Making Peace / Edition 1

Making Peace / Edition 1

by George Mitchell
Pub. Date:
University of California Press


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Making Peace / Edition 1


Fifteen minutes before five o'clock on Good Friday, 1998, Senator George Mitchell was informed that his long and difficult quest for an Irish peace effort had succeeded--the Protestants and Catholics of Northern Ireland, and the governments of the Republic of Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom, would sign the agreement. Now Mitchell, who served as independent chairman of the peace talks for the length of the process, tells us the inside story of the grueling road to this momentous accord and the subsequent developments that may threaten, or strengthen, the chance for a lasting peace in Northern Ireland.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520225237
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 08/04/2000
Edition description: First Edition, Updated with a New Preface
Pages: 200
Sales rank: 648,759
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.63(d)

About the Author

George Mitchell served as Senator from Maine from 1980 to 1995, the last six years as Majority Leader. Since leaving the Senate, in addition to chairing the Northern Ireland peace talks, he has served as Chairman of the International Crisis Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the prevention of crisis in international affairs, and as Chairman of the Ethics Committee of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

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The unionist community was totally opposed to the Anglo-Irish Agreement, primarily because the role given to the Irish government was interpreted as a step in the direction of "joint sovereignty." The agreement's focus on the Northern Ireland aspects of the intergovernmental relationship also unsettled unionists, because it set Northern Ireland apart from the rest of the United Kingdom, appearing to undermine its constitutional status as an integral part of the U.K. A campaign was organized to reject the agreement. Huge rallies were held, and a petition drive was organized. Assembly and District Council business was disrupted by an "Ulster says No" campaign; normal contact with ministers was broken off. All of the unionist members of Parliament resigned their seats, forcing simultaneous by-elections which were viewed as a referendum on the agreement and which delivered a predictably negative overall result. A "day of action" was organized in March 1986 in an attempt to demonstrate the campaign's ability to bring the agreement down by direct action.

The security forces, led by the Royal Ulster Constabulary, were able to contain the day of action and the other disturbances associated with the "Ulster says No" campaign. Ultimately a Joint Unionist Task Force report, "An End to Drift," acknowledged that the only way forward was to negotiate an alternative to the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and unionist leaders approached the British government in August 1987 to initiate discussions to that end. The subsequent "talks about talks" led ultimately to negotiations in 1991 and 1992, which ended without agreement.

In 1988, Hume received a telephone call from a Belfast solicitor.Would he be willing to meet with Sinn Fein officials to talk about some of the issues he had been publicly discussing? It was a risk for Hume. Sinn Fein is a political party with close ties to the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the paramilitary organization committed to the use of force to achieve a united Ireland. The SDLP and Sinn Fein compete for nationalist votes; anything that might strengthen Sinn Fein politically could weaken the SDLP. But Hume agreed. He met Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, for the first time, and they began a dialogue which stretched across six years. It was, for part of that time, a complex set of four-way discussions, involving the SDLP, Sinn Fein, and the Irish and British governments.

The acceptance by Dublin of Article One of the Anglo-Irish Agreement was framed in terms which allowed it to be defended as an acceptance of political realities rather than a commitment to a principle. The effect of the article was subsequently challenged in a case taken to the Irish Supreme Court by two leading unionists. The Court's decision confirmed unionists' worst fears by asserting that the achievement of Irish unity was a "constitutional imperative" on every Irish government and that signature of the Anglo-Irish Agreement had not implied any acceptance that Northern Ireland was constitutionally a part of the United Kingdom.

The agreement had been signed by Garrett Fitzgerald, whose government was succeeded in 1987 by one led by Fianna Fail. In 1992, Albert Reynolds became Taoiseach. Reynolds moved Fianna Fail and the government toward accommodation over Northern Ireland. He entered into two parallel dialogues: with the British prime minister, John Major; and with Hume and Adams, as the three men sought to establish a common nationalist position.

On December 15, 1993, Reynolds and Major announced the Downing Street Declaration. It was another significant step toward peace in Northern Ireland. The Declaration arose primarily from the desire of the British and Irish governments to set out the terms on which parties associated with paramilitary organizations in Northern Ireland could enter negotiations. It also sought to tackle one of the major obstacles to agreement in the 1991-92 talks: the difference of view between the two governments over the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. The Declaration reiterated or expressed a number of key principles which the two governments hoped would provide "the starting point of a peace process designed to culminate in a political settlement." On the main constitutional issue the Declaration provided a resolution of the two governments' conflicting views by upholding the "constitutional guarantee" to unionists that Northern Ireland would not cease to be a part of the United Kingdom without the consent of a majority of its people, while presenting that as part of a new doctrine of Irish national self-determination in which the consent of both parts of Ireland, freely and concurrently given, would be required to bring about Irish unity.

