Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 19 January 2023
Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement
Architects of the Good Friday Agreement (Resumed): Mr. Wally Kirwan, H.E. Dr. Eamonn McKee and Dr. Martin Mansergh
I believe Deputy Brendan Smith lost a brother. I propose a vote of sympathy for him. The committee will join in that.
To explain to our guests, we rotate speakers. The order is Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Alliance Party, the Green Party, Sinn Féin, the Labour Party and Aontú. We give about 15 minutes to each political party. It is a very relaxed forum and we are very happy to take it at the guests' pace. Is the rotation agreed? Agreed.
Today we continue our meetings with the architects of the Good Friday Agreement. All three of our witnesses today made an immense contribution to the peace process and negotiations on the Good Friday Agreement. On behalf of the committee, I welcome Mr. Wally Kirwan, retired senior official at the Department of the Taoiseach; H.E. Dr. Eamonn McKee, senior official in the Department of Foreign Affairs who is joining us online and who is currently serving as Ireland's ambassador to Canada, Jamaica and the Bahamas; and Dr. Martin Mansergh, former Minister of State, Member of Parliament and political adviser, and, of course, a Tipperaryman, which we must not forget.
There are some limitations to parliamentary privilege and the practices of the Houses. The evidence of witnesses physically present or who give evidence from within the parliamentary precincts is protected pursuant to both the Constitution and statute by absolute privilege. However, witnesses and participants who are to give evidence from a location outside the parliamentary precincts are asked to note that they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a witness giving evidence from within the parliamentary precincts does, and may consider it appropriate to take legal advice on this matter. Witnesses are also asked to note that evidence connected only with the subject matter of the proceedings should be given. They should respect directions given by the Chair and the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should neither criticise nor make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to that person or entity's good name.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that members should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I remind members of the constitutional requirements that they must be physically present within the confines of Leinster House to participate in meetings.
I shall call on our witnesses in the following order: Mr. Kirwan, Dr. McKee and Dr. Mansergh. They are all very welcome. I am delighted they are attending and we will be happy to hear their contributions as they wish to give them.
Mr. Wally Kirwan:
As members will notice, I have a touch of Parkinson's disease, which gives me a bit of a tremor. It is pretty moderate most of the time but sometimes if I get into an exciting situation like this, it can get a bit more active. For that reason, I do not have an opening statement, unlike my two colleagues, but I am aware that material has been circulated. I will be happy to answer any questions or deal with any points that arise from that material. I thought that, by way of a warm-up to ensure the tremor would calm down, I would refer first to how my path has crossed with those present. The first I intend to allude to is Senator Blaney. The redoubtable Neil T. Blaney was a member of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation when I was its Secretary General. He was a formidable contributor and died in harness. I had the honour of representing the membership of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation at his funeral at Massmount on the Fanad Peninsula, which is where my wife's people came from – they were McGinleys.
Mr. Wally Kirwan:
I see Senator Emer Currie is here. I had a lot to do with Austin Currie over the years. Even in retirement, we used to meet up in Maynooth an odd time - twice a year or something like that. One incident I recall was that, immediately after the Ulster workers strike, we were over at a meeting of the British-Irish Association in either Oxford or Cambridge, and one of the people present was Harry Murray, who had been the chairperson of the committee that presided over the Ulster workers strike, and another one there was Glen Barr, who was involved in that as well. One of the things that happened was a big poker school and I remember Senator Currie’s father playing with these formidable characters who had been in charge of the strike, and there was a kind of macabre joke as to who was going to collect the winnings.
I am sorry Deputy Brendan Smith is not here because he is a wonderful parliamentarian who has been involved in all of the different parliamentary groups between Ireland and Britain over the years. I am sure that, over the years, he fielded, as we did in the Department of the Taoiseach, an avalanche of correspondence relating to the closure of Aghalane Bridge. I was very glad that, after the agreement was reached, Senator George Mitchell flew up by helicopter for the opening of Aghalane Bridge, which, of course, is now called after him. I had the privilege of travelling by helicopter with George Mitchell to that event.
Feicim go bhfuil an Seanadóir Ó Donnghaile anseo agus tá a fhios agam go bhfuil éacht déanta aige siúd maidir le cur ar fáil meánoideachas trí Ghaeilge i gcathair Bhéal Feirste. Tá cumas na Gaeilge ciontach le gur bhuail mé le mo bhean chéile. Bhí mé thuas ansin le haghaidh díospóireachtaí idir-ollscoile agus bhí céilí le bheith ar siúl san ardscoil ag barr Sráid Divis. Bhíomar ag dul timpeall sa charr ag fiafraí cá raibh an high school agus ní fhéadfadh duine ar bith rá linn cá raibh sé ach nuair a chuala siad muid ag caint as Gaeilge sa charr, thuigeadar go raibh muid ag tagairt don ardscoil. Chuaigh mé ar aghaidh ag an gcéilí ansin agus bhuail mé le mo bhean ag an gcéilí sin.
Mr. Wally Kirwan:
Senator Black is doing very important work with Ireland's Future. I was at the big event in 3 Arena not long back with 5,000 people, which certainly shows there is a considerable interest in the topic of Irish unity at the present time.
Deputy Brendan Smith and others said they hoped the witnesses wrote things down. With Parkinson's, I am unlikely to be writing down anything more but I had the opportunity to provide a long witness statement to Dundalk Institute of Technology, which is involved in a consortium. It is put away, as I mentioned, up to 2040. Nothing I said requires that long an embargo, but it is possibly required in other cases.
It has been a long road since I was in Derry on 5 October 1968. I had been away in Holland for a course for a period and I had a car which was getting rusted away in the salty sea air where I lived. When the civil rights march was forming up at the bridge in Derry, I was painting my car with rust primer. My late wife and her mother were participants in that march more on impulse and they had to take refuge in a chip shop to avoid getting their heads beaten in. Later that evening, I myself was at that risk at Butcher’s Gate but a couple of hefty men got me under the elbow and brought me to safety. That was where I started my involvement with Northern Ireland.
The Sunningdale agreement was supposed to have set up the council of Ireland, as members all know, and there was to be a joint secretary from the South and a joint secretary from the North, and a competition was held in the Civil Service for the position of joint secretary for the South. I was successful in that and I started work on it but, of course, as we know, the Sunningdale agreement did not last very long.
Those are just a few ways in which my path crossed people who are present or are members of the committee. I am ready to answer any questions or take any points that members want to raise.
Thank you very much. Mr. Kirwan's long experience and knowledge can greatly enlighten us in our questions session in regard to what happened and what we need to do now. As is normal practice, we will take H.E. Dr. Eamonn McKee and then Dr. Martin Mansergh, and we will then put questions to the witnesses, if that is okay. I thank Mr. Kirwan for his contribution. I call H.E. Dr. McKee.
H.E. Dr. Eamonn McKee:
It is a great honour to be here. I well remember Wally in the castle complex, bearing the burden of the North-South negotiations. It is great to see Wally. When I saw “Walter Kirwan”, I asked who Walter was, because we all know and love him as Wally. It is great to see him. I also remember Dr. Martin Mansergh shouldering the burden of Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution in the run-up to the negotiations. It is great to see Martin as well. I am very honoured to be in their company and in the company of all the witnesses who have been called here.
The committee has my statement. The main point I want to make, which is illustrated by what we have here today, is the continuity of expertise developed within the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of the Taoiseach, in particular the expertise required to manage the Northern Ireland peace process. This goes back to the Anglo-Irish agreement of 1985, which I think was very important because it established the co-operation between the two Governments in a formal way. It had an agenda dealing with the causes of the conflict.
It set up a network - a community - of officials between London and Dublin that supported and got to know each other and became a mainstay of the continuity of effort to bring about peace.
The other point I make in my statement is that the Department of Foreign Affairs ran a very successful human resource strategy, which meant that people were circulated through the Anglo-Irish division. When the time came up for postings, we would be posted to London, Washington, Boston or the other consulates. This made sure that by the time we had the negotiations on the Good Friday Agreement, we were all pretty expert in the areas that were under our responsibility, which helped as well. The process between the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 and the Good Friday Agreement at intergovernmental level meant that an awful lot of the issues that we were dealing with and that were causing conflict had been addressed. We addressed issues in terms of the administration of justice, job discrimination, public appointments and so on. By the time we got to the Good Friday Agreement, many of those issues were dealt with. Of course, we broadly knew the outline of what the settlement was going to be. It was going to have the three strands, as defined and envisioned by John Hume. John Hume and the Social Democratic and Labour Party, SDLP, leadership, all through the ranks, were absolutely critical to the efforts that we made in steering Northern Ireland towards peace.
I refer to the role of the travellers. When the Anglo-Irish Agreement was established in 1985, to service the intergovernmental conference, we needed travellers dedicated to certain areas so that when we met in conference, our senior politicians and Ministers knew what they were talking about. Our travellers engaged with a whole range of stakeholders – NGOs, politicians, solicitors and lawyers who were involved in human rights cases, SDLP politicians and republican and local activists. All of this illustrates that the Good Friday Agreement was not just, as somebody once said, a few good men in a room; it was a collective effort of an enormous number of people who took risks for peace at all levels of society. Through the traveller system, we tapped into those and reported back so that we knew what was going on. This created a huge continuity of expertise in managing the peace process and dealing with things.
In looking back on it, it reminds us all, and while I just referred to some of the kind of violent incidents around Bloody Sunday, that this was pretty continuous throughout the decades. These were very grim times for an awful lot of people. Often in the peace process, we would be essentially in Iveagh House and get surprised or ambushed by events in Northern Ireland and have to deal with them. However, as Seán Ó hUiginn, one of the heads of the Anglo-Irish division used to used to say, we had a duty of hope to keep going, and so on.
