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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 March 2008, 13:10 GMT
The price of peace
By John Ware
BBC News

In the run-up to the tenth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, BBC reporter John Ware looks back at how peace was brokered in Northern Ireland.

President Bush's former special envoy to Ireland has signalled his distaste for what he regarded as No. 10 Downing Street's indulgence of IRA demands during the Northern Ireland peace process.

Dr Mitchell Reiss says he had "some pretty violent disagreements" with No. 10 over how much "pain to inflict" on Sinn Fein to push them into delivering their side of the Good Friday Agreement.

Dr Mitchell Reiss
Dr Reiss said he had "pretty violent disagreements" with No. 10

Reiss believes Sinn Fein had become used to No. 10 "doling out benefits" in the face of Republican demands in exchange for decommissioning of weapons, ending criminality and endorsing the new Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein signed up to the Belfast Agreement ten years ago next month, but it took Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness nearly nine years to deliver on decommissioning and policing - both pre-requisites for the unionist leader Rev Ian Paisley's historic decision to form today's power sharing Executive with Sinn Fein.

Although Adams and McGuinness raised the spectre of dissident splits whenever the IRA was pushed to deliver progress, Irish security sources have said that threat was limited and intelligence showed Adams to be in "uncontested control" of the republican movement.

Reiss's comments to the BBC echo those of the former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson who has said Tony Blair was "always saying 'give more, do more, concede more'," despite "excessive and unreasonable" republican demands.

Jonathan Powell - Mr Blair's chief of staff and peace process fixer will give his version of events in his book to be published next month.

Tom Kelly, No 10's spokesman at the time, denies that Blair and Powell were too solicitous of the IRA.

Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams
Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams

A former senior Irish government official, however, says that No. 10 "love-bombed Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness" citing Powell's invitation to Adams and McGuinness to a post-wedding party last summer although they did not attend.

The former unionist leader David Trimble was also invited but says he had "transport difficulties".

Following his appointment as special envoy to Ireland in 2004, Reiss and other US and Irish government officials became concerned at what they saw as a relaxed attitude by No. 10 to IRA criminality, including a string of IRA armed robberies culminating in the 26.5m stolen from the Northern Bank in Belfast and the murder of Robert McCartney in a bar brawl involving several Sinn Fein supporters who also wiped away the forensics.

Reiss knew Paisley's bottom line for a power-sharing deal with Sinn Fein was their endorsement of the police.

But the IRA had yet to get rid of its weapons, even though nearly seven years had passed since Adams and McGuiness had signed the Belfast Agreement.

'Red lines'

So Reiss decided to "put down some red lines" by crossing Adams off the guest list of the White House's St Patrick's Day celebration in March 2005 and imposed a fundraising restriction on Sinn Fein visas.

By July, the IRA had formally ordered all units to dump their arms. Even so, a former senior Irish government source says at the 11th hour the IRA had threatened to call off the deal unless some senior members were allowed to keep weapons for their personal protection.

The source says that during the wrangling over decommissioning, No. 10 had been prepared to "accept that 95% was pretty good." Tom Kelly says: "I don't believe that is an accurate reading."

According to Mitchell Reiss, however, the Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell stood firm against the IRA's 11th hour demands for weapons, likening him to "Horatio on the bridge." The IRA then backed down. Gerry Adams denied there were any demands to hold on to guns.

By July the IRA had formally ordered all units to dump their arms
By July the IRA had formally ordered all units to dump their arms

In November 2005, Adams asked Reiss to lift the fundraising ban in recognition of the IRA having decommissioned. Adams wanted to attend a fundraising gala event in New York. Reiss refused because Sinn Fein was still refusing to recognise the police and the IRA was still engaged in criminality.

Adams contacted No. 10 and, according to Reiss, persuaded them to telephone the White House to argue for the ban being lifted. Reiss only discovered this when No. 10 telephoned him as a courtesy 30 minutes before the call was due to be made.

This, says Reiss, made him "extraordinarily angry." He was at a New York City airport and "got into a shouting match over my cell phone" with No. 10 "with everybody else in the waiting room wondering who this maniac was screaming at the top of his voice to try to turn around a decision."

Had No. 10 made the call, says Reiss "it would have sent exactly the wrong message to Sinn Fein - and through Sinn Fein to the IRA - about policing and violence, and I think that would have set back the cause of peace, not advanced it."

One US official says relations with No. 10 became "open and nasty" because Reiss insisted the fundraising ban should stay. They believed No.10 was preparing to fudge on policing. But because Reiss knew that policing was a pre-requisite for Paisley's agreement to power sharing, he maintained the ban.

Finally, in December 2006 Adams did recognise the police. Ian Paisley then agreed to go into government with Sinn Fein headed by him and the former IRA Chief of Staff Martin McGuiness as First Ministers with equal status.

Sticks or carrots?

So, was it American sticks or British carrots that finally pushed Sinn Fein and the DUP across the finishing line?

All parties to the peace process, Reiss included, agree that a lasting settlement wouldn't have been achieved without Powell and Blair's intense involvement. But Reiss also believes his hard line helped play a "decisive" role in clinching the final agreement.

Reiss says No. 10 - and he means Powell - "felt that the United States was messing up the peace process." "Many" British officials "weren't reluctant to share their anger with me."

But, says Reiss, "in one of my last meetings at No.10... very gracefully, very graciously, people admitted that they had been mistaken and that the American way forward was the right way." It will be interesting to see if, in his book, Powell agrees.

John Ware presents The Price of Peace on Radio 4 at 1330GMT on Sundays from 2 March, or afterwards at the Radio 4 website.


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