Theresa Villiers: “That’s the kind of Northern Ireland we’re determined to build…”

Louth TD, and Sinn Féin president, Gerry Adams has taken exception to a recent speech by the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers at the British-Irish Association’s 2013 conference – describing it as “an unacceptable intervention” ahead of those talks with Richard Haass.  Although, I don’t think the speech was delivered “yesterday”…  [And what’s he going to do about it?! – Ed]  ANYhoo… Let’s see if we can identify what might have ruffled his feathers.  From the NI Secretary of State’s draft speech.

Moving on to the second means of moving Northern Ireland forward, building a more cohesive society, virtually all the relevant policy responsibilities fall within the remit of the Northern Ireland Executive

But making progress on this is still a key priority for the government which is why it’s featured in nearly every conversation I’ve had with the First and deputy First Ministers since taking office.

The publication the Executive’s document Together: Building a United Community met a mixed reaction. Certainly, the real test will come with efforts to see its proposals actually delivered. But the publication of an ambitious programme to tackle division and build a stronger society in itself represents a genuine and welcome step after long months of deadlock, and I congratulate the First and deputy First Minister for finding a way to move things forward.

I have also warmly welcomed the establishment of the cross party working group on parading, flags and the past that will begin its work later this month under the chairmanship of Richard Haass. While the government is not directly represented on this group we are very supportive of it and are keen to engage constructively with its work. For a number of reasons, we have a direct interest in the outcome of this process.

The most obvious reason is that we want these talks to be successful because that would improve life for people in Northern Ireland, strengthen the economy and make it easier to combat the threat from dissident republicans. But it’s also worth remembering that parading and some elements of the rules on flags are currently matters for Westminster. So if changes are proposed by the Haass group, they would need the support of the government if they are to be implemented.

Likewise, while not necessarily requiring legislation, it is likely that any proposals to deal with the past would, at least in part, fall to the government for implementation.

Despite Gerry Adams’ objections, that would appear to be an accurate assessment.  Although the prospect of any agreed outcome from the Haass talks being blocked by the UK Government would seem to be remote.

And onward to the past…

I am sure that no one here would doubt that the legacy of the troubles has a continuing impact in modern Northern Ireland. I see that when I meet victims of terrorism or those who believe that the security forces operated outside the law. It’s impossible not to be moved by harrowing stories from families who lost loved ones, often in the most brutal of circumstances.

A range of initiatives are underway regarding the past, a number of which I have had the honour to visit. In addition to a host of local and oral history projects across Northern Ireland, there are outstanding initiatives like the CAIN archive at the University of Ulster, the renowned collection at the Linen Hall Library and the wealth of historical material held by the BBC and UTV. Other projects such as the Warrington Peace Centre and the Wave Trauma Centre also do invaluable work. As a consequence, Northern Ireland’s troubles are one of the most comprehensively recorded and documented periods in history.

For its part the government is moving from the 30 year rule to a 20 year rule for the release of state papers, though the release of any information into the public domain will always have to be done in a way that is sensitive to the Article 2 rights of all parties. [added emphasis]

[Are you listening, Caral Ní Chuilín?! – Ed]  Indeed.  And that’s an ongoing case in point…  Back to the speech

So the allegation that “nothing’s happening on the past” isn’t true. But of course there is no so-called over-arching ‘process’ on the past and little consensus on what that should be. I’ve found that in the range of discussions I’ve had on this subject, as did my predecessor Owen Paterson, as did the last government in the 12 year period during which they grappled with this issue.

So we should all welcome the opportunity for the Haass working group to bring a fresh perspective. I’ve no intention of pre-empting the Group’s discussions, but I’m mindful of the following:

*Any mechanisms for dealing with the past needs to be fully consistent with maintaining the integrity of the rule of law *they must have regard to the fiscal position in which the UK government finds itself as a result of the deficit *and as our manifesto set out and the Prime Minister re-iterated in his statement on Bloody Sunday, we will never put those who uphold the law on the same footing as those who seek to destroy it. For us, politically motivated violence from whatever side was never justified and we will not be party to attempts to re-write history by legitimising terrorism. [added emphasis]

[Are you listening Gerry Kelly?! – Ed] Indeed.  And, again, an ongoing case…

And, in conclusion.

But in conclusion, whatever the outcome of the Haass process I hope there will be a thread running through all work on the past which ensures that its underlying purpose is always to play a constructive part in wider efforts to heal social division, build mutual respect and understanding and move Northern Ireland forward towards a better future.

