Hearts and Minds: Starting a conversation about having a conversation?

This exchange from Hearts and Minds last night has two, what I’d call, very very weird moments. One is when Mike Nesbitt tells Noel Thompson to ‘go and talk to his producer’ about the conditions under which he has agreed to do the interviewer. And two is really just the way he stumps Declan Kearney (who holds only a party office in Sinn Fein).

This comes at the end of repeated attempts by Nesbitt to get Kearney to start the very conversation he has said he wants to have with Unionists. The result is a very bizarre, almost surreal experience in which Nesbitt comes across as waspish at times. And Kearney refuses at every opportunity to actually engage in the conversation he says he wants.

Welcome to the Twilight Zone of our once beloved Peace Process™….

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  • Video is private. No access.

  • sdelaneys

    “This video is private” message coming up when clicked on but I saw the programme and bizarre is the word, especially Kearney’s refusal to ‘start the conversation’ he claims to be so keen on.
    Nesbitt was refusing to go into detail because, he claimed, of an embargo on their plan for another wee wheen o days.

  • Mick Fealty

    Yep, sorry lads. Honestly thought I’d sorted that before I uploaded it… free to view now…

  • iluvni

    Good on Nesbitt for calling that [Mind your language – Mods] bluff.

  • cynic2

    Dont you realise that SF have agreed only to engage in the engagement at this stage. All the modalities and phasing and choreography of that engagement then have to be modalised and phased and choreographed before they can be agreed then planned and implemented via focus groups at every level of the party then signed off by the Army Council (whoops… slipped that one in didn’t I, naughty me).

    The first actual chat with a prod (except a symbolic chat between Marty and Liz) is scheduled for about May 2019 – long enough after 2016 not to be too embarrassing and in that quiet period between Easter and the Twelfth

  • Declan seems to have forgotten these words:

    “In recent months, I and Martin Mc Guinness have publicly encouraged dialogue in which, we listen to each other unconditionally; language is humanised; and, all voices are heard, north and south; republican, unionist, nationalist and loyalist.

    Since then citizens from the Protestant and unionist community have welcomed this as a genuine initiative.”

    Context is everything and Declan is placing reconciliation in a Strand 2 context, the island of Ireland – a Nationalist solution to a Nationalist-Unionist problem – and so is implicitly rejecting the 1998 Agreement.

    He’s blundering over the same ground as John Hume did in his ‘Personal Views – Politics, Peace and Reconciliation in Ireland’. Unionists and Nationalists are good at talking at each other but, being hide-bound to their opposing aspirations, find it almost impossible to talk to each other – in public.

  • cynic2

    “language is humanised”

    …when you have to say that you know you are in la-la land

  • Comrade Stalin

    Nesbitt did successfully make Kearney seem ridiculous (rather than making himself look ridiculous as per the norm) but I thought the “go and talk to your producer” part was daft.

    Listeners don’t know or care what the producer agreed, they want to know what the answers to the questions are and the fact that Nesbitt didn’t have them exposed his weakness as a politician.

  • Ben Cochrane

    The interview summed up the huge difficulties that there are going to be with this so-called reconciliation debate.

    Kearney never deviates from the script.

    Nesbitt was too waspish to land a knockout blow and made himself look foolish when he had a go at Noel.

    There is an interesting debate over at eammonmallie.com between Rev Lesley Carroll and others (who support enagagement with Sinn Fein) and Alex Kane who seems to regard the whole thing as just another facet of the uniting Ireland strategy.

    This debate is just going to run and run so it will be interesting to see what the UUP document (which Nesbitt says is due on June 11) will look like. Let’s hope he handles it better than the botched attempts to get Lady Hermon back on board and the even bigger botch-up surrounding the 24 hour UUP membership of independent North Down councillor Austen Lennon!

  • IJP

    Firstly, it needed Noel to “do a Vincent Browne” on the absolute nonsense Kearney was talking, a la:


    It was one of Mike Nesbitt’s best media performances until his own bizarre bit re when he would publish his proposals, when he tossed away a three-goal lead. Though I still reckon he won 3-2.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Ian, I’d agree.

    A more polished politician would have known that if he was not ready to talk about his own proposals it might not be appropriate to demand that other people talk about theirs.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Just watched the interview again. Nesbitt in fact opened up by referring to the proposals that he didn’t want to talk about yet. After that he simply badgered Kearney.

  • Ruarai

    Thompson – class act I thought; must have been hard to keep a straight face at times.

    The worst Slugger exchanges can’t come close to this; at least we have exchanges.

    Nesbitt – How can someone who’s been around the media all his life have such a tin era for the ‘moment’?

    All he had to do was politely sit, re-inviting Kearney to make his case, eventually pivoting to 3-5 selling points for the UUP’s vision of life in the UK.

    Instead we get: ‘Noel I WARNED YOU if you had me on here I’d be stale (angry and rattled by the very need to answer to you)!’

    Nesbitt tossed aside an opportunity to sound like the adult, the confident one, the substance-based one – the serious one – opting instead for an ego contest with his former rival (which he lost upon the raising of one Thompson eyebrow).

  • Dixie Elliott

    Thats the problem with the lesser shinners. They are now only programmed to speak on the Peace Process.

    Ask them awkward questions like ‘persuade me about the merits of a United Ireland’ and they tend to blow a fuse.

    Kearney blew it last night.

    In fact he did his best to avoid talk of a United Ireland.

    I blame the Queen she seems, in Mitchel McLaughlin’s words, to have deeply affected them.

  • 241934 john brennan

    Same old mantra from SF -‘sorry for the hurt caused’ -but ‘not sorry causing the hurt’ – either way it is/was always justified justified by the cause

  • ThomasMourne

    How typical of Sinn Fein to get the media in a tizzy about a united Ireland.

    This conveniently diverts attention from major problems in our education system, a health service with managers who have no idea about management and an economy continuing to slide down the drain.

    And the ‘opposition’ politicians are daft enough to give them the spotlight that they crave.

