Kelly: Today we are going to talk about the Good
Friday Agreement. We have two people here in the studio;
John Meehan, who is a socialist who is against the
Good Friday Agreement, who voted No here in the referendum
in the south; we have Killian Forde, who is a member
of Sinn Féin, who obviously is in favour of
the agreement. John, we are going to start with you:
why are you against the Belfast Agreement?
Meehan: Well Joe, as you mentioned, I voted No
in 1998. A very simple first reason is because I agreed
with Articles Two and Three, which rejected a Unionist
Veto. The purpose of the clause put in was to say
that Irish Unity could only come about with the consent
of a majority of the people in each jurisdiction North
and South. I think that is wrong. I dont think
partition should be recognised. I think the Six County
State is an illegitimate undemocratic state and that
the only authority to decide on that rests with the
people of the 32 counties of Ireland. That is why
I opposed it. Actually, that was Sinn Féins
position right up to the Árd Fheis which endorsed
the Good Friday Agreement and their support for Articles
Two and Three collapsed there and then.
Kelly: OK, thanks John. Killian, do you want to
respond to that. Or would you like to outline why
you and your party are in favour of the Good Friday
Forde: I broadly agree with John. I think that
regarding everything he said - you wouldnt find
any Sinn Féin member arguing against. It is
important to note that the Good Friday Agreement is
not a republican document; its not a socialist
document, it is not a Sinn Féin document. It
is a compromise that we were mature enough to sign
up to. I believe it aims to solidify and institutionalise
various ceasefires that were in place, develop political
alternatives to armed conflict, and create the political
and economic space to help with the advance of a territory
from a state of conflict to a post-conflict society.
The Good Friday Agreement is not to be looked at in
isolation in Ireland. You have other precedents very
recently. For instance, the Dayton Agreement in Bosnia.,
and the Ohrid Agreement in Macedonia, which in themselves
were, again, not wholly endorsed by any one party.
All three treaties involved, for all parties, basically
biting the bullet on various issues. What is common
in all of these - what the Good Friday Agreement is
- is a recognition by the people involved in the conflict,
and their supporters, and the political parties, that
the underlying causes of the conflict were to be,
as much as possible, neutralised.
is not to say them all. Obviously a lot of the reason
for the conflict that Sinn Féin would recognise
would be the occupation of a section of Ireland by
Britain. But we have accepted that there are other
issues. We have accepted that we need to move on.
An interesting comment that would be looked at in
terms of the Good Friday Agreement was by Gerry Adams
who said that the importance of the Agreement is the
process not the product. So basically it is what we
are trying to do to ensure a 32 County Socialist Republic,
and how we do it.
Kelly: John, a historical compromise?
Meehan: Lets set it in its proper context.
This is an internal settlement. A regional Government
has been set up in the North. It has powers over certain
things - it does not have powers over foreign affairs
Meehan: It does not have powers over security
at the moment, though it is planned to devolve some
powers via the policing boards. An internal settlement
more or less the same - there are significant variations
all right - was on offer through the Sunningdale Agreement
Kelly: Except Sinn Féin were not involved
Meehan: Sinn Féin were opposed to it. Quite
opposed to it! The first point I would make on that
is this: we can all have different attitudes to the
armed struggle, that went on from 1969 to 1994 - I
should say I have no problems whatsoever with the
declarations of IRA ceasefires - I agreed with them.
I dont believe you keep fighting for no purpose.
The calling of a ceasefire was right - I can discuss
that later if Killian wants. I want to make that clear.
I agreed with it - I have said that several times
- that is not an argument.
do think that, to achieve the Sunningdale Agreement,
there was absolutely no need for an armed struggle.
Thats perfectly clear. That is what was on offer
from the British Government. So the question is really
- and not on minor details - in substance was an armed
struggle necessary in order to achieve the Good Friday
Agreement of 1998? In substance the two are pretty
well the same. In fact, if you go into the details
- if anything from a republican or socialist point
of view, the Agreement of 1998 is worse that the one
on 1972. For example, the 1972 Agreement had no obligation
to remove Articles Two and Three from the constitution
of the Twenty Six County State. That is just one example.
that is really the issue - was an armed struggle necessary
to achieve the Good Friday Agreement - whether we
agree or disagree with it? And I say No. Absolutely
Kelly: That is one issue. But what we are really
discussing is: how useful has this Good Friday Agreement
Meehan: OK, we can move on to that.
