SPEECH BY THE TAOISEACH MR. BERTIE AHERN AT FIANNA FAIL ARBOUR HILL COMMEMORATION,
THE TAOISEACH MR. BERTIE AHERN T.D.
AT THE ANNUAL FIANNA FAIL ARBOUR HILL COMMEMORATION,
SUNDAY, 26 APRIL 1998
Airí Rialtais, Teachtaí Dála, Seanadóirí, Comhairleoirí, Muintir agus Baill Fhianna Fáil, Agus a cháirde.
Is mór an onóir dúinn go léirseasamh anseo ar maidin, ar an láthair bheannaithe agus stairiúil seo, áit a bhfuil Cinnirí na Cásca curtha sa chré.
Nuair a shiúil siad amach maidin Luan Cásca naoi déag a sé déag, chun Poblacht na hÉireann a bhunú, bhí fhios acu go maith, go raibh bóthar fada crua rompu.
Dhá bhliain is nócha tar éis ambáis, seasaimidne anois mar náisiún, ag tús ré nuasíochána sa tír, thuaidh agus theas.
Má's féidir linn Comhaontú Aoine anChéasta a chur i gcrích, agus a bhuanú, is cinnte go mbeidhcomhlíonadh fís Chinnirí na Cásca, níos cóngairídúinn go léir.
The Easter period has a special and unique significance in 20th century Ireland that has now been further increased. The Easter Rising 1916 marked the moment, when our nation proclaimed its independent Statehood and began in earnest to achieve it.
The Agreement of Good Friday, 1998, I believe, has huge potential as a settlement of 30 years of violent conflict in Northern Ireland, and to open up a new era of peace and reconciliation in the life of our nation. From here on, the two parts of Ireland can of their own free will begin to draw closer together. For the first time in modern Irish history, working together, the different traditions have come up with a fair and balanced agreement, which is worthy of everyone's support. The successful maintenance of a broad democratic Nationalist consensus played an important role in making possible this step forward for us all, and it will remain important in the future.
The leaders of 1916, who are buried here, were inspired by a vision of what Ireland could become. They were men and women of courage, intellect and distinction, with an ardent passion for freedom and for the democratic dignity of the Irish people. They replanted the roots of the Irish Republican philosophy that underlies our State and which imbues our nation, or at least the greater section of it. Pádraig Pearse wrote in 'The Spiritual Nation' about the 1798 Rebellion, whose bicentenary we commemorate this year :
'If we accept the definition of Irish freedom as 'the Rights
of Man in Ireland',we shall find it difficult to imagine an
apostle of Irish freedom who is not a democrat'.
For Pearse, of course, the rights of Man comprehended full political equality between men and women as expressed in the 1916 Proclamation.
Within a few years after further turbulent struggle a stable democracy was established for the first time in Ireland, liberating the people for the task of building up a modern European nation, that could sustain itself economically and have a thriving cultural life of its own. Over the course of this century we have as an independent State gradually succeeded in overcoming the terrible and absolute poverty and social deprivation that existed within living memory in large parts of this city and throughout the country. We have at the same time replaced for the most part confrontation between capital and labour by social partnership and consensus.
We owe an incalculable amount to Pádraig Pearse, James Connolly and Thomas McDonagh, and their fellow-signatories and comrades, for creating the means, whereby we could pursue our own national destiny for ourselves as well as undertaking the task of making this country a shining light in the wider world. We should never forget what we owe to the pride and attachment to this land of many people of Irish descent living abroad, that is now to be recognised for the first time in our Constitution. What any generation achieves will of course always be incomplete, but we in ours are achieving much, and there is every sign that our nation will continue to forge ahead on a broad front in the years to come.
James Connolly once wrote that 'the greatness of Wolfe Tone lay in the fact that he imitated nobody'. We in our generation have to give the same leadership, as the United Irishmen and the men of 1916 did in theirs, breaking new ground, as they once did, and not confining ourselves only to such approaches as may or may not have worked in the past.