  • Lionel Hutz

    I did kind of think Noel was having a bit of banter with Mike on this. Nesbitt had to say they had some proposals and Thompson used the opportunity to have a bit of fun. Nesbitt has to remember that he doesn’t have the privilege of putting others under pressure on a subject without offering something on his own views on the subject.

    Still Kearney let the emptiness of his gesture politics show. He had clearly anticipated coming up against an opponent who would no interest in engaging. He was poor but does it really matter.

  • Bigger Picture

    Not sure I am best pleased with the name check from Deckan Kearney


    Sinn Fein once again spouting spin without substance; Mike Nesbitt once again being his arrogant and embarassing self; Noel Thompson unwilling (or unable) to salvage anything from the interview other than to demonstrate once again the inability of local politicians to engage in meaningful political debate.

  • Progressive Unionist

    That was a highly-skilled and nuanced media performance by Mike Nesbitt. Fair play to him.

    That’s exactly the kind of open but also robust and honost engagement with SF that I think many unionists, moderates included, want to see.

    So refreshing to see a UUP leader step up to the plate – and try to push SF beyond platitudes and PR speak – and get to the substance of what a genuine shared society will look like.

    I actually think SF are at least somewhat genuine about wanting to pursue reconciliation, but the kind of woolly platitudes articulated by Kearney will get them nowhere- far better to just spell it out bluntly and give some substance – because I at least am one Unionist who doesn’t know what Sinn Fein quite mean by all this.

    I wish SF spokespeople would just speak their mind and do away with all the vast mouthfuls of process jargon…

  • “I thought the “go and talk to your producer” part was daft.”

    Bad management by the BBC, CS. The H&M team could have waited until the UUP had released its proposals or it could have approached another party.

  • Revealing exchanges, for all the wrong reasons,[from POV of the two amateurs Kearney and Nesbitt]. While I’m at it, on this week that the City of Culture was launched up here, why do unionist politicians insist on the most cumbersome of the city names when both Derry AND Londonderry are british imposed names? Perhaps the loss of control of the guildhall in 1973 had something to do with it.

  • ranger1640

    I think that Mike did a great job, and put a marker down to the BBC et al. As an insider Mike knows the ropes and they will not draw him on anything that is not on his agenda. And if he did not want to be drawn on an issue until he give wanted he was doing exactly what the shinners have been doing for years.

    How many time have Gerry and Marty et al, scold a interviewer because they asked awkward questions or questions that would lead the shinner off message.

    Guess who said “Journalists have the right and the responsibility and the duty to ask questions.. you don’t have the right to ask stupid questions”. No not Mike, non other than Gerry pious Adams.


    As for Kearney’s he was wooden and his message was just more bland shinner platitudes with no substance. Mike did for him, and exposed the hollowness and shallowness of shinner speak.

  • cynic2

    The real learning point in this was SFs lack of depth. The Kearneys have always been seen as part of Deep Thought, running the
    SF machine from the shadows. Now bursting into the light this one was blinking and showing very obvious politicsl limitations.

    Little of this matters to the SF core vote – the new unionists who will vote for any donkey wrapped in a flag so long as its their donkey and Catholic – but it should matter for unionists and
    Alliance who can see how inept SF can be and that there is hope in the middle ground. Dear God, he even made McDonnell look good!!!

  • Mick Fealty

    id agree there was a mismatch here. Nesbitt is a party leader and an elected representative. Kearney is a party official. Thats a downgrade for the project. Its also clear that Kearney was lost without a script.

    Im just puzzled why, when the party is over burdened with underemployed talent on its representative benches, they insist on putting Declan up against a party leader.

    If it was a calculated to downgrade their opponents, it has surely backfired.

  • pauluk

    It’s of no real consequence but I was wondering if anyone knows what part of the province Mr Kearney is from. Couldn’t figure out his accent.

  • Comrade Stalin


    That was a highly-skilled and nuanced media performance by Mike Nesbitt.

    You can put the UUP crack pipe down now. While Nesbitt did a good job of facing down the SF guy, he seemed to make an elementary mistake by firstly bringing up proposals that he did not want to talk about, and then robustly challenging SF on substance that he pointedly did not want to show himself.

    No doubt there was an agreement with the producers etc but there was nothing stopping Nesbitt providing a flavour of what could be there. I think the real reason why he did not want to do so was because he was unprepared and probably knows little about what is going to be in said document.

    Nevin, I think the BBC had to do some sort of interview at that time covering one of the principal highlights of the SF party conference. The UUP did not have to send Nesbitt, or anyone else. I’m wondering if Nesbitt saw the BBC asking if they could send someone and it was too much for his ego to refuse.

  • sonofstrongbow

    Shinners claim that a united Ireland is the big one for them and time and time again they make grand staged announcements of how the next stage of the ‘struggle’ will be played out. The (non) conversation with unionists is their latest wheeze.

    As has happened many times before there is no substance. Much like an audience with the Wizard of Oz for those not in thrall to the swirling smoke and the booming voice a quick peek behind the curtain reveals some lonely figure with a script made up of soundbites and nothing else.

    Sinn Fein’s El Presidente was all over the media ‘respecting’ the outcome of the Republic’s referendum but couldn’t spare a minute to talk about the Big One. Other Sinn Fein ‘talent’ was also absent; it is strange to suggest that it was a planned “downgrade” of other hoped for conversationalists. If so ignoring basic good manners is a bizarre way to start a chat.

    Whilst mentioning Sinn Fein ‘talent’, “underemployed” or otherwise I’d be interested to hear some examples of how this talent has manifested itself. Setting aside electoral success (which can be explained by the donkey and flag paradigm) where are the cutting edge politicos?

    Sinn Fein is laughable on economics, its Northern Ireland government ministers’ performance has been, ahem, merely ‘interesting’ and the united Ireland ‘project’ (the Big One) has so far been wispy smoke and dull mirrors.

