Minister Cowen delivers Annual John Hume lecture, pt. 2
For many in Unionism the political journey to peace and stability required developing a mindset that enthusiastically moved away from the politics of majoritarianism to embracing the politics of inclusive partnership. Evidence to nationalists that this is happening in an irreversible way will be confirmation that the equality, human rights and reform agendas in the Agreement are not portrayed as a concessionary measure for nationalists but as necessary and appropriate criteria in themselves for the creation of a more just, stable and pluralist society. Indeed, it is important to point out that they are the fundamental principles that the EU and its Member States intend conferring on all its citizens in the new EU Constitution presently under discussion.
I am convinced that most unionists are sincere in their willingness to work a partnership approach, if only they can be assured that the war is over and paramilitarism is being brought definitively to an end. That is why I agree with David Trimble's view that most unionists, even if currently hesitant, or indeed sceptical, support the objectives and purposes of the Agreement.
Everyone agrees that it is an absolute requirement for the stability of any democratic settlement that the rule of law and the political structures under which the people are governed command the respect of all sections of the community. The Good Friday Agreement provides the governance mechanisms in which all can participate to resolve problems. Properly worked it provides a real prospect of addressing the injustices and the lost opportunities of the past. It does not institutionalise grievance and victimhood. We all know that violence or the threat of violence only further exacerbates divisions and engenders fears. It is now clear that, if we are to transcend what divides us, all paramilitary activity must come to an end. A clear statement by unionism that it will work the institutions in such circumstances is one of the key issues that must now be addressed by all those that claim to adhere to the Agreement.
An end to parmilitarism is the demand of all democrats on this island – and it is the sovereign will of the people as set out in the Good Friday Agreement, and in its subsequent endorsement in referendum. If the transition to exclusively democratic politics can be secured, the guarantee of the full implementation of the Agreement, as set out by both Governments in the Joint Declaration, with the time frame to demilitarise and normalise the situation, will be available to all. I believe the people can be entrusted to have sufficient discernment and wisdom to back such an arrangement.
At the end of the day, the Agreement can only be secured by the resolution of relationships on this island. All of us in positions of leadership must challenge the remnants of the old mentality, when and where necessary. Victory is simply not available to any one side; or to put it another way, no side can any longer escape the requirements of partnership. The challenge ahead for those of us in leadership roles is to make the politics of inclusive partnership work to everyone's satisfaction.
The two Governments have set out clearly and comprehensively in the Joint Declaration what we are prepared to do in fulfilment of our obligations to see the Agreement implemented. Others must fulfil theirs. But if we are all to succeed, and in particular if the necessary dynamic is to be injected into the process, it is essential to schedule early Assembly elections. All participants require fresh legitimisation. And only a democratic act can provide this.
Our thinking on this matter is based on our conviction that a decision on elections would fundamentally change the overall context in which acts of completion, on all sides, are sought and obtained. My fear is that if we do not move soon to elections, the alternative will be continued stalemate and the steady leaching away of optimism. A major factor contributing to the erosion of the confidence and trust of all law abiding people throughout the community has been the continuing active manifestation of paramilitarism, sectarian violence and disorder. Once a date is fixed for elections, there will be an immediate responsibility on the parties to show clearly that they are prepared to address the lack of trust that exists. We insist that those with such responsibility will be proactive in addressing the deficit of trust in the run up to the elections. This is essential if the electorate is to be satisfied that those parties which support the Agreement are truly committed to resolving the outstanding issues and thus will ensure that the Assembly and the other institutions are quickly established thereafter. It will also, of course, maintain their necessary support for the Agreement. Deeds as well as words can inject the necessary confidence that everyone is up for resolving the remaining problems in a way that is satisfactory to all. The International Monitoring Body is the assurance mechanism we are devising to ensure that the acts of completion on all sides are being achieved.
Success in our own peace process will enhance our capacity and credibility in seeking to make a heightened contribution to the wider world, based on our own traditional values. Let me briefly summarise how I see these values.
Firstly, I believe that Irish people have a basic generosity and show a real sense of solidarity and engagement with the wider world. Our foreign policy traditions in peacekeeping and overseas development assistance – where our per capita contribution ranks us seventh in the world – are eloquent testimony to this. For the latest example, we need only look at the spirit in which people all over Ireland embraced the Special Olympics.
Secondly, we reserve to our own sovereign decision how and in what circumstances we contribute to international peacekeeping efforts. We work well with others, but we insist on the right to make known our own views. We are active in the development of the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU as a means of enhancing our influence in world affairs.
Thirdly, we have a profound distaste for war. We know that too often it is the weakest and most vulnerable who pay the price of decisions taken way above their heads. But we are realists. We are not ignorant of the lessons of history – in particular, that the unwillingness to contemplate military action as a last resort can shade into appeasement. We recognise that there are circumstances, under the UN Charter, where evil or aggression needs to be confronted with force, or the credible threat of force.
