That Seanad Éireann, recognising the present favourable opportunities for the attainment of peace in Northern Ireland, urges the Government to do their utmost to promote the process of political accommodation.
We have been requesting a debate on Northern Ireland in this House for months. Indeed, I was astonished to discover that it is over two years since we had a substantial debate on Northern Ireland in the Seanad, making allowances, perhaps for occasional statements, but as far as I can ascertain it has been that long since we had a full debate on Northern Ireland and I welcome the opportunity given to me here tonight.
It has been suggested that this is an unsuitable time to raise this issue, that the Northern talks are at a very sensitive stage, but we have heard this unconvincing line for a long time. I have lost track of the number of times we have been told that a particular time was unsuitable or insensitive and I no longer accept this line of talk. I do not think anything we say here will drive anyone away from the conference table.
First, we must have a proper appreciation of our own importance in this regard and second, we are too deferential to prickly sensibilities. We are not talking about prima donnas who may rise up and start off at some unwise word from us. We are talking about spokespersons who speak urgently about an overwhelming demand for peace in Northern Ireland. Nothing we will say here tonight will drive them from that table. A candid expression of our views can only help the Government and all those involved in the talks and that is why I tried to phrase the motion in as non-controversial way as my temperament permits. Generally speaking, I propose to follow a non-controversial line, although I hold very strong views on certain aspects involved in this.
I thank the Government side for not putting forward an amendment. That was a gesture of goodwill, a recognition of the seriousness and importance of the motion and their acknowledgment that I would not use it for publicity purposes.
When I speak about favourable opportunities being presented for peace, I really believe that. I know there have been other false starts but this time there has been an extraordinary conjunction of events. Providentially, there has not been a terrorist-related death in Northern Ireland for about seven weeks, despite the best efforts at times of the IRA. There has been a falling off in the retaliatory violence of the loyalist para-militaries and there has been an extraordinary yearning for peace which is palpable and is expressed in many diverse ways through cross-community prayer gatherings, power-sharing in Derry, various cross-Border enterprises, the continuing good work of Co-operation North and the enterprise begun by the imaginative editors ofFortnight magazine initiated in 1992 which is an attempt again to articulate the accommodation process.
We must also pay tribute to the work of President Robinson. No one could have anticipated the immeasurable contribution she is making at the moment to reconciliation in Ireland. In fact, that threadbare word "reconciliation" really is very true in her case and long may she continue to do that good work.
I am sure the Minister is more acutely aware than I that we had an historic day yesterday; the presence of the Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party at yesterday's talks, no matter how tentative the subject matter, symbolised the removal of a considerable obstacle. Again, unlike his colleagues in the talks he is not going to incur the odium of a breakdown of these talks. There is a tide in the affairs of Ireland that must be taken at the flood; the opportunity must be seized. Historians are not generally given to using the word "historic" for obvious devaluing reasons, but this is truly an historic moment. I rise here tonight to actually support the Government as well as to urge them to do their utmost to promote the accommodation process.
There will have to be compromise all round. There can be no accommodation on this island, no co-existence, nomodus vivendi unless there is compromise. The unionists must recognise that there has to be an Irish dimension of some kind. I blame myself for not having sufficiently stressed in my various contributions to debates on Northern Ireland, the need for unionists to recognise this reality. I have been, perhaps, over-intent on emphasising the rights of their position, but they must accept that there has to be some Irish dimension, not as a gesture to Dublin over-lordship, but as recognition of the political realities in their midst which they have, alas, ignored for far too long.
For our part we must find our own way to compromise. I make the point to the Minister that of all the parties to these negotiations, in one way we have most to give because we have little to lose. Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that there is peace in Northern Ireland and that the parties there come to an accommodation. Surely we will then not push a particular territorial interest which may appeal to our sentimentality, to the self-indulgent fantasies of certain backbenchers, to armchair generals? I would prefer perhaps the more homely phrase, súgán corporals, but that is really as far as it goes. It would be no skin off our nose to greatly modify Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution. That is the kind of compromise we will have to make. After all, what do Articles 2 and 3 represent except 19th century nationalism at its most intense, the kind of nationalism which recently, in the context of the Maastricht referendum campaign, we were urged to drop as a sign of immaturity, not least by the SDLP?
Although it does not properly concern the motion, I would like to advert to the fringe factor of Sinn Féin who have been clamouring at the door for a long time for a place in these talks and who would like to be sitting at that table, but who by their attitude, have imposed on themselves a self-denying ordinance. Much has been read into a recent utterance by one of their spokespersons, but not until Sinn Féin unequivocally renounce the IRA campaign and dissociate themselves from the IRA campaign can their presence be considered at the conference table, and only then in proportion to their electoral strength in Northern Ireland. There has been a lot of unthinking commentary that somehow those involved in violence must be part of the solution, as if having the gun and the bomb, and supporting the gun and the bomb, entitles one to a place at the conference table. We must totally reject that madness because that is the kind of anarchy that gives hostages to fortune, which might one day rebound on ourselves, apart from its intrinsic unjustification.
As I have said, I put forward this motion in a non-controversial spirit. We in the South have long been saying to the Ulster unionists that when the day comes that they talk to us and sit around the table, they will be surprised how generous we are. The day has come and it is time to show that generosity and that we are capable of making the historic compromise without which there will be no peace in Ireland.