  • Neil

    Nesbitt did well enough in forcing the discussion down the route he wanted it to go. Nothing to do with reconciliation at all though really, convincing a Unionist that he’s a republican is not reconciliation – more irritation.

    Likewise no-one on any side is about to come clean about their ‘war crimes’, or actionable offences, in a TV studio and without any system in place to prevent them being arrested.

    In the end up Nesbitt obviously came across fine to his target audience (Unionist political anoraks), while Declan came across fine to his (Republican political anoraks). Both of whom have the insight to realise Nesbitt’s game, and probably award him the points, while realising he’s just scoring political points at the expense of the discussion on reconciliation which he basically evaded, so he could go head long into the ‘convince me I’m a Nationlist’ bit.

  • Neil

    Whilst mentioning Sinn Fein ‘talent’, “underemployed” or otherwise I’d be interested to hear some examples of how this talent has manifested itself. Setting aside electoral success

    Dear me, set aside electoral success as a benchmark of the talent of a political party? How amusing, but no that would be moronic. That is the measure of their talent and they’re doing fantastically well.

  • “two, what I’d call, very very weird moments”

    Here’s a third:

    Declan: “Let’s cut the jiggery-pokery, Mike”

    But it appears to have been SF folks who have been indulging in underhand scheming and behaviour in their use (or abuse) of a small segment of the broad Unionist family to promote an anti-UK agenda..

    [From the Online Dictionary – Alteration of joukery-pawkery : from Scots jouk, to dodge (probably from duck) + Scots pawk, trick.]

    The politically inexperienced will unwittingly give cover to this new Republican enterprise but it bears the hallmarks of the initiators of NICRA and of Alex Reid’s ‘Stepping Stones’.

    Much of the talent available to the PRM prior to decommissioning has now departed so it’s hardly surprising that the likes of Gerry, Martin and Declan flounder when put under a bit of pressure.

  • “the discussion on reconciliation”

    Neil, Declan and other members of SF and the greater PRM are not interested in ‘cordial relations’; they are simply hiding behind the language of reconciliation in their efforts to escape from the 1998 Agreement, an agreement which recognises the benefits of cordial relations across the UK and Ireland.

  • Christ this was poor suff from the two of them, Kearney keeps waffling about vision, and common ground, which clearly does not exist, and Nesbitt in a smug self satisfied manner tells Thompson he did not come on the programe to discuss the subject under debate.

    Why Noel did not say OK Mike, on your bike, and on the way out take your mate Declan with you, as he doesn’t seem to have much to contribute either.


  • sonofstrongbow

    Thanks Neil. I thought I was a tiny bit fanciful in my talent/donkey and flag paradigm quip but you’ve confirmed I was spot on.

    Seems like the mother load of Irish Republicans’ credulity will never be exhausted. Now if only it could be wired into the national grid the energy crisis would be solved. Then we could all be amused all the way to the bank.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Seems like the mother load of Irish Republicans’


  • Mick Fealty


    Please stick to argument please…


    Don’t see what was so outrageous about the suggestion that they have better players sitting off the pitch that it deserved the ‘how dare you criticise us, haven’t you seen the size of our mandate?” response.

    For the record, point for point Nesbitt scored here. But it was obscured somewhat by his taking up an unnecessary combatant attitude to the chair.

    His scoring point was to ‘break the usual narrative’. In fact when he finished on the line about 3700 dead and 40,000 injured the melee he’d created beforehand obscured those figures.

    It proves he has a competitive instinct and sense of what matters to people. Also he had figures to hand, and that carries weight.

    But, telling the public he had come kind of embargo in place is poor politics. It would have taken little enough to say that the party was considering it very deeply and would have some responses of its own would allowed him then to go ask a few forensic questions for SF of his own.

    The ruck with Noel was a stupid off the ball incident that distracted from his actual scores.

    From a SF point of view this strategy of wanting to get everyone else to legitimise their armed struggle of the past is very risky one.

    Nesbitt has shown, even if in a fumbled way, that it can be an open goal if you chose not to play along with the Peace Process rule of having to cover for that parties historic weaknesses.

    I still don’t really understand why Kearney is being sent in to do this job. Maybe it is because the party already understand that it is potentially too toxic to risk one of its public reps.

  • Evolve

    I thought Declan Kearney sounded sincere enough about opening a society wide dialogue on reconciliation. Actual reconciliation will happen between ordinary people and the best politicians can do is create a space for. Political parties are locked into an oppositional and competitive relationship.

    I couldn’t quite understand that opening this dialogue should involve convincing Mike Nesbitt on the merits of a united ireland.

    Mike’s tiff with Noel was nowhere near the standard that Ian Paisley used to produce, now that was entertainment.

  • “I couldn’t quite understand that opening this dialogue should involve convincing Mike Nesbitt on the merits of a united ireland.”

    Evolve, Declan has placed reconciliation in a UI, not an NI, context so he provided Mike with a large target. In other words, Declan doesn’t appear to be interested in cordial relations in the place where conflict and mayhem took place. The programme producers left Noel with an uneven playing field – and nowhere to go.

  • Mick Fealty

    Indeed on that last. Paisley’s tiffs always used to serve a greater political purpose. I think this one got in the way of Mike’s political purpose.

    It’s put in the category of scoring a drop goal when it could have been a try. But there’s a motivation for Nesbitt to up his game.

    I’m not sure sincerity comes into it Evolve. Declan has said elsewhere that this is part of a stated strategy for ‘national reconciliation’ by which he intends to persuade unionists to come into the nationalist tent:

    National reconciliation is integral to our strategic project. It is the basis from which to persuade for, and to build a new Ireland.

    We are agents of change which means the status quo for us is not good enough. Bringing about an Ireland at peace with itself is a pre requisite to achieving our ultimate aim of an Ireland of Equals.

    So it is time to begin discussing how shared hurts can be acknowledged, lessened, and if possible healed.

    I presume Mr Nesbitt has read the speech and is merely moving to ‘the ends’ of this strategy and asking for a few answers to the most obvious question.

