Tuesday, 30 October 1984
Seanad Eireann Debate
“welcomes the Report of the New Ireland Forum and accompanying documents as forming an important contribution to any resolution of the political issues posed by the division of the island and as providing an authoritative basis on which the realities of the political, economic, social and security problems can be considered and resolved.”
Mrs. Robinson: I am glad to have this opportunity to participate in the debate on this motion and amendments concerning the New Ireland Forum. As a back-bencher, or more accurately as a sub, who participated in the deliberations of the Forum, and who regarded it as one of the most interesting and worth while experiences of my political career, I propose to look critically both at the process and at the product of the New Ireland Forum.
I should like to say at the outset that in making my contribution I share the sense of urgency, almost of desperation, voiced by many contributors to this debate. The New Ireland Forum was established to examine, and I quote “the manner in which lasting peace and stability could be achieved in a New Ireland”. The very fact that it was brought into being and discharged its task, produced the report and complementary research material that it did, has introduced a new element in Anglo-Irish relations.
This element can either be positive in helping to bring about a framework for lasting peace and stability, or unhelpful in exposing the lack of political will and capacity to achieve that result. Either way, for better or for ill, the Forum will not be neutral in its impact on these islands over the coming years. That is the  gravity of the responsibility on those who are seeking to bring about the framework for a further phase in the production of fruitful negotiations following the publication of the report. By acting, we have ourselves created a situation where we could, if this initiative were to fail, have worsened a very worrying situation.
I turn first to the process of the Forum. In my view, it was essentially an educative process for the politicians and people of this part of Ireland, with the valuable spinoff of being able to provide for the several different audiences outside Ireland and in Northern Ireland — a considered, up to date and, hopefully, united nationalist perspective on the manner in which lasting peace and stability could be achieved in a New Ireland. This was a very valuable educative process. It is a great pity it did not take place ten years before, or even 20 years before it did take place.
Having said that, the educative process of the Forum should not be under estimated. In all, as is indicated in the report, 317 groups or persons made written submissions to the Forum. There were 12 public sessions at which oral presentations were made by individuals or groups. The proceedings of those public sessions are also available in print. In my view, they too form an inportant part of the Forum process.
I personally tend to share the view expressed by a number of Senators that the range of contributors invited to make oral presentations to the Forum was too narrow, omitting in particular those who urged a more radical vision of a new Ireland in which more priority would be given to addressing and redressing the social inequalities and imbalances in our existing societies, both North and South. However, the printed reports of the public sessions of the Forum provide an interesting area of study. It is worth examining the areas which were particularly emphasised by those groups of individuals who came to address the Forum and then to look at the extent, if any, to which these areas and concerns were given expression in the final report of the  Forum or in the accompanying research documents.
I recall that one constant theme in the written and oral submissions made by the representatives of the several Protestant Churches who made presentations to the Forum was that the Forum itself provided an unique opportunity for a critical self-examination. It provided a unique opportunity for a critical examination of the Constitution, laws and practices of the Republic. If this opportunity were taken up this would provide a very valuable contribution to establishing a basis for lasting peace and stability. However, I invite those with a fine enough toothcomb to peruse the report of the New Ireland Forum and to find those elements of constructive self-criticism which got through the political filter.
There are difficulties about perhaps being mature enough, or having the political will and sense of priority which others have, to examine and expose areas which the Forum members were invited to look at in that critical context. There are a number of other examples.
It must be difficult for the women's law and research group who participated in a public session on 17 November 1983 and also for Sylvia Meehan, the chairperson of the Employment Equality Agency who took part in a discussion on 19 January 1984, to find in the written word of the report any indication of interest in their vision and sense of priorities for a New Ireland. It is valuable to have these printed oral sessions to see the kind of questions that were put and to see the sort of answers.
The process of questioning was very valuable. This was brought out particularly in the session which received a great deal of media attention when the representatives of the Catholic Bishops came to the Forum on 9 February 1984. Apart altogether from the range of issues discussed at that session, the visible evidence, witnessing the Catholic Bishops and their representatives being questioned by politicians at the Forum, may have marked a modest beginning to a healthy separation of Church and State in Ireland. It has a very real impact on  people throughout the country. Certainly I got a feedback from people throughout Ireland either in letters or in conversation months afterwards. They said how interesting it had been to hear politicians discuss issues publicly and question and not necessarily fully accept the answers given by Catholic Bishops, that this was very healthy and not before time. If we had more open debate of that kind we would create the conditions for a much healthier approach to the very separate concerns and responsibilities of Church and State in these areas.
