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.


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.


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.]

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  • Drumlins Rock

    BoR, Civic Forum, Irish Language Act, all strand one issues, keep your nose out Tainiste they are none of your business.

    Micheal, most of the cross border bodies are a joke, the delay in reviewing them is probably to hide that fact, we certainly don’t need any more until this lot is sorted out.

    If you want to pontificate about “de norf” get yourself a mandate.

  • There’s no prohibition on anyone talking about Strand One issues, just on doing something about them. But at what point do we admit that strand one has problems?

    Whatever my disagreements with Martin on domestic issues, I can’t fault his analysis of NI.

  • Morpheus

    Bang on the money I think but it’s easy to talk the talk. We need action, something, ANYTHING to get us moving forward again. We are in February now and we still don’t know the specifics of why the unionist parties (and the OO, can’t forget them) rejected the Haass proposals and I would guess that we will never know until at least the elections.

  • SDLP supporter

    Part of the general Fianna Fail strategy to portray Sinn Fein as pretty useless when they are actually in government in the North, being more interested in holding office rather than using the power of that office to effect positive economic and social change and, tactically, to widen the gap between FF and SF in the Republic’s opinion polls.

    Speaking personally, I don’t give a fig about re-constituting the Civic Forum.

  • Mick Fealty


    Interesting response. One obvious problem with commenting on Strand 1 issues is not that you don’t have a right to say something as a member of the Irish government, but that as Andrew notes above, you can’t do much about it.

    As for Cross Border bodies, well I think Foodsafe Ireland has several question marks in its margin over what it usefully does after the dioxin and horse meat scandals. None of them will get any better for being neglected though.

    But calling into question something a prospective FF govt could have some input (though not a final say) on does make political sense. We’ve been seeing far too much of the ‘wrong sort’ of political challenge over NI politics, one which invites opponent to act down rather than up to the collective challenges.

    Making what we already have work makes sense rather than constantly starting new conversations (aka flights of fancy) which never get finished.


    I’d say that’s a fair description of FF’s strategy.

    But in a space where most NI politics is conducted (that is where politics is being conducted) at height of about five feet off the ground, just speaking directly about real problems facing the NI political class (at a time when every well behaved witness is still pretending nothing untoward is happening) is not a bad way to differentiate yourself from your political rivals.

  • Drumlins Rock

    foodireland has questions as you have noted. Not everyone is impressed with the joint tourism. The Autism centre is still largely a white elephant. The A5 & Narrow Water Bridge are fiascos, Waterways Ireland was mainly set up to restore the Ulster Canal but no further forwards. Even Geroge Chittick would feel sorry for the true Irish language lobby and how they are treated.

    SDLP supporter has hit the nail on the head, MM & FF dont actually give a stuff, its a cobbled together midly disguised attack on SF & FG, but hid behind the usual bash the unionists.

    Strand 1 of course has problems but so does Strand 2 & 3, mote and plank come to mind.

  • Gopher

    “But as the deluge subsides and the waters fall short, we see the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone emerging once again. The integrity of their quarrel is one of the few institutions that has been unaltered in the cataclysm which has swept the world.”

    Basically FF line of attack on FG is limited so we get nonsense regurgitated

  • Drumlins Rock

    Gopher, as bad as things got in F & T, most of the world faced far worse confilicts in the century since those imortal words were uttered, I rather like the steeples.

    I think FF in particular are stuck in that era with regards NI, there is far greater changes in F & T than anyone realises.

  • Gopher

    That is my meaning the direct effects of the financial crash have receded, FG have largely pursued a successful strategy and there is nothing left for FF and SF to do but fight it out over those steeples

  • Mick Fealty

    You think Churchill was spouting nonsense Gopher?

  • Mc Slaggart

    Drumlins Rock

    “I think FF in particular are stuck in that era with regards NI”

    The people most stuck are Unionists.

    ” there is far greater changes in F & T than anyone realises.”

    I do not know about that?

  • Mick Fealty

    Good question McS, what changes are these DR?

  • Los Lobos

    Well Tyrone and Fermanagh used to be ruled by the Ulster Unionists and Sdlp, now it’s Sinn Fein and the DUP who wear the trousers- that’s a one huge change that has improved people’s quality of life no end!

  • Granni Trixie

    I felt very hopeful at the time at the setting up of the Civic Forum. But many on it, however well intentioned , did not attend regularly and produced little. There may be other reasons for why it did nt do better.
    I fail to see therefore why anyone is calling for it to be reintroduced, unless there are fresh ideas as to its role. Did Simone lobby politicians in the south to push this idea?

  • Granni Trixie

    Sorry, ought be someone not Simone.

  • Gopher

    Nope Churchill encapsulated the dispute with his mastery of English.

    I’m not really sure Westminster would have a debate on the Republic therein lies the rub. It is desperation politics from another century, last refuge of a scoundrel and all that. The North matters little to the South, Three left wing parties fighting in the same swamp

  • Coll Ciotach

    MM is out of his depth and it shows, we are adequately represented by Stormont, even if it is failing. (Adequate in terms of representation not in terms of quality). FF under MM are the ditch hurlers of Irish politics, unable to expand into the north these Failures gulder at the people who actually walk the walk in terms of representing people in the north. Hypocrites.