And, as realists, we also know, particularly through our membership of the European Union, that, even if we are a small nation which has demonstrated a large capacity to do good, making a real impact requires a collective effort with partners united in values and purpose. Ní neart go cur le chéile.
In Europe we have a Union that is a global actor on the world stage. The European Union stands for decency, solidarity, human rights and humanitarian values. Its focus has been on preventing conflict and building and maintaining peace – mirroring our priority in Ireland. We can continue to learn from its evolving methods and approach
After its failure in the early nineties to prevent conflict on its own doorstep, the Union has recently shown the contribution it can make when a unified political will exists. In the Western Balkans, it has played a lead role in support of reconstruction and reconciliation. Through the Stabilisation and Association Process it is mobilising all of its resources – aid, trade, diplomacy and technical advice – to support and drive forward the process of reform. It is at present also actively involved, in support of the UN, in crisis management in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the Middle East, as a member of the Quartet, the EU has a central role in bringing forward implementation of the Road Map for Peace. I have recently visited the Balkans and the Middle East and can testify to the invaluable work which the Union is carrying out on the ground, sometimes in difficult circumstances. This is the kind of role the Union must play in support of peace and stability.
And with our distinctive experience of our own peace process, I have found that we are listened to in the Middle East and in other conflict areas. The prestige and standing of our country can be greatly enhanced if we can provide a model of conflict resolution which may have applications in other troubled parts of the world. I would go further and argue that, if we in Ireland wish to have an enhanced influence on the international scene - way beyond our size - we now have a unique and vital opportunity, North and South, to lead by example. Future generations of Irish people will simply not understand if we falter now.
In closing, I want to make one final observation, and indeed a personal pledge.
We are at a vital point in the peace process in Northern Ireland. If we can succeed over the coming period in securing full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, then I believe we will stand on the cusp of an unprecedented era for this island. As I said earlier, we will, at last, be in a position to release the huge potential that is ours, drawing on the power and strength of the two great traditions on the island.
It is my personal conviction that a particular responsibility of leadership in all of this will lie with the two Governments and the European Union. I include the European Union, firstly because of the central role that it has played to date. And secondly, because of the potential impact that the ultimate success of our process in Ireland would have on the new and changing Europe, and in particular on its fragile border areas.
Drawing on the inspiration of Monnet and Schumann, the two Governments, in partnership with the European Union, must respond with boldness, imagination and generosity to the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. They must ensure that the new politics of partnership are fully harnessed to deliver prosperity and advancement for all sections of society on the island.
Of course, the Governments and the EU cannot deliver on their own. Critical to the new era I am depicting is a willingness on the part of the parties in Northern Ireland to help finish the course set for us all in the Good Friday Agreement. I remain confident that we can create the context in which they will rise to the challenges posed. It is a time for people to hold their nerve and focus on the remaining outstanding issues. Everyone bears a heavy responsibility in this regard.
For my part, my personal pledge here today is that I will do all in my power, in my position as Minister for Foreign Affairs, to ensure that the parallel challenge of leadership for the two Governments and the European Union is met in full. We must not let this extraordinary opportunity for a better era on this island slip from our grasp.
If we are successful, then Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement can – as I have emphasised throughout this lecture - serve as a powerful model for countries emerging from conflict.
That would surely constitute Ireland's ultimate expression of appreciation of the support and solidarity we have received from our partners in Europe, enabling us to make a real and relevant contribution to achieving peace in the wider world.
On a recent visit to the JFK Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, I got a real sense of the obligation on all politicians to inspire and to lead our citizens to meet and overcome the challenges of our day. There is a quote from President Kennedy's speech to the American University, made after the Cuban Crisis had passed, where he talks about peace and which I think is apposite to our present circumstances here at home. It is, I think, a good answer to those whose expectations have been unduly unrealistic or whose horizons have been too limited.
“Let us focus on a more practical and more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions…and on a series of concrete actions and effective agreement which are in the interests of all concerned. Genuine peace must be the product…of many acts. It must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each generation. For peace is a process, a way of solving problems. History teaches us that enmities between nations, as between individuals, do not last forever, however fixed our likes or dislikes may seem. The tide of time and events will often bring surprising changes between nations and neighbours. So let us persevere. Peace need not be impractical…By defining our goals more clearly, making it seem more manageable and less remote, we can help all people to see it, to draw hope from it and move irresistibly towards it”.
With such inspiring words, we can extend the realm of our sense of possibility at this time. With such good work done so far, let us not resile from the ambitious goals we set ourselves in the Good Friday Agreement. The people are entitled to expect that no-one will now renege from the commitments made as we approach the final hurdles. All involved in this process should think long and hard before they even contemplate throwing away an opportunity that has taken us thirty years to formulate.