Ireland to grind to a halt because one party cannot divorce itself from criminal elements? We believe it shouldn’t.” There are other options, he said, including a voluntary coalition with the UUP, the SDLP and the Alliance Party with Sinn Fein in opposition. That would represent 75% of the people of Northern Ireland, a much higher proportion than the present coalition in the Irish Republic.” Such a coalition would, he believed, bring stability to Northern Ireland, and it would remove the veto “which Sinn Fein/IRA effectively has over all progress. If we’re going to have to wait until Sinn Fein/IRA decide to redeem themselves and go down the route of normal democratic politics, we could wait for decades. And indeed the really frightening scenario is that despite all the bank robberies and criminality and terrorism that Sinn Fein were covertly involved in these last seven years, their vote actually remains the same or increases.”
The DUP would in certain circumstances go into government with Sinn Fein but Sinn Fein would be ‘a totally different anima’: “Sinn Fein would have had to completely divest itself of any shred of weaponry… …the whole army council structure, the whole cell structure, would have to be completely dismantled. There’d have to be a complete resolution to the Disappeared and to those who have been sent out to other parts of the world, who have been excluded from the island of Ireland under the threat of death. There would have to be major major changes. And then there would have to something like a sanitation period to prove that they’ve actually done all that, and there would have to be a mechanism where if it were proved that they hadn’t , then we could revert to some form of control of our affairs which excluded them… we have an absolute ultimate bottom line. As long as Adams and McGuinness are armed to the teeth and involved with criminality we are not going into an executive with them. Absolutely never! And I don’t think any democrat can say anything different.”
APPENDIX 3: Biographical notes on speakers
Sean Farren, MLA (SDLP) was elected to the new NI Assembly for North Antrim in 1998 and re-elected in 2003. He was Minister for Higher and Further Education in the Executive from November 1999 until December 2001 and from December 2001 to October 2002 he served as Minister for Finance. His previous career in politics included membership of the Assembly for N. Antrim (1982-86), and SDLP chairman (1981 to 1986). He was a member of the New Ireland Forum in 1983-84 and 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 1996-98 which concluded in the Belfast Agreement.
Francie Molloy, MLA (Sinn Féin), Mayor of Dungannon, was elected to the new NI Assembly representing Mid Ulster in 1998 and was re-elected in 2003. He chaired the Finance and Personnel Committee in the Assembly and was also a member of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee. He has been active in his area’s political and community life since his teens and was one of the first people in his area to join the Civil Rights Movement. During the 1981 Hunger Strike, he was Director of Elections for Bobby Sands and Owen Carron. He was elected to Dungannon Council in 1985, was mayor of Dungannon in 2001 and was recently re-elected to the Ard Chomairle of Sinn Féin. Francie is chair of the Sinn Féin Equality Commission and party spokesperson on Finance.
Jim Wells, MLA (DUP) was elected to the new NI Assembly in 1998 representing South Down, and was re-elected in 2003. He is the DUP group secretary at Stormont and the party’s spokesperson on the Environment. He served on the Assembly’s Enterprise,Trade and Investment Committee and is the DUP representative on the Assembly Commission – the body which manages the Stormont building and its staff. He is known in Stormont circles as the “green wing” of the DUP. He has a long record in local government, having served on 3 separate councils since 1981: Lisburn, Banbridge and Down, and is currently a member of Down District Council. Jim was the first elected member of the DUP to speak at a public gathering in the Republic. The occasion was the Glenties Summer School in 1988.
