seamus dubhghaill

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


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Paisley & Adams Commit to Forming Powersharing Executive

On March 26, 2007, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Ian Paisley and Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams commit themselves to forming a powersharing executive by May 8, 2007 after engaging directly for the first time at Parliament Buildings, Stormont. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British prime minister Tony Blair hail this first meeting and agreement as a historic, reconciliatory, and transforming moment in British-Irish history.

The government had set this date as a final deadline for a restoration of power-sharing before direct rule from London is restored permanently and now has to rush emergency legislation through the House of Commons to prevent this.

“After a long and difficult time in our province, I believe that enormous opportunities lie ahead for our province,” Paisley tells reporters, as he sits at a conference table next to Adams. The agreement “marks the beginning of a new era of politics on this island,” Adams agrees, but adds that he finds it “disappointing” that Northern Ireland‘s political institution cannot be restored immediately.

British prime minister Tony Blair hails the agreement, saying “This is a very important day for the people of Northern Ireland but also for the people and the history of these islands.” After talking by phone with his Irish counterpart, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, he tells reporters, “In a sense, everything we have done over the last ten years has been a preparation for this moment, because the people of Northern Ireland have spoken through the election. They have said we want peace and power-sharing and the political leadership has then come in behind that and said we will deliver what people want.”

In Ireland, Ahern calls the day’s developments “unprecedented and very positive,” and says both governments will cooperate with the new May 8 date for devolution.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Hain, says a one clause emergency bill will be put through parliament with the agreement of opposition parties, and will need royal assent before midnight the following evening to prevent the dissolution of the Stormont assembly. He describes the day’s events as “really, really momentous.”

“Today the clouds have lifted and the people can see the future,” Hain tells BBC Radio 4‘s The World at One. “These pictures of Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams will resonate around the world. They are a graphic manifestation of the power of politics over bigotry and conflict, bitterness and horror.”

The crucial meeting sees delegations from the DUP and Sinn Féin spend an hour together inside a room at Stormont to hammer out the final agreement for a return to power-sharing. Afterwards, both leaders talk about the work still needing to be done, including regular meetings between Paisley and Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness as the de facto first and deputy first ministers.

Clearly conscious of the historical significance of their talks, Paisley and Adams speak of the suffering caused by the decades of inter-community violence and their responsibility to ensure permanent peace and reconciliation. Northern Ireland’s politicians must “never forget those who have suffered during the dark period from which we are, please God, emerging,” Paisley says. “I want to make it clear that I am committed to delivering not only for those who voted for the DUP but for all the people of Northern Ireland. We must not allow our justified loathing for the horrors and tragedies of the past to become a barrier to creating a better and more stable future for our children,” he adds.

Adams says there is now new hope for the future, following the previous “sad history of orange and green.” He adds, “There are still many challenges, many difficulties, to be faced. But let us be clear: the basis of the agreement between Sinn Féin and the DUP follows Ian Paisley’s unequivocal and welcome commitment to support and participate fully in the political institutions on May 8. We’ve all come a very long way in the process of peace making and national reconciliation. We are very conscious of the many people who have suffered. We owe it to them to build the best future possible.”

The proposal for the historic meeting comes after a frantic weekend of consultation in Belfast and Berlin, where Blair and Ahern are attending a ceremony to mark 50 years of the European Union. Both prime ministers had repeatedly insisted the assembly would be dissolved if no agreement on an executive had been reached by today’s legal deadline. Britain is forced into a last-minute change of strategy after Paisley’s DUP agrees in principle on March 24 to share power with Sinn Féin, but demands an extension of the deadline for the formation of the executive until May.

The DUP, which is badly split, says they need the additional time to see if Sinn Féin will comply with its commitment to cooperate with the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Until now Paisley’s DUP has always refused to meet Sinn Féin. Each represents what used to be seen as the two extremes of Northern Ireland sectarian politics.

(From: “Paisley and Adams agree deal” by Peter Walker and Owen Bowcott, The Guardian (www.theguardian.com), March 26, 2007 | Pictured: Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams hold their first face-to-face talks. Photograph: Paul Faith/ PA)


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Death of Martin McGuinness, Irish Republican Sinn Féin Politician

Martin McGuinness, former member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) Army Council and Sinn Féin‘s chief negotiator in the peace process, dies on the morning of March 21, 2017 at Derry‘s Altnagelvin Area Hospital with his family by his bedside. He had been diagnosed with a rare heart disease in December 2016. In 2011, McGuinness contests the presidential election which is won by Michael D. Higgins.

