Cathaoirleach, Leas-Chathaoirleach, Senators, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, it is a great honour for me to be asked to address Seanad Éireann. I am truly very pleased to be here.
Members of this House, both party-aligned Members and Independent Members, have played a very important role in the development of the peace process in our island, particularly in our part of the island. In some small way, I hope my presence here this morning acts as an acknowledgement and appreciation of that on behalf of those people, particularly in the North, who have benefited from the peace we are building.
Similarly, we could not have made the progress we have achieved, which has been most evident in the past decade, without the co-operation and support of successive Irish Governments and political parties represented in the Oireachtas. To that extent, I would also like to pay tribute to the individual and collective efforts of Deputies to Dáil Éireann who, like Senators, have done so much to work towards a peaceful and truly democratic future for our entire country and between the two islands.
Unfortunately, we now have a totally unsatisfactory situation in which the institutions of the agreement are in suspension and there has been a failure to fully implement that agreement on the part of some parties and groups. It is clear we require, above all else, to overcome two crux problems, the first of which is to see an end to all paramilitary activity on this island, whether that is from loyalist sources or those who call themselves republicans. This must be accompanied by full decommissioning by all paramilitary organisations and groups and by a total normalisation of society in the North. Second, Unionists must agree to fully and faithfully implement all power-sharing and partnership required by the agreement, including the Northern Ireland Executive and the North-South Ministerial Council.
At this time, we should remember that there are democratic imperatives. The Good Friday Agreement was voted for by a huge majority of the people of Ireland. For the first time in history, the people of this island have actually spoken about how they wish to live together by coming out in strength, North and South, to vote for the Good Friday Agreement. Therefore, it is the duty of all true democrats to implement the will of the people by implementing in its entirety all aspects of that Agreement.
One of the great traditions of this House is its ability to cast a wide view over matters of public interest and see beyond the minutiae of day to day political concerns in matters of national, European and international interest. This confers significant benefit upon democracy on this island and on the greater good. Therefore, it would be opportune now to consider the wider questions and issues which arise out of the current crisis in the peace process and consider the history of the process thus far in order to consider the present situation and future developments.
A superficial approach to the politics of our island has been to identify the fundamental issue simply as a territorial division of the island. Politics then revolves around the issue of how to end the division or maintain it, depending on which side one is on. This led us into a situation where the desire for territorial unity was acted upon by a minority in violent action and where a majority of Nationalists had no clear strategy to achieve their objective. Similarly, Unionists could only uphold their position through repression and discrimination with no clear strategy for securing consent for their legitimate rights from the majority of the citizens of this island.
As a result, political life in Ireland was dominated for much of the 20th century by the clash between irredentist nationalism and separatist unionism. Two territorial mindsets prevailed. On the Nationalist side it was assumed that because Ireland is an island, it should be one country and Unionists adopted their own territorial mindset best summed up as "What we have, we hold". In this view, the Unionist minority on the island was under siege and therefore the Nationalist minority in Northern Ireland could only be regarded as the enemy and not as fellow citizens. These mindsets led us into the protracted conflict of the late 20th century known as the Troubles.
Together with the tendency of the British mindset to see the conflict as a simple law and order security problem, we were condemned to 25 years of violence and destruction. To end the Troubles, it required us to look at the total picture and underline relations between the communities and Governments on these islands. In particular, we had to change the territorial mindset and look at the fundamental divisions on our islands. That is what I, my colleagues in politics and many people in all walks of life have been doing for the past 30 years.
Essentially, to challenge the territorial mindset is to recognise that Ireland is divided, not because the piece of earth is divided but because the people of Ireland are divided. Without people, we are only a jungle. The real Border is not the line on the map because it would not exist if not for the powerful barriers running through the minds and hearts of people on this island. The real Border is in the minds and hearts of people. Therefore, the real task is removing that border and the real task of politics is to change hearts and minds and not to redraw maps. That is why we need a healing process — one which addresses the underlying causes of division — not just the political symptoms.
Crucially, this meant that the use of violence was not only totally wrong, it was also counter-productive politically. Not only would the use of violence not advance the objective of its practitioners and supporters, it made a bad situation worse. Violence entrenches the division. In other words, the division between the people of Ireland is deepened by violence. There is no way it can end it and it breaks more hearts and simply engenders further violence. In these circumstances, the only approach was an inclusive agreement, arrived at through dialogue and mutual respect for everyone's rights, freely arrived at in a totally peaceful atmosphere — and that would be the beginning of the resolution of the conflict.
