Jonathan Powell on Ending Conflicts – Insights on Leadership

Jonathan Powell, the British Government’s chief negotiator on Northern Ireland under Prime Minister Tony Blair (1997-2007), joined Prof Richard English Monday for a conversation on ‘Ending Conflicts’ at the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen’s.

Powell is now director of Inter/Mediate, a charity he founded in 2011 to work on conflict resolution around the world, and an Honorary Professor in the Mitchell Institute. Inter/Mediate is currently helping to facilitate negotiations in ten locations.

The conversation ranged from Powell’s experience in Northern Ireland, to examples from Colombia, Libya and Sri Lanka.

Powell asserted that there are two important conditions for ending conflict:

  • A ‘mutually hurting stalemate’, in which every side to the conflict realises that a clear-cut ‘victory’ is not possible
  • Courageous leadership that is willing to take risks and to bring hardliners along

It may seem like the default mode in Northern Ireland politics is cynicism. So Powell’s descriptions of local politicians demonstrating courageous leadership seemed jarring, given the current impasse at Stormont.

Powell praised both Blair and his contemporary Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. He said that the difference between Blair and the two previous British Prime Ministers was that Margaret Thatcher believed the conflict could not be solved, John Major believed it could be solved but that he couldn’t do it, and Blair believed that the conflict could be solved and that he could do it.

He drew some laughs when he said some people had argued that Blair had a messiah complex, but former Northern Ireland Secretary of State Mo Mowlam had put it less politely: she said Blair ‘thought he was f****** Jesus.’

The point taken was that courageous leadership requires belief in yourself – not least in your own abilities to bring your followers along the same path.

Powell also said that in every conflict with which he had been involved, there seemed to be a certain fatalism that the conflict was inevitable. That created despair – and a sense that there was no solution. But whenever peace agreements were reached, people started to say that the peace had been inevitable. The solutions had been looking everyone in the face all along.

In this way, Powell reminded listeners that neither conflict nor peace is inevitable: it is down to human actors to work out solutions for themselves.

Powell also praised David Trimble, Ian Paisley, Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and John Hume for their leadership roles. He said their leadership might not have been recognised at the time, or appreciated by all sides, but all demonstrated courage in their own ways.

He recalled Blair’s anxiety when the DUP became the largest party, fearing that it would never do a deal and sit in government with Sinn Fein. Then he described how Blair built a strong relationship with DUP leader Ian Paisley, talking with him about religion for hours on end. He said this created a genuine bond between them, creating a trust that undergirded the negotiations that led to the DUP-Sinn Fein government in 2007.

Questions were taken from the floor, and Powell was asked whether he thought the power-sharing (or ‘consociational’) form of government created by the Belfast Agreement was no longer fit for purpose. He said he thought some form of power-sharing was still necessary, but did not address particular aspects of the settlement like mandatory collation and the mutual veto.

Prof Monica McWilliams, who had participated in the peace negotiations on behalf of the Women’s Coalition, was in attendance and she asked Powell about the importance of secrecy during peace talks. She recalled that in his 2014 book Talking to Terrorists Powell had revealed that Gerry Adams had used some text that Powell had written – word for word – in a speech at a crucial stage in the peace process. This revelation was widely reported in 2014, with this quote from the book reproduced in the Belfast Telegragh:

“We felt that we had to address the ambiguity or lose the agreement, so Tony Blair made a speech in Belfast in which he demanded that Sinn Féin choose between the Armalite and the ballot box. We were nervous about the response but Adams called me a few days later and said, to our relief, it was a good speech. To my surprise he asked me if I would draft his response.

“I tried to write in republican-speak and composed a passage that ended with ‘People ask me do I envisage a future without an IRA? The answer is obvious. The answer is yes’.

“I turned on the television a few days later to see Adams deliver the speech unchanged.”

McWilliams said that she thought that this revelation was reckless – even in 2014. Powell agreed. He said that if he had to do it all over he would not have included it in the book, admitting that it could have destabilised progress.

The Northern Ireland peace process is regarded as a great success story outside these shores. It does not always feel that way for people who feel they have been left behind in the process, or when our political institutions have been suspended. So for some listeners, Powell’s reminiscences might have seemed nostalgic. But they were also a reminder that our politics have come through much more difficult times, and that it is down to us to keep building on peace.

Disclaimer: I am a Research Fellow in the Mitchell Institute.


  • the rich get richer
  • Granni Trixie

    I can’t see the point in QUB spending what is presumably a huge amount of money to bring over this Speaker who said predictable things heard by a selected audience. What was the point? If this is how the uni wants to demonstrate “impact” or relevancy they need to think again.

  • Nevin

    ‘Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen’s’ reeks of self-importance. I can’t imagine the membership or their illustrious guests volunteering to remove loyalist and republican flags.

  • Granni Trixie

    I want to clarify that in general I think it is a good idea to share knowledge beyond the university and contribute to solutions.

  • David Crookes

    A collection of abstract nouns is a sure sign of fatuity.

  • Nevin

    “The Northern Ireland peace process”

    ‘Peace process’ is a misnomer. The PIRA ceasefire in 1994 marked a cessation of the use of force to bring about constitutional change as well as a transition to attrition, not to peaceful accommodation.

