I am delighted to have the opportunity before the Christmas recess to speak on the Joint Declaration for Peace.
I am honoured to be in the Seanad, whose Members, I know, are deeply committed to the achievement of peace.
Senators have in their midst Senator Gordon Wilson, who lost his daughter in one of the most harrowing incidents of the entire Troubles, the massacre at Enniskillen in 1987. The dignity he showed, then and subsequently, gave a tremendous example to everyone, as did his advocacy of peace. His presence in this House is an acknowledgement and a symbol of the overwhelming desire throughout this island for peace without preconditions.
In any debates or discussions we may have on the establishment of peace, let us never forget the innocent victims on all sides, and also the continuing sorrow of their families and friends, which will mark them for the rest of their lives. But we should also be determined to ensure that there will be no more victims to mourn over.
Let us ask that while this Joint Declaration is being carefully considered there be no more loss of life, or injury, or destruction. Experience has shown over and over again that any act of violence is capable of causing major tragedy, and of setting off a chain reaction. There was a near miss only three days ago in Derry and more recently in Belfast. Few things are more poignant than needless loss of life, when peace is within our grasp.
The central idea behind the Peace Declaration is that the problems of Northern Ireland, however deep and intractable, however difficult to reconcile, have to be resolved exclusively by political and democratic means. The continuation of the Union, or the establishment of a sovereign united Ireland, in either case by agreement and consent, are matters to be determined democratically in the future by round table negotiation. The democratic path is open equally to either future. The Joint Delcaration is a charter for peace and democracy in the island of Ireland.
The violence which has left such deep scars on all sides can have no place in settling divisions between Irish people. This Declaration puts beyond all doubt that overcoming these divisions is now the only meaningful Nationalist agenda, since it is the task of winning consent all round, and not now the removal of any external impediment, which is necessary to realise the goals cherished by Nationalists.
Just as the political problems can only be solved over time, so also the many detailed security questions that will arise in the aftermath of a permanent cessation of violence cannot be settled at this stage. They will require detailed consideration and discussion, which can only take place, once violence has ceased.
Peace is a very simple but also a very powerful idea whose time has come. There are no strings attached. Peace, as I conceive it, was defined by Shakespeare thus:
A peace is of the nature of a conquest;
For then both parties nobly are subdued,
And neither party loser.
The Joint Declaration provides from everyone's point of view a noble means of establishing the first step towards lasting peace with justice in Ireland. It is a statement of principles, not a basis for negotiation. The next stage of negotiations can only come after peace has first been established.
We have to turn our backs on the zero-sum mentality, whereby Unionists can only gain when Nationalists lose, orvice versa. Nationalists should judge the Joint Declaration on its merits, and not on how Unionists react to it. Similarly, Unionists should judge it objectively, and not by the effect that it has on Nationalists. What we want to do is to create a future, where both communities gain, in place of the continuing violence, where they both continue to lose.
What I principally want to address today are hesitations about peace, from whatever side they come. The Joint Declaration recognises the legitimate aims of Irish nationalism, and shows how they can be achieved by dialogue and through the democratic process. There is no need for violence, as the Declaration makes clear. If that principle were accepted by everyone on the Nationalist side, there would be no excuse for violence in the other community.
It is claimed that the right of self-determination of the people of the island of Ireland, acknowledged by the British Government for the first time in this Declaration, is contradicted by the requirement of concurrent North-South consent. There is no such contradiction. I ask people to look at any country that has been partitioned this century, such as Germany, China, Korea, Yemen or Cyprus. They have been or could be peacefully reunited only by the two parts each deciding to come together. The exercise of self-determination, as envisaged in the Declaration, is therefore absolutely in keeping with international practice. It is also in keeping with the Joint Hume-Adams statement of 21 April 1993, when they said: "The exercise of self-determination is a matter for agreement between the people of Ireland".
The Irish Government would like to emphasise this. The Joint Declaration makes it very clear that its objective is to heal the divisions among the people of Ireland. It also makes clear that it is for the people of Ireland, North and South, to achieve such agreement without any outside impediment. The British Government has also declared that it will encourage, enable and facilitate such agreement, and that it will endorse whatever agreement emerges and take the necessary steps to implement it.
