CAIN Web Service

Speech by the Secretary of State Peter Mandelson, at the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, 21 March 2000

[KEY_EVENTS] [Key_Issues] [Conflict_Background]
PEACE: [Menu] [Summary] [Reading] [Background] [Chronology_1] [Chronology_2] [Chronology_3] [Articles] [Agreement] [Sources]

Research: Fionnuala McKenna
Material is added to this site on a regular basis - information on this page may change

Speech by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Mandelson, at the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, Berkeley Court Hotel, Dublin, 21 March 2000

Spending St Patrick's Day in Washington may not seem to many audiences to entail much hard work, but with most of Northern Ireland's political elite there and several colleagues from Dublin it was almost another day in the office.

But I return with good news about the potential for Irish Guinness and American hospitality to move this process forward.

My only complaint is that the quarantine laws prevented me from taking Bobby to his first St Paddy's Day celebration. But, then, as it is said that Northern Ireland is now being ruled by three men and a dog, somebody had to stay at home to mind the shop!

We have used this time to take stock. It is now time to quicken the pace.

We have a clear goal: to revive the institutions at the earliest possible date. That requires the support of both Northern Ireland's traditions. Both need the confidence to proceed.

We cannot foist a solution upon anybody. The days in which Governments could impose their will from on high are long gone.

Only the political parties - unionists, loyalists, nationalists and republicans working together - can agree a way forward. Only they can build a consensus strong enough to resist the inevitable pressures and tensions inherited from thirty years of armed conflict.

Together, with the full support and commitment of the British and Irish Governments, they must find answers to difficult questions:

  • how can we all be sure, now that the guns are silent, that they will stay silent and that any threat of a return to war has gone for ever?
  • and how can we maintain the political progress made under the Good Friday Agreement so that all parties feel it is being implemented in ways that are consistent with the principle of consent?

This process is not going to be easy. It cannot be reduced to the simple proposition: 'which comes first, the guns or the government?'.

It is about giving each other the long-term certainty and the comfort they need to carry their respective supporters to make politics work. But it is also about showing leadership, about taking some risks in the process, and preparing each constituency for change.

Not concessions, not a sell-out, not betrayal. Those words belong to another era. But accommodation, understanding and trust.

So as we move forward we must bring everybody with us. We cannot implement some parts and conveniently forget about others. Whatever speed we employ in each area - and this will depend on reality on the ground - the destination must be clear in each category of the Agreement.

And, above all, the context for implementation must be the sure knowledge - unambiguously stated - that violence will never again play a part in Northern Ireland politics. This is not an unreasonable demand; it is not being obstructive. But it is a genuine and widespread anxiety that must be addressed in one form or another.

Yes the guns are silent. That is a huge advance. But we must find a way to eliminate the fear that those silenced weapons will ever again fire in anger, and to maintain our security and our protection in the meantime.

To understand this, you only have to look at events in recent weeks. The sickening rise in paramilitary attacks. Or the 500lb of explosives - the work of dissident republicans - that was intercepted near Hillsborough last week, following the army base attack in Ballykelly and the rocket discovery in Dungannon.

On these occasions only the effective and professional efforts of the RUC and the Garda prevented devastation and, potentially, heavy loss of life. We all owe both a deep dept of gratitude. And I have had no hesitation in canceling the early release license of the former prisoner who was connected with the Hillsborough find.

These incidents demonstrate that there is still a significant level of threat from groups opposed to the peace process, against which no responsible politician would drop his guard.

It represents not just a threat to people's lives but a direct and undemocratic challenge to the will of the people of all this island, North and South, who voted so overwhelmingly for the Good Friday Agreement.

Of course all of us in Government, in the RUC and in the Army, want to see Northern Ireland return to normal.

We have already made significant progress, including the closure or demolition of 26 Army bases and the withdrawal of over 3,500 troops from Northern Ireland since the ceasefires, and the reduction of Army patrolling to about a third of the level at the time of the Good Friday Agreement.