Kelly: Can you take up that point Killian : you
could have got what was offered in 1973 - as a matter
of fact you could have done better when Ted Heath
and Garret Fitzgerald signed the Sunningdale Agreement
Forde: The Sunningdale Agreement and the Good
Friday Agreement can be looked at - you can compare
the two of them as documents - but you cant
compare them in terms of society, from where we were
at the time. Militarily the conflict was hugely different.
Republicans would have felt that they were on a roll,
and that they could win the war by military means.
Kelly: This was in 1972-3?
Forde: Yes. They certainly would not have felt
there was any need to compromise, or to dissipate
any purist broad aims that they had at the time.
Kelly: But this had changed by 1998?
Forde: It probably did. What you had was realism.
A lot of the political analysis done was done by republicans,
young men who were given decades long sentences.
They thought through a strategy at the time. Sinn
Féin at the time was an inactive political
party. It was more than anything else, a social support
agency to the Irish Republican Army. It is arguable
whether Sunningdale was or was not better. It cant
be looked at by simply looking at two pieces of paper,
and comparing them in 2002. I think it is disingenuous
to do that. I just dont think it is particularly
relevant either. We have what we have now. We want
to move forward. It is a stepping stone as far as
we see it.
Kelly: It sounds like Michael Collins.
Forde: It is interesting. We talked, just there,
about the Treaty. We talked about what the Good Friday
Agreement did not have - for example, a foreign affairs
role. The Treaty of 1922 - the External Relations
Act - the Free State of that time was not supposed
to have a foreign affairs role. That changed in 1948
when the state was declared a republic. Our perception
is - and this is the beauty of the Good Friday Agreement
- it works as a peace treaty. People have different
perceptions of what it is. And our perception is that
it is a stepping stone. It is one treaty, and one
stepping stone away from a United Ireland.
Kelly: You are saying - lets be clear on
this - the Good Friday Agreement, from Sinn Féins
point of view, is a stepping stone to a United Ireland?
Forde: Yes, from Sinn Féins, point
Meehan: I always use as a headline on this - when
we refer to Michael Collinss support for the
Treaty of 1922 - my preferred term for that is that
is : the Treaty was a mill stone on the Irish working
class. I dont think that anyone within the republican
tradition would accept that the Treaty was a stepping
Kelly: Lets be clear - nobody within the
republican tradition would accept Collinss view
.. would not accept Collinss
view. It was not anything other than a move by the
British Government to enforce a partitionist settlement.
Kelly: That was 1922 - what about 1998?
Meehan: What about 1998? It is not disingenuous
to compare the Sunningdale and Good Friday Agreements.
They are essentially doing the same thing. They are
setting up an elected Government to run the Northern
Ireland state, that has guaranteed places for the
Catholic minority and the Protestant majority under
a power-sharing system. Essentially that is exactly
the same as was contained in the Sunningdale Agreement.
I will go back to saying there was no reason - no
justifiable reason - for running an armed struggle
to achieve that. None whatsoever.
Kelly: Just say that you are right. Say that the
Republican Movement looked back and said God,
we could have got that in Sunningdale. Lets
go for it now. Are they not right in doing that?
Meehan: Fair enough. People have the absolute
right to do whatever they think is the right thing
at the time.
Kelly: People have the right to change their minds?
Meehan: I agree. People have the right to change
their minds. I dont question that at all. I
am simply explaining to you, Joe, why I think the
Good Friday Agreement is, in all its essentials, the
same as Sunningdale. I am pointing out that Sinn Féin
has shifted its fundamental position on this question.
It is important to underline the reasons for that.
What the Good Friday Agreement is doing - and why
I think a cross-community Government, a Unionist-Nationalist
Government is a very bad thing
Joe Kelly: John, I want to come back to that.
Killian, you have changed your mind completely. You
have shifted your position. This is what John is saying.
Sinn Féin has changed fundamentally.