And it is vital that the Haass work takes place alongside real progress on other crucial issues on reconciliation and social cohesion and on the economy. Richard Haass and his group have an immensely difficult task ahead of them. Whether they will succeed is something we can’t yet know for certain.

So over the coming weeks and months it is critical that we see progress both on the economic package and the shared society proposals from the First and deputy First Minister. There is much that we can work on even while issues like the past and parading remain to be resolved.

As ever, the ability of the political leadership of Northern Ireland to work together collaboratively across political boundaries will play a key part in determining whether the changes needed to rebalance the economy and heal social divisions are delivered. [added emphasis]

And who could argue with that…

Of course, at the same time, Gerry Adams is also calling for more intervention from others.

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  • David Crookes

    If you live long enough and insist on recycling the same old intellectual sump-oil, you go out of date. In an ecclesial setting Mr Adams would be the Boring Old Church Yap, to whom no one listens.

  • Charles_Gould

    I hope that more progress on shared future can be leveraged.

  • Seamus

    I think Gerry Adams problem was the decision by the Secretary of State to put preconditions on the talks. That a deal can only be completed on the past as long as it adheres completely to the Unionist perception of the past.

  • FDM

    “we will never put those who uphold the law on the same footing as those who seek to destroy it”

    Collusion, state murder by police/army/specials, gun-running, arms purchases, torture, cover-ups, running paramilitaries, organising the counter-insurgency and every “otherwise” nefarious activity was all OK because we made it “legal”. They were we have it, no hypocrisy to see here.

    British justice triumphant and whiter than white, just as we rig it to be! Hoorah and all sing Rule Britannia…

  • Clanky

    For us, politically motivated violence from whatever side was never justified and we will not be party to attempts to re-write history by legitimising terrorism.

    But watch them wheel out the eulogies when Mandela dies.

    Of course political violence can be justified, the British government supports politically motivated violence in Syria.

    I know people will argue that the plight of Nationalists in Northern Ireland is not as bad as that of people in Syria, but is that not just a matter of degrees?

  • megatron

    Peter it really is hard to comment on your piece. I have missed whatever point you are trying to make.

  • megatron

    Clunky – agree. I can’t understand why intelligent people trot out the “never justified” line.

    Dissidents love that one because it is so obviously wrong. Of course violence is justified sometimes. Of course there are times when even if you are in a small minority violence against the state is justified. We can have a debate whether or not it was justified in NI but let’s start from a real position.

    And once we agree whether or not it was justified (from all sides) we can then discuss the legitimacy of all sides operations and tactics.

  • Pete Baker

    megatron

    You appear to have missed the point, as has Clunky, that Villiers is specifically talking about Northern Ireland.

    “Dissidents love that one because it is so obviously wrong.”

    Whereas they’re cock-a-hoop over Gerry Kelly’s speech…

    “Of course there are times when even if you are in a small minority violence against the state is justified.”

    Ah, I see you’re already there.

  • megatron

    pete I think you are just too smart for me to have an argument with.

    I tried to try to engage. Now I give up on your threads.

  • Pete Baker

    Ah well, megatron

    One of us has missed out on an opportunity for enlightenment…

  • gendjinn

    One of us has missed out on an opportunity for enlightenment…

    Is that when a unionist condemns any British genocide with as much passion and emotion as they they do Warrenpoint?

  • Kevsterino

    I don’t understand HMG’s absence from these talks. I mean, if there is to be an agreement on how to proceed, it seems to me that Ms. Villiers would need to be part of that. Especially as she points out if she doesn’t like it then it will not be implemented.

    As for ‘rewriting history’, it is discouraging to hear her use such mumbo jumbo. There won’t be a proper history of the Troubles and aftermath for years. It has to be written before it can be rewritten.

  • Mick Fealty

    It’s a domestic Kev. Simple as. Getting involved would only allow them to continue to externalise the blame. As Pete notes, she would have to back any realistic agreed solution. They know the parameters.

  • aquifer

    “British genocide”

    It is years since the Brits were any good at genocide.

    Those red white and blue kid gloves are very elegant tho’

    So the Gerrys’ pet project, the rewriting of recent history, is to be stymied by perfidious Albion.

    They will just have to put their noses to the democratic grindstone, or try to make some arguments for a UI.

  • FDM

    Mick Fealty 10 September 2013 at 7:40 am

    “It’s a domestic Kev. Simple as. Getting involved would only allow them to continue to externalise the blame.”

