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
Chairman: I thank all the delegates for their attendance today and for being so open and frank in their presentations. I also thank the members of the committee for the range of questions. We had a very wide-ranging debate and I think we have learned much about the issues being faced by people at the grassroots level. This committee can help to raise awareness about these issues. I suggest that a transcript of today’s proceedings be sent to the Taoiseach and he can pass it on to the commemoration committee which he is forming.
I will ask Senator McAleese to make some concluding remarks.
Senator Martin McAleese: I believe we should reflect on what is meant by the peace process. It is simply a process and not something we can say is finished today or will be finished tomorrow nor can one put a full stop at the end of it. This process will continue on into the future. We have achieved much and there are elements of completion which we will achieve over the next year to five years. However, there are other issues which may take generations to complete.
We have to ensure that the peace process is fully inclusive. We have heard today that it does not percolate right down to every individual and every community. If we do not ensure this inclusivity, there is a danger of a drift towards it being a middle class peace process and some people would argue there are signs this is happening already. If this were to happen and if people were left outside of the process, we are simply sowing the seeds that will grow and develop and come back in the future to ambush us all out of the long grass.
There must be a building of a robust and strong relationship between republicanism and loyalism. I think we are seeing this in play today. Significant work has been done to develop that relationship and we should encourage it, resource it and ensure it happens. It is in all our interests to see a development of that strong relationship.
This leads to my final point regarding the centenary anniversaries which we have discussed. If we can get through these next ten years by adding value to the peace process, I think we can secure peace for generations and centuries but if we do not succeed, we run the risk of unravelling some of what we have managed to achieve. This would be a bad thing. If we do not do all we can to complete the peace process, the next generation, our children looking back at us, would rightly ask why we did not do that when we had the opportunity. They would ask why we left it to them to pick up the pieces again, the pieces that we could have prevented from falling apart. Those are the broad issues of the peace process.
I take the point made by Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin. The problems in an inner city area in any city, be it Belfast, Dublin, New York, London, are all the same. The socio-economic issues are exactly the same. The difference in Belfast is there has been a confusion or a further layering of sectarianism and a legacy of hatred, mistrust and suspicion. Speakers have alluded to the big question which is how to deal with sectarianism, how to decommission sectarianism. This is a very big challenge for all of us. In my view sectarianism can only be emasculated, so to speak, by building the relationships, showing respect, being inclusive and open to the sensitivities and dignity of others. This meeting is part of that process but it will be a long, slow, tortuous process because we are talking about changes in mindset. If this was easy, it would have been achieved a long time ago. There are no straight lines in this building of peace. However, we have a great responsibility because we have the opportunity now to deliver peace for those who are coming behind us.
I thank all the delegates for their attendance. I regard today’s meeting as a start of something. We should reflect on what has been expressed here today and I suggest a follow-up meeting. I am not sure how this could be organised but the transcript of this meeting will show we have identified ways of continuing this work.
I refer to the Unionist centenary committee, the committee set up by the Taoiseach and this committee and I agree that mainstreaming is critical. I am not so sure there is yet a willingness to mainstream and this may have to be determined. We cannot afford to allow five, six or seven, independent groups to work in isolation when they are all addressing the same issue. This would be wrong, in my view. One of the challenges is to work out a way in which we can all work upwards towards a convergence so that all the work feeds into the same pot resulting in celebrating these next ten years in ways which are not divisive and which will be a means of adding value to the peace process.
Chairman: On behalf of the other members of the committee, I express our gratitude to Senator McAleese for helping to arrange today’s events. Like Senator McAleese, I hope we can have more such events in the future.
I thank all the delegates for attending this meeting today.
Dr. Ian Adamson: I wish to thank the committee members. I said go raibh maith agat at the beginning of the meeting but I would like to thank all the members, including our group, in Ulster Scots. There is a tradition in the North on New Year’s Day to bring a little piece of coal to one’s neighbour’s house and this will help him with his heating problems. There is an old Ulster Scots saying, “lang may yer lum reek wi’ither folks coal”, which means, long may your chimney smoke with other folks coal; may you have many friends. This committee has friends in us and we know the members are our friends.
The joint committee went into private session at 1.20 p.m. and adjourned at 1.30 p.m. sine die.