Inside Accounts, Volume II: The Irish Government and Peace in Northern Ireland, from the Good Friday Agreement to the Fall of Power-Sharing 9781526143914

Focusing on the peace process, these two volumes includes seventeen interviews from high-ranking civil servants and poli

145 113

English Pages [307] Year 2019

Report DMCA / Copyright

DOWNLOAD FILE

Polecaj historie

Inside Accounts, Volume II: The Irish Government and Peace in Northern Ireland, from the Good Friday Agreement to the Fall of Power-Sharing
 9781526143914

Table of contents :
Front matter
Dedication
Contents
Notes on interviewees
Acknowledgements
Brief chronology of the peace process from 1997
Parties, organisations, offices and key documents
Introduction
The aspirations of text: an interview with Rory Montgomery
Forums and North–South relations: an interview with Wally Kirwan
Strategy and trajectory: an interview with David Donoghue
Groundwork and building relations: an interview with Ray Bassett
Legal and political convergence: an interview with David Byrne
Putting arms beyond use: an interview with Tim Dalton
Policy and pragmatism: an interview with Eamonn McKee
The politics of engagement: an interview with Liz O’Donnell
The focus of leadership: an interview with Bertie Ahern
Conclusion
Index

Citation preview

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts, Volume II

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts, Volume II The Irish Government and Peace in Northern Ireland, from the Good Friday Agreement to the Fall of Power-Sharing Interviews by Graham Spencer

Manchester University Press

Copyright © Graham Spencer 2020 The right of Graham Spencer to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Published by Manchester University Press Altrincham Street, Manchester M1 7JA www.manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN 978 1 7849 9418 1 hardback ISBN 978 1 5261 4916 9 paperback First published 2020 The publisher has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for any external or thirdparty internet websites referred to in this book, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate. Image credit: British Prime Minister Tony Blair (L), US Senator George Mitchell (C) and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern (R) smiling on 10 April 1998, after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. © Dan Chung/AFP/Getty Images

Typeset by Servis Filmsetting Ltd, Stockport, Cheshire

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

In memory of Keith Tester

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Contents

Notes on interviewees Acknowledgements Brief chronology of the peace process from 1997 Parties, organisations, offices and key documents

viii xi xii xx

Introduction 1 The aspirations of text: an interview with Rory Montgomery  2 Forums and North–South relations: an interview with Wally Kirwan 3 Strategy and trajectory: an interview with David Donoghue 4 Groundwork and building relations: an interview with Ray Bassett 5 Legal and political convergence: an interview with David Byrne 6 Putting arms beyond use: an interview with Tim Dalton 7 Policy and pragmatism: an interview with Eamonn McKee 8 The politics of engagement: an interview with Liz O’Donnell 9 The focus of leadership: an interview with Bertie Ahern Conclusion

1 10 38 66 90 118 142 175 207 239 268

Index

275

vii

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Notes on interviewees

BERTIE AHERN was elected to the Dail in 1977 as a member of Fianna Fail. An Assistant Whip in the first Government of Taoiseach Charles Haughey, he then became a Junior Minister in Haughey’s second Government before becoming Minister for Labour. Ahern was made Minister for Finance in 1991 and was elected party leader in 1994. In 1997 he was made Taoiseach of Ireland and retained that position until 2008. DAVID BYRNE served as the first European Union (EU) Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection from 1999 to 2004. He became a Senior Counsel in 1985 and was appointed Attorney-General of Ireland in 1997. In 1998 he was one of the negotiators of the Good Friday Agreement. Currently, Mr Byrne is Chair of the Brussels-based European Alliance for Personalised Medicine. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians (London) as well as the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, where he serves as a member of the Council. In 2004 he was conferred with the degree of Honorary Doctor of Laws by the National University of Ireland. He is Chancellor Emeritus, Dublin City University. TIM DALTON worked from 1979 to 1989 as Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the newly established Civil Legal Aid Board; he then returned to the Department of Justice as Head of Prisons and later as Assistant Secretary with responsibility for Security and Northern Ireland matters. He was based at the Anglo-Irish Secretariat in Belfast while on secondment to the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1992, and in 1993 returned to Justice as Secretary General, where he served until he retired in 2004. DAVID DONOGHUE retired recently from Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. During a forty-year diplomatic career he engaged intensively over many years with the Northern Ireland problem and Anglo-Irish relations. He viii

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Interviewees was involved in the negotiation of both the Anglo-Irish Agreement (1985) and the Good Friday Agreement (1998). He served several times in the Department’s AngloIrish Division, was assigned to the Embassy in London from 1995 to 1999 and was the Irish Joint Secretary of the Anglo-Irish Secretariat in Belfast. He held two of the Department’s most senior management posts at headquarters and had ambassadorial postings to the Russian Federation, Austria, Germany and the United Nations. From 2014 to 2016 he co-chaired global negotiations which produced the Sustainable Development Goals as well as the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. WALLY KIRWAN was Assistant Secretary-General in the Department of the Taoiseach until his retirement in 2004. He was also concurrently Secretary General of both the National Forum on Europe and the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. From 1975 to 1994 he was centrally involved in the formulation and co-ordination of Irish policy in the EU, attending over fifty European summits. From 1983 to 1984, he was Co-ordinator of the Secretariat of the New Ireland Forum which agreed the aggiornamento of Irish nationalist policy positions that led on to the Anglo-Irish Agreement 1985, and from 1987 to 1994 he was alternate Chairperson (to a Minister of State) of the Interdepartmental Committee on Ireland’s approach and policy in the EU. From 1994 to 1996 he acted as Secretary-General during the active phase of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation and was then a senior member of the Irish Government delegation throughout the multi-party talks from 1996 that led to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. In 2008 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Memorial University of Newfoundland for his work in advancing peace in Northern Ireland and co-operation between Ireland and Newfoundland and Labrador. EAMONN MCKEE is a member of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He served in various positions at home and abroad related to the peace process between 1986 and 2004, including Anglo-Irish Division, Embassy Washington DC and Consulate General New York. He subsequently served as Ambassador to South Korea (from 2009 to 2013) and Ambassador to Israel (from 2013 to 2015) before returning to headquarters. RORY MONTGOMERY is an officer of the Department of Foreign Affairs. He worked on Northern Ireland issues between 1993 and 2001 and was part of the teams which negotiated the Good Friday Agreement and North–South institutions. Subsequently he was Political Director, Permanent Representative to the EU, Ambassador to France and EU Adviser to Enda Kenny. He is currently Second Secretary General, with lead responsibility for Brexit. ix

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Interviewees LIZ O’DONNELL was born in Dublin and educated at Trinity College Law School Dublin. She served as TD (Member of the Dail) for Dublin South for the Progressive Democrats from 1992 to 2007. She was appointed as Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs from 1997 until 2002. As Minister she was a member of the Irish Government negotiating team in the multi-party talks leading to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and had a continuing role in Anglo-Irish relations until 2002. She was also Minister with responsibility for Overseas Development and Human Rights as well as a member of the Committee of Procedure and Privileges, the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Commission of the Houses of the Oireachtas, the statutory body which runs both Houses. She was Deputy Leader of her party when she retired from politics in 2007. After politics, Liz was involved in broadcasting, journalism and public affairs consultancy. She was appointed Chairperson of the Road Safety Authority in 2014 for a five-year term and currently works as Director of Policy Government Affairs and Communications for MSD (Human Health) Ireland, the pharmaceutical company.

x

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Acknowledgements

This book would not exist without the patience and help of those interviewed. I want to thank each individual for accommodating my persistent and, no doubt, annoying requests for interviews and for the candid and open way in which each volunteered information and recollections about efforts to achieve a peace settlement in Northern Ireland. Each person was interviewed at least three times before their testimony was edited down into one single interview. Apart from the interviewees I want to thank Lord John Alderdice, Joe Brosnan, Sir John Chilcot, David Cooke, Paul Dixon, Aaron Edwards, Lincoln Geraghty, John Grieve, Sue Harper, the late Maurice Hayes, Chris Hudson, Chris Maccabe, Seamus Mallon, Jim McAuley, Van Norris, Connal Parr, Kevin Smith, Pip Sutton, Sir Quentin Thomas, Lord David Trimble, and particularly Lynn Evans. Lastly, I am grateful to Irish Political Studies for allowing me to use a shortened version of the Bertie Ahern interview published in 2017. The book, though, is dedicated to my late friend and mentor, Keith Tester, who died in 2019.

xi

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Brief chronology of the peace process from 1997

May 1997 Tony Blair is elected as British Prime Minister. July 1997 Provisional IRA (PIRA) announces a renewal of its ceasefire after the British Government resumes contacts with Sinn Fein. August 1997 Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) is established to oversee decommissioning of paramilitary weapons. September 1997 Unionists, including the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), boycott talks because of the decision to allow Sinn Fein re-entry to talks. Sinn Fein sign up to the Mitchell Principles. October 1997 Gerry Adams meets Tony Blair. January 1998 Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam visits loyalist inmates in the Maze Prison to convince them to continue supporting the peace process. January 1998 Tony Blair announces the Bloody Sunday Inquiry. April 1998 The Good Friday Agreement is reached. The DUP opposes the Agreement. April 1998 The PIRA announces there will be no decommissioning. May 1998 ‘Dissident’ republicans opposed to the Agreement and the Sinn Fein strategy form the Real IRA. May 1998 A referendum to gauge support for the Agreement produces a 71 per cent ‘for’ vote in Northern Ireland, although there is a large ‘no’ vote from unionism. June 1998 Elections to Northern Ireland Assembly lead to the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) being elected as the biggest parties. July 1998 Drumcree stand-off leads to widespread violence. xii

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Chronology August 1998 Real IRA bombing in Omagh kills twenty-nine people, and two unborn twins. September 1998 President Clinton visits Northern Ireland to try to bolster the peace process. September 1998 Gerry Adams and UUP leader David Trimble lead first talks between unionists and republicans for seventy-five years. September 1998 Early prisoner releases made possible by the Good Friday Agreement take place. September 1998 Demolition of security installations and checkpoints takes place under the auspices of ‘confidence-building’ measures and demilitarisation. October 1998 David Trimble and John Hume receive the Nobel Peace Prize. February 1999 Disagreement between the parties over decommissioning continues to hamper power-sharing. April 1999 Sinn Fein states that PIRA decommissioning cannot take place before the Assembly is up and running. July 1999 Attempts to nominate Ministers for the Assembly fail as the UUP rejects Sinn Fein’s inability to deliver PIRA decommissioning. September 1999 The Patten Report is released, recommending root-and-branch reform of policing. Recommendations include changes to the name, badges and symbols used by police and the setting up of a Policing Board which would be ‘community-led’. Patten also recommends a 50–50 recruitment of Catholics and Protestants to the police service. November 1999 Sinn Fein agrees to talk with the IICD on decommissioning. November 1999 Assembly meets and nominates Ministers as power-sharing commences. February 2000 Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson suspends the Assembly because of no progress on decommissioning. March 2000 Bloody Sunday Inquiry begins in Londonderry. May 2000 The Provisional IRA announces it will open some arms dumps for inspection. This corresponds with a proposed sequence of events to facilitate a return to power-sharing but is also linked to a PIRA commitment to decommissioning weapons. Any PIRA action on weapons to run parallel with movement on policing reform and demilitarisation. For republicans this would create xiii

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Chronology the ‘context’ within which arms would be ‘completely and v­ erifiably put beyond use’. May 2000 Unionists agree a return to the Assembly, on the understanding that arms would be dealt with in parallel to the Assembly being up and running. June 2000 The IICD confirm that they have inspected some PIRA arms dumps and that arms could not be removed without detection. September 2000 ‘Dissidents’ attack MI6 headquarters in London. March 2001 ‘Dissidents’ plant a car bomb outside the BBC in London. May 2001 Slow progress on decommissioning leads to growing tensions within the UUP and David Trimble threatens to resign as First Minister one month after the forthcoming elections if decommissioning is not dealt with. June 2001 The DUP, under leader the Rev. Ian Paisley, becomes the dominant unionist party at the elections and Sinn Fein supersede the SDLP to become the largest nationalist party. July 2001 David Trimble stands down as leader of the UUP to create a six-week negotiating space. August 2001 IICD announces that the PIRA has a plan to put arms ‘beyond use’. August 2001 Assembly is suspended for twenty-four hours. The effect of this is to allow the parties another six weeks to agree who will be First Minister and Deputy First Minister (by 22 September 2001). August 2001 Three men arrested in Columbia are accused of being in the PIRA and training Marxist rebels. The PIRA announces that it is withdrawing its plan to put weapons beyond use. September 2001 Clashes and violence occur in Belfast between loyalists and republicans outside Holy Cross Girls’ primary school. September 2001 Suspension of the Assembly because of slow progress leads to another hiatus of six weeks (until 3 November 2001) to give the parties more time to reach agreement and elect a First and Deputy First Minister. October 2001 The IICD announces that it has witnessed a first act of PIRA decommissioning. November 2001 Initial deadline of 3 November for election of First and Deputy First Minister passes, with Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid proposing 5 November as another deadline. xiv

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Chronology November 2001 Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) renamed as Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). March 2002 Suspected PIRA involvement in break-in at Castlereagh police headquarters. October 2002 Police raid Sinn Fein Stormont offices, suspecting the PIRA of running a spying operation, and search for evidence of republican intelligence gathering. October 2002 Devolution is suspended and power-sharing collapses amidst allegations over continuing PIRA activity. October 2002 Tony Blair makes a keynote speech on ‘acts of completion’ at Belfast Harbour, telling the PIRA it cannot be ‘half in, half out’ of the process. April 2003 London and Dublin propose a way forward through the Joint Declaration document. May 2003 The Joint Declaration is released. Assembly elections are postponed. September 2003 Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) is given the role of examining the dismantling of paramilitary structures and the transition to stable democratic institutions. October 2003 Moves are initiated to choreograph a return to power-sharing based on positive verification of PIRA decommissioning. However, an IICD statement on a third act of PIRA decommissioning is seen as not sufficiently transparent by David Trimble and a return to power-sharing is postponed. November 2003 DUP and Sinn Fein emerge from Assembly elections as dominant parties but Revd Ian Paisley refuses to sit in a government until the PIRA has disarmed. March 2004 Substantive talks between the Irish and British Governments and the parties fail to bring about a breakthrough. September 2004 Talks at Leeds Castle. Sinn Fein name two independent clergy witnesses who will verify decommissioning (Rev. Harold Good and Father Alec Reid). The DUP want visual proof of decommissioning, which is rejected by Sinn Fein. December 2004 A record £26.5 million is stolen from the Northern Bank in Belfast. Security chiefs point towards the PIRA as responsible and believe the money to be a ‘retirement fund’ for PIRA personnel as well as used for election funding. xv

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Chronology January 2005 Robert McCartney is murdered by PIRA men outside a pub in Belfast. McCartney’s sisters launch a campaign for justice which leads to international pressure for the PIRA to be brought to an end. February 2005 The PIRA withdraws an offer to complete the decommissioning of weapons. March 2005 American pressure on the PIRA to disarm intensifies following the McCartney murder. September 2005 The IICD announces that it is satisfied that the PIRA have decommissioned all arms. January 2006 Proposed legislation to allow around 150 ‘on-the-run’ republican fugitives – accused of paramilitary crimes before 1998 – to return to Northern Ireland is widely rejected by the parties. April 2006 Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern unveil blueprint for restoring devolution, confirming that the Assembly will be reformed on 15 May, with parties given six weeks to elect an Executive. A fall-back position is that if this fails a further twelve weeks will be given to get a multi-party government up and running or else salaries will be stopped. May 2006 Assembly operates for the first time since its suspension in 2002. June 2006 The two Governments restate 24 November as the last chance for devolution to be restored. October 2006 The IMC announce that some of the PIRA’s most important structures have been dismantled. October 2006 DUP leader Rev. Ian Paisley takes part in formal talks with Catholic Archbishop Sean Brady and deems conversations to be ‘helpful and constructive’. October 2006 Three days of intensive multi-party talks designed to restore devolution take place at St Andrews in Scotland. May 2008 is called for as the deadline for the transfer of policing and justice affairs from London. St Andrews Agreement ratified. December 2006 Sinn Fein Executive meets to discuss backing the police service. January 2007 Sinn Fein members vote to support policing in Northern Ireland. January 2007 Assembly elections are confirmed for 7 March and a transitional Assembly at Stormont is dissolved to allow this to take place. xvi

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Chronology March 2007 Assembly elections return the DUP as the largest party with thirty-six seats, with Sinn Fein taking twenty-eight, the Ulster Unionists taking eighteen, the SDLP sixteen and the Alliance Party seven. March 2007 Devolved government is restored in Northern Ireland after DUP and Sinn Fein leaders hold breakthrough meeting. May 2007 The DUP’s Rev. Ian Paisley is sworn in as First Minister and Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness is sworn in as Deputy First Minister. October 2007 The Executive agree a new legislative programme with an investment strategy for ten years. April 2008 Peter Robinson succeeds Rev. Ian Paisley as leader of the DUP. June 2008 Peter Robinson confirmed as First Minster. July 2008 Slow progress on policing and justice bring the Assembly to a standstill. November 2008 Executive meetings resumed after a DUP–Sinn Fein agreement is reached on the process for devolving authority for policing and justice. March 2009 British soldiers and a policeman are killed by ‘dissident’ republicans. Both the DUP and Sinn Fein condemn the killings. June 2009 Ulster Volunteer Force decommissions weapons. December 2009 Legislation passed by the Assembly to pave the way for the transfer of policing and justice powers to Northern Ireland. January 2010 British and Irish Governments meet Northern Ireland parties to finalise steps for the devolution of authority over policing and justice. January 2010 Ulster Defence Association and Irish National Liberation Army decommission weapons. February 2010 The IICD stands down. February 2010 Ten days of negotiations lead to the Hillsborough Agreement, with Sinn Fein and the DUP finally agreeing a deal on the devolution of authority over policing and justice. The date of 12 April 2010 is set as the deadline for devolution. March 2010 Assembly formally recognises the Hillsborough Agreement. April 2010 Authority for policing and justice is devolved, with David Ford of the Alliance Party elected as Justice Minister. April 2011 PSNI officer Ronan Kerr killed by ‘dissident’ republicans. May 2011 Queen Elizabeth II makes state visit to Ireland. xvii

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Chronology June 2012 Queen Elizabeth II on visit to Northern Ireland shakes hands with Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness. July 2012 Extensive rioting in Ardoyne, Belfast following rival Protestant and Catholic parades. November 2012 Prison officer David Black is killed by a ‘dissident’ republican group claiming to be the ‘new IRA’. December 2012 Decision by Belfast City Council to change Union flag from flying permanently over Belfast City Hall to designated days sparks protests and riots by loyalists which continue throughout 2013. July 2013 Formation of The Panel of Parties in the Northern Ireland Executive with Ambassador Richard Haass as Chair and Meghan L. O’Sullivan as Vice-Chair to initiate consensual recommendations on parades, protests, flags, symbols, emblems and related matters, and the past. December 2013 Haass and O’Sullivan produce proposed agreement which is accepted by nationalists and republicans but rejected by unionists. May 2014 Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams is arrested, questioned and detained for four days by police in Antrim, Northern Ireland over the abduction, murder and disappearance of Jean McConville in 1972 and for membership of the PIRA. He is released without charge. September 2014 Rev. Ian Paisley, former leader of the DUP, dies. October 2015 A report into the status of paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland produced by Lord Carlile, Rosalie Flanagan and Stephen Shaw concludes that all the main organisations remain in existence. November 2015 Fresh Start Agreement is published to ‘consolidate the peace, secure stability, enable progress and offer hope’. December 2015 Arlene Forster replaces Peter Robinson as leader of the DUP and becomes First Minister. May 2016 The Fresh Start Panel Report on the Disbandment of Paramilitary Groups in Northern Ireland is published. January 2017 Executive suspended. January 2017 Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Fein named as Deputy First Minister. March 2017 Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein’s Deputy First Minster since 2007, dies. xviii

Chronology

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

September 2017 The Independent Reporting Commission, established as part of the Fresh Start Agreement of 2015, is launched to report on progress towards ending paramilitary activity. February 2018 Gerry Adams stands down as President of Sinn Fein and is replaced by Mary Lou McDonald.

xix

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Parties, organisations, offices and key documents

Parties Alliance Party Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) Fianna Fail Fine Gael Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition (NIWC) Progressive Democrats Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) Sinn Fein Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) Ulster Democratic Party (UDP) UK Unionist Party (UKUP) Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Organisations Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC) Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) Provisional IRA (PIRA and/or IRA) Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Real IRA (RIRA) Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Ulster Defence Association (UDA) Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) xx

Parties, organisations, offices, key documents

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Offices Department of Foreign Affairs Department of Justice and Equality Department of the Taoiseach Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministry of Defence Northern Ireland Civil Service Northern Ireland Office (NIO) Key documents Good Friday Agreement 1998 Joint Declaration 2003 St Andrews Agreement 2006 Hillsborough Agreement 2010 Fresh Start Agreement 2015

xxi

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Introduction

This book of extended interviews, conducted between 2014 and 2017 with seven Irish senior civil servants and two politicians who operated at the centre of the Northern Ireland peace process, provides a series of reflections about trying to end the Northern Ireland conflict through political agreement and power-sharing. The book is the second of a two-part study on efforts made by the Irish to create and develop a peace process that, unlike the Sunningdale initiative and the Anglo-Irish Agreement, would involve drawing the extreme parties into negotiations to create an inclusive settlement. As such, this second volume builds on the motivations, expectations and imperatives of peace-building from Volume I by focussing more specifically on the choreography and trajectory of the peace process from 1997, when Bertie Ahern became Taoiseach and the Good Friday Agreement was reached in 1998. The first volume looked at Sunningdale and the Anglo-Irish Agreement, before highlighting the importance of core concepts and principles as the basis for substantive engagement and commitment to a peace process. This second volume also addresses attempts to introduce power-sharing in the post-Good Friday Agreement phase, when issues like decommissioning and policing and institutional arrangements were being contested and implemented. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998, to an extent, was an acknowledgement of the lessons learned from Sunningdale and the Anglo-Irish Agreement in that its c­onceptualisation was based on the need to bring extremes and moderates together, as opposed to maintaining their exclusion and relying on the centre to bolster the case for change and accommodation. As such, the success of the 1998 Agreement emerged from the recognition that to build a sustainable peace process the line between moderates and extremes, over time, would evaporate (as demonstrated by Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party taking over from the SDLP and Ulster Unionist Party as the two dominant parties of ­government in Northern Ireland in 2001 and 2003, respectively) and that an expansive and inclusive 1

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts process driven by both British and Irish Governments would create the framework necessary to facilitate such a development. Unlike Sunningdale and the AngloIrish Agreement, the peace process therefore rested on a fundamental logic, which was  that, for a substantive peace to last, the protagonists for violence had to be involved in any new dispensation and not kept outside of it (Duignan 1996: 99; Reynolds 2009: 188). If a peace process depends on talking to those engaged in violence, and involving those participants in an inclusive negotiation process (Powell 2014: 167–202), it follows that much talking and communication must precede the expansive and complex areas of agreement that result. This necessarily requires informal and behind-the-scenes activity to create the conditions where ending violence can be seen to bring benefits and choices that persisting with violence cannot bring. In the case of Northern Ireland this background work was facilitated by a range of actors working relentlessly to try to make the case for supporting a peace process more advantageous than retaining some dogmatic adherence to the appeal of physical force (Farren 2017; Huband 2013; McKeever 2017; O’Dochartaigh 2011; Powell 2008; Reynolds 2009; Taylor 2011). This also meant that the convictions of conflict had to be transformed by what republican interlocutor Father Alec Reid referred to as an ‘alternative method’, where situations, spaces and positions could be debated, argued, reassessed and expressed through dialogue rather than violence and reactions to violence. The peace process was therefore a process of talking, and building expectations of change through the dynamics and tensions of talking. It relied on the possibilities of interpersonal communication, as well as formal negotiation and an exchange of positions, as a basis for compromise. In contrast, conflict is more often than not the absence of exchange. It is the process of monologue rather than dialogue and it relies on disengagement and distance to justify the inhumanity of violence. The interviews in this book all reinforce the value of proximity and interaction as the route to peace-building. On the momentum of the peace process, its design and chronology, many useful volumes have been written (Cochrane 2013; Farren 2010: 222–344; Hennessey 2000; Mallie and McKittrick 1996, 2001; O’Brien 1999; O’Clery 1997). There also exist a wide range of interesting autobiographical and biographical accounts by key political and supportive players in the peace process (Adams 2003; Ahern 2009; Andrews 2008; Blair 2010; Campbell 2013; Delaney 2001; Duignan 1996; Finlay 1998; Godson 2004; Major 1999; Mansergh 2002, 2006; McMichael 1999; Millar 2004; Mitchell 1999; Mowlam 2002; Reynolds 2009), as well as numerous historical analyses of how violent groups such as the Provisional IRA emerged and then moved to support political development which had previously been strongly resisted (De 2

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Introduction Breadun 2001; English 2003; Moloney 2002; Spencer 2015). There are fewer studies concerned with the interpersonal, the informal and the role of experience in that process. This book is an attempt to address such a gap in the literature and so explores the peace process  as  a  series of relationships as well as a formal political process. It is a study of the dynamic of relationships through conversations, dialogues and negotiations. The appeal of a peace process in the early 1990s was not just a matter of inclusive political motivation. It was also about economic development, growth and opportunity. This, indeed, was a real consideration for both Taoiseach Albert Reynolds and British Prime Minister John Major, who together created the structure and foundations for the peace process to evolve. As Reynolds put it, ‘The bombings and the violence were losing us all business, with the result that unemployment was rising and so was emigration.’ Reynolds noted that both he and John Major ‘understood the economic benefits that peace would bring’ for both Ireland and the UK (Reynolds 2009: 186), and his approach to the peace process as ‘deal-focussed’ was a reflection of his experience and skills as a successful businessman (Duignan 1996: 97). This is not to deny the importance of political choreography, but suggests that initial engagement with the Northern Ireland problem, for those like Reynolds and Major, meant taking account of the economic realities as well as the political ones and that the possibility of peace was seen in relation not just to political development, but to economic development too (American finance would also prove important to validate the benefits of peace; Dempsey 2004: 185–210). Both Reynolds and Major understood that social improvements would be important in underscoring the p ­ erceived benefits of peace. Improved standards of living, along with greater opportunities for employment, investment and training were seen as essential to address the social inequalities that had fed into conflict, and economic advancement would be a marker of how successful peace was. Of course, it would be politics that would be needed to create that environment and facilitate the conditions for transformation, but it should be noted that dealing with the peace process would also be more than just political calculation; that the ending of conflict relies on a fusion of political, moral and economic goals to neutralise the emotional charge that gave fuel to conflict; and that, to bring about a settlement, such imperatives would need to symbolise a ‘new beginning’ as vital and real. Significantly, the Irish approach, as personified by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who oversaw the process from 1997 until 2008, strongly favoured informality as a negotiating style. This is not to say that formality was disregarded, or neglected, but that a preference for relationship-building through intimate dialogue was prioritised. As 3

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts Ahern reveals in his autobiography, considerable weight of expectation was given to one-to-one meetings (Spencer 2017). Ahern emphasised a desire to ‘build consensus’ among participants by using ‘casual conversations’ as a means of leverage (Ahern 2009: 224) and favoured such closeness for cultivating trust, honesty and respect. But, as the interviews that follow make evident, the ‘big picture’ approach of leadership adopted by Ahern (and similarly with Blair) had to be supported by the substance of detail and text carried through seemingly endless dialogue and interventions by civil servants. Because of this, Ahern’s skill as Taoiseach owed much to the work and dedication of his civil servants and their particular expertise in drafting documents and working to key strategic objectives. Reynolds’ removal from office in 1994, to be replaced as Taoiseach by John Bruton, brought with it a much more cautious approach from the Irish with regard to keeping the extremes inside the process. Bruton’s support for the decommissioning of ­weapons – laid down as a precondition in Washington, in March 1995, by British Secretary of State Patrick Mayhew (who replaced Brooke in 1992 and lasted until 1997 when the Blair Government was elected) for republican admission into a talks process (which set back progress and, indeed, dogged the peace process for the next ten years) – may at one level have aligned him too closely with a British negotiations agenda. Yet, only a month before, Bruton had launched the Frameworks Document with the British, setting out the parameters for a comprehensive negotiation process through the principles of self-determination, consent, peaceful and democratic engagement and respect for all identities and traditions through a parity-of-esteem ethos. Notably, the text attracted nationalist interest (and unionist hostility) in its ­reference to the construction of a North–South relationship and institutional arrangements that would exist to ‘carry out on a democratically accountable basis delegated executive, harmonising and consultative functions over a range of designated ­matters to be agreed’ (Bew and Gillespie 1999: 304). The Good Friday Agreement relied on ‘constructive ambiguity’ in order to be reached (Powell 2008: 108), and the nature of movement towards that end was performative as well as political (Dixon 2018). But what became clear in the postAgreement period up to 2008 was that such ambiguity would become unsustainable if the structures and function of various bodies and institutions of the Agreement were to become active. Issues that were left unresolved in 1998, such as decommissioning and policing and justice, and which brought tensions and disputations about implementation, are addressed in this book. Although bringing conflict to an end was always the main objective for the two Governments, that objective also had to deal with the many obstructions, anxieties and tensions that grew as expectations for a settlement became clearer. That 4

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Introduction intensification is best illustrated in the lead-up to the Good Friday Agreement, since it was not until the final hours before 10 April 1998 that the content of the Agreement was signed off, even though years had been spent talking about how a settlement would look and what it needed to do. At the time of the Agreement’s release thorny issues like decommissioning were deliberately side-stepped, with other formal agreements on power-sharing and policing and justice similarly circumvented until a commitment to resolve the issues became possible, but over a decade later. In Chapter 1 Rory Montgomery talks about the construction of texts and principles in relation to institutional arrangements, relationships and the Good Friday Agreement. He refers to the iterative and accumulative importance of dialogue and text as central to the dynamic of the peace process and explains, in detail, how text functioned in terms of construction, meaning and aims. In Chapter 2, Wally Kirwan comments of the role of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation as an arena to facilitate better relations and the beginnings of dialogue, before detailing the tensions and challenges that beset Strand Two negotiations. His chapter moves from the early stages of formative dialogue to the complexity and difficulties of negotiation with regard to closer North–South relations. For Chapter 3 David Donoghue looks at the dynamics of negotiations and the work needed to pursue a successful strategic approach to the process. He highlights the importance of inclusiveness, flexibility, deadlines, reciprocal gestures and movements, as well as the role of outside influence and mediation. Ray Bassett highlights the significance of informal conversation and building personal trust in Chapter 4. He looks at the differences between the republican and unionist representatives he was dealing with and identifies personality as a vital ingredient for holding relations together. In Chapter 5 David Byrne talks at length about the removal of Articles Two and Three from the Irish Constitution and details the legal emphasis of the Good Friday Agreement in relation to its political ambitions. Byrne comments on converging political policy aims with legal powers, and the challenges involved in bridging these two areas. Tim Dalton talks extensively, in Chapter 6, about dealing with republicans and the problem of decommissioning. Dalton’s interview is wide ranging in terms of his contacts and conversations with the Sinn Fein leadership on ending republican violence and accepting peace. He talks in depth about the problems of demilitarisation and decommissioning and his comments are evidence of the importance of trust and confidence-building in a peace process. In Chapter 7 Eamonn McKee comments on the difficulties involved in the mediation of parades and new policing and justice arrangements. His interview also addresses the importance of strategy and understanding the psychology of those one is working with in a peace process and, like 5

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts many of the other interviews, highlights the value of intense engagement. Chapters 8 and 9 look at the politics of the peace process through interviews with Liz O’Donnell and Bertie Ahern, respectively. O’Donnell talks about her work with other political parties and, importantly, the role and actions of women in the peace process. Her testimony is evidence of collective commitment and teamwork in the Irish Government and she comments extensively on interpersonal relations as the basis for consensus and common purpose. Chapter 9 provides an overarching focus for the areas covered in the previous interviews. Here, Bertie Ahern talks about leading the peace process. He prioritises informality and personal contact as essential for trust and movement and he talks about how he tried to deal with challenges and personalities throughout his period as Taoiseach. Overall, this final chapter seeks to draw all the areas covered in these interviews towards the vital aims of the peace process: to end conflict, to improve relations North–South and East–West and to oversee a new power-sharing dispensation in Northern Ireland. Of course, many others played an important role in the peace process and we must acknowledge that further work needs to be done to examine the part those others played, including, in particular, the similarities and differences in leadership with regard to John Bruton (1994–97) and Brian Cowen (2008–11), who, both as Taoiseach, committed to the peace process either side of the Ahern era. However, although we should take such shortcomings into account the interviews that follow surely cover expansive ground and, in so doing, informatively demonstrate the range and complexity of roles that came into play. They show, in short, how Ray Bassett applied intelligence-gathering to understand feelings and attitudes ‘on the ground’ in Northern Ireland; how David Byrne used legal expertise and knowledge to traverse political and legal arrangements; how Tim Dalton gained the trust and acceptance of republicans through deep understanding of their psychology; how David Donoghue monitored and helped to oversee the strategic aims of working towards a settlement; how Wally Kirwan worked on the scope and technicalities of North–South structures and bodies; how Eamonn McKee sought to effect the possibilities of movement on policing, justice and parade issues; how Rory Montgomery applied drafting skills to shape the compilation and substance of key texts; how Liz O’Donnell as a Progressive Democrat politician worked to advance goals in partnership with the Government; and how Bertie Ahern sought to manage and lead Irish political interests in a process that was also convergent with British aims and aspirations. Although each role is considered individually there is also, inevitably, interdependence across those roles. Further, it is clear from those interviewed that each respective role points to a longevity of involvement in or around the Northern 6

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Introduction Ireland problem and so is a product of natural progression within a political system that came to recognise the importance of experience and knowledge from dealing with that particular issue (even if the positions required attention to other problems and tasks). Very significantly, however, each individual role was secondary (because each was most reliant) to the value of teamwork, and so pulling in a direction of collective intent. I could find no real sign of individual career ambition coming into play (even if it was a factor for others to contend with) but, rather, an overarching commitment and consensus to end violent conflict and to work with a strong integrative ethos to that end. Overwhelmingly, for the Irish, the peace process was forged on a point of common purpose and a recognition of the need to build peace, and it was this goal that provided the strategic direction that all were answerable to. It is because of that encompassing concern that we should be careful about overstating or exaggerating the role of any one official. More sensibly, we are advised see the part played by each as performing a function integral to the political trajectory and objectives of the Irish Government as a whole. All the interviews that follow (as with the first volume) adhere to a long-form approach, and I make no apology for that. The peace process was long (if we believe it started in 1988 and ended in 2010), and indeed, one might claim, is still going on. Most of those interviewed here were involved over decades in the search to bring conflict to a close. Their testimony merits attention over that span of time. In all cases I am intrigued to know how respondents saw moments and experiences in relation to events as they unfolded and how they dealt with each specifically and in terms of an overall strategy. I am also interested to know about how a collective approach to the process was ensured. The success of a peace process is surely a mark of the common aims and levels of engagement that made those aims possible. Above all it is about human relations. It is about individuals and groups and how they work together. These interviews are concerned with the dynamics that functioned in relation to both areas (the informal and the formal) and how problems were dealt with because of those relationships. They examine the importance of commitment, purpose, integrity and the interplay of forces and influences that permeated dialogue. The interviews also look at language, convergence, creativity, space, strategy and tactics, which all shaped the structure, cohesion and direction of the peace process. Ultimately, however, the interviews highlight the importance of relationships, how they were created, how they changed and how they were managed. For it is people and how they talk to each other, work with each other and compromise with each other that ultimately brings violent conflict to an end. 7

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

A note on style While some respondents preferred to talk about the Provisional IRA, or the Provisionals, others opted to talk about the IRA. This is the same organisation. Any reference to other strands of republicanism will be identified as such. Respondents also refer to the Ulster Unionist Party or the UUP as well as Ulster Unionists. This too is the same organisation. Also, the Frameworks for the Future text published in 1995, although consisting of two parts and called the Framework Documents, is more commonly referred to as the Frameworks Document and that will be the title used throughout this book. References Adams, G. (2003) Hope and History, Dingle: Brandon Press. Ahern, B. (2009) Bertie Ahern: The Autobiography, London: Hutchinson. Andrews, D. (2008) Kingstown Republican, Dublin: New Island Books. Bew, P. and Gillespie, G. (1999) Northern Ireland: A Chronology of the Troubles, Dublin: Gill and Macmillan. Blair, T. (2010) Tony Blair: A Journey, London: Heinemann. Campbell, A. (2013) The Irish Diaries 1994–2003, Dublin: Lilliput Press. Cochrane, F. (2013) Northern Ireland: A Reluctant Peace, London: Yale University Press. Delaney, E. (2001) An Accidental Diplomat, Dublin: New Island Books. Dempsey, G. T. (2004) From The Embassy, Dublin: The Open Republic Institute. De Breadun, D. (2001) The Far Side of Revenge, Cork: The Collins Press. Dixon, P. (2018) Performing the Northern Ireland Peace Process, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Duignan, S. (1996) One Spin on the Merry-Go-Round, Dublin: Blackwater Press. English, R. (2003) Armed Struggle, Basingstoke: Macmillan. Farren, S. (2010) The SDLP, Dublin: Four Courts Press. Farren, S. (2017) John Hume, Dublin: Four Courts Press. Finlay, F. (1998) Snakes and Ladders, Dublin: New Island Books. Godson, D. (2004) Himself Alone: David Trimble and the Ordeal of Unionism, London: Harper Collins. Hennessey, T. (2000) The Northern Ireland Peace Process, Dublin: Gill and Macmillan. Huband, M. (2013) Trading Secrets, London: I. B. Tauris. Major, J. (1999) John Major: The Autobiography, London: Harper Collins. Mallie, E. and McKittrick, D. (1996) The Fight For Peace, London: Heinemann. Mallie, E. and McKittrick, D. (2001) Endgame in Ireland, London: Hodder and Stoughton. Mansergh, M. (2002) ‘Mountain-climbing Irish-Style: The Hidden Challenges of the Peace Process’, in Elliott, M. (ed.) The Long Road to Peace in Northern Ireland, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. Mansergh, M. (2006). ‘The Background to the Irish Peace Process’, in Cox, M., Guelke, A. and Stephen, F. (eds) A Farewell to Arms: Beyond the Good Friday Agreement, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

8

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Introduction McKeever, M. (2017) One Man, One God, Dublin: Redemptorist Communications. McMichael, G. (1999) Ulster Voice, Boulder, CO: Roberts Reinhart Publishers. Millar, F. (2004) David Trimble, Dublin: The Liffey Press. Mitchell, G. (1999) Making Peace, London: Heinemann. Moloney, E. (2002) A Secret History of the IRA, London: Penguin. Mowlam, M. (2002) Momentum, London: Hodder and Stoughton. O’Brien, B. (1999) The Long War, Dublin: The O’Brien Press. O’Clery, C. (1997) Daring Diplomacy, Boulder, CO: Roberts Reinhart Publishers. O’Dochartaigh, N. (2011) ‘The Role of an Intermediary in Back-channel Negotiation: Evidence from the Brendan Duddy Papers’, Dynamics of Asymmetric Conflict 4 (3): 214–225. Powell, J. (2008) Great Hatred, Little Room, London: The Bodley Head. Powell, J. (2014) Talking to Terrorists, London: The Bodley Head. Reynolds, A. (2009) Albert Reynolds: My Autobiography, London: Transworld Ireland. Spencer, G. (2015) From Armed Struggle to Political Struggle: Republican Tradition and Transformation in Northern Ireland, London: Bloomsbury. Spencer, G. (2017) ‘Leading a Peace Process: An Interview with Bertie Ahern’, Irish Political Studies 32 (4): 588–607. Taylor, P. (2011) Talking to Terrorists, London: Harper.

9

1

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

The aspirations of text: an interview with Rory Montgomery

Graham Spencer: Can you provide some background on how you became involved in the peace process and what your roles and responsibilities were? Rory Montgomery: I started working in the Anglo-Irish Division in August 1993, which was the period of the negotiation of the Downing Street Declaration, though I was not involved in that. Not long after the Declaration at the start of 1994, along with Tim O’Connor, who was subsequently the first head of the North–South Ministerial Council Secretariat, I became part of a little research unit to assist Sean O hUiginn in the negotiation of the Frameworks Document in 1995. After the IRA ceasefire, I spent a year in the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation which was set up essentially to offer a space for Sinn Fein to begin to talk to other nationalist parties and alliances. I was there for almost a year, which involved covering a wide range of topics, but my more active involvement really began in September of 1995, when I came back to the Anglo-Irish Division proper and I became First Secretary on the political side, working with David Cooney, who went on to become the Secretary General of the Department. What absorbed us for the next year was preparing the way for the launch of the talks in the summer of 1996, which obviously involved extensive negotiations with the British Government and the parties on the basis for those talks. This period also saw the breakdown of the IRA ceasefire in the spring of 1996. I worked on preparation for the early stages of the talks, with briefings and speech writing, and I continued to travel widely and meet unionists in the 1995 to 1996 period. I spent a brief time in London mid-1997 as the press councillor there just after the election of Tony Blair. Then, the talks had been suspended because of the general election, but when they resumed in 1997 Sinn Fein was admitted and the Democratic Unionist Party walked out. I was intensively involved from then on as a member of our talks team, in particular working on institutional, political and constitutional questions, but less so on questions of policing or justice, although the whole decommissioning 10

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Rory Montgomery issue was central. I was also involved in a quite thorough analysis of the numerous issues as they arose, and ended up drafting various elements of what we tabled for discussion, initially with the British and then with the parties in the final phases of the Good Friday Agreement negotiations, which took us up to 1998. After that I was involved in the running of the referendum on the Agreement in the Republic and then I started working on the establishment of the North–South bodies under the Agreement. I was engaged very much in the continuing political effort to get the institutions up and running and I would have spent a number of weeks in Belfast in 1999, when Senator Mitchell came back for a second occasion and tried to get the devolved institutions to go live. So, as well as working on the North–South dimension with Tim O’Connor, I worked on the general political process primarily with Dermot Gallagher, who at that point had become head of the Anglo-Irish Division. I continued doing that through to the establishment of devolved institutions in late 1999 and again through the suspension of the Assembly in 2000 and the efforts to get it revived over the summer of 2000. After that I spent a year in the Taoiseach’s Department working on Europe, but also I was then drafted back in by Dermot Gallagher to help out and I was included in the Weston Park talks in 2001 that eventually allowed for the re-establishment of the institutions. That was the end of my involvement in Northern Ireland and I moved back to Foreign Affairs to work on Europe full time from autumn 2001. Can you tell me what the general perception was about the way republicans were engaging with this process during the early 1990s and how that process was envisaged? I think the important thing to realise is that from 1993 onwards this was a combination of two separate tracks, or processes. There was the peace process, as such, with the focus on republicans and to a lesser degree loyalism, and clearly that was the top priority of the two Governments, but that was grafted on to what was almost a pre-existent political process involving the Ulster Unionist Party, the Democratic Unionist Party to some degree, and the SDLP, and it was one of the peculiarities of the process that much of the work on the institutional–constitutional aspects of the later Good Friday Agreement really had its origin in that earlier period  of the Brooke–Mayhew talks, which, in turn, were a response to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Republicans found it very hard to engage in any of the detail of what was the bulk of the negotiation that led to the Good Friday Agreement precisely because they had not been able to politically accept what would be a partitionist outcome, with Northern Ireland continuing to exist as part of the UK. The Irish Government worked more closely with the SDLP on the political and constitutional 11

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts dimensions of the Good Friday process than with republicans, so clearly there was the question of what republicans would actually settle for. Many of us thought that the logic of the situation would compel them, in the end, to accept some sort of settle­ment, but that was never one hundred per cent clear and, of course, there were all of the difficulties that arose about decommissioning, establishing their bona fides and the breakdown in the ceasefire in 1996, which saw them out of the process for about a year and a half. When it came to preparing the talks in 1996, the focus and aim was as much to re-establish a political process in which mainstream unionism and nationalists would engage, but in the hope that this was something that republicans would get on board with in due course, rather than a process tailored with republicans primarily in mind. Did republicans articulate their responses more in the realms of ambiguity or the metaphorical than detail and specificity? In a way, for republicans the most important metaphor was that of the process, or journey. The leadership must have had a more sophisticated appreciation of what a likely end to the process would look like, but it was also a matter of them avoiding this too directly with their grassroots, which would be likely to further constrain their room for manoeuvre over likely outcomes. So, the metaphor of the journey, or process, was the most significant narrative for them. Do you agree that they saw the Good Friday Agreement as a stepping-stone rather than an end point? Absolutely. One of the ironies was on the day of Good Friday itself when George Mitchell went around the parties and asked them to indicate whether or not they accepted the outcome. The only party which refused to comment directly was Sinn Fein. They neither accepted nor rejected the outcome of negotiations and, in a way, there has never been an explicit acceptance by them of all the elements of the Agreement. I think the leadership may well have seen this as a continuing process which would transform Northern Ireland and relationships within the island of Ireland, leading to who knows what in the future. But, it was also a way of not having to confront their own supporters with the limitations of what was likely to be achieved. Would it be fair to say that republicans were more comfortable with ambiguity than unionists? 12

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Rory Montgomery I think that is largely true because what the unionists wanted was clarity. They certainly wanted it on the principle of consent, and they wanted it as far as they could get it on the nature of the North–South institutions. That was from where they drew their legitimacy and authority. They largely got that, but the clarity they wanted on decommissioning, they didn’t get. Nationalists and republicans wanted Strand One to be as clear as possible. On the North–South bodies ambiguity was more of a friend to nationalists and the SDLP because they had a more dynamic conception of how the institutions might evolve. It was the unionists who tried to tie things down as tightly as they could, and with some success, it has to be said. On decommissioning it was republicans who were looking for ambiguity, even though they would say they were always very clear in saying what they could and couldn’t do. I think this was not because there is a Catholic or a Protestant way of thinking, or a huge cultural difference on this, but because republicans were much more disciplined than the unionists and much more used to entrusting these matters to a relatively small cadre. Also, they had most of their real debates internally and secretly behind closed doors and, given that they saw the whole thing as a process, or a journey, it was possible to believe that things which were unsatisfactory could be remedied over time. David Trimble, though, had to deal in public and in the structures of the UUP, which involved meetings of the Ulster Unionist Council with hundreds of people, meeting in a large hall in Belfast. This meant that the debate was much more open and so therefore ambiguities were subjected to a much greater level of argument and scrutiny. Yet Sinn Fein walked out of the building and presented the Good Friday Agreement as a success. Yes, which was an irony, given that they were the least ideologically comfortable with it. Does this not indicate their astute awareness and understanding of the importance of symbolism? Yes, but they also benefited enormously from the fact that Jeffrey Donaldson walked out and left the UUP delegation. It was clear that the texts were effectively ready to be concluded and endorsed from about ten o’clock in the morning. Then Trimble had his last six or seven hours of wobble which, at that point, made it very apparent to republicans that pressure had turned from them more towards to Trimble and his Party, and that was visible to everybody. An unusual logic of Northern Irish affairs 13

Inside Accounts is that it was easy for them to say to their supporters that if the unionists were so uncomfortable this had to be a positive achievement.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

What’s interesting here is you have the utopian idea of a united Ireland down the road for republicans but unionists never had such a utopia. For them it seemed about trying to protect what they had. That’s right, and it’s interesting because, of course, the new language of nationalism which was developed in the 1980s in the New Ireland Forum and so on was the language of aspiration. Identity is inexact, but republican aspirations were located in the future. The unionists had a reality and no utopia. The whole point here is that there is a reality which they do not wish to see changed against a nationalist identity, which has a sense of a broader Irishness but which can’t find full expression outside a unitary thirty-two-county Irish Republic. In contrast, you have a unionist entity which would be unlikely to survive if there was no longer a UK and no prospect of a return to a UK. So, when one talks about equality and parity of esteem it is understandably far more problematic for unionists conceptually than it is for nationalists. That emphasis on tying things down is interesting because for unionists the Agreement was seen more in terms of copper-fastening the Union, while for republicans it was a staging-post in a bigger journey. How were those differences reflected in text? Again, in part this was to do with the presentation of the documents to their own constituencies. It was about justifying their positions and the fact that they had reached an agreement. Obviously, for the Ulster Unionists and David Trimble the great achievement of the Agreement was to tie all of nationalism including Sinn Fein, even if implicitly, to the principle of consent. That the principle of consent be seen not only mechanistically, but morally and philosophically too. For republicans they were never going to say and never could say that. Justifiably it was very clear that nobody was being asked to give up an aspiration and there was and is a mechanism in place to allow for future change once the right conditions are met, which is what Sinn Fein came back to when they launched this campaign for a referendum in the North. Again, it was the two sides picking out the bits of the text which they both liked and were of most interest to their supporters. So it was a strange position where republicans neither adopted it nor rejected the Agreement. What was the logic of that? 14

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Rory Montgomery The logic of it was a couple of things. As I said, Sinn Fein was actually uninvolved in the negotiation on the detail of the institutions which involved the SDLP, the UUP and the Governments, regardless of whether it was dealing with Strand One, Strand Two or Strand Three. The two issues which counted most for Sinn Fein were first of all prisoners and, secondly, what was said and not said about decommissioning. One was a positive ambition to have prisoners released, the other was a negative ambition to avoid being tied down on decommissioning, and they succeeded in both objectives in the final negotiation. They were also interested in British commitments on demilitarisation. Of course, the other major element of the Agreement was effectively the framework it established for the reform of policing, but while it was important to Sinn Fein, again it was the SDLP who took the lead on that. Did unionists draft much text themselves? They produced very little in terms of drafting as I recall. Do you think that was a weakness for them, now looking back? I think it was a weakness, and one of the great problems they had all the way through was that their structures were quite loose. You were often under the impression that their representatives were addressing an issue together for the first time in a meeting. My sense, too, was that David Trimble kept an awful lot of it in his head and didn’t necessarily confide in people and, of course, the Ulster Unionists never really had the debate internally about exactly what terms they could accommodate as part of an arrangement with Sinn Fein in government until after the issue presented itself. I think in part this was because they genuinely expected that Sinn Fein would not sign up to an agreement and they would be in with the SDLP. That was their focus. I also think Trimble was trying to avoid forcing the issue to definition, which would then almost certainly have been negative from his point of view. Did that make them necessarily more unpredictable? Yes. They would be much more up and down, more inclined to take offence and more inclined to have difficulties with something today which had not caused a problem yesterday, that sort of thing. So it was a confidence issue as much as anything else? 15

Inside Accounts Confidence, but also amongst themselves. With Sinn Fein I’m sure there were internal tensions, but you always thought you were dealing with a pretty monolithic organisation, whereas with the unionists it was more of a collection of individuals and, as with Donaldson walking away on the morning of Good Friday, you knew that as he was a leading figure, the tensions amongst them were very real.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Were Sinn Fein critical or concerned about Strand Two? Well my point about Sinn Fein is that the problem was they were never politically able to accept that the outcome of the talks was going to be a continuation of Northern Ireland in the UK, and that is why they talked about all-Ireland institutions and not North–South institutions. They had no experience of being in government in any form, so they really had little or no interest. The same thing happened after 1998, because the negotiations on the institutions were conducted mostly in the autumn of 1998 and early 1999 and Sinn Fein weren’t interested or involved. It even got to the point where Mitchel McLaughlin, who was responsible for North–South matters, actually rang us up at Foreign Affairs and asked if we could help him make a presentation on the North–South bodies after negotiation. He asked if we would mind writing something that would explain it all to them, and so I did. They really just didn’t know and weren’t that interested, but they also had to have some understanding of it in order to deal with any internal concerns or tensions that may have arisen. How did working with the unionists shape or influence your drafting of text? My role from 1995 to 1997 was to talk to individual members of the UUP, to get a sense of what was going on and understand the different currents and strands and views within the party. In our talks team in the Department of Foreign Affairs I would have been probably the one person who was most conscious of, aware of and most sensitive to the unionist position. And I suppose that was almost an organic role that developed. One of the reasons why it worked so well was because we had different people in this little team who had different points of view and types of ­experience and this helped to balance those differences. How much of what you were picking up from the unionists was based on their concern about what republicans were doing rather than their own needs in the process? For a long time I don’t think they believed that republicans would sign up to an agreement of the sort that was being negotiated. Much of this appeared like a continuation 16

Rory Montgomery

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

of the Brooke–Mayhew talks where Sinn Fein had not been involved. I think that Trimble and a lot of people around him thought that Sinn Fein would walk away and would not agree. There were some unionists who might not necessarily have hoped that Sinn Fein would exclude themselves, but they certainly expected it and, in many cases, they would not have been sorry. How would you summarise the Sinn Fein negotiating style compared to the Ulster Unionists? Well the first point is that Sinn Fein were much better organised. They clearly had done their homework and had prepared, and there was a large backroom team that was analysing papers and the proposals that came out with reactions and follow-up. You could never see much of a difference, or any difference of substance, between any of their people, so they were very thorough and very well organised. A large part of it was being able to demonstrate to their base that they had been exhaustive with everything. They would produce these extremely lengthy analyses of various papers and I still remember at about one or two in the morning of Thursday–Friday on Good Friday Tim Dalton emerged from a meeting with Gerry Adams and the Taoiseach with a list of in excess of a hundred questions which Sinn Fein had been given by their backroom team for clarification and confirmation which was divvied up amongst us. I remember one of the issues which I had to address was in relation to where it said the constitutional status of Northern Ireland can change only if a majority want it, but without defining that majority as a simple majority. In response, I stated that a majority is by definition a simple majority unless you state otherwise, for instance that a majority has to be a two-thirds majority. That was the level they were operating at with regard to scrutiny. They wanted confirmation from the Irish Government about what the word majority meant in this context. There were in excess of a hundred questions of greater or lesser importance, but the sheer thoroughness was amazing. The unionists, on the other hand, often gave the impression that they had not talked to each other before they came in. David Trimble tended to blow hot and cold, because he had a volatile temperament. Sometimes he and Ken Maginnis and John Taylor would be on the same wavelength and sometimes they wouldn’t. I would say that the key people there were Trimble himself, who had an awful lot of it in his head, John Taylor as a kind of seal of approval for the broad unionist community and Ken Maginnis, who was a border Protestant and had been in the Ulster Defence Regiment. Taylor and Maginnis had been his two main rivals for the leadership in 1995, so he needed their approval. They might have been privy to Trimble’s thinking, but not all of the others were. 17

Inside Accounts What interests me with Sinn Fein and Strand Two is why they kept so far back from it.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

The whole point was that the underlying premise of Strand Two meant two separate entities would continue, Northern Ireland in the UK, and the Republic, and so they found it politically impossible to engage in any meaningful way on the construction, or the design, of institutions which rested on those two pillars. In the Good Friday Agreement was the North–South dimension the most contentious part to deal with? Yes. And when it came to drafting the North–South part of it that absorbed the most negotiating energy in the period from June 1996 until April 1998. It involved both the UUP, the SDLP and both Governments and we did a lot of intense work with the British on that. The final drafting stage and the act of putting it down on paper began about three or four weeks before the final deal and we, as I recollect it, supplied most of the texts to the British. There was a very intensive negotiation in Downing Street between the two Governments and their teams of officials, and again between Blair and Ahern in the final week of negotiations in Belfast. Those negotiations were dominated by the North–South arrangements. The two Governments agreed what would be put forward in terms of the North–South arrangements and this nearly caused the UUP to walk away. Because of that, it was being negotiated and sorted out right through to the evening of the Thursday of Good Friday week and then, of course, Sinn Fein kind of re-emerged as the central players in the final hours, with negotiations over prisoners and decommissioning taking precedence. On the three strands of negotiations, did that provide a convenient useful negotiating structure because you could move from one to the other when there were problems? Of course. But the point was, and it is important to remember, that the peace process was the confluence of two different tracks, or streams. One was the peace process properly defined as the efforts to bring republican and loyalist violence to an end and to try and bring Sinn Fein in from the cold and into a settlement. The other part was the political process which had existed in the talks of 1991 to 1992, so much of what was in the first documents on the three strands was simply taken from those failed talks. You are right that one, two and three were to express a balance that allowed for different formations. Strand One allowed for unionists to be reassured about the internal structures of Northern Ireland that did not formally involve the Irish Government, whereas Strand Two and Strand Three did, so the strands had 18

Rory Montgomery their own inherent logic and balance, but they came from the political process which merged with the peace process.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

One tends not to hear much about Strand Three. Did republicans and unionists have any role in that? Again, to repeat, republicans could not care less about Strands One, Two, or Three during negotiations. It was the SDLP and the unionists together who largely haggled on Strand One. We had done a huge amount of work with the SDLP earlier but it was they, with the Ulster Unionists who really did the business. Strand Two involved in different ways the two Governments, the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists in different formats. The unionists always attached importance to Strand Three. The British– Irish Secretariat exists and has a Secretariat in Edinburgh and the unionists had an interest in it, but it was more that they wanted a visible counterweight to the North– South relationship than about substance. I would argue that the Irish Government had a bit more interest than the British in Strand Three and it was pretty much our draft as amended by the unionists which went into the Agreement. You had a process here built on three strands which republicans had no involve­ment in. Yes. Even though they were central to the process? Because Strands One, Two and Three were the legacy of the previous political Brooke–Mayhew talks which Sinn Fein had not been present at. Was there any attempt to try and draw them into those Strands? They had every chance, but they weren’t really that interested. So there was little pressure applied to them to be involved? Yes. Remember, Sinn Fein couldn’t accept, either formally or informally, the concept of an Assembly, or a separate Northern Ireland entity, and they tied themselves in knots on that. I suppose they would have been looking to see that there was no possibility of a return to majority rule with Strand One, and clearly the SDLP were also 19

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

of that opinion. I think the SDLP were very strongly of the view that the D’Hondt system had to work and there had to be this automatic inclusion of Sinn Fein and all parties with sufficient votes in the Executive because, if that wasn’t the case, they would be put under enormous pressure thereafter. The D’Hondt process was originally introduced into the Brooke–Mayhew talks by the unionists in 1991 to 1992 as a way of distributing committee chairmanships because originally what they wanted was a series of committees rather than a cohesive Executive. Do you think that Sinn Fein discussed all the possible setbacks to the Agreement in advance of it coming out, since they always seemed to have to go off to talk with people in a backroom somewhere? That’s true, but I think it was different because there were large parts of this text which Sinn Fein were not that interested in, and even subsequently, when it came to the detail of the negotiation on North–South bodies, they were not that interested in it and didn’t know much about it. To be clear then, they weren’t interested in the East–West dimension or the North– South dimension or the institutions in Northern Ireland itself? No, because to accept North–South institutions, which they kept calling ‘all-Ireland institutions’, would have meant the continuation of Northern Ireland as a valid entity. So they were only interested really in prisoners and weapons? Yes. When you draft a piece of text are you alternating it all the way through? Are you sequencing the text for opposing interests? One of the odd things is that there were bits of the Good Friday Agreement that were negotiated with different levels of intensity and between different groups of people. I also think the Irish and British Governments were the only people at the end of negotiations who actually knew what was in each part of the text. So, for example, obviously with the North–South arrangements the key thing was to find a balance which was sufficiently ambitious for the Irish Government and the SDLP in particular, but also enough to bring unionists on board. Strand One was actually the one 20

Rory Montgomery

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

part of the Agreement which was effectively negotiated between the UUP and the SDLP directly. We provided drafts, which helped, for the SDLP, but the negotiation was essentially between those two groups alone in the final hours. Other parts of the Agreement which I was involved in drafting, such as the section on constitutional issues, effectively combined elements from the Downing Street Declaration and the Frameworks Document, but also other elements which I put in without a great deal of authority just because I thought it was a good idea to have them in. For example? In particular, the section which spoke about people being able to choose to be Irish or British or both. In the final hours in any negotiation, and I have seen a few, it gets into a kind of chaos where you have lots and lots of different meetings going on in different rooms with different people focussing on different topics. Even the preamble, which I wrote myself in about forty-five minutes in one of our delegation rooms, went through pretty much unchanged. Nobody really looked at it, but you are conscious, of course, that there needs to be a balance, that there are certain topics of more importance for one delegation than another, in a positive or negative way. The two Governments were conscious of trying to find that overall balance and it’s fair to say that the roles of the two Governments were, in turn, to reflect mainstream nationalist and mainstream unionist sentiment. The British were always careful to ensure that what was being done would be acceptable to Trimble’s people, although we too had good contacts with the Ulster Unionists at that stage and would have had our own ideas of what would and would not work for them. And this was so with the SDLP, where, even though we would have had the principal role in terms of the interests of the SDLP, the British Government would have been very conscious of their concerns too. However, the interesting thing was that it was not a question at any point of a neatly integrated text being carefully scrutinised from A to Z, but rather a question of different bits which emerged from different moments. There were sections on social and economic rights, human rights and policing, and there were lots of different people working on these themes in different rooms in the final hours. You mention the preamble, but how important is this? Also, are there always elements in documents of that kind which are particularly contested and delicate, and if so where are they positioned in the text? The overall architecture of the text clearly made it sensible to start with a preamble; then you had the constitutional elements and then you had Strands One, Two and 21

Inside Accounts Three, but the various elements after that were in no particular order of difficulty or logic to the sequencing, so it was not a question of delicately finding the ideal spot.  It’s more where a particular paragraph, or sentence, fits into the relevant body of text. The overall structure of the Agreement is as much about chance as design.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

What is the point of the preamble? A preamble is not strictly necessary but is meant to set an overall tone and set out principles. It doesn’t contain any operational elements requiring specific implementation, but it is meant to offer – to call it poetry would be to exaggerate it – some sort of broad summary of the underlying principles and objectives. Was there an emphasis to texts, as with the preamble, to reinforce a sense of opportunity and new beginning? Yes, there was a kind of logic. The classic form was to have the preamble, although there was not much thought given to that. In fact, I wrote it quite near the end and it went through without much thought. People were thinking about detailed stuff, but the logic is like the Frameworks Document, which has preamble, basic principles, constitutional outline and Strands One, Two and Three. I suppose what was different then, as said, was the addition of all the other material such as human rights, policing and prisoners, decommissioning and economic and social issues. The art and skill though surely comes from sparseness, where if you write too much or not enough you have problems. Is this an instinctive process, the writing of the short sentences and paragraphs to make points quickly? It’s also about saying what needs to be said and not going beyond that. It’s a matter of balance at any given time. This is true of other negotiations as well, where, generally speaking, if you put in more than you need to you can often run into problems of tone and this creates unnecessary fights. So you have to have a repetition of language to give it consistency with the past and then, presumably, you have to include new expressions too. Is that so? That was obviously the intention, not so much on areas that were firmly established, but in the way an issue might be introduced. This might, for example, be in a speaking 22

Rory Montgomery note for a Minister in talks, or at a plenary, or it might be in a speech elsewhere, as with Peter Brooke’s ‘no selfish strategic or economic interest’ speech.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Is it about consistency too? Yes, but we were conscious that what we were doing was effectively dealing with two agreements in one. There was the agreement between the political parties and then there was going to be a formal British–Irish agreement as well. Given this, it would be normal, especially for a more formal international agreement, to contain a sort of preamble setting out principles. When one looks at the Good Friday Agreement it looks hard to tell which bits the Irish drafted and which bits the British drafted. How did you strive for the kind of language which achieved this? First of all, there was a lot of common text between us, from the Anglo-Irish Agreement through the Downing Street Declaration and the Frameworks Document, but also what we produced, and what you see, is that some bits went through without too much scrutiny while the most important political bits were the subject of careful negotiation. We provided the initial drafts in the bulk of cases from about 20 March, so maybe three weeks before the end, but then they were intensively negotiated with the British Government back and forth, as well as then further negotiated with the parties as necessary. Can you remember the most contentious areas of those texts? The North–South elements were the ones which were subject to the most change and the most detailed discussion. Even with the North–South elements, though, there were separate issues. There was the question of the architecture of the North–South institutions, how would they be created and what their relationship would be to the Dail and the Northern Ireland Assembly, as well as the role legislation would play in establishing them. Those were some of the more difficult problems with the British, and then there were the more practical questions in relation to the topics which they would deal with. There was a long list produced by colleagues of mine on the Irish side which was so lengthy and detailed that it almost caused the unionists to run away in horror. But what we did in terms of negotiating with the British and the UUP was most intense on the basic architecture and the principles, rather than the substance. Then there was the subsequent negotiation through the autumn of 1998 23

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

into 1999 on the actual topics which would be dealt with by the North–South bodies and the Ministerial Council. It was therefore the architecture that was the most difficult, but we produced a draft which was intensively negotiated with the British during the week ending on 3 April, the week before Good Friday, and then there was a further negotiation with the unionists and the British which went on late into the Thursday of 9 April. When you mention that initial suggestions were too detailed, what you seem to be implying is that too much detail is as bad or perhaps worse than not enough. For the Ulster Unionists to have accepted the idea of reasonably meaningful North– South bodies was a major concession on their part. A senior official in the Taoiseach’s Department had gone off and prepared a long list of North–South co-operation, building on a lot of other earlier work, where we focussed on the questions of principle and constitutional structure. I think they too easily gave him his way in drafting this lengthy text. But the unionists had two problems. First of all, even if the topics were not necessarily all that difficult or contentious, in many cases the sheer volume gave the impression that this was effectively an entire transfer of power. The other problem the unionists had was that there had not really been any serious negotiation in the talks by themselves about what the appropriate topics would be, so they quite reasonably argued they didn’t know that topic A or B or C would lend itself to the kind of institutions envisaged. Do you have to shroud what is of interest to each side in a broader narrative, and is there a structure to these texts? There was less interest until the very end of the talks in the constitutional sections than in some of the institutional sections, when an awful lot of energy was expended on Strand Two. The text on constitutional issues largely reproduces what is in the Downing Street Declaration and in the Frameworks Document, although not entirely, because there were some additional elements, as mentioned, such as the question of identity and a recognition of the right of people to be considered as Irish or British or both. But it wasn’t a matter of shrouding it. It was more a matter of an overall economy and I think both sides knew what the bedrock of constitutional principle would be. Sinn Fein never wanted to recognise this but, by supporting the Agreement, they implicitly did. For them, it was about moving on to other elements, so it wasn’t a question of shrouding as much as drawing attention to the other parts of the text which, for them, were most important. I should say that there was, 24

Rory Montgomery however, great interest in the changes promised by us to Articles Two and Three. Martin Mansergh led on this and it was kept very tight until close to the end.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Do you remember any words or expressions which unionists or republicans got hung up with? What I should say is that in the actual negotiation of the Good Friday text unionists and republicans were not really facing each other at all in negotiations. The unionists were facing the SDLP and the Irish Government, while the republicans were largely facing the British Government and some of the Irish Government on security issues. There was one particular issue as I recall, and this was indicated in the Heads of Agreement text which emerged after the talks from the autumn of 1997, where there was a sense that the Taoiseach’s Department had gone a little far in the British direction in agreeing some of this. In particular, I can remember that there was quite a row over the use of the term ‘equity’ rather than ‘equality’ in that text. The two Governments had to go to considerable lengths to lard a subsequent text with the words ‘equality’ to offer a counter-balance to what had been said in the previous document. What was the problem with the word ‘equity’? Equity suggests that everyone is treated according to his just deserts, whereas equality is equality. Was there a tendency to use bits of text as a blockage when it wasn’t really a b­ lockage – and I am talking now more about how republicans and unionists approached this in order to demonstrate to their respective bases that they are not being rushed into a decision, and that there must be some resistance to show they are not being duped and so were tough negotiators? I think that is true, and a lot of the time, and again this is something I have noticed a lot in negotiations not just with Northern Ireland but generally, is that people often use language to block, and that is more because they are simply not ready to engage, and they need to buy time. The funny thing with negotiations is they often get down finally to one or two difficult issues which can take a lot of time to resolve and indeed may not be resolved. And then, of course, if they are resolved, later on it turns out they weren’t the most important points at all. This was true with a lot of the negotiations on the North–South institutions, where there was a lot of dancing 25