McGuinness is born James Martin Pacelli McGuinness on May 23, 1950 in Derry. He attends St. Eugene’s Primary School and later the Christian Brothers technical college, leaving school at the age of 15.

McGuinness joins the IRA about 1970, and by 1971 he is one of its leading organizers in Derry. In 1973 a Special Criminal Court in the Republic of Ireland sentences him to six months in prison after he is caught in a car containing large quantities of explosives and ammunition. Although the IRA keeps secret the membership of its seven-person Army Council, few doubt that McGuinness is one of its most important members from the 1970s through the 1990s. Even while reportedly planning attacks on civilians in Northern Ireland and on the British mainland, McGuinness is involved in spasmodic secret talks with British government ministers and officials to end the conflict. In 1972 McGuinness, with fellow IRA leader Gerry Adams, privately negotiates with British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland William Whitelaw, but these and other talks over the next two decades are unsuccessful.

McGuinness contests seats in the British House of Commons on several occasions, losing in 1983, 1987, and 1992. However, in 1997 he is elected to the House of Commons to represent the constituency of Mid Ulster and, in line with party policy, he does not take his seat. He subsequently wins reelection to the seat in 2001, 2005, and 2010.

McGuinness is the IRA’s chief negotiator in the deliberations, also secret at first, that culminate in the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. This pact finally ends the conflict and eventually brings Sinn Féin into a coalition government to rule Northern Ireland. He is elected to the new Northern Ireland Assembly and in 1999 is appointed Minister of Education. In this post he eliminates the controversial eleven-plus examination, which determines which type of secondary school a child should attend. The test had been abolished in most of the rest of the United Kingdom more than 25 years earlier.

Disagreements over such issues as policing and the decommissioning of arms causes Northern Ireland’s Executive and Assembly to be suspended for some years, but a fresh agreement in 2006 paves the way for them to be revived. In elections in March 2007, both Sinn Féin and the antirepublican Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) gain seats, becoming the two largest parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly. McGuinness becomes Deputy First Minister, working with First Minister Ian Paisley, leader of the DUP. The two men, previously bitter enemies, perform so well together that they are dubbed the “Chuckle brothers.”

When Paisley retires in 2008, he is succeeded by the DUP’s Peter Robinson, who is considered to be even more militantly antirepublican. Once again, however, a shared need to rebuild the economy and attract international investment leads to cooperation between former opponents. In 2009 their government is in jeopardy as Sinn Féin and the DUP argue over the devolution of the police and justice system in Northern Ireland. McGuinness and Robinson are involved in the ensuing negotiations, and in February 2010 an agreement is reached for the transfer of powers from Britain to Northern Ireland in April.

In the Assembly elections in May 2011, McGuinness and Robinson are a formidable pair, and voters respond to their call for stability in a time of economic uncertainty. Sinn Féin gains an additional seat and increases its overall share of the vote, and McGuinness is assured an additional term as Deputy First Minister. In the autumn he steps down to run as Sinn Féin’s candidate for the presidency of Ireland. After finishing third in the election held on October 28, he returns to the position of Deputy First Minister a few days later. On June 27, 2012, in an event widely seen as having great symbolic importance for the ongoing reconciliation efforts in Northern Ireland, McGuinness and Elizabeth II shake hands twice, once in private and again in public, during a visit by the British monarch to Belfast.

In January 2017 McGuinness resigns as Deputy First Minister in response to First Minister Arlene Foster’s refusal to temporarily step down from her position during the investigation of a scandal relating to the government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), a mishandled program under which large amounts of state funds allegedly had been squandered. Foster had served as head of the department that oversaw the RHI before becoming First Minister. Under the power-sharing agreement the posts of First Minister and Deputy First Minister constitute a single joint office so that the resignation of one minister results in termination of the other’s tenure. When Sinn Féin chooses not to nominate a replacement for McGuinness within the required seven-day period, authority reverts to the British government’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in advance of a snap election on March 2.

Even before McGuinness’s resignation there had been speculation late in 2016 that he might step down for health reasons, and soon after resigning he confirms that he is suffering from amyloidosis, a rare disease brought about by deposits of abnormal protein in organs and tissue. With McGuinness removing himself from “frontline politics,” Michelle O’Neill leads Sinn Féin into the election. The disease claims McGuinness’s life only months later on March 21, 2017.