I now turn to the product of the Forum which includes not only the report itself but, as the amendment makes it clear, the important research studies which accompanied the reports and are part of the output of the Forum. I would include in this the printed public sessions where there was the dialogue with those who made oral presentations to the Forum. The document in question has been referred to by a number of other Senators. Included are the economic studies dealing with the comparative development of the economic structure North and South, the economic consequences of division, the cost of violence and so on. It includes also the study of the legal system and the examination of certain subject areas such as those of energy, agriculture and transport.
In some cases individual members of the Forum did not have much input into the papers. These were largely the work of the consultants, also presumably, with a valuable contribution from the secretariat of the Forum, but there were others, particularly the economic studies, where members of the Forum participated actively on sub-committees and vetted the output very substantially. It is extremely valuable to have this data base which will help to ensure that discussions on the broader implications of any political development on the island of Ireland are considered and debated in a more informed framework. This is extremely important. It was one of the very strong messages that came through from one of the oral presentations from the Irish Information Partnership, as they are  called, who are established in Britain and who specialise in the provision of up-to-date information and data. They emphasised the importance of having an authoritative and comprehensive data base if you are going to have the necessary understanding of the dimensions of the problems and the necessary basis on which to make progress. For that reason also, the Forum has fulfilled a valuable role. These research papers and the contribution which they made are not the political core of what is contained in the work of the New Ireland Forum. That is represented by this comparatively brief report.
I want to turn now to a consideration of the report which was published on 2 May 1984. Having had several months to reflect on the contents of this report, it is evidently both a brief and a seminal document which requires to be read and to be understood both in the context of the complexity of the issues being considered and in the novel format in which the politicians of the four political parties came together to consider these issues. It is one of the lasting tributes to the Forum that it succeeded not only in initiating but in continuing this novel process. There were moments when such might not have been possible to sustain. There were difficulties, even associated with leaks from the deliberations which were taking place in private at a very sensitive stage which were tending possibly to sufficiently rock the boat to undermine the novel process.
The verdict on the report may still be premature. It is a little early for us to be confident that we can characterise the report of the Forum in a definitive way and say that it is the most significant contribution to Anglo-Irish relations in 50 years, or it is a document which is without authority because it did not address the real problems and so on. It is very difficult to come to a final verdict on the report. The report of the New Ireland Forum is not to be dismissed, as some commentators have tended to do, as being a political Irish solution for an Irish problem. There has been a tendency to say: “What would you expect from a Forum in which the Nationalist parties  were represented except the unattainable of a commitment to a united Ireland? Have they learned nothing and how is it that in 1984 politicians who did seek to address the economic, social and broader political issues came up with a preference for a unitary state and two other models which are more far-reaching than the majority in Northern Ireland and possibly the Government in Britain would be prepared to contemplate?”
The aspect of the report which requires to be understood and which may give it a peculiarly Irish quality in that sense is that it has an element about it of saying one thing in very clear terms but perhaps meaning another and of having within it nuances which are more important than the explicit statements. In other words, as a member of the Forum and in an individual capacity, I would subscribe to the view that the Forum report does require the sort of treatment which was meted out to it by Professor Kevin Boyle and Tom Hadden in a paper which they published. The title of the paper shows what the thrust of it is. They title their paper How to Read the New Ireland Forum Report searching between the Lines for a Realistic Framework for Action. That approach is very important in understanding, certainly in the context of 1984, what the significance of the Forum is — that you must search between the lines of it to get the realistic framework for action. It is not too difficult, if you adopt that approach, to find within the Forum a very open and realistic basis for political progress.
The assessment of the present problem contained in chapter 4 is qualitatively different from the assessment that has occurred from Irish sources since the Free State was established and this country was partitioned. There is much more openness to recognising the different cultural identity, the different sense of Britishness of the Unionist majority in Northern Ireland. That comes through very substantially in the assessment of the present problem. It comes through in a very far-reaching recognition of the implications of the Britishness, of the  separate sense of identity and of the importance of recognising that identity.
It was an extremely important consideration for the members of the three political parties based here in this part of Ireland to hear first hand and to understand in full measure the sense of isolation, the sense of frustration and the degree of sheer pain and suffering endured down the years, right up to now and continuing among the Nationalist population in Northern Ireland. In many ways we might have thought that we understood this fully but it was not brought home to quite such an extent until we participated in this structured way in examining the extent of the problem and the total lack of expression of identity of the Nationalist population in Northern Ireland.
I say on a personal level that an extraordinary benefit of participating in the Forum process was getting to know individually much better than I did before the many members of the SDLP who participated. Their commitment to the Forum was quite extraordinary. Not only were they present in very substantial numbers at every meeting of the Forum — and it was rare for even some of the alternate members to be absent from any session of the Forum — but they were also prepared to sit for whatever hours it took, over weekends if necessary. They were very ready to mix with the representatives of the political parties from this part of the country, and did so in a way which cemented friendships and created a basis for personal meetings in the future which will make an important contribution at the personal level to better understanding by politicians in this part of the country of the situation which the people live with day by day and month by month in Northern Ireland. That is a good thing.