It is self-evident that such an agreement should offer no threat to any section of the people, and would have to have the allegiance and agreement of the people in both parts of Ireland. It follows from that, as both Governments have made clear, that it must have the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland. This respect for the consent of the people of Northern Ireland is freely given and totally in keeping with the principle of the exercise of self-determination by the divided people of this island.
The Joint Declaration does not explicitly refer to either Articles 2 or 3 or to the Government of Ireland Act, 1920. In reality, both are present in the Declaration.
As John Hume has said, this is the most comprehensive Declaration made by a British Government in 70 years. It reflects the positive spirit of much of the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, in holding open the future achievement of a united Ireland by agreement, and by its positive encouragement of agreement between the people of Ireland, North and South. It envisages the creation of institutions and structures, which would enable them to work together in all areas of common interest, but, unlike the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, the Joint Declaration envisages the possibility of not just a united Ireland but a sovereign united Ireland being achieved by agreement and consent. If that were to come about, it would involve, of course, the repeal of Article 75 of the Government of Ireland Act.
In paragraph 7 of the Joint Declaration, I speak, in the context of developing new relationships of trust, "of the time having come to consider how best the hopes and identities of all can be expressed in more balanced ways, which no longer engender division". I go on to confirm that "in the event of an overall settlement, the Irish Government will, as part of a balanced constitutional accommodation, put forward and support proposals for change in the Irish Constitution which would fully reflect the principle of consent in Northern Ireland".
Without qualifying that commitment, I think it would be fair to say that I detect some division of opinion among Unionists of the value for them of pursuing this argument further, which has been aptly described as a "green herring". The point can be validly made that the articles have existed for over 50 years largely without notice. Certainly, the Provisional IRA never sought justification for their campaign in a Constitution, which they do not fully recognise to this day.
It is consistently overlooked that according to the Supreme Court the principle of consent enshrined in the Anglo-Irish Agreement is eminently compatible with Articles 2, 3 and 29 of the Constitution. Northern Unionists may not fully appreciate that judicial interpretation, over the years, has enlarged and enriched the Constitution, as it has also done in the United States.
In virtue of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Irish Government is already bound by international law to act in accordance with the principle of consent. We are now also bound by solemn political commitments repeated many times in the course of this Declaration to pursue unity, only in a manner consistent with the principle of consent.
Consent is the bedrock of democracy. There was never at any stage, and this was well known to all, any possibility that the Irish Government, let alone the British Government, would be prepared to depart from or override the terms of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The consent clause is not defined in terms of a veto for one community, but in terms of the wishes of a majority or a greater number of the people. That is and remains the formal position. But in the course of the Declaration I also recognise the reality, drawn from the lessons of history and especially of Northern Ireland, that stability and wellbeing will not be found under any political system which is refused allegiance or rejected on grounds of identity by a significant minority of those governed by it. I go on to say that, for that reason, it would be wrong to attempt to impose a united Ireland, in the absence of the freely given consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland.
A major concern is that the requirement of consent so defined, which applies to constitutional change, but not to other forms of political progress, could lead to total political immobility. I believe these fears are groundless. The Declaration very clearly commits both Governments to promote co-operation at all levels between North and South. It also commits the British Government to achieve agreement among all people who inhabit the island, and "to encourage, facilitate and enable the achievement of such agreement over a period." They accept that such agreement may, as of right, take the form of agreed structures for the island as a whole, including a united Ireland, and they reaffirm as a binding obligation to introduce the necessary legislation to give effect to this, or equally to any measure of agreement or future relationships in Ireland which the people living in Ireland may themselves freely so determine without external impediment. They also express the support of the people of Britain for agreement between the people of Ireland on how they may live together in harmony and in partnership with respect for their diverse traditions.
As Peter Temple-Morris, the British Co-Chairman of the British-Irish Parliamentary Body has so aptly put it, the language of the Declaration quite clearly makes both Governments persuaders for agreement between the people of Ireland. But as I said in my Árd-Fheis speech, "people have democratic rights, and we cannot predetermine for them, without their consent, the political structures under which they will be governed." Nor can we impose an artificial time limit within which majority consent must be achieved. The dynamic for progress must reside in the full use of the democratic political process, in the underlying changes in Irish society, North and South, and in our external environment.
The Joint Declaration is in my view fully consistent with both the spirit and the substance of public statements of John Hume and Gerry Adams, but is of course much more broadly based, reflecting wide consultations which the Irish Government undertook with all sections of the community in Northern Ireland.