Thanks in part to those who lie here, we in Ireland at the end of the 20th century find ourselves in A very different situation from those who were the founders of the State. In some respects we are in a stronger position, as a now long established and well-respected member of the international community. On the other hand, we have been left with the legacy of bitter conflict caused by the failure, in the early part of this century and since, satisfactorily to resolve the position of Northern Ireland, or to establish relations of fairness between the different communities, and relations of at least cooperation between North and South. For a long time all the emphasis was placed on the central constitutional difference, couched on both sides in terms of absolute and irreconcilable rights, in a way that tended to ensure political sterility, stagnation and festering frustration. In the meantime, the Government of Northern Ireland were left a virtually free hand to treat the Nationalist community in Northern Ireland, more or less as it wished, as if it were an unwanted minority that could for most positive purposes safely be ignored.
Our generation has been witness to the tragic results of all this, in a conflict that has cost well over 3,000 lives and caused enormous damage and disruption to the lives of many more people, holding back the natural progress of a whole society and indeed to a certain extent of the entire island. It has been in human terms one of the most expensive history lessons, one that we should have been able to avoid or at any rate cut short.
In seeking peace and agreement in recent years, we have come round to accepting that we have to try and tackle the root causes of violence, without which the spirit of moderation on its own would be able to achieve little. There are issues of ideology and deep-seated national conviction. There are also structures needed to guarantee fairness and equality and to give legitimate recognition to the identity of all sections of the community.
It has fallen to us as a government to bring to fruition in one comprehensive negotiated settlement the different ideas and proposals, which will make possible a peaceful evolution on this island, as we move into a new century. I pay tribute to all the parties, the other Governments and our many predecessors who have contributed to this outcome, and we owe them all a deep debt of gratitude. Building on all that, since June last year, we have contributed in rapid succession to bringing about a renewed IRA ceasefire, inclusive multi-party negotiations, and most recently a comprehensive political settlement. Now our task is to win and consolidate a broad base of support North and South for the Agreement, and then to set everything up and to make it work.
Under the settlement, all important decisions taken in Northern Ireland will have to gain genuine cross-community support, on the principle of parallel consent. For the first time, consent will work both ways to the equal benefit of Unionists and nationalists. All parties who so wish will be able to participate proportionately in the new Executive on the basis of adherence to an agreed code of conduct. A civic forum will be established, giving the social partners an enlarged role in Northern Ireland for the first time.
There will be a North-South Ministerial Council, which will have a specific focus of cooperation and joint action, but which can consult together on any and every subject of mutual interest as well. There will be initially at least six areas for joint implementation, and another six areas for close cooperation, such as agriculture, tourism, the environment, joint EU cross-border programmes, transport planning and soon. All parts of the Agreement are interdependent. If the Assembly is to function, the North-South bodies have to be up and running as well. Constitutional change will only take effect, when everything is in place and ready to go.
A British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference has been retained, so as to allow us to take up with the British Government non-devolved matters, such as security and other areas of intergovernmental cooperation. I also look forward to meeting, in the purely consultative format of the British-Irish Council, political representatives of Scotland and Wales, with whom we have many interests and affinities in common, to carry on and extend existing cooperation between different parts of these islands.
The Agreement contains strong provisions on equality, human rights, prisoners, the reform of policing and the judiciary, and recognition and promotion of the Irish language, which have won the support of many of those active in these different fields.
But all the arrangements and reforms are based on a balanced constitutional accommodation.
I was very taken with a passage in a letter to the Irish News on Wednesday in which the writer observed : 'The constitution will now reflect Pearse's philosophy, namely Mise Eire'. Pearse wrote a famous essay shortly before the Easter Rising, entitled 'The Sovereign People'. In our reformulation of articles 2 and 3, and in the new British-Irish Agreement, it is the people north and South who are sovereign, and who share the territory of Ireland and its title deeds in all the diversity of their identities and traditions. That is the clear consequence of the British-Irish Agreement, and the repeal of the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, the partition act, which with imperious arrogance and futility declared in Section 75 in the middle of the war of independence that 'The supreme authority of the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall remain unaffected and undiminished over all persons, matters, and things in Ireland and every part thereof'. That will now be consigned to history.
