Both sides in North need space to move forward - Mansergh


Unionists and republicans needed space so that they had the self-confidence to move forward and not have impossible demands, however logical or correct, imposed on either of them, Dr Martin Mansergh told the conference of the Irish Association in Co Wicklow at the weekend.

Referring to specific difficulties in the implementation of the Belfast Agreement, the Taoiseach's special adviser said he could understand why the RUC as presently constituted was not acceptable to the nationalist community.

"But speaking for myself, that does not mean I approve of the total demonisation of the RUC, any more than I approve of the total demonisation of Sinn Fein. The attitude that not a single RUC officer should be a member of the new police force is a mirror image of those who say that Sinn Fein has no place in the executive because of the activities of the IRA."

Dr Mansergh said that last April 10th he had been quite clear that the first year, and perhaps two, would be full of crises. "The mechanism envisaged by the agreement essentially transports an unresolved political conflict onto a different plane," he said. "But we should be under no illusion that some of those who are required to co-operate continue to have diametrically opposed fundamental long-term objectives.

"The argument about whether decommissioning comes first or the formation of the institutions, demilitarisation and the reform of the police, has unfortunately been a trial of political strength, that has tended to leave on the sidelines the majority of people whose main interest is the speedy consolidation of a fair and balanced agreement." He also warned against the attitude that "the boil must be lanced", usually thought to be intransigence on one side or the other. Many attempts had been made to do that down through the past 30 years, to "once and for all defeat republicanism or to face down unionists", but neither of them had worked or would work.

But it was not always clear that the new political logic established by the Belfast Agreement was widely understood, let alone practised, he said. If it were, the maintenance of paramilitary capacity or any attempted exclusion of Sinn Fein would make no sense.

He said the main institutions in the agreement served a triple function. The North-South ministerial council and implementing bodies are not only a source of mutual economic benefit and an expression of identity but also, "above all, on the post-war European model of reconciliation [are] to create a thick web of interdependence that makes the resumption of armed conflict unthinkable". Dr Mansergh praised the achievements of the founders of the State, both the Cumann na nGaedheal government of the 1920s and the achievement of constitutional republicanism in the 1930s. "In view of what happened in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe perhaps we were on balance fortunate that, in the words of Kevin O'Higgins, `we were the most conservative revolutionaries'. Certainly, the revolution begun in 1916 has lasted rather better than the one that began a year later in 1917."