Future Of The Peace Process


Sir, - In his customarily lucid address to the SDLP Annual Conference, John Hume identified equality of allegiance as the key element in a new political accommodation in Ireland. He argued that this would change the nature of the political relationship by providing essential political equality, which would not diminish the validity of the unionist tradition, nor the integrity and strength of its ethos or identity.

Equality of allegiance demands positive political action by the British and Irish governments to provide full recognition of, and respect for, equality of citizenship for those whose allegiance is to some form of united Ireland, as well as for those whose allegiance is to continued union with Britain.

Just as unionists assert their right to maintain full British citizenship, so nationalists assert the right to full and equal citizenship of the Irish nation. As John Hume warned in his address, the perpetuation of inequality guarantees instability and compounds divisiveness. It is, in fact, the prescription for continuing conflict far into the next century.

It is essential, therefore, that the Irish Government faces up to the reality that its role in the resolution of this conflict extends far beyond mere cosmetic tinkering with Articles 2 and 3 of Bunreacht na hEireann.

Equal citizenship for nationalists will involve amending Articles 2 and 3 in order to extend representation in the Oireachtas to the six north-eastern counties. And further amendments will be required to those Articles dealing with the constitution and powers of the Irish national parliament; the determination of electoral constituencies; and the extension of the franchise to voters in the Six Counties for elections to both the Oireachtas and to the office of President.

Equally, the British government must now abandon the legislative cant of a 19th-century empire which no longer exists, and face the necessary for major constitutional change in its treatment of Irish citizens in north-east Ireland.

Far-reaching amendments are required to the 1920 Government of Ireland Act, the 1949 Ireland Act, and the 1973 Constitution Act, to give full legislative recognition and respect to the allegiance of nationalists and to enable them to exercise equality of citizenship as citizens of the Irish nation.

The ghosts of the 1920 partition settlement still haunt both islands, and it is the unhappy obligation of the present set of British and Irish politicians to exorcise those ghosts.

We must hope and pray that they have the imagination and courage to jointly exercise the political authority with which they have been entrusted, and that the people of Ireland will be enabled to enter the new millennium, finally respecting each other in all their rich diversity, in dignity, and in equality. - Yours, etc.,

Antrim Town, Co Antrim.