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Thursday, 2 March, 2000, 07:53 GMT
What future for Northern Ireland?
Meetings have been taking place to try to breathe life back into the Northern Ireland peace process following London's reimposition of direct rule.
We have taken your questions and comments on the future for peace in Northern Ireland live on Talking Point On Air on Sunday.
A few thoughts.... There was no date in the GFA concerning decommissioning of weapons by anyone in a January/February timeframe. The GFA was an international agreement between two countries. Britain suspends the agreement a supposed international treaty. I say it's time to take it to the United Nations.
I predict a gloomy future for Northern Ireland: both parties are looking backwards. Thus, this conflict looks pretty similar to the Arab-Israeli one. May be Irish folks are more reasonable, though?
Why don't the people of Northern Ireland consider independence instead of whether to be a part of UK or Ireland?
Decommissioning must involve three elements:
1) Both sides' paramilitaries must disarm
With greater co-operation between the Irish Government and Northern Ireland, and without the fear of the gun and the bomb, who knows in 10 or 20 years time, they could well be united by popular request. Not from the threat of violence. Failing that I am willing to give Northern Ireland to the United States of America, as a millennium present.
To Seamus from the USA: Over that past year the province has experienced a sense of normality which has been absent for a long time, that is until the assembly was suspended. The majority of the population want to live in a place where they feel safe. But the IRA and other terrorists are not fighting for our freedom they are denying citizens their basic right for freedom and peace.
The Ulster Unionists may only make up 2% of the UK population, but that is because Northern Ireland is only a small part of the UK. What actually matters is that they are the majority party in Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein are the fourth largest party and were only part of the legislator because they possess guns. And while this explains why they are loath to get rid of guns, it does no good to the democratic process to have one party saying, in effect, "do what we want or we'll shoot people". The Ulster Unionist demands of "do what we want (start decommissioning) or we'll pull out of the legislator" seem light by comparison.
The real nub of the issue here is that
the armed groups are being asked to
vote for their own cessation, their
reason for existence is under threat as
the offer of a genuine peace is
seriously undermining their stance. The offer of a democratic peace is very much of secondary importance to these groups. They wish to remain folklore heroes and freedom fighters. The way forward
in this process therefore lies squarely
with the armed groups accepting that
they are no longer relevant. Who
amongst them is prepared to take
Attending primary and secondary schools in Ireland, I trudged through the litany of miseries and failures that make up the Irish history curriculum. Desperate misfortune has plagued Ireland for over a thousand years, and the Republic has only seen slight improvements over the past 10 years (if news reports are anything to go by). I sincerely believe that in our lifetimes we will never see a solution to the Northern Ireland problem.
Séamus ÓBraonin, USA
Could the following be a solution?
The question is who needs these bomb explosion, atrocities etc? I think that a referendum should be called to decide whether street war is to be continued or not, the referendum should oblige the IRA to decommission its weapons.
In response to Rachael Spoelman, the reason there is no sectarian divide in the Irish Republic is that the Protestant minority has been reduced to insignificance (through the promotion of 'Ne Temere', among other things). Similar trends within Ulster would have seen the Roman Catholic minority fall to roughly 7% of the population (versus the current 40%), by which point the republican movement would almost certainly have withered away.
Jim Loughman, USA
I am deeply worried about the suspension of the institutions by the British Government. How can there be a chance for progress if the British Government does not respect the democratic vote and will of the people in all of Ireland. What did I vote for, does it mean that articles 3 and 4 are also reinstated into our constitution? Does it mean that we still lay claim to the north? Mr. Mandelson jumped the gun too quick as far as I am concerned, what was the hurry to suspend, they spent years trying to get a peace agreement and in one stroke of the pen he has destroyed it all. Well done, I hope you are proud of that and by the way there is more than one-armed group in the North, not just the IRA.