    It is a domestic issue you are exactly right. The last time I looked, for better or worse, this region is still part of the UK. I am also well aware that part of these talks is to find measures to “deal with the past”. Villiers is simply trying to obviate any involvement in the past? If the British state wasn’t involved who were the IRA fighting? If the British state wasn’t involved how come they managed to kill so many people with their “security forces” and indeed end up imprisoning 10s of thousands of the enemy forces?

    Villiers is attempting the tired “oh we were the referee” in the conflict “we were not involved”.

    It balls. Who had the most power to change how the troubles started, evolved and finished? The UK government.

  • Son of Strongbow

    Irish Nationalists? You’ve just got to love ’em!

    If they’re not gurning about too much British involvement then they’re demanding more British involvement.

    For such ‘independent’ minded Islanders they do spend an awful amount of time in the sea swimming out towards the horizons trying to attract ‘foreigners’ ‘ attention.

    Not waving but drowning?

  • Mick Fealty

    Hmmm…

    The only conceivable object served by dragging the British into these talks would be a rather cynical attempt to undo the indigenous knot allegedly negotiated by SF and the DUP in the first place.

    I’d consider this a polite no, from Ms Villiers.

  • “So we should all welcome the opportunity for the Haass working group to bring a fresh perspective. I’ve no intention of pre-empting the Group’s discussions …” .. TV

    In the interests of ‘enlightenment’ it’s probably worth including Eamon Gilmore’s BIA draft speech:

    “As I mentioned previously, the British and Irish governments have, in recent times, given the Executive and the Assembly the space to work out solutions to local challenges.

    But there is now a need for both Governments to re-assert our roles as co-guarantors of the Agreement.” .. EG

    Would it be reasonable to assume that Haass will be working to a brief worked-up by UK and Ireland officials and agreed by the two state Ministers?

    Did the Tánaiste and/or his officials have opportunities to ‘re-assert’ themselves in the private talks reported by Sam McBride back in August? Any such exchanges are not subject to parliamentary scrutiny.

  • Mick Fealty

    Delightfully devoid of detail Nev… You know what that means?

  • ArdoyneUnionist

    “For its part the government is moving from the 30 year rule to a 20 year rule for the release of state papers, though the release of any information into the public domain will always have to be done in a way that is sensitive to the Article 2 rights of all parties”.

    When do we get to see the shinner/provo papers, who appear to have a no disclosure rule.

    Maybe they could start the process and hand over their papers with the period from the late 60’s to 1993??? They could give us their enquiry papers into the La Mon Massacre, the Ennsikillen Massacre, and their near miss at Tullyhommon, the Kingsmills massacre, the Shankill Massacre, the Claudy Massacre, the Teebane Cross Road Massacre the disappeared, the nutted and those investigating papers detailing those in the IRA who were involved in collusion with the British and Irish security services.

    http://www.independent.ie/opinion/columnists/eoghan-harris/taking-adams-through-the-wasteland-of-ira-atrocities-29243077.html

  • ArdoyneUnionist

    Maybe the republicans on here can clarify for me and no doubt the vast majority of the Protestant Unionist Loyalist community.

    When are the provos allegedly soldiers and when are they allegedly political terrorists/subversives, I can never get the timing of these two distinctions right???

    Just for clarification as far as I’m concerned, all those on the PUL side who were engaged in paramilitary groupings were terrorists, no exceptions.

  • Neil

    What about the IRA but? What about themmuns? Eh, the IRA? You remember them? Well what about them then? Eh? What about the IRA so? Anything to say about the IRA? So what about them?

    Bravo.

  • ArdoyneUnionist

    I take that reply is for me, thanks Neil.

  • Vernon Coaker has now joined Eamon Gilmore [10 September 2013 at 10:58 am above] in applying pressure on the SoS to get more directly involved:

    “We have made progress in Northern Ireland when both governments work with the political parties and civic society. Now is not the time to walk away. The secretary of state needs to meet her responsibilities and get involved.”

  • Pete Baker

    No he hasn’t, Nevin.

    And stop pointing at trees…

  • “describing it as “an unacceptable intervention” … “also calling for more intervention” .. GA

    Chalk and cheese! Gerry, as you will note, has welcomed the intervention of the Tánaiste, a fellow nationalist, and, most likely, would agree with the sentiments expressed by Vernon Coaker.

  • Pete Baker

    *shakes head*

  • FDM

    I don’t want to appear mean spirited but is this [yet] another “lets beat but Sinn Fein” threads?