As far back as 1977, having lived through the problems in the North, I stated that only a real and dynamic partnership between all our people could solve our problems. I said:
The necessity of equality and the necessity of consent can now be promoted only by a partnership between the two Irish traditions. The road towards that partnership will be long and hard but there must be a beginning — a first step in what may well be a journey of a thousand leagues.
When we began to put forward such ideas in the 1970s, many people on both sides of the divide were suspicious. For Nationalists, it was seen as a break with tradition while Unionists suspected we were just putting new wine into old bottles. It has taken a great deal of time and effort to get to a position where finally the majority of the people of this island endorsed that analysis by voting for the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
I will briefly chart the steps along the way. The first indication that there was some hope of ending the conflict was when the Sunningdale Agreement was negotiated.
If the Sunningdale agreement had worked, we would have saved a great many lives and avoided two decades of violence. However, the failure of Sunningdale showed that we had underestimated the degree of division between Unionists and Nationalists. The suspicion, hatred and prejudice were much more deeply rooted than we had predicted. Unfortunately it then became clear that resolving the conflict was going to be much more difficult and would involve a deeper transformation of mindset than any simple political deal between governments and parties. Any agreement would have to obtain the consent of our divided peoples.
The next major step was the creation of the New Ireland Forum in 1983 when for the first time parties of the Nationalist tradition, North and South, sat down together to re-evaluate our assumptions and to try and reach a consensus on the way forward. This was of huge significance because for the first time we had agreement between the significant parties representing Nationalist Ireland — all the major parties represented in this Oireachtas and the SDLP. There was an agreed approach for the first time and that was the first major step in the peace process. It provided us with a framework on how to move forward towards an agreed Ireland that would have the agreement of both Nationalists and Unionists in Northern Ireland and of the two Governments. The lasting result was our formulation that any possible solution had to address the three major relationships underpinning the conflict — relations between Unionists and Nationalists in the North, between North and South and between Ireland and Britain. That was accepted by the vast majority of Nationalists on the island.
The New Ireland Forum paved the way for the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 and that agreement was particularly important in dealing with the relationship between North and South and between Ireland and Britain. However, Unionist rejection of the agreement meant that we still had to work on making unionism part of the political process. The Downing Street Declaration of 1993 was designed to bring everyone into the political process including those previously excluded. Unionists were given guarantees while the republican movement was offered the chance to give up violence and take part in mainstream politics. Following the Declaration the republican and loyalist ceasefires of 1994 provided a new impetus to the search for an inclusive political settlement. As my party has consistently argued, only in the absence of violence could any political progress be made.
Eventually we arrived at the Good Friday Agreement. I will discuss the Agreement in more detail in a moment, but I want to refer to two other important factors in arriving at the Agreement. The first is the great interest taken in the resolution of our conflict by the United States. The US has been engaged in promoting the cause of peace on our island since the late 1970s when what became known as the four horsemen, Tip O'Neill, the Speaker of the US Congress, Congressman and later Governor Hugh Carey, Senator Edward Kennedy and Senator Daniel Moynihan launched their initiative. President Jimmy Carter also took an active interest. Successive Presidents have followed his lead. However, with the election of President Clinton a huge step change took place in terms of US influence, activity and support for our peace process.
The second factor is the existence of the European Union and the fact that both parts of the island are members of the EU, which has been very influential. The EU is the best example in the history of the whole world of conflict resolution. Countries that slaughtered each other for centuries now share the common institutions and policies. While the first half of the 20th century with its two world wars and 50 million human beings slaughtered was the bloodiest period in the history of Europe, the second half was a period of unprecedented peace and prosperity, with those people all united.
Before I consider this further, I would like to dwell on this point for a moment. The great lesson of European integration is that seemingly perpetual and intractable conflicts can be not only resolved but also reversed. In these days of international terrorism and war, the countries of the EU and our friends should be sending out the philosophy of peace and not sending armies. Whereas bombs and bullets only serve to deepen division, the example of the EU shows how divisions can be healed in the interests of all the people. I would like to see the EU setting up a special department of peace and reconciliation in the Commission with a commissioner and sending to areas of conflict not armies, but the philosophy and the principles of the EU because those principles will solve any conflict.