As an American, I am often ashamed at the breathtaking ignorance displayed in many of the comments from my fellow countrymen who believe that the IRA are indeed an "army" engaged in some legitimate struggle. Rubbish! This is a tiny, Marxist cell of criminals and anyone interested in what the PEOPLE of Northern Ireland want should know that every referendum and poll endorses keeping within the United Kingdom in some measure. All the IRA/Sein Fein distortions cannot change this fact. The British Government have done a terrible job in getting the point across in the USA; you have long lost the battle of ideas here I'm afraid.
It's like Ireland is under a spell of an age-old curse that hasn't worked out yet...
Part of the agreement [in Sierra Leone] was there would be disarmament. I believe the treaty stipulated that the disarmament would take place within 60 days of the peace accord. The peace accord was actually signed in July 199 but up to now there have been problems with disarmament and in fact you would think because the gunmen were given blanket amnesty, they would be more than happy to hand in their weapons, but no. The agreement has survived but disarmament is what everyone is worried about.
I feel that if you want to forgive and reconcile then you need to know what you're forgiving and reconciling. Without the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that wouldn't have been the case in South Africa.
I was actually prevented from having a lot of Catholic friends for my own safety, more than anything. I went to a Protestant school where there were many cases of bullying where some of my school friends would have friends of the opposite religion. It wasn't until I started working in Belfast that I became integrated and until that point I didn't socialise or have any links with anyone, which I feel is sad and I wouldn't want any of my children growing up in that environment.
From the years of occasional news reports on the conflict in Northern
Ireland, it seems to me that the masses of people on both sides are sick of
the problems and want to compromise.
As with so many other situations, it's only the people at the top of both
sides that don't want to compromise. From what I see in Northern Ireland,
these leaders behave like warlords that are trying to protect their grip on
power - the only way they can do this is to maintain the conflict.
It's time for the people to replace the leadership of their communities.
There may be no other way to end the violence.
The institutions have to be restored immediately. Otherwise you could basically consider the Good Friday Agreement finished. What Peter Mandelson has done unilaterally collapsing the institutions, he's created a lot of problems for the Irish government and their constitution and created a lot of problems for the nationalist community as a whole.
Can anyone explain why the South of Ireland, Eire, has not had to suffer the violence that Ulster has suffered. Could it be because there the Protestants did not have to put up with a lack of civil rights, ie, discrimination with regard to education, jobs, housing etc? It seems to have been forgotten that these troubles began back in 1969 because the Catholics took to the streets demanding equality. The Protestants are reaping what they sowed
Why is it the IRA who has to disarm? Why not all paramilitary groups?
Bring back Mo Mowlam! Bring back the Assembly! England , back off!! Allow this country to solve its own problems so that nobody else can be blamed for whatever happens.
Brenda Bodenham, Northern Ireland
One of the reasons why it is so difficult to get paramilitaries to dis-arm, is that they have spent their lives believing that their only source of power is their weapons. It is hard to persuade them that democratic empowerment is genuinely a real substitute. How do you get around this problem?
Although we have really given the peace process a chance. There must be some point at which we admit that we are not dealing with politicians but leaders and spokespeople of armed groups with opposite points of view. If we admit that these facts then we must
also accept that they do not accept democracy and that compromise is not accepted by them. Democracy is compromise without which we cannot expect the troubles
There's too much talking, too much evil, there's too much jealousy - both sides are the same.
One of the biggest problems with the current situation in the North the way that things become focused on certain issues. We are currently focused on the act of disarming or decommissioning. However, this is a situation, that has been falsely created and it ignores the bigger picture. Mr Trimble has successfully managed to focus all attention on the IRA and it's lack of what amounts to a symbolic gesture. And yet Unionists can never see that a 90+ %Protestant, armed police force, an armed British Army presence and a number of armed Loyalist groups help to make up the bigger picture of arms, protection and justice in the North.