  • Brian O’Neill

    It was a free public lecture open to all. Under your logic why bother giving any talks or lectures, we could all just read the book?

    In addition to the lecture he also did workshops with the students. It is part of their learning to meet with key figures.

  • Granni Trixie

    I have already said that in general I believe QUB ought to be doing public talks etc – my comment was meant to convey that this particular speaker was not value for money in view of the likely high fee he commands and the contents of his presentation.

  • Skibo

    Always so negative Nevin. Are you ever going to realise that you have to leave this use of violent adjectives in the past. What is here and now is a democratic process. You may not like the policies that Republicans profess or the projects they desire but there is no threat of violence other than coming from your words.

  • Nevin

    ‘Break the bastards’ and ‘equality as a Trojan horse’ don’t indicate a desire for peaceful accommodation. This cynical use of ‘peace’ is reminiscent of the cynical use of ‘rights’ half a century ago.

  • runnymede

    We all know it’s only a change of tactics.

  • Karl

    I want to say that in general you have generally commented on value for money of the speaker without knowing how much he was paid, or knowing the depth of his engagement with students, nor the content of his speech, incorrectly saying the audience was selected and then without these facts suggest that the people who’ve engaged the speaker, whose objectives you dont know, should ‘think again’.

    You then finish in you 3rd post with the summary that sharing is a good idea.

    I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

  • Granni Trixie

    Wow! Thanks for your thoughts.

  • Ruairi Murphy

    Do you never get tired from digging trenches?

  • Skibo

    Nevin how often are you going to repeat this? As far as I am aware, he was not talking about all Unionists with this but those who refuse to accept that rights should be for all.
    Your last sentence talks about a cynical use of “rights” half a century ago, what are you referring to?

  • Distancerunner

    Yeah, Nevin, the right to ‘one man one vote’ only, to election boundaries freed from gerrymandering and to non-religious discrimination in selection for employment. Oh yes, and the right to decency and propriety in government too. So cynical!

  • NotNowJohnny

    Surely there was more than one organisation that called a ceasefire? Are you misremembering by any chance?

  • eamoncorbett

    Are you saying that the civil rights movement was cynical, if so you are the only one to have ever uttered such a phrase.

  • Distancerunner

    What alternative is there in response to the power to obstruct and the implacable immovability of the DUP? It means that attrition is an inevitable part of the political process in NI.

    Accommodation is needed by both sides and I note that you, who raise the issue, are, yourself, unwilling to countenance such a thing in as minor a matter as the introduction of an ILA.

  • Nevin

    I dig for information. It’s often useful to know the answers before you ask the questions. The Parades Commission Secretariat confirmed what I and some others already knew – and then tried to change the narrative.

  • Nevin

    I don’t associate the Provisional Republican Movement, including its SF political wing, with equality or rights.

    I think Desmond Greaves should be called the father of the Civil Rights Movement. He didn’t appear to be interested in the patronage exercised by unionist, nationalist and other councillors but to use rights issues to advance Irish unity.

  • Nevin

    Read my response to Skibo.

  • Nevin

    The attrition I’m referring to was part of the Athboy conspiracy which commenced in 1994 and was acknowledged by Gerry Adams in 1997. In other words, it predates the Chuckle Brothers, the Brothers Grim and the Don’t Feel Like Dancing Sisters.

    I portray our constitutional tussle as a tug-of-war and 56% of voters opted for the two heavyweights in the last Assembly election. [cf UUP + SDLP = 25%]

    Unfortunately for Irish language enthusiasts, SF is using an ILA as a cultural cudgel. This allowed the uncompromising DUP to appear more reasonable by suggesting not just a broader approach but also to by-pass SF by accepting an invitation to Our Lady’s in Newry.

  • Skibo

    I find your praising of a person who was a proud communist a little out of character.
    I believe your hatred of everything republican clouds your analysis of anything Republicans do. You will always see anything that Republicanism wants as an agenda for reunification. Perhaps it is in their proposing equality and Unionism’s rejection of that equality is the thing that undermines the position of Unionism with the middle ground.
    In the end, just like FF and FG, Unionism will attack anything that SF demands and so isolate them from liberal thinking people.

  • Nevin

    I expect unionists to promote unionism and nationalists, nationalism; I view the DUP or SF as the respective bruisers, not as liberals. I’m acknowledging the influence of Greaves, not praising him.

  • Nevin

    I’m saying that those who initiated the CRM were cynically using rights issues to promote their respective political causes.

  • Skibo

    If you refer to them as bruisers as being the largest parties in their communities then I agree but they are not the same. DUP are a conservative party and draw similarities with FF and the brown envelope brigade.
    Sinn Fein are a socialist party.

  • Skibo

    Nevin the Irish speaking community saw through Arlene’s jaunts for what they were. people who attended those visits dis not recognise the Arlene weeks later when she said that the Irish speaking community said they did not need an ILA.
    SF are not using the Irish Language as a cudgel any more than the Labour party used the NHS as a cudgel in 1945.
    Not an Irish language act in my time does not sound reasonable.

