seamus dubhghaill

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


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Ahern & Blair Push for Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement

ahern-and-blair-1998At an informal European Union summit near Bonn on February 26, 1999, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair agree to push for implementation of the Good Friday Agreement by the March 10 deadline.

As EU delegates discuss the Union’s budget and Europe‘s farming subsidies, the two prime ministers vow to battle on with the peace deal’s outstanding problems.

“We’re very clear on what we have to do in the Good Friday agreement … we have just got to keep pushing the thing forward as well as we possibly can,” says Blair.

Both Ahern and Blair say the way forward on the outstanding deadlocked issue of paramilitary disarmament is through the official decommissioning commission. Chaired by former Canadian General John de Chastelain, the international commission is working to take arms out of the province’s political arena.

The republican party Sinn Féin insists it is fully cooperating with the commission, which is implementing the final deadline for the handover of arms in May 2000. But some Ulster Unionists oppose further peace moves because of the Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) failure to begin disarming.

According to Ahern and Blair, the following few weeks will be a key time to try and finalise disarmament issues.

“During the month of March … we can conclude the central aspects,” says Blair.

However, in a separate development on February 26, the chairman of the IRA’s political wing, Sinn Féin’s Mitchel McLaughlin, warns that pressure on disarmament could cause irreparable damage to the fragile peace process. He adds that disarmament should not become a litmus test for progress.

“Those who are now demanding prior decommissioning before we move to setting up the executive are reneging on the Good Friday Agreement,” says McLaughlin in an interview with BBC Radio.

(From BBC News Online Network, Friday, February 26, 1999 | Pictured: Bertie Ahern with Tony Blair at the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998)

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IRA Refuses to Disband in Response to Ultimatums

gerry-adams-2002On October 27, 2002, after comments by the British prime minister Tony Blair that the continued existence of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) is an obstacle to rescuing the Northern Ireland peace process, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams says the IRA is never going to disband in response to ultimatums from the British government and from unionists.

Nationalists throughout Ireland wish to see the end of the IRA. In a response to a major speech by Adams, Mark Durkan, leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), says IRA activity is playing into the hands of anti-Agreement unionists and calls on the IRA to cease all activity.

Adams tells elected Sinn Féin representatives from both sides of the Irish border in Monaghan that he can envision a future without the IRA. He also admits that “alleged” IRA activities are boosting the cause of those opposing the Northern Ireland peace process. However, he also tells Tony Blair that the IRA will never disband in response to ultimatums.

“He needs to recognise, however, that the Agreement requires an end to paramilitarism and that nationalists throughout this island fervently want one. It is time that republicans took heed of their call.”

The former Deputy First Minister in the devolved administration at Stormont says he welcomes Adams’ recognition that IRA activity is exacerbating the difficulties within unionism. “The reality is that IRA activity is playing right into the hands of anti-Agreement unionists. And letting the nationalist community badly down,” he said.

“It is also welcome that Gerry Adams has begun to recognise Sinn Féin’s credibility crisis. Too often republican denials have proved to be false in the past – be it over Colombia or Florida. This too has served only to create distrust and destabilise the Good Friday Agreement,” he adds.

In a major speech billed by his party as a considered response to the Prime Minister’s demand for an end to Republican-linked violence, Adams declares “Our view is that the IRA cessations effectively moved the army out of the picture – and allowed the rest of us to begin an entirely new process.” His speech is understood to have been handed in advance to both the British and Irish governments.

Adams says the continued IRA ceasefire and decommissioning initiatives demonstrated the organisation’s commitment to the peace process. “I do not pretend to speak for the army (IRA) on these matters but I do believe that they are serious about their support for a genuine peace process. They have said so. I believe them,” he said. He adds, “The IRA is never going to respond to ultimatums from the British government or David Trimble.”

Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern later says he welcomes and is encouraged by many aspects of Adams’ speech. He says the Sinn Féin leader’s strong statement of determination to keep the peace process intact and the recognition of the need to bring closure to all the key issues is a positive contribution at this difficult time in the Northern Ireland peace process.

(From the Irish Examiner, October 27, 2002)


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Death of Brendan Duddy

brendan-duddyBrendan Duddy, a businessman from Derry, Northern Ireland who plays a key role in the Northern Ireland peace process, dies on May 12, 2017. A notable Catholic republican, who is a pacifist and firm believer in dialogue, he becomes known by Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) as “The Contact.” In his book Great Hatred; Little Room – Making Peace in Northern Ireland, Tony Blair‘s political advisor Jonathan Powell describes Duddy as the “key” which leads to discussions between republicans and MI6, and ultimately the Northern Ireland peace process.