    Couching it as a strategy has rendered the approach for reconciliation eminently predictable. And if you watch the clip above you will hear Mr Kearney say they cannot disavow the past.

    Some might suggest then that is as far as that conversation can go.


    I watched this three times and I am still at a loss to see how Nesbitt could be deemed to have put in even a half decent performance. If his objective for coming on the programme was to debate Sinn Fein’s proposals in an intelligent and grown up manner then he failed completely. If his objective was to demonstrate that the Ulster Unionist Party had alternative, more effective and well thought out policy proposals in this area then he failed even more spectacularly. If his objective was to demonstrate that he is a potential alternative new unionist First Minister of the future then he failed beyond miserably.

    Right from his first question (never miss an opportunity to make a good first impression), ‘If this is your Downing Street Declaration moment, your game changer, then how long do you think it’s going to take us to react to it bearing in mind it took you guys over a year to come back on the Downing Street Declaration?’ (eh?), through his ‘talk to your producer’ comment to his grand ‘guns and bombs’ finale, he was more TUV than DUP, much more Tom Elliot than David Trimble.

  • Evolve

    Nevin, that was a good point. The way I read Declan Kearney’s Ard Fheis speech was that there should be a series of hard conversations. Some of these, I thought, would have to occur within an NI context and some on an all ireland basis including between Republicans and the Irish state. The output of these conversations on reconciliation would then, he intended, help achieve Sinn Fein’s objective of a UI.

    Wasn’t Mike Nesbitt then asking for the outcome of a process in which his party was asked to contribute at the opening of dialogue? It’s doubtful that Declan Kearney would have been able to produce this in advance.

  • Evolve


    It’s interesting to see the slight changes that occurred between the Easter commemoration address and the Ard Fheis speech including “shared hurts” becoming “all the hurts”. It seems natural that Sinn Fein would enter into discussions on reconciliation with a UI as their preferred outcome, just as Unionists would enter into the same discussions with preserving the union as their objective.

    It may be preferable to discuss reconciliation on its own merits with no other stated objectives. I’m just not sure we can expect this of political parties in Northern Ireland.

  • Evolve

    On the sincerity point,it doesn’t contribute anything to the logic of an argument, but it plays well, especially in an area like reconciliation which deals with hurt and loss.

  • Evolve, reconciliation is being used by SF – as it was by the much more articulate John Hume – as a means to an end – a UI. Not only can that not fly for Unionists – their aspiration runs counter to a UI – but it does damage to those who simply seek cordial relations at all levels.

    The PRM’s military strategy fizzled out as did its Athboy one but this one might not even take flight.

    It is, of course, possible that the Ard Fheis speech wasn’t really aimed at a Unionist audience; it’s intent may have been to improve SF’s electoral prospects within the greater Nationalist family. These prospects are made easier by a lack of political competence by the other Nationalist parties as well as by a failure by the MSM to draw attention to the PRM’s, including SF’s, continuing ‘dark side’.

  • Mick Fealty

    And most famously: “the secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you’ve got it made.”

    In politics, sincerity does go a long way. But so too must you ride two horses. Not sure one can ever be entirely compatable.

    Worth reading Brian Rowan who thinks Nesbitt should take his lead from former pramilitaries. (http://eamonnmallie.com/2012/06/when-is-mainstream-unionism-going-to-catch-up-with-grassroots-loyalism-on-reconciliation/

    But I think what the UUP leader is trying to do is provide some leadership of his own.

  • Evolve

    Political parties tend to use every issue they engage with to improve their electoral prospects. Mike Nesbitt expressed scepticism at the outset of the debate because the overture was party political. It may be the case that for some local parties, reconciliation is not part of their core project. It could still be useful, however, in supporting the existing space for reconciliation to continue on the ground.

    In many areas particularly rural areas, there was always cordial relations and neighborliness. Many people never became unreconciled in the first place.

    I thought that was a good article, with some mature thinking from former loyalist paramilitaries.

  • cynic2

    Just a thought. What if Unionism aims for reconcilliation with Nationalism but not the PRM? Why dont Unionists just grab the agenda and ignore SF?

  • Mick Fealty


    I think Nesbitt actually said he expected his own party’s proposals to be treated with scepticism and cynicism. He refused to be drawn on his own view of Kearney’s.


    This is SF’s initiative. Why ignore it?

  • Evolve


    Noel’s opening question was

    “Mike Nesbitt, you have expressed yourself sceptical about these overtures. Why?”

    Mike replied “Well, because its a party political overture…”

  • Mick Fealty


    To the second question from Noel he said: “I don’t know if it is genuine or not. It would be churlish not to give it houseroom”.

    Scepticism is a good thing, even if it’s best taken in moderation… If you are not sceptical of what your opponent says you are going to get burned.

    This from our Long Peace document from near the beginning of Slugger (published May 2003) which examined one particular aspect of Game Theory:

    The successful operation of TIT FOR TAT relies on one good habit above all: the ability to respond to your opponent’s actions, not his words or, still worse, your suspicion as to what his underlying motivations maybe.

    Words not backed by actions are meaningless, not least because players who judge words are as likely to judge too pessimistically as too optimistically (‘unlike chess, in the Prisoner’s Dilemma, it is not safe to assume the other players are out to get you,’ Axelrodwarns).

    Opponents frequently speak in code and may well be tempted to lie, but actions speak for themselves and cannot be deceiving.

    For context:

  • tyrone_taggart


    “In other words, Declan doesn’t appear to be interested in cordial relations in the place where conflict and mayhem took place.”

    I am interested in which place you think it did take place?

  • Mick Fealty


    Quit trolling, or I’m getting the cards out!

  • tyrone_taggart

    Mick Fealty

    “Quit trolling, or I’m getting the cards out!”

    What are you on about????

    You post an excellent thread that the troubles only realty occurred in parts of Northern Ireland.

