ON THE PATH TO PEACE?
May 25, 1998
Ireland has voted "yes" to an ambitious peace plan that could end the civil unrest that has troubled the region for centuries. Is Ireland really on its way to a lasting peace or are there more obstacles ahead for negotiators? After a background report, two journalists discuss the peace plan for Ireland.
MARGARET WARNER: To help us understand the election and what it will mean we turn to Joe Carroll, Washington Bureau Chief of the Dublin-based Irish Times, Ireland's second largest daily newspaper. He covered Northern Ireland from 1968 to 1973. And Hugo Gurdon, Washington Bureau Chief of Britain's major conservative newspaper The Daily Telegraph.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
May 25, 1998
A background report on the Irish peace deal.
Former Senator George Mitchell discusses the peace accord.
April 9, 1998
Will peace last in Northern Ireland?
April 9, 1998
Irish peace talks go down to the wire.
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.
The Irish Times.
Welcome, gentlemen. Is 71 percent enough of a vote to give this agreement the political momentum it needs?
Does 71 percent of the vote give the plan the political momentum it needs?
JOE CARROLL, The Irish Times: I think so, yes. I mean, there's going to be the election on June 25th. But the Unionists who support the agreement; if they get that kind of support in these elections, I think they'll have enough to make the agreement work.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree, enough to make it work?
HUGO GURDON, The Daily Telegraph: Yes. Although the fact that so many Unionists voted against the agreement is going to be-is potentially a severe problem, because it means that not many people in the Unionists' portion of society have to change their view to have a substantial proportion, possibly even a majority eventually of Unionists feeling that they made a mistake. It really-
MARGARET WARNER: You mean because only 55 percent of the Protestants or Unionists voted for this?
HUGO GURDON: That's right. It doesn't take that much of a swing to unsettle things for the Unionists.
MARGARET WARNER: Why do you think-I know you both looked at some exit polls-why did so many-why was there such a difference between the two communities, the Catholic and the Protestant?
HUGO GURDON: Well, the Catholics and the Nationalists had everything to gain from this. And the Unionists, it seems to me, gave up a great deal. The current position of the province of Ulster is a Unionist position. And cross border bodies and joint decision-making with Dublin cooperation, with Dublin cedes a degree of official authority and sovereignty in Northern Ireland. So it's the Unionists who gave up most.
MARGARET WARNER: Why do you think there's such a difference?
Why did Unionists and Republicans vote differently?
JOE CARROLL: I must say I don't agree that the English gave up most. I mean, the Sinn Fein position, which was always, you know, Ireland must be united, they gave up that claim, saying that it will only be actually when the Unionists in Northern Ireland want to come into a united Ireland that they can go. That was a huge concession on their part and actually on the part of the people in Southern Ireland, who had a constitutional claim. But, I mean, I take Hugo's point. It shows that the Unionists didn't really agree that all this was being given up. But I think objectively you have to look at it that way, because their position is protected constitutionally. These cross-border bodies, we have to see how they're going to work. I mean, I think you mentioned agriculture, fisheries, and tourism. Well, I mean, is that so dangerous for Northern Ireland if they're going to talk about tourism?
HUGO GURDON: Well, it's an assembly which distinguishes Ulster from the rest of Britain in having its own assembly. It suggests a degree of autonomy and makes it very-constitutionally obviously very different from the rest of Britain. And the Unionists' position, the hard-line Unionist position-and as represented by Ian Paisley-is that there should be no surrender of sovereignty in that way. So he opposed this election. He opposes the results of this election, the constitutional changes of this election and the legislative consequences.
JOE CARROLL: Well, Northern Ireland actually had its only assembly until 1972, when it was abolished because of the violence, so they had their own domestic parliament in a way that Scotland and Wales are finally going to get. So for years that's the way they governed, but, I mean, because the Unionists were in the majority, the Catholics felt frozen out, and they didn't cooperate. But this assembly, the whole thing is very complex internally. If the assembly doesn't work, the whole agreement falls through. And this is why this election is so important. This whole agreement could yet fall through, because if the anti-agreement Unionists won't work it and they're in a position to block it, it then can't move on and appoint the cross-border body. If that doesn't happen-and I think it's written in-inside a year, theoretically the whole thing will collapse and all bets are off, and all these constitution changes don't take place.
MARGARET WARNER: David Trimble, the pro-agreement Unionist leader I read was quoted as saying even some of the Protestants who voted yes might, nonetheless, vote to put in hard-liners, thinking, well, they'll keep an eye on Gerry Adams and so on. I mean, is that possible, that you could see the Protestant vote shift in the June election?
HUGO GURDON: I've certainly heard that, yes, in making contact with Northern Ireland-people in Northern Ireland and also back in London. Their assessment is that what people have done here in the last-in the vote, in the referendum-is to vote their hope that there will be peace. But once an assembly is going to be voted for, they will be voting for much more specific, much more definable things, and they will want a firm representation, perhaps hard-line representation. Now, whether that happens or not, I don't know, but that certainly is what people are talking about, though.
MARGARET WARNER: The two prime ministers, Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, played a huge role in bringing this yes vote about. Can they play a similar role in the June 25th election, or are they out of the picture now? Is this something that the Northern Irish people have to do?
The continuing role of Tony Blair.
JOE CARROLL: Well, I think Bertie Ahern will stay out of the picture-be resented, I think if the southern prime minister tried to interfere in an election in Northern Ireland. But I don't think Tony Blair will stay out of the picture. I think he's already planning a new trip to Belfast. And I think it'll be important. He, more or less, saved the referendum. It was going down the tubes as far as David Trimble was concerned, because of the prisoners and all that stuff, and now I think-
MARGARET WARNER: This is the release of prisoners.
