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Wave Goodbye to Dinosaurs

Discover the story of the Catholic and Protestant women who come together during Northern Ireland’s bloody conflict to form an all-female political party and fight to ensure that human rights, equality and inclusion shape the historic Good Friday Agreement peace deal.

AIRED: 3/25/2019 | 00:54:56
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♪♪♪ -I suppose if you really wanted to say the difference between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, you could say quite simply that Northern Ireland is a Christian country.

♪♪♪ Here, a man is either a Protestant or a Catholic.

He is either with us or with them.

It was the power of religion which created Northern Ireland, and it's the power of religion which has been threatening ever since to tear the country in half.

-I've never known where it's come from but I've always had this desire to save the world.

And that was very rare for a woman, I have to say, very rare, because Northern Ireland, like so many places, it was male dominated and women never really figured in it.

The people who were elected to look after us weren't really looking after us, so we had to form our own groups.

And I suppose, over the years, that just built up, that if we ever really were going to make a difference, it would have to be through politics.

[ Chanting indistinctly ] -Politics is everything.

You might not put yourself forward for election, but you were involved in community politics, and women were heavily -- they were running communities.

In a society that's so hurt and so in pain, where over 3,500 people have been killed and 40,000-odd injured, women were keeping things going in the most difficult times.

♪♪♪ -We knew that there was a huge network of women out there who found themselves politically homeless and who certainly wanted a different voice, if peace talks were to be declared.

-People were suggesting that we do a voter education campaign, people were suggesting that we support women candidates in other parties, and then we had this proposal about starting a women's party.

-The Women's Coalition was made up of decent, brave, determined and extremely capable women.

I don't think there was a waster in the Women's Coalition.

How many political parties could you say that of?

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Rock music plays ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -Interestingly, when I was at school, all of us girls looked forward to watching 'Top of the Pops,' but myself and one other young women, were more interested in seeing the news.

Because it was a time of equality, dignity, equal rights, human rights.

And I think that's how often women are moved in politics.

They see an injustice and they are moved to actually make a difference and change the situation.

-When we talk about women getting involved in society and taking full part in political life, this is how to get liberation.

-I then went to university and I got involved in student politics.

So I suppose that was beginning to transfer the empathy into a sense of responsibility.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Cheering ] [ Horn blows ] [ Whistle ] -I remember joining the civil rights movement.

I think I was about 16 years of age, going with my family, demanding the right to housing, the right to employment.

And we literally thought that the laws of the land would be changed and that discrimination would be challenged and tackled.

And that everything would settle down.

How wrong we were.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ I had rubber bullets fired at me.

And I saw some pretty horrible brutality that shouldn't have happened.

[ Woman screams ] You know, I was very aware that, on these civil rights marches, that they were being organized by women.

That these women were actually the champions of the civil rights movement.

The most famous one that was around was Bernadette Devlin because she was incredibly articulate.

And that was extremely impressive.

Not only was she a woman, but she was a very, very young woman.

She was the youngest woman MP to ever be elected to the House of Commons, at 21.

-It's obvious that the Unionist Party is quite prepared to set Catholic against Protestant in this country, rather than give the reforms which would in fact mean that there would be an end to sectarianism.

-The area I lived in was mixed.

Protestant, Catholic lived side by side.

And through that time, we all stayed together.

We all tried to work together.

But gradually the area just absolutely disintegrated.

People got fear, you could've touched the fear.

And people began to move out.

And on one particular night, some of the Protestant Billy Boys came to burn our Catholic neighbors out.

And my dad went out and said, 'Come on now, boys, this woman is not doing any harm.

She's only rearing her family.'

They went away, and they came back a fortnight later and burned us out.

And that was the biggest change of my life, from living in a mixed area, where religion wasn't a factor -- it was poverty, it was work -- I moved from that end to a Loyalist ghetto, because it was the only place we could get a home, my mum and dad and I.

[ Gunshots ] And then of course we had the shootings and the bombings and the killings.

