"BETTER LATE THAN NEVER"
April 9, 1998
Even though the deadline has expired, the Irish peace talks in Belfast continue. The parties must devise a plan that will satisfy the Catholics who want Northern Ireland to join the republic, and Protestants who want it to remain under British rule. After this background report, Elizabeth Farnsworth talks to two reporters about the latest developments and the prospects for peace.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Two views now. Martin Kettle is United States bureau chief of the British newspaper The Guardian. Before entering journalism he was a research officer specializing in Northern Ireland for Britain's National Council for Civil Liberties. And Ray O'Hanlon is senior editor of The Irish Echo, a nationally distributed Irish-American newspaper based in New York. He also writes a weekly column for the Irish News in Belfast. Ray O'Hanlon, what are you hearing tonight about the prospects for an agreement?
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
April 9, 1998
A review of the Irish peace process.
March 17, 1998
P.M. Bertie Ahern discusses efforts to bring peace to Northern Ireland.
August 4, 1997
Northern Ireland peace talks are scheduled to resume in September.
July 21, 1997
Ireland: More Steps Toward Peace.
February 12, 1996
An IRA bomb shatters the 18 month ceasefire.
The Greening of the White House: a look at U.S. - Northern Ireland relations.
Northern Ireland Peace Talks.
Is peace possible in Northern Ireland?
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the Europe.
An agreement: yes or no?
RAY O'HANLON, The Irish Echo: Elizabeth, the story changes by the minute. All day long we've been hearing that, no, there will be no agreement, followed by yes, there will be some sort of agreement but perhaps a watered-down version. And the one thing that has been consistent all day in talking to journalists and diplomats is simply how absolutely exhausted everybody is. But the latest seems to be that the midnight deadline may well be extended into the early hours of tomorrow, which would at this point probably give us some hope that something will be salvaged.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now, Martin Kettle, are you hearing anything any different?
MARTIN KETTLE, The Guardian: Pretty similar. I think that London has always tried to encourage people to think that there will be a deal, so there's always been a kind of atmosphere of confidence that something will come out of it. I think European politicians are used to having late night sessions like this in the European Union and so I think the fact that they stopped the clock and try and get a deal and then allow it to be midnight and said they've met the deadline is not unexpected.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Martin Kettle, what are the main sticking points as far as you've heard?
What will be the relationship between the Northern Ireland and Great Britain?
MARTIN KETTLE: Well, I think the two basic questions are the North/South relationship, what exactly is going to be the body that is set up to have a relationship between Northern Ireland and the republic and crucially what powers will it have and to whom will it be answerable and then secondly--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And let me just interrupt--and that's a crucial sticking point especially for the unionists, right?
MARTIN KETTLE: Well, the unionists in this are trying to give away as little as they possibly can. They are historically fearful that the Republic of Ireland will kind of get its hands on the government of the North. That's what they are trying to stop, or at least to minimize. And so they've been playing pretty hard ball about that right from the start. But I think that is a preparation for a kind of agreement that they're prepared to make because, in reality, they wouldn't be in the talks, I think, if they weren't going to sign up to something along these lines at the end of tonight.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Ray O'Hanlon, what are you hearing are the central problems?
RAY O'HANLON: Well, much the same thing. The funny thing about the cross border institutions is that when you look at the areas that they might deal with, they seem relatively apolitical innocuous, things like tourism and fisheries and transportation. But there is an enormous symbolism in the idea of any trans border executive authority, particularly for unionists, at the same time for the republic and for the likes of Sinn Fein any move in any direction towards this would be welcome because Sinn Fein, in particular, feels that it will have to give up some fundamental principles too. So while the actual institutions on paper look quite innocuous and innocent, in the context of Northern Ireland, they are very serious changes, indeed. Northern Ireland is a place where compromise really doesn't settle well on the ground, as we've seen in the last few days.
The role of Unionist leader David Trimble.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Martin Kettle, what does David Trimble, who leads the main Unionist Party, need to be able to agree to something?
MARTIN KETTLE: Well, I think David Trimble has to be confident that he can sell a deal to the Protestant people of Northern Ireland. He is not the unique leader of the people. He leads half of that body.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And is that why he's so important?
MARTIN KETTLE: Well, yes, because the other half--the main political representative--the other half isn't in these talks at all and has said that they are part of a sellout. And so he's got to make--he's got to make a deal which he can persuade the rejectionists is acceptable is not a kind of betrayal of their birthright, and, you know, this is part of the whole problem of this Northern Ireland situation right from the start, is that everything is conducted in terms of apocalypse. And you have people saying, you know, this is our birthright, and, you know, you're selling us to Dublin or selling us out to Rome, and huge violent, powerful rhetoric comes in. And so Trimble has got to try and say, okay, okay, this is what it actually says, there are advantages to you in this, don't be scared, and he's got to take a leap to some extent into the dark. The big question throughout this whole process has been: Is David Trimble really prepared to do that? I think the signs are just about he is, but he hasn't done it with a kind of conviction or with a kind of rhetoric that I think many people had hoped. That's why there's a lot of criticism of him, not just from the people you'd expect, the Irish Nationalists, Sinn Fein and so on, but also from the British government and from public opinion in Britain, which says, come on, this obviously is an opportunity to bring to an end a period of awful problems in Northern Ireland. And I think people are really in Britain as a whole, are wanting Trimble to sign a document tonight.
