“Jaw-Jaw Better Than War-War”: Perspectives on Negotiation and the Northern Ireland Peace Process, 1994 to 2008

By: John de Chastelain

Thank you for inviting me to give the O.D. Skelton lecture for this year. I am honoured to follow the distinguished men and women who gave the lecture in the past. I would start by telling you that I have long been an admirer of this Department. I worked closely with it during my senior appointments in the Canadian Forces and my brief time at the embassy in Washington and I have long been impressed by the skill and forward-thinking of your members. I am also impressed by the way you continue to operate so effectively in spite of the fiscal restraints you’ve faced since the beginning of the nineties.

When I was studying for a history degree at RMC in the fifties, my tutor was the late Dr. George Stanley, a distinguished soldier, historian and former Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick. Knowing that I was a recent British immigrant, and that my historical interests lay mainly in the period of the Tudors and Stuarts, and the Renaissance and the Reformation, Stanley insisted that if I were to be a professional Canadian soldier I should have a better than passing understanding of Canadian history. Among the courses he prescribed was one in Canadian Constitutional History which he himself taught. The course was conducted in the Oxbridge tutorial fashion with only three students – one of whom was Desmond Morton, the noted Canadian historian – and each of us was required periodically to prepare a paper for discussion within the group. One paper I was assigned dealt with Canada’s involvement in a proposal made by the League of Nations in 1935 to apply sanctions against Italy in consequence of the latter’s invasion of Ethiopia.

You probably all know about the incident and Canada’s role in it. Italy’s attack on Ethiopia took place at a time when fascism was on the rise in Europe, and many felt that swift action by the League was needed to demonstrate world solidarity against the movement. The Canadian delegate to the League, Walter Riddell, on his own initiative and in the absence of direction from Ottawa, proposed adding the strategic resources of fuel, iron and steel to the sanctions being considered by the League, given that these would impede Italy’s ability to prosecute a successful occupation of Ethiopia. Many applauded the move and the teeth it gave the resolution, but when the newly re-appointed Prime Minister, Mackenzie King, heard of Riddell’s proposal on behalf of Canada, he had it withdrawn. Other countries backed down and the League’s moves against Italy’s action failed. Months later Germany reoccupied the Rhineland, Italy conquered Ethiopia and the Spanish Civil War erupted.

It is tempting to speculate what might have happened if Riddell’s motion had been allowed to stand. Might not robust League action against fascism in this instance have deterred in some way what led to the subsequent horrors and destruction of World War II? Hindsight is beguiling, but in my opinion Riddell was an outstanding diplomat: an individual who had the perception to see what needed to be done and the courage and initiative to act on his belief. Sadly, he received little recognition for his efforts, unlike one of his equally outstanding, perceptive and courageous colleagues, Lester B. Pearson, twenty-one years later.

In the late sixties, when I was returning to Canada from a tour of regimental duty with the United Nations Force in Cyprus I ran into a member of External Affairs whose name was Riddell and I asked if he was any relation. It turned out to be his son, and he seemed surprised and touched that I knew the story of his father’s work. All that is an aside to say that I admire your Department, the work you do and the people you have, and to repeat how pleased I am to be asked to give the Skelton lecture this year.

For the past twelve and a half years, since retiring from the Forces, I have been involved in the peace process in Northern Ireland and it’s about that experience that I want to speak today. Other than my involvement in the University of Windsor’s Jerusalem Old City Initiative, and as one of Canada’s members on the Forum of Federations, Northern Ireland remains the focus of my activity now that I no longer wear uniform. The peace process there continues to be my major preoccupation. But I was a soldier over a period of forty years, interrupted only by the year I spent in Washington, and my recent Ireland experience, as well as a number of related instances, have left me reflecting on a statement once attributed to Winston Churchill at a private White House luncheon in June 1954 when he reportedly said: “To jaw jaw is better than to war war”.