And that was real fear.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -There's nothing to keep Protestants and Catholics from living together but there'll never be any friendship between Protestants and Catholics again, there's a bitterness.

Now I have a bitterness in me, a revenge that I know these people that burned these houses must have had and has all the time.

Well, I have it now.

-For us, you know, politicians literally were like some other being, who kind of, you know, wafted in.

I think, for a lot young people in particular, they really don't realize, you know, it was really, really a rare woman's face you would see, in a supportive role.

-I think, when you look back over the sort of tendency to personify things around myself or somebody else, you can get a distortion that I was the only young woman speaking out.

And of course, I wasn't.

If you look at the mass demonstrations, we as women and girls were there woman to man, as it were.

[ Indistinct chanting ] -The first women who helped me to understand gender and feminism were black women, because they shared my class.

They shared my national oppression.

Sectarianism and racism are a bred of the same disease.

So it was easier for me then to see, yeah, I know what these women are talking about.

We're speaking the same language.

It's not that you have a clear political ideology and a career path.

It's that you're a part of something that recognizes a need for social change.

And then it takes you down an increasingly ideological political road.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -It was an unpleasant environment to grow up in.

And it's hard to explain to my adult sons just what life was like back then.

It was dull, grim, with a threat of menace about it all the time.

And that's just as a middle-class child.

I wasn't living in an area where the conflict was going on, and it was still pretty grim.

♪♪♪ -There was a sense, I think, a real physical sense of sickening.

A real sickening with it.

Almost like, with the same sense of being sickened, nearly a hardening, you know, because you would get such a wave of it all the time.

You can't let it get into you.

And for women, they were at the bottom of all the ladders, of all the agendas.

So their needs were never even being asked about, never mind being met.

-Women were thrown into the deep end, and still they struggled on.

Women didn't look for when they would get time for themselves, it was all about rearing your family and doing what was right.

And making sure their kids weren't in trouble on the streets.

-There were deep segregations.

And what you really needed to do, in a common sense way, was get people into the same room.

-I worked for an organization called Women Together.

Now, I didn't start with Women Together until 1990.

But Women Together formed in 1970, and it was a Protestant and Catholic Woman that got together.

And they got together to try and address some of the fear amongst women in communities.

And they started bringing buses.

And even in the most difficult times, when bombs were going off in Belfast, the buses used to weave in and out of Catholic and Protestant areas.

And for some of the women, that was the only time they ever saw any of these areas because they were behind peace walls, but they all came together to have a conversation together about the difficult times that they were experiencing.

-There was activism going on.

-And not only was there activism going on, but there was a big trunch of women that had a lot of organizing experience.

And we had talked from, I suppose, the late '80s in terms of saying, 'Politics isn't changing.'

Politics has become the captive of the elite, of a political elite, almost like it's been professionalized.

And it doesn't have to be.

[ Cheering ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -We had written to political parties and the British and Irish governments, asking them that, if there were going to be talks, that women should be included.

We actually wrote to the political parties about equally selecting women in their delegations, women candidates to run for election, as men.

We got very few responses.

-The establishment just thought, 'That's just a bunch of women doing stuff.

We don't even have to pay them attention.'

It's almost if we had been operating in parallel worlds.

They didn't realize that there were active, articulate women who were trying to change society.

It just wasn't on their radar.

-Those very women needed to be at the table, because they had done the peace building work up till now.

The traditional politicians wouldn't know where to start.

So why would ever you have peace talks without the women that had been doing it for so many years at the table?

♪♪♪ -I suppose that idea was fermenting in a lot of people's minds -- in Monica McWilliams, Avila Kilmurray, Bronagh Hinds, people like that.

And we would have met, discussing, 'I wonder how we could do this.'

The interesting thing about it was, in 1996, the government came up with this idea about having an election.

The 10 parties would go to the talks, and being from Northern Ireland, we like to talk about talks.