Occupying lands and betraying liberties has been a Great British past-time over many centuries and the six counties of the North of Ireland is no exception, or rather it is since an occupation continues by a foreign army whereas elsewhere the Great British retreat and concomitant independence from British rule has occurred. Notions of the IRA handing in weapons to satisfy the no surrender mentality of Unionists is an unthinkable end-game. Britain should
declare a withdrawal of their troops and thereafter the democratic institutions
longed for by the people of the North of Ireland could begin in earnest.
I think the peace is possible. But peace like truth needs our continuous and intensive support.
In spite of many years failures in peace agreement in this issue, we must not forget that this time is very short in historical perspective. We must not have forget either that it is always much easier to give up than fight for peace, believe in peace and a better world.
I am deeply worried about the suspension of the successfully running institutions by the British Government. How can there be a chance for progress if the British Government does not respect the democratic vote and will of the people in Northern Ireland?
George Mitchell disappeared from the talks and things quickly went to hell in a handbasket. He has flatly refused all requests from the highest levels to return. Is there a lesson in all this about the two constitutional systems and traditions, perhaps especially in Sen. Mitchell's subsequent comment to the effect that MPs tend to talk and to speechify (my phraseology) AT each other? If so, does this suggest that real solutions for NI's future might require some very radical, outside-the-box type of thinking about institutional and constitutional arrangements?
I am worried the IRA may have gone the route of the Sicilian independence movement and has turned into a mafia. The means for keeping a resistance movement alive in an occupied country replicate many of the skills and actions of a criminal organisation. (such as smuggling, intimidation, theft etc) It is a very real worry that many members IRA may have become so dependant on illegal means to support their life styles and status in their communities that they will never give up their arms or their struggle, which serves as a cover for their illegal activities.
That both sides hand over their weapons to third parties of THEIR OWN CHOICE AND CONFIDENCE- the Republicans say to Sen Kennedy, and the Orangemen say to somebody in Holland, for the period of negotiations etc it being understood that if the position reverts to where they all go back to the barricades, these weapons would be handed back to the original owners and no questions asked. Chances are that this will not happen. And if it does, at least serious efforts have been tried. This present hurdle is more a matter of ego now..and the above formula might well soften that.
I don't believe that any of us in the UK or elsewhere are qualified to be able to make a meaningful judgement on the Northern Ireland problem. Everybody there has the "situation" deeply imbedded in their psychology. As it is that sensitive, we probably don't help matters by offering "helpful advice" and pontification from the mainland. We need to leave the elected leaders of Northern Ireland to sort this out.
Regarding the Belfast agreement, why can't both the Irish and British governments arrange a summit in a neutral venue for all participants. For example Iceland, St Pierre off the coast of Newfoundland, the Cayman Islands. In a sense this would generate more trust for all.
Decommissioning was always guaranteed to be the rolling roadblock on the
road to 'peace' - whatever that means. Positive symbolic acts are not
enough, it's not a case of taking the gun away from the man, we need to take
the gun out of the man. 'A good door needs no lock' - Lao Tszu
'Peace' has been too automatic a word which has raised too many false, easy
hopes in the Northern Ireland situation. A change of vocabulary is necessary, let's call it the 'healing process' and take the drama out of all this.
I have thought for many years that the only long term possibility for lasting peace in NI is the breaking down of the barriers between the two main tribes - the mainly Protestant unionists and the mainly Catholic nationalists.
It has always seemed to me that the only way to achieve this is the removal of the separation of the tribes during their formative years especially in their years in secondary education and integration if the education of both tribes - ideally, of course, with as much agreement from all sides and as little disruption as possible.
Various commentators have suggested that since a majority of republicans, nationalists, and unionists seem to prefer peace to violence, we will therefore have peace in Northern Ireland. Granted, this is a necessary condition for peace to occur, but it is not enough. The question that the parties are wrestling with now is not, "do we want peace;" it is, "on terms do we want peace?" Until this question is resolved, there will not be a durable peace in Ulster because elements of the republican and/or nationalist communities will be tempted to use force in order to pressure the other parties to agree to peace on their terms.