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Gerry Adams Meets Bill Clinton for the First Time

For the United States Congress‘s annual St. Patrick’s Day luncheon on March 16, 1995, Newt Gingrich, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, invites Ireland’s new Taoiseach, John Bruton, to be the main event. However, the first handshake between President Bill Clinton and Gerry Adams, the head of Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), steals the spotlight.

Some of the fifty people at the luncheon, most of them Irish American members of Congress, think Clinton might forgo a handshake because he is under tremendous pressure from Britain’s Prime Minister John Major not to give Adams a warm embrace. But Clinton does not hesitate although the handshake comes after photographers have left the room.

“Gerry was concerned about the protocol of how he should go up to the President, but when he walked up, the President gave him a very big handshake,” says Representative Peter T. King, a Republican from Seaford, Long Island, who sits to the right of Adams at the lunch. After an awkward moment of silence, the room explodes with applause.

The President and the Sinn Féin leader speak for five minutes. Later Adams says, “The engagement was positive, was cordial.”

According to Rep. King, Clinton says he is committed to making the Irish peace effort succeed and, while talking to Adams, puts his fist in front of him and says, “This is going to work.” Adams says Clinton does not urge him to make sure the IRA disarms, something Major asked the President to do. Clinton invites Adams to a White House reception scheduled for the following day and, according to his aides, plans to speak to Major over the weekend in an effort to patch up their differences.

The tone at the luncheon is often light. Clinton jokes that finally he is at a place where people will not criticize him for taking a drink of Guinness. Also, Bruton hails Gingrich as an honorary Irishman, noting that his mother apparently descended from the Doherty clan of County Donegal.

Wearing a white carnation tinged with green, Gingrich gives the Taoiseach a bowl of Georgia peanuts and a book on the history of the United States Capitol. Telling Gingrich that he is not the first person to consider overhauling welfare, Bruton gives him an 1840’s book about welfare reform in Ireland.

Some attendees joke that there are almost as many Kennedys at the luncheon as there are Republicans. There are Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Representative Joseph P. Kennedy, both of Massachusetts, Representative Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, and Jean Kennedy Smith, the American Ambassador to Ireland.

The menu would make any Irishman proud: boiled corned beef and cabbage, boiled potatoes, soda bread and lime sherbet.

(From: “Gerry Adams Shakes Hands With Clinton” published in The New York Times, March 17, 1995)


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Taoiseach Enda Kenny Resigns Following Dáil Vote

Taoiseach Enda Kenny conveys his resignation to President Michael D. Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin on March 10, 2016 after failing to get re-elected to the position in a Dáil vote, becoming acting Taoiseach as the Dáil adjourns until March 22. “It’s not the outcome that I personally would have liked to see but I respect the verdict of the people,” Kenny says. The vote for the former Taoiseach stands at: For 57, Against 94, Abstain 5.

Kenny, the Mayo TD, says the Cabinet will continue its work while the various parties try to form a government. A government statement issued in the evening reads, “The Taoiseach, Mr. Enda Kenny, T.D., has this evening conveyed to the President his resignation from office. In accordance with the Constitution, the Government and the Taoiseach will continue to carry on their duties until successors have been appointed.”

Kenny, Micheál Martin of Fianna Fáil, Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin and Richard Boyd Barrett of Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit (AAA-PBP) are all nominated for the position of Taoiseach but fail to secure enough votes.

Kenny cites the upcoming commemorations of the 1916 Easter Rising and his Saint Patrick’s Day visit to Washington, D.C. as two items that he will continue to take part in. In the medium term he says a government is necessary to deal with the impending Brexit referendum in the UK and issues such as climate change.

Kenny says when Fine Gael and the Labour Party entered government five years earlier “our very survival was in doubt.” He adds, “The Government had to face unprecedented sets of difficulties. Many believed the situation was hopeless. The country is in a different place now.”

The outgoing Taoiseach says he is “fully committed” to working with other parties and independents to form a new government. He adds that “a substantial number of people do not want to serve in government.” Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin says the situation is not unprecedented and people should put aside the notion that “speed” is an issue in forming a government. “Ireland is relatively unusual in how fast it carries out the formation of government,” he says.