Where we look to read between the lines in the report is in the assessment of the present situation in chapter 4 and the framework for a new Ireland outlined in chapter 5. It is clear that certain elements of chapter 5 must be considered in this way; you have to read between the lines. Paragraph 5.2 sets out what the Forum proposes, having considered the synopsis  of the realities which grows out of chapter 4. Paragraph 5.2 (2) and (3) place clear emphasis on the prerequisite that any new Ireland which the Forum seeks can come about only through agreement and must have a democratic basis. Paragraph 5.2 (3) provides that agreement means that the political arrangements for a new and sovereign Ireland will have to be freely negotiated and agreed by the people of the North and the people of the South. Therefore, you have separate contexts in which there would have to be agreement. This is a very important acknowledgement which is fundamental to the whole thrust of the report, that there must be the agreement and that, although the parties to the Forum can have a vision and a sense of priorities and can place emphasis where they wish to, as the Forum says, they alone cannot determine; it must be on the basis of entering into a dialogue and discussion. Chapter 5 places emphasis on the preference of the members of the Forum for a unitary state and paragraph 5.9 refers to the other proposals which were examined, the proposals for a federal/confederal state and for joint authority, and these are fleshed out in chapters 7 and 8. Paragraph 5.10 contains a brief but significant statement that:
In the context of having stated so clearly that any political commitment requires the agreement of the people of the North and of the people of the South, that emphasises the significance of saying that the parties to the Forum are open to discuss other views which may contribute to political development. Let me now refer to what some of those other views might be, because obviously they are not in the report. I would like to refer to proposals in this area put forward by Professor Kevin Boyle and Dr. Tom Hadden in that paper which I have already mentioned. At page 23 of the paper they crystallise what they see as a problem about the approach adopted in the Forum in the options which it has put forward as  the options it would like to have on the table. I quote from the paper:
The essential objection to each of the options which the Forum has produced is that none is likely to secure the consent of the majority community in Northern Ireland for the foreseeable future. Nor does the Forum provide any indication of how the long-standing problem of finding a form of government within Northern Ireland which will provide for the effective involvement of representatives of both communities is to be resolved. If a process of constitutional and legislative change which would help to produce peace and stability without threatening the established position of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom can be found, there are strong pragmatic arguments for adopting that less radical approach.
The complex inter-relationships between the two parts of Ireland, Britain and the rest of the European Community can be more readily accommodated by making a number of ad hoc institutional adjustments than by attempting to start with a clean slate on which some new ideal model is to be drawn up. The objective should be to devise a programme of constitutional, legal and governmental action to provide more effectively for the long-standing interdependence of the peoples and states of Britain and Ireland rather than to build models with the traditional but outdated concepts of national independence and exclusive state sovereignty. This programme should reflect the realities of the relationships between the peoples of Britain and Ireland as a whole and the two communities within Northern Ireland on a number of different levels: (i) the recognition in practical terms of the differing identities and loyalties of the two communities within Northern Ireland; (ii) the provision of effective mechanisms for the exercise of appropriate rights by the majority and minority communities in Northern Ireland at a political level; (iii) the legal  protection of both individual and communal rights within Northern Ireland and the Republic; (iv) the recognition in practical terms of the inter-relationships between the peoples of Britain and Ireland; (v) the development of formal and practical arrangements for security before, during and after the implementation of any new arrangements; (vi) the formal recognition of these new arrangements as binding international agreements.
Mrs. Robinson: Yes. I am afraid I anticipated that my allotted time would not allow me to deal in detail, nor is it necessary for me to do so, with the kind of approach being suggested there. It comes within the possible other proposals which fit into the structure of the Forum. They fit into the assessment in chapter 4, the realities set out in chapter 5 and the approach to those realities. It is important that we are open to the basis for phase 2, for a political momentum which will assist in contributing to the implementation of the real mandate to the Forum: to provide a basis for lasting peace and stability.
I come back to the point I made at the outset, that when the Forum was launched in May 1983 the four party leaders emphasised in unqualified terms the urgency of the situation. At the closing speeches on 2 May of this year again great emphasis was laid on the urgency and gravity of the problem. In the months since the report was published and while we still await a formal British response, that sense of urgency has grown and become something close to apprehension. I must come back to the point I emphasised at the start, that the impact of the New Ireland Forum cannot be neutral. It cannot be unrelated to whether the initiative succeeds in creating a framework for a structured discussion of the political future on these islands. If it does not do so, then it will have been negative in its impact. It will  have had a serious adverse impact which would worsen greatly the political stability and the general situation for ordinary men, women and children in Northern Ireland and within these islands. It would be a terrible political tragedy if this initiative, an initiative by the constitutional Nationalists on this island, were deemed to have failed so that a political vacuum was being left to be filled. Whatever differences of emphasis the political parties of the forum might have had on the thrust, or even on the interpretation of the report, we are united in our deep concern for this opportunity that political progress will not be missed.
