Bringing It All Back Hume


From top: John  Hume, Bertie Ahern and Gerry Adams following the IRA ceasfire in 1997; Derek Mooney

By the time you get to read this I will be in Belfast attending one of several special events to mark 20 years of the Good Friday Agreement.

One of those, at Queen’s University entitled: Building Peace, and organised by the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at QUB, is described as:

“…the only one of its kind to gather together so many of the key influencers on the Good Friday Agreement to mark its 20-year anniversary.”

It is not an idle boast.

The former US Special Envoy for Northern Ireland, and recent star of RTÉ One’s Ray Darcy Show, will be joined by former US President Bill Clinton, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, as well as many other key players including: Seamus Mallon, Gerry Adams, Jonathan Powell, David Trimble and Peter Robinson.

It is a stellar and fascinating line up of those both in front of and behind the scenes. It is an opportunity to recall the huge efforts of the leaders who drove the process and to at last pay tribute to those countless men and women behind the scenes who did so much of the heavy lifting, including the many dedicated civil servants on both sides who worked so diligently to get the process across the line.

We rightly recall the huge endorsement the Agreement received both North and South of the border: 71% in the North and 95% in the South, but it is also important to reflect on just how close to failure this process came, right up to the final hours and days.

This is something we should bear in mind as we bemoan the failure of this generation of political leaders, particularly those in the DUP and Sinn Féin to either sustain and re-establish the institutions that were handed to them via that 1998 sovereign decision of the people, North and South.

Sadly, declining health means that the event will be without the principal designer and imaginer of the architecture and form of the Good Friday Agreement: John Hume.

In a blogpost yesterday, RTÉ’s Northern Editor, Tommie Gorman put it succinctly:

More than any other individual – living or dead – John Hume managed to put a stop to the awful killing. The Good Friday Agreement is testimony to the genius of his imagination, the wizardry of his words and the generosity of his spirit.

If anything, Gorman’s words are an understatement.

The three-stranded structure of the Good Friday Agreement, that recognised the three distinct, yet interconnected, strands of relationships between (1) the two communities in the North, (2) the two parts of this Island – North/South and (3) our two islands – East/West, was a key element of Hume’s analysis and provides the framework around which the agreement is built.

Hume recognised, as others had done before him in conflicts across the globe, that all conflict is about difference, whether that difference is race, religion or nationality.

As he said in his December 1998 Nobel Lecture:

“The European visionaries decided that difference is not a threat, difference is natural. Difference is of the essence of humanity. Difference is an accident of birth and it should therefore never be the source of hatred or conflict. The answer to difference is to respect it. Therein lies a most fundamental principle of peace – respect for diversity.

The peoples of Europe then created institutions which respected their diversity… but allowed them to work together in their common and substantial economic interest.

They spilt their sweat and not their blood and by doing so broke down the barriers of distrust of centuries and the new Europe has evolved and is still evolving, based on agreement and respect for difference.”

The European visionaries Hume refers to here are the founding fathers of the European Union, men such as Robert Schuman, Jean Monnet, Konrad Adenauer, Paul-Henri Spaak and – though it might upset the Tories and their DUP cronies – Winston Churchill.

These men had learned that the only way to get diverse, even polarised, communities to stop focusing on their differences and identities was to shift that focus to their common interests.

That is what Hume strove to do and, in that work, he had many partners, though not all as willing or even as nuanced in their thinking.

There is a reason why Hume took so much of his inspiration from the story of post war Europe. While his slogans and rhetoric come from the American Civil Rights movement and the charismatic leadership of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, the structures and institutional frameworks he favoured were distinctly European.

Hume was a great believer in Europe and the EU and saw in it and in Ireland and the UK’s joint membership of the EU, a way to gradually dismantle the border.

As the member states of the EU slowly came together to work in closer cooperation and partnership and to form a single market and a customs union, the borders between those members states started to come down and that included Ireland and the UK.

He also saw, as did both governments, that joint membership of the EU (originally the EEC) since 1973 helped the two governments develop and improve day-to-day working relations, as ministers and officials from both interacted in Brussels in pursuit of common interests.

Personal and political relationships grew, not least those between John Major and Albert Reynolds, as they served together on the EU’s ECOFIN council of Finance Ministers. T

he development of that relationship led directly to the Downing Street Declaration, which in turn paved the way for the Good Friday Agreement.