Churchill was no pacifist and his personal military experience, coupled with his leadership during World War II and the beginning of the Cold War, makes his jaw jaw remark all the more significant. I fully agree that talking is hugely preferable to fighting, but I continue to believe that the use of military force, when that is necessary, has a vital role to play in the conduct of world affairs, and that the ability to develop it and to wield it effectively is an integral part of nationhood. The Prime Minister said as much in his address to the Conference of Defence Associations Institute here in Ottawa last week.

I was born two years before World War II broke out and I grew up in the UK in the aftermath of the failure of appeasement to prevent a second world war in less than half a century, one which was only ended by the effective application of armed force. At the age of thirteen I was required to join the Cadet Force at my Edinburgh school in preparation for two years compulsory national service. Instead of being conscripted I came to Canada five years later and joined the Canadian Army, spending the next thirty-five years preparing to fight the forces of the Warsaw Pact in central Europe. Fortunately that never happened but there were instances when it seemed close – in 1956 in Hungary, in 1962 in Cuba, in 1968 in Czechoslovakia and in 1981 over the establishment of unions in Poland. I was aide-de-camp to Canada’s Chief of the General Staff in 1962 and at one point in October that year, when missile-carrying Russian ships were heading towards Cuba, I had to tell my boss that I had just sent his driver home to pack his bag, as he was now on thirty minutes notice to move to the Government Emergency Centre at Carp. The bag got packed but fortunately it never got to Carp.

In 1990, when I was CDS and the Cold War was ending, I was invited by the Soviet Forces Chief of Staff, General Moiseyev, to visit the Soviet Union. A Colonel-General named Omelichev was assigned to accompany me around the military installations that I visited in Moscow, Ryazan, Severomorsk, Murmansk and Leningrad. During our travels we spent much time talking through interpreters, and we discovered that in 1965 when I was commanding a Canadian mechanized infantry company in the northern part of West Germany, he was commanding a Soviet mechanized infantry company in the northern part of East Germany. We both concluded it was a good thing that we were now meeting for the first time. I say that not to sound clever, but to note that I believe both Omelichev and I reflected in that instant how fortunate it was that jaw jaw had brought the Cold War to an end and not war itself.

But while I endorse fully the value of negotiating rather than fighting, I emphasize my belief in the continued need for well-trained and well-equipped armed forces in Canada, ready to act as an instrument of the nation’s will, either to deter, to defend, to protect, or in the fulfillment of our national obligations to our allies. Not a part of this presentation, but since you may wonder, I fully support the military role we are playing today in Afghanistan. I believe it is the right role, in the right place, at the right time, for the right reasons and with the right authorization. And if the assurance of continued effective allied military effort in that theatre is sufficient to bring to the negotiating table those who would now impose themselves there against the will of the majority of Afghans, then so much the better. In that circumstance “jaw jaw” would certainly be better than a continuation of the war there. And I see no reason why talks with the Taliban should not be going on now, even as NATO continues to oppose them in the absence of an agreement. In fact, an Asia Online article in August last year reported that “high level talks between Taliban commanders and coalition forces … had taken place in an attempt to find a broader political settlement1.

Now I turn to my experience in Northern Ireland. It was against the background of the end of the Cold War, and with names like Srebrenica and Rwanda reverberating around the world, that I was invited in the Fall of 1995, shortly before I was due to retire as CDS, to play what was expected to be a brief role in the Northern Ireland peace process. The invitation from Dublin and London to US Senator George Mitchell, former Finnish Prime Minister Harri Holkeri, and me was to form an International Body to carry out a two-month study on the decommissioning of paramilitary arms in Northern Ireland. It followed ceasefires called a year previously by paramilitary groups on both sides, who sought to establish whether talks could find a solution to problems that nearly thirty years of armed conflict had failed to do.