Mr. Connor: The report of the New Ireland Forum is addressed to all the people of this island. Indeed, it is addressed to the Government and people of the neighbouring island of Great Britain. It was a brilliantly conceived idea to bring all the political parties on this island, North and South, together to discuss the roots, the causes and, hopefully, a solution to this awful tragedy in the north-eastern part of this island. It was a great pity that only the four main nationalist parties saw fit to come together and talk. I would say in all generosity and sincerity to the Unionist politicians, and to the population which they represent, that they too are citizens of this island. It would be realistic, and wise, on their part to see their future not in the context of an allegiance to the neighbouring island but in the context of living on and sharing all that this island has to offer. They do not belong to the Gaelic tradition or to the practice of Roman Catholicism but all civilised people on this side of the Border see them as part of this country and part of our own population. Whether they are Nationalist, Gaelic or Unionist, whether Catholic or Protestant or wherever they live on this island it is only the minimum in enlightenment to see them all as part of the Irish nation. I know that this was the attitude that informed the thinking of all the parties who sat down to talk in the forum. One has to say, nevertheless, that there is a minority even within the constitutional  political process of this side of the island, who have something of a troglodyte outlook and who only see progress towards a new Ireland in the context of a tightly controlled unitary State which would suppress all cultural and ethnic manifestations except those of the majority.
We do not say, of course, that there is a monopoly of the politics of the “cave” on one side of the line only. The political representatives who came south in the dead of night during the morning of 2 May last to paste their posters with the message that “Ulster is British” on the portals of the GPO, and on the gates of this building, are all part of that dreary, sad and sterile attitude which states, “no discussions or negotiations except on our terms; our side is absolutely right and your side is absolutely wrong”. In other words, “not an inch and no surrender”. We must hope that the results that may flow from the publication of this report will isolate the propounders of this benighted approach. It was a great pity that only the constitutional Nationalist parties on this island sat down in this forum and that it did not contain those who give allegiance to the Union. Perhaps it would be too much to suggest to the three main Unionist parties north of the Border, the DUP, the Official Unionist Party and the Alliance Party, that they too might sit down together and discuss, in the form of another forum, how they see their future on this island. One accepts fully that that would not be easy, as it was not easy for the nationalist parties to sit down together since there has always been difference and conflict between the Nationalists as to their approach to the North of Ireland and to the all-Ireland question in general. However, for the first time in 60 years those parties did sit down. Remembering that they represent 75 per cent of the population on the island, and, indeed, over 90 per cent of the Nationalist population on the island they sat down and discussed their differences and composed them in this report to which they have all given their signature.
We must commend the procedures  adopted at the forum, the outstanding idea of asking for oral submissions from any interested person, or party, the idea of asking so many diverse interests and organisations within the nation to come forward and give their verbal submissions to the forum. We must be grateful that the churches of the various denominations came forward and made their oral submissions, had their submissions examined and even cross-examined. We must be grateful too to the people who came and put the Unionist point of view. They too had their points of view examined and also cross-examined. All of this was part of the educative process which over the 11 months of its progress gave us this historic report.
The document is mostly objective, generous and very much to the point on all our faults. It is not dogmatic, it has no air of unalterable finality. No student of history could find fault with its historical analysis of the situation. It sets out rightly the disaster of the imposition of the Government of Ireland Act of 1920 which was imposed by the Westminster Parliament upon this island. Rightly it points out that prior to 1920 and during the many centuries of British rule before that this island was seen as a single integral political unit. While this Act might have hoped to do better than it did in the end it did no more than entail the partition of Ireland into two separate political units. One agrees when the report says that the parliamentary arrangements in the South after partition politically sought to cater for the minority status of the southern Unionists and those not of the majority religion. This they did with considerable, if not total, success. One might say that while that was our attitude which was carried out in practice with great success on this side of the Border our attitude towards Northern Ireland itself was something quite different. From 1937 onwards we adopted on this side of the Border an insular and hostile attitude towards the other part of our population north of the Border. This, no more than the discrimination of the regimes of Stormont, contributed very much towards the alienation and the growing apart and  giving us a situation of almost two nations.
