Wednesday, 2 February 2005
Northern Ireland Issues: Motion.
Joe O'Toole (Independent)
I thank Senator Dardis for proposing this challenging motion. I do not like what is in it, but I have to say I agree with all of it. I do not oppose it in any sense. I am uneasy about it and uncomfortable with it because it marks a point in time that we have been through before. Over the past 30 years, I have often found myself in an unusual position. I was the only one of my circle of friends who was opposed to the IRA in 1969. I found myself on my own again 13 years later, when I was the only one who understood the objectives of the hunger strikers. When I met John Hume in the Members' bar between 1987 and 1989, just after I had been elected to this House, he told me that none of the party leaders would talk to him because he was engaging in discussions with Sinn Féin. It is important to recognise such matters.
Although I agree with the points made in the motion put down by the Progressive Democrats, I would rather speak about where it leads us than about the motion itself. I would like to make a balancing statement. Like Senator Bradford, I firmly and absolutely believe that the leadership of Sinn Féin is committed to the political process and to peace. I also believe the things which are said about the Sinn Féin leadership in the motion. There is a need for them to move on. Regarding the peace process, the lives which have been saved since the ceasefire are a tribute to the political courage of the leadership of Sinn Féin. I do not say that merely as a balancing statement. We have made great progress.
I have waited all my life for something that happened in Irish politics last week. I stand to be corrected, but it was something that had never happened before. I think it reflects a maturity which is a consequence of the peace process. I refer to what happened after our President made an unfortunate mistake. Any right-thinking person could see that it was only a mistake. When the President issued a full and comprehensive apology — that in itself might not be entirely unusual — it was stunning and utterly unusual that it was completely and absolutely accepted by the other side.