-I had written a letter to all of the women's groups in Northern Ireland inviting them to come to a meeting to discuss the impending election, and we were overwhelmed by the response that we got to that letter -- the room was jam packed with women from all over Northern Ireland.

-It was electrifying.

It was a totally new experience.

They all spoke from their hearts with a passion that hit home.

I realized just how important we could be.

They were actually on the same wavelength in terms of what I wanted for my children, and my family's future, which could've been child care, which could've been about equal pay.

So the women there felt there should be women at the negotiating table to ensure issues like that and not left behind.

-People were suggesting that we do a voter education campaign.

People were suggesting that we support women candidates in other parties.

And then we had this proposal about starting a women's party.

-Avila Kilmurray said, why don't we go out and discuss the possibility of running our own party.

And we realized that the logistics were possible.

-The British and Irish governments opened a period of consultation as to the type of electoral process to determine delegates for talks.

I mean, there has to be a crazy reason.

And the crazy reason was to get political parties who had an association with paramilitary groups to enable them to legitimately to enter the talks.

I mean, we were very clear.

It wasn't that they wanted women in the talks, but that was the reason why.

But we thought, 'Okay, that's what they want to get in the talks, but we can make use of this, as well.'

We asked an academic, 'How many votes do you need to get two representatives at the talks?'

And he said something ridiculously low, like 8,000, 10,000 votes, something like that.

I just remember we all looked at each other, and kind of went, 'That's just easy.'

-It was decided that we would write off to the minister at the time, and we asked, could we form ourselves into a political party?

Could we stand?

And the letter came back and said yes.

We had six weeks to form the Women's Coalition.

And it was the craziest six weeks of my life.

♪♪♪ [ Indistinct conversations ] -It was a very vibrant meeting.

What was good about it was the range of people that had turned up.

It was a meeting of very active, very political women.

♪♪♪ The story of the Women's Coalition is largely not visible.

Not because women get written out of history.

They never get written in.

It could be argued the Women's Coalition were of their time.

But the women who made up the Women's Coalition were brave women in their own right.

Whose bravery was tested in the war days.

So they weren't women who suddenly got brave at the time of the peace.

The truth of the matter is women were politically active in every aspect of the politics that were going on.

It's not that women weren't doing anything until the Women's Coalition galvanized women.

What the Women's Coalition galvanized was many of the already politically active women in all of their various spheres.

-I remember May Blood actually saying, 'Right. I will pay for an ad.

And we will ask women who subscribe to the three principles that we came up with.'

There are often party policies, we had three principles.

And that was equality, human rights, and inclusion.

So, 'If you subscribe to these principles and are happy to stand for the Coalition, get in touch with us!'

So we did!

-So as you can see from the constituency list here... -We didn't know how many would turn up.

And there wasn't enough seats.

And that we knew we had made the right decision by advertising it and by putting it out there.

If you want this opportunity to put women into the mix, this is your opportunity.

-It's good to have names against areas.

What we need tonight is the names.

-But women were going, 'Oh, oh, I couldn't possibly run.'

And I said, 'Look, you're not going to get elected, but we do want you to run 'cause we need the votes.'

We just said to people, 'It's not rocket science.

Politicians would like you to think it is rocket science.

It is not.'

-I think many women didn't really want to put themselves forward.

It took a lot of courage, a lot of determination, and lot of having to expose your own identity in a society where identity was so closely linked with with trouble, with violence, with danger.

-These were women from working class areas who had suffered through 30 years or 25 or whatever it was then of conflict.

Many women in that room had been bereaved, or had sons, brothers, fathers in prison.

And we needed to make sure that we were there to try and bring about the change that was needed to move the society forward.

So, without thinking of the consequences, people put their hands up.

-Margaret Log will do Foyle.

So you're prepared to let your name go forward?

Keep going folks.

-Could we have somebody instead of Ann McCann?

-Carol, could you find somebody if it's not yourself?

-I can find it. Yeah.

-I just found an irresistible urge to put my hand up and say, 'Yes, I am in there.'

