REOPENING OLD WOUNDS
JULY 15, 1996
Following a controversial march by Protestants through a mostly Catholic neighborhood, riots have rocked the six counties of Northern Ireland. These demonstrations have threatened to derail ongoing peace talks in the region and may lead to prolonged sectarian violence. Following a background report by Charles Krause, Elizabeth Farnsworth discusses the prospects for peace with two reporters.
June 14, 1996: Irish Times and Belfast Telegraph reporters participate in an Online Forum on the Irish peace talks.
Feb. 12, 1996: The NewsHour segment on the Peace Talks following the bomb attacks in London.
Dec. 1, 1995: Clinton visits Ireland to promote the peace talks and the continuing cease fire.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Just seven months ago, President Clinton toured Northern Ireland and received an enthusiastic welcome from Catholics and Protestants alike. His visit and the friendly crowds symbolized the administration's role in bringing about a cease-fire there, but in the months since, the optimism in Ireland and Britain about the prospects for a Northern Ireland peace has been fading. We begin with a background report from Charles Krause.
CHARLES KRAUSE: The American-brokered cease-fire in Northern Ireland was abruptly shattered last February 9th when a powerful bomb exploded in London's financial district, leaving two dead and dozens wounded. The Irish Republican Army claimed responsibility, saying the bomb had been set in response to Britain's refusal to negotiate a comprehensive peace settlement for Northern Ireland in good faith. The bombing last February marked the end of nearly 18 months of peace in Northern Ireland. Still, despite the bombing in London and subsequent bombings elsewhere in Britain and in Germany, peace talks between the parties continued under the auspices of a peace commission headed by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell. There was little progress even before the violent events of the past week.
The latest troubles began on July 9th when Protestant loyalists called Orangemen decided to hold an annual parade celebrating a Protestant victory over Catholics at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Initially, British authorities refused to allow the parade, a decision which touched off a wave of Protestant demonstrations and violence, including the sacking and burning of Catholic homes in Protestant neighborhoods. Faced with the prospect of continued Protestant unrest, a local police chief decided to reverse the initial decision, allowing the Protestants to proceed with their annual march, protected not only by the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Northern Ireland's overwhelmingly Protestant police force, but also by the British army. Protestants paraded through Catholic neighborhoods in a town called Portodaum last Friday. Frustration and anger among Catholics boiled over.
SPOKESMAN: Get back. Get back.
WOMAN: The world sat back and watched Hitler annihilate the Jews. They watched Pol Pot annihilate his people. Are they going to sit back and watch the Catholics of Northern Ireland be ethnically cleansed and wiped off the face of Northern Ireland?
CHARLES KRAUSE: What followed was three nights of rioting by Catholics in Belfast, Londonderry, and elsewhere throughout Ulster. At least two Catholics died, one of them killed by a British armored car, while at least three policemen were reportedly injured. Belfast, which was just beginning to rebuild after a quarter century of violence, advertising itself to the world as a promising business and manufacturing center, suddenly took on its old appearance of a barricaded war zone.
But the worst was yet to come on Saturday night when a bomb exploded at luxury hotel in Ineskilen, just after a wedding party was evacuated. It was the first such bombing in two years, and despite initial suspicions, the IRA denied it was responsible. In a scene so familiar after 25 years of violence, there was a funeral for one of the Catholic victims of last week's demonstrations. It was a scene which many Protestants and many Catholics had hoped just a few months ago would be a thing of the past.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: We get two perspectives now. Tom Rhodes is a correspondent for the Times of London. Ray O'Hanlon is a senior editor at the Irish Echo Newspaper in New York. He just returned from a trip to the Irish Republic and North Ireland. Thank you both for being with us. Ray O'Hanlon, those pictures look so familiar from the past. Was the, the peace that preceded this week of violence an illusion?
RAY O'HANLON, Irish Echo: Well, I think a lot of people are saying now, well, it was something of an illusion. People are throwing their hands in the air in despair, saying what has the last two years been for, and what was the IRA cease-fire for, and where have the politicians been that they've let the peace process really rot in front of their faces, and now we have a situation in which even sober politicians and the Irish government are saying that the entire island of Ireland could be destabilized for an entire new generation.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So it seems worse even than some of the periods when things were pretty bad?
MR. O'HANLON: There are quotes in newspapers in Ireland over the weekend saying, oh, yes, as bad as 1969, no, in fact, like the 1920's all over again, so I think the mood is very black, indeed. What we've seen in the last week is a failure of politics, a failure of politicians to enforce the law impartially and fairly, the difference being this time is that it was in front of the eyes of the world.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What about that? Was the peace before--I mean, I know there were bomb explosions in Manchester and in London and in Germany, but in Ireland there had been basically many months of peace, was that just an illusion, and this is the real thing?
