Speaker: Peter Robinson, deputy leader and member of Parliament for east Belfast, Democratic Unionist Party, Northern Ireland
Speaker: Nigel Dodds, party secretary and member of Parliament for north Belfast, Democratic Unionist Party, Northern Ireland
Presider: Richard Haass, president, Council on Foreign Relations
Council on Foreign Relations
New York, New York
Monday, March 15, 2004
HAASS: OK. Good evening. Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations. I'm Richard Haass. I'm the president here. And tonight we have a meeting devoted to the politics and situation in Northern Ireland. And we are fortunate enough to have two of the leaders of the DUP— the Democratic Unionist Party. To my left we have Nigel Dodds and to my right we have Peter Robinson, both of whom are distinguished in both the politics of Northern Ireland but also are both members of Westminster. So they have, if you will, multiple hats. And Mr. Dodds, at times, has also had— will have roles [inaudible] the lord mayor in Belfast. So he has had multiple, multiple hats.
And the timing— it's not a coincidence, shall we say, that we are coming up on a certain holiday, for those of you who are calendar-watchers. And what tends to happen this time of the year is many of the leading figures in Northern Ireland, as well as the prime minister of [the Republic of] Ireland, the Taoiseach; as well as Paul Murphy, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland; descend on the United States— descend on Washington for a series of meetings. I think this year, in particular, the meetings will be far more than symbolic, given the so-called review that is under way of the [April 1998] Good Friday Agreement [that was designed to transfer some central government power from the United Kingdom to a Northern Ireland assembly] and also given recent, shall we call, developments and events, which have raised the intensity of Northern Ireland's politics yet again. Tonight's meeting is on the record, I should let you know. And the way it is planned to evolve is that I will begin for a few minutes by asking questions of our two visitors and then I will turn it over to you all to ask the tough questions. I simply do the softballs and warm them up for you all. But again, let me thank both of them for coming to New York and for being here. We are truly happy to have two of the leading members of Northern Ireland's largest party with us today. And my first question, I'll start with you, Peter. How is it you expanded— you've become Northern Ireland's largest party? What do you think accounts for your electoral success last fall?
ROBINSON: Perhaps, first of all, can I thank you for the invitation to be with you? And you rightly point to that strange custom back in Ireland that, when it comes to St. Patrick's Day, the celebration of the patron saint, that all the politicians get out of Ireland. It's said to go back to the view that's often expressed, that one of his main achievements was to drive all the snakes out of Ireland— [laughter]--and I don't know whether there's any relationship between those two factors. However, it is a visit at a very important time. And the Democratic Unionist Party, having become the largest party in Northern Ireland, does have an added responsibility. We take that responsibility seriously. We want to make progress. We stood in the recent election campaign on a manifesto commitment, which was to get a fair deal. And we made it very clear that that wasn't just a fair deal for the Unionist community [proponents of continued British rule of Northern Ireland], but for both sections of our community in Northern Ireland. We said that because we honestly believe that no agreement will be stable and lasting unless it is capable of getting the support from both sections of the community in Northern Ireland. We've had plenty of experiences in the past where agreements which have favored one section of the community over another have not been lasting or have not been stable.
As to why, in particular, this election we moved forward, it has been a progression. We viewed the Belfast Agreement [another name for the Good Friday Agreement] as an agreement that was not balanced, that it had rewarded terrorism and rewarded it in a way that had not required of those who were involved in terrorism putting it behind and putting it behind for all times. And, I think, as the agreement working unfolded, it became more and more clear that it was one-sided; that the IRA [Irish Republican Army] were happy to take the concessions, but less happy to respond and show that they were going to be exclusively committed to peaceful and democratic means. The policies that we put forward in the election were designed to ensure that, while we wanted to move forward with all of those within Northern Ireland, there was an entry requirement that everybody had to embrace democratic principles, and that they could not remain involved with violence or with organizations that are involved in violence. That had a resonance with the Unionist community. I believe it should have a resonance with all democrats. And on that basis we have significantly increased support. Having been elected as the largest party with the [inaudible] proposals, which are aimed at showing that we want to move forward, and that we want to encourage people to give up violence and to join the democratic process and move forward in a democratic way.
HAASS: Thanks. Mr. Robinson just mentioned the proposals, and they're spelled out in this document, Devolution Now. ((http://www.dup2win.com/)) And Nigel, I'm not sure everyone here is necessarily fully familiar with them. What do you think are the one or two principal elements of what your party is proposing in this review, either reflected in this document or beyond?
DODDS: As Peter has said, the key issue for the community of Northern Ireland, certainly a community from which we derive most of our votes, the Unionist community, is that they have felt by and large that the Belfast agreement did not serve them in the way that it has served the Nationalist/Republican community [proponents of Northern Irelands unification with the Republic of Ireland]. And they have seen what is basically, in their view, a process of concessions to IRA, Sinn Fein [the political wing of the IRA] in particular. And they have not, therefore, felt part of that agreement or could give their allegiance to that agreement.