I had never been in a political party before in my life.

It wasn't politics.

It was peace that I wanted.

-You don't know this but tonight we have accrued 48 candidates.

[ Applause ] -We all got carried away, but this was about our lives, our futures, the futures of our children.

It was brilliant.

It was just -- They were all just so enthusiastic.

It just took your breath away.

[ Phone rings ] -Hello, Northern Ireland Women's Coalition.

-So we modelled it that it would be a cross-community party, and we would have two leaders, one from the Catholic Nationalist community, one from the Protestant Unionist community, from the word go.

-To my shock, horror, panic, my name and Monica's name were the two names that went forward.

And I went to a second meeting and I agreed, thinking, 'Oh... no worries, it ain't going to happen.'

-To many people in the room, Pearl Sagar probably wouldn't have been a name.

Pearl was a community worker, but then, there was hundreds of community workers.

Monica was a professional woman.

Monica was a lecturer in university.

Monica would've been very well known, but I just thought Pearl was a street fighter like myself, and she wasn't gonna take no nonsense.

And that's what we wanted.

-A lot of people were frightened over the years to stand up and speak out, and who can blame them?

You would need to have been mad to put yourself forward.

In the Women's Coalition, I think I was mad enough to do that, so was Monica, and a lot of our members.

-So we went, at the very last moment, to put in the names.

We left the office at about quarter past four.

The closing was 5 o'clock. And we ran into a traffic jam.

-Just wait with fingers crossed, get a shot of you.

-Yeah, it's clearly a race.

If she doesn't, I'm telling you.

You're not filming me cutting my throat, are you?

[ Laughter ] -The Women's Coalition were the last to nominate their candidates for the election, just minutes ahead of the 5 o'clock deadline.

-You're late.

-The press conference has been called this morning to launch our manifesto, the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition manifesto.

-On one level, it was completely chaotic, but on another level, it just worked.

We knew we had energy, we had experience, we had expertise, and we had a lot of attitude.

-The Women's Coalition is interested in a solution in reaching an accommodation so that we all can move forward.

And we will be proved correct when we go to the polls on May the 30th. -Hear, hear!

[ Applause ] -Remember, we had no money and we had the most pathetic of posters, and they would be the first to fall down in the rain, but women were back out again the next day putting them back up.

The slogan was 'Wave good-bye to dinosaurs.'

-And it was a cartoon dinosaur superimposed on the women's suffragette colors -- the green, white, and violet.

Give women the vote.

But a lot of the male politicians came back and said, 'Well, you know, we're really annoyed.

They're calling us dinosaurs.'

Well, we didn't call you a dinosaur, but if you want to self-identify, please don't let us stand in your way.

-It was quite obvious that the traditional parties had no intention of bringing forward women.

They just weren't going to do it.

I mean, it's about power.

These guys, this was their big chance.

They'd been sluggin' it out in local councils, fighting over bins for 25 or 30 years, this was their big chance, and they weren't going to share it with anybody.

♪♪♪ -Women's Coalition are standing in this area.

Come out and give your vote to make a difference.

-Well, do you know, a group of women campaigning was a bit of a joke, so it was something to be laughed at.

I do remember this idea of, you know, 'Go back to your kitchen' and the Hen Party and all this kind of nonsense.

And that view started to come very clear when we got to the stage of trying to actually seek votes.

That's when things did become hostile.

-Some got death threats. Some were told, 'How dare you?'

Some in the beginning couldn't even say that they were involved.

-My family were saying, 'Oh, yes, I suppose it has to be done, but does it have to be you?'

Yeah, there were scary moments but there's a sense, actually, of freedom in facing it.

-I wouldn't vote for a woman under any circumstances.

That's a daft question. -Hello.

-Hello. -Hello there.

-They aren't representative of the decent Ulster women that I speak to.

The Ulster woman in the past has seen herself very much as being in support of her man.