A total of 50 Fine Gael TDs are re-elected to the 32nd Dáil. The five abstentions in the Enda Kenny vote are TDs Michael Harty, Noel Grealish, Denis Naughten, Michael Collins and Mattie McGrath. They say they will abstain on each vote for Taoiseach in an indication they are willing to hold further coalition talks.

The vote for the other nominees are:
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin: For 43, Against 108, 5 Abstain.
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams: For 24, Against 116.
AAA-PBP candidate Richard Boyd Barrett: For 9, Against 111.

(From: “Enda Kenny resigns as Taoiseach after failing to get re-elected as leader” by Kevin Doyle and Niall O’Connor, http://www.independent.ie, March 10, 2016)


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Birth of Danny Morrison, IRA Volunteer, Author & Activist

Daniel Gerard Morrison, former Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteer, Irish author and activist, is born in staunchly Irish nationalist Andersonstown, Belfast, on January 9, 1953. He plays a crucial role in public events during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Morrison is the son of Daniel and Susan Morrison. His father works as a painter at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in East Belfast. His uncles, including Harry White, had been jailed for their part in the IRA‘s Northern Campaign in the 1940s. He joins Sinn Féin in 1966 and helps to organise 50th anniversary commemorations of the Easter Rising in Belfast. At this time, he later recalls, “as far as we were concerned, there was absolutely no chance of the IRA appearing again. They were something in history books.”

After the 1969 Northern Ireland riots, in which nationalist areas of Belfast are attacked and burned, Morrison joins the newly formed Provisional IRA. After this, he is engaged in clandestine republican activities, but as late as 1971, is still attending Belfast College of Business Studies and editing a student magazine there. He is interned in Long Kesh Detention Centre in 1972.

Morrison’s talents for writing and publicity are quickly recognised within the republican movement and after his release in 1975 he is appointed editor of Republican News. In this journal, he criticises many long-standing policies of the movement. At this time, he becomes associated with a grouping of young, left-wing Belfast based republicans, led by Gerry Adams, who want to change the strategy, tactics and leadership of the IRA and Sinn Féin.

With the rise of Adams’ faction in the republican movement in the late 1970s, Morrison succeeds Seán Ó Brádaigh as Director of Publicity for Sinn Féin. During the 1981 Irish hunger strike, he acts as spokesman for the IRA hunger strikers’ leader Bobby Sands, who is elected to the British Parliament on an Anti H-Block platform.

Morrison is elected as a Sinn Féin Member for Mid Ulster of a short-lived Northern Ireland Assembly from 1982 to 1986. He also stands unsuccessfully for the European Parliament in 1984 and again in 1989. He also stands for the Mid Ulster Westminster seat in 1983 and 1986. Along with Owen Carron, he is arrested on January 21, 1982 while attempting to enter the United States illegally from Canada by car. He is deported and later both men are convicted on a charge of making false statements to US immigration officials.

Morrison is director of publicity for Sinn Féin from 1979 until 1990, when he is charged with false imprisonment and conspiracy to murder a British informer in the IRA, Sandy Lynch. He is sentenced to eight years in prison and is released in 1995.

Since 1989, Morrison has published several novels and plays on themes relating to republicanism and events in the modern history of Belfast. His latest play, The Wrong Man, opens in London in 2005. It is based on his 1997 book of the same name and deals with the career of an IRA man who is suspected by his colleagues of working for the police.

The Bobby Sands Trust (BST) is formed after the 1981 Hunger Strike where ten republican prisoners die due to their hunger strike protest against the UK Government. The legal firm Madden & Finucane continues to act for the Trust whose original members are Gerry Adams, Danny Morrison, Tom Hartley, Tom Cahill, Marie Moore and Danny Devenny. For a time Bobby’s two sisters, Marcella and Bernadette, are members of the Trust. Current members still include Adams, Morrison and Hartley. The BST claims to hold copyright to all the written works of Bobby Sands. The family of Sands has been critical of the BST and they have called for it to disband.

Morrison lives in West Belfast with his Canadian-born wife, Leslie. He has two sons from his first marriage.


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Gerry Adams & David Trimble Meet at Stormont

On November 4, 2002, Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble and Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams meet face-to-face for the first time since the suspension of Northern Ireland‘s power-sharing government in an attempt to break the deadlock in the peace process. They meet at Stormont as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Paul Murphy, continues his round of meetings with the political parties in an attempt to find a way to end the deadlock.

The province’s institutions are suspended on October 14 following a row over allegations of Irish Republican Army (IRA) activity, including alleged spying within the Northern Ireland Office (NIO).

