|PEACE IN IRELAND|
December 1, 1995
President Clinton is completing a trip to Ireland, where citizens of the divided island greeted him enthusiastically. After his triumph in Bosna, the Irish hope President Clinton can make peace in their country. Margaret Warner talks with Ray O'Hanlon from the "Irish Voice" and John McCarthy from Fordham University.
MARGARET WARNER: Emotional crowds of thousands mobbed the American President during his two- day visit to the island, in Northern Ireland yesterday, in the Irish Republic today.
Yesterday's visit to Northern Ireland, the first ever by an American President, took Mr. Clinton to streets that were patrolled by British troops until just 15 months ago. These streets were the scene of much of the violence during a 25-year civil war that claimed 3,000 lives. The President and First Lady visited Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods in Belfast and in Londonderry, and Protestants and Catholics alike cheered them.
SPOKESMAN: --as we invite to the platform the President and First Lady of the United States of America, Bill and Hillary Clinton! (cheering)
MARGARET WARNER: In Belfast, the President met in a bakery with Gerry Adams, the head of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army. Mr. Clinton's decision to allow Adams into the United States last year created a political furor in Britain, but the Irish said it helped create a climate to pursue peace in Northern Ireland.
The administration is still heavily involved in pushing the peace process, which has been stalled in recent months. The public's hopes for peace were vividly clear yesterday. A Protestant schoolboy described what the cease-fire has meant to the people of Northern Ireland.
YOUNG BOY: I think the peace is good because there is no shooting or bombing. It means that I can play in the park without worrying about getting shot.
MARGARET WARNER: The boy then joined hands with a Catholic schoolgirl whose father was killed in the violence to wish the President a good voyage. The President ended his Northern Ireland tour by lighting a Christmas tree in Belfast.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: As I look down these beautiful streets, I think how wonderful it will be for people to do their holiday shopping without worry of searches or bombs, to visit loved ones on the other side of the border without the burden of checkpoints or roadblocks, to enjoy these magnificent Christmas lights without any fear of violence. Peace has brought real change to your lives.
MARGARET WARNER: Today, the President was in the Republic of Ireland for a sentimental celebration of his Irish roots. There too he was visiting a place in the throes of change. Just 10 days ago, the heavily Catholic Irish electorate narrowly endorsed a referendum to legalize divorce.
SPOKESMAN: Ladies and gentlemen, the President and First Lady of the United States.
MARGARET WARNER: Today in Dublin, a huge crowd, estimated at 100,000 people, roared its approval for Mr. Clinton's peace efforts in Northern Ireland. The President responded by calling on them to help their prime minister support the cause of peace.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Stand with him as he takes risks for peace. Realize how difficult it is for them, having been in their patterns of opposition for so long to the North of you, and realize that those of you who have more emotional and physical space must reach out and help them to take those next hard steps.
It is worth doing. And to you, this vast, wonderful throng of people here, and all the people of Ireland, I say, America will be with you as you walk the road of peace.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, for more about Ireland and the peace process, we get two views. Ray O'Hanlon is senior editor for the "Irish Echo," A New York-based weekly newspaper, and John McCarthy is a professor of history at Fordham University and a specialist in Irish-American relations. Welcome, gentlemen. Ray O'Hanlon, Ray O'Hanlon, can you hear me? We seem to have a little technical trouble here. Can you hear me now?
RAY O'HANLON, Irish Echo: I can hear you, yes.
MARGARET WARNER: Terrific. Ray O'Hanlon, usually when an American President goes to a European capital, it's a rather routine affair. How do you explain this enthusiastic emotional outpouring that the President seems to have received?
MR. O'HANLON: Well, I think obviously the links between the United States and Ireland go back many years. What we're seeing for the first time and in your program earlier the prime minister of Bosnia almost hit the nail on the head, that he feels that Europe alone can't settle the problems in Bosnia.