Duddy runs a fish and chip shop in the late 1960s which is supplied with beef burgers from a supplier whose van driver is Martin McGuinness. He is first approached by MI6 officer Frank Steele in the early 1970s, but turns the approach down.

In light of the dissolution of Stormont in 1972, Duddy’s role as an intermediary starts in January 1972, when asked by friend and Derry’s Chief Police Office Frank Lagan to persuade the Official Irish Republican Army and the Provisional Irish Republican Army to remove their weapons from the Bogside. Both sides comply, but the Official IRA retains a few weapons for defensive purposes. After thirteen unarmed civil rights marchers are shot dead by British Parachute Regiment troops in what becomes known as Bloody Sunday, Duddy warns Lagan, “This is absolutely catastrophic. We’re going to have a war on our hands.”

In the aftermath of the events and repercussions of Bloody Sunday, MI6 agent Michael Oatley arrives in Belfast in 1973 seeking to understand the situation in Northern Ireland and hopefully create a communications channel between the IRA and the British Government. Duddy becomes the go-between for the communications and this leads to the IRA ceasefire of 1975/76.

Duddy and Oatley are the main channel of communications between the British Government and the IRA leadership during the 1981 Irish hunger strike. Duddy is codenamed “Soon” by the British. Over the period of July 4-6, 1981 they exchange many telephone calls, with Duddy urging the “utmost haste” on the part of the British because “the situation would be irreparably damaged if a hunger striker died.” He suggests steps which could be taken to give the Provisional IRA a way of ending the strike. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher personally amends the text of an offer which is conveyed to the IRA through Duddy, but the British consider the reply unsatisfactory and do not continue to negotiate through Duddy. Hunger striker Joe McDonnell dies the following day.

In November 1991, as his now friend Oatley is about to retire from MI6 service, Duddy calls Oatley to a diner in Derry. When dinner has finished, McGuinness enters the property. During the meeting, McGuinness and Oatley discuss options for moving the situation forward. A few weeks later, Duddy is pursued by a British businessman who wants to create jobs in Derry. In the first meeting, the businessman produces a letter from then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Peter Brooke, introducing the “businessman” as Oatley’s MI6 successor. Duddy calls the MI6 agent “Fred,” and acting as the go-between they successfully negotiate a ceasefire. Talks between McGuinness and representatives of the British government are held secretly in his house.

After the end of The Troubles, Duddy serves as a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board and helps broker negotiations related to the marching season. He also testifies to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, with regards his role and actions of both sides.

On March 26, 2008, the BBC broadcasts a documentary entitled The Secret Peacemaker about Duddy, directed by Peter Norrey, and presented by Peter Taylor, a journalist who has known Duddy is “the link” for ten years.

In the spring of 2009, Duddy donates his private archives to the James Hardiman Library, NUI Galway, where they are now available to researchers. They chart his involvement in the peace process from 1972 to 1993, and his ongoing interest, and correspondence relating to Northern Ireland, until 2007. The Brendan Duddy Archive is opened in 2011.

At the age of 80, Brendan Duddy dies at Altnagelvin Area Hospital in Derry, Northern Ireland on May 12, 2017.


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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.”


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Birth of Singer & Political Activist Bob Geldof

Robert Frederick Zenon “Bob” Geldof, singer, songwriter, author, occasional actor, and political activist, is born in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin, on October 5, 1951.

Geldof attends Blackrock College, though he later says he did not enjoy his time there because of its Catholic ethos and bullying for his lack of rugby prowess and for his middle name, Zenon. After leaving school he gains certain odd jobs but is not inspired by any of them. He then goes to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada to work as a music journalist.

Returning to Ireland in 1975, Bob Geldof becomes the lead singer of The Boomtown Rats, a rock group closely linked with the punk movement. He famously states the reason for joining a pop band is “to get rich, to get famous, and to get laid.”

By 1978, The Boomtown Rats achieve their first U.K. hit single with Rat Trap and later achieve a second hit with I Don’t Like Mondays.

In 1981, Geldof is invited to take part in a concert for Amnesty International and this sows a seed of future ideas.