Gerry Adams defines his place in Irish history.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Ray O'Hanlon, how important is Gerry Adams to this whole process? Does he have to agree?
RAY O'HANLON: Well, in some respects he seems slightly less important than Mr. Trimble, however, Gerry Adams, himself, as an individual has placed an enormous personal risk, I think, has undertaken enormous personal and political risks. Sinn Feinn at the moment are in a situation where they have to come out with something--behind Sinn Feinn you've got to remember is the IRA--and even within that structure of the IRA there have been signs of splits and sort of breaking apart, certain individuals leaving and other groups forming, so in what many sense is the peace process or the peace part of the process is in Gerry Adams' hands. If he can hold it altogether, Sinn Fein and the IRA come, whatever sort of agreement comes out of Stormont Castle, I think Gerry Adams will emerge as one of the most significant leaders in Ireland in many years.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Ray, how are the prime ministers functioning in these negotiations? Are they almost standing in for Adams and the Unionist leader Trimble because they still won't meet face to face?
RAY O'HANLON: Well, the role of the governments has been crucial here. Since the Anglo-Irish agreement of 1985, what has been different in Northern Ireland is--no matter even if there are disagreements between Dublin and London--there has been this growing cooperation between the two governments, and the inclusion and the broad agreement between Dublin and London--between Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair--is a backdrop to this situation that does give hope that the governments have an idea. George Mitchell has an idea. And between them--and I throw in the Clinton administration there as well--that we have considerable force arrayed behind the idea of agreement. Now these combined forces, these various governments and Sen. Mitchell, himself, the hope is that together they can twist arms enough to wrest some sort of agreement from the various parties in the actual talks. So that is what is particularly significant about this situation, is the--particularly the close cooperation between the Irish and the British governments.
George Mitchell and the U.S. played an important role.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Martin, how important has George Mitchell, Sen. George Mitchell, been to this?
MARTIN KETTLE: I think he has been important. I think it was important that the unionists were prepared to accept an American because in the past they've been very fearful that Washington's involvement or even one removed in the former Senator Mitchell was a kind of alliance against them. But Sen. Mitchell, I think, has proved by his example and by what he has said that he doesn't represent just one side in the argument. That's been very, very important. I think that that's all part of a recognition that what's going on here is looking for the right compromise. And what we're going to get here isn't going to be, you know, the final solution of the whole Irish question, but it's going to be a compromise that people can live with hopefully for at least a generation.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And do you think that the Clinton administration has been important overall?
MARTIN KETTLE: Yes, it has. And I think it's been helpful in a lot of ways. I think it's given hope to people when the president went to Northern Ireland. I think it's played a practical role because it's said that it won't accept--it isn't just in the business of levering--leveraging a United Ireland onto an unwilling Northern Ireland. And it's played a responsible role in the talks. It's tried to keep the talks' process at the center of things and not to ally with one side or the other.
The consequences of no agreement.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Ray, what would be the consequences of no agreement?
RAY O'HANLON: I think obviously--I think it'd be very depressing for the majority of people on the entire island of Ireland who want to see some progress here. The immediate consequences obviously I would first focus on Sinn Fein and again on Gerry Adams' position. There's a lot of people in Republican ranks who are quite quick and ready and willing to say I told you so, that it was a mistake to go into this process, you're always going to come out with nothing. So obviously if nothing came out of this, absolutely nothing, there would be some doubt over the future of the IRA cease-fire immediately. I think there would be fears for that; however, at the same time I think that the pressures that we have now, the forces that are at work seem to be moving towards actually pulling some sort of rabbit out of the hat, coming at it with some sort of agreement that would lead The one problem I think with the Mitchell document that came out at the beginning of the week is that there was an enormous compression. There was this quite large document proposing quite fundamental changes in Ireland, in all of Ireland, and such a short deadline it came at the end of a process where in many respects it's the beginning of a process. And there may be some aspects of it that the various parties will agree to, certainly some aspects that they will strongly disagree over. But it may not be the end of the story, rather the beginning of another story. But that really remains in the realm of conjecture at this point. But we could find out in a very short time.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you have anything to add on what the consequences would be of no agreement?
MARTIN KETTLE: I think if there's no agreement tonight, they'll have to sit down and try and find an agreement tomorrow. I think the reason they're sitting there talking is because there is a convergence of opinion, that this is an opportunity. And I think that opportunity, if it's let slip, you know, will have to be recreated because there's a whole generation in the Republican movement that wants to get off the track that they've been on for 30 years and there's a British and Irish government, which is desperate to help them.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you agree with Ray, that this is not the--not necessarily the end of something but the beginning of a whole process, or is this really the end of the worst part of the troubles if there is an agreement?
RAY O'HANLON: Well, I think that you're gradually seeing a change in national identities in Europe and particularly in the British Isles. I mean, remember, that what's happening in Britain at the same time is there's been the setting up of a Scottish parliament, of a Welsh assembly, and I think the idea that people can govern themselves and then have different levels of identity within the European Union is becoming something that's much more familiar, not just in Britain and Ireland but throughout Europe generally, and so I think that, you know, that this is a--this is a modern kind of agreement, and the Anglo-Irish question has been bedeviled by history, and people wanting to act out the crimes and the problems of the past in the modern era. Well, now it seems to me that we're moving on from there, and I think that's, on the whole, without wishing to exaggerate it or simplify it, I think that is beginning to be quite a hopeful sign.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, thank you both very much.