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Statement by the Secretary of State, Peter Mandelson, 9 November 1999

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Research: Fionnuala McKenna
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Speech by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Mandelson, at the Ireland Fund of Great Britain lunch, 9 November 1999.

"Peace in Northern Ireland is not going to be made by means of smoke and mirrors. It is going to be made by local politicians - Unionists, Nationalists and Republicans.

The best efforts of the few supported by the irresistible will of the many. There is no other way. It is what is happening in Stormont as we speak. Ten weeks into the Mitchell Review of the Good Friday Agreement we are now reaching the end of this chapter.

The Ireland Fund of Great Britain has a similar pedigree and I pay tribute to those small numbers who have worked hard to build it up in order to benefit so many others.

Its ability to raise funds is impressive: over US$100m since its inception. Your ability to deploy those funds fairly and effectively, under the auspices of Maurice Hayes' Advisory Committee, is more impressive still.

Long before Government had thought of using the term, the Ireland Fund was taking a joined-up approach towards peace and reconciliation in the island of Ireland.

They understood that there is no simple, single way to achieve peace and reconciliation, but nurtured, patiently, in a variety of different ways.

So the very cornerstone of the Fund's work is empowerment.

Through its cultural work it has fostered understanding; through its social work it has healed wounds; through its economic work it has given people north and south a glimpse of the potential rewards of peace.

If we are to achieve the permanent peace and stability that the people of Ireland and Northern Ireland crave, we must build that spirit of empowerment into the very fibre of Northern Ireland's constitution.

For Unionists, the empowerment that comes with the knowledge that a constitutional settlement has been reached, based on the principle of consent fully given, relieved of the pressure from guns and violence.

For Nationalists and Republicans, the empowerment that comes with the free expression of their identity and aspiration, no longer excluded from their place in Government that is rightly theirs.

I want this sense of empowerment to provide the driving force of a new civic society, built from the ruins of a country rent apart by violence and ill-will.

This is a civic society which must thrive on debate, but which is willing to compromise.

A political culture in which there is constructive opposition, but where the majority does not seek to humiliate or destroy that opposition.

An inclusive political culture, which harnesses all that is best of Northern Ireland's two traditions and ruthlessly drives out the worst.

Two traditions turned into a single community.

There is only one way that we can achieve this goal: full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

Nobody can impose a solution on Northern Ireland. Only local people and their parties working together in partnership have the power to deliver a better future for Northern Ireland.

The peace process is at a crucial stage. I believe now that we have it in our grasp to map out the series of steps and changes capable of achieving an unbreakable peace.

My hope is lifted by a development that has sneaked up on us in recent weeks. It has happened to people almost without them knowing. It is something I never thought I'd see: political progress that the politicians haven't shouted and grandstanded to the media about.

And yet the simple fact is startling: in the last few weeks nationalists, Republicans and Unionists have been talking to each other about the future of Northern Ireland, face to face, in an atmosphere of give and take, of trust and co-operation.

This atmosphere makes me believe that it can be replicated on a bigger stage: in an inclusive, locally-elected Executive.

The reason for this new beginning is that each party has recognised that politics no longer boils down to barricades and borders. The Good Friday Agreement has changed all that:

  • it provides for true democratic accountability in the form of a locally-elected Assembly responsible to a representative Executive.
  • it secured the commitment of all parties to the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations;
  • it enshrines the principle of consent;
  • it means north-south arrangements for practical co-operation between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

It puts the power to decide the future of Northern Ireland where it belongs: in the hands of the people who live in Northern Ireland.

But, if that is to happen, then we need to remove the logjam that has stopped the implementation of the Agreement for the past eighteen months and move ahead on all fronts.

To do that we need to set up the Executive on which all Sides are represented, as set out in the Agreement.

When that happens, everything can and will follow.

I am used to words having different meanings in Northern Ireland.

On Saturday I made a speech in which I said 'we must take the gun out of politics for good'. This, the Sunday Times reported next day, was a softening of the Government's position on decommissioning!

Short of going round and collecting in every single gun myself I don't know how I can be clearer.

Violence must be a thing of the past. That's not just my view, but the view also of every pro-Agreement party including Sinn Fein. The Knowledge that the IRA itself was fully committed to the search for peace and will play its part would show that the Good Friday Agreement is for real and going places.

We can do it, but now is the time to show we can do it.

The time for local politicians to take the steps that will bring power over Northern Ireland's daily affairs back where it belongs.

That means giving local politicians power to decide bread and butter issues, like healthcare, schools and roads and railways, for themselves.

It means giving them power to put behind them forever the zero sum politics that has stifled economic growth, destroyed jobs, hindered investment and tarnished Northern Ireland in the eyes of the world for too long.

For years too many of Northern Ireland's brightest and best young people have moved elsewhere to find better jobs and better lives. This trickling away of talent was one of the quiet tragedies of the last thirty years.

But the very reason they moved away is a reason for hope in the new Northern Ireland: they recognised that prosperity depends on peace.

In recent years, since the ceasefires were declared, that haemorrhaging has been stemmed.

Northern Ireland has a talented, motivated, educated young population.

They are crying out for the chance to fulfill their potential where their homes are and where their families live.

They want to be Northern Ireland's leaders, not its exiles.

If today they have hope, then we must look with gratitude to the leaders of Northern Ireland's pro-agreement parties for giving them that hope.

David Trimble is the very embodiment of modern, progressive Unionism.

He has had the vision to look forwards, to bring closer the day when he puts his party finally on to the front foot and leads them into a truly inclusive Executive based on the principle of democratic consent.

I pay tribute to him because he has had the courage to look outwards, forging meaningful working relationships with Nationalists and Republicans in a way that was unthinkable even a few years ago.

What David has achieved would not have been possible if he had not been met half way by Gerry Adams. His task has been difficult and - personally and politically - he has taken brave, crucial strides.

Gerry has brought Sinn Fein in from the cold and given them and the whole of the nationalist community the chance to share in power.

And what is true of David and Gerry is true of all the pro-agreement parties, from the SDLP to the PUP. All have shown the courage to see the others' point of view in the interests of peace.

Politicians now have the chance to make that peace unshakeable.

In the darkest years of the troubles the work of the Ireland Fund has shown the public in Northern Ireland that people the world over were moved by their plight. It gave them hope that things could change.

The greatest tribute that we can pay to the efforts of the Ireland Fund is to turn that hope into reality and unlock the full potential of the Good Friday Agreement.

It is the key to Northern Ireland's future. Nothing else will do.

A few moments in history that will transform the lives of a generation.

If they blow it, a missed opportunity that will threaten the lives of many for a generation."

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