As far as those individuals representing the Women's Coalition is concerned, I think that people will draw their own conclusions by the fact that they're prepared to come out of the closet now.

-Political parties and groupings should be regarded as people on their merits, on their vision that they will bring to politics, the commitment they will bring to politics, not just because they're men or not just because they're women.

-I do have some dubious thoughts about how they, as a cross-community group, can look at this election and have a policy that is at all rational.

-Well, I know there's criticism at the minute that women are going to look foolish if this doesn't come off, and that's very unfortunate.

I don't feel we will look foolish, even if we didn't get in.

We've learned over the last 25 years how to cope with setbacks and different cease-fires breaking down, and I think we'll cope very, very well, because, as women, we generally do.

-Women are 52% of the population in Northern Ireland.

We have a right to be at the talks table.

It's our futures being talked about, and it shouldn't be talked about solely by men.

-Do we realize what's happening here?

The future of this part of the world is going to be decided and there are going to be no women there.

We are going to be outside minding the kids.

-This is actually historic.

Have you ever in Northern Ireland seen a group of all shades of political color sitting in one place at one time all ready to talk to each other?

It's like a microcosm of should be happening in Northern Ireland, and the women are showing it.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -Getting elected was unbelievable, that, for the first time, there were women going to be there as a political party, as a Women's Party in its own right.

-Even then it didn't quite sink in the two people were only going to be me and Monica, even though we had loads of women behind us, always had and brilliant women, at the end of the day, you are the two people sat at that table.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -On the first day of the negotiations, I told the delegates to the talks representing the 10 political parties of Northern Ireland and the British and Irish governments that I did not come with an American-drafted agreement.

If there were ever to be an agreement, it had to come from them.

They had to have a sense of ownership.

-And the first days were difficult, people wouldn't talk to one another.

And if somebody said something, then somebody would leave because they weren't open to hearing one another either.

If we're talking about peace negotiations to create a society where people aren't going to feel so driven into a corner that they actually have to lift a gun and shoot somebody, then there is change needed.

And peace is people choosing to live differently.

♪♪♪ -One of the things I find very strange as a woman, when you go into a meeting, there's almost a reluctance to say anything confidential.

Because you're a woman and you're going to go out and tell everybody it.

You have to build that respect up.

We know we knew within the women's movement that we could work.

We had to prove to the other parties that it wasn't just about sitting around a table and just talking about women's issues.

It was about basic human rights issues for the whole of Northern Ireland.

-Because we weren't coming from that class of professional politicians, we were seen very much as outsiders.

We were seen as the girls or the little women sort of thing.

-You might as well discuss with Hitler about the annihilation of Jews than discuss with southern Ireland the way forward for Northern Ireland.

-Would Mr. Paisley not consider that an objectionable remark, to compare Hitler and Fascism with the government of the Republic of Ireland currently?

-My reply to you is, certainly not, and I don't know where the honorable lady has been living, in some cuckoo land of her own.

-Very kind of derogatory comments would fly across -- 'go home,' 'breed for Ulster,' 'stand by your men.'

'A Greek chorus of women.'

And individually, they would moo and boo when we would stand up to speak.

-Oh, sit down and stop wasting time.

You're only wasting time.

-Maybe they weren't used to women standing up, intelligent women even, standing up saying things that were obvious and sensible.

And I suppose that made it worth fighting for, because you just thought, why should anybody put up with this absolute rubbish?

-There seemed to be no embarrassment about holding such views or using such language.

But I think what passed for politics in Northern Ireland was quite coarse, which is why possibly there were so few women because it was tribal, aggressive, and bigoted.

-We made an attempt, mainly purposely for the purpose of the peace talks, to come into the mainstream, and in fact, many would probably say that the mainstream are trying to expel us again, to silence us, not to allow us to have a voice, to demean us, to treat us in a derogatory fashion, and to end us back to the margins.

But I think those days are over in Northern Ireland.

Women do have something to say.

-I don't know who the lady is, she's not even a delegate, yet she speaks -- -Excuse me, I am one of the representatives of the Women's Coalition.

