Irish Korean North South Lesson Sharing

In Korea, a much discussed example of unification was and remains the “Berlin” model.  As one scenario and a contingency, it has generated a lot of discussion, comparison and analysis amongst Korean academics, officials and commentators. The Irish model, alternatively, is based on the premise of two jurisdictions continuing to exist until there is agreement otherwise, recognizing each other’s legitimacy and aspirations, and agreeing to formal intergovernmental North South structures working on a programme of cooperation.  The message below summarizes the visit of the delegation from the North South Ministerial Council.  Subsequently, the German Ambassador, HE Rolf Mafael, and I made a joint presentation of both models to the Asia Society of Korea.

Ambassador’s Message – North South Lesson Sharing

23 October 2012

As you may have seen in some media coverage, the Embassy hosted a North-South lesson-sharing visit by a delegation from Ireland last week.  This project began in discussions between the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore and the Minister of Unification Yu Woo-ik this time last year.

How to characterise the visit?  I would say stimulating, informative, revealing and affirmative.  Perhaps the most important description is ‘affirmative’ in that the visit affirmed the value of sharing lessons and exchanging views with our Korean counterparts.

This was partly because of commonalities such as our shared colonial history, partition, the generation of conflict and aspirations for unity.  But importantly it was affirmative too for what was not held in common; for example the absence of internationally binding agreements embracing all issues and relationships or of inter-governmental mechanisms for managing escalating tensions and unexpected events or actions.  While the equations of identity are different, exploring our differences helped illuminate the nature of national identity and the nature of aspirations about the future.  The news of the Scottish referendum on independence in 2014 was a useful entry point into these discussions.

The focus of the visit was on the North South Ministerial Council, the work of its Secretariat and the purpose and activities of two of the six specialised North-South bodies established by the Good Friday Agreement.

The delegation comprised Mary Bunting, Northern Ireland Joint Secretary of the North-South Ministerial Council, my colleague Margaret Stanley, Southern Deputy Joint Secretary, Pat Colgan of the Special EU Peace Programmes Body and Thomas Hunter McGowan (CEO) and Aidan Gough (Director for Strategy) of Inter-Trade Ireland.

Our counterparts were senior officials from the Ministry of Unification and members of the Korean Institute for National Unification.  In addition to presentations on their areas of work by the delegation, I gave an introductory presentation on the peace process focusing on intergovernmental cooperation since the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement and the historic settlement of 1998.  At the end of their visit, the delegation briefed a group of interested Ambassadors on their views and impressions of the exercise.

In the question and answer sessions, several themes and topics emerged.  These included approaches to unity and cross-border cooperation; the nature of national identity, territory and consent; negotiations, trust and the role of the US; security; dealing with the past; sustainability of peace building; power-sharing; and mechanisms for intergovernmental cooperation.

Two particular issues of interest garnered much attention.  One was the sheer patience required and the time spans involved – the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985; the Hume-Adams dialogue 1988; the IRA ceasefire 1994; the Good Friday Agreement 1998; decommissioning of paramilitary weapons and the establishment of a stable power-sharing 2007; the first meeting two weeks ago of the North-South inter-parliamentary forum.  The other was the delicate and complex nature of North-South relations that are the heart of the historic settlement of 1998.  For the officials involved in the NSMC Secretariat and the North-South bodies, this is a daily reality given that what are in themselves mundane matters become highly political in the nationalist-unionist force-field.

The delegation visited the DMZ, including observing the crossing into Kaesong, the 3rd tunnel, the Joint Security Area and the observation platform.  I think it is fair to say that they found it both impressive and sad that such mighty infrastructure divided one people.

While all conflicts are different in origin and character, peace-building solutions share many common features; a commitment not to use violence or the threat of violence to influence negotiations; a resilient inter-governmental process that can withstand and manage unexpected events; comprehensive talks under independent chairmanship; agreed outcomes established through binding treaties; supporting input from regional partners and the international community; effective and monitored implementation.

I would like to thank the members of the delegation for their presentations and the candour of their engagement.  Indeed, the joint nature of our delegation itself illustrated how far we have travelled in our own journey to peace and reconciliation.  I would also like to acknowledge the wonderful hospitality of our hosts at the Ministry of Unification and the serious engagement of our interlocutors throughout the visit.  I am very hopeful that this lesson-sharing exchange is just the first of many.

Best wishes,

Eamonn

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