And I think the Irish people realize after years of attempts between the Irish and the British to settle the problems in Ireland, that there is a need for another force, a third force in the United States, so I think there's a great expectation now that the goodwill and the intervention and the support of the United States will actually move this peace process to a point where it does become permanent and safe.
MARGARET WARNER: John McCarthy, bring us up to date on where the peace process stands for an American audience that's not deeply involved. I mean, the last time I think most people here paid attention, both Gerry Adams and John Hume, the British Labor politician who helped put this cease-fire together with the White House, a very celebratory St. Patrick's Day, but then nothing seemed to happen. What is the status of the peace process?
JOHN McCARTHY, Fordham University: (New York) Well, what happened is that peace has continued. I think it's very important to realize that peace has been in existence in Northern Ireland now for over a year.
The peace process, which would mean the beginning of deliberations, the ending of possessions of arms by private armies, all this will take a little bit more time. I think the President by coming as a peacemaker and not as a person with an agenda but as a person who's helped those trying to make peace has done a great service to the people of Ireland, which is one of the reasons he was so well received.
And I think what they've done is they have set in motion a temperament which will make the--anyone favoring the resort to violence or even the option of violence as a means of advancing a political agenda completely unacceptable. And hopefully, people who have any influence on people who are in possession of arms will use that influence to get them to come around and collaborate with the international authority that's being set up to forever remove the weaponry as a part of politics in Ireland and in Northern Ireland.
MARGARET WARNER: Ray O'Hanlon, is that how you see where the peace process is now, the fact is we've had a 15-month cease-fire and so peace is here already?
MR. O'HANLON: Well, I think from what I hear certainly that in Northern Ireland, the feeling among so many people is that this is something so absolutely precious and unique that it was, one person said to me, if somebody shot just one bullet, there'd be thousands of people protesting on the streets the very next day, that they have tasted peace in a way that an entire generation has missed, and I think President Clinton set out as a symbol yesterday the--there was attempt by some politicians in Ireland and Britain to say that the United States really has no role here, that President Clinton is some sort of outside meddler. But I think the people gave their answers out on the streets of the Belfast area and Dublin.
MARGARET WARNER: So you're saying the people are ahead of some of the politicians?
MR. O'HANLON: Absolutely. I mean, I think I was surprised even. I mean, there was a lot of expectation about the visit obviously, but particularly going to Northern Ireland where the divisions have been so evident to see such an enormous crowd which clearly was Catholic and Protestant alike, whatever about the set peace, appearances of a Protestant boy and a Catholic girl, but the pouring out of the emotion and the feeling on the street was quite spontaneous, and I think President Clinton himself was, was very surprised at this, and certainly politicians were, and I think that at least augers well for the future. I think politicians have to take the message from what they've seen on their TV sets in the last couple of days.
MARGARET WARNER: John McCarthy, why is Prime Minister Major insisting that the IRA, that the military arm of Sinn Fein surrenders some of its weapons before the British will sit down with Sinn Fein?
MR. McCARTHY: It's not a matter of the British sitting down with Sinn Fein. It's a matter of the peace process going into operation which would mean all of the people of Northern Ireland sitting down to try to arrive at some solution, a solution far short of their rival ultimate objectives. It's pretty hard to expect people to enter such a framework or such a deliberation if they know some of the parties have weaponry at their back, regardless of the professtations of peace.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me interrupt you, though, and just ask, for instance, in South Africa, DeKlerk did not insist that the African National Congress surrender its weapons. In the Middle East, the Israelis didn't insist that the PLO lay down its weapons. This does seem a bit unusual.
MR. McCARTHY: Well, the situation in Northern Ireland is completely different from that in South Africa, where you had a small minority of people ruling ten or fifteen times as many people. Similarly, in, in the Middle East, what did happen is that Yasser Arafat and the PLO admitted the reality of the state of Israel.
One of the things that would make the unionists, I believe, more receptive to Gerry Adams and to talking with him is for the IRA to--and Sinn Fein to admit the reality of Northern Ireland as an entity in which the majority of people still prefer their union with Britain.