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts on the heads of pins about wordings and concepts, and yet it was pretty obvious how it was going to work. Once you had the principle of Assembly and the Dail it was difficult to see how the institutions could function without the credibility of those two institutions. Sinn Fein in the discussions on decommissioning always had the tremendous comfort blanket of saying this is all very well but we have to consult  with  others who will have responsibility for these issues, unlike us, and see what they think, and that would give them time to reflect. I don’t think Sinn Fein ever took a snap decision. For the unionists it was a bit more chaotic because sometimes David Trimble  would consult with his colleagues and other times he wouldn’t. Were the core principles the reference point for what you were thinking about and drafting on? Yes, absolutely. Both the Downing Street Declaration and the Frameworks Document had been drafted largely on the Irish side by Sean O hUiginn, whose style attests to the very complexity of the areas. But the principles in a way were not that complex. The two basic principles were non-violence and consent, and then beyond that, parity of esteem and the creation of political structures, which were accepted as legitimate by both communities. How much latitude to be creative with the principles do you have? Not much, because we had various agreed texts from previous documents; but, in a way, what I sought to do was to simplify slightly, or to take or to marry language from different texts in the light of the multiplicity of identities in play. This was evident in the discussions in the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation too. When did you first note what one might call ‘the language of aspiration’ coming into play? I think it first became part of the established vocabulary of moderate nationalism around the time of the New Ireland Forum in 1984, and it would be very much linked to the rhetoric of John Hume. It was adopted enthusiastically by Fine Gael and Labour in the Republic, and maybe a bit less enthusiastically by Fianna Fail, but by the 1990s it was very much the dominant language. The concepts were used very much, and what reappeared in the Good Friday Agreement is the evolution and development of those concepts over fifteen years. 26

Rory Montgomery

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Principle or pragmatism? It depends, but there were certain principles which were genuinely non-negotiable. The principle of consent was non-negotiable; and, we would argue, so was the concept of parity of esteem. Obviously, it is much easier to say what the principle of consent means and does not mean, than it is once extended into the broader question of how a minority settling for what it sees as second best will offer its allegiance to an arrangement. First of all, it is harder to pin down and it’s easier to nuance it as you go along. But, equally, the principle of non-violence, and the idea that the talks could not co-exist with a resumed campaign of violence, were non-negotiable. It’s true that there was a spate of killings by republicans acting in a semi-freelance way, or in their own communities under the aegis of Direct Action Against Drugs, and Sinn Fein were briefly suspended from the talks because of that. And that likewise, with the loyalists, the Ulster Democratic Party was suspended for similar reasons. So overall that principle was pretty firm. With a lot of other issues it was not so much that people gave way on the principle, but more about legitimate debate on how that principle could be given effect. So, again, the principle that there should be no guns in politics was one nobody would really disagree with, but then the question became a pragmatic one in relation to achieving that objective. You had a variety of principles co-existing; some were primordial like consent and non-violence and others are less important, so it became a question of balancing them. Do you remember how many drafts the North–South section of the Good Friday Agreement went through and how much it changed by the final version? I would find it difficult to say because, as with any text of this kind, bits of it stand more or less all the way through and other parts are intensively worked and reworked. I couldn’t put a specific number, but I would say there must have been at least eight or ten texts with significant differences between them. And that went on in a short space of time? Over a period of three weeks. Were you working on that every day? I was working on other things as well but there were two particularly intense periods. We produced the first draft when we had the first meetings with the British, and then 27

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts Paddy Teahon, Dermot Gallagher, David Cooney and I would have been together in London for about two or three days in the week before the Agreement negotiating with the British side; in particular, Quentin Thomas, Jonathan Stephens and one or two others on the structures and principles. That was over a two- or three-day period. I was working on other elements as well, and then there was a further negotiation with the unionists and the British on the Wednesday and Thursday of the final week after the unionists made it clear that they would not accept the text that the two Governments had been working on, so there were many tweaks and changes here and there at that point. The things that were changed most dramatically were, first of all, the exclusion of a great deal of detail, but secondly, there was no agreement at the time on the specific subjects which would be worked on by the institutions, leading to an acceptance that further negotiation post-Agreement would be needed. For unionists it was very important that the Assembly be elected first and then for representatives of the Assembly to negotiate the North–South elements. Now the quid pro quo, from our point of view, was that the Assembly and Executive could not start operation until the North–South institutions had been agreed, so everything would be launched simultaneously. It was politically important for the unionists to have this idea of the primacy of the Assembly, both in terms of timing but also in terms of it being the body which would endorse the North–South institutions. When you are writing a text like that how much of it are you thinking will be dealt with way down the road and how much of it is to get the participants over an immediate line? That’s it. The concept of a further negotiation down the road only arose near the end, and it was a way of solving a problem for the unionists at that time. It arose mostly from the unionists themselves with support from the British. Bertie Ahern was particularly focussed on getting a deal but he would have been less involved in the detail of a lot of the North–South drafting than the officials. Funnily enough, I thought he was more open to change it at the last minute to bring the unionists on board in the interests of the bigger picture. To what extent did people see this as a process and to what extent a deal? When you are working on texts you have to think principally of the deal. The overwhelming objective was to get a deal among the participants in the negotiations but, at the same time, it was obvious that from the beginning the policing question would not be resolved in negotiations, that it would have to be established from a 28

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Rory Montgomery framework and principles whereby it could be taken forward later through Patten and so on. It was clear that prisoner releases and decommissioning were issues that would not be solved instantly, but it was clear too that the political institutions would have to develop. The idea was to be as firm and definitive as possible on the constitutional principles, but also on the basic rules for the political structures, knowing that there would have to be further work. We knew there would have to be detail, even in our original conception, to give the North–South bodies effect both in Dublin and Westminster. It was clear there would have to be a new piece of legislation in Northern Ireland to create the Strand One institutions, and there were subsequent intergovernmental agreements as well on Strand Two and Three. Is narrative order important here? If participants are reading texts chronologically are they more likely to reach the judgements which you want them to reach? That’s true, because the stuff on prisoners and decommissioning does come late on in the overall order, but that was not really a deliberate strategy, it was more that it made sense to begin with the constitutional and institutional aspects. How is the Agreement ideally supposed to be read? I don’t know how many people did read it from beginning to end, as opposed to looking at the bits which were of interest or importance to them, and even in terms of tone some bits are more detailed and more elaborate than others. But, as you say, the question is that a text doesn’t have a life purely on the page, it’s how it is presented, how it is explained and how people react to it initially. Is the Good Friday Agreement the sort of document one can read and think it is clear, but also not know what it really means? It’s clear enough as regards emotion and principle, but the translation of that emotion and principle into reality and practical measures is the test. And, of course, that is what the text is designed to tell you. You highlight structural concerns, but what were the other categorisations? Well, the constitutional principles and the opening declaration of support were in a way more about setting the framework, and with the constitutional area it was operational to the extent that rules are set out as to how the principle of consent is to 29

Inside Accounts be applied. However, overall, with any agreement you have the text, but you have its context and its presentation and reception too, so it is a matter of both interpretation and content.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

When you write the text, are you writing primarily in terms of context, then? With language of that kind, yes, absolutely. I think there was a sense that, as well as responding to the practical necessity of having text of that kind, this was a document of the importance which we hoped it would have and that deserved to be framed to have some appeal to emotion and a broader historical sense. Do you think that the document could have been better or improved if you had had more time? I was drawing from much discussion and thinking over the period and I knew, more or less, what the basic points on which the participants would agree would be. If you have a concept like ‘totality of relationships’ and one group sees that within a context of Ireland and another sees it in a context of Northern Ireland how do you get through that quagmire? A lot of the time you only get through it by not trying to achieve an agreed understanding. It’s another example of constructive ambiguity. Presumably, though, there comes a point when constructive ambiguity starts to become counter-productive? That’s the difficulty, which is that sooner or later it becomes necessary to find a practical way of dealing with, say, decommissioning, or policing, or what the North– South institutions would do and how they would operate, or who would fund them and who would appoint the boards. All of these are important practical questions. And presumably when you are writing text it is an intricate path to tread between such concerns? Yes, absolutely, but you have to rely, as was the case drafting the text, on your own intuition as much as anything else, and your experience and understanding of r­ eading situations. 30

Rory Montgomery

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Is it the case that, as one British official put it to me, you have to have a text in play, otherwise people would talk for ever and achieve nothing? I couldn’t agree more. In any negotiation you have to get to the text sooner or later. There are certain kinds of texts, obviously, so some are statements of broad principle and then they can become more elaborate, where, sooner rather than later, they have to move to a point, even if it is only a short declaration, to demonstrate listening and dialogue. You have to find a way forward and that is why practically at every meeting, even in the early stages, there had to be some kind of statement coming out of it. Obviously, if it is badly done it can undermine trust, so, on the other side of the equation, a bad or wrong text can destabilise people. Are texts like Heads of Agreement interim steps designed to get over a particular obstacle? Yes. There had been an attempt at the end of 1997 to find an agreed text among the participants to summarise where they were in the talks, which did not work, so there was a strong feeling, and particularly on the British side, that there had to be ­something on the table to frame and focus the discussion. But the earlier texts relied strongly on ambiguity? Yes. A text is sometimes not necessarily clear, in fact, often quite the reverse. I remember the Frameworks Document won a Golden Rhubarb award from the Campaign for Plain English for the least comprehensible public document of that year. And I put this to Sean O hUiginn, who said, ‘Look, we are not trying to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, we are trying to win the Nobel Prize for Peace,’ and that was a good line. Of course, ambiguity and the very careful balances it served proved important. It wasn’t even so much the individual sentences. At times, it’s true, there were shades of meaning in an individual sentence. The famous sentence about ‘no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland’ in the Downing Street Declaration, and at various points along the way the language on decommissioning, which turned out to be less clear cut than the unionists hoped, are examples. Tony Blair’s side-letter in April 1998 was another example of that. At other times it was not so much the balance of individual sentences but where the subtlety was in balancing the different sections. When you look through the process you will see this balance within the text, and the same is true of the Good Friday Agreement. There were things in it which were of more interest to the unionists and things in it that were of more interest to 31

Inside Accounts the nationalists, so there was balance, as well as ambiguity, in different sections and between sections.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Was it talk and negotiation for the Irish which was the real driver, or was it the texts themselves? The Irish seem to put a strong emphasis on conversation, dialogue and relational concerns, whereas the British tend to emphasise text and the bureaucracy of process. What is your view about such differences? Well I would say that obviously a process of this type is deeply political and, of course, a huge amount depended on private discussions between those who were involved in a whole range of different formations. At the same time, the reality is that text was fundamentally important. It was important as the basis for the first Hume–Adams talks, where things were put down on paper. It was fundamentally important that the Downing Street Declaration was a text, that the Frameworks Document was a text, that there were rules of procedure which we haggled over with the British in 1996 which were text in January in 1997, and that there was a Heads of Agreement text, so text was an important marker all along the way. Getting an agreed text though was absolutely fundamental to the process. Now it’s true that the texts did not live in isolation, they couldn’t. Obviously, the Downing Street Declaration would have meant nothing in substance had it not been for the fact that it was attempting in its different ways to draw Sinn Fein and the republicans in while keeping the unionists on board. The particular value of parts of the text would depend on context but, at the same time, the text itself and the importance of that couldn’t and shouldn’t be under-estimated. As a drafter of text, then, would you say that the peace process was textually or conversationally driven? They are different. I would argue that conversations and other relationships establish trust and understanding and impart momentum but, or if they go badly, they can cause problems. I think that fundamentally with all these negotiations it is finally about putting words on a page which then translate into institutions and actions. Words, by the way, were voted upon by the people of Ireland both North and South on a ballot paper, and that was one of the reasons why we devoted such energy to them, especially during the early spring of 1998 and during the final push for what became the Mitchell Proposal in late autumn 1999. Putting your text on the table first is always usually to your advantage, as with giving Sinn Fein bits of paper and saying maybe this is the kind of thing that if you would be able to say, or the IRA could say, 32

Rory Montgomery would be helpful. Then, invariably, Sinn Fein would take it away and say whatever they had to say about it, so an awful lot of effort was about trying to crystallise attention and action through text.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Were you surprised by reactions to text? Presumably you had a lot of conversations beforehand, but when people see things on a piece of paper they often react differently don’t they? I suppose that the problem is sometimes you can get too close to issues. I think that the really hostile and extreme unionist reaction to the first drafts given to them on the North–South institutions, the text that John Taylor would not touch with his forty-foot pole, was a surprise. I think that was a mistake on our part in how we had organised two different streams of work. One was on structures, and the items that might be covered, and the second was being done differently and it ended up being far too long and far too detailed. I don’t think we expected any given text to be plain sailing. A lot of the time it was a matter of hoping. Would it be fair to say that texts make or encourage people to see problems which they might not see in the flow of conversation? Yes, because you can look at a text much more carefully. There are certain things which you can leave out when you are talking which have to be there in the text, or  if  they are not that can be a concern, so text does crystallise problems. At the same  time, you have to decide when to put a text down, but if you don’t try to sum up at the end what it is that you feel has to be agreed, then you will never get anywhere. To what extent did you base text on what people were not saying as well as what they were saying? It was not so much what they weren’t saying, but more a capacity to work out what the issues were and what was the most important issue to them, both in a negative and a positive way. My sense of the unionists here was if you couldn’t give them assurances on what was most important in relation to principles of consent, nonviolence, decommissioning – also, North–South co-operation could not in any way override the competences of the institutions in the North, so the things they feared most – then it would be much more difficult for them to be persuaded to be more accommodating and relaxed elsewhere. 33

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

There is always the dilemma that the closer you look at something the more complex it becomes, so was over-complication a potential problem here? I would say in my own case, because we were working on it all the time and our heads were full of the detail, this gave Bertie Ahern a certain freedom to step back and to see things differently. I have noticed the same phenomenon in European-level negotiations, when you would have very detailed negotiations among officials but then, when the leaders got together, the issues generally boiled down to a smaller number of points. Also, the way things are presented, the language that is used, the perception of whether we won or lost, are things which are often much more important than the actual detail on which others have slaved for a long time. I suppose it’s the difference between politicians and civil servants too. Presumably some detail was more important than other detail? Absolutely, and another thing I have learned about negotiations over the years is that the things which you negotiate about most fiercely – and this is true at European level as well – are often not things which turn out to be the most important down the road. In other words, it’s almost as if there is a pattern in negotiations, where there has to be a certain number of points on which the sides are apart, and this is the symbolic struggle about winning on this and losing on that. But a lot of the detail of how the Northern Ireland institutions would work internally was not the subject of any great negotiation or debate, and yet that turned out to be much more critical for how the whole system would work than some of the finer points on the Strand Two issue. Did you frame political arguments and discussions in terms of a need for compromise rather than concession? Yes. I don’t know if it was ever explicitly stated in those terms, but I think it was always understood that there would have to be an overall balance, and the question was to find that. What made it complicated was you were dealing with quite different sets of balances. You were talking about a balance between the unionists and the SDLP on the internal arrangements of Northern Ireland, a balance between the unionists and the SDLP and the Irish Government on North–South, a balance then between the British Government and Sinn Fein primarily on prisoners and demilitarisation, a balance between the two Governments and SDLP on policing and then an overall political balance involving everybody on how to handle decommissioning. Of 34

Rory Montgomery course, one of the main points which many commentators have made since is that, in the end, Sinn Fein and also the SDLP proved to be much more successful in defining and selling the wins they felt they had achieved than the unionists were.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

When you talk about balance, would that have been harder for the Protestant-unionist community to tolerate because they would have seen that as relinquishing or giving away power and control? In many cases that was right, and I think David Trimble’s basic insight was that this negotiation offered unionists a chance to frame the future architecture, because, don’t forget, the extent to which unionists felt absolutely betrayed and isolated by the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 could never be forgotten. The very fact that Trimble was involved in this process was hugely important, but secondly, whether explicitly or implicitly, there was an acceptance of the constitutional status on all sides with the UK, based on the principle of consent. Those were two huge wins for him and they were the bedrock of the whole thing. The unionists were emphatic that the allocation of seats would have to be on the semi-automatic D’Hondt system because they did not want to be corrupted, or tainted, by having to negotiate with Sinn Fein. I would recall again the kind of balances that were found between the creation of a range of North–South bodies with various powers but, at the same time, the limitation of the number, and that they would be firmly rooted in the Northern Ireland Assembly. While nationalists and republicans were not over keen about Westminster legislation it was important for us because you couldn’t have a situation with the Assembly where you could repeal the legislation. So, across the board, there were compromises and balances being struck. You’re probably of the mind that all the texts were essential to the process, but what difference would it have made if there had been no Downing Street Declaration or Frameworks Document? Further, the Frameworks Document is not talked about too often, so to what extent was it vital as a bridge between the Downing Street Declaration and the Good Friday Agreement? When it came out I was at the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, so I was not really involved in it. However, it did absorb energies and it was useful vis-à-vis republicans because a lot of the tone of the text and the impressions it gave were quite ambitious, especially with Strand Two and on issues of parity of esteem. I think it also had a certain effect in helping to assure Sinn Fein because they were taken aback by how long a gap there was going to be between the ceasefire and 35

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts talks beginning. It helped to move things along to some degree, but at the same time it was remarkable that it took the guts of two years to go from the IRA ceasefire to the start of the talks in June 1996, and that showed how difficult it was. I would certainly place the Downing Street Declaration ahead of the Frameworks Document in terms of significance and I don’t think the British Government had the same degree of commitment to it as the Irish had. There were aspects in that text which, even at the time, were obviously undeliverable. There were also lots of ambiguities about the North–South institutions which had the effect, in my view, of exaggerating what might have been possible and caused problems because of that. The Downing Street Declaration came out quickly after the Hume–Adams dialogues and after Reynolds’s engagement with loyalists and it was a very short text. Is that because it was laying the parameters just enough to get people engaged? Exactly, it was about stating principles and offering the hope of entry to a process. The Frameworks Document would have been intended as a more detailed working out of what the talks might be about. Is the North–South relationship today much stronger for these institutions? My own sense is that they have helped, although, funnily enough, the most visible and the most successful aspect is not technically a North–South body but Tourism Ireland, which is a private company in which the two administrations have shares. I don’t think the institutions have made a radical difference to relations between North and South; in fact many of the most important aspects of North–South cooperation have actually occurred outside of the framework of the institutions. For example, electricity: there is in effect a single electricity market on the island of Ireland, so that has been an important area of integration which wasn’t covered at all. But, at the same time, the political value of these institutions is that they do require administrations North and South to meet on a regular basis, and there is a constant exchange between civil servants on this as well. Plenary meetings of the North–South Ministerial Council bringing together political leaders on both sides of the border have been of special value. Many of the advanced claims made by nationalists North and South who stressed the transformative effect and the great economic advantages of these bodies were greatly oversold, but if we had been able to have a much freer, more open and pragmatic discussion of the issues maybe we would have gone further. 36

Rory Montgomery

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

What about the changes or development of relationships between East and West since the Good Friday Agreement? What has happened in the British–Irish relationship? Again, it’s strange, because as far as the institutions are concerned there is the British–Irish Intergovernmental Council which has met maybe once or twice and was the successor to the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council. Then, there is the British–Irish Council which meets regularly and which met recently in the Isle of Man, bringing together Scotland, Wales, the Irish and UK Governments and the Channel Islands, so it’s a worthy endeavour. I don’t know if the Secretariat established in Edinburgh has made much difference one way or the other, but it is a talking shop which has enabled a dialogue between Scotland, Ireland and the UK where there would not have been one before. But the major changes in the British–Irish relationship have come from great symbolic advances, such as the visit of the Queen, who also invited our President back to Britain. Close co-operation on various EU matters [note: this conversation took place before the June 2016 Brexit referendum] and the fact that our two defence forces have recently entered into a memorandum of understanding about a range of joint training and other activities outside of the institutional framework is both positive and hard to imagine without a peace process and the Good Friday Agreement.

37

2

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Forums and North–South relations: an interview with Wally Kirwan

Graham Spencer: What is your experience in dealing with Northern Ireland? Wally Kirwan: I spent thirty years working on Northern Ireland under seven successive Irish heads of Government. I joined the Department of the Taoiseach on 1 February 1974, having previously been in the Department of Finance and was then successful in an interdepartmental competition to become Joint Secretary for the Council of Ireland, as envisaged under the Sunningdale Agreement of December 1973. That Agreement collapsed and the Council never got off the ground but they kept me on, and from August 1978 I was head of the Northern Ireland Division of the Taoiseach’s Department. Until close to my retirement in July 2004 I was involved in almost all of the major dealings and negotiations around the conflict in the North, culminating in being a senior member of the Irish Government’s team that negotiated the Good Friday Agreement and later supplementary agreements on the implementation of its Strand Two and Three provisions. When I started in February 1974, in unpromising circumstances, there was scarcely anybody to greet me, as all were in Hillsborough, County Down, for a crisis meeting with the Northern Ireland Executive. This was at the time when Brian Faulkner was haemorrhaging political support and when the parties to the Sunningdale Agreement were supposed to reconvene to conclude a definitive pact. I spent my first few weeks working with colleagues from other departments to settle the Irish Government position, with particular attention being given to the executive, consultative and harmonising functions of the intended Council of Ireland. That was a role to which I reverted much later in the period of the multi-party talks leading to the Good Friday Agreement. At different times I headed Divisions and reported to Dermot Nally, Secretary General to the Government until his retirement, and then directly to successive Heads of the Department, Dermot Gallagher and Paddy Teahon (dealing with Northern Ireland, European Affairs or international affairs or combinations of these), reflecting differing 38

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Wally Kirwan arrangements made by different Taoisigh and the varying scope for progress at different times, especially on the North. Those were all small divisions and, throughout, the main body of officials working on these issues was in the Department of Foreign Affairs, both in Dublin and in relevant posts abroad. It was vital that the people in the two departments worked together harmoniously. Fortunately, this happened almost always. Over thirty years we had a lot of continuity in the group of Irish officials dealing with the North – Dermot Nally, myself, Sean Donlon, Noel Dorr, Michael Lillis, Daithi O’Ceallaigh, Michael Collins, Tim O’Connor – and drew extensively from their individual and collective knowledge of the situation. Initially, on the British side there was a greater turnover of officials as seconded staff in the Northern Ireland Office returned to their Home or Foreign Offices, but from the mid-1980s they too had a strong thread of continuity and that helped us. A result of which was that we built consensus between the two Governments from one document or agreement to another. The two groups of officials specialising in the Northern Ireland issue worked well together, with a well-developed professionalism in common. Special mention has to be made of the leadership and partnership involving Dermot Nally and Sir Robert Armstrong, the British Cabinet Secretary. In the background all the time (and often very much in the foreground) were the horrific campaigns of violence by the IRA and the other paramilitary organisations, both loyalist and republican. The Governments in London and Dublin committed tremendous resources to combating these campaigns through a plethora of security measures and also, from time to time, through a range of political initiatives, ­separately or jointly, aimed at facilitating a political settlement of the Troubles. Would you say more about co-operation between the two Governments as you ­experienced it? Over the period from 1974 to 1979 relations were often very cool, sometimes prompted by terrible events of violence and death. The Irish were very unhappy with what we saw as the weakness of the British Government in failing to face down the Ulster workers’ strike which brought down Sunningdale, and for a short period it appeared that we could be faced with even graver overspill issues and very stark choices. As a member of the Interdepartmental Unit on Northern Ireland, I found myself engaged in making contingency plans for reception of larger flows of refugees from the North and for such unwelcome prospects as re-partition, an independent Northern Ireland or protection of nationalist communities in the North. Then, in 1976, we had the murder in Dublin of the British Ambassador and I was involved in the introduction of a state of national emergency, for which there was provision in our Constitution. Following the 39

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts change of Government here in 1977, relations improved but further disasters loomed. In 1979 there occurred the murder in County Sligo of Lord Mountbatten, a close relative of Queen Elizabeth and a major British figure from the Second World War. I was at the stormy meeting in Downing Street involving Taoiseach Lynch and Prime Minister Thatcher on the day of the Lord’s funeral. Security measures discussed at that meeting led to Mr Lynch’s premature retirement from office and the advent of Charles Haughey as Taoiseach. He brought fresh and vigorous energy to efforts to raise the Northern Ireland issue to a new plane, with a proposed approach whereby the two sovereign Governments would convene a round-table conference. A good rapport was established between the two heads of government and I was closely involved, with my colleague David Neligan in our Department of Foreign Affairs, in pre-negotiating throughout 1980 with officials of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Northern Ireland Office the communiqué that issued from the Haughey–Thatcher summit held in Dublin on 8  December 1980. That commissioned five joint studies aimed at fostering ‘the totality of relations’ between North and South words first expressed by Sir Ken Stowe, then Permanent Secretary of the Northern Ireland Office. Were relations between the two Governments moving towards a convergent path at that point? Indeed, and in early 1981 I led for the Irish side in two of five joint studies on possible new institutional structures between the two countries and on security matters. Considerable progress was made, but again, extraneous developments, viz. differences over the handling of the hunger strikes by republican prisoners and, later, the Falkland Islands war, blew relations off course. But the studies brought forward concepts that came to fruition later, in the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 and in the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, essentially involving a stronger role for the Irish Government in respect of the governance of Northern Ireland. I was not involved in the negotiation of the 1985 Agreement because I was away from the Department, seconded to the New Ireland Forum as Co-ordinator of its Secretariat and chief drafter of its Report, and had not returned by the time the intensive discussions on the Anglo-Irish Agreement began. The aim of the New Ireland Forum was to bring up to date the policy positions of Irish nationalism, South and North, relating to Northern Ireland, as a springboard for fresh negotiations with the British. It was vital to obtain an agreed final report from the constituent political parties with their historically opposed outlooks and positions. It was a personal initiative of mine that led to the breaking of the impasse within the Forum and the completion of the agreed Report. 40

Wally Kirwan

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

That Report, and the entire Forum process, demonstrated to the nationalist people in the North that the people and political system in the South were engaging in efforts to bring peace with justice to an area perceived by many Northern nationalists as having been abandoned in 1925. We also know now that, with the military stalemate and war fatigue, that process and the energetic follow-up under the 1985 Agreement used the Forum Report as a springboard to influence the republican leadership to embark on the peace process. What were the conversations and activities you were involved in during in the early phase of the peace process? I wasn’t involved directly in dealings with the IRA or the republican movement in terms of bringing about the ceasefire. I came into it immediately after the ceasefire and my role as Secretary General for the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation was set up in response to that. The purpose of this was to bring parties together to discuss possibilities of dialogue and bring to light the issues that hindered peace. Was the Forum designed to get parties like Sinn Fein used to what negotiating might be like? Yes, it did feel like the purpose was to do with bringing Sinn Fein into normal democratic politics. But it was also to get all the parties used to each other. We had a free bar at the end of every meeting, we had tea and scones available when everybody arrived in the morning, and we had great lunches which we deliberately set up to facilitate people sitting beside each other. We had lunch at round tables that held up to fourteen people, and would arrange them that way. At the beginning, Sinn Fein just sat together but gradually, over time, that broke down and people mixed, and we gave a lot of attention to that. It eased the atmosphere and enabled wider conversation and debate as a result. There had been processes going on sporadically for quite a while with people from South Africa, and a visit to South Africa too, as well as a couple of conferences in the United States where all the parties were brought together. Some of my colleagues would be disrespectful of the British–Irish Association, referring to such an event as ‘Toffs Against Terrorism’. That took place in Oxford and Cambridge every September of every second year, bringing together all the key people who were dealing with the Northern Ireland on the British side with the Irish side, Army officers, the police and a good range of people from the British Civil Service and the British establishment. The International Fund for Ireland was set up after the AngloIrish Agreement 1985 and was about giving grants to different reconciliation bodies, 41

Inside Accounts economic bodies and co-operation bodies, both North and South, and this gradually helped us to develop a good relationship with the British.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

What function did having the Forum play in the peace process? I’d say the two bodies, the New Ireland Forum and the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, provided the opportunity for analysis, contemplation and reflection on complex and divisive issues. We had certain moments and opportunities to stand back and look at where we came from and where we were going. For example, during Garret Fitzgerald’s administration as Taoiseach, between 1980 and 1985, and before the Anglo-Irish Agreement, there were two conferences with all the officials on the Irish side looking at all the dimensions of strategy, but we also had to take into account how the atrocities at Enniskillen and Omagh affected strategy as well. Atrocities like that were almost impossible to account for and would set progress back considerably. Strategy is important, but big shocks create reactions that might undermine strategy, at least for a period of time. In reacting to such horrors presumably it’s also important to ensure you don’t get blown irreversibly off course? Yes, it is important. But from Sunningdale on there was a constant set of threads, which later led to the Hume–Adams dialogue, and those strands were important. With the Anglo-Irish Agreement provision was made for the Irish Government to exercise its influence in relation to the administration of Northern Ireland and that was significant too. Many of my colleagues in Foreign Affairs were very active in putting forward proposals about anti-discrimination legislation with regard to housing and economic policy, and about the administration of matters more generally within the North. Sinn Fein, and particularly McGuinness, who we assumed wanted to take the leadership and was going to lead the route, were able to see that any gains for Irish nationalism, up until the Anglo-Irish Agreement, were up for grabs once the formal process that led to the Good Friday Agreement took shape. Obviously, we interacted in parallel with the arguments of John Hume and the Hume–Adams process to ­facilitate such a direction as well. Were Sinn Fein producing papers and adopting policy positions at the Forum? Not very much, but we followed the same formula as we had done in the New Ireland Forum of 1983 to 1984, starting with the economics of the issue and the cost of the 42

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Wally Kirwan Troubles, and we commissioned work on that. Over time, the process developed further and we used to have negotiating meetings on Thursday night with myself, Tim O’Connor and Seamus Mallon, who was the lead person from the SDLP, and then Rita O’Hare and Pat Doherty from Sinn Fein. There was a reservation by Sinn Fein about the issue of a double referendum and whether that was a valid act of self-determination by the Irish people. We came very close to getting it agreed, until the ceasefire broke down with the bomb at Canary Wharf. The Forum then went into suspension and although we did meet once or twice after that the Forum was effectively ended when the violence resumed. I recall that we were with Quentin Thomas and others at a meeting in Sussex on the Downs, in a Foreign Office location, when the announcement came that the bomb had gone off. It was a big surprise to everybody. Did you think that Canary Wharf, although a shock, would not end the peace process? I’d agree that Canary Wharf may have been part of the price that the political side of Sinn Fein had to pay to keep the military side on board. On the whole, they were fairly well in command of the situation but nevertheless, obviously with a guy like McKevitt, who was the Quartermaster General of the IRA, and broke away to set up the Real IRA later on, there was a potential problem. They were always conscious about where the conflict had been strongly waged and where the rumblings were coming from. What happened at that point? Did things start to unravel? Well it did and it didn’t. The Forum was based on the principle that all the parties had to be committed to solely peaceful and democratic means and to achieve political objectives on that basis. That was one of the ground rules. When the Forum went into suspension we never really got it back even though we were hanging around in the hope that the thing would get back on the rails. Do you think the Forum remains one of the under-assessed aspects of the peace process? Yes, and it was very important because it got Sinn Fein talking to people from the other political parties. What did you make of Sinn Fein when they came into the Forum? Were they very ideological or quite pragmatic in their approach? 43

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts There was a degree of pragmatism about them. Rita O’Hare, who was regarded as being very close to Gerry Adams, and later on was the Sinn Fein representative for several years in the US, was very pragmatic and able to negotiate the wording of drafts and text. She was accompanied by Pat Doherty, whose reputation then was about enforcing discipline within the IRA and so he had a fearsome reputation. Nevertheless, he was pragmatic enough. The thing that struck me was that they were able to mobilise quite a range of political spokespersons. Obviously Adams and McGuinness would have taken the lead role, but they were able to bring out plenty of young women who were very articulate and you were certainly conscious that you had better be up early in the morning when dealing with them. Did the British have any significant part in this? No, it was deliberately an Irish initiative, and that was in the Downing Street Declaration. Were the British interested? They were, of course, because we had a lot of submissions as part of this process of what you might call public education. We started one of the early sessions on 16 December 1994 with a victim of the Troubles, a widower of the woman who was blown up in the chip shop on the Shankill Road, called Alan McBride, and we had people like Raymond McCartney and Laurence McKeown, who had been hunger strikers, speaking on behalf of the prisoners. The idea was to get all shades of opinion. Did the British want to know what was going on in the Forum? The great bulk of the proceedings were held in public with a drafting committee meeting early on a Friday morning before the Forum meetings proper began. The British, no doubt, kept an eye on that. Was there a structure to procedures? That is, did you start with victims and then move on to other areas and issues? Yes, and that was partly designed to cultivate a certain esprit de corps by not going immediately into contentious stuff. So looking at the effects on the economy of Ireland wasn’t exactly the most contentious territory to argue about and we used that kind of thing to initiate dialogue and build consensus. Equally, from early on we 44

Wally Kirwan

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

were anxious to show that we were open to listening to the viewpoints of all sides, including the republican side. The Forum for Peace and Reconciliation started on 24 October and by about February we had a draft and were trying to distil the results into a politically agreed statement. That followed a structure and a process. Much of the peace process was incremental, but it was also based on building one text on top of another. In that sense it was more by design and keeping within an architecture than luck that it worked out. Did you envisage the Forum running right up to the Good Friday Agreement? Not once full negotiations were under way. It was always envisaged that it would fade away, but not because of the Canary Wharf bomb, which was not foreseen. That maybe it would last two years and act as a kind of decompression chamber from the Troubles. Did Sinn Fein use the Forum of Peace and Reconciliation to start getting used to what negotiations might look like? Were they talking about things in the Forum that, in a sense, became a forerunner of their negotiation position to follow? In one way it was a forerunner, but in another way it didn’t add that much to the actual negotiations because as the talks proper progressed Sinn Fein’s concentration was very heavily on practical issues related to their own concerns and agenda, such as prisoners, decommissioning and a certain amount of stuff about human rights. The work for the Forum was primarily intended to be a drafting committee that would produce a final report of that work. That report never emerged and, in fact, has never been printed. Was it in draft form at some point? It was. Why didn’t it emerge, then? It became a casualty of the breakdown of the ceasefire. To be a participant in the Forum you had to be committed to peaceful non-violent means and the breach of the ceasefire was deemed to be a departure from that. There was one occasion after the restoration of the ceasefire when the Forum did meet again and the idea of keeping the Forum in reserve was considered. It wasn’t closed down definitively for a long 45

Inside Accounts time, and I don’t think it was ever closed down definitively in the shape of a formal announcement that it no longer existed. For a few years, in case it needed to be reactivated, the idea was that the Forum could be used as a reserve space for dialogue if the actual talks themselves broke down.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

How did the Forum shape Irish thinking about what might come? It was the rehearsal of ideological positions which offered a kind of agreed overview of the nature of the conflict and the way out of it. As I said, Sinn Fein met with Seamus Mallon and us on Thursday nights to see if there was any potential common ground, so we had a pre-negotiation of the pre-negotiation, if you like. Those meetings were certainly used to try and narrow the gaps between the positions of each party. How is the business of working through the various positions and producing a text typically managed? Well, obviously you’d be looking at the texts produced by different bodies. I said that the input from Sinn Fein wasn’t great but, having said that, there were certain texts produced by them over the years from which you could tell they were trying to figure out how to carve positions into any final agreement. We were looking at their language and seeing how far we could accommodate it within something that would be agreeable to other parties. Similarly, when the unionist parties got together at one stage and brought out a document, called something like Way Forward, we tried to mobilise some of the phraseology from that. So we were trying to converge the different sources we were drawing from as best we could. In the talks and negotiations in the build-up to the Good Friday Agreement were you making judgements based on core positions, or were you looking for potential movements, or was it a combination of both? There are instances where we played our hand in relation to Strand Two, but you knew that the negotiation would be heavily concentrated into the last few weeks. The process was going on from June of 1996, and up to Christmas 1997 very little progress had been made. There was an element of going round and round, but then there was a document brought out between the British and Irish Governments called The Heads of Agreement in January 1998, which a number of people on the nationalist side saw as too weak. Even before the real negotiations started we were going around all the Irish departments to talk about the prospect of there being a North–South 46

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Wally Kirwan Ministerial Council, with a view to trying to sell this to the republicans and to the unionists. We were trying to have the maximum degree of functions and powers attached to that. One of the jobs we did was to negotiate with our own departments what powers they were prepared to give to the North–South Ministerial Council. Of course, you’re operating against the natural tendency of big departments to hold on to the functions they have, but they did all take in the argument from the Taoiseach that there was a real imperative to ensure that this Council had strong functions and power. We tabled our list of areas that would fall under the North–South Ministerial Council on the Monday of Holy Week, when John Taylor of the UUP said he wouldn’t touch it with a forty-foot barge pole, and I remember being shocked when Paddy Teahon said we’d be doing well if we got six good broad areas. Initially we had fifty-six areas listed because, as a starting point, the aim was to maximise the number of functional areas that the Council would have. So that initial list served as a bargaining point. But, at the same time, there was a risk that if we overplayed our hand and left the Ulster Unionists the power to choose the areas, that could have collapsed the process. The funny thing was that at that time, when this was one of the most allergic issues, we came to negotiate with the Northern Ireland Civil Service on six implementation bodies and six areas of so-called co-operation using existing institutions and bodies. Ultimately, the North–South areas turned out to be largely non-allergic and the real problem was arms decommissioning. In a sense, that was foreseeable from the beginning because the unionists were going to have to swallow a lot on power-sharing and a North–South dimension. However, they were getting a British–Irish Council in return, which we had no problem conceding because we knew that the British wouldn’t have that much interest in it. So they gave it to Trimble and his people to act as a kind of counter-balance and for something to put in the shop window alongside the North–South and East–West dimensions. This, to some extent, was so they could represent Ireland coming back under British auspices. In the end, the North–South element turned out to be quite unproblematic in its actual operation. To what extent was the detail of text of interest to Sinn Fein? I suppose the SDLP and the unionists were keen to avoid a situation where people like Seamus Mallon wouldn’t wish to see the republicans rewarded for their murderous activities – and, you know, many an SDLP person would have suffered continued intimidation. I recall talking to Dennis Haughey on how he’d get a bullet in the post the night before polling to discourage him from challenging too many impersonators the next day. But the SDLP were really responsible with the Irish Government 47

Inside Accounts for the negotiations of the internal arrangements on the operation of the Executive, and Sinn Fein made zero contribution to that, so they were interested in some things and not others.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Jonathan Powell described Sinn Fein as ‘great chisellers’, who constantly hammered on about one thing and would then continue even when they had successfully extracted compromises. Would you agree? That’s right. The night before Good Friday they came in with a list containing dozens of questions and objections. It became a matter of showing cause and appearing to take the whole list seriously, which we hardly did because it was too long and too ridiculous, but at the same time we had to give the appearance of taking them seriously. We would have been conscious that there would have been four or five top issues on their agenda, like prisoners and the weapons. About, for example, whether decommissioning was a precondition for their participation in the Executive or not. But there was always a parallel negotiation factored in to their agenda. I think it was a pretty free flow of contact between senior figures on our side and the republican leadership, and much of that would have been undertaken in an informal context, but my colleagues were left in no doubt as to what that bottom line was for Sinn Fein with regard to issues like prisoners. What would you say were the main differences between how the Irish worked in comparison to the British? The Irish side would be more inclined towards the informal way of doing business and the British would be more inclined on the formal front. Certainly, when you were dealing with people like, say, Sir Patrick Mayhew or Sir Jonathan Stephens, they would approach the problem in a more formal way. What do you mean by more formal or more informal? Doing business with strict agendas and working out the text as tightly as possible. It’s a good illustration to look at the logistical arrangements they had for the talks in Castle Buildings compared to the logistical arrangements we made for the Forum  for Peace and Reconciliation at places like Dublin Castle. You should have a free bar in such a place because when they drink people talk, and it helps to cultivate relations. Remember, people had spent years shouting insults at each other  from long  distances, so it was important to try and get them to see each 48

Wally Kirwan other as human beings, and the more informal the situation the more this tended to happen.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Did you find the British tended to reason things differently, compared to the Irish? In terms of the fall-out from developments that were going to happen in their territory it was always going to be more of a test for them, so you could sympathise with that. When we came to negotiate the follow-up to Strand Two and the actual operation of the North–South Ministerial Council, about what would be the particular permutation of the bodies, how they would be set up legally and so on, we found that even though our Northern Ireland Civil Service colleagues were more formal than us they also had the capacity to adapt. They were steeped in the traditions of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, but the people we dealt with were closer to us on the negotiations than our London-based counterparts. Were documents and text more important to the British than the Irish? Yes, I think so, and, of course, that came into the picture very much in relation to decommissioning. But I have sympathy with the unionists and their part in this because Sinn Fein were allowed to get away with stringing that out. You could argue that the end result was correct, because it did happen in the end, but how that appeared on paper and was then latched on to and allowed to become problematic also indicates that, at times, some things are best left off paper Were you converging your efforts with the British or was a different way of thinking about problems also evident? We were fairly convergent. Throughout this period we had a body called the Liaison Group that used to meet alternately in London and Dublin, and in the period of implementation after the negotiations. Having established a common approach to dealing with the difficulties that arose both in the negotiations, the implementation of the Agreement succeeded extremely well. My point is, the more you work together the easier working together becomes. Clearly the British Government had to try and keep the unionists happy, and Blair heavily indulged Trimble in terms of allowing him to beat a path to his door. But there were alternative difficulties arising too for the Taoiseach in dealing with concerns for the SDLP and Sinn Fein and having, at the same time, to bear in mind and accommodate the fears and concerns of the unionists. 49

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Does movement come from constantly playing one position off against its opposite? Not really. It was more about developing relations through dialogue. Some parties within the negotiations, like the Women’s Coalition and the Alliance Party, were not so polarised and they did make some useful contributions here and there. Before that, at the time of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, our Chairperson was Judge Catherine McGuinness, who was a Belfast-born Protestant and a prominent figure in the Church of Ireland, as well as a Justice of the Supreme Court. We also went up to Belfast to a house that the Quakers had and we met David Ervine and various loyalist leaders there. So, even at the Forum stage, we were trying to put out feelers to see if others might consider participating in the Forum, but they decided against it. However, we did open up dialogue with the loyalists around the margins of the actual Good Friday talks and that proved useful. The unionists saw the Good Friday Agreement as copper-fastening the Union, while Sinn Fein saw it as a stepping-stone. So while one is trying to close the door the other is trying to open it. That is two opposing psychologies at work. Is that how you saw it? Yes, and it was very difficult to accommodate both of them. We would be conscious that, broadly speaking, the unionists would be coming from a kind of Presbyterian tradition where the word and the importance of the word was very important. The republicans, on the other hand, went for a considerable amount of verbal fudge, especially in relation to the decommissioning issue, which bedevilled the process. Also, everybody knew that Sinn Fein and the IRA were two sides of the same coin, even though there was a certain fiction maintained that they were two separate bodies. Were you working off past treaties and agreements when you came to drafting the Good Friday Agreement? Was there such a formula to it? Well, as I said earlier, the Good Friday Agreement was constructed on the basis of other successive documents that preceded it, and a lot of the language was co-opted. But it took a different turn in the sense that it identified through the North–South dimension the six implementation bodies and the six other areas for co-operation using existing institutions and bodies. In a number of other areas, while there was plenty of text, there was an element in which the implementation was kicked down the road, as with, say, policing. One way of dealing with it was to address as much as the market would bear at a certain moment while putting some of the more contentious stuff, like flags and parades, down the road. 50

Wally Kirwan Would you say that decommissioning prolonged this process? Without question.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Were the Irish taken aback by the decommissioning demand that Mayhew made in Washington? We were. Did you know it was coming? No. But there was a constant tension between the need to try and satisfy the unionists, whose main concern was to know whether the war was over or not. In the end it didn’t satisfy the Ulster Unionists at all and seemed more to the satisfaction of Sinn Fein. Do you see it that way? It was a question of getting a balance between something that would be strong enough to give reassurance to the unionists while, on the other hand, involving enough facesaving for Sinn Fein and the IRA. We were always conscious that the hold that came from Adams and McGuinness kept Sinn Fein in the ascendency and that they had fairly full command of their troops. But, at the same time, we were conscious that in areas like South Armagh and East Tyrone, which had been the strong centres of the conflict, there was a fair degree of opinion which was unhappy at the way Sinn Fein were accommodating changes to life within the context of the United Kingdom. What did the Irish think about Tony Blair giving the side-letter to Trimble on ­decommissioning at the time of the Agreement? I don’t think we did have any say or advance notice of that, and it came as a bit of a surprise. But when you look at Jeffrey Donaldson walking out of the delegation, and John Taylor’s earlier comment about not touching initial North–South plans with a barge pole, the whole thing was a bit shaky. Paisley had pulled out long before and Trimble was in a tricky position, so, while at one level we would have been unhappy at the side-letter, there would have been a certain understanding that it might have been a necessary trimming to steady up opinion within the UUP. Do you think Sinn Fein largely controlled the pace of the peace process? 51

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

We were conscious, on the whole, that they weren’t very vulnerable in terms of possible splits, but we were also conscious that it was part of their approach to try and bring the whole of the movement with them and to avoid any significant division, as had previously been the case between the Officials and the Provisionals. Some, like Jonathan Powell again, have strongly argued that Sinn Fein over-­negotiated. If that’s true is it not fair to say that the pace of the peace process was dominated more by Sinn Fein than anybody else? It was. As I said, the main prize for the unionist parties and the unionist population in the Agreement was to bring about peace and the assurance of continuing peace, closely related to which was the issue of decommissioning. Now many people would say that decommissioning was more of a symbolic issue, in the sense that had they got rid of all their weapons they would have been able to rearm at any time they wanted because they had good reserves of money. If we could have brought them to the point of decommissioning fully earlier it might have been a different story without the DUP able to take up the unionist mantle, but it was very hard to judge what genuine difficulties they had in bringing the full strength of the movement with them. Do you think this was also influenced by the fact that they knew they were going to have to wait for Paisley to be in power? That may well have been a consideration in their mind as well, and in group discussions there was some talk about how Paisley would have found it hard to come in earlier. There was a feeling expressed that it was possibly through their ministerial roles on the Executive, even though they didn’t go to the Executive meetings, that they got used to the idea of sharing power. In that they did participate in Executive business there is no doubt that they got a hunger for power, and once they experienced that they swallowed their reservations around Sinn Fein. Do you think that the two Governments should have applied more pressure to Sinn Fein with regard to decommissioning? Broadly speaking, I would be of the view that it was possible to pressure them a bit more. Sinn Fein were very happy to be in power and were anxious to remain in power. But whether it would have been possible to get decommissioning earlier, without the loss of confidence of the UUP, was a very difficult judgement to make 52

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Wally Kirwan at the time. The UUP lost the confidence of their public and the DUP were able to capitalise on that. Similarly, Sinn Fein being indulged helped them to overtake the SDLP as the main representative party for nationalists. In my view, they were excessively indulged and it would have been possible to put it up to them and get them to concede ground more quickly. It’s hard to remember the exact chronology on that now, but certainly the Irish side, over a period, had felt that Sir Patrick Mayhew setting out decommissioning as a precondition for negotiations had not helped. The general tradition in Ireland had been that when peace had returned and the campaign had been called off, so arms would be dumped and the prisoners would be let out, but decommissioning wouldn’t have been made a precondition where arms would be delivered upfront. At the end of the Civil War in the South, the IRA’s Chief-of-Staff in 1922–23 ordered that arms be dumped, and it was the same at the end of the campaign in the 1950s. That was the Irish tradition. They, in effect, tolerated the dumping of arms and they didn’t make that a precondition for releasing prisoners or other concessions. The whole thing about decommissioning was a long, tedious struggle, with the Mitchell Commission brought in to try and solve that problem. Did that become the central problem around which everything else seemed to revolve? At the time of the negotiations it wasn’t quite as central. It was more after the Good Friday Agreement, in relation to implementation, that it was to become the core problem. At all times it would have been the main thing that the unionists wanted in any possible agreement. That is, to know or hear that this had brought about an end to the war. The unionists had no particular reason to be looking to set up institutions and they weren’t enthusiasts for power-sharing. For them, the big prize was to bring an end to the war. Was there a strong consensus amongst the Irish team throughout? People like myself weren’t really involved in the bigger negotiations, but were focussed on other issues like the North–South relationship. But those that were handling the negotiations would have very largely been of the one mind. In general, the overall strategy was softly, softly, catchy monkey and string the thing out if necessary, but keep the republican movement together and on board for peace as much as possible. While I would be critical and think that Sinn Fein were allowed too much rope and too much leverage, with the long view, you could argue that my colleagues’ general strategy was vindicated. 53

Inside Accounts Did jettisoning Articles Two and Three cause any pain or grief? Surprisingly little.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Did people know this was coming well in advance? Yes, that stuff had been floating around for a long time and even if you go back to the Sunningdale communiqué it can be glimpsed. I remember advising my colleague to stick with the wording that had been in the communiqué that Charlie Haughey and Maggie Thatcher used in December 1980, where language about Irish unity might have run foul of the Constitution and the Supreme Court. It might have led to another case, as when Kevin Boland took the Irish Government to court after the Sunningdale Agreement. That had the effect of torpedoing unionist confidence and the position of Brian Faulkner, so we didn’t want a repeat of that with another Supreme Court case on key aspects of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985. I advised that Haughey wasn’t going to be in a position to criticise what he had already accepted himself. There were words like ‘consultative’, ‘harmonisation’, etc. What was the value of such terminology? By the time that it came to including that kind of phraseology into the Good Friday Agreement there was a lot of history behind it and a lot of this language had been used in successive texts such as the Frameworks Document or the Downing Street Declaration, and it provided what you might call rhetorical value. The key arguments were very much about decommissioning and the powers of the North–South Ministerial Council. How do you see the relationship between principle and pragmatism and at what point can pragmatism undermine principle? The basic principle of decommissioning was a condition for entry into the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, since people had to be committed to democratic and peaceful means of bringing about political objectives. I suppose when you step down to a kind of sub-principle about the arms and weapons issue there is probably scope for some movement as to where you draw the line in terms of that principle. As I said, I felt unhappy that Sinn Fein were indulged too much in terms of dragging out the process of decommissioning, and it led to the UUP playing second fiddle to the DUP. 54

Wally Kirwan As we know, you could argue it also led to the situation with the governing parties of Northern Ireland spending most of their time bad mouthing each other, and it created a complete stalemate, with little constructive work going on. The centrist parties died on the altar of decommissioning and were sacrificed to bring the extremes in and we are suffering the results of that today.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Did the unionists act with any enthusiasm towards any document? Jim Molyneaux gave a fairly good read to the Downing Street Declaration and the loyalists took it on board with some positivity. But, because you were always navigating your way between two totally conflicting positions, you were always looking for somewhere in the middle and were never going to satisfy the hard-line positions on either side. On that basis, open welcoming of statements or texts was not likely and caution or criticism was the general position taken by all. How did the SDLP relate to North–South institutions? It would have been more about the degree of strength that the institutions had that they were interested in. The SDLP were disappointed with the outcome of the negotiations regarding the North–South bodies, because some of the bodies did not exactly reach the commanding heights in relation to the economy. There was a body dealing with the Irish language, and you had waterways, but you couldn’t regard these as having much impact on the administration of business as it affects ordinary people. The bodies did steer clear of the constitutional and border issue, though. The SDLP preferred a full-strength body for tourism across the island as a whole and would have liked the attraction of inward investment under a single body for the whole country too, but this was not realisable. How difficult was it working with the Northern Ireland Civil Service? The particular negotiating team that we were dealing with were very good people, very constructive. Behind them were the massed ranks of the Northern Ireland Civil Service and the Permanent Secretaries of the different Northern Ireland departments. For their own bureaucratic reasons, they would have been slow to agree to the transfer of significant sub-functions and powers to the North–South Ministerial Council, even if there was no political background. Obviously, any Permanent Secretary of a department in Northern Ireland would have been conscious that the unionist parties and the unionist electorate would have had zero enthusiasm for endowing a North–South 55

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Ministerial Council, or corresponding body, with significant powers and functions. That would obviously have influenced how they would have approached things and, in a sense, the Northern Ireland Civil Service negotiating team, who were more clued in to the need for balance in the North–South dimension to satisfy the nationalist side of the equation, would have been struggling within their own system to extract significant functions and powers from the Heads of the Northern Ireland departments. Would you say that people ‘in the background’ were obstructive? We didn’t have much contact with them. We dealt directly with the people representing the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, who were heading the negotiating team and their legal advisors. The people we actually dealt with were found to be very creative and able to understand the need for a well-worked compromise. They were very constructive. Was there a similar concern about the need for agreed language and the implications of that language? There would have been after the negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement itself. I think the word ‘executive’ probably does feature in the Agreement, and it was certainly envisaged that some of these North–South bodies would carry out executive functions. But, as compared with what was envisaged under Sunningdale, the outcome in respect of the North–South was much less extensive under the Good Friday Agreement. We have to remember the Sunningdale Agreement was never  implemented fully, but one of the first jobs I had when I joined the Taoiseach’s Department was in terms of fattening up the functions for the Council of Ireland under Sunningdale and engaging in a similar negotiation with the Northern Ireland Civil Service. I remember Dermot Nally used to say in talks that up to twenty thousand civil servants could have been transferred to the North–South Ministerial Council under the discussions being carried out. The point is, the number of civil servants and officials in the implementation bodies that came out of the Good Friday Agreement wouldn’t have amounted to much more than a thousand. Do you remember a first draft of the North–South part of the Good Friday Agreement, and to what extent that had shifted with the final published Agreement? No, but it was dramatically different. The first draft was tabled by Senator Mitchell on the Monday of Holy Week 1998 and had a very long list of possible areas that the 56

Wally Kirwan North–South Ministerial Council would be active and operational in, reflecting a lot of work that had gone on. We were operating under a directive to have a maximum position. I seem to recollect that the message we received was that initially we should be looking at thirty to forty areas. So, right up to the Good Friday Agreement we were proceeding with a fairly maximum position, and we had that in that draft.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Did you realistically think you could get most of those accepted? We didn’t have a firmly worked out position. First it got forced down to twenty, and then down to ten, but we knew which ones we regarded as most important and that was in areas like energy, inward investment and tourism. How did the British respond to that initial list? The British would have expected us to go for a maximum position anyway. On the Monday of that final week we were dealing with a fellow called David Ferguson in the Northern Ireland Civil Service, who was a kind of liaison officer for the talks.  The British probably thought our list was too long, but they didn’t have a very strong focus on it. There was a meeting again on the Tuesday that we had with the unionist  delegation, and the idea came up that instead of agreeing on which particular  bodies should be in the Agreement itself we might agree on a framework within which at a later stage it would be decided which bodies would become active. The  Good Friday Agreement only set out a process, but it did have a list from which six plus six would be drawn. Six executive bodies with executive powers and six others where there would be co-operation using existing departments and institutions. Did the British have an equivalent text on North–South relations, or was that primarily an Irish text that drove that? It was an Irish text that drove it. Were the British basically okay about this proposal, or were they as angry about it as the unionists? I think the British would have relied on the unionists to shoot it down and there would have been a fairly clear perception that it was over-ambitious in terms of what the unionists would accept. 57

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

How did the trading work to end up with six bodies? The decision was made by Bertie Ahern himself, and this at a time when the North– South relationship did elicit an emotional reaction to it. But, once we got beyond that point it went into calmer waters. It was on the Wednesday of Holy Week that the unionists came up with this idea of a process that would lead towards another six months of negotiation until 18 December. And it was in talks between the Irish Government and essentially the unionists before it was agreed. Was it a creative proposal by the unionists to talk about a ‘framework’? It was a creative proposal, yes. It came through the mouth of Ken Maginnis, but whether he was the actual author of the proposal I couldn’t say. At the same time, though, it represented a considerable step down from the maximum position that the Irish Government had taken. Did Sinn Fein show any interest in that? Very little. Did they say anything to you about it? No, and I don’t recall that Sinn Fein took any negative view on the unionist proposal of having a process that would lead to an agreement on this down the line either. What about the DUP on the outside of the talks? That was always a factor in the background. You could argue providentially that because the DUP were outside the tent it allowed the Ulster Unionists a little bit of room for manoeuvre and that, had the DUP been sitting there, around the negotiating table, the Ulster Unionists would never have dared to bring forward that proposal and would have been compelled to take a harder line. Was the North–South section based on language that was deliberately ambiguous because of difficulty the proposed bodies had for unionists? The primary change was that the list was slimmed down, but it was still envisaged that some of these bodies would have executive functions and it was still foreseen 58

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Wally Kirwan that there would be a North–South Ministerial Council. The unionist objection was more to the length of the list than to the idea that a fair amount of functions relating to the Government of Northern Ireland would be transferred to the North–South Ministerial Council. But, as regards the actual link and the setting up of the North– South Ministerial Council, that was effectively accepted earlier. There was a sense, too, that as long as the Ulster Unionists were the primary party on the unionist side within the Executive they could manage it. But once the DUP came in the chances of that were pretty slim and for the following two or three years the whole thing was constantly blighted by arguments about the decommissioning issue. Would you say that the Ulster Unionists were more reasonable on this or less reasonable than you expected? Neither. I think they were about where they were expected to be. We got them as far as accepting a North–South Ministerial Council, and on our side we agreed to a British–Irish Council, which was a concept of appeal to Trimble in particular. It was a kind of fig-leaf for them, if you like. You mentioned the aim was to set out a maximum position. Was there a minimum position involved as well? We definitely envisaged it would have been a minimal part of the Irish composition that there would be a North–South Ministerial Council with some functions in relation to co-operation and what you might call joint action between North and South. That would have been the minimum position. But it was also part of the minimum position that there would be North–South bodies with some executive functions. How quickly did these North–South bodies start to work? There was a deadline set of 31 March 1999 and we did just about reach that deadline by the skin of our teeth, with the four supplementary agreements signed in March 1999. I remember being there in the Department of Foreign Affairs. Mandelson was by this stage the British Secretary of State and David Andrews was the Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs and those agreements were signed in Foreign Affairs in March of 1999. But the Executive didn’t come into play until December of 1999. It was part of the architecture of the Agreement that none of the bodies would start functioning ahead of any others, so you had to get the Executive operational in the North before you could get the North–South Ministerial Council going. 59

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

When the Executive kept breaking down over the next few years did the North–South bodies also grind to a halt? They weren’t dissolved, but, in terms of any fresh initiatives, they were more or less at a standstill. You had some paradoxes because the Executive met on 2 December and in a couple of days we had the first meeting of the North–South Ministerial Council in Armagh. Within a couple of days of that we had the first meetings of the British–Irish Council in London and we had another body called the British–Irish Governmental Conference between the British and Irish Governments. Between the time when they started in 1999 and the Executive in 2002 there was a suspension of the Executive, but in between that we had sixty-five meetings of the North–South Ministerial Council, which was more or less one a week. That would have been in different formats because there was an agriculture format, an energy format and so on. There wasn’t any energy function agreed as part of the six bodies that had Executive powers, so energy was dealt with as one of the other six through a format of co-operation between existing institutions. Over time, we moved to a situation where the energy grid on the island of Ireland, North and South, was more or less operating as a single unit. Do you think one of the reasons why Sinn Fein didn’t get involved in this was because it risked undermining their ideological conviction of talking about a united Ireland? I’m not sure getting involved in a detailed administration would have prejudiced their ideological position, but you’re probably right. Reading over the transcript of the group discussion we had about the implementation of Strand Two of the Agreement, there was a lot of emphasis on the Executive in the North not being exactly a powerhouse of creativity or new policy ideas, and that was especially the case from the time Sinn Fein and the DUP took over. You wouldn’t have looked to either of those parties to be a font of policy creativity. The DNA of the DUP was to oppose everything and to block things, and the DNA of Sinn Fein was ideological and based on the idea of military pressure, so the detail of policy was not an area they were interested in. With the evolution of time, people like Martin McGuinness and Gerry Kelly, who were Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive, did grow a bit into the policy environment, but, if you look at the legislation that came forward from the Northern Ireland Executive, the amount of new policy initiatives were, as now, clearly woefully inadequate. In contrast, if you compare it with, say, the Scottish administration, there you have a good deal of initiatives in terms of differentiating the policies they follow from the Westminster Government. If you look at 60

Wally Kirwan the question of third-level fees, free university education etc., there are a number of things where the Scottish Government has differentiated itself from the rest of the UK. You don’t see that happening a lot in Northern Ireland.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Is it important to have consistency in a process like this? Well you’re not going to suddenly back away from the principles you set out three months previously. You need to build on those principles, not leave or reject them. When people talk about the Good Friday Agreement they often talk about it as a good deal for the parties of Northern Ireland. Do you see it that way? Yes. During the period between the report of the New Ireland Forum and the Good Friday Agreement the country set about accepting that there was no way you could bring about Irish unity without the consent of a majority in Northern Ireland. By the time we came to negotiate the Good Friday Agreement that was an accepted principle in the South, so it was part of our approach that we had to have all of Ireland involved from top to bottom in relation to the administration of Northern Ireland, and that emerged with the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. Obviously, we had to then build on that, and we were anxious to strengthen the co-operation between North and South, so it could be seen there were obvious benefits from working on a joint basis. We wanted to bring stability to the whole country because over the thirty years it had gradually become clear that the Troubles in the North weren’t going to collapse the economy of the South but they were having a significant and negative effect. Because of that we had a strong interest in bringing about peace and stability. Was the strategy after the SDLP and the UUP ran the Executive still about trying to drag the extremists onto the middle ground? Yes and no. Obviously it would have been the preferred position of the Irish Government, and no doubt the British Government, to have continued with a situation where the UUP were the leading party on the unionist side and the SDLP were the leading party on the nationalist side. But by the time we were negotiating the Good Friday Agreement it was already apparent, certainly on the nationalist side, that Sinn Fein were getting thirty-five to forty per cent support of the nationalist population and they were a very significant block, so to get an agreement it was clear we were going to have to satisfy as many of their concerns as possible. That’s why 61

Inside Accounts you had provisions in the Agreement about prisoners and other confidence-building measures like demilitarisation and so on.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Do you need carrots and sticks in a process like this? Certainly the Irish Government didn’t have much leverage over Sinn Fein and the IRA. There would have been big concern about dissidents, particularly after Omagh, and one could understand Sinn Fein’s desire to bring the whole movement with them. Like Jonathan Powell, though, I am of the mind they dragged it out too much. They seemed intent on exhausting all possibilities to the point of annihilation. Is there a difference here between moral considerations and strategic considerations? Was the moral discussed as much as the strategic, or were they inseparable? I’m not sure if I can answer that. One of the big lessons from my involvement with Northern Ireland over many years is that violence corrupts. People in the IRA probably started out with what they saw as legitimate motivation, but the further you get into these campaigns of violence, the worse it gets, so the moral dimension of it gets completely perverted and distorted. One then gets the stories of protection rackets in terms of drug-running and so on. But the overall moral imperative of policy in the Irish Government was to bring an end to the violence. What with the Northern Bank robbery, the Robert McCartney murder and Canary Wharf, was there not a risk that pushing on would make the process look a joke? Can one take too many risks? It’s an open question whether we indulged them too much, or whether we should have taken excluding measures at an earlier stage. Did the moral benefit in terms of all the abhorrent consequences of violence justify the approach? That is for others to decide. Were the public in the South generally supportive of the Irish Government’s approach to the peace process? I think they were. They would have been supportive of going a long way in terms of stretching things in order to achieve the main objective of bringing an end to the violence. 62

Wally Kirwan

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

What was your role after the Good Friday Agreement? The main role I had was leading the Irish side in the detailed negotiations for the follow-up on Strands Two and Three. That would have been the negotiation of the modus operandi of the North–South Ministerial Council and the composition of the modus operandi of the North–South Ministerial Council. That would also have involved the selection and setting up the six cross-border bodies, plus the setting up of the co-operation in the other six areas. I would have also been heavily involved in the drafting of the Constitutional Amendment. Do you think Strand Three was important? It didn’t demand very much. Mainly, it was us going to meetings of the British–Irish Council to try and find some areas where there could be worthwhile mutual learning between the different administrations involved. Strand Three was essentially of benefit to the unionists and seen as a balancing element against the North–South dimension. There was probably a hope for Trimble that the operation of Strand Three would draw Ireland more closely into the arms of the United Kingdom. Was Strand Three advantageous to the Irish at all? Not really. I think some of my colleagues had a degree of scepticism about Strand Three and worried that Trimble was right in that it might draw us more closely towards the UK and away from the independent stance that we were able to adopt as a full member state in the European Union. We had some dealings with the administration of Scotland and we had consulates set up in Edinburgh and in Cardiff in the lead-up to the Good Friday Agreement. It was always apparent that the main interest in Strand Three was going to come from the devolved administrations within the United Kingdom, but we were always conscious that Westminster and Whitehall had bigger fish to fry. There was no question they would try and use Strand Three to try and pull Ireland back closer into the orbit of the United Kingdom. As it worked out in practice, it was the Scottish and Welsh administrations and the Isle of Man who showed the strongest interest in Strand Three because it gave them an opportunity to be on a semi-international stage. But the British Government showed little interest in it. Even meetings at head of government level of the British–Irish Council soon ceased to have any real function, with the attendance of the British Prime Minister replaced by the Northern Ireland Secretary. I believe Gordon Brown was quoted as saying ‘What am I doing here?’ Constant suspensions of all the institutions within 63

Inside Accounts the North, arising from the decommissioning issue, also meant you couldn’t set up a proper scheduled set of meetings because you couldn’t be sure that the Northern Ireland administration was going to be in existence.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

One would have thought that Sinn Fein would have been very interested in that and tried to loosen rather than tighten any business linkage through such an arrangement. Was that so? We would have been able to reassure them that we didn’t think it was going to amount to any tight framework and that we didn’t believe that the British were going to try and exploit it in any way. We would say look, the British Prime Minister has to go to NATO meetings so he can’t afford to spend his time hanging around waiting to speak to the Prime Minister of the Isle of Man. Did you envisage symbolic change, as with the police in Northern Ireland, being as contentious as it was? It was already regarded as being one of the hottest potatoes because obviously there was a very strong attachment by the unionist community to the RUC, and for many of them their sons, daughters, brothers and fathers had been shot. So it was always going to be a very bitter pill for them to swallow to have the creation of a new police force. On the other hand, from the nationalist standpoint, the RUC and the whole policing system in Northern Ireland had acquired such a reputation for discriminatory action that changing it was going to be a necessary part of the settlement. Even in discussions in the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation policing was recognised as one of the most difficult areas. So much so, in fact, that, as mentioned earlier, in the scheduling of topics we focussed initially on less allergic areas such as the economics of the situation. The very idea of going for a new police force and standing down the RUC was clearly going to be huge, and a way of dealing with that in the context of the Good Friday Agreement was to stretch it out and to make provision for the setting up of a committee, which, of course, was headed by Chris Patten, and allow a couple of years to elapse for the unionists to get used to it. It was important first to get used to the exercise of power in the Executive and not create a situation that would precipitate a rush to collapse everything because of disagreements about policing. Certainly too, from the unionist point of view, getting Sinn Fein to acquiesce to the setting up of a new police force strengthened the case for decommissioning. Do you think empathy is important in a process like this? 64

Wally Kirwan

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

The whole set-up in Castle Buildings wasn’t geared towards getting people to interact on an empathetic basis as it was in the Forum. We paid a lot of attention to the logistics, whereas the Brits paid more attention to the intensity of business and were less inclined to think about the logistics. Castle Buildings was a terrible place as regards finding your way from one delegation office to another delegation office. It was an absolute labyrinth and a desperate place. What use did holding ‘hot-house’ meetings in other places have? Did they make a difference? Early in 1998 the negotiations did move to Dublin at one stage and then London. I remember just getting out did help. At that time Sinn Fein were briefly black-balled. I remember being at a dinner in the Finnish Embassy in London and I was sitting beside Mo Mowlam. I came up with some idea as to how we would resolve the impasse with Sinn Fein and Mo went for that idea and within twenty-four hours we had resolved the issue which had been dogging us for four or five weeks. I’ve been at discussions with Norwegian officials about the process that led to the Camp David Agreement, when they took the Palestinians and Israelis up a Norwegian mountain, and how that focussed people differently. I also remember getting an offer from the Austrian Ambassador in Dublin to take everybody away to the Alps in Austria, but it wasn’t pursued because the logistics would have been too heavy. Even so, the Norwegians got it right because they also realised that the uncongenial nature of ­certain buildings would present difficulties for the generation of empathy.