Are both sides willing to hand victory to Ian Paisley and his cohorts who would surely be the only beneficiaries if the talks completely stall and violence resumes? He must think he's won the national lottery.
I am a Welshman and I would never consider myself to be English. But I don't hate the English and nor would I say they are imperialistic over the Welsh, Scottish or Irish. The people of Northern Ireland have always voted in favour to be part of the UK (so has Wales and Scotland), that is why they are democratically governed by London, and will be continue to be governed by London as long as they are in favour of it!
The solution to NI problem is easier than most think.
The unionists should stop marching and displaying their relentless victory showing things that took place centuries ago.
The vast majority of ordinary people in the North also want peace, and the IRA, on whom the spotlight has been focussed, have maybe 300 - 400 members. The peace will continue because the armed groups do not have the mass support that they did in the 1970's. Unfortunately a solution to the many issues still apparent in Northern Ireland today will not be easy to find due to the set up of the Stormont parliament on purely sectarian lines.
Grainne Phillips, Ireland
Ireland was invaded subject to divide-and-rule by England. The IRA are cannot be called Terrorists, they are only trying to return their land to its original state prior to occupation by England. Terrorism is always born because of state Terrorism.
It is good to see Alan Murphy, USA point out that the IRA do not have the support of the vast majority of the people they claim they are trying to liberate. If they knew most of the people of N. Ireland wanted to be part of the republic, they would be kicking and screaming for there to be a referendum.
Where on earth do Americans get their ideas about Northern Ireland from ( a comic strip??? )
And, for heaven's sake, DON'T dignify the IRA with the term 'army'. You are heaping great insult on real men and women who have actually fought for their country - and I mean 'country' as in geo-political boundary, not some pie in the sky notion like 'the 'island of Ireland'.
The only solution is to incorporate Ulster into the UK completely with no local assembly just county councils. The 3 mainland parties, Labour, Tory and Lib Dem should fight all the Ulster seats not leave it to SDLP, Unionists and Alliance. Finally religious segregation in Ulster schools must be abolished as kids who are taught together may learn to live in peace together.
If the IRA really is an army, perhaps we can ask its members to take their weapons and do a spot of peacekeeping in Bosnia, Cyprus, etc.
This would keep them busy and allow everyone else to get on with life.
In the first place the Northern Ireland is part of the Ireland. Presently, the British have invaded the country and they are trying to keep it forcibly. In the final solution Northern Ireland should remain apart of Northern Ireland and not Britain. The status of Northern Ireland within the must be decided on internally.
Michael Grazebrook, UK
Whilst according to Joe Crawford of Scotland we
are not capable of making our own minds up. It is clear that he, and most of the protagonists,
have made up their minds, and no amount of fact, negative consequences, potential fallout
or further suffering will change those minds.
Why can the Assembly not continue without the Ulster Unionists? After all it did operate without the Sinn Fein for 80 years. It would be interesting to see how the Unionist would go about frustrating the will of the Assembly.
Ian Richardson clearly hasn't any understanding of the situation within the Unionist community in Northern Ireland. Unionism split right down the middle over the Belfast Agreement, and if the referendum were held today, Unionists would unquestionably oppose that agreement by a substantial majority.
Craig Harry, England
The IRA are not an army - they are a terrorist force. They plant bombs in shopping centres, kidnap, torture and murder. The British Army is answerable to democratically elected government and is not a Unionist organisation as Republican propaganda would have the more gullible believe. The people of Ulster do not want to be a part of the Irish Republic and Ulster is not ruled by England - it is a democratic part of the UK
At the end of the day, the question should be "Do the players involved want the peace process to continue or not?" We know the people do, but the terrorist organisations?
We all know, and have done for the last 15 years, that these organisations are Mafia based gangs, using drugs, protections and other criminal activities to create their wealth, but hiding their operations behind a political fence.
Muiris, Wales (at present!)