Anyone who tells you that the EU is not central to the Good Friday Agreement clearly does not know what they are talking about, especially those who repeatedly assert that the words: ‘Europe’ and the ‘European Union’ do not appear in the Agreement. They do, several times.

This juvenile effort to use Brexit to run a coach and four through both the spirit and the letter of the Agreement is their response to the way that Britain’s Article 50 Brexit negotiations have floundered. The Agreement has done more to stymie the talks than almost any other issue, even money.

But once again the Brexiteers miss the beauty of the basic architecture of the agreement. As Bertie Ahern, Colum Eastwood and countless others have pointed out recently, the
Agreement is still relevant today as we struggle to cope with the fall out of Brexit.

The three-strand approach that underpins the Agreement can also be a template for how the North (and the South) can avoid some of the harder consequences of Brexit.

This is what has informed Micheál Martin’s call for Northern Ireland to become a Special Economic Zone (NISEZ), a call he first made in early 2017 and has repeated several times since.

Some months ago, I helped put together a discussion paper, with a colleague, on how it might operate, based on how it has worked successfully elsewhere. An example, to use Hume-speak, of how you focus on common interests not different identities – the antithesis of how the UK is pursuing Brexit.

It is right this week that we take time to commemorate the achievements of 1998. Sadly, we cannot celebrate it as we might wish as the institutions are not up and running now and it has not always delivered on its potential but, we can still remind ourselves what is possible from all sides and almost all parties, when we focus on common interests and have the vision to look just a bit beyond the next electoral cycle.

While it is tempting to wish we could have another Hume or Mallon today, it is not necessary. The strength of their vision and the skill of them and others from Sinn Féin, the UUP, Alliance, the Women’s Coalition and all the other smaller parties, remain available to us via the architecture of the Good Friday Agreement.

So, let’s enjoy the commemorations this week and when they end, let us return to making what we have just commemorated, work.

Derek Mooney is a communications and public affairs consultant. He previously served as a Ministerial Adviser to the Fianna Fáil-led government 2004 – 2010. His column appears here every Tuesday Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney

Eamonn Farrell/Rollingnews

57 thoughts on “Bringing It All Back Hume

  1. Bull Duggan

    You wonder how a vacuous spiv like Varadkar would have coped in those days.
    Derided on the international stage as a pound shop Justin Turdeau who is himself a subject of ridicule you despair that the future of this country is in the hands of such a
    pecksniffian peacock.

        1. Nigel

          Don’t get me wrong a bit of invective aimed at those in power always warms the heart but there’s a lot of pure weird babble. dav’s been looking like a reasonable across-the-aisle type by comparison lately.

      1. LeopoldGloom

        Weird but warranted. He’s a completely self absorbed, image focused person who has offered absolutely nothing when either in opposition, in either of his 2 ministerial positions or now as Taoiseach.

        A spoofer of the highest order. The only positive is, at least he’s not Bertie

        1. Brother Barnabas

          i’d guess that even FG fans would find it hard to disagree with this – varadkar has been 10 times worse than i feared he’d be. i’d take coveney over him at this point.

        2. Nigel

          Meh. That’s all superficial stuff that doesn’t really warrant the hate. (Er, except for the actual policy failures of course.) It occurs to me that it’s being done by supporters of other parties, or other political ideologies, and if that’s true isn’t it odd how party support is expressed here in entirely negative attacks and diatribes with no countering positive arguments for whatever party or political project they support? I’m jaded with parties myself but I don’t think this is a good thing. Maybe it’s just Broadsheet or maybe these people really have nothing but endless hate to offer?

      1. david

        Bertie delivered the good Friday agreement as did Clinton Blair
        The EU played no part and fine Gael and what was DL which now is part of labour also wrecked it
        Adams also delivered it but Mary lou ?
        They cannot even resolve power sharing
        Very dangerous

        1. ahjayzis

          To be fair, it was an old fashioned corruption scandal that ended power sharing. Labour down here would have walked out on Fine Gael if they had been guilty of the same offence.

          I really do think Sinn Fein are more sinned against than sinning over the deadlock now. They’ve comrpomised, the DUP haven’t – and their Westminster MP’s are quashing any deal as their coalition with May comes first.