Forde: I dont think we have shifted our
position. We have shifted our approach. The shift
that was highlighted with Danny Morrisons very
famous Armalite in one hand, ballot box in the
other - we moved on. We decided that this is
not going to work in isolation. So therefore a different
approach was taken. We are now going for parliamentary
politics. The war goes on. We havent toned down
what our aim is.
Kelly: You mean the military war goes on? Is that
what you mean?
Forde: No. The battle goes on. It is just different
Kelly: Lets come to the actual Agreement
itself. John - nor so much looking back at Sunningdale
- Séamus Mallon has spoken of the Good Friday
Agreement being Sunningdale for Slow Learners
- you agreed with the ceasefire - you agreed with
Sinn Féin sitting around the table - at some
level, and talking - is that right? The republican
and loyalist groups - now, what did you want them
Meehan: I think it is a parallel position in the
26 counties. I think any party, like Sinn Féin,
which presents itself on the left - that goes in for
winning parliamentary seats - that is fair enough,
it pushes particular policies. You can argue about
that. But you dont - under any circumstances
- go into coalition Government with avowedly right
wing and pro-capitalist parties. This is where you
have a bizarre situation at the moment.
Kelly: But, it is a bizarre situation.
Meehan: There is a very simple tactical way out
of this. The same applies in the 6 and 26 counties.
Any party can stand for its position - it can put
forward a series of left wing positions - Sinn Féin
puts forward a lot of left wing policies - that is
fine. I agree with a lot of them. But, what I always
say - and I am used to saying this to people in the
Labour Party - and I have to say it Sinn Féin
now - it does not matter a damn what left wing policies
they go forward with, if they are leaving the door
open to going into coalition with right wing parties
- such as Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael in the south
- or the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP)
and the Unionists in the north.
Kelly: OK, that is what they should not do. What
should they do?
Meehan: In Stormont, they can do what they do
in the Dáil. They can go into opposition. They
can say These are our policies. We will not
take responsibility for this series of right wing
reactionary policies pursued by the Stormont administration.
Kelly: Killian - Martin McGuinness should not
have become Minister for Education? Sinn Féin
should be sitting on the opposition benches.
Forde: What can I say about this? No republicans
wanted Martin McGuinness as a minister in Stormont
- nobody wanted that.
Kelly: Martin McGuinness wanted it?
Forde: Im sure he didnt want it. This
galls us. This is a bitter pill to swallow. It is
the reality of where we have to get. I agree with
John on this. I agree with his broad view of what
left wing parties should and should not do. It is
ludicrous where you expect to be able to go into coalition
with a right wing party in this country, and somehow
manage to get your policies pushed through Government.
I dont think it has happened. But the reality
is that we do not have a normal democracy in Northern
Ireland, to use the official name of the state. So
we do not have a choice of going in and out of coalition.
We have to accept what we have, what the people signed
up for - and accept what the people wanted. This is
what the beloved workers so precious of socialists
- this is what is supported, and this is what is what
Kelly: They were not offered an alternative.
Forde: There is no alternative to the Good Friday
Kelly: John - There is no alternative.
Meehan: This is Maggie Thatcher land - TINA.
is always an alternative, if you look for one. As
a socialist - and this is a minority position, but
I think it is an entirely credible position - any
left-wing that runs with a certain number of policies
. lets take for example - and I think
it is a very clear one - Sinn Féins tactics
towards the war in Iraq and their attitude to the
US administration -
Forde: I would prefer if you would go back to
how Sinn Féin -
Meehan: I wont be interrupted -
Forde: This is a discussion about the Good Friday
Agreement. I would like to say this before we go on:
if you want to broaden it by making an attack on Sinn
Féin : fair enough. The listeners should be
more than aware that this is probably what it is going
to turn into. We are going to hear about nit-picking,
and we are going to hear about bin charges in Sligo,
about Gerry Adams meeting George Bush - and yak yak
yak. And there is no alternative suggested.
am not here to sit and debate about Sinn Féin,
and try and defend every single thing. If you want
to have a debate - have a debate. But lets not
turn it into an anti Sinn Féin rant. Because
it is tiring.
Meehan: Could I continue, please?
