seamus dubhghaill

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


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President McAleese & Queen Elizabeth II Meet in Belfast

mcaleese-and-queen-elizabethPresident of Ireland Mary McAleese and Queen Elizabeth II shake hands on Northern Ireland soil for the first time on December 9, 2005 — a symbolic milestone following years of peacemaking in this long-disputed British territory.

The British monarch and the Republic of Ireland‘s head of state chat and pose together at Hillsborough Castle, outside Belfast, for an occasion that would have provoked hostility within Northern Ireland’s Protestant majority just a few years earlier. But their trouble-free meeting becomes inevitable once Ireland dropped its territorial claim to Northern Ireland as part of the landmark Good Friday Agreement peace accord of 1998. The visit also fuels speculation the queen could soon make her first official visit to the neighboring Republic of Ireland, where the Irish Republican Army assassinated Lord Louis Mountbatten, the uncle of her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

No British monarch has visited the territory of the modern-day Republic of Ireland since George V visited Dublin in 1911, a decade before the island’s partition into a mostly Protestant north that remains within the United Kingdom, and a predominantly Catholic rest of Ireland that gradually gains full independence from Britain.

Camera crews are allowed to film the moment, but not record the sound, when McAleese shakes the queen’s hand at the start of a 20-minute meeting, their fourth since 1998. Previous meetings occurred at Buckingham Palace and on a World War I battlefield site. McAleese later calls it “a very special day for Anglo-Irish relationships” that brings forward the day when the queen will visit the Irish Republic.

McAleese, a Belfast-born Catholic, had made scores of visits to Northern Ireland since being elected to the Irish Republic’s largely symbolic presidency in 1997. As part of her presidential theme of “building bridges,” she regularly invites Protestant groups to her official Dublin mansion and has built impressive diplomatic contacts with northern Protestants.

Before McAleese’s arrival, visits north by an Irish president were rare events that drew public protests from Protestants, who demanded that Ireland remove its territorial claim from its 1937 constitution. The republic’s voters overwhelmingly supported this in a May 1998 referendum, an action completed in December 1999.

The queen has avoided traveling to the Irish Republic, in part, because of security fears following the IRA assassination of Mountbatten in August 1979. He, his daughter-in-law and two teenage boys are killed when the IRA blows up his private boat near his castle in County Sligo. However, Prince Philip and their son, Prince Charles, make several visits to the Irish Republic in the decade following the IRA’s 1994 cease-fire.


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Mo Mowlam Presented International Woman of the Year Award

mo-mowlanMarjorie “Mo” Mowlam, English Labour Party politician, is presented with the International Woman of the Year Award at a ceremony in Dublin on October 23, 2001. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson wins the Overall Award at the Irish Tatler Women of the Year Awards.

Mowlam is born on September 18, 1949 in Watford, Hertfordshire, England but grows up in Coventry. She starts her education at Chiswick Girls’ grammar school in West London, then moves to Coundon Court school in Coventry which, at the time, is one of the first comprehensive schools in the country. She then studies at Trevelyan College, Durham University, reading sociology and anthropology. She joins the Labour Party in her first year.

Mowlam becomes the Secretary of the Durham Union Society in 1969 and later goes on to become the Vice-President of the Durham Student’s Union. She works for then-MP Tony Benn in London and American writer Alvin Toffler in New York, moving to the United States with her then-boyfriend and studying for a PhD in political science at the University of Iowa.

Mowlam is a lecturer in the Political Science Department at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee in 1977 and at Florida State University in Tallahassee from 1977 to 1979. During her time in Tallahassee, someone breaks into her apartment. She suspects that it is Ted Bundy, the serial killer and rapist who is thought to have murdered at least 35 young women and attacked several others. She returns to England in 1979 to take up an appointment at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Having failed to win selection for the 1983 general election, Mowlam is selected as Labour candidate for the safe seat of Redcar after James Tinn stands down. She takes the seat in the 1987 general election, becoming the Labour spokesperson on Northern Ireland later that year. Together with Shadow Chancellor John Smith, she is one of the architects of Labour’s “Prawn Cocktail Offensive” dedicated to reassuring the UK’s financial sector about Labour’s financial rectitude.

Mowlam joins the Shadow Cabinet when John Smith becomes leader of the Labour Party in 1992, holding the title of Shadow Secretary of State for National Heritage. During this time, she antagonises both monarchists and republicans by calling for Buckingham Palace to be demolished and replaced by a “modern” palace built at public expense. Later, her willingness to speak her mind, often without regard to the consequences, is seen as her greatest strength by her supporters.

Following Smith’s death in 1994, Mowlam, alongside Peter Kilfoyle, becomes a principal organiser of Tony Blair‘s campaign for the Labour leadership. After his victory, Blair makes her Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. She initially resists being appointed to the position, preferring an economic portfolio, but, after accepting it, she throws her weight into the job.

Mowlam oversees the negotiations which lead to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. She is successful in helping to restore an Irish Republican Army (IRA) ceasefire and including Sinn Féin in multi-party talks about the future of Northern Ireland. In an attempt to persuade the Ulster loyalists to participate in the peace process, she pays an unprecedented and potentially dangerous visit to loyalist prisoners in HM Prison Maze, meeting convicted murderers face-to-face and unaccompanied.