Speaking after a 40-minute meeting with Trimble, Adams says they had had a “useful exchange of views.” But he adds, as expected, “there were very few conclusions in terms of the big picture….I asked Mr. Trimble how he thought things could be sorted out and Mr. Trimble had no particular suggestion to offer. But it was a good meeting.”

The Sinn Féin president says he had suggested to Trimble that each leader could address the executive of the opposite’s party. “He declined. But I hope he will think about the suggestion.”

Trimble says no significant developments came out of the meeting. He adds that the onus is on the republican movement to move the process forward. He dismisses Adams’s suggestion that they should address each others’ parties as a “stunt.”

Elsewhere on this date, Minister for Foreign Affairs Brian Cowen and Northern Secretary Paul Murphy also hold talks with a Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) delegation in Dublin. Among the items on the agenda are how to restore the North’s devolved political institutions and whether or not the next Northern Ireland Assembly elections will be held as planned the following May.

Adams leaves for Washington, D.C. the following day, where he is expected to brief President George W. Bush‘s Special Envoy for Northern Ireland, Richard N. Haass. He also plans to visit New York, New Jersey and Canada for fund-raising events during his six day trip.

(From: “Trimble Adams meeting ‘useful'”, BBC News, news.bbc.co.uk, November 5, 2002)


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Birth of Joe McDonnell, Irish Hunger Striker

joseph-mcdonnellJoseph (Joe) McDonnell, a volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born on Slate Street in the lower Falls Road of Belfast, Northern Ireland on September 14, 1951. He dies after 61 days on hunger strike during the 1981 Irish hunger strike.

McDonnell is one of ten children. He attends a nearby Roman Catholic school. He marries Goretti in 1970 and moves into her sister’s house in Lenadoon. There are only two Catholic houses in this predominantly Ulster Protestant housing estate, and their house is attacked on numerous occasions.

McDonnell is arrested in Operation Demetrius and, along with Gerry Adams and others, is interned on the prison ship HMS Maidstone. He is later moved to HM Prison Maze in County Down for several months. Upon release, he joins the Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade. He meets Bobby Sands during the preparation for a firebomb attack on the Balmoral Furnishing Company’s premises in Dunmurry. During the ensuing shoot-out between the IRA and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and British Army, both men, along with Séamus Finucane and Seán Lavery, are arrested. McDonnell and the others are sentenced to 14 years in prison for possession of a firearm. None of the men accept the jurisdiction of the court.

McDonnell agrees with the goals of the 1981 Irish hunger strike, namely: the right not to wear a prison uniform; the right not to do prison work; the right of free association with other prisoners; the right to organise their own educational and recreational facilities and the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week.

Although McDonnell is not involved in the first hunger strike in 1980, he joins Bobby Sands and the others in the second hunger strike the following year. During the strike he fights the general election in the Republic of Ireland, and only narrowly misses election in the Sligo–Leitrim constituency. He goes 61 days without food before dying on July 8, 1981. He has two children. His wife takes an active part in the campaign in support of the hunger strikers.

McDonnell is buried in the grave next to Bobby Sands at Milltown Cemetery in west Belfast. John Joe McGirl, McDonnell’s election agent in Sligo–Leitrim, gives the oration at his funeral. Quoting Patrick Pearse, he states, “He may seem the fool who has given his all, by the wise men of the world; but it was the apparent fools who changed the course of Irish history.”

McDonnell is commemorated on the Irish Martyrs Memorial at Waverley Cemetery in Sydney, Australia and is also commemorated in The Wolfe Tones song, “Joe McDonnell.”

 


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The Ealing Bombing

ealing-bombingThe Real Irish Republican Army (IRA), a dissident Irish republican organisation and splinter of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, detonates a car bomb containing 100 lbs. of homemade plastic explosives in Ealing, West London, England on August 3, 2001.

The bomb is in a grey Saab 9000 near the Ealing Broadway station, restaurants and pubs on Uxbridge Road, which explodes shortly after midnight, injuring seven people. Debris from the blast spreads more than 220 yards. The bomb is timed to target leaving karaoke pub-goers, but while most escape injury, the explosion still causes significant damage to property, estimated to be around £200,000. The adjacent Ealing Broadway shopping centre is also damaged by flooding arising from the water main under the car bomb being ruptured.