The report comments that the intention underlying the creation of Northern Ireland was to establish a political unit containing the largest land area that was consistent with maintaining a permanent majority of Unionists and, since the Unionists were in a minority on the island, they had taken on a siege mentality and the northern nationalists were the principal victims of this arrangement. Out of this colossal, arrogant folly came the mayhem, the violence and the sheer devilry which is part of life in that part of the island today. Some other speaker said that it was a sowing of the dragons' teeth that grew up as armed men. That is absolutely true. We should not at this stage devote a lot of our time to apportioning blame, but I must put it on record that I apportion a far less share of the blame to the Stormont Parliament than I do on the Westminster Parliament. Stormont was at all times subject to Westminster, but Westminster chose — until 1972, when at long last it recognised the failure of the 1920 settlement by imposing direct rule — to allow in the interim 50 years a regime of discrimination and maladministration to prevail that would have been unthought of and unheard of on the main island. The Sunningdale agreement was perhaps the most honest attempt by a British Government since the time of Gladstone to bring forward a workable or acceptable solution to that remaining part of the Irish question. Alas, that brave experiment failed when the British Government of the day, in the most cowardly fashion, backed down, scuttled the Sunningdale agreement, the power-sharing agreement, in the wake of a loyalist strike. It is a great pity that the resoluteness which seems to inform the present British Prime Minister in dealing with a certain ongoing industrial dispute on the mainland today — whether that be right or wrong — was not found by the then British Prime Minister in May 1974.
Since Sunningdale, as the report states, there have been a number of initiatives by the British Government to try to solve  the problem but they were always within the limits or context of finding a solution within Northern Ireland itself. Of course, all of them failed. This blinkered approach of the British — they always seemed to be prisoners of the Unionist veto — again showed their lack of real understanding, their historic misunderstanding of this island and its problems.
We commend the report for the manner in which it sought to look into the minds of the Unionist population with sympathy and understanding. Their summary in Chapter 4, under Unionist Identity and Attitudes, is brief. But it is very much to the point and constitutes a concise account of how they see themselves, their identity, their perceived Britishness, their very understandable attachment to be economically Britain. One can fully understand their fears of cultural blanketing in an all-Irish context if we are not to change. One can understand their fear of the IRA campaign of murder, pillage and arson. Of course one understands their fears of their minority status in an all-Ireland situation. The very essence of this report is to say to them: If you join us in effecting a solution to what has been happening over the past 15 terrible years as the report puts it — we will be absolutely generous in accommodating your aspirations, interests and your guaranteed share of influence under a completely new legal and constitutional arrangement for the whole island.
Of course there remains Britain and the British Government. John Hume said last May at the time of publication of the New Ireland Report that Margaret Thatcher now stood at the bar of history, that one hoped she will not miss her historic opportunity, an historic opportunity, to start the solution, once and for all of the remaining part of the Irish question.
I mentioned Gladstone previously. He was the last British Prime Minister to adopt a high moral and understanding approach to Ireland, that is almost a century ago. He was inclined to the correct view that Ireland is a seamless garment, that a solution to its problems should be seen in that context. We hope that this  British Government will study this report, all of its eight chapters, 38 pages, from beginning to end. We hope they will, after consideration, act in a generous, enlightened and logical way.
Mrs. McGuinness: Perhaps I had better start my reply simply by repeating, what I said at the beginning, that I accept the amendment put down in the names of Senators Dooge and Ferris. Therefore, I will not be attempting to put the matter to a vote as to whether this amendment should be taken along with my motion. I am quite prepared to accept it, as is my seconder, Senator Robb.
It is a welcome thing that this Seanad debate on the New Ireland Forum Report should end just before the November summit when the British and Irish Governments will be meeting to look into and plan for the future. It is important — and the New Ireland Forum Report brings it home to us — that, in order to try to propound any sort of solution to the present problems in Northern Ireland, it is not enough simply to put the people of Northern Ireland yet again under the microscope and to point out what faults either community in Northern Ireland has. It is time for both Dublin and London to look at themselves critically, examine what is wrong with what they have done in the past and what they can do right in the future to try to improve this situation.
Senator Connor referred to the British Government's cowardice in giving way to the loyalist strike over the Sunningdale agreement. He was perfectly right in doing so. That was but one of the mistakes which have been made by the British Government. As I made clear in my introductory speech to this motion, there are many things which I feel this Government in Ireland could have done and have not done to try to present a more possible and feasible plan for a united Ireland.
There were many interesting contributions to this debate. I was very pleased to find that so many Senators were interested and willing to speak on my motion. Unfortunately, I was not personally  present to hear all of them because — by a quirk of fate Private Members' Time so often clashes with the meetings of the Joint Committee on Marriage Breakdown. And I am sure Senators will appreciate the terrible things that happen to one if one does not attend those committee meetings. Therefore I was not able to hear everyone. But I have read them all with interest. While I cannot comment on them all tonight — in the amount of time available to me — I should like to make reference at least to a number of them.
