seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Sinn Féin Votes to Accept the Good Friday Agreement

Members of Sinn Féin, the political wing of the republican Irish Republican Army (IRA), vote to accept the Good Friday Agreement on May 10, 1998 effectively acknowledging the north-south border. This marks a major shift in modern republicanism as, up until now, Sinn Féin has regarded participation in a Northern Ireland body as a tacit acceptance of partition.

The agreement comes at the party’s annual conference, which includes about thirty IRA prisoners granted special leave in order to vote.

The British and Irish governments welcome the decision to formally approve the peace agreement signed at Stormont in April to create the Northern Ireland Assembly and new cross-border institutions. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern says he now looks forward to an overwhelming “yes” vote in referendums on the deal later in the month. The British government praises Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams saying the decision marks a final realisation that violence does not pay.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Mo Mowlam expresses her delight at the outcome, “I recognise how significant this decision is for republicans and pay tribute to the leadership of Gerry Adams in bringing his party to support the agreement, north and south of the border.” In what she describes as an “exceptional decision,” the IRA’s commanding officer, Patrick Wilson, who is confined in HM Prison Maze, is among the 30 republican inmates freed for the conference in an effort to bring about a “Yes” vote.

Sinn Féin also votes to amend its constitution to allow members to sit in a new Northern Ireland Assembly after Adams tells his members they have a real chance to influence the strategy of the party and the way towards a united Ireland.

Martin McGuinness, one of Sinn Féin’s UK Members of Parliament (MP), tells the BBC he is optimistic about achieving a “Yes” vote in the referendum due to be held on May 22. “I think there are concerns naturally among a small section of the Sinn Féin membership, but I have to say I think the mood all over the island is that moving into the assembly to further our republican objectives towards our ultimate goal of a united Ireland is at this moment in time the sensible thing to do,” he says.

(Pictured: Sinn Féin MP Martin McGuinness and Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams)


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Ahern & Blair Conduct Talks at Hillsborough Castle

ahern-blair-hillsboroughTaoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair conduct talks at Hillsborough Castle on March 3, 2003, in the latest bid to salvage the floundering Good Friday Agreement. The negotiations last eight hours.

This meeting is very important, as it is Tony Blair’s last chance at intensive negotiation before his attention is totally caught up in the Iraq War. Progress cannot afford to slip further as the Stormont Assembly election has to be formally declared by March 21 if it is to take place as scheduled on May 1.

David Trimble, representing the unionists, has said the Irish Republican Army (IRA) must “go out of business” before his party will re-enter a coalition government with Sinn Fein. In late 2002, he uses the word “disbandment” but he is now careful to avoid being overly prescriptive.

He wants visible, verifiable decommissioning to restore unionist confidence, severely damaged by the IRA spy ring allegations which led to the collapse of devolution in October 2002. Trimble is also urging sanctions to punish republican politicians if the Provisionals renege.

The key demands of the republicans are demilitarisation, guarantees that unionists cannot pull down the Stormont Assembly again, devolution of policing and criminal justice, further police reforms, and a dispensation for 30-40 fugitive IRA members to go back to Northern Ireland without prosecution.

Republicans insist discussions must not revolve around getting rid of the IRA. They prefer to interpret the prime minister’s talk of “acts of completion” as an admission of failure to implement his obligations under the Good Friday Agreement, shortcomings they outlined in a 57-page dossier handed in to Downing Street.

Tony Blair claims he does not want to get involved in a bartering game – but in fact the government is prepared make major moves in return for IRA concessions. The prime minister is offering a radical three-year plan to withdraw 5,000 of the 13,000 soldiers in Northern Ireland and tear down a large number of border watchtowers and military bases.

Sinn Fein wants written guarantees on troop withdrawal and police reform, criminal justice and on-the-run terrorists. But important details need ironing out.

Policing and the return of fugitive paramilitaries are extremely sensitive issues for both republicans and unionists. A balance must be struck so that on-the-runs, mostly republican, are freed on licence after some sort of judicial process but not given amnesty, unacceptable to unionists.

Government sources claim Sinn Fein is poised to join the policing board, endorsing the police service for the first time, but this too will require delicate handling to ensure unionists don’t walk away.

One British government source states, “Everybody knows what has to be done, the question is if the will is there to achieve it. One of the problems is no one is absolutely clear what the IRA is prepared to do.”


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The Good Friday Agreement Comes Into Operation

good-friday-agreement-signingThe Good Friday Agreement, a major political development in the Northern Ireland peace process, comes into operation on December 2, 1999 as the British and Irish governments formally notify each other that all the necessary arrangements are in place.

The notification ceremony takes place at Iveagh House, St. Stephen’s Green, headquarters of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, at a joint signing by Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade David Andrews and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Peter Mandelson.

Northern Ireland‘s present devolved system of government is based on the agreement. The agreement also creates a number of institutions between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom.