Experts regard the bomb to be designed to look spectacular on CCTV for the purposes of “armed propaganda” rather than to cause large numbers of injuries. However, anti-terrorist detectives claim that the attack is planned to be a massacre and to cause as much carnage as the Omagh bombing three years earlier.

The bombing is the last successful Irish republican bombing on British soil outside Northern Ireland, of whom dissidents have waged an armed campaign since the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998, ending the Troubles.

The attack is condemned by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and others. It also comes during a crucial time for the Northern Ireland peace process with disagreements regarding the Provisional IRA’s decommissioning process. The attack comes months after the Real IRA bombed the BBC Television Centre three miles away. Two days prior to the attack, a 20 kg Real IRA bomb is discovered at Belfast International Airport. After Ealing, the bombers target a new attack on Birmingham on November 3, which ultimately fails.

In November 2001, three men, Noel Maguire, Robert Hulme and his brother Aiden Hulme, are arrested in connection with the Ealing, BBC and Birmingham bomb attacks. They are all later convicted at the Old Bailey on April 8, 2003. Robert and Aiden Hulme are each jailed for twenty years. Noel Maguire, whom the judge says played “a major part in the bombing conspiracy,” is sentenced to twenty-two years.

Two other men, James McCormack of County Louth and John Hannan of Newtownbutler, County Fermanagh, had already admitted the charge at an earlier hearing. McCormack, who plays the most serious part of the five, is jailed for twenty-two years. John Hannan, who is seventeen at the time of the incidents, is given sixteen years of detention.


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Trimble Rejects Power Sharing Compromise

blair-ahern-stormont-castle-1999On July 14, 1999, Ulster Unionists under David Trimble reject a compromise for the creation of a power sharing government placing the Northern Ireland peace process in grave trouble. The proposals would have seen inclusive self-government introduced in Northern Ireland on Sunday, July 18, 1999.

Early in the day the government rushes legislation through the House of Commons providing for the suspension of the Executive if the Irish Republican Army (IRA) fails to decommission all its arms by May 2000 in line with a timetable, yet to be drawn up. It refuses to accept any Ulster Unionist amendments. But within 12 hours, British Prime Minister Tony Blair signals that three new amendments will be included to tighten the so-called failsafe mechanism when the bill is debated in the House of Lords in the evening.

The first amendment makes clear that decommissioning must proceed in line with a timetable to be drawn up by General John de Chastelain. The second provides for the automatic suspension of the Executive, while the third provides for the party in default to be clearly identified.

They fail to sway Trimble, who criticises The Way Forward as a hastily concocted scheme. However, he does leave the door open for further negotiations to save the agreement. “If there was a clear watertight scheme, in which there was at the outset an unequivocal commitment to change and a process that genuinely guaranteed to deliver that change, we would have to consider whether a scruple over a period of days could be justified.”

Sinn Féin is furious with party president Gerry Adams saying, “Those who may genuinely want to deal with the issue of guns are going about it in absolutely the worst and wrong way.” The party wants the assembly to be wound up immediately, and all members’ wages to be stopped. It wants the British and Irish governments to continue to implement all aspects of the agreement which are within their control. Adams is enraged by Blair’s move to amend the failsafe legislation. His party says it will consider applying for judicial review of the amended bill, believing it to compromise the International Commission on Decommissioning and unlawfully conflict with the agreement.

Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern announce on the following day that the 15-month-old and ailing Good Friday Agreement will go into a review procedure involving all the political parties and be effectively parked over the summer.

Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionists, resists intense government pressure as he refuses to back the British and Irish governments’ blueprint providing for a power-sharing executive the following week and IRA decommissioning in the summer. He repeats his party’s view that Sinn Féin can only join his cabinet once the IRA has started to hand over its weapons.

The outcome is a bitter personal setback for Blair. In a last-minute televised appeal to the Unionists not to “close the door’ on an agreement, he appears to acknowledge that they will have to try to find another way forward. “I believe in the end we will get an agreement on this. Whether we manage it by tomorrow morning, that is more difficult,” he says.

Trimble complains he had too little time to secure backing within his split party for The Way Forward, which the governments issued twelve days earlier after a week of intense negotiations at Stormont Castle. Blair’s handling of the affair is questioned.

Trimble’s problem with the legislative failsafe is that it punishes all parties for an IRA transgression of a decommissioning timetable, yet to be drawn up. It provides for the executive to be suspended, rather than carry on with Sinn Féin’s two ministerial posts allocated to other parties. The nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), which could have given Trimble cover on the issue of expulsion, declines to say whether it will vote for Sinn Féin’s expulsion, which infuriates Ulster Unionists.