The 1994 ceasefires were declared in August by the IRA and in October by the Loyalist paramilitary groups – the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). This initiative followed years of secret back-channel talks between British officials and the IRA to explore the possibility of addressing republican aims – that is, achieving equal rights for Catholics in the north and the establishment of a united Ireland – by political rather than violent means. A former Irish Prime Minister, Albert Reynolds, and the leaders of the nationalist and republican political parties in Northern Ireland – John Hume of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein – told the IRA they believed its aims would never be achieved through violence; that being so they suggested, the IRA should give politics a chance. Separately Loyalists were advised that their aim of ensuring Northern Ireland remained a part of the United Kingdom would best be addressed through talks rather than at the point of a gun.

The belief that negotiation rather than violence now had a better chance of solving the future constitutional status of Northern Ireland, derived from two factors. Weariness with the conflict was one, but more important was the establishment of the principle of consent, to which both Britain and Ireland had previously agreed. Simply stated this principle, proposed in the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 and confirmed in the Downing Street Declaration of 1993, established that if the majority in the north wished to remain a part of the United Kingdom, Ireland would not object, and if the majority there wished to become part of the Republic of Ireland, Britain would not object. Britain’s statement that it had no strategic interests in Northern Ireland, and that it would abide by the wish of the majority there as to its constitutional future, and Ireland’s stated willingness to abide by a majority vote in the north on unification, caused concern among both traditions. On the republican side because it indicated Ireland’s willingness to recognise the partition of 1920, and among unionists because it indicated Britain’s preparedness to see the six counties of Ulster become part of the republic. But by establishing the policy of consent the governments cut the ground from under the paramilitary groups’ rationale for fighting – since on both sides their members claimed to support democratic principles – and it challenged the accusations of those American critics who continued to object to Britain’s role in Northern Ireland. It opened the door to jaw jaw.

The talks proposed by the two governments aimed to address three circumstances. The first was to get agreement among the parties to re-establish in the north, the provincial government that was suspended in 1972 at the beginning of the Troubles, when direct rule from Westminster was imposed. The second was to set up mechanisms between north and south in areas of interest that would benefit both countries, a move that seemed particularly appropriate given that each were members of the European Union. And the third was to set up mechanisms between London and Dublin to address or prevent the kind of problems that had existed between them heretofore.

Prime Ministers John Major and John Bruton intended that the talks should start early in 1995 but that did not happen. A suggestion was made in a speech by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to the effect that political parties with affiliated paramilitary groups would not be invited to take part in the talks until the paramilitary groups concerned had given bona fides of their peaceful intentions by starting to decommission their arms. The statement did not sit well with the paramilitary groups which held that their ceasefires were declared without precondition. Had there been preconditions, there would not have been ceasefires. The result was that for a year following the ceasefires no talks began and both governments feared that in their absence there would be a return to violence.

For this reason they set up the International Body with a two-month mandate to examine whether the paramilitary groups would consider decommissioning their arms, and to propose how it could be done. Senator George Mitchell, President Clinton’s dollar-a-year man in Ireland after retiring as Senator Majority leader, was chosen to chair the body. The British wanted a member with a military background to come from a Commonwealth country since the Body would be dealing with paramilitary groups, and the Irish wanted a member from a Scandinavian country. Harri Holkeri was named by Finland and Jean Chrétien put my name forward as the Commonwealth representative, even though I still had another month to serve as CDS. Each of us was allowed to have an assistant from our own country and Foreign Affairs named David Angell to accompany me, as we had worked together before in Washington.

As we began our mandate one of our first meetings was with a former Loyalist paramilitary prisoner turned politician. He told us that what was needed in Northern Ireland was not a decommissioning of arms but a decommissioning of mind-sets. His point was that many felt that arms decommissioning was a token gesture to reflect a change in the means of achieving a political end, rather than the practical utility of getting rid of weapons. He suggested that unless mind-sets were changed, and trust in the process of negotiation was established, decommissioned arms could swiftly be replaced by newly acquired ones, or home-made weapons and improvised explosive devices could easily take their place. But after two months of meeting with politicians, security officials, citizens, and those close to the various paramilitary groups, it was clear to us that getting mind-sets changed would be no simple task. As Billy Hutchinson, the Loyalist politician told us, lack of trust existed at many levels of Northern Ireland society. It seemed clear to us that changing that situation would require not only confidence-building among the participants but risk-taking by them as well.