TOM RHODES, Times of London: I think it probably was an illusion. I think people expected those who'd been following along in place they expected that there was a problem. There's been growing concern about the situation over the months after the cease-fire was organized. I mean, I think the real problem is that at the end of the day we may now look at the loyalists and blame them for what's taken place there, but the background is that when the IRA and Sinn Fein were asked to come to peace talks, they didn't, and they claimed that the British government had in some way prevented them from doing so by calling on them to de-commission their weapons, and I think that's an explanation which everyone would understand for peace talks.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. I want to get back to this in a minute, but Ray O'Hanlon, how do you explain the escalating violence? The Orangemen have marched before, apparently in that very place, right? Why this week did it get so bad?
MR. O'HANLON: Well, certainly from the perspective of the nationalist community, there was an agreement reached 12 months ago. The agreement was brought about after negotiations between both sides and involved two independent mediators. In fact, the Garvahy Road march in Port O'Down would not be repeated this year as it was last year, so initially local people understood that they would not be faced with the same situation. And of course, at first, it seemed that the situation would be prevented inasmuch as the RUC blocked the path of the Orangemen, but after what amounted to four days of virtual civil insurrection, the RUC literally turned about on the road and proceeded to forcefully remove Catholics.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The RUC being the Constabulary, the police.
MR. O'HANLON: The Constabulary, the police, yes.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And the, the Catholics have claimed that the Constabulary did this because the British government told them to, and of course, the British are saying that's not true. Do you have any information about that?
MR. RHODES: Well, I think the British would have to say that's not true, and I have to say I agree with Ray to a certain extent. I think the pictures look terrible. It did look as though the Constabulary was coming in on the side of the loyalists against the Catholics, and it made it look like 20 years ago. It made it look like Britain vs. Ulster, which is exactly the sort of dynamic that we wanted to avoid and have been trying to avoid over the last two years, and indeed, that is exactly what the UN and President Clinton have been trying to negotiate for I have to say unsuccessfully.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you think it's been unsuccessful at this point? Do you think it can be revived?
MR. RHODES: I think if it is to be revived, it'll probably have to be revived in a completely different form. I think the administration over here had a blind perception of what was going on in Northern Ireland. They were to a certain extent, I believe, hoodwinked by Gerry Adams. I mean, if we look at him now--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein, which is the--
MR. RHODES: Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Fein.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Which is the legal--
MR. RHODES: The political wing of the IRA.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Of the IRA.
MR. RHODES: Who the administration has dealt with rightly all along, they've considered him to be the only way for negotiation. But then one considers the, the situation that faces President Clinton now, where he must either negotiate with a man who obviously knows what's going on, in which case it would be unconscionable for him to do so, or if he doesn't, and he is, as he claims, on the side of the angels, then why is this administration negotiating with him in the first place? And I think it's an embarrassing mark for President Clinton because he's claimed this as one of his great foreign policy successes, and it's looking like quite the opposite.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But you're laying the--if one can lay blame here, you're really saying that, that the IRA and Sinn Fein are to blame for this thing falling apart, or that was the whole--at the center of the whole thing, that they were not part of the peace talks?
MR. RHODES: That would be my view.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Because--
MR. RHODES: But I mean, I understand the other argument, which is that the British government has perhaps dragged their feet in some way and kept them waiting. But, I mean, at the end of the day, there are people there carrying guns and blowing up children and I think, you know, one just has to accept that that, those are pictures and things that one doesn't want to see.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Ray O'Hanlon, on both those points, that the Clinton administration was "hoodwinked," I think you said, by the, by Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein and also that the blame has to be laid at their door.
MR. O'HANLON: No. I think the Clinton administration, as far as it could, gave peace a chance, not only Gerry Adams is allowed into the United States, so is David Trimble, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, and the Rev. Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist Party, and many fingers are pointing at those two latter gentlemen in recent days who are at the center of, of the Orange Order situation on Garvahy Road.
I think at the end of the day the lessons of history are that barring outright military victory, you have to sit down with your worst enemies in the world, however distasteful that might be to you--the Americans sat down with the North Vietnamese in Paris--but the British so far have raised all manner of objections to actually sitting down with Sinn Fein, de facto the IRA, which would be the case, and really until that happens, until really the British can swallow that and actually go ahead and do that, I think people in Northern Ireland, in the Republic of Ireland and in the United States will be throwing their arms up in despair and saying really, we're not going anywhere here, and we're now facing renewed violence on a potentially massive scale.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think the week, the week's events mean for the peace process? Is it basically dead? I mean, there are still meetings. Senator--former Senator George Mitchell is, I guess, either there or on his way there for meetings tomorrow. Is it, is that just all form and no content at this point?
