Real stumbling blocks: decommissioning and the principle of consent

Martin MANSERGH
(Head of Research Fianna Fail)

Historical Background: The Resort to Arms and Constitutional Legitimacy

Few issues have created more trouble in the last few hundred years of Irish history than largely futile attempts by different authorities to disarm those whose loyalty to the constitution was suspect, particularly while at the same time trying to sidestep awkward questions of political legitimacy.

A striking 17th century vignette illustrates the underlying centuries old resonance of the problem. On 8 November 1673, in the reign of Charles II, during the vice royalty of the duke of Ormonde, a proclamation was issued to the following effect

Whereas information hath been given that many persons of the Popish religion inhabiting within this kingdom, have great store of arms now in their possession, and that of late they have generally taken the liberty to ride armed beyond what hath formerly been accustomed by them, we, for the better ordering and governing of his Majesty’s affairs here, and the preservation of the public peace and security of his Majesty’s subjects, have thought fit hereby… to declare, publish and command that no person or persons of the Popish religion in this Kingdom, do hereafter presume to ride with, carry, buy, use or keep in his or their house or houses or elsewhere, any muskets, calivers, pistols or other guns whatsoever, without licence from us, the Lord Lieutenant.
And we do hereby also straitly charge and require all persons of the Popish religion in this kingdom, who now have or at any time hereafter, shall happen to have any such arms in their hands or possession, that within one month after the date of this proclamation, and within one month after such arms shall come to their hands, they shall upon pain of his Majesty’s high displeasure, bring or cause to be brought all such arms into one of his Majesty’s stores of ordnance and munition in this Kingdom, or deliver the same to such persons in the several counties of this Kingdom, as are by us authorised to receive the same.

In case of default, the Lord Lieutenant would take «a most strict and severe course for the seizing and securing their said arms», «detaining the same… as persons designing the disturbance of the public peace of this kingdom.»

Five years later, in 1678 at the time of the Popish Plot, the proclamation was reissued, as «yet divers persons of the Popish religion, have great store of arms now m their possession» Six weeks later, a further Proclamation turned on the Sheriffs, «whereas we find that the said Sheriffs and Justices of the Peace and also the officers of His Majesty’s army have been very remiss in executing the aforesaid several matters committed to their charge», and warning them that if they proved «as negligent and remiss as formerly they have been», they would be looked upon «as contemners of his Majesty’s royal authority and countenancers and abettors of those who seek the disturbance of the peace of this kingdom», and would be proceeded against with all imaginable severity.(1) The new settlers were learning the facts of Insh life fast, it would seem. Except when facing an overt military challenge, as in 1690-1, the authorities at local level were largely impotent.

The principle of consent can be traced back to the same period. It underlay the «Glorious Revolution», but was subversive when applied to Ireland. Even if John Locke was thinking more of the Norman conquest of England in dismissing the notion that «right» of conquest conferred legitimacy, his doctnne of consent applied with deadly precision to the situation in 17th century Ireland. He argued that «he that Conquers in an unjust War, can thereby have no Title to the Subjection and Obedience of the Conquered», and that even m a just war «the Damages of War can scarce amount to the value of any considerable Tract of Land, in any part of the World» His conclusion was

the People who are the Descendants of, or claim under those, who were forced to submit to the Yoke of a Government by constraint, have always a Right to shake it off… till their rulers put them under such a Frame of Government, as they willingly, and of choice consent to…. For no Government have a right to obedience from a people who have not freely consented to it.(2)

In the 18th century Ireland of the Penal Laws, resistance may have been largely driven underground, but it had not disappeared. In the 1790s, the United Irishmen sought for Ireland the democratic reforms of the French revolution. In Belfast, according to Mary-Ann McCracken, almost everybody was