We had many partners in Northern Ireland and Washington. In my time in the embassy in Washington between 1990 and 1996, I got to see up close the degree of support that we enjoyed within Congress, in terms of the Friends of Ireland. Senator Edward Kennedy was an absolute giant when it came to supporting Ireland on Northern Ireland and all other kinds of issues. There was definitely a step change when it came to the Clinton administration. We had established connections with him and his staff through Dermot Gallagher, who was ambassador at the time, and Brendan Scannell, who was political director. We had this support for the peace process through President Clinton, which has been well documented but is well worth underlining because it was so important.
The expertise that we had and that continuity of effort paid dividends when it came not only to negotiating the Good Friday Agreement, but implementing it. The process required - I think as of now it is 29 agreements and counting - to implement the agreement. While we can think about the difficulties in restoring the institutions, so much progress has been made across a whole range of fronts, particularly on policing. That has made a great difference and created a sense of stability inside Northern Ireland.
Mr. Kirwan, Dr. Mansergh and I represent a range of officials who were part of a decades-long effort beginning in 1985. However, it could be said it began with the Haughey-Thatcher summits in the early 1980s, where both governments agreed to co-operate in finding a solution to Northern Ireland and that Northern Ireland was not just a security issue.
After my time in Washington, I came back again into the security and justice area, where we dealt with areas such as policing and the administration of justice. Dermot Ahern, the Minister at the time, asked me to set up a conflict resolution unit. We did some work there around the world, sharing lessons on the peace process. Since then, I have enjoyed postings as ambassador to Korea, Israel and, currently, Canada.
The committee has my fuller statement and I am happy to answer any questions.
The ambassador’s experience has been very important in making those changes to our relationship North, South, east and west. The unique and special commitment of our Civil Service, particularly the Departments of Foreign Affairs, and the Taoiseach, has been rewarding in terms of the way our country and economy developed as a result of the Good Friday Agreement.
Dr. Mansergh is no stranger to these Houses. He is very welcome. I call him to make his opening statement.
Dr. Martin Mansergh:
I would like to my statement onto the record. I thank the Cathaoirleach and members for this opportunity to reflect on the Good Friday Agreement 25 years on. As I recall, I was once a member of this committee. Before I move on, I would like to signal the enormous contribution made by the Chair's brother, Niall O'Dowd, from a similar Tipperary background. He had enormous success in marshalling Irish-American political opinion during the crucial 1990s.
I am delighted to be here with two former colleagues. Dr. Wally Kirwan was a key figure as assistant secretary in the Office of the Taoiseach, indefatigably handling information, writing drafts and making indispensable inputs into both Northern Ireland and European policy. He led the secretariat behind the modernisation of the Irish nationalist position in the New Ireland Forum of 1983-84, which recognised the unionist tradition and its validity for the first time. Ambassador Eamonn McKee made an incisive contribution to internal deliberations on reformulating Articles 2 and 3 but was also a front-line observer and liaison during stand-offs at Drumcree in the mid-1990s.
The Good Friday Agreement was both a peace settlement, ending a violent conflict lasting 25 years, and a political settlement that had to redraw the one of 1921-22 creating Northern Ireland, because of its shortcomings. Last week, Sir Keir Starmer in Belfast called the agreement the biggest achievement of the Labour Party in his lifetime, without question, and praised not only Tony Blair, but also John Major. The agreement covered all issues and involved all Northern Ireland parties, bar the Democratic Unionist Party, DUP. The two governments, regardless of other differences or developments, recognise a shared responsibility to maintain peace in Northern Ireland within the democratically-endorsed parameters of the agreement.
My involvement as adviser to different Fianna Fáil taoisigh, from Charles Haughey to Bertie Ahern, centred latterly on the formulation of broad principles that could bring the conflict to an end and offer an alternative political path. This involved direct back-channel discussions mediated through Fr. Alec Reid, Redemptorist priest, in 1988 with Dermot Ahern and in 1993-94 and in mid-1997 on my own. Written messages and draft replies to and from the then Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, deemed to have come through Fr. Reid, were shared in close partnership with and advised upon by Seán Ó hUiginn, heading up the Anglo-Irish control centre, if I may call it that, in the Department of Foreign Affairs. Trust had to be created and that was, in some ways, as much the purpose of the channel as working on specific draft principles. This was despite the serious political risks for all concerned.
In the Downing Street Declaration of 15 December 1993, the principle of self-determination, concurrently exercised, complemented the principle of consent. It included, among other things, two key statements. The aspirational statement formulated by John Hume was that: "Irish unity would be achieved only by those who favour this outcome persuading those who do not ... without coercion or violence...". The second, by the Taoiseach, considered that the lessons of Northern Ireland: "show that stability and well-being will not be found under any political system which is refused allegiance or rejected on grounds of identity by a significant minority of those governed by it." That is a principle that operates both ways regardless of who is the minority.
A second phase of involvement was overseeing politically the replacement of Articles 2 and 3, working with the Attorney General, David Byrne, - I express my sadness at the death of previous Attorney General, John Murray, whom I worked with on other matters at an earlier time - and his senior official, James Hamilton. While legally watertight, the wording had to be accessible and have public appeal. "Entitlement" to Irish citizenship in the North, a word we owe to ambassador McKee, meaning a right that did not have to be taken up, squared the circle of the one-nation and two-nation theories. Constitutional recognition of the diaspora was much welcomed. Article 3 references the firm will of the Irish people, "in harmony and friendship", to unite everyone on the island. The shared island initiative, which is without prejudice to any future constitutional choice, is reflective of and consistent with that spirit. There is a danger in ratcheting up pressure, with claims that unity can be brought about in seven years because of demographic change, or the Government creating citizens' assemblies and a Ministry of national re-unification, as if unity is almost inevitable and can, if necessary, be shaped without unionism.
We have recently commemorated the centenary of the State and most people cherish the democratic stability and progress achieved. Despite some past vicissitudes, the experience of the minority tradition has shown that there is life after the union. The agreement envisages the decision on a border poll by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland being evidence-based when it is likely to result in change, which means, in practice, estimated initial opinion in favour being steady at well above 50% plus 1. This is because the Secretary of State could not come to the conclusion that such a poll would pass if there was effectively deadlock between the two views. When we see the difficulties experienced by the evenly balanced Good Friday Agreement, which had 71% support in Northern Ireland in the 1998 vote, what makes us sure that far more sweeping change would be easier?
A united Ireland would not be like German unity, where the stronger part absorbed the discredited other. It would de facto be about creating a successor state to both the Republic and Northern Ireland, bringing together the best elements of each. It would likely entail significant reappraisal of ethos and identity, both North and South, as well as Ireland's history and place in the world. Until enough people all round are ready for this, then we must focus in the meantime on making the Good Friday Agreement work better. It has saved lives, ended destruction, and given us peace and stability - although not enough reconciliation - abolition of the hard Border, valuable sectoral co-operation and even integration. I recommend a report by IBEC that has just come into my hands this morning, which I read on the way to this meeting - For Peace + Prosperity: The Economic and Social Benefits of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. This report is positive regarding what has been and remains to be achieved.
My final point is that the overriding responsibility of everyone is to ensure that whatever evolution in relationships takes place is kept on a strictly peaceful path.
I thank Dr. Mansergh. I attended the launch of the IBEC report yesterday morning. It was enlightening. The report is a dynamic, non-political, economically focused report, which shows the huge importance of the economic prosperity, North and South, that is a direct result of the GFA. It shows the way forward as one island with 7 million people, 3.5 million of whom are workers. It points out that our island is second only to London in terms of growth of the economy, take-home pay, incomes and so on. IBEC make a very important economic point that, on average, the incomes of the poorest people are 65% better off than they would have been before the GFA. It really shows how valuable the work of all three of our witnesses has been, and the contribution it makes, to our current economy and peaceful island. We cannot thank them enough for that.
Mr. Wally Kirwan:
I will make one point I intended to refer to but forgot. Dr. McKee touched glancingly on this. He and I collaborated with another official in drawing up the dossier John Bruton gave to Tony Blair about what was then the new evidence relating to Bloody Sunday in Derry in January 1972. Dr. McKee did most of the work on that. It was a very powerful confidence-building factor at the time when Tony Blair decided to set up the Saville inquiry which, of course, vindicated the people who were shot on Bloody Sunday. Like Dr. McKee, I was in Guildhall Square, Derry on the day that Prime Minister Cameron made his apology, when somebody among the relatives put their thumb up behind the stained glass windows of the Guildhall, and it was a very exhilarating moment. That was a very important thing that Dr. McKee did. He did most of the work on that dossier. I am glad that I have some opportunities to again co-operate with Dr. McKee in his capacity as ambassador to Canada because he and I have connections to do with Newfoundland, which is the most Irish place in the world outside of Ireland.
I thank the Chair. We should invite Mr. Kirwan back some day, off the record, to get an in-depth outline of all those stories he has from years gone by and the experience he has had over the years in meeting many key people who helped build our current peace process.
I offer sincere thanks to Mr. Kirwan, Dr. Mansergh and Dr. McKee for the work they have done over the years, along with their colleagues in the Departments of Foreign Affairs, and the Taoiseach, or whatever it might have been, under whatever regime was in place.
Most of them went above and beyond the call of duty in the service they provided to the State in preparation for bringing peace to this island. We hope it is an everlasting peace. I know there is an awful lot of work to be done in the time ahead to move things on to the next level but fantastic foundations have been laid by the work the officials have done.