Until, until all of the parties realize they're not going to get their ultimate objectives, the unionists are not going to get the old regime of unionist majority rule. On the other hand, the Sinn Fein and very hard-line nationalists are not going to get a unification of Ireland without the approval of a majority of the people living in Ireland.
It's when political figures are willing to operate within these narrower parameters which actually were set at least 10 years ago with the Anglo-Irish agreement between Margaret Thatcher and Garrett Fitzgerald, that if these parameters were continued to be accepted and if political figures operated within those, I think you'll move very fast toward some kind of a, a harmonious settlement in Northern Ireland.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let me get Ray O'Hanlon in here. Ray O'Hanlon, do you see any prospect that the IRA and Sinn Fein would make a further gesture, surrender some of their weapons, make the kind of acknowledgement that, that John McCarthy just referred to, to get this thing going?
MR. O'HANLON: Well, there are possibilities. In the Downing Street communique the other day, we had the setting up of an international commission to be headed by former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, and this group's task is essentially to get around the problem of the IRA arms and how much they cough up in advance of all party talks if and when.
I think Sinn Fein and the IRA will probably sit back now and watch to see how this commission does its work. It will produce findings by mid-January which are not necessarily binding on the Irish or British governments.
But Sen. Mitchell's skill as a negotiator learned in Congress could well pull a rabbit out of the hat, and I think that what will happen now is that the peace process and the sticking problem over harms has been fought a certain amount of time by the setting of a commission headed by Sen. Mitchell. I think that's where all eyes, Sinn Fein and the IRA's included, will go from now. I don't anticipate any immediate gestures, though, from the IRA.
MARGARET WARNER: But you're saying maybe this commission could come up with a recommendation that would give everyone political cover to get this issue behind them?
MR. O'HANLON: There's a lot of talk about fudging, and they may just well be able to come up with fudges for everybody, for the British government and for the IRA. And you've got to remember that the United States is going to be very much in the background when you have the likes of Sen. Mitchell there, and I think the United States will be pressing for some sort of compromise on this issue which really hasn't been defined.
Nobody said how much arms should be surrendered. It's been widely argued that even if the IRA surrendered every weapon it had, it could probably re-arm in a month. I mean, what is required is a disarming of mines more than an actual surrendering of rifles and explosives.
MARGARET WARNER: But before we end this, I want to ask you both, and John McCarthy, let me start with you, about Ireland, itself, the country of Ireland, the Republic of Ireland. There was a lot of attention given here to the referendum vote 10 days ago legalizing divorce by a very narrow margin. Nine years ago it lost two to one. Is there tremendous cultural change going on in Ireland, itself?
MR. McCARTHY: It's true, however, I think it may have been overdrawn. I suspect that had the referendum been held a couple of--a couple of weeks later, it might well have lost, you know, in contrast to the overwhelming opinion polls that suggested constantly a few months ago that divorce was an easy thing, but then as you moved closer to the day of elections, people in Ireland began to have reservations.
I still think there are a good number of people in Ireland, and I think had it lasted a couple of more weeks, who may well have rejected divorce. These people sincerely feel that letting in divorce is the beginning of the slippery slope down towards what you might call a California style of marriage, where marriage is looked upon as much like a commodity that you can return if you're unhappy.
What was very significant is that this negative vote was so strong in spite of the unanimity of all the political parties, of all of the media, of all of the intellectual and cultural elite in Ireland in favor of divorce, it's an amazing phenomena. Now, it is true that a cultural liberalism and secularism has set in in Ireland which some suggest is as-- almost as dogmatic as the older Puritan dogmatism of Ireland, sort of the other side of the same coin, that any champion of the sort of social conservatism has looked upon in certain circles in Ireland, particularly, you know, in the media and in academia, as almost eccentric. Well, there are still a significant number of the Irish people who, who would fit in that category.
MARGARET WARNER: Thanks. I'm sorry, gentlemen, but we're going to have to leave it there. But thank you both very much for being with us.