Wednesday, 2 February 2005
Northern Ireland Issues: Motion.
Martin Mansergh (Fianna Fail)
I thank the Progressive Democrats for proposing this motion.
I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for his speech, which states the many ways in which democracy has been enhanced, particularly since the Good Friday Agreement, in terms of policing reform, North-South institutions, the reform of criminal justice, etc. It is incorrect to say democracy has been debased, that there has been a process of appeasement or that we are back to square one. We have been involved in a very important process of democratisation and getting rid of the violent elements that have been concentrated largely, but not exclusively, in the North. It is a difficult, intricate process in which there are bound to be setbacks, as there have been.
To give one a sense of perspective, let me quote an e-mail from a source in New Delhi about a conference to be held in a couple of months. It is interesting to read what it states about Northern Ireland:
Despite frequent crises and its current ailing state, the Northern Ireland peace process is one of the most successful examples of the new directions a partition-related peace process can take. Incidents of violence are so infrequent as to cause a storm of protest when they do occur. Britain and Ireland are partners in peace and the opening of all borders will eventually make the territorial sovereignty dispute redundant. How did this long deadlocked dispute get to this point?
While many of us are profoundly disappointed by our present position, we must retain a sense of perspective and direction.
I am not sure that we should be providing diversions. We need to be a little careful in this regard. There are two mistakes that we could make, one of which would be to over-victimise and exclude Sinn Féin. The history of the past ten years, if not longer, has demonstrated that Sinn Féin thrives on exclusion and victimisation and is extremely good at playing that card. Please let us not fall into that trap. Second, the drawback to adopting some of the alternative strategies or suggestions that various parties have proposed is that we would move away from the issue that concerns us towards a consideration of the merits or otherwise of these alternatives. In many ways, by attempting to go down that path one might be reducing the pressure rather than increasing it.
Napoleon once abducted, from across the frontier, a member of the Bourbon royal family, the Duc d'Enghien, and had him shot. Fouché commented: "This is more than a crime, it is a blunder." Much the same could be said about the Northern Bank raid. It represents a great slap in the face for everybody concerned. To gain an idea of the effect it had on credibility, one should read the editorial from yesterday's Belfast Telegraph, which stated: "So it would be premature, and a waste of time, for the two governments to try to revive the devolution negotiations that came to a halt well before the bank raid — and fell off a precipice afterwards." The article also states that "there may have to be a change of leadership, on both sides, and a lengthy period of quarantine, before the politicians are ready to do business". The loss of trust is of the order of, if not greater than, the loss of trust that took place at the time of the bomb at Canary Wharf. I have asked whether the bank raid was a sort of benign Canary Wharf — benign only in the sense that nobody was killed.
The people of this country have come through a long period of troubles, concentrated in 30 years but, in a sense, dating back 100 years. We want democracy, the rule of law and human rights. Practices such as punishment beatings are an abuse of human rights. I heard David Ervine say of the republican movement that many working class people were demanding this type of action. I would like to hear some working class people say on radio that they approve and support people being mutilated for life and shot. I do not know where those people are. I agree entirely that punishment beatings must end. We have shown enormous patience in this regard and there are those who would argue that we have perhaps shown far too much. We have shown patience over a ten-year period and it is time to bring this process to a conclusion. It has been made much more difficult by the bank raid but, nonetheless, we must keep working on it. I have written somewhere that although one can bring a horse to the water but cannot make it drink, horses actually need water and will eventually drink.