My first question is for Dr. McKee. He spoke about working towards the peace process and the continuity of expertise in the Department of Foreign Affairs. He also spoke about the work done in preparation for the talks on the Good Friday Agreement and how necessary it was. There is an awful lot of talk at present about constitutional change on the island. What is his opinion of things today? Does he feel much work is needed on the ground to prepare for this constitutional change? What is his opinion of the work of the shared island unit? What is his opinion more generally of other parties and contributors on this? Does he feel we are going in the right direction? Recognising that the work on the Good Friday Agreement was led by the two Governments, is the shared island unit the right way to go? Are we giving it the support it deserves?
H.E. Dr. Eamonn McKee:
I thank Senator Blaney. I will break it down into several parts. We must ensure we retain the success we have enjoyed so far. We cannot make assumptions that we have achieved all of the objectives of the Good Friday Agreement itself. People often speak about the elasticity of language but when we read through the Good Friday Agreement it is very clear. I remember Seán Ó hUiginn launched the idea of parity of esteem. Parity of esteem, equality of treatment and equality of respect are all still issues that need work in Northern Ireland. For example, tremendous efforts have been made in policing and it has been a real point of stability for Northern Ireland. Again we have to be very careful to make sure it remains fit for purpose and that it itself is composed of the elements of the society it seeks to police. It has been a tremendous success story but we have to continue to pay attention to it.
If we go back to 1985 and the Anglo-Irish Agreement, there are still issues regarding economic equality and equity in Northern Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement still has to make itself felt in certain areas. If we look at some of the social and economic metrics, there is a lot of catching up to do in certain areas, for example, Derry. In a way we need to make sure we are as assiduous in pursuing the values and principles of the Good Friday Agreement for Northern Ireland society today, particularly in a society that is changing in terms of its outlook and the complexity of its demographic.
In looking to the future, as Dr. Mansergh said there is an element of instability around the idea of the future of a united Ireland and quite what shape it makes. This is a conversation we will have to have with great care and great respect for all of the parties. I fundamentally agree that if we are looking at a united Ireland, we are looking at a very different state.
We have to have a very searching conversation about the past 100 years, going back to independence. If we look at it, partition was imposed and created two monolithic societies. In the South there is quite a degree of consensus. A point I have often made is that I do not think we have paid enough attention to the damage that was done to Ireland with the abolition of our parliament in 1800. That sounds like it is going back a long way but not having a local government from 1800 to 1920 meant when we took over the State in 1922 the instruments for governance were not great. The Catholic Church was there almost as a government, as it had been effectively. In a way, down South we have developed a governance model in not the most propitious environment. The same could be said about Northern Ireland and why it gave rise to conflict. There is a very searching conversation we need to have down South as well as in the North about what is the future society that we envisage.
I do think the shared island unit is a great initiative. It is the way to go. I remember at the time of the Good Friday Agreement speaking to Dr. Mansergh in the castle complex about North-South co-operation. Dr. Mansergh made the point that the one thing we do not want to convey in terms of North-South co-operation to the unionist community is that this is some sort of revanchist project to try to get Northern Ireland back by stealth. He said it had to be based on the notion of mutual advantage. Mr. Kirwan was very much part of making sure the areas of co-operation and the joint bodies that would be created were to be for the advantage of everybody.
The conversation on the future will be very searching. We have a lot of work to do in terms of how we describe what it is. We have to consult an awful lot of people about it. If there is a good example of change management in Northern Ireland, I would say it is the Patten commission on policing. There were several reasons it was very effective. One was the terms of reference we gave it in the Good Friday Agreement. There is also the fact that Mr. Patten and the commission members went along the highways and byways of Northern Ireland to find out what people wanted from their policing. They asked what were the problems and what were the solutions. This is why they came up with more than 175 recommendations. Another element was the oversight commission to make sure the recommendations were implemented. The Patten commission's recommendations were firmly grounded in the views and desires of local communities about what kind of policing they wanted. That is why security sector reform in Northern Ireland was so successful. It created not a police force but a police service fully accountable to its people. Following the model of listening to people and trying to build a better Ireland is the way to go.
From my point of view, being in Canada is fascinating. The Canadian model shows how people of divergent loyalties can share the same space, not only in stability but in a very prosperous country. The complexity of the Irish situation in Canada, including the imperial Irish for example, reminds us of our own very complicated past. Our history is much more complicated in some ways than the official narratives. The cliché of loyal unionist and disloyal nationalist is not correct when we look at Irish history. I often make the point that in 1916, when Yeats spoke about a terrible beauty being born, in a way he was speaking about a terrible simplicity being born. Our history is incredibly complicated. Our future as a united Ireland has to embrace the complexity of identity that has characterised unionism and nationalism. Looking at the future is a very big topic of discussion that reaches into all kinds of legacies and hope for the future. This is probably a very wandering answer.
It is also a very good answer. I recognise what Dr. McKee said about economic equality. I spent two days in Belfast last week and in unionist and nationalist areas it is very obvious that governance on the ground and politics are not working given the amount of deprivation, unemployment, the sense of being lost and people having no sense that politicians will get them out of the current mess. With the cost of living, food banks have to do an awful lot of work on the ground to feed families and keep them above board. It is a trying time.
The reference Dr. McKee made to the Patten report is good, as were the lessons on how we got here. At the end of the day, all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement were not fully implemented. Perhaps we need to go back and examine why. One of the aspects of the Good Friday Agreement was decommissioning. This took a seven-year period.
What impact did the seven-year implementation period for decommissioning have on the level of trust that was there in 1998? Was it a factor in losing trust in the intervening years?
Dr. Martin Mansergh:
I would like to respond to a couple of points, if that is okay. Seeing our ambassador to Canada there, I will say that Canada is a prime example of a country. If one goes to the history of the late 18th century, the assumption was that Canada and the United States would join together and be one. That has not happened and does not look as if it will happen. That is a caution against inevitability of neighbouring jurisdictions coming together.
I have a strong preference at this point for the gradual evolutionary path. Dr. McKee mentioned a discussion he and I had. If one thinks about Germany, I was in the embassy in Bonn during the Ostpolitik. That involved a lot of functional co-operation - cross-border, east-west co-operation, much of which took place under the table as opposed to out there in public - between the Federal Republic of Germany, FRG, which was far wealthier, and the German Democratic Republic, GDR. I remember reporting back to home about a book which claimed that the GDR was the tenth member of the EEC at the time. My point is that the Ostpolitik itself did not bring about German unity, which came about for other reasons, namely, a more general political-economic collapse, but the fact that it had been there was helpful in building a united Germany afterwards in that there had been some habit of co-operation and so on. The same is true with North-South co-operation. The single island economy is, in itself, a good value but if we were to move for other reasons to a united Ireland, the fact that it had taken place would be distinctly helpful.
Obviously, when we are talking about an Irish unity referendum, we are talking about something enormously bigger than, say, the Brexit referendum across the water. I would have two concerns about it, particularly if it were to happen before the conditions are properly satisfied. One of these goes back to Canada. Quebec has had two referendums on independence at considerable intervals apart and both were defeated. I am not aware, but maybe Dr. McKee is, of further discussion about a third referendum. A defeat, whether by a small or large margin, of a border poll would not be helpful to the longer term aim of a united Ireland. That is my firm conviction. There is another view that one would have a poll and then another poll and so on. The British Government may not grant a poll in less than seven years afterwards but it does not mean to say that it is obliged to do so. The committee will be aware of the argument that has been used in relation to Scotland that its referendum was for a generation.
My other concern, if I could quote a sentence from Professor Brendan O'Leary's relatively new book, Making Sense of a United Ireland, is that "Unifying Ireland in referendums must be done carefully to avoid civil war, let alone state collapse." I presume by the term "state collapse", Professor O'Leary means in the North rather than here. If we go at it too hard or too fast, we are dealing with something that could be very dangerous to what has been achieved. A lot has been achieved, and not only south of the Border in the Republic. There are people, including people from nationalist and republican backgrounds, who are proud of what has been achieved, especially economically and development-wise, in Northern Ireland over the past 20 years.
My apologies to the Senator. To come to his question on decommissioning, the huge irony is that when the ceasefires were first announced on 31 August 1994 the message coming from Sinn Féin was "Momentum, momentum, momentum". This led to a fairly quick reopening of Border roads south of the Border, the release of prisoners, the organisation, with Mr. Wally Kirwan, of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, where the then Taoiseach, John Bruton, had the pleasure of meeting Gerry Adams for the first time, and the organisation of the Washington economic conference which brought out many of the community activists from west Belfast the following May.
Decommissioning was, first of all, used by the unionists after the joint framework documents were published as a means of slowing down the momentum. There had been incidents, such as the Newry post office murder on 9 November 1994, of which the Senator will be aware. The British Prime Minister, Mr. Major, was beginning to focus on decommissioning. The British had been very careful in the clarification they gave to 20 Sinn Féin questions. After the Downing Street Declaration, they did not want to provide clarification. They had been very careful and fully realised before the ceasefire that to put the decommissioning upfront would have been more than the traffic would bear.
I have come to the conclusion, both from what I have heard from Fr. Reid and comments I have read, that maybe there was at least momentary consideration of some decommissioning in early 1995 but it was pretty quickly dismissed. Clearly, it was only going to happen in the context of a wider agreement. Even then, it was difficult. The phraseology about decommissioning in the Good Friday Agreement is what one might call "weak and aspirational" and did not really commit anybody to much more than best efforts.