Perhaps it is understandable that one of the people whose contribution came home to me the most was that of Senator Robb because, as he said himself, “remember that I come out of the tradition which has to be wooed in Northern Ireland, that out of that tradition I am committed completely to the building of a new society in Ireland in an all-Ireland context; I am an Irishman”. This is precisely what I was saying, precisely my own position. Therefore, I was very interested to hear what Senator Robb had to say. I was very struck by the care he took in his contribution. I feel that what he has to say about the reality of consent and the reality of consensus — covered in columns 554, 555 and 556 of the Official Report of 25 September — where he points out that it is just not enough in the Northern Ireland situation to say that a majority on either side is sufficient to make a decision, that one must look for something rather more complex than that, is a genuine and helpful contribution to how the ideas put forward in the New Ireland Forum Report could be put into effect. That is what we are about here, the putting into effect of the hopes and ideals that are set forward in the New Ireland Forum Report, not just in congratulating ourselves on how good we were in producing such a handy document.
 Now we come to the social dimension. All the fine words contained in the Forum report are unlikely to obtain a constructive response from those to whom they are primarily addressed unless the present administration in the Republic also sets about giving an earnest of its intent to set in motion, beyond the New Ireland Forum, the creation of a truly new Ireland, and unless the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland indicates that it appreciates fully that it has had a role in sustaining the outdated phenomenon of political Protestantism in this country as distinct from Imperial Unionism and that it is prepared to take positive steps to defuse this in keeping with steps which it has already taken. Much more now requires to be done in a true marriage of the tradition that there should be no second-class partners.
Senator Brendan Ryan in his contribution was correct in saying that a great deal has been left out. Senator Robinson drew attention to this this evening when she pointed out that, for instance, there has been no discussion in the Forum report of the position of NATO or neutrality, and that there is exclusion of reference to people whom Senator Brendan Ryan described as marginal, the travellers, the unemployed and so on, in the report. Despite the thoughtful and careful contributions by the various women's organisations, there is virtually no reference to aspects of policy in regard to the position of women, North and South. This is a pity because of the contributions by such organisations as the Council on the Status of Women and the Employment Equality Agency, both of which were deeply thought-out contributions, backed up by a great many facts. I am not saying attention was not given to these contributions but very little came through in the final report.
Although I agree with Senators Ryan  and Robinson that in many ways the report does not address itself to many questions, particularly social equality, social change, what to do about other minority groups, that it concentrated so firmly on the idea of the Protestant Unionist tradition as being the minority group in the island of Ireland, that it forgot the other minority groups that need to be dealt with, we must accept that the Forum report should be a beginning for discussions on all the other problems. We are not suggesting that the report is the answer to everything — if we suggested that we would be condemning it to total failure, because it is not an end in itself. It is a beginning and we should try to include all the other aspects in future debates on the same kind of lines as we would bring both North and South into discussions of the problems that occur which are quite common to all of us in the island.
Senator Brendan Ryan referred to homeless people North and South and the problems of travelling people North and South. There we could make joint contributions towards solutions which would not raise so many political hackles as some of the more difficult questions. We could move forward in regard to these areas.
I particularly welcomed the contribution made by the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I am sorry if she felt I tried to be hurtful to her in some of the things I said in my introductory speech. In some ways it is true that I was stating my case very strongly, precisely in order to provoke her reaction, but I said what I truly felt. It would be a mistake to think that there is no alienation in the minority population in the Twenty-six Counties, not alone among the minority population but the way in which things appear to be moving and the way in which this is symbolised not so much in the result of the amendment referendum last year but the whole course of the debate on it — the kind of things that were said, the way in which people were treated and so on. These things created alienation which has not yet died down. A sort of cloth seems to have been drawn over it now but I can  assure you that if you talk to groups who are not necessarily Protestant but who perhaps do not go along with the majority view of that amendment, you will find that the same hurts are still boiling under the surface and that there is still not just a worry about it but a feeling of lack of optimism, not exactly of despair but about where we are going to move from here, a feeling that the promise of the sixties has gone backwards.
We must look not only at the views of the minority religions but at the increasing numbers of people who do not consider that they really belong to the old forms of tradition on the island. I listened to a radio programme today which investigated the levels of Sunday Mass attendance. It was admitted by a number of parish priests in Dublin city centre and suburban parishes that 30 per cent was roughly an average attendance of parishioners at Mass. In the early stages of these parishes, in Tallaght, for instance, it was more like 10 per cent. In a country where we are accustomed to think that well over 90 per cent of the people are practising Catholics, it is a bit of an eyeopener to find that only 30 per cent of large urban populations are willing to make the traditional gesture of the practising Catholic, attendance at Sunday Mass.