To engender what we hoped might be sufficient trust to get the talks started we included in our report to the two governments six principles of democracy and non-violence which we proposed the political parties should be required to endorse if they were to join the talks. These included the requirement to:

  • Agree to democratic and exclusively peaceful means of resolving political issues;
  • Agree to the total disarmament of all paramilitary organizations;
  • Agree that such disarmament must be verifiable to the satisfaction of an independent commission;
  • Renounce for themselves, and to oppose any efforts by others, to use force, or threaten to use force, to influence the course or the outcome of all-party negotiations;
  • Agree to abide by the terms of any agreement reached in all-party negotiations and to resort to democratic and exclusively peaceful means in trying to alter any aspect of that outcome with which they may disagree; and
  • Urge that “punishment” killings and beating stop and to take effective steps to prevent such actions2.

Although in setting up the International Body the two governments stipulated they were not obliged to accept its recommendations, both endorsed the six principles and made their acceptance a requirement for each of the parties wishing to take part in the talks.

We also proposed six principles of arms decommissioning which we believed might give the paramilitary groups both the trust and the willingness to engage with us. Included in the latter was the potential need for confidentiality in the process, if that were deemed necessary to avoid suggestions of humiliation, surrender or defeat. None of the paramilitary groups had surrendered and none had been defeated. We also underlined the need to prohibit the forensic testing of arms being decommissioned, since it seemed unlikely that arms would be handed over that could link a paramilitary member to a crime. Among several methods we proposed was the suggestion that the paramilitary groups might decommission their arms themselves, but with validation by the international commission3. David Angell played a key role in the selection and wording of the decommissioning principles and methods, which were accepted by the two governments and which formed the basis of the decommissioning body’s remit when it was formed over a year later.

The International Body presented its report to the governments in late January 1996 and disbanded. Mitchell, Holkeri and I returned home. The IRA objected to the manner in which they believed John Major reacted to our report and they broke their ceasefire with a bomb attack on London’s Docklands a few weeks later. This was followed by similar bombings in Manchester and attacks on military and police installations in Northern Ireland. But in spite of the IRA’s return to violence, John Major and John Bruton persevered in their intention to hold the talks and announced that these would begin four months later in June. They asked Mitchell, Holkeri and me to return to chair those talks that would involve both governments. And since the IRA was no longer on ceasefire, Sinn Fein was to be excluded from them.

In addition to the two governments and three international chairmen, nine political parties were invited to take part: three unionist, two loyalist, one nationalist and three non-aligned. The question at the outset was whether any of the unionist parties would attend. Without their involvement there could be no talks. Unionists had consistently said they would not take part in talks until paramilitary groups had begun to decommission their arms and that had not happened. When the talks started in June, the unionist parties initially refused to remain at the table. But David Trimble, the leader of the largest political party in Northern Ireland, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), agreed to take part if the talks were regarded as being informal until an agenda had been agreed and rules of procedure acceptable to all the parties had been approved. Shortly afterwards the two other unionist parties, Dr Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Bob McCartney’s United Kingdom Unionist Party (UKUP) also joined the talks. Each of the nine parties was obliged to subscribe to what had now become known as “The Mitchell Principles”.

That the talks started at all was a credit to the perseverance and insistence of the governments and to the risk David Trimble took in agreeing to participate in them. But progress was stifled at the outset by disagreement over the agenda. Trimble wanted decommissioning to be discussed first. He had wanted decommissioning to take place before the talks started and it hadn’t. He now agreed to participate only on the expectation that decommissioning would take place during the talks, as the International Body had proposed. But John Hume countered that while decommissioning was important and needed to happen, the talks were about politics and if the parties got bogged down over the issue of arms, no progress would be made. As a result none was, although the two governments kept the parties at the table and insisted that notwithstanding disagreements, the talks must succeed. For a year the talks were only about talks.