Acceptance of the Joint Declaration as a basis for a permanent cessation of violence is only the first stage in the Peace Process. We will then be free to give our undivided attention to the long overdue task of reshaping our relationships on the island through structures which match the current possibilities for progress, some of which have been obscured or stifled by the continued violence. In this next stage the Government would establish, in consultation with other parties, a forum for peace and reconciliation, to make recommendations on ways in which agreement and trust between both traditions of Ireland can be guaranteed and established. It would enable the democratic parties involved to consider how the momentum for peace could best be harnessed and consolidated.
The work done in the three-stranded talks process last year has, I believe, the potential for significant further development in conditions of peace. The talks have already been through the preliminary stage of enabling each tradition to define for the other the positions which must be reconciled in a lasting settlement. Through those talks all sides have already accepted the need "to achieve a new beginning for relationships" between the two communities in Northern Ireland, between North and South and between the two islands. It would, I think, be widely accepted that the North-South relationship or, more accurately, that between unionism and nationalism on this island, lies at the heart of the search for lasting agreement.
With the Declaration as our starting point, and the momentum of peace to carry us forward, we could return to the table for inclusive and far-reaching negotiations and with greatly enhanced prospects of success. We could hope to create new structures and arrangements to reflect both the recognition of Nationalist rights enshrined in the Declaration and the principle of consent, which guarantees Unionists, in turn, that the future they are invited to share will always be based on unforced and ungrudging respect from the nationalist tradition for their rights, identity and ethos.
These structures could channel and give expression to the dynamic of new relationships already inherent in the changing circumstances in Northern Ireland and between North and South. They could be the vehicle for new developments in North-South co-operation, particularly in the economic field, where there is so much unrealised potential. They could reflect also the new realities which flow from the development of European Union, which is changing fundamentally the nature and context both of North-South and British-Irish relationships. It is progressively dissolving barriers on this island to the point that the checkpoints created for security purposes are now almost the only tangible reminder of a border the traveller meets on a journey between North and South. I believe peace is the key which unlocks this potential for positive change in a way that will benefit everyone living on this island and advance very significantly the prospects of a lasting political settlement.
Next month, the Irish Government is due to consider in depth whether to renew section 31 of the Broadcasting Act. Irrespective of present events, it had always been intended that that decision would be considered on its merits and in the light of the prevailing security situation at the time.
The most important priority for all parties will be to consolidate the peace process and to build public confidence in a lasting peace. Everyone has a responsibility in this. The solution of many difficult security issues will need to take place in an atmosphere of confidence-building on all sides. The Irish Government will play an important role in this, both in our jurisdiction, and in the context of the Anglo-Irish Conference. Our approach will be enlightened and pragmatic. We will advocate and support whatever measures can most quickly contribute to healing divisions and putting the legacy of the past 25 years behind us for ever as quickly as possible. In this area, as in every other area, a balanced approach will be essential. The qualities of justice and prudence as well as the spirit of reconciliation and mutual forgiveness between communities must all be present.
I welcome the positive response the Declaration has received from so many quarters North and South and from so many political leaders and friends of Ireland around the world. John Hume has played a particularly crucial role in the development of this peace initiative over the past five years. But James Molyneaux and John Alderdice have also played a vital and constuctive role in making this initiative possible together with many church and community leaders. There are few, if any precedents, for the degree of cross-community political support that this initiative has received. An opinion poll here showed that 97 per cent of the public favoured peace on foot of the Joint Declaration. The initiative has also received worldwide backing from the European Union, from the US President and many other Governments from India to Australia. Everyone wants to see this conflict come to an end.
The elements necessary for a decision are all there, but it may take time to form a view that will command a consensus. Space should be allowed, provided that people are not being killed.
There are dangers and no advantages to be gained from unduly extended or prolonged deliberation. The principles are clear. Negotiations will follow peace. None of us can ensure that the course of events will allow the present opportunity to be held open indefinitely. Opportunity comes to pass, and not to pause. The people of this country are impatient to move ahead to a much more positive stage, where real constructive work can begin on reconciling the two traditions.
The Joint Declaration is a charter for peace. I hope that it will soon be accepted by all on that basis, so that the real process of building a just and lasting peace can begin.