What we are proposing in our "Devolution Now" document is a way forward which represents a fair deal, in our view, for unionists as well as nationalists; that unionists can sign up to as well as the nationalist community. We have strong criticism to make of the Belfast Agreement, but we're in favor of an agreement in Northern Ireland. We want to see devolution restored to Northern Ireland so that local politicians can have control over the affairs of Northern Ireland on behalf of the people; so that decisions are made closer to the people rather than by direct-rule ministers, many of whom are very fine and upstanding, but don't understand as well as local politicians the needs and interests and concerns of the people of Northern Ireland. And what we have set out is a series of models of government which require of Sinn Fein/IRA, if they are to be in executive positions of ministerial responsibility, that they cut their links with the IRA, that they become exclusively devoted to peaceful and democratic means; that the IRA no longer forms part of the movement, as it were, so that they are there on exclusively peaceful and democratic methodology.
HAASS: Can I interrupt and just press you a little on that? What would it take for the IRA to do, or for Sinn Fein to do, that would— that essentially would tell you that they had checked the box you have just mentioned? What is it exactly that you feel you need to see or hear that would persuade you that they had turned that corner?
DODDS: Well, I think that it's not just the Democratic Unionist Party— or, indeed, unionists— who have set down the tasks that the republican movement needs to meet. [British Prime Minister] Tony Blair and others have set them out, in numerous speeches, Paragraph 13 of the  Joint Declaration that was agreed between the Irish government and the British government some months ago, and in other statements and speeches. And the requirement is that there should be acts of completion on the part of the IRA; that the violence should be over for good. There should be no question of having the ballot box in one hand and the armalite [assault rifle] in the other; that Sinn Fein are committed to exclusively peaceful and democratic methods and means to achieve political objectives. Now, as far as we are concerned, there are a number of aspects to that. The republican movement is engaged in— still has a paramilitary organization; it's still fully armed. So there needs to be completion on the issue of decommissioning: the arms and materiel associated with a terrorist organization need to be given up completely and once and for all. There needs to be a complete end to paramilitary activity— racketeering, intimidation, targeting, trailing. All of that sort of thing has to end. It's set out in Paragraph 13 of the Joint Declaration— engagement in riots, excluding people from Northern Ireland, allowing people who have been excluded to come back to the province.
And then, of course, there's the issue of criminality. Because, as we have heard from the minister of justice in the Irish Republic, Michael McDowell, only recently, as well as from our own chief constable in Northern Ireland, the IRA is heavily engaged in criminal activity on a wide scale. And leading members of the republican movement are involved in that, and that has to come to an end as well. So there are many, many aspects, I think, that need to be addressed by the republican movement. And six years after the signing of the Belfast agreement and four years after decommissioning was supposed to be complete, I think it's not unreasonable that they should step up to the mark on these issues.
HAASS: Peter, Nigel just laid out a fairly long list of particulars, if you will. The question, I suppose, that I would have is, is all of that a prerequisite before the DUP would agree to govern with Sinn Fein, or could some of those things happen, say, according to an agreed timetable?
ROBINSON: Well, the list may seem long, but I think if one stops and considers what unionists are being asked to do, it might be worthwhile, perhaps, as a back cloth, giving you something of my own introduction to the politics. Like any young schoolboy, I perhaps enjoyed soccer in the playground more than the academic work in the classroom. One of my closest friends— and I spent a lot of time playing soccer with him— was a young lad called Harry Beggs. Harry and I went through school together. We both left school. He went into the Northern Ireland Electricity Service and I went into, yes, estate agency. Two of the most unpopular positions, I think, are politicians and estate agents and— that's your realtor. And we perhaps didn't see each other at all for about a year. And then I heard Harry's name being mentioned. He was the victim of an IRA bomb attack on the Northern Ireland Electricity Service headquarters at Belfast. Harry was one of a number of people who, when a three-minute warning was given because a bomb had been left at the entrance to the building, was leaving the building when the bomb actually did go off. He was killed. And that was my introduction to terrorism. And I got involved in active politics because of the murder of Harry Beggs.
And I know that the person who was in charge of the IRA at the time Harry Beggs was killed in that area of Belfast is a present leader of Sinn Fein. So every day that an assembly meeting takes place and I look across the assembly chamber, I look at the person who sanctioned the killing of my friend. In those circumstances, I have to say it will be difficult to encourage me to take on trust of those who have been involved in violence. And I think there have been unpleasant experiences for [Ulster Unionist Party leader] David Trimble, who did take them on trust, who was prepared to take their word that they were going to give up violence and that they would give up the weaponry. It didn't happen. Therefore, from our point of view, we agree with the prime minister of the United Kingdom. He has laid down very clearly what has to be done before there is entry into government by Sinn Fein. He has indicated that it is necessary for the community to be confident that violence and terrorism has ended, it's in history, it's not going to be starting up again. And while Nigel has given a catalogue of what that means, what it means, at the end of the day, to only individual people in Northern Ireland is that we wouldn't have in government people who at nighttime are plotting to maim and to murder. And I don't think that's an unreasonable thing for us to expect. And therefore we're not looking for stunts and gestures. We're not looking for installments or incremental payments. We're looking for what the prime minister described as an act of completion, completion meaning what it does: that it all has to be behind them.
And again, the IRA experience— the experience that we have had over the last five years has been that they will do the very least that is required of them. And if the bar is set low, then they will just skim it. And we are setting the bar higher, that there is a requirement for exclusively peaceful and democratic means. They know what has to be done. But the benefit of the proposals that we have put forward is that our proposals in one form or another can proceed in the absence of the IRA meeting that criteria. What we have said is that there is a mandatory coalition. We are prepared to share power with all of the major parties in Northern Ireland, including Sinn Fein if the IRA meets the requirement. If they don't, then we will share power with the constitutional nationalist party, the SDLP [Social Democratic and Labor Party]. We'll do that right now. We have said that if neither of those two things can happen, rather than sit on our hands and wait, either for the SDLP to be prepared to step up to the plate, or for the IRA to step up to the mark, that we are prepared to have a corporate assembly where the power is devolved to the assembly itself. Decisions will be taken by a key vote which ensures that a decision would only be approved if it has the support of both sections of the community. The key vote is so set that a unionist majority wouldn't be able to do it on its own; it requires support from both sections of the community. And the corporate assembly, much like the local government or councils in Northern Ireland, would take collective decisions rather than having an executive. So if we can't share power because there isn't that level of trust within an executive, corporate decisions can be taken by the body as a corporate body.
HAASS: Nigel, Peter mentioned the question of the relationship with the SDLP, the nationalist party. As of now, could you imagine, based upon contacts you may have had with them or just what you hear them saying, do you envision the possibility of a government that would be formed between yourselves and the SDLP?
DODDS: Well, obviously, the SDLP have to speak for themselves. And we will be and have been talking to the SDLP as part of the talks process that has been under way since the election. It's technically about the review of the Belfast Agreement. But it's obviously wider than that because, in our view, just tinkering with the Belfast Agreement is not going to solve the basic problem that unionists do not support the agreement in its present form and want to see a fairer way forward that they can buy into.
But I think that the SDLP have obviously suffered a reverse with the election that was held in November. Sinn Fein have now consolidated their position as the larger nationalist party. In my view, the SDLP have certainly precedent in breaking with Sinn Fein, in the sense that they've gone onto the policing board, have supported the new police institutions and so on, encouraged people to join, have put their members on local policing district partnerships. And Sinn Fein have not done any of that. So I think it's certainly feasible for the SDLP to look at the situation and say, Sinn Fein, the republican movement, will not do what's required of it in terms of moving to a totally democratic organization. And if they're not prepared to do that, then we will move ahead with the 75 percent of democrats in the assembly who can get together and form a government. And if and when the day comes that Sinn Fein do decide to fulfill the Blair tasks and the criteria laid down by Bertie Ahern, the Irish prime minister, for entry into his government— because the position that he adopts in the Irish Republic is exactly the same position that we adopt in relation to Sinn Fein in terms of Northern Ireland.
So I think that, you know, clearly the SDLP will have to do some thinking about this. But as Peter has said, what we have also put forward is the mandatory coalition model that everybody would be involved in, if everybody signed up to purely, exclusively peaceful and democratic means. There's the voluntary coalition method, which involves those who are democrats leaving Sinn Fein outside if they're not prepared to move in that direction. But then there's this corporate assembly model, which means that we don't have to hang around and wait until all of these issues are sorted out. That can get up and running straight away. All parties are involved in it. Power isn't given to any particular party or group of parties; it resides in the assembly as a whole. And that could be got up and running tomorrow. And that would mean that we wouldn't be held to ransom waiting for one particular party to make up its mind as to what it was going to do, or indeed another party to make up its mind as to whether or not it's going to leave Sinn Fein behind and enter a voluntary coalition.
HAASS: Have you found there's much interest in that last idea?
DODDS: I think that there's— certainly we have been very pleased with the response that our document and our policy has got right across the board. And I think there is obviously, you know, interest in each of the models that we have put forward. And I think that the corporate model is one that people perhaps in Britain and Northern Ireland, the Irish Republic, are more familiar with than people here. And I think that people are coming to realize that it does allow the process to move forward. It also provides a bulwark against everything collapsing in the event of the discovery of IRA bad faith or IRA activity, because there's no executive as such; there's no cabinet as such which will come crashing down, just as Belfast City Council has survived intact throughout 35 years of some of the most— some of the worst violence visited upon any country in recent years. So our model could allow for governments of Northern Ireland to continue not to be held to ransom by the IRA and to be able to withstand what comes its way in terms of what's happening in the streets of Belfast, Northern Ireland.
HAASS: Peter, both you and Nigel have been talking mainly about, if you will, the first strand of the agreement. Could you say something about how you and your colleagues envision so-called north-south relations, relations with the Republic of Ireland?
