Address by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Brian Cowen TD, to the National Committee on American Foreign Policy,
The Middle East
Neither can we ignore the situation in the Middle-East. The lack of trust between the two sides is palpable. I saw that at first hand myself on a recent visit to the region. The assistance of the international community is clearly required. Further efforts must be made to bring the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority together to begin work on the implementation of the Mitchell proposals, not withstanding the best efforts of the enemies of the peace process to obstruct progress.
I would offer a number of observations based on our own experience of trial and error in the Irish peace process which, I believe, are equally relevant to the situation between the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples. First, there can be no purely military solution. Second, there will be no lasting peace that does not address all the concerns of the parties involved. Third, those on each side who most keenly desire peace must work together, even in the face of the enemies of the process in their own community. Finally, no peace process can succeed if it is made hostage to the enemies of the process. In order to succeed, those who drive the process must in particular rise above the politics of the most recent outrage. As the Secretary-General said to me yesterday evening, the greater the threat to peace, the more violent the situation, the more urgent the need for dialogue.
Building Peace in Ireland
The dynamic of any conflict resolution process must provide for peace, justice and the recognition of the dignity of the individual.
The political landscape of the island of Ireland changed forever and for the better three years ago with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. In recent days, we have been fortunate to witness genuinely historic steps being taken which, we believe, should allow that Agreement to fully achieve its exceptional promise.
Last week, a profoundly important and historic decision was taken, as indispensable as it was voluntary, which greatly enhanced the prospects for permanent peace and for the full implementation of the Agreement. This accords with our thinking that there is no alternative to a political way forward. All sides now need to move quickly to capitalise on this opportunity.
IRA weapons - arms, ammunition, explosives - have been permanently put beyond use to the satisfaction of the International Commission on Decommissioning. There were many who said it would never happen. They were wrong.
It has taken considerable courage and leadership on all sides to bring us this far. I readily and warmly pay tribute to all who have made it possible - including those in the leadership of Sinn Féin, and those Unionists who have been committed to making the Agreement work.
The question of arms has been one of the most sensitive and difficult issues we have had to address in trying to implement the Agreement in full. The parties and Governments tasked an International Commission, under General John de Chastelain, with taking the matter forward. We deeply appreciate the conscientious and professional way in which they have gone about their work..
It is now important that other paramilitary organisations follow the IRA in putting their weapons beyond use. There is simply no place for violence in a democracy. The people do not want it. The Governments will not stand for it. The world is a changed place. You are for peace, or you are against the people. That is a message that must be heard loud and clear throughout Northern Ireland, including in the streets of North Belfast and by those who hurl abuse and worse at innocent children in the Ardoyne. It must stop.
In May 1998, the people of Ireland, North and South, exercising together their right to determine their future and voting overwhelmingly in favour of the Good Friday Agreement, brought a chapter in our history to a close. The people are sovereign and they spoke. They embraced the principles that underpin the Agreement. In implementing the Agreement- including in resolving the question of arms - we are carrying out the people's democratic will. And we deeply appreciate the enormous support and generosity of our friends here, and in successive US Administrations, in helping us achieve this national objective.
As you know, the task we have faced has not always been an easy one. Throughout the peace process, the question of how arms are dispensed with has been a particularly difficult issue. For Unionism it became a litmus test of the commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means. In Nationalist and Republican circles, there was a suspicion that it was being used to mask a deeper reluctance to embrace change, to share power and to make politics work. Whatever the reality, there is no doubt that the failure to put arms beyond use dogged our efforts to move forward. Rightly or wrongly, the question of decommissioning became so entangled with the question of devolution that we struggled to find an agreed basis on which the new institutions could be developed. Each time it looked as if we were finally succeeding, another crisis on decommissioning saw the momentum for change come to a virtual standstill.