    When I ask someone who does not like the idea of address an Issue on an all Island basis what areas did they consider the troubles occurred then you accuse me of trolling?

    I would be interested if the person include the border counties? In England I have been told Schools were often evacuated due to bomb scares (in the school). I don’t recall that every happening on the Island.

    Now I would like you to explain why you accuse me of trolling?

  • galloglaigh

    I can only see the comments above fifty, and the very first from the dissenter. Am I doing something wrong?

  • Mick Fealty

    No, I think there’s a technical problem. Will try to get to the bottom of it. We have updates backed up.

  • tyrone_taggart

    You say that:

    “Context is everything and Declan is placing reconciliation in a Strand 2 context, the island of Ireland – a Nationalist solution to a Nationalist-Unionist problem – and so is implicitly rejecting the 1998 Agreement.”

    Declan thinks in terms of an all island so of course he is going to deal with the issue of it on an all Island basis.

    Why you think the troubles was/is only a strand one issue I do not understand. You also frame it in therms of Nationalist-Unionist which is simplistic.

    Unionists see the troubles as something between then and Nationalists.

    Nationalists see it as between them and the British(English, Westminster).

    Were the troubles actually took place you do have a chance of getting some conversation going. The border areas (north and south), interface areas but not in “golf club” and places not directly effected. For them like Westminster it was nothing really to do with them!

  • t_t, Northern Ireland is the contested space; it’s the overlap between the UK and a UI; it’s the place where the large bulk of the violence took place.

    I take your point about not all places here suffering to the same degree; I’ve previously referred to some of these places as historical hot-spots, places such as Derry, Portadown and North Belfast which have suffered more than most any time the constitutional question came to the fore.

    I’ve referred to the 1998 Agreement and I’d place reconciliation in Strand 3 so that, hopefully, we could have ‘cordial relations’ across these islands.

  • tyrone_taggart


    You are now placing reconciliation in Stand 3 yet you strongly object to Strand 2 being used by Declan?

    Nevin you said:

    “In other words, Declan doesn’t appear to be interested in cordial relations in the place where conflict and mayhem took place.”

    Could you now please reword this to explain what you mean?

  • t_t, my apologies; I was busy thinking about the ‘external’ relationships and overlooked the more crucial local ones! I’d place reconciliation in Strands 1 and 3; this accommodates the two opposing constitutional aspirations. Note these comments I made back in 1993 [9:02 am link]:

    What about relationships with the rest of the UK and the rest of the Island of Ireland? These need to be developed in tandem to reduce suspicion and jealousy.

    I’m a bit surprised that those who drafted and those who signed the Agreement made a hames of the reconciliation paragraph:

    13. The participants recognise and value the work being done by many organisations to develop reconciliation and mutual understanding and respect between and within communities and traditions, in Northern Ireland and between North and South, and they see such work as having a vital role in consolidating peace and political agreement.

  • tyrone_taggart

    As you point out Nevin your quote of the Agreement (13) that for that bit reconciliation is to occur throughout the Island. You may not like the passage but do you disagree with it?

    The one party that I think most need to understand what occurred here is Westminster. If they had understood they would never have made the mistake of moving into Afghanistan and Iraq.

  • tyrone_taggart


    Your own quote:

    “What about relationships with the rest of the UK and the rest of the Island of Ireland? These need to be developed in tandem to reduce suspicion and jealousy.”

    Yet when someone deals with the Issue in terms of Island of Ireland and in agreement with your quote from the Agreement you accuse that person of :

    “In other words, Declan doesn’t appear to be interested in cordial relations in the place where conflict and mayhem took place.”

    NB:Some areas of the border counties suffered more directly and indirectly than parts of “Northern Ireland”.

  • Mick Fealty

    Two Taggarts are better than one?

    Here’s Barney Rowan explanding a little on SF’s idea for truth and reconciliation this morning on Sunday Sequence:

    I don’t have the bit from Seanna Walsh (spokesman for Coiste IarCimi and a member of Sinn Fein) where he says he wants some accounting for British Army’s part in the conflict (East West)…

  • Evolve


    I agree that scepticism in moderation is a good thing.

    That was a fascinating read, especially Tit for Tat in the two prisoners scenario. However, it seems possible that tactical actions can also be used to obscure strategic intent. In the two prisoners scenario, prisoner A could behave in a reciprocal or even dorrmat manner and then shank prisoner B in the corridor. In warfare strategic deception often leads to victory and this deception is brought about not by words but by actions.

    In reconciliation, its going to be very difficult to separate words and actions. In the discussion one of the actions Mike Nesbitt asked for was a unilateral admission of “war crimes”. Does this mean that reconciliation can only meaningfully occur in a truth and reconciliation context?

  • t_t, Declan deals with one third of my recommendation and the Agreement deals with two thirds. We’ll just have to wait and see the angle taken by Mike. I doubt very much if he’ll take my line.

  • tyrone_taggart


    “Neil, Declan and other members of SF and the greater PRM are not interested in ‘cordial relations’; they are simply hiding behind the language of reconciliation”

    Do you have any idea how offensive that is? Did you think John Hume was interested in “cordial relations” ?

    Nevin you quote the agreement which acutely supports “Declan” cumming from an all Island perspective and you cannot clarify if you accept it or reject it. ie in what way was it a “hames of the reconciliation paragraph”

  • t_t, I’ve already pointed out further up this thread that Nationalists of whatever hue are only using dulcet tones as a means to an end ie a UI. Obviously, politicians can sell this line rather more easily than parapoliticians. Unionists take a contrary view so you’re left with stalemate.

    My analysis in 1993 started from the three-strand analysis articulated by Hume to which I added the Unionist aspiration; the 1998 Agreement lies somewhere between the two.

