IRELAND'S PRIME MINISTER
March 17, 1998
In celebration of St. Patrick's Day, President Clinton met with representatives of all four parties involved with trying to bring peace to Northern Ireland. The British government has set a mid-April deadline for the resolution of peace talks, and crucial negotiations begin next week. Following a background report, Charles Krause talks with Ireland's Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, about the prospects for peace.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Some 3200 Protestants and Catholics have been killed in Northern Ireland since 1969, and even now, the violence continues, despite peace talks and a cease-fire.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
August 4, 1997
Newsmaker interview with George Mitchell on the Northern Ireland peace process.
July 21, 1997
The Irish Republican Army announces a ceasefire.
The Greening of the White House: a look at U.S. - Northern Ireland relations.
February 12, 1996
An IRA bomb shatters the 18 month ceasefire.
Is peace possible in Northern Ireland?
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the Europe.
The Irish Times.
On one side of what's called "the troubles" is the Irish Republican Army. A clandestine guerrilla organization, the IRA fights in the name of Northern Ireland's Catholic minority. Its aim is to end centuries of British rule so that the six counties of Northern Ireland can join the rest of the Irish republic to the South.
On the other side of the fight is Northern Ireland's Protestant majority, which has clandestine guerrilla forces of its own. Fearful of losing their privileges and identity, Protestants in the North are opposed to a united Ireland, and they've been willing to fight to remain a part of Britain.
British P.M. Tony Blair brought new hope to the peace process.
But after a decade of failed attempts to negotiate a settlement, the prospects for peace suddenly brightened last May after Tony Blair was elected Britain's new prime minister.
TONY BLAIR: (June 1997) I am determined to move on. It is essential to make political progress rapidly. The preparation for substantive talks must quicken.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Just a month after Blair's remarks last July, Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing, and the IRA, itself, agreed to a cease-fire. Then last September, Sinn Fein Leader Gerry Adams for the first time joined peace talks attended by the Protestant Unionist Party leader David Trimble. That meeting was followed by another historic meeting a month later when Blair met Adams behind closed doors during a trip to Belfast.
Sinn Fein rejoins the peace talks.
Clearly, the atmosphere surrounding the talks had changed. But extremists on both sides have sought to undermine the progress by continuing the violence. And last month, Sinn Fein was temporarily expelled from the peace talks after police in Belfast linked the murders of two men to the IRA.
But after meeting with Blair last week in London, Adams was invited to rejoin the talks for what both the British and Irish governments hope will be a final push towards a definitive peace agreement. Chairing talks is the former Senate Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate, Democrat George Mitchell. Indeed, Mitchell and the Clinton administration have become so important to the peace process that leaders of the various parties in Northern Ireland, as well as representatives of the British and Irish governments, now spend St. Patrick's Day in Washington. Ireland's Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, was at the White House this morning. With the British government now setting a mid-April deadline for the peace talks to conclude, today President Clinton urged all sides to overcome their differences during the crucial next round of talks, scheduled to begin next week.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: During these St. Patrick's Day events, I will speak with the party leaders who have come here to Washington. I will tell all of them on all sides the same thing. I will say it as clearly and emphatically as I possibly can: This is the chance of a lifetime for peace in Ireland. You must get it done. To get an agreement, there must be compromise. No party can achieve all its objectives. The party leaders must lead, and leading means looking forward and it means being strong enough to make principled compromise.
Irish Prime Minister Ahern.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Tonight there will be a White House reception for all the political leaders from Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Britain who are currently in Washington. We interviewed Irish Prime Minister Ahern yesterday morning.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you very much for joining us. What is the U.S. role in the peace process?
BERTIE AHERN, Prime Minister, Ireland: Well, since 1994, when the first cease-fires in both the Republican movement and the Loyalist movement were announced, the United States had been almost central to everything that's been going on in Northern Ireland, trying to as Taoiseach, I think, broker a successful deal between all of the parties. Now, the United States has extremely close relationships with both the British government and Tony Blair as prime minister, with the Irish government, myself, as stated, and I think with all of the parties and the president, the administration, I think the fairest and most even-handed way, have given access, dialogue, have given their assessments, and to all of the parties, trying to bring people together on what--to end, I suppose, in the first case 30 years of violence, 75 years of conflict, and 800 years of disagreement--and that is all, I think, being done in an extremely useful way by the President and the administration.
U.S. troops into Northern Ireland?
CHARLES KRAUSE: If there is an agreement, would you anticipate that the United States would serve as a kind of guarantor of it?
BERTIE AHERN: I think so. I think it would be important that this deal is concluded. Of course, if we go with referendums to the Irish people, both North and South, hopefully in May, then I think what we need to make sure is that we live by whatever is agreed, and I think in that case the United States would have a very important role to play. It doesn't have to be formal. I think we've all had great encouragement over the last four or five years from the President and the administration in a fair way. And I think whatever we would sign and conclude would be something we'd have to live by, and I think people would be very anxious to do that.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Is there any likelihood that the United States would be asked to send military troops or police into Northern Ireland perhaps to replace the British?
