Peace roles must be re-asserted - Gilmore

Minister signals Dublin unhappiness with progress made by Northern politicians

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore at the Skainos Centre, Newtownards Road, Belfast recently. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore at the Skainos Centre, Newtownards Road, Belfast recently. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire

Sat, Sep 7, 2013, 01:01

Dublin and London’s roles as co-guarantors of the Belfast Agreement must be reasserted, rather than leaving many hopes for progress primarily in the hands of Northern Irish politicians, Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore will say today.

Northern Ireland is currently facing many difficult issues and it is neither sensible nor realistic to expect the political system to shoulder these on its own,” he will tell the British-Irish Association in Cambridge. Months of disputes over parades, flags and “the unresolved issues of how to deal with the past, are exerting a harmful and even regressive effect on politics and community relations”, he is due to tell those attending.

Devolution changed the roles played by Dublin and London, who created “space” for the Northern Ireland Executive “to exercise its responsibilities”.

In the past, the two governments have offered assistance, as happened in Hillsborough in 2010 when policing and justice were devolved to Stormont.

However, he offered a signal of Dublin’s unhappiness with the progress made by Northern politicians since, saying that many people in Northern Ireland believe “that political priorities are determined by those who shout loudest”.

“Too often, those are the most extreme voices. I met with people [during visits to Belfast] who do not recognise themselves or their interests in the positions championed by the largest parties in the Executive,” he will say.

Indicating a belief that many in the North want Dublin and London to be more directly involved again, Mr Gilmore will say: “People do not want to lose all that has been gained over the past 15 years. They fear a return of sectarian violence. Communities are aware that their work, on its own, cannot deliver reconciliation. And they recognise how the two governments can bring helpful perspective and practical support, as can broader international focus.”

‘Corrosive effect’
“I am concerned. I am concerned at the way in which the past is exercising a corrosive effect on political life and on community relations.

“I am concerned at the pervasive and undiminished influence of sectarianism on civil life – and not solely in the more deprived communities,” he will state.

For 15 years, Dublin and London “have accentuated the positive, celebrated progress and highlighted the signs of better community relations, economic growth, and better security.

“We must not lose sight of any of these things. But we need to reflect honestly on where there have been gaps left or intentions and commitments left unfulfilled.”

The talks, chaired by former US diplomat Richard Haass, must offer “a clear way forward on all of the contentious issues – flags, parades, and the past. The basis for agreement on these issues already exists. The talks therefore are a unique opportunity to resolve them. The ambition and resolve to do so is what is required.”

Meanwhile, Mr Gilmore said he hoped members of the British royal family and the British government could be invited to Dublin in three years’ time to mark the Easter Rising commemorations.

President Mary McAleese and Queen Elizabeth II showed that the challenges are surmountable by displaying “gracious and mutual respect” two years ago during the queen’s State visit to Ireland.

Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers told the association last night it is clear “key issues are far from settled” in Northern Ireland.