JOE CARROLL: Release, temporary release of prisoners to appear at these conventions where they were shown, you know, being-you know, and made heroes. So I think Blair will have to keep up this pressure, because Trimble still needs an awful lot of help.
Both sides vote for peace. But will either side give up their weapons?
MARGARET WARNER: Now, a controversy-or a new controversy broke out today, as we reported in the News Summary, over the de-commissioning of weapons issue. Explain, Hugo, what the agreement provides for in that regard, in terms of both sides-or either side turning in their weapons.
HUGO GURDON: Well, it is currently hoped that there is going to be de-commissioning. The-as the story that you just ran suggested, people are saying it is now time to turn in the weapons. But I don't think that total de-commissioning is even a possibility. I don't think that anyone there really expects any of the militant groups, particularly the IRA, to hand over their weapons. The thing is that de-commissioning has been talked about and insisted upon but not done at all sorts of stages in this agreement. The British government originally said that there could be no talks without de-commissioning. And then there was this thought that there might be de-commissioning parallel to the talks. But it hasn't happened, and I can well see that starting to be thought of as flexible and at least from Sinn Fein. I think that there may well be very firm resistance to that.
MARGARET WARNER: How do you see the de-commissioning issue playing out in the next few months and affecting the elections, if at all?
JOE CARROLL: Well, the IRA made a very firm statement that they wouldn't hand over any of their guns. And one of their supporters even said not even the rust, but at the same time, people who have studied these statements felt that a little door was being left over in the IRA statement where they said, you know, we are not going to be asked to surrender these guns, but they said, if we do things, we do it voluntarily, and some people are thinking that, I mean, they have to give Adams a help on this. I mean, if Adams wants to get into the new government in Northern Ireland and, you know, it's made clear by the IRA that they will never de-commission, I mean, the thing will fail as well.
MARGARET WARNER: And explain that. That's because some of the Protestant leaders essentially told voters we won't let any Irish leader in the government unless what? Explain.
JOE CARROLL: Yes. Well, David Trimble, more or less, said that, but, I mean, he has gone further than the agreement. The agreement says they want to solve this de-commission thing over two years, whereas, Trimble seemed to be saying, I can't have Gerry Adams sitting beside me in a government if the Sinn Fein and IRA don't start handing over the weapons before he sits at the table. He went too far, because the agreement doesn't quite say that. So he's got to get off that hook. And he may look for Adams to let him off the hook by Adams saying something-you know-more conciliatory.
MARGARET WARNER: But you're saying you think this issue will be finessed yet again?
HUGO GURDON: Well, that's my fear. It's difficult to see how it can constantly be finessed, but the British government, as I say, two and three years ago, two years ago, was saying there must be de-commissioning before talks. And that didn't happen. And then after George Mitchell joined the process, it was-there was talk of parallel de-commissioning, and that didn't happen. So I just foresee resilience and recalcitrance by the IRA and by some loyalist groups as well.
MARGARET WARNER: Stepping back again and looking at this result, what do you think it says about-if anything-about how Ireland's changed, both North and South? I mean, could we have had this kind of a result 10 years ago?
JOE CARROLL: No. I mean, it's-even up to a month ago, there were people who said you will never get an agreement with the Unionists and Sinn Fein signing up for the same agreement. People were absolutely convinced that that could not happen. People like John Hume, leader of the Nationalist Party, felt it could happen, and he worked for years to do it. So, I mean, it is a kind of an unimaginable agreement that people from those opposite ends of the spectrum who kind of hate each other in many ways are suddenly prepared now to sit down at the same table.
MARGARET WARNER: Why do you think it is?
JOE CARROLL: Well, I think, you know, the pressures came on. I mean, Tony Blair worked very hard. The President Clinton pressures, I think, were important, because they were certainly important in an international context, to say, oh, look, it's not just this little bit of patch up in Ireland. You know, this has world reverberations, you know. And, you know-and this is the time; you won't get another chance; seize this opportunity. And I think all that kind of worked. Plus, we heard those ladies on the tape. They want peace. They really want it. They're fed up with the politicians, and I think the politicians began to get the message.
HUGO GURDON: Well, all of that is true, but there are some additional things. And one is that Sinn Fein hasn't really signed up to this as the settlement. It regards it as the-a stage towards its ultimate goal, which hasn't changed, which is a united Ireland. And although they have in participating in the-or in signing up to this agreement-indicate that they are willing to go along with the majority view in the country. My fear is that they're not people used to democracy, and that after a year or two or a few years, they will have pocketed the advances they've made in the switch of sovereignty and will start making trouble again.
MARGARET WARNER: But in the meantime the South voted 94 percent we'll give up our territorial claim to the North. I mean, what message does that send about how people in the South Irish republic feel and care about the North?
HUGO GURDON: Well, I think for many, many years-
MARGARET WARNER: In part.
Hugo Gurdon: "One side is relinquishing something which is a fact, and the other is relinquishing something which is a claim."
HUGO GURDON: --people doubted that the people of the South were nearly as concerned about the sovereignty in the North as most people in the North were concerned about it. What sovereign Ireland-what the republic of Ireland has done is to give up claims. What Sinn Fein has done is to give up claims. What the Unionists have done and what Britain has done is to give up sovereignty. There is-one side is relinquishing something which is a fact, and the other is relinquishing something which is a claim. And that's why I say that the Unionists have actually given up more.
MARGARET WARNER: Briefly, do you think the vote in the South makes the prospects of a united Ireland dimmer?
JOE CARROLL: I don't actually, you know, because I think Hugo is right. Really, these famous articles in the Irish constitution, most people kind of--half the young people wouldn't have known what the articles were, actually. It was an older generation who hung onto them. So I think really that that's-I don't think it has made it any dimmer. I think we're in for a new dynamic.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thank you both very much.