seamus dubhghaill

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


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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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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)


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Bill Clinton Begins Four Day Irish Visit

clinton-guildhall-squareFormer U.S. president Bill Clinton begins a four-day visit to the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland on May 20, 2001 to try to advance the peace process. He spends time both north and south of the border, fulfilling engagements in Belfast, Derry, Enniskillen and Dublin.

Clinton’s goal is to use his influence to try to enhance the electoral fortunes of the parties that support the Good Friday Agreement, particularly David Trimble‘s Ulster Unionist Party, who are under pressure from Ian Paisley‘s anti-agreement Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

Clinton arrives at Farranfore Airport, County Kerry, before heading to a round of golf at Ballybunion Golf Club with the former Irish deputy prime minister and Labour Party leader Dick Spring. He spends the night at Dromoland Castle, County Clare, before two days of public engagements in Dublin.

Trimble has vowed to quit as head of the Stormont Executive, where his party shares power with Sinn Féin, if the Irish Republican Party (IRA) has not started to get rid of its guns by July 1. Paisley, however, has accused Trimble and British Prime Minister Tony Blair of breaking their promises to the people of Northern Ireland by allowing into government a party linked to a terrorist group, without prior arms decommissioning.

While Clinton is no longer the most powerful man in the world, his charisma and his past efforts to keep the peace process moving are still appreciated by many. He receives Northern Ireland political leaders countless times at the White House and gives support and encouragement by phone during difficult periods of the peace talks.

Clinton delivers a lecture at Trinity College Dublin and attends a gala for peace and reconciliation at Dublin Castle, before travelling to Derry and then on to Belfast, where he receives an honorary degree from the former peace talks chairman George Mitchell, now chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast.

The leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), John Hume, who welcomes Clinton to Derry, says the former president has done a great deal of good for all the people of Ireland. But the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) deputy leader, Peter Robinson, claims that Clinton and Blair could have a negative effect on Trimble’s campaign. “As a unionist, I wouldn’t like to be sitting next to either of them just before an election,” he said. “Blair’s name is associated with the now-broken pledges he wrote on a board here just before the [Good Friday agreement] referendum, so for him to come over and moralise now won’t do much good. And Clinton is so disgraced and powerless that, while he might prop up the nationalist SDLP and Sinn Féin vote, he’ll have no impact on unionists voters.”

(Pictured: Bill Clinton and SDLP leader John Hume at public address at Guildhall Square in Derry. Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and Chelsea Clinton are in the second row.)


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Royals Visit St. Malachy’s Church in Belfast

royals-visit-st-malachys-church-belfastCharles, Prince of Wales, and the Duchess of Cornwall fly into George Best Belfast City Airport on February 4, 2011 for a one-day visit to Northern Ireland. The primary focus of their visit is to view a £3.5 million restoration project at St. Malachy’s Church in Belfast.

First Minister Peter Robinson, who greets Prince Charles on the doorstep of the building, is quoted as saying “Northern Ireland has entered a new era. It is the first time in recent history that we have had a royal in a Roman Catholic Church here.” Robinson adds, “So it is a good start. It should send of an indication that respect, understanding and tolerance is growing in Northern Ireland.”

St. Malachy’s Church was destroyed by a Luftwaffe bomb in 1941, but in 2006 the Roman Catholic Diocese of Down and Connor embarked on a project to restore its original features. Robinson says, “It has been set out very well and has held on to the architecture of the original.”

Prince Charles also presides over the first inter-faith meeting of members of the four main churches, organised by the local branch of The Prince’s Regeneration Trust.

The Northern Ireland Trustee Fionnuala Jay-O’Boyle says, “It’s a hugely exciting event. Not only does it celebrate the fantastic restoration of St. Malachy’s Church, but equally it is very significant because we brought together a group of very senior church figures to begin the discussion of unlocking the potential of redundant churches.”

The Royal couple also visits the Palace Barracks, Holywood for a medal presentation. They meet the soldiers of 2nd Battalion, Mercian Regiment who are preparing for service in Afghanistan.

(Pictured: First Minister Peter Robinson greets the Prince of Wales on the doorstep of St. Malachy’s Church; From a BBC article “Royal visit to St Malachy’s Church is historic,” February 4, 2011)


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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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Demolition of HM Prison Maze Begins

maze-prisonBulldozers begin demolishing Northern Ireland‘s notorious HM Prison Maze, previously known as Long Kesh Detention Centre, on October 31, 2006. The prison once housed the most dangerous guerrillas from both sides of the province’s sectarian conflict.

Among the inmates at Maze are ten Irish nationalist hunger strikers who starved themselves to death in 1981. The prison has been empty since 2000, after the release of most guerrilla prisoners under the Good Friday Agreement, which ushered in relative peace after 30 years of fighting in which 3,600 people died.

A sports stadium, equestrian center, hotel, and shopping center are originally proposed for the 360-acre site in County Antrim. In January 2009, however, Sports Minister Gregory Campbell rules out the plan for a multi-sports stadium which has divided political and sporting opinion, opting instead to explore alternatives with the soccer, rugby, and Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) authorities.

Northern Ireland first and deputy first ministers, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, announce in 2010 that an agreement has been reached on building a peace and conflict resolution facility at the Maze site. It will also host the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society’s annual show. On February 2, 2012, European funding of £18m is approved for building the contentious conflict resolution centre.

Planning permission for the peace centre on the site of the former prison is granted on April 18, 2013. However, in June the Orange Order calls on unionist politicians to halt the peace centre plan, objecting to its location on the former prison site.

On August 15, 2013, Peter Robinson calls a halt to the peace centre plan. In a letter to Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) members, he says it would be wrong to proceed without a consensus about how it will operate. As a result, in October 2013 the European Union funding programme withdraws its £18m offer in financial support for the Maze peace centre.

That the Maze Prison development remains unrealised 16 years after the site’s closure testifies to the complexities involved. That the prospect of redevelopment has never been taken off the table affirms the ineluctable power ideas of profit still hold.