Dr. Paisley knows that very well.

I have been in the negotiations since the 10th of June... -She is not a delegate and she's no voting powers whatsoever.

Well, she knows that.

-I always assumed that all these politicians worked to make sure I had a better life, and that they sat down and they done it wisely.

However, a lot of them live in a bubble.

I think, for several months, I sat and I thought, people behave this way?

These are intelligent people?

I mean, I went to one business meeting that I was told that I was just dragged off the streets.

And I shouldn't be there. -'Oh, you girls, you don't understand politics, you don't know what's going on, this is politics, this is politics.'

And we kept saying, 'This is not politics.

This is abnormal politics.

This is unacceptable politics.

And we're not putting up with that kind of behavior and language.

-In a way, the horror of what was possible and what was starting to be inflicted was getting worse during the talks.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -First year, Sinn Fein were not there.

We spent the entire year meeting with them outside of the process in back channels.

-No one wanted Sinn Fein at the table.

The IRA were still killing people.

Who wants killers sitting at the table?

And we went to meet Sinn Fein, and Monica and all was fine -- I struggled.

I sat down in this room with people that I hated, and I mean hated.

I hated them because I did marry a British soldier.

My husband was in that army that they hated.

Plus, in the interim, I had a cousin who was a police officer who was gunned down in front of his children.

They were representing the people that killed them.

And I remember sitting in that room, and I'm not even sure what they were saying that day 'cause all's I could hear was my heartbeat in me eardrums.

And it was horrible.

I couldn't even tell Monica and others because they're from that religion.

I didn't know them that well, so I was afraid and ashamed at the same time to tell them how I truly felt.

And I remember talking to my husband and my husband saying -- he was a better person than me -- 'At the end of the day, Pearl, if you want everybody involved, everybody has to be involved.

There's always going to be people you don't like in the world, but you do have to work with them.

Nobody's asking you to sleep with them.'

I mean, that's as blunt as he put it.

-And then, when the Loyalists came, I remember us making a point of reaching out to them and inviting them to our houses.

And having dinner with them because we didn't know them very well.

If you're going to be in peace talks, you need to build strong relationships with the people.

You need to look them in the eye.

You need to see the humanity in the person.

You need to give them some legitimacy, even if you disagree with them.

All of the things that generally doesn't happen.

-We often said at the table, 'There's no single party has created this problem.

We all have.

And therefore, we all have it on us to resolve it.'

-We had a very good grasp of how to make a facilitated and mediated process work.

So that became part of our agenda.

In making the dynamic of the talks work, and in finding a pathway through for Senator Mitchell, as the mediator, to use.

-The Women's Coalition in particular was focused on reaching an agreement, as opposed to focused on 'Can I get this for my community?

Can I get that?'

They understood their role to be to help bring about peace, more than just advancing the cause of one community or another.

♪♪♪ -They brought to that table their previous individual experience.

It's a traditional woman's role -- keeping the peace and encouraging people to go the extra mile.

Because women are better conflict resolvers, not biologically, but because that's where we have traditionally been located in society.

We sort out the problems between siblings.

We sort out the women across the street.

And so the Women's Coalition were the most experienced peace negotiators in the room.

And it's a seductive role to be drawn into it and to have that role validated.

But when you have made that courageous step, it was a pity that they got sidelined, from a feminist perspective, into a traditional role of refereeing a fight between two men.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -The fact is, the IRA Sinn Fein has bombed its way to the negotiating table.

-This has gone on for too long.

This nonsense of jumping in in the room, coming back into the room.

It is boys playing war, and I am angry about it.

Why is it that the victims in this country can always make the step forward and say, 'Let's talk.'

Our people are dead, they're in their graves.

They're not coming back.

-I got a call sitting in my office, and it was a member of the President's National Security Staff saying, 'We just goofed up.'

He went on to explain the President had met separately with all of the political party representatives in his office, in the Oval Office of the White House, and somehow they forgot about the Women's Coalition.

