Northern Ireland Peace Process: Discussion
Thursday, 13 October 2011 Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement Debate ..Dail Eireann. Comhchoiste um Fhorfheidhmiu Aoine an Cheasta...Chairman/Cathaoirleach Dominic Hannigan,TD/FD
Deputy Frank Feighan: I welcome the witnesses. We were in Belfast last week, along with Deputy Ó Ríordáin, and we went to the Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich in west Belfast, which was a revelation, showing how community enterprise can work. We also went to Duncairn Gardens and Alexandra Park and saw the groundwork that has been done. I am heartened at the leadership and sacrifice that people such as the witnesses have made over the years.
Deputy Ó Ríordáin is right in saying that we were in denial down here. My grandfather, who came from Crossmaglen, was in prison with Deputy Ó Ríordáin’s grandfather; I did not know that. My other grandfather, in Boyle, County Roscommon, was a Sinn Féin councillor; I did not know that until I got involved with the local council in 1999, because he went on to join the Garda. We lived in a kind of utopia and if we went to England or to the United States, Northern Ireland’s problems were nothing to do with us. However, Northern Ireland’s problems were in fact intertwined with Ireland, and it affected how we lived. The barracks of the Connaught Rangers were 100 yards from my house. We did not really understand the significance of the fact that hundreds of thousands of men from the west of Ireland fought in the Great War alongside the Ulster regiments. I have been part of the Connaught Rangers Association for the last 15 years. Over the years, we commemorated 11 November, although most people did not fully understand. We are working together to achieve these things because previously, we all lived in a bubble, thinking it was not our problem.
When de Valera set up this great country, he had a vision of maidens dancing at the crossroads. At all these crossroads now there are little housing estates, and there are people in those housing estates who do not represent the society to which we all aspire. In my own town last week, there was a fire-bombing in which a young girl died. These social problems are in every town and village, and if people had the excuse that those in the North had, I do not think we would be able to contain it or have the will to deal with it. We are now dealing with a society that is very different from the one that existed 20 or 30 years ago. The family unit and local ties have broken down. We have rights, but most of these young people do not have responsibilities. As a TD I could walk down the street and have young people abuse me, even in good times. I am simply saying that what the deputation is dealing with is significant. Last week I saw the work that has gone into it and this should be recognised. I was not surprised but it was wonderful to see people from both sides of the community putting a great sacrifice into the show and that will continue.
We had the Love Ulster campaign or march in Dublin and every fruitcake in the country jumped on the bandwagon to riot. It was heartening to see that one, two and three months later the Garda knocked on people’s doors and they had video evidence. People were charged and that softened their cough. Let us consider the riots in the Ardoyne or the Limestone Road. Is there an opportunity now for the PSNI to use that video evidence and charge whoever the perpetrators are on both sides of the community or is that simply not politically correct at the moment? We should face down the growing trend of using the excuse that they come from a broken home or an underprivileged background. We all came from that and if we all took that view no one would stand up and be strong as the deputation has done.
Chairman: Will you be brief, Deputy Feighan, because five others are offering?
Deputy Frank Feighan: I believe we can work together given the links here today. There should be more groups from this committee, the Parliament and the country going up to visit both sides to see exactly what is taking place.