    I acknowledge the legitimacy of the two aspirations, unlike John Hume; when it comes to positives and negatives IMO there’s little to choose between Unionism and Nationalism; I’ve been in a position to mainly see the positives of each. If you’re looking for an offensive comment here’s one from John: “p80 … our opponents out did each other in intransigence and bigotry”.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Understanding Nevin’s perspective requires buying in to a massive all-embracing and substantially imaginary conspiracy involving Sinn Féin, the British, and various other players whose evil plans manifest themselves in all kinds of unusual places including, for example, strange irregularities in the Rathlin Ferry contract arrangements.

  • tyrone_taggart

    “Nationalists of whatever hue are only using dulcet tones as a means to an end ie a UI. ”

    One dimensional people are perfect. John Hume was not perfect but to suggest that he was not honest in his attempts of reconciliation says a lot about your view of the world.

    “the 1998 Agreement lies somewhere between the two”

    In other words you do not agree with the agreement 1998 terms.

  • CS, adding on a missing piece to the Hume analysis was fairly straightforward ie no massive effort required 🙂

    There weren’t just irregularities in the ferry contract arrangements; there has been an ongoing litany of problems. Here is a fairly recent one:

    Before leaving this issue Barney updated the Board on the latest position regarding a possible Risk concerning the Ballycastle to Rathlin Ferry Service which is being managed at Group level .. see Board minutes

    and then there was the recent suspension of the Canna’s class certificate

  • “In other words you do not agree with the agreement 1998 terms.”

    I voted YES but I pointed out here some problems associated with the ‘tug-of-war’ constitutional detail.

  • tyrone_taggart

    “I voted YES but I pointed out here some problems associated with the ‘tug-of-war’ constitutional detail.”

    No what you said was

    ” made a hames of the reconciliation paragraph:

    13. The participants recognise and value the work being done by many organisations to develop reconciliation and mutual understanding and respect between and within communities and traditions, in Northern Ireland and between North and South, and they see such work as having a vital role in consolidating peace and political agreement.”

    You have not clarified what is wrong with that statement.

    Could you just write that statement according to how you think it should have been.

    Please do not go off on another tangent to avoid addressing this central issue. You say that you are some way between this and that then please just state what they should have written in your own words.


    I agree with the statement.

  • FuturePhysicist

    Well I suppose Irish nationalism still has the SDLP.

  • t_t, I’ve already covered all of those points so there’s no point in repeating them.

  • tyrone_taggart

    t_t, “I’ve already covered all of those points”

    No you have not. You will not say what is actually wrong with the statement in the good Friday agreement.

    You make a grand claim about

    “My analysis in 1993 started from the three-strand analysis articulated by Hume to which I added the Unionist aspiration”

    Go on post that up so we can see it.

  • Mick Fealty


    “In reconciliation, its going to be very difficult to separate words and actions.”

    I think the idea of choosing the Prisoner’s Dilemma is that it is a handbook for the peace. I don’t think there is a handbook for reconciliation.

    My question here is what is that SF wants to reconcile?

    Two things have come out of this that have caught my attention as being problematic for a party that says it wants reconciliation.

    One, Kearney’s assertion that the past could not be disavowed and two Seanna Walsh’s expression of regret that he was arrested three times (on Sunday Sequence).

    Both suggest to me that what they want is for people to reconcile themselves that they were perfectly justified in their armed struggle.

    In the case of Walsh it begs a similar question that Nesbitt put to Kearney. How many people did you kill maim or injure with your freedom and how many more would you have killed if you hadn’t been arrested?

    And Nesbitt, like most of us is an extraordinarily powerful position to put those questions since he did not commit any ‘war crimes’ of his own.

    I don’t see what this initiative brings to SF but a world of pain. If their opponents have the appetite to bring it to them.

  • Chris Donnelly

    I think you’re viewing this initiative through an unfortunately narrow prism, which is understandable given that we all bring our political prejudices to such encounters.

    But the very difficulties you suggest will face SInn Fein in the “world of pain” scenario you outline can just as easily be stacked up against Robinson’s still premature catholic outreach initiative which you- perhaps more than any other political commentator- have seemed keen to add credence to without any signs from within the DUP that anything approaching the type of initiatives launched by republicans to date are to be reciprocated.

    Republicans are to be commended for attempting to initiate such discussions precisely because history has illustrated just how difficult- and unprecedented- such engagements can be in an Irish context.

    It is to be expected that competing narratives will clash during such discussions, and much of your narrative above would appear to be about sharpening the unionist case ahead of such encounters.

    But republicans and nationalists will expect to ask equally troubling and challenging questions of a unionist audience which can only aid the reconciliation process by prompting unionists to begin a reciprocal journey to that republicans have set off upon.

  • My analysis appears at 9:02 am today and the Hume quotations at 6:07 pm on June 1, t_t.

  • son of sam

    Pauluk wondered about Declans accent and where he comes from.Apparently he currently resides in Derry a location favoured by a lot of the Sinn Fein Spads but I suppose like Charlie Haughey he could have roots in several places! Is it coincidence that when he seems to be under some critical pressure,Chris Donnelly comes riding to the rescue? Chris criticizes Mick for viewing matters through a narrow prism.Is Chris’s prism not equally narrow?

  • Mick Fealty

    I’m watching it with interest Chris.

    Whereas Robinson’s progress has been slow, and as you say with limited tangible outwards signs of success he has at least been consistent for a very long time… And at long last he has begun to criticise (however gently) the Unionist past.

    Very few commentators believed right up to 2007 that Robinson and Paisley would sign up, yet when I blogged his interview with Frank Millar back in 2002 his intentions to engage positively within certain conditions seemed clear enough:

    There’s nothing in that position that substantially altered since. I did not know that then that it would take as long as it did to cut a deal, but I was fairly sure from that and subsequent outputs what terms they would accept.

    By the time I was talking to senior Republicans two months after that interview, it was obvious they too saw Robinson and Co as a serious alternative to Robinson.

    So back to the subject in hand. Who or what are we to reconcile? It’s not clear to me what the terms of engagement are here. Barney suggests they (SF) mean that we should dump the idea of truth as having any part of this. That explanation will suffice.