Mowlam witnesses the Good Friday Agreement signing in 1998, which leads to the temporary establishment of a devolved power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly. However, an increasingly difficult relationship with Unionist parties means her role in the talks is ultimately taken over by Tony Blair and his staff.

Mowlam’s deteriorating relationship with Unionists is the key reason she is replaced by Peter Mandelson as Northern Ireland Secretary in October 1999. Her move to the relatively lowly position of Minister for the Cabinet Office possibly involves other factors, notably her health and her popularity. On September 4, 2000, she announces her intention to retire from Parliament and relinquishes her seat at the 2001 general election.

Five months before the 1997 general election, Mowlam is diagnosed with a brain tumor, a fact that she tries to keep private. She appears to suffer from balance problems as a result of her radiotherapy. According to her husband, she falls on July 30, 2005, receiving head injuries and never regaining consciousness. Her living will, in which she asks not to be resuscitated, is honoured. On August 12, 2005, Mowlan is moved to Pilgrims Hospice in Canterbury, Kent, where she dies seven days later, on August 19, 2005, aged 55.

Mowlam is an atheist and is cremated in Sittingbourne on September 1, 2005 at a non-religious service conducted by Reverend Richard Coles, formerly of the 1980s band The Communards. Half of her ashes were scattered at Hillsborough Castle, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland’s official residence, and the other half in her former parliamentary constituency of Redcar.


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Signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement

anglo-irish-agreementThe Anglo-Irish Agreement, an accord that gives the government of Ireland an official consultative role in the affairs of Northern Ireland, is signed by Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on November 15, 1985, at Hillsborough Castle in County Down, Northern Ireland. Considered one of the most significant developments in British-Irish relations since the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, the agreement provides for regular meetings between ministers in the Irish and British governments on matters affecting Northern Ireland. It outlines cooperation in four areas: political matters, security and related issues, legal matters, including the administration of justice, and the promotion of cross-border cooperation.

The agreement is negotiated as a move toward easing long-standing tension between Britain and Ireland on the subject of Northern Ireland, although Northern Irish unionists, who are in favour of remaining part of the United Kingdom, are themselves strongly opposed to giving their southern neighbour a say in domestic matters. Many political leaders, including Thatcher, who has been strongly committed to British sovereignty in Northern Ireland, have come to believe that a solution to years of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland can only be achieved by means of an all-Ireland arrangement.

Such an attempt had previously been made in 1973. A power-sharing executive, composed of Irish nationalists as well as unionists, was set up in Northern Ireland, and Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave participated in talks with British Prime Minister Edward Heath that resulted in the Sunningdale Agreement. That accord recognized that Northern Ireland’s relationship with Britain could not be changed without the agreement of a majority of its population, and it provided for the establishment of a Council of Ireland composed of members from both the Dáil Éireann (the lower chamber of the Oireachtas) and the Northern Ireland Assembly. That agreement collapsed in May 1974 because of a general strike inspired by unionist opponents of power sharing.

In 1981 FitzGerald launches a constitutional crusade to make the reunification of Ireland more attractive to Northern Ireland’s Protestants. At the end of the year, the Irish and British governments set up an Anglo-Irish intergovernmental council to discuss matters of common concern, especially security. In 1984 the report of the New Ireland Forum, a discussion group that includes representatives of political parties in Ireland and Northern Ireland, sets out three possible frameworks for political development in Ireland: a unitary state, a federal state, and joint sovereignty. Of Ireland’s major political parties, Fianna Fáil prefers a unitary state, which Fine Gael and the Irish Labour Party regard as unrealistic. They prefer the federal option.

Also in the early 1980s, in Northern Ireland, John Hume, the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and a member of the British Parliament, gathers the support of prominent Irish American political leaders in condemning the use of violence and urging Irish Americans not to support the Irish Republican Army (IRA), a paramilitary organization that often uses violent means to bring an end to British rule in Northern Ireland. Hume’s group also encourages United States President Ronald Reagan to persuade Thatcher to pursue closer relations with Ireland.

In the improved political climate between Britain and Ireland, leaders of the two countries sit down to negotiations. Ireland and Britain agree that any change in the status of Northern Ireland would come about only with the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland, and an intergovernmental conference is established to deal with political, security, and legal relations between the two parts of the island. The agreement is a blow to Northern Ireland’s unionists, because it establishes a consultative role for the government of Ireland in the affairs of Northern Ireland through the Anglo-Irish Secretariat. The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and other unionists denounce the agreement, and UUP members of Parliament resign their seats over the issue, although 14 are returned in by-elections in 1986. The party organizes mass protests and boycotts of local councils and files a lawsuit challenging the legality of the agreement. However, these efforts, which are joined by the Democratic Unionist Party, fail to force abrogation of the agreement.

Contacts between the Irish and British governments continue after February 1987 within the formal structure of the intergovernmental conference. Fears that the violence in Northern Ireland would spill into Ireland as a consequence of closer Anglo-Irish cooperation in the wake of the agreement proves unfounded, and the UUP decides to participate in new negotiations on the constitutional future of Northern Ireland in 1990–93. After republican and unionist forces declare cease-fires in 1994, the UUP reluctantly joins discussions with the British and Irish governments and other political parties of Northern Ireland. No deal accepted by all sides is reached until the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998, which creates the Northern Ireland Assembly and new cross-border institutions.

(From: “Anglo-Irish Agreement,” Lorraine Murray, Encyclopaedia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com, November 12, 2010)


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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.”