The reason decommissioning happened was that in the end, if Sinn Féin wanted to participate in devolved government for any length of time on a sustained basis, it would have to bite it. I remember once being asked on local radio if I trusted the Sinn Féin leadership, to which my reply was that I trusted the necessities it was under. Sinn Féin wanted to be in government and in the end the weapons had to be let go. I remember Government officials in a little steering group, which included me, Paddy Teahon, Tim Dalton, the then Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality, and whoever was in charge in the Department of Foreign Affairs, which was Dermot Gallagher to begin with, being told that anyone who thinks that decommissioning would happen was living in cloud cuckoo land.
There is no doubt that held things up but then there was a subtle tactical shift, in about 1999, because there was the question of the Patten report on the new Police Service of Northern Ireland. There was legislation. The point is that under unionist pressure, by which I mean Ulster Unionist Party pressure primarily, Peter Mandelson, who came from what one might call pro-unionist Labour Party stock - Herbert Morrison, etc. - tried to pull back. We were equally firm. There was a kind of tug of war taking place. Mandelson had political problems of his own.
He had to resign at different points at least two or three times so he was not always on the team. It got back on track and I agree that the PSNI is one of the outstanding achievements of the agreement, which incidentally shows that in respect of the things people predicted would be very difficult if not impossible such as shared symbolism - the six symbols - they did agree an emblem for the PSNI without too much delay. Even symbolic things can be solved if the will is there.
In some ways, sticking out on policing was more acceptable to nationalist public opinion than sticking out on decommissioning. Policing was an issue on which the entire nationalist community and people outside Northern Ireland had views. Decommissioning related specifically to the republican movement and smaller factions. It was not something that was germane to the SDLP, for example. That did hold up the momentum. We had very regular meetings. When I was young, I could never understand how the Soviets and the US could sit for years across a table about nuclear disarmament, test ban treaties and so on. Having lived through the peace process, I understand it better because a lot of the time, you could go round and round the mulberry bush and not make any progress but at a certain point, a decision would be made on the other side that "okay, we've got the last drop out of the stone, we need to move forward on this", perhaps for wider tactical considerations so these problems did eventually get solved. Decommissioning involved the fuss that affected US opinion such as the so-called Colombia three and other issues later on such as the murder of Robert McCartney. The DUP had a reasonable position in saying that if you are going to be in government, the police service must be supported. The SDLP came to that conclusion quicker during the Weston Park talks in 2001 and got a lot of stick for it. Having attended one or two meetings in the North, my assessment was that the republican support was willing to move on policing several years before it did. It was a tactical decision to be taken.
I do not think I will ever forget this project, namely, the report we are producing on the architects of the Good Friday Agreement. It is brilliant to be here talking to people who were such important names at the time - not just today but throughout the whole process. I heard these people's names being spoken about in my own home so getting the opportunity to meet them in this forum is fantastic. I do not think it is an experience any of us will forget along with a sense of responsibility regarding everything that has been achieved and what comes next.
I am fully aware that what led to the Good Friday Agreement was years of strategising and concepts that were developed. The three-strand approach did not happen overnight. It took decades. Any kind of fundamental change has to come from evolution, bringing people on board and trial and error. It certainly does not happen hard and fast. I appreciate that nobody wants to compromise the wins and the success we have had but at the same time, if it does take years to achieve progress, there are plenty of people who are unity-curious and unity-curious with a capital "C" rather than a capital "U" and are open-minded about what the future looks like. We must find a responsible way to evolve and allow these concepts to emerge that could bring us elsewhere. How do we do that when you talk about minding ourselves and minding what we have achieved but also recognising that to use the Reverend John McDowell's phrase we are "in a time between times" where something seems to want to be birthed? Where do we go from here? I am particularly interested in Mr. Kirwan's experience of the New Ireland Forum and the experience of bringing people together to carve out what the future could look like simultaneously juggling consensus and how difficult that was. None of this is easy, particularly for the people who have been involved in it. What does Mr. Kirwan think is an appropriate way forward to tackle what is on the agenda?
Mr. Wally Kirwan:
There is a lot to be said on that. A lot has been achieved but we are still faced with very considerable difficulties. We do not have an Executive and the Assembly is not sitting. The degree of trust that was involved in concluding the agreement was slender enough. One of our colleagues David Donoghue brought out a book entitled One Good Day: My Journey to the Good Friday Agreement. He referred to a remark by Senator George Mitchell that we had 700 bad days and one good day. It was touch and go. At midday on Good Friday, we did not know whether or not we had an agreement. It was only by a whisker that we got that agreement.
Picking up on what Dr. Mansergh said earlier, in terms of where we go with citizens' assemblies with the possibility of a referendum, the one thing we do not want is a referendum on a united Ireland in the South that is lost. The most recent evidence would suggest that this is a far from unlikely prospect. You could by no means take it for granted that a referendum in the South would be passed. Data is coming out in the Ireland North-South Project relating to opinion in the South. The evidence from those polls suggests that a majority in the North would still not vote in favour of a united Ireland so we must be very careful about that. It will be a fine balance because you cannot be sure events might not move faster than you expect. I am thinking in particular about the situation in Scotland. Scotland is at an impasse because it has the court decision against insisting on a second referendum if the British Government does not agree to a second referendum in Scotland. What remains there remains to be seen but if Scotland does eventually become independent, it will have profound implications for the North.
The unionist population in the North are not great lovers of the people in England; their affiliation is more with Scotland. That is from where their ancestors came. A lot will depend on that. We need to do the homework and move forward at a pace that will keep in step with events but-----
Mr. Wally Kirwan:
We are doing it to a certain extent through the shared island initiative, of which I am very supportive, and so on. So far, however, the work that has been done by way of homework is not focused definitively on the constitutional issue. Seminars are being held on the health system, different dimensions of social and economic life, the views of young people and so on but it is not getting down to the nitty-gritty of the future constitutional set-up in Northern Ireland. It will be a difficult balance because one needs to keep up with events but, as Dr. Mansergh stated, there are risks if one goes too fast and tries to-----
Dr. Martin Mansergh:
I agree with that. There are a lot of studies and conferences taking place. They have to deal with two scenarios. One is that we could be preparing for a united Ireland, while the other is simply that the two jurisdictions get closer together and one builds out the single Ireland economy. Perhaps I should be more explicit in respect of the point I am making. It is that there is a fine tipping point in doing that sort of useful work and clarifying issues along the way. There is a lot of interesting clarification in the book by Brendan O’Leary to which I have referred. If the Government starts taking too forward a position, that will start having political effects north of the Border. Looking at this from the loyalist or unionist perspective, there is not, at present, evidence of anything like a majority who would vote “Yes” in a border poll. Brexit does not translate into support for a united Ireland. There has been a shift towards the middle ground. Instead of being 10%, it is now nearer 20%, and that is progress. Loyalists could be forgiven for taking the perspective that there is an attempt to roll them over and that the nationalist side is trying to build up momentum through agitation and preparation, with the Government appointing a Minister for national reunification as if it is just around the corner. One needs to be careful. The great merit of the shared island initiative is that it is not aggressive or perceived as being so. It is absolutely defensible in its own right, irrespective of whether it contributes to a united Ireland. One needs to be very careful that one does not go too far in a zealous attempt.
We used to discuss this a lot in dialogue with republicans. In the late 1940s, there was a big anti-partition campaign here in Ireland. All parties came on board, including Northern nationalists. It did not shift a thing. I refer to an attempt to unite nationalists, even those abroad, such as in America, by saying the agreement commits us to a poll. It only commits to a poll in certain circumstances. We need to concentrate on building relations and connections. The report to which I referred has a significant amount of information on where economic sectors have effectively been integrated North and South. That is the better way to go. Obviously, I would change my opinion tomorrow if I could see more than anecdotal evidence. I have met and read about people from Protestant backgrounds, even people who used to be in the RIC and whose friends were shot during the Troubles, who have come around to the idea of a united Ireland, but I do not think that has acquired any critical mass so far. To my mind, the priority of the past while has been to protect what we have. We have faced a major challenge with the whole Brexit and protocol business, with suggestions of a reintroduction of some kind of border between North and South, but also our interests as a full member of the EU being prejudiced. It is to be hoped that we are getting into calmer waters on that and it will be resolved. What is needed is stability. I heard at an economic conference I attended recently that people are reluctant to invest in numbers in Belfast at the moment because they do not know what the outcome will be on Brexit, the protocol and so on, and investors hate uncertainty. Whether the news is good or bad, they would like to know what the situation is and what it is going to be for a number of years ahead. At present, they do not have that.
H.E. Dr. Eamonn McKee:
We need to remember that before we get to the unity question, we should take it in sequence. Unity is preceded by a shift in sovereignty from London to Dublin. That is what it means, in effect. There is no particular provision for how that is done but if we assume there is a vote on a united Ireland, the first thing that has to happen is for London to agree to cede sovereignty to Dublin. We would then face the fundamental question of whether we dismantle Northern Ireland in terms of its parliament and what would we do with the PSNI, its health service and so on. That is the first question. If we decide - it is a big “If” - that Northern Ireland is going to keep its local parliament, one then has to think about whether that means Leinster, Munster and Connacht get their own provincial parliaments, with a national government in Dublin. One question leads on to another about precisely what we would do when London hands sovereignty over to Dublin. We have to figure out in governance terms how we create stability around that process once it is under way.