ROBINSON: This, I think, links onto the comments that Nigel was making about the SDLP. On the day that we published our devolution now proposals, I was speaking at Queens University with Mark Durkan, the leader of the SDLP. And I went to him that night to see that he had made some comments about our document— namely that he had rejected it. I thought that was peculiar because he told me at Queens University they haven't actually read it. However, I did note that some weeks later at their party conference, two leading members gave the document a cautious welcome. I see that as progress. In our meetings with the SDLP, I think you have to be fair and say, for the SDLP, it isn't just about what you described as the strand one elements of devolution. An important aspect for them is the relationship that there would be with the Irish Republic, and therefore, to some extent, they are holding back to see what our proposals are in relation to both north-south and east-west relations [between Northern Ireland and Britain]. We had been prepared to publish that document last week, but because of the IRA abduction of a republican in Belfast, the talks process was thrown into some disarray. It didn't seem to us to be the atmosphere that would be conducive for the publication of a serious policy document. We therefore decided that we would put it off until next Tuesday. The prime minister of the United Kingdom and the prime minister of the Republic of Ireland have decided that next Tuesday we should have meetings in Stormont [Northern Irelands parliament building in Belfast], so I suspect it's going to be further delayed. Therefore, the document isn't published.
HAASS: Want to make the news tonight? [Laughter.]
ROBINSON: It makes some problems for me in answering your question, but I'll give a broad sweep if I may. Unionists do not have an aversion to having a good cooperative and working relationship with the Irish Republic. That has never been a difficulty for the unionist community. If the relationships north-south are based upon practical cooperation, then unionists will look at them at whatever form is necessary and can operate best. But if the preface of them is for the pursuit of a political goal— let me explain that. If you have north-south bodies set up, and they have some form of executive function, then the more they develop, the more they grow and the more there are of them, the more you're operating Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland on an all-Ireland basis, which is the goal of nationalists, to have a united Ireland. It is not the goal of the unionist community. We want our relationship to be an east-west relationship with Great Britain. Therefore, we say whatever development that there is on a north-south basis has to also be taking place on an east-west basis; that we have to look more towards the British Isles as a unit rather than simply the island of Ireland as a unit. And we have thought that that was an accepted principle in that there were, under the Belfast Agreement, north-south and east-west bodies. But when we see the operation of them, we note that there have been 65 meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council and only 10 meetings of the East-West Council. Now that indicates that some people are pursuing a north-south agenda more than an east-west. And we say, if you want us to be fully incorporated and involved within a north-south structure, then there has to be a quid pro quo. And you have to be just as serious about the east-west agenda. It isn't just about us accepting their identity; they must accept ours as well.
HAASS: I've got about one or two more questions, then I'm going to turn it over to you all. Nigel, let me raise the question of violence and of loyalist [unionist] paramilitaries. Can you say something about how you see that evolving, and what if any influence you think the DUP might have directly or indirectly on loyalist fighting?
DODDS: Well, certainly there tends to be a concentration— when we talk about these issues in terms of the political process, there tends to be a concentration primarily on republican balance. Peter has mentioned an incident over the last 10 days which took place in Northern Ireland relating to the [Bobby] Tohill abduction [an attempt to kidnap a dissident republican], in which members of the Provisional IRA party, according to the chief constable, authorized at a very high level by the— in the provisional IRA, tried to abduct someone in broad daylight in the streets of Belfast to take them away and murder him. That caused a very serious disruption to the talks process because here, at the one time when Sinn Fein are talking about involvement in government and so on, here is a wing of their organization still demonstrably involved in serious paramilitary activity.
The reason, of course, that there is such a concentration is because of the fact that Sinn Fein, because of their size, have a possibility of getting into the government of part of the United Kingdom— getting into the government of Northern Ireland. While loyalist violence is clearly present— the loyalist paramilitaries have been and continue to be active on the streets of Belfast and elsewhere. Their violence— and we have made absolutely no bones about this throughout our existence— the position is that we totally condemn all violence wherever it comes from, whether people claim to be loyalists or whatever. They certainly don't act in the name of the unionist people or the Protestant people generally.
And in the most recent elections— indeed, this has been a pattern replicated throughout elections in Northern Ireland the last 30 years— the spokespersons for these organizations on the unionist side have received derisory votes and have been overwhelmingly rejected in the main by the unionist population. So there is no equivalent political organization to Sinn Fein on the Protestant or unionist side. Loyalist paramilitaries have one political representative out of 108 members in the Northern Ireland Assembly. I know from my experience representing north Belfast, an area which has suffered more than most from violence, both republican and loyalist, in which constituents have been murdered— many Catholics have been murdered, many Protestants have been murdered on both sides— indeed, have been murdered sometimes in many cases by their own side for various reasons— that all of these organizations prey upon the local communities, and local communities want, by and large, to be rid of them all. What we do offer is a democratic alternative to these organizations. We say very clearly that the way forward is through politics, is through the democratic process. And by and large, we have successfully ensured that, in many cases, people have looked to the democratic process rather than through— achieving their objectives through violence. The sad fact is that many of these people who engage in this type of violence, and so on, are not that amenable to any sort of call or influence by any of us. But nevertheless, we make absolutely clear our call to them that they should not be engaging in violence; it's counterproductive, it's wrong in any— every sense, and it should not happen, and they should not engage in it.