  • Skibo

    Perhaps they were cynically using civil rights issues to achieve civil rights. It was a pity that the good UUP couldn’t just realise that they were wrong and sort it out themselves.
    Had it not been for the films and pictures of civil rights marches getting battened off the road, the Unionist government could have buried the story and just blamed the IRA again.

  • Nevin

    Skibo, I did say ‘uncompromising DUP’. You may recall that it was a SF culture minister who co-signed the death warrant of the cross-community Ultach Trust.

  • Nevin

    Baton-twirling police cleared the street in Dublin in 1966 and not a lot was said. When it happened in Derry in 1968 the sky fell in. The anarchy predicted by Brian Lenihan in 1966 by-passed Ireland but settled in parts of Northern Ireland.

  • Nevin

    Would you not agree that SF is a populist nationalist organisation wearing socialist camouflage? It’s also the political wing of a paramilitary organisation and is managed by an Army Council. This is a view expressed by mainstream Irish nationalist parties and it’s a view I concur with.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh, he is not the only one! When the old NI Labour parties reached 25% of a cross community vote in 1962, Captain O’Neill was detailed to head a campaign to paint Labour entirely as a cynical front for moves towards Irish reunification. When the NICRA began to develop, their Labour links provided a ready interpretation of them as a fronting organisation for a thirty-two county Ireland plot. Republican claims that they were the prime movers inflated their contribution, but offered apparent confirmation for the Unionist faithful. One still encounters this conspiracy theory amongst people who were exposed to this now long forgotten propaganda campaign and whose opinions were fixed in this mold in the 1960s.

  • Zig70

    I’m with you, I don’t think I’d make the effort for Jonathan Powell. To me, Tony Blair and his comrades are all tainted with the feeling that we were being professionally fluffed. I’m not sure either I understand how qualifies as a charity?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Skibo, there were a number of genuine liberal Unionists active in the NICRA, which could field sincere and committed progressives from across the entire spectrum of contemporary politics in the north. However, on a personal note, many of my older family members whom I’d assumed to be moderates began to harden and support Paisley and Bunting Sr. As you say, they were cynically using the Civil Rights movement to achieve Civil Rights, Gandhi style.

  • Granni Trixie

    Well said.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you kindly, Granni! I’ve been listening to this mendacious propaganda for a lifetime now, as have many of us who were there and actually knew what was going on.

    A few months back at the Linen Hall Library Paul Arthur spoke about the inception of the Civil Rights movement one lunchtime with both passion and accuracy. Some “child” from QUB asked during questions if those of us involved were ashamed that we had started the troubles. Paul managed to keep a straight face when answering, but when a tiny group of us who had been there were talking afterwards, the consensus was ” we were offering the solution. Others looked for easy answers through violence.” With so much of what we’d asked then for going into the development of the Belfast Agreement you’d think this propaganda led victim blaming would perhaps be a thing of the past, but no, the old yellow pages are turned by a new generation and the old self-serving nonsense rehearsed again.

  • aquifer

    “Courageous leadership” as distinct from opportunist followership. Democracy has a habit of sorting these things out though. One minute they are standing proud, next out cold. Lets have a few more elections, as per the rule book. Our current crop of politicians are not very exceptional, so spin the bottle.

  • Skibo

    What is that reference from? I was only 2 at the time but don’t remember anyone talking about riots in Dublin in 1966.

  • Skibo

    I agree that there were some unionists involved in the civil rights movement but they would have been the exception rather than the rule. Your comment on O’Neill trying to isolate the Labour vote was particularly significant as it reduced the Unionist vote overall.

  • Skibo

    No, no and no. The Southern parties are trying to label SF just as the Unionists have done so, not because of any belief that SF is incapable of political change but because they are themselves afraid of political change.
    The attitude of the Southern parties will change after the next election of FF do not achieve enough to bypass FG. They cannot afford another term in opposition.
    At the same time FF cannot afford to go into power with FG to isolate SF as that would make SF the official opposition.
    Their only hope is to ostracise SF and paint them as you have done. Lad the war is over, time to get a ladder and get over it.

  • Skibo

    Still the war mongering adjectives Nevin! Was it not Foras Na Gaelige that made the decision on the groups that they could continue to fund?

  • I think you misunderstand the role of Stalinism. As counter-revolutionaries, Greaves and the Stalinist Communist parties of Britain and Ireland schemed to promote nationalism as a means to split the working class on the established sectarian lines.
    Not to promote Irish unification as you claim.
    Thee democratic issue in Ireland is the ending of the sectarian split in the working class. Resolve that question and the socialist revolution is knicking at the door. The Stalinists fear this mortal threat. They promote nationalism as a seemingly radical, even revolutionary, political path. Knowing off course only an unapologetic stand for a socialist programne will unite the working class.
    The article you link to shows only the abysmal level of political conciousness of the nationalists. No match for machiavellian Stalinism.

  • aquifer

    Do you think that the “Stalinists” were putting money into Paisley’s collection plate?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I was there Skibo! My uncle was in the old NILP in the early 1960s so I watched this from the inside. I was with the first seedlings of the PD in the old NILP young socialists, which I note some reputable historians now appear to believe was a Trotskyist New York based YS! As an historian I find this example of historian myth building which my own life experience contradicts painfully amusing.