    1. david

      Well the warnings have been issued from the loyalist paramilitaries and from George Mitchel
      Reminding little Leo verruca and his Ireland’s got talent cabinet that things could fall apart
      Sadly we have no strong government in the UK no strong government in the republic and a moron as teashock .
      Last time we had a fine Gael government in the dail the good Friday agreement faulted and violence reared its ugly head
      The Easter Monday display by the terrorist wing of Sinn feinn sent the wrong message to the north
      A deadly serious threat is hovering in the background and our LAPO regime maybe thinks pesco will be the card they have up their sleeve

        1. david

          Expand please politic
          All public record and stated fact
          So you think paramilitaries marching on Easter Monday is the done thing do you?
          And the words of George Mitchel are nonsense?

          1. italia'90

            You are just talking nonsense ……………………………….as usual.
            Expanded enough for you?

  2. snowey

    a great article but that was 20years ago

    now it’s time to follow the british out fo europe and cement the peace process


      1. david

        He has a point
        Brexit is the single most dangerous thing facing the GFA
        The EU with its FU UK will ensure its beyond repair
        Mark my words
        Varadka has not one clue

          1. david

            They are on the EU side
            We are part of 27 nations and all will not have the threat of a civil war on their island or land
            Ireland problems mean nothing to them, it will not result in terrorist acts from Irish paramilitaries on their soil
            Judging by what we got after the crash is an indication of how we will be treated
            Remember the statement of bomb going off in Dublin if we did not pay the bankers
            Before the EU there was trade and after the EU there will be trade
            Just means we must negotiate our own
            The UK voted out because of an EU which was unbending and refused point blank to reform
            They try and destroy the UK they are as a result going to destroy us
            And they will.

          2. Cu Cullan

            This from a guy who want to keep the vile and inhuman 8th in our constitution. Who cares what you think.

          3. Nigel

            Nah the UK voted to exit because the leave side lied through their teeth about every aspect of leaving and are now floundering spectacularly and, they never gave a moment’s thought to Ireland.

          4. ReproBertie (SCU)

            Let’s just take one example of your scattergun nonsense at a time. How are the EU trying to destroy the UK?

          1. david

            Cu Cullen you have not read one of my posts properly
            I stated I would not support repeal because what is replacing the eight will not be on the ballot paper
            My concern is abortion on demand will be introduced in the future and abortion of handicapped babies could be the result
            I have a mentally handicapped nephew
            I do not believe in abortion on demand but abortion in certain circumstances
            Once something is removed from the constitution people have no chance of shopping pending laws which we could regret
            Stop twisting peoples views

  3. RuilleBuille

    The 26 counties politicians and media vilified and traduced John Hume for talking to Sinn Fein.

    It wasn’t until Albert Reynolds came on the scene that small changes came about.

    1. david

      John Hume
      A man who got shafted and was the fall guy
      If it was not for him there would of been no GFA
      Its such a pity we do not have him now as the GFA is about to crumble
      Judging by the display in Dublin on Easter Monday of the spectre of paramilitaries marching on our capitals street we see how clueless verruca’s Ireland has talent cabinet is and a insight into what Mary Lou is going to bring.
      She is no Gerry Adams or martin mc Guinness who were tired of all the fighting and confrontation

  4. Joe Small

    Its strange that, along with Hume, we owe such much to Reynolds and Ahern, two disgraced former Taoisigh. Bruton, whatever you may think of him, wasn’t overtly corrupt, nearly destroyed the “f**king peace process”.
    Who would have thought that history would look back so kindly on John Major?

    1. Andyourpointiswhatexactly?

      All I can ever think of with John Major is him and Edwina Currie at it. MY EYES!

      1. david

        You have a short memory.
        The john brutal and democratic left government were in power as the good Friday agreement faulted
        The IRA or Provo’s launched a few terrorist attacks killing a few people
        It took change of government in the UK and the republic before it got back on track
        Maybe because democratic left did not want Sinn feinn as a bode fide political force due to the fact half of DL were failed republican politicians from parties like the workers party
        Pronsis derossa was a member of Sinn feinn at one stage in fact half the old wing of the labour party are from groups like that

        1. ReproBertie (SCU)

          Speaking of short memories, the various Republican groups march every Easter. What made this one so terrifying for you?

          1. david

            I do every day especially every time I touch food
            Blog something intelligent will you instead of the usual insults

        1. Andrew

          Oh david! Someone asks a question and you respond in this way. What’s the matter? is everything okay in your life? You seem rather angry.

