Micheal Martin: “For things to change in the North they require greater generosity and restraint”

Fascinating debate in the Dail right now. The Tainiste kicked off statements on the current situation in Northern Ireland by identifying three points he wants to see progress in: re-implementation of the Civic Forum; bringing forward the Bill Rightsl and the implimentation of an Irish language act.

Here’s selections from Micheal Martin’s draft speech:

On the rare occasions that Northern issues are now addressed in the Dáil by the Taoiseach we hear statements about how everything is in hand and lots of meetings are happening.

We also hear Deputy Adams express his general support for a government policy which has given his party a much freer hand.

He talks about disengagement within NI and between the south and the north:

…while we hear various figures tell us how well they are getting on and how institutions are in place – let’s not forget the objective of the process is not for politicians to get on and avoid constantly collapsing basic institutions, the goal is to deliver tangible action on behalf of people.

The undeniable reality is that today the majority within Northern Ireland say that they do not have an increased influence in how they are governed and they believe that the Assembly is achieving little. Every survey confirms a growing detachment and disillusionment.

You don’t need to know much about history to know how dangerous this is -how it provides an atmosphere in which those who promote division find it easier to get listened to.

In the South there has also been a collapse in levels of interest in Northern matters. In the media, the Oireachtas and amongst the wider public the North increasingly only gets attention when things go wrong.

He continues:

Sectarian tensions are very important but they are only one part of what is a rising challenge to the entire process of reconciliation and development. This challenge is faced within each of the three strands of the Agreement.

The process is becoming ever more concentrated on the elites, distracted by their partisan concerns and leading to a marked increase in public disillusionment. The focus has been on managing rather than developing institutions. Opportunities to address shared problems are being missed – and in some areas we are seeing a retreat from the policy of deeper cooperation.

This has had an inevitable, negative and growing impact on public attitudes.

And:

It is not just that we are failing to take advantage of the many and obvious opportunities which peace and a shared blueprint have brought. The failure to take these opportunities, to build deep understanding of other communities, to aggressively target development, to work to bring the concerns of marginalised groups and areas onto a shared agenda – each of these poses a long-term threat to what has been achieved.

Over the last two years I have delivered a series of speeches on both sides of the Border calling for action on the growing dysfunction of institutions ever-more beholden to narrow party interests. In particular I have addressed the dangerous vacuum being created within Northern Ireland. That critique stands. Last summer once again we saw the two largest parties adopt a highly selective approach to the legitimacy of the system they are supposed to guarantee.

He affirms the Haass talks as an approach but says that some of the rigid focus is indicative of a failing politics:

The idea that a basis for challenging sectarianism and dealing with issues of the past is nothing to do with us is completely unacceptable. It is a rejection of the basic dynamic which delivered every one of the major breakthroughs of the last decade and a half.

As we’ve seen even this week, for the unionist side the Republic is very much part of the historical narrative about communal divisions and the campaign of the Provisional movement.

During my time as Minister for Foreign Affairs I made substantive outreach to loyalists groups and communities an active part of our work. Showing the goodwill of Dublin and dispelling old myths had, I have no doubt, a very positive impact.

Equally, we played our role in supporting communities who proudly give their allegiance to the tricolour.

Everything to do with building lasting peace, reconciliation and growth on this island is a legitimate concern of the government elected by Dáil Éireann and to step back from this is absolutely wrong.

It also removes a dynamic which has time and again proven how it can deliver breakthroughs.

On the failure to evolved a common north south approach:

The exclusion of the Republic from the “New Economic Pact” for Northern Ireland remains a disgrace, as does the Taoiseach’s disinterest in it. Developed between Sinn Fein, the DUP and Whitehall it has been presented as the definitive blueprint for the development of Northern Ireland’s economy.

The ‘Pact’ is welcome and it includes many important commitments – but what it also does is whitewash out of the picture any North/South dimension whatsoever. Even though common development was a core part of the objectives and funding in the 2007 National Development Plan – and we maintained most of the proposals even in the toughest of times – the ‘Pact’ does not include even a single mention of the Border Region or cross-border cooperation.

There is no comparable example in the last 16 years where there were no North/South or East/West discussions before such an announcement.

This is another area where for their own reasons the government and Sinn Fein have had no problem with a process which is increasingly proceeding without Dublin’s proper involvement.

This moving away from the spirit and practice of enhanced cooperation is reflected in area after area and is having a wider influence.

He continues:

One of the mistakes which we are making is to again wait for crises before considering Northern issues. What is happening is that we are missing many opportunities to deliver for communities on either side of the Border. The failure to develop the cross-border bodies is in danger of allowing them to be frozen and marginalised rather than the evolving and dynamic entities we need them to be.

Since 1998 the operation of the existing bodies has proven that there is no slippery slope by which communities will wake up and find themselves living in a different state without the consent of the majority. Cross-border bodies are not about constitutional slight-of-hand, they are about securing economic development and social progress for all communities on this island.

The review of existing bodies has been strung out over three years so far and no proposals to extend them are being discussed. Decisions to abandon North/South infrastructural projects are exactly the worst thing that could be happening.

We have gone from communities asking for greater barriers to them asking for improved links. Yet in project after project the governments are failing to take up the opportunity.

And on the failure of an OFMdFM led Executive to review anything other than Strand one of the Belfast Agreement (aka St Andrews/Hillsborough etc):

The structures of the Agreement are fundamentally sound, but they were never meant to stand still. The absence of a more active approach to cross-border bodies is a major deficiency at the moment.

And…

For things to change in the North they require greater generosity and restraint. They require leaders to be willing to move the agenda on and to be consistent is respecting institutions which are trying to serve the whole community.

You can’t say you support the police if you attack them every time they pick-up one of yours. Equally you can’t be selective in your demands for transparency about the past.

I have no doubt that there is a wide growing gap between the bulk of the population of this island and leaders who act as if there is nothing more to be achieved. People understand the logic of peace and reconciliation and are largely getting on with it insofar as they can.

What is missing is a determination and focus from our leaders to take the process forward rather than allow it to be overtaken by forces fed by neglect and a sense of disillusionment.

Gerry Adams is currently speaking. We don’t have a copy of his speech yet, but the theme seems more to be about the ‘honourable’ history of the peace process as opposed about the ‘current situation’… [We’ll blog the highlights when we get a copy.]

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty