“willingness of political leaders to step away at times from the tight chains of their tribe…”

Emily O’Reilly speaking at the BIPA in Kilkenny this morning with a useful reminder of how the Belfast Agreement came about:

As a journalist from the early 1980s until 2003, I covered major events from the 1985 Anglo Irish Agreement through to the 1998 Good Friday or Belfast Agreement and for several years after that as the Agreement became embedded I covered its ebbs and flows. I lived in Belfast for a period in the late 1980s and witnessed too what happens in the absence of peace.

Looking back I see that what gave momentum to what eventually became the peace process and what gave eventual concrete reality to the process was the willingness of political and other leaders from both sides to step away at times from the tight chains of their tribe and truly give leadership. Some did it knowing they might and indeed did pay a heavy political price.

Others did it aware that the price might be even deadlier than that.

  • northstar

    Throughout all the early phases of the Peace Processes various “Extreme Moderates” from High-Cleric Cathal Daly to FG’s Bruton & all the MSM opposed the discussions, suggestions and the steps taken by Hume/Adams & those behind the scenes.
    The Gay UUP & OO leader & famous “decent moderate” James Molyneaux’s view was informative. His words were basically “IRA ceasefire is most destabilising thing to happen to n/Northern Ireland”.
    In other words- we can sustain the losses of the victims are they were mainly working class and most of the suffering was felt mainly in Nationalist communities.
    Where would we all be without the World’s “Decent” people? A SoS!

  • Nevin

    “a useful reminder of how the Belfast Agreement came about”

    Emily’s speech tells us nothing about how the Agreement came about; it doesn’t even name the key players or their motivations.

  • mickfealty

    Wrong thread mister.

  • mickfealty

    You’re confusing me Nev (not for the first time).

  • Barneyt

    We perhaps no longer have the ingredients in place anymore to sustain what has been achieved. I can’t see the two big parties of today taking risks which might place their heads on the chopping block. There’ll be no shift to the SDLP, especially without the likes of a McDevitt in their ranks. Swann is not going to make any impression. We are staring at events that in a different era would have ushered into a breakdown followed by the letting off of a device to remind the British of the alternative. Of course there’d be some form of reprisal. Whilst that won’t happen in the short term the ‘we’ are easing a path to its return.

  • George

    The willingness to step away was because both tribes were sick to the back teeth of “the troubles” and all that flowed from them. A “war” weary population was, in the main, happy to move to some degree to try and forge a new future.

    I say this as an outsider but I get the feeling that the problems being encountered now are that the tribes while not overjoyed about the status quo are much more hesitant to slay totems in the name of a new future when that future is so uncertain.

    There is no big idea on either side that can attract any degree of cross-community support that something as fundamental as the 1998 Agreement could. Vote “Yes for peace” is something you can happily put an X beside regardless of political viewpoint even if it meant some unpalatable consequences.

    Nationalism as an ideology can now happily sit back and look to chip away at the edifice of British rule in Northern Ireland without endangering the status quo while unionism can sit back and resolutely defend Northern Ireland’s place within the union by not ceding anything of consequence to the other side.

    On it will go until once again we reach a point where there is sufficient support on both sides to take a leap of fate for change or until events force change upon Northern Ireland. In the meantime the Irish and British governments will stroll or run around (depending on the degree of urgency) putting out what little conflagrations spring up.

  • Deplorable Ulsterman

    The Belfast “agreement” came about for no other reason than the weak and pathetic British governments of Blair and Major (and before) enforcing their way. The Prime Ministers of these governments were more concerned about their own image as some great “liberal” “peace maker” (and perhaps keeping bombs out of London in the short-term*) than a morally sound, realistic or sustainable political and security solution for Northern Ireland. When you have the full force of the world’s 4th/5th most powerful military at your disposal you use it properly and smack and demoralise the enemy security threat so hard they don’t ever EVER cross you again. When you do not, and have the enemy still gloating, arrogantly making demands, having the nerve to make themselves out as victims of their own conflict, and rewriting history with their lies, then the oncoming shambles of eternal conflict is what you are going to get!

    The sooner this disaster is undone the better!

    *though having said that, given that London now, and soon within a lifetime the whole UK, is due to be minority British, it doesn’t look like such treacherous leaders were actually any better for any other part of the country either.

  • Aodh Morrison

    “letting off of a device”. You’ve nearly succeeded in making bombing sound almost benign.

  • eamoncorbett

    The problem for the GFA today is Sinn Fein now see it as the new unionist veto and the DUP view it as “what we have we hold ” . Each side is looking for a way to hurt the other in a race to the bottom. Only one of the 2 governments has any formal link to the warring parties and they will certainly not rock the boat given the delicate balance at Westminster. SF will stick to their guns (pardon the pun) this time because if they are seen to back down then their support will wain .
    The DUP can still Bragg about their massive cash bonus , but SF have no such boast given the lack of leverage in high places.
    The big parties enjoy a great deal of autonomy under the agreement and cannot be ordered to govern , this is one of the flaws of the GFA, the fact that no one is really in charge . Nationalists with their votes have decided to shun Westminster,
    Dublin’s role is more structural and advisory and this is one of the problems going forward. Sinn Fein has zero relationship with Leo Varadker and will struggle to find a coalition partner in the South. Put mildly the problem with the GFA is not simply the Stormont standoff and its knock on effects , it’s the lack of interest from London and lack of any real role of substance from Dublin.

  • Sprite

    a reasonable analysis of the cul-de-sac Sinn Fein finds itself in – I’m beginning to think unity would be better achieved if the cause was led by others.

  • Granni Trixie

    She omits change from the bottom up in her analysis, something which I believe has a gender dimension. But then the mainstream narrative of “the peace process” invariably has a focus on (male) politicians who out in place new structures but I think we ought to be factoring in cultural change too.

  • eamoncorbett

    And what kind of morally sound, sustainable political solution do you propose?

  • eamoncorbett

    Not just SF , everyone will need to cut a bit of slack to fix this one.

  • Zeno3

    Yes, and it’s hard to see how it can be done now. I wish they would hurry up so we can get on to the next crisis.

  • ted hagan

    How on earth can you ‘enforce your way’ when you are supposedly ‘weak’?

  • 1729torus

    Ethical issues notwithstanding, Russia tried that in Chechnya.

    Several things from that conflict would have happened here: the Provos would have become far more ruthless and brutal, they likely would have set off no-warning bombs in British cities; the IRA wouldn’t be defeated before 2005; the younger Catholic population would have increasingly started viciously persecuting and displacing Protestants as the demographics shifted circa 2010; there would have been another war soon after British troops left unless London let the IRA and SF run the place.

    The GFA was partially intended to give Unionists breathing space to secure some kind of stable position for themselves, and avoid the grim future I sketched out.

  • mac tire

    You have a point but, it seems, the world is full of this these days. “Smart bombs”, “collateral damage” etc. You know the terminology.

    And that’s just the governments.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Why do you say this Sprite ? On what grounds or opinion ?

  • Barneyt

    The phrase covers all types of device but back then, when political events broke down there followed some violent deed shortly met with a counter deed beit it a bullet or bomb. That’s all. No need to read into it further

  • Trasna

    The only way to solve NI is to ‘remove’ one tribe permanently or reparation and ‘remove’ the remainder from each. Thanks to Brexit, you will probably get your way.

  • Granni Trixie

    What about the quality of life for the rest of the people in Ni? Is a UI the only thing in your life? Sad.

  • Granni Trixie

    Good – a bit if commonsense at last.

  • Abucs

    I think Sinn Fein are in a tricky situation. They are a political party that wants the best for its voters yet oppose being in government?

    How long will that contradiction be entertained by voters?

  • The Irishman

    Considering that’s what the Sinn Fein voters voted for, I can see it being entertained indefinitely.

  • Paddy Reilly

    When you have the full force of the world’s 4th/5th most powerful military at your disposal

    Well this is where you have gone wrong. You don’t have this force at your disposal. Her Majesty’s Forces aren’t there to aid what is little more than a coalition of street gangs in Northern Ireland to achieve primacy over its enemies, at the same time pissing off Britain’s nearest neighbour and the owners of the world’s 1st most powerful military.

    It isn’t in England’s interest to become embroiled in unending Irish wars. Wake up, it’s 2017, not 1617.

  • AWESOME!!!

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Accepting your possible irony, it’s more realistic to ‘remove’ the tribalism – willingly of course.

  • Sprite

    I’m increasingly of the view that peaceable unity will not be achieved if that cause is led by a party deeply associated with the conflict. I’m also not sure if SF really have a strategy. They have deployed many tactics over the years but their actions push PUL opinion away from considering what life in a modern, vibrant Ireland might or could look like. I think it will take real political vision from persons free of the baggage of the conflict to even open that debate, Brexit or no Brexit.

    I know there are contributors here who want unity in any guise. But the prize for nationalism has to be unity formed through free choice, welcomed by a majority of the Protestant community as well as Catholics. We are miles away from that and if we are honest SF are an obstacle to gaining Protestant support, interest or acceptance of unity.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Thanks for that honest and fair opinion which is very close to my own but likewise SF mandate cannot be ignored either. I can see where SF are coming from when they request for an All Party All Ireland Forum. I think they also realize that they themselves alone will never get an all Ireland over the line. SF will always be successful at confrontational politics but by doing so they will never be able to canvass in Unionist Loyalists Areas of NI and reconcilation will remain a million miles away

  • Sprite

    Well, I think if Gerry wants a New Ireland he needs to find other brokers and to put SF firmly in the passenger seat. If nationalism is serious about engaging everyone in debating a new future then Party has to come a very distant second to finding a resolution that can gain widespread support. Just my opinion. Problem is that I don’t think many northern nationalists would agree. Too many want victory rather than a shared future.

  • Trasna

    You have 100s of years to do that. Can’t be done. Neither can Ireland or the UK wait any longer.

  • aquifer

    SFDUP have diligently hoovered up votes within each of their sectarian blocks by maintaining divisions, and the parties of the silly centre have failed to develop an alternative narrative, instead following SFDUP in intra-ethnic competition.

    DUP are full of themselves, but will probably just leave a red white and blue tidemark on the bathtub.

    SF are also control freaks, but lack outside political friends and sponsors.

    The centre can call the shots if they can all adopt the same recognisable language that assigns blame to SFDUP, but no sign that they will do this.

    Maybe we need new parties or entrants. Does Labour really want SF as its local partner?, because that is where it’s policy on NI representation leads.

  • aquifer

    “The sooner this disaster is undone the better!” Oh Gawd someone wants a re-match, when the DUPs policies leads towards repartition.

  • John Collins

    That ‘force’ strategy did not work in 1919/1921, when GB was the most powerful country in the World. It only succeeded in creating a situation where it took over fifty years to undo the bitterness left in Anglo/Irish relations in its wake.