I have to say, however, that they have— these organizations, both republican and loyalist— received some encouragement to continue with their activities in recent years, not least because of the sort of signals that the governments have been sending out in terms of the Belfast Agreement, which resulted in all of their prisoners who were being held for some terrible atrocities being released on to the streets without having served their full time, which has accorded them a level of exposure and political attention and media attention which they certainly don't deserve in terms of their votes, and so on. So in many ways, you know, they have been given a sort of elevated status as a result of the current process, that certainly we don't accept for one minute, and that the unionist people have not given them by their votes.
HAASS: One last question, then I'll open it up. It was last year that the International Monitoring Commission [IMC] was created. This is this four-person body that's supposed to, as the name suggests, monitor compliance with the agreement. And they are due to report sometime— I believe their first report— this spring. And my sense is— how do you look upon that? Do you see this as a welcome innovation, a welcome development?
ROBINSON: Well, when the proposal came before the House of Commons, my colleagues and I opposed it. Our opposition was based on, first of all, there being no one on the commission that unionists could identify with, though there were those that nationalists could identify with. So if you're to have respect for the judgment of an organization, one must have some feeling that the organization is balanced. So we had some concern about that aspect. Secondly, we felt that its purpose was not so much to monitor as to give the government breathing space, time to come up with alternatives. If an incident occurs, the government is about to collapse, they're brought in to look at it. It allows it to put on the long finger, so that something can be cobbled together. And those and other concerns led to our opposition.
Since the Tohill incident, the government asked for the monitoring commission to bring forward their report from the summer— I think it was July it was due— until May. And we felt that we should go and visit them. I think we were the only political party that made a visit at that time to see the IMC. We pressed the IMC to bring in an earlier report. And we said to them that we would regard it very much as a test of their bona fides. And we indicated that if they were to produce a report in May, as required by the government, then there would be some question about their degree of independence, and that they had themselves the power to bring in an earlier report. If they wanted to convince us that they were independently minded, then they should bring in an earlier report. And I'm delighted that they have responded to that by indicating that they'll be bringing in a report at Easter. And I think that assists, to some extent, in us accepting that they have an intention to behave independently of government. We welcome that.
We've also met the individuals concerned on several occasions, and there are people that we regard as taking seriously the duties. We have someone formerly from the CIA, someone from Scotland Yard. So there are people who have very considerable experience dealing with the kind of issues that are involved. But it is a test. People in Northern Ireland would be looking very closely at what the report says and perhaps looking also at what the recommendations are in terms of sanctions. Because it's one thing to find— I believe it would be incomprehensible for them to do anything other than find that this was a breach of the cease-fire. When the chief constable is within 24 hours able to categorically state that it was a breach of the cease-fire, I think it's inconceivable that the IMC could do other than that. But what will be interesting is, what is the sanction for abducting a man, driving off with him, with an intention to murder him? And if there isn't a sanction for an event like that, then quite clearly there will be problems within the process, and there will be problems taking seriously the IMC if they don't see that as something deserving of a sanction.
HAASS: Thank you. Let me, with that, turn it over to you all. If you've got a question, please keep it short, please wait for a microphone, please let us know who you are. Farooq Kathwari.
QUESTIONER: Yeah. Farooq Kathwari from Ethan Allan. Maybe this is a very basic question. I'll try— it's a little bit slightly— a little longer question. I draw a parallel between what's happening in Ireland and Kashmir. In Kashmir, about 5 million or so people, Kashmiris— 90 percent of them Muslim, 10 percent are non-Muslims, Hindus, and 90 percent are interested in independence and have a great interest in the Kashmiri culture. The 10 percent are Hindus and have a great interest in Kashmiri culture but would like to remain with India. I would just like to understand. Is that the kind of a parallel we have in Ireland?
DODDS: Well, I'm always reluctant in making too many comparisons, and I'll refrain, having had a brief conversation about Kashmir before we came into the room. In Northern Ireland, the overwhelming majority of people want to remain part of the United Kingdom, and not just those from a Protestant background. There is a significant section of the Roman Catholic community that want to remain part of the United Kingdom as well. There are, however, many, primarily within the Roman Catholic community, who want to be part of an all-Ireland state, a united Ireland. In a democracy, clearly the votes of the people would show in a referendum that the province should remain part of the United Kingdom. The attempt, therefore, by the use of violence is one to, if you like, push the democratic will of the people of Northern Ireland to one side and to make it untenable, bringing war weariness on the community and, at the same time, make it less desirable for the partner in the union. Because, by Northern Ireland wanting to remain part of the United Kingdom, the other partner to that marriage has to want to maintain that marriage. So it makes it less desirable for Great Britain to want to remain part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and that's what terrorism is about.
So I think that the kind of proposal that we are bringing forward recognizes that there are people in Northern Ireland who want to have a relationship and closeness with the Irish Republic but still maintain Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom, which is the democratic will of the people. And if people are prepared to abide by exclusively peaceful and democratic means, they will accept the principle of consent, which is that Northern Ireland cannot change its constitutional status without the will of the people in Northern Ireland. And to some extent, key to our proposal which will be coming out is the principle that we're looking for a settlement and not a process. If we have a process, then there will be a continuing and constant attempt to change the constitutional direction of Northern Ireland. If you have a settlement, then we can accept things as they are for a period of time while we get down to the real business of governing Northern Ireland in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic.
