Seanad debates

Wednesday, 2 February 2005

Northern Ireland Issues: Motion.


6:00 pm

Maurice Hayes (Independent)

I suppose for a moment I could let my own wounds bleed for a bit. It is somewhat patronising for people to tell the voters in Northern Ireland that they should stand up and be counted because they have done enough of that over the years. Most people who voted for Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland have not voted for criminality or a return to paramilitarism. They voted for that party because they believed that was the way to become engaged in the process and to endorse it. Sinn Féin works very hard at it, which is a lesson for other political parties. The place to fight one's political opponents is on the doorsteps.

I was interested in what the Minister of State had to say. If he does not mind me saying so, I thought it was an excellent response to a debate we have not had and did not address the motion at all. It is a pity to take the focus away from the motion and particularly its final two paragraphs, which I very much endorse. The Minister of State referred to additional arrangements regarding policing, which were reached at Weston Park. As those have never been in the public domain, I wonder what they are and whether they go further than the implementation of the Patten report. The proposed inquiry into the killing of Pat Finucane has been roundly rejected by the Finucane family and by most people concerned in that field as not being adequate to address the needs as regards transparency and otherwise.

I have always taken a view that it is an obscenity to compare anything in Northern Ireland with the fate of black people in the southern states of America, South Africans under apartheid or the people in the Holocaust. Equally it is not helpful to talk about Nazis, gulags, etc. I am deeply against the armed struggle. It has been futile and destructive. While I agree Catholics had disadvantages in Northern Ireland, I do not believe they were worth a single life. Those disadvantages have now by and large been removed and addressed. What the armed struggle has done by driving people in the North apart and driving people in the island apart is to make even more difficult an achievement that was the ostensible objective of republican policy, which was to unite people on the island.

Coming back to the point of the motion, the purpose of the whole peace process was to bring into the political process people who had been addicted to violence and military methods in pursuing their aims and also to get an inclusive engagement in the political life of Northern Ireland. When trying to resolve conflict, there is no point in confining talks to the people who are not fighting. While I can see why people have frustration and lose patience, to say we are back to where we were previously is not true by any standards. Remarkable changes have been made over that time. There have not been as many; they have not been as conclusive and they have not moved as quickly as most of us would have liked. Most of the other parties engaged in negotiating the Good Friday Agreement believed they were making an agreement with the republican movement and not just with one section of it which could claim it had no connection with people who are under a different management, regardless of whether they were. That has been the greatest disappointment and it has taken too long.

I am not a Manichean in these matters. I believe that people are capable of amendment. References have been made here to the previous history and the pre-history of some of the main political parties on the island, North and South, which strengthen me in my belief. In the anxiety to pin blame at this stage we should not underrate the contribution made by the Sinn Féin leadership over the years and the distance it has brought a very difficult constituency at a risk not only to political careers but also to lives. We should not now allow people to denigrate John Hume for doing the very thing which, as Senator Dardis has said, he was quite prepared to do — to sacrifice his party for the general good.

We are where we are. Sinn Féin has come to a fork in the road. We must say to it, as the Government has rightly done, that it has a political mandate with the support of nearly 60% of the Nationalist community in Northern Ireland and that it has a responsibility to that constituency. This and nothing else should be its calling card. It is impossible in present circumstances or in any circumstances to contemplate a political party entering Government, which has any links whatsoever with criminality at an organic level and which is not prepared to abjure those links. It is totally unreasonable to expect other political parties to do business with them on that basis. We cannot ask the Unionist parties in Northern Ireland to do what no party in this State would do.

In a sense, we are asking Sinn Féin "to do a de Valera", as Senator Ryan put it. We are asking its members to say "Yes, we have come this far, now is the time". They have been very concerned over the years not to have a split in their movement, or at least to minimise splits. One can understand that, but there comes a time when those who are going to take the political high road should take that road and rely on their support at the polls. I believe they could and should do that.

All other parties are asking Sinn Féin for a declaration that it is not in any way connected with criminality. It is being asked to break any links, real or perceived, with criminality and to support the police, North and South. It is impossible to think that people who serve in Government as legislators might say that they do not accept the laws they make, that they mean something else by them or that they do not support the police. It was chilling to hear that police in Belfast who were investigating the stabbing of a man in a pub brawl were stoned by kids of eight, nine or ten years of age last night, in a clearly orchestrated attempt to prevent the authorities from accessing evidence.

We must not throw out the baby with the bath water at this stage. We are where we are. There is no possibility of resolving the conflict in Northern Ireland without involving Sinn Féin and the people they represent. The investment in the present Sinn Féin leadership is at risk. Such people have a job to do and we should give them the opportunity to do it. If they reach out their hands, our hands should be ready to pull them aboard the ship of state.


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