To go back to the point on decommissioning to which Dr. Mansergh referred, there was an intrinsic connection between decommissioning and policing. Conflict is about the break-up of the moral monopoly on violence that normally resides in the state. The nation state is built around the idea that the use of violence is the right of a government through the police and the army. That social contract broke down in Northern Ireland from 1969 onwards. What the conflict was basically about was that the state had lost the moral monopoly on violence. Of course, that was deeply etched by what happened on Bloody Sunday, but also what happened thereafter, when the Lord Chief Justice of Britain said that the victims were themselves guilty and so on. There was no rule of law. The peace process was about returning the monopoly of violence to the state; to the police and the army. The retention of weapons by the IRA was, in a way, a position of reserve. The position was that in the experiment in respect of a peace process and creating a Northern Ireland that could be accepted and in which people could live, it would be a case of seeing how it goes. As the Patten commission proceeded and as policing was being implemented, there was then a fundamental question of having to return to the PSNI and the British Army and their moral monopoly on violence.
The two processes of decommissioning and policing were intrinsically linked and so when the republican movement decommissioned its weapons, that was it saying it was happy and had confidence in policing, being accountable and so on and so forth. Those issues were interlocked. As the years went by when we were working through this process, there was no alternative. When I came back from the negotiations in Belfast, I talked to Seán Ó hUiginn and said that I was not sure we could simultaneously create the conditions for power sharing while also changing Northern Ireland by, for example, dismantling the RUC and introducing the PSNI. Mr. Ó hUiginn said that was not the time for the speculative paper and we should just work it through. He was right to give that advice.
Dr. Mansergh referred to the sceptics. Just after the Good Friday Agreement, I visited Northern Ireland and met some republican contacts in a hotel. One of them had a live round and threw it across the table at me and said, "Tell Dublin that is the only effing decommissioning they are ever going to see." They were underlining the point that decommissioning was not something we were going to see earlier. I remember taking that back to Dermot Gallagher, who said the republicans were going to decommission because they had to. Mr. Gallagher, Mr. Paddy Teahan and Mr. Tim Dalton, who we dubbed the "Three Amigos", were absolutely on the front line in advancing the decommissioning issue.
The republican movement realised the value of decommissioning and that the achievement of decommissioning was an absolute goal of the British Government and an absolute requirement for unionism. We got delivery on some of the early agreements for implementing the Good Friday Agreement through the leverage of decommissioning. That was characteristic of the process for many years.
I also underline the point that in terms of the implementation of the agreement, the SDLP, particularly Mr. Alex Attwood, Mr. Brian Barrington and people like them, and Mr. Seamus Mallon, were absolutely key to the forensic details of implementing changes in the Good Friday Agreement, particularly in justice and policing. They did an outstanding job in that regard, as well as providing the strategic overview. All of those issues underline the size of the issues we were trying to wrestle to the ground.
Gabhaim buíochas leis na finnéithe. I thank our guests for the useful exchange we have had so far. Gabhaim buíochas le Wally Kirwan as an méid a dúirt sé faoi Bhéal Feirste. I am always amazed by the number of people I meet who can trace the trajectory of their marriage back to a céilí in the ard scoil. Mr. Kirwan is one of a number of proud people in that regard.
I work with Jim Gibney in my office who Mr. Kirwan will remember from the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. He stressed the need for me to express my thanks to Mr. Kirwan for his advice to Sinn Féin through Rita O'Hare in the very early days and for his role in that. Mr. Gibney said Mr. Kirwan's advice was always wise and friendly. It was much appreciated.
This series of engagements has been a useful exercise, and it is right and proper that we reflect on and study the past and learn from it. It is also important that we do not engage in navel gazing. This is the Joint Committed on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and we all accept and acknowledge that important and fundamental issues within the agreement and its outworking remain outstanding. I wish to get all our contributors' views on the issue of the agreement as a living and evolving document in the here and now, conscious of the realpolitik at the moment. As we approach the 25th anniversary, it is right to commemorate and reflect, and remember the people who put in so much hard work while they were still with us. As we come to this anniversary, I am conscious of Martin McGuinness and others who are no longer with us and who did the heavy lifting. I am also conscious of the role of the Irish Government not only as a participant in the talks and negotiations around the agreement but as a co-guarantor of it. If our guests were in a position to do so, how would they advise the Government on implementation and ensuring that the continued fulfilment of the promise of the agreement is to the front and centre as we come to mark the quarter of a century anniversary?
I will turn to a subject I have asked all our contributors about. Dr. Mansergh reflected on the issues of Articles 2 and 3. I have said at a couple of these meetings that people sometimes think that Articles 2 and 3 were done away with as opposed to replaced. I am always interested in hearing views, particularly on Article 2 and the right of everyone born on the island to be a part of the Irish nation. How can the Irish Government give practical effect to that and stop it being merely something notional that has been written down in the agreement?
On the issue of policing, our guests are correct that it has been transformed but similar to the agreement as a whole, we still have some way to go. By no means is it perfect. I was involved in the engagement within my community on the policing structures and the PSNI in the North. The greatest strength was touched on by Dr. McKee, that is, the democratic oversight, which involves the injection of human rights obligations and compliance. That oversight runs from the high level of the policing board right down to the PCSP and community structures. That is the real lesson to be learned.
I have two more points before I pass to Deputy Conway-Walsh. We are all agreed that constitutional change needs to be something new. We have a fantastic opportunity to create change and something new. We agree that the work in that regard needs to begin and we need to engage on that issue across our society. That is true with the unionist community and is now increasingly true in respect of the new Irish, including people with disabilities, people from our LGBTQ community and our refugee population. It is about getting an idea of how our economic models and health systems will change, North and South. I hope they will change for the better. I also hope our housing system will change for the better. We must also consider Ireland's role on the international stage. I and my party fundamentally value our neutrality and see it as a great strength and asset on the international stage. We have to be careful. If the run-up to the Good Friday Agreement taught us anything, it is that we need to be cognisant of language and terminology. When Dr. Mansergh reflected on it, he spoke about the loyalist perspective. Twenty-five years ago, the Good Friday Agreement gave us an agreed and democratic pathway not to agitate but to advocate for and work towards unity. If we see that as aggressive or offensive, we are in danger of saying that the agreement is aggressive or offensive. I do not think it is, except to those who have always opposed it and who to this day do not support it.
I am conscious that there were a range of questions and points there and Deputy Conway-Walsh wishes to come in. I would like to hear responses to the issues of Article 2 and the Irish Government's role. There are obligations on the Government that remain unfulfilled. It is important, given the remit and role of this committee, to reflect on that at this important juncture for that living, breathing and evolving agreement.
I thank our guests for the work they have done for the Good Friday Agreement, achieving it, and for sharing their experiences with us. I acknowledge that in respect of all three of our guests.
In his opening remarks, Mr. Kirwan referred to the Ireland's Future event. I also attended that event. Indeed, people travelled from all over the country and from abroad. Irish people came home to attend that event, such is the level of interest in the question. We must hear what is being said by those people and by others across the country. I think we would all agree about the need to do the homework. Many people, including academics, those involved with the shared island unit, and many others, are doing the homework. However, it is important that we have a framework within which to work. That should not threaten anybody. We all agree we need to prepare.
I heard what was said in terms of events being able to move faster. If we are not prepared, then all of us, as legislators, have a responsibility to do that, and the Government as well. That is my first observation. Will the witnesses comment on the Ireland's Future event and what they took from it? I heard some loud and clear messages at it.
Turning to the Good Friday Agreement and it being a living document and something we are working on continuously from these Houses and as a committee, what it did well was to set out the architecture. What resonated with me was what Dr. McKee said about Canada and the different identities there working and living together and that type of harmony. To me, the way we create this harmony is by ensuring equality and that people's rights are upheld, whatever community they come from. In the Good Friday Agreement, we have the Bill of rights, the single equality Bill and the charter of rights. There were several substantial elements that could provide equality of rights across communities that have not been implemented. My main question for the witnesses is what can we do as a committee and what the Government should be doing right here and right now, and, indeed, the British Government, to ensure these rights are implemented. I ask this because I am conscious as well of the inequalities that still exist.
This leads me to the economic aspect. I attended the IBEC event yesterday as well and I very much welcome the peace and prosperity initiative it is undertaking. I wish it well and we will all be engaged. Regarding some key issues from yesterday and the opportunities outlined, I refer to what has been achieved since the Good Friday Agreement, what continues to be achieved and the opportunities for the future right across the island. One of the issues mentioned was the need to evolve a prosperity model for a new global environment. This is concerned with bringing things forward right here, right now and what we need to do to create prosperity across the island. The scale of 7 million people as opposed to 5 million people was referred to, and what could be done in that context.
Equally, the macroeconomic model being developed by the ESRI, in conjunction with others, will be significant in forming the basis for us in future. One of the challenges we have across the island, but particularly in the North, are major data gaps. People need to be able to see the evidence. We can take the politics out of it, if we like, but I am referring to the absolute evidence of whether people will be better off in a new Ireland looks like regardless. I refer to what the future will look like for all of this across the island. Perhaps Dr. Mansergh would address this macroeconomic model aspect. I will leave my questions at that. We are in a time of opportunity and responsibility. I thank the witnesses for their contributions today.
I wish to make a point I forgot earlier. I will do so quickly, because I do not wish to eat into the time. On the looking back side of things and learning, I am also very conscious that we think sometimes the main thrust of the opposition to the Good Friday Agreement, talks and dialogue and everything else was confined to the North or elements of the British establishment. I am also conscious that the three witnesses have been involved in this area for a long time and would have had to remain steadfast throughout what was a vitriolic response to Gerry Adams and John Hume engaging. That came from the political establishment and the media. The witnesses had to navigate and work through that experience to ensure dialogue prevailed. In this State, as well, there was support for seeing that through. In that regard, then, I would like to get the views of the witnesses on this point. It was remiss of me to forget it.