It was not until Bertie Ahearn and Tony Blair were returned as Prime Ministers in 1997, Blair with a large majority and both of them announcing they would make finding a solution to the Northern Ireland problem their first priority, that progress was made. They finessed the decommissioning issue by forming the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning with a mandate to facilitate arms decommissioning and with the requirement to report on progress to the parties. The IRA declared another ceasefire, Sinn Fein was invited into the talks, the DUP and UKUP left, the agenda was approved with political issues topping the list, and talks began that led to the Good Friday (or Belfast) Agreement in April of the following year.

When the talks first started Cyril Ramaphosa and Roelf Meyer, the two principal architects of the South African process that ended apartheid, visited Belfast and I spent an hour with Meyer. He listed eight factors he had found were fundamental to the success of their talks, which also started with acrimony and which were fraught throughout with difficulty and disagreement4. One factor was the conviction that talks must continue even if parties left the table or violent acts were perpetrated during them, since the purpose of those acts would be to end the talks. During the first year of the talks in Belfast, when the IRA was still actively attacking security forces and military installations, the governments persevered in keeping the parties at the table. I was later to discover that during the whole period of the negotiations prior to the 1998 Agreement, all eight of Meyer’s lessons turned out to have applied to the Northern Ireland experience.

One aside about jaw jaw, perhaps worth mentioning, was my experience chairing the Business Committee. The Committee’s work was procedural, dealing with schedules and timings, and in addition to myself it included one representative from each party and from the governments. While the Plenary Committee Sessions were held in a large room, around a hollow square of tables some thirty feet apart, and where each of the eight parties had three members seated as well as the governments and the chairmen, the Business Committee was confined to a small room with one table about three feet wide where members were seated across from each other, eye-ball to eyeball. What was noticeable during the Plenary Committee sessions was the frequent lack of politeness between some of the participants, with accusations and insults leveled across the wide gap between the tables.

None of that happened in the Business Committee where the proceedings were polite, to the point and fruitful. While acknowledging that the Plenary dealt with difficult political issues and the Business Committee dealt only with procedural ones, I was nonetheless surprised and impressed by the difference in conduct and the atmosphere of the two scenarios. It became clear to me that rudeness is emboldened by the factor of distance. The closer you are to the potential subject of your displeasure, the less likely you are to do or say something egregiously unpleasant. I mentioned that to Mitchell who then held some of the Plenary Committee’s meetings with a reduced attendance in a smaller room around a narrow table. They turned out to be more productive.

That the Agreement passed on Good Friday 1998 was notable for a number of reasons. Trimble agreed to it even though decommissioning had still not happened, a decision which cost him some of his members. Both Britain and Ireland modified their constitutions – Britain repealing the 1920 Government of Ireland Act that laid claim to Northern Ireland, and Ireland repealing Articles Two and Three of its Constitution which did likewise. The Agreement called for referendums to be held on it in both north and south where, in the republic, 94% approved it and in the north 71% did so. But some of the Agreement’s wording had of necessity been left ambiguous and Mitchell predicted that while it had been difficult to get the Agreement in place, it would be harder still to get it implemented. He was right.

The Agreement laid the foundation for a new Assembly for Northern Ireland, with parties from both traditions represented based on their electorate and with the positions of First Minister and Deputy First minister shared between the two. Some critics claimed the system institutionalized sectarian difference, but it guaranteed that the Assembly would no longer be heavily weighted in favour of only one tradition, as was the case previously. Six north-south ministerial committees were established to meet regularly and deal with areas of common interest, and a British-Irish Council was set up with the First Ministers of Britain, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man included. The Agreement called for a review of policing, the early release of prisoners, the devolution of justice, and for the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms. It was on the decommissioning issue that progress was held up once again.