Kelly: Now, you are not to interrupt any more
Meehan: The reason Sinn Féin had to meet
Bush in Hillsborough, and the reason Sinn Féin
went to an absolutely disgusting public relations
event on St Patricks Day in the White House
: was because of the nature of the settlement in the
North. And because of its commitment to being in Government
in the 6 Counties.
Kelly: But John - without the American connection
- there would be no Agreement. Would that be right?
Meehan: There would be no problem about boycotting
these events except that Sinn Féin is tied
into the institutions of the state in the six counties.
Kelly: We know that, we know that
Meehan: You can see that is perfectly clear from
a number of people on the left - civil rights activists
and so on - including a number of TDs - who
called on Irish public representatives not meet Bush
and his representatives
Kelly: But, John, what you said there was that
Sinn Féin are tied into the Good Friday Agreement.
They are tied into it. And that is the reason they
take a very pragmatic approach. Is that not correct?
Kelly: And they will always do that once they
are tied in - that is what happens. They were very
much dependent on the American support during the
actual war. Is that not correct?
Forde: I would like to answer that. It is very
easy to look at the two meetings with George Bush,
in isolation again, and not look at what we did do
as a party - at great risk - and we received a lot
of editorial criticism for this in the States - whereby
Gerry Adams had met with Fidel Castro in Cuba in late
2001. He refused to testify before the congressional
committee on Colombia last year. We were very active
in the 26 counties in the anti-war protests. That
is something we know is not going to go down well
in our American audiences. It is certainly not going
to help us, by any means. We got slated for it. All,
again, people can see on the left - and all they will
pick is : Gerry Adams met George Bush. Hats
all you hear. You dont hear about when he did
something like meet Fidel Castro. Why would he meet
Fidel Castro - unless he believed Fidel Castro was
the sort of socialist revolutionary that he admired?
There is no political advantage in it whatsoever.
Meehan: Lets not shift this. There were
a number of organisations like Sinn Féin who
did this kind of thing. Gerry Adams is not alone -
if you want comparisons. The Egyptian Government said
it opposed the war with Iraq, yet allowed the American
Navy to go through the Gulf of Suez. The South African
Government said it opposed the war waged by the USA
- yet it allowed the Americans to use naval bases.
A small thing Sinn Féin could have done - and
where it would have made a difference - where everybody
would have noticed - is if it refused to meet Bush
in Hillsborough. That would have given a tremendous
boost and inspiration to the anti-war movement around
the world. I am saying it is one of many examples
where Sinn Féins left wing policies have
to be subordinated to involvement in a right wing
institution in the six counties.
..Furthermore - can I finish that
now? We obviously disagree on it. What people need
to look at is what I call the institutionalised sectarianism
of the particular arrangement in the six counties.
You effectively have a forced coalition - and guaranteed
seats depending on whether people call themselves
nationalists or unionists -
Kelly: Or other
Meehan: Very few call themselves other. It really
means - and this will become apparent over time -
once you have had one or two elections to the Stormont
Assembly - that 80 or 90 per cent off the voters can
turn out - there can be big swings towards Sinn Féin
on one side - towards the Democratic Unionist Party
(DUP) on the other - but what will actually result
from that? Very little. You will get a shift in ministerial
seats - there will be a shift between First Minister
and Deputy First Minister - perhaps between Nationalist
and Unionist - perhaps between he SDLP and Sinn Féin
- perhaps between the DUP and the Ulster Unionist
Party - One of the fascinating things going on at
the moment - people refer to the film Four Weddings
and a Funeral - I think we have had three suspensions,
four collapses how many farces in this thing? Really,
life has gone on since the most recent collapse of
the Stormont Assembly. Elections - in Scotland and
Wales they just went ahead - without anybody calling
into question the legitimacy of the institutions.
In the North, because the British Government does
not want them - it postpones them. Which clarifies,
actually, that the people who run the show still in
the six counties are the British Government? The main
decisions are taken by them at Westminster. Thats
Kelly: Killian that is a point many people have
made : what happened - the arrangements in the North
- institutionalise sectarianism. Do you agree with
Forde: Yes - broadly, I agree with that. What
we have is a problem whereby - again the sad reality,
and that is what it is - what is the alternative?