The agreement is made up of two inter-related documents, both agreed upon in Belfast on Good Friday, April 10, 1998. The first is a multi-party agreement by most of Northern Ireland’s political parties. The second is an international agreement between the British and Irish governments, known as the British-Irish Agreement.

The agreement sets out a complex series of provisions, or strands, relating to a number of areas:

Strand 1 addresses the status and system of government of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom and establishes two major institutions – the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Northern Ireland Executive.

Strand 2 addresses the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and the institutions to be created between them – the North/South Ministerial Council, the North/South Inter-Parliamentary Association, and the North/South Consultative Forum.

Strand 3 addresses the relationship between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom and institutions to be created between Ireland and Great Britain – the British/Irish Intergovernmental Conference, the British-Irish Council, and an expanded British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly.

Issues relating to sovereignty, civil and cultural rights, decommissioning of weapons, justice, and policing are central to the agreement.

The agreement is approved by voters across the island of Ireland in two referendums held on May 22, 1998. In Northern Ireland, voters are asked whether they support the multi-party agreement. In the Republic of Ireland, voters are asked whether they will allow the state to sign the agreement and allow necessary constitutional changes to facilitate it. The people of both jurisdictions need to approve the agreement in order to give effect to it.

The Good Friday Agreement comes into force on December 2, 1999. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is the only major political group in Northern Ireland to oppose the Good Friday Agreement.

(Pictured: British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern sign the Good Friday Agreement)


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Bloody Friday in Belfast

bloody-friday-1972At least twenty Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombs explode in Belfast on July 21, 1972, during the Troubles in what has become known as “Bloody Friday.” Most of the bombs are car bombs and most target infrastructure, especially the transport network. Nine people are killed, including two British soldiers and five civilians, while 130 are injured.

In late June and early July 1972, a British government delegation led by William Whitelaw holds secret talks with the Provisional IRA leadership. As part of the talks, the IRA agrees to a temporary ceasefire beginning on June 26. The IRA leaders seek a peace settlement that includes a British withdrawal from Northern Ireland by 1975 and the release of republican prisoners. However, the British refuse and the talks break down. The ceasefire comes to an end on July 9.

Bloody Friday is the IRA’s response to the breakdown of the talks. According to the IRA’s Chief of Staff, Seán Mac Stíofáin, the main goal of the bombing operation is to wreak financial harm. It is a “message to the British government that the IRA could and would make a commercial desert of the city unless its demands were met.” Some also see it as a reprisal for Bloody Sunday in Derry six months earlier. The attack is carried out by the IRA’s Belfast Brigade and the main organiser is Brendan Hughes, the brigade’s Officer Commanding.

The bombings occur during an 80-minute period on the afternoon of Friday, July 21. At least 24 bombs are planted. At least 20 explode and the rest fail to detonate or are defused. At the height of the bombing, the middle of Belfast “resembled a city under artillery fire; clouds of suffocating smoke enveloped buildings as one explosion followed another, almost drowning out the hysterical screams of panicked shoppers.” According to The Guardian, “for much of the afternoon, Belfast was reduced to near total chaos and panic. Thousands streamed out of the stricken city…and huge traffic jams built up. All bus services were cancelled, and on some roads hitch-hikers frantically trying to get away lined the pavements.”

Nine people are killed and 130 are injured, some of them horrifically mutilated. Of those injured, 77 are women and children. All of the deaths are caused by two of the bombs – at Oxford Street bus depot and at Cavehill Road. The Oxford Street bomb kills two British soldiers and four Ulsterbus employees. One employee is a Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) reservist, one is an Ulster loyalist paramilitary, and the other two are civilians. The Cavehill Road bomb kills three civilians.

The IRA’s Belfast Brigade claims responsibility for the bombings and says that it had given warnings to the security forces before the bombs exploded. It says that the Public Protection Agency, the Samaritans and the press “were informed of bomb positions at least 30 minutes to one hour before each explosion.” Mac Stíofáin says, “It required only one man with a loud hailer to clear each target area in no time” and alleged that the warnings for the two bombs that claim lives are deliberately ignored by the British for “strategic policy reasons.”


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Signing of the Good Friday Agreement

After nearly two years of talks, the Good Friday Agreement, a major political development in the Northern Ireland peace process of the 1990s, is signed by Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Good Friday, April 10, 1998 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

The Good Friday Agreement brings to an end the 30 years of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland known as “The Troubles.”  Northern Ireland’s present devolved system of government is based on the Agreement.

The Agreement is made up of two inter-related documents: (1) a multi-party agreement by most of Northern Ireland’s political parties and (2) an international agreement between the British and Irish governments called the British-Irish Agreement.

The Agreement sets out a complex series of provisions relating to a number of areas including the status and system of government of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom (Strand 1), the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (Strand 2), and the relationship between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom (Strand 3).

Issues relating to civil and cultural rights, decommissioning of weapons, justice and policing are central to the Agreement.