When the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (the IICD) was set up in September 1997 I was asked to chair it with Commissioners being provided by each of the United States and Finland. The State Department assigned Ambassador Donald Johnston to the Commission – he was subsequently replaced by retired State Department senior official, Andrew Sens – and Finland assigned retired Brigadier Tauno Nieminen. That composition remains today. Our remit was to facilitate the decommissioning of paramilitary arms by rendering them permanently inaccessible or permanently unusable, and it was foreseen that this task should be completed within two years of the referendums on the Agreement. That meant we were expected to be finished by May 2000. While the Agreement stipulated when we should be finished, it did not say when we should start5.

From the outset we made it clear that we needed a representative named by each paramilitary group, who could meet with us to work out the mechanics of what we had to do – our version of jaw jaw. The UVF named one immediately but the IRA and the UDA declined to do so. No progress was made on decommissioning and the unionists once again refused to enter government with Sinn Fein until the IRA began to disarm. Unlike Sinn Fein, no political parties associated with the UVF or the UDA qualified for a seat in the Executive (which is the Assembly’s Cabinet), and Loyalist decommissioning, while required, did not have the same urgency in terms of getting the Assembly up and running. By the Fall of 1999 no IRA decommissioning had taken place and the Assembly remained inactive. The Secretary of State recalled George Mitchell to conduct a review of the Agreement, the IRA and the UDA named representatives to the Commission, our talks with them started, and the Assembly was finally convened early in 2000. But as a result of subsequent delays over decommissioning, and later allegations of republican paramilitary spying, it was to be suspended, recalled and then suspended once again in 2002, not to be set up again until May last year.

It was only in November 2001, after the 9/11 attacks on the United States, that the first IRA decommissioning event took place, and it was a further four years before we and the IRA finished decommissioning their arms. Even then the circumstances of the process left some dissatisfied. A decommissioning event by a small Loyalist paramilitary group, the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF), had taken place in the Fall of 1998 shortly after the Agreement was approved, allowing for the early release of prisoners. The LVF, which hoped to have some of its prisoners qualify for early release, declared a cease-fire and conducted a decommissioning event in front of the cameras in which some firearms were cut up, and ammunition and explosives were destroyed by the Commission at a British army base. This event, while small in terms of the amount of arms dealt with, nonetheless left a public appetite for visible decommissioning. But our discussions with the IRA representative made it clear to us that if their arms were to be decommissioned it would not be publicly. Citing the International Body’s report on the desirability of avoiding the connotation of humiliation, surrender or defeat, the IRA insisted on a process that involved only the members of the Commission, and in later events two church ministers as witnesses. But they accepted that our remit called for us to validate the actual process while it happened, as well as to make an inventory of the arms decommissioned for delivery to the two governments when the decommissioning of all of the paramilitary groups’ arms had been completed.

I believe the reason that IRA decommissioning was protracted over more than five years was due to three circumstances. The first was the IRA’s intention to see that all the terms of the Agreement were executed as well as decommissioning. The Agreement’s section on Decommissioning had so stated. The second was concern over the possible reaction of the IRA rank and file to precipitous change and the desire to avoid the possibility of a split in the organization. A split had occurred in 1986 when Sinn Fein agreed to take seats in the Dail, and again in 1997 when Sinn Fein joined the peace talks. The first split resulted in the formation of the Continuity IRA and the second in the formation of the Real IRA. A year later, only months after the Agreement was signed, the Real IRA was held to be responsible for a bomb attack in the market town of Omagh, where 29 citizens were killed and many more injured, the single worst atrocity of the Troubles. Neither the CIRA nor the RIRA have declared ceasefires.

But I believe another reason for the delay was the need to build trust between the IRA representative and the Commission. Trust in the sense that each could believe the other would do what they said they would do, and say what they said they would say. Building trust took time, as did negotiations to establish decommissioning measures that were acceptable to the IRA and to the Commission and that we could confirm were in accordance with the terms of our legislated mandate. Over a five year period there was a lot of jaw jaw between the Commission and the IRA representative – some said there was too much talk and too little action – but it took place in the absence of armed conflict.