          1. david

            Really Andrew you seem such the expert on the subject but ask such a stupid question
            Anyone living through those days simply could not of forgotten what happened when fine Gael and democratic left were in charge.
            The trouble with our country is the powers at be want to bury the truth which angers me
            I see my country slipping back into those dark days and the present administration letting it
            And we will all have to live with the consequences,

    2. david

      Maybe its because the children posting these comments never lived through the Ireland of the past
      And are so nieve that this murder could happen yet again
      Look at the parade in Dublin on Easter Monday by the armed wing of Sinn feinn
      It was an obscene show for all that value political solutions over thuggery.
      If this is Sinn feinn under Mary lou I see return to violence

      1. Cian

        There are republican marches every Easter in Dublin as long as I can remember… there is also one in Bray AFAIK. This isn’t something new.

  5. SOQ

    Of course the DUP never signed up to the GFA and have been determined to wreck it ever since. Blair is puzzled by their Brexit stance but it is hardly surprising as UK leaving EU means a wider separation between north and south Ireland, at least in the short term.

    1. david

      Actually when they were the alliance party members they did
      Strange those who pertaining to be experts in political subjects like yourself are quite clueless
      Seems Sinn feinn use the Irish language to stop them being involved in the northern Ireland assembly and kissing the queens bottom as an excuse not to sit in parliament
      So they sit there moaning and strutting like peacocks in obscene displays of terrorist units marching on easter Monday
      Meanwhile tick tock the clock is ticking re brexit
      Maybe they should twin with Gaza and march with their chums Hamas

    2. ReproBertie (SCU)

      “Some of my Unionist friends are saying for the first time to me, ‘exactly how would I be worse off in a united Ireland [compared to Brexit Britain]?’ The answer is they wouldn’t be worse off. The Unionist majority will not be around for very much longer… nationalism is now energised. Brexit is an existential threat to the UK.” – Mike Nesbitt, Former leader of the UUP.


      1. david

        Nice try from the SCUnit Bertie
        Bit like saying Jews vote for Hamas
        And why would brexit be a threat to the UK?
        Historically speaking the third Reich was a threat to the UK and we all know how that ended.
        The forth Reich in its present mentality will go exactly the same way
        With Germany in the driving seat its only a matter of time.
        The UK will thrive out of the EU but short term it will be tough
        We on the other hand will be screwed as the EU do their best to destroy the UK

        1. ReproBertie (SCU)

          Do you understand what a quote is?

          As to why Sasamach would be a threat to the UK:
          This will be the first time since the war there’s been five consecutive years of 1.5% growth or below.
          The Nursing and Midwifery Council says applications from EU nurses to work in the UK have fallen by 89% since the referendum.
          The number of EU nurses and midwives leaving the UK increased by 67% last year.
          Food prices are growing at their fastest rate in 4 years.
          The Government has been forced to publish its own analysis showing a free trade agreement with the EU will leave growth 4.8% lower than if we were still in the EU.

          1. david

            If you want to post in Gaelic to show how smart you are post the whole thing not just one word it fools no one
            All these things you quote mean nothing as they are being banded around to scare people
            Tell me how many Irish nurses prefer to work within our health service
            As for food prices and others here well I rest my case

          2. ReproBertie (SCU)

            All those things are facts about the impact of Sasamach in Britain and they mean a lot, particularly to people who can see the disaster unfolding while the British Taoiseach does nothing and her Aire Sasamach thrashes about for someone to blame. Little wonder unionists are contemplating a future in a United Ireland.

            I understand that these facts are disappointing for you, being such a fan of Sasamach, but facts, as John Adams said, are stubborn things “and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence”.

          3. Papi

            “All these things you quote mean nothing as they are being banded around to scare people”

            Direct quote from yourself there, davy boy, now wash your filthy hands.

  6. Truth in the News

    There would be no GFA if Adams and McGuiness did not put their heads on the line and however
    they did it to get the hardliners to agree, the Blairs, the Clintons and Berties did a bit spoofing and
    coaxing, with Mitchel fronting for them, but the DUP opposed the agreement and still want it destroyed
    and revert back the Unionist Monoply Rule, however their dominance is gone, and at this stage all
    they are doing is speeding up unification… person forgotten in all of this is the late Albert Reyonlds
    The is also the well concealed policy that for years like previous discrimination that tried to neutralize
    the Shinners….and it didn’t work in fact it achieved the opposite, there are lot secret files in this country
    that need dusting down, and quite a large proportion in the media too, and the not to be forgotten Catholic
    Church, how were they compromised with their hidden scandals in the north, that the British were well
    aware of…..remember Cathal Daly trumpeting about the “Men of Voilence”…he never mentioned the
    rot in his own dunghill.

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