When we look at the population and say that 90 per cent of us feel this way, I would suggest that perhaps 90 per cent of us do not feel this way, and that it is not only the religious minority but quite a number of our young people and a large percentage of our urban population who feel alienation from the State continuing, whether on a Twenty-six Counties or a Six Counties basis, on the same lines as hitherto with the kind of constitutional prohibitions we have had.
In a way all this is beside the point I was about to make on what Senator Honan said. I am perfectly willing to accept that Senator Honan's relationship with the minority religious community in her area could not be better. She is a close and valued friend of mine. However, the trouble is that when you are talking in terms of a united Ireland you are not  talking about being friendly with some nice quiet Protestant but of a State in which you have nasty, aggressive Protestants as well. You are talking of having to deal with that, not just of dealing with people who are reasonably amenable and will not kick up a row about things unless they have been made desperate. What we must try to create is a new Ireland where we would have not only Protestants who are our good friends but also those who are not.
Senator Rogers's contribution to the debate was important in that she comes from Northern Ireland and is a member of the SDLP, the only party from the North who took part in the Forum. Senator Rogers was right when she said that the nationalist population in the North are thoroughly alienated from the forms of government they have and from the whole establishment in the North while, at the same time, the Unionist population are more insecure and fearful than ever before. It is no longer a question of the nationalists feeling alienation and the Unionists feeling triumphalist, that they are the rulers of the roost. They too are now very insecure and very fearful. Their unending repetition of the fact that Britain has guaranteed them that Northern Ireland will not be asked to leave the United Kingdom without their consent indicates that they are just that bit worried about whether this guarantee will be lived up to—a question of protesting too much, perhaps.
At the same time there are moderate Unionist people — not the followers of Ian Paisley — whose minds were behind the Unionist document “The Way Forward” and others, whom I meet in the various all-Ireland groups I take part in, who feel that the time may have come for some sort of move and that “not an inch” is not enough. They feel the time has come to look at political solutions which may not mean the unending continuation of the Northern Ireland State as it is now and that negotiations should be entered into while there is still some strength left to negotiate. We must try to hold out a hand to these people to show them that we too are willing to move. If  we expect them to make such an enormous move from their position we too must be prepared to move. It is very important to remember that these people exist, not perhaps in very large numbers, but their numbers could be enlarged by wise policy-making, both by our Government and, one hopes, by the British Government.
Senator Rogers also drew attention to the international reaction to the forum report. This is an aspect that did not strike other people so much but which is very important. The international press and various international agencies reacted very favourably to the report. To some extent they put pressure on Britain to respond in a positive way. Senator Rogers quoted from German newspapers which urged the British Government to respond to the fact that the Irish Government were willing to discuss the matter in an openminded fashion and were willing to move forward and that this should urge the British Government to move forward from their position. Outside opinion, particularly from our EEC partners, is an important factor in the foreign policy of any country.
I found the contribution made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs very understandable in the context in which it was placed. It was shortly after the Brighton bombing and shortly before the November summit. He was caught between these two difficult positions in that, in order to make a success of the November summit, he had to be very firm in his condemnation of the Brighton bombing. It was a pity, in a sense, that so much of his contribution was given over to this kind of condemnation of the Provisional IRA. While I join with him in condemning the Brighton bombing and in condemning the attempts to kill or the successful killing of anyone, regardless of whether they are what is regarded as important or unimportant, we will not get far in solving the problem simply by condemning the Provisional IRA. In some ways they are filling in where the rest of us have failed. We must present a  credible and real alternative. The Minister dealt with this to some extent towards the end of his speech where he proclaimed the importance of democratic political values. He is right about the importance of democratic political values. The trouble is that it is not just that simple to provide a solution for this problem. This was what Senator Robb addressed himself to in his contribution — the difficulty about consent and consensus and how one works towards this sort of consent. He made strong reference to the difficulties of the nationalist minority in the North which are very real. Everyone should appreciate the very difficult position in which they find themselves. The Minister, in some of his speeches, made a practice of offering the protection of the Government to the nationalist minority in the North. Sometimes I wonder what the nationalist minority in the North think about this. Just how far do they value the protection of the present Government in the Republic — by that I do not mean this Government but any Government from the time of not standing idly by in 1969 to protecting the nationalist minority now? How practical is the protection they are offering? What would Irish unity on the terms of being absorbed into this State offer to the nationalist minority in the North? My own experience, from talking to members of the nationalist minority, is that they would have many very hard questions to ask before they accepted unity on the terms of moving in this State. Some of their questions might be even harder to answer than some of the Unionists' questions.