And what this colleague of mine said to me on the phone -- 'Do you think Mrs. Clinton would meet with these women?'

-It turned out to be a very consequential, unplanned, spontaneous meeting.

We learned how the promise of women's involvement was not being fulfilled.

We wanted to boost their spirits and give them kind of a new burst of energy to go back and take on the obstacles they faced.

-Monica asks the First Lady, 'Are you going to speak tonight?'

And tonight was this big gathering with all of these visiting politicians from Northern Ireland.

And Hillary said, 'Well, you know, I'll probably introduce the President.'

-I want to formally, on behalf of the President and myself, welcome all of you here this evening.

I knew that if I elevated their participation, it could not be ignored as easily.

I just want to say a special word of appreciation to all the women in Ireland and Northern Ireland who have worked for peace and worked to bring about reconciliation over so many years.

When I was in that room, I reiterated the importance of having women's voices, talked about receiving Monica and Pearl at the White House, and basically sent a message that we expected them to be treated respectfully and seriously.

-I looked around the room and I could see that they were listening to her in total silence.

It really did embolden us.

It totally changed everything after that.

It wasn't planned.

It was creative, it was imaginative, it was saying we've had enough of the men talking for us, nothing about us, without us.

♪♪♪ -That was a very slow process, and it was a deadening.

It was exhausting.

It was lengthy talking over the same areas much of the time.

And then, eventually, people got talked out.

But that doesn't bring about a solution.

What people had to do ultimately was transcend their own tribal base for the greater good.

-After we'd been involved in negotiations for a year and a half, I recall fearing that the process was nearly over.

I drafted a plan that would establish an absolute final unbreakable deadline, because without it, I was quite certain that the process was spiraling toward failure and rapidly.

-Within the last hour, Senator George Mitchell has given the province's politicians an agenda for a settlement, the deadline for which is now only six days away.

-We have been at this for two years.

It could be discussed for another 20 years.

And the only way to bring this to a conclusion is to require a decision.

-Deadlines are generally completely arbitrary, but they do work in focusing the mind.

But when we received the draft agreement, we didn't see ourselves either on the pages or between the lines.

We might have even settled for being between the lines.

-We were quite perturbed because some of the parties we had bilateral meetings with had agreed to support us. They didn't.

♪♪♪ -There was intense pressure.

There was mass media outside from all over the world, who spent their time interviewing each other because nobody else was talking to them at that particular point.

Obviously, sort of Bertie Ahern, Tony Blair, and then, of course, we had Clinton, you know, on the phone from Washington, as well.

-I can remember going up to see them and the women being very depressed.

They were being cut out now, and I remember saying to a couple of them, 'We're now talking real politics here, and these guys are not going to just let other people take positions.'

-We knew that the pressure was on to get the Agreement signed while people were still convinced for the agreement.

But we have been here throughout to make the dynamic work, to make the process work, to put the partnerships together, but we also have an agenda, and we are as deserving as having that agenda reached as anybody else.

-Yeah, we did what we normally did when our backs were to the wall, which was basically our default position for the previous two years.

We had a think, we did some writing, we did some drafting.

-The British Secretary of State, Mo Mowlam, was a complete star, and because she was genuinely interested in what we were doing, the kind of policy papers that we were putting forward, she saw that they could be of use in the context of an overall settlement of a really complex situation.

-Did you like the people you were involved with?

-I tried not to get involved in liking anybody.

-What about Gerry Adams?

-But I did like the Women's Coalition.

I think they made a big effort and were good.

-So we're arguing, arguing, arguing, arguing, looking at texts, going but to George Mitchell, going but to civil servants, saying, 'This needs redrafted, this needs looked at again.'

-There had to be more encouragement, to encourage women to be more politically aware, to educate women better in terms of politics and be more open.

In the end, we tried everything.

We just couldn't get that in.

So we decided we would speak to the Secretary of State.

