MINISTER O'DONNELL MARKS COOPERATION NORTH MONTH, 18 DECEMBER 1997
"PEACE PROCESS MUST BE A PEOPLE'S PROJECT" - MINISTER O'DONNELL MARKS COOPERATION NORTH MONTH, 18 DECEMBER 1997
Ms. Liz O'Donnell T.D., Minister of State for Overseas Development and Human Rights this evening paid tribute to the role of Cooperation North, and the many voluntary groups North and South in the peace process. The Minister praised their understanding "that sectarianism and the absence of political agreement within Northern Ireland are two sides of the same coin".
"The peace process must be a people's project - not just the property of Governments and parties. There are basic human qualities which for me define and sustain the voluntary effort to advance reconciliation - courage, patience and faith". These qualities similarly apply to those of us in the political arena.
The Minister emphasised her belief "that a lasting settlement in Northern Ireland can only come about when the innumerable handshakes across the divide that Cooperation North and other voluntary groups have brought together over the years are repeated among political leaders. That, in human terms, is what this peace process is about".
Recalling her role in the peace process negotiations over the past six months, the Minister stated that "no task facing this Government could be more important. I have come to appreciate from the inside just how complex and delicate the process of negotiation is, just how hard it is for all the parties, together, to inch forward". The Minister paid particular tribute to the chairmanship of Senator Mitchell and his colleagues, and recalled the progress to date. "We have all, in a systematic fashion, set out our views on the main questions. A new relationship has been fostered between the Government and unionism, while at the same time we remain in very close contact with all other parties, including the SDLP and Sinn Féin. Of course it would be desirable to have been further along the road to agreement by Christmas. But we should retain a sense of perspective".
"What we were engaged in at Castle Buildings in the Sub-Group of the talks over the past couple of weeks did involve matters of substance for the participants. Ultimately, such matters can be resolved only in the round and in detail through intensive negotiations. I believe that our work was genuinely valuable in establishing a substantial degree of common ground among us and in clarifying the nature and extent of the core areas of difficulty. I am certain that this work will prove an invaluable input into the process of intensive and detailed negotiations which we will be entering when we resume in January". The Minister stated noted that "the broad outlines of a settlement are there just below the surface" and added that the "real hurdles we have encountered are intensely human - they have to do with trust and confidence, sincerity and intent".
"Moreover", the Minister said "in sporting parlance, we are only at the end of the first half and let me emphasise that its all to play for in the second half". Both Governments must work at building political confidence parallel with political negotiations. Prisoners issues are central to that.
For its part, the Minister added the "British Government should be prepared to assist all efforts to lay bare the truth of what happened in Derry on Bloody Sunday. We will, in due course, be publishing the dossier of evidence prepared and handed over by the previous Government".
The Minister acknowledged that "the decision of the Orange Order last summer voluntarily to re-route certain parades - show that vicious circles can be broken". She noted "the work of dialogue, at the community level...that human connections between the communities and traditions that share this island ultimately underpin our political efforts". The Minister concluded by expressing her hope " this time next year when you convene Cooperation North Month, we who are involved directly in the Talks process can have satisfied journalists and history alike with a series of handshakes that seal a new contract, a new Ireland and a new future for us all".