Mr. Wally Kirwan:
Regarding the homework and the question raised by Deputy Conway-Walsh about the Ireland's Future meeting, as I said, I think it is a delicate balance. We need, though, to begin to move forward a bit and look at constitutional models. Canada is one that is certainly in my mind, and has been for a while. I refer to the constitution of Canada and seeing what is in there on the situation in Quebec versus the rest of Canada. Another model that has struck me as perhaps meriting fresh acquaintance is the policy put forward by Arthur Griffith so long ago in his The Resurrection of Hungary: A Parallel for Ireland. The Habsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire is interesting. It had a written constitution. I am not thinking of dual monarchy or of monarchy at all. That is not what I am referring to, I hasten to add.
Mr. Wally Kirwan:
There was, however, a situation in that context where Hungary was not quite but close to being a full and separate partner in that entity. There was an overarching set of institutions to pull the whole thing together.
Regarding some of the materials published, there is a need to tease out aspects relating to confederation. It is not an open and shut case by any means, but if we think of all the symbolic difficulties we are going to face in trying to bring forward the new Ireland, it would be helpful if we were able to look models used elsewhere where the two sides did not have to be bound by the same symbolism. This might offer a way forward. I met Senator McDowell as I came in and he has been writing about this subject. I mentioned to him what I was going to say about it. I see the difficulty here if we wanted to have a confederation with two elements. Let us take Belfast as an example. Will we have that city in the unit that is not going the full hog in terms of the development of an Irish Ireland? One way or the other, though, there is homework to be done there, which, as I said earlier, should try to keep pace with the march of events and with an eye on what is happening in Scotland and so on as well. I will leave it at that for the moment.
Dr. Martin Mansergh:
I defined in my opening statement the position of the two governments and I think they would both agree and respond that they have a shared responsibility, not joint authority or joint sovereignty, but shared responsibility. This exactly accurately describes what their position is, has been in the recent past and is likely to be so for some time to come. We often hear people argue that this or that aspect of the agreement or the operation of the institutions ought to be changed. I recall at the time of the negotiations that George Mitchell, the chairman, was often pressed regarding why he did not override or exclude Sinn Féin, the loyalists or unionists on this or that particular issue. His assistant, Martha Pope, used to always say the former Senator liked to have his ducks lined up in a row. The temptation to press the override button should be resisted. If we start to unravel in one corner, we may start unintended consequences unravelling in other ones.
A question was asked about Articles 2 and 3, citizenship and so on. This is a sort of a betwixt and between situation. Essentially, it is a right to personal citizenship. It does not mean that people living in Derry and Omagh have a vote in the Dáil elections. An argument was made that elected Sinn Féin MPs should have the floor of the Dáil, etc.
One would run into this being an attempt to put in the old Articles 2 and 3 by the back door and effectively exercising jurisdiction. There are some limits as to what citizenship and I think the Government has committed itself, in principle anyway, to both in presidential elections but it has not actually proceeded forward with it.
There are two dynamics that were referred to, economic and political. Because we live in a mixed economy, a lot of the dynamic in any economy comes effectively from the private sector and so on with encouragement from the Government. One area which there are deficiencies, and I have been involved in a committee in this regard in the Royal Irish Academy, is in respect of higher education in the North and in particular the lack of higher education in the north-west, which in an ideal world would be done on a cross-border basis because Derry-Donegal is one region. It could be that some Ministers for education, I will not bother pointing out the party, believe the theory that people can be over-educated. How it serves the unionist interest to have such large numbers of people going across the water and then staying there I find impossible to fathom. Anyway, that is their business.
My only message on the political front is that we should not talk or behave as if we are taking the political outcomes for granted. That a united Ireland is inevitable and is going to happen and so on raises resistance. The message is for more acceptance of the fact that it is for a democratic decision north and south of the Border and that in some respects, there will be unpredictable elements as to how that would happen in whatever situation it would be.
Neutrality was mentioned briefly. Personally I am in favour of neutrality, provided it is recognised that it is a policy and not a status. Effectively a Geneva treaty-type status went out the window in 1914 when Belgian neutrality was overridden. One has a policy and what that means in a particular situation within wide limits has to be determined by each country for itself. Sweden was neutral until recently but up to 1941, it allowed German troops to cross its territory. We certainly did not go quite that far in 1940.
Hume-Adams was mentioned and one has to realise that there is the public theatre and there is also what is going on in the background. There is a good question as to whether Hume-Adams actually existed and it is dealt with in Albert Reynolds's autobiography to a certain extent. They made three very good public statements in 1993 but the reality was a draft declaration that was being worked on by three parties, and the third party was the Dublin Government. I even saw a private letter from Adams to Reynolds in 1993, in which he referred to what was subsequently called Hume-Adams as the Dublin document. History is actually an awful lot more complicated than what goes out on the public stage.
On the question of confederation which has been raised, as Mr. Kirwan said, by Senator McDowell and was also in the New Ireland Forum, Professor Brendan O'Leary argues - one could perhaps argue with him - that confederation is ruled out because it means first having an independent Northern Ireland, that is, confederation is between two independent states. There is a fairly strong suggestion that there would be strong nationalist-republican objections to the equivalent of an independent Northern Ireland even with foreign affairs and so on. It was suggested by Sir George Quigley, who was also behind the concept of the all-island economy in the early 1990s. On the whole, I would not be in favour of that. What I do think and I have always been - even at the time of the New Ireland Forum and at times when my party leader Charles Haughey was swithering on the other side - in favour of the unitary state. Within that context, however, Belfast requires a special status. We should remember when the United Irishmen in Belfast, the Presbyterian leadership in the 1790s, objected to Dublin Castle rule. Like Glasgow, Edinburgh and certain other places in the world, we need to give proper recognition to Belfast in any scheme. I also think we need to give more recognition to some of the achievements of Northern Ireland. It is very difficult to say you want to unite with a territory or that you respect unionist identity when you completely and totally reject the system of government which is part of their identity and with which they have identified. I think something a bit more nuanced and I am not in the least suggesting an uncritical attitude to the history of Northern Ireland, far from it.
I will finish on one point-----
It is ironic, and I say this somewhat in jest, given that point that it is the unionists who are staying out of government at the minute, in terms of respect for the system of government in the North. I am just making that point.
Dr. Martin Mansergh:
A very brief point was raised on the subject of Scotland by one of the questioners. I have a Scottish wife but I have also been involved in discussions with the Scottish Government in the late 1990s to early 2000s. I am full of sympathy but quite sceptical as to whether Scotland will in fact go independent. There are all sorts of problems like what sort of currency they have and use. They have the same prejudice against the euro as one would find south of the border in England. My personal advice and instinct would be to not to draw Scotland into one's calculations and in any case, you do not hear quite so much about the Ulster Scots these days as you did 20 years ago. The ethos of Nicola Sturgeon's Scotland does not have much appeal for unionists. The other thing is, Mr. Peter Robinson said and I suspect this is the realpolitiksituation in the short term, that if Scotland did vote for independence, they would maintain the Union, or unionists would want to maintain the Union with England without making too many bones about that. Sometimes sentimental factors have to be overridden.
H.E. Dr. Eamonn McKee:
He travelled a long and complicated journey, let us put it that way. His lasting contribution to Canada was the protection of minority rights because he was appalled at direct rule in Ireland and its consequences which included the Famine and he was also appalled at the development of society in the United States. A lasting legacy for Thomas D'Arcy McGee was the protection of minority rights within Canada. If we were to apply the Canadian model to Ireland, the closest we would get would be provincial parliaments and then a federal Government in Dublin.
On the Good Friday Agreement as a living document, the effort of the Good Friday Agreement was to democratically empower the people of Northern Ireland, while recognising the all-island nature of Ireland through North-South and so I think we have to cue to that attempt to make sure the implementation of the agreement to the greatest extent possible is democratic and empowering. How we do that is the critical issue of our time because of the current unionist position in terms of the restoration of the institutions.
There is certainly unfinished business in the Good Friday Agreement. I do not think anyone would argue that Northern Ireland as it exists today reflects the ambitions we have and that are set out in the Good Friday Agreement.
Reference was made to the British. The British Government certainly has its own interests. It is not a disinterested party. We saw that starkly in the case of Pat Finucane where it abolished the tribunals of inquiry, rather than have an inquiry into the circumstances of his assassination. We also saw that Britain has its own interests throughout the Saville inquiry and most recently with Brexit. That is the nature of its system.
It is important to have a debate on the economic model and the economics of this because sometimes we assume identity is fixed. I suspect identity is much more flexible and that it is often based on where people think their interests and those of their families and children lie in the future as regards their economic betterment. We can see this in various opinion polls. For example, during the Celtic tiger years support for a united Ireland within Northern Ireland was higher than it was during the financial crisis. People make those calculations. It is also a good time to look at macroeconomic models. In the South we are highly dependent on foreign direct investment, which is a dynamic area. The support and empowerment of indigenous sectors need to be looked at on both sides of the Border. Certainly, economic models are an important part of this debate.
On the Hume-Adams dialogues, we have to go back to the circumstances. The vitriol directed at John Hume was quite astonishing for a man who was absolutely dedicated to peace and who had a strategic insight that if there was going to be peace in Ireland, it was not going to happen by building the middle ground outwards. It was going to have to be an inclusive process. Looking at the build-up to the Good Friday Agreement, including the negotiations, the one hallmark of it was inclusivity. We were ensuring everything was on the table. For example, during the negotiations, the Women's Coalition had a licence in a way to go around to all the different political parties and take stock of their views and whether anyone was feeling isolated or not included. That was an important role. Inclusivity has always been a key principle and it is something we must be guided by in the debate around a united Ireland.