Five years after the Agreement and the 1998 election, a new election returned Dr Paisley’s DUP and Gerry Adams’s Sinn Fein as the two largest parties in Northern Ireland. The parties of the two leaders who received the 1998 Nobel Peace prize for their work in reaching the Agreement – David Trimble and John Hume – moved into third and fourth place. But more than three years would still pass before the DUP and Sinn Fein would agree to form a government. During that time Blair and Ahern were relentless in engaging the Northern Ireland politicians in talks, seeking to find common ground on which to re-establish the Assembly. At a meeting in St. Andrews in October 2006 the two prime ministers laid out a program designed to get the institutions back into being, and they identified dates by which the leaders of Sinn Fein and the DUP had to take action on outstanding issues.

In the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement Act) of 22 November 2006, key elements required full acceptance of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) by Sinn Fein, and a commitment by the DUP to share power with republicans and nationalists in the Northern Ireland Executive6. On the 7th of March last year an election was held to approve and implement the St Andrews Agreement and it delivered a strong mandate for power-sharing. Subsequently the DUP and Sinn Fein announced they had agreed to the restoration of the devolved institutions as of the 8th of May and since that date the Assembly has been in operation with the people of Northern Ireland being governed once again by men and women they elected. Of the original Agreement, the major issues still outstanding today are the devolution of justice to the Assembly and the decommissioning of Loyalist paramilitary arms.

The Northern Ireland peace process is not yet complete and the Assembly is operating today with all the customary success and setbacks faced by democratic parliaments everywhere. Not everyone is satisfied with what has been achieved and some believe that others have gained more from the process than themselves. Concerns exist about residual paramilitary influence, and the security forces remain vigilant over the potential for action by dissident groups not on ceasefire. But the majority of troops have left, the remainder reduced to the normal garrison status that exists elsewhere in the United Kingdom, and the new police service is gaining respect and confidence within nationalist communities where before it faced suspicion and hostility. The streets are busy and the shops are crowded, construction cranes fill the skyline and businesses are starting to emulate the burgeoning economic success that exists in the Republic across the border. The feeling seems to grow day by day that the violent days of the Troubles may now be in the past.

I want to conclude this presentation on two points: one regarding Canadian involvement in the Northern Ireland peace process and the other a return to the issue of jaw jaw. Since the process started in 1994 a number of Canadians have played, or are playing, key roles in it. When David Angell was posted to Canada’s delegation at the UN in New York, Foreign Affairs replaced him with Clifford Garrard from the High Commission in London. Clifford worked with the Independent Chairmen during the talks leading up to the 1998 Agreement, and after his retirement from the Department he remained as a member of the decommissioning body until we reduced our numbers a few years ago. Justice William Hoyt, a former Chief Justice of New Brunswick, has spent the last ten years as one of three judges on the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, which was set up after the Good Friday Agreement to look into the events of 1972 when fourteen people were killed in a clash with the British army. Judge Hoyt was made an Officer of the order of Canada here in Ottawa last week.

Professor Clifford Shearing of the University of Toronto was a member of Chris Patten’s team which laid the groundwork for the transformation of the Royal Ulster Constabulary into the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), and Justice Peter Cory, formerly of Canada’s Supreme Court, was called on by Britain and Ireland to conduct examinations into five cases where allegations were made concerning state involvement in assassinations carried out by Loyalist and Republican paramilitary groups. Ricki Schoen, a Canadian resident in Dublin, has been the in-place Assistant at the Decommissioning body’s office there since the Commission started in 1997, and she was recognized in last years Queen’s birthday honours list with an MBE for her service to the peace process. And, finally, a number of members and former members of the RCMP have been involved in the recently ended Police Oversight Commission, set up to monitor the introduction of the new Police Service of Northern Ireland. Led by retired Deputy Commissioner Al Hutchinson, now the Police Ombudsman in Northern Ireland, this multi-national Commission oversaw all aspects of the PSNI’s training and development through the early years of its transition.