I never stop telling the story of when I first got elected to Strasbourg in 1979. I took a walk across the bridge from Strasbourg in France to Kehl in Germany. I stopped in the middle of the bridge and thought, Good Lord, if I had stood on this bridge 30 years ago, at the end of the worst half century in the history of the world with two world wars and 50 million human beings dead and told myself not to worry, that it was all over and those countries will all in a number of years be united, I would have been sent to a psychiatrist. However, it happened and it is something we should never forget. If France, Germany and Britain as well as other member states were able to put their differences aside, then it seemed feasible to resolve our conflict. In the darkest days of our conflict, the EU was a powerful inspiration, giving us the confidence that one day a peaceful Ireland would become possible. That indeed proved to be the case.
As well as being a source of inspiration on the principles of peace, the EU has also contributed in practical, direct and indirect ways. Through its regional, agricultural and cohesion policies as well as the existence of the Single Market, it has helped both parts of the island to build up the economy, change attitudes and bring us closer together. It also helped to promote better relations between Ireland and Britain. Irish and British Ministers, officials and politicians work together on a wide variety of issues in a much wider context than the narrow ground of Northern Ireland. It has helped to place the relationship between Ireland and Britain on a stronger footing. Who would have believed that members from the SDLP, the UUP, the DUP, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour would be sitting in the same Parliament? Yet that is happening in Europe all the time. They agree on many issues, so it should not be too difficult to do the same on this island.
Membership of the EU has of necessity obliged people to work together in promoting common interests within the EU. It is much more effective when Northern Ireland speaks with one voice within the EU. Making use of European Union programmes often means that communities have to work together across the divide. This is particularly the case with the special programme for peace and reconciliation.
The EU has also helped to promote better relations between North and South as people discover their common interests. As a peripheral island, both parts of the island often find that their interests are identical when EU policies are being formulated. This is most noticeable in the case of agriculture, our largest industry on both parts of the island, but there are many other policy areas where we have common interests on this island.
I want to take a closer look at the EU because the principles behind the EU are the principles behind the Good Friday Agreement. They are the principles I referred to earlier which should be sent to any area of conflict in the world. The first principle is respect for difference. Every conflict is about difference, whether it is race, religion or nationality. Difference is an accident of birth. None chooses to be born into any community, country or race. Therefore it is not something we should fight about. There are not two people in this Chamber who are the same. There are not two people in the world who are the same. Differences are inevitable and are the essence of humanity. The answer to difference therefore is to respect it and not to fight about it. That is the first principle of the EU.
Accepting that there is going to be differences is the basis for the second principle, namely, the need for institutions that respect those differences. Therefore, all member states are represented in all the institutions at every level. Every country has a member of the European Commission and a member of the European Council of Ministers and every country is represented in the European Parliament. No one has a permanent majority, nor a permanent minority.
The European Union is an extremely complex set of institutions designed to ensure that everyone is treated fairly and where everyone's fundamental interests are protected and advanced. An important issue for us is the purpose of the institutions. These are not just there for their own sake but to attain specific objectives. The treaty identifies the promotion of economic and social progress for their peoples as one of the principal aims of the member states. This is the most important principle behind the creation of lasting peace in Europe. It is a principle I always call the healing process, that is, the peoples of Europe, through the institutions, working together in their common interests, no longer waving flags at one another or fighting about them but working on real politics in their common interest, namely the socio-economic development of Europe. In other words, they spilled their sweat and not their blood. Real patriotism is spilling one's sweat for one's country, not spilling blood for it. As they did this together, they broke down the barriers of centuries of distrust and division, and the new Europe has evolved and is still evolving.
The relevance of these principles to the Good Friday Agreement is obvious, and we have begun a healing process in Ireland. It is not easy, and there have been setbacks, but once the institutions are in place and the healing process begins once we start working together in our common interest, spilling our sweat and not our blood, the real border in Ireland will be eroded in the minds and hearts of people, and the new Ireland will evolve, based on agreement and respect for difference. Catholics, Protestants and dissenters will at last look together in total agreement, total harmony, total respect for one another, which will mean total unity.
Principle number one of the Good Friday Agreement is respect for difference. It is not a victory for either community, it is a victory for us all. No one must stop being a Nationalist or a Unionist. No one has to renounce their identify or aspirations. Everyone must agree to pursue their goals by exclusively political and peaceful means.