    As for the civic forum I do not want that. I cannot see what extra they will achieve. Just more noses in the trough.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Changes, some practical examples, just been chatting to a church representative who is looking help with an extension to the church halls, the reason they are extending is the cross community mother & toddler group is growing, the cross community historical society is growing, and more space is needed. This was never the situation before. On Tuesday I was at the opening of a cross community playgroup & history centre. Last week I saw Orangemen sitting out in the catholic end of town in order to buy tickets to Croke Park. Don’t always go by the media spin things have changed on the ground and I think the dreary steeples are decades ahead of their urban brothers.

  • Drumlins Rock

    And just to add this change isn’t coming from the “getalongerists” wing, it is mainly the traditional viewpoints that are taking the lead.

  • Granni Trixie


    I do not know how representative of NI your observations are are but I find them heartening.
    Btw, I don’t know why some on Slugger sneer at others wanting to get along with each other. …such an attitude does not preclude tackling the hard issues and working for change.

  • Granni Trixie


    The change DR describes obviously does not take place in a vacuum but is subject to broader influences so I do think it is misleading to claim that ‘traditionalists’ are necessarily leading rather that they are reflecting a process of change.

  • IrelandNorth

    For things to change in the North they need to rubber stamp Haass/O’Sullivan (H/O’S) 7. Like Apollo 13 on its way to the moon around about the time of Sunningdale, failure is not an option. It’s also oxymoronic to complain about mandates in the context of a gerrymandered state. An anachronistic in a modern age. The N Ireland Statistics and Research Agency’s Household Survey, 2011 postulated an equitable quantitative formula for all political decisions within N Ireland in relation to the rest of Ireland, and GB. 40/25/21/14.

  • Mc Slaggart

    Drumlins Rock

    “cross community mother & toddler group is growing,”

    At this point I can officially cry. The society in which I grew up always had people from mixed backgrounds doing things together. The current fad for calling things ” cross community” is excellent way of getting funding.

    ” Orangemen sitting out in the catholic end of town in order to buy tickets to Croke Park.”

    Was it for an American singer?

  • Granni Trixie


    I fail to see why rubberstamping something which over half of the parties found unworkable is a good idea. The failure of work towards consensus AFTER Haass and co left Ni calls their bluff …shows that there was a lack of will to get to yes. SF and DUP would have signed up but I see no sign that they were likely to implement what was required.

    NB it’s not too late to get on with it!

  • Mick Fealty


    “we are adequately represented by Stormont…”

    Quite. That’s particularly so if you believe that just taking aristocratic instruction from your Permanent Secretary is an adequate way to discharge of your Ministerial duties to the voters.

    The pension bill has just been passed in Stormont at almost the very last minute, seemingly on the basis that if they hadn’t the Executive would have to stump the cost of cutting public sector pensions.

    Ten years ago I was told by a former leading light in the project that no ordinary nationalist voter in west Belfast has the least interest in cross-border bodies, and accordingly neither has SF.

    Still it does make sense for FF to start with the long term neglect of border areas if they want at least to be seen to build a bridge. The real issue for them (exemplified by the response in this thread, I think) is that whilst they have an electoral base in the ‘south’ with which to build from the landing site on the northern side is both soggy and unpredictable.

    Yet, there is more. In the same debate, FF’s Brendan Smith had this telling morsel to put across:

    All analyses of the work of the Northern Ireland Assembly shows how ineffective it has been in regard to the processing and passing of legislation.

    The Executive and the Assembly have extremely important work to undertake, major problems to be surmounted when one considers the very high level of child poverty. A staggering 46.2% of children in Belfast are defined as living in poverty.

    Adequate? Not for me to say.

  • Mick Fealty

    Should read ‘uncut portion’ of said pensions,

  • Coll Ciotach

    A now Mick – as I said before adequately yes but effectively is another matter entirely. FF has to really role its sleeves up and start trying to get elected in Stormont before the criticisms pass from hypocrisy to comedy

  • Mick Fealty

    Well maybe. There’s always room for a bit of straight talking in midst of all

  • IrelandNorth

    Grannie Trixie! Fair enough. But how did one such dissenting party leader get his percentage so badly wrong. And how do we explain that many commentators were sayiing that, (like many a general in a military campaign from the Boyne valley to Islas de Malvinas), political leaders are leading from the rear. As Dr Haass and Prof O’Sullivan said often enough, nobody will get all of what they want. But they’ll get much of what they desire. A political system which confers a veto on progress due to a constitutional peculiarity from history needs to address that peculiarity. That’s what Haass/O Sullivan (H/O’S) was all about, to my certain knoweldge. Ulster unionism generically has to address it Plato’s Cave complex and realise that a goodly number of people from the nationalists tradition across the rest of the island would probably be prepared to meet them half way in reaching a mutually satisfactory constiitutional compromise formation. They’re not unreasonable people.