Tag Archives: Northern Ireland

New Chapter Written as U.K. State Visit of President Higgins Draws to a Close

What will probably be remembered for its significance in our peace process was the Northern Ireland reception at Windsor Castle and the exchange of commendations between Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, and Queen Elizabeth II who both acknowledged each other’s roles in reconciliation.

The quadrangle of smiles at the greeting between them as President Higgins and First Minister Peter Robinson of the DUP look on, captured in the photo accompanying the Irish Times report, says much; about how far we have come in terms of reconciliation on the island of Ireland and between the islands of our Atlantic archipelago, about the human dimension and the role of leaders in peace building, about the potential for the Nationalist and Unionists traditions to find ease with each other within what the great peace builder John Hume called “the totality of relations” between Britain and Ireland.

Bringing the opposing parties together used to be a role played by the United States under President Clinton’s guidance in Washington.  It is a genuine mark of the historic nature of President Higgins’ visit that we see it happening now locally, as it were, under familiar livery.  There is no doubt that the visit will help buoy the leaders on all sides as they seek to work through the issues and challenges that remain in our peace process.

The festive highlight of the programme yesterday was the celebration of Irish arts and artists at the Albert Hall, the Ceiliúradh, organised by Culture Ireland (www.cultureireland.ie) .  As the Irish Independent reported, ‘Taking to the stage to uproarious applause, he said: “On a night like this it is great to be Irish.” He added it was “even better” to share it with “our friends in Britain”.’

Today is the final day of the historic visit when President Higgins and his wife Sabina will bid farewell to his royal hosts.  Our poet President will pay his respects to the great bard Shakespeare by visiting Stratford-Upon-Avon to acknowledge the world’s greatest playwright, a formative writer in the English language which we Irish have adopted and moulded as our own.

Then a visit to Coventry to view its ruined 14th century Cathedral as a symbol of the damage wrought by the German bombing raids during WWII: he will also meet with the strong Irish community there whose roots were laid during the city’s booming manufacturing in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. The President and his wife will depart for Ireland from Coventry Airport.

The official visit of the President of Ireland has written a new chapter in Irish British relations.  It has come at an ideal time as we encounter commemorative centennial rendezvous with some of the most contentions episodes in our history, including the 1916 Rising, the 1919-1921 War of Independence, the Government of Ireland Act of 1920 which partitioned Ireland, the opening of the Northern Ireland parliament in June 1921 by George V, the Treaty Negotiations December 1921, the achievement of Independence in January 1922 and the Irish civil war 1922-23.

By taking stock of the progress in our relationship and registering the genuine warmth between Ireland, North and South, and between Ireland and Britain as displayed by the visit, we can commemorate and remember these events in ways that embrace all of the dimensions of Irish, British Irish and Unionist identities.

I wish you a happy Easter and wonderful Passover celebration,

 

Eamonn

 Some links:

 Report on the Albert Hall celebration here http://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/celebration-shows-how-islands-have-enriched-each-other-1.1758152

And the President’s speech there is here http://www.president.ie/speeches/8179-2/

The Northern Ireland reception here http://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/queen-greets-mcguinness-at-windsor-castle-1.1758014

Final day and farewell is anticipated here http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/state-visits/irish-president-ends-historic-visit-30176455.html

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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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Northern Ireland: Devolving Policing and Justice

Devolving Policing and Justice, Northern Ireland

5 February – A Good Day for Ireland

 I am delighted to report a major achievement of the Northern Ireland peace process.  

 On 5 February 2010, the parties in Northern Ireland reached an agreement at Hillsborough which will see the devolution of responsibility for policing and justice by 12 April; will seek to improve the prospects for agreed outcomes to contentious parades; and will improve the working of the Executive and Assembly at Stormont.

 As the joint statement by the Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Prime Minister Gordon Brown states:

 “The successful outcome of these negotiations is the result of the political parties in Northern Ireland demonstrating leadership, mutual respect and political will to act in the interests of the whole community.  The two Governments fully support and stand over this agreement. We are committed to working, as appropriate, to ensure its faithful implementation.  Today is a good day for the people of Northern Ireland and for the people of these islands.”

 The Northern Ireland peace process has been a complicated and long process.  It has been necessarily so given the complex origins, duration and course of the conflict between 1969 and the ceasefires in 1994.

 I was honoured to have been part of the team of Irish officials involved in the negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.  At the time we had faith that the Agreement was the most comprehensive document addressing the complexity of factors that made the conflict in Northern Ireland so intractable. 

We also knew that agreeing an outcome document was one thing; implementation quite another, even in the context of the tremendous process of change brought about by the Anglo-Irish Agreement some thirteen years earlier.  And so it proved to be. 

That peace making and peace building in Northern Ireland should take such time and attention should not detract from what a success it has been, whether for measured for example by the power sharing arrangements or the transformation of policing. 

A major feature of the Good Friday Agreement was the establishment of the North-South Ministerial Council which is a structured inter-governmental framework for cross-border cooperation across a range of economic and social sectors.  From this process, for example, emerged Tourism Ireland which jointly promotes the island of Ireland, North and South.  This cooperation has helped enormously to bridge relations across the border and advance the social and economic interests of all of the people who share the island.

The agreement on 5 February last to transfer policing and justice is the last unfinished business of the Good Friday Agreement and a major testament to how far we on the island of Ireland have travelled from conflict to shared responsibility.  Its significance is enhanced by the fact that it was the parties themselves that negotiated and concluded the agreement.

Of course, there remain many challenges ahead.  However, the 5 February agreement is an historic step toward the realisation of the vision set out in the Good Friday Agreement. 

Eamonn McKee

Ambassador

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