seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

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)


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

Hume & Trimble Receive 1998 Nobel Peace Prize

hume-trimble-noble-prize-1998The 1998 Nobel Peace Prize is awarded on October 16, 1998 to John Hume and David Trimble, leaders of the largest Roman Catholic and Protestant political parties in Northern Ireland, for their efforts to bring peace to the long-polarized British province. The two men share the prize money of $960,000.

Hume, 61, the Catholic head of the Social Democratic and Labor Party, is cited by the Nobel Committee in Oslo for having been the “clearest and most consistent of Northern Ireland’s political leaders in his work for a peaceful solution.”

Trimble, 54, the Protestant leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, is honored for having demonstrated “great political courage when, at a critical stage in the process, he advocated solutions which led to the peace agreement.”

The leader of a third prominent party, Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), is not named as a prize winner. While it does not honor Adams, the committee says it wishes to “emphasize the importance of the positive contributions to the peace process made by other Northern Irish leaders.” Nor are several other figures mentioned as possibilities, including former Senator George Mitchell, who led the talks, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, United States President Bill Clinton, and Mo Mowlam, the British Government’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

The accord, signed on April 10 and known as the Good Friday Agreement, gives the 1.7 million residents of Northern Ireland a respite from the sectarian violence that has claimed more than 3,200 lives in the previous 30 years. It also opens the possibility of lasting stability for the first time since the establishment of Northern Ireland with partition from Ireland in 1921.

Forging concessions from fiercely antagonistic populations, the accord seeks to balance the Protestant majority’s wish to remain part of Britain with Catholic desires to strengthen ties to the Republic of Ireland to the south. The committee, seeing in Northern Ireland’s two warring groups a dispute with notable similarities to violent tribal confrontations elsewhere, expresses the hope that the accord will serve “to inspire peaceful solutions to other religious, ethnic and national conflicts around the world.”

Adams, in New York on a fund-raising trip for Sinn Féin, welcomes the Oslo announcement and particularly praises Hume, who is widely seen as having helped persuade the IRA to adopt a cease-fire and having eased Sinn Féin’s entry into the talks. “Indeed, there would be no peace process but for his courage and vision,” Adams says, adding, “No one deserves this accolade more.” He also wishes Trimble well and says the prize imposes on everyone the responsibility to “push ahead through the speedy implementation of the agreement.”

In the unforgiving politics of Northern Ireland, the Unionist dissidents and members of other Protestant parties who do not join in the peace talks attack both Trimble and Hume. Ian Paisley Jr., son of the head of the Democratic Unionist Party, calls the Nobel Committee’s decision a “farce” and says of the winners, “These people have not delivered peace, and they are not peacemakers.”

Trimble says he is “slightly uncomfortable” with the award because so many other people have been involved beside him in reaching the settlement and much remains to be done to put it in place. “We know that while we have the makings of peace, it is not wholly secure yet,” he tells the BBC from Denver, where he is on an 11-city North American tour to spur foreign investment in Ulster. “I hope it does not turn out to be premature.”

Hume receives word of the prize at his home in Londonderry and terms it “an expression of the total endorsement of the work of very many people.” He adds, “This isn’t just an award to David Trimble and myself. It is an award to all the people in Northern Ireland.”

In Washington, D.C., President Clinton says “how very pleased” he is, “personally and as President, that the Nobel Prize Committee has rewarded the courage and the people of Northern Ireland by giving the Nobel Peace Prize to John Hume and to David Trimble.” He adds “a special word of thanks” to George Mitchell, who issues a statement praising Hume and Trimble as “fully deserving of this honor.”

The peace talks began in the summer of 1996. They eventually draw the participation of 8 of the 10 Northern Irish parties, with many of the men around the table convicted murderers and bombers who had emerged from prison with a commitment to peaceful resolution to what for nearly a century have been referred to wearily as “the Troubles.” The paramilitary groups had also made the tactical decision that violence would not secure their goals, a shared conviction that gives these talks a chance for success that past fitful attempts at settlement lacked.

The peace talks move in a desultory manner until Blair takes office in May 1997 and highlights the cause of peace in Northern Ireland as an early commitment. At his and Ahern’s urging, the IRA declares a cease-fire in July, and by September Sinn Féin is permitted to join the talks.

Blair also gives Trimble and Adams unprecedented access to 10 Downing Street, and the Ulster Protestants report that they obtained from Clinton the most sympathetic hearing they ever had from an American President, allaying their longtime suspicions of Washington’s bias in favor of the Catholic minority.

(From: “2 Ulster Peacemakers Win the Nobel Prize,” The New York Times, Warren Hoge, October 17, 1998)


Leave a comment

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)


Leave a comment

Birth of Sir Kenneth Percy Bloomfield in Belfast

Sir Kenneth Percy Bloomfield, former head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service who is later a member of the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains and for a time Northern Ireland Victims Commissioner, is born in Belfast on April 15, 1931. He has also held a variety of public sector posts in Northern Ireland and elsewhere.

Bloomfield is born to English parents and grows up close to Neill’s Hill railway station. Between the years of 1943 and 1949, he attends the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and later goes on to read Modern History at St. Peter’s College, Oxford. On September 12, 1988, he and his wife are the targets of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) attack on their home in Crawfordsburn, County Down. Neither Bloomfield nor his wife are injured in the blast.

Having joined the Civil Service in 1952, Bloomfield is appointed Permanent Secretary to the power sharing executive in 1974. After the collapse of the executive, he goes on to become Permanent Secretary for the Department of the Environment and the Department of Economic Development, and finally Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service on December 1, 1984. In that capacity he is the most senior advisor to successive Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland and other Ministers on a wide range of issues. He retires from the post in April 1991.

Since retiring from the Civil Service, Bloomfield has embarked on a life of involvement in a diverse range of organisations. He has taken up roles such as Chairman for the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission and his alma mater, the Royal Belfast Academical Institution. He has also been involved in the political reform of the States of Jersey and spearheaded the Association for Quality Education, which is fighting to retain academic selection in the Northern Ireland education system. In December 1997 he is asked by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam, to become the Northern Ireland Victims Commissioner for a fixed term. His role is to produce a report on the way forward for Victims issues in Northern Ireland. His report entitled We Will Remember Them is published in April 1998. From 1991 to 1999 he serves as the BBC‘s National Governor for Northern Ireland.

Bloomfield receives a Knighthood in the 1987 Queen’s Birthday Honours and honorary doctorates from Queen’s University, Belfast, the Open University and the Ulster University. He is also a Member of the Royal Irish Academy.