Daltún Ó Ceallaigh
based on the forthcoming book
(published in Irish Democrat April/May 2002)
The booklet that was delivered to each member of the electorates in the six and twenty-six counties of Ireland in connection with the referendums of 22nd May 1998 was entitled Agreement Reached in the Multi-party Negotiations. In fact, there were two documents contained in this.
The first consisted of the final draft of an accord produced by George Mitchell on Good Friday 1998. This was either verbally endorsed at a plenary session that day or taken away by participants for consideration. There was no formal signing up to it. The second document was an Agreement actually signed by the Irish and British governments, which included, as Annex 1, the Mitchell text.
One of the initial parts of both documents contained the pseudo-principle
of northern majority consent in regard to the issue of whether or not the six
counties could legitimately remain part of the
But what, it may be asked, was the practical implication of the republican position? Namely, to seek to create a state of affairs in which the British were either induced to begin a process of withdrawal or declared an intention of doing so, with consequent influence on unionists. The repudiation of the pseudo-principle of northern majority consent and the exertion of pressure on the British to, among other things, in turn pressure unionists did not mean that, simultaneously, efforts should not be made to convince the latter that an all-Ireland polity was the best compromise in a divided society. Thus the northern majority consent might nonetheless be secured in practice or at least unionist opposition diminished. The former is not now as ambitious as it sounds, especially if one recalls that one is talking not about a majority of unionists but, at most, of the electorate which would involve no more than a shift of about 7% in current terms in voting patterns and could draw upon different subjective and class reactions among the unionist population. Indeed, less than 7% may be required, given increasingly lower unionist voter turnout. And, in time, the 7% could be overtaken by nationalist demography alone.
The allegation of paradox here regarding pressure and persuasion has
often been made by naïve or disingenuous commentators who do not grasp, or purport
not to, the real world of politics wherein these factors are not contradictory
but complementary. For example, some unionists may be so disenchanted by the withholding
of support by the British that they might actually be persuaded to accept a reasonable
all-Ireland alternative to the
During the Ard-Fheis shortly after the agreement, Gerry Adams spelt out the
Sinn Féin position: “When the vote was taken [on the agreement] I did not vote
... We cannot and we will not recognise as legitimate the six
county statelet.” At a press conference on
To begin with, this arises from a failure to distinguish between a stance of seeking the practical implementation of the agreement in its immediate institutional and legal aspects, on the one hand, and a continued rejection of the partitionist philosophy underlying the first substantive section about Constitutional Issues, on the other.
A recent attempt to undermine the republican position of principle
involved no less than Adams himself. In the Irish media on
However, the Sinn Féin newspaper, An
Phoblacht, painted a fuller and different picture of
One did not have to go far to reconcile
all these comments when one also read
Indeed, if one proceeded more meaningfully from the statement, what the
Finally, here, it is necessary to address the comparison of Good Friday ’98 with Sunningdale ’73. Was it actually a case of republicans eventually accepting what was on twenty-five years earlier? The simple and accurate answer is ‘no’. I have previously dealt with this question to an extent in certain important constitutional and political respects in my book Irish Republicanism, but there are other differences which might be highlighted here. They include the Equality Commission, Human Rights Commission, Joint Committee of HRCs, Commission on Policing, Review of the Criminal Justice System, Civic Forum, and an all-Ireland Consultative Forum. Moreover, the European Convention on Human Rights has been incorporated in northern Irish law, the Charter for Regional or Minority Languages of the Council of Europe has been ratified, a Bill of Rights is being completed, and an all-Ireland Charter of Human Rights is to be considered by the HRC Joint Committee. It has also been observed by two academic lawyers from Queen’s University that “the agreement also includes what we suggest is a group right that takes the ‘minority rights’ and protection beyond negative or positive non-discrimination rights.” A particularly important contrast between the ’73 and ’98 accords is that, in respect of the Assembly and the all-Ireland Council, each is a condition of the other; thus the possibility of the second being shelved in favour of the first, as happened in 1974, no longer exists.
As one political scientist
has put it, the remark about Good Friday being ‘Sunningdale for slow learners’ is
“as misleading as it is diverting, since the Agreement is a much more subtle
and inclusive bargain than was reached at Sunningdale … ”
Also a European Studies expert has said: “ … there are … significant
differences between them [Sunningdale and Belfast], both in terms of content
and the circumstances surrounding their negotiation, implementation, and operation.” The depiction of
Mandelson at least understands what is developing.
“The struggle in