Principle number two is the need for institutions that respect differences at the heart of the Agreement. The Assembly is elected by proportional representation so that all sections of our people are represented. The Executive is chosen on the basis of proportional representation so that the composition of the Executive ensures that everyone is represented at the heart of the political system.
Principle number three is that the institutions of the Agreement will be there to work in the common interests of all the people. When the Agreement was in full operation, remarkable progress was made, despite the many issues that divide the political parties. Programmes for Government have been agreed, as have the even more difficult problem of budgets. Some people appear to be surprised by this, but I regard it as an inevitable part of the healing process once political parties were given the responsibility of ensuring that the major economic and social needs of their people were fulfilled.
Leaving aside the major constitutional issues that have hindered the operation of the Agreement, there are many differences of opinion between the parties. This, however, has not prevented widespread agreement on the practical business of what I am describing as real politics, the promotion of the socio-economic agenda. To pursue wider and long-term objectives, people must live. The right to live in peace, to a decent standard of living, with access to education, housing and health care are necessary for everyone — this is normal politics, irrespective of people's constitutional views. The political picture looks very different when one must focus on the totality of society rather than on the political symptoms.
We cannot heal the wounds of centuries in a few years. The violence of recent decades in particular has left deep wounds. The hurt inflicted and suffered will not go away because the Agreement has been reached. The Agreement cannot take away the pain, but it is the start of the healing process. It has the potential to deliver so much for our island, North and South. Through working the Agreement, we can build a society where poverty is eliminated, where we provide the very best in schools and hospitals, where our old people feel safe, where we nurture our sense of community, where there is no place for racism or sectarianism and where everyone, young or old, can realise their full potential. The Agreement provides us with the opportunity to truly cherish all of our island's children equally. We must do so in a spirit of co-operation with our partners in the European Union and beyond.
As I already mentioned, the European Union has provided the people of Ireland with many benefits and opportunities. For that reason I am very enthusiastic about the accession of ten new states to the Union on 1 May. This will finally see an end to the artificial division of Europe created after the Second World War. This enlargement will not just see the natural reunification of Europe, but it will add to the cultural and social diversity upon which the Union is built. We will see the creation of an enlarged market of more than 450 million European citizens, which will be by far the largest single market in the world. This, in turn, will not just allow countries like ours to benefit through the inflow of new peoples with new energies and talents, it will provide opportunities for our own young people to travel and have new experiences. I am certain our small and medium sized industries and businesses, North and South, will be able to harness the possibilities opened up by these new markets so as to create new jobs.
I would like to commend the ten countries which are about to join the Union, particularly those which less than two decades ago were in the grip of imperial Soviet communism. It is my sincere wish and expectation that in joining the European Union, these countries will be able to share fully the benefits of democracy, human rights and the social market for all their citizens. I commend all those involved in negotiations with these countries for their efforts. I do not think it is too early to look beyond May at developments that will occur after that accession. I look forward, in particular, to the accession of Bulgaria and Romania, which I hope will be ready to join the European Union in 2007. Thereafter, we should welcome those other applicant states which meet the standards set down for membership of the Union.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the sterling efforts of the Irish Presidency, which at this time is contributing so much to the development of the new Europe. Great efforts are being made to finalise arrangements for 1 May, while at the same time the Irish Presidency is pursuing applications for further member states. I commend the priority being afforded to the development of a new European constitution by the Presidency following the work of convention under Valery Giscard d'Estaing. This is necessary given that our institutions were devised initially to cater for a community of just six states, whereas we will soon have 25 member states, and more. I am convinced the constitution should be based on the primacy of a Europe of equal member states. It is not in the best interests of the people of Europe to create a two-tier European Union. That would undermine the most fundamental principle of Europe — equality and respect for difference. The principle of co-operation on which the European project is based must be based on a foundation of equality and inclusiveness. I have every confidence that the current difficulties in devising a new constitution will be overcome. Likewise, I believe the democratic imperative of the agreement will eventually see it is implemented.
Working together in our common interests is the best political medicine we can prescribe. As we do so, and as the healing process evolves and new generations emerge, we can look forward to the emergence of a new Ireland in a new Europe. We do not know where the healing process will take us and how quickly it will proceed but we know it is the best possible way to treat the wounds and divisions of centuries past. In looking towards that future, I am still inspired by the words of Martin Luther King Junior which I first heard when he accepted his Nobel prize in 1964. These words, which today give us hope to move forward, were as follows:
I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and non-violent redemptive goodwill will proclaim the rule of the land.