The indissoluble union of the Act of Union of 1801, in which kingdoms and parliaments were merged for ever, was effectively brought to an end in 1920-1, but this Agreement makes that clear, beyond any lingering doubt or ambiguity in relation to the status of Northern Ireland. Its constitutional future, whatever about its past, will rest and rely entirely and exclusively upon the principle of consent. The British Government are effectively out of the equation, and neither the British parliament nor people have any legal right under this Agreement to impede the achievement of Irish unity if it had the consent of the people North and South, not that I believe the vast majority of British MPs or people would wish to do so.
Our nation is and always will be a 32-county nation. Antrim and Down are and will remain as much a part of Ireland as any Southern county. But we also recognise a plurality of traditions. The people throughout the island are Irish by birth, provided that is what they want to be, regardless of background, politics or creed. All of us here subscribe to the broad and inclusive definition of what it is to be Irish of the United Irishmen, of Young Ireland and of the men of 1916. Pearse spoke of 'all the children of the nation'. Parnell said : 'We cannot afford to give up a single Irishman'. Pearse spoke of 'all the children of the nation'? But we cannot coerce people into our way of thinking. The new Agreement guarantees on behalf of both Governments the right to dual citizenship of people living in the North, regardless of its future status.
A nation is, other things being equal, apolitical entity that seeks to become a State. The new Article 3, borrowing some of language formulated for the Constitutional Review Committee of 1967 by Seán Lemass who took part in the 1916 Rising, declares that 'It is the firm will of the Irish nation, in harmony and friendship, to unite all the people who share the territory of the island of Ireland, in all the diversity of their identities and traditions, recognising that a united Ireland shall be brought about only by peaceful means with the consent of a majority of the people, democratically expressed, in both jurisdictions on the island'. Our Foreign Minister David Andrews and the co-Chairman of the British-Irish Parliamentary Body Michael O'Kennedy, who were members of that committee, I know, are proud to see their work of 30 years ago become a cornerstone of this peace agreement
I believe that the new articles 2 and 3 express noble ideals. They strengthen, not weaken, the bonds that unite the Irish nation, North and South. They declare openly the desire for unity and the democratic, conciliatory and non-threatening spirit in which we wish to achieve it.
We can only bring about a united Ireland through a process of cooperation and engagement. But that closer cooperation, engagement and friendship is good in its own right, whatever results. While I hope to live to see a united Ireland brought about in friendship and harmony, we can only at this stage lay the foundations for a closer coming together of North and South, whatever form it takes. We cannot dictate or predetermine future decisions of the people.
There are many ways in the years ahead, in which we can make the choice of an eventual united Ireland more attractive to a greater number of people in the North. The responsibility is ours, and of all those political forces who remain attached to Nationalist and republican ideals. No one else will do the persuading for us. As the downing Street Declaration of my illustrious predecessor Albert Reynolds accepted : 'Irish unity would be achieved only by those who favour this outcome persuading those who do not, peacefully and without coercion or violence'.
We have all accepted, British and Irish governments and the parties, that the status quo is not an option. The alternative to the status quo is this Agreement, based on the Framework document and the Propositions on Heads of Agreement.
The Good Friday Agreement fulfils the ideals of all those in this and past generations who have worked for peace and reconciliation between the different traditions on this island, going back generations, to the founders of the State and the cultural revival, to Parnell and O'Connell, to Young Ireland and the united Irishmen. Let us resolve to make Good Friday, 1998, on this day of commemoration the start of a just and lasting peace, and the most fitting memorial to the bicentenary of 1798, in which all traditions were involved, that we could devise. Let us make the peace between Orange and Green represented by our national flag, 150 years old this year, a reality. A union of people takes precedence over any territorial union. But I look forward to seeing the day when with freely given consent State and nation in Ireland can on a new basis become one.