Current Developments in Northern Ireland
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 20 Sep 2001, p. 105-115
Kennedy, Jane, Speaker
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Item Type
The speaker, here as the British government Security Minister in Northern Ireland, speaking just a week after the most horrendous act of barbarism was inflicted on the United States. Going beyond that. Some history of Ireland. The Belfast or Good Friday Agreement. The Equality Commission. Policing. The situation since the Good Friday Agreement was signed. The government committed to doing all that we can to ensure that the institutions set up under the agreement survive and develop. The IRA's agreement with the decommissioning commission. Links between Northern Ireland and Canada.
Date of Original
20 Sep 2001
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Full Text
Jane Kennedy
Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office
Chairman: Bill Laidlaw
President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests

Montague Larkin, CA, Former Executive Director, The Ireland Fund of Canada and Honorary Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Reverend Edward J.R. Jackman, Canadian Catholic Historian; Jason Nykor, Ontario Sales Director, PR Canada; The Hon. David Young, MPP, Attorney General of Ontario and Minister Responsible for Native Affairs; Peter L. Agar, British Consul General, British Consulate General; William J. McCormack, OStJ, Retired Chief of Police, Metropolitan Toronto Police Force and Honorary Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Heather Connelly, Partner, Heidrick & Struggles; John F. Kearney, Secretary and Executive Committee Member, The Ireland Fund of Canada; and Ken Brundle, VicePresident, Operations, Bombardier Aerospace.

Introduction by Bill Laidlaw

The events of the last week put life as we know it in North America in a different context. The way we carry on our daily lives in this city will no doubt change forever. At least for the foreseeable future we will be very concerned for the safety of ourselves and our loved ones. For many people who live in Northern Ireland, the situation has been one of uncertainty and fear for many years. For some time we have seen on television and read in the newspapers of the bombings and disorder these incidents create. For many of us it is very close to home because of our Irish and British heritage. We feel for our friends and allies over there and now we have a greater appreciation for what they are feeling.

It seems now that peace is at hand, as Neville Chamberlain said, and we hope and pray that this is the case. Today we are very fortunate to have as our guest The Honourable Jane Kennedy, Minister of State for the Northern Ireland Office. Her office has responsibility for security, policing, prisons and fugitives from justice. The role of the Northern Ireland Office is to support the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in securing a lasting peace, based on the Good Friday Agreement in which the rights and identities of all traditions in Northern Ireland are fully respected and safeguarded and in which a safe, stable, just, open and tolerant society can thrive and prosper.

Jane Kennedy has served as an MP for almost 10 years, initially representing Liverpool Broadgreen in 1992 and becoming the Member for Liverpool Wavertree in 1997.

Throughout her time in office, Ms. Kennedy has served in many key political roles--Opposition Whip, Government Whip, Lord Commissioner and Administration Select Committee Member just to name a few.

In October of 1999 Prime Minister Tony Blair appointed her as Parliamentary Secretary at the Lord Chancellors Department, making her the first woman and first non-lawyer to be appointed to ministerial rank in the department.

Today Minister Kennedy will share with us some of the current challenges she faces in her role as Minister of State. In light of the recent events that have occurred in Northern Belfast which have become international news, she will share with us her plans for engaging the communities involved in the current violence into reaching a lasting solution for the people of Northern Ireland.

Ladies and gentlemen, Minister Jane Kennedy, Minister of State for the Northern Ireland Office.

Jane Kennedy

Bill, thank you very much for that very warm welcome.

I am really very grateful to be given the opportunity to address you today. Canada has been a very good friend to Northern Ireland over many years and I am delighted to be able to express my gratitude and that of the government for your continued support. I am conscious that I am here as the British government Security Minister in Northern Ireland, speaking to you just a week after the most horrendous act of barbarism was inflicted on the United States. As Tony Blair identified in the immediate aftermath of that outrage, this was an attack not solely on the United States but on the world and on democracy itself. The international death toll is an appalling human manifestation of the true nature of international terrorism. I know that Canada lost many citizens last week and on behalf of the British government I would like to extend my deepest sympathy to the families and friends of those who died. We too in the United Kingdom have suffered grievous losses but just as we are united in grief so are we united in our determination to bring those responsible to justice.

But we must go beyond that. We in the international community must now look with greater co-ordinated focus at the kind of terrorist groups which carry out such acts. We must establish where they are, how they operate, how they are financed, how they are supported, and how they can be most effectively isolated and stopped. The machinery of terror must be dismantled and it can only be done through the concerted efforts of the international community. Those who direct terror and those who give support to terrorist groups, be it political or financial, will find that the context within which they are operating has changed and it has changed fundamentally.

You will know that the people of Northern Ireland need no reminding of the devastating effects of terrorism. And despite the progress that has been made to bring lasting peace to Northern Ireland, there are still those who are prepared to kill and to maim. It will not have been widely reported outside Northern Ireland, but just last Wednesday, the day after our television screens were filled with living horror, an attempt was made to murder police officers in a housing estate in Derry, the second city of Northern Ireland. The police were lured into the area and a bomb was detonated. It was only by the grace of God that those officers were not killed. The bomb was detonated by a command wire. That means that someone lay in wait and triggered the device manually. That person would have watched the pictures as you and I did from America the day before. Such murderous fanaticism has no humanity and we must ensure that it has no future.