Isn't it typical of UK news coverage that all we hear is the Unionist voice berating the IRA for not decommissioning. Maybe I misunderstand the Agreement, but was the idea not that ALL paramilitary groups (that includes Loyalists too) should decommission by some time in May 2000?
Jorg Haider has entered government in Austria without killing anyone, being convicted for pro terrorist offences or refusing to show any remorse. There has been international outcry with EU sanctions being applied. Meanwhile, in our crazy little state, Martin McGuinness, a former commander of the Londonderry IRA has become a member of the cabinet in the same way as Haider. Have there been repercussions, outcry or sanctions - NO.
Vin Wright, UK
The IRA WILL NEVER HAND OVER THEIR ARMS. The IRA of yester year is gone. There are hardly any of those in today's IRA that understand what they are fighting for. The actions of the IRA are always published, yet the beatings and the murders, rapes etc of the unionists are kept secondary.
The politicians will congratulate themselves once more and sit back to bask in the glow of glory, when in reality no real progress will have been made. And when the glow fades and the politicians are again faced with real political work for the people of Northern Ireland, they will invent another issue with which to stall, for the media to seize upon as a crisis that will once again having us staring into this "abyss."
Trevor Blayney, N. Ireland
As Dave from Scotland correctly points out, the IRA is not an army and since they do not have the support of the vast majority of the people they claim to be liberating, they are not freedom fighters. Undefeated real armies do in fact decommission weapons all the time. The US army has decommissioned large numbers of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
The IRA are not an army - they are a terrorist force. All the squabbling and who is to blame will probably long be forgotten in the passages of time. However, if we fail now, history will remark that a real opportunity to deliver peace to a long-suffering people was badly squandered.
Personally I think whilst all guns are silent we should press ahead for lasting peace (albeit carefully). If we give up now, we not only submit future generations to fear and suffering, but we also impose a sense of futility on the victims of the past.
The recent break down in the disarmament process with the IRA speaking in terms of a "military victory" instead of a peaceful resolution, is proof positive that one should not, and indeed can not, negotiate with a terrorist organisation.
Hard-liners within his party want to see the weapons and ammunition destroyed in one great pyre, an idealistic and unrealistic position. That together with his backing down over the Orangemen marches has left his position teetering on the edge. What better way for Trimble than to boost his own position by using a practical twist on the Good Friday agreement which everyone sympathetic to his views can relate to, thus giving a political drive to his agenda? Bizarrely, he couldn't lose because if there had been a significant and sudden shift in IRA policy everyone who would history remember?
Ian Richardson, Cambridge, UK
What is the point in fighting for Ireland anyway? Do they not see that Europe is giving more laws than Britain at the moment? The process will survive only if people want it to, and tell their representatives that they must persevere.
Every side has committed sins against the other: all should relinquish their arms and try to forgive one another. 'Let he who hath not sinned cast the first stone'. All are imperfect. No one is better than anyone else. We should try, try and try again, even if we are weary and discontented, and impatient with other people. There is no other way.
What everyone forgets is that the IRA are an army on cease-fire, who did not sign up to the Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Fein, who did sign the Mitchell Principles, and who did sign the GFA, are elected officials, committed to the peace process. What other army in the world ever gave up their weaponry before there was a final settlement? To collapse the institutions was to slap around 300,000+ voters on the island of Ireland right in the face. How can Mandy come in and collapse a working government, break an international treaty, throw the people of the north, the people who get it in the neck, into utter panic, sadness and despair? Just how does a government justify those actions, knowing full well the results?
When in the history of warfare has an undefeated army been asked to hand over its weapons in any kind of peace accord? I don't think that the comments from the US are particularly pro IRA. They are objective observations which seem to be non existent in great Britain due to the fact that sadly the majority of people in the UK have an inability to think for themselves and are reliant on an aggressively right wing Media to form their opinions.
Rev John Joshva Raja, Scotland/India
11 Feb 00 | Northern Ireland
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24 Feb 00 | Northern Ireland
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