65

3

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Strategy and trajectory: an interview with David Donoghue

Graham Spencer: What is your involvement in Northern Ireland? David Donoghue: In 1985 I was in the Anglo-Irish Section of Foreign Affairs, working in a small team under Michael Lillis on the final negotiation and then implementation of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. My specific responsibility from 1986 to 1987 was to try to develop a range of contacts in the North, particularly in relation to the areas of policing, justice and rule of law. I did that for two years. It was incumbent on the Irish Government, now that we were entering a new formal relationship with the British Government, to move beyond the somewhat ritualistic public denunciation of British policies, which had generally characterised our engagement with the North up to then, and to use the machinery of the new Agreement to propose a wide range of specific and detailed reforms. With the advent of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, we had to ensure that we had persuasive arguments in all the areas under discussion and to develop issues for in-depth handling with the British through the new machinery. For this, we needed to increase considerably both our technical expertise as well as our broader political understanding of the issues causing concern at local level in the North. Ensuring that the representations we made through the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and the Secretariat were based on solid empirical evidence at local level was a top priority. Over time, we succeeded in building up a comprehensive network of contacts to help us to meet these new needs. I then moved to London for a period of three years to serve as Press Officer at the Embassy. The workload there was almost one hundred per cent focussed on Northern Ireland and Anglo-Irish relations. In the late 1980s there were several major Anglo-Irish controversies linked to policies which the British Government of the day, led by Margaret Thatcher, was pursuing. These included the fatal shooting of the ‘Gibraltar Three’, a number of other ‘shoot-to-kill’ allegations and the associated Stalker Inquiry, the killing of two British soldiers at a republican funeral in 66

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

David Donoghue West Belfast and a series of rows between London and Dublin over extradition cases. My job was to do everything possible to secure a favourable hearing in the British media for Irish Government concerns on these and on wider aspects of Anglo-Irish relations. In the political circumstances of the day, with London and Dublin at loggerheads on many issues and the Thatcher Government controlling large sections of the British media, this was not an easy assignment. I stayed in London until 1991, when I returned to Dublin to become number two in the Anglo-Irish Division, as it was now called. Sean O hUiginn had just taken up duty as the Head of the Division. I worked initially on the security side, but then moved over to the political side, where I remained from 1992 to 1995. The early challenges of this period included the 1992 talks process, which came into being following a key statement issued by the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Brooke, in March 1991. These talks involved the two Governments and four Northern Ireland parties (with Sinn Fein excluded in the absence of a PIRA ceasefire). For a number of reasons, they ran into the ground after a few months. However, they were of value because of the vision of a three-stranded settlement which they laid out and some modest progress which was made in the Strand Two formation (including first exchanges between the Irish Government and the DUP). On the political side, 1993 was dominated by the Hume–Adams dialogue and the work done behind the scenes by the two Governments, which culminated in the Downing Street Declaration of December 1993. I had some minor involvement in the preparation of that document but it was mainly handled by Sean O hUiginn, Martin Mansergh and Fergus Finlay. It was followed several months later by the PIRA ceasefire. The fall-out from that was, of course, considerable. Apart from the day-to-day management of the political ramifications of the ceasefire, we had early indications from both the United States and the European Union of their willingness to underpin the peace with substantial financial support. The arrangements to define and mobilise this support had to be worked out and I was heavily involved in that work. In addition, we had to seize the opportunity provided by the various ceasefires in the summer of 1994 to move towards the launching of inclusive talks with all possible speed. The Irish and British Governments got down to work not just on the arrangements for an inclusive talks process but also on the kind of outcome which we might envisage from it. This led to the publication in the spring of 1995 of the Frameworks Document. The main aim was to set out a kind of prospectus of what the two Governments felt would be available in a comprehensive and balanced settlement. It conveyed in quite detailed terms the substance which we expected to see addressed in three-stranded talks and the joint vision which the two Governments had for these talks and their outcome. 67

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts I was closely involved in this work. The main format used by the two Governments to negotiate joint positions like this (though it was not the only channel) was a socalled Liaison Group which brought together the key officials from all relevant government departments on either side. It was chaired by, respectively, the head of the Anglo-Irish Division and his Northern Ireland Office equivalent. Meetings of this group usually took place every two or three weeks, in London, Belfast or Dublin. The Liaison Group handled most of the detailed co-ordination required between the two Governments on the successive political processes during the 1990s. In the summer of 1995 I was transferred to Belfast, where I served for four years as the Irish head of the Anglo-Irish Secretariat (also known as the Maryfield Secretariat). In that capacity I was heavily involved in the talks process and in the negotiations which led to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. While the Secretariat’s official role was to service the Intergovernmental Conference, which had been set up under the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and to handle business arising under that Agreement, in practice it also performed an invaluable role as a channel for immediate contact between the Irish and British Governments on all developments of interest relating to the peace process and the prospects for making political progress. Over the years from 1995 to 1999 I had constant interaction on these issues with my British opposite number as well as with British Northern Ireland Office Ministers and senior officials in the Northern Ireland system. The ability to reach a senior interlocutor more or less immediately helped on many occasions to defuse issues which might otherwise have caused serious strain between the two Governments. The good working relations which my Secretariat colleagues and I developed with key officials facilitated frank exchanges, which usually contributed to a lowering of the political temperature and agreement on how the issue should be managed by the two Governments. There was also a valuable ‘early warning’ dimension. If I heard, for example, that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was planning to do something which we would consider unwise and prejudicial to the peace process, I would say so directly, either on my own initiative or on instruction from Dublin. The Secretariat was also the route through which we would exchange drafts of key documents and conduct a lot of routine business relating to our joint management of the peace process. In addition, we used the Secretariat’s premises as a place for informal chats with British ministers or other senior figures. My British colleague, Peter Bell, and I would invite people like Sir Patrick Mayhew, Mo Mowlam or Michael Ancram for dinner. This enabled us to have relaxed and informal discussions which would supplement the more formal exchanges through the Secretariat. What were those conversations for? 68

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

David Donoghue They facilitated joint analysis of short-term challenges and pressures, but also longerterm reflections on how the peace process was going. We on the Irish side had, of course, our own conception of what the peace process should achieve and how it should achieve it. But, within that, we would also need to react to developments of the day. If, say, there had been a major speech by David Trimble, or Gerry Adams, that day, then that would be fairly automatically a subject for discussion over the dinner. I would share assessments from our perspective of the significance of the particular development and, depending on the situation, the kind of joint management it might require. The Secretariat was one of the vehicles through which the Irish and British Governments managed what was inevitably a volatile and fast-moving political situation. A further means was contact between the Prime Minister’s Office and the Taoiseach’s Office. The Embassy in London would also have played a role. The Liaison Group, which I mentioned earlier, was the most regular and structured means of interaction used. It would meet, say, to have a first exchange of views on a proposed joint document on decommissioning, or on substantive or procedural ­proposals for the negotiations, which the two Governments might wish to table. Were those conversations pretty fluid or were they coalescing around core points? We used to start Liaison Group meetings with what we colloquially termed ‘news from the road’, meaning recent developments which either side considered significant. Let’s imagine hypothetically that the Prime Minister had been at a conference and had made a statement relating to, say, the ceasefires, or to decommissioning. Now, obviously, that would be something of importance for the peace process on which we, the Irish side, would wish to comment. We would then go on to the Liaison Group’s more formal agenda, generally a specific workload relating to where we were at that point in the talks and joint work that had to be done. Let me give you an example. In 1996 the two Governments were bogged down in rules of procedure for the talks. If we wanted to work out an agreed joint position, so as to move things forward there, we would develop papers across the table in the Liaison Group. Sometimes these would be for private use but more often than not they were to be tabled jointly by the Governments in the talks process. The Liaison Group was used as a channel for doing that kind of work. We wanted to check that we had, as far as possible, a joint view of what was happening. This would not necessarily be easy to achieve, but our aim was to work as far as possible towards that joint view. Can you have too much confusion coming into a situation like that? How does clarity emerge? 69

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts I couldn’t claim that we always achieved clarity. But, clearly, it was the responsibility of the senior Irish Government officials working on the peace process to give the Taoiseach and ministers of the day the clearest possible picture of what was happening and the best possible advice on the way forward. This was the particular responsibility of the head of the Anglo-Irish Division, but there was an onus on those of us in the field, in Belfast, London and Washington, to assist by furnishing as much clarity as possible from our own vantage points. I should add that both the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Irish side of the Secretariat in Belfast had a wide range of other contacts, outside officialdom, on which we drew in forming our sense of what was happening in Northern Ireland and in the peace process. The Secretariat had an outreach capacity which we utilised to the full, inviting in a whole range of people from different walks of life such as business, trade unions, social and community groups and political parties. Would you say that the peace process was a creative process? Creativity would, of course, usually be thought of in a very positive sense, such as if, say, a new concept is introduced which opens up fresh ways of looking at a problem and breaks a log-jam. There might be a slightly more jaundiced way of looking at it, however, if we use it in a phrase like ‘creative ambiguity’ or ‘constructive ambiguity’. That would mean deliberately seeking formulations which mask fundamental differences but might, in the process, open up new room for manoeuvre and perform, therefore, a constructive role. I am reminded here, as an example, of the way in which we used the phrase ‘the people of Ireland’. In one of the documents agreed between the two Governments (I think it was the Downing Street Declaration) we used this at one point without the usual qualification ‘North and South’. The purpose would have been to create a resonance which was pleasing from a republican perspective. Normally, a reference to the ‘people of Ireland’ would be qualified by some hint about the existence of two jurisdictions on the island. Dropping ‘North and South’ in this instance discreetly picked up on a point frequently made by republicans about the need for the envisaged settlement to be endorsed through an act of self-determination by the people of Ireland, similar to the last such exercise carried out in 1918. This was a calculated use of creative ambiguity to reassure republicans that the political process we were urging them to opt into would be responsive to their concerns. I am assuming that a phrase like that would make the unionists very unhappy, so do you not have a problem in that once you use language like that it encourages the other side to run for cover? 70

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

David Donoghue It wouldn’t have been used with a view to causing discomfort for unionists. I am pretty sure the phrase appeared in the Downing Street Declaration, and a main ­purpose of that document was to persuade the republican movement that peaceful political dialogue was the best way for them to secure their objectives. We wanted to show them that there was a political process available to them which would not have certain doors closed off and which would potentially encompass everything that they were working for, including Irish unity. In that part of the document we were using language which was pleasing to republican ears. But there were plenty of other things in the document which were intended as reassurance for unionists, such as the pledges from the Irish Government about the need for a balanced constitutional accommodation based on the principle of consent. Did that phrase upset the unionists, though? The Downing Street Declaration sought, inter alia, to highlight for the republican movement the attractions of renouncing their campaign of violence and participating in an inclusive negotiation process. It is reasonable to conclude that the PIRA ceasefire announcement of August 1994, some eight months later, was in some sense the republicans’ answer to the Declaration. The Downing Street Declaration demonstrated to republicans that the two Governments were committed to an inclusive process which would respect the positions of all participants and whose outcome was entirely open. At the same time, however, it firmly enshrined the principle of consent, which was something of pivotal importance for the unionists. Both c­ onstituencies had their needs carefully addressed in this document. So was that kind of language not so much about the specifics of principle but about the symbolism of attraction? Yes. Our purpose, after all, had been to get inclusive political talks going, since we believed that only an inclusive process would yield the comprehensive, balanced and stable accommodation which was needed. We wanted to give republicans incentives to opt into this process, but without in the process unsettling the other constituencies. It was a delicate balancing act, but I think we achieved it in the Downing Street Declaration. We went on to cover similar ground in the Frameworks Document in 1995, when, with the ceasefire announcements of summer 1994, inclusive talks at last seemed a real possibility. I see the Downing Street Declaration and the Frameworks Document as a pair. The Declaration set out the case for abandoning violence and pursuing a balanced and lasting settlement through peaceful and 71

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts inclusive negotiations and the Frameworks Document then showed, in concrete terms, the kind of settlement the two Governments thought should emerge from that process. And, sure enough, something very close to what the Frameworks Document proposed was what was finally achieved in the Good Friday Agreement. If you compare the Frameworks Document with the Good Friday Agreement, inevitably, as in any negotiation, compromises and adjustments had to be made here and there, but, overall, the essentials of the Frameworks Document were held onto in the Good Friday Agreement. The Frameworks Document was, of course, written by the two Governments on their own, whereas the Good Friday Agreement was the product of lengthy negotiations among half a dozen parties plus the two Governments. Was it envisaged that this would be a three-text process, the Downing Street Declaration, the symbolic attraction to get people in, the Frameworks Document, which sets out the framework for what an inclusive process entails, and then the Good Friday Agreement itself? I couldn’t say that we began the peace process in the early 1990s planning a trio of documents like that. But it was fairly obvious that some form of declaration would be needed which would show republicans the potential rewards of getting involved in a political talks process, and one for which the admission ticket would, of course, be the complete abandonment of violence. It was very clear that something like the Downing Street Declaration would be needed. The Frameworks Document really flowed from that because, once we had the ceasefires of August 1994 and we knew we were going to have inclusive talks, it was necessary to provide for all participants an outline of the kind of substance the two Governments felt should be addressed if a comprehensive and balanced accommodation was to be reached. The production of a kind of blueprint for the eventual settlement would emphasise to everyone the ambition which the two Governments had for these talks. It would also signal the kind of compromises which would be needed on all sides eventually as part of a balanced accommodation. Are informal conversations important for finding out things which you cannot find out so well in a formal setting? If I felt, for example, that the British Government was going down a path which was going to be harmful in terms of the ultimate goal of achieving a balanced settlement, I would use my encounters with them (whether formal or informal) to suggest that they might reconsider. It was sometimes easier to make such points in an informal 72

David Donoghue

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

setting. Obviously, during an era when you had a Conservative Prime Minister who was heavily dependent on unionist support at Westminster, that Prime Minister – who, even with the best will in the world – might say things which were intended for unionist consumption and which we would consider unhelpful in terms of reaching a balanced settlement. It could also, of course, happen in the reverse direction, where someone on the British side might be unhappy with something said in the South. Were you reading all situations in relation to that symmetry and the three strands of activity that supported that symmetry? We supported the three-stranded approach from the outset. The political focus for us during much of the 1990s was, not surprisingly, Strand Two (particularly in the context of the constitutional change which unionists hoped to see as part of a comprehensive settlement). As we approached the final phase of negotiations, of what would become the Good Friday Agreement, the detail of what would be required in each of the three strands came more clearly into view and specific processes and work programmes were set up to handle each. Looking back at how the peace process evolved during the 1990s, key moments would have included the following. First, the Peter Brooke statement in 1991 about the British Government having no selfish strategic or economic interest etc. Building on that, the talks process in 1992 then made useful progress because it got the three-stranded approach agreed. We tried to signal to republicans the attractions of a political process, based on a commitment to exclusively peaceful means, which could lead to a three-stranded settlement with significant constitutional and Strand Two dimensions. Then, in 1993 we got the Downing Street Declaration, the key document in persuading the republicans to go for a ceasefire, which finally came in the summer of 1994. Shortly after that we had Sir Patrick Mayhew’s ‘Washington Three’ conditions, which prioritised decommissioning as the basis for entering negotiations. Preconditions of this kind seemed to us to doom the inclusive talks to failure before they even began. We had to battle against that. A decommissioning body was, in due course, set up. We were constantly trying to get the British Government to recognise the folly of yielding to unionist demands on decommissioning. There was some success in that respect over a number of years, to a point where they accepted eventually that decommissioning should be part of an overall settlement, and not something requiring a down-payment in advance, as it were. Was it the struggle to find symmetry that gave the process dynamism? 73

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts Absolutely. When it came to negotiating key documents between themselves, the two Governments would, through a process of iteration, inch their way towards a balanced view. It will hardly come as a surprise that on occasion we found too much of a unionist flavour in the British drafting. Conversely, I have no doubt that they would have judged that some of our drafts leaned too much in the opposite direction. Bit by bit, we would work towards a balanced text which was fair to both traditions and likely to advance the prospects for making political progress rather than set them back. I would like to think that in the course of the decade – and I don’t mean this in a patronising way – an appreciation built up gradually on the British side of the need for a genuine balancing of the two traditions’ needs. One which would create a genuinely level playing field between them. No lasting accommodation would be possible without this, we warned. Gradually, I think, we achieved a meeting of minds on this. Can you recall any words or language that caused difficulty for the process? We thought, for example, that the British insistence on the word ‘permanent’ for the PIRA ceasefire in 1994 was unhelpful. John Major insisted on a clear statement that the ceasefire would be permanent. Our response was to ask the question who could say that anything would be permanent. The language that the IRA had used in announcing its ceasefire was what the republican movement thought they needed for internal management purposes. We were not trying to second-guess that; and our feeling was that adding a demand for declared ‘permanence’ introduced an unnecessary complication at a time when the key thing was to bed down the ceasefire rapidly and not cause anybody to revisit it. It was as if, somehow, having got the ceasefire, the British Government was then trying to add a further condition, and we felt that that wasn’t helpful in the overall scheme of things. As far as I remember, it was somehow finessed away. But, of course, the British Government was under pressure from unionists at the time who were saying they didn’t believe the ceasefire and wanted proof that it was genuine. In a way, this was a reflection of the decommissioning debate, where the unionists were insisting on the actual handover of weapons as proof of the seriousness of republican commitment to peace. This ignored a range of psychological factors on the republican side. Having voluntarily decided on their ceasefire (rather than having been brought to the point of military defeat), the PIRA were determined not to give any impression that they had been forced to surrender. They bitterly resented any demands tending in that direction. They saw such demands as having a purely political motivation. In real terms, a handover of weapons would contribute no actual practical value, as everyone knew. The PIRA could obviously make a false declaration that they had handed over, or disposed of, 74

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

David Donoghue their entire arsenals. They could then go off and acquire more or, in the case of explosives, which they could manufacture themselves, make more. So they saw this as a politically motivated agenda, and I have to say that we understood those concerns. That is why we regarded the decommissioning issue as fundamentally a distraction. It seemed to us that unionists were highlighting their concerns about decommissioning almost as a proxy for their unease about engaging politically with Sinn Fein in an eventual devolved administration. Decommissioning became a kind of totem which threatened real progress in the political talks and it took us many years to defuse it as an issue. But, coming back to the issue of creative ambiguity, undoubtedly we had language in successive agreements which was a little opaque, and this was deliberately so because if we were to keep as many in the process as possible we needed, on occasion, to use a little imprecision. We could not always spell out everything in crystal-clear terms as this risked highlighting, and maybe deepening, the divisions which we all knew existed. A main concern was to sustain momentum on the road towards political agreement and this meant avoiding, as far as possible, unnecessary and unhelpful deviations. So, in so far as we were prepared to deal with the issue of decommissioning in elaborating agreed documents with the British Government, we wanted it treated in a way which would de-emphasise it as an issue in the overall scheme of things. That necessarily meant going for language which some would regard as unhelpfully vague, but others would see as helpfully and constructively flexible. Initially what did the British say to you about decommissioning, and how did they back themselves away from that problem without looking like they were? It was, I think, a progressive process. There was recognition on the part of some officials from an early stage that this was a cul-de-sac which could destroy the talks. But officials were, of course, acting on political instructions and their ministers were, as said, in political terms, heavily dependent on unionists at the time. We knew that unless and until we got the issue of decommissioning defused the official agenda of the talks would make little progress. When Sir Patrick Mayhew came with the ‘Washington Three’ precondition, after the IRA ceasefire had been achieved partly with the argument that this step would enable Sinn Fein to come straight into the talks process, that seemed to us to move the goal-posts significantly. We had to work hard over quite a long period to dismantle that British position. Would you say the Irish approach was strategically defined from that very early stage, or did it became clearer the closer you got to a formal negotiation situation? 75

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts We had a single, consistent strategy throughout the 1990s. With the Anglo-Irish Agreement, our approach had been essentially one of shoring up the middle ground and hoping to leave the extremes isolated. By the early 1990s we sensed that this was not working. A strategy of going for an inclusive political accommodation, based on the complete abandonment of violence, which would bring everyone in and play the extremes back into the middle seemed more promising. First, as stated, we sought to get the basis for a PIRA ceasefire through the Downing Street Declaration. Second, the Frameworks Document was used to lay out a vision for what a three-stranded settlement might look like. Through this series of documents, including others which followed in the period leading up to the Good Friday Agreement, we held to a single consistent view of what would be required for a balanced political settlement. Of course, there were setbacks – most notably the ending of the PIRA ceasefire with the Canary Wharf bomb early in 1996 (essentially because, with the long impasse over decommissioning, the PIRA had lost confidence in the political process). We had to work hard to get Sinn Fein back into the talks courtesy of a resumed PIRA ceasefire some fifteen months later. It was a very bleak year, with a protracted stalemate in the talks process over rules and procedural issues. When the renewed PIRA ceasefire eventually came in the summer of 1997, we knew we would have fully inclusive talks again. And that we would also have a good prospect of reaching substance after a lengthy ‘shadow boxing’ phase. I still remember the huge sense of relief when, after a year in which we had been bogged down forever over procedures and decommissioning, we were at last tantalisingly close to substantive negotiations. Sure enough, after an uncertain few weeks the Ulster Unionists decided to stay in the talks, even though the DUP exited in anticipation of Sinn Fein rejoining. David Trimble deserves great credit for the courage he showed in this regard. Did more clarity arrive with Ahern and Blair? We had assumed all along that Tony Blair had a good chance of winning the May 1997 election, and sure enough he did, with a huge majority. Add to this Bertie Ahern’s election as Taoiseach in a Fianna Fail-led Government and you had two significant confidence-building factors, which would undoubtedly have contributed to the PIRA’s decision to resume its ceasefire that summer and thereby enable Sinn Fein to re-enter the talks. Here were two new heads of government who were pragmatists by nature and who came without obvious ‘baggage’, as it were, on the Northern Ireland issue. They were both determined to give the issue top priority and they both wanted to do a deal. They also happened to have a good personal relationship. Bill 76

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

David Donoghue Clinton, to whom both were close, also played a vital role as a sympathetic third party who knew the situation well and who reached out to all sides. So in the summer of 1997 the stars were better aligned than they had been for some time. In September the talks resumed and there followed an intensive period of negotiations lasting roughly nine months, up to April 1998. It must be said that there were many frustrations during this period. One was that, of course, we had to have all participants in the talks signing up unequivocally to the Mitchell Principles; and, if there appeared to be a breach of the principles because of the activity of individuals linked to one or other of the parties and the exclusion of that party would be demanded by others, then the two Governments would have to consider the matter and there would be a hiatus in the talks. I remember this happening to Sinn Fein, and also to the Ulster Democratic Party, related to the UDA, in February to March of 1998. Such interruptions, though necessary in terms of the agreed rules for the talks, were deeply frustrating as they brought everything to a shuddering halt and increased nervousness and uncertainty about the talks. This was in relation to a violation of the Mitchell Principles. Who drew those principles up? While the language would have been Mitchell’s own, the British and Irish Govern­ ments made an important contribution to them. It was, in effect, a tripartite process. It was Mitchell’s practice to consult informally with the two Governments on key issues and arising matters in relation to the talks. Are principles a reference point for measuring behaviour? Do they guide the conversation and all the negotiation? It was vital to have a text which, if you like, was the admission test for the talks. Neither Government was willing to entertain participants who were not one hundred per cent committed to peaceful and democratic politics. It didn’t suit either Government, therefore, to allow ambiguity in this regard. Of course, we could always argue the toss about whether particular incidents amounted to a breach or not. Sometimes they were clear cut, other times they were more debatable. The power to exclude, in cases of proven breaches, may have been a nuisance in terms of maintaining the political momentum of the talks, but there was really no way around it. The process had to be even handed and all parties had to be treated with the same degree of scrutiny in terms of conforming to the Mitchell Principles. 77

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

But were those principles important to the two Governments to assess behaviour, and did all the groups interpret them in the same way? An individual party might claim to be respecting the principles in its words or actions, but its opponents might hotly contest this. There was certainly a play of interpretation. Assessing claim and counter-claim could take up a fair amount of time and energy. We sometimes had the impression that it suited a number of participants to point the finger at opposing participants just to buy a bit of time and postpone real engagement. All in all, the Mitchell Principles were essential for the integrity of the talks, and the periodic rows about excluding particular parties for non-compliance with them were a necessary evil. So were principles always the reference point for what was going on? Well, the Mitchell Principles were obviously key. They summed up all the principles and understandings which were going to underpin these talks. On substance, other  important elements included the consent principle, the principle of selfdetermination and the agreed commitment by all participants to an outcome which would be fair and balanced in both institutional and constitutional terms. The threestranded approach, which was the basis for the talks process, was, in effect, on the table from the early 1990s. The two Governments made clear all along that we envisaged a settlement with three strands that would do justice to the ‘totality of relationships’. The notion of ‘nothing being agreed until everything was agreed’ was also integral to the collective success of the three strands. Where did ‘the nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ phrase come from? I think it came from the South African peace process. There were a number of things we borrowed from the South African peace process; the idea of ‘sufficient consensus’ was another. It’s an interesting concept, but where are these lines to the ‘everything’ that needs to be agreed? It really meant that participants could give provisional agreement in any one strand or section of the talks, but did not need to be bound by that until they saw the overall shape of things. The hope was that the nationalist tradition would give provisional agreement to Strand One arrangements, pending what it would hopefully see as a 78

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

David Donoghue satisfactory outcome in relation to North–South. And, equally, the unionists would want to see how the East–West dimension looked and might prefer not to agree definitively in Strand Two until Strand Three was clearer. Although, I must say, it never really worked out quite as schematically as that. It wasn’t until the final hours of the Good Friday Agreement negotiations, the night from Thursday 9 April to Friday 10 April, that several key parts of the jigsaw puzzle fell into place. On the basis of a deal finally emerging in Strand Two late that evening, Strand One was agreed relatively quickly around 1.00am and then it was clear that a log-jam had been broken. Were you referring back to documents like the Downing Street Declaration and constantly thinking about the direction of travel? Obviously the two Governments would cite key documents to each other as we addressed the ongoing challenges in the peace process. The Frameworks Document, for example, set out an ambitious vision which the two Governments had agreed for Strand Two. It was no secret that the unionists felt this went too far. The British were uneasy because of this, but did not renege from the document, at least publicly. We were very attached to the Frameworks Document, while at the same time recognising privately that we could not expect to transpose every word into the final settlement. Do you think that the regular daily churning out of statements was important to this process? How do such statements support, or not, the momentum of dialogue and building relationships? It was undoubtedly valuable to have major statements of position which committed both Governments. For example, if we were trying to demonstrate the potential of the talks process in terms of strategic shifts which key players might make, it helped to be able to show movement from previous positions already made by the British Government in documents agreed with us. While there were many lesser statements of position, the landmark agreements were the Downing Street Declaration, the Frameworks Document and later on the Good Friday Agreement itself. Were those redrafted in bits or completely redrafted? One should distinguish between, say, the Frameworks Document, which was very comprehensive and had been negotiated over many months, and individual papers during the Good Friday Agreement negotiations, which might have been tabled on specific topics. There might have been texts produced relatively quickly on policing 79

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

and justice, on human rights or East–West structures. The Frameworks Document, on the other hand, would have been the subject of constant detailed work between the two Governments over a period of about a year. At one point, an early version of that particular text was leaked to the media, which complicated life greatly as it meant the unionists, on the basis of that leak, were able to reject it before it had been finalised. The emphasis was more on Strand One and Strand Two of the negotiations, but is Strand Three more important than some might believe? Strand One was always going to be of critical importance for the parties and the British Government, but we were not directly involved in that. Republicans were never keen on Strand One, as the internal arrangements for Northern Ireland were not their priority interest. They were far more interested in Strand Two, in the constitutional provisions and in other issues such as human rights, policing, prisoners and security issues. From a nationalist and republican perspective, Strand Two was crucial because of the signals it could give about a steady intensification of North–South co-operation, both for the practical benefits in themselves and as a political expression of the nationalist and republican aspiration. If we could point to Strand Two institutions which would not be beholden to a unionist majority in the Assembly but which would have an independent life, and if these bodies would have certain functions or powers conferred on them which could grow over time, such arrangements would have powerful attractions for nationalists and republicans. Strand Three, however, was in effect the trade-off for unionists, since, just as they were being asked to contemplate North–South co-operation, which for them was unpalatable, so we had to show that we would be willing to recognise their identity and their sense of Britishness in East–West structures. They would have liked us to swallow the pill of some closer relationship with Britain in Strand Three as a kind of quid pro quo for what they were being asked to do in Strand Two. We were relaxed about the proposed Strand Three institutions. There was already a significant East–West dimension in the arrangements, which the two Governments had agreed some time before, to facilitate their co-operation with each other. We were willing to add to this by going into a new British–Irish Council which, in addition to the new Northern Ireland administration, would also bring in the devolved administrations for Scotland, Wales, Isle of Man and so on. This would not have executive powers but would essentially be a forum for discussion of common interests. How you think the Irish influenced situations by applying leverage? 80

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

David Donoghue One is the way we used the American dimension from 1984 to 1985 to get Margaret Thatcher to accept the need for an agreement which would give Dublin a formal role in relation to the North. There was no secret about that. We knew that we wouldn’t get Margaret Thatcher to agree to a formal role for us unless she was under significant pressure from the American end of things and that’s what happened. Obviously, Irish lobbying in the US helped to get that. In relation to the Anglo-Irish Agreement and its reception in London, we worked hard to build up influence among Conservative MPs. Richard Ryan played a very important role in the Embassy in London at the time, setting out to persuade Tory MPs that the Anglo-Irish Agreement was ultimately in Britain’s interests and that it was the right way to go. Coming up to the Good Friday Agreement, we had leverage in a different direction through the envisaged release of paramilitary prisoners on the basis of certain assurances. What about the Adams visa to enter the United States? Would you see that as leverage? That was a case of us using our contacts on the Hill to mobilise support for granting the visa. The British, as is well known, tried to use the State Department to block it. We always used whatever influence we had. You can call that leverage. One of the great things about Bill Clinton, I have to say, was his ability to appeal to both traditions in Northern Ireland. That was why he was so effective. He managed to present himself as someone who was as open to unionist concerns as he was to republican and nationalist concerns. On the night from Holy Thursday to Good Friday, he would be ringing Trimble one moment, then Adams the next, and using one as a form of pressure on the other. No previous President had been able to operate that way. Did you find unionist interpretation and reaction to things unpredictable, or predictable? With the UUP, reactions could indeed be unpredictable. Sometimes there might be a degree of over-reaction to something relatively minor. On other occasions they could be quite relaxed and laid-back. You never quite knew where you stood with them (Sinn Fein were far more predictable, priding themselves on their political discipline; they were on message and invariably presented as a united bloc). David Trimble was a volatile personality, which caused occasional unease. On the other hand, he showed courage at a number of points, and kept his people in the talks at difficult moments. On Good Friday itself he weathered the trauma of Jeffrey Donaldson and a couple of others walking out. I remember distinctly on that day thinking that the talks would 81

Inside Accounts collapse and it would be several years before we would be able to restore a similar process. I thought at lunchtime that day that it would take about five years to get back to where we were and then, to my surprise, Mitchell rang round and said that Trimble was willing to sign up.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

People often ask what the lessons of the peace process are, so, for you, what are they? I don’t believe that there is necessarily a set of lessons which Ireland, or indeed any other country, can export about a peace process. Each situation has its own particular characteristics. Having said that, I can offer a few observations. Inclusiveness is critically important. The proviso we used that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ is also very important. The parameters of the agreement should be well known in advance so that everybody can see what they are all working towards. The three-stranded approach helped us greatly. On the value of deadlines, I recall a personal remark from George Mitchell at the beginning of Easter week 1998 which I found quite compelling. He said that his wife and his young son were back in the States and he had barely seen his son since he’d been born. He would be returning to the US for Easter and he did not plan to come back afterwards. So the message was clear: we would have to have this done by Holy Thursday (the accepted deadline at that point). I’m fairly certain that, despite this, Mitchell would have come back after Easter had it been necessary. But he said that as a form of mild emotional blackmail, and it actually did work because there was a sense that we had better get this thing done before Easter if we were to hold on to Mitchell. I’m not saying that this was the only, or the biggest, factor, but it was ­certainly a factor. I see value in a dramatic deadline of some kind. In the context of Northern Ireland, we had to find a balance between the different strands. We were aware of the danger of the zero-sum approach and of the importance of being sensitive, particularly in the final stages, to the political needs of others. If we felt that something would come across as a victory for one side, then that was a problem for us because of the perception it would evoke of the other side having been defeated. There would then be a need for some compensatory movement in the other direction. Another important point which the talks process taught us was the need for political leaders to lead and to prepare their constituencies for the unpalatable concessions which are inevitably part of any negotiation. We felt, for example, that there was a responsibility on unionist leaders to scale back the level of expectations in their community about decommissioning and, indeed, to refrain from exciting these expectations in the first place. In turn, we recognised our own responsibility to prepare the 82

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

David Donoghue Irish public for the possibility that there would be constitutional change, and we took that responsibility very seriously. Another issue is flexibility. If we sensed that something was not going to work out exactly as we had hoped, we had to be able to change tack at short notice and make compromises in the interests of a bigger prize. We adjusted our position in Strand Two because we sensed that the prize of a comprehensive settlement could be jeopardised if we were too ambitious in any one part of the Agreement. There was also the almost unavoidable need for some ambiguity. We did not deliberately stitch in ambiguity, but there comes a time where you can only move forward on the basis of some constructively ambiguous language; as I mentioned earlier in relation to decommissioning. Such ambiguity would irritate unionists, with their literalist Protestant mind-set. At times they found it difficult to cope with what they saw as a Catholic, or nationalist, predilection for ambiguity. But I believe that there was no other way of handling a deeply sensitive issue like decommissioning, on which ­positions were so far apart. Popular endorsement of the Agreement through a referendum vote was vital. We facilitated what was tantamount to an act of self-determination by the people of Ireland, holding referendums in both jurisdictions on the same day on the same proposition. This amounted to an expression of the will of the people of Ireland, North and South. The value to the negotiations of occasional, deliberately contrived pressure-cooker situations should not be under-estimated. We would sometimes move the talks from Belfast to London or Dublin and create an intense encounter over three days, with the participants confined to the same building. We were introducing fresh air into the debate by moving them to another location and hoping that, in the other location, there would be an intense concentration of minds, with less external distractions, that might produce progress. Sometimes this worked, sometimes not. Finally, there is the international dimension. Bringing in respected outside players brings a different form of influence and changes the dynamic. It is important that any third party be as neutral as possible. Once that has been demonstrated, it becomes more likely that the participants will respect the mediation and work with it. What about the importance of intensity in a process like this? Is it crucial to have ­intensity to ensure momentum and avoid the dangers of stalling? Going back to the Anglo-Irish Agreement days, I remember a phrase used to describe Margaret Thatcher. She was said to have had a ‘spotlight approach’ to key challenges that she was facing. That is, she would focus on a particular issue intensively for a 83

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts limited period, allowing it to engage her attention almost exclusively, and then she would move on to something else. And she did focus on the Anglo-Irish Agreement negotiations for an intensive period of about four or five months. In Ireland various Taoisigh have, of course, focussed on the peace process for much longer. There is no doubt that the intensity of purpose and effort which Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair contributed, with their personal involvement in the final stages of the Good Friday Agreement negotiations, was crucial in getting that Agreement over the line. And going beyond that, the many subsequent periods of intensive stewardship of the process by them brought huge dividends. The St Andrews Agreement, for example, would not have happened without the enormous personal engagement by the two heads of government. It would appear that for Major or Blair there were no significant votes to be won from engagement in Northern Ireland. I can see how a Taoiseach could secure significant votes from that engagement, but because the British were unlikely to achieve this might one argue that it was driven more by moral impulse from the British perspective? That is a fair comment. However, they sometimes needed to be given some encouragement to take up the challenge. Irish Governments worked hard over the years to persuade their British counterparts of the need to make progress towards a lasting political accommodation of the Northern Ireland problem. Albert Reynolds managed to persuade John Major to that effect, and his successors did the same. Then, eventually, you had Tony Blair coming in at the same time as Bertie Ahern. I think both Blair and Ahern recognised that with inclusive talks now on the table there was a real prospect of achieving a comprehensive settlement. Finding a basis for a settlement was, and always would be, a huge priority for any Irish Government and that is obvious. We recognised that the same degree of priority could not be assumed in the case of the British Prime Minister. I do remember hearing from one of John Major’s closest advisors in the early 1990s, and it pleasantly surprised me at the time, that John Major was determined to make a difference in relation to Northern Ireland. This conversation happened, furthermore, at a time before we started working with them and within a week or two of Major becoming Prime Minister. Whether or not it would be politically easy for him, Major seemed to see an opportunity to make progress. Tony Blair had no particular interest in the Northern Ireland issue before he became Prime Minister, but once he became Prime Minister – and with a very hefty majority and valuable partners in Bertie Ahern as Taoiseach and Bill Clinton as President – he may have felt that the stars were aligned. He certainly reached a view rapidly on that, and I think he reached it before he won the landslide victory in 1997. 84

David Donoghue

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

To what extent is a peace process like this about emotion? Fear has been perhaps the dominant emotion. Obviously, the main fear is what might come in the future, with the unionists fearful of being pushed towards a united Ireland and nationalists and republicans fearful that they might agree to something which prejudices the eventual achievement of a united Ireland. Many nationalists have tended to be equivocal about Northern Ireland as a political construction. They were worried that, if we were to jettison Articles Two and Three, this might lead to the problem being left to the narrow confines of Northern Ireland. Surely emotion was a considerable influence on the inclination to move or not move? Emotion perhaps in the sense of people being desperate for peace and stability after some thirty years of violence in the North. You can call it emotion and you can call it simply a pragmatic desire on the part of leaders to create a better future for the people of Ireland, North and South. For both Irish and British leaders there would have been the ambition to find a political framework which would reconcile the conflicting identities and bring about lasting peace. British leaders have, of course, varied in the degree of their commitment to achieving an overall political settlement. Margaret Thatcher, while she took the politically brave step to bring in the Irish Government as a formal partner, had no wider ambition to achieve a comprehensive settlement at that time. But, when the idea of an inclusive peace process took hold several years later and a political settlement looked possible, there was perhaps a greater emotional investment by British leaders in making the great leap forward. When the Good Friday Agreement was finally achieved it did produce a catharsis. It released many tensions which had been built up between North and South. In subsequent years, for example, you had unionists travelling freely up and down to Dublin, which they wouldn’t have done thirty years ago. Is pragmatism about being as elastic as possible and finding the point where things break? Is it about the limit of how far you can move within negotiations? Presumably there are degrees of pragmatism? While it took a long time to get to the point of launching inclusive negotiations, I think once we all got there a pragmatic instinct took over. We all knew that the time for the negotiations would be limited, in the sense that one or other party would walk if it was disillusioned with the degree of progress being made and the entire process could collapse without much difficulty. Of course, there were ups and downs, 85

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts there were rows about procedural matters and there were periods when individual parties appeared just to be grandstanding and not taking the negotiations seriously. But, behind the scenes, papers were being developed and exchanged and I did detect from, say, New Year 1998 onwards, a more pragmatic approach being taken and a real effort being made by the parties to make progress in the strands and to reach an agreement by Easter. Of course, none of us had the luxury to dawdle in the search for a settlement. We could have analysed the problem for decades, and invented endless procedural distractions in the negotiations, but, in the meantime, violence had not disappeared altogether from Northern Ireland, the peace was fragile and opportunities of all kinds were being wasted. We all had every reason and incentive to be pragmatists and to work as quickly as possible towards an agreement. The scale of the agreement also required us to be pragmatic. It would have to speak to every dimension of society in Northern Ireland, cater to the many different ways in which the two main identities express themselves. Reaching the goal of a new  ­political accommodation covering all these areas would require enormous levels  of political energy and determination. So none of us could afford to waste any time. With that in mind, I remember my own huge sense of relief when, in the summer of 1997, we had the resumption of the PIRA ceasefire, opening the prospect of inclusive talks, and then – a month or two later – a decision by the Ulster Unionists to stay in the talks despite the enormous pressures imposed by the DUP walking out. That meant that we had the basis for a shot at the comprehensive settlement we had all been working towards. I felt at that time that a once-in-a-generation opportunity had come along. And sure enough, nine months later, it all came to fruition. How important are ‘confidence-building measures’ in a process like this? Steps to build public confidence are at least as important as confidence-building among political representatives. You can have confidence-building measures which arise organically within the talks. But you can also have confidence-building measures which have no direct connection with the talks. The Bloody Sunday Inquiry is an example. Here, the British Government was sending a signal to the republican and nationalist community. Similarly, preserving the Battle of the Boyne site was of importance to the unionist community, not in the context of negotiations but as a wider gesture of recognition and respect. Sometimes confidence measures can be clearly partisan and have a divisive and unsettling effect, as in the final stages of the Good Friday Agreement negotiations, when there were a couple of side-letters issued by the British Government which built confidence on one side, but undermined it on the other, converting the negotiations back into a zero-sum game. 86

David Donoghue

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

How important a decision was it to make Senator George Mitchell the Chair of the talks? That was an inspired decision. While the idea of having an American as Chair was not in itself novel, Senator George Mitchell proved to be exceptionally suitable for this job. He brought many fine qualities, including his high intelligence, his sharp political acumen, his personal affability and charm and his tact and courtesy towards everyone. He was careful, patient and judicious in his manner, almost judge-like, never putting a word astray. He spoke eloquently but with great care and sensitivity towards all sides. He was also a master tactician, made it his business to get to know all the players well and brought himself up to speed very rapidly on the various political dynamics at work. We really could not have improved on George Mitchell as an impartial Chair of, first, the decommissioning process and then, the talks process. When I saw the way both unionists and nationalists gradually recognised that he was vital to the settlement, I sensed that we were in business. There had been previous talks where lesser figures had been used as Chair, but Mitchell was out on his own. We saw him at close quarters and saw the pressures he was continuously under. He had to exercise care at all times, ensuring that he never said, or did, anything which someone might interpret as bias for, or against, one or other tradition or party. He managed to do all this and to retain the confidence of all participants. He was, quite simply, remarkable. I wonder to what extent moments like that are down to luck as much as planning, in the sense that you have these key people that emerge at this point in history. I think, in the case of George Mitchell, Bill Clinton knew him and respected him greatly. He had held a high position in the US, and I don’t know what kind of process was used for selecting him on the US side but I suspect that Clinton had a pretty good idea that Mitchell would work out well. And he is quite an unusual American politician, if I can put it like that. He is calm, collected and undramatic in his manner. He took everyone with equal seriousness and respect. What do the questions that are being asked tell you about the psychology of those asking those questions? There were times when questions seemed to be used not because they were that important with regard to detail, but because they were a kind of test to demonstrate commitment and integrity. I refer here to Sinn Fein’s long list of questions at the last minute on Good Friday. 87

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts Well, to be honest, asking questions and seeking clarification was a normal enough tactic if you wanted to buy a bit of time. A party might have difficulties with a particular document or proposal, but would seek clarification about one or other aspect, and that was always better than saying no outright. Generally speaking, the two Governments understood whenever either side said it was not ready to sign up at some particular point and needed clarification on certain things. Of course, this made life more difficult for the two Governments, as we would then have to find fresh ways of moving forward, frequently by resorting once again to ambiguous formulations. The aim would be to put the party which had raised questions in a position where it could say that, on the basis of the clarification it had received, it was able to go along with what was proposed. Could you give people verbal clarification, or detail, which you could not put in a text? Not everybody was looking for verbal clarification. Some parties would have wanted a document which would break through the ambiguities and other parties would have been content to have some kind of verbal reassurances. Then, you would have things like side-letters, which were of course not negotiated by the two Governments. We had reservations about reassurances being provided unilaterally and privately to one party, which would obviously cause tensions with the others. At the same time, we recognised that they could on occasion be politically expedient. Is empathy important in a peace process? There has to be an ability to understand where the other is coming from, and to understand the values and prejudices at work. We worked very hard to understand the mind-sets of all the people we were dealing with, and I think that all contributed to a good outcome at the end. I remember David Trimble, a couple of times, publicly saying that he trusted Bertie Ahern, and that was important. So, to demonstrate empathy do you have to do something for those who you would not be expected to have empathy for? In the final stages of a negotiation like the Good Friday Agreement, it comes down to flexibility. We might show goodwill and flexibility towards a negotiating partner, bowing to his political needs, and hope in the process that this might be reciprocated elsewhere and that the gesture we had made would help towards the goal of an overall 88

David Donoghue settlement. Of course, we would have to be certain that the concerns were genuine and were held by a significant political constituency.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

People often talk about the bottom line in negotiations. Do people know where the bottom line is? Each of the two Governments had a responsibility to prepare the parties in its vicinity for what was realistically attainable in the negotiations. It was for each of us, with whatever influence we had, to condition the parties for the compromises that would be inevitable in the final phase of the negotiations. Bottom lines may not necessarily have been divulged, but the parties generally knew what the limits of the negotiations were and how the three strands interacted with each other. As I mentioned earlier, Strand One was agreed in a very short space of time following a key breakthrough on Strand Two in the late evening of Holy Thursday. Is choreography or sequencing important? Yes, it was quite important to certain people to know, for example, that they would not be required to do X until they got Y. And I have to say that sometimes it suited us to go for a particular sequencing. I can remember a meeting involving Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair where Blair said that Trimble wanted X and suggested that this point could be conceded now. The Taoiseach, and in my view quite wisely, agreed that X could be conceded, but not until the UUP leader had conceded Y. And that approach was followed.

89

4

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Groundwork and building relations: an interview with Ray Bassett

Graham Spencer: When did you get involved in the peace process and what was your role? Ray Bassett: I was involved in the Civil Service dealing with Northern Ireland from the mid-1980s, arriving in the immediate aftermath of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985 when there were a lot of changes happening internally, right up to 2005, and then informally until 2008. I had been writing speeches for Peter Barry, who was the Minister for Foreign Affairs on the economic and trade side, and was transferred over to dealing with Anglo-Irish relations. I was asked initially to start as a speechwriter for Barry on Northern Ireland matters. That is what brought me in. I tended to write in a simple, direct style, with short sentences, and Barry liked that. It was December 1985 when I first arrived and I was involved right up until 2008, with a break when I was in Australia. I started off dealing with international aspects of the conflict, and particularly the MacBride Principles, which was the movement in America to pressure foreign investment on the discrimination issue. I then dealt with North–South issues, security issues and then political issues. When did you first get a sense that a peace process was emerging? I suppose the Hume–Adams dialogue was the initial sign, and that was seen very much as a shadowy occurrence by the public service. I returned from Australia in 1994 and I went straight to the Belfast Secretariat, where one could clearly see that a peace process was under way and the IRA campaign was winding down. You could certainly see it in the statements from Albert Reynolds at the time, but then it was a fragile peace process because even though it was obvious that the republicans were looking to end their campaign, they were still capable of more violence. I was in 90

Ray Bassett

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Belfast when the Shankill Road bomb went off, which was quite clearly a mistake by them, but overall there was a feeling then that the campaign was closing down. However, there was difficulty there too in that the Department of Foreign Affairs did not have any great depth of contacts in the republican community in Northern Ireland because it had largely eschewed that violent wing of Irish nationalism. Yet, in being in Belfast at that stage, one could see that Sinn Fein were very much on the rise and we would have to have contact with them. How far in advance of the ceasefire did you get a sense that it was coming? I was not privy at that stage to secret information. My job in Belfast was to talk, listen, report and give analysis. But you got a sense what, a month, six weeks, before? It was in the air, yes, and everybody in Belfast was talking about it. To what extent did the process run in those early stages on rumour and intimation rather than facts? The republicans at that stage were using intermediaries like Alec Reid in Belfast and Denis Bradley, Brendan Duddy and Noel Gallagher in Derry, all who were interpreting for both sides, so we were hearing things from the leadership through intermediaries. I am sure Albert Reynolds and Martin Mansergh were talking directly to them but, within the Government system, the instructions coming through were related to a growing expectation that an end to violence was coming. Did you have any flexibility in your own role? Remember, it was very fluid during the final negotiations in Castle Buildings and we ended up putting material into the Good Friday Agreement which none of the bigger political parties paid much attention to, such as the reconciliation section. Sinn Fein were essentially interested in certain areas, so there were huge chunks of the Agreement on confidence-building measures, where you could input directly into the draft. In the end, though, the politicians made the decision, but Bertie Ahern would have had no major difference of opinion from officials. We were a very cohesive unit, so I never worked as a completely free agent and, indeed, I would have been no use to anyone as a free agent. 91

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

How would you define the Irish approach? There were different personalities, at different times, and I wolud also say some were more obsessed with text than others. My own personal view was that we sometimes over-read republican theology. A lot of republicans are emotional, or reactive, but it seemed to me that the bulk of the movement were not as hooked on republican theology as sometimes we were. The British, and one or two on our side, seemed to study republicans like the Kremlinologists in the Cold War when, in fact, they were often motivated by much more basic things. It was interesting that those who had the most theoretical approach in both Governments were the ones with the least actual contact with the various levels of the republican movement. How did the British approach differ from the Irish approach? The fact that they excluded Northern Ireland-born unionist civil servants during the final talks in Castle Buildings was probably an advantage and a disadvantage. I think the fact that their people were essentially London based, and came over, meant that they didn’t know the local politicians personally, as well as we did. I would have known people from going up and down to Belfast and living in Belfast, but the British tended to be billeted in isolated places like Stormont Castle or special houses in Helen’s Bay, away from everyday life. In my view, the role of the Irish Government was essentially to deliver nationalism and republicanism. Therefore, it was very important to have a good relationship with Sinn Fein, republican paramilitaries and the SDLP, right across the board. The British Government did not have us there for the good of our health, or because we were nice people. They had us there because we were a very important, in fact, a critical element and we could unite the nationalist side by bringing them along, articulating their grievances. We could cochair and work with them. The British Government was different in that it was the local sovereign power and, in the end, the buck stopped with Blair. We could have made life very difficult for the British Government because such a large percentage of the population looked to us for leadership, but the power to make the really big decisions rested with Tony Blair and it was he who had to deal with the issues like demilitarisation and normalisation. We realised that the British were our partners, not our adversaries. We may have had different views on a specific subject, but our goal was the same – peace and an agreed devolved administration in Belfast. But the way the British operated under Blair was much less hierarchical than any previous administration, even more informal than the Irish. Many of the British side addressed the Prime Minister as Tony. They were here to do a deal. They were very personal and 92

Ray Bassett would often have an informal conversation on a walk around the grounds. It was a totally different atmosphere, compared with the previous Tory administration. They were much easier to deal with on a personal level. They had none of the old imperial attitudes of some of their predecessors.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Was the Blair Government more pragmatic than the Major Government? Major was very decent and very likeable, and the same with Peter Brooke and Mayhew, but Mo came in and was unbelievably good, as well as being unbelievably bad in places. As opposition spokesperson, she had been to Dublin and got to know the officials in Iveagh House. She was sharp, intelligent and decisive. This changed with her illness. I have a lot of sympathy with Blair about the final days with Mo. I don’t think Mo could grasp a lot of what was going on in terms of detail and, although Blair should have treated her with a bit more dignity, it was right that he took over from her. Blair spoke about his own background, on visiting Ireland and having an Irish mother, and he may have had a greater nuance and understanding because of that. But, if you look at his first speech at Balmoral it was terrible, as, indeed, so were other early speeches he made. They were all over the place and written by somebody who didn’t really understand the problems. Nevertheless, Blair and Bertie hit it off very quickly and I think a lot of the excellent working relations flowed down from that. They were much more informal in meetings. The Brooke– Mayhew teams were very stuffy, whereas Blair had none of this ‘I am dispensing wisdom to the natives’ approach. He certainly gave very little impression of having an excessive ego, and would be attacked by Northern Ireland politicians at meetings and wouldn’t retaliate. Paisley is reported to have said ‘You can’t trust this fellow because he is married to a Catholic’, and he just brushed it aside. I also remember his and Bertie’s persistence at times. I could not believe that Blair was going to have another round of talks when we were in yet a further impasse. His view was you keep the process going and it doesn’t matter how many times you have to meet, because you have to keep the process going. Maintaining the process was vital, despite the constant setbacks. Did the peace process improve relations between the British and the Irish? Yes, that was definitely so. I think again Blair and Ahern, but especially Blair, took responsibility for that, and long after he ceased to be Prime Minister he was still popular in Ireland. You had a government here in Dublin which was completely committed and there was no perfidious Albion in the background. Blair’s Britain 93

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts was a supportive and genuine partner. The peace process brought us together in a way where we had a common objective and, on a personal level, a massively improved relationship between officials. When you look at the archives from 1963, there was no real deep connection between the two countries on Northern Ireland until the EEC brought us together. The close working between the two Governments on Northern Ireland and the EU helped to remove a lot of the lingering Anglophobia. The Anglophobia in Ireland now is almost entirely in Northern Ireland, rather than in the South. Were the British obsessed with text more than the Irish? The British were technically very good at that sort of thing, but their biggest weakness was that they didn’t know Northern Ireland in a deep way and often they would be shocked if you said something that had absolutely no hope of flying. The weakness of the British was also their lack of detailed knowledge about the individual politicians. We knew the politicians on both sides very well personally because we had a system there where we would go on the ground into West and East Belfast and meet privately over a cup of tea or coffee. As said, the British tended to stay in Stormont House. They did not engage in the contact and information work in the same way as we did on the ground. They were technically good on things like legislation and they were good at procedure and operation, but could then sometimes miss the whole point of what we were doing. The Blair people were very different though, and culturally much more like the Irish side than Major’s team. Were they closer to unionist thinking because of their expertise on the law and legislation? In the past yes, but I think with Blair and Mowlam, under New Labour, whatever else they were, they were extremely informal. People would say ‘But Tony …’, whereas I felt a lot of the local Northern Ireland Office people were much stiffer and didn’t have the same access. If we wanted to see a minister we could do so and also, on the Irish side, there were fewer political advisors. The Taoiseach could ring and say ‘There is trouble in North Belfast. What do you think?’ and we could respond better because we knew the ground a lot better. Even Blair seemed to accept that. We even knew many of the unionist and loyalist politicians personally better than they did too. Was it the case that the process was relatively stagnant until Bertie Ahern was elected? 94

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Ray Bassett Absolutely, and then the talks team in Dublin was put together. It was a conflictresolution issue at that stage and we used to talk about the peace process being much more important than the political process. The peace process was to get the republicans off violence and to bring them so far into a process it was irreversible. We were really focussed on achieving that aim. The British point of view was also to bring an end to violence, and those under Blair were also ideologically committed to a fairer society. It was not a huge problem for them to strengthen anti-discrimination and human rights legislation and much of that was incorporated into the Agreement. To what extent was Irish thinking influenced by the British and to what extent was British thinking influenced by the Irish? I would say that we opened the door on republican thinking, although elements within the British system would always have had private contacts with republicans. I also think we helped define, with the SDLP, what would bring the republicans into the process, and we worked with the British as to how far they could go in meeting those demands. We were very much a midwife to the British–republican relationship, which deepened over the course of the negotiations. I would say that the British made us more sensitive to unionist concerns. It could be that we spent so much time listening to the nationalist grievances that we were not sensitive enough to unionist concerns. The British may have convinced us that without a viable partner for the unionist side the process was not going to fly. Maybe we convinced them that unless they were generous enough to get the republicans on board this was going to be a recurrent problem and even if the present leadership departed the scene, it was not going to get any easier. In fact, the present leadership of the republican movement was probably the best we were going to get. I would also add that we brought different expertise and the on-the-ground intelligence into play. We had very good contacts with the trade union movement and we developed very good intelligencegathering systems right across the communities in Northern Ireland. We had been at it for years, right across the ceasefire periods, and they valued that. They did have their own sources but would regularly cross-check with us as to who carried out what violent act, etc. Blair’s people were rightly suspicious at times of some of their own security advice. We were a very useful cross-check. Were you ever angered by anything they did? The whole process had its up and downs. It is hard to disentangle the various discussions. I never remember us getting angry, except with Peter Mandelson, who was 95

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts so different from the rest of them. Mandelson always thought he was cleverer than everybody else and knew best, whereas we had very good co-operation with Mo Mowlam. He went back to the old style of former Conservative administrations. He was determined to improve the British Government’s relations with unionists. In fact, our relations with the unionists were better than Mo’s relationship with them and we often had to ask them to ease up on their criticisms. They had a visceral dislike of her. On the other hand, Mo had excellent relations with the loyalists and Mandelson constantly irritated and talked down to them. There seemed to be a class element in Mandelson’s antagonism to loyalist politicians. Was Blair a good negotiator? Yes, he was. He was very human and was the type of guy who would walk down the corridor and meet some lady who might be cleaning a window and would say ‘Oh Mary how is John doing at the university?’ and it wasn’t feigned. He was a kind of irrepressible person and had to talk to somebody. I don’t think he could stay quiet for two minutes. The SDLP never trusted him. One of their negotiators once said Blair couldn’t lie straight in bed and there is some element of truth in that. Blair was inclined to tell people what they wanted to hear, but so was Bertie. Unlike people like Seamus Mallon and Gerry Adams, they would not push things too hard, they would let things pass and not contradict others, even if they did not agree with them. They let people talk and explain their views. Blair was, at that stage, a tremendous salesman and he would empathise with both sides, in effect saying to the republicans look, I know and have sympathy with what you are dealing with or, to the unionists, I can understand your problems, but, I have to deal with them too, so he co-opted the other person. Bertie was similar and had a friendly relationship with Trimble, who I don’t think ever really trusted Blair. On occasions, he appealed to Bertie and complained that things were being pushed too far. Blair worked on the republicans who liked the fact that Blair would bring them in and show them where Michael Collins sat in Downing Street, and he knew the historical background. Blair seemed to get on very well with Irish people and, as I said, he is still popular in Ireland. Were both Albert Reynolds and Bertie Ahern less interested in detail, preferring to leave that to others? I think Bertie had his eye on the big prize and he knew the jungle noises in republicanism and he knew the essentials. He would tend to leave the details of working out 96

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Ray Bassett equality provision, or arguments on the Constitution, to others but kept focussed on the big picture and how the talks were faring within the democratic process. He made an immense contribution to the peace process, and history will be very kind to him. The huge strength of the process came from the fact that politicians and officials worked so closely together and that there was constant discussion across both groups when it came to movement. So, for example, the question might be raised as to whether on the Irish side we could sacrifice the Parades Commission to get the unionists to move on something else. The Irish officials who had worked on the ground over the years knew that this was a non-runner and could scupper the talks, so another avenue would be explored, and so on. How were such discussions distilled into positions? We would do reports and contribute to something called ‘The Box’, which was largely compiled from analyses and reports from discussions inside the North. It was circulated to members of the Government, or to certain members of the Government. If some trade unionist in Northern Ireland complained about never seeing an Irish minister we would get that message across directly or in a report in the Box, and a minister would then go and rectify the omission. We were a small operation which was very flexible, and that worked very well. What were the reports put in The Box like? Not much more than a page or two in length. In it you would usually write a short paragraph with a sentence at the top to get people’s interest, a bit like a sub-editor, and if you wanted the Taoiseach to read it you would put a heading like ‘Taoiseach Requested to …’ etc. Brevity was vital and you tried to distil things down to the essentials. The people who wrote five and six pages would tend not to be read by the politicians. Usually a lot of the reports would be on the local flavour so, if you spent some time in Enniskillen, then you would give the flavour of what was happening there on the ground. Hence, you would speak to the clergy, politicians, ex-prisoners, community workers, etc. to get a sense of what was going on. This would be done as far as possible with both sides of the community. While you would always be fed some propaganda, over the years, you would get a sense of the real from the hyperbole. You would then distil it all down and present to the Government in a fairly short, direct report. So, a lot of it was drawn from informed conversation. How was that intelligence turned into policy? Who was doing all this? 97

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts The people who gathered the intelligence were often writing the policy as well. There wasn’t a huge gap between people who were gathering the intelligence and people who were writing the policy document. It was often the same person. People might specialise in being on the ground in a particular area, namely Derry City, Tyrone etc., but they would also be involved in the policy documents which would be circulated. This would also include meeting academics and think-tanks and talking to them. You would be dealing with individual cases and meet defence lawyers, hear what was going on and then get down and write a policy document on the basis of the conversations you had had and the details as you saw them. You have mentioned before that Bertie Ahern told you to go and talk with people. What were you listening for? Yes, Bertie believed in talking to everybody. Initially, you would be telling people that you were coming up to Northern Ireland to find out what the situation was like. You would also want to talk to them about their fears and aspirations. A lot of the stuff would be reactive, too. Remember, if some incident happened, the local representative would be on to Dublin complaining they were under attack and asking for someone to go up. I think one of the most important things was to go into areas from both sides and see what the real situation was like. Often a complainant told you one side of a story. Sometimes, when you were on the ground for a period, you began to become aware that both were under attack and not just one side. Listening to people was partly confidence-building but it was also establishing channels of communication. Being highly visible in places was important. What was surprising was how welcome you were in loyalist areas. I remember members of the UDA in Tiger’s Bay all coming out to shake my hand and thanking me for visiting their community. If you told me that several years beforehand, I would never have believed you, but, of course, I was accompanied by one of the leaders, and completely safe. I had also informed the police beforehand that I was going in to Tiger’s Bay. I recall Mo Mowlam, very early on, as Secretary of State ordering her security cavalcade to take her up to the Falls Road, where she got a phenomenally positive reception. She had been advised not to go by the security services, but she took the risk and it was rewarded. Similarly, when Bertie Ahern decided to go to the Andersonstown Leisure Centre he got a hugely enthusiastic reception and was mobbed. The policy of exclusion and not talking to republicans, or not visiting their areas, was having a big psychological effect, so a lot of what we were doing was showing respect for people by asking their opinions and listening to them. We emphasised that by coming in to their local areas and being accessible. 98

Ray Bassett

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

With republicans, was it the case that it was not just you getting a sense of what was going on with them, but also getting a sense of where the Irish Government stood on a particular issue or concern? Absolutely, it would be dialogue. After the ceasefire, in Belfast, things relaxed and one could have great discussions about the value of the armed struggle. As the ceasefires took hold these discussions become more open. During the initial stages of the negotiations the republicans were very tight. But if you went and met them in the Felons’ Club, where they were relaxed and among their own people, they were much more likely to be open to you. The same was true of the loyalists. It was important for them to see that Irish Government officials would be prepared to meet them in loyalist areas of East and West Belfast etc. Contact swept away the stereotypes we harboured of each other. So how important was informal talk in the peace process? We hear a lot about formal structure and process, but on meeting people in a relaxed atmosphere, to what extent is that one of the great untapped areas of the process? I think it was hugely important, and it affected both sides. I was encouraged by Bertie Ahern and our own ministers, David Andrews and later Brian Cowen, to go into republican areas and to come back with their stories which would then be fed into reports about them. With the republicans, and even the loyalists and Ulster Unionists, during the times we met them it was obvious that they did not have horns, and it is important to never believe all your own propaganda and exclusively your own narrative. Across all areas, you were subtly taking in some of their points and repeating them in reports, so it was a process of shifting attitudes. In the end, all sides were getting to understand each other better and moving imperceptibly closer. In a process like this how much are you making it up as you go along and reacting spontaneously to what is happening? To be honest, a lot of the time you are making it up as you go along because the ground keeps shifting. For example, the Agreement was supposed to focus on a smaller area than transpired, but new items and areas kept being added. The whole human rights and parity of esteem areas just grew and grew. Most of what was eventually written was really done over the last three weeks, and particularly in the last thirty-six hours. In a lot of cases, it had absolutely nothing to do with the negotiations that had taken place for the previous two years, and even new people were brought in who had no 99

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts idea what had gone on for the two years before. Everything was done at speed. At one stage it was discovered that the draft Agreement still mentioned an annex which had been dropped earlier, and that shows you how quickly it was changing. Pieces were being added and dropped in the last few hours and it was sometimes hard to keep track of the various little sub-groups. An example is the timing of referendums on Irish unity. In earlier drafts it was originally mooted that a period of five years would have to elapse between two such referendums, i.e. there could not be a referendum on the future of Northern Ireland within five years of the last. Surprisingly, a political advisor on the Irish side intervened that it should be extended to ten years. Myself and my colleague David Cooney said that was too long. A difference of opinion emerged on the Irish side, while the British listened silently until the lead British official (either Bill Jeffrey or Quentin Thomas) eventually said ‘Okay, make it seven’, and it was just as simple as that. That was how chunks of the Agreement were being put together. It also shows that most of time both Governments were trying to work together to get the best outcome for all. Was there a strategy to sometimes talk problems into the long grass? Yes, of course. If you push everything to its logical conclusion and destroy all ambiguity you would have a complete breakdown. You have to have some constructive ambiguity because there are contradictions, and so pressing too hard leads to breakage. At the same time, you have got to realise that those apparent fudges are the basis for a later shared understanding. For example, on the policing issue there was a general consensus that there was no way we were going to get anywhere near agreement. Trimble was talking about defending ‘our’ police force. Blair would say he has just encapsulated the problem in that it’s not his police force but everyone’s police force. The immediate solution was to kick the problem down the road and establish an international body to look at policing and then report back. There was also the issue of reform of the whole judicial system. These were matters which you were never going to get all the parties to agree on. So, there were certain things that were officially parked, or kicked down the road, and there were others where you could have an agreement, with a degree of ambiguity, such as the section on symbols and emblems. Near the end of the discussions, on the eve of Good Friday, I remember being asked by Dermot Gallagher and his equivalent on the British side if I could identify three things to get the republicans on board. Sinn Fein was still wavering, even at this late stage. After discussions with Sinn Fein, the three items I mentioned were, firstly, some formal recognition of the Irish language in statute. This was achieved with statutory obligation on the part of the Department of Education in Belfast 100