The substance of my address to you today has been given the working title of Current Developments in Northern Ireland and, notwithstanding the incident that I have just described to you, there is progress to report, though we still have a long way to go to reach the ultimate goal of a stable, prosperous and, above all, truly peaceful Northern Ireland.

There's a story which I suspect is only partly apocryphal of a traveller in Ireland asking for directions only to be told: "If you want to go there I wouldn't start from here." Peace processes the world over are like that. The history of Northern Ireland has not been a happy one over the last 30 years. Some 3,500 people have been killed in Northern Ireland as a result of what is still euphemistically called "The Troubles." In a population of only 1.7 million this has meant that there's barely a family that has not been touched by tragedy in some way or another. It has left a society that has been deeply riven by fear and mistrust.

A manifestation of that division in North Belfast has been played out on television screens across the world very recently. Two communities living side by side but failing to live together on a basis of mutual respect. Each fearful of the other, each with legitimate grievances which need to be addressed, and a failure to find an agreed means of dialogue to address those grievances, violence and hatred filling the vacuum where there is no dialogue. And the inevitable result: the innocent--in this case those innocent young children making their way to schoolhave suffered.

Now the first and the right response is that nothing can justify this hatred and violence being visited upon children. With the full support of the government, the chief constable has been determined to uphold the rights of those children to attend their school. The right to legitimate peaceful process cannot extend to violence, abuse and intimidation. And the police have acted in a controlled and professional manner. The police have come under attack in a right situation with pipe bombs and blast bombs and acid bombs being thrown towards them and indeed shots being fired. Now wherever the violence has come from, the police have demonstrated their determination impartially to uphold the rule of law and the rights of all. Officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary have acted with great courage and resolution at some cost to themselves in the injuries that they have sustained. But vital as it is that we have a police service that can impartially seek to maintain public order in what we call interface areas like that of North Belfast, the solution is not simply a security solution. Real progress requires local engagement and a wider context of political agreement, stability and peace.

Now our overall objective in the British government is to work towards a lasting and sustainable resolution of the conflict in Northern Ireland. To do so we will do a number of things. We will uphold the principle of consent. Any change in the constitutional position of Northern Ireland can only be made with the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland. Further we will strive to maintain and consolidate the relative peace that we have enjoyed for the past few years in Northern Ireland. Again we will promote equality for all of the people of Northern Ireland. And then we will also do everything that we can to sustain locally accountable political institutions.

Now all of these elements are brought together in the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement. This was the first time that a comprehensive deal had been reached which addressed the three key sets of relationships. And those are those relationships within Northern Ireland itself, the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and finally the relationship between the Irish government and the British government.

Now this was not an easy agreement to broker nor has it been an easy agreement to implement. George Mitchell said that implementing the agreement would be the hardest part. Well he was right. All sides had to compromise to broker the agreement. And all sides have to compromise if we are to fully implement it.

Now we should never underestimate how significant the agreement is. Firstly the principle of consent has been established. Then a representative assembly has been formed. A power-sharing executive is in place. Bodies representing both parts of Ireland have been established to address matters of mutual benefit. Formal links between the British and Irish governments are in place and unprecedented levels of co-operation exist. The principles of equality and inclusivity stand at the very heart of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement. The Equality Commission enforces one of the most comprehensive equality agendas in the world. The Human Rights Commission was established to promote human rights in Northern Ireland and is indeed now currently consulting on a draft bill of rights. But while good progress has been made in the implementation of the agreement there remain a number of outstanding issues that have yet to be resolved, and until they are, we cannot move forward to full implementation.

The question of policing in Northern Ireland has yet to be finally resolved. We also have to deal with the issues of normalising the security profile, which is what we call reducing the number of soldiers on the streets of

Northern Ireland, ensuring the integrity of the institutions that were set up under the agreement and putting verifiably and completely beyond use all paramilitary weapons.

A new beginning to policing was at the very heart of the agreement and it had to be because there are two histories in Northern Ireland and two experiences of policing. A commission under the chairmanship of Chris Patten, currently a European commissioner and formerly a conservative minister and governor of Hong Kong, was set up to draw up proposals for this new beginning, precisely because politicians could not agree on a way forward. And what Chris Patten and his commissioners proposed was a radical vision of a community-based policing service which would be capable of attracting the support of the whole community. A new policing board whose members would be drawn from both political parties and from the wider community will hold the chief constable to account. At the local level, district policing partnerships will allow local communities to have a direct say in local policing priorities for their own neighbourhoods. A new independent police ombudsman has sweeping powers to investigate complaints against the police. And without question her powers are way ahead of anything found in the rest of the U.K., in the Republic of Ireland or indeed beyond.

The implementation of the new beginning to policing will be overseen by the former head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Tom Constantine, a policeman of immense experience. He has predicted that people from all over the world will look to the new police service of Northern Ireland as a model for modern community policing practice. Of course this cannot be achieved without pain, particularly within the Royal Ulster Constabulary and its extended family. But the gains both for members of the new police service and for the community as a whole will be immense.

