Seanad debates

Wednesday, 2 February 2005

Northern Ireland Issues: Motion.


6:00 pm

John Dardis (Progressive Democrats)

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as bheith anseo. I welcome the Minister of State's comments. I am particularly glad it appears there will not be a division of opinion on this motion. It is reflective of the general approach of the House to these matters for many years.

Those of us who have been here for some time have reason to remember that on an almost weekly basis in the past, we were required to denounce yet another atrocity. I recall that not much more than a week or so went by before we had to condemn another atrocity, whether committed by republican or loyalist paramilitaries. We can recall the Darkley Bible Hall, Narrow Water and the Miami Showband. The catalogue goes on and on. They were very dark days and we should be mindful not to return to them, something which requires us to be perhaps circumspect and moderate in our tone. I always recall that some of the most sensible words spoken in those darkest hours were by people like Sam McAughtry and the late Gordon Wilson. It was quite remarkable — there is a lesson in it — that Gordon Wilson could hold the hand of his daughter as she died in the square in Enniskillen and could subsequently go, unilaterally, to the people who had been the agents of her death to try to create some peace because he believed so passionately that was what was required of him as a Christian. He fulfilled that Christian obligation to the full. I am always mindful of that on these occasions.

However, I am also mindful of the fact we seem to have reached a point where language has been so devalued as to be almost meaningless. Senator Ryan spoke about the proud tradition of republicanism, to which all parties subscribe. Even the words "the peace process" seem to have been devalued to some extent by those who claim sole custody of that process. I have heard Mr. Adams on many occasions claim to be the custodian of the peace process but, of course, that is not the case. Many people throughout this and the other island are, and have been, part of that process and built the edifice painfully, slowly and well to the point where we got the Belfast Agreement and everything that flowed from it.

There has been selective quotation of the Belfast Agreement by extremists on both sides to the point that one would wonder whether the words in the Agreement are those they think are in it. It is important we proclaim very loudly in what we believe because we seem to hear a lot of what they believe. We believe in democracy and in all the consequences of subscribing to democracy. We believe in the legitimacy of the Army, in the legitimacy and authority of the Government, in the independence and impartiality of the Judiciary, in adherence to the rule of law, in respect for human rights and in loyalty to the President and the Constitution. Democracy cannot beÀ la carte. One must subscribe to the above if one claims to be a democrat but I do not see much evidence of some people wishing to subscribe to them.

It struck me as very curious that there could be such a long and difficult debate about whether Turkey fulfilled the criteria to become a member of the European Union when there were people on our island who were very far from even going part of the way Turkey had gone to try to meet its obligations. I resent deeply that some people on this island regard the national flag as being in their custody not that of the Oireachtas and the nation. That attitude needs to be challenged as does the belief that, in some way, the people who claim to represent republicanism today are the inheritors of the legacy of Griffith, Sinn Féin and the people who founded it 100 years ago because they are not. We claim that legacy and that is the reason we are here today.

The prize has been so great in terms of stability and progress — the Minister of State enunciated some of the things which have flowed from it in regard to co-operation between North and South and between the United Kingdom and Ireland — that at times we have been mesmerised. At times our judgment has failed us because we were so concerned about not going back to those days when we stood up in the House on a weekly basis to denounce the barbarity which flowed all around us. In some respects, I think that perhaps clouded our judgment. Some would describe what happened as appeasement but I reject that view. As Senator Minihan said, it came out of a genuine desire of decent people to have that decency reign supreme on the island.

However, it is not possible to negotiate a deal under the threat of paramilitarism or criminality. It has been very convenient to have that threat hanging in the atmosphere to the extent that we must go and speak to the Army Council. Those fellows should get up and look in the mirror — there is the Army Council. That threat of violence has been in the back of our minds. Rejecting violence is part of the Good Friday Agreement.

I recall going down to the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation and meeting the Sinn Féin representatives for the first time. We have all crossed our individual Rubicons during the period and it was distasteful but we knew we had to do that to bring people into the democratic system. I recall going to the United Nations in New York to speak on behalf of the people of East Timor and having to listen to Gerry Adams being lionised in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel and on every news and talk show in America because Bill Clinton had lifted the ban and Gerry Adams had gone to America. That needed to be done. There have been all those steps along the way and Rubicons have been crossed — some have been small for people while others have been huge for governments and international relations.

We are at a point when the prize is now within our grasp. That is the test except that on this occasion, the onus is on Sinn Féin and the IRA to respond. So often in the past, the response has been from both Governments but not from the republican side. Are they prepared to make the last leap to create the type of Ireland we want to see? I do not care if there are two parliaments — one in Belfast and one in Dublin — provided the peace is stable, criminality is put behind us, people subscribe to the rule of law and the rights of individuals, and one does not put a bullet in the head of someone like Jean McConville or gun down gardaí in the street. I want to see that day gone for good.

There is a dilemma for us as constitutional politicians. We are mesmerised to see people who will sell drugs on the street and, on the other hand, kneecap those who engage in the same activity. We are transfixed by this and do not know how to deal with it. As a result of this type of activity, people get support through the ballot box. We contest elections on the basis that it must be done democratically and with the support of the police force and the agencies of the State. We are at some disadvantage in this regard.

We are subjected to another hypocrisy on a daily basis from those who talk of a ban on the sale of arms to China. These people should give us a break. This is the ultimate in hypocrisy. I agree with an observation made by Senators Ryan and O'Rourke. We were duped in that one image was presented to us while something totally different was going on in the background. Despite all this, we must go forward with good faith and trust. I commend the Taoiseach, the British Prime Minister and everybody else involved on their efforts.

I wish to make a final point. The Taoiseach of this sovereign State has no obligation to offer explanations to Mr. Gerry Adams, who has made several such requests. The Taoiseach does his explaining to the Houses of the Oireachtas and, ultimately, to the people of the country in an election. He does not have to explain to Mr. Adams. The Provisional movement must decide where it will go from here. Patriotism makes demands of us. If my patriotism were to demand of me that I must see my political party disappear to ensure permanent and lasting peace in this country, I would pay that price.


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