    I’m not sure what purpose that serves beyond facilitating a justification of some of the foulest acts of the troubles. Will all of those former combatants who want or need to tell their stories be allowed to tell them?

    There are tens of thousands of ghosts left behind by those frantic, manic, monomaniacal years of killing, maiming, exiling and low level intimidation.

    I think of my mate’s da who owned a pub on the Grosvenor Road and who had five customers killed in his bar in front of him by automatic gunfire from loyalist gunmen. He escaped by ducking behind the counter (his son escaped through the toilet window).

    He wasn’t injured and so is not recorded, but his life was all but over then. There were others whose lives were ruined, not least amongst the killers themselves.

    It all puts me in mind of Aosdana member Brian Lynch’s long poem, ‘Pity for the wicked‘:

    For pity’s sake, with angry emphasis,
    And all it’s milder synonyms:
    For empathy, compassion, clemency,
    For tenderness and mercy, sympathy,
    For sorrow and regret and charity,
    And all those words applied to proper names:
    For Bloody Sunday, Aldershot, For Pat
    Gillespie and his wife, for Margaret Wright,
    For everyone who dies and doesn’t know
    The reason why, except it’s not for love.

    The title is drawn from the Talmud, the fuller quote being: “Pity for the wicked is a crime against the good…” It finishes:

    She said, ‘If not for that for what?
    What else is there to give the dead?’
    In lieu of answers that was all she had.
    An interrogative. But then she added this:
    ‘There’s nothing else except
    That altogether useless thing,
    That surplus to requirements,
    Suffering in silence.’

    And so I woke . And for a moment lost
    To time, I thought I saw the world again,
    The world before the Fall, before we crossed
    The borderline of hate. She vanished then.

  • tyrone_taggart


    “Nationalists of whatever hue are only using dulcet tones as a means to an end ie a UI. ”

    That is what all your posting arrive at. If the sdlp was the largest nationalist party you would be attacking them on the same made up grounds that you are attacking SF.

    Your inability to support any of your claims says a lot about yourself. “My analysis in 1993 “….. when asked to give it you cannot shows the level to which your argument amounts to.

    The bit I find scary is that you think of yourself as a moderate?

  • Parity of esteem for the two aspirations, shared sovereignty and the merger of the Agreement’s Strands 2 and 3 seems a fair deal to me, t_t. If Declan wishes to continue floundering, that’s his choice.

  • tyrone_taggart


    To quote Nevin “Context is everything” , You jump straight to the “There are tens of thousands of ghosts” as a good novelist or Hollywood director would. The hard part is accepting that “decent” people do terrible things depending on the context.

    I learned early that life is not fair and that “monsters” are lovely if they change sides and become your pet IRA killer.

  • Alias

    The hard part is accepting that “decent” people do terrible things depending on the context.

    Do why did only a tiny fraction of NI’s population join sectarian murder gangs? 1% is 16,000, and it wasn’t even that. The other 99% lived in the same context and didn’t join the gangs.

    On the other hand, circa 3-4% of the population is psychopathic. That group, through its own dysfunction, will either cause trouble on its own initiative or join trouble where it is readymade.

  • Mick Fealty


    I think most of us who grew up during the troubles learned that life isn’t fair. We also learned through the court process that it took a lot of people to abduct, torture and murder one man or woman.

    And I don’t need telling that some otherwise decent people did some terrible things either, notwithstanding Aliases gruff remarks a lot of the people who joined the IRA and UDA in the early days were from families who had always traditionally joined such organisations or indeed the British army.

    Inclination towards military life in most countries runs for generations in families. I have an idea that had I grown up in the Markets or the Short Strand as some of my mates at school did I would not have joined up (there is no such tradition in our family), but I might felt strongly that those guys (as the McCartney sisters say they did) were defending the community against ‘Brits’ and ‘snouts’.

    There are, I am sure, plenty of ex combatants who are desperate to tell their story of what they did to other human beings.

    But since this proposal is to be politicised and has no place for truth, do you think they will be allowed speak?

    Furthermore, can you say why we need to hear even these stories in order to bed in the peace? Especially, if we already know that the end result cannot result in a disavowal of such methods?

    In short, what is in this for wider society?

  • Chris Donnelly


    Sometimes I think we over-analyse developments, looking for a masterplan that simply isn’t there.

    Republicans are looking for a fresh engagement and understanding with unionists as they know that enhanced appreciation of the unionist mindset can only improve their ability to find a place for the unionist narrative and identity within a broad nationalist/ republican vision of the future.

    Along the way, there’ll be a lot of headbutting over the past, present and future, not least because of the legacy of violence and the threat thereof in the formation of the state and campaigns against its existence.

    But what is increasingly apparent is that Sinn Fein have managed to comfortably shift the republican mainstream to a position where McGuinness speaks of respecting the British community of Ireland at an Ard Fheis. Gone is the false consciousness accusation which still defines political unionism’s understanding of their nationalist neighbours.

    There simply has been nothing approaching a similar attempt at understanding and appreciating the Irish naionalist/ republican identity by any strand of mainstream unionism (indeed, as I’ve pointed out in previous threads, UDA leaders appear to have a better appreciation for nationalist sentiment…..)

    Robinson’s incremental movement has been to the ground where he floats the idea of catholics being accepted as equals as unionists. That may be significant ground within the DUP mindset but it does not move the party -nor unionism- onto the ground of respecting the equal legitimacy of Irish nationalism in the ‘contested space’ of the north, and hence is tantamount to republicans invoking Tone and the ‘catholic, protestant and dissenter’ mantra in the vain hope that this will promote protestant support for Irish republicanism.

    In short, it’s ‘foxhole’ stuff, like the big Girdwood victory secured by the DUP in a constituency (North Belfast) in which you might remember DUP councillor Lee Reynolds suggesting that catholics could be wooed to vote for the party (‘Vote for us but we’ll not build houses for your co-religionists’ doesn’t seem like a winning line…..)