APPENDIX 4: MEATH PEACE GROUP: ACTIVITIES 2005-06 (September 2006)
(short summary of our work over the last 2 years)
A. Public talks 2005-2006 (continuing the series commenced in 1993)
54. Feb. 25, 2005 “The Good Friday Agreement: the Future”. Dermot Ahern, T.D., Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dominic Bradley, MLA (SDLP) and John O’Dowd, MLA (Sinn Fein). Chaired by Michael Reade (LMFM)
55. March 7, 2005 “Where do we go from here?” Paul Bew, Professor of Irish Politics, QUB, Sean Farren, MLA (SDLP) and Jim Wells, MLA (DUP). Chaired by Michael Reade (LMFM)
56. May 9th, 2005 “Bombings and their aftermath – Birmingham and other experiences”. Michael Nangle, Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Jacinta de Paor, L.I.V.E. Coordinator, Glencree Centre, Gareth Porter, H.U.R.T. Group, Lurgan, Co. Armagh. Chaired by Michael Reade (LMFM)
57. June 20th, 2005 “Paramilitarism, Criminality and the Good Friday Agreement”
Michael McDowell, TD, Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform
Chaired by Michael Reade (LMFM)
58. Nov. 14th, 2005 “Who Can we Trust?” West Tyrone Voice Victims’ Group. Dr Hazlett Lynch, Billy Harpur, Gamble Moore, Raymond Finlay. Chaired by Roy Garland
59. March 27th, 2006 “Devolution and Cross-border Cooperation: prospects and realities”. Sean Farren, MLA (SDLP), Francie Molloy, MLA (Sinn Féin), Jim Wells, MLA (DUP). Chaired by Michael Reade (LMFM)
60. April 10th, 2006 “The Legacy of War” – experiences of UDR families
Martin Snoddon (Director, Conflict Trauma Resource Centre, Belfast) and Rosemary McCullough and Teena Patrick (former ‘Green Finches’). Chaired by Roy Garland
61. April 24th, 2006 “Easter 1916 – the Irish Rebellion” Dr. Charles Townshend (Prof. of Modern History, Keele University, author of “Easter 1916 – the Irish Rebellion”) Chaired by Brendan O’Brien (author of The Long War)
62. June 12, 2006 ‘Irish Involvement in the Great War, 1914-1918’. Professor Paul Bew (Q.U.B.) and Tom Burke, MBE (Chair, Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association). Chaired by Cathal MacCoille (RTE). Held in Ardboyne Hotel, Navan
B. School (Transition Years) Programme (conducted by Judith Hamill and Julitta Clancy)
1. St Joseph’s (Mercy) Secondary School, Navan and
2) Colaiste Phobail Rathcairn (2005-06)
Programme conducted in Spring 2005 (St Joseph’s ) and Autumn 2005 and Spring 2006 (both schools):
Workshops and discussions on Identity, Prejudice, History of the conflict, Victims, Violence, Sectarianism, Non-Violent action for justice, Healing and Reconciliation, Prisoners and prison conditions, Fair Trade, World Trade, Immigration, Parades, Interface communities. The students at St Joseph’s also organised a Fair Trade seminar and exhibition (May 2005) which was attended by parents, teachers, members of the Navan business community and local political representatives. Guest speakers in 2005-06 included: Sean Ó Baoill (Mediation Northern Ireland), Conor Maskey (Intercomm, N. Belfast), Anne Carr (Community Dialogue, Belfast), Michael Murray (An Tobar, Ardbraccan), Michael Nangle (Lord Mayor of Birmingham), Gareth Porter (H.U.R.T. victims support group, Lurgan), Grainne Prior (Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas), Pat Magee (republican ex-prisoner), Martin Snoddon (Conflict Trauma Resource Centre), Meath Probation Service, Garda Siochana (Navan), Joy Eniola (Oxfam), Michael O’Sullivan (Dalgan Park), Chris O’Halloran (Belfast Interface Project) and the Samaritans (Drogheda).
Study visits to: Ulster Museum, Belfast (Conflict exhibition), Intercomm and New Lodge area, Belfast, Collins Barracks Museum (study of contested spaces, talk by Geraldine White), Mountjoy Prison (male and female prisons, talk and tour conducted by prison officers), Maze Prison (tour of compounds and H-Blocks) and Conflict Trauma Resource Centre, Belfast (Martin Snoddon)
3) Dunshaughlin Community College (May 2006) – visit to Northern Ireland Assembly, Stormont. Tour of Assemby buildings, talk by educational officer and meeting with Patricia Lewsley, MLA (Chair of SDLP). Afternoon: visit to Intercomm Group, Belfast (talk and tour of New Lodge Interface area by Conor Maskey of Intercomm group)
C. Heritage Study and Networking:
Recognising the key role that heritage can play in the work of reconciliation and building understanding, the Meath Peace Group organised and facilitated several heritage days for Northern groups, visiting sites in Meath and Louth. Groups who took part included victims’ groups (such as the H.U.R.T. group, Lurgan) and community groups (e.g. COSTA South Tyrone groups). In addition, members of the Meath Peace Group participated in the monthly dialogue meetings and other events organised throughout the year by the Louth-based cross-border and cross-community group, the Guild of Uriel (founded 1995) including weekend visit to Enniskillen and Rossnowlagh, and also took part in meetings of the Healing through Remembrance project (Belfast) and events organised by many other groups.
Update compiled by Julitta Clancy (September 2006)
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