I think we are now close to moving forward on the policing issue. Both the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party and the Catholic church have called upon their community to give support to the new service. This is the first time in over 80 years that nationalism has openly supported policing and has called on Catholics to join. And just last night we heard that the Unionist Party will also join the policing board. Only Sinn Fein has refused.

Since the Good Friday Agreement was signed, we have closed over 40 military bases across Northern Ireland and we have the lowest troop levels in 30 years. We are committed to further normalisation of the security profile but that will be consistent with the level of threat that we face.

The government is committed to doing all that we can to ensure that the institutions set up under the agreement survive and develop. To do that it has been necessary to suspend them on two occasions, the most recent in August last just for one day, but we as a government cannot force politicians in Northern Ireland to work together for that requires trust. And a key element in establishing that trust will be the resolution of the issue of decommissioning of paramilitary weapons. Decommissioning is as essential a part of the agreement, as is the creation of a new beginning to policing or indeed the renewal of the criminal justice system. Without decommissioning, doubts will always remain as to the long-term commitment to democratic politics in Northern Ireland.

We have made progress in this area but more is certainly needed. The IRA's agreement with the decommissioning commission made earlier this year on how it would put paramilitary weapons beyond use was a welcome step, as has been its agreement to independent inspections of arms dumps. But as the contact with General De Chastelaine was welcome so its withdrawal in August was actually deeply disappointing, although they

have in the last 24 hours announced a re-engagement. But that re-engagement is only a further step. It is not the step that will lead to the rebuilding of the trust that I referred to.

Now today the Secretary of State, John Reid, will decide whether to suspend the institutions again to allow a further breathing space of six weeks or to call for elections to the Assembly with the likelihood that an even more polarised political scene will emerge. I can assure you that he approaches this decision with great reluctance and we as a government are faithfully fulfilling our side of the bargain. We and the Irish government have done everything in our power to create the context to move forward. We cannot do this alone. We cannot force people to work in a partnership. It is a cliché but nonetheless true for that. We must show that politics works. And I'm convinced that we can do that. And what gives me heart is the genuine concern and support for the people of Northern Ireland shown by their friends, not least in Canada where the bond is so strong.

It didn't surprise me to learn of the tremendous links that there are between Northern Ireland and Canada. Around four million of your citizens claim Irish ancestry and just over a quarter of the people who come to Northern Ireland on holiday come from Canada. I wish they could bring some of the good weather you've been enjoying this summer with them when they come.

Canada is also a major contributor to the International Fund for Ireland. The objective of the fund is to promote economic and social advance and to encourage contact, dialogue and reconciliation between nationalists and unionists throughout Ireland. I also wish to acknowledge the important work of the Ireland Fund of Canada. This organisation plays a valuable role in fostering the peaceful future that we all want to see in Northern Ireland by funding grassroots community-based projects such as

integrated education. I welcomed the opportunity to meet members and supporters of the fund yesterday evening.

I mentioned General John de Chastelaine earlier. I must speak to you about John. He has been involved in Northern Ireland for several years. John was first a member of the three-man commission that examined the decommissioning issue at the end of 1995 and early 1996. In June of 1996 he accepted the offer from the British and Irish governments to serve as one of the three co-chairmen of the peace talks. It was those talks that brokered the Belfast Agreement on Good Friday 1998. John is now the Chairman of the Independent International Decommissioning Commission. A hell of a title but it is a hell of a job too. John has made a huge contribution to building peace in Northern Ireland.

Canada is also Northern Ireland's fourth-largest export market and over the last decade Canadian companies have committed around C$1.5 billion to locations in Northern Ireland. And I'll be looking forward to joining Ken Brundle this afternoon when I visit Bombardier on our last engagement of this visit. All in all a considerable and valued contribution to the future of Northern Ireland and I thank you for it and for your continued support.

And so we look to the future with hope tempered by realism. The poet W. B. Yeats writing of a conflict in Northern Ireland at the beginning of the last century said: "The best lack all conviction. The worst are full of passionate intensity." But we still have cruel outbursts of passionate intensity. No one said the peace is perfect but the difference now is that the best, that is the people of Northern Ireland, have found conviction. It's a conviction that there is an alternative to violence. It's the conviction that it is not inevitable that future generations will be forever locked in the past. It is the conviction that despite setbacks and disappointments for the first time the farther shore really does seem reachable.

Thank you very much for listening to me.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Montague Larkin, CA, Former Executive Director, The Ireland Fund of Canada and Honorary Director, The Empire Club of Canada.

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Current Developments in Northern Ireland

The speaker, here as the British government Security Minister in Northern Ireland, speaking just a week after the most horrendous act of barbarism was inflicted on the United States. Going beyond that. Some history of Ireland. The Belfast or Good Friday Agreement. The Equality Commission. Policing. The situation since the Good Friday Agreement was signed. The government committed to doing all that we can to ensure that the institutions set up under the agreement survive and develop. The IRA's agreement with the decommissioning commission. Links between Northern Ireland and Canada.