  • Evolve


    The limits of the two prisoners scenario are limits of logic, although you may well question my attempt to apply it to reconciliation. I question whether you can always believe actions and not words and whether actions and words are separate categories in the first place.

    Going forward, I don’t think a ritualistic saying of sorry or a disavowing of the past by any party or group would be useful or would even be believed. An acknowledgement of hurt caused might be much more useful.

    The state as the most powerful actor on the stage will have to do this also. I have heard the view expressed that what happened before the last conflict, discrimination in jobs housing etc was a form of low level chronic violence and if you added up the years lost in decreased life expectancy, it would be at least equal to years of life lost to the more acute forms of violence.

    Whats in it for wider society? I think that it may reinforce on the ground efforts by people to get on with each other. This will lead to increased peace of mind and even local economic benefits.

  • ranger1640

    Please see if you agree with the shinner vapid cliché count. I got to over 80 but you see how you do.

  • Mick Fealty


    I don’t disagree with you on the substantive point you make about the DUP and Girdwood, although it is interesting to note that Alban was subsequently made to apologise for breaking ranks from the SDLP who corporately condemned it.

    Also Interesting to note that despite an agreed embargo someone leaked it to the North Belfast News. So I suspect there are multiple political agendas at work here (see Jenny’s blog for a good impartial overview of the issues concerned: http://eastbelfastdiary.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/smoke-mirrors-and-red-herring-at.html).

    But I think here we are talking about another order of issue. It matters not how well or how badly we analyse or misanalyse these matters, if there is no one in politics to make the objection it doesn’t matter what gets said on some website on the inter webs somewhere..

    That it has come from the new UUP leader is interesting. As I’ve said, not the best or the cleanest score, but a very palpable hit nonetheless…

    There is plenty of mileage here too for the SDLP if they care to note the close support Sinn Fein are getting from their old Camp Council colleagues in the UDA too.

    They might ask why that organisation sought to disown the vile murders of Hunter Street (thankfully no longer with us) and Meridi St and at the same time happily conducting the murders at Loughinisland, Joe McIlroy in Orangefield and amongst countless other innocents.

    Given we have a properly conducted and endorsed political settlement I’m not sure at all we need to know the whys and wherefores and motivations of those behind these crimes against humanity.

    May be that will become clear in the future as this proposal unveils itself.


    Puts me in mind of Orwell:

    “…one ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end.

    If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself.

    Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

    One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one’s own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase — some jackboot, Achilles’ heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse — into the dustbin, where it belongs.”

  • tyrone_taggart

    “There are, I am sure, plenty of ex combatants who are desperate to tell their story of what they did to other human beings.

    But since this proposal is to be politicised and has no place for truth, do you think they will be allowed speak?”

    The Boston College IRA files is now an issue in this area. Academics taking book royalties on IRA oral history was a shock for me.

    I wish there was a “truth” a movie of event to which we can all agree.

    As there is many “truths” I would love a means by with the people who took part in the drama could have there say. I just don’t know how you do it after the “Boston files”?

  • Mick Fealty


    It was about one IRA man (the veracity of whose post mortem testimony is severely contested by senior Republicans) and one UVF man.

    “I just don’t know how you do it after the “Boston files”?”

    Neither do I, except that that is what’s being proposed here.

  • Mick Fealty


    “…whether actions and words are separate categories in the first place.”

    That’s where I was coming from with the point above about the necessity of some robust semantic (as opposed to divine) notion of truth ni order to bring about communicable meaning in language (and politics).

    Departure of one from the other results invariably (in any free market of ideas) to a loss of credit, credibility or belief… And it’s precisely this that’s in play here, if truth is not to count, so far as I can see.

    The extract from Orwell’s above on the chaos of the time (1946) was inflected with precisely this dystopian irrelation between language and meaning you propose here.

    This is clearly a critical part of the architecture of the plan:

    The state as the most powerful actor on the stage will have to do this also. I have heard the view expressed that what happened before the last conflict, discrimination in jobs housing etc was a form of low level chronic violence and if you added up the years lost in decreased life expectancy, it would be at least equal to years of life lost to the more acute forms of violence.

    But there’s nothing compulsory in any of this, which is where Mike’s counterattack comes in handy: “You want to tell me what YOU personally did in the war, then go ahead sir.”

    The whole thing may have been just a little too prefabricated for its own good.


    When I hear the ‘decent people do terrible things’ argument I immediately start to wonder what it is that makes the ‘decent’ people decent and the ‘not decent’ people not decent. Why are the ‘decent people’ who do terrible things deemed to be decent while the ‘not decent people’ who don’t to terrible things are not? How terrible a thing would these decent people need to do before we can consider them not to be decent?

  • 241934 john brennan

    We are sorry for the hurt caused. But we are not sorry for causing the hurt. Because the cause justifies everyone causing hurt in the name of the cause – whatever the cause is, or the cause was – because the cause excuses, absolves and exonerates everyone from everything done in the name of the cause.

  • tyrone_taggart

    “Why are the ‘decent people’ who do terrible things deemed to be decent while the ‘not decent people’ who don’t to terrible things are not decent people’ who don’t to terrible things are not?”

    My personal answer to that is motivation in either action or inaction.

    “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

    Dresden bombing

  • Comrade Stalin

    Mentioning the Dresden bombing in this context is merely whataboutery with a tiny bit more class.

  • tyrone_taggart

    Comrade Stalin
    “Mentioning the Dresden bombing in this context is merely whataboutery ”

    If that is the case I am sorry I used it.

  • Mick Fealty

    According to Godwins Law, you’ve just ended the thread, you naughty boy!

  • tyrone_taggart

    “According to Godwins Law”

    The RAF was not Nazi.

    On German TV they showed the German football team visiting a concentration camp in Poland. They then showed how the event was covered on Polish TV.

    In the RAF during WW2 the best of the RAF was Polish (they had the advantage of having for longer and on more fronts).

    By the time those Polish got to Dresden I think they may have been happy to do the same to any other German city that they was allowed.