The Canadian government and the Foreign Affairs Department have remained committed to assist the peace process in Northern Ireland whenever that has been called for. Prime Ministers Chrétien and Martin both visited Dublin and Belfast during their time in office and Chrétien re-established Canada’s contribution to the International Fund for Ireland. The Canadian and American Defence Departments have each provided the Decommissioning body with the services of an army Explosives Ordnance Disposal officer whenever we request it. The individuals selected have provided valuable technical and on occasion practical expertise to the Commission at the same time as convincing the British and Irish security forces that we really do know what we are doing. Finally, Ireland’s President, Mary McAleese, was hugely impressed by the Irish connection in Canada when she toured the Maritimes and came to Ottawa a few years ago. It seems clear from what she and many on both sides of the Atlantic have told me that on the island of Ireland, Canada – like the United States which throughout has played a hugely influential role in the process – is regarded as a friend, an ally and a willing helper.

My theme has been the value of talking over fighting, a concept employed in many conflicts around the world today. I have already mentioned the case of Afghanistan and I note that in Spain, both the present and the former government have engaged in talks with ETA in an attempt to end the forty-year-old campaign for Basque independence7. Other instances come to mind. Talks held last year between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and representatives of the Philippine government have led to an offer by the latter to recognize the right of self-determination for Muslims in the south of the country. Some fighting still goes on there but the government has continued the talks. I have maintained an interest in that conflict since I visited Manila at the request of the Swedish Foreign Affairs Department in May 2006 to brief the Philippine government on the Northern Ireland experience. Similarly, over a period of years in Nepal the Seven Party Alliance has held numerous meetings with the rebel Maoist Communist Party while fighting still continued between Maoists and the Nepalese Army. I attended one such meeting in Stockholm two years ago and in November that year the Seven Party Alliance signed a Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the Maoists. While the conflict there is not fully resolved, talking continues.

All that noted, I think it is significant that in each of these cases the countries concerned have maintained security forces in place while talks proceeded, ready to take appropriate action if violence intervened and talking failed. In Northern Ireland British troop-strength was not reduced until the Agreement was nearly ten years old and the majority of its terms had been implemented.

I do not for a moment suggest that in the ongoing conduct of Canada’s foreign policy we should follow Teddy Roosevelt’s advice of talking softly and carrying a big stick, but I do support the concept of having credible national means to react to threats, with force if necessary. Given the size of our military resources today it seems unlikely that the employment of Canada’s stick alone would be considered much of a deciding factor abroad. Nor do I think it should it be. But used in conjunction with those of our allies, Canada’s armed forces can contribute to an effective military structure capable of providing a potent instrument of policy, even if for use only as a last resort.

As I hope I’ve made clear, I agree with Churchill when he said that “jaw jaw is better than war war” and I agree also with John F. Kennedy when he said “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate”. Both were saying the same thing, of course, and I think both were right.


1 ‘Talks With the Taliban Gain Ground’, Syed Saleem Shahzad, © 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd.

2 Report of the International Body on Arms Decommissioning, 22 January 1996, Mitchell, Holkeri and de Chastelain, para 20. CAIN Web Service.

3 ibid. VI. paras 36 to 50 incl.

4 Herding Cats. Multiparty Mediation in a Complex Word. Crocker, Hampson, Aall and Editors. United States Institute of Peace. Washington DC 1999. The Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland, John de Chastelain, p.452.

5 The Agreement, 10 April 1998, Blair and Ahern. Decommissioning, Part 7, para 3. CAIN Web Service.

6 Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006. Chapter 53. 22 November 2006. Office of Public Sector Information.

7 Vatican Told to Stop Bishops ‘Meddling’ in Spain’s Election. Thomas Catàn. Madrid. The Times. 14 February 2008. p 45.