People were blocking us getting into the office for whatever reason, so in the end, I waited outside the office, and finally Mo came out and she was going to the toilets.

So I went to the toilets with her, and we did manage to get that in to the Good Friday Agreement.

-We need to recognize communities and community development, so we wrote that in.

We wanted to get references in to integrated education, because we wanted a holistic community which is not divided but which is living and learning together.

-We got in about the victims of violence.

No other party had raised victims of violence in the agreement.

-It was very hard, though, to get onto the agenda, issues that we had specifically wanted.

And we had gone with two priorities, both linked to the inclusion agenda and widening participation.

And a much broader understanding of democracy then often political parties, and certainly political parties in a conflict situation, understand.

One of them had been had been on electoral reform, and one of it had been the issue that I had been promoting for quite some time, which is the issue of a civic forum.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -We got a phone call from Martha Pope, who was George Mitchell's assistant.

And Martha said, 'You can either have the electoral system or you can have the civic forum in there -- which is it?'

And we said the civic forum.

-We haven't got one of our key issues on electoral forum, which is actually about changing and making this a more democratic place in Northern Ireland, changing the politics of Northern Ireland and including more women.

-Will people look back on us as women and say we faltered because we did not stand out for this at the end?

And then we're saying, 'How could you not sign a peace agreement for your country?'

We have to have the peace. It's always a difficult choice.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -The agreement that has emerged from the Northern Ireland peace talks opens the way for the people there to build a society based on enduring peace, justice, and equality.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -The people in Northern Ireland have always asked and said, 'If only the politicians would only sit down together and talk and reach an agreement.'

Today, we have done it.

We have interrupted the culture of failure in Northern Ireland.

There is no going back.

♪♪♪ -In the end, there was parity of pain and parity of gain on everyone's part.

Northern Ireland was still going to remain as part of the United Kingdom.

But yet, on the other side, the quid pro quo was they were getting a totally reformed Northern Ireland.

-And some people left, as you know, some people threatened to walk out, but at the end of the day, we got that agreement.

And then we put that agreement to the people, and the people said yes.

♪♪♪ -Yes -- 71.12% [ Cheering ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ I've got -- I've got elected. Tell the children.

-I never seen the Women's Coalition as being set up as a long-term women's party.

Even though we were all together on a whole host of issues, the one issue that was pulling us apart was some women thought it's time for a women's party, and some women thought it's a nonsense.

There was a fraying of the edges at that time.

It was almost as if the Women's Coalition had came together in a moment of time to do a certain thing, and once it was done, it was gone.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -I think the demise of the Women's Coalition was fundamentally because the coalition was a peace party made up entirely of women.

It was not a political party for the advancement of women's rights.

So when peace was negotiated, it was difficult for women in the broader community to see what the role of the Women's Coalition was.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -I've always believed that politics is deficient if it lacks women's perspective, women's voices, and I think there was never a more, you know, potent example than the contribution that the Women's Coalition made to the peace negotiations in Northern Ireland.

-It's easy for people to overlook the role that women play in these events, and that's why elevating it, talking about it, writing it into history is essential.

-I don't think the women have been recognized widely for the crucial role they played, and I think that their role and contribution to the outcome and the agreement that finally was reached be recognized and remembered.

-Women's rights are human rights!

-It actually comes back to me how important it was when I talk to women from other conflict situations, you know, and they started sort of saying, 'What can we do?'

And you're sort of saying, 'You know, setting up a women's party in those circumstances seemed so off-the-wall that people sort of said, 'You're mad!'

But actually, it did make a difference, and there is something that you can do.'

-For me its part of a big tapestry of activism and what you can do to make positive change.

[ Shouting ] But sometimes I think it's that hero mold.

You know, you have to be able to do all that -- you don't.

You have to be a part of a big group.

And then, together, the collective thing, you can change it.

-The idea was to release the idea to women that there is a place in politics.

[ Cheering ] Now, I know a lot of male counterparts didn't want that.


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