The Agreement is approved by voters across the island of Ireland in two referendums held on May 22, 1998. The people of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland need to approve the Agreement in order for it to come into effect. In Northern Ireland, voters are asked whether they support the multi-party agreement. In the Republic of Ireland, voters are asked whether they will allow the state to sign the agreement and allow necessary constitutional changes to facilitate it.

The British-Irish Agreement comes into force on December 2, 1999. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is the only major political group in Northern Ireland to oppose the Good Friday Agreement.


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The 1996 Docklands Bombing

docklands-bombingThe Docklands bombing, also known as the Canary Wharf bombing or the South Quay bombing, occurs on February 9, 1996, marking the end of the Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) seventeen-month ceasefire.

At about 7:01 PM on February 9, the Provisional Irish Republican Army detonates a large bomb in a small lorry about 80 yards from South Quay Station on the Docklands Light Railway in the Canary Wharf financial district of London. The bomb, containing 500 kg of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and sugar and a detonating cord made of semtex, PETN, and RDX high explosives, is placed directly under the point where the tracks cross Marsh Wall.

The IRA sends telephone warnings 90 minutes prior to the detonation and the area is evacuated. However, two men working in the newsagents shop directly opposite the explosion, Inam Bashir and John Jeffries, are not evacuated in time and are killed in the explosion. Thirty-nine people require hospital treatment as a result of the blast and falling glass. A portion of the South Quay Plaza is destroyed and the explosion leaves a crater ten metres wide and three metres deep. The shockwave from the blast causes windows to rattle five miles away.

Approximately £100 million worth of damage is done by the blast. The Midland Bank building is damaged beyond economic repair and is demolished. South Quay Plaza I and II are severely damaged and require complete rebuilding. The station itself is extensively damaged, but both it and the bridge under which the bomb is exploded are reopened within weeks.

The bombing marks the end of a 17-month IRA ceasefire during which Irish, British, and American leaders work for a political solution to the troubles in Northern Ireland. IRA member James McArdle is convicted of conspiracy to cause explosions and sentenced to 25 years in prison, but murder charges are dropped. McArdle is released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement in June 2000 with a royal prerogative of mercy from Queen Elizabeth II.

dockland-bombing-damageThe IRA describes the deaths and injuries as a result of the bomb as “regrettable,” but says that they could have been avoided if police had responded promptly to “clear and specific warnings.” Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Sir Paul Condon says, “It would be unfair to describe this as a failure of security. It was a failure of humanity.”

Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Féin, the political wing of the IRA, speaks of the need to continue the peace process. British Prime Minister John Major says there is now “a dark shadow of doubt” where optimism has existed.

On February 28, Prime Minister Major and Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland John Bruton, announce that all-party talks will be resumed in June. Major’s decision to drop the demand for IRA decommissioning of weapons before Sinn Fein is allowed into talks leads to criticism from the press, which accuse him of being “bombed to the table.”


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Hillary Clinton Announced for Induction into Irish America Hall of Fame

hillary-clintonOn February 2, 2015, Irish America magazine announces that Hillary Rodham Clinton will be inducted into the Irish America Hall of Fame in March, in recognition of her work on the Irish peace process.

Clinton travels frequently to Ireland as First Lady and as U.S. Secretary of State, and often talks about the end of the civil strife, known as The Troubles, as a crowning foreign policy achievement of her husband’s administration. On her visit to Belfast in 2012, she pledges to continue to support peace in Ireland in whatever way possible.

“Hillary Rodham Clinton is one of the unsung heroes of the success of the Irish peace process,” says Niall O’Dowd, publisher of Irish America magazine. “As First Lady, U.S. Senator, and Secretary of State she always gave the issue top priority to help ensure it remained at the top of the U.S. foreign policy agenda. During that historic first trip to Northern Ireland with Bill Clinton in 1995, which I was privileged to be on, she galvanized women’s groups on both sides by meeting with them, shaping their agenda, and making sure they always had a friend in the U.S. administration. More than that, she constantly stayed involved, never giving up her focus on bringing an end to Europe’s longest conflict at the time.”

On the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, Clinton delivers the keynote address at the luncheon in Manhattan of high profile Irish-Americans who each year honor elected officials and others. She describes sitting at a table in Belfast, over cups of tea, with women from both sides of the conflict and watching as they discover how much they share.

She does not portray herself as instrumental to the Good Friday Agreement that President Clinton brokered in 1998, but says her outreach to women in Belfast on multiple visits during that period had played a critical role.

“You cannot bring peace and security to people just by signing an agreement,” she says. “In fact, most peace agreements don’t last.” She says that when “the work of peace permeates down to the kitchen table, to the backyard, to the neighborhood, around cups of tea, there’s a much greater chance the agreement will hold.”

Previous inductees into the Irish America Hall of Fame include former President John F. Kennedy, former President Bill Clinton, Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, who addressed the luncheon in 2014 in a mix of English and Irish.