In 1984, Geldof moves from being a rock start to international celebrity for raising awareness of humanitarian charities. During that year, Ethiopia and other African countries experience a severe famine which leads to death by starvation for thousands of people. The plight of starving children is widely seen on television and Geldof, along with Midge Ure, decide to do something about it, releasing the single Do They Know It’s Christmas?. It is a spontaneous event with many of the best known names in pop music invited. It becomes an instant best seller selling a record 3 million copies.

In the summer of 1985, Geldof is one of the main organisers behind the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium. It is a sixteen hour rock extravaganza aimed at raising money and awareness for Africa. It is a unique musical event capturing the imagination and attention of the world. Following this concert he becomes more involved in work for non-governmental organisations in Africa and becomes one of the leading spokespersons on Third World debt and relief.

In 2005, he organises a Live 8 concert, coinciding with the Make Poverty History campaign. He seeks the co-operation of leading G8 leaders such as Tony Blair to write off Third World debt. Some criticise him for becoming too close to politicians and some argue his presence in the Third World campaign issue does more harm than good.

However, Geldof remains a powerful figurehead for motivating Western attitudes to pay more attention to the problems and challenges of the poorest parts of the world. He feels a passion for improving conditions in Africa.

Geldof is knighted in 1986 and is often affectionately known as “Sir Bob.”


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IRA Announces End of 36-Year Armed Campaign

ira-ends-armed-campaignThe Irish Republican Army (IRA) issues a statement on July 28, 2005, announcing the end of its 36-year armed campaign and its resumption of disarmament. The campaign of armed conflict has a cost 3,500 lives, 1,800 of them at the hands of the Provisionals.

The IRA says its members have been ordered to pursue peaceful means and not to “engage in any other activities whatsoever” – a reference to the low-level paramilitary activities which have angered not just unionists, but the London and Dublin governments. The IRA gives no indication that it will disband.

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams calls it an “emotional day” and, flanked by senior members of Sinn Féin, speaks directly to IRA volunteers by saying, “National liberation struggles have different phases – a time for struggle, a time for war, and also a time to engage, to put the war behind us all – this is that time.” He declares the IRA statement means the group is now committed to “purely peaceful and democratic methods” and calls it “a direct challenge to the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to decide if they want to put the past behind them and make peace with the rest of the people of the island.”

The DUP reserves judgment, although an initial “holding statement” on their website from the party leader, Rev. Ian Paisley, criticises the failure to declare clearly they will end all criminal activity.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern says the British and Irish governments have worked for 11 years for this outcome. He says, “The war is over, the IRA’s armed campaign is over, paramilitarism is over and I believe that we can look to the future of peace and prosperity based on mutual trust and reconciliation and a final end to violence.”

Praising the “clarity” of the IRA statement, British Prime Minister Tony Blair says, “This may be the day when finally, after all the false dawns and dashed hope, peace replaces war, politics replaces terror on the island of Ireland.”

The IRA statement follows the release the previous night of IRA bomber Sean Kelly by the British government “on the expectation” of a move by the terrorist group.


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Signing of the Good Friday Agreement

After nearly two years of talks, the Good Friday Agreement, a major political development in the Northern Ireland peace process of the 1990s, is signed by Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Good Friday, April 10, 1998 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

The Good Friday Agreement brings to an end the 30 years of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland known as “The Troubles.”  Northern Ireland’s present devolved system of government is based on the Agreement.

The Agreement is made up of two inter-related documents: (1) a multi-party agreement by most of Northern Ireland’s political parties and (2) an international agreement between the British and Irish governments called the British-Irish Agreement.

The Agreement sets out a complex series of provisions relating to a number of areas including the status and system of government of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom (Strand 1), the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (Strand 2), and the relationship between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom (Strand 3).

Issues relating to civil and cultural rights, decommissioning of weapons, justice and policing are central to the Agreement.

The Agreement is approved by voters across the island of Ireland in two referendums held on May 22, 1998. The people of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland need to approve the Agreement in order for it to come into effect. In Northern Ireland, voters are asked whether they support the multi-party agreement. In the Republic of Ireland, voters are asked whether they will allow the state to sign the agreement and allow necessary constitutional changes to facilitate it.

The British-Irish Agreement comes into force on December 2, 1999. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is the only major political group in Northern Ireland to oppose the Good Friday Agreement.