HAASS: George Schwab?
QUESTIONER: George Schwab, National Committee on American Foreign Policy. I'm wondering. You have been criticizing Sinn Fein and IRA, et cetera, et cetera. Are you making any endeavors or overtures to Sinn Fein/IRA? Are you negotiating with them? Are you talking to them? After all, I mean, this is what things are all about if you are trying to bring the other side to the table. Thank you.
DODDS: Well, we have said that we're prepared to negotiate with all democratic and constitutional parties. And the difficulty that remains— and we have done that, and have done that for a long time now. And as part of this process that's now under way, we have been engaged in that very seriously. And we want to see that process continue and make progress. The issue as far as Sinn Fein/IRA is concerned is the fact that it is Sinn Fein/IRA. And the difficulty for those of us in the Democratic Unionist Party and, therefore, for the majority of the unionist community is that the Sinn Fein as an organization, part of the republican movement, has not yet, despite all of the process that has gone on since the Belfast Agreement, has not yet gotten rid of its terrorist armory, still organizes a terrorist army, still intimidates and threatens people in the streets of Belfast, still engages in racketeering, training, and targeting and all of these things. And what we are saying very, very clearly is that, you know, it is long past time for people like [Sinn Fein leader Gerry] Adams and [former IRA paramilitary leader and Sinn Fein member of parliament Martin] McGuinness to make up their minds on this issue. You know, some people argued, well, bring— there's a process that has to be undergone here. You know, you have to wean people away from violence and bring them in, even to government, without them having got rid of all of this terrorist paraphernalia. And remember, it is widely known that leading members of Sinn Fein sit on the IRA Army Council [the IRAs leadership body].
So, you know, what we have to ask is, has that process of weaning them off violence and bringing them into government in order to bring them along, has it worked? Well, it hasn't worked up till now. And we're saying very clearly, Look, there's got to be a decision taken here. Are you a democrat or are you trying to have it both ways, be a democrat and yet use the threat of violence, and therefore negotiate, sit across the table with the rest of us who are democrats, with an advantage? You know, not only you're there with the votes that you have, but you also have this terrorist army at your beck and call, and you use that implied threat as a means of obtaining concessions. I think in any democracy that's not really an acceptable way forward. People should be around the table on an equal basis. And that should be on the basis of a commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means.
Now, we're engaged in a process, which means that we're talking to other parties. We're talking to the government. And it's a matter for other parties and other governments— and the government to decide how they deal with Sinn Fein. And some of them are talking to Sinn Fein as a result of the Tohill incident and other things. Some of them have decided they're no longer going to talk to Sinn Fein. So, you know, until Sinn Fein resolves this issue of democracy or democracy plus paramilitarism and terrorism, then, you know, there's always going to be that difficulty. And remember, Sinn Fein still don't support the police. They don't, even if an incident were to happen outside in the street; they would not recommend that anyone should go to the police to report it or go to the police for assistance. You know, these are fundamental issues in society. And if an organization is carrying on the way that Sinn Fein is, and takes the attitude toward police that it does, well then it really does raise quite basic questions about its position as a democratic party.
HAASS: If Sinn Fein tomorrow were to change its position on joining the policing board, would you stay on the board if they went on?
ROBINSON: Well, what we have said is that, in our view, having Sinn Fein on the policing board without them having decommissioned, without them having committed to exclusively peaceful and democratic means, would be a very, very difficult situation. Because you would then have people effectively calling the chief constable to account, and senior police to account, who were at the same time involved in the organization of a paramilitary terrorist organization. Now, it's clear: the Ulster Unionist Party have said, in those circumstances, that they would not remain. Our position is that, in those circumstances, it would be untenable for unionists to remain in that situation, if all unionists were to come off the policing board. But we have to see what the circumstances are at the particular time. It may well be that the Ulster Unionist Party, as has happened before, will reverse their position on that. But as far as we're concerned, really those beggar belief that you can have a situation where people who are still wedded to a terrorist organization would be in charge of the policing in Northern Ireland.
DODDS: Richard, can I just say that I find it a wee bit hard to comprehend why the democrats should have to twist and turn to accommodate those who represent a terrorist organization. And in many ways, George's— I mean, there are two ways of dealing with it: either you can say to the representatives of the terrorist organizations, Come into the parlor, and we'll attempt during the time that you are with us to encourage you to give up violence and to entice you to be part of the democratic process. That's been attempted and it hasn't worked. They have probably more weaponry today than they had 10 years ago when they called their first cease-fire. So we're saying, let's try something else. Here are the rules for entry to the democratic club; meet them and you can enter therein. And here's a commitment. We've spelled out the commitment within "Devolution Now, that if you enter and you are on all fours with other political parties in Northern Ireland, not only do you enter into the democratic club, but you will be in government. Now, for a Unionist political party to be contemplating that, given the history that there's been in Northern Ireland, is in itself a very significant concession. Power sharing is a concession. And therefore, what we are saying to the republican movement: give up your violence. If you want to have a part in a democratic process in Northern Ireland, then you can't for any longer bring your terrorist organization with you. Leave it outside the door. Give it up. Disband it. Get rid of the weapons and come and join us as democrats, as equals within the democratic process.
