seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Máiread Maguire, Northern Irish Peace Activist

mairead-maguireMáiread Maguire, née Máiread Corrigan, also called Máiread Corrigan Maguire, peace activist from Northern Ireland, is born in Belfast on January 27, 1944. Along with Betty Williams and Ciaran McKeown, she founds the Peace People, a grassroots movement of both Roman Catholic and Protestant citizens dedicated to ending the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. For their work, Maguire and Williams share the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize.

Although Maguire from a young age earns her living as a secretary, she also is from her youth a member of the Legion of Mary, a lay Catholic welfare organization, and through it she becomes deeply involved in voluntary social work among children and teenagers in various Catholic neighbourhoods of Belfast. She is stirred to act against the growing violence in Northern Ireland after witnessing in August 1976 an incident in which a car being driven by an Irish Republican Army (IRA) terrorist goes out of control when the IRA man is shot by British troops. The car strikes and kills three children of Maguire’s sister.

Within days each woman publicly denounces the violence and calls for mass opposition to it. Marches of Catholic and Protestant women, numbering in the thousands, are organized, and shortly afterward the Peace People is founded based on the conviction that genuine reconciliation and prevention of future violence are possible, primarily through the integration of schools, residential areas, and athletic clubs. The organization publishes a biweekly paper, Peace by Peace, and provides a bus service to and from Belfast’s jails for families of prisoners.

Although Williams breaks away from the Peace People in 1980, Maguire remains an active member and later serves as the group’s honorary president. In 2006 she joins Williams and fellow Nobel Peace Prize winners Shirin Ebadi, Jody Williams, Wangari Maathai, and Rigoberta Menchú to found the Nobel Women’s Initiative. She is also active in various Palestinian causes, notably efforts to end the Israeli government’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, and she is deported from Israel on several occasions.

In October 2012, Maguire travels to New York City to serve on the Russell Tribunal on Israel/Palestine alongside writer Alice Walker, activist Angela Davis, former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters. The Russell Tribunal’s findings and conclusions challenge governments and civil society to have courage and act by implementing sanctions, thereby refusing to be silent and complicit in the face of Israel ’s violation of International Laws.

In March 2018, Maguire and two Nobel peace laureates, Shirin Ebadi and Tawakkol Karman, visit rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar and share opinion on the crisis. After returning to Dhaka they discuss the Rohingya crisis with members of the civil society of Bangladesh.

Maguire is a proponent of the belief that violence is a disease that humans develop but are not born with. She believes humankind is moving away from a mindset of violence and war and evolving to a higher consciousness of nonviolence and love. Among the figures she considers spiritual prophets in this regard are Jesus, Francis of Assisi, Mahatma Gandhi, Abdul Ghaffār Khān, Fr. John L. McKenzie, and Martin Luther King, Jr. She professes to reject violence in all its forms.

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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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State Visit of U.S. President John F. Kennedy

jfk-state-visitJohn F. Kennedy, an Irish American and the first Catholic to become president of the United States, arrives in Ireland on a state visit on June 26, 1963. After Air Force One touches down at Dublin airport, Kennedy’s motorcade weaves through the streets of Dublin city, the thrilled crowd, lacking ticker tape, improvises by throwing rolls of bus tickets.

Kennedy is proud of his Irish roots and makes a special visit to his ancestral home in Dunganstown, County Wexford, while in the country. There, he is greeted by a crowd waving both American and Irish flags and is serenaded by a boys choir that sings The Boys of Wexford. Kennedy breaks away from his bodyguards and joins the choir for the second chorus, prompting misty-eyed reactions from both observers and the press.

Kennedy meets with 15 members of his extended Irish family at the Kennedy homestead in Dunganstown. There he enjoys a cup of tea and some cake and makes a toast to “all those Kennedys who went and all those Kennedys who stayed.” His great-grandfather, Thomas Fitzgerald, had left Ireland for the United States in the middle of the Great Famine of 1848 and settled in Boston, becoming a cooper. Generations of his descendants go on to make their mark on American politics.

At the time of JFK’s visit to Ireland, the predominantly Catholic Irish Republic has been an independent nation for 41 years. The northern counties of the island, however, remain part of the largely Protestant British Empire and still suffer from long-standing sectarian violence. On the day after his arrival in Dublin, Kennedy speaks before the Irish parliament, where he openly condemns Britain’s history of persecuting Irish Catholics. Two days later, he travels to England, America’s oldest ally, to meet with British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan and his cabinet to discuss setting up a pro-democratic regime in British Guiana.

Kennedy later tells his aides that his favourite part of the trip was the wreath laying and silent funeral drill done by the Irish Army cadets at Arbour Hill military cemetery in Dublin.

Five months later, his widow, Jacqueline Kennedy, makes a special request to the Irish government. She asks that those same Irish army cadets, who so impressed the President on his visit, perform the drill again at his state funeral. Within days, those awe-stuck, trembling young men stand just inches away from foreign dignitaries from over 90 countries and perform their silent funeral drill in memory of a president that had inspired their country just a few short months earlier.