    My own liberal (small “l”) Home Ruler family had Unionist cousins and my great grandfather had been the treasurer for the Belfast Conservative party in the 1880s when Unionism was being forged out of Irish Conservatism, so I’ve long been aware of the internal critiques of Unionism from within over many decades. Quite a few Unionists in the 1950/60s wanted change and even genuine political fairness to their Catholic fellow citizens and recognised the great injustice of partition. It was from such people that I discovered just how genuinely surprised many Unionists were at their unexpected success in actually being offered partition in 1920. Such people saw the Covenant as a fishing expedition to see what they could catch. This pragmatism expected the reunification to occur well before the 1950s and recognised that for Unionism to survive into the 1960s it required an evened out society with the injustices addressed. I was shocked to find such people turn cat in the pan and support Paisley against everything they’d been talking about for years!

    Alongside this, there were many sincere young Unionists at QUB active in Civil Rights in the early years, with even a representative on the committee. By 1969 they were very much the exception. Polarisation was very fast and extreme, something shocking to those who had worked for a peaceful and constitutional resolution to injustice. The suddenness gave rise to conspiracy theories, but for any activist the degeneration of the situation into violence was a product of the intransigence of Unionism, and the gratuitous violence of Bunting Srs thugs. The old Officials were as taken by surprise as anyone, although after the split PIRA were quick to catch up with events and exploit the situation, but like so very many things in life it was more of a tragic cock up than one of those well planned patterns of events so beloved by those who cannot even begin to imagine just how confused real things are in practice.

  • Skibo

    Seaan, as always, when there is a deficit in the democratic process, violence is always there to fill the void.
    I believe the violence from both sides gave cover to people to harden their attitudes.
    Some of the posters here seem to regret the lack of violence at the moment as there is no cover now for what is still an anti equality policy dressed up as defending Britishness of Northern Ireland.
    I believe the biggest downfall during the troubles was the inability of the majority of the Unionist community to back the Sunningdale agreement. I think if it had been allowed time to settle in and grow, the troubles would have petered out particularly with the Irish dimension included.
    I honestly believe that the majority of Unionists would accept reunification once it happens, they just don’t want to be the generation that gives up the dream of a Protestant state.
    I think the significant number are starting to wonder what all this anti Irish stance is all about.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    We’re very much on the same page here, Skibo. Interestingly I was talking about Sunningdale with my wife over Breakfast this morning. The engineered sabotage of the agreement was, yes, another dire miscalculation by a version of Unionism which has for over a century nothing to offer any serious future but the sole act of blocking its path.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Isn’t your um ‘fascination’ with your Athboy Conspiracy very ‘so what’? Trying to ‘break the bastards’ hasn’t been working terribly well for SF. The ‘Trojan Horse’ was never going to be allowed entry to the Unionist citadel.
    You seem simultaneously to underestimate the canniness of Unionist parties while resenting something that was nothing more than an unwitting disclosure that blew the over-optimistic Adams’ cover.
    SF’s ‘pursuit of peace’ is indeed cynical
    SF’s pursuit of liberal values is too.

  • Skibo

    My concern would be, is Unionism falling into the same old trap that every bit of equality and liberalism is seen as a sop to Republicanism.

  • Misc

    Likewise, thanks for yours Granni Trixie.

  • Tim E

    “We felt that we had to address the ambiguity or lose the agreement, so Tony Blair made a speech in Belfast in which he demanded that Sinn Féin choose between the Armalite and the ballot box.’

    Tony Blair never ‘demanded’ anything of Sinn Fein, I can assure you. Moreover, JP ran back and forth to Belfast at SF’s behest, on many occasions!

  • Easóg

    Is SF’s pursuit of a united Ireland cynical too? Or is that part of their Marxist/Catholic/Maoist plan to rule in perpetuity? If SF did not champion the cause of an ILA who would have done it? Hardly the DUP. They also know if they appease the unionists this time, they are finished as a party.

  • Brian O’Neill

    Why do you assume he is getting a high fee or any fee? I don’t know what he was paid but I do know from our own events many public names are happy to give talks for free or covering expenses.

  • Granni Trixie

    You’re right – I was assuming he commanded quite a fee because he is in on a website of world leaders who for a fee give talks. I ought not to have assumed he was charging fees,

  • 05OCT68

    Is the problem with the “change of tactics” that it was easier to shoot republicans than to engage politically with them?

  • wild turkey


    … well a kinda Democratic process.

    In the early 1990s I wrote both TV broadcasters, BBCNI & UTV, and suggested this.

    For any given date, the broadcast would end with the simple, clear factual statement

    “ and on this date in 19__, X number of people died as a result of the Troubles/Conflict/War/Choose the label”

    The choice of the precise year would be based on the highest number of fatalities on that particular date.

    And yes some dates would be zero, some dates would be in double figures. Using this admittedly crude methodology, I have no idea what the precise 365 day would have been.