In an article in the Dublin Review of Booksthat has just issued, the writer states that, for unionists, listening to a discussion of a united Ireland is similar to being at their own funeral arrangements. We must be aware of that too and bear that sensitivity in mind. However, equally, we must have this conversation because if we do not, we will be surprised by events. One unionist put a scenario to me which is that in the event of a move towards a united Ireland, unionists will end up in a situation of exodus and enclave and a new border will be drawn where the burning tyres are. That is why we must have this debate but in an inclusive way in order that there are no surprises.
Dr. McKee's last point is important. One of the weaknesses of our articulation of the Good Friday Agreement is the lack of unionist involvement in our discussions. As has been said, much of our debate is not listened to willingly, much less participated in. They feel if they participate at all, their position will be gone forever. That is the impression I get. We must find a mechanism to engage, whether it be civic unionism, as is often said, or especially political unionism, in a way that they do not feel threatened by those discussions. Is that not the reality? Our problem is finding a way to do that.
H.E. Dr. Eamonn McKee:
I will also make another point. We have had what I have often described as a hesitant approach to Canada. We have moved from hesitancy to embrace. One of the reasons we had a degree of uncertainty about Canada was because Canada's sovereign is the British Crown. We were not sure what to make of that during the troubles in Northern Ireland. However, we all recognised that the visit of Queen Elisabeth II in 2011 and the follow-up visit of our President to Britain in 2014 represented a historic rapprochement. It came out of the Good Friday Agreement and meant we could look at and engage with Canada in a much more fulsome way without those hesitations and reservations. In the past few decades we have begun to re-examine the complexity of Irish identity and nationalist identity. It is a much more complex thing. That is a good debate to have because it means we are able to look at this and our relationship with Britain, Scotland, Wales and indeed Canada in a much more embracing way that looks at the embrace of diversity of the past and how we have to manage that for the future.
Ms Michelle Gildernew:
I welcome all the witnesses to today's meeting. It is good to see them all. It has been a useful discussion.
The forthcoming 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement will be a fundamental moment in Irish history. While I do not want to juxtapose it with the position on Brexit, that has changed opinions among many people in the North. One of the last points made was around civic versus political unionism. There is a move within civic unionism to engage in the debate and prepare. I am also a little fearful that, because it is at the whim of the British Secretary of State to Northern Ireland to call a referendum, we do not want to be unprepared.
One of the areas that was vital 25 years ago was the fact that a copy of the Good Friday Agreement was posted to every home. People could pick it up and read it. I know these days that links are online and so forth, but the fact that every home had a hard copy and anyone could pick it up and read it was a valuable exercise. Perhaps we should repeat that 25 years on because we now have a whole cohort of young voters who were not born during the Good Friday Agreement era and whose future is predicated on some of the rights included in the Good Friday Agreement. There are also people who have come from other parts of the world and made Ireland their home who I presume would be interested in the rights based in the Good Friday Agreement and would be keen to read that document, perhaps for the first time for many of them, and to see what their future could look like in a unified Ireland. Rights and protections for minorities is part of that. That is just a thought.
In the Canadian roadshow this year, along with some of my colleagues-----
Ms Michelle Gildernew:
I was making the point that there is a generation of people who would probably love to read the Good Friday Agreement and perhaps we should think about sending a copy to their homes, in the same way we did 25 years ago. I have a question for Dr. McKee.
I took part in the Cross-Canada Irish Unity Roadshow in Canada this year with some of my colleagues. Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile was part of it as well, along with Ms Begley and John Finucane, MP. I was in Prince Edward Island, Halifax and Newfoundland. One of the issues I was lobbied on was the reinstatement of the direct link between Newfoundland and Dublin. My last part of the trip was in Newfoundland and I had to travel back via Toronto. If there is an opportunity to lobby for the very important air network and those linkages between the 33rd county and the rest of Ireland, that would be great.
Some of my colleagues alluded to the Good Friday Agreement as a living, working document, and spoke about what it could be to people who were not around - they were not born or were not in Ireland - during the 1990s. It is a question of how they see it as being relevant to their future in Ireland moving on. Go raibh maith agaibh. I appreciate the opportunity to contribute today.
Ms ?rfhlaith Begley:
Much of what I was going to say has been covered. I was going to refer to the Citizens' Assembly and ask for the opinions of the contributors on that debate and discussion. There is a good deal of discussion at present regarding a future unity referendum, what it would look like and what a future Irish reunification would look like in terms of an all-island health service, infrastructure and so forth. There is much discussion about that at the Citizens' Assembly at present. When I was in Canada, I was part of the Cross-Canada Irish Unity Roadshow along with Ms Gildernew and Senator Ó Donnghaile. There was a lot of debate and discussion around that at the roadshow. I am sure Dr. McKee hears that on the ground as well.
Another issue that always comes to the fore in Canada or in the USA is presidential voting rights. I am sure this is something that is continually brought up by the Irish diaspora throughout the world who want to have presidential voting rights and to see those rights extended to citizens in the North as well. I would welcome the views and thoughts of the witnesses on that.
A third topic that I do not believe this has been touched on today relates to the legacy proposals which are being brought in through Westminster at this time. We do not have an Assembly or an Executive in place in the North at present but there has been agreement from all of the main parties in the North in terms of their opposition to the proposals being brought through Westminster. I would welcome the witnesses' synopsis on the impact they believe this will have on the Good Friday Agreement and going forward into the future. They are some quick questions to plough through. I thank the witnesses for their contributions and for all the work they have done throughout the years in building peace throughout our island.
H.E. Dr. Eamonn McKee:
I had a great trip to Newfoundland last May. When I was talking to a guy from Waterford, I discovered he was actually third generation Fogo Island but the Waterford accent could be cut with a knife. The connection is great. I would love to see that flight back. It is only about four and a half hours. The shortest distance across the great North Atlantic is between Newfoundland and Ireland. There is a brilliant UNESCO joint heritage project to commemorate the electric cable that was successfully dropped between Heart’s Content in Newfoundland and Valentia Island in County Kerry in 1866. It truly was the start of globalisation and globalised communication. We are working on a great project with the communities in Heart’s Content and Valentia Island to make it a UNESCO world heritage site. It is indicative of the connections between us. One of the joys of being in Canada has been discovering the Irish contribution to Canada, which is immense and very deep. It is a story that is not well known in Canada or even in Ireland. We have pursued some initiatives to demonstrate the depth of the Irish contribution. The Irish have been coming to Canada for three centuries.
I would support anything that reminds people of the Good Friday Agreement. I remind myself how old I am when I go back 25 years to those negotiations and back further. All of that is necessary because when we look back on the news footage from the 1970s and 1980s, we see how grim it all really was and how much change there has been for the good. We want to maintain that. I would say we need to return to the idealism of the Good Friday Agreement. While we have spoken a good deal about the pragmatism of it, I think there was a real sense of shared idealism about the future. I know that people like Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, Ian Paisley and so on were motivated by creating a better future for their children. That is why they left old habits behind. That is why they felt that this was the time to make an agreement. We cannot foist this conflict on our children. We have to bear in mind that our generation’s responsibility is to build a future that is better than the past, and not to inflict these problems on our children. That was genuinely the motivating force among the political leadership.
We have not mentioned that Albert Reynolds was a key figure in this. The Downing Street Declaration of 1993 was an absolutely critical breakthrough. The architect of that was Seán O hUiginn. That essentially addressed the fundamental damage done by partition in not securing the sovereign will of the Irish people. That declaration was a very intensely thought-through formula that led directly to the IRA ceasefire the following year in 1994. It took a huge amount of effort, much of it driven by idealism about how to build a better future. If we use the opportunity of the Good Friday Agreement to remind people of the future we are looking for, we will realise that are looking for a future of equality, rights and justice and of people who can have a good living and have economic and educational opportunities throughout Northern Ireland and also down South.
It is instructive to look at various models. It has been argued that after 1922, we had a counter-revolutionary government in place for all kinds of good reasons, such as stability. However, being in Canada has made me think about the fact that we do not often talk about the damage of colonialism in the South. We do not often talk about its lasting legacies. One of the reasons we have such difficulty in getting a good health service is that the origins of our health service go back to the colonial period of direct but very indifferent rule from London for 120 years that allowed the role of the church to develop in health and education. We have not been very introspective in the South about the long legacies of colonialism. In a way, thinking about a united Ireland allows us to have that conversation and consider how to remedy some of those deficits and address some of the governance issues. I do not think you can have a debate about a united Ireland without having implications for the South. Arguably, you could say there are as many implications for the South as there are for the North. Going back to Dr. Mansergh’s original point, if you are talking about a united Ireland you are talking about building a new state.
I dealt with legacy a good deal in my time in the Anglo-Irish division. I was involved in the Cory process, which looked into allegations of collusion, the Saville inquiry and the Finucane case. This was always going to be a really difficult one. Part of the mindset of those of us involved in the Good Friday Agreement was that we were building for the future. We thought that if we got into a discussion around past narratives, or had a competition around past narratives, we were never going to go anywhere. However, that did not mean we could leave those issues behind. We had to deal with those issues. I would say that myself and my colleagues in the Irish Government in general have been very much to the fore in looking for truth and particularly justice for the victims of violence in Northern Ireland, including victims of state violence in Northern Ireland.
I will not comment directly on the current legacy proposals but we must be very mindful of the rule of law and justice and the need for it to be victim-centred in a way that is principled and based in human rights law.