After the operation of the institutions was suspended in February 2000, the Irish Government came to the conclusion that the only way through this impasse was to broaden the context of the situation. There was a need to focus on the areas where implementation of the Agreement had not been achieved. To concentrate on any one issue, no matter how important, was simply not going to work. We, therefore, identified the outstanding elements of the Agreement and mapped out a path for taking them forward.
Earlier this summer, at a place called Weston Park in England, we sat down with the British Government and the parties to finally try to find a way forward. At the end of several long and challenging days, the two Governments decided to propose a package of proposals which addressed the last remaining pieces of the jigsaw. There were four main issues - policing, demilitarisation, decommissioning and the stability of the institutions. Since agreement among the parties themselves on these issues proved impossible, the two Governments had to call it. And we did. We have achieved substantial progress on the indispensable issue of decommissioning; now we need to slot the other pieces fully into place.
The importance of the restoration of the institutions, the democratic core of the Agreement, is vital to the future stability of the process. We need to see them fully back in business, without delay, without hindrance. We welcome the reappointment of the Unionist Ministers, as we welcome David Trimble's decision to seek re-election as First Minister. We congratulate him on securing the very strong endorsement of his Party's Executive for these moves last Saturday. We now hope to see the institutions being able to work to their full potential, building a decent future for the good of all the people on the island of Ireland.
Last week, the British Government took another important step towards dismantling military installations, in view of the reduced security threat that decommissioning clearly and irreversibly represents. The British Government has promised a rolling process of demilitarisation, leading to a situation where normal levels of security prevail. I look forward to that work progressing very quickly. The importance of the speedy removal of the hardware of war to those who have lived their lives in its shadow, particularly in places like South Armagh and West Tyrone, cannot be underestimated. It will be a vitally important demonstration to people on the ground that politics works, and that it delivers positive, emphatic and permanent change.
The final piece of the jigsaw relates to the core issue of policing. In a few days time, the Police Service of Northern Ireland will come into being and the new beginning in policing promised in the Agreement will be underway. New recruits will shortly enter. Early next year we will see their presence on the ground. Next week, the Police Board will begin its vitally important work in making the police service fully accountable to all in the community.
The Oversight Commissioner, Tom Constantine, will table a review a year into the new arrangements. This will be an important benchmark of how matters are proceeding, and will indicate if and where any changes, other than those already agreed, are necessary to ensure that the Patten Report is implemented in full.
We are embarking on an enormously important process of change. All parts of the community should be fully involved and enabled to play their full part. I strongly welcome the presence of Nationalists and Unionists on the Policing Board. But I would like to see Sinn Féin taking up their responsibilities and giving voice to the concerns and interests of the communities they represent. They have shown leadership in other areas. I hope that, in time, they will come on board for the new beginning to policing.
The Good Friday Agreement is about replacing conflict with political engagement. Overcoming a legacy inherited from history of mutual distrust and misunderstanding is not going to happen overnight. We need to empower people and to give them full ownership of the task. Our goal of realising the Agreement's full potential can be achieved if everyone perseveres and works together in good faith. We are all proud of what we have achieved thus far.
As a member of the Security Council, we in Ireland are sharply aware of the great number of countries in which conflict is a daily reality and in which hope is in very short supply. We do not pretend that we have discovered a universal solution. We know that each conflict has its own unique origins, issues and solutions. But, at this difficult time for the global community, Ireland can send out a positive message to other regions where peace processes are in difficulty. We have shown that peace can happen, that politics can work, that mind-sets, as well as guns, can be decommissioned, and that the enemies of peace must not be allowed to succeed, or to veto the process. Wherever and whenever Ireland can lend a hand in conflict resolution, and can help to make a difference, we will not be found wanting.
We have been privileged in our journey to have had the solidarity and loyalty of our many friends here in the United States who have stood by us, sharing our bad days as well as our good. I am particularly delighted, therefore, to have had this opportunity to share with you my thoughts on some of the most challenging and encouraging weeks in modern Irish politics.