    But it would be a helluva a lot higher than anything we have experienced over the past 20 years. And seeing how both my children are approaching the age of 20, that’s good enough for me


  • Skibo

    Not a kinda democratic process, it is a democratic process.
    The people have voted, they have elected representatives on the hill trying to negotiate to reinstate the devolved assembly. That is democracy at work but democracy and the negotiations has to be based on equality and parity of esteem.

  • james

    Can we quote you on this later?

  • Skibo

    What in particular do you want to remember?

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    My response to your post is that while 6 county Republicanism has reinvented itself a number of times Ulster Unionism has retained the same personality throughout.

  • Nevin

    Skibo, I’m using paint distributed by the PRM’s most well known public face: Gerry Adams; you seem to be using South Armagh diesel as a thinner.

    I’ve commented previously on constitutional Irish nationalist hypocrisy: supporting PRM anti-unionist attrition in NI and kicking their political reps in the Dáil.

  • Nevin

    There’s much more to the Athboy conspiracy than the attrition of its activists and praise from Gerry Adams. Are you too lazy to, say, read the BBC interview with Dick Spring in 1996 or to contemplate why the interview was pulled, a fictitious account broadcast, the wrong people blamed and the refusal by both the BBC and CAIN to include a transcript in the Drumcree debacle archives?

    Why do you exclude the roles of the other key players – the two Governments – and appendages such as the Parades Commission?

    Why the dismissive ‘resentment’? Does the potential for miscarriage of justice not concern you?

    I sometimes take a very parochial view but I can also widen the focus. Government ministers deserve to be kicked when they lie or attempt to mislead but how can they be advised or held to account when they’re not even at the table?

  • Nevin

    “whose opinions were fixed in this mold in the 1960s.”

    .. says a staunch defender of the Peoples Democracy cult. PD leaders portrayed themselves in that New Left Review as even more rabid than some of those who initiated NICRA, not least key players in the ’56-’62 insurrection – and the PD sheep followed.

    We got carried away by this, and submerged the Young Socialist Alliance in the PD; we submerged our politics into the Civil Rights movement. All that we managed to get across was that we were more extreme than the Civil Rights people. We have never made it clear that this difference in militancy stemmed from a political difference, we never made it clear why we were more militant; and the reason for that, I believe, is that we have been frightened of scaring off our mass audience. We thought that we had to keep these people, bring them along, educate and radicalize them. It was a lot of pompous nonsense and we failed absolutely to change the consciousness of the people. The consciousness of the people who are fighting in the streets at the moment is sectarian and bigoted. .. Eamonn McCann, NLR 1969

    Any reformer with a titter of wit would have acknowledged the patronage exercised by unionist, nationalist, socialist and independent councillors in Northern Ireland, not just unionist patronage, as well as need for the removal of the territorial claim by Ireland. O’Neill and Lemass took some tentative steps but the timing and the preparation were problematic: 1966 was the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising.

    Pro-PD propaganda is good; all other propaganda is very very bad

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Nevin, I’d advised you to get out and meet some of the people involved. You might start by talking with Eamonn McCann about what he is actually talking about here. I was myself there so I can add in the more subtitle points and the detail of what as an outsider you are obviously generalising and misunderstanding the actual import of in Eamonn’s comments. You are also failing to contextualise them properly, and selecting what seems to support your thesis rather than striving for any objective analysis.

    In presenting this as some clincher you are also ignoring the simple fact which I’ve often had to remind you off before that the PD was very far from having a single voice or leader, and that Eamonn is speaking only for himself and expressing what is simply his own interpretation. It is important to factor this in and not to imagine this is somehow the Lord On High offering us the final word on either perception or policy!

    I am always rather puzzled that you are seemingly unable to distinguish between the local practice of jobbery and patronage in councils as practiced by all politicians of whatever hue then and the very particular Unionist principal of Catholic exclusion which was first seriously challenged by Brian Maginniss and Sir Clarence Graham when they attempted to open membership of Unionism to Catholics in the 1950s. Are you really attempting to somehow claim against all common sense and reason that there was no organised Unionist discriminatory activity against local Catholics and that the Civil Rights movement was completely unnecessary ? You must have either lead a very sheltered life in the 1960s or have developed a very selective memory!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    If only the dice did not land on the same face over and over! Our current crop are the distillation of a century of trying to keep an exhausted union alive, and will probably simply be replaced tweedledum for tweedledee until we collectively begin to notice that completely different political world images exist outside of the vacuum flask NI politics function within.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Each and every initiator of the Civil Rights movement, Nevin? There were many agendas and none dominated the others, which was why it was such an interesting movie meant in our history. You have homed in on a claim which was even then highly suspect and somehow imagined a scenario where the Marxist puppet masters moved their pieces on the board with those skills of control which even the state could not deploy at that moment! It is always important to critically evaluate what one in reading, and to contextulise what is being claimed against the way the real world actually works, then and now. Plotters will always propose, but natural human laziness and disorganisation disposes in practice!!!

  • Nevin

    Seaan, why are you adding complexity to Eamonn’s relatively plain speaking? You’re in danger of inhaling your own smoke.