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Ray Bassett to promote  Irish language education. The second was essentially the obligation of public authorities to promote equality (which became section seventy-five). And the third was on symbols and emblems. All three were put into the draft Agreement. Remember, the Agreement was also a bilateral British–Irish Agreement, and text was essentially the responsibility of the two Governments. George Mitchell was an excellent Chair, but I don’t think he actually drafted one word of it. The Governments’ role was necessary because the Ulster Unionists would not speak to republicans. The SDLP also had a poisonous relationship with Sinn Fein and Alliance, so there were real tensions to manage. In the end, the Governments sat down and put together the draft, based on our best guess and input from the participants, and then insisted on pushing it through. Parties were, in the end, given a choice to take it or leave it. Bertie Ahern talks a lot about the value of conversations over lunch and dinner based on one-to-ones and just talking in more intimate, less pressured circumstances. Is that the Irish way of doing things? I think it is, and I think that’s the big change I see on our own side now, which is that no senior Irish political or official figures from Dublin seemed to spend serious time in places like West Belfast, or the Ormeau Road etc. Rory Montgomery, Wally Kirwan, Gerry Staunton and myself would spend days up there, listening to people. This came from a political direction at the top. One of the things that Bertie Ahern wanted to show was that we were very different from our predecessors. There was to be no problem or difficulty in the channels of communication. Brian Cowen, and I am sure Peter Hain, would go to the Bogside for an off-the-record talk with Martin McGuinness and each would give it straight to the other. I don’t get the impression that this is happening now. This is a constant complaint in the North. They claim that Dublin and London have lost interest. So, I agree one hundred per cent with Bertie, who got a lot of trust with the unionists and the loyalists by meeting them and talking to them. Albert Reynolds began this and used to go up regularly, without officials or advisors, and meet these people, and so he started breaking the ice in this way. He was prepared to meet loyalist paramilitaries quietly, and often without any security, to build up trust, and Bertie was the same. Before Blair, the protocols on the British side were very strict, so when the Prime Minister was talking to someone on the phone it was usually listened to by someone else. There were so many more checks and balances there. Also, on the Irish side there was a much greater ability, or opportunity, to develop the informal. One should understand that the personal relationship is the real key to movement. People who negotiate over a period of time can get to actually know and trust each other, and even like each other, while disagreeing, 101

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

and you work on that basis. I think the informal and the non-written and the things that happen off stage are very, very important; perhaps crucial. The private meetings, where say Bertie and Blair would meet Sinn Fein, were invaluable for getting a sense of whether there was scope to move or not, and you could often pick up the sincerity of people too because they would be more inclined to be straight with you about their concerns. Did all those informal meetings act as a form of persuasion and help bring leverage to situations? It was a big confidence-building measure. Brian Cowen, on occasions, would ask me to go in to Felons’ Club after a particular argument and sit there up at the counter, even if it was for one beer, just let them know that this is a signal we will not be going away and neither were we deterred. I know that Sinn Fein found it helpful for us to be available in Belfast. They would love to tell you that the Irish Government would not be at the talks and active in Belfast if it weren’t for ‘the cutting-edge of the IRA’. They would insist it was they who had broken the Orange State. Also, they would have no interest if you agreed with them. They wanted a discussion and someone to argue with. Decommissioning became a massive problem, didn’t it? It did, and it was essentially a symbolic thing. At certain stages, a number of schemes would come up about ‘beating weapons into ploughshares’, and even a joint sculpture with the IRA and British Army, but in the end these things sometimes solve themselves. Obviously, 9/11 was a huge factor and impressed hard on the republicans that we just could not continue with this. Not because it is right or wrong, but because it doesn’t work and so we have to get rid of it. In some ways, while the British did put forward decommissioning because it was an important issue, I think John Bruton probably ran further with it than anyone else. When the ceasefire broke down he suspended all contact with Sinn Fein. How effective were the Ulster Unionists as negotiators? The unionists were a mess. They had no real policies, or credible documents. They would keep telling everybody that they were very precise etc., but there were no memorable documents from the unionist side because it was a dysfunctional outfit. I did leave a document behind by accident at one meeting in Farmleigh in Dublin 102

Ray Bassett

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

where it stated that the Ulster Unionist Party was ‘dysfunctional’, and it was picked up by a reporter and published. Trimble then walked out of the discussions. While this may have appeared harsh, it was accurate. Jonathan Powell talks about how some people can see where something fits in. On the unionist side, he said they were much more interested in defending principles and positions and did not think so much about where something fitted in because they were more interested in protecting what they had. Do you agree? I think that is a very accurate description. I remember they could spend days arguing about something trivial, and we could never understand why they got themselves in such a knot about something which, for us, seemed incidental. Was it argument for argument’s sake? No, it was because they were dysfunctional. Trimble did not have a good relationship with the other members of his team, so they often didn’t know how to get him on board. The SDLP were the best negotiators. They worked very closely with the two Governments, could talk to the unionists, were able to clearly define areas and were regularly putting forward workable papers. Mallon had a powerful personality and was clearly the leader. Nobody was challenging him. Individual Ulster Unionists could be the most liberal today but the most hard-line tomorrow, so there was no consistency. What did the unionists get in the Agreement? They got Articles Two and Three, the end of violence (which was coming anyway) and pretty much everything else was slanted heavily towards creating a more equal society in Northern Ireland. But the whole military apparatus was being decommissioned and a huge percentage of the unionist or loyalist workforce was working for the security services, so they were going to lose out economically by the normalisation. If you look at flags and emblems, the Northern Ireland state was a representation of the British state, and now changes were in the direction of accommodating Irish nationalism, from the badge of the police force right across to fair employment legislation, and this shift was certainly going to help the nationalist community more. We always said human rights should not be nationalist or unionist, but a basis for everybody. They rarely got the bigger picture and tended to fight over words, i.e. whether it was the peoples of Ireland, or the people of Ireland; whether it was a majority or the majority, so it was hard to find the benefits for unionism. I think Powell is right that all the practical changes were coming on the nationalist side, whereas it was more theoretical changes that benefited the unionists. 103

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

One British official said unionism tended to adopt a static analysis, whereas in republicanism there was a dynamic analysis. Again, what do you think? There is some truth in that. Every change to the status quo was resisted, but anything already there was fine. I recall immediately post-Agreement that Sinn Fein and the SDLP demanded an Irish passport office right in the middle of Belfast. As a compromise, I suggested using the local Post Office system, as we do in the Republic. It would be less intrusive, but effective in giving a locally based service. The British agreed, provided we got unionist consent. They felt the unionists were digesting enough change at the time for them to force the issue through. We discussed this with the Chair of the UUP, Denis (now Lord) Rogan. He was sympathetic but was unsure if his leader, David Trimble, would agree. Rogan couched the idea that it should be a UK-wide scheme, which would have post offices throughout the UK dealing with Irish passports. Once Trimble was assured it was UK-wide, he would concur. In fact, only two post offices, Liverpool and Glasgow, ever joined the ­seventy-plus offices in Northern Ireland processing Irish passports. They may not have processed many passports, but gave us the necessary cover. Incidentally, the loyalists were much more pragmatic on this one. They said they couldn’t give a damn if people from West Belfast wanted Irish passports as long as they could access British passports. In this, and several other areas, the loyalists were the more pragmatic. I also think that the Ulster Unionists were too divided, because you had John Taylor making his pitch and Ken Maginnis making solo runs. In contrast, if you met the SDLP you usually had Alex Atwood, Mark Durkan and Seamus Mallon together and there would be great cohesion between them. Trimble had a difficult job, but his own personality made his team much less effective and cohesive. So did the unionists get bogged down in detail because they thought it was their best line of defence? As I said, they always stressed that they produced lots of papers and detail, but I never saw them and I can’t think of any great unionist initiative in the Agreement. I mean, the D’Hondt system came out of the nationalist side and even the number of seats in each constituency was worked out between the Irish, the SDLP and the British Government. Trimble tended to go off on tangents and they were a very incoherent delegation from the start. The republicans were a bit like the Communist Party; they all had their mantra and unless you got them back into West Belfast you just got the mantra. The SDLP was always worried that Hume would sell them down the river because they didn’t think he had any great grasp of the detail, but Hume would never 104

Ray Bassett

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

do that. Everyone was relieved that Mallon and Durkan took over the negotiations, and they were very good on detail. The Shinners had one or two good on detail, like Barbara De Bruin, and on the unionist side Dermot Nisbitt would spend all his time talking about some obscure international convention. But, then again, I was dealing very heavily with the nationalist side. We were meeting the Ulster Unionists, of course, but the British were dealing a lot with them, and Blair, in particular, was ­carrying them through the process. Do you think that if the Agreement had been reached earlier and the Ulster Unionists had not tried to make so much of decommissioning they would have remained the dominant unionist party? Did they contribute to their own demise by focussing on it so much? That may be right, but you have to remember that they were a dysfunctional party. The leadership and the lieutenants were constantly at odds. You would regularly get criticism of Trimble from his lieutenants, which you would not get from any other party, and this was because he was seen as very erratic and not collegial with them. He will go down in history as someone who took the risks, but he was not very good at pulling people together and he would regularly go off to meetings and reach agreement without having cleared it with his people. That was the basis of their problem, as I see it. The Ulster Unionists would have a meeting and sometimes contradict each other. I think Trimble liked the one-on-one and he was good at it, but there were a lot of times when Irish and British Prime Ministers had chats with Martin McGuinness and Adams and they would go back to the ‘men on the tractors’. You always got the impression that Trimble never really brought his people up to speed. He didn’t brief his people as much as Sinn Fein did. Do you think that the decline of the Ulster Unionist Party was entirely their fault? I don’t know if you could say that, because if you look at the SDLP something similar happened to them. Maybe there is a dynamic in the human condition that pushes toward the extreme in cases like that. The Ulster Unionists did make lots of tactical errors though, like putting out election posters with slogans such as ‘Decent people vote UUP’. I used to talk to their treasurer and he explained to me how they had this ridiculous constitution which is a bit like every bishop having his own diocese. I think they probably would have stood a better chance if they had gone full whack in, but, then again, there was a terrible sense of loss amongst some of them on Good Friday, even though they intellectually understood it. I think they needed a few more victories, apart from changes to Articles Two and Three. The whole thrust of 105

Inside Accounts the Agreement, in terms of the practical, moved things towards the nationalist side, whether it is the equality area or the symbols, or that you could be British, Irish or both. To compensate, they grabbed decommissioning and that gave the republicans a stranglehold on the unionists.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Do you think the Democratic Unionist Party were able to sell to their own people that since Trimble had done all the change they were not going to have to do any? If you are part of the changes to the status quo, unionist people will gradually turn against you, so there is an element of that. But, also, the DUP traded on the impression that the Shinners were running rings around Trimble. They have virtually changed into what the Ulster Unionist Party was, and there hasn’t been any huge, or great, advantage in that either. What were republicans like with documents? Initially, they were poor. Remember, their basic approach in areas where they did not have expertise was to look at an SDLP document and up it by about ten per cent. They clearly saw the advantage of saying they needed go away and talk about things. They always had the invisible people somewhere else: ‘the men around the tractors’, or the ‘people of substance’. How much of that was part of their negotiating strategy? I thought the republicans had very simple strategies. Their main strategy was to let the SDLP do the running in a lot of areas and then try to up it a bit. On Strand One, they never, ever produced a paper because they said there is going to be no Strand One and they wouldn’t agree to a separatist Government in Belfast. However, they would talk to us quietly and we would give them all the Strand One papers. I was instructed to give them papers and to sit down and explain them. The republicans had a number of basic lines. The prisoner issue was one and promoting the eventual unification of Ireland was another, and they tended to be confident within terms of those areas. Strand One was ostensibly between the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists, but, of course, the SDLP papers were written in conjunction with the Irish Government, so we were feeding them to Sinn Fein and we knew the British were advising the Ulster Unionists. Theoretically, we weren’t supposed to give them any of that, but it was my job to ensure that they were up to speed and had all the documentation. I would hand it over and go away. They would then devour it, come back quietly and say such and such and feed it back in. Though publicly they were not interested in Strand One, 106

Ray Bassett privately they were very interested in it because it would inevitably be part of the Agreement and the new landscape in which they would have to work.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Given that republicans were not formally involved in Strand One, was it therefore more a matter of keeping them informed so they didn’t screw it up? Partly. But remember, the purpose of the talks was to bring these people right in from the cold, so the last thing we wanted them to do was walk away. We needed to know their reaction to the various Strand One proposals. Were they frightened of the possible and actual dangers of committing to text? It was in their nature to be secretive. You could meet one or two and give them papers, but they wanted to work as a collective. They had able people in the background like Ted Howell, who were monitoring and sifting stuff. But they were an organisation which had been under threat for a long time and weaknesses had been weeded out. If you were weak inside, you were weeded out by their internal people, and that made them very cohesive and hard to push into anything they disliked. Were they thinking about the tradition and fearful of a split? Some of our people often thought that republicans were more intellectual than they were. A lot of the people on the ground in the North had joined the IRA to defend their areas, or to get back at the Brits, and I don’t think some of our people knew many of them, and that was definitely an element missing in their understanding. But the guy who was looking after the IRA unit in Carrickmore wouldn’t have thought as deeply about the theology of republicanism as perhaps people on our side or the British side thought. However, they were loyal to their leadership. There were important figures in the IRA whom we wanted to see stay with the mainstream, or there would have been a disastrous split. Thankfully they did so and stayed overwhelmingly in support of the peace process. What’s interesting is the mystique that seems to surround the republican movement and the idea that they were incredibly strategic. As time went on we worked very closely with them, so it was possible to see them up close. I think they had a strategic goal of keeping the movement together, but really did not know where the peace and political processes would bring them. We wrote 107

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

position papers, particularly with Barbara De Bruin, and at times cobbled material together for them. Dublin and London were both helping to input into IRA speeches and statements. Some of their early attempts at papers were poor. They would give it to us and we would give it back and say there is not enough detail in this. I think, in the short term, they were strategic, but, in the longer term, I have no doubt that they had no idea how this was going to end up. Do you think they were good on the symbolism and image? There are some clever people in there and they were very clever militarily. There is no doubt about that. But, they made some terrible mistakes as well. They are not this all-seeing thing which some of the people in the British system almost wished they were. I think they have a good grasp of the community and they know how far to move. I remember one IRA man saying to me ‘We will be radical in the long run but we are not rash, we will never walk fast enough to scare the herd and we will make incremental moves all the time.’ That was a very good description of how they operate. What is a speech supposed to do? You would always have to reassure the base, and the speeches had a set pattern. In the republican movement, the speeches were very important to the base; very. If Martin McGuinness turned up wearing a sweater, it meant he was addressing the boys in the field, whereas if he was in a suit and started ‘Now folks’, you always knew that he wasn’t doing business. I remember he was at a meeting with the two Governments and his opening remarks lasted thirty-two minutes, so both ourselves and the British knew he had come to stonewall and it meant they were not ready. He started telling us about the wrongs of everything and had no intention of getting down to business that day. Remember, these guys had been through interrogation centres, so you were not going to beat them down. Sometimes you just had to wait. With regard to Sinn Fein’s negotiating style, was it a more a case of putting down a marker, defending it at all costs and then coming back and asking for more? Personally, they were very respectful. I was often in their delegation room and they would privately ask for advice. That did not mean they would accept it, though. Remember, Sinn Fein, at the time, was controlled by the IRA, and on that there is not the slightest doubt. They were very suspicious initially in the talks, but we had spent 108

Ray Bassett a lot of time in West Belfast and elsewhere, so they knew us personally and we were able to talk with those like Gerry Kelly and Pat Doherty quite easily.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

How did the Adams–McGuinness leadership manage to move from the ‘not a bullet, not an ounce’ to decommissioning and then accepting police reform without a massive rupture in the IRA? It often took a very long time, but they were very pleased with the Patten Commission. In fact, they couldn’t believe it was as good as it was. I know they spent a lot of time reading through Patten, looking for the trap doors, and they were pleasantly surprised by what they saw. Then, of course, when Mandelson tried to fillet it, they held out for a very long period and probably got better legislation in the end by doing so. There was a general war-weariness among them. They wanted a settlement, but they wanted an honourable settlement, and I think the Agreement gave them enough cover to do what they wanted, which was essentially to end the campaign. They wanted big gains on what they called ‘demilitarisation’ and what the British called ‘normalisation’, so there would be gains for the community more generally. I think they were playing it by ear all the time though. I remember one former Official IRA guy saying ‘We were just fighting the Brits and then you had these guys in Dublin writing the reasons why we were doing it, but we were just defending our areas. These people were giving us great theological stuff, but we did not buy that.’ There was an element of that with all groups. Of course, there are different strands in the Provos, but most of the leadership and command at operational level were not totally schooled in the niceties of equality, fraternity etc. How did republicans view the unionists? Was it as dinosaurs, or did they have any sympathy or empathy with them? The republican movement, at its base, is much more sectarian than it appears to be. That’s the negative part of not having a true republican ideology. To be brutally honest, some of them would be anti-Protestant in outlook. Some of them would say that the problem with unionists is that they are really Irish but have not discovered it. On the other side, you also had unionists who would say, when it comes to the crunch, the nationalists are untrustworthy and will always go against Britain, so there is little cross-community understanding. In middle-class areas, when unionists and nationalists meet, they tend to be polite and there is a whole language of avoiding conflict. Because of that, unionists think that the nationalists are much more moderate than they are and the nationalists think the unionists aren’t really British, 109

Inside Accounts and both of them are wrong. They should accept that each other are probably more entrenched in their own identities privately than they would be publicly.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Did Sinn Fein constantly raise the spectre of dissidents if their concerns were not taken into account? Not so much. I think they never tried to build up the dissidents because they used to call them ‘micro-groups’. The one thing they would raise would be the spectre of a split in the Provisionals, or that they would be forced by the organisation to go back to war. They would be subtler than that, but the implication all the time was that the leadership have brought them along and in the end the organisation must stay together. But, if the bulk of them decided to go back to war, we will be going back with them, we are not going to split. So why do so many people say they were such brilliant negotiators? Because they didn’t know them. It’s the mythology of it they get caught up in. Sinn Fein were never one hundred per cent sure of where they were going to end up. I don’t think they thought they would end up where they did, or that they would decommission. They are trying more and more now to bring new faces forward. Before this you had a very strong calibre of leaders in Belfast and the ones in the South were pretty dim in comparison. I think they are starting to produce leaders in the South, but, in the North, they are struggling to maintain the calibre of their leadership. Did you find that they were going very much on what you were telling them about text? The biggest texts were always the IRA statements and the constant redrafting them and going backwards and forwards until they had their people on side. Generally, in comparison, the Ulster Unionists liked side-letters. Were there many side-letters? There were a lot of side-letters. What were they about? Most only know about the side-letter on decommissioning, but side-letters were used for internal purposes and it was understood that parties would show their 110

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Ray Bassett people these secret letters in order to give assurances. As far as I know, they have not been published, but you would hear from republicans that there were letters written  for them. In the final analysis, and to get people across the line, the British were prepared to write these things even if they didn’t have a legal basis, or were  never going  to be implemented. It was particularly important to the Ulster Unionists because they did not trust Trimble, so if he went to an Ulster Unionist Council it was useful to have something in his back pocket. The written word was important, but I think the glue which kept it together was personality and human relations. How flexible were republicans in the informal situations? They were always inflexible in the early stages, but we knew that to some extent it was a bluff. They still had many dozens of objections at the end of the Good Friday Agreement negotiations, and Secretary General Tim Dalton of Justice just wrote ‘No’ on their sheet of questions and handed it back to them and that was the end of it. If you met them as a group, they would be very solidified, but if you met them in one of the clubs in West Belfast you would pick up a lot of talk and you would hear who inside the movement was strongly in favour and who was strongly against any issue. You would also know, after a while, what the differences were and how they would be preparing. McGuinness and Adams might say slightly different things but, when they came together, they would give you an argument one way or the other. But I don’t think they were quite as monolithic as depicted. Did everyone know, or at least give the impression of knowing, what they needed? What they needed changed over time because there was no way they could have delivered on decommissioning at the start. Circumstances changed, so what they needed at any particular time may have changed as it went on, and when peace took hold there was probably more that both sides could give on. Is it the case, as Jonathan Powell believes, that what the republicans were really after was respect? I think he is right, and maybe that’s a better articulation of why we were in West Belfast all the time. If they gave you an opinion and you took it seriously and ­confidence-building measures occurred, such as bringing about temporary prisoner releases, it showed that their leadership could deliver and that dialogue had that 111

Inside Accounts ability, and this was clearly taken as an indication of respect for their position. It could not be viewed otherwise.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Could you predict when they said they didn’t want something that really they did, and when they did say they wanted something it was of no real consequence? They did play games like that but, as it went on, we had very good relations and I often would get the IRA statements before they were released. I would send them down to Dublin to Dermot Gallagher and say this is going out publicly in two hours’ time, and I never even told him who gave the notes to me. I told those concerned that I would never do that, and I stuck to it. In many ways, the organisation had evolved because of the violence and the pressure of the security services. It had worked out its cell structure very well, so a lot of the IRA operatives were almost independent because they couldn’t operate in any other way, given the place was penetrated very heavily by the intelligence services. So secrecy was hugely important to them. Were they paranoid about those statements? The way they distributed them was to call certain journalists and hand them the statement signed by P. O’Neill, and the journalists would never disclose who actually handed it to them. Was it the same person? Most of the time it was, as far as I know, one person who gave the statements to journalists. When this person gave you the statement did he or she instruct you about it or just give it to you? No. He would just give it to me and say that is coming out in a while. And then disappear? Yes. So there would be no elaboration with you personally? 112

Ray Bassett No. I don’t know even whether the person was authorised to give it to me or not. Was it handed over in some clandestine place?

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

No. It would be in a public place. Did you always know when a statement was coming? There were occasions when it came out of the blue, but, almost always, we would have it for a few hours before it came out. Would you be able to tell whether a statement was playing for time or not? My first reaction was always not to care what was in it but to send it to Dublin as quickly as possible, and I would fax it. There were also times when I called Dermot Gallagher and gave it to him over the phone. He would then share it immediately with the British. I am not sure if they also had their own channels. Is it a mark of respect, being given statements like that? No, I would say they are just using me as the person on the spot in Belfast. If you look at the republican discourse in the South, is it different from the republican discourse of the North? Yes, it’s very different. The calibre of the republican leaders in Belfast is streets ahead of the South. You meet people in the South and they are a disparate group of people, but republicanism in Northern Ireland contains a wider socio-economic base, which you don’t get much of in the South. A lot of people in Belfast would traditionally be more for the SDLP, but the Troubles shaped them and made them into Sinn Fein supporters and activists. If you look at the discourse that republicans were using prior to the peace process they were talking very much about a socialist Ireland and British withdrawal, neither of which they publicly talk about any more. How do you think they dropped these key demands without their own movement breaking up?

113

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts I don’t think it was that deep. People like Brian Keenan and Gerry Adams were always left-wing socialists. They grew up in the 1960s and they were of that generation. But I don’t think that the IRA commanders in Tyrone, who were doing an awful lot of the fighting, were interested. You had a nascent civil war going on inside Northern Ireland, where they felt that their community was under threat and their culture was being put down. Some would say ‘I have no interest in the Irish language whatsoever except when the unionists attack it and then by God I will defend it’, so in many ways it was reactive. You had a socialist leadership in Belfast who were very left-wing and were tuned in to all the movements around the world, but for the people on the ground in south Armagh, Tyrone and even Belfast it was almost an old Irish tradition of White Boy resistance to the demand that their culture and identity be given equality and respect. To move from a military situation to a political you have to move from the immediate with discernible results to the long-term and less dramatic more complex business of compromise. These are two very different psychologies and the interesting thing is how the political psychology came to win over the military psychology. These are purely personal views, but I think Northern Ireland is beginning to change and I think, with the help of the Fair Employment Act, Northern Ireland today is a very different society from the one Gerry Adams grew up in, where his people could not get a job in certain areas. Economically, Northern Ireland has become a much fairer society. Whether this could have happened naturally or is a by-product of the IRA campaign depends on your viewpoint, but they certainly put the destruction of the ‘Orange State’, as they call it, down to military action. How important were the Americans in this process? I am slightly sceptical of the Americans. I think they were important for republicans, but I don’t think they did a huge amount of work on Good Friday. I think George Mitchell’s staff did, but, as I said before, I don’t think George put in one word of the Good Friday Agreement. The Americans were important in impressing on the republican movement the need to change with the times and giving visas etc., which was all predicated on them continuing to behave well. In the end, I think the republican movement is centred in Belfast and America is important, but it is not vital. The South is important and becoming more important, but it is not vital. Derry and Belfast during the Troubles were the vital areas, and if they had to do something for the Americans and lose their base they would not have done it. 114

Ray Bassett

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

But was Bush less interested than Clinton, or more important in a way because of the push for decommissioning after 9/11? I think republicans never intended to decommission, but I think they were changing over a period of time. If 9/11 had occurred when Clinton was there I don’t think it would have made a huge amount of difference. The Americans under Clinton would have handled it better than Bush did. But Bush was supportive, and he sent over Richard Haass, who was probably the best of any of the emissaries that the Americans sent. The Americans were useful, but I don’t think they were crucial, because the dynamics were mostly within Northern Ireland. Was their role more motivational rather than involvement in detail? There is a great attachment in Irish republicanism to the US because the US financed 1916 and through the nineteenth century were keepers of the flame. Because of that every republican movement wants to keep in with their base in the US and every Irish Government has an obsession with the US too. The Americans were important but, in the end, the decisions would have been taken in Belfast. The granting of the visa to Joe Cahill and to Gerry Adams was, in many ways, American backing and support for the peace process at a time when the British Government were particularly lukewarm. Everybody talks about the importance of Mitchell, but why was there a tendency to keep bringing the Americans in where there was a log-jam? Blair was very pro-America, but the unionists were always very suspicious of the Americans. Trimble thought that when it came to the crunch they were always going to favour the green side because of the Irish lobby, and that was why de Chastelain was brought in, because they asked for a Commonwealth representative as a counterweight. Sometimes I think the US role is exaggerated, but one has to acknowledge that there were one or two times when the American influence was crucial. I think the visa was important, but saving the Patten reforms was much more important and when Mandelson was initially very reluctant to accept the Patten Commission the Americans took the gloves off. That was the one time I saw the Americans quite angry. Overall would you say that Clinton was more important than Bush? He had a huge knowledge, but the Americans never actually took sides except that one time when Mandelson dithered. People like Teddy Kennedy were saying a deal 115

Inside Accounts is a deal and they had stood against the Provos for years in America, but if the Brits renege on Patten then the deal is off, and they will be facing hearings in the Senate in the US sponsored by people who are mainstream chairmen of committees, not peripheral figures. I think the influence of the US was powerful at that stage, but it waxes and it wanes, and it was weak under Obama.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Is it a romanticised notion of Ireland in America? Sometimes. However, when Americans came over, and I often gave them a briefing in Belfast or Dublin, I would start on the very basics and suddenly they would cut to the chase and ask a detailed question which would show they had intimate knowledge, so it varied a lot. The Irish-American lobby, much like the Irish-Canadian lobby, tends to get activated when something goes wrong. The Americans got very active on fair employment, but, most of the time, they just sat there and were quite passive. There are those like Kennedy, Dodds, Leahy and Smith, who would be Anglophiles normally, but when it came to the ‘ancestral people’ even the most conservative people seem seduced by republicans, and when Gerry Adams goes over to the US the most right-wing republicans honour him and don’t see any contradiction in that. The DUP would be more pro-America than the Ulster Unionists because they think they have some special arrangement with the Bible belt, but Trimble never really wanted any outsiders involved. Do you think that 9/11 had more of an influence on prising decommissioning out of republicans than if it had not happened? I think so, yes. What messages were they sending on that? After 9/11 you were dealing with a very angry bear in the US, and although the decommissioning weapons issue had been a tremendous asset for Sinn Fein, the leadership had to make a decision about whether there were more advantages, or disadvantages, to holding on, and once 9/11 happened that tipped the scales heavily towards disadvantages. Would it be fair to presume that when they think about Ireland in the US they are not really thinking about unionism? 116

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Ray Bassett They don’t really think about unionism at all, and funnily enough a lot of these people are of unionist stock. They have lost contact. Unionism does not survive very well abroad. Republicanism has this romantic connection and has all these diaspora clubs. I don’t think there is one Northern Ireland organisation around the world, apart from one in Brussels, and even the Orange Order in Toronto don’t want anything to do with loyalism in Northern Ireland now. In Scotland, the Orange Order is very closely aligned, but abroad the Order is more a fraternal Protestant society and the vast majority of their members have nothing to do with Ireland. They are often of German descent. The international connection has always been very important for republicans. The Fenians were essentially an Irish-American organisation, and because it’s part of the tradition it’s important for them to keep the North American people on board. As I said, if it comes to a crunch between Belfast and New York, Belfast will win. The heartland, the nerve system and the brain of the system is Belfast. Derry is semi-detached and much more in the old resistance tradition, but Belfast is the keeper of the flame, and even if the next leader of Sinn Fein is Mary Lou McDonald, the power will be in Belfast and among republicans there.

117

5

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Legal and political convergence: an interview with David Byrne

Graham Spencer: Can you tell me what you did during the Good Friday Agreement period? David Byrne: I was Attorney-General in the Irish Government, so my role was on the legal side but, of course, the role of the Attorney-General is to link the legal to the political. The important contribution that I think was expected of me was in relation to the negotiations surrounding Articles Two and Three of the Constitution and the need for a referendum in relation to that. What change to Articles Two and Three did you create? Can you take me through when that started and the changes and shifts that occurred before it was completed? Articles Two and Three, prior to their amendment, claimed sovereignty over Northern Ireland, and that caused problems with the unionist community. Going back to the Anglo-Irish Agreement in the 1980s there were discussions in relation to this, leading to a realisation on the Irish side that, over time, there would have to be change. There was an emerging realisation too that the consent principle was fundamental to that, where any change in the constitutional nature of Northern Ireland could only come about by the consent of the majority of the population in Northern Ireland. Once that became accepted the question was how to amend Articles Two and Three in a way that would accord with the ambitions of the unionist community, while at the same time keeping open the fulfilment of an ambition for an Ireland united by consent. That balance had to be got right in the wording of the new Articles Two and Three. The important breakthrough came about by recognition that if there were a shift away from territory and land to nation and people, we could draft new Articles to the Constitution that would address the territorial concerns of the unionist community while maintaining consistency with the desire for a united Ireland in the Republic. 118

David Byrne

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

So was it the consent principle that allowed that to happen? Well, first of all, there needed to be a move away from a declaration in the Irish Constitution of sovereignty over the land of Northern Ireland and a shift towards the idea of the nation, where people born on the island of Ireland could ascribe to themselves the description of being Irish. The Irish and the British had to agree to a situation where anyone born in Northern Ireland would be entitled to Irish citizenship, or both British and Irish citizenship, and that is what happened. Power-sharing in Northern Ireland was also central to that agreement. That was the basis for the change that the people accepted. Was the context for change as important as change itself? In other words, what about public reaction in the South to this long historical connection to Articles Two and Three and the proposition of this major change? There had been a debate surrounding all of this going back decades, where the population in the Republic became attuned to the need to accommodate the ambitions of many people in Northern Ireland to the removal of the existing territorial claims in Articles Two and Three. It was seen to be a red line for the unionist community. However, people in the Republic were reluctant to forgo the rights expressed in Articles Two and Three unless some countervailing measure was put in place which recognised the legitimate role of the Republic in the affairs of Northern Ireland. It was regarded as entirely unsatisfactory that the Republic would not have such a role. That was the core of the Good Friday Agreement, particularly in relation to Strand Two and dealing with the relationship between North and South. It was that which allowed people to forgo what they historically saw as the fundamental position as laid down in the 1937 Constitution with regard to Articles Two and Three. Strand Three had an important role in this as well because tightening the relationship between the islands interlocked the interests of both countries. A lot of the preparation for this change also came about because Ireland and the UK were members of the EU and operating consensually within the EU. Do you remember that being factored in to debates at the time? The EU did not have a direct or formal role. However, as is well known, the fundamental relationship between member states is based on the ‘pooling of sovereignty’. Following that framework, the EU operates on a consensual basis and it seeks to achieve change, whether on policy or legislation, with the agreement of all member 119

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts countries. Because of that, the EU has become very practised at change coming about by consensus. That certainly helped bring Ireland and the UK closer together. Ministers were meeting one another on a regular basis at Council meetings, where co-operation was required for making decisions. During the period leading up to the Good Friday Agreement, relations between Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair would have been fostered in the margins of EU meetings. The benefits derived from these contacts were not confined to the practicality of working together within the context of the European meetings. The trust evidently displayed by these men in one another fostered a search for peace in Northern Ireland acceptable to all. Progress in Northern Ireland was achieved by a concept of a ‘layering of sovereignty’, where Belfast had its role, London had its role, Dublin had its role and Brussels also had an indirect role. This is not too dissimilar from the idea of ‘pooling of sovereignty’ in the EU. That helped lay the basis for changes in governance to take place and influenced the nexus of relationships. Was the East–West relationship, the Strand Three arrangement, important? Strand Three was set up to develop the relationship between Ireland and Britain. It established the British–Irish Council to discuss specific issues of mutual interest. It also established the British–Irish Intergovernmental Conference. This Conference was designed to discuss the non-devolved Northern Ireland matters, giving the Irish Government a right to advance its views and proposals. The remit of these two ­institutions is consultative and advisory. The Brussels influence has never been mentioned really, has it? I think it has always been understood that Brussels was very supportive of the peace process. Were there any key individuals in Brussels who played a role in the peace process which has never been acknowledged? Not really, but, as I said, Blair and Ahern regularly met on the margins of Council meetings in Brussels and had the opportunity to discuss Northern Ireland issues. Being in a political environment where consensus is central to decision- and law-­making, I believe that it probably created a psychological framework that would have been of assistance. I also know there were senior officials in the EU Commission who were hugely influential in ensuring there was funding available to help Northern Ireland. 120

David Byrne

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

So being a member of the EU is important in terms of cultivating inclusivity? I have no doubt about that, because decision-making in the EU is built on negotiation and consensus in order to achieve outcomes. Even the large member states can’t get what they want without negotiation and co-operation to achieve the necessary consensus. The atmosphere that was being generated by policy-making and lawmaking at EU level would have been of assistance. I would not like to overstate it, but it ­created an atmosphere and a framework of consensus for political change. You mention the role of the Attorney-General was to link or bridge the legal to the political. What were the legal issues that you had to take into account when doing this? The Attorney-General is the constitutional law officer of the State, whose responsibility it is to give advice to the Government on all matters of law and legal opinion. For instance, it is his or her duty to ensure that all Bills for presentation to the Oireachtas are consistent with the Constitution. The Attorney-General is also responsible for the Parliamentary Counsel’s Office, where the drafting of all legislation, including constitutional amendments, takes place. So it was my task to supervise the drafting of the amendments to Articles Two and Three. It was also important to ensure that the political objectives contained in the Good Friday Agreement were accurately provided for in the legal text. However, a real concern, as I remember it, was the drafting of the legal texts necessary for the referendum to give effect to the constitutional changes. The Good Friday Agreement took place on 10 April 1998. This provided for a referendum to be held on 22 May in Ireland to amend Articles Two and Three. It also required a referendum in Northern Ireland on the same day. Throughout the negotiations a strong emphasis was placed on the talks being as inclusive as possible and the outcome being about the ‘totality of relationships’. Therefore, it was important that the expression of the people’s voice on that should take place on the entire island on the same day. Now that was inevitably a political act, but there were legal aspects to it as well, particularly in the South, because of the requirement to amend the Constitution. In the North that legal context was absent, but it was intended as a powerful expression by the people in the North of their opinion and support for the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. As it turned out, the result of the referendum in the North was seventy-one per cent in favour, but obviously we could not have predicted that in advance. There was understandable concern as to the consequences if the voters in the Republic voted in favour of the Agreement and those in the North voted to reject it. We would then have had a situation where the proposed amendments to Articles Two and Three 121

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts would have been carried into effect, but the other terms would not be implemented in the North. If that had happened, we would have been in a very awkward situation, so it became necessary to consider a procedure for holding the referendum in such a way as to protect against such an adverse outcome. Bear in mind that the amendment of the Constitution by a vote of the people in a referendum is final and conclusive, as it is a form of law-making that is done directly by the people themselves. Other forms of law making are done by the elected representatives in Parliament. We decided to draft the proposed Articles Two and Three in such a way as to ensure that the people could express their opinion as to whether the Constitution should be changed in the manner set out in the text presented to them and at the same time, and also to approve a delay in its implementation until such time as the Government declared that Ireland was obliged to do so on the signing of the Good Friday Agreement by all parties. This could only happen following a yes vote in Northern Ireland. We adopted this conditional iterative process, which had never been done before. The constitutionality of this procedure was challenged in the High Court in Dublin within days before the vote and, to my considerable relief, was rejected by the court. Why was the decision made to do them both on the same day? It was regarded as being of great importance, in providing political legitimacy, that the entire island of Ireland would vote on the same issue on the same day. It also provided a response to those who believed that the last legitimate election in Ireland was the one held throughout the island of Ireland in 1918. Would you say that the political drove the legal reasoning behind the Good Friday Agreement, or did the legal profession and the legal thinkers who were involved also influence the politics of it? In my experience, policy always comes first, and that’s how it was with the Good Friday Agreement. However, an imaginative approach by the lawyer can be useful, as it helps the interaction needed between the policy maker, who wants to achieve a  ­particular outcome, and the lawyer, who can see how the policy can best be achieved.  In addition, this interaction may inspire new policy considerations, or better ways of implementing the existing policy objective. When it comes to a legal text, to what extent is being able to use and work with the spirit of that text also important? 122

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

David Byrne That’s a very good question. Time and again one of the frustrations for a lawyer, in dealing with international agreements giving effect to politically negotiated outcomes, arises when there is some ambiguity about some aspect of the text. Often, in such circumstances, political leaders will then leave it to senior civil servants or lawyers to sort out that space, and that sometimes requires a lot of legal ingenuity. With some international agreements the legal implications of this are often not so serious because it’s very rare for such an agreement to be adjudicated upon by a court, or a tribunal, or some other international dispute resolution body. It does happen, of course, but rarely. Sometimes the international agreements, which are more political in nature, can depend on an amount of constructive ambiguity for a successful conclusion. However, there is no room for such ambiguity in the drafting of agreements which, by their nature, may require adjudication and enforcement when disputes arise. One of the things I am interested in is the extent to which the law is constrained by political policy and the extent to which political policy is constrained by the law. I always like to think that the law should try to serve the policy objectives being pursued. In that sense, the law is the handmaiden of policy. However, there are constraints. For instance, in legal systems with a written constitution like ours, proposed legislation and administrative action generally must be in compliance with the Constitution. So sometimes there may be things that can’t be done. The role of an Attorney-General is to seek to give legal effect to policy objectives being developed in the political system, but only in so far as is legally possible. It’s a delicate balance and every effort should be made to accommodate the political objective. Is the legal mind important because the policy mind inevitably can’t see the potential loopholes, roadblocks or traps that the legal mind can see? Well, I think there is an overlap here. You will find that senior civil servants involved in work of this nature are aware of the legal parameters and would have knowledge of that from their education and experience. Similarly, lawyers working in the Attorney-General’s Office would be expected not only to know the law, but to have some feel for policy, to know what the issues are and what the Government is trying to achieve. For instance, if there is a requirement to pass some piece of legislation you have to make sure what is proposed is consistent with the Constitution. You must advise the Government as to whether any proposed measure is unconstitutional, and warn in 123

Inside Accounts relation to that. This is one of the reasons why the Attorney-General has a seat in the Cabinet. Although the Attorney-General is not a member of the Government, he is a member of the Cabinet and his role would be to intervene and advise if necessary.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

To what extent is a problem deemed to be a legal one or a political one? Are issues raised which one might think are legal concerns but actually they are political concerns and vice versa? What is the overlay there? Politics is the business of the government and the implementation of government policy often has a legal overlay. Government action in modern democracies is bound by the rule of law and so there is always a role for the lawyer. The Constitution is where law and politics meet. This is where you will find a convergence of law and politics and a seamless overlay of the two. Irish people have a strong regard for the Constitution and they respect and insist on the preservation of constitutional rights. Did the unionists, nationalists and republicans react to Articles Two and Three ­differently? Did you get difficulties from the parties in Northern Ireland on that? There were a number of important meetings with various parties in Government Buildings on the Sunday before Easter week, chaired by the Taoiseach. The SDLP and Sinn Fein separately made clear what their expectations were. There were a number of other meetings as a precursor to the actual negotiations which started the following Wednesday in Belfast. We put forward our ideas for the amendments of Articles Two and Three quite early on to get an acceptance by the political parties on where that was going. I had a meeting in Dublin with representatives from the unionist side on the Monday when we made clear to them our proposals on the amendments to Articles Two and Three. They had their lawyer present. They didn’t exactly agree on that day, but they didn’t oppose them either. That was enough for us to expect it was likely this would not cause a problem during the negotiations in Belfast later in the week. What did they say at that time which led you to believe that they would be likely to accept the amendments? When I asked the lawyer who was advising the Ulster Unionists for his view he said he did not have instructions to accept our proposals. However, it was clear he did not have any legal issues. Peter King, a senior unionist politician, was also at that meeting and said he didn’t oppose or reject it. He indicated that if the issues surrounding the 124

David Byrne negotiations on Strand Two produced agreement, then the Articles Two and Three proposals would work. So he was making it more dependent on progress with Strand Two negotiations?

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Yes, I took it following the Monday meeting that they had no difficulty with the policy, or drafting of the proposed amendments. Did you address Sinn Fein before as well? I don’t remember the sequence of that. I am wondering whether the sequence was important and, as part of that, whether it was better to get the unionists on side first. Although I spoke to the unionists on the Monday, I am sure they would have known the general outlines before then. I didn’t speak to them before the Monday, but I would imagine others in the Department of Foreign Affairs did. I also know that the British were aware of the proposals. The British Ambassador came to see me in my office and raised questions about Articles Two and Three. We had just completed our first draft on this. I showed her the draft and said that was our current thinking. Her reaction was very positive. She said, ‘That’s quite ingenious. They told me it couldn’t be done.’ She was happy not only with the policy reflected in the draft, but also with the mechanism by which it was to be done. I was therefore surprised when later in the week in Castle Buildings the question of the proposed amendments of Articles Two and Three was raised again. I was asked to meet Jeffery Donaldson, Peter King and their lawyer. They demanded changes to our amended Articles Two and Three and amendments to the British–Irish Agreement. I was quite surprised by this. I said I could not agree and gave my reasons, not least that the draft had been substantially agreed the previous Monday. Peter King acknowledged this was so. Jeffery Donaldson seemed surprised by this and brought the meeting to a close. Was it the case that for the unionists the text was important, but that republicans wanted to know its political implications more? I think that’s probably correct. The SDLP and Sinn Fein seemed to trust the Irish Government on the legal drafting. 125

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Why did the unionists insist on changes to Article Two at that point? Was it to try and get something else and be able to say that? The next day a senior member of the British delegation raised one of the issues with me, asking if there was a possibility of including a reference to Northern Ireland in the Constitution. He said the UUP wanted Northern Ireland referred to specifically in the Constitution in Article Three after the words ‘both jurisdictions’. He also said that Sinn Fein had requested an amendment to the British–Irish Agreement specifically referring to a repeal of the Act of Union. I advised against both proposals and gave him my reasons. He agreed, and that was the end of it. So both republicans wanting the Act of Union to be repealed and the unionists wanting Articles Two and Three dealt with differently were unsuccessful? Yes. How did they cope with not getting their own way? Did they just accept it? Yes. What did you think about the side-letter that Blair gave Trimble on decommissioning? My memory is that the unionists were still deeply concerned that they would be required to sit in Government, alongside former members of the Provisional IRA who had not laid down their arms, with the possibility of violence resuming. They were very worried about that and raised it with Blair towards to the end of the negotiations. My understanding is that the side-letter gave them some comfort that they might not be required to sit in an Executive with Sinn Fein if decommissioning had not been completed after a period of something like two years. Could that have blown up in the face of the two Governments, because Sinn Fein did not know? I remember it came very late in the day, and bringing up issues like that when the train has left the station is a problem. I think Blair realised there was no way that he could put this into the Agreement, so he was giving what lawyers sometimes refer to as a ‘letter of comfort’. It was not legally enforceable but was probably intended as confidence-building or comfort-giving and probably no more than that. 126

David Byrne

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

It may have been a good move because it worked, but it carried no real influence in  terms of applying pressure on decommissioning and it was effectively worthless, then? Although letters of comfort are not legally enforceable, none the less, it probably had a value. People know that if you have a contract it’s enforceable. If there is a letter of comfort associated with that it’s not part of the core agreement, and I think a lot of people saw Blair’s side-letter in that context. Were the Irish annoyed or concerned about it? I don’t think there was any high level of anxiety about it because it didn’t form part of the Agreement. Plus, if Blair had wanted to give come comfort to the unionists off the field of play, well that was a matter for him. So it was a ruse, in a way, in that they didn’t really fight for it? It’s hard to be sure. Maybe Blair promised some legislation which may have satisfied the unionists. When drafting on Articles Two and Three and replacing them with the consent principle did you have to draft this in a way where people could see the change not as inconsistent, but an alternative to Irish unity, so the ethos and aspiration remained? It was terribly important for the unionists to say that the claim of sovereignty over Northern Ireland by the Republic was, as they would have seen it, now off the table. Of course, it was replaced by something else. The expression of nationhood together with the declaration of the right to self-determination became the counter-balance in return. This provided a route to a united Ireland by democratic means. The people in the South were prepared to accept that as a compromise s­ olution. When we spoke to interested parties in relation to this we were able to express the view that the concepts of nationhood and self-determination were ­central. In addition, the concept of consent was laid out in Strand One on governance in Northern Ireland, which, together with the establishment of the power-sharing Executive and the D’Hondt method of election, meant that parity of esteem was ensured between the various parties. In Strand One everybody was involved. Strand Two gave a dimension which recognised the role of Dublin in Northern affairs and Strand Three tightened the British–Irish relationship through the British–Irish 127

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts Council. This institution did not have any executive responsibilities. However, it is a Parliamentary Council for discussion of issues relevant to the entire islands. The North–South dimension was hugely important, which led to the establishment of the North–South Ministerial Council and the implementation bodies exercising Executive powers. Much of the discussion during the Good Friday Agreement talks centred upon the establishment of the implementation bodies. It was very important to agree how they would be established in law, by which political institution this would be done and when it would be done. At one point, the unionists believed it was sufficient to have them established by the Northern Assembly alone once it was up and running. That was not acceptable to us because of previous experiences, such as with the Boundary Commission and the events in 1973. The negotiators from the Irish side took the view that we could not have an agreement on this which relied solely on the Northern Ireland Assembly to establish North–South Executive bodies. That would not work. So Westminster had to be involved. Which was the guarantee that it would happen, and ultimately that was agreed upon. No doubt many people would have been involved in drafting the bit of the Agreement that we are talking about. Did they draft the whole Agreement or did they concentrate on the North–South section only? Articles Two and Three were largely drafted in the Attorney-General’s Office, principally because of the requirement for a referendum and need for absolute accuracy on the wording for voting. The drafting of the Good Friday Agreement itself involved a number of departments, including the Taoiseach’s, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Attorney-General’s Office, as well as other parties on specific issues. Did you face any resentment or resistance over the dropping of Articles Two and Three? The legal community did not have any objection to it. Some people were not satisfied, including a few in political circles, but they were very few. Support for the acceptance of these ideas was very strong. It was known well before the Agreement was signed that the issue of consent was critically important, that the removal of the claim set out in Articles Two and Three was a fundamental requirement for the Northern Ireland Protestant community and that this had to be addressed. The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, arranged several briefing meetings with members of the Dail and Seanad, which were also attended by Martin Mansergh and myself. These meetings proved to be very useful, with hardly any concern expressed. 128

David Byrne But were people worried about the Constitution being tampered with or changed in other areas? In other words, did you face criticism that this could be a precedent for further change down the road?

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

No. I think people knew exactly what was being proposed and agreed with it. This was borne out by the result of the referendum, when ninety-five per cent of the people in the Republic voted in favour. Would you say that the Good Friday Agreement is a document of ambiguity, or clarity? I think it set out clearly what needed to be done, how it was going to be done and what were the rights guaranteed. There was no ambiguity, constructive or otherwise, in relation to that. The political objectives driving the legal text, such as the concept of nationhood, were probably more philosophical than legal, but I wouldn’t say the document itself could be described as ambiguous. Lines and issues were hard fought for on both sides. When you compile a piece of text in a document like that how do you work out the amount of text you are going to have? That is an art form and that is what the Parliamentary Counsel’s Office does, where there are lawyers very experienced in drafting legal texts. They know how to do that and normally several drafts are presented to the policy people to ensure they are happy that the text captures the policy they want to achieve. Did the Good Friday Agreement have a chronological order to it? Yes, there is a logical order to it which is clear from a reading of the table of contents. It is composed of the Multi-Party Agreement, where all parties are involved, and the British–Irish Agreement, made between the two Governments. Each one refers to the other and each one incorporates the other as an annex. Together they are the Belfast Agreement, also known as the Good Friday Agreement. But would you say that when drafting the North–South section of the Good Friday Agreement and taking out Articles Two and Three you were trying to make the language of the new document completely consistent with the language of the Constitution, which is of a different era and emphasis? 129

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Yes, but they can be read side by side. Articles Two and Three are included as an annex and form part of the Agreement. Ultimately, they were intended to form part of the amended Constitution to be interpreted by the judiciary in the normal way, if necessary. Sinn Fein saw the Agreement as a stepping-stone for the next phase, whereas unionists would talk about a copper-fastening of the Union. This meant that for one group the Agreement had a transitional purpose while for the other it was a point of closure, so does this not indicate how the legal can be read very differently? Well, yes, I suppose that is how you have agreements and get compromise. And that’s why different phrases and ways of expressing things in a legal text are important, because sometimes people take a different nuance from that expression. It’s easier in a political-legal text to achieve that outcome than it would be in a very technical piece of legal text, for example, on the law of intellectual property. When you are making amendments do you have in front of you all the other past agreements and statements to make sure there is consistency and continuity, or do you roughly know it? You know what you want to achieve, but you would also have regard to the text being amended for obvious technical reasons. You need to know exactly what is being amended and how. This was so in drafting the amendments to Articles Two and Three. There was also a principle to follow in the amendments. The Good Friday Agreement was based on principle and, remember, it was an international treaty. Do you think the Good Friday Agreement was the best outcome that could have been achieved? During the discussions in Belfast on 8, 9 and 10 April there were various issues that were negotiated and people on both sides wanted, though ultimately didn’t get, into the text. As I said, one of the issues of concern was on giving legal effect to the implementation bodies. The British initially thought, and indeed the unionists believed, it would be sufficient if they were set up by the legislative power of the Assembly that was to be established in Northern Ireland in January 1999. However, the Irish and the SDLP and Sinn Fein were all quite adamant that this could not be the case and that there would have to be an involvement of the two Governments in giving legal effect to the implementation bodies. What ultimately happened was that it was 130

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

David Byrne agreed that the legal effect would be given to the implementation bodies by legislation in Westminster, but that the fine tuning of it would be left to the Assembly, so it got its legal status from Westminster and the details were done by the Assembly. However, the Assembly wasn’t yet in existence and there was discussion as to whether a pre-Assembly group, that was an Assembly which had been elected but had not gone into power, could have a role. It was agreed that was acceptable as long as the legal status of the implementation bodies was established by London, thereby assuring that it was going to happen. That’s an example of making sure that what was promised was going to be done by ensuring that it was copper-fastened by legal effects, rather than by relying on assurances from a community, which had proved unreliable in the past. Did you know at the time that the Good Friday Agreement would require subsequent agreements to take it further? We knew there was an ongoing political process and the Agreement was designed to get the show on the road and it did that. I suppose there was a realisation, as in any political relationship and evolving process, that issues would come up that would need to be addressed, but what we were being asked to do was to get it up and running. The actual draft of the Agreement itself was, understandably, kept secret inside Castle Buildings, but how many drafts did that draft go through? A lot of the drafting was done issue by issue. The final legal text was built up from that process. The phrase ‘Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ comes to mind, so one might ­presume that all had to be converged in some way at the same time. That was terribly important so as to avoid people putting things in their pockets and then later becoming awkward and difficult about something else. It was critically important that the scheme of things would operate in that way. And yet is it not the case that the North–South dimension was the biggest part of the Agreement? Maybe so, but the others strands were also important, especially Strand One. 131

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

In the Good Friday Agreement it says ‘the state may exercise its extraterritorial jurisdiction in accordance with the generally recognisable principles of international law’. What are those generally recognised principles of international law? There is a whole body of public international law that people understand, that sovereign nations understand, which regulates the relations between them. There are recognised principles laid down in textbooks and in international treaties that are well understood. Departments of government dealing with foreign affairs treat one another with regard to those principles. Are those principles based on fairness? You would hope that all legal principles are based on fairness. Is it the case that the premise of the Good Friday Agreement has to be consistent with the parameters of international expectation? Yes, it was, I suppose, an expression of the ambition of the participants that they would relate to one another in normal ways and in accordance with recognised international principles. One of the interesting things about the Agreement is that if the majority North and South consent to a united Ireland then legislation would be required to facilitate that. What would happen if that were to occur? What would it need legislatively for a united Ireland to take place, should the majority North and South wish it? Well, the first thing that would happen is that there would have to be a vote North and South to that effect. It is up to the Secretary of State to direct the holding of such a poll in Northern Ireland to determine if the majority wish to leave the United Kingdom and join in a united Ireland. If such a majority exists it would be necessary to determine, probably by referendum, if such a majority exists in the South. The Good Friday Agreement provides that if the people of the island of Ireland wish to bring about a united Ireland both Governments must introduce legislation to give effect to that wish. The Irish Constitution would have to be amended to give constitutional recognition for a united Ireland. Would you say that the linch-pin of the Agreement is the two concepts of self-determination and consent? Are they the two things around which everything else revolves? 132

David Byrne You will find that there are only four Articles in the British–Irish Agreement which set out those principles as an expression of the relationship between Britain and Ireland, and consent and self-determination are bedrock principles within that.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Is any one more important than the others, or are they all interwoven? They are all interwoven, because the Multi-Party Agreement is attached to the British–Irish Agreement and the British–Irish Agreement is attached to the MultiParty Agreement. They are both linked and expressed as being linked. They both recognise one another and each one is attached to the other by an annex, so there is a complete linkage. When you had to explain the benefits of this Agreement, was the core of your argument that these principles took away any legitimacy in the argument that armed struggle was credible? Was that the core underpinning? The Good Friday Agreement gives legal recognition to the principle of self-­ determination and clearly lays down a democratic mechanism by which a united Ireland can be achieved. Would you say that Sinn Fein were more ideologically driven in their approach than the unionists? All parties saw these talks as an important opportunity. All parties on the nationalist side were driven by a vision and were determined to achieve change. Unionists were more conservative, but were open to some change. The SDLP and the UUP led the Strand One negotiations and the two Governments led in Strand Two. Some parties acted as persuaders and others required to be convinced. At the final plenary session, Sinn Fein found a form of words indicating agreement with the conclusions, but this was conditional on the outcome of an Ard Fheis which had been called to seek consent from the membership of the party. A Sinn Fein delegation came to my office for a briefing on the exact legal implications of what we had agreed in Belfast on 10 April. But it wasn’t just the legal aspect they were concerned with, but the political-legal aspect too. For instance, it was important for them to be able to say that the British– Irish Agreement had an international dimension and that it would be registered in the UN and would therefore be recognised by all member states of the UN. What were they particularly worried about? 133

Inside Accounts They wanted to be assured about how the Multi-Party Agreement was linked to the British–Irish Agreement and how each referred to the other. They wanted to understand whether there was a complete tie-up between the two so as to give effect to what the parties had agreed in Belfast.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Were you surprised by the way they questioned you? Not really. They wanted to make sure legally that they were getting what they thought they were getting, and that is not at all unreasonable. Were they as interested in every part of the text, or were there particular things that they were anxious about? They were concerned to ensure how the Strand One arrangements in Northern Ireland were going to work and they wanted to ensure that they had a voice in that. They were also concerned to see that there could be a united Ireland by consent and that the implementation bodies, which were being set up, would be passed by Acts of Parliament in Westminster and Dublin, rather than the Assembly. That had been an issue of great concern during the negotiations in Belfast, with Bertie Ahern requiring the involvement of the Parliament in London in the setting up of the implementation bodies. So Sinn Fein were really reading the text from a political perspective? Well, they were concerned to understand that what was being agreed was properly incorporated into the text. I believe they were concerned to ensure that they could answer any difficult questions about this from their own people and were in a ­position to respond in a clear and detailed manner. Were they focussing much on the expectations about a commitment to exclusively peaceful and non-violent politics? I assumed they realised that consent was the new game in town and they realised that the unionist community was demanding that in exchange for agreeing to the MultiParty Assembly. They also knew that setting up a Government in this way would be a replacement of the territorial claim over the six counties of Northern Ireland. It was a delicate balance, each side getting something, and the legal draftsmen had to make sure that was done in an effective way. 134

David Byrne

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Was each side more interested in what the other side might get from the Agreement text? Did they read it differently? I think that’s probably true. As in any negotiation each side must ensure that the outcome is fair in the sense that you get what you can accept and you want to understand and accept what the other side is getting. After all, the Agreement was subject to votes in the North and in the Republic, which required the parties to convince their own supporters to vote in favour of the Agreement. Were they worried about Strand Two, the North–South dimension? They were concerned to ensure that the island of Ireland achieved a political status. Remember, all the nationalist parties were pursuing an all-Ireland dimension involving the ‘totality of relationships’. So the parties primarily engaged in Strand One were also keenly interested in and involved with all aspects of the Agreement, and not only the political arrangements in Northern Ireland after the legislation had been implemented. They were very concerned about the status of the island of Ireland vis-à-vis its relationship with the UK as well. Are principles still a matter of interpretation? Principles are reduced to legal text, and this is what is interpreted by the courts. The Good Friday Agreement was lodged with the UN. How does that process work? It’s a process whereby the UN receives a document and that document is registered as an international agreement. The UN then publishes the document. They don’t have any role in determining the content of it, they just register it. Following registration, it can be invoked in any UN institution, including the UN International Court of Justice in The Hague. It was important for the Irish Government and many of the parties that the British–Irish Agreement had this status confirmed by registration with the UN. The parties believed that registration made a strong political statement, as it emphasised that the Agreement was recognised by the primary international agency of the world where almost all sovereign states are members. However, enforceability is another issue. But the fact that it achieved this legal and political international status impressed the parties. So it was the symbolism of that, really? 135

Inside Accounts Yes, it had a strong symbolic effect. But, more than that, it is a legal international agreement.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

If a document is not lodged with the UN does that mean it does not stand as an international agreement? It is still an international agreement, but if it is not registered with the UN, a breach of its terms cannot be adjudicated upon by the UN International Court of Justice. What did the unionists think about it being lodged with the UN? Did they care? I’m not at all sure that they ever considered this issue. The rules of the UN require that an international agreement made by member countries shall be registered with the UN. So it would have been expected. So unionists did not object to it being lodged with the UN? I do not remember any objection. In any event, the British–Irish Agreement part of  the Good Friday Agreement was one made only between the two sovereign parties. Was there any resistance on the British side about that? No. This would have been normal practice. Did the unionists and republicans equally have concerns about what self-determination and consent meant? These concepts were fully debated in public during the two years of the peace process leading up to the talks in Belfast. Everybody had an understanding of the political consequences of adopting these two concepts. Bertie Ahern gave strong political leadership on this in Ireland. For instance, he gave briefings to the opposition. He also held meetings with his own backbenchers clearly outlining the political vision being pursued and indicating how this would be achieved. Martin Mansergh and I were present at all these meetings. Martin spoke on the policy objectives and I explained how this would be shaped in legal terms. The Taoiseach gave the political drive and authority to those meetings and all the backbenchers, with hardly any exception, agreed. 136

David Byrne If, in the eyes of republicans, the Agreement started to collapse or become unpicked would they then be able to go to the UN and expect the UN to act?

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

The UN Court deals with disputes arising from a failure of the parties to comply with its terms. Obviously, it’s a legal forum so it deals with legal disputes. I would not see the Court having a role in resolving disputes which are more of a political nature. However, it did have, as said, this strong symbolic effect. Was it more important for republicans to have that symbolism than unionists? Yes, I think so. In that the British do not have a Constitution in the same way as Ireland, did that make any difference in the way they understood this separation between the political and the legal? It’s true that the British constitutional framework is different to our own, in that Ireland is a constitutional democracy whereas Britain is a monarchy, where Parliament is supreme. Its people are subjects, not citizens as in Ireland. In a constitutional democracy the law as interpreted by the judiciary in the Supreme Court takes precedence. In the British system I’ve noticed the political leadership likes to govern with a degree of flexibility to achieve political objectives without being constrained by the legal opinion of judges interpreting a legal text. This appears to be the case whether it’s a written constitution, the Treaty of Rome or the European Convention on Human Rights. For instance, there was a strong reaction in Britain to the judgment of the UK Supreme Court last year [in 2017] on the role of Parliament on the Brexit case when the Court ruled against the Government. None the less, despite this, the legal traditions in the two countries are very similar, and except for one incident, when a lawyer for the UUP made the point that I was trying to bring politics into the Constitution, everything ran smoothly. He seemed not to appreciate that a Constitution is where law and politics are intended to meet. Is there a difference in the British legal imagination, if you will, where you could tell a British approach, rather than an Irish approach, was in operation? Not really, but it’s a good question. As I said, the British don’t have a strong tradition of judicial review of Government or administrative action, where decisions can be set aside, whereas that is part of political governance in Ireland because of our 137

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Constitution. All parties to the negotiations, including the British and the unionists, had to be aware of that in the negotiations, so constitutional issues were important, and particularly so because of the attention given to the amendments of Articles Two and Three. Would you say it is the case, in an instance such as this, that once something is put on the table it’s going to be more pain than it’s worth to withdraw it, and on that basis what could be the advantage in doing so? I think I saw a couple of examples of that, on less important points, on both sides, but, overall, parties pursued their objectives with vigour. Were there times when you could not find consensus, or a middle ground, or find a space, a terrain, which was acceptable to all? We were able to find a compromise position on all points. For instance, one of the most difficult issues concerned the establishment of the implementation bodies which I have already mentioned. The unionists wanted them set up by the new Assembly due to come into operation on 1 January 1999. This was not acceptable to the Irish side, nor to the SDLP, or Sinn Fein. The Taoiseach was not prepared to accept an assurance that this would be done by the unionists more than nine months later. He was determined that Westminster and the Oireachtas must be involved. There was a concern that, unless there was a clear legal assurance that the bodies would be established, the referendum to amend Articles Two and Three might not be successful. After a lot of discussion and several proposals we agreed that Westminster would establish the bodies by legislation and then transfer the legislative authority to the Northern Ireland Assembly. By this process we were able to guarantee that the bodies would exist in law and the detail would be left to the Assembly. The implementation bodies were important in that they were a visible manifestation of North–South ­institutions doing something worthwhile. It was also agreed that the pre-Assembly could consent to the establishment of three of the bodies and the remaining bodies were to be established at a later time, when the elected Assembly members took their seats in January 1999. This is a good example of how we solved what, for many, looked like the unsolvable. Since we last spoke, fifty-two per cent of the British people voted to leave the EU. What concerns and potential consequences does this raise for the North–South and East– West relationships, and, indeed, for the Good Friday Agreement itself? 138

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

David Byrne The successful negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement was heavily influenced by the fact that both the UK and Ireland were member states of the European Union. When the majority of the thirty-three million UK voters decided to leave the EU, they probably gave no thought to how this might affect the island of Ireland, or Britain’s obligations under the Good Friday Agreement. They were not encouraged to do so by any of the campaigning parties in the referendum. However, this stunning decision to leave the EU, after more than forty years of membership, has put at risk the benefits of the Good Friday Agreement and its aspirations for closer North–South co-operation and the development of harmonious relations between the communities within Northern Ireland. The impact of Brexit, if it happens, on the Good Friday Agreement, will depend on the manner of the exit. The terms of the Good Friday Agreement lay down a path for the achievement of peace, prosperity and the pursuit of harmonised relations between the communities in Northern Ireland, and the creation of legal relationships and political institutions to reach that end. This finely balanced Agreement removed Ireland’s claim to sovereignty over Northern Ireland, contained in Articles Two and Three of the Irish Constitution, in exchange for an agreement by all parties to the creation of a structured all-Ireland dimension, where authority would be exercised by the establishment of political institutions such as the North–South Ministerial Council and the various implementation bodies. These North–South institutions, which have sometimes been referred to as having a confederal element to them, deal with such important cross-border issues as trade and development, EU funding programmes, food safety and animal health. Co-operation in other areas covers aspects of agriculture and human health. For instance, the EU cross-border Healthcare Directive allows public patients in Ireland access to necessary healthcare in another EU country, which obviously includes Northern Ireland. This cross-border co-operation in the delivery of healthcare is happening daily for the benefit of patients North and South. However, as all of these benefits are in areas of EU competence, it may be impossible for them to continue, especially as their operation is subject to decisions of the ECJ [European Court of Justice], which is a red-line issue for the UK after Brexit. Probably, the most significant by-product of the Good Friday Agreement, and one of great practical benefit to citizens, is the end of the physical border on the island of Ireland. Every day thousands of people freely cross the border. And, of course, there is also free movement of goods and services between both parts of  Ireland. Right now we do not know what the final outcome of the Brexit negotiations is going to be. However, the so-called hard Brexit, where either the UK crashes out of the EU or chooses by agreement to leave the Customs Union and membership of the Single Market, would cause the most damage. Such a situation would result in 139

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts the reintroduction of the border and a boundary between the EU and the UK. If the UK were outside the Customs Union, it would also create a customs border manned by customs officers, thereby causing obvious risk of terrorism. A heavy onus rests with the UK Government to seek solutions for the separation of the UK from the EU which are consistent with its obligations to the people of Ireland under the Good Friday Agreement. All parties, including the EU 27, have a duty towards the Irish people living on the island to make sure that this achievement of peace is not placed in jeopardy. The EU was set up for the purpose of ending wars in Europe and to unite the countries of Europe in order to secure lasting peace. It follows that the EU has a strategic interest in safeguarding the Northern Ireland peace process. Just as more is expected from the UK, by fully taking into account its role in the peace process, the EU must play its part and be prepared to be flexible in seeking workable solutions for all concerned. Northern Ireland has a unique constitutional status within the EU. By the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, the UK confirmed it would transfer its sovereignty over Northern Ireland to Ireland, subject to the consent of the people of Northern Ireland. In addition, because of the existence of the North–South institutions, Northern Ireland currently has some of the characteristics of a confederation in its political relationships. These factors provide compelling reasons for the EU to engage with all parties in the creation of innovative legislative mechanisms, thus acknowledging the unique constitutional status of Northern Ireland, not replicated in any other member state or region of the EU, while at the same time ensuring the protection of the EU legal order. Such an imaginative approach could be considered as an alternative, should the UK persist in leaving the Customs Union as part of its Brexit plans. The 2017 general election has led to a situation where the DUP has been able to lever concessions from the British Conservative Government in order to hold a bare majority. What does this say about expected fairness and neutrality with regard to how both British and Irish Governments deal with the political parties in Northern Ireland? Is this not a problem for the Good Friday Agreement? The operation of the Good Friday Agreement is unlikely to be affected by this particular outcome of the 2017 general election. However, there is one function where the Northern Ireland Secretary is required to exercise his or her discretion. He or she has the power to trigger the procedures for the holding of a poll to determine whether the majority of the people of Northern Ireland consent to Northern Ireland becoming part of a united Ireland. In theory, he or she could be lobbied against initiating this procedure when it was appropriate to do so. However, in practice such an 140

David Byrne event is unlikely to occur within the time-scale of the current arrangement between the DUP and the British Government. In addition, the British Government has pledged that in such an event the Secretary of State would not act politically, because he or she is required to act in a judicial manner, as this is a quasi-judicial function.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

What future difficulty do you see for the peace process, given Brexit and the British Government’s deal with the DUP? Although a majority of voters in the referendum favoured Northern Ireland remaining a member of the EU, the DUP favoured an exit. This was more an expression of its attachment to the Union with Britain than a wish to detach from the European Union. However, many DUP supporters are farmers, and for that reason will want Britain to remain within the Customs Union and a member of the Single Market. They will want the status of the border to remain exactly as it is today. The imposition of a hard border, with the application of tariffs, would make cross-border trade in food and other agricultural products impossible to achieve. For the Northern Ireland farmer, the road to Brussels leads through Dublin, not London. I discovered this reality during the height of the BSE crisis in 2000. At that time the export of beef from the UK, including Northern Ireland, to the rest of the EU was severely restricted. Such restrictions did not affect Ireland. As the EU Commissioner responsible, I was approached by Ian Paisley, then leader of the DUP and First Minister of Northern Ireland, with a request that the EU should treat exports of beef from the North in the same manner as exports from the South. It proved impossible to do this at the time. However, in the context of Brexit, the EU may be willing to review this. So, rather than creating difficulties in the future, the political arrangement between the DUP and the British Government may provide leverage for the DUP to encourage the UK to remain within the Customs Union. This solution would certainly advantage the farming community in Northern Ireland, as it would preserve the invisible border and allow tariff-free trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the EU to continue. Maybe, in time, the British people may reach the conclusion that the claimed advantage of Britain being free to negotiate their own free trade agreements with third countries, when not a member of the Customs Union, is an illusion driven more by emotion than economic trading considerations. After all, at present the UK, as an EU member state and, as such, a member of the EU Customs Union, is free to trade with other regions of the world that have a free trade agreement with the EU. That situation would continue if the UK remains within the Customs Union, even though it ends its membership of the EU.

141

6

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Putting arms beyond use: an interview with Tim Dalton

Graham Spencer: Can you provide some background on your early role with the peace process? Tim Dalton: My earliest involvement, not so much with the peace process, but with people who later became important in advancing the process, was when I was Head of Prisons in the Department of Justice from 1989 to 1991. What I became more familiar with during that period was the whole approach of those who were involved in republican paramilitary activity. I met some of those who were imprisoned and began to develop a better understanding of the way they think. Most Irish people over a certain age, of course, have some innate understanding of republican thinking because Irish history – especially as taught by some of our teachers  – tended to result in our having anti-British sentiment embedded somewhere in our DNA. This understanding, by the way, is not to be ­confused – as I think British  authorities sometimes tended to do – with support for the ­violence campaign  we saw in the  final decades of the twentieth century. I began to have a much closer contact with the peace process when I was assigned to the Anglo-Irish Secretariat in Belfast in 1991, on secondment to the Department of Foreign Affairs from the Department of Justice. There was a justice and security side to the Secretariat’s role and I was the senior justice representative there. I returned to the Department of  Justice in  1993 as Secretary General  and, from that time onwards, I  was part  of  the  senior-level Civil Service team on the Irish side who engaged in the  bulk of the background negotiations that supported the political process. When you first met republicans in 1990 do you remember where it was and what was discussed?

142

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Tim Dalton Well, I didn’t meet them at that time to have discussions about the peace ­process. I would have met with various republican representatives to discuss problems that were arising in the prisons. I cannot now remember what all these conversations were about, though I do remember, on one occasion, at the behest of Father Alec Reid, meeting with representatives of the Irish Republican Socialist Party about issues arising in Portlaoise Prison, where republican prisoners of various shades were held. At that time two of my justice colleagues, Ken O Leary and the late Frank Dunne, with myself, met four people including the person who, according to intelligence, was the then leader of the Irish National Liberation Army. The meeting took place in the Department of Justice. On our side we were interested not just in resolving the issue they came to discuss with us but in the possibility of opening a wider conversation with them about the INLA campaign – where they thought it was going etc. That conversation never developed because, unfortunately, two of the people we met, including the alleged leader, were shot dead in the course of what may have been an internal disagreement, though, as far as I know, that has never been established. To be honest, I’m not sure that our conversations, had they progressed, would have yielded any fruit. It was highly unlikely that they would because the INLA were some distance from being peace oriented at that time. I cannot recall when I first met with Sinn Fein representatives as part of the Irish Civil Service team, but it was probably some time between 1993 and 1994. I don’t know what they would have made of my presence but I suppose I was seen as another specimen from the much-maligned ‘securocrat’ stable. Presentations from our side at that time were more guarded than they subsequently became because the IRA campaign was ongoing and ministers were naturally concerned about IRA–Sinn Fein sincerity when they said they wanted peace. On top of all this, it was clear from discussions with British politicians that there was a view, at least amongst some on the British side, that the Irish State were, in general, pro-republican, ‘soft’ on terrorism, and, so, that we would be too soft when it came to engagement with Sinn Fein. We didn’t, of course, buy into this assessment; hundreds of republican activists were jailed in Ireland and judges were applying the law, so the IRA couldn’t exactly be described as admirers of the Irish State. Nevertheless, the combined effect of the various considerations I’ve mentioned was to produce a very cautious approach at official level in the early stages. What was clear, however, was that there was no possibility of resolving the conflict unless we talked to Sinn Fein, tried to get a clearer understanding of their demands and generally tried to find out what kind of people they were. I think many people involved in industrial relations negotiations would agree that you only begin to develop trust when you sit down, look somebody in the eye and generally, as the saying goes, try to loosen up a bit. Over time, I think I developed a fairly good level of trust with 143

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts them and I also felt that in my own case the ‘securocrat’ background was often more of a help than a hindrance because I was in a position to quickly facilitate things that were at times needed, such as temporary release of prisoners whose presence at certain meetings was considered valuable by pro-peace Sinn Fein representatives. It was useful too, I think, because, being in constant contact with the Gardai, I had access to up-to-date intelligence, which made it possible to set the reality of what was happening on the ground against the encouraging picture of republican intentions emerging at the table. In those general discussions were you surprised by what republicans were saying? No, because it was clear by then that a greater number of people within republicanism knew that things they would have demanded five or six years earlier were not going to be delivered by Governments and sometimes, indeed, were not in the gift of Governments, such as delivery of a united Ireland without the consent of a majority in Northern Ireland. It was not surprising to find that conversation was less about a united Ireland and the IRA campaign and more around equality and ‘parity of esteem’ in Northern Ireland. That did not mean of course that the united Ireland ideal had been shelved. That ideal had to be kept very much alive as an attainable goal, but one that would be delivered over a longer time-frame. How do you think they got away with demanding a date for withdrawal and over time dropping it, while still keeping the IRA in the picture? I think a lot of hard work, a lot of persuasion and the fact that a core group of key figures came on side with the idea of looking for a peaceful way forward. I think there was also an element of war weariness and a realisation that the killings could go on and on without removing the British presence, but leaving a very broken society behind for the children of Northern Ireland. The shift in thinking didn’t all happen in the 1990s. People like Martin Mansergh and others had been in contact with republican representatives well before that. Did you see them trying to hold ground as long as possible, because in terms of the time it took, it was a very long time? I think that what they were doing was trying to be absolutely sure that the vast majority of the more extreme elements were on side. There would have been no point in a few of them coming across and doing a peace deal. What exactly happened inside, 144

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Tim Dalton and what persuasion techniques were employed, I don’t know, but, at the negotiating table, there was a constant search for concessions that could be brought back to supporters to show that discussion was capable of producing tangible results. The  demand for removal of British Army ‘furniture’ – the term used to describe watchtowers – is a good example of this. Removal would provide a very tangible, very visible demonstration of the value of negotiations not just to activists, but to republicans generally. The British side were, not surprisingly, in circumstances where the  security forces were constantly under deadly attack, extremely reluctant to take this course because the watchtowers had a protective value. I remember being at meetings where it was very clear that the British negotiators didn’t have the blessing of security people for dismantling the furniture. The late Martin McGuinness was very persuasive on this and I felt that he, in particular, persuaded Tony Blair that demilitarisation was a must if republicans were to be convinced that talks had a real value. On the morality of this organisation most say that these guys were of their word and when they said they were going to do something they did it. They did what they said they would do, but you had to listen to and read, very carefully, the words they used if you wanted to know what exactly was being promised. They obviously were not up to playing games then? I don’t think they were game playing when giving the basic message that they were up for a negotiated settlement. But they needed to buy time, and I suppose language manipulation, accompanied by the regular search for ‘clarification’, was a form of game playing that succeeded in buying them that time. They knew, of course, that there wouldn’t be much point in game playing by, for example, trying to give Governments a misleading account of the attitude within republicanism to the process we were engaged upon, because they knew that the security services – the Garda Siochana on our side – had a pretty good handle on what was happening on the ground. They were like what one would regard as good trades union leaders, in the sense that if they did a deal at the table it tended to stick. If there was hesitation you knew that was because they had to go back and consult with others before they could sign off. The people at the table – even though we were advised by the security people that some of them were in the Army Council – didn’t always have the authority to make major decisions without consulting others, who never appeared at the table. 145

Inside Accounts Did they say we can’t give you anything on that without going away and consulting? They would say we will take it away and engage with ‘people of substance’ – that was a term used.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Were they laying the ground before they met Bertie Ahern or Tony Blair? Yes, and always trying to work out what was the least that was required by the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister to strike a deal. Our task, as officials, was to come up with ideas, to try to find imaginative ways forward. We engaged in many meetings with them, often in the company of our British counterparts, at all hours of the day and night and in all sorts of places, including, on one occasion, for example, in a GAA [Gaelic Athletic Association] clubhouse in Belfast. We were trying to find out, for the purpose of briefing political leaders, how far they might be prepared to go and whether there were areas in which Taioseach–Prime Minister persuasion might secure more than they would give to officials. There is nothing surprising in this. It made sense for them to hold back on some matters, with officials, in the hope that, by giving something at a meeting with Blair and Ahern, they themselves might secure something that was not in the gift of officials. But they must have been trying to get out of you what you thought Bertie Ahern might be able to live with. How did they do that? Well there was a sort of what, I suppose, could be described as a softening up process. That is, saying that the Irish Government was doing nothing for them and was letting down the republican community. The British Government, of course, were worse, but at least they had the excuse of being the real enemy and never pretending to be otherwise. We would then explain what was impeding progress from an Irish Government perspective, and if perhaps they, or the IRA, could say something more positive than had been said to date it might enable the Taoiseach to go further. The acceptable line-up, as they saw it, was Sinn Fein supported by the Irish Government on one side and unionists supported by the British Government on the other. That’s not exactly how the teams lined out, however. Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern met with both Sinn Fein and unionist representatives on an ongoing basis, and while I wasn’t a fly on the wall at all meetings, I attended many and had the impression that they were balanced and pragmatic in their dealings with both sides. What do you mean by pragmatic in this context? 146

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Tim Dalton Practical. They wouldn’t encourage a line of thinking or create expectations when they were dealing with one side if they thought it had little prospect of acceptance on the other. That is not to say, by the way, that they were not open to novel ­proposals. They were once they felt it might help to solve one of the many problems that needed to be solved. I, for example, had the notion, at one stage, that we might get somewhere with decommissioning if we had some sort of act of reconciliation, where the paramilitaries on both sides would make arms available to be smelted down and built into a peace monument. For symbolic reasons, and in order to make it all more acceptable to the paramilitaries, I felt that security forces on both sides should also contribute to the monument. Did you put that to them? Yes, and the notion wasn’t immediately rejected, though some, at official level, argued that it appeared to create equivalence between lawfully held security force weaponry and illegally held paramilitary weapons, which would send a wrong signal. Did you talk about what kind of monument? I would have suggested that some modern artist be engaged. I cannot recall now exactly why I suggested this, but, as somebody who finds some modern art rather baffling, probably what I had in mind was that whatever was created should be open to a range of interpretations, would not give rise to offence, and that finding a peace message within it would require effort and imagination, which is what was required of all of us at the time. When you think about it that sounds a constructive idea, so why was it dropped? It would have been a way to do decommissioning or get it started. I think it withered on the vine not just because of the ‘equivalence’ point but because the paramilitaries were not showing convincing signs that decommissioning was high on their agendas at that time. To what extent did clarification through the process rely on what the Governments were saying rather than what the republicans were saying to themselves? How did they use what you were saying in relation to their own internal conversations?

147

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

They bounced ideas off us, some of which had probably come up in the course of their internal conversations. They would say do you think this or that would work, and if we thought there wasn’t enough in the proposition to attract Government support we would say so. We gave them honest assessments because there was no point in bringing proposals back to Governments which, on the basis of our own knowledge and experience, wouldn’t be acceptable, or which we couldn’t advise ministers to run with. Did you think there was a lack of generosity created by this organisation, or did you think it was their psychology to give as little as possible? I think that frugal offerings were deep in their psychology. I think they would have said that any offerings we make to the Irish side will reach the Brits, so give as little as possible. They owe us, we don’t owe them anything. How did the republican psychology vary? What was the range and scope within the movement? We met with a relatively small number of republicans, so it’s difficult to be definitive about the range of thinking and psychology across the movement as a whole. I certainly wouldn’t use the word ‘psychopathic’ – a word that has been used – to describe those we met. At one stage in their lives, many of them would have understood and sympathised with the notions of martyrdom and killing and that these were justified in pursuit of the goal of a united Ireland. But by the time we met with them the thinking had moved on. I didn’t see the people we met with as people who were still minded to go out and kill for the cause. I felt they understood, as well as any of us did, that Northern Ireland was in a very bad and very dangerous state and that they had to assist in finding an accommodation, but not at any price. They had to drive a hard bargain and could not forget the sacrifices of republican figures who had gone before them. Now, however, they had to find a defensible way forward, rather than remain locked indefinitely in violent conflict. Was that the key problem you were dealing with? Yes, and it required movement on our part and theirs. The core issue for us, certainly those of us who were looking at the security side of things, was what were the IRA going to do next and what might make them turn away from violence. I spent a lot of time thinking about this and talking both to republicans and security people about 148

Tim Dalton

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

it. Along with justice colleagues I also dealt with them on prisoner issues and, with Foreign Affairs, on policing. With regard to policing, I felt they had more advanced ambitions than were realisable. I remember saying to Adams, at one stage, that republicans were not going to get a policing outcome where the British security service walk off the pitch. They understood they would have to tolerate a situation where the British security service was not going away any time soon, though change in other aspects of policing was certainly realisable. Is the republican psychology a homogenised psychology, or is it actually more diverse than people sometimes think? Was it a predictable or an unpredictable psychology? Sometimes predictable, sometimes not. Some of the activities they engaged in, like Canary Wharf, were things that none of us expected to happen. We tried to ask ourselves, when coming up with ideas, how a republican might look at this or that. How could the leadership sell this proposition? Despite our ongoing attempts to understand their mind-sets, they came back to us time and again saying this won’t run or that it ‘won’t fly’. We were not always told why and had to work it out for ourselves. That said, those of us who were working with them, when looking at a proposition, could, more often than not, advise Government leaders straight away that we did not think this or that was going to work. Very often our assessments in this regard were right. On the point that you had to work it out for yourself, that they wouldn’t offer an explanation as to why it would not fly, was that partly because they wouldn’t have to face accusations that they had given you something? Well, usually, of course, we were given explanations. When explanations were not forthcoming there was probably, at least on some occasions, an element of gamesmanship involved. Sometimes it was more tactical from their point of view, to say it won’t work rather than go on to say it won’t work because of A, B and C. That approach gave them time they needed. There were times, too, when I think they just wanted us to do more homework and hopefully come up with a better offer. Sometimes I felt we were having lengthy conversations not so much because of the substance but so that they could get a few more days to go back and forth to their own people. If something needed approval at another level within the organisation they were not going to go ahead without it. Negotiations would have become pointless if they found themselves cut adrift by the IRA. They needed to be sure that they had extracted the best offer available from both Governments before they engaged 149

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

in internal talks. Going back to their reluctance at times to offer detailed explanations, I remember on one occasion meeting with Sinn Fein representatives in Newry, where Martin Mansergh, Paddy Teahon, the late Dermot Gallagher and myself were handed back a text which had been given to them earlier. The text was covered in blue biro marks signalling failure on our part, but with little in the way of explanation from the examiner as to why we had failed another exam. Was there ever a time when you thought you were making headway and then it stopped for reasons not made clear to you, even having worked with them for years? Well, as I said, they weren’t always predictable. I remember one occasion in Hillsborough Castle when they left in the evening and we thought their intention was to try to get IRA agreement on something which would, for us, have represented valuable progress. Unfortunately, I cannot now recall exactly what the issue was. We were taken aback on that occasion when they returned in the morning with a ‘no’. Our understanding was that they had been in consultation with others in the IRA leadership and, as I’ve said, came back with a disappointing verdict. I also recall one Sunday where we spent the day in Bertie Ahern’s constituency office waiting for what we hoped would be good news from Gerry and Martin, who had again gone off to consult. Jonathan Powell was there and, like the rest of us, was hopeful early in the day. It was a draft of something we were hoping might be agreed by the IRA. We waited on and on and even crossed the road once or twice to Bertie’s local and eventually our two visitors arrived late in the evening without agreement. Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair were angry with what happened on that occasion and some of us felt at the time that it could lead to a serious rift, or at least set the negotiations and relations generally back much further than they had been on that Sunday morning. Did they explain why? I have to confess that I don’t recall much beyond confirmation that what we sought wouldn’t ‘fly’ with the IRA. On such occasions we would be told that more was required from Governments, but not extensive enlightenment as to why the text produced was undeliverable. It could be about something that somebody outside the process would find difficult to understand, possibly the use of a word like ‘completely’ or ‘forever’. Many such words had to be battled for and were never a given. What is interesting from that is how Adams and McGuinness were slightly ahead of the Army Council and how discussion was conducted. 150

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Tim Dalton I think there were times when they were probably ahead of some in the IRA leadership. I don’t know the extent to which they were ahead of someone like Brian Keenan. I always felt that his position in the race was extremely important. We never formally met with him but there was always a feeling from my conversations with the Gardai and others that he was a very influential figure. There were obviously others apart from him, and I suspect that Adams and McGuinness sometimes got a ‘no’ when they might have expected a ‘yes’. Sometimes they also left us for consultations, basically I suspect for the sake of appearance, in the knowledge that they were not going to get a ‘yes’. I think that, as senior republicans, long in the inner circle, they knew far more often than not whether something we proposed was a runner. But I also felt they weren’t always certain of the answer and may have gone to consult with some degree of hope. Did Sinn Fein write everything down? In the larger gatherings one of the team would write constantly. Sean O hUiginn used to say that they were drafting his letter of dismissal from the Civil Service. Sometimes I would take what might be called slightly adventurous positions, saying things like ‘I know this is a pain in the arse for you, but this is what the Government thinks you need to do, so can you do something to help us? I think we may be able to persuade the Government to move to a better position if you could do this for us.’ A minister seeing something like that in text would probably ask me to consider my position. We would get, especially in the early stages, fairly strong instructions about what to discuss and what to avoid, but, to be honest, we took liberties and would sometimes go further. There was, in other words, a certain amount of free-flowing conversation like that and I would have come up with lines from time to time that might well have had me out on my ear had they come to light. Did it worry you when they were writing everything down? I felt that their documents were more secure than Government documents and, of course, Freedom of Information legislation didn’t apply. Secrecy and c­ onfidentiality came as second nature to them. I recall being picked up on one occasion and taken to a house somewhere in West Belfast by a tough-looking individual who just drove and didn’t talk on the way. I remember describing this man to the Garda Commissioner a few days later, who told me that he was sure it was so and so, that the man concerned would not be inclined to converse with someone he didn’t know and that I was safer with him in that part of Belfast than I would be with the police. Again, on the issue 151

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

of secrecy, I remember on one occasion talking to the late Martin McGuinness on a confidential basis about some idea that might be worth exploring and then, at a later meeting with other republicans, referring to ‘that thing we were talking about Martin’. He glared at me as though I had two heads. They were very strict about ensuring that what was said in private stayed private. They could have given lessons to officials on the subject of confidentiality. Did they confide in you about something you didn’t know about? Well, nothing that would be useful operationally. What about a ‘we will fail if this happens, and so we’re letting you know’ kind of tone? They often said, not just to me but to others, that if A or B were insisted upon by the Governments, it will not be deliverable. What about ‘there will be a statement next week, and we’re telling you in advance’ type of statements? No, because they would work on the basis that, had they done so, one would, as a civil servant, probably feel obliged to inform ministers, which in their assessment, I presume, would amount to revealing the content of an IRA statement before the IRA issued it. As I said, we would of course have indicated to them that it would be very helpful if we got this or that commitment in an IRA statement. It wasn’t obviously a question of our insisting on drafting such a statement because there was no way the IRA, at the time, would run with something like that. But we had a certain number of ideas or concepts that we wanted to see emerging from the IRA. Sometimes they would tell us that we would not get what we were asking for, but might present something else and ask what we thought of it. So, invariably, they would never quite give you what you wanted, in order to chisel a little more out? Well you would always be left with a further task, your homework. As I said earlier, there was a certain amount of game playing, which often had to do with having to buy more time. But the way I looked at this was that we have left an idea on the table that we would have another day to go a bit further on and maybe, with a push, we will eventually get there. So it was about patience and then more patience. I think 152

Tim Dalton language became more generously traded towards the end, but the conflict was definitively over by then. Words like ‘standing down’ were not in the vocabulary in my time. That came later.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Did they like direct speaking, or did they prefer a conversational approach to suss out potential meanings? I think the latter mostly, but it would depend on what one was saying. If they didn’t like the message at all, it didn’t matter how it was delivered, you would be told quickly that it was out. But, if a message carried any prospect of achieving progress, they preferred a conversational approach. That is an Irish sort of thing anyway – going around in carefully chosen circles and getting to the point by an indirect route. One British official said to me that the difference between Irish and British officials was that British officials tried to go from A to B in a straight line but, with us, you were taken through the tourist trail before finding out that you weren’t necessarily taken to point B, where you thought you were going. Is there an important distinction to be made here about the oral culture in the Irish political system, compared to the British system preoccupied with risk analysis, detailed measurement etc.? How crucial was the conversational approach for the Irish? Essential, in my view, because in the conversational approach you can leave more room for a little ambiguity, which was necessary if we were going to give Sinn Fein negotiators something they could bring back and discuss further with their supporters. Something too cut and dried, especially if insisted upon too early in the process, could lead to stalemate. In the case of Sinn Fein, I feel it could have dried up internal discussion earlier than was ideal. The conversational approach had another value. It allowed for more free-flowing engagement between Government and Sinn Fein negotiators, more time and a better opportunity to find out what was really going on in people’s minds. Above all, it provided a better opportunity to assess whether there was, at the deepest levels, an unambiguous determination to bring violence to an end. Much of it, to my mind, was like playing poker. It’s not about hearing what is being presented by another player, or what sign is he giving, but trying to work out what cards are in his hands and how is he going to use them. What is he saying to me and what is he hiding from me. So it is important to listen closely? 153

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Absolutely. I did a share of trades union negotiations over the years, and with challenging groups like the Prison Officers Associations and the Garda Associations. One of the things I learned from that is that, for much of the time, you should just listen, and listen carefully. I don’t know how many times I left meetings with colleagues who were all listening to the same words, but still somehow heard different messages, or didn’t hear the music between the sentences. One official described this as ‘forensic listening’, noticing what they didn’t say in comparison with what they said before, how the gaps, subtle shifts and not emphasising a point as before were all important. Yes, listening carefully to the spoken words as distinct from relying totally on written words was critical. As was remembering when points were emphasised, what points came first and what came later, what was the body language like and did anybody on their side of the table look doubtful. In this context, one of the things that was, I think, interesting were the occasions when we were told, when considering some text, that there were forty or fifty issues here that were creating a problem; that we had created a text which was a complete mess. But then learning – very often when we got into a smaller grouping – that, in fact, we were dealing  with only two or three issues of major significance in terms of moving the process forward. At the more heavily attended meetings it was essential for the principals to present the whole case, for example, about issues in relation to the Irish language, equality, broadcasting etc. They obviously couldn’t be seen with their full team present to leave out issues which perhaps members of the team were spending time on. They were not misleading other team members, either, because all of the issues needed to be addressed, or the deal makers or breakers were much smaller in  number. Adams and McGuinness were leaders of a fairly large team and they had to make it clear to the Governments, in the presence of the team, that everything needed to be addressed. But, of course, they also knew that in that situation, where a comprehensive deal was in prospect, some matters could be addressed more easily than others. What I might call ‘core issues’ were left over for discussion with smaller groupings of officials, or for discussion with Ahern and Blair. Again, none of this is terribly surprising. In industrial relations discussions, issues which may look to be incapable of resolution when the negotiating room is full of people can be cracked by a smaller number of participants gathered later in a corridor, or elsewhere. So the smaller the team was, the more serious the negotiations became. 154

Tim Dalton More serious in the sense that you were dealing with the issues that were most difficult to crack; issues that would be less likely to be resolved at a wider gathering.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Was bringing in a big republican team also demonstrating their credibility more widely across the movement, in contrast to just sending in two or three people? They seemed to have a range of people to draw on. Yes, it was, I believe, to demonstrate that they were dealing with all the issues, because different things were more or less important to different people and, besides, the people in question were fully on top of those issues and better placed to handle detail than were the lead negotiators. How did they write a text in comparison to the way you wrote a text? Were they more terse, or ambiguous, was it all about their tradition, or was it symmetrical with your text? In practice it was civil servants on both sides, in consultation with one another and, of course, with political leaders, who produced most of the texts. Sinn Fein negotiators would then come back and say we can’t have this or would prefer that, etc. but they were never in the business of creating lengthy texts and letting the Government go to work on those texts. Apart from that, the Governments wanted to maintain, as best they could, control of text development, and that was best achieved by having the original material prepared by their own civil servants. Some civil servants were talented word-smiths. Sean O hUiginn and Quentin Thomas on the British side, for example, were first-class draftsmen, but they were not the only ones. What does that mean, to be a first-class draftsman? What are you measuring that by? I would consider a text to be first class if it addresses all of the issues, uses language that avoids allergic reactions on all sides, contains enough to capture what seems to be agreed and enough to ensure that everybody will be drawn back to the table to engage on matters on which agreement has yet to be reached. So for you it’s a tonal thing? For me, the right tone means that, as I say, substance is delivered that avoids offence, avoids rupture, is likely to win a significant measure of agreement all around and is sufficient to keep the show on the road. It’s like in conversation telling somebody that 155

Inside Accounts you disagree with him or that you don’t quite see it that way, as distinct from telling him that he is stupid. It’s language that is acceptable, that is non-threatening, gets the message across and ensures that parties will continue to talk.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Did you ever pick up words and think this expression or word is useful, we will put that in a text? Yes, if Sinn Fein asked us exactly what the Governments would like to hear from the IRA I would sometimes find myself drafting statements in which I would include republican language, as used earlier at the table by Sinn Fein representatives, or used by the IRA in the past. In the draft, of course, it was necessary to include whatever central concept the Governments wished to have embedded in an IRA statement at that time. Gerry Adams used to joke about Civil Service language. This related to Sean O hUiginn, in particular. Sean, in conversation, uses words at times that are not in everyday use by others. Sometimes Gerry, on hearing one of these words, would comment that this was his ‘word for the day’ and proceed to note it. Subtext in itself is very interesting. How would republicans tend to use that? In a variety of ways. For example, by not reacting adversely to a sentence that you might expect would draw an adverse reaction. A lot of this is psychological, an exercise in guesswork. Why didn’t they attack when we said this or that? It can be by nonresponse to something said, just as it can be by response. It’s very difficult, at times, to work out what’s happening. But, sometimes, the fact that a word or a concept wasn’t immediately jettisoned would generate optimism that there was something in their minds, not necessarily articulated, which might warrant further exploration, might take us a step forward. When you met to discuss words and meaning were they invariably more comfortable with ambiguity, or did they want more clarity at least from others, if not giving it ­themselves? Was it more about what you can give us than what we can give you? Yes, and that’s a fairly normal negotiating approach. They would try to squeeze the last out of language to get what they wanted and get it unambiguously, but, when it came to giving on their side, they needed documents that they could take to their supporters and so credibly say this is what it means and this provides a basis for further engagement – even if a casual reader could credibly interpret the same text in a different way. If supporters sought further clarity, which was often the case, they 156

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Tim Dalton could come back for that. It meant that the negotiation process was kept alive, texts were further adjusted and, gradually, language emerged that was as close as was possible to fitting the bill for everybody. Nothing is perfect in this life. What mattered was that there was enough in the text to make all sides confident that a deal could be done. That general approach to the creation of texts, i.e. getting there by a series of approximations, tended to create problems for unionist negotiators. They wanted precise language and, I suppose, were generally wary about what I call the ‘series of approximations’ approach. I could be wrong on this, but I felt the latter approach was more likely to keep republican negotiators at the table because the constant reality in the background was that they were trying to bring supporters behind them bit by bit and needed complex word play to assist them in doing that. One might assume that when they were reading these texts they would think about how the Irish would understand this and how the British and unionists might understand that. So they were thinking about these potential audiences in relation to this language. They had to think not only of British and unionist perspectives but, as I said, how their own supporters would see the different texts. It was, for all of us, a matter of trying to find language that everybody could sign up to. The language had to become less fluid as the deal got firmer. Words that are too vague, but helped to get us through at an earlier stage, tend to be deleted or replaced at that stage. When that starts to happen you know that the document being worked on is getting nearer to something that everyone can live with. The Good Friday Agreement itself is a good example of that. In the hours before the Agreement was signed matters had got to the point where, for most participants, the text was more or less right. The concepts looked right, the mood of the participants seemed right. If everybody started to go over bits and pieces of text again at that stage to sort out points of detail they may not have focussed on earlier, there was every prospect that the deal would be lost, because it is likely that all participants, the Governments as well as the parties, could have found pieces that were difficult for them to swallow. At that point the leadership of Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair was essential. They had to pull the deal over the line rather than allow matters to drift on, and that is what they did. Did you get the impression of what Sinn Fein wanted by the kind of person they sent in? Well Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness themselves took the lead at all important meetings, but some of us saw significance in the fact that certain people accompanied them. Someone like Leo Green, for example, I would have seen as more hard line, 157

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts but none the less welcome for that. Gerry Kelly was present very often and was not an easy person to work out. In a one-to-one conversation he was good humoured, but at meetings I got the impression that he was keeping a watching brief, and, again, it is not unusual in any negotiating process to assign that role to a member of the team. The attendance of someone like Barbara De Bruin meant that we were in for a tough time when it came to discussing detailed matters like policing legislation, or equality issues. I took the attendance of senior figures like Pat Doherty and Martin Ferris to have significance also – in fact I tended to look upon their presence, rightly or wrongly, as a sign that deal-making was in sight. At what point in a process like this do you say ‘no’ because things are going too slowly? You mean did they delay the process? Yes. I always felt, and I may be wrong on this, that, as I’ve said before, the reason for delaying the process was because they had not settled the IRA generally. They had not convinced the great bulk of activists that the time was right for the kind of deal that was emerging. I didn’t believe, for example, that delay was being favoured to suit some people in the IRA who wished to continue lucrative criminal activities for a further period, or add to the ‘retirement’ funds for activists. You would think that the logic of drawing it out was to give the IRA the impression that they were serious negotiators, because if they had compromised too quickly what kind of message would that have sent out. So they had to be seen to resist pretty much ­everything to make it look as if they were controlling it. Is that a fair analysis? Yes and no. I don’t think that they were trying to mislead the IRA by pretending to be working hard for the right deal if in fact they weren’t. That course would carry considerable risk. An early compromise would, I suppose, raise suspicion in IRA minds because there would always be the feeling that a more prolonged engagement would have produced a better result. I think they would have been mindful, also, that the IRA was not something static that would never undergo a change in outlook. Senior players were getting older, and age brings a certain amount of common sense with it. If you are twenty-five and in possession of a Kalashnikov you may have one view of life, but if you are forty-five and have a few children your views might be different, so time itself helps to bring people along. I think it would be interesting to know more 158

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Tim Dalton about the thinking of someone like Brian Keenan, because I had the impression that people like him were particularly important when it came to persuading the activist elements. He was getting older, and so were people like Martin Ferris and Pat Doherty. They knew what the years of conflict had achieved and not achieved and, I presume, could see the sense in calling some kind of draw, rather than see more young republicans – the next generation – continue to engage in a campaign that would see more and more loss of life, with no convincing evidence that it would produce a united Ireland. Were you able to predict how things were going to work out even if they took a lot longer than you would have liked? Did you get a ‘feel’ for these people, and were you ever wrong-footed by them? As I said earlier, you could never predict with confidence exactly what the IRA might do next. Had their plans been predictable they would have been stopped. We were, to put it mildly, very surprised, shocked in fact, by some things that happened, as I mentioned, like Canary Wharf. I remember at meetings sometimes being asked how I thought Sinn Fein might react to certain proposals and giving assessments on the basis of what can best be described as gut instinct, which was based on a mixture of half-conversations with republicans, pieces of intelligence I had received and listening to people in my childhood who were of republican outlook. Not a very scientific basis for making assessments and possibly quite mistaken at times. But, as we know, determined paramilitary groupings sometimes get by the best assessment mechanisms and get behind the most sophisticated defensive barriers, so gut instinct can be as good a guide as any other. Did you think they were trying to annoy you, or get you react, to reveal what you felt or thought? I don’t think that anybody set out to annoy me personally. In fact, I found all of them to be courteous in our dealings, apart from one occasion when a comment was made and I had to point out to the person who made it that I was a Government official and not a Sinn Fein employee. The Sinn Fein team leaders took the point, and, while I can’t be sure that the exchange had impact, the person whose intervention caused me to say what I said didn’t appear at our meetings again. I think they may have trusted me to an extent. Maybe that assessment is quite wrong on my part and it was simply that they saw me as a soft touch. I believe that if you want to do business with somebody you have to be prepared to go some distance with them, though not obviously 159

Inside Accounts to the point where you are working on blind trust. But it was necessary to take some risks, and they may have appreciated that.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

If you look back at those moments, when they couldn’t get what you thought they were going to bring back, would you say that was generally because they under-estimated what the others were going to say, or was it tactical? That is, when the Irish and the British want something it might be more in our interest not to give it. I think there was a bit of both. Sometimes it was tactical in the sense that they were genuinely a little ahead of some of their supporters, knew that they didn’t have a saleable proposition to offer key supporters, but thought that by walking away and delaying things they might get something tomorrow that was not available today. One thing they were determined not to do was to end up ahead of their supporters. They could not do that. They could not risk splitting the organisation, and this was something that neither of the Governments would have wanted either. A deal which brought the whole movement on the side of peace was obviously infinitely more valuable than one which left a significant group still capable of pursuing the violence campaign. Was that why they never said yes to anything there and then? Would they always go away? They did say yes to some things but not, at least in my recollection, to any major proposition. They would go back and consult if something of real substance was on the table. Could you pick things up by the way they were looking at you? Yes, and I suppose this is true of any person with whom you engage in negotiations. A lot depended too on the circumstances. If it was a formal negotiation with Adams, McGuinness and other members of the team present, you listened to what was being said rather than tried to pick up on body language. But I met Gerry Adams from time to time on a one-to-one basis and also met with Martin McGuinness, and those conversations were much more free flowing and allowed possibilities to be more easily explored. Body language was important, as it is usually, in individual conversations or conversations amongst smaller groups. Adams seemed to focus a fair bit on what might broadly be called ‘structural issues’ – the future shape of political institutions and so on. McGuinness, while also focussed on these matters, always seemed to be very tuned in to how propositions might play out with activists. 160

Tim Dalton

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

When you say Adams was interested in structural issues, do you mean more the mechanics of peace-making or the ideological position? He was, like all of his colleagues, ideological, but very questioning when it came to working out what political deal was on offer. What’s going to come out of this and will it help republicans to secure their place in the sun, politically speaking, in Northern Ireland? What structures would be put in place to ensure that the outcomes being promised would be realised now and into the future? McGuinness, on the other hand, was the person who seemed to know immediately what kind of proposition was likely to find favour with republicans of a more activist mind-set. Just to try to explain what I mean, if you went to republican heartlands and said that we are going to have the D’Hondt electoral system in Northern Ireland, it mightn’t generate a whole lot of interest, but if you said we’re going to get rid of the watchtowers, that would be of much more interest and likely to impress. That is not to suggest that within republican enclaves there was an ignorance of politics, because there certainly wasn’t, but it was more about what was most likely to have impact in their ­community. What, to put it more crudely, would get the Brits out of their face. To what extent did you feel progress was best achieved when it was just you and Adams  or you and Adams and McGuinness? Was there a typical approach to this? Did you have to meet large groups to flesh out the main issues and then proceed to the one-to-one meetings? I don’t want to give the impression that my conversations with them were in any way unique, or carried some special status. Adams might phone to say that he would be in town and could we have a chat. Sometimes Martin McGuinness was there, and, while we would talk about where matters generally seemed to be going, it usually got down to particular issues. I might say to them that what they were saying is happening is not what I’m hearing from security people. It’s easier to say things like that face to face than in a wider forum. Obviously you don’t say ‘Garda X told me Y’, but you could give a sense that there was a problem that needed to be addressed. They would equally talk about instances where people on their side who were important to the peace process needed some flexibility, such as a temporary prison release so that they could use pro-peace persuasive influence. Sometimes they might also ask whether something or other mentioned at a formal meeting meant A or B and how did I think it would work if instead they asked for C or D. I didn’t meet wider groupings on my own. I’m sure that similar meetings took place with individuals on the British side from time to time. When I met with Gerry Adams or Martin McGuinness they would have been 161

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

conversational meetings. I also met with Martin Ferris on a one-to-one basis at times about prisoner issues, and again those engagements were conversational. Sometimes in the case of Adams or McGuinness I would advise against a piece of text, which may have helped to show that I wanted to be helpful. If you say you might not be able to sell this piece of text because of A, B or C, even though it might not be the response they wanted, I think they respect the fact that you gave them an honest opinion. Did they ever say you need to help us out and can you have a word with the British on this? Yes, but more likely ‘Can you have a word with the Irish side and encourage them to think more progressively?’ In the early days, we might have been asked whether we could try to encourage the Irish Government to think more like republicans and be more supportive. We would have said that it wasn’t the role of the Government to be on their side, but, naturally, that we wanted to facilitate progress in any way we could. Clearly, their people had their role and would talk specifically. But did Adams and McGuinness focus more on prisoners, decommissioning and demilitarisation? Everything that was important, not just the issues that you mentioned but the more political issues, went through Adams and McGuinness. Gerry Kelly attended many meetings and sometimes intervened but it was usually Adams and McGuinness. Adams did most of the talking and did the introductory pieces where he would tell the Governments where they were failing, what a mess we were making of it and so  on. At meetings with political representatives, if there were larger groupings, he was the one who would usually deliver the historical piece reminding us, and especially the British, that it was not just now that Governments were failing. McGuinness didn’t tend to do that. He normally listened and then came in with the heavy punches at the right time. I don’t think that I’ve ever met two individuals who, when it came to business, sang so well off the same hymn sheet, though they sang in different ways with different techniques, different styles. Can you identify those techniques? McGuinness usually came across as being very reasonable and would sell a proposal of theirs very reasonably He was more quietly spoken, and if something wasn’t going to work from an IRA perspective he would just tell us that. Adams tended to be more 162

Tim Dalton strident in his presentation. But, of course, they both knew that they needed both approaches. It is common enough for negotiating teams to employ what is sometimes called a ‘hard cop, soft cop’ approach in order to get what they are looking for.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Was Adams more impatient than McGuinness, and did he want to get to places more quickly? No, I wouldn’t say that. They both wanted to get a result and to get it as soon as they thought their supporters could live with it. Adams was what I have described as presidential in style, in that he came across as the voice of authority when representing what would or would not be acceptable to the republican community generally. I always felt that when McGuinness said something wouldn’t be a runner it meant that it wouldn’t pass muster with the IRA and that it would be sensible, therefore, to think of varying the proposal in some way or other. He seemed to have a very good read of what the thinking was amongst activists, whereas Adams would be more widely known, not just domestically but internationally, as the face of republicanism. Having said all that, I go back to what I said earlier, that when it came to the ­negotiating table they both sang off the same hymn sheet. What was your view of Adams and his status at these meetings? He was the leader, and his style was different from that of Martin McGuinness at meetings. He is still, for many people, the public face of republicanism. How does he do that? I don’t know what it is. It is probably his personal history; being seen as the leading republican activist who led the way for other activists by joining John Hume on the path to peace. Is it charisma? It is charisma of a kind. It’s not the Bill Clinton kind of charisma, which seemed to reach people at a personal level, giving the sense that he was the only person whose views were of interest at the time he met them. Martin McGuinness came across in a similar way. There are others, however, who make an impact, become iconic, but where charisma of the kind I’ve just described doesn’t seem to be the explanation. Adams, in my view, was one of these. 163

Inside Accounts Perhaps it’s the mystique of the figure?

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

I don’t know, and haven’t worked it out. John Hume’s contribution to the peace process was of equal importance, but I don’t think that outside of Ireland, the UK and USA his face or contribution would have been as well known as Adams’s. Can you identify a weakness in their abilities in that process? While at one level it was impressive, at another did they overplay or underplay the situation? Sometimes I felt they went too far, in the sense that they were in a position to concede something but just wouldn’t do so in case the Governments were holding some better offer in the locker; which they ought to have known, from what Government leaders were saying, wasn’t the case. Stalling can be a sound tactic in some situations, but in others it just causes frustration. Did they ask you what you thought the British meant in a certain text and use you to offer interpretive direction? They would assume that the two Governments had worked together, which was very often the case, and they would ask what do the Governments mean by this or that? Who put this in there, or where did that language come from? Asking for ‘the ­clarification’ was something of a constant. Were they vigilant to a word turning up which they were not familiar with? They were hawk-eyed about words or concepts turning up out of the blue. On the tendency for them to say they were not the IRA and having to go back to those of substance, did that not become a standing joke? Well, we stayed away from joking with them about it. Amongst ourselves we referred to the men of substance as ‘the men around the tractor’. The idea behind the tractor analogy was that when the engine was running nobody could overhear what was being said, apart from those in the inner circle. We took it that they would assume that the security services would do their best to hear what they were saying among themselves and the noisy tractor would frustrate that.

164

Tim Dalton In the British establishment many despise the IRA. Do you have an equivalent wing in the Irish establishment that is equally opposed? Yes, not only in what might be considered the establishment, but amongst the g­ eneral public also.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

So, is there equivalence in the two systems because of that? In my view there is, but I’m not sure that this was always understood on the British side. I felt that in the early days some of us might have been seen – not just in the UK but in Ireland as well – as pro-IRA, or at least having a ‘soft spot’ for the IRA, simply because some of us sat down and negotiated with people, some of whom, according to intelligence, had been in the IRA or, indeed, hadn’t fully severed their IRA links. I’m sure that British officials who did similar work would have been the subject of a similar degree of suspicion in some minds. Many people, both inside and outside Government circles, saw the IRA basically as murderers who tarnished the name of republicans past by claiming to be their successors. They had killed security personnel and civilians North and South. I worked in the same building as a civil service colleague attached to another department whom I knew well. He just happened to be in a bank when it was raided by the IRA and was shot dead as he tried to shelter his young son. Occurrences like that don’t cause you to develop soft spots for the IRA. However, there would have been no peace process had we allowed those considerations to stand in the way of our engaging with representatives of republicanism. If removing watchtowers was more important than getting individual soldiers off the street, is that an indication of the importance of symbolism? Soldiers can come and go, but watchtowers once they are torn down are unlikely to come back. They were a symbol, but, more than that, for the IRA they were a military obstacle. I tended to accept the Martin McGuinness analysis – and I think Martin McGuinness in particular was convincing on this subject when talking to Tony Blair. He argued strongly that while there was a security risk in taking down the towers there was a bigger risk in leaving them there because their imposing presence on the landscape kept the resentment of local communities alive and indicated that nothing much was being produced by talks. By taking them down you were showing that trust was developing, that the peace process was working and that talking was worthwhile. There was a lot of logic in that. 165

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

On the symbolism, one recalls Adams being photographed on the steps of the Dail with  Albert Reynolds and John Hume and the visual evidence that politics was working. Yes, symbols were clearly important, and it was important also to develop language that was supportive of the symbols. Developing the language took time, not because the Governments were unable to craft it, or because Sinn Fein negotiators personally had difficulty in trading ideas on the language, but because, very often, the leadership simply needed more time to convince their supporters that it was language they could live with. If we spent a month, or longer, trying to get some word like ‘completely’ into a statement, it may not have looked very much like progress to an outsider, but to those of us who were close to the process it was progress. We worried about the thinking that lay behind the refusal to have some particular words included in texts – why will they agree, for example, to ‘put arms beyond use’, but not agree to ‘put arms beyond use completely’. But how were you able to exert leverage on them? Did they offer you anything without you having to do anything? Well, I don’t remember many things being offered, or many gifts being put on the table. We seemed to be in a situation all the time where we had to give something in order to gain something. We would say that it would be helpful if something or other were to happen on their side and they would say that this might be possible if you could concede X or Y. While it may not be the best example of what I’m talking about, I might be told that it would be helpful if a republican figure, who  would not normally be allowed into a prison, could do so in order to discuss  peaceprocess  issues with republican prisoners, or that it would help if a prisoner could  be  allowed out for a short period to participate in a meeting. I was in a position  to facilitate things like this and would talk to the minister to have it authorised.  The ‘return’ for us was that somebody who we were assured was an influential persuader for peace had been given the opportunity to proceed with that task. We were giving something very tangible, which carried an element of risk, in return for something less tangible and less measurable, but I believe that our trust was justified. What about the differences of language, not just with calling decommissioning ‘putting arms beyond use’ but British language like ‘normalisation’, which was called ‘demilitarisation’ by republicans? What can you say about such language? 166

Tim Dalton

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

As I understood it, for republicans, demilitarisation meant removing the British military forces back to barracks as a first step in their eventual removal from Northern Ireland. This carried a greater sense of success – or even victory – from their point of view. For republicans, I think, the term ‘normalisation’ could include unwelcome outcomes like having a more powerful RUC Special Branch, or doubling the efforts of MI5. On the subject of bits of paper and the texts you gave them over the years, were these always very short? It depended on the subject matter of the text. Texts dealing with post-conflict political structures, for example, could be fairly lengthy. Much of what I was doing was done away from the table. I was principally involved, often with one or two colleagues from the Department of Justice, in dealing with what might be described as the ‘paramilitary’ side of things, which included possible statements that might be made to signal the ending of the violence campaign, and what might happen in relation to decommissioning, policing, prisoners or persons on the run. Some saw this as the ‘dirty end’ end of the process. It was the area where any possible compromises tended not to be widely discussed or publicised. Texts produced, for example, could include draft IRA statements, which were very short papers. I should hasten to add that these were not texts prepared by the IRA and submitted to others for vetting. What happened at times was that Sinn Fein negotiators would ask us for an indication as to what the Governments expected to see in an IRA statement, and I found myself more than once trying to draft something that contained typical IRA-style language that included a word or words that the Governments would like to hear coming from the IRA. I wasn’t the only official engaged in these sometimes futile exercises. Texts were shared with some colleagues, including British colleagues, with political leaders and then discussed in limited groupings with senior Sinn Fein representatives, often away from the table. For the avoidance of any doubt – and I may have said this to you before now – what was included in these drafts was what the Governments would like to see. We had no expectation that the IRA would simply rubber-stamp any of these drafts. They would, as always, do their own statements. Our hope was that they would at least give consideration to what the Governments would like to hear as a requirement for forward movement. You obviously need formal texts and documents for a process like this, but I want to return to the question of how important face-to-face conversations were in comparison to bits of paper that nailed down positions. 167

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts I think face-to-face was the primary requirement, because conversation opens up more easily in face-to-face engagements and it’s easier to gather a more comprehensive picture of what will be required to get a deal. The documents, almost invariably drafted by civil servants on both sides, flowed from these conversations and tried to capture more precisely what people thought it might be possible for everybody to agree on. This is where the word battles began. Words were important for both sides – for the Governments because they needed certainty and to get certain concepts embedded in language, and for Sinn Fein because they didn’t want to find themselves tied in to language that was ahead of what their supporters could live with. Certain words and concepts, such as ‘parity of esteem’, proved quite durable because it was difficult for anybody to disagree with the notion of parity of esteem being a fundamental requirement for the settlement of conflict in a deeply divided society. Words were extremely important when it came to the IRA and the word play around decommissioning of arms is an example of this. I had the clear sense that not only were the IRA likely to push decommissioning well down the road, but the term itself was presenting an obstacle. I take credit for coming up with the concept of ‘putting arms beyond use’. It proved to be more acceptable, though we did spend some time trying to get Sinn Fein to go further, for example, to substitute the term ‘all arms’ for ‘arms’ and asking what Sinn Fein meant by arms, etc. Sinn Fein would say that arms were arms and ask us whether the extra word being sought was really for the purpose of inflicting humiliation. Much of this, to an outsider, would look nonsensical, but it had at least two beneficial results. First, it bought some time, which was always needed by the Sinn Fein team, and second, because trust received a boost when an extra word that had been sought was agreed. I think Sinn Fein would see themselves being pushed all the time and having to fight rear-guard actions to keep words like ‘completely’ or ‘definitely’ and certainly the word ‘forever’ out of texts for as long as possible. I remember going to meetings with Gerry Adams with pieces of paper that included new language, knowing in my heart and soul that I would bring back those pieces of paper without getting agreement beyond that he would try to use his influence to have new words included in IRA language. This wasn’t a complete waste of time. It meant that some idea or other had been put out there and that there was at least some hope that something like it might find favour on another day. Why was the issue of prisoner releases not dealt with earlier? Because, like arms decommissioning, it would have stalled the talks process or possibly halted it completely, and unionist representatives – indeed many non-unionists North and South of the border – were strongly opposed to it. Politicians, including 168

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Tim Dalton many politicians in the south, would have asked how they could possibly face the electorate, having agreed to set murderers and other serious offenders free long before their sentences were due to expire. That kind of concession had to be kept under wraps in the hope that it could be carried in the rush of euphoria that would develop when it became clear that a comprehensive deal was in sight. This was the case also with arms decommissioning – which was not nailed down fully in the Agreement. The crucially important deal-making concessions in relation to constitutional change and the principle of consent were difficult to negotiate, but easier to sell to the public than the idea of releasing republican and loyalist paramilitary prisoners within two years, some of whom were serving lengthy terms of imprisonment for murder, and sometimes multiple murders. It is not the news that the Governments wanted upfront, and that is why it came late. What about the ‘On-the-Runs’ issue? When was that first flashed up, and was it as big an issue as it later became? I don’t remember it being a big issue in the lead-up to the Agreement but, as you say, it did become a significant post-Agreement issue. I can’t say whether it was raised with the Taoiseach or the Prime Minister, but it was not part of any conversation on prisoners that I was having with Sinn Fein. I think that had it been raised with our political leaders they would probably have asked us for a view. It became a big issue later because there were people who had played a significant part in the conflict, had gone abroad presumably to avoid imprisonment and now wanted to come back home in the hope that they would in some way benefit from the concessions extended to those who had served time. The problem was how to deal with people who, because they were not convicted, were not covered by the Agreement but were still of interest to the security people. They were individuals of importance to republican activists, who would argue that if they were now given long sentences, while people who had fought beside them were all set free, it would amount to a breach of the spirit, if not the exact terms, of the Agreement. When the problem first surfaced we, on the Irish side, tried to deal with it on a case-by-case basis. Usually Martin Ferris would say to us (i.e. officials from the Department of Justice) that Mr X is abroad, would like to come home but wonders whether the Gardai have an interest in him. The answer would go back, either yes, or no. For Sinn Fein, one assumes this was a big issue, because if some of their key people would not be seen as welcome in the new environment, then what does that say about the new environment? 169

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

It says the new environment isn’t much good as far as those individuals are concerned. It meant that key activists were coming out of the whole thing with nothing to show for their endeavours. Sinn Fein were making the point there was a seachange in that the principle of consent was agreed, the Irish Constitution would be amended and prisoners on both sides were being released, but still we have X or Y in Ecuador who can’t come home because someone says that he took part in the ­struggle. What’s in this for the IRA? What was the understanding on that issue? Both Governments recognised it as a problem we would have to address in one way or another. As I said, we would ask the Gardai if A or B was somebody they wished to question and whether, if he came home, he would be arrested. Did they bring people back and test that? I don’t know if they did. I remember occasionally saying that a named individual was not the subject of interest, which was always intriguing, of course, because it meant that somebody who was not a suspect felt for some reason or other that the Gardai should be interested in his whereabouts. These are the difficult issues of resolving conflict, the really messy bits. They are, and I think they presented more difficulty on the British side than on ours because they were less comfortable with the informal approach when it came to people returning to the UK or Northern Ireland. The so-called ‘comfort letters’ that were made available in respect of certain individuals are an example of how messy things can become. The idea of preparing these letters was that the individual concerned could present them later to the relevant authorities if it became necessary to do so in order to benefit from the terms of the Agreement. But concessions like this give rise to difficult questions. If, for example, somebody holds a letter saying that he is not wanted and is back in the jurisdiction on that basis but fresh evidence subsequently comes to light pointing clearly to guilt, there is an immediate moral dilemma. Were the two issues of decommissioning and prisoner releases paramount for them? They were. Decommissioning, as I think I have said to you before, almost scuppered the whole process. It was inevitable that it would come up at some stage, 170

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Tim Dalton but it should have been left to a much later stage. Once it was brought up by the Northern Ireland Secretary there was no question of retreating from it. We  couldn’t  credibly say to unionist representatives that we would leave it aside for the moment.  They, very  understandably, asked how they could be expected to take Sinn Fein seriously.  Why do they need large quantities of militarystyle weapons if they tell  us that  they are pursuing a peace agenda? Our answer to that was that the first  requirement was to decommission mind-sets, because even if they handed over all  the  weapons they could acquire more very quickly. That, of course, is by no  means  a satisfactory answer. It was still reasonable for unionists  to  ask  why  they  needed to  hold on to  Semtex and rocket launchers if they claimed to be  searching for peace.  So all we  could do was to try to keep the issue alive, while not allowing it to jeopardise progress on the talks generally. The reason for setting up the de Chastelain body, the IICD, was to enable progress to be made on decommissioning in a way that would prevent its becoming a constant d ­ istraction  that would severely retard,  or possibly, halt discussion on other issues.  The introduction of decommissioning allowed them to gain more control of the process through that issue because they could always say that this was the business of others. Is that so? Yes, and they frequently made the point that decommissioning was not in their gift. They would say things like ‘We can try to use our influence with the IRA, but we cannot decommission anything because the weapons aren’t ours.’ When you got on to decommissioning did the meetings become any more serious or focussed than they were before? How, typically, would a meeting on that score be conducted? I would say that meetings on all issues were characterised by seriousness on the part  of all participants. Meetings about what I would describe as essentially ‘IRA related-matters’ were always serious and quite focussed, but before and after all such meetings, especially when we all got to know one another, exchanges were cordial, and matters as serious as recent football matches were also discussed. There was a lighter side to things. On one occasion Gerry Adams presented some of us with saplings, one of which, now a sturdy beech, I still have in my garden. As individuals, most of them were easy to get on with.

171

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Were you able to identify a turning point in the process where you knew that they were going to decommission and stand down? Was there a moment for that, or was it incremental realisation? Well, I retired in 2004, so standing down and final decommissioning happened after my time (though I am not saying that my presence retarded any of these very welcome outcomes!!). I knew at the Weston Park meeting that decommissioning would certainly happen. I spent a share of time in Weston Park along with one of my justice colleagues, Ken O’Leary, talking to Adams and McGuinness, and it was clear from those discussions that they were trying to find a way in which decommissioning would be delivered. What we were talking about was not whether it would happen but how it might happen. It could be said that this wasn’t meant to be our business as Government employees and was properly the business of the IICD. But things didn’t always work out that way and, in fact, I spent some time on the phone, also in Weston Park, to the IICD about the subject. Various texts on this matter emerged from conversations in Clonard Monastery attended by, amongst others, de Chastelain, Andy Sens, Adams, McGuinness, Jonathan Powell, Ken O’Leary and myself. The civil servants offered various suggestions that, to be honest, were very close to the edge of what might be a legally acceptable way for the IRA to address the problem. The way decommissioning was to be achieved had to comply with the law in terms of finality, transparency and so on, while still avoiding anything which would symbolise surrender or defeat. I remember, on at least one occasion, leaving the meeting room in Clonard and walking around the garden with Ken O’Leary hoping that, on the basis of what we had said about legal requirements and so on, Sinn Fein and the IICD would evolve a proposition that could be put to the IRA with some prospect of success. One reason for leaving the room was that if a proposition emerged and it then somehow leaked, the leak could not be placed at our doorstep, which would undermine the independence of the IICD, the importance of which was clear to all of us. So going for the garden walk was partly, I suppose, a matter of self-protection, but also, more importantly, to preserve John de Chastelain’s standing as a fair and independent broker, which he certainly was. Do you think Adams and McGuinness wanted this to happen years before it did? I think they probably did, and fully understood the point that it was difficult to be convincing when claiming that republicans were pursuing a genuine peace strategy while at the same time holding on to a large quantity of weapons that could not be described as self-protection weapons. But, like the rest of us, they were acutely aware 172

Tim Dalton that the destruction of IRA weapons was highly symbolic and, amongst activists, would be too close to surrender for comfort. It wasn’t that they would fail to get replacement weapons – organised crime syndicates were moving top-of-the-range weapons across borders – but that decommissioning was too close to the notion of surrender and defeat.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Did you write down your recollections after each meeting? Not writing too much is a sort of disease of those working in the area of justice. I tended to rely on memory, though I would make a note if I thought that something important had arisen. It might be just a sentence or two. I preferred to talk to people rather than sit there taking notes or going back later to make notes. To be honest, I sometimes regret that I didn’t take more notes. Memories that are unsupported by notes can sometimes prove to be a less than reliable guide to what happened. You seem to be an advocate of the softly, softly approach rather than making hardand-fast demands. I don’t think that the hard approach is the best way to go, certainly not when dealing with people who have amply demonstrated their own hard-line credentials. Persuasion, patience and the building of trust work better, though I am not saying that the odd bark is completely out of place. Jonathan Powell said negotiation is not a philosophical exercise where you try to defeat the argument of the other side, but working to a common aim for a bigger purpose. But how do you know if what you are discussing is focussed, and how do you know when it is slipping out of focus? Or is it the case that everyone is so familiar with what is being negotiated this doesn’t arise? You have to remind yourself, all the time, of the objective of the conversation. What am I trying to get out of this? Is it going the right way, or are we wasting time? Different people, I suppose, would have looked at matters in different ways, but, for me, the core question always was how can we stop the paramilitaries from killing each other and killing others? I didn’t lie awake at night wondering about political structures, even though they were obviously essential to the task of reaching a settlement. It may sound narrow in focus, but I tended to ask myself whether this development or that development was more or less likely to see somebody being shot or being spared. 173

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Did you ever come away from meetings and say to yourself that was not what we were supposed to be doing, or it wasn’t complementary to the big picture, or we hadn’t considered that before, so we need to be more expansive? Yes, we did leave meetings saying that we might be able to give a little more on something if we got something back. And yes, we also left meetings feeling that absolutely nothing had been achieved. They probably left the same meetings saying we gave them something to think about, or saying we left them with a bit of egg on their face. So, the sense of despair wasn’t very far away. But in the morning we had to go back and try again. So all those hours and moments where nothing seemed to be happening were all crucial in a way? In my view they were, because they kept the show on the road and it meant that between one of their meetings with the IRA and another they were seen to be spending time at the negotiating table and keeping the Governments fully engaged there. It was important also that the general public would know that there was a process in place, even if they didn’t know very much about what was happening. If we allowed some months to go by without a meeting, I think that people generally would naturally wonder what had happened, and this could drift into a sense that the project had failed. Continuing engagement was important in building and maintaining trust and that the people we were dealing with remained seriously committed to reaching a deal. Apart from all that, the IRA were not active while the talks were ongoing and nobody wanted to gamble on what they might do if the talking stopped and despair set in. The fact that they kept turning up told you that they were serious? Yes. At the end of dealing with them, what had you learned about negotiation? I think the main thing it fortified in my mind – rather than taught me – is the need to engage, to actually hear as well as listen, to be patient, to avoid aggression, to maintain a sense of humour and be prepared to talk and talk and talk. George Mitchell was a great exemplar of all of this. Even at the darkest and seemingly hopeless times you simply have to talk. 174

7

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Policy and pragmatism: an interview with Eamonn McKee

Graham Spencer: What distinguishes the British system from the Irish system in terms of how politics is done? Eamonn McKee: Whether you are dealing with British, American, or French systems, they are very big, and working in that kind of system is different from being an official in a small system. In a large system they have very set procedures about how they do things, strict definitions of what their job is and very constrained reporting practices. With the UK, the Civil Service may be coloured by the Victorian influence, with its empirical emphasis and the need to keep measuring things, but, ultimately, big political systems share common factors. When you are in a small system you have to live more on your wits. If you go into a different environment you have to find out what that environment is all about, because there is no back-up system to support you. So you have to be much more open and sensitive to it. And the Irish system is  like that. There is a lot more horse-whispering and a lot more sensitivity about what’s going on. So it demands a different approach. The Irish system, I would argue, is based on a lot of empathy and understanding, on looking for consensus. I always think that the best practitioners of peace-making in Northern Ireland were those who could see the perspective from the unionist, the loyalist, the republican, the nationalist and even the outsider’s point of view. Did you find the British way of doing things more cumbersome compared to the Irish way of doing things, or did you see it as a style that complemented Irish thinking? I think you have to divide it into three phases. There’s the first phase, which is essentially from the eruption of the Troubles through to the 1970s, whereby there was very little co-operation between London and Dublin. They were competing in many ways for the ear of public opinion, particularly in Washington and New York. The British 175

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts approach in the 1970s was very much based on security concerns, a matter of just trying to manage the problem. For the Irish, Northern Ireland was seen as essentially a political issue, and that did not lead to productive conversations at the official level. Clearly, at the macro-policy level there was a fundamentally different approach. The key breakthrough came in the early 1980s, when the two Governments got together and agreed to tackle the problem. You have to give credit to Charlie Haughey for this and initiating the Anglo-Irish summits, which brought about recognition of the need for mutual responsibility between Dublin and London in sorting this out. The second phase began with the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985, when the Dublin–London axis became very important. I don’t think you can really understand the 1998 Good Friday Agreement until you bracket it with the 1985 Agreement, because the 1985 Agreement really does launch a whole new relationship. It saw the establishment of the Intergovernmental Conference and a Permanent Secretariat manned twenty-four hours, seven days a week by Irish and British officials, who were very closely housed together in Palace Barracks, managing the conflict. But, more importantly, the underlying issues got put on the table in ways that couldn’t be dealt with at official level. Also, if you read the 1985 Agreement, it’s very specific about the kind of things we needed to address. It was looking at the causes of conflict. By the time you get to 1998 a lot of underlying issues have been dealt with, such as discrimination, housing and harassment by the security forces, and through the Intergovernmental Conference the behaviour of the security forces was modified. Of further significance was that British and Irish officials were getting to know each other. Within the Department of Foreign Affairs there was a very strategic decision to ensure that the same officials develop expertise on the Northern Ireland conflict, so, by the time you come to negotiate in 1998, you have got some very serious ­expertise in that room and they know what they are talking about. Did the unionists buy into this notion of the new beginning established by the peace process as much as republicans, or did the very expression ‘new beginning’ terrify them? You have to understand it from the unionist point of view and the feeling that the future is very uncertain. For republicans–nationalists in Northern Ireland there may be the feeling that their ambitions will prevail in the future, so it’s all about where you see yourself as part of that. If you think a small concession can have exponential implications for your future, then you will move very carefully, as the unionists did, to make sure they were not surrendering something which ultimately could be very important. In contrast, a nationalist might be a bit more flexible because there is the view that the mandate of heaven is passing to us, and so we have confidence about 176

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Eamonn McKee the future in a way that the unionists do not. Also, if you think about it from a u ­ nionist point of view, all the things that became part of the unionist identity – the Glorious Revolution, the British Empire, the Industrial Revolution – all of these things look like they are weakening rather than strengthening. Such things were stronger in the past than they are likely to be in the future, so, from their point of view, it was much more dangerous to be in a negotiation. This meant that for unionists what was said was extremely important, whereas the nationalists, because of their confidence about the future, could see meaning in more ways than one. Why didn’t the unionists make more of what was there? Even though the 1998 Agreement is a success for unionists they didn’t sell it as such. Why couldn’t they make more of it? My own view on that is that anything which strayed from normality was seen as a compromise. It’s also the unionist aversion to any anomalies, and the anomalies are the problem in a sense that you don’t know when they are and when they are not normal. Did ambiguity frighten the unionists more because they thought it enabled republicans and nationalists to back out of things? In other words, it gave them cover? Less back out of things and more exaggerate what is there. I think the unionist view, certainly in 1998, was that the key area was going to be the North–South arrangements, because you could be broken as a unionist politician on the terms of North– South arrangements. This made the North–South issue a big marauding beast that just sucked up a lot of the energy in the talks. Unionists were very sensitive about the areas this might cover, so they put a lot of stock on knowing what this animal was about. Alternatively, the nationalists made a lot more of what was apparently rather than actually there, and they did this to push their own agenda. If you are a culture where notions of ‘the truth’ are vital and truth means different things to different people, then perhaps it’s not surprising that metaphorical truth and literal truth will clash as extensions of divided views. A lot has been made of constructive ambiguity, but, in fact, if you read the Good Friday  Agreement it’s a pretty clear statement. There is not a huge amount of ambiguity in the Agreement as a text. However, along the way there were phrases like  ‘parity of esteem’ that could be quite elastic, and, from a unionist point of 177

Inside Accounts view,  quite offensive because of that. But, as far as the Agreement is concerned, I think it is quite a literal text.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

There is much talk about how ambiguity was essential in textual construction. Do you agree? People talk about this, but the Agreement is a pretty stark document and in some ways  the objection to the Agreement is that it’s a sectarian document because it only  works if you declare yourself to be nationalist, unionist or other. There may  have  been some ambiguous use of language up to the Agreement, but you don’t  end up  with ambiguity if you’re poring over the text and square-­ bracketing things. If there is an ambiguity it is between what is written down and the intention. Is that to some extent about the tension between what the text says and what people imagine it to be saying? Yes. In an odd way the republican reading of the text was actually much more literal. They were not prepared to commit to decommissioning Provisional IRA weapons and they don’t commit to it in the Agreement. In fact, they don’t commit to the Agreement itself. But they are prepared to use their best influence. That is pretty straightforward. The unionists did not want to read it another way and had to be persuaded it was going to be delivered. But, if the unionists had brought the kind of absolutely literal interpretation of what this means, you could not walk away from the Agreement saying it promised decommissioning. Were republicans good at staying on message, chiselling away, saying the same thing over again? What is the one thing that can go wrong in a negotiation? It’s when people get swept up and agree to things, or they think they are agreeing to things, that are not agreed at all, so everyone walks away with a different view of what was agreed. Then, you have a real problem. But, what Sinn Fein did very well was they would be able to pull back from the negotiations and coolly sit down and look at the script in a cold light and a dispassionate way. It has been said that Sinn Fein would often have an observer at talks who would not say a word but would check body language etc., and that there were guys ‘in the backroom’ 178

Eamonn McKee whom they had to talk to. Did they control the pace of negotiation more effectively because of such things?

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

They just stopped talking, or the way they signalled it, I remember, was with one official saying to me you know you have a deal when they sent in the B team. Then one would know they had signed off on that text. Could you get a sense of when they were going to accept something or not beyond that? I think you have to go back a bit. The really crucial document was the 1993 Downing Street Declaration, which was vital. Sean O hUiginn was the theologian of the republican transition and he wrote under the inspired political direction of Albert Reynolds. Sean basically conceived the Declaration like three-dimensional chess, shaping the navigational map for how the republican movement moved forward. And, to know the reason why this was vital, you have to go back to partition and the frustration of Irish national self-determination. What Sean managed to do in that document was reconceive all of this as a solution, arguing that the peace process will be fundamentally grounded on an unravelling of the injury of partition. Accordingly, the 1998 Agreement was put to both parts of the island on the same day for endorsement. That election in May of 1998 is prefigured and set out in the Declaration of 1993 because what it’s saying is that once both sides, irrespective of  jurisdictions, vote on an agreement, then that is the national act of self-­ determination denied us in 1921. The injury is over, it’s done. The 1998 Agreement is an act of national self-determination solemnly and democratically endorsed involving the whole island, which is what we had been looking for for eight hundred years. And that’s the genius of the Declaration; it creates the conceptual framework for the end of the conflict. That is also why, within months, you had a Provisional IRA ceasefire, because here is the promise: they will have negotiations and at the end of those negotiations an agreement will be put to a national referendum involving the island as a whole. Were Sinn Fein looking back at things as much as the unionists were, or were they concentrating more on the future? I think that’s a fair assessment of Sinn Fein’s approach. They had a very clear grasp that a peace process was about the future and about making sure there is no return to the bad old days of exclusion. That was a key; that there weren’t any bars or obstacles to achieving that. 179

Inside Accounts Was it difficult dealing with the issue of policing and police reform? It was a tough negotiation, there is no doubt about that.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

What do you mean by tough negotiation? When I arrived for the negotiations there was a draft policing text which, to my mind, fell well short of what we needed. If you look at what we needed to achieve in 1998, policing was never going to be solved in the negotiations there and then. It would only be solved by what became the Patten Commission. But, what was critical was the terms of reference that would determine the work of that Commission. And no matter what group of people you assemble, ultimately those members would always go back to the terms of reference. In fact, when Patten gave an interview after he released his report and there were some unionist criticisms he said ‘Well they did not read the terms of reference.’ There are two areas on the policing and justice side. First, there was a tacit agreement that policing would have a substantive commission and that justice would have a review. In other words, we were not going to be able to push for both a full commission on policing and a full overhaul of justice, so there was going to be one or the other. So we stuck with the policing one and justice would be part of a review process. The terms of reference meant the tension was essentially between the unionist insistence on continuity, alongside our insistence that policing, its ethos and composition had to change. This was the tension between both sides and that is where you get into all the haggling about the text and why words like ‘new beginning’ became important, because obviously, from a ­republican–nationalist point of view, the aim was a whole new start. But you can’t start from there with a kind of ‘the RUC have to go’ position. From a unionist point of view the RUC were their heroes who gave their lives and limbs in the defence of decency and the rule of law, and so these people could not be besmirched. Their sacrifice had to be recognised. It was a hugely sensitive issue. But the key, ultimately, had to be if you look at the conflict in Northern Ireland, the policing of one community by another is at the heart of a lot of the problems. So you really have to get policing right in terms of ethos and composition. Can you give me an example of how the British wanted something that you disagreed with and how you reached a compromise on that? The terms of reference are a balance between the need for continuity but also effectiveness, and this was one thing that constantly came across from the British side. 180

Eamonn McKee Policing has to be effective. You can’t end up with some botched political police force that suits everybody but can’t do its job. And that was creative tension. We wouldn’t disagree with the need for effectiveness, but our determination of what ‘effective’ means is that you have to have the legitimacy to go into a nationalist ­community and not get stoned when you are trying to deal with crime.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Is that what they meant by effectiveness, then? Their concern was for effective policing, police being able to do their job and not become hamstrung by too much accountability, or too much sensitivity, or too much emphasis on the soft, community approach. Don’t forget, you are coming from a situation where the police have been in many ways at the forefront of the conflict and they know what effectiveness is, but effectiveness can be seen in two different ways. Overall, in policing, your relationship with your community defines the amount of force that you need. If you have a very good relationship with your community, you don’t need force. If you are alienated from your community, you need, and you will resort to, force very quickly, and so the whole discussion had this at the heart of it. Our point was that to have effective policing in Northern Ireland you had to have buy-in from the whole community. So, you had to have a new beginning and an ethos where the police force that emerges from this fully reflects the ethos and composition of the society it seeks to serve. That is why you are going from a police force to a police service and obviously, from an Northern Ireland Office and security point of view, if you are going to talk about community policing and accountability at every single level that becomes scary because it suggests that a policeman’s hands are tied and he won’t do jobs because he is afraid he will be hauled up in front of some local community board and asked why he did not arrest somebody. The whole nature of accountability comes out of the Patten Commission process. They went around and listened to people, and they listened to police and came up with an amazing model of accountable policing. We insisted there should be a Police Oversight Commissioner so that the reforms would be carried out. That Commissioner produced a matrix of implementation which also addressed the difficulties of change management. That was difficult, because you can agree the terms of reference and the recommendations but they then have to put them into law and the law may not reflect the recommendations. Further, once put into law they have to be put into the manuals, and then they have to be operational, so the change management process in policing was enormous. It was a huge job, which required a lot of work.

181

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

When you spoke to Sinn Fein and the unionists about a new policing and justice dispensation what did each tend to concentrate on and what were they most fearful of? I did not have much engagement at all with the unionists on this. My whole thing was much more on the republican side. I was on the parades, policing, Judge Cory, Bloody Sunday end of things and my interface was with Stephen Leach and Chris Maccabe on the British side. I think here we need to look a bit more thematically at the decommissioning issue. What was the nature of power-sharing and what was the relationship between power-sharing and the North–South arrangements? Basically the deal in all of this for unionists was to participate in the North–South institutions as the necessary balance to nationalist involvement in power-sharing institutions. That was a core part of what the 1998 negotiations were about. The two things that you couldn’t resolve in 1998 were the two sides of the war, which, on the one hand, was the security forces and on the other the paramilitaries. These two things, by definition, had to be solved over time to get some sense of normality and so you have the Patten process put in place to help this. But what you got from the unionist point of view was the problem of decommissioning. Now, if you look at it from the Provisional IRA’s point of view, going back to partition, the then IRA in the South became the new defence force of the State in the 1919 to 1922 period. That’s what the old IRA morphed into. But in the North they don’t morph into a defence force in a new state. They remain kind of orphaned, eventually dormant, but nevertheless orphaned. They don’t have anywhere to evolve to legitimately. So the Provisional IRA essentially subsists as this dormant organisation and they fight the campaign and, as the Shinners would say, people risked their lives and liberty to get the weapons that enabled their campaign. This was at the heart of the decommissioning issue. People served their time in jail to smuggle weapons in and keep the struggle going, and therefore giving them up was incredibility difficult to do because they are giving up ultimately on retaining a military option. Don’t forget, political negotiations were seen as an experiment in the not particularly propitious framework of partition. From the republican point of view, there was the argument that this would be too difficult. From the unionist point of view, though, it is an abhorrent concept that there should be some dormant paramilitary organisation that can be brought back into life at some future point and that is not tolerable. So it was an incredibly difficult process to engage in. Ultimately, though, the republican ­movement came to realise that they had to do it. Do you think that they realised that some way back? 182

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Eamonn McKee My gut instinct is they did. It took a while to do it, but I think they knew it far earlier than when it came to actually be done. One of the paradoxes of the conflict is that Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA realised that you got far more power from normalisation than you did from the ‘abnormalisation’ of conflict. Once you engage in violence you become an abnormal force and you are shut out from the normal forms of leverage. Again, the leadership of the republican movement, by bringing people along and keeping the bulk of the people together, allowed for this intellectual evolutionary shift and the realisation that normalisation gave them more influence. Was policing and justice the most important aspect of the whole peace process for republicans? No, I don’t think so. You have to look at it conversely. They were looking for a society where, in policing and criminal justice, there is parity of esteem and no discrimination against Catholics and nationalists. The achievement of that meant the box was ticked. Now the really important stuff is politics and the relationship with unionism and making the power-sharing institutions work. That’s the core of it. Just because I was involved in policing and justice I am not going to say they were the most important things at all. No, the most important things were what was happening politically, and it is important to get these things right because, if not, they drag you back again, and we have seen that in more recent years with the issue of how much of the Provisional IRA is left and whether current or former members are involved in crime. The fact that policing is not on the agenda and that issues of justice, or the misuse of prosecutions, are off the agenda is very important. Did you hear the word ‘lustration’ used by republicans when it came to Patten and policing reform, because they did use it? Don’t forget, the context in which it was used was in relation to quite detailed discussions about security and policing reform, and those things didn’t necessarily get into the headlines. I suspect there was probably some care about using such words publicly because of the implications. Again, you are in that kind of binary force-field where, on the one hand, unionists regard the police as heroes who stood in the front line for decades and, on the other hand, republicans tended to regard the police as essentially the enemy. The only time I ever heard the word was in discussions on Special Branch and policing, but not outside of that. Did anybody ask them what they meant by that word? 183

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

I think I had to look it up when I first heard it. I thought ‘What are they talking about?’ My understanding of it was that it is a kind of weeding out the bad bits as you move forward so the only people left in the new system have not been tainted by the past. ‘New dispensation’ was also used in those terms. Right from the start their language had redemptive, religious overtones, but lustration, as I understood it, was used more in relation to the hard-core Special Branch guys and their not being part of this new dispensation. Did the words ‘fairness’ or the ‘parity of esteem’ come into the policing debate too? My view was that they were very realistic about this, but what but they had was a very clear sense about Special Branch. It’s clearly spelt out in the Agreement about the need to make sure that, in composition and ethos, you needed a policing service which did not have within it a network of guys devoted to another agenda. They were very aware of a kind of nexus of connections with Special Branch and military intelligence and the dark forces working there. They were also clear that the mechanisms put in place, as with the Policing Board, meant that the question of national security must be transparent and those connected to any decisions made accountable. Did the Bloody Sunday Inquiry help the atmosphere for republicans and change their attitude to policing, or were the two completely separate? They were not completely separate. Quite what impact it had is hard to say, and directly linking Bloody Sunday to people’s attitude is too narrow a focus. You have to broaden it out. Policing was, and is, the great success of the peace process, and in any post-conflict situation security sector reform is always incredibly difficult because, first of all, you are changing the mandate from essentially a counter-­ terrorism approach to a community service approach. That requires all kinds of changes in relation to ethos, training, rule of law, how you manage intelligence, how you manage accountability and the relationship between the police officer and the citizen. You have to go back to 1985 and the Anglo-Irish Agreement to see where this process really starts, because when you look at the text of that Agreement you will see that harassment and confidence in the administration of justice were key issues to be dealt with. They were standing issues on the agenda of the Intergovernmental Conference and we understood that these were at the heart of the problem, i.e. the relationship between the forces of the state and the citizen. The 1985 Agreement was predicated on pursuing confidence in the administration of justice and changing the behaviour of the security forces and moving the officers of the law away from 184

Eamonn McKee

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

expediency towards principles, such as fair application of the law, the letter of the law and so on. That change was a longer process but it began by putting on the agenda the administration of justice, harassment and the security forces. I think, ultimately, the sin of Widgery, the original report into Bloody Sunday, was to inflict grave damage on people’s confidence in the rule of law in Northern Ireland. So setting Widgery aside was important. But policing was one of the most complicated, if not the most complicated, parts of the negotiation after 1998. What do you mean by complicated? The key issue was the role of Special Branch and accountability; a force within a force as Patten described it. If you are looking to have normal policing, then that has to be dealt with. You had this tension between those saying we want normal policing and, on the British side, those saying that’s all very fine but this is not a normal society and we can’t pretend it is. We still have intelligence concerns and paramilitaries who are armed and we still have the responsibilities of defending citizens and preserving the stability of the state. So you had two competing agendas. Both of them, in many ways, are equally valid; one is aspirational and the other is pragmatic day-to-day stuff about acquitting your responsibilities, and both had to be worked out in fairly ­intensive negotiations over time. That is the reality that begins to sink in, which is, that the war is actually over. For republicans, this was an incredibly difficult issue because the whole republican approach is based on the belief that Northern Ireland is not legitimate, that partition created an illegitimate state that was dysfunctional and they were being asked to accept the legitimacy of a police force. It was a very difficult issue to manage. What were republicans talking about most on this? I don’t think there was a huge difference between republicans and the SDLP, because this was a broader nationalist issue. The insistence was they wanted a normal policing service. They did not want what had endured previously until 1969, when there was a partisan police force that was overwhelmingly unionist in its composition and ethos, which defended the state and regarded nationalists as a fifth column. After 1969 a police force which was dedicated to counter-terrorism and Special Branch emerged, with all the abuses that came from that. So, both nationalists and republicans needed confidence in the police, and the ethos and composition had to change for that to happen, hence Patten. Then, accountability was reinforced by way of the Policing Board. If you are on the Policing Board, which is an accountability body, and you can’t account for what happened because of ‘national security’, then lack 185

Inside Accounts of accountability is immediately evident. A key issue was the definition of national security, which was resolved with tremendous tenacity and acute political judgement mainly by Alex Atwood, who was key to resolving that issue.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

If police are called in to deal with volatile parades, both republican and loyalist, what tension does that create with regard to how those events are seen and policed? The parading issue took everybody by surprise because it was assumed that the main problem in Northern Ireland was paramilitary violence, the Provisional IRA’s campaign, the long war, and that if that would stop then it wasn’t a big problem to sort out. That, of course, overlooks the fact that the violence came from a conflict of interests between unionists and the British, and nationalists and the Irish. But the strains of the core conflict of interests and identity run deep. The tensions between nationalists and unionists came to the surface at the community level in the parades issue, where essentially the loyalists and the Loyal Orders were insisting on the right to march traditional routes, irrespective who lived along those routes. They were saying this is the freedom of the Queen’s highway, that this is what they have always done. And the nationalists were saying you can’t march your symbols of triumph through our streets and through our housing estates. This was replicated all around the place, so, in a sense, it was an assertion of identity after the violence of the paramilitaries and the security forces. It was an assertion, in a post-conflict situation, of identity, where the loyalists were saying this is part of our identity and nationalists were saying you have got to respect us. From the policing point of view, Garvaghy Road became the litmus test on where the police stood on all of this. That’s ultimately what it was about, where every year the Garvaghy Road residents were beaten off the streets. It was grist to the mill of dissidents and the nay-sayers of the peace process, who said ‘Look at this, when it comes down to it that’s what the state and the police do, beat and force nationalists off the streets to force a loyalist parade down.’ So Garvaghy Road became a test bed for a new policing dispensation and a measure of how far things had changed. When, eventually, the loyalists are stopped from marching down that road there emerges a reassurance that things have changed and nationalists are going to be respected. Dealing with this problem was a very fraught business, though. On the other side of the coin might loyalists now see it as a coercive police force and as a loss? At the end of the day, if you look at how the parades issue was addressed, the Parades Commission basically applied a legal test to every single application 186

Eamonn McKee and tried to mediate between the insistence on marching and the resistance to marching. It’s a victory for mediation, for the acceptance of a legal position on a parade  and  policing, and then abiding by that process, irrespective of the threat or the influence of the loyalties that are called upon in response to any particular case.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Did the Parades Commission work quite closely with the police? I wasn’t privy to what was going on but I think they would certainly be sensitive to what the police thought they could handle and what they needed to do. Was parading also a policing issue? It wasn’t strictly a policing issue per se. There were probably three or four elements to the parades issue. The first issue for nationalists and republicans, which was the primary issue, was that there would be no toleration of unionist triumphalism marching past their houses. Parades were expressions of social, political and economic dominance, so you had that very long history of how things were meant to be. The second element, which Sinn Fein adopted, was what you might call the ‘rights-based’ approach, so every issue was really rinsed through with what the rights involved were and the outcome had to be compliant with rights. Were they drawing on a European concept of rights? Yes, very much the European corpus. This rights-based approach, which they learned over time, was the third element in the nature of the policing operation. That is as it should be; respectful and not biased, and not to use too much force. A fourth element was where residents were involved in resisting parades and where they could find themselves charged with quite serious crimes. That charge would be held over them to act as a restraint in their behaviour next time and gave rise to police involvement in the prosecutorial process. We looked at this more systemically and realised this was a problem, so when the criminal justice review was done the Government was very clear that there needed to be a separation between policing and prosecution, because you couldn’t have prosecution used as a tool of policing. I also think the issue was largely seen as local at one level, that these were communities who were quite exposed to large, proximate unionist and often loyalist populations. Portadown was the classic case, but Dunloy was another one in North Antrim, with Ormeau Road Belfast another. There was always local constituency politics going on, where the 187

Inside Accounts local Sinn Fein representative had to be seen to represent his people, so they had to wrap that into their calculations as part of the politics of it.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

How do you weigh up the unionist right to march alongside the republican–nationalist argument about not marching, about the right to offend and the right to be offended? This was the difficulty we had because, when the North Review was created on parades, we had to respond as a Government and put a submission into that Review. You had insistence on the unionist right to march grounded in custom and tradition and identity, but then nationalist communities who were resisting and saying we don’t have to put up with this, that it is an expression of dominance and we have a right of freedom. We have a right not to be cordoned off in our homes for hours on end by police, who are a sectarian police force, forcing these parades through our communities. That was very much their argument. So you had to work out the dynamic of insistence and resistance and look at what were the international norms about freedom of assembly and freedom of movement in association. Now, if you look at the international canon of rights and law, to the extent that there is anything there, there is absolutely a right for freedom of assembly, but there is next to nothing in international law, or the corpus of rights, about how you get to the assembly point. So, in a sense, the unionists could not claim or point to a particular right grounded in any kind of international convention, or protocol, that said you are entitled to march this route and you are entitled to freedom of assembly, but how you get there is usually a matter for the police to decide, in finding the easiest way to manage a crowd getting from A to B. So the idea of a route that is in some way inculcated with rights simply does not exist. That then leads you to the logical conclusion that in every single case you have to disaggregate and create a system which turns every conflict of insistence and resistance into an adjudicated process grounded in law. On that basis, our approach and recommendation to the Review was don’t get involved in big, broader narratives, bring it all down to the local issue grounded in an adjudication and mediation process based on existing domestic law. Is that how the situation remains now? Yes. Has it worked? Yes, absolutely, clearly, it has worked. 188

Eamonn McKee

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

So is that the only way that this problem can be contained and controlled, by looking to the future? I think the attraction of it is an emphasis on mediation and adjudication and then a ruling. The mediation and adjudication process allows for flexibility and for the evolution over time of different attitudes and more accommodation. Don’t forget that at the heart of all of this one of the big problems, certainly for republicans, was that the Loyal Orders refused to have a face-to-face meeting with the nationalists. They would not sit down in a room with them. If you are a unionist, your argument, presumably, is that you will not sit down in a room with residents because they don’t have credibility; that this is a matter of freedom of movement, freedom of use of the Queen’s highways, so why should we sit down with them? If you are a nationalist and you are being told that the unionists, who want to march down your street, won’t sit down and meet you face-to-face, then that has very difficult undertones, because it says you are not entitled to the equality of a meeting and a discussion. Is that still a problem now? I was involved in the Drumcree talks, and you had Jonathan Powell in the room with Loyal Order Lodge One. I was in the room with the Garvaghy residents and myself and Jonathan were the only two people meeting them. Jonathan was obviously moving from one to the other, whereas I was very passive in this thing and not really deeply involved. But you have to understand that this was quite a strange situation, having two parties to a dispute where one of them would simply not agree to meet the other. They would go to the proximity talks but would not sit down and meet the residents. Presumably the adjudication and then ruling on marches caused the unionists a problem, given they tend to see themselves very much as people of the law. How did they deal with that? The unionists were guided by one fundamental question, which was ‘When are we getting our parade through?’ How did republicans play that problem? My genuine sense of it was that Sinn Fein were very respectful of local feeling and that this was about what the people of the Ormeau Road, Garvaghy Road 189

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts and Dunloy wanted. It was purely done on that basis. I don’t think it was part of a wider agenda. I think, if anything, the republican leadership was feeling its way forward in terms of how it might create a relationship with unionism. This goes back deep into the peace process, where they used Protestant clergymen as a starting point because they were the only ones who would meet them. I think it’s always been an objective, a puzzle and an attraction for republicans about how to sit down and talk to a unionist, and that relationship has always been incredibly elusive. It’s only come about over time, and generally created at the top and then worked downwards. How important was the Bloody Sunday Inquiry for the impression of change? What happened basically was that Don Mullan produced his Bloody Sunday book, which was based on the Civil Rights Association’s documents that were found in a plastic bag, and this gave a completely different view of Bloody Sunday. I had come back to the Anglo-Irish Division from a posting in Washington at the time. We had a problem because the Taoiseach’s Office had to answer questions in Parliament emerging from this new book which effectively offered another perspective on  Bloody Sunday. It reanimated the whole question mark over Widgery  and what  had actually happened. And this was happening in the context of the Provisional IRA ceasefire and a whole new look at things more generally. Now, if you look back on the previous questions being answered in the Dail on Bloody Sunday we did not say an  awful lot, except that we had doubts about Widgery. In that context, the Taoiseach’s Office rang me up, because I was on the security  desk, and I suggested  we assess the new material. Now my problem was how do you assess material like that? Nobody was going to give me a forensic team, lawyers or anything else.  But I decided to read Widgery because the nationalists tend to condemn his report and not read it. Widgery was clever in that he wasn’t reinventing a whole alternative scenario. What he was doing was creating a reasonably  accurate scenario  in which he would tweak certain things and insert certain things. In other words, that there were people attacking soldiers and so on, and he ended up with some fairly bizarre conclusions. It suddenly struck me that what I needed to do was take every single paragraph of Widgery and put the alternative assessment against it from Mullan’s account, which is what I did. So I put these alternative statements against Widgery and challenged his report paragraph by paragraph. So this was not being driven by republicans but was more an Irish initiative? 190

Eamonn McKee

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Yes, this was our approach. I remember talking to a Shinner in the corridors of Castle Complex in 1998 and telling that person that Tony Blair was different and it was a momentous day in British history when Blair stood in the House of Commons and set Widgery aside. We knew that once they had set aside Widgery something else, another inquiry, had to be put in its place. Is the Bloody Sunday Inquiry one of the less acknowledged parts of the peace process? What did it do apart from address the inaccuracies of Widgery? Tragic as the fatalities were, I think the real shock of Bloody Sunday was Widgery; that there was nowhere to go for justice once the Chief Justice of England whitewashes something on behalf of the British Army at the expense of justice for nationalist victims. If there is no law, this is the rule of the jungle and there is nowhere for them to go for justice. I would therefore hazard that more guys sought to join the Provisional IRA over Widgery than they did over Bloody Sunday itself; that people would join that organisation because they saw there was no rights, just power, where, if the chief law officer of the land can turn around and whitewash British soldiers murdering nationalists, then there was no chance of change, or fairness. A new inquiry was also indicative of a new beginning then, too, presumably? Precisely. What it did say was that we will look at the past, but that the peace process is very much about the future. Dealing with the past is a separate thing which is quite difficult and messy, so, in a sense, the Bloody Sunday Inquiry became the iconic case, given it was established under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, the gold standard of public inquiries since 1921. It became a very important message about dealing with the past. Dealing with the past is very problematic because you can have a legal truth, a historic truth, a personal truth and even a poetic truth. So when you are looking for the truth, what are you looking for? We tried a lot of different ways. Saville was a full public inquiry, and another, but different, one was the Cory Inquiry. Along with that you also have the ongoing Historical Enquiries Team, so there are different ways of dealing with the past. Did you envisage that Saville would take ten years? No. And what we also didn’t envisage was that the British system would fight its own inquiry. What was the first thing that happened? The British Army ‘accidentally’ destroyed all the rifles involved. When Saville started his work we were twenty-five 191

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts years after the event, so you are getting to the outer limits of people’s memory and recall, although it was like yesterday for the victims. Nonetheless, you are at the outer  reaches of a ‘cold case’ as it were. The main value of Saville was essentially recovering information and facts for the future. You can make of it what you will and analyse his results and conclusions all over again. The second thing was that he undid what we asked to be undone, which was exculpating the soldiers at the expense of the victims. We wanted those victims declared innocent – as they were – and that was achieved. So you have got truth recovery and the exoneration of victims, and in the process a renewed sense of British fair play. But, don’t forget, the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act was subsequently repealed [in 2005] and it can never be used again. So there can never be further analysis? No, because the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act was replaced by the Inquiries Act 2005, which gives quite a bit of comfort to the state in terms of what information is released. You highlight that Bloody Sunday was a key turning point in terms of the armed ­struggle, so would you say that this had any function in ending that struggle? I think it did. The commitment to having a new inquiry was very important because it registered as a change in approach. Tony Blair was prepared to look at this iconic event from a different and less self-interested perspective, and I don’t think people understand how difficult it was for the British to set aside Widgery, because a new inquiry was effectively saying that the chief law officer of the land had manipulated the facts to come up with an exoneration of the guilty. So it was a very significant gesture by Tony Blair to say we are taking a different approach to this and we are going to be even-handed about it. Was there much discussion between the Irish and the British on Saville chairing that inquiry? It didn’t cross my desk, but that is not to say it didn’t cross the desk of more senior people, but I think there was a fair degree of assurance that the British were going to do this seriously. You couldn’t seek to set aside one report and replace it with another unless the figure was of senior standing. It was built into it that it had to be a very senior law figure. 192

Eamonn McKee

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Was slowness or urgency more important for republicans? I was not privy to what was going on in terms of their internal thought processes, but once you have conflict and you have death and bereavement and grief, that changes the significance of what you are doing because what you do can then be seen as act of betrayal of those people who gave their lives for your cause. So, for the republican movement, guys had fought and died, lost their liberty, compromised their souls in many ways by engaging in violence, or in the hunger strikes, accepting things which were less than what they wanted, and this was hugely difficult too. Do you have any sense of how republican leaders persuaded the movement? I understand a lot of these debates took time to be ironed out internally. But to what extent was the republican shift driven from the top down, and to what extent from the bottom up? I think there are a lot of different elements involved. The first element is that republican identity is measured through memory, where current actions are conditioned by previous things that have happened. Another is building practical politics to create access to power and then responding to your constituency. Very often, you find that the active volunteers come from certain families, and so generations and families become central in persuading the overall movement to come along the road. Then, there is the assurance that if you give up violence that you won’t be left to one side. Were republicans particularly paranoid about anything that seemed to come as a result of pressure from outsiders? They rejected the Downing Street Declaration to keep the media at bay while they worked through to a ceasefire, so how much was the pace, and so control of the process, a priority for them? It’s more about resolving what you are dealing with rather than your ideology. At the end of the day, the republican ideology is that Ireland’s partition should not have happened and so a Northern Ireland state should not have been created; that this state is fundamentally flawed and can’t work, except in a highly managed way, and so there must be a unitary state. That is the ideology. When you talk about the Good Friday Agreement, or the Downing Street Declaration, you can’t endorse those right off the bat and then rubber-stamp them because you would very starkly have a contrast between your ideology and your documents. So you represent those documents as steps along the way. 193

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Victimhood was, and is, clearly huge for republicans, but was that victimhood also important as a negotiating device as well as a legitimate grievance? I think it’s less to do with getting things and more to do with knowing that the British get it; that they shouldn’t have partitioned the country, but also that the British shouldn’t have left them alone either. There is always a sense that the British don’t quite get what it is they did and that their attitude was that they were managing natives and if only these natives understood reason and the rule of law and rationality then we wouldn’t have this problem. The argument, from the nationalist side, is that is not what’s going on here and that British people in an Irish country created this situation in two particular ways, one disempowering nationalists (the greatest wound of colonialism is to infuse a lack of responsibility in the natives, and you see this in all colonial situations), and the second wound was to empower a small elite to believe that they should run the place. These are the two great consequences of imperialism, and you get the sense that the British tend to float over this as if they didn’t do all of this, that they were just managing, or bringing civilisation and progress to people who needed to have social and economic, political, ethical and philosophical ­evolution, all of which were accelerated by exposure to British values. So, for the Irish, it was an emotional and historical problem more than a managerial problem? One of the distracting paradigms of those who are colonised is the thought that, somehow or other, the coloniser is the great strategic thinker and we have to strategically out-think them. That is completely wrong. In fact, the coloniser doesn’t need a strategy, because they are in power. They just need to manage it from day to day. But, in an odd kind of way, the assumption that the coloniser has this strategic perspective gives strength to the colonised because they start strategising and thinking very long term, and then, of course, this frightens the unionists because they think the British don’t get it either. They are going to give away all these concessions without understanding that they will weaken us over the long term. So you get this dynamic, where the weak believe they will be strong in the future and the strong believe they will be weak in the future. For the unionists, the slightest concession is read as having potentially enormous implications down the line, so there is that problem. In contrast, the nationalists have this sense they will be stronger in the future and are going to win this. Does this then mean greater confidence for nationalists? 194

Eamonn McKee

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Yes. I think there is a feeling that the act of partition was a management exercise that ultimately will not stand the test of time and that, eventually, we will get  there.  It  will  be very slow and long and painful, but, for the unionists, it is this fear that all of the verities, the Crown, the Industrial Revolution, Protestant­ ism,  all  of  those  things, are weakening in the face not just of nationalism, but modernity. Do Catholicism and Protestantism come into the thinking here, since nationalists and republicans seem to view the problem as process, whereas unionists see the problem more in terms of copper-fastening the situation to prevent more loss? Certainly the Catholic perspective and the Protestant perspective are quite different in how they condition people’s ways of thinking. You are really into a very big debate there about the nature of progress from the late medieval period on, and what the narrative was in Europe between the emergence of Catholicism in the early  medieval period and the emergence of Protestantism in the early modern period and what  Protestantism brought with it, which was individualism, personal  ethic, empiricism and all of those kinds of things. The Catholic–Protestant paradigm in Ireland is not free of that very deep narrative, but, in terms of disaggregating this, I think you have to look at the long hand of history in Ireland. The Irish have been in Ireland for a very long time. We are talking from 4000 to 5000 BC onwards. Was the peace process run on the accumulation of a marginal gains approach? Was it about making small adjustments all the time rather than big steps? It was probably a mixture of the two. I think the small incremental changes prepare the ground for the big step and then the big step colours the next phase of small changes. It’s a series of stages where you move along a number of small changes and then you get to a position where there is a step change. For example, the ceasefires did not come out of nowhere, but out of a whole series of things that had happened. And then the ceasefires created a platform for a whole series of other things to happen and eventually getting to the point where all these small things happened to allow for a negotiation. Once you get to the negotiation you are into a process which is about narrowing things down to one text. Would you say that tension, confrontation and disagreement are important drivers for change because they create a dialectic of movement? 195

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts Yes, so long as that dialectic is grounded on the broader momentum of going forward. I think the peace process in Northern Ireland had huge forward momentum, so that when things did happen, like the 1998 Omagh bombing, the momentum kept moving forward, and that is critical. I think if there is tension around a problem that you can’t, or don’t, put on the table then you have a real difficulty. If it’s put on the table, then you can come up with a solution. One of the things, if there is a lesson here, is that very often in a conflict something happens and you assume the worst intentions; that this was done deliberately when it might have been just a cock-up, but now you can pick up the phone to your British opposite number and find out what is going on. That level of communication is absolutely critical to avoid things getting out of hand. To what extent is a peace process like this down to timing and personalities? I always say that in a peace process there is a fair degree of horse-whispering, but there is also a broader narrative to these things. It didn’t have momentum by accident. Ultimately, there is a narrative and you are back to the 1993 Downing Street Declaration, why it came at that particular time and what question it was answering. There is a trajectory that you can see with Provisional IRA violence, a long campaign, counter-insurgency by the British, but ultimately a stalemate. At what point the republican movement realised there is greater utility in non-violence than violence itself is important here. To identify that moment do you start looking from the Enniskillen bombing, or the hunger strikes, when the republican movement realised it could be a major political force in both North and South? That became the realisation at some point. So there is a broader narrative here, where the ceasefire happens and the peace process becomes a dispute about the terms of a settlement. Once there was a ceasefire in 1994 a whole other ball game opened up. At that stage, the paramilitary–professional conflict comes to an end and tensions find another outlet, such as with the parades issue, where both communities start squaring up to each other, and more specifically Drumcree, where the deeper tensions were playing themselves out. Do you think that intuitive things like intonation, emotion, humour are very important in a negotiations–peace process? Yes, because they act as a key to what is a much more valuable asset, which is being able to put yourself in the shoes of the other. By empathising you can accept where people are coming from, see that it’s not malice, and you can accept they have legitimate concerns. The problem with active conflict is the assumption that the 196

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Eamonn McKee other person wants to kill you, or put you down, or deny you your rights. One can’t see why their security policy is driven by fears and insecurities. So getting a peace process going and getting negotiations going is ultimately getting people to see the thing from the other perspective. They don’t actually have to admit it, but they begin to understand, and that allows the text and the agreement to form because you can see where they and you are coming from and you can say ‘I can accept that now.’ Active conflict stops all that happening, so you have to roll that back to personal engagement and socialising. All of that is the antidote to conflict because it is the exact opposite to conflict. Conflict is the imposition of force and violence and death, but socialising is the exact opposite. So it is reversing that tendency. Do demands, which are different from requirements, that come out of the blue in peace processes tend to act as spoilers? There is something worth looking at in that a demand might not actually be a demand but used for other reasons and positioning. Ultimately, though, all these things go back to who has the power. It’s not so much black and white, but about preserving the capacity for movement, maintaining flexibility and not getting yourself hoisted on your own petard. You have to leave room for manoeuvre. Room for manoeuvre is a pretty safe tactic if you know what you want. Are you telling me that people always knew what they wanted and that they didn’t make some of this up as they went along? There are always contingencies but, ultimately, the framework was there. If you look back at it, the British did not invent the paradigm of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, or the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. The key concepts were conceived, debated and put forward by broader nationalism in the first instance. How good were Sinn Fein as negotiators? Sinn Fein understood that the British wanted what they had, which was what decommissioning was all about, and they realised they could tease them to death on that. They were clearly not going to give it away cheaply and every single ounce of what might be on offer gave them more leverage. The SDLP did not have that. It’s one of the great problems that, if you want to talk about the morality of negotiations, the SDLP had all the right arguments and the right approach and hadn’t killed anybody, but that didn’t matter in negotiations. What mattered was that the Shinners had 197

Inside Accounts something in the shed that the Brits wanted. The Shinners knew what they had and they were able to use it.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

So what made them good negotiators was not so much that they were brilliant in the negotiation room but because of what they had outside of that? What made them good was they knew the value of what they had and they knew how to extract concessions while giving up very little of it. Do you think they saw the weapons issue as their main negotiating advantage from way back? I don’t think it was that deliberate. Again, you have to go back to the theology of the peace process from the republican point of view, because that was where it certainly began providing a space for politics to work. It was a kind of contingent experiment, so, in a sense, keeping the intellectual property rights on armed conflict was very important and having the wits to use that was important as a necessary backdrop to what they were trying to do politically. At the beginning it would have been impossible for them to get to 1994 if part of that deal was to give up all their weapons first. The whole point was they could not declare the end as permanent, which the British insisted upon at that stage. It can be permanent at the end of the process, but it certainly can’t be permanent at the beginning of the process, so, in a sense, the availability of those weapons to decommission was contingent on pace and that allowed this teasing of the British system to carry on. Do you think the British gave them that leverage by making Washington Three ­conditional for progress? You could probably make a case for that. If you are bidding for a house and you say actually that’s the only house I want and its got everything, well, once you tell people that, then you can kiss a fair price goodbye. The only thing you can do is pretend you don’t want the house and walk away; then you might get a proper price. If you tell people this is what you must deliver, then you have just handed the people across the table huge advantage. I don’t know what was going through their minds when they imposed the Washington Three conditions. We found it incredibly frustrating and thought that they didn’t understand the nature of peace processes. It certainly suggested that they weren’t ready to make a deal. In their favour, I would say that longer term they were right. Ultimately, if you want to get to normality these things are not 198

Eamonn McKee bearable. You cannot have an armed force which is standing up against the state over the long term, so, one could say, they were right. But, tactically, once you put that on the table you suddenly alter the negotiating landscape.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Do you think they did it because they were fearful of this process? You would have to ask them that, but I suspect that was part of it. They weren’t ready for the shock of peace. Don’t forget the British looked at this from the London ­perspective, where Northern Ireland is viewed through a prism that looks at what effect it has on Washington. So, if the Provisional IRA turn around and declare a ceasefire then suddenly the British have the alarming prospect that ­republicanism– nationalism has Washington’s ear and access to the White House, and all of that influence will combine to put huge pressure on the British to do things they don’t necessarily want to do. So, the one way of stopping that was in the alteration of the  power  dynamic with Washington and to stress that it is not permanent and so can’t be trusted. It’s a way of keeping them out of the White House, because the British instinctively understood that the power dynamic in that triangle between London, Washington and Northern Ireland was significantly altered by the Provisional IRA ceasefire. Up until then, the White House had nothing to do with them, but, once the ceasefire came, they suddenly realised the power that the republican movement had, as well as the influence it had in the White House. To stop that they said it’s not permanent, don’t believe them, it will break down tomorrow, don’t build up any credits and don’t side with these guys because, ultimately, you will get burned. For the last few years Sinn Fein have used the word reconciliation and the term ‘uncomfortable conversations’, but I don’t recall unionists buying into the concept of reconciliation at all and I am not sure I have heard them even talk about it. Is it too simple to say that if republicans say it unionists automatically don’t want it, or is there something intrinsic to the unionist world-view which would make them uncomfortable with the idea of reconciliation anyway? You are into a very fundamental question, because if you are a unionist there is nothing broken about Northern Ireland, whereas if you are a nationalist, it is broken and there’s something wrong and one of the solutions is reconciliation. If you are a unionist who does not believe that Northern Ireland is broken, then reconciliation does not come into it and it doesn’t need to be fixed because reconciliation, in a sense, is a fix. 199

Inside Accounts But is it also about reconciling with responsibility in the conflict?

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

That just plays into the same notion. In a sense, if you are a unionist and you say nothing is wrong with Northern Ireland, that we always had the rule of law, that we were always democratic and our sovereignty is British, then they are not just the liturgy for defining what unionists are, but they also suggest there was no valid reason for a conflict. So is it a waste of time talking to unionists about reconciliation? You would have to ask them. I think there is a spectrum, but when you talk about conflict and you talk about reconciliation and parity of esteem, u ­ ltimately all of these words are refracted through that basic equation which is ‘Is Northern Ireland a failed political entity, or is it a functioning democratic society?’ What about forgiveness? Do you see any value for it as part of a discussion about how to relate to the past? What are the first principles that drive people when you say forgiveness? Forgiveness in a Catholic sense is really very clear. If you have committed a sin you go and confess it and regret it. The priest, by the power ordained by the passing of hands from Jesus Christ, through the disciples and on to him and his vocation, is allowed, as a representative of God, to clean your soul of your sin. You don’t even have to understand the nature of your sin, or your personal responsibility, in the crime, you just have to basically say ‘I want to be forgiven’, and that is the Catholic way. The Protestant view is a much more complicated view, which is about  personal  responsibility, accountability and appreciating what your role was,  and it’s not for a priest to forgive you but for you to reconcile your place with God. You can only do that with absolute candour about what you did, why you did it and how you understand it personally. So, you must internalise all this. In a sense, it’s all about clarity, which, again, is one of those touchstone issues in connection to the Protestant point of view; liking facts and clarity; that Protestants like to call it as it is, in contrast to Catholics, who, for Protestants, are living in a kind of vague world which is a little bit mixed up and where there is far too much tolerance for ­ambiguity and slipperiness. The problem of mental reservation too?

200

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Eamonn McKee Mental reservation absolutely, so forgiveness faces two very different directions. Now you introduce that into a conflict, where there is a whole different order of dimensions and implications, then you have questions about legitimacy, the use of violence, retribution and the law. Note, one of the big things that was very d ­ ifficult for  the unionists to internalise was prisoner releases, because that seemed to go against that whole sense of accounting for sins and integrity of the rule of law. The whole prisoner release programme had to be done as a legal process which respected the law as a process of sentence review. But this left out the On-the-Runs, because they had not been processed through a legal system. So what do you do with them? At least the prisoners had all gone through a legal system, a life-sentence review board is set up and everybody knows what the rule is, that you are out after two years or less and then you are held over to finish your sentence if you go off the reservation. All these things play into those very profound values which are derived from your world-view and religious, cultural and political contexts. Are you of the mind that the fewer people in the room, the easier it is to negotiate? Not necessarily. Whereas the more people you have in the room, the more problems you will get? No, not necessarily, because I think negotiations are not always about personalities. Personalities can solve problems, but they don’t change the nature of a problem. The nature of a problem is usually structural, and you can get people who will facilitate, but, at the end of the day, you must trade off durability for efficiency. Obviously, it is more efficient to have fewer people in the room, but the job of getting the right agreement is going to be much more difficult with fewer people in the room because not everybody will know everything about an issue, or what the sensitive points are. So this limits judgement and you have a bigger sales job to do. The more people that are in the room, the more difficult it will be to reach agreement, but it allows for change management, and buying people in. The reason why the Good Friday Agreement is durable is because everybody was in the room. In a process like this do you start off with a rough idea of where you want to get and then it becomes clearer the more you work towards it, or do you start off with a clear idea and perhaps you have to build in some slack because you find you need more latitude as you go along? 201

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts The direction of travel was always known. It was going to be power-sharing within Northern Ireland and tightening North–South and East–West relations. What we probably couldn’t know was how they would each develop and which would become the more important ones. And that uncertainty, in a sense, was part of the problem because the unionists had to make a judgement on the North–South arrangements, where they were forced to ask themselves what they would do if that took off in unpredictable or uncontrollable ways and they found themselves in a closer relationship with the South than we have with Britain. Those uncertainties about the speed of travel in each of these different dimensions were very much unknown, but nationalists had to accept Strand Three as well. But in terms of North–South relations, have they tightened or stalled? I have been out of the country for six years, so it’s very difficult to judge. However, I think it’s fair to say it’s been a very carefully managed relationship. At the beginning, it was calibrated to be about mutual advantage. I think there is still huge circumspection about it in unionist circles and I think that has been to the detriment of both sides because we still trade more with Northern Ireland than we do with China, and yet, our trade within the island is only a fraction of what it should be. So there is huge scope on the economic–commercial side to improve that relationship. Is there a similar propensity to do this from within Northern Ireland? I think if things are found that are mutually beneficial you can certainly go further with it. Again, all of this has taken far longer than people assumed. What does strategy mean in a peace process, and without a clear strategy can tactics become chaotic and problematic? Strategy is about the essential and tactics are about the potential. So when you are in a negotiation the tactics would be where everything has got potential and then, as you narrow it down, you realise that is not going to get us where we want to get to, so you drop things and hone in on the essential. But the essential is defined by where you want to be. To what extent does that move? I don’t think it ever really moves. I think the strategy was set. 202

Eamonn McKee

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Would you say decommissioning served any strategic purpose? Again, we should return to look at it as being connected to the conflict and violence. Now, whatever the rights and wrongs of it, you have applied violence to a divided community. With violence and counter-insurgency there are two things to bear in mind. One is the organisational capacity for it and two, the means and the weapons to do it. In essence, decommissioning cannot be separated from the policing issue. They are absolutely linked because they are both about the application of violence in a divided society. It is not a coincidence, in my view, that decommissioning and policing were solved at the same time. They were both intrinsically connected because they are both within that parenthesis of the application of violence. From the nationalist point of view, you could not have instruments that applied violence to them left in the policing dispensation; that had to be solved. The Patten Commission and its public outreach had to take place. It had to be a police service reflective of the divided society. On the Policing Board, one of the key concerns, once the SDLP joined, was on national security. Now why was national security such a key issue? Because national security is where the application of violence and the rule of law meet, and if they meet in a dark room where there is no accountability the SDLP have a problem. Because, if there is use of lethal force by the police and there is no explanation, then the SDLP would have to walk away from the Policing Board and collapse the whole thing. The use of national security to cover the use of lethal force was absolutely critical, and Alex Atwood unlocked that issue by coming up with the solution that a select group of the Policing Board would have to be given access to the national security issue and make a judgement as to whether it was right or wrong. Once Sinn Fein became convinced that the application of violence by the state and security forces would not be blanketed by national security and that everybody would be subjected to law, then that meant that the state’s capacity to apply violence was constrained by the rule of law. It meant that the capacity for state violence could be set aside. And that was the fundamental dynamic. How did you view Sinn Fein’s strategy on decommissioning? The other part of that dynamic was the leadership of Adams and McGuinness and their ability to bring the movement cohesively into a political realm, out of a framework of insurgency that did not accept the rule of law. They had to bring cohesion. The time that it took was a change management process of building up faith in this political dispensation within an entity that they originally wanted to get rid of, so it was a very delicate process. It took the best part of a decade to change policing, 203

Inside Accounts and even then it was an incredible achievement. By the same token, that process of change allowed the republican leadership to bring the movement to the point where decommissioning was possible and achieved.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

You said the strategy is the essential. Was that power-sharing? The essential had two dimensions. The first dimension is that you respect self-­ determination, which in the Irish context has two parts. The first part is the selfdetermination of the Irish people on the whole island of Ireland to determine their future. The second part of self-determination is to apply and accept that unionists are entitled to self-determination. So self-determination has these two parts in it. The conundrum to overcoming this is the creation of a society in which you have ­equality, parity of esteem and respect, as well as where the two traditions can live peacefully within the restraints of a state based on six counties. Where did that model come from? Were people looking outside at other parts of the world? Where did these key concepts come from? You have to go back to Sunningdale and the New Ireland Forum, where all of these things were thrashed out. John Hume referred to the ‘totality of relationships’, and he was right because only such a comprehensive view that would have worked. You have to sort out the three relationships, which are unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland, North and South and East and West. Why did it work this time and not before? Because before the unionists were not prepared to make it work, and I think the British were not prepared to make it work either. If the British had turned round to the unionists and said the game was up it might have been different, but at that earlier stage the British system was simply not going to take on the unionist establishment in Northern Ireland. Why would they exchange a minority republican  movement capable of inflicting some minor damage on them for a completely rebellious majority who controlled everything including the power systems and government? This was the circumstance of unionist domination in 1972, combined with the British calculation that the consequences for change would be far worse. And that is what killed Sunningdale. The nationalists would have made it work, but they were simply not met with the willingness of unionists or London to enforce it. 204

Eamonn McKee Is good leadership about listening or is it about telling people what to do? It’s both. It’s being able to listen and being self-aware. If you are a professional politician your success depends on being able to listen, so it forces people to be listeners when they tend not to be. That is the genius of democracy.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Is there a distinction though between listening and hearing? You have to respond to what you’re hearing. Consistency can be a bad thing but, on the other hand, people want to know where you are coming from. Do you think that part of the problem is that the essential has been lost sight of and nobody knows what the essential is anymore? What comes now and what kind of future framework or shared perception is needed for Northern Ireland? The question is essentially about durability. I think the view of everybody in terms of the strategy was that it had to be durable. It is durable when you have the two traditions in Northern Ireland working together. It is durable when North and South have a functioning relationship and it is durable when there is a strong Dublin–London axis. If you have Belfast, Belfast–Dublin and Dublin–London all working together and with good channels of communication, then you have the durability of a triangular structure. That is the bottom line and everybody understands that, and that is why we can be inspired for the future. But if you have Brexit, then that creates a huge problem. Certainly for the Northern Ireland agricultural community and unionists, who are based on a rural economy, that has got massive implications. The question is, can the relationships we have created in that triangle prove durable enough to deal with that? Do you think that the limits of what is achievable in Northern Ireland have probably been reached, since the inclusivity of the process appears to have become the politics of exclusivity? We have to be very careful about the relationship between the past, the present and the future when it comes to politics. All politics is based on the future. Governments tend to get this wrong and think that they deserve a vote because they did a great job. For example, the current Government here will not get a single vote because they got the country out of a recession. It will get a vote because the people may believe that they are the best people to keep it going into the future. That’s the bottom line, and 205

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts the same applies to Northern Ireland. How far do you think a debate about responsibility for the crisis in the South would get you? It hasn’t gone anywhere and it won’t go anywhere. The South never had a debate about the legacy of the Civil War or the War of Independence, and while we will look at these things in the round they won’t define politics and they won’t be solved. Legacy issues are always difficult because they are about judgements, blame and culpability, and these are not easily resolved in any society. The key thing is whether the political dispensation, the social contract, is fit for purpose in terms of now and into the future. The past is always going to be the past and legacy is always going to be incredibly difficult, but I wouldn’t judge the current political organisation and whether it is fit for purpose on the basis of how it deals with the past. I will defy you to find a country which deals effectively with the past. But have the limits of politics in Northern Ireland already been reached? No, I don’t think so. I think the genius of the solution in terms of the Good Friday Agreement is that it finally got people to accept that this is a divided society. Ultimately, that is what unionists had to accept and that is why the D’Hondt system is there. The only limitation on the potential of the Agreement to be a durable and lasting solution is the capacity of people to understand each other, and that is a slower process than most would have liked. The driving force for the Agreement, on both sides, was the feeling that we cannot pass this conflict on to our kids. Once it’s looking forward, it’s good. Once it’s looking backward, it’s sterile. So it comes down to the human condition again, where people are saying we don’t want our kids going through what we went through? Does that transcend the political, then, by moving these concerns into the realms of the personal? Well, it transcends the political but it also informs the political. It’s why you avoid a crisis and it’s why you keep the process going. If not, the alternative is to go back to where we were, and where we were cannot be the measure of what our future is.

206

8

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

The politics of engagement: an interview with Liz O’Donnell

Graham Spencer: Can you give me an outline of your introduction to and involvement in the peace process? Liz O’Donnell: I was TD (Member of the Dail) for Dublin South with the Progressive Democrats. We were part of a coalition in Government with Fianna Fail during the 1997 to 2002 period of the peace process. I was Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and it was my first ministerial appointment. When I came into office, in June of 1997, there was no peace process to speak of because it had been derailed by the Canary Wharf bomb. So, initially, I didn’t anticipate having a role in Anglo-Irish relations. My main designated functions were overseas development and human rights. But on 20 July 1997 the IRA announced another ceasefire, so we were back in business in terms of the peace process. After a period of eight weeks or so of a ‘decontamination’ period (related to the participation of Sinn Fein) we commenced negotiations in Stormont House in September of 1997. I was one of the negotiators for the Irish Government in the multi-party talks from September 1997, when we started with Senator George Mitchell, Harri Holkeri and John de Chastelain. That is how I became involved. Essentially, my party leader, Mary Harney, who was Tanaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) in that Government, wanted to ensure that we had involvement in the peace negotiations and she delegated that responsibility to me. Before that, I was just five years elected as a TD in opposition. I had been opposition spokesperson on Justice and Whip during those five years. I had learned politics quite quickly on my feet, having previously been a city councillor in Dublin since 1991. I studied law in Trinity College and worked in a large firm of solicitors before going into politics. I was married with a very young family. How did being a lawyer impact on your skills as a negotiator and drafting text? 207

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts I do believe that the Good Friday Agreement, as a document, was a masterful and creative piece of drafting and my legal training did help me. My experience as an opposition TD in interrogating words, drafting and amending legislation and being creative with language was also very useful. I should say that when I was appointed by the Cabinet to deal with the North I was sufficiently overawed by the responsibility ahead of me that I devoted the entire summer recess to learning and becoming familiar with the documents and language of the peace process. You will recall, the peace process had been ongoing since the Albert Reynolds Government of 1992 and the subsequent Rainbow Government before we came into power. We had the Frameworks Document and the Downing Street Declaration both in place. There was already, therefore, a broad outline of a framework on what the possible parameters of an acceptable agreement would be. I saw it as my job to be prepared going into those negotiations and to absorb the work that had already been done by previous ministers. So, when we started negotiations we did have a blueprint for the outline of a possible settlement. However, when we went into negotiations in September (the DUP walked out because Sinn Fein came into the room) we found we were in some ways starting anew. I was immediately conscious that there was a huge cohort of unionist opinion self-excluded from the negotiations and I knew that was a deficit to progress. It made things very difficult, especially for David Trimble’s Ulster Unionist Party, because they were progressive in the sense of being open to the negotiations. But every move they made was now seen as a concession and was mocked and derided by the DUP, who were outside the talks. So, politically, David Trimble and his party were in a much more difficult and compromised situation in the negotiations. On the nationalist side there was a consensus with the SDLP, Sinn Fein and the Irish Government, but, as I said, on the other side you had the Ulster Unionists under siege from the outside by the DUP, who had isolated themselves and who were critical of every move, or effort, at conciliation that was made by the Ulster Unionists in the negotiations. That is what really made relations very difficult, and David Trimble had to be very careful not to move position too far or too quickly, because the reality was they were shedding votes to the DUP all the time just for being in the negotiations. Can you give me some idea of how you operated as a negotiator? What does that mean? What did you say and how did you deal with problems? Well, for me, relations were fractured and the level of trust was at such a low point between all the parties in the North. They didn’t know each other as people, so I took the view that it was a relationship-building and confidence-building exercise, and 208

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Liz O’Donnell Mo Mowlam took the same approach. She and I spoke to everybody, and we weren’t formal. We went around talking to all the different groups in all their diversity. I think the unionists didn’t know what to make of me, but they didn’t like Mo. I was a lawyer and I was representing the Irish Government and my party. I was not green in the republican sense. I was married to a Protestant and they knew that my married name was Carson, so I was perceived as a hybrid creature, an unknown quantity. I think some unionists felt that I was more approachable than some of the Irish team, because they were paranoid about the whole process and the ‘green’ agenda. They felt they were negotiating down, which in some ways they were, in that they were negotiating for a new political settlement which was going to be so transformative, with a new police force, North–South bodies and all of those frightening things in respect of which they held fixed positions. But I think that Mo made a huge difference. She was Northern Irish Secretary of State at a time when it was important to have that confidence-building and flexibility on the British side. I think she was the first Secretary for Northern Ireland that had empathy for the nationalist position. I appreciate that might appear a treacherous thing to say from a British perspective, but it was important that she could put herself in the shoes of the nationalist community and the nationalist negotiators. She was not a traditional British Secretary of State. But this was what was needed to demonstrate British goodwill towards making peace. But how did you operate as a negotiator? Was it a case of saying well, you can’t have that, or let’s explore this? There was one instance where Sinn Fein were looking for the release of Jerry McCabe’s killers. Jerry McCabe was murdered as part of an unauthorised operation by the IRA. It was an armed bank robbery in County Limerick. The killers were jailed for it but Sinn Fein wanted them included in the prisoner release programme. The Irish Government said no because it was too soon and too new and it was a killing in the Republic that took place after the peace process had begun. One sensed that Bertie Ahern was tempted at times to concede, as it was a recurring request, but I said blame me and my party, we will leave the Government if you let those guys out, because my party leader, Des O’Malley, knew the murdered detective personally and was adamant that the killers should serve their time. There would not have been agreement in the House either. One of the things we were very lucky to have throughout the peace process was no trouble from the opposition, and there was a strong cross-party consensus that the Government would be given fair wind. There was never a vote on the peace process in the House. We didn’t have troublesome Tories and we didn’t 209

Inside Accounts have people saying ‘No you can’t have that’ and causing trouble domestically for the Government. There was a welcome and valuable cross-party consensus.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

When you were in the negotiations what did you observe about the way men went about that process, and do you remember thinking this is not creative enough, or too competitive, or too macho, or would you have negotiated the same way? I think we all brought different things to it. What is important, and fair to say, is that it was a process that brought the best out in everybody because everybody was genuinely trying to reach a solution. Everybody was aware that people were still being killed and lives were at stake. Although we had ceasefires, there were also breaches of ceasefires, which were at times contested and, with creative ambiguity, covered over in order to keep the process on the road. The cream of the Irish Civil Service was applied to this role, and the same on the British side. There was huge intellectual investment and it was consistent. They weren’t doing anything else. The Prime Minister’s Office and the Taoiseach’s Office were fully engaged – and I say this when speaking in relation to other peace processes – demonstrating that permanency and consistency are needed. A Permanent Secretariat like George Mitchell and his team, like the Irish Secretariat in Northern Ireland, was constantly drafting, addressing issues, overcoming obstacles, cajoling, making friends, gleaning information and intelligence was very important. It really was a process of relationship-building, and if you keep that intensity of negotiations going, even if you don’t feel you are making progress, through talking, people are actually changing their views and understanding the perspectives of others. That in itself constitutes progress, because one of the things I noted was that Northern Ireland politicians are extremely articulate and expert at presenting the position of their tribe, or constituency. But they are useless at understanding the perspectives of the other. They had no capacity and don’t have the language about understanding where the other side is coming from. Nationalism and unionism are mutually exclusive, so they couldn’t see anything they might have in common (John Hume and colleagues in the SDLP were an exception) so it was interesting to see that gradually, through a process with George Mitchell as Chairman and his endless and saintly patience, that everyone talked. The UK Unionist representative, Robert McCartney QC, would empty a room, he was so pedantic and unyielding in his perspective, but George would let him talk on a point of order for about thirty minutes. Nobody was shut down and everybody was allowed their perspective and point of view. Eventually, through talking, people got to know each other. Furthermore, we were all hot-housed in Stormont Buildings in this cramped, institutionalised building which had nothing elegant about it. It was alternately hot 210

Liz O’Donnell and cold and stuffy and you would bump into people, since all went to the same canteen. Ironically, all of those environmental issues made a difference in that you got to know people by being so close together in an uncomfortable space.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

The informal interests me, and the Irish officials have all confirmed the importance of dinner and drinks and chatting outside the negotiating room. Do you agree? Yes, very little was achieved in the plenary sessions or main negotiating rooms. If any progress was made it was in bilaterals, or informal chats. The plenary sessions were set pieces with all the parties around the table and very little was said, because everybody was cautiously watching everyone else. We found it very difficult to agree a substantive agenda when we started the negotiations because there was such a fear of reaching or going too far. For example, even the mention of an agenda item such as North–South bodies was enough to trigger a walkout from the Ulster Unionists. Indeed, there were serial walkouts on the unionist side. I don’t think the level of trust was there for anything to be achieved at plenary sessions until the very end. Final agreement was done and dusted in bilaterals because people needed time to digest stuff and work through drafting. I can’t remember anything that was achieved at a plenary session, with the exception of the final day, because people had their stances and positions to articulate and it was like a public forum. It was at a more private level where things were done, with Mitchell pressing a point with the unionists, or with Bertie on the phone to the SDLP, or Mo talking to the ‘smalls’ as she called them, the Progressive Unionist Party, the Ulster Democratic Party and the Women’s Coalition etc. To what extent was this process made up as you went along and to what extent was it working to plan? It was very much top-down. It wasn’t an organic peace process that came from the people. It was two Governments saying okay this is where we are, at all stages. The strongest of all the relationships was the two Governments agreeing that we needed to sort this vexed quarrel out. There were two new Governments, one in Ireland and one in the UK, with two fresh Prime Ministers, with a clear mandate to achieve peace. That helped greatly because it gave impetus and freshness to the negotiations and the commitment to get an agreement. Do you think it made a difference for you and others like Sinn Fein and the Women’s Coalition to have women in that environment? 211

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts I think it made a significant difference. Brid Rogers, who was on the SDLP side, was an experienced politician, from the North, yet both moderate and feisty. She knew the Sinn Fein people and she knew the whole territory and it was very important to have her on the nationalist side, as she was someone reasonable, but tough. Sinn Fein had Barbre de Bruin, with Rita O’Hare in the background (one of the On-the-Runs). I think the Women’s Coalition was a brilliant initiative because  they didn’t exist before, and so there was no way that diverse perspective from civil society would have been represented in negotiations without them. They actually represented civil society because they came from a non-tribal sectarian section of the  community and they represented people who were innovative and open to reform. Importantly, these were academic women, social workers, teachers, lawyers and they brought a professional expertise and competence to the process of the negotiations which the traditional party politicians didn’t have. In what way? It was manifested first of all by their civility, professionalism and their methodologies. They were always well prepared with their documents. They put forward suggestions and, if we were at a crossroads, or if there was an obstacle, they would come forward with ideas to overcome that. They would also have meetings with the smaller loyalist groupings and cajole people forward and reassure them. Monica McWilliams was very supportive of David Ervine and was almost like a mentor for him because he needed that intellectual ballast and support, which he didn’t get from his own party. Of course, they were very supportive of him in his role as leader of a loyalist party because he was a very flexible guy, and yet his life was in danger at all times, so he needed support and we made sure he was included in everything and treated with respect. Gary McMichael and Davy Adams were there too, but more as listeners than innovators. They would tend to take their cue from the Progressive Unionist Party. They were well intentioned, but nervous, I think. They just didn’t have the political experience and weren’t very good at articulating their position. However, they were representative of the loyalist prisoners, which was hugely important. In my view, it is a source of regret and disadvantage that they do not have any political representation post the Agreement. Did you think when the Agreement was signed that there was a future for women’s  politics? That politics in Northern Ireland could become more diverse and less tribal?

212

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Liz O’Donnell Yes, and Monica McWilliams and Jane Morrice and Bronagh Hinds and others were very good and steady participants, although they were brand new to politics. They gave women and politics a good name. They were very accomplished and steady people and they gave a huge amount to the process. They were also very close confidantes to George Mitchell. They were good at process because they came from business and academic and mediation backgrounds, so they never lost their head. They were always working to try and overcome obstacles, whereas people were often storming out of meetings and play-acting and if you hit a neuralgic point they would walk out. David Trimble was so fiery and unpredictable. He was a difficult man under huge stress, but his back was under so much pressure from the DUP, and with Jeffrey Donaldson MP, who was creating dissent internally and poisoning the well. Trimble was leading a divided party, which was like herding cats at times. What it was like being a woman in that situation? I never felt any pressure on account of my gender. I came from a party which was dominated by women and over fifty per cent of our party were women. I did go into politics originally because of the dearth of women in Irish politics. I am a feminist and I have been an advocate for increasing the number of women in politics. I am still involved in that field, but it is up to others to say I made a personal difference being a woman. I think because I am a woman and because of where I came from politically, in my background and being a lawyer, I brought competences which may not have been available to somebody else. It was a perfect fit for me and I felt hugely privileged being involved in the negotiations. I was terrified at first because I thought there was so much at stake and how on earth have I ended up here in these historic negotiations. And it was just the luck of the draw. We were in a coalition and I was Minister in that Government and my boss, Mary Harney, who was leader of the party, rang me up when the ceasefire was called and said ‘By the way you are doing the North,’ so if someone throws you such a ball you have to run with it. My first instinct, I admit, as a woman, which is very typical of a woman, is to think am I going to do this well? Am I qualified to do this? Whereas a man would tend to say ‘When can I start? Let me at it.’ Were your male colleagues supportive of you? Yes, very much, and my leader, Mary Harney, completely delegated to me the responsibility. She did not phone up every day saying ‘What did you say today?’ She 213

Inside Accounts let me run with it, and that’s what happens in small parties and that is why women do well in small parties, because there is space for them to progress. If I were in Fianna Fail I would not have got a look in there. It would have been ‘Keep her out, she’s too gobby and even a threat. This is men’s work.’

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

If most negotiators in the peace process had been women, do you think this problem would have been sorted out quicker? I’m not sure. I think that might be an exaggeration and taking the gender bias too far. I think we could have done with a few more women, but we were fortunate to have Mo Mowlam and myself as Ministers on the two Governments’ sides and Brid Rogers and the Women’s Coalition, so there were enough women in the room to make a difference. George Mitchell also allowed space for women to contribute and he was anxious to include and listen to Mo and me and he was very inclusive. I had as much time to speak as someone from the Ulster Unionists and he was very measured in allocating time to people. It’s interesting what you say about women bringing different mediation skills. Can you elaborate? Well, men tend to have fixed positions. It is seen as a sign of strength. A lot of politicians don’t do mediation. It just is not what they do. They have one position and they continue to articulate it, particularly in Northern Ireland, and that is what they get elected on. Alliance Party politicians were viewed by unionists as wimps, and you could compare it to the bullying of the minority. If an Alliance Party member said something David Trimble would be yawning. To be fair to the Alliance Party, they were trying to appeal to both communities, but they were seen as weak because they didn’t have strong enough views and they were seen by many others as not serious politicians because of that. That suggests that being serious in politics means that you have to have a fixed position. And immovable, and that’s how you got votes. Unionist leaders often came to power  by  having absolutely immovable positions. Remember Ian Paisley and ‘No Surrender’. Do you think that women are better listeners than men in such situations? 214

Liz O’Donnell Yes, I do, and I suppose women have a greater degree of flexibility because they have to be flexible in their own working lives, family lives and managing relationships. They are better at doing that and less quick to take a fixed and immovable position.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Rather than, say, the zero-sum, win-lose option, which men seem to favour? Yes, and I think it was George Mitchell who had this expression ‘parity of pain and parity of gain’. So, for any deal to work there had to be pain and gain on both sides, and that’s the space that George tried to create for the participants. I learned so much about chairing by watching how he worked. Impeccable politeness and so civilised. He’s that rare breed of American that’s completely calm and tough, and I suppose that’s the combination of being a judge, a lawyer, a senior Democrat politician and leader of the Senate. He was so important to the process because one couldn’t misbehave in front of him. People had too much respect for him. What do you mean by him being tough? He was as tough on the two Governments as he was on republicans. He put the deadline down and said enough talking, my view is we could be here until Christmas. I’m going back to America and have been here long enough. He had great quality of allowing people to talk, and I suppose it was boring to listen to it and the endless repetition of their fixed positions, which we heard many times, but, in the end, people got ‘talked out’. Some of the Women’s Coalition faced comments like ‘Why don’t you get back in the kitchen and look after your kids?’ Well, that had gone on even before the negotiations started because there was a process set up to elect the women to the peace process and there was a forum in Northern Ireland, and I believe that was very toxic. Gradually it got better and George Mitchell put manners on them and he just wouldn’t tolerate it in the discussions. He would call them out if there were any sexist or derogatory comments made about the women. But, on the side, they would be laughing. When a woman made a comment, whether it was from Sinn Fein or the Women’s Coalition, there would be yawns from the unionists. What did that do to hinder trust? 215

Inside Accounts I was appalled by the lack of civility when I went into the negotiations.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

So, was the role of the women different to that of the men, given how different attitudes were? I think they viewed that Mo Mowlam was useful at the time and, objectively, if you are thinking about running a peace process and getting a good result, she was  useful  in building confidence with republicans. She had an inclusive way of mobilising support for things, was very good with the public in Northern Ireland and was popular. Her illness attracted people’s sympathy and empathy, so, as a Secretary of State, she was popular except for the unionist negotiators, who just didn’t get her. One of the things which the British emphasised was paper; text. A lot of the Irish have emphasised the importance of talking, and some said that comes from a different culture and society. Can you talk about the oral tradition? Yes, but remember, that’s also a threatening thing for unionists because they see cultural difference between unionists and nationalists as weasel words. I knew that from my study of law in Trinity and being married to a Protestant. Less is more with Protestants, and Ulster Protestants in particular are more rational and more logical. Words mean words, and those who were ambiguous in language couldn’t be trusted; it’s a cultural thing. Republicans were a bit of a mixture really because they were very difficult to negotiate with. I didn’t do a lot of direct negotiations with them and they wouldn’t have been too keen on me because I came from a part of the Government where my party would have been very tough against IRA violence, and we would never sit on the fence about that. Mary Harney left Fianna Fail prior to forming the Progressive Democrats because she wanted to support the Anglo-Irish Agreement, whereas Fianna Fail objected to that Agreement. So we always had a much more considered and conciliatory view of peace in Northern Ireland and were against violence. We were much tougher and had no ambivalence about republican violence. I had to shift my position and I used to see it as suspending my critical faculties because, initially, I didn’t really trust republicans. They were negotiating with an arsenal behind them and I thought it gave them an unfair advantage because nobody else had that. It was a tyranny. Is it the case that the Irish would not have produced as much paper as the British and that, for the Irish, the conversational and the informal were emphasised much more? 216

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Liz O’Donnell Well, I was worried at the final stages, when we were drafting the final version of the document, that we were losing control of it, because if you have two Governments changing bits here and there the fear is that some pieces would get left out, and we were all so fatigued, so it could well have happened. I just wanted to make sure that someone was really watching this final document because when you have two sets of administrations finishing off and editing there is a question about what is coming out and what is going in as the final thing was coming together. There was a matter of the three strands of the negotiations merging and then all the bits that were finalised at the end, such as the security stuff that people were not told about, side-letters and decommissioning. Did the republicans treat you differently compared to the unionists? No, in fairness they were okay with me. I got on better with Martin McGuinness than I did with Gerry Adams, who is more ideological and uncompromising. I was working on Strand Two, which was negotiating North–South relations, so I did a lot of that with Mark Durkan and McGuinness. Gerry Adams always seemed to maintain a distance from the day-to-day negotiations, preferring the top note to keep at a level with Tony Blair, Bertie Ahern and Bill Clinton, and he didn’t really get down and under the bonnet in negotiations on a day-to-day basis, in Stormont Buildings at least. There is a view that Sinn Fein were tough negotiators, but what does that mean? I will tell you what it means. It means as soon as they get something in negotiations they ‘pocket’ it and it’s as if they never got it because they are on to the next thing. They are very acquisitive, very insatiable with demands. So they never said ‘Okay we got that and we will be reasonable now.’ It was always on to the next thing and you got no credit for giving them what they wanted, like release of prisoners, because they thought they were entitled to that anyway. On the night of the Good Friday Agreement they produced dozens of extra questions, or concerns, and the Governments had to go through them even though they had been working on this for three years. Would this be an example of that? Yes, because they are never finished, and that’s the annoying thing about them and it still is. A lot of the stuff they were interested in, because it was security-based, was dealt with at official level, so release of prisoners and the decommissioning of 217

Inside Accounts weapons was done with justice officials like Secretary General Tim Dalton. There was never plenary or bilateral action on that. It was dealt with at official level.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

What happened in response to the Northern Bank Robbery and the Robert McCartney murder? At what point would the Governments have said that enough is enough? Did it come close then? That was after the Good Friday Agreement, and so those matters were politically problematic for the Governments. Ironically, the biggest atrocity of the Troubles came after the Agreement, in August, which was the Omagh bombing, when twentyeight men, women and children were blown up on a summer afternoon. That was my lowest point in the whole experience of being an Irish Government negotiator. I felt that we had lulled the people of Northern Ireland into a false sense of security by accepting the Good Friday Agreement and getting them to endorse it in a referendum. We had believed that nothing like that was going to happen again. That was devastating. I drove from Donegal to Dublin, via Omagh, the day before to attend a friend’s christening party who was a journalist and it was bizarre. All our phones rang at 3.00pm, when the bomb went off, and that could have derailed the whole thing, given it was so soon after we had signed the Agreement. The republicans did well to convince us that it was dissidents but, at the time, we were saying so what if it’s dissidents, people are still being bombed to pieces after all this work and if we still have people who are willing to do this do we really have a viable settlement? Needless to say, the IRA and Sinn Fein did not do much in helping to find the Omagh bombers. What did they do? Nothing. And that was the kind of stuff that undermined confidence in the peace process for me and others as time passed. Then we had the bank robbery, the ongoing criminality and the slowness of decommissioning, which they didn’t complete until 2008, a decade after the Agreement. I don’t blame the Ulster Unionists losing confidence and there not being enough confidence to keep the Assembly and the institutions running. Those institutions were not stable until about 2007 and until then it was stop-go, stop-go, because they still had all these weapons at their disposal. This is a problem of principle too, isn’t it? Yes, it is a fundamental democratic principle at stake. And failure to disarm was compromising and diminishing of the democratic process because we were always 218

Liz O’Donnell

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

suspending our critical faculties and asking are these guys for real, are they ever going to put politics over killing and paramilitarism? We never really got a clear answer to that. They gave us weak language, but they clearly saw the decommissioning of weapons as a possible outcome of them getting everything, if not as a precondition for negotiations, which is what we started off with. We were backsliding constantly from that. No wonder David Trimble felt upset by that because I, as a Government minister, also at times felt that we were being misled. Do the British have to take blame for this? No, both Governments were playing high-risk politics. We had it on good authority that the IRA were up for a final settlement. Although decommissioning was achievable, Sinn Fein felt that it was not achievable until politics was really working for them and they were getting as much by way of concessions, reforms in the North, demilitarisation, all that. They waited until they had everything before they gave up the arms. What did you think about the Tony Blair side-letter? Did the Irish know that was coming? We knew that was just a hand-holding, face-saving exercise for Trimble because we knew we couldn’t guarantee it. It was everyone’s intention that there had to be decommissioning, otherwise we were dealing with subversion. We couldn’t have a party in the Dail, or in the Government in Northern Ireland, who were able to keep and use as leverage an arsenal if they didn’t have their own way. In fairness to the unionists, we couldn’t expect them to be in the Government with a party who had an illegal arsenal when we, as a Government, would not do it either. What was the public reaction to this? There was a kind of euphoric state of confidence in the peace process. I suppose there was a detachment from the Irish electorate’s point of view. They felt that any progress was better than no progress and that it was going to be incremental. At the time of the Agreement being signed there was a misplaced euphoria that El Dorado had arrived. Of course, we who were close to it knew that it was only a blueprint, a plan. Just the beginning. We didn’t think it would take ten years, but we knew what change was needed, given what was envisaged and agreed in terms of the justice system, a new police force, the release of prisoners and justice reforms. I knew the release of 219

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

prisoners was going to be hard for victims’ families, and that was a big thing to concede, the unconditional and immediate release of prisoners who had done terrible things, bombing and killing women, children and civilians. The whole change in the equality legislation was really a remaking of the fabric of Northern Ireland. It was a rebuilding of democracy and we knew it was going to take a long time. Are you of the mind that the republican view of Ireland is not what Ireland is really like? Well you see, Sinn Fein, in some ways, represent the old Ireland, the old nationalistic Ireland, although in other ways they are quite progressive. They are quite good on women’s rights and social policy. They are forward looking on those nonconstitutional issues. They are a mixed bag and that is what’s giving them their appeal in the South. If they were the same old republicans and just into the tribal politics of narrow nationalism, I don’t think they would have gained such traction. They have  had political success here over the last ten years because it’s a perfect  storm blowing in their favour. They’re not in the Government and have been  in  opposition  through the worst recession and economic collapse, when the banking scandal hit. And, as an anti-capitalist party, they’re reaping the rewards of voters who are totally peeved with how the system has failed them, what with corrupt banks, mortgage debt and bankers walking off without being prosecuted etc. They are benefiting from all that and are getting votes from those who might have never  voted  before; the excluded  and disaffected. I think that is why they are going to be very successful, because they are hitting that cohort of people who are turned off conventional politics and who lost a lot through the recession. In addition, they have sufficient intellectual ballast and are good performers and researchers. They spend a lot of money.  They have a lot of money; more than any other party. You would never get tolerance in the unionist community for the concept of ‘Armalite and ballot box’. Yet, in the republican community it is tolerated, so how do they manage such a contradiction? I think they are just very good at politics, and I have said that should not be a matter of regret. This was inevitable because, if the Agreement were to be successful, politics had to work for them, otherwise they might still be at undemocratic and paramilitary activities. They have brought all the stamina, drive and dedication which fuelled thirty years of war into politics and that’s some recipe for success. They 220

Liz O’Donnell demonstrate great discipline of a military quality. You can see it in the Dail, where they are in on every debate and first out with the statement. Everyone sticks to the party line.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

How did you perceive the Adams–McGuinness double-act in terms of negotiating skill, personality and how they worked? Well they were very different characters. I never really got to know Gerry Adams very well. He tended to keep himself at a higher level. In other words, he would be at the level of Prime Minister and Taoiseach. I don’t recall him being at many of the meetings that I attended. I got to know Martin in terms of his negotiating style much better than I did Gerry Adams. So what was Martin McGuinness’ style like? He was very quiet, reflective, a good listener and he would give everybody time to speak. He never interrupted anybody. He was on a big learning curve about politics, listening and respecting other people’s perspectives. When he made interventions were they ‘big picture’ interventions? In other words was he thinking about how something fits in with overall thinking, or was he preoccupied with the details? He was not pedantic in that sense. His style was more one of making an intervention to elucidate, or elaborate, on a point. He was genuinely interested in what was going on. If we were talking about some particular aspect of North–South relations and cross-border bodies he was practical, not ideological. I would not have described him as an ideological person and so he wasn’t as fixed in his positions as most in the Sinn Fein delegation would have been. He was more open to discussion and exploring and interrogating ideas. Would he and the team he had with him come back to the same problem over and again, or would they ever say ‘Okay we can run with that’ and agree a position there and then? They were slow to move from fixed positions. You got the impression that there was a centralised hub and everything had to go through it and be analysed from a headquarters point of view. I can’t remember anything that was agreed in my presence 221

Inside Accounts or, to my knowledge, that didn’t have to be run past the Army Council, or whatever oversight arrangements they had. Did you ever meet any members of the Army Council?

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

No, not that I know of. They didn’t come in wearing T-shirts saying ‘Army Council’. The British under Blair asked once to meet the Army Council, but it did not happen. But did the Irish ask to speak to the Army Council? If that had ever happened it would have been facilitated at official level, but  I certainly  never had any direct dealings with people who claimed to be on the Army  Council. Remember, there was a permanent state of denial about being on the Army Council and nobody ever admitted to that anyway. Was it the case that Sinn Fein kept coming back to a problem because they wanted to make sure that there were no traps and that they had exhausted all possible angles of interpretation? To me it seemed as if they had a never-ending list of grievances which needed to be addressed, and it was like a beanstalk because there was no way you were going to get to the end of it. It was exhausting from the other side’s point of view because they had an insatiable appetite for more. We had a view that if you made a concession to them they pocketed it immediately and you got no credit for it. As I said, they just moved on instantly to the next demand. Can you give me an example of a concession you made to them where they treated it in that way? No, I can’t think of anything in particular because there were so many. They had a list of requirements on security issues, on the release of prisoners, with On-the-Runs, the criminal prosecution service and so on. They had many agenda items. Did they take any responsibility for these areas and particularly, say, with On-theRuns? Was there any critical self-reflection at all from them on that? No, there seemed to be very little acceptance on their part that these were difficult things for the Governments to deliver. It was always about their difficulties in keeping 222

Liz O’Donnell their people happy, and they were very conscious of not moving too far ahead of their constituency. In Sinn Fein’s case, they had a constituency who were militants, so they had to be very careful and I suppose they felt they did not have the capacity to give generously to the negotiations because they had to keep these people, who were on a war footing, happy and in bellicose mood.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

How did republicans dodge the decommissioning expectation? They said they saw it ultimately as an outcome of the successful negotiations, so, in other words, they were holding on to their arms in order to extract concessions. And they didn’t define what they meant by ‘successful outcome’ either, I assume? It was what they wanted, so that was an unfair advantage compared to all the other parties in the negotiations. This made it skewed, and potentially corrosive of democracy too. Did the SDLP get agitated with the Irish officials because they were paying all the costs for this? They were furious, and Seamus Mallon was poisonous about how Sinn Fein was being molly-coddled and elevated. I think he had a lasting falling-out with Tony Blair. He was very bitter that the SDLP, from being the biggest nationalist party in Northern Ireland, who had held the line in terrible circumstances, picking up the bodies, consoling the relatives and who had never stooped to violence, or condoned its legitimacy, ended up being overtaken in terms of media and Government attention by Sinn Fein. Did they attack the Irish on this as well? Yes, they were furious. What did you say to them? I think that they had a good point and I would have shared their dismay at how both Governments singled out Sinn Fein for attention and highlighting their contribution to the peace process. In other words, they glorified Gerry Adams and ignored Seamus Mallon. 223

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

In that sense, then, the SDLP position was moving close to the unionist position? Yes, the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP were the centre ground. Both parties felt that Sinn Fein were untrustworthy and opportunistic. In fairness to the SDLP, they made a heroic and selfless contribution in political terms because they were really losing ground to Sinn Fein every day that this went on. They were shedding seats and support because people thought that Sinn Fein were the ones who were the peacemakers and the SDLP had nothing particular to say. What was your view of the British and how they compared to the Irish in their approach? I was impressed, actually. I felt they were principled and committed and they had a lot of patience. I was amazed at the degree of patience they had with republicans. We had a nationalist consensus with the SDLP, the Irish Government and Sinn Fein on one side, and then there was the British Government which was acting as a kind of proxy negotiating for the unionist cohort, or those with a British allegiance. As I said before, it was a very much top-down process and nothing organic came from the parties. There was a huge amount of hand-holding going on. The two Governments did most of the drafting but the parties became over-reliant on the Governments, I think, in terms of articulating their positions. Is the British system more bureaucratic and hierarchical and, it so, does that speed decisions up or slow them down? Yes, our system is much more accessible and Government more collective as a Cabinet. The Blair Government was presidential. But Mo was side-lined at the end. The key decisions were made by Blair and the Prime Minister’s team. Mo became ill and they knew about that and were not very nice to her. Quite soon afterwards, she was taken off the job. How does pressure work in a situation like that? Is it coercive or cajoling pressure? It’s more cajoling, but, you see, Sinn Fein are so conscious of their public image and they are masterful at public relations and they would not want to be seen as behaving unreasonably. If Bill Clinton was saying ‘Well guys you need to cross this bridge and take a risk for peace’, it was hard to say no. At the same time, people like the late Senator Ted Kennedy – a long-time supporter of the peace process and of John Hume – was always quite tough on Sinn Fein and refused to meet them after 224

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Liz O’Donnell the Robert McCartney murder. He met the McCartney sisters instead. So there was a tension there. You could only go so far with the confidence-building and then you just had to say that’s not acceptable, so they suffered the slings and arrows of that public attention for things like the McCartney murder and the Northern Bank robbery. They were involved in criminality long after the Good Friday Agreement too, there’s no doubt about that. My former leader, Michael McDowell, as Minister for Justice from 2002 to 2007, was aware through intelligence there was criminality going on and that they were involved in racketeering, with guns moving around and intimidation going on. That was the subsequent part of the working out of the Good Friday Agreement, with the St Andrews Agreement, which is just as important, to put aspects of the Good Friday Agreement into motion. We agreed the Good Friday Agreement quite quickly, from September 1997 to Easter 1998, but working out the provisions of the Agreement took up to ten years. Were there any spats amongst the Irish in terms of moving too fast etc.? There were spats within my party and there was intolerance of Sinn Fein’s ongoing criminality post-Agreement. My Minster for Justice colleague was very pro security of the state and was a less flexible figure. The unionists disliked Mo because she was so naturally reforming and a creative politician. She had quite strange ways of ­working and was eccentric. She was very friendly with everyone and very casual in her approach, but there was method in her madness too, in that she built relationships with people right across the spectrum, and I really admired her for that. But then there was a time after the Agreement when confidence was draining away from the unionist community because there was no sign of decommissioning. Unionists were saying what’s going on? We have all these changes, reform of the police, release of prisoners, demilitarisation and yet the republicans still have their arsenal. So, in fairness, the British Government had to change the person in charge. They brought in Mandelson, who was much tougher on the republicans and closer to the unionists. Tougher in what way? Less conciliatory and more demanding of decommissioning and better performance from republicans, in the same way as other people, who took over after I was involved, became part of a growing body of impatience in both Governments about ­decommissioning. It wasn’t just the delivery of arms; it was when it could definitively be said that Sinn Fein had embraced politics completely and there is no threat 225

Inside Accounts of return to violence. As George Mitchell said, it is about the ­‘decommissioning of the mind-set’.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

I am fascinated in such a process how you reach the end of the line on a problem before moving on to the next one. Or was it more a constant process of revisiting and tweaking and adjusting? I found it frustrating because we couldn’t actually tick off things, and also the process of the negotiations meant that we were negotiating across the three strands, that is, North–South, East–West and internally in Northern Ireland. In a sense, there were three parallel universes spinning away at the same time. Of course, there were overlapping implications from those three processes, but there was also an overriding ethos which was that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’. To me, this was a real cause of procrastination and was always frustrating, in that one never felt that we were getting somewhere because nothing was agreed. It was all without prejudice to everything. I think it would have been more helpful if George Mitchell had a process that said okay let’s tick off this and move, because, given that everything was conditional to the final settlement, this made it difficult to feel as if one was getting anywhere. Not surprisingly, when it came to the final moments, after months of negotiations, people were not very clear that if it had all come together or would produce a deal, because it was so expansive and cobwebbed and interlocking. Were you ever taken by surprise by what happened, whether it was a word, or someone behaving as you did not expect? No, it was a very unnatural set of circumstances. There were some events such as an atrocity, or a breach of the ceasefire, where there would have to be a determination as to whether we were going to keep the show on the road and not ignore the fatality, or the incident. The loyalists were put out of the negotiations, and I remember we went to London and the decision was made that it was unequivocally a breach of the ceasefire because there had been a murder. We were just hoping for the best a lot of the time, hoping that things would work out and that there would be a sufficiently benign dynamic to keep the process on the road. We tried not to be blown off course by the last atrocity. And yet if you think of the moment when Mo Mowlam went into the prisons to speak with the loyalists, that looks to be an incredibly pragmatic move. What did you think of that? 226

Liz O’Donnell It was almost a desperate move, as well, because there was a feeling that we were losing a very important cohort of support for the peace process, and it was necessary to do that. Was it the case that you would have spoken to anybody?

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

We were already talking to fairly unsavoury people in terms of democratic politics. Did Mo Mowlam talk to you about visiting the Maze Prison? No, but that did not surprise me because, of all people involved in the negotiations, Mo would have been the one to do it because she was very naturally impulsive as a politician. She was very informal in everything she did; the way she addressed meetings and dealt with issues. For other people, it would have been a much bigger step to take but for Mo, it was part of her armour, where she disabled people by her informality. Does that not illustrate, in a way, the importance of the informality within a formal process? Oh yes it does, and there were opportunities to be informal with people, to have conversations in the corridors and to say ‘For God’s sake would you not let us move on from this point?’ on an individual basis, and sometimes that was forthcoming. I understand that you were with Mo Mowlam when the news of Rosemary Nelson’s murder broke. Can you tell me about that? We were in Washington during St Patrick’s Day celebrations and it was about two years after the Good Friday Agreement, and Mo was over there and it was the second time she had gone over for it, but she was not well. We were in the Irish Ambassador’s residence when the word came through that Rosemary Nelson’s car had been blown up and it was truly shocking because, at that stage, we were talking about the Finucane Inquiry and collusion, those issues which were on the agenda and would need to be dealt with at some point. I had written to the British Government saying that it was the Irish Government’s view that we needed a public inquiry into this matter; that it was still one of the items on the agenda for East–West relations. And, the next thing, Rosemary Nelson, a solicitor like Finucane, was murdered. She had complained of being intimidated in her work as a solicitor, so there were 227

Inside Accounts similarities with the Finucane situation. Mo was completely shattered at the news that this woman had been blown up in her car, and I suppose there was a suspicion of dirty tricks.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

How did the Irish react to that? It was very upsetting because we had studied the Finucane case and there were clear suggestions of collusion. When you raised that the Finucane case needed to be looked at, how did you raise it? There was a letter from me which I signed as Minister after being asked by my officials to do so. It wasn’t off my own bat but it was formally raised by me as a Minister to Mo Mowlam that this needed to be looked at and there have been various promises made over the years. I think it was fairly accepted at that stage by the British Government that there would be an investigation. How did Mo react to the letter? Did she respond with a letter? Yes. It said that it was a matter under consideration but that there were positive indications from Blair and Mo Mowlam that the matter would be looked at and that it was a serious matter. Were republicans bringing this up as well? Yes, but more the Finucane family members, who had witnessed the killing. Were they bringing up other cases which were perhaps less prominent? Oh yes there were quite a lot of them. They mostly would have been dealt with by the Taoiseach, or in the Department of Justice and with the Attorney-General. When something like that is raised at a political level, to what extent are you pondering it from a legal perspective, as a trained lawyer, and are these cases about illegality as much as being about the political? Well there were so many bad things done on both sides that in a process like the peace process there were undoubtedly instances of bad behaviour and extra-legal 228

Liz O’Donnell activities by the British Government through the course of the Troubles for which some people would not apologise. The ‘securocrats’ in the British administration would not apologise for Bloody Sunday, but argue that the only way they could combat the IRA over the years was through using irregular methods.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Did you fall out with the British during your involvement, or was this a different ­generation of British politicians that challenged your expectations? I can only say for the period that I was involved, for five years through the Good Friday negotiations until 2002, that the British Government wanted an honourable settlement which had a capacity to reach into the real problems of the North and the structural injustices and the unfairness of the administrations that had gone before. I think the Blair Government was the first with a clear majority and the capacity to really make a difference and resolve the issue. One of the things that politicians often don’t get credit for is creativity and imagination. Do you think there was a lot of creativity at work in this process; trying and then ditching ideas and trying alternatives by working around problems as well as through them? Yes, towards an agreed end. They knew where they wanted to end up. They wanted to get this monkey off their back, which was this festering sore of Northern Ireland; and the Dublin Government felt the same, that with our economy growing and with good things happening in Ireland and building prosperity, this ridiculous old wound still disgracing us internationally, with bombs going off, just had to be sorted out. That’s why there was a welcome embrace of the change to Articles Two and Three of the Constitution where, prior to that, it was anathema to even talk about removing our territorial claim to Northern Ireland. Public opinion was very much let’s get this done and not sit on the territorial claim when we know we can’t and should not bomb a million Protestants into a united Ireland. From 1998 until you left in 2002 is it the case that decommissioning was the dominant issue? Yes, because we were implementing the Agreement and the tough stuff had been set aside, like the policing reform, equality legislation, release of prisoners, demilitarisation etc. All of those things were huge changes in the life of Northern Ireland, and yet there was still no sign of any guns being ‘put beyond use’. 229

Inside Accounts What about the morality of this?

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

It was corrupting and corrosive of the politicians involved. Remember, we were suspending our critical faculties because the true morality of the situation was that the sovereign governments should not negotiate with terrorists. That is a fundamental principle of democratic politics, so it was high risk. Is there an element of romanticisation of republicans in Northern Ireland in the South, or are they seen as beyond the pale by most? Unfortunately, there is probably a ‘sneaking regard’ in the South, not for the methodology or operation of republican Sinn Fein, but of the aims of a united Ireland and the memory of colonisation and anti-Britishness. There is a certain race memory of that stuff which is still quite strong. It’s an undercurrent that gives a basis and validity to some of the more extreme elements in Fianna Fail; that there should be a united Ireland and the British are here unjustly; that they are unwelcome in Northern Ireland and they should leave. But then there is also a progressive view that you can’t coerce a million Protestants into a united Ireland, and that’s the basis of the peace process; that any change in the status of Northern Ireland has to be by consent. So the kernel of the Agreement, as was signed and mandated by the people, is that the aspiration of Irish unity is still there but that it has to be with the consent of the people of Northern Ireland. In other words, we have transmogrified it from a territorial claim to an aspiration that can be achieved with the consent of the people of Northern Ireland by agreement. That is the fundamental principle of consent, which is, ironically, what our party had advocated since the mid-1980s. The great credo, or ideology, of nationalism and of Irish political life was to unite our country again. The Progressive Democrats were the first to accept this aspiration towards unity by consent and that removing the territorial claim would make space for a peaceful accommodation of the problem. I was amazed that people in the Republic voted so overwhelmingly in favour of that, without bother over constitutional change, because for so long it had been an immovable item of faith. The extremists have now become the moderates, or the centre, and the moderates have been moved to the periphery. Did you foresee that the SDLP and the UUP would get burned in this process? It’s the big irony of the peace process, and I think history will be kinder than politics. In electoral terms, it was a process which destroyed the middle ground, and in the 230

Liz O’Donnell end the people who were the rejectionists, the Democratic Unionists, and those who wouldn’t agree to come into the talks and who were not part of the Agreement, are now top dogs. They only came in when they were the party able to get the spoils of office and to run the country. Paisley came in when they had destroyed the Ulster Unionists, and he was First Minister. Ultimately, it was about power, not principle.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Do you think Northern Ireland is an inward-looking place? They are very good at articulating their own position, but perhaps inevitably, given that they endured civil war for thirty years, they have a small view of the world. There were very few people going in there except to report on the war. There was very little inward investment from America, whereas the rest of Ireland was booming economically. The North was this residual hotbed of bigotry and hatred and violence, and we hoped that there would be a greater economic dividend from the peace, and that was what the Americans hoped for too. But it took so long to normalise the situation, and I blame Sinn Fein for that because they took too long to give up their old sins. If you look at Sunningdale and the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the unionist outrage about the suggestion that there might be a Council of Ireland, when it comes to the North–South bodies the unionist reaction was still hostile to that arrangement. Were republicans equally uneasy because it might enshrine a situation that they would not be comfortable with? The unionists were apprehensive at the time of the Agreement. The North–South bodies list was drawn up by Wally Kirwan in the Taoiseach’s Office, who had been overly enthusiastic in his drafting, and there were dozens of them, on everything from fisheries, to agriculture, to education. Any unionist would have run a mile, and they nearly did, when they saw the length of the list. My strong political advice was to cut that list, we only needed eight or nine, and that it’s the principle we want to achieve, not the extensive list. It went on the table, but an advisor to Trimble went ballistic. The unionists had overcome their neuralgia about North–South bodies with executive powers because they saw that as a quid pro quo for the constitutional change, so the border would be blurred by these North–South bodies. However, there would still be a jurisdictional boundary between North and South because the Agreement ensured that the jurisdictional and constitutional position of Northern Ireland remained as was, and so still part of the UK until such time as a referendum came about whereupon a majority of people in Northern Ireland decided o ­ therwise. That compromise was backed up by allowing North–South co-operation on key areas 231

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts such as industry and tourism. The list was overly expansive and it scared the horses. David Trimble was horrified when he saw it and nearly ran out into the gardens. It was literally very close to the end. It was around the time John Taylor talked about not touching the document with a barge pole. I remember saying at a press conference that they were ‘giving minimalist and demanding maximalist’, and that is how they went on. They made a huge thing out of small things and said we will not budge on this and that, but I think, in fairness, when I saw Wally’s list I said ‘Now hang on, we’re gilding the lily here. You can’t have cross-border bodies on everything.’ Then there was the moment when David Andrews, my senior ministerial colleague, was talking about North–South bodies earlier in the negotiations, and when asked what he meant by North–South bodies said that they would have ‘powers not unlike the Government,’ so there was a walkout. You had to be extremely careful in the use of language. Senator Mitchell has joked that in Northern Ireland ‘people would drive twenty miles out of their way to receive an insult.’ Were the North–South arrangements the most difficult of the three negotiating areas? When it came to it the North–South issues and the changes in the Constitution and the cross-border bodies, they actually weren’t the most controversial issues. In the end, the biggest one was decommissioning. That was the game-changer, but we never knew that for definite and that was the sort of cloud we negotiated under. Was this all about language? Language was very important because there wasn’t a great deal of trust. Trust developed eventually (came dropping slowly), and I think in fairness to Bertie Ahern and Blair they did manage to build up and convey a level of trust with the parties, and with David Trimble and Seamus Mallon and John Hume and Gerry Adams in particular. They did trust that Bertie was not going to pull a fast one at the last minute, and that if he brokered something with the British, he could deliver it. Did you talk much about trust? Was it an issue in discussion? Oh yes, it was called ‘confidence-building’ and it was an abiding theme of our whole negotiations. That was why there were particular people who were good at particular times at confidence-building. The period leading up to the Agreement was a time of intensive confidence-building, and even before that, at the early stages of negotiations, just after the ceasefire. We didn’t want it to break down. That was the big thing. 232

Liz O’Donnell

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Is confidence-building basically giving people what they want? Yes, it is actually giving people what they need to keep the process sustained. It’s listening to people’s fears and salving them if you can, and using assurances of goodwill that we will support you on that issue and that you won’t be on your own if it is raised. So, you are trying to anticipate obstacles and understanding them as well. We had to build the confidence in the parties so that they could sustain these concessions being made on all sides with their electorate, and we would find language to help on that. I did a lot of that with the media, and doing interviews and using language which was placatory towards the unionist side, or at least not coming across as a green rebel minister from the South imposing things on the unionist community. Was the approach more aggressive from the unionist side? Yes, but that’s what passed for unionist politics. It’s the way they ran the show, through ascendancy and sectarianism. And you can be relied on with this hard-line position? Yes, and I suppose it’s a useful device, because if you are rude to people and if you don’t talk to people, or shake hands, then you’re unlikely to lose any ground. If you don’t get to know someone personally you can be really rude, and that actually gives you the armour to prevent any concessions being made. That brings us back to is the question of why they did not sell it successfully. Was this because they always felt that whatever they got out of it, they had inevitably lost ground? Well they were negotiating down. It’s a bit like the Afrikaners doing a deal with the new ANC [African National Congress] Government. They were losing ground and they were negotiating for a completely new administration of governance in Northern Ireland. They were agreeing to share power, to a whole new reform of  system of their beloved police force that they controlled, and they were top dogs for so long in Northern Ireland in terms of housing, jobs, class, education or opportunity. The nationalists did not have those things, so they were gaining on all fronts.

233

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Did the unionists argue in front of each other with you, as Alistair Campbell says in his diaries? They never really had addressed those issues themselves, and some of these concepts they had not contemplated because they just lived in their own bubble, with the status quo intact. I’m not saying this to be derogatory, but they were not into thinking that much, they were not the kind of people to sit down and contemplate the world. They were very practical, pragmatic politicians, who just spoke to their own constituency, dealt with, as they saw it, a fairly straight terrorist war and campaigned against those engaged in violence, so they were not in the business of contemplating the world through a more creative policy prism. Were the unionists blunt in their language? Yes, much more. Words mean things, and that’s why there was distrust about our capacity to create language and ambiguity; that we were a bit corrupting in that sense and they didn’t really trust our word on things. When people tend to think in a linear way is that a strength or weakness, when it comes to a process like this? It’s both. I think when you are dealing with a difficult situation like a conflict involving paramilitaries, and you are involved in negotiating with people with an arsenal, then certainty and clarity of words is desirable, if not achievable. Did you have any difficulties from the loyalists? No, none at all. I always felt that they were delighted to be in the room and they knew that it was big concession that they were allowed in the room with the Governments, so they appreciated being there and, in fact, they were not badly behaved but were quite helpful. In those final hours there must have been the Army Council and senior loyalists in the building. Oh yes, some strange characters with a lot of tattoos. It seemed to be a free-for-all towards the end and you didn’t know who you were bumping into in the corridors. 234

Liz O’Donnell But maybe that was necessary. All the quartermasters had to be on board in the inclusive process and in the final Agreement.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Is empathy always about understanding the position of the other but not necessarily giving them what they want, or is it something else? You can’t make progress unless you can put your feet in the shoes of the other person, and Albert Reynolds was a great negotiator who was a cattle man and who was involved in trading and business. He always said there has to be ‘something for the other fellow’, that’s why his role is under-estimated. He took the original risk for peace by opening unauthorised negotiations with them. Were the media in the South as supportive as in the North? Yes, they were. The Sunday Independent was very tough on the Hume–Adams initiative and John Hume was very upset by that. He was being pilloried, and Adams didn’t care because he was coming in from the cold, but John Hume had been a revered person and a leader of Irish nationalism. Suddenly he was being attacked for ‘talking to the devil’, so there was some distrust in one element of the media for some time before things began to change. The media looks to have been an important factor. Was it? It was, and I think they were part of it as players and stakeholders and they were helpful. They weren’t destructive of the process. They became part of the theatre of players in the peace process. This was important. As someone who spoke to the media a lot how do you hone the message and field ­difficult questions? Some people are better than others. Because I came from a small party we were always on the back foot. That was always my natural terrain, dealing with awkward questions. If the big party did anything wrong, then, inevitably, the press would go to the small party and ask what we thought of it. They would say ‘Are you going to stay in the Government with these guys?’ so we were always the people who were defending our position. I got quite skilled at breaking things down to three points what I was going to say. The Northern Ireland peace process was not a process that you went out to shoot the breeze on. I would know the three points that I was going to make and 235

Inside Accounts I would not have a rigid or definite position. I would have one key point and I made sure I made it and that I used the right words.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

What might that have been? I remember one press conference I made during the negotiations, when John Taylor had been particularly obnoxious and obstructive and unhelpful. I said that Mr Taylor is looking for maximalist concessions and giving minimalist returns to the process. So I knew I was going to say something like that and that became the headline of the news reports. Is it the case that in dealing with the media you do not want to get dragged into detail because you get more problems, so you have to articulate the position in general terms? Exactly. You never went into detail with the media because they didn’t know enough about the detail, and anyway, it was pedantic, so you kept it to broad principles such as we are making progress, or we are not making progress, or this is a particularly difficult stage and we have to think about what is going on inside the room. It changed all the time, but I genuinely didn’t feel antagonistic toward the other side so I could be relied upon not to lose my head on an issue. Did you have to be clear on what you wanted to say before you went out? It was usually in my mind what was helpful to articulate in public and it was my task to be tight with language. Did the John Taylor ‘maximalist, minimalist position’ make any difference? Well it put him in his box really. You can’t be demanding maximalist constitutional change and then give back nothing. And if you had to use other points to support that, what did they tend to be? The other points would be that we respect that people are nervous about North– South engagement but you have to look at things in the totality and the other things that are on the table, like the principle of consent, the jurisdiction and the constitutional position of Northern Ireland remaining unchanged. That’s why I can’t get 236

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Liz O’Donnell over how the unionists did not sell the Agreement as a victory for unionism. There was so much in there for them. They came away with the border intact, Northern Ireland still as part of the UK and constitutional change and the territorial claim on the North removed by the Irish people, so their future is in their own hands. To me, it looked as if they could have sold it in a much better way to their constituents, but they didn’t because they did not have a united unionist cohort. The Democratic Unionist Party were laughing at everything they did. They were saying ‘You are selling out. You are letting all these terrorists out of jail.’ To what extent, when you are running a negotiation session, do you keep the big aims in mind and make sure the detail services those aims? Are you a clear strategic thinker in that sense, or do you do say we have to talk this out until we get to the core bits before we can move? The negotiations on Strand Two that I was involved in were quite detailed but we felt that we were only a part of a play and that Strand Two and the future of North– South relations was a bit of a talking shop and a way of starting a conversation about how North–South might co-operate politically in ways which were not threatening to unionists. This was because there had been so little cross-border political activity apart from shouting. The normal interaction of border jurisdictions had not been happening and people had not been going up to the North, as if it was closed from the Republic because of the security problems, so the normal inter-trade between the two jurisdictions was not even operating. There were big structural impediments as well, and ways in which we could overcome that, but in the context of an overall settlement. Did the parties want to know what ‘executive’ and ‘harmonising’ roles meant? Well the unionists were very nervous about that. They kept saying ‘What on earth do you mean by executive powers?’ Which is when my colleague said ‘Not unlike a government’, and we had a walkout. We were trying to think it through as well, because these were new political creations to blur the border, to agree areas which could be mutually helpful to both jurisdictions, like tourism. There is now a North– South tourism body, which makes complete sense to have because the island is joined up geographically. So North–South trade and the creation of jobs and inward investment were important. You can sail across the border in canals, so there were huge areas that had been artificially segregated by the border, and the politics of the border, that the North–South arrangements had to address. 237

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Was the business of being kept in Stormont for three days and nights a deliberate plan to get people so depleted that they would sign up to get out? No, it was just a political and judicial call made by George Mitchell, who said we’ve done enough talking, and he made a call based on his experience of previous negotiations in the Senate. He took the view that we are not going to do any better by more talking, and maybe it was because he felt the whole thing would completely unravel unless we forced people to make their minds up. I would imagine what he saw during those crumbling days at the end was the divided counsels in the Ulster Unionists, and then Jeffrey Donaldson walked out, so the fear was there was going to be no deal. Were you launched quickly into the referendum campaign? Yes. We didn’t think we would have any problem in the South and we didn’t. It was something like ninety-eight per cent in favour and was overwhelmingly carried. I was very worried about the North because by the time the referendum took place the Balcombe Street bombers had been let out, which was a disaster, and I remember thinking why are they being let out? This was the kind of disastrous move that can slip past an administration. It was also an example of Sinn Fein pushing their advantage to the point where it was destructive of the process. What lessons have you taken in terms of the way a government works in a negotiation process like this? I think we negotiated it very quickly when you look back. At the time, it felt like an interminable period of time that we were holed up in Northern Ireland from September to the following Easter. But, actually, when you think about the extent of what was being negotiated, such as putting in place a replacement for the Anglo-Irish Agreement, creating new constitutional relations between the two countries, setting up a whole new system of government in Northern Ireland, ending a war and bringing about the decommissioning of weapons, perhaps it should have taken longer to negotiate. As it turned out, it took nearly ten years to implement, so it was a mammoth task and I think it was a mixture of fatigue with war and a kind of willingness by Sinn Fein to move from that military phase into the political phase that made it possible.

238

9

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

The focus of leadership: an interview with Bertie Ahern

Graham Spencer: Do you think negotiation has to be as inclusive as possible but that there are also circumstances when you shouldn’t, or can’t, talk to people? Bertie Ahern: Governments have to be careful who they talk to because they cannot be seen to reward people who shoot or bomb their way to the negotiating table. Democracy has to be based on the rule of law, the rule of peace and trying to bring stability by diplomatic means and negotiations, not violence, and I appreciate that. What was vital for us was that we had the Mitchell Principles, which people had to sign up to. There were those who exploited possible ambiguity here, when some days they were with it and some days they weren’t, but we had to try and manoeuvre that difference in and out of the process as best we could. The other big thing here is you have to make peace with your enemies and not your friends, and you have to try and talk to people on the margins. Tony Blair and I decided in opposition, around 1995 to 1996, that what we had to do was create the conditions for peace through inclusivity and that the greater number of the people who are the causes of the problem, who are affected by the problem, that you get inside the tent, the better. When you became Taoiseach did you envisage the process taking so long, and was it a good idea to put deadlines forward when so many came and went? When we achieved the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 we thought that it could take another two or three years to implement. It ended up taking ten years. But, if you look at the issues we had to deal with, such as the whole criminal justice system, the thorny issue of decommissioning from both loyalists and republicans, sorting out the prisoners’ issue and reforming the old RUC into the new PSNI, it was considerable. The Agreement was what we were going to do and the implementation of the Agreement was doing it, but we had to build up the relationships to do this. In the 239

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

North, each group had little or no experience of communicating with others. They rarely, if ever, met each other or shared a studio with each other. They never did interviews together or went to university debates together, and there was no real contact. The groups and parties were so removed from each other and so entrenched in their bitterness that it took a long time for them to get to the issues. When the PIRA collapsed their ceasefire in 1996, which was the year before you became Taoiseach, what kind of conversations were you having at that point? On that Friday night in 1996 there were lots of arguments going on with the then Government but we were forcibly critical of Sinn Fein and the PIRA for collapsing the ceasefire. We felt, whatever the difficulties and differences they were having with the Governments, that the last thing they should have done is to go back to war again. So we were publicly very critical. Privately, however, the party met them and we gave them our analysis of it. I set out in a very long speech in the Dail where I said that we would not have any more talking with them until they sorted themselves out. We had kept low-level contacts with them through the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, which was meeting on a Friday in Dublin Castle, but that was suspended. The Forum never came back again, which was a pity because that was a way of pulling people together. What did Sinn Fein say in response? At the time they were trying to say that this was not something they subscribed to and that the PIRA had arbitrarily decided to go back to violence. That night I was with senior members of Sinn Fein in my office. I was also in constant touch with Gerry Adams in Belfast, who, I remember, was moving around several different places during the night. I never quite accepted that they did not know something was coming down the tracks, but I think, in fairness to them, there was something in it that they were not totally in the loop with Canary Wharf either. I think they probably realised that this was going to set them back in America, Britain and Ireland, even if they knew that at the same time things were not good. Did they give you the impression that this was temporary, or tactical, and that the ceasefire was likely to be reinstated? No, definitely not. All the way through 1996 it got worse, because you had the Manchester bombing and the PIRA were back to procuring guns and explosives. 240

Bertie Ahern

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

There was lots of intelligence available to us that the whole movement was back on a war footing and there was no indication right through 1996 that we would be able to get back into a ceasefire position. Unfortunately, the relationship between Sinn Fein/ PIRA and the two Governments deteriorated very badly too. What conversations did you have with Tony Blair at this time when it started to look likely that he was going to become Prime Minister and you were going to become Taoiseach? We had a lot of discussions about what we would try and do once we got in, and what we outlined briefly was that he would set out the new British Government’s position in relation to Northern Ireland and I would set out where we were in the South in relation to Northern Ireland and that we would do that very early on. We also agreed that we would push the parties to sign up again to the Mitchell Principles, ask Sinn Fein to go to the PIRA, resume the ceasefire and that we would restart talks immediately. The problem was when the ceasefire was reached. The British Government, in particular, started looking for the handing over of arms and then started having this debate about whether the ceasefire was permanent or not, which was a terrible blunder. I should quickly add, however, that the PIRA should not have made a bigger blunder by going back to violence. They should have argued out why the British Government was wrong, and not make it easier for them to say we were right, which they did. Once the PIRA went back to violence the British could stress that republicans were waiting to do this all along. So this was not the PIRA, or Sinn Fein’s, best moment. They got a lot of credit for being very crafty over the years but they were not so crafty on that occasion. When you put it to Sinn Fein that you wanted to get the parties back together and get things moving, what was their response? It wasn’t just Canary Wharf, or Manchester. Now it was getting back to the local units of the PIRA who were causing trouble. And then the Drumcree march brought terrible problems in 1997. Tony had to force the march down that year and it caused real difficulties, but we held our nerve and I went to Sinn Fein and said something along the lines of ‘Listen, this is one big chance, you have seen what Tony Blair said in his major speech, you have seen what I have said, we are saying to you we will get you into talks, we will start talks in September,’ and this was now July. They then  went to the PIRA, who said okay on the basis of being serious about the 1 September start date because that had not happened last time. If I had gone 241

Inside Accounts back and said we will start them in January it would not have happened, so that September start date was crucial.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Why? It was the end of the holiday period and it was the quickest date we could give them. They couldn’t say it was too long because everyone goes on holidays in August, including myself and Tony, so that start date was fair and reasonable. How do you decide to continue pursuing a process when people are still engaged in violence? Is that not a problem for credibility? It was certainly a judgement that was difficult. But I negotiated directly with Sinn Fein on that and often I did it without officials. I would meet Gerry Adams just one to one or with Sean O hUiginn [former Head of Anglo-Irish Division and Foreign Affairs], who was just finishing up at that time, and it was a big risk because public opinion was saying that these guys were not serious, they will only make a ceasefire and then break it. So it was on my head. I said to the guys here is the carrot, 1 September is the start of negotiations, and the stick is if you don’t do that when both Blair and I am going to be in Government with a good majority for a considerable time, you will not get another chance for a very long while. To what extent is a process like this dependent on one-to-one dialogue? That is massively important. To give you one example, when I came into power every time the Irish Taoiseach talked to the British Prime Minister it was done at a desk on a particular safe line, the conversations were recorded and the civil servants then went out and dissected it. We stopped that nonsense very quickly. Mostly, I was ringing Tony and he was ringing me, we had our own lines of communication without any civil servants, and that was essential so we could build up trust. Then there was the problem of building trust with the individual parties. I built up a bit of a relationship with David Trimble when in opposition, even though people in the South thought he was an impossible person. Paisley wasn’t in the loop at that stage and he wouldn’t shake hands with me anyway, even though I ended up a friend with him afterwards. I also tried to get friendly with some of the loyalists and visited some of the loyalist clubs. At the time, if everyone knew what you were doing they probably would have convinced you not to do it. Very little of the discussion took place on a multi-party basis. Nearly all the time in our discussions with officials it was Blair and 242

Bertie Ahern

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

me talking to Sinn Fein, or Blair and me talking to the SDLP, or Blair and me talking to the Ulster Unionists. There were rarely times when everybody was together, and so very few multi-party dialogues. It was nearly always about dealing with one party at a time. That was also part of the problem too, but it was the only way we could work through the agenda. The amount of times that all the parties were sitting together, particularly for the Good Friday Agreement, was very little. For the St Andrews Agreement there was more collective discussion. Did the peace process work better not only because you got on well with Tony Blair and he got on well with you, but because Blair got rid of layers of bureaucracy and kept a small, tight team to drive the process? That was massively important, the fact that we had tiny groups. Okay, we had back groups and legal people but we worked in very small teams. In all the key meetings that we held in the whole period there was only Tony Blair and myself present and at times, when we wanted a record, it was just one and one. There was usually Martin Mansergh, or Paddy Teahon, or Tim Dalton on my side, and each changed with the issues, so if it was security it would be Tim Dalton. We had lots of setbacks, but we would never fully admit them. We would go out and do a press conference and even if the day was a failure we would present it as if something positive had happened, so we were always thinking about and working on the next stage. We always gave a positive momentum to events but we weren’t doing that for the people we were directly negotiating with, we were doing it for the public. The reminder that Tony Blair and myself continued to use was that this was a process, which meant the situation was ongoing, so would need time as well as effort. Both Tony and I were familiar with the detail, with the individuals and with the ground and because of that we had a clearer picture of where we were going, but I have to say that a huge amount of the work that we undertook was informal. Is a big part of the negotiation process not what happens at the table, but what happens during informal moments and small conversations? That’s definite. When you have ten to fifteen people on each side of the table and three people are speaking it’s very difficult to choreograph what’s going to happen because you often end up with fifteen people hammering the daylights out of the other fifteen. This can set negotiations back a month. The set pieces and getting the people to the table can only really be done when you have a good idea of what the outcome of that session will be. I can remember Tony and me being in Castle Buildings, Hillsborough, 243

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts Chequers and Number 10 and having long sessions of maybe two or three days where we never had a full meeting with everyone around the table. We might have had sessions of fifteen hours for three days in a row, but we would never have a meeting with everyone around the table, simply because this tended do more harm than good. If you are doing the tic-tacking, like they used to do in the race meetings, then you are picking up information, views, opinions, what people’s objectives are, what the real bottom lines are and what the negotiating points that are really important are, rather than just reacting to what comes at a meeting. I spent eighteen years at meetings in Europe dealing largely with social affairs, but I would have done as much business in the coffee room, in the bar, in the tea room, walking around the block, or, as with the peace process, around Hillsborough or Castle Buildings, as I would anywhere else, whether be it Number 10 or at any of the castles we used in the talks. We did a huge amount of checking and sounding things in that informal way. It wasn’t just chat. It was real negotiating, because you could learn from those situations how far a person could go, or how you could present things better to get support. Were you working it out as you were going along in this process? I think you are always trying to square the circles in these things, because if you ask a unionist what his view of decommissioning is he will want the PIRA to hand in all their arms and Semtex and he will want it photographed and videoed and put on the world news. Then we meet the PIRA and they say they are not giving up any arms because that would be surrender and they have them all hidden anyway so we will never find them. The positions would be so diametrically opposed. All the time you have to focus on how this could possibly work, keep both sides happy, be sure that no side wins and that any compromise is seen as fair by the public at large. In those early stages there was constructive ambiguity in the negotiations. What was the value of this? This was the case particularly in the early months of the negotiations which went on effectively for eight months from September 1997 to Good Friday 1998. By and large, formal discussions would have been about four days a week and the informal ones took place at weekends. I used to meet the parties in Dublin at the weekends and we would talk about what had happened during the week, so we were checking back and forth all of the time. On a Sunday, between about 2.00pm and 6.00pm, I would ring the key guys on the different sides and ask them how they thought the previous week had gone. I would also ask them where they thought we should go 244

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Bertie Ahern in the coming week, and so test the waters. I did this so I had a good sense of where the issues were. Because of that, there were only a few times when I was surprised by things that went wrong. Generally, though, this would be because someone had said something that they shouldn’t have, or because they hadn’t explained it very well to begin with, and so a huge row would follow. But most of the time you knew fairly well where the ground was and that people were either not going to move or, if they did move, where they would move to. Sometimes that did blow up, but usually it blew up because of personal hostilities, where someone would take personal offence at something said, but that often happens in negotiations. What was your perception about the difference between how republicans and unionists approached negotiations? I think the first thing with republicans, and it’s been a feature of the PIRA for a long way back, certainly to the 1920s or 1930s, is that they write down everything. They would write extensive notes on what was happening and would analyse those notes over and over. They always documented everything and analysed it extensively. Their negotiators would be presenting position papers and looking closely at where they wanted to go, and this was drawn heavily from detailed notes written in long hand. They would ask you the same question the following week and if you were not giving the same answer they had all this stuff to use against you, so they were hugely thorough. They would also say that they had to go and report back because if they didn’t and something happened the alternative would be they could get shot, so it was in their interest to get it right. It may also have been an old ideological and philosophical negotiating tactic of don’t talk about anything with the Brits, or the Irish Government, until you have it all documented. The unionists, on the other hand, would come in and you never knew where the debate was going to go. They would have an agenda of ten items and it could start on item nine, but nobody was ever seen to be taking extensive notes. They would also switch positions, sometimes between meetings, and what they said this week might not necessarily be what they said last week. They might have a different slant on it. Often, in the discussions, they would start arguing between each other, so while one group were massively doctrinaire and systematically word perfect, for the others it was about what angle they were taking on a particular day. Unionists tended to be more legalistic because they have a lot of legal people, Trimble included, but Sinn Fein were always worrying about what things meant. Martin McGuinness might have written down three words but was always wondering what the consequences of those words might be. Republicans were always worried about anything that might tie them in that 245

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

they didn’t fully understand. They were also constantly looking for time-scales, but there would also be more detail in their analysis than the unionists’, who would often say we’re not doing this or that. Remember, too, that the republican movement  historically has always been suspicious that they might be sold short, or be conned. In a sense, then, was it easier to negotiate with republicans because they knew more clearly what they wanted? It was, and Tony and I were often accused of spending an awful lot of time talking to Adams and McGuinness. We used to do it just two and two, we rarely had officials in, and those meetings sometimes went on for seven or eight hours. However, there was a strong sense that you were talking to the two main guys. And, as much as there might be differences between Tony and myself, we wouldn’t disagree in front of them. What one could say about the republicans is that if you won your arguments with them and you persuaded them and you got a position with them, there was a very good chance that it would stick. But the unionists were never as coherent. They were never going to make the same strong case and, unlike Sinn Fein, where Adams and McGuinness tended to come on their own, unionists often brought the entire team. If you were dealing with David Trimble it was fine, but when he brought the whole group with him it was very difficult. But again, this just takes us back to how necessary it is in negotiations to try and put oneself in the shoes of the other. Most parties involved in the conflict didn’t know each other personally, and this means that, from the outset, there is a lack of knowledge about where the other side is coming from, which even applied to us. The Irish Government had little or no contact over the years with the unionist politicians in the North. When I went to Glengall Street, where the UUP headquarters was, in 1995 it was the first time that a Fianna Fail leader had gone into a unionist party office, and when I found myself dealing with David Trimble as leader I was meeting a person whom I did not know. Very quickly it was apparent to me that it was important to put myself in his ­position in order to get an understanding of what we needed to achieve. Over time, I did get to know him quite well. But it’s profoundly important that participants in negotiations treat each other as human beings. You also have to build up trust and confidence, but this is easier to do with a small group than with a large group, which made it far more difficult. In dealing with some of the others, that was not the case. I have to say, in fairness though, that the SDLP were always excellent. They were organised, had good negotiators, but we didn’t give them as many hours as we should and that was because they didn’t have any guns and they 246

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Bertie Ahern weren’t killing anyone. They would be annoyed at us sometimes and ask why we were talking to others, but the trouble was it was those others who we had to try to get to stop the violence. That was the dilemma and why there were such big differences. When you were dealing with the unionists you were absolutely certain that, whatever you did or did not say, they would go back to a Saturday morning congress of their full party to decide whether what had been done was acceptable. If they moved too far on this or that issue they would have another resolution which often resulted in a vote from some eight hundred delegates. You knew that when you were dealing with the Shinners, whether it was a small group of two, or whether it was  their bigger group of maybe ten to fifteen, who would always be in the b ­ ackrooms, that they would be checking it with the PIRA, with the Army Council and with their troops on the ground as they went. So, it was a totally different procedure that you were having with them and because of that you had to try and work out where the process was going. The Shinners would focus very much on a step-by-step approach, and to give you an example I am reminded of the last session on the evening of Good Friday when George Mitchell stood down and said we now have the Agreement, asking everyone to agree and they did, except Sinn Fein, who didn’t agree. Sinn Fein said nothing and I was asked why I was happy about that. Well, it was because I knew they were going to go back to the PIRA because that is what they always did, so I knew the procedure. You can see it to this day in how they make political gains, where what they are doing is that same thing, going back, philosophising, analysing, strategising and saying this is what we have got now so let’s move this way or that way. Would big teams generally mean lack of progress? Sometimes the UUP would come in, because they couldn’t agree themselves, and would have a one-to-one with me and Tony, at times with perhaps eighteen in the delegation. You had to talk to them, but it was very hard to make any progress in those meetings. Quite frankly, you don’t make progress with big groups. In my view of negotiations any group, whether it be trade unions, at European level, farming groups, employment groups, if they come in numbers they don’t trust their leadership and they tend not to be good negotiators. So, straight away, when you see the door swing open with a big group you know these guys don’t trust themselves, and from there you have to ask how are they going to trust me if they don’t trust themselves? Did Sinn Fein, more often than not, work in small teams? 247

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Yes, but they would use their specialists when they needed to. They would tend to bring in a big team at general meetings, where there would be no real negotiations going on, or where they wanted troops to listen at how good they were at telling us off. But you knew the game, so you would use that opportunity to reiterate the formal points even if there were no negotiations being done. Did Adams and McGuinness ever confide things to you which they would not reveal in negotiations? I got to interpret them fairly well and to know when something would sell or not, when they needed a bit more time for nuancing, or whatever. You would tend to know when you were on fairly safe ground and when something was not going to fly. While they were annoying at times, in that they would painfully go on and on and on, you still kind of knew where they were at, and Adams, in particular, had a habit of going out talking to people to get their views. If it was on some thorny subject he would go to certain people and ask how do you think we should move this? The metaphor was like moving a heavy cabinet and whether one should take it out through the window or down the stairs. Adams would then receive a range of very good ideas from talking to fifteen key guys and at the end of that he would make a speech which would be the amalgamation of those suggestions. Sinn Fein always seemed to want to go away, back to the PIRA. Was that to bleed as much out of the process as they could by creating space and intensifying pressure by controlling pace? Sometimes it worked to their disadvantage. From a strategist’s point of view one might ask how is it is their interest to drag things out? Well, in doing so they had to give up the guns and they pulled away a lot of middle-class people in the North who didn’t like them being so slow in the decommissioning of weapons. We had to bring over Martti Ahtisaari and Cyril Ramaphosa as inspectors for the decommissioning of arms. Decommissioning got onto the front pages of most American newspapers, so was it a great tactic by them to overcook it? I think Jonathan Powell is right in his view that they overcooked it all the time, and the reason they did this was because the boys always had to bring the troops with them, and Sinn Fein would often go back to the cells to keep the prisoners on board. Many times, at various stages of the negotiations, I would get back security reports to say that senior members were in Clare, or Cork, or Kerry, going around talking to the various groups. I remember in 248

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Bertie Ahern the run-up to the Omagh bomb, when they had the split at the meeting in Donegal, I was getting reports that Michael McKevitt [leader of dissident republican group the Real IRA which split from the IRA in 1997 in opposition to a reinstated ceasefire and a commitment to the Mitchell Principles] was in Clare, and the next night he was in Kerry and the night after that he was in Cork, so he spent all that winter of 1997 to 1998 going around the country talking to the groups and PIRA activists. McKevitt knew them and was asking ten or eight key guys to pull away from the leadership, and that was a very worrying time. There were people who said that Adams and McGuinness only need look in the mirror to speak with the PIRA, but there were other times when they went out to talk to the key guys. There is a difference between talking with those who think militarily and those who think politically. John de Chastelain and the others on the decommissioning body said that when they met the PIRA volunteers the guys were polite, disciplined, effective and good soldiers, even though people tried to depict them as pathological. But, to understand them, you need to remember many were out fighting and also had a family with two or three kids; that when they got home from work and told their wives they were going to a meeting somewhere they were actually out attacking a barracks and risking their lives. Because of this, most felt any moves or decisions that were being made would need to be consulted over. One needs to appreciate that these guys were putting their lives in the firing line and, as we know, many of them were killed. You had to understand that difference between, say, a unionist party strategist and a PIRA soldier. Do you think decommissioning would have happened without 9/11 and American pressure? I think it was going to happen anyway. I was annoyed and frustrated with the PIRA that we did not make quicker progress, but I look back now and can see that they had spent years collecting these guns, they had put in a huge effort to raise the money, some of the time robbed, and they had people risking their lives to get weaponry and store it, so they were never going to just hand it over. Looking back, the Tories made a terrible mistake when they presented the Washington Three and started talking about just wanting a bullet. Of course, a bullet was surrender, and some of the Tory guys just did not get that. If they had said we want ten thousand guns it would have been better. Dropping Articles Two and Three looked to be a significant compromise by the Irish. How did you deal with that? 249

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts Articles Two and Three were historically emotive in the Irish Constitution. Those in the North, on the pro-British side, considered them to be threats to their existence, with the territorial claim anathema to everything they believed in. They were British, and the idea that a Government in the South was claiming jurisdiction over them was what Ian Paisley used to refer to as the ‘constitutional issue’. From the nationalist side, most people thought the territorial claim was fair because of the way the country was divided by the Government of Ireland Act in 1920. Most thought that this was legitimate and even reasonable. Even Fianna Fail, who from 1926 split from Sinn Fein and went into the non-violent camp, thought this a reasonable thing. One might hear a few people saying the territorial claim was thrashed out or mooted in the Anglo-Irish Agreement but that’s nonsense, it just didn’t happen. When we started trying to deal with it I knew at the start of negotiations, and indeed long before the start, that if we were going to solve the issue and get an agreement that was comprehensive and would win unionist, loyalist and British support we could not just drop this issue in negotiations. We had to vote the Articles out of our Constitution. I made it clear at the time that without legislative change on Articles Two and Three we would not achieve a settlement. We moved to the position where, if the British were to say they had no ulterior motives for control over Northern Ireland, then we had ground where we could argue the British are not so much the issue and could use the principle of consent as a lever for change, where, if the majority of people in the six counties wanted to make a change, the British must honour it. What came out of the Agreement is that we changed our constitutional position by withdrawing a territorial claim and the British made their change by saying they had no strategic interest in Northern Ireland, so we were able to emphasise the principle of consent, which was acceptable to people in the South. I made it clear that we wouldn’t change Articles Two and Three unless we got other things, and particularly the principle of consent, and I used that to get the support needed. If I did move on Articles Two and Three it was because I wanted, in return, to get the Government of Ireland Act abolished. Michael Collins believed of Lloyd George in 1920 that if he went with the Agreement of December 1921 he could then move on the Boundary Commission and see more of Northern Ireland back into Irish hands. That was the impression he was under. Of course, we also know that the leaders in the North were given the impression that there would be no change in the position. Lloyd George gave both opposites, which I don’t think is good negotiating. In the end, that always catches you up and inevitably creates more problems. Did you use the consent principle for leverage as part of that argument? 250

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Bertie Ahern My view was to sell to the Irish public that Articles Two and Three, although in our Constitution, were meaningless. Nobody was claiming jurisdiction. We were claiming jurisdiction in 1937, but what effect did it have on a day-to-day basis between 1937 and 1998, other than make people annoyed about it? It was my view that the only way you could get the unionists to move from their very entrenched position was through settling the constitutional position. This was particularly important with Paisley and Trimble, where settling the constitutional position meant removing Articles Two and Three. We were obviously hoping to get rid of the 1920 Act, but also happy to look at the South having a formal role in the North–South bodies in exchange. What was clear was that if the constitutional position was not sorted out, then they weren’t going to accept a formal Irish role. Were Sinn Fein and the SDLP happy about getting rid of Articles Two and Three as well? The SDLP had no problem with it. Sinn Fein liked the symbolism of it and they thought about campaigning against it in the referendum of 1998, but they didn’t. Funnily enough, Articles Two and Three were spoken about as being the big issue, but when I went around the country during the campaign to get people to vote for the Good Friday Agreement, at different places for six nights a week, I got hardly any questions about Articles Two and Three. Rather, interest had moved on to how the three strands worked, how they would work between the unionists and the SDLP, how a First Minister and Deputy First Minister would work together and what the D’Hondt system meant. The concern was also with consent and whether this meant the people of the North making a decision about a united Ireland with no interference from the British. They were the core issues that I was taking questions on up and down the country. Do you remember the dispute about the name of the Agreement, whether it should be called the Belfast Agreement or the Good Friday Agreement? It was very simple. What happened was we were all tired and I had been up and down to Dublin, since I always preferred to come home. At that time we had done two days and nights solid, and I walked into the room and the boys said we are going to do the signatory of the Agreement and Rory Montgomery put it down in front of me. I said ‘This says the Belfast Agreement but I don’t remember agreeing to that’, and in response he said something like ‘well it’s how we do it in Europe when we say the Nice Agreement or the Amsterdam Agreement’, which is true. 251

Inside Accounts But I said ‘No, I never agreed to the Belfast Agreement, this is the Good Friday Agreement.’ We signed the document off as the Belfast Agreement but I went out into the press conference and I kept talking about the Good Friday Agreement from then on.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Did the unionists try and scrap with you over that? If you notice, most unionists still say the Belfast Agreement and the Irish say the Good Friday Agreement. The Americans say the Good Friday Agreement and the British tend to say the Belfast–Good Friday Agreement, but that is where it came from. They automatically put the cover on, without consultation with anyone on our side. It was no big issue, but afterwards all the boys followed my line, calling it the Good Friday Agreement. If someone had asked me to agree to the Belfast Agreement I might have done, but they didn’t. Did you know about Tony Blair’s side-letter to Trimble? If so, what did you think of it, and were there other side-letters in the process? Well, I did one with Trimble on the implementation bodies. He gave me a letter and I agreed that we would work and use the North–South bodies to be as inclusive as possible, and we agreed that the implementation bodies would be narrow enough – I think there were six and that was important to him – to stop him pulling away because of pressure from Donaldson, and there might have been other small ones with parties. There was a lot of toing and froing between the SDLP and the UUP because, the night before, both had come to an agreement, and we might have had some letters of understanding on that. Tony had kept me briefed on what he was doing, and he had to, because Donaldson was walking out at this stage and we had to help Trimble to keep him in. Did you think the Sinn Fein would blow up over that? It was a risk, but the Shinners were looking for side-letters as well and were always getting bits of paper. I don’t know if they got one then, but, over the period, they were always getting side-letters. The one that blew up was about people getting out of prison, which Jonathan Powell had been part of, and that had been for the Shinners, so I don’t think anyone could moan about the side-letter. Would you see those letters as the informal part of the process, or was that formal? 252

Bertie Ahern That’s formal because side-letters will always come out. Most side-letters will find their way into the newspapers a few weeks or months later.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Were they letters of assurance, or clarification, or both? I think with the Blair one to Trimble it was about assurance, and the one that I did with Trimble on the implementation bodies was an assurance as well. Funnily enough, even though we are some eighteen years on, the terms of that letter have stuck. It might as well have been in the Agreement. The implementation bodies are still as they were. Did you find Sinn Fein people of their word and straight in their dealings? I always felt that if Martin McGuinness said it, I tended to believe it would happen. If some of the others said it, you would be more worried. But they never broke their word, even though they were not always able to deliver as much as they thought. Some of the time you wondered if it was because they didn’t try enough, or didn’t bother, but when you look back it wasn’t easy for them, or the UUP either. I know people say Tony Blair and I spent too much time with them, we gave them too much and cajoled them too much and that this ultimately affected the political movements of the SDLP and the UUP, but I think that’s a simplification. There were lots of other things. Great politicians like John Hume and Seamus Mallon were getting older, the UUP had not got as many top people as they had in the past, which is a generational thing in such parties. Politics was changing and on the ground it was emerging more strongly, and not just getting a vote because your name was linked to a particular party. Activism was happening, so I think it’s too simple to say the SDLP and the UUP slipped away because of the Agreement. Was everything about trying to get leverage on this process? Was it always about getting a result, or was there a lot of time spent getting people to trust and confide in you? You had to do that. I ended up good friends, and, thankfully, to this day I am good friends with Adams, and was with the late Martin McGuinness. I have good friends in the UUP who meet with me and talk to me. I also keep in touch with Ian Paisley’s wife and when he was dying I was up to the house. When they had his memorial and Robinson was there representing the DUP, I think there were three Fianna Fails there, and indeed, we had more than the DUP. If you are in the thick of issues like that you have to build confidence and trust with people and not go out telling things 253

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts secretly that they tell you. You have to help where you can. With all the key meetings I used to have with Trimble when he came down to Dublin, it was just me and him with nobody else in the room. When Paisley came down it was usually him and his son. That was who I used to meet, just the two of them, so you built up a good relationship with people on that personal basis. All the time we would say to ourselves and the other parties that what we want is a balanced, inclusive process that offers parity of esteem for all. At times somebody would suggest that others were looking for too much and would question the idea of balance or inclusivity, and in response we would have to say to people that fairness does not mean you can have everything. But you’d have to be straight with people, because if you go around the houses and mislead them today, and then let on you have got some arrangement going with the other side, it will certainly come back to bite you by tomorrow. But Tony Blair didn’t work in that way very much did he? No. So there were differences in how the Governments approached the process? Yes, but it’s important to remember that both Governments were dealing with the same problems too. I can recall, even though the President of America had asked Mitchell to chair the talks, the parties spent two weeks arguing about whether they would accept him, and then, when he took the chair and told the parties they didn’t need to look at each other, they used to look at the roof. Eventually, they would say Mr Chairman we will talk through you, but it was slow progress. But then two of them might end up in the loo together and they might be waiting for the washbasin and one might say good morning or good evening. I remember in the corridor some fellow saying that it was a windy night and saying to myself ‘Well, that is progress.’ Both Governments had to try and manage this process against a background of some hostility. How difficult was the release of prisoners? It was a huge issue. We wouldn’t have got the Agreement with the loyalists and the republicans without dealing with the prisoner issue. Tony Blair and I realised that if you were going to get goodwill out of the Agreement, and get people feeling good about it and getting away from violence, then you had to take a few big jumps. In fact, we took a lot of big jumps, but on the prisoners it was really a case of let them 254