HAASS: Just to clarify— 30 seconds. As I hear you, I just want to make sure I understand you. So you're basically saying that the days of transitional arrangements are over and now things have to be clear as prerequisites, if you will, from the outset?
DODDS: Not only am I saying that, the prime minister of the United Kingdom has said that. And he has said in the straightest terms possible that those days are past. It's high time for completion, and we're waiting for the IRA.
HAASS: Just trying to understand. Yes, ma'am.
QUESTIONER: Barbara Robinson, Debevoise & Plimpton.
HAASS: Unrelated, I assume?
QUESTIONER: No relation.
QUESTIONER: Except centuries ago, maybe. [Laughter.]
ROBINSON: Well, one of my nieces— [laughter] --
QUESTIONER: Mr. Robinson— well, thank you both for this very helpful and informative presentation. Mr. Robinson, you said that sitting across the table from somebody in Sinn Fein that you are certain murdered your friend that you can never have trust in that person, which I understand. Many people in both communities have lost friends, relatives, neighbors, and they probably also have a suspicion or a certainty as to who on the other side did it. Human rights groups, the bar associations, others, the U.N., have called for a public inquiry into the [Patrick] Finucane and [Rosemary] Nelson cases, where there is almost verifiable evidence of involvement of government officials in the murders of two lawyers defending unpopular republicans. I very strongly believe there should be a public inquiry, but that's not what I'm asking you. Is there anything that you would see that might be helpful to both communities, some kind of process short of police investigation of the hundreds and probably close to thousands of cases of murders that are unsolved, that would help the communities come to some closure? My understanding is that, frankly, contrary to what I hear you say, the republican communities, in terms of political violence, have had some verifiable decommissioning— maybe not enough for your satisfaction; that, in terms of violence, it continues to be inside both communities more on the level of thugs, drug dealers, young people who have no other— and I think you agreed with this before the meeting— have no other employment. So both communities should want that to stop. But is there something beyond that could help the communities heal their distrust of each other that is different from a police investigation?
HAASS: Thank you.
ROBINSON: I think you're right that much of the violence in Northern Ireland has moved away from attacks on the police and the army to people trying to control their own territory. And that, to a large extent, has meant that the IRA are taking action against the Roman Catholic community. Loyalist paramilitaries are on the back of the Protestant community, with all the criminality and gangsterism that's employed in that. There are continuing acts of terrorism going on. As far as the issue of the New York Bar Association's interest in having inquiries into the Finucane and other killings are concerned, I think we might have been a little disappointed that there have been other lawyers and judges killed in Northern Ireland, and the New York Bar Association hasn't been very vocal in demanding some action to be taken against the people who were responsible on that. I'm talking, of course, about the murders for which the IRA was responsible. And I think we might have welcomed some balance in the report that has been carried out by the Bar Association. However, there is a great deal of hurt within both sections of the community. If somebody has lost a relative, clearly there is a desire to see the truth come out as to what happened. The extent to which that will ever come out in an inquiry is difficult to understand. Let me explain it by one of the most expensive inquiries that perhaps the United Kingdom certainly has ever seen, namely, the Saville inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday [the January 1972 incident in which British troops opened fire on protestors in Londonderry; 13 protestors died]. This was something that was demanded by Sinn Fein and others, but by Sinn Fein. Yet, when he had his opportunity to give evidence at the Saville inquiry, Martin McGuinness decided to effectively take the fifth and not to answer questions. Here is a man that is demanding to know the truth of what happened on Bloody Sunday, and he's refusing to reveal his part in it.
Now, if you're going to have inquiries, it is essential that the inquiry hears the truth from everyone. And if you look at the killings that are being referred to, are the IRA, for instance, in the inquiry in the Republic of Ireland going to be full and frank, and play a constructive part in giving evidence to the inquiry in the Republic of Ireland when they're investigating IRA activity? Where they got their information from, who was the sergeant that gave information to the IRA of the whereabouts of a certain individual? And if you're going to have inquiries, but they aren't capable of getting to the truth, then you'll waste a lot of money, you'll raise expectations, and you will probably increase, but certainly not reduce, the frustration of the families involved. So yes, by all means, let's try and get at the truth. But let's try and get at the truth for the thousands of people who still haven't had cases that have had closure upon them. And those are cases which people in Northern Ireland, by and large, will say are cases for which the IRA are responsible. There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of cases where there is no closure. Because the IRA, who killed relatives of individuals, have not been brought to account. And those people who are in the leadership of that organization could be in government within a matter of months or years. So yes, let's look at it. And if you're getting to the stage of saying let's have a truth commission, well, I've been out in South Africa and I haven't heard a lot of people express great satisfaction with the outcome of the truth commission. And I'm not sure that we are, by regurgitating the events of the past, going to assist in bringing some closure to the issues and reducing the hurt of people.