    If you’re going to talk about exclusion then you need to include nationalist boycott; the nationalist territorial claim; nationalist insurrection and nationalist self-imposed apartheid. There was unionist support and acceptance for the new institutions in the ‘Catholic and nationalist’ administration in Dublin but this wasn’t reciprocated in Belfast.

    I led a very apolitical life in the 60s and, like most QUB students, enjoyed the great spirit of camaraderie, camaraderie that produced the likes of the Glee Club and Corrymeela. Such camaraderie reappeared in the 70s and 80s in the form of JCSS in Coleraine; one of our committee members became Young Citizen of Ireland in 1986; another nursed Bernadette McAliskey back to health when she was attacked. JCSS members, mostly aged around 17 years of age, demonstrated greater responsibility and maturity than those who’d joined the PD club. Such positive leadership by example contributed to inclusiveness and good community relations whereas PD rabble rousing set decent folks at each other’s throats and contributed to several thousand deaths and tens of thousands of injuries.

  • Nevin

    There were liberals in the CRM but they were statistically insignificant. Hardline unionists in the form of the Paisleyites were essentially reacting to the machinations of hardline nationalists and socialists in the CRM. As I’ve already said, it’s long past time to show a little humility and remorse for identifying with the PD rabble rousers and their revolutionary objectives. How could Brian Lenihan have got it so right and you have got it so wrong?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Nevin, as a few of us noted at a talk Paul Arthur gave at the Linen Hall Library a while back to similar misinterpretations, we were the solution, not the problem! Much of what we recognised was needed in 1968 has gone into current Belfast Agreement attempts at a resolution to our problems, again with Unionism still trying to freeze history and trick it into standing still for a further century of dreary pointlessness for us all.

    As you say you were unpolitical at the time. Your simplified picture of the period clearly reflects this still. As Teddy Roosevelt once said “Far better it is to dare mighty things…..even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy or suffer much because they live in a grey twilight that knows not victory or defeat.”

  • Skibo

    Would that be the Unionist personality that only accepts the British culture in Northern Ireland and a Protestant parliament for a Protestant people?
    What about the fact that they do not accept Ireland’s interference in NI politics and then is prepared to accept the presence of Simon Coveney?
    Your statement seems to imply an effort by Republicanism to adapt to the present and an intransigence from Unionism to find a negotiated solution.

  • Nevin

    Was Paul involved with PD?

    There was nothing mighty about PD! As I pointed out, our JCSS members showed far greater responsibility and maturity than the folks you hung out with. When some moved on to NI universities in the 70s and 80s it was very much a movement back in time to the negativity of the late 60s.

    There is some nice language in the 1998 Agreement, language that reflects the co-operative spirit that we experienced in Corrymeela and JCSS, not the in-your-face PD confrontational style. The Ahern and Blair acquiescence to loyalist and republican paramilitarism IMO did huge damage to moderate political unionism and nationalism.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh dear Nevin, all the old exhausted propaganda of a Unionism which died at that time struggling to justify its attempts to hold on to the world of 1920 with fantasies of any concession to U.K. norms of democratic practice opening the door to the ravening hosts of the Republic! Exactly as Captain O’Neill had earlier described the dangers from voting Labour in the early 1960s. All of this propaganda was recycled from the earlier anti-NI Labour campaign yet again in 1968 when a cross community alliance which was primarily led by liberals ( small “l”) tried to bring the modern political world here and redress the imbalances of almost half a century of stasis.

    Hardline Paisleyites were reacting to a mendacious chimera of nationalism and were harking back to the glory days of the shipyard expulsions and their aftermath in the autumn of 1920, and to the the woeful “open season” on Catholic fellow citizens which ensued, and which discredited the most sleadingly find words of Unionism about social fairness for the entire Catholic portion of our community right up to to the Civil Rights moment!

    The humility needed here Nevin is that of a need for those encrusted in the mistakes of an unlucky past to let go of these exhausted old propaganda lies and the devisive role they still might play for the impressionable and unwary, those who are also unwilling to really look at what all decent sane people now remember as the inceptive moves in our collective journey to a social justice which will be evenly spread across our entire community.

  • Skibo

    Nevin what about the anti Republican and anti Nationalist rhetoric from Unionism?
    Republicanism by it’s very definition is anti Unionist.
    Attrition is again your attitude to the lack of violence and trying to tag Sinn Fein politics with a violence that is no longer in existence.
    Have you a problem with the fact that the troubles have ended? Can you defend the Unionist position without the threat of Republican violence?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Yes Paul was an activist in the PD. You should perhaps read up on what you are apparently criticising from behind that blindfold, Nevin.

    “Responsibility and maturity” from the sidelines, eh? I stick with Teddy Roosevelt and with the “doers” as he described them in his Sorbonne speech of 1910…” the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…who does actually strive to do deeds…never with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.”

    If a few more Unionists had come from the sidelines and had courageously seen through the mendacious propaganda you are still drearily repeating half a century on,we as a community would have been saved a long painful period of violence given an opening for the PIRA through the wilful credulity of Unionists attempting to avoid equality then, as now.