For its part, the British government reiterated that its policy regarding the future constitutional status was based on upholding the democratic wish of the people of Northern Ireland, and that it had "no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland," a phrase originally used by the British secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Peter Brooke, in November 1991. It went on to acknowledge that "it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively, to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish," and undertook to introduce legislation to give effect to this or any other measure of agreement on future relationships which might be reached.

The Irish government formally acknowledged that "it would be wrong to attempt to impose a united Ireland, in the absence of the freely given consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland," and accepted that "the democratic right of self-determination by the people of Ireland as a whole must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland. . . ." The Taoiseach also said that "in the event of an overall settlement the Irish government will, as part of a balanced constitutional accommodation, put forward and support proposals for change in the Irish Constitution which would fully reflect the principle of consent in Northern Ireland." On the participation of parties associated with paramilitary organizations, the governments said that in the circumstances of a permanent end to the use of, or support for, paramilitary violence . . . democratically mandated parties which establish a commitment to exclusively peaceful methods and which have shown they abide by the democratic process are free to participate fully in democratic politics and to join in dialogue in due course between the governments and the political parties on the way ahead.

Hume now argued that the Downing Street Declaration removed the basis for the use of force by the republican movement. Their "military campaign" was based on the conviction that the British government was the enemy--that it had selfish strategic interests in Northern Ireland which it would fight to maintain, and that only "physical force" could evict it and create a united Ireland. But, Hume argued, now that London said that it had no such interests in Northern Ireland, that its people could decide their own future, then the rationale for the campaign of violence no longer existed.

British-Irish cooperation was accompanied by a growing war-weariness in Northern Ireland. Families began to long for a more normal life, one not dominated by fear and hatred. The governments and the politicians responded. In 1991 and 1992 negotiations had taken place involving the governments and the four constitutional political parties.4 Those negotiations failed, in part, the governments believed, because they did not include the political parties associated with the paramilitary organizations; as a result, the negotiations were not accompanied by a cessation of violence. But the Downing Street Declaration had addressed that issue, and those who favored dialogue persisted. By the summer of 1994 anticipation was high. On August 30, the IRA declared "a complete cessation of all military activity." On October 6, the Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC), the umbrella group for the Protestant paramilitary counterparts to the IRA, declared a cease-fire.

The effect was immediate. Like spring flowers blooming suddenly, hope and optimism surged, displacing the despair and pessimism that had seemed permanent. The Christmas season of 1994 was the brightest and busiest Belfast had seen in decades. The borders were flung open, and people moved freely between north and south, creating commerce and goodwill. By February 1995, when I arrived, hopes were high. But it was a hope tinged with fear and fatalism. Northern Ireland had been through earlier peace efforts, in 1974 and again in 1991-92, and each time there had been the failure, the letdown, the continuation of sectarian conflict.

Later, when I became well known in Northern Ireland, I was often stopped by strangers, on the street, in the airport, in restaurants. They almost always offered words of gratitude and encouragement: "Thank you, Senator." "God bless you." "We appreciate what you're doing." And then, always, the fear: "But you're wasting your time. We've been killing each other for centuries and we're doomed to go on killing each other forever."

This uneasy mixture of hope and fear was tangible in February 1995. I hoped that somehow the conference on trade and investment could be of benefit. I'll probably never be back, I thought, but it would be nice to be of help. The conference was a success. Hundreds of American businessmen and businesswomen attended, as did a large contingent from Northern Ireland. Most of Northern Ireland's political leaders attended as well. I had to struggle to keep the focus on business and not let it become a political convention. The participants were invited to the White House for a reception in a tent on the south lawn. Despite a driving rain, it went well. Spirits were high as men and women who were bitter opponents gathered in one room and heard urgent pleas for peace, from me, from Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown, and from President Clinton.

The day before the conference began, the president told me he was looking forward to coming to the event, and we reviewed his proposed remarks. In them he would make a number of announcements. Then he said, "There's one more announcement I'd like to make. Everyone would like you to stay on. I know you were originally told it would just be for six months. But we want this thing to have staying power. We want you to help with a trade mission and some other follow-up this fall. I'd like to say tomorrow that you've agreed to stay on until the end of the year."

I didn't hesitate. "I really like the people I've met, and I want to help them if I can. Yes, you can announce it."

Table of Contents

1"I have never known peace."3
2"Would you be willing to help?"7
3First Steps22
4A Different Route39
5"No. No. No. No."46
6No Progress71
7An American Interlude76
8Beyond Reason84
9Smear Tactics89
10No Turning Back96
11"The settlement train is leaving."101
12Sinn Fein Comes In107
13Andrew's Peace120
14"I don't talk to murderers!"129
15An Agreement at Last143

What People are Saying About This

Kevin Cullen

Mitchell's account of the negotiating sets the benchmark against which any subsequent books on that part of the peace process will be judged...One of its strengths is that while Mitchell is refreshingly honest in his descriptions of the various political leaders in Northern ireland, he is remarkably restrained and nonjudgmental.

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