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Bertie Ahern all out as quickly as possible under licence so if they reoffend they go back, and hope to God not too many of them reoffend. We did not have a clue whether they would or wouldn’t, but we hoped that they wouldn’t, and we put money into communities where prisoners were coming out, trying to get them active and to act as persuaders for peace rather than reverting to the war. It was a big risk, but when you look back on it now there were only a handful of prisoners on either side that reoffended. Some of them drifted into criminality, which was inevitable, but there were only a small number released that went back into what we might call political violence. The vast majority became pro the peace process in their communities and a source for helping to embed the peace there. I think Tony Blair deserves a lot of credit here because, although it caused my side real concern and grief, it was a big call for him. Luckily, he had a big majority at the time, whereas if it had been narrow the Tories would have been down on his neck. What did the Northern Bank robbery and the Robert McCartney murder do to the process? You talk about good faith, but when things like this happen, can good faith become blindness? There were several such issues that kept coming up, and this was where I think Sinn Fein were not so cute in dragging things out. They might have had a notion that they could keep on doing these things and not removing the arms or maintaining a complete ceasefire. They still had men who were on the edges and involved in criminal activity such as punishment beatings and smuggling fuel and alcohol. All the evidence is that the robbery was a PIRA job. That it was well organised, well orchestrated and it was done to pay the pensions. It was the lads saying goodbye, that we need big bucks here and a clean job; and it was a clean job. It had to be planned for a long time, and only a small portion of the money was recovered. There were lots of stories about what happened, but I would say, the day it was robbed there were a good few straight down into the high street switching money all over the place. I think the Robert McCartney murder helped to show the PIRA that they couldn’t continue having Sinn Fein doing the talks while they were in the background doing whatever they wanted, so it did crystallise in their minds that they couldn’t just carry on doing these things. What did the unionists say about this? They were relatively quiet, but I went on the radio and blasted Sinn Fein. I almost had Paisley on side, and if he had made the deal on 8 December it would have blown up 255

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

again. I gave a lot of hard-line speeches about that, which I was glad to do because I knew if we had got Paisley across the line and this had happened we wouldn’t have got him back on board, so I hammered Sinn Fein and Adams in the Dail, which was necessary at that point. I had to be really tough with them if we were to get Paisley back again and to trust me. You look back and you can see that some days we got it right and some days we got it wrong. Do you think that text plays an important function in a peace process, or do you think it’s really the talking that matters? I think the talking does the business. You need the text, but, at the end of the day, the only text that really mattered and was read by everybody was the Good Friday Agreement. It was the most read document ever in Northern Ireland and we were told that even the ‘men in the caves’ read it. Normally, officials would be coming in with texts on this and that but there was only ever a handful of people actually reading them. In such engagement is it important to avoid personalisation? Yes, because you have to take the argument and deal with it. Remember, in any debate or negotiations it’s not one point but fifty points you have to deal with, so you have to try and go through it point by point, or section by section, and if you are going to win on some sections, well you can compromise on others, but at least you have to get rid of the ones that you know are totally nonsensical. Is there the potential problem that momentum can be hindered by an over-abundance of text? In negotiations everyone has their official teams. There were about fourteen parties involved and everyone had their back-up team who have to keep themselves amused doing something. In this instance, it was drafting bits of paper and passing them back and forth. However, at the end of the day it’s the final deal that matters. Do you think that over-complication is a problem, and is it made more likely by allowing all concerns to be raised regardless of relevance? Do you have to keep it fairly ­economical in terms of what the key issues are? Yes, but you have to address the issues. During the last forty-eight hours of negotiations on Holy Week in 1998 Sinn Fein came back with a list of some fifty items and 256

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Bertie Ahern Mo Mowlam nearly went mad. I took the opposite view and sat down at the time and said okay, let’s take these issues one by one and get the team going through them and let’s get the answers, and that is precisely what we did. So, instead of it becoming a non-starter, with people saying we are wasting our time and we can’t do this or that, we did it and we replied to every one of the issues. We sorted them and then eliminated them, depending on which way you look at it. Remember that although some issues did not end up in the final document we decided to reply to them precisely because the more comprehensive the negotiating process is, the less likelihood that you are going to have these ambiguities arising afterwards, where there is likely to be further disagreement or conflict. I think what they were doing was going through their own files, looking at all the issues they wanted an answer on. My view was okay, if they’re unclear, then we need to clear this up, and that’s what we did, going through every single point. I think it surprised them that we did that. Were the British more obsessed with text and bits of paper than the Irish? The Brits in a lot of negotiations, and this applies not only in the North but in European negotiations, would always have guys who were less interested in what you were talking about and more in getting a paragraph down. My guys, and most other countries in the European context, would say they had no problem with a particular paragraph, but the British would tend to come back with sixteen pages on that one paragraph. That does seem to be par for their course. I think we are less legalistic in these things. When I used to go to European Council meetings – and I was involved in that for twenty-one years – we would go with a maximum of maybe twenty people, but the Brits seemed to have about two hundred and there was always this huge legal concern for them about the interpretation of the word ‘process’. You would often get ‘we don’t like that line or this line’ and it always came down to a very legal consideration about what a word might mean. In fairness, though, Ireland is an intimate country; even taking into account the divisions between North and South, with over four million of us, it’s a small place. You can meet politicians and know them, and you can meet church people of all denominations, as well as legal people, and run into a judge at a football match. In a large country of sixty or seventy million people it’s not as intimate. But it is important to understand that when it came to the key issues all of that was drafted between just a few of us around the table. Can you identify any differences between how the British went about this process, as compared to the Irish? 257

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Most of the people who worked out of Number 10 were all together, and some of the senior civil servants were very good too. Tony had one guy who carried a red case around with him, and he went to the UN. He was very good at manoeuvring through the Foreign Office. But I think Tony realised very quickly that he had to take the powers within, and they kept it very tight. When other guys emerged you had to be a bit more careful and cautious because they weren’t so obviously part of Tony’s team. Did you ever get a sense that there were people in the British establishment that were trying to scupper the process? Not the ones we were dealing with, but you regularly heard stories where, as Martin McGuinness used to say, the ‘securocrats’ were up to no good. There was a view that there were some people in MI5 and MI6 who were not helpful, and Tony had to do a fair bit of work with the military chiefs, away from those guys, about taking down the towers and barracks. If he hadn’t done that and had gone through the officials and let them deal with it, I don’t think it would have happened. Did you have to persuade Tony Blair to take that approach? No. In fairness, he knew that system better than I did. One of the things I learned about this, and it’s an uncomfortable position really, is that the British Government have very little power over MI5 and MI6. That is my abiding view. To what extent was this process dependent on text in comparison to conversation and dialogue? I would say that ninety-five per cent is conversation and dialogue and five per cent text. Often it’s good to have a word-smith to put phraseology on something you have agreed so that when you are putting out the printed version it has better grammar and expression; but, importantly, it must not change what you have agreed. When the DUP came in to the process they became the dominant party. How would you describe the differences between the DUP and the UUP? When they won that mandate we took the positives from their manifesto, and we said these are things we can look at in a review, which was part of the Agreement. They 258

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Bertie Ahern now had a mandate, so we had to go back and negotiate on the final differences. In any manifesto, or any political party, people emphasise different points and some provide new points, but what Ian Paisley was stressing at the time was that he had to be sure. His big issue was to be clear that the violence was over, that we were moving into a peaceful period and were not getting tricked into a position where we have politics on one side and further violence on the other. Now that was not hugely different from what Trimble had been trying to do, but, obviously, there was a bigger emphasis on it from Paisley and we had to deal with that. Straight after the election I came out and publicly did interviews, and I did one major one with Adam Boulton for Sky where I said we have examined very closely what the DUP have been elected on, and that message was important. When did you get a first indication that the DUP were going to move? Really we did not make much progress with the DUP from 1998 until 2002 or 2003. Until that time there was really nothing happening. But when they had that election and did better than expected I jumped on positive things in their manifesto. Now they weren’t that positive, but I did the interviews saying these were things we could work with. I picked up three points and said these were things we could build on as part of a review due on the Agreement. I exaggerated the positives to draw them into engagement, though. Did they contact you through an individual? It didn’t happen overnight, but was a process of soundings and then some of the officials started having meetings. I then had a few meetings that were kind of nonmeetings. There was a guy in the North who organised a meeting and I went to that, but it turned out to be for something entirely different. When you met Paisley was he quite confrontational? Well, I had met him a few times, and he came down here and I showed him a lot of respect and dignity. I recognised that he was a church leader. He came down but wouldn’t shake hands. He came to meet me in Government Buildings to discuss the sectarian attacks on some of his churches. I tightened security around the churches to help him. I think he appreciated that and he wrote me a biblical note. The next time I met him I had picked it up in the Bible and he was very impressed that I went to the trouble. 259

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

One of the things never mentioned is humour, but were there times when there was humour? I was preparing the first formal meeting with Paisley and I had agreed to go to the North to meet him but he was not happy with that, so I invited him to Dublin. He was not happy with that either, so then we were going to meet in Brussels, but that didn’t happen because he cancelled it. Then, out of the blue, because I think I was accommodating him and he had said no to Belfast, Dublin and Brussels, some guy came back to me and said he was worried because when I first met Trimble as leader of the opposition the meeting was held in a café in London in a side street. The next meeting with Trimble, in Glengall Street, was a big thing at the time, but the initial meeting was in London. So London was the place, and we eventually met in the Irish Embassy. He wanted to do it at the crack of dawn. He wanted to announce that the meeting would be at 10.00am but that we would meet at 7.30am. I said that would be fine and we would have breakfast, that it would just be him and me and no one else, just the two of us in the Embassy. There were no press or journalists present, although the word had gone out that this meeting was going to be on and every journalist in London would soon come out to see it, and not surprisingly there was a huge media scrum there later to record the first meeting between an Irish Prime Minister and Dr Paisley. We went in and had breakfast in a small room, so he said a prayer and I blessed myself and joined in. He ended the prayer and we had orange juice and boiled eggs. We had a good meeting and I wanted to do a joint press briefing, but I knew he wouldn’t, which was the case. But he said something like ‘I tell you what I will do, we have had a good meeting and a good breakfast and I will go out and stand in front of the Irish flag and make it look as if it was a mistake, but you will know and you will be the only one who will know why I did it.’ So I said that was much appreciated, but he said ‘I will have to tell them that I don’t like the Irish,’ and I said ‘Well if you didn’t they would think there is something wrong.’ So he went down and said he had had a meeting with the Irish Prime Minister, which had not happened before except about religious matters, and he rattled on in the usual way. He then told the press how for breakfast we had hard-boiled eggs because if he hadn’t had them hard the Irish would have tried to poison him. I then went out and the first question they asked me was whether it true that he had looked for hard-boiled eggs, to which I said yes. The press then asked if I was offended by that, and I said no because he never checked the orange juice. He thought that was great and liked the joke we shared. What did he talk to you about in that one-to-one? 260

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Bertie Ahern We started talking about the fact that his party were doing better and we were going to have to try and find a way for the DUP to engage. He made it clear that there were things that he couldn’t sign up to and should not come into the framework of the Good Friday Agreement. He saw some of my speeches about his manifesto. I think Robinson was responsible for putting points into the manifesto so that we could jump on them. It was not Paisley, but Robinson who did that. We went through these points and I explained there was a review clause in the Agreement, bearing in mind it was now seven years or so after the Agreement was reached, and that we could look at all his concerns in the review. He liked that, and out of that grew St Andrews. Did you sense then that the DUP were going to do a deal? Yes, but what worried me was before St Andrews, when we had the Leeds Castle talks. I was making good progress with him but, as those talks ran on, the castle was booked out for a wedding, so we had to try and rush things, which didn’t work. In the end he had to bring in about twenty guys into the room and we were back to ­grandstanding. I didn’t leave Leeds Castle in good humour, I can tell you. Did you ever say no, and is it beneficial in a process like this to occasionally say no? The week before the talks, when we were in London and George Mitchell had this negotiating paper, we did say no. We couldn’t deal with it. It wasn’t giving us anything and it wasn’t dealing with the North–South dimension at all. That nearly killed the whole week off before it started, so there were times when we had to say this is not saleable. But, most of the time, it’s far better in negotiations not to get yourself high and mighty and just try and manoeuvre the position back to where you want it. How do you do that? Once you know your line and what your negotiating bottom line is you can take the other group’s position and try and convince them that there is not much between your line and their line, and from there it is more likely you can get it back. The notion of a ‘bottom line’ is interesting, but does anyone actually know where it is or even what it looks like? I would say that in any negotiation the bottom line is movable. The trick is to know what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. So, take, for example, Articles Two 261

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts and Three; you can’t explain them into a more acceptable position. They are being removed and that’s it, so there is no bottom line, or top line. But the principle of consent has to be absolutely clear and the reform of the Government of Ireland Act has to be absolutely clear, and there is no room for ambiguity or manoeuvre in such cases. However, how we were going to set up the group to look at the criminal justice system, or operate the decommissioning body, were things that could be manoeuvred, and sometimes the less words you put down on that the better. I remember, we had a file a few days before the end of the talks which was about five hundred pages long on the Patten Report. In the end, I said this is all very interesting but what we are going to do at the end of the summer is set up a commission headed by a prominent British person. We did not have a name then but we proposed a Chair, with seven or eight people on the Commission, and we made it clear we were going to reform the police. That was basically it, and it replaced hundreds of pages of text. In the talks it was always hard to get to the bottom line because it tended to move, and in many cases what parties were responding to did not sell with their constituents. Both Paisley and Trimble would insist there were things they could not sell to their party. Paisley would always talk about some fictional fellow out in the hills who had to be convinced and it was only when Paisley believed that he had an arguable case to convince this guy out in the hills that he could do the business with me. I would say to him ‘Well what does that guy in the hills expect from this? What is the thing that he needs from this?’ In that way you stopped documents being forwarded that were against a settlement. There is a bit of a narrative now that the Anglo-Irish Agreement was the basis and foundation of everything, but I am at pains to explain that that is not real, because when we came to the Agreement and that long winter from September 1997 until April 1998 the one thing you could not mention to anybody, except the SDLP, was the Anglo-Irish Agreement. If you said it to unionists they went mad, if you said it to loyalists they would have left the room, if you said it to republicans they got even more mad, so this narrative that it was the beginning of it all, well it might have been the beginning of something, but you could never mention it. I am making the point that usually, when you talk about the beginning of something then that is the beginning and everyone agrees that is the beginning and you build on it, but that is just not what happened here. I went back one day through a huge box of my stuff at home of some ninety files and I was looking for a particular thing, but when I went back I thought I must see where there is a mention of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and I couldn’t find it mentioned once, except in a document with the SDLP. How important is strategy in such a process? 262

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Bertie Ahern Strategy is great if you can devise it for yourself, but one thing for sure is you can’t devise a strategy for all the others in a process like this. If I am planning for my party in either negotiating or Government, I can have a strategy where I can go from A to Z. But if you have a strategy in multi-party talks and you are dealing with people with diametrically opposed views it is very hard to create a convergent direction that all can agree to, because of the competing and contradictory positions. It’s in discussion on content, through negotiation, that a solution to difficulty starts to emerge. If you take, for example, the reform of policing, it was pretty apparent that in this context you can have a strategy to do it, but you have to get people to buy into that strategy too. From what you have been saying it would seem that the process was based very much on leadership by consensus. It was not really consensus until the end. All the way through there was endless debate, friction and argument. I think in all of these things you don’t want to overplay it but you have to have determination, and this applied both to Tony Blair and me, that we needed patience, positive attitude and endurance. These are the qualities, when you are in conflict resolution processes, that you have got to have. When you are faced with difficulties you have to be able to listen, try to take in what all the sides are looking for, see where there is common ground, but also realise that on many occasions there is no common ground. In that instance, you have to take up a position which you think is the right one and argue for it. Part of the leadership here is to be able to read in between lines and situations to know what is important and where the games are. The art of good negotiation here revolved around taking responsibility for trying to get an agreement. If you just come in with your view and seek to impose that view on top of others, you might get an agreement after a week’s negotiation but it won’t stick. At other times there might be compromise, but, ultimately, the leadership role is one of pragmatism and common sense, as well as being able to stick with it through a positive, determined attitude. Those are the qualities. Also, you have to be able to concentrate and be reasonable and put yourself in the other person’s boots, as well as being willing to understand arguments being made even if you think they are nonsensical. You can’t rush these things, and whether they work or not you have to listen and give people the chance to say everything before then coming back on another day looking for the areas of compromise. If you try and come in with the compromise before you let people have their say, it frustrates the process. I’ve seen bad mistakes made by people trying to come to the compromise before they come to the problem, and I think that is a matter of patience, perseverance, giving people a chance, listening, and maybe asking searching questions with regard to why things 263

Inside Accounts are hypocritical, or nonsensical, or downright stupid. You have to go through that process to try and find what the common denominators are, and you need tolerance and respect for each case. It is vital to let people have their say and then try and pull that together with others in what is seen as a fair and responsible compromise.

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

As a leader in this process your role was obviously motivational, but was it also about sticking to a big picture, a grand vision? Most of my time, and particularly in the early years, was taken up with the peace process. I would spend maybe ten hours at the weekend reading the Northern Ireland briefs. Every bit of paper that came from the Secretariat I read, and that included all the minutes of the meetings that were taken when the guys were with the officials, any letters passing to and fro and all the intelligence gathering. There were many meetings that were recorded and I read all that, every page. On a Sunday, when I would read the briefs from early morning until late night, I also used to make calls to the Northern Ireland guys and I would keep notes about what I was reading, so all the detail of the discussions was very fresh in my head. I felt that was hugely important for three reasons: one, when I was in Parliament doing questions and answers, and I used to do Northern Ireland once a week for an hour, I knew all the detail. I don’t think anyone laid a hand on me in the Northern Ireland debates and everyone recognised that, because I had all the detail. And the one thing I learned from that, and this is the second thing, is that I was doing it to answer the political guys here, but I realised very quickly that the parties in the North and the officials and the Shinners and everyone else had guys who were reading what I was saying, so I was able to read their stuff, regurgitate it and be able to switch the message back in my Dail debates to where I was trying to go. I didn’t start to do it for that reason, but I realised this was another way of getting my message across because these guys are going to be doing exactly what I was doing, reading the stuff and analysing it. And the third reason was I was able to do it without reference to my departments. After a while the Department of Foreign Affairs stopped briefing me, so I was able to make the policy up as I went along. I had good guys when I needed them to draft stuff, but they weren’t trying to direct me. Is it the case that when you came into office you told your officials go and talk to ­everybody? If so, how do you distil all that information into a coherent direction ­without getting consumed by unnecessary stuff? The thing was, most of those briefs that all those guys did, which were usually under five or six pages, were done over lunches, coffees, teas and all this stuff gave a 264

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Bertie Ahern comprehensive insight. They were talking to army guys, police guys, judiciary guys, civil servants and clergy, and I could sit in my office, on a Sunday, and I read this stuff through. You were able to get a good feel about the process from that analysis, but it also helped me to deal with questions from Parliament too. How can you run a movement, or party, on the big issues if you don’t have understanding of those issues yourself? In that instance, all you are doing is reading a civil service brief. In the North, there was no way I could negotiate like that. Remember, all the time, on the nationalist side, there was the SDLP and Sinn Fein, but then outside of that there was the PIRA and the INLA. Then there was the UUP, the DUP, the UDP, the PUP, the Women’s Coalition and the Alliance. So there was much detail to grasp, but you have to keep on top of it to really know what is going on. What lessons from the peace process do you pass on to others? I take them through a bit of Irish history about how the conflict was so bitter and how it developed from the Norman invasion. But, when it came to the Troubles, I would go on the importance of trying to build trust and confidence. You try to pick a small thing and get agreement on that and look at that as a success. The message is always about trust, confidence, building peace, building relationships and taking risks. That’s the thing that always hits when you are talking to other countries. I helped in Ukraine with a conflict initiative there and they always said that the main problem is that the politicians would not take risks. My advice is you have to try and convince your politicians to take the risks, and a lot of the debate comes down to that. But the risks you took were not reckless were they? Well, there were some risky ones, as I said, like letting out the prisoners, including the lifers, although Tony did more than me on that. But I had to meet those families of those who had been shot by people who got forty years and who we let out after ten. At meetings with the widows of the RUC guys (the soldiers tended not to come to me), when we were reforming the RUC, I had to make speeches about breaking up that organisation, and this was painful to them. I used to bring them to Government Buildings, to the Sycamore Room, and show them respect, and you would have everyone sitting around the table and all these people had husbands or sons that were killed. That was very difficult. Was the act of listening in itself powerful? 265

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts Of course, and it was exhausting too, but also very important for them. They would thank you for listening and say things like ‘Now maybe when you are making the next move you will understand what we went through.’ It’s also about respect and the fact that you listen to them and talk it through; that definitely helps. Also, when you’re talking to them, they pick up your answers, which they can use back to their own guys, and there is certainly some of that involved. In discussion, you know almost by temperament and expression where the pressure points are, and if you’re dealing with the leadership that pressure often comes from their colleagues. When issues were really important you wouldn’t satisfy concerns in an hour. It would tend to be a number of days before you understood what the sticking points were. Did you have to make an argument to these people? It wasn’t an argument, but more an explanation. And that was saying that at the end of the day what we are trying to do is make sure that what happened to your husband or son doesn’t happen again. That was my case. I would say you can never forgive the people who did this, but what I am trying to do is to bring this to an end, and we can’t go on and on with this. That was the case. They never left kissing me, but they showed respect for my meeting with them, listening and giving them time. Did you take any risks that went wrong? We made plenty of mistakes. We assumed that once we had the Agreement of April 1998 things would then very quickly happen, and that we would make progress. And then Omagh happened. I spent four days going to the houses where children and adults were killed, lying in Celtic and Rangers jerseys. Then we had the length of time decommissioning took, trying to calm the loyalist prisoners when they got edgy and Mo Mowlam had to go in to the prisons, and the hard sell of reforming the RUC through the Patten Commission, so there were many problems and mistakes that arose in the process that we had to deal with. Are you of the mind that you should talk to everybody regardless of what they are up to? I believe that if you are to solve a conflict you have to try to philosophically and ­ideologically get your heads around what it is that makes these guys act as they do. If you try to make an agreement, as was the case in 1985, and you don’t involve the people who are causing the conflict, it will be unlikely to stick. Now, of course, there 266

Bertie Ahern

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

are extremes, and perhaps one might ask will ISIS ever come to the negotiating table  or do they have to be beaten into the ground? Well, you might not see ISIS coming to the table but there are some forty other groups out there and you might get them to the table. I am not saying slavishly that everybody has to be on the one sheet, but people being of half the view that an agreement is desirable is a good start. The argument that the moderates should have been supported is held by some. What is your view on that? I have heard it said that if the moderates are looked after and the extremes are ­isolated you end the problems. The reality is, you don’t.

267

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Conclusion

The interview testimony in this book points to a range of influences that, to a greater or lesser extent, informed the structure, trajectory and outcomes of the Northern Ireland peace process. Central to reaching the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 was intense and tenacious engagement from both the British and Irish Governments, along with the efforts of those political parties elected in Northern Ireland to take part in the negotiations that led to the Agreement. Although such involvement from the parties in Northern Ireland was itself reflective of an intention to compromise, as well as to protect core positions in a context of change, the importance of ambiguity as a context for facilitating the Agreement and, from that, a new Government, needs restating. The Good Friday Agreement has been described as ‘an agreement to disagree’ (Powell 2008: 108), and this ambiguity is encapsulated in the concept of its inclusive and integrative ethos. Reaching the Agreement became a moment of opportunity precisely because it was moment of uncertainty. However, over time, as the meaning of the arrangements and structures of that Agreement became more clearly comprehended, so the predictability and security of win-lose politics began to re-enter the domain of political discourse and the newness of uncertainty became diminished, replaced by the polarised and non-compromising politics of conflict. Therein lies the dilemma for building peace, and perhaps a lesson about its longevity. That is, if the more ambiguous and fluid phases of development are not maintained into a postAgreement world, then fragile change risks stalling before going into reverse, falling back on well-rehearsed positions and antagonisms about the past. This ambiguity also needed careful public communication and expression that avoided locking the parties and Governments into fixed or regressive positions. The facilitation of latitude that was needed to develop more wide-ranging appreciation for problems and for traversing the contentious terrain ahead therefore required considerable performative skills (Dixon 2018) to avoid the pitfalls of further unnecessary 268

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Conclusion points of division that hindered progress and so undermined the inclination to engage. One need only think of the term ‘peace process’ to see that ambiguity was important for establishing a contextual rather than technical basis for early engagement, and that this was important for creating the space where trust in the process could be generated before substantive issues could then be clarified and concluded. Creating and managing a process to bring about a peace agreement in Northern Ireland was really the high point of anticipation about change, largely because of ambiguity as constitutive of process. Ambiguity created a space where it was possible to imagine differently and to see Northern Ireland in terms of alternatives, rather than the sameness that had endured. However, once that moment of opportunity gave way to expectations about implementing the structures and mechanisms of Government, so a gradual hardening of positions took shape and the security of divisive tribal politics was re-established. This indicates a need to build ambiguity into a peace process for the long-term and to be vigilant against what might happen when it evaporates. The value of keeping ambiguity alive in a context of power is stressed in Connolly’s work on ambiguity and politics. Connolly argues that politics is at its best when it epitomises the ‘institutionalisation of ambiguity’ and that without this ambiguity there is a tendency towards ‘an intensification and overextension of authority’ (Connolly 1987: 141). His contention is that healthy politics depends on the constant possibility of change provided by ambiguity, since this works against the consolidation and entrenchment of power, and that when ambiguity dissipates it tends to be replaced not by confusion, but by authoritarianism. Richard Sennett’s early work on the role of cities in relation to communal identity is similarly useful here. Diverse and creative cities, Sennett notes, are the opposite of those that seek to impose order based on myths of the purified community. Such places, for Sennett, breed narrow and violence-prone lives, as compared to cities that display vigour and diversity because of an ‘equilibrium of disorder’ (Sennett 1970). Both Connolly and Sennett point towards the exercise of power and order as better for all when it enables movement, imprecision, fluidity, ambiguity and difference. The interviews in this book, although concerned with the overarching purpose of ending the conflict in Northern Ireland, also detail efforts to create the conditions for interdependence to work and how choreography was central to the cultivation of such a process (Dixon 2002). The Good Friday Agreement exposed the authoritarian structures of governance in Northern Ireland as unviable for peace and stability and represented an admission that political co-operation and partnership, once anathema, was now necessary if Northern Ireland were to move on from violent conflict. The certainties of the dominant model forged in conflict were predicated on separation, 269

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts but, by exposing the inability of this separation to serve the people of Northern Ireland as a whole, the peace process brought into question mythologies about separation. It suggested that the answer to violence and conflict lay in designing mechanisms that locked the political parities into a process where interdependence and joint decisionmaking became a working method of politics. However, what has since happened is a shift away from the more exciting political possibilities of the peace process, to the predictability of a confrontational and two-sided political game. In the early years of the post-Agreement phase, and at least until 2008, the two dominant parties who had helped forge the Agreement (the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP) epitomised the interdependence and co-operation that symbolised change. Yet, both were replaced by two parties who did not represent the compromise politics developed at that time. Sinn Fein and the DUP became and are now the dominant parties in Northern Ireland, not because they encouraged compromise and were instrumental in bringing about the Good Friday Agreement, but because they discouraged it and stood apart from it. In so doing, they did not become ‘tainted’ with the image of moderation as the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists did. Admittedly, the initial years of a co-operative Sinn Fein–DUP relationship did exist, but more on the surface and more in terms of the personal relationship between Rev. Dr Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness. Their roles as First Minister and Deputy First Minister, respectively, personified possible hope and expectation about the ‘extremes’ being able to work productively together. But, since the deaths of these two figures, the inability of the DUP and Sinn Fein to co-operate has now become only too apparent. The political landscape in Northern Ireland has now ossified to the point of paralysis as the two parties retreat to defensive positions, driven by a fear of interdependence and a deep loathing of each other. And one cannot help but read this situation in the light of the testimonies in this book. For those interviewed here were driven by a determination to inject fluidity into a traditionally static political landscape and, in so doing, erode the hatred and social division from which violence drew. In relation to where the situation is today, perhaps it is worth asking whether the Irish and British Governments should have taken more responsibility to prevent the shift from fluidity back to stasis, just as they took responsibility for moving that stasis to fluidity in the first place. Perhaps it is worth acknowledging, too, that the basis of a sustained peace is not just political agreements and the political arrangements they establish, but dialogue, and for the long term, and where constructive dialogue becomes an accepted and expected part of everyday political life and not an exception to it. One could argue that the peace process should not be conceived in terms of policies and agreements, but generational attitudes, and so the endurance of peace is a process without end. The tendency to see the peace process as being over by a certain date 270

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Conclusion because of a certain policy being fulfilled is not a good idea. Even if not with the same intensity, one might still contend that the two Governments should have maintained a closer relationship with, and influence over, the peace process than they have since the implementation of institutional bodies and arrangements. At the time of writing Northern Ireland has not had a functioning Executive for over two years and there is little sign of any imminent constructive resolution of this log-jam anytime soon. In response, the two Governments seem unwilling or unable to address this intransigence, and the longer it goes on the more frozen political relations become. Could this be not just a problem of responsibility and commitment, but one of capability and imagination? Do the efforts and the intense engagements of the past not offer lessons on how to proceed in the present? And is there a need to reinforce and re-energise the value of ambiguity in a process when hardened positions have taken hold again? More contentiously, perhaps we might ask if the calibre of civil servants and political ministers in Ireland and Britain today is up the task of dealing with the Northern Ireland situation as before. Or, to try and put it more succinctly, is it the case that those civil servants and political ministers involved in Northern Ireland today are of comparable expertise and ability to those in this book? For some, this may not be seen as a fair question, since much depends on the expectations of the political system in which such people operate, but I would argue that this is a question that is still worth asking. One might claim that those interviewed here were of an exceptional time, and so their involvement might suggest some exceptionality because of that fact, but this still does not convincingly answer the question about how a moment of transformation is brought to realisation and then not maintained. Indeed, one could just as easily contend that the exceptional moment exists because of the exceptionality of the people that enabled it to happen. And if we believe that to be so, then should we not also consider whether an erosion of confidence that comes after a moment of transformative power is also a sign of non-exceptionality or, worse, disinterest? Given events in Northern Ireland today, it is clear that a peace process can go backwards as well as forwards. The interviews in this book are not just an oral history of what has happened, but a forewarning of what might happen if energy and dedication is not applied and re-applied as problems and schisms arise. Without engagement it is not just that progression is halted, but that regression takes hold and becomes the lens through which response and counter-response take form. Once a deal is reached the process that led to that deal loses its drama, its excitement, its momentum. Process then becomes replaced by finite expectations about what the deal amounts too. In the course of a process, where gaps open to create space and words are found to then bridge that space, the dynamic is towards convergence and the inclusive context. But when the process itself is believed to be 271

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts over, parties invariably struggle to position themselves in this new reality through difference rather than similarity. Points of view are not articulated consistent with the integrative ethos of the Good Friday Agreement, but through the old anger of distrust and division. During the course of a peace process, pragmatism and imagination are needed to shape convergence, and both may require working close to the outer limits of what is acceptable, tolerable, justifiable or permissible, for this is vital to create a sense of the new, the unanticipated, the alternative. Once over (and as we see in Northern Ireland now), the voice of moderation loses ground to the voice of intransigence. The moderate voice tends to search for common points of interest and to see difference as a balance between what the painter Graham Sutherland, when considering the weight of inclusion and exclusion in art, called ‘the precarious tension of opposites’ (Spencer 2015). Unlike the moderate voice, which seeks to find value in the relationship between similarity and difference, the intransigent or authoritarian voice views similarity as destructive to difference and separateness. For that reason, the authoritarian voice ignores the importance of opposition in the construction of identity. Difference is not an opportunity, but a threat. Maybe this predicament might be considered as an imbalance in the tension between what Sowell calls the unconstrained vision and the constrained vision, where, while ‘The unconstrained vision speaks directly in terms of desired results’, the constrained vision is more concerned with the ‘process of characteristics considered conducive to desired results, but not directly or without unhappy side-effects, which are accepted as part of a trade-off’ (Sowell 2007: 32). This tension between two visions of social and political life can be conceptualised as the shifting dynamic between ambiguity and clarity, or between uncertainty and certainty. It is by keeping this tension balanced that change becomes possible and realisable and where identity and political difference, rather than being accepted as fixed, start to be seen as increasingly vital to the dynamic of change being sought and the progress needed. Once that motivation slips, then the ambiguous and less definite aspects of change lose appeal; replaced by certainties that, invariably, reassert the past. From the responses that arise in these interviews, a series of more immediate and obvious points arise. They highlight the importance of informal as well as formal relations. They indicate the necessity of intense and unyielding effort to create a morally commendable outcome of ending violence. They show the value of common purpose, partnership and collaborative meaning. They signify the importance of building trust, of proving commitment through application and managing change through risks. Importantly, they make it clear that there is a need to respect those being dealt with, no matter how objectionable or difficult. 272

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Conclusion Also of significance is that those involved in the peace process were freed, to a large extent, from the expectation of measurable outputs and statistical determinants. Relationships took shape in their own time, and although deadlines were seen as essential they worked or did not work because of the state of the relationships that preceded them. Yes, the peace process depended on choreography and symmetry of engagement, but it also depended on pragmatism and creativity in relation to problem-solving. And, in doing that, it locked certainty and uncertainty together in relation to a bigger picture: an expansive and inclusive process of political and social transformation. The ambition of the peace process was therefore political, but beyond the political. Its aims were wider than the short-term and immediate concerns of localised Northern Ireland political discourse. Because of that it encouraged the participants to think beyond their own horizons and to reflect more expansively and carefully about their adversaries in the process. As we have seen, the peace process up to the Good Friday Agreement was framed very strongly by a motivation and moral narrative of change. Yet, once the Agreement was reached that moral narrative lost intensity and was overtaken by more mundane (if important) disputations about the mechanistic and emotionally unappealing functions of institutional arrangements and procedural implementations. It was inevitable that the excitement that surrounded the moment of Good Friday in 1998 would recede as the complexity of political partnerships in Northern Ireland took hold and the practice of power began to be played out (even accounting for the contentious and ongoing concerns about decommissioning and policing and justice). But the powerful appeal of opportunity that articulations about the peace process promised can only realistically be sustained by decoupling expectations about the present from expectations about the future and, so, expectations about the past. For that to occur, a positive and ongoing process of transformation in Northern Ireland needs to recommit and reconnect with the value of fluidity, the possibilities of momentum and change and a new impetus to move politics away from the divisive, the polarising and the dismissive, towards the reflective, the imaginative and the creative. Questions about the legacy of conflict have now made the past the contentious terrain of current political debate and there is a danger that this debate will elicit intolerance and revenge, more than it will tolerance and compassion. Defusing this danger demands a new phase of the peace process that returns to the realms of ambiguity to try to construct some form of common good where responsibilities rather than rights shape debates. Such a future will require more pragmatism, engagement and effort. It will require the kind of the stamina and thought identified in this book. Or (to use a quote I have used before), as the historian Linda Colley so aptly put it: ‘Only in recent decades has it come to be more widely accepted that acts of union of any kind may be 273

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Inside Accounts too crude instruments in regard to Ireland, and that what is needed are messier, more variegated and more pragmatic political solutions. The work of compromise remains in progress’ (Colley 2013: 103). In conclusion, the interviews in this book are, first and foremost, stories. And since, as the novelist Coetzee tells us, we are the stories we tell ourselves (Coetzee and Kurtz 2015), the testimonies here exist not just as individual and collective narratives about participation in an important moment of Anglo-Irish history but as impressions of the self. Of course, memory is subject to the distorting effects of imagination and emotion and the facts of the matter are important, with inaccuracies needing correction; but, that said, it is what is believed, witnessed and experienced that is most powerful as a motivating force of history, and it is through interpersonal relations, through talking, contemplating and arguing that change becomes possible and then tangible. Finally, and to repeat, the interviews reveal creativity and the power of teamwork, but they also point to what is possible when there is a wider commitment to bring about change, and tell us that without that commitment change is not possible. On the challenge of maintaining balance between the oppositional and divergent positions of communities in conflict through the different stages, facets and engagements of the peace process, we might do well to remember the words of historian Eva Hoffman, who, when writing on memory, history and the Holocaust so perceptively observed: ‘Stand too close to horror, and you get fixation, paralysis, engulfment; stand too far, and you get voyeurism or forgetting. Distance matters’ (Hoffman 2004: 177). References Coetzee, J. M. and Kurtz, A. (2015) The Good Story, London: Harvill Secker. Colley, L. (2013) Acts of Union and Disunion, London: Profile Books. Connolly, W. E. (1987) Politics and Ambiguity, London: University of Wisconsin Press. Dixon, P. (2002) ‘Political skills or lying and manipulation: The choreography of the Northern Ireland peace process’, Irish Political Studies 50 (4): 725–741. Dixon, P. (2018) Performing the Northern Ireland Peace Process, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Hoffman, E. (2004) After Such Knowledge, London: Secker and Warburg. Powell, J. (2008) Great Hatred, Little Room, London: The Bodley Head. Sennett, R. (1970) The Uses Of Disorder, London: Yale University Press. Sowell, T. (2007) A Conflict of Visions, New York: Basic Books. Spencer, G. (2015) ‘Challenging Sectarianism’, in N. Hall, A. Corb, P. Giannasi and J. G. D. Grieve (eds) The Routledge International Handbook on Hate Crime, London: Routledge.

274

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Index

9/11 attacks see September the eleventh attacks (2001)

informal way 101–102 Irish Constitution (amendment) 249–251, 261–262 leadership 4, 6, 239–267 leadership (qualities required) 263–264 ‘leadership by consensus’ (idea contested) 263 lessons from peace process 265 listening 265–266 MI5 and MI6 (some people ‘not helpful’) 258 negotiating styles (British versus Irish) 257–258 Northern Bank robbery and McCartney murder 255–256 in opposition (discussions with Blair, 1996–97) 241 people trying to compromise ‘before coming to problem’ 263 release of prisoners 254–255 republican versus unionist approaches 245–247 risk-taking 265–266 saying no (beneficial to peace process) 261 side-letters 252–253 stimulus to peace process 94–95 strategy (importance) 262–263 ‘talking to everybody’ 98 text versus talk 256, 258 time devoted to peace process 264 Alliance Party xvii, 50, 101, 214, 265 Anglo-Irish Agreement (1985) 66 lack of inclusivity 266–267 US pressure on Thatcher 81

Act of Union 126 Adams, Gerry xii–xiii, xviii, xix ‘ahead of Army Council’ 150–151 authority 163 decommissioning issue 172–173 leadership style 162–163 meetings with Ahern 246, 248 status 163 structural issues 160–161 symbolism 166 US visa 81, 115 age 158–159 agriculture 60, 141, 205, 231 Ahern, Bertie viii, 84, 96, 146, 157 ‘all concerns’ versus ‘key issues’ 256–257 Anglo-Irish Agreement 262 bottom lines (conflicting) 261–262 British and Irish Governments’ approach to peace process 254 ‘British obsession with text’ 257 conflict resolution (inclusivity) 266–267 consent principle 250–251 constructive ambiguity (value) 244–245 decommissioning issue 248–249 DUP (dealings with Paisley) 259–262 DUP (differences from UUP) 258–259 DUP (first signs of progress) 259 focussed on big picture 96–97, 264–265 gaining trust 253–254 humour 260 importance of small teams 243, 247 275

Index

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference 37, 66, 68, 176, 184 Anglo-Irish relations (phases) 175–176 armed struggle 99, 133, 192 aspiration 14, 26, 230 Attorney-General (ROI) viii, 118, 228 role and responsibilities 121, 124 Atwood, Alex 104, 186, 203 Bassett, Ray 90–91 groundwork and building relations 5, 6, 90–117 ‘no use to anyone’ as free agent 91 Belfast 99, 114, 116, 117, 124 Blair, Tony 84, 92–94, 157, 223 and Ahern 241–244, 252–255, 258, 263 early speeches ‘terrible’ 93 ‘good negotiator’ 96 leadership style 4 side-letter to Trimble 31, 51, 126, 127, 219, 252 Bloody Sunday (1972) 182, 229 Bloody Sunday Inquiry (Saville Commission) xii, xiii, 86, 184–185, 190–192 body language 154, 160, 178 British Government constitutional framework 136, 137 expertise on law and legislation 94 relations with Irish Government (1974–85) 39–40 British–Irish Council 37, 47, 59, 60, 80, 120, 127, 128 ‘balancing element’ (against North–South dimension) 63 British–Irish Intergovernmental Conference 60, 120 Brooke, Peter 4, 17, 19, 20, 23, 67, 73, 93 Bruton, John 4, 6, 102 Bush, George W. 115–116 Byrne, David viii, 5, 6, 118–141 Canary Wharf bombing (1996) 43, 45, 62, 76, 149, 159, 207, 240, 241 Catholicism 195, 200 charisma 163–164 choreography (political) 3, 89, 269, 273 cities 269

citizenship 119 civil servants 1, 34, 36, 41, 123, 168, 172 British and Irish (calibre) 271 British versus Irish approaches 153 Irish 4, 155, 210, 242, 264–265 Northern Irish 47, 49, 55–56, 57 Clinton, Bill xiii, 76–77, 81, 84, 87, 115–116, 173, 217, 224 Collins, Michael (1890–1922) 96, 250 collusion 227–228 colonialism 194 communication 2, 98, 101, 196, 205, 240, 242, 268 compromise 2, 114, 274 confidence 15–16 Connolly, W. E. 269, 274 consensus 120, 121, 138, 175 consent principle 118, 119, 127, 132–141 passim, 230, 250–251 consistency 23 constructive ambiguity 30, 177–178, 244–245 Cooney, David 10, 28, 100 Cory Inquiry 182, 191 Council of Ireland 38, 56, 231 Cowen, Brian 6, 99, 101, 102 creative ambiguity 70, 75, 268–269 credibility 155, 242 D’Hondt system 20, 25, 104, 127, 161, 206, 251 Dail 23, 26, 128, 166, 190, 219, 221, 240, 256, 264 Dalton, Tim viii, 5, 6, 17, 111, 142–174, 218, 243 background 142, 172 civil servants taking ‘liberties’ 151 meetings with Adams and McGuinness 161–162 ‘securocrats’ 143–144 ‘tended to rely on memory’ (should have taken more notes) 173 De Bruin, Barbara 105, 108, 158, 212 de Chastelain, John 115, 171, 172, 207, 249 deadlines 82, 239–240 decommissioning xii–xvii, 50–53, 102, 116, 126–127, 183, 197–199, 248–249 British standpoint 75 British yielding to unionist demands 73 dodging by republicans (method) 223 endpoint 172–173

276

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Index drafting texts 10–37 ambiguity 31–32 context 30 ‘crystallises problems’ 33 detail (amount) 24 detail (relative importance) 34 narrative order 29 North–South dimension 18, 19 over-complication 34 problem words/expressions 25 reactions (surprising) 33 republicans 19 sequencing 20–21 structure 24–25 taking account of what people were not saying 33 versus ‘talk and negotiation’ 32–33 unionists 15–16 draftsmanship 155–156 Drumcree xii, 196, 241 Durkan, Mark 104–105, 217

‘fundamental democratic principle at stake’ 218–219 ‘fundamentally a distraction’ 74–75 ‘heart of issue’ 182 importance of language 232 ‘not central problem’ (Good Friday Agreement negotiations) 53 ‘paramount issue’ 170–171, 229 pressure from two Governments (degree) 52–53 ‘putting arms beyond use’ (Dalton) 5, 142–174 (esp. 168) strategic purpose 203–204 demilitarisation/normalisation 15, 34, 62, 92, 109, 145, 166–167, 219, 225, 229 Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) xii, xiv–xviii, 208 ‘changed into what UUP was’ 106 differences from UUP (Ahern) 258–259 Good Friday Agreement (Strand Two) 58 ‘pivotal’ (2017–) 140, 141 rise 1, 53, 258–261, 270 Department of Foreign Affairs xi, 39, 40, 42, 59, 66, 91, 125, 128, 142, 176, 207, 264 Anglo-Irish Division viii–ix, 67, 68, 70, 190 Department of Justice 142, 143, 167, 169, 228 Department of the Taoiseach viii, ix, 24, 25, 38, 56, 69, 128, 190, 210, 231 Derry 91, 98, 114, 117 dialogue 270 discrimination 42, 64, 90, 95, 176, 183 divided society 206 Doherty, Pat 43, 44, 109, 158, 159 Donaldson, Jeffrey 13, 16, 51, 81, 125, 213, 238, 252 Donlon, Sean 39 Donoghue, David viii–ix, 6, 66–68 strategy and trajectory 5, 66–89 Dorr, Noel 39 Downing Street Declaration (1993) 21, 31–32, 70–73, 193 ‘crucial document’ 179 importance for Good Friday Agreement 35–36 Irish Government approach (inclusivity instead of ‘isolating extremes’) 76 laying down parameters 36

electricity 36 emotion 85, 92, 194, 196, 274 empathy 64–65, 88–89, 109–110, 196–197, 235 employment 3, 103, 114, 116 Enniskillen 42, 97, 196 equality 14, 101, 103, 106, 114, 158, 204, 229 versus ‘equity’ 25 Ervine, David 50, 212 European Union 119 ‘always very supportive of peace process’ 120, 121 Brexit ix, 37, 137, 138–141, 205 extraterritorial jurisdiction (international law) 132 fairness 132, 140, 244, 254 Faulkner, Brian 38, 54 Ferris, Martin 158, 159, 162, 169 Fianna Fail 26, 76, 207, 214, 216, 230, 246, 250, 253 Finucane Inquiry 227–228 flags and emblems xviii, 50, 100–101, 103 forgiveness Catholic versus Protestant perspectives 200–201 277

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Index how to be read 29 implementation bodies 128, 130, 131, 134, 138, 139, 253 importance of AIA as forerunner 1–2, 176 lessons of Sunningdale 1–2 ‘making it up as you go along’ 99–100 ‘not ambiguous document’ (Byrne) 129 nothing agreed until everything agreed 77–78, 131, 226 ‘only a blueprint’ 219–220 opposing psychologies 50 phraseology 54 pragmatism versus principle 54–55 preamble 21–23 reasoning (legal versus political) 122, 123 sense of new beginning 22 signatories (Sinn Fein, UUP) at crosspurposes re united Ireland 130 status (international treaty) 130 success for unionists, but not sold as such 177, 237 text 14 Good Friday Agreement: components British–Irish Treaty 101, 129, 133, 134, 135, 136 Multi-Party Agreement 129, 133, 134 Good Friday Agreement: drafting difficult to distinguish British or Irish input 23 as legal text 129 ability to be read differently 130 most contentious texts 23–24 ‘very little done by unionists’ 15 Good Friday Agreement: negotiations British versus Irish working methods 48–49 convergence between British and Irish 49 core of negotiations 182 ‘core positions’ versus ‘potential movement’ 46 ‘daily churning out of statements’ 79 decommissioning ‘not central problem’ 53 inclusivity 82, 84, 85, 86 intensity 83–84 Irish Government consensus 53 Irish Government leverage 80–81 movement (source) 50 problems ‘talked into long grass’ 100

Forum for Peace and Reconciliation (1994–96) ix, 5, 50 final report never published 45–46 function in peace process 42 influence on Irish thinking 46 procedures 44–45 producing a text 46 rationale re Sinn Fein 41 Sinn Fein role 42–46 Frameworks Document (1995) 21, 31–32, 71–72, 79–80 importance for Good Friday Agreement 35–36 reliance on ambiguity 31 freedom of assembly getting to assembly point (silence of international law) 188 future 205–206, 237 ‘mandate of heaven’ 176–177, 194 Gallagher, Dermot 10, 28, 38, 100, 112, 113, 150 Garda Siochana 144, 145, 151, 161, 169, 170 Garvaghy Road 186, 189 Good Friday Agreement (1998) ix–x, xii, 72 amendments 131 ‘best outcome’ 130, 131 Brexit implications 138, 141 British perspective (moral impulse) 84 chronological order 129 clinching point 157 consistency with international expectations 132 constructed on basis of past treaties 50 contents 129 core principles 26 degree of clarity 29, 76–77 dispute about name 251–252 ‘dragging extremists onto middle ground’ 61–62 durability (because of inclusivity) 1–2, 6, 201, 205–206 ‘dynamic analysis’ (republicanism) versus ‘static analysis’ (unionism) 104 endgame 5, 217–218, 234, 238, 247, 251–253, 256–257 fairness 135 ‘further negotiation down road’ 28–29 ‘good deal for parties of NI’ 61 278

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Index questions being asked (psychology) 87–88 reference back to Frameworks Document 79–80 text (relative importance to British and Irish) 49 three strands 18–19, 73, 82, 86, 89 verbal clarifications 88 Good Friday Agreement: Strand One (internal structures of Northern Ireland) 18–23 Sinn Fein ‘never produced a paper’ 106–107 Good Friday Agreement: Strand Two (North–South dimension) 16, 18–30, 46–47, 79–80, 127, 128, 202, 237 ambiguity 58–59 ‘biggest part’ of Good Friday Agreement 131 drafts 56–57 driven by Irish (rather than British) text 57 Irish position (maximalist versus minimalist) 57–59 SDLP response 55 six bodies 57–58, 63 Good Friday Agreement: Strand Three (East-West relations) 18–23, 37, 79–80, 120 importance 63 ‘not advantageous’ to Irish 63–64 Government of Ireland Act (1920) 250, 251, 262 Haass, Richard xviii, 115 harmonisation 4, 38, 54, 139, 237 Harney, Mary 207, 213–214, 216 Haughey, Charles 40, 176 Haughey-Thatcher summit (1980) 40, 54 Heads of Agreement (1998) 25, 31, 32, 46 Healthcare Directive (EU) 139 history 30, 191, 194–195, 206, 265, 274 forgiveness 200–201 human condition 206 Hume, John xiii, 104–105, 166, 204, 210, 224, 232, 253 Hume-Adams dialogues 32, 36, 42, 67, 90, 163–164, 235 hunger strikes 40, 44, 193, 196

identity 4, 114, 186, 188, 272 public appearance versus private reality 109–110 Independent International Commission on Decommissioning xii, xvii, 171, 172 Inquiries Act (2005) 192 Ireland (Republic of Ireland) murder of British Ambassador (1976) 39 romanticisation of republican struggle 230 Irish Civil War 53, 206 Irish Constitution (1937) 123, 124, 136 Articles Two and Three 54, 118, 121, 122, 130, 249–250, 261–262 context for change 119 unionist views 124, 126 Irish Government ‘Box’ 97 commitment to Frameworks Document 35–36 distillation of discussions into positions 97 intelligence (information) turned into policy 97–98 oral tradition 216–217 relations with British Government (1974–85) 39–40 strategic approach 75–76 talking to people in NI 98 Irish language 55, 100–101, 114 Irish National Liberation Army xvii, 143, 265 Irish Republican Army (IRA) xii–xvi attitudes in Ireland towards 165 ‘broke Orange State’ 102, 114 modus operandi 108 ‘write down everything’ 245 IRA Army Council 150–151, 222 IRA ceasefires (1994–96) 74, 179 (1997–) xii, 241–242 IRA statements 110, 112–113, 152, 156, 167 justice system xvii, 4–5, 100, 219, 239, 262, 273 Keenan, Brian 114, 151, 159 Kelly, Gerry 60, 109, 158, 162 Kennedy, Edward 115–116, 224–225 King, Peter 124, 125 279

Index

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Kirwan, Wally ix, 6, 38–39, 63, 101, 231–232 forums and North–South relations 5, 38–65 language 22–23, 25–26, 56, 166–167, 232 achievement of balance 70–71 single words (could be sticking point) 166, 168 symbolism of attraction 71–72 language difficulties 74–75 law constrained by political policy (and viceversa) 123, 124 leadership 205, 239–267 legal texts 122, 123 Liaison Group 49, 68–70 Lillis, Michael 39, 66 listening 153–154, 205, 214–215, 221, 265–266 London: Irish Embassy ix, 66, 69, 81, 260 Loyal Orders 186, 189 loyalists xiv, 50, 186, 226–227, 234 McCartney, Robert xvi, 62, 210, 218, 225, 255 McDonald, Mary Lou xix, 117 McGuinness, Martin xiii, xvii–xviii, 108 ‘ahead of Army Council’ 150–151 decommissioning issue 172–173 leadership 162–163 negotiating style 221–222 meetings with Ahern 246, 248 ‘tuned in’ to activist mindset 160–161, 163 McKee, Eamonn ix, 5–6, 175–206 Bloody Sunday 190–191 McKevitt, Michael 43, 249 McLaughlin, Mitchel 16 McWilliams, Monica 212–213 Maginnis, Ken 17, 58, 104 Major, John 3, 84, 93, 94 dependence on unionist support 73, 75 Mallon, Seamus xi, 43, 46, 47, 96, 104–105, 223, 232, 253 ‘powerful personality, clearly leader’ 103 Manchester bombing (1996) 240, 241 Mandelson, Peter xiii, 59, 95–96, 109, 115, 225–226 Mansergh, Dr Martin 25, 67, 91, 128, 136, 144, 150, 243

Maryfield: Anglo-Irish Secretariat (1985–) viii, ix, 66, 68, 69, 90, 142, 176, 210 Mayhew, Sir Patrick 4, 17, 19, 20, 48, 68, 73, 75, 93 decommissioning demand ‘had not helped’ 51, 53 Maze Prison xii, 227 media 80, 233, 235–237 memory 193, 230, 274 mental reservation 200–201 MI5/MI6 xiv, 167, 258 mind-reading 156, 158, 166 Mitchell, George 82, 215, 254 ‘vital to settlement’ 87 Mitchell Principles xii, 77–78, 239, 241 momentum 2, 32, 79, 83, 196, 243, 256, 271, 273 Montgomery, Rory ix, 5, 6, 10–11, 16, 101, 251 aspirations of text 10–37 wrote preamble to Good Friday Agreement 21, 22 Mowlam, Mo 93, 224–228 disliked by unionists 96, 209, 216, 225 Mullan, Don 190 Nally, Dermot 38, 39, 56 national security 185–186, 203 negotiation texts mindfulness of various perspectives 157 ‘series of approximations’ approach 157 negotiations ‘big picture’ versus ‘detail’ 4, 237 ‘bottom line’ 89 ‘clarity required from you, ambiguity all right from us’ 156–157 ‘compromise’ versus ‘concession’ 34–35 conflict resolution (messy bits) 170 conversation versus text 167–168 difficult issues ‘not most important points at all’ 25–26, 34 drivers for change 195–196 ‘the essential’ 202, 204, 205 final hours 21 flexibility 83, 88–89 focus on ‘deal’ versus longer-term process 28–29 importance of ‘continuing engagement’ 174 280

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Index benefited from ROI cross-party consensus 209–210 British versus Irish approach 224 lawyer (impact on skills) 207–208 as negotiator 208–210 politics of engagement 207–238 O’Hare, Rita 43, 44, 212 O’Leary, Ken 172 Official IRA 52, 109 Oireachtas x, 121, 138 Omagh bombing (1998) xiii, 218 On-the-Runs xvi, 169–170, 222–223 Ormeau Road, Belfast 101, 187, 189

‘hot-house’ meetings 65 informal 2, 3, 6, 48–49, 68–69, 72–73, 92–94, 99, 211, 227, 243–244 initial perspective 201–202 lessons 174, 238 low points 174 ‘more serious the smaller the team’ 154–155 number of people in room 201 plenary sessions 211 poor practice 250 pragmatism versus principle 27 purpose 173 ‘quagmires’ 30 ‘real key to movement’ 101–102 search for balance 21 text (British versus Irish emphasis) 94 ‘text in play’ 31 venue (importance) 65 Nelson, Rosemary 227–228 New Ireland Forum (1983–84) ix, 14, 26, 40–43, 61, 204 non-response (importance) 156 non-violence 26, 27, 33, 62, 71, 72, 73, 77, 95, 103, 148–149, 167, 193, 196 North–South bodies 59–60, 231–232, 237 North–South Ministerial Council 24, 36, 46–63 passim, 128, 139 Northern Bank robbery xv, 62, 218, 225, 255 Northern Ireland (NI) limits of politics 205–206 thirty-year civil war 231 ‘unique constitutional status in EU’ 140 Northern Ireland Assembly (1999–) xii–xvii, 11, 23, 26, 28, 35, 128–138 passim, 218 Northern Ireland Executive (post-Sunningdale) 38 (post-Good Friday Agreement) xiii , 52, 60, 64, 127, 271 Northern Ireland Office 39, 40, 68, 94

Paisley, Dr Ian xiv–xviii, 52, 253–256, 259–261 private versus public persona 260 red line (end of violence) 259 parades xviii, 5, 50, 97, 186–190, 196 ‘right to march, right to offend’ 188 Sinn Fein viewpoint 189–190 paramilitary organisations xviii, xix, 39, 147, 167, 185, 186, 234 dormancy (‘abhorrent concept’ for unionists) 182 partition (1921) 179, 182, 185, 193, 194, 195 passports 104 Patten Commission xiii, 115–116, 262 terms of reference ‘critical’ 180 peace monument (proposed) 147 peace process xii–xix achievement of symmetry 73–74 atrocities (effect) 42 British versus Irish approaches 92 British and Irish thinking (mutual influence) 95 British–Irish relations (improvement) 93–94 creativity 70, 229 demands out of blue 197 dependence on one-to-one dialogue 242–243 depends on talking to those engaged in violence 2 emotion 85 generational attitudes 270–271 human relations 7 incremental 44–45

O hUiginn, Sean 10, 26, 31, 67, 151, 155, 156, 179, 242 O’Ceallaigh, Daithi 39 O’Connor, Tim 10, 11, 39, 43 O’Donnell, Liz 6 background 207 281

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Index Progressive Democrat Party 6, 207, 216, 225, 230, 235 Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) 211, 212, 265 Protestants/Protestantism 195, 216 psychology 5–6, 114, 120, 148–149, 156 public opinion 175, 229, 242, 244

peace process (cont.) intonation, emotion, humour (importance) 196–197 Irish Government advantages 94 legal and political convergence 5, 118–141 lessons 82, 268–274 literature 2–3, 8–9, 274 ‘marginal gains’ approach versus ‘big steps’ 195 morality 230 ‘new beginning’ (perspectives) 176–177 ossification 270–271 public opinion (ROI) 62 role of individual 7 strategy and tactics 202–203 timing and personalities 196 ups and downs (Irish anger with British) 95–96 performative skills (Dixon) 4, 268–269, 274 personalities 5, 196, 201, 270 Police Service of NI xv, xvii, 239 policing xvi, xvii, 64, 100, 262 British–Irish compromise 180–181 ‘effectiveness’ (need for whole-community acquiescence) 181 ‘fairness’, ‘parity of esteem’ 184 ‘force’ versus ‘service’ 181 ‘great success’ of peace process 184 link with decommissioning 203–204 loyalist perspective 186–187 ‘lustration’ 183–184 ‘most complicated’ part of negotiations (post–1998) 185 parades 187–188 republican perspective 183, 185–186 Policing Board 184, 185, 203 politics 269 ‘pooling of sovereignty’ 119, 120 Powell, Jonathan 48, 52, 62, 111, 150, 172, 173, 189, 248, 252 on unionists 103 power-sharing 1, 5, 52, 53, 119, 182, 204, 233 pragmatism 27, 54–55, 85–86, 93, 146–147, 272 policy and 5–6, 175–206 prisoners and prisoner releases xiii, 20, 166–169, 254–255 ‘only handful reoffended’ 255 paramount issue 170–171

Real IRA (1998–) xii, xiii, 43, 249 reconciliation 199–200 referendums xii, 121, 122, 128, 129 Reid, Father Alec xv, 2, 91, 143 republicans articulation of responses to peace process 12 ‘comfortable with ambiguity’ 12–13 demand for respect 111–112, 114 dialogue with Irish Government 99 discourse (North versus South) 113–114 engagement with peace process (early 1990s) 11–12 Good Friday Agreement ‘seen as stepping stone’ 12 informal negotiation 111 ‘neither adopted nor rejected’ Good Friday Agreement (logic) 14–15 views re unionists 109–110 respect 4, 186, 204, 212, 215, 264, 265, 266, 272 Reynolds, Albert 3, 4, 36, 84, 90, 91, 101, 166, 179, 208, 235 rights (European concept) 187–188 risk and risk-taking 62, 105, 153, 166, 224, 230, 235, 255, 265, 272 Robinson, Peter xvii, xviii, 253, 261 Rogers, Brid 212, 214 Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) 64, 180 rule of law 124, 185, 191, 200, 201, 203, 239 St Andrews Agreement (2006) xvi, xxi, 84, 225, 243, 261 Scotland 60–61, 63, 80, 117 security forces 145, 148–149 self-determination 4, 127, 132, 133, 136, 179, 204 Sennett, R. 269, 274 September the eleventh attacks (2001) 102, 115, 116, 249 Shankill Road 44, 91 282

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Index psychology 148–149 resistance to outside pressure 193 ‘rights-based’ approach to loyalist parades 187–188 rise 1, 53, 91, 270 role in Forum for Peace 42–46 secrecy and confidentiality 151–152 text-writing 155 united Ireland ideology 60–61 ‘very good at politics’ 220–221 women 212, 215 worked in small teams 247–248 Sinn Fein leadership 5, 111–113 background power-brokers 20, 106, 145–146, 150, 164, 247–249 complementarity of Adams and McGuinness 162–163 difficulty of exerting leverage upon 166 need to carry followers 25–26, 43, 51–52, 107, 109, 110, 144–168 passim playing for time 149, 160, 164 skill of knowing when to compromise 158 texts from Irish Government 167 ‘top-down’ versus ‘bottom-up’ policy shift 193 Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) xii, xiv, xvii, 47–48, 197 ‘always excellent’ (Ahern) 246–247 decline 1, 53, 105, 253, 270 fury at two Governments 223 Good Friday Agreement negotiations 19, 20, 21, 25, 34–35 Irish constitution 251 marginalisation (electoral) 230–231 moving towards UUP 224 policing and national security 203–204 socialising 197 socialism 113–114 South Africa 41, 77, 233 Sowell, T. 272, 274 Special Branch 167, 183–185 speeches 108 Stephens, Sir Jonathan 28, 48 subtext 156 Sunningdale (1973) 1, 2, 38, 39, 42, 54, 56, 204, 231

side-letters 31, 51, 86, 88, 110–111, 126, 127, 219 ‘formal’ part of peace process 252–253 Sinn Fein xii–xix, 143–144 ability with documents 106–107 buying time 88 ‘certain amount of game playing’ 149, 152–153 ‘conversational approach’ versus ‘direct speaking’ 153 decommissioning (ignorance of Blair’s side-letter to Trimble) 126 decommissioning strategy 203–204 delegation membership (clue to their thinking) 157–158 future orientation 179 Good Friday Agreement ‘could not care less’ about three strands 19–20 relative importance of strands 80 Strand Two 16, 18, 58 ‘great chisellers’ (Powell) 48, 178 ideological approach 133 ‘incredibly strategic’ 107–108, 110 interest in detail of text 47–48 and IRA 50, 108, 171 and Irish constitution 251 last-minute questions (Good Friday Agreement) 48, 87–88, 111, 217–218, 256–257 ‘monolithic’ (impression) 16, 111 most important issues (Good Friday Agreement) 15 as negotiators 17, 108–110, 197–199, 217, 221–222 ‘never finished’ 217–218, 222 ‘not always predictable’ 149–150, 159 note-taking in meetings 151 Omagh bombing (response) 218 ‘over-negotiation’ 52, 62 pace of peace process 51–52 policing issue 182–183 popularity in ROI 220 pragmatism 43–44 presented Good Friday Agreement as success 13–14 progressive versus retrogressive character 220 promises 145, 253 283

Inside Accounts

Downloaded from manchesterhive © Copyright protected It is illegal to copy or distribute this document

Supreme Court British 136 Irish 54, 136 Sutherland, Graham 272 Taylor, John 17, 33, 47, 51, 104, 232, 236 Teahon, Paddy 28, 38, 47, 150, 243 Thatcher, Margaret 40, 54, 66–67, 81, 85 ‘spotlight approach’ 83–84 Thomas, Sir Quentin xi, 28, 43, 100, 155 Tiger’s Bay 98 tone 155–156 totality of relationships 30, 40, 77, 121, 135, 204 tourism 36, 55, 57, 232, 237 trade 202, 237 Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 191, 192 Trimble, David xi, xiii–xv, 13–14, 103, 246 ‘didn’t confide in people’ 15 Good Friday Agreement negotiations (‘two huge wins’) 35 inability to carry followers 105 meetings with Ahern 260, 262 policing 100 red line (end of violence) 259 relations with Ahern 88, 96, 242 side-letter on decommissioning 31, 51, 126, 127, 219, 252 ‘volatile temperament’ 17, 81, 213 trust/confidence-building 86, 232–233, 253–254 truth 177–178, 191–192 Ulster Defence Association xvii, 77, 98 Ulster Democratic Party (UDP) 27, 77, 211, 265 Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) xii–xiv, xvii, 13, 59, 208 bogged down in detail (best line of defence) 104–105 decline 1, 105–106, 253, 270 differences from DUP (Ahern) 258–259 ‘divided party’ 104, 105, 213 Good Friday Agreement negotiations 18–35 passim, 58, 106 ineffectiveness as negotiators 102–103 Irish Constitution (amendment) 124, 126

loss of public confidence 52–53, 54 marginalisation (electoral) 230–231 negotiating style 17 reactions ‘unpredictable’ 81–82 unionists caution towards negotiating documents 55 Downing Street Declaration 71 fears 194–195, 209 Good Friday Agreement 15–17 IRA ceasefire (‘permanence’ issue) 74 lack of coherence 245–246 language 234 loss of status 35, 233 main concern (whether war was over or not) 51–53 non-contact with adversaries (maintenance of hard-line position) 233 North–South bodies (apprehension) 231–232, 237 ‘nothing wrong’ with NI 199–200 refer to ‘Belfast Agreement’ rather than ‘Good Friday Agreement’ 252 registration of Good Friday Agreement at UN 136 views re republicans 109–110 united Ireland 14, 60–61, 132, 133 United Nations 133, 135–137, 258 International Court of Justice 135, 136, 137 United States xvi, 81, 199, 249 ignorance of unionism 116–117 importance 114–116 victimhood 194 visas 81, 114, 115 war-weariness 109, 144, 206 Washington Three conditions (1995) 4, 73, 75, 198–199, 249 watchtowers xiii, 145, 161, 165, 258 West Belfast 101, 104, 109, 111, 151 Widgery report 185, 190–191 women 6, 44, 211–216, 220 mediation skills 214 Women’s Coalition 50, 211–212, 214, 215, 265 zero-sum games 82, 86, 215, 233, 268

284