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'What is Happening in the Peace Process?': Speech by Marjorie (Mo) Mowlam, then Secretary of State, (1 September 1999)

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Speech by Marjorie (Mo) Mowlam, then Secretary of State, at Ulidia Integrated College, Carrickfergus, 1 September 1999

What is Happening in the Peace Process?

"What I wanted to do this morning and I hope the students don't get too bored is I wanted to, because there are children your age that ask me questions, like what is happening, what is going to happen next, what are they up to and particularly at this time, over the last weekend for example, a lot of people stopped me and they said, you know, where are we going, there was a lot of concern about and even at the concert at Slane with Robbie Williams a lot of young people came up and said, what is happening, we need to know?

So I thought what I would try and do is just give a quick idea from where I sit as to what I think is going on and I think the real truth is that last week was a very tough week for people in Northern Ireland especially for the relatives of Charles Bennett, for the families of those who have been exiled by the IRA or Loyalist thugs and for Nationalists in Larne and elsewhere who have been petrol bombed by Loyalist and for the police who have been subjected to a wild speculation about their future without anybody knowing the facts.

And I think it has been tough for everyone here who had hoped that we had left the years of violence and the politics of violence behind us. But the question that we really have to answer this morning is very simple, what on earth do we do next?

Now, nobody wants, I presume, to give up. But I don't think anybody wants to go back to the days when parties didn't speak to each other, back to the days when people used to kill each other, day in day out, week in week out. I know that's not, that's what no one wants to go back to.

But the reality is that unless there is a proper working political settlement that both sides can live with, unless the peace here is accepted by the whole community, terrorism will be difficult to defeat completely, that's the reality.

People know the Good Friday Agreement is the best bet we have but unless there is confidence across the whole community, it simply won't work. Which is why as Secretary of State I have to keep trying to build their confidence even though people sometimes say I am naive to do so.

To me it is not naive it is an essential part of the process of making that Agreement work and it is essential that confidence exists on both sides. Sometimes what I do or don't do as Secretary of State leaves me open to criticism of bias.

In fact throughout the last two years both sides at different times have accused me of favouring the other so I think that is just bound to happen especially when people are trying to cope with change. What I have to do is stick to my principles of fairness, justice, equality and act according to the law and in the interests of the whole community.

While I believe people want the Agreement to work and recognise that it has to be accepted by both sides, I also understand that there is a great deal of concern about recent events and recent acts of violence. The murder of Charles Bennett, the planned importation of arms from Florida and the threat against teenagers are always genuine concerns about the status of the IRA ceasefire.

The series of Loyalist petrol bombs and pipebomb attacks have raised genuine concerns about the commitment of some on the other side and these concerns are made worse by the lack of progress by the participants in the political process.

Both sides are now asking the other, are you really serious and unfortunately both sides seem all too willing to complicate the possibility of failure. But I ask people to remember just how far we have come. How much difference the ceasefires are making to life in Northern Ireland. Anyone who regularly goes out, walks a street, goes shopping here knows that.

What we are doing is not about appeasement, not turning a blind eye but trying to help this society end its historic conflict and I believe that the basic desire is still there despite all the recent problems and that is why the parties should be in there talking to each other in the Mitchell review next week and not walking away. Now I know how tough that is especially on those who support the Agreement and have rivals and opponents sniping at the sidelines and I have to just say reading the papers this morning, the sniping is also from the Conservative Party, now that disappoints me because I believe that bi-partisanship has been an important part of this process and it is disappointing if they appear to be backing off from that, I don't think that will help the process at all.

Yet there are brave ones here who hold their nerve and are now taking Northern Ireland forward to the future not back to the past but in some places the past is still with us like the threat made to the young people over the weekend on both sides.

But let no one be in any doubt I condemn the kangaroo courts of any kind, they are wrong. The way to deal with juvenile delinquency is through the police and through the courts, that is my bottom line. But life in Northern Ireland is sometimes not as straightforward as it would be elsewhere. When the IRA ordered teenagers to leave Dungannon last week, some at least, a small number in the local community, supported that action because they said they could not support the police.

Now that as I say I find very disturbing. But it is a reality that we have to deal with and the reality behind part of the Patten Commission on policing and its work. Again not because we are in the business of appeasing critics of the RUC but because we have to find a way forward for policing which helps the force to be accepted as widely as possible in both communities, and makes events like last week as unimaginable as they should be.

We in the Government want a modern effective police service in every part of the United Kingdom. That is a goal we had as a party long before the Good Friday Agreement. In opposition we made clear our desire to see a police service which was more balanced, with more women, better equipped to face the challenges of a peaceful society, a goal underlined in our manifesto. And the need to change was accepted by the parties in the Good Friday Agreement because they recognised that it provided the opportunity and we quote "for a police service capable of attracting and sustaining support across the community as a whole". That is why they agreed on and independent commission which is now due to report. And that is why one of the one of the main responsibilities for implementing that Report lies with the Government.

I will begin discussions with the parties as soon as possible when they have had a chance to consider it. While the need for change has been at the core of Government policy for a long time, I also recognise that the process of change is difficult for those currently serving in the RUC. It is not an easy time and it is not made any easier by the press speculation. I do not know what is in the Patten Report, I have no idea. All I know is that I will wait until it is published before I pass judgement and I would ask others to do the same.

That is the time to debate its contents, not now. But I also know the Government, and as human beings, that we are fully aware of the sacrifice made by the RUC and their families in the last 30 years and we need therefore handle any change sensitively which doesn't mean, as some have suggested, putting our paramilitaries in charge of local law enforcement, that would be both insane and wrong.

Nor leaving any community in Northern Ireland without the proper protection they need. Where change is needed it is sensible, practical, well managed and in the interests of the whole community and I will make sure that those affected by anything Chris Patten recommends are dealt with generously and sympathetically as the Prime Minister promised they would be in the timescale that is sensible for the families concerned and the security situation. Because change is hard for people to take, it takes courage as people here today understand only too well.

As the Headmaster says integrated education has never been an easy dream for people to have in Northern Ireland and I think that the Ulidia Governors know that better than most. But if you say to the 11,000 odd children in the 44 schools in Northern Ireland, it is now a reality which many parents have worked very hard to achieve.

Can I end by congratulating you on your success this year in getting the money from Europe and I wish you well in your efforts in the future and I assure you you have my support. What you have done to overcome problems and find answers is exactly what people in Northern Ireland can do together if they build on a common vision for the future."

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