The Peace Process in Ireland

Journal of Business Administration and Policy Analysis, Annual 1996 | Go to article overview

The Peace Process in Ireland


I would like to bring you up to date about Ireland and the peace process and how Ireland is faring in the new and large family of the European Union. It is true that we have had centuries of conflict in Ireland. It is true that in every decade of this century since our small island nation was partitioned in 1920 by a British government that brought in a new act of parliament and a House of Commons called the Government of Ireland Act of 1920. The real section that matters in that act is Section 75 which claims sovereignty over part of the island of Ireland. For every decade since that was introduced, we have had conflict in Ireland: conflict between two traditions, conflict between two communities that see things differently - a Nationalist community looking towards Dublin for an identity, and a Unionist community looking towards London for their identity. It's a very complex situation, sometimes portrayed as a religious war, but it is not a religious war because it's really about dispensing power and privilege. And the power and privilege that was dispensed was not dispensed equitably to either community, because if you're down at the lower ends of the ladder, you didn't fare too well no matter which side of the divide you came from. So that's where the root cause of the conflict has arisen. And in all decades, it has broken out in armed conflict one way or another.

Back in 1969, the civil rights movement started in Ireland. Out of that grew armed conflict, and out of that we've had 25 years of non-stop violence. Now every Prime Minister and every government that went before had tried everything to lecture the men of violence to stop and hand in their arms, tried to cajole them, and tried to show the way forward, without any result.

So when I was elected leader of my own party and the Prime Minister of Ireland, I decided that I would go the unorthodox and politically incorrect way to bring peace to Ireland. Consequently, on my first day in office and in my first press conference, I set out my two main political objectives, and they were: first, to bring peace to Ireland, and second, to grow the Irish economy at a rate that would provide much more employment for our well-educated young people at home and not have them to go abroad, either to Canada or the United States or anywhere else around the world, as we have been want to do for many decades, and for many centuries for that matter.

Most people thought it was unrealistic to set the achievement of peace in Ireland as a possibility, and certainly to grow the economy to the levels that would be required to provide the jobs in the thousands for our growing population. I didn't see those two issues as separate. I saw them as interrelated for the very reason that the image of Ireland on the television screens and the printed media of the world was one of a nation of continuing conflict, death and destruction, and an endless amount of funerals - funeral after funeral with walls of wilted flowers and an eternity of tears - the breadwinner in many cases being lost to a household in both communities. We have seen this and become so accustomed to it for 25 years, the people just begin to accept it as part of the way of life.

The very two weeks before I became Prime Minister, we had some of the most horrible murders as the result of bombs in Northern Ireland that would make anybody shudder at the thought of trying to lead a country and people with that kind of situation. And so it was that I was determined to really give it my best shot and see what I could do about it.

Rather than go the other way that had been tried and failed before, I decided to open up links of communication, indirectly in the first place, to those who controlled the violence, because those that were part of the problem, in my view, were going to have to be made part of the solution. Yes, it was a risky political strategy. Yes, it was a strategy that could have failed.

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