And last week the Chief Constable announced that, for the first time since 1969, there will be no Army battalion on tour in Belfast.

We hope to take further steps in due course, but only on an assessment that the threat has genuinely receded.

I am sure this will be clearly understood between the two Governments.

In recent years the relationship between Britain and Ireland has undergone a quiet revolution.

For too long we were separate islands, linked only by our shared focus on Northern Ireland.

But we have a great deal more in common than that. We are each proving that economic growth and social cohesion can flourish together. We are major trading partners and have a significant interest in each other's markets. We both know that that world is a fiercely competitive place and it will only get fiercer.

Economically we must modernise or die.

Ireland is the very model of a dynamic, modern economy.

Led by an imaginative and business-friendly Government, Irish businessmen and women have risen to the central economic challenge of the 21st Century: the development of the knowledge-driven economy.

It will bring opportunities, discoveries and challenges that our minds cannot even conceive of today.

And it presents us with a simple choice: we can do what we've always done and lose out. Or we can transform the economic landscape, with the simple tool of human intelligence.

Modern networking technologies mean that goods, services and information flow from invention to market to consumer faster than ever.

And this e-revolution is transforming everything from the way we do business to the way we live our lives.

We must do more to exploit the commercial application of these technological advances. We must encourage more investment and spread the benefits more widely.

It is not enough to be a part of this revolution; we must lead it. We must tap every last ounce of potential that it has to offer.

This age of opportunity Ireland has embraced to the full. Your success is staggering: 1,200 foreign owned companies, creating 116,000 jobs - GDP growth in 1999 of 8.4% and GNP growth of 7.4%.

I want to recreate that dynamism and that success in the north. Why only one Celtic Tiger? Why not offspring?

Today's unprecedented level of North-South co-operation is one of the pillars of Northern Ireland's economic life. Indeed the Dublin Chamber of Commerce is a significant contributor, with close links to its counterpart in Northern Ireland, particularly in the field of e-commerce.

Our trade and tourism links are healthy. Ever more companies from Ireland are investing in the north.

But we must be more ambitious. And we must look further than the shores of this island if we are to progress.

Ireland's success and Britain's success depends on Europe's success.

Europe's single market is our home market. Millions of jobs in both our countries depend on it. Billions in overseas investment has only come here because we are both part of it.

The Special European Summit in Lisbon this week is of historic importance. Both our countries want Lisbon to set a new strategic goal for Europe to become the most successful knowledge based economy in the world, combining economic dynamism with social justice.

By making innovation and knowledge the central focus of the policy agenda in both Member States and the Union itself, Europe's leaders can ensure that, in this new decade, the EU becomes the most successful region in the world in terms of economic growth and employment while at the same time retaining and enhancing social cohesion.

Last week the British and Irish Governments produced a joint statement specifying the concrete outcomes we both want from Lisbon - on education and lifelong learning, to create a Europe of innovation and enterprise, equipped to tackle social exclusion.

Social cohesion is not an optional extra to greater economic success. It is a precondition. The information society and knowledge economy can never achieve their full potential if participation remains confined to an elite.

Today, I believe, Northern Ireland stands on the verge of joining the league of dynamic, European economies. But time and again businessmen and women tell us that the one factor that would make all the difference is devolution - inclusive government that is stable and works in the interests of all.

Northern Ireland cannot stand alone. And we cannot afford to stand still.

But my message is a positive one: this Government will not shy away from change - political or economic. In partnership with business we can take this new world by the scruff of the neck. We will shape it and make it work for us.

Because we can fashion a new Northern Ireland. A modern, competitive culture of enterprise. A society that has put the past firmly behind it and looks to the future with confidence.

A place which can finally enjoy what other democracies take for granted: unbreakable peace and political inclusion for all its citizen, enjoying the shared fruits of steady economic growth.

CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.

go to the top of this page go to the top of this page
Last modified :