Senator Brendan Ryan said that the question of unemployment was left out of the report. The economic scene was discussed in the other documents that went with the report, so I would not go along entirely with Senator Ryan in saying that this was neglected. Nevertheless, the position is that many of the sufferings of the unemployed and the deprived in the nationalist area of Belfast can, in a sense, be blamed on a hostile government. They can sit there and say they would not be so badly off it they did  not have the Brits pushing them around or if they did not have the army interfering with them, or did not have a hostile police force and so on. There is a famous story of Parnell meeting a man who was breaking stones and saying to him “if Ireland got her freedom you would still be breaking stones.” Supposing we do get Irish unity and these people are still unemployed, deprived and poverty stricken, who do they then blame? Which Government do they turn on then and what will happen? We must address ourselves to these kind of problems as well as to the problems of how to win consensus from the Unionist people? It was rather disappointing that in the Minister's contribution he had very little positive to say about what we here in the Republic should be doing in order to progress the ideas put forward in the New Ireland Forum report. I understand the position he was in and that in his political position there were certain things he had to say, but I was sorry that he did not go on further and try to outline what the present Government are planning to progress the whole concept as is set out by the New Ireland Forum.
As regards this evening's contributions Senator Robinson, as always, was perceptive and helpful in her analysis of the situation. I agree very much with her about the importance of the process of the New Ireland Forum and the educational quality of the process that was undergone by all those who took part in the forum debates and those who were present at the various contributions made by those who gave evidence to the forum. I dealt with that myself at an earlier stage. This process of education and of critical self-examination is of vital importance if we are going to make the report become a reality.
I agree with Senator Robinson in saying that very little of this critical self-examination has got through the political filter to appear in the actual wording of the report, but nevertheless it is clear reading between the lines that there was a good deal of critical self-examination and critical evaluation of what our society was like here. That did come across in  much of the questioning and cross-questioning of the people who gave evidence, perhaps supremely so in the evidence given by the Roman Catholic bishops and the questioning of them by the various members of the forum. One should note with interest in the context of what I said about the nationalist minority in the North that some of the most searching examination of the bishops in their attitude to, for instance, the divorce question was by Séamus Mallon of the SDLP. This bears out what I was saying about the searching questions that the nationalist minority might ask us if we offered them unity on the terms of the State we have at present.
I would agree also with Senator Robinson that it is difficult to pass a final verdict on the forum report. The final verdict will not depend on what the report actually says but on what we do with it. If we use the report with this self-criticism, with this analysis of our own society, and if Britain uses the report in the same kind of way in criticising their attitude to Ireland over the years and in trying to see what new moves they can make that are out of a different cast of mind than the cast of mind that they have exhibited up to now, the report will go down in history as something that was a seminal document, that was extremely successful, that was of immense importance in the history of this country and indeed in the history of the United Kingdom as well. But if we just sit back and say “we did a very good job and this is putting forward some very worthy ideals which we accept in our minds but which we are not going to do very much about”, the report and the whole forum will go down in history as being an interesting experiment but one which in the end led to nothing, perhaps a little like the round table conference that was held among all the parties during the period of the struggle for independence.
It is important also, as Mr. Kevin Boyle and Mr. Tom Hadden point out in their article, to remember that we are talking about a complex of relationships between Britain and Ireland and not just alone the situation in Ireland. Here again I would  refer back to what Senator Robb said, that one might even consider the possibility of some kind of connection with the Commonwealth, which is no longer the British Commonwealth, and indeed the countries participating in it, interestingly enough, do so under a sort of external relations situation which was thought up originally by Mr. de Valera in the External Relations Act and which at that time was thought of as being very difficult for the Commonwealth to swallow but which they have now swallowed with regard to practically every country in the Commonwealth.
However, to summarise I will go back to where I began. Like Senator Robb, I come from the tradition the Government are wooing. I am not really sure from the debate if everything that I said was understood by all the Senators who contributed. I feel very strongly that saying that everything will be alright and everybody will be looked after once we accept unity is not enough. In this context I am sorry that Senator Eoin Ryan should have said the same thing over again, as recorded at column 1299 of the report. He said that what he was saying to our friends from the North was that there is no need for Unionists to fear a church-State link or to fear influence from the hierarchy and so on. Again, he is saying that if they join us everything will be made alright. But to Unionists in the North that is like saying “put your head in the lion's mouth and after all you may find he has no teeth and will not bite your head off”. You must be prepared to draw the lion's teeth to some extent at least, so that if we are looking for consent and consensus rather than simply a military victory we cannot take this attitude of saying “everything will be alright if only you join us”. We must be prepared to give our earnest intention by encouraging self-criticism of our own society, and change towards integration now.
|Last Updated: 14/09/2010 07:14:48||Page of 6|