Negotiations to save the Good Friday Agreement have gone through four deadlines during the year. There are fears that the latest delay might lead to Sinn Féin withdrawing its declaration on IRA arms.

(Pictured: British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern present a joint British-Irish blueprint for implementation of the Good Friday Agreement at Stormont Castle in Belfast, June 2, 1999 | Sean Gallup | Getty Images)


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George Mitchell begins Northern Ireland Talks with Sinn Féin

george-mitchell-in-belfastOn June 10, 1996, former U.S. Senator George Mitchell begins Northern Ireland talks with Sinn Féin, who are blocked by the lack of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) ceasefire from what are supposed to be all-party talks on Northern Ireland’s future.

Pressure is coming from all sides on the Irish Republican Army to give peace a chance in Northern Ireland. Governments in London, Dublin, and Washington, D.C., as well as the vast majority of Northern Ireland’s citizens, are calling on the paramilitary group to call a new ceasefire. Even Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Féin, the IRA’s political wing, appeals to the IRA to reconsider its refusal to renew the ceasefire it broke in February with a bomb blast in London.

An opinion poll in the Dublin-based Sunday Tribune shows 97 percent of people, including 84 percent of Sinn Féin voters, want the IRA to renew its ceasefire.

The talks aim to reconcile two main political traditions in Northern Ireland, Protestant-backed unionism, which wants the province to stay part of the United Kingdom, and Catholic-backed Irish nationalism, which seeks to unite Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland.

Earlier in the year Senator Mitchell reported to the British government on the prospects for peace in Northern Ireland and drew up six principles which, if fulfilled by all the parties, would produce a lasting political settlement.

As internal and international pressure on the IRA mounts, politicians from the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), a moderate party representing the province’s Protestants, shows signs of drifting apart on whether Sinn Féin should be allowed to participate. Even if the IRA announces “a ceasefire of convenience,” Sinn Féin should be barred from attending, says Peter Robinson, deputy leader of the radical Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

Furthermore, the choice of Mitchell to head the talks makes some Protestants uneasy. Earlier, DUP leader Ian Paisley says Mitchell could not be trusted as chairman. “He is carrying too much American Irish baggage.”

Yet David Trimble, leader of the larger UUP, says a new IRA ceasefire might “get Sinn Féin to the door.” To be fully admitted to the all-party talks, however, its leadership will have to “commit itself to peace and democracy.” Trimble adds that he has doubts about Mitchell’s objectivity and had sought “certain assurances” before finally agreeing to lead a UUP delegation to the opening round. Mitchell, at an impromptu news conference in Belfast, says he plans to show “fairness and impartiality.”

The attitudes of the two unionist parties appear to reflect concern that the IRA would declare a ceasefire before the talks open, or during the early stages, technically clearing the way for Sinn Féin participation. David Wilshire, a senior Conservative member of Britain’s Parliament, who supports the unionist cause, says that a ceasefire by the IRA now would be a “cynical ploy.” He adds that “the government should not fall for it.”

Sinn Féin leaders, meanwhile, meet on Saturday, June 8, and announced that regardless of the IRA’s intentions, Adams and other Sinn Féin leaders will turn up at the opening session and demand to be admitted. They cite the party’s strong showing at special elections in May to the peace forum at which they obtain 15 percent of the vote and win a strong mandate from Catholic voters in West Belfast.

It is “the British government’s responsibility” to urge the IRA to renew its truce, says Martin McGuinness, Adams’s deputy. Yet Adams himself makes a direct approach to the IRA. This is confirmed by Albert Reynolds, the former Irish Taoiseach. He says that Adams has advised him that he is about to make a new ceasefire appeal to the IRA leadership. “I am now satisfied Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin will seek an early reinstatement of the ceasefire which, of course, has not broken down in Northern Ireland. I see a set of similar elements to those in 1994, which brought about the ceasefire, now coming together. Everyone must now compromise,” Reynolds says.

On June 8, the IRA tells the British Broadcasting Corporation that its military council has called a meeting to examine the agenda for the Northern Ireland talks.

(From:”Hopes for N. Ireland Talks Rely on Squeezing the IRA” by Alexander MacLeod, The Christian Science Monitor, June 10, 1996)