If you got rid of the institutionalised sectarianism
- lets call it that at its worst - as opposed
to power sharing - you can either call it power sharing
or institutionalised sectarianism. One or the other
- it is a matter of terminology really. That is basically
what you are doing. You are institutionalising two
different identities, forcing them to work together
in a coalition. It probably does institutionalise
sectarianism in that there is not much political capital
to be made out of the middle ground. I would hope
- and this I would imagine is the design of the Agreement
- that as the political process works the middle ground
grows larger. Or that what is called the extreme ends
of it - say, for instance, the DUP and Sinn Féin
came together - the problems between the two, over
time, are reduced to the extent that you can have
normal functioning institutions without having rules
setting out who has to work with whom.
Kelly: OK. We are coming near the end, believe
it or not. We have raced away. So. Lets have
a look at the future through the eyes of the Good
Friday Agreement. John, do you see any hope with the
Good Friday Agreement? Generally speaking, it has
stopped the war.
Meehan: It has brought an end to the war. But
I dont think it has resolved the fundamental
problem. People should go back to the discussions
pre 1969, and have a look at the level of sectarian
discrimination between the two communities. You will
find - there is lots of literature on this - that
the levels of discrimination between, by and large,
the Protestant community and the Catholic community
- remain very large.
Kelly: You are saying that power sharing has not
abated that at all? Martin McGuinness and Bairbre
de Brún does not help end the sectarianism
Meehan: People can go and look at the socio-economic
figures, and it will show that. The other thing that
is very disturbing, from the point of view of the
nature of the northern state. There have been periods
when there has been no war, and then there has been
a big eruption. The particularly bad thing that has
been happening is what some commentators have called
the balkanisation of the community. By
that they mean there is an increasing tendency where
there are 100 per cent Catholics in 1 area - and 100
per cent protestants in another area - and there is
very little inter-reaction between the two. I have
lots of friends in the North in that situation - it
is a powder keg which will blow again.
Kelly: How would it help if Sinn Féin were
Meehan: If Sinn Féin had done that it would
help towards the construction of a more democratic
choice - there would be a better future for people
- it would focus more on social and economic issues
- lets face the reality. I welcome that all
the IRA people were released under the terms of the
Good Friday Agreement. But in previous campaigns which
collapsed, they were simply released. Under this one
- because of the way the thing has been written -
they are only out on license - they can be dragged
back if the state wants it. I firmly that if the IRA
had simply called a ceasefire back in the early 1990s
- and had then campaigned for a general amnesty -
I am quite sure the British Government would have
been forced to do that.
Kelly: Lets not
.Killian, what has
been good about the Good Friday Agreement for the
nationalists in the North?
Forde: Again, just to point out: I am not here
to defend the Good Friday Agreement. We support it
as a party, but it is a political position we took
as a least worst option. I think what it has done
is that it has given nationalism a focus - and I think
this is really important - it has given nationalism
a new sense of pride. It has given a new sense of
aggressiveness. They dont feel ashamed or put
down upon. Thats on both sides of the border.
You see a rise of Sinn Féin based on the fact
that nationalism is no longer a dirty word. It is
something that is recognised that is hand in hand
with democracy, as it was in the 19th century. It
is very important that people are a lot more assertive
about their own rights. What it has done tangibly
is difficult to say. You cant really do a report
card on it at the moment. It is a bad time to do a
report card. The latest collapse - the deferral of
Kelly: It has got a red card.
Forde: With the process you are looking at - you
have the ombudsman in terms of policing - policing
is far from being satisfactory - we have the human
rights mainstreamed within that society. We have a
debate going on with Unionism about their future.
We are not looking at a situation where we are trying
. we are not waiting for the Catholic plus
one. One more Catholic than everybody else, then we
have a United Ireland by consent - that wont
work. Everybody has to be on board. Compromises have
to be sought. Things have to be on the table.
Kelly: We are going to leave it there. We have
only barely scratched the surface. Would you two be
prepared to come back again?
Meehan: No problem.
Kelly: I want to say thank you very much to Killian
Forde and John Meehan for unravelling a little bit
of the Good Friday Agreement for listeners. Thank
you and goodbye.
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