  • Skibo

    The aims of the PD were
    One man, one vote
    Repeal of the Special Powers Act
    An end to gerrymandering of electoral boundaries
    Freedom of speech and assembly
    Fair allocation of jobs and housing
    Could you tell me which ones are the revolutionary objectives?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Nevin, I believe, is adding up some of the names on the 13 member steering committee of the NICRA, those which he feels represent an entirely revolutionary agenda for a 32 county Ireland, names such as Fred Heatly and Liam McMillen, and throwing in dangerous Reds such as Betty Sinclair, Derek O’Brien Peters and Noel Harris. He also imagines that the Republican presence was a dominant factor.

    If he had been at the actual meetings of the NICRA he’d have been perhaps surprised at how very constitutionalist the tone of discussion was, and how very restrained all these wild revolutionaries were in practice. Everyone was very, very business-like about simply pressing those over the water for the list of reforms you offer above. Of course there were other agendas, but the business of the NICRA itself was to achieve reform locally, not to tear down the border (Pink Floyd “Tear down the Wall” style) and create a Committee of Public Safety to set up their Guillotine in place of Carson’s state at the head of the long mile, convenient to the front entrance to Stormont! We were simply travelling together to the stop called “social justice” and would take other busses to our very different destinations thereafter.

    Simply because a few Marxists such as C. Desmond Greaves have claimed that the NICRA was in reality their tool to tear down Capitalism across Ireland, a few local Unionists then and now have seen the entire NICRA as the classic Trojan Horse ploy, and those libertarians, liberals and Protestants active in the organisation as the dupes of these “neo-Jacobins”. If only such conspiracy theorists had taken the trouble to come and sit through a few actual meetings!!!!!

  • Nevin

    FnG is a N/S body, hence the roles of ministers from the two jurisdictions.

  • Skibo

    The reduction in funds was a result of a cut in the budget to the CA&L ministry. As I said before, the cuts were across the board. You maintained SF did not cut funds to Irish ventures. Thank you for providing a rebuttal to your own proposal.
    In the end, FnG is a stand alone group and made the decision you refer to.

  • Nevin

    Last year, a rationalisation plan for the funding of Foras na Gaeilge was agreed by the North-South Ministerial Council. ..

    Foras said the changes in January were to ensure the language was promoted on an all-island basis. .. BBC

    In other words, as the Ultach Trust wasn’t an all-island organisation, it got the chop even though it was cross-community; Strand 2 trumped Strand 1.

  • Nevin

    I’m quoting from the PD leaders and the likes of Brian Lenihan who’d recognised the potential for anarchy back in 1966.

    I took your advice, dined out in a friendly local eaterie and returned to a steaming pile of your traditional anti-unionist bile!

    I’m interested in the messenger as well as the message so I had a closer look at Paul’s pedigree. I had the good fortune to go to a small easy-going co-ed grammar school whereas Paul was one of the boys of St Columb’s in Derry:

    Eamonn McCann: ““The regime at St. Columb’s was quite brutal and was run by fear”: “It was run by a lot of brutality—not just slaps but the use of fists. I was knocked unconscious in an Irish class once for something very, very trivial.”

    Paul is a few months younger than me, was in his early twenties in 1968 so you might have expected that he would have had greater historical awareness than the freshers I saw being lined up at Queens one Wednesday afternoon in the autumn of 1968 to march on City Hall.

  • Granni Trixie

    Today It is hard to imagine a context where although
    Maginness and Graham were only saying it’s time to welcome Catholics as members and candidates in the UP, their proposal was met with strong disapproval by Unionists. From late 50s-early 60s Bob Copper (Chair of YU for much of this time) also pressurised for the UP to reach out to Catholics. But then we must remember that this was at a time when the OO was formally privileged in the Party – places left for OO on its committees etc. Anti catholic sentiment and practices impacted on political culture;in some of the general population resistance was visible in the form of CRM.

  • Granni Trixie

    The late Rev John Morrow once told me that he (and possibly Ray Davey) attended some meetings in QUB students union but stopped going when they saw some more militarily inclined factions taking over.
    Bearing in mind that Corrymeela was established by Presbyterians like them in 1965 (ie prior to 1968) I think we can take it as a sign that some Protestants recognised that NI had to change.

  • Granni Trixie

    But you can see why?eg refs to Trojan Horses etc

  • SeaanUiNeill

    As you say it is hard to imagine just how very anti- Catholic Unionism was in those days. My own family was liberal, and my grandfather knew John Millar Andrews, who had inherited the mantle of Liberal Unionism from his father, but notably Andrews identified Catholicism with anti-Liberalism and accordingly aligned with that area of Unionist thought. The simple norms of pluralism, tolerance and respect for the opinions of others that marked Liberalism over the water then simply could not be relied upon in how the term was employed here.

    The climate of dour triumphalism within Unionism at that time was something Inencountered in the well placed Unionists in my wider family. The sheer certainty of their unquestioning belief in the utter correctness of their prejudices is something which no-one who did not experience it can even begin to imagine today.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    But picking comments such as Eamonns out of context and applying them generally when they were made at a particular moment and about particular events is mendaciously misleading Nevin. I now note with some surprise that Paul is somehow suspect because he went to a Catholic school rather than “an easy going co- ed grammar school”! I’m confused about what point you are making here? Violence was rife in NI schools of whatever hue in the 1950s, and my own obtruse critiques of canonic Unionism earned me blows to the side of my head from a rather brilliant sixth form History master, an exile from Bandon who at other times helped hone my own debating skills with his intelligence! All this at what today would be seen as an elite co-Ed school!!!!