BERTIE AHERN: I don't think so. I think what would probably be required is that we're going to have a radical reform of the existing police in Northern Ireland, and they, themselves, have had a review of their role. The British government has done a lot of work on the kind of review that would be useful. The hard reality of it is that the present police, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, are not an acceptable force as presently constituted in nationalist areas--they never have been. And while their leadership try and, you know, and I acknowledge that they try, and the fact is that in an overall settlement there would have to be fundamental reform. I think this is clearly acknowledged now by the British government.
Two major obstacles to a potential agreement.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Can you be any more specific about what issues have to be resolved?
BERTIE AHERN: Yes. Within--since Stormont, which was the parliament in Ulster that regulated the six counties, that collapsed in 1972, was abolished by Prime Minister Edward Heath, Ulster has been ruled--or the six counties of Ulster have been ruled directly from Westminster. As part of the settlement there would be a new assembly in Northern Ireland, elected by proportionate representation, where people would share power, Loyalists and Unionists, Nationalists and Republicans would be elected to that and share power, and that is, of course, a key issue. Now, the second issue is the relationship between Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. There has not been any formal one for 75 years, since the 1921 Act. And what would happen in the new arrangement, the people elected in Northern Ireland and people elected in Southern Ireland would be on North-South Committees working for the good of the whole of Ireland in fairly strong bodies. Now that would give Northern Nationalists a real involvement in the say and running of the island. They would not be isolated, as they've been for 75 years. And these are two key issues.
CHARLES KRAUSE: And these are the two strands, as it's called, of the negotiations.
BERTIE AHERN: Precisely.
CHARLES KRAUSE: But you suggested that Mr. Trimble's party, the Unionist Protestant Party, has to still make some concessions if this is going to happen.
BERTIE AHERN: Yes. And he would be very much in favor of the first strand, the--
The North and the South must negotiate a new relationship.
CHARLES KRAUSE: The new parliament.
BERTIE AHERN: The new parliament. And he would be hesitant about the relationship with the South. I think they have moved to a position to where they would be happy to have a relationship with the South but not very powerful bodies. That won't work, quite frankly. What is necessary is that these North-South bodies are powerful, that they have decision-making functions, and I think that is a crucial point for the simple reason nationalists who look to the South, who look to the Irish flag, who look to the Irish constitution, and who look for protection and from Southern Ireland, would not agree to any settlement. That would only be an internal parliament governing the North and we equally have to have it, some kind of a real say with the South of Ireland, and that is the only way. Of course, the first part, there's not good without the second part, so that really they're mutually connected.
CHARLES KRAUSE: But do you think that the IRA and Sinn Fein have come to the conclusion that they will not get a united Ireland anytime in the near future, have they reached that decision?
The role of Sinn Fein.
BERTIE AHERN: I think Sinn Fein certainly have moved to a position where they accept that the principle of consent--meaning that you cannot change the position of Northern Ireland and without the majority of the people in Northern Ireland making that decision making that decision, which would mean that it would be democratically, peacefully in the future. I think Sinn Fein have moved to that position, providing that they see that there is some cooperation and some structure within the island of Ireland. Of course, my party and most people in the South of Ireland and most people in the North of Ireland, nationalist Republicans, I would still hold in our heart the aspiration that on another day that the people would accept the principle of consent and vote for a united Ireland. That remains a peaceful legitimate aspiration of a people. But the concept that we can force that through the bomb and the bullet is one that we've now moved away from.
CHARLES KRAUSE: It has been suggested that your government and the British government, if there is no agreement by the Easter deadline, that the two governments may impose some sort of solution and then take that to a referendum. Is that likely?
BERTIE AHERN: It's a possibility. Frankly, it is not a very viable proposition. It is--the six counties of Northern Ireland have been long divided through bitterness and mayhem and plundering and choosing, and to try to impose a settlement would be extremely difficult. I think the two governments would have to use their best offices to encourage and to prompt and to try and drive a settlement, and to impose it totally I think would have a lot of downside consequences which I would not like to be part of.
Peace in the next few months?
CHARLES KRAUSE: What are the odds that there will be peace in Ireland within the next couple of months?
BERTIE AHERN: I think there's a very good opportunity. I think to put it into context all would agree, all nationalists, I think, and all of the nationalists in both North and South, I hope most of the Unionist Parties, that this is the best opportunity since 1920, and I think we're all agreed in that. To say it's going to be definite, that would be something I couldn't say. It certainly is the best opportunity that we've got in a few generations.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Prime Minister Ahern, thank you very much for joining us and Happy St. Patrick's day.
BERTIE AHERN: And the same to you. And it's very nice to be with you. I hope all of your listeners have a good St. Patrick's Day.
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