seamus dubhghaill

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


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Mitchell Returns to Belfast to Save the Peace Process

george-mitchellFormer United States Senator George Mitchell returns to Belfast on September 13, 1999 in a bid to prevent the Northern Ireland peace process from coming apart at the seams.

The soft-spoken but firm Mitchell leads a review of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which he played a crucial part in brokering. The aim is to halt a renewed drift to violence by pro-British Protestant and pro-Irish Catholic paramilitaries, and to persuade the two communities to begin cooperating in the province’s elected assembly.

“The peace process is mired in mistrust on both sides of the sectarian divide,” says a British government official, who declines to be identified. “It will need somebody of Mr. Mitchell’s political caliber and neutrality to find a way forward.” The future role of the Northern Ireland police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), will be “part of the tangle [Mitchell] has to unravel,” the official adds. The 92% Protestant force, in a society where Catholics make up 42% of the population, is widely seen as requiring urgent attention.

The Protestant political leaders are unwilling to accept the good faith of Sinn Féin, the political ally of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). They are also attacking Northern Ireland Secretary of State Mo Mowlam for having refused to acknowledge that republican paramilitaries have breached the cease-fire despite several violent incidents and the discovery of an alleged plot to send arms to the IRA from the United States.

Mowlam’s decision enraged David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Northern Ireland’s main Protestant political party and first minister-designate in a devolved Belfast government. Trimble and his senior lieutenants called for her to be fired. Trimble also launches a bitter attack on the Patten Commission after a leaked report indicates it would recommend allowing active IRA members to join the RUC police force.

Mitchell’s main contribution to the peace process has been to insist that the issue of decommissioning terrorist arms must be addressed in parallel with talks on future political structures in Northern Ireland. But he still has to find a formula that will satisfy Unionists for the IRA to begin handing in its weapons and explosives. Trimble and other Protestant leaders insist the IRA must agree to decommission before Sinn Féin is allowed to join a devolved Belfast government. Sinn Féin says that was not part of the 1998 peace accord.

Most worrying for Mitchell is the recent outcry over IRA tactics that makes a solution to the problem of law and order all the more important. The IRA is known to use threats and so called “punishment beatings” to maintain law and order in areas under its control, where RUC forces dare not tread. Six Catholic youths are in hiding in Britain after being threatened with violence, even death, if they remained in Northern Ireland.

According to the RUC, the youths have been targeted because of their refusal to accept the authority of sectarian paramilitaries in the areas where they live. Vincent McKenna, spokesman for the Northern Ireland Human Rights Bureau, says, “The IRA thinks it has the right to police its own areas, and it is determined to punish anyone critical of the political direction of the Sinn Féin leadership.” He adds that since the Belfast agreement was signed 16 months earlier, 757 young people have been “exiled” by the IRA and Protestant paramilitary groups.

Mowlam reportedly says that if the Patten Commission can come up with a blueprint for the police that gives Catholics a larger role in legitimate law enforcement, the scope for policing by paramilitary groups will be reduced.

(From: “Mitchell returns to N. Ireland tinderbox,” The Christian Science Monitor, September 2, 1999)


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1973 Northern Ireland Assembly Election

politics-of-northern-irelandElections to the Northern Ireland Assembly take place on June 28, 1973 following the publication of the British government‘s white paper Northern Ireland Constitutional Proposals which proposes a 78-member Northern Ireland Assembly, elected by proportional representation. The election leads to power-sharing between unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland for the first time.

From June 7, 1921 until March 30, 1972, the devolved legislature for Northern Ireland is the Parliament of Northern Ireland, which always has an Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) majority and always elects a UUP government. The Parliament is suspended on March 30, 1972.

Shortly after this first parliament is abolished, attempts begin to restore devolution on a new basis that will see power shared between Irish nationalists and unionists. To this end a new parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly, is established by the Government of the United Kingdom on May 3, 1973.

Following the June 28 elections, the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, which receives the Royal Assent on July 18, 1973, abolishes the suspended Parliament of Northern Ireland and the post of Governor and makes provision for a devolved administration consisting of an Executive chosen by the Assembly.

One hundred eight members are elected by single transferable vote from Northern Ireland’s eighteen Westminster constituencies, with five to eight seats for each depending on its population. The Assembly meets for the first time on July 31, 1973.

A cross-community coalition of the Ulster Unionist Party under Brian Faulkner, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland is agreed in November 1973 and, following the Sunningdale Agreement, a power-sharing Executive is established from January 1, 1974.

After opposition from within the Ulster Unionist Party and the Ulster Workers’ Council strike over the proposal of an all Ireland council, the Executive and Assembly collapses on May 28, 1974 when Brian Faulkner resigns as Chief Executive. The Northern Ireland Assembly is abolished by the Northern Ireland Act 1974.

In 1982 another Northern Ireland Assembly is established at Stormont, initially as a body to scrutinise the actions of the Secretary of State, the British minister with responsibility for Northern Ireland. It receives little support from Irish nationalists and is officially dissolved in 1986.

The Northern Ireland Act 1998 formally establishes the Assembly in law, in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement. The first election of Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly is on June 25, 1998 and it first meets on July 1, 1998. However, it only exists in “shadow” form until December 2, 1999 when full powers are devolved to the Assembly. Since then the Assembly has operated intermittently and has been suspended on five occasions.


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Birth of James Molyneaux, Northern Irish Politician

james-molyneauxJames Henry Molyneaux, Baron Molyneaux of Killead, Northern Irish unionist politician and leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) from 1979 to 1995, is born in Killead, County Antrim on August 27, 1920. He is a leading member and sometime Vice-President of the Conservative Monday Club. An Orangeman, he is also Sovereign Grand Master of the Royal Black Institution from 1971 to 1995. He is an unrelenting though peaceful supporter of the Protestant cause during the factional conflict that divides Northern Ireland from the 1960s until the early 21st century.

Molyneaux is educated at nearby Aldergrove School. Although he is raised an Anglican, as a child he briefly attends a local Catholic primary school. He leaves school at age 15 and works on his father’s poultry farm. When a Catholic church near his home is burned down by Ulster loyalist arsonists in the late 1990s, he helps to raise funds for its rebuilding.

In World War II Molyneaux serves in the Royal Air Force between 1941 and 1946. He participates in the D-Day landings in FranceFrance and in the liberation of the Belsen-Belsen concentration camp, and occasionally gives interviews about what he sees there. On April 1, 1947, he is promoted to flying officer.

After demobilization Molyneaux establishes a printing business with his uncle, and in 1946 he joins the UUP. He is first elected to local government in 1964 and enters Parliament six years later. He staunchly opposes all power-sharing deals, notably the Anglo-Irish Agreement (1985) between British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Irish Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, which gives Dublin an official consultative role in the affairs of Northern Ireland and paves the way for devolution.

Molyneaux lacks the firebrand public image of his longtime rival Ian Paisley, who in 1971 breaks with the UUP to form the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). He never acquiesces to the Good Friday Agreement, which calls for the devolution of Northern Ireland’s government from London to Belfast, however, unlike Paisley and David Trimble, who in 1997 succeeds Molyneaux as the UUP leader and in April 1998 signs the devolution accord.

On retiring as UUP leader, Molyneaux is knighted as a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) in 1996. The following year, after standing down as an MP at the 1997 general election, he is created a life peer on June 10, 1997 as Baron Molyneaux of Killead, of Killead in the County of Antrim.

James Molyneaux dies at the age of 94 in Antrim, County Antrim, Northern Ireland on March 9, 2015, Commonwealth Day.


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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)