    Amongst that band of freshers lined up
    for the Autumn march to the City Hall in 1968 I know of some award winning scientists, many many high flyers in business and academia and quite a few well known people such as Kate Hoey and the later Lord Bew!!! That Paul and any number of other fine intellects such as Cyril Toman (and myself) were inventively involved in the PD speaks eloquently against your outsiders belief that it was somehow a body of duped innocents driven by fanaticism. Such simplifications were very much the perception which the Unionist commentators in the media of that day were trying to sell the duped innocents amongst the general public who were fanatically pro-Unionist!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    The NICRA was painstakingly pacifist in my experience, as was the PD. There was of course people involved with the NICRA who were Republicans, and whose rhetoric reflected this but the completion was moderate in intent and practice. The PD was more militant (rather than “ military”) but through civil disobedience and the Gandhi tactic of peaceful confrontation in order to expose the violence of the state and of other opponents, and to thereby dramatise to the media and the world the implicit violence of Unionist anti-Catholicism in action. But I simply cannot imagine how the term “military factions” could have been applied to anything at QUB in the 1968/70 Civil Rights period! Later, yes, but not until events had brought violent republicanism back into play.

  • Nevin

    “But picking comments such as Eamonns out of context”

    Seaan, you’re obviously a person of some erudition so I must file that piece of spin under malevolent.

    “Violence was rife in NI schools of whatever hue in the 1950s”

    The one I went to was the very model of civility. Funny that folks allegedly interested in rights issues ignored this ‘rife violence’; not least when it was up close and personal.

    Intellect is one thing; dog-wit is something else and Eamonn certainly appeared to have more of it that the other four members of the PD cult interviewed for the New Left Review in 1969.fanatically pro-Unionist!

    “fanatically pro-Unionist!”

    Such puerile attempts at diversion don’t impress me.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Nevin, your repetition of the old canard that the NICRA was a Republican front speaks eloquently for itself.

    That you seem to be blind to the actual context of some of the material you used is also clear, and I’ve called you on contradictory sentences elsewhere in the article you are quoting before. Hardly malevolent to point out genuine inconsistencies?

  • Nevin

    “your repetition of the old canard that the NICRA was a Republican front”

    Having never made such a claim there was no such repetition. Perhaps you gleaned that observation from a different source.

    “you seem to be blind to the actual context of some of the material you used”

    The more discerning reader will recognise such an allegation as black propaganda.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Nevin, “cynical use of Rights half a century ago”, the comment all this discussion has developed out of. I am of course happy to be corrected as to nuance if you are admitting ( at last) that the NICRA and PD, and the whole movement for Civil Rights was actually necessary in the 1960s and that its supporters were made up of s broad spectrum of the community acting together in the interest of social justice, but this is not how I or others have been reading your efforts through many many posts over years to present the entire Rights movement then as Republican inspired. If I am somehow misreading you please take the trouble to clarify the matter for me!

    Regarding the other, I am on record dissecting the article from the New Left Review with you on Slugger in a few other earlier postings and anyone interested can check back over these postings In the archive for the veracity of what I’m saying. “Black Propaganda”….ho, humm……

  • Nevin

    Seaan, you’re as straight as a piglet’s tail! Your little diatribe is just fake caricature. It’s time for you to get away from the smoke!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Nevin, it’s Aesop’s fox and the grapes again it seems. When reasoned argument and rational analysis fails simply revert to abuse. “The grapes are sour anyway”…

    Please correct me if I am misrepresenting anything, but as I see it my contrary “piglets tail” is a genetic inheritance from the dissenter blood in my family, and no cause for any shame, to my mind…..

  • Nevin

    You’re quite happy to dole out abuse so it’s a bit late to finger-point.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Nevin, have you understood anything about my attempts to have a conversation with you over historical themes? I am exasperated when offered “ proofs” lifted out of context or which are clearly just opinion dressed up to look like history ( as with the spurious Wigtown “drownings” exchange of years back) but I’m sorry that you have mistaken my exasperation at such things as pure abuse. I am quite happy to discuss any matter, but must in all honesty call out weak or slanted evidence when I see it. Just as I am filled with admiration where you point out some failing of our present masters or some local instance of significance over on NALIL.

  • Nevin

    Sorry, Seaan, but your ‘out of context’ jibe cuts no ice with me. Cheers.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    How is it a jibe? Eamonn is talking about a particular moment in time, a particular instance. Ask him! He’s out there and can back you up if you are not selectively using something he’s said to characterise something far less simple than you’d wish to make it!

  • Skibo

    Trojan horse was not a great analogy unless you understand that Unionist NI was built on a a two class system and restricting rights. When you accept that then saying equality is a Trojan horse can be understood.
    Break the bast@rds was another saying that should have been left in pre troubles.