Mr. Wally Kirwan:
We have touched a certain amount on the future beyond the day after tomorrow. We should not lose sight of the fact that the institutions are down at present. Our first priority at the present time must be trying to get the institutions back to get the dynamic of the Good Friday Agreement working again. Regarding how one does that, I wish to speak about citizens' assemblies and the degree to which the unionist community or representatives of it have taken part in past efforts. During the week, I had occasion to go back and look at the publications of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. One hears a certain amount of commentary regarding the different forums that the unionists did not really take part in. It is suggested that the unionist parties, as such, did not take part in either the New Ireland Forum or the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. I was reminded looking over the publications of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation that there was tremendous engagement by the unionist community in the work and deliberations of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. All of the Protestant churches were involved, as were a number of interested citizens' groups like the Evangelical Contribution on Northern Ireland and so on. There was quite strong engagement.
While, in the first instance, we need to prioritise getting the institutions up and going again, there is a benefit, as shown in the work of the forums and the National Forum on Europe, of getting out to the public. I see merit in something similar to citizens' assemblies, but perhaps not so directive as some of the assemblies that have taken place on different topics so far. A degree of flexibility needs to be retained such that one can react to events possibly proceeding faster. I would not like us to be hung up on a particular rhythm of citizens' assemblies. By all means, get out there and have discussions and try to get engagement from the unionist community, as there was at the time of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, but it should still be directed at political level here by the Government and elected representatives of the people.
In the Downing Street Declaration, as Dr. McKee mentioned, there was a section stating that the Taoiseach would check what practices or dimensions in the South were a problem for people in the North. A lot of work was done on that. Surprisingly good progress was made, even on things like symbols. The Forum for Peace and Reconciliation had a number of subcommittees, as one would expect with a body similar to the present one. They ran out of political chairmen. I was acting as chairman of the subcommittee established to deal with obstacles in the South to reconciliation. Looking back, considerable progress was being made in that committee when, unfortunately, the bomb went off in Canary Wharf and the forum went into a limbo from which it did not really emerge. It is worth digging out that work and looking at it again because considerable progress was made. There was good engagement by the unionist community. We need to get the institutions and the North-South Ministerial Council up and running. I was reading over the files at the National Archives last week relating to movements towards the implementation bodies; there was great momentum there. We should be able to get back to it. A lot will depend on the situation as regards the protocol and whether we can break that impasse as a first step, then getting the Good Friday Agreement up and running again and, in a measured way, taking up the dimensions of a future Ireland as well.
H.E. Dr. Eamonn McKee:
I meant to say that Mr. Kirwan has been a tremendous champion of Newfoundland for many years. He has been great. Any work we are going to do on that is built on his tremendous support for the Irish connection with Newfoundland. I acknowledge his lasting legacy. He is a well-known man in Newfoundland and well loved over there.
Dr. Martin Mansergh:
Yes, I heard that from the Carrick-on-Suir end. One lesson of the Good Friday Agreement which is relevant to future developments is that it was inclusive, as far as possible. As the Chairman said, all parties or all communities got round the table. There were one or two exceptions, such as Bob McCartney and Ian Paisley, but in general Northern Ireland was well represented round the table. In any process that leads to constitutional change, whatever preliminary steps are made by different groups or people, if it is going anywhere it has to end up the same way, in a full-scale, all-party, negotiation involving the two governments. I was once asked to give a talk to some Young Unionists - now the Ulster Young Unionists - visiting Dublin at least 20 years ago. I chose the topic of Irish identity and demonstrated that from the late 17th century through to the present, in every generation there was a different conception of Irish identity. Young Ireland was different from the United Irishmen and they were different from the Fenians. The Irish-Irelanders were something again and so forth. One can go through it systematically. There was a period when the Protestant elite considered they were the Irish nation. Jonah Barrington wrote Rise and Fall of the Irish Nationabout the fall Grattan's Parliament. Of course, they were the only people who had political rights.
Regarding the institutions being down and back, this is one area in which I have great faith in the British Government. A single thread that I have observed going through its policy over the past 30 or 40 years is that it is absolutely determined to restore devolution any time it is down. It can be down for all sorts of reasons and it is not always just one party or community. I think one can absolutely take it that the British Government's thirst for having Northern Ireland at a certain degree of arm's length has not in any way slackened. Anyone who thinks they can boycott it and then they will be left to live a comfortable political life will not be able to do so. Even the current Secretary of State and so on, Brexiteers though they may be, have been putting pressure on the DUP and will continue to do so regardless of what is agreed or not agreed on the protocol.
With regard to presidential polling rights, I suspect the reason there may be some delay or hesitation in government is that - I understand this is the case but I have not followed it closely myself - opinion polls in this jurisdiction show a rather negative trend of public opinion. It depends how it would be extended but if the franchise was extended, it would not only be to the North but to Britain, America and so on. I think that hesitation would be based on the argument that, as regards the number of people voting and on a simple one-to-one basis, there would be far more electors outside of the Republic of Ireland than inside it, yet the functions of the President would have to be related to the Republic, constitutionally at any rate. I think there are problems there, although weighted electorates can sometimes be used as a way around that problem.
With regard to the legacy issues, unfortunately, I think the only constituency the British Government is interested in are the folks who live in the south of England who have connections to people who were involved in controversial actions at the time of the Troubles. There is not much indication, I am afraid, that there is any great interest in the views of anyone in Northern Ireland. I cannot help reflecting - I am not saying the two situations can be compared because they cannot be - on what happened in the early 1920s after the Civil War was over. So many crimes had been committed on all sides, the State included, that after about 1924, there was a kind of general amnesty and nothing further was done. That cannot be done, however. People have the democratic right to pursue justice and here and there they may be successful, although the chances of success are not very high.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for arranging this session. I apologise for a characteristic which I think he criticised me for when I was in the Houses. I do have a tendency to be a little garrulous.
I have enjoyed everybody's contributions today. I feel, if it is the correct word to use, humbled by the experience and our guests sharing with us all of the activities they engaged in for the good of everybody living on this island during their careers. Every one of them has been impressive and their knowledge is absolutely phenomenal. I am very interested in the views Dr. McKee articulated. His knowledge of history, like Dr. Mansergh's, goes back to the late 18th century. His idea that we should consider Canada as a model is one the committee could usefully pursue.
Given Dr. McKee's portfolio over the years and the role the United States has played in the past, how important is the relationship with the US? In more recent times, since the Good Friday Agreement, we have taken that relationship for granted. Given the damage the legacy Bill being driven through in Westminster will have, how important is that relationship? What role does Dr. McKee envisage the US Administration will play in future agreements on the status of Northern Ireland and the Republic?
H.E. Dr. Eamonn McKee:
The Senator has asked a good question because we have not aired that enough. The role played by the White House and of the Congress of the United States has been absolutely critical to progress in Northern Ireland. To go back to first principles, after the Second World War, Britain tied its global interests and positions to the United States, and that remains to this day. One cannot over-exaggerate the sensitivity of Downing Street to the White House across all kinds of briefs. When the White House is engaged it makes a huge difference. Certainly, Irish diplomatic efforts throughout the conflict in Northern Ireland focused in Washington on the development of the Friends of Ireland group in Congress and the Senate. That was a great investment and always paid dividends.
If we go back, for example, to the New Ireland Forum and Margaret Thatcher's famous "Out, out, out" rejection of the options it produced, it was Ronald Reagan's response in which he told Mrs. Thatcher that we needed a solution that got her to engage in the negotiations on the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985. That was a breakthrough negotiation, in my view, as I said.
If we fast forward to the Clinton Administration, it was absolutely critical that we had engagement with it and that Clinton himself had the intelligence and independence to make his own decisions, contrary even to the advice of the State Department and other agencies in Washington, for example, to grant Gerry Adams a visa because if the republicans were going to surrender the leverage of violence, they needed an assurance that they would have the ear of Washington and they knew that was really important, as did we. The Clinton Administration played a key role. Vice President Al Gore, for example, was given the job of making sure there was outreach to unionism so that the White House was taking a balanced approach. It was no coincidence that the chair of the Good Friday talks was George Mitchell. He played a key role in making sure that when text was agreed it was banked with him and it could not be undone or resiled from. Washington played a crucial role throughout the Good Friday Agreement and negotiations, and the subsequent implementation.
I am glad to say that under Global Ireland, the Government has invested heavily and we now have an embassy and eight consulates in the United States. That is a great development because it gives us very deep roots.
As we have seen, and I think it is absolutely critical, President Biden and the White House are paying very close attention to the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and the efforts to restore the institutions. That gives huge momentum and builds up the opportunity to restore the institutions in Northern Ireland. I do not think the significance of the relationship and the interest of the White House and Congress generally can be underplayed. It is hugely valuable to us and has been in the past.
Canada has also made a huge contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process. We had Justice Hoyt on the Saville inquiry. Justice Cory did a phenomenal job on allegations of collusion. My neighbour here, John de Chastelain, as part of the independent International Commission on Decommissioning, made an absolutely vital contribution. He told a wonderful story about the achievement of decommissioning. He said he dealt with a quartermaster throughout the destruction of the weapons and he always noticed that he had a sidearm. When the last batch of weapons was destroyed the quartermaster turned to him and said, "That is it". John said to him, "No, it is not" and pointed to the sidearm. In a very redolent moment the quartermaster took out the weapon and handed it to him. I thought that was a great story from a man who gave an awful lot to taking the gun out of Irish politics. He is a great figure and indicative of the contribution that Canada has also made to the Northern Ireland peace process.