    Another notch on the futile stick Pete. Gratz.

  • Pete Baker

    And back to the topic…

  • weidm7

    Perhaps then Pete you would actually condescend to engage with some comments and, you know, discuss the topic, or is it too much fun to quip your cryptic one-liners behind your wall of pretension? Being wrong can be scary, I understand, but it’s no excuse for not trying.

  • “Delightfully devoid of detail Nev”

    Mick, there’s some useful detail in Eamon Gilmore’s speech and the purpose of the questions is to elicit additional detail about the roles of the current key players in our society in general and the Haass talks in particular: DUP, SF, London, Dublin and Washington. As usual, the public are only ever likely to view the tip of the iceberg and none of the claims by the main actors should be swallowed whole. Some may well think my questions stupid but they are based on a degree of experience as well as expertise, contemporary as well as past.

  • “Moving on to the second means of moving Northern Ireland forward, building a more cohesive society, virtually all the relevant policy responsibilities fall within the remit of the Northern Ireland Executive” … Theresa Villiers

    “Despite Gerry Adams’ objections, that would appear to be an accurate assessment.” … Pete Baker

    “COHESION: the action or fact of forming a united whole – the sticking together of particles of the same substance”

    Last time I looked, unionists and nationalists are not ‘of the same substance’: one’s perception of a united whole is the UK, the other a UI. The most apt metaphor I can think of is a tug-of-war.

    Many actions do fall within the remit of the Stormont executive but, for example, the members of the Parades Commission are chosen by the SoS and its secretariat is provided by the NIO. Contention on parading is part of the wider constitutional tug-of-war and it generates less cohesion, not more. The imminent arrival of the 1916 and other commemorations alongside the narrowing unionist-nationalist electoral gap is likely to increasine problems re.cohesion.

  • Reader

    Clanky: I know people will argue that the plight of Nationalists in Northern Ireland is not as bad as that of people in Syria, but is that not just a matter of degrees?
    A matter of degree, like: politics, protest, civil-disobedience, rioting and terrorism.

  • “But there is now a need for both Governments to re-assert our roles as co-guarantors of the Agreement.” .. EG

    Would it be reasonable to assume that Haass will be working to a brief worked-up by UK and Ireland officials and agreed by the two state Ministers?

    Did the Tánaiste and/or his officials have opportunities to ‘re-assert’ themselves in the private talks reported by Sam McBride back in August? Any such exchanges are not subject to parliamentary scrutiny.”

    @Nevin,

    The two governments did jointly set the parameters for the peace process from 1993 to 1998 with periodic published documents such as the Downing St. Declaration, the frameworks document, and the heads of agreement document. After the conclusion of the GFA the terms were usually listed in the terms of letters of invitation sent by the two governments to the various parties. It would be my guess that the two governments will go along with whatever the parties agree to, the main limitations are that what is up for discussion are the three categories (parades, flags, past) that have been discussed in media reports.

  • Seems to me Caral Ní Chuilín was vindicated by helping victims of state terror when Villiers dropped the case against giving the files to the families.

    Though the Shinners are still holding out for an international, independent commission on dealing with the past to hand over details from the IRA on their victims.

    *Shakes Head*

  • “And it is vital that the Haass work takes place alongside real progress on other crucial issues on reconciliation and social cohesion and on the economy.”

    The SoS is talking about reconciliation and social cohesion in an NI context whereas the 1998 constitutional arrangement and the St Andrews Act change of selection of First Minister alongside the imminent commemorations are working in the opposite direction.

    “Moving on to the second means of moving Northern Ireland forward, building a more cohesive society, virtually all the relevant policy responsibilities fall within the remit of the Northern Ireland Executive”

    So the NIE is being hung out to dry on a conundrum signed off by London and Dublin! Expecting nationalists not to be nationalists and unionists not to be unionists is just plain silly. For example, why bash SF when we’ve seen SF and the SDLP colluding in anti-unionist activities? In New York we heard Martin McGuinness refer to the pressures on both himself and Peter Robinson from even more extreme elements in the pan-unionist and pan-nationalist family. Passing of the buck by London and Dublin when they are actively involved in NI governance is very irresponsible.

  • Barnshee

    “So the NIE is being hung out to dry on a conundrum signed off by London and Dublin! ”

    Hardly —the SOS has effectively said -our patience is exhausted – you are now in charge you gurned long enough about it – fuck off and sort it out yourselves Blame London Blame Dublin -No WAY