HAASS: We've got two last questions. Why don't you ask them both, and then we'll have our two panelists speak. Enzo?
QUESTIONER: Enzo Viscusi of ENI. Before this meeting, I thought that [former] Senator [George] Mitchell had brokered an agreement among the contending factions. Can he still make that claim? And what went wrong?
HAASS: OK. And why don't we get one other question.
QUESTIONER: I'm Alan Hyman from Columbia University. Terrorism wholesale and retail. Last Thursday [in the Madrid terror attack on commuter trains] we witnessed in Europe the worst terrorism attack, with hundreds of people killed and nearly thousands maimed. As politicians in Ireland, what is the message? An election was disrupted. Millions of people changed the way they were planning to vote, apparently, according to the polls. What is the impact for the people in your part of the world, who have been subjected to terrorism for so long? What do they see the implications of this fantastic attack?
DODDS: Well, if I can deal with the first question that was asked, about the Belfast Agreement. Yes, I think there were a lot of people who believed that, you know, the title "Belfast Agreement meant that, you know, they could now put that one to one side, regard that as settled and move on. But the fundamental point about Northern Ireland is this— and we were making this before the Belfast Agreement was signed— to get stability, to get progress, to get an agreement which will last and to have institutions up and running which will not continually fail and falter, you have to have an agreement which is supported by the nationalist community and an agreement that is supported by the unionist community as well. There are two communities there. It has to have the support of both. The Belfast Agreement, at most, had— it was overwhelmingly supported in the nationalist side, in the republican side. It offered a lot in terms of concessions to Sinn Fein and the nationalist community. On the unionist side it was very, very even at the time of the referendum. But it's very, very clear now that, overwhelmingly in the unionist community, it does not have support. And therefore, what we have to try and do, and what we're engaged in, is trying to get an agreement which unionists can support as well as nationalists. The Belfast agreement has lurched from crisis to crisis to crisis. The government that was formed under it has collapsed four times in a very short space of time. It does not offer stability. It cannot be the means by which progress is made in Northern Ireland. We need an agreement, but we need a new agreement. And that's what we're about in the present time. And we hope that others who have said all along that we need the support of both communities will accept the fact that, yes, they have the full support of their community on the nationalist side, but unionists do not support the current Belfast Agreement and therefore will work with us to try to get a new agreement.
ROBINSON: I'll respond to the second question, though I fear that the audience may not like my response, because I am profoundly concerned about the implications from Spain. And I have been concerned for many years of the implications arising from terrorism in Northern Ireland. And the message is clear in my view: the message is that terrorism works. It has worked in Northern Ireland in that, on every occasion when the IRA increased its level of terrorism, the government responded, albeit behind saying we will never concede to terrorism. They then conceded to terrorism. And after the City of London was bombed [in April 1993], there were very significant changes being made and attempts to appease IRA terrorism.
I'm one of those who supported the president's war against terrorism. I believe it was the right thing to do. I know there will be people in this room who will not agree with me. But even in Northern Ireland in its darkest day, while governments were prepared for whatever pragmatic reason they felt they had to accommodate the terrorists in order to appease them, the community itself would have stood up to terrorism. And my fear is that there is, in Spain at least, a feeling within the community that they weren't prepared to stand up to terrorism; that they were prepared to take the easy route. And when you do that, the answer from the terrorists is not, Well, that's good, we can go home and be quiet. The terrorists will take the opposite message and they'll say, Well, it worked there. Let's try it in London when it's in the run-up to their election. Let's see if we can change the outcome of an election there as well. So I'm profoundly concerned of the implications of what happened in Spain, but it has been a tendency. For many years we have suffered in the United Kingdom the fact that, as terrorism was ratcheted up, concessions piled up in order to appease the terrorists.
HAASS: I will end on that. I will show uncharacteristic discipline and not challenge anybody here. I want to thank both Nigel Dodds and Peter Robinson for being here, their first visit to the Council, and I hope it is not their last visit. And indeed, since I have now given up my previous hat, one of the things I can say is, I hope to raise this issue more here. It's an issue that, over the last three years, I have grown, shall we say, rather interested in. [Haass formerly served as the lead U.S. government official in support of the Northern Ireland peace process.] And it grabs you in its own way. And if we, in any way, can play a useful role here at the Council, we will. But again, I want to thank both of them and their colleagues for traveling here.
ROBINSON: Maybe I can interrupt you, Richard, just to say that—
HAASS: People do it all the time to me. [Laughter.]
ROBINSON: But I think it would be proper for us to take this opportunity to thank you for your work in Northern Ireland. We met on a number of occasions in a different capacity, and I don't think any of us doubted your interest in Northern Ireland and your desire to see progress being made. And we certainly appreciated all that you did while wearing that hat. I'm sure any other hat that you wear, you will carry out the role with the same degree of enthusiasm and dedication.
HAASS: Thank you, sirs. And again, thank you all for coming tonight. [Applause.]
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