MR. O'HANLON: Taking the two leaders of Sinn Fein and Gerry Adams said that the peace process was in ruins and Mark McGuinness's deputy said it lived on in the hearts and minds of many people in Northern Ireland, I was in Belfast just a few days ago before all this happened, and it was astonishing to see the vitality in the city when you walk around the center of Belfast. I mean, you cannot tell really on sight who's a Protestant and who's a Catholic, and it didn't really matter. The city was getting about its business, and this is the way things are going. I mean, there is a potentially huge well spring of goodwill for a peace process, but around the fringes, the politicians, in particular, have really failed to tap this.
We saw it with President Clinton's visit, and they have engaged in the old rhetoric and in the old habits of refusing to sit down with terrorists, et cetera, et cetera. David Trimble went to a state banquet in London the other day and sat down with Nelson Mandela, who Margaret Thatcher once described as a terrorist.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Trimble is a unionist.
MR. O'HANLON: The Ulster Unionist Party Leader--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The Protestant Party.
MR. O'HANLON: --who won't meet with Sinn Fein, and, uh, sat down in the same room as Nelson Mandela, who Margaret Thatcher once described as a terrorist, so really, the habits of old really have to be scrapped by all sides in Northern Ireland if we are to achieve a breakthrough for a real, for a real peace with justice for all.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So you think whether they disarm or not, that the IRA, that Sinn Fein has to be brought into talks, future talks?
MR. O'HANLON: I think inevitably, absolutely in one way or another. I think Sen. Mitchell will certainly see that as the way forward, the Clinton administration. The Irish government now will see it as the way forward. Yes, certainly, certain concessions will probably have to be achieved, a certain understanding. There would have to be a renewed IRA cease-fire, a discontinuation of attacks in Britain and on the continent of Europe before that would happen. I think that's certainly a given.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Tom, you said you thought we might, that to get the peace process going again, they'd have to start all over, go back to pre-'94, pre-cease-fire.
MR. RHODES: Well, it just seems to me that you've got a situation now where John Hume, who's a very moderate nationalist, is saying that he probably won't engage in talks tomorrow, so you're effectually going to get unionists and the British government and a few minor parties there. It's a futile exercise. Nothing will happen, and I suspect George Mitchell realizes that. He was promised a win-win situation by Huntsey Saderberg of the National Security Council--this did not happen. Uh, I think they have to look at the situation very hard and very carefully to discover a new way forward. And I'm not suggesting that what Ray is saying is wrong. I mean, I agree with a lot of what he said. The fact is that, you know, people have to talk, but as has been shown over the last two years, you know, I think it's slightly unfair to suggest that the British government has just in some way said we won't see Sinn Fein. There have been many, many overtures made with the simple stipulation that they de-commission, and I don't think that that's a difficult thing to do. So I would argue that Sinn Fein still needs to, to change its voice, if you like.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you think there are people on both sides of this struggle in Northern Ireland that would just as soon see this not succeed? Is that part of what's happening here?
MR. RHODES: I don't think so. I think the one thing which came out of President Clinton's visit in February was that universal feeling of goodwill and the sense that a lot of people in Ireland were really sick to death of this and wanted a change, and I think people in Britain also. I mean, we don't like having bombs in Manchester or wherever it may be, umm, and I think you know, it may be the hard-line and it may be others who want this thing to be de-railed, but the tragedy of the Garvahy Road effectively is that you've got the loyalists who--effectively saying it was some sort of victory for them but they played right into the hands of the hard-liners who want to derail the process.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In other words, they said it was a victory because they were able to march--
MR. RHODES: Well, they were able to march freely--they could have their tradition, but actually it was exactly the opposite.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So in the long run, you think this will be very detrimental to their cause?
MR. RHODES: I think so, yes.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you agree with that, Ray?
MR. O'HANLON: Well, I think that, to go back to what he was saying, I'd rather be slightly unfair to the British government than I would be totally unfair to the people of Northern Ireland. I mean, I would reiterate with you and President Clinton obviously, the United States is now involved for good or ill. George Mitchell is at the center of this. I think the bottom line is regardless of how people feel that they are slighted, or they are having to deal with people who have been unfair to them, but really at the end of the day, the only solution out of this is for people to sit around the table and hammer out some form of agreement, which probably everybody will walk away from the table saying I didn't get what I wanted, but really if there is to be any hope for the people of Northern Ireland, I think what we have got to go on with now is a process in which (a) the police force is seen to be fair, that government is seen to be impartial, that civil disorder from what angle it comes from is viewed as being wrong, and is controlled, and until that happens, I think you'll have a dangerous standoff between two obviously deeply divided communities, perhaps more divided than ever before, despite the last couple of years.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, Ray O'Hanlon and Tom Rhodes, thanks for being with us.