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


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Ian Paisley’s Retirement from the Power-Sharing Assembly

ian-paisleyOn March 23, 2011, Ian Paisley calls for a new era of sharing and reconciliation in an emotional farewell at his final sitting of the power-sharing Assembly he helped to create at Stormont. Dr. Paisley continues his political career in the House of Lords.

Protestant and Catholic leaders in Northern Ireland‘s unity government celebrate their first full four-year term in power and lauded Paisley, the unlikely peacemaker who made it possible, on his effective retirement day.

Paisley, a stern anti-Catholic evangelist who spent decades rallying pro-British Protestants against compromise, stuns the world in 2007 by agreeing to forge a coalition alongside senior Irish Republican Army (IRA) veterans. Their polar-opposite combination governs Northern Ireland with surprising harmony for the four years leading up to his retirement.

The Northern Ireland Assembly that elects the administration is dissolved on March 14, 2011 in preparation for a May 5 election in the British territory. The 84-year-old Paisley makes his last debate in an elected chamber on March 6, 2011, noting that this local government is not ending in chaos and acrimony, as 1999-2002 attempts at power-sharing repeatedly had done.

At this point, Paisley has already stepped down as a member of the British and European parliaments and as leader of the Democratic Unionists, a party of hard-line Protestant protesters that he founded in 1970 and watched grow over the previous decade into the most popular in Northern Ireland.

Those lauding him include Peter Robinson, who succeeded him in 2008 as leader of both the government and the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Féin‘s Martin McGuinness, the senior Catholic politician who spends decades as a commander of Paisley’s archenemy, the IRA.

The IRA kills nearly 1,800 people in a failed 1970-1997 effort to force Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom when the overwhelmingly Catholic rest of Ireland gains its independence in 1922. The outlawed IRA formally renounces violence and disarms in 2005, clearing the way for its allied Sinn Féin party to recognize the legal authority of Northern Ireland and its police.

Still, few observers expected Paisley to agree to a pact so quickly after the IRA-Sinn Féin peace moves or to get along so warmly with McGuinness during their year in partnership.

McGuinness, whose organization once considered Paisley a prime target for assassination, addressing his remarks to the stooped, silver-haired Paisley across the chamber, notes that Ulster wits had christened the two of them “the Chuckle Brothers.” He adds, “And I would like to think that we showed leadership. I think my relationship with him will undoubtedly go down in the history books.”

(From: “Northern Ireland power-sharing marks 1st full term,” the Associated Press and CTV News, March 23, 2011)

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Killing of PSNI Officer Stephen Carroll

stephen-carrollStephen Carroll, a Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officer, is killed by the Continuity Irish Republican Army on March 9, 2009 in Craigavon, County Armagh, Northern Ireland. Carroll’s killing marks the first time a serving police officer has been killed since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Two days prior to the attack the Real Irish Republican Army shoots dead two British soldiers outside the Massereene Barracks in Antrim, County Antrim. This period marks a significant escalation in the campaign by dissident republicans.

The Continuity IRA smashes a window with a brick knowing the PSNI would respond. At about 9:45 PM two police vehicles arrive at the scene. The officers are fired upon as they attempt to exit their vehicles. A gunman shoots Carroll from 50 metres away with an AK-47 while in his patrol car. Carroll is shot in the head.

The Continuity IRA claims responsibility saying their North Armagh Battalion is responsible for the attack and that “As long as there is British involvement in Ireland, these attacks will continue.”

On March 10 there is a one-minute silence in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Prime Minister Gordon Brown states that “These are murderers who are trying to distort, disrupt and destroy a political process that is working for the people of Northern Ireland.” Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde calls it a “sad day” and says the gunmen are “criminal psychopaths.”

Richard Walsh, the spokesman for Republican Sinn Féin, a party linked to the Continuity IRA, says the killings are “an act of war” rather than murder. “We have always upheld the right of the Irish people to use any level of controlled and disciplined force to drive the British out of Ireland. We make no apology for that.” He also describes the PSNI as “an armed adjunct of the British Army.”

Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness says those responsible are “traitors to the island of Ireland” and that “they have betrayed the political desires, hopes and aspirations of all of the people who live on this island.”


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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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The Founding of Sinn Féin

Sinn Féin, a left-wing Irish republican political party active in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, is founded on November 28, 1905, when, at the first annual Convention of the National Council, Arthur Griffith outlines the Sinn Féin policy, “to establish in Ireland’s capital a national legislature endowed with the moral authority of the Irish nation.”

The phrase “Sinn Féin” is Irish for “ourselves” or “we ourselves,” although it is frequently mistranslated as “ourselves alone.” The meaning of the name itself is an assertion of Irish national sovereignty and self-determination; i.e., the Irish people governing themselves, rather than being part of a political union with Great Britain under the Westminster Parliament.

Around the time of 1969–1970, owing to the split in the republican movement, there are two groups calling themselves Sinn Féin, one under Tomás Mac Giolla, the other under Ruairí Ó Brádaigh. The latter becomes known as Sinn Féin (Kevin Street) or Provisional Sinn Féin, and the former becomes known as Sinn Féin (Gardiner Place) or Official Sinn Féin. The “Officials” drop all mention of Sinn Féin from their name in 1982, instead calling itself the Workers’ Party of Ireland. The Provisionals are now generally known as Sinn Féin. Supporters of Republican Sinn Féin, which comes from a 1986 split, still use the term “Provisional Sinn Féin” to refer to the party led by Gerry Adams.

Sinn Féin is a major party in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. It is the largest nationalist party in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and the second-largest overall. It has four ministerial posts in the most recent power-sharing Northern Ireland Executive. It holds seven of Northern Ireland’s eighteen seats, the second largest bloc after the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), at Westminster, where it follows a policy of abstentionism, refusing to attend parliament or vote on bills. It is the third-largest party in the Oireachtas, the parliament of the Republic of Ireland. As Ireland’s dominant parties of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are both centre-right, Sinn Féin is the largest left-wing party in Ireland.

Sinn Féin members have also been referred to as Shinners, a term intended as a pejorative.


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Birth of Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams

Gerard “Gerry” Adams, Irish republican politician who is the president of the Sinn Féin political party and a Teachta Dála (TD) for Louth since the 2011 general election, is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on October 6, 1948.

Adams attends St. Finian’s Primary School on the Falls Road, where he is taught by La Salle brothers. Having passed the eleven-plus exam in 1960, he attends St. Mary’s Christian Brothers Grammar School. He leaves St. Mary’s with six O-levels and becomes a barman. He is increasingly involved in the Irish republican movement, joining Sinn Féin and Fianna Éireann in 1964, after being radicalised by the Divis Street riots during that year’s general election campaign.

In the late 1960s, a civil rights campaign develops in Northern Ireland. Adams is an active supporter and joins the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association in 1967. However, the civil rights movement is met with violence from loyalist counter-demonstrations and the Royal Ulster Constabulary. In August 1969, Northern Ireland cities like Belfast and Derry erupt in major rioting.

During the 1981 hunger strike, which sees the emergence of Sinn Féin as a political force, Adams plays an important policy-making role. In 1983, he is elected president of Sinn Féin and becomes the first Sinn Féin MP elected to the British House of Commons since Philip Clarke and Tom Mitchell in the mid-1950s. From 1983 to 1992 and from 1997 to 2011, he is an abstentionist Member of Parliament (MP) of the British Parliament for the Belfast West constituency.

Adams has been the president of Sinn Féin since 1983. Since that time the party has become the third-largest party in the Republic of Ireland, the second-largest political party in Northern Ireland and the largest Irish nationalist party in that region. In 1984, Adams is seriously wounded in an assassination attempt by several gunmen from the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), including John Gregg. From the late 1980s onwards, Adams is an important figure in the Northern Ireland peace process, initially following contact by the then-Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) leader John Hume and then subsequently with the Irish and British governments.

In 1986, Sinn Féin, under Adams, changes its traditional policy of abstentionism towards the Oireachtas, the parliament of the Republic of Ireland, and later takes seats in the power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly. In 2005, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) states that its armed campaign is over and that it is exclusively committed to democratic politics.

In 2014, Adams is held for four days by the Police Service of Northern Ireland for questioning in connection with the abduction and murder of Jean McConville in 1972. He is freed without charge and a file is sent to the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland, which later states there is insufficient evidence to charge him.

In September 2017, Adams says Sinn Féin will begin a “planned process of generational change” after its November ardfheis and will allow his name to go forward for a one year term as Uachtaran Shinn Fein (President Sinn Fein).


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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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Birth of Northern Ireland Politician Gerry Fitt

Gerard Fitt, Northern Ireland politician, is born in Belfast on April 9, 1926. He is a founder and the first leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), a social democratic and Irish nationalist party.

Fitt is educated at a local Christian Brothers school in Belfast. He joins the Merchant Navy in 1941 and serves on convoy duty during World War II. His elder brother Geordie, an Irish Guardsman, is killed at the Battle of Normandy.

Living in the nationalist Beechmount neighbourhood of the Falls, he stands for the Falls as a candidate for the Dock Labour Party in a city council by-election in 1956, but loses to Paddy Devlin of the Irish Labour Party, who later becomes his close ally. In 1958, he is elected to Belfast City Council as a member of the Irish Labour Party.

In 1962, he wins a seat in the Parliament of Northern Ireland from the Ulster Unionist Party, becoming the only Irish Labour member. Two years later, he left Irish Labour and joined with Harry Diamond, the sole Socialist Republican Party Stormont MP, to form the Republican Labour Party. At the 1966 general election, Fitt won the Belfast West seat in the Westminster parliament.

Many sympathetic British Members of Parliament (MPs) are present at a civil rights march in Derry on October 5, 1968 when Fitt and others are beaten by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Fitt also supports the 1969 candidacy of Bernadette Devlin in the Mid Ulster by-election who runs as an anti-abstentionist ‘Unity‘ candidate. Devlin’s success greatly increases the authority of Fitt in the eyes of many British commentators, particularly as it produces a second voice on the floor of the British House of Commons who challenge the Unionist viewpoint at a time when Harold Wilson and other British ministers are beginning to take notice.

In August 1970, Fitt becomes the first leader of a coalition of civil rights and nationalist leaders who create the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). By this time Northern Ireland is charging headlong towards near-civil war and the majority of unionists remain hostile.

After the collapse of Stormont in 1972 and the establishment of the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1973 Fitt becomes deputy chief executive of the short-lived Power-Sharing Executive created by the Sunningdale Agreement.

Fitt becomes increasingly detached from both his own party and also becomes more outspoken in his condemnation of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. He becomes a target for republican sympathisers in 1976 when they attack his home. He becomes disillusioned with the handling of Northern Ireland by the British government. In 1979, he abstains from a crucial vote in the House of Commons which brings down the Labour government, citing the way that the government had failed to help the nationalist population and tried to form a deal with the Ulster Unionist Party.

In 1979, Fitt is replaced by John Hume as leader of the SDLP and he leaves the party altogether after he agrees to constitutional talks with British Secretary of State Humphrey Atkins without any provision for an ‘Irish dimension’ and then sees his decision overturned by the SDLP party conference. Like Paddy Devlin before him, he claims the SDLP has ceased to be a socialist force.

In 1981, he opposes the hunger strikes in the Maze prison in Belfast. His seat in Westminster is targeted by Sinn Féin as well as by the SDLP. In June 1983, he loses his seat in Belfast West to Gerry Adams, in part due to competition from an SDLP candidate. The following month, on October 14, 1983, he is created a UK life peer as Baron Fitt, of Bell’s Hill in County Down. His Belfast home is firebombed a month later and he moves to London.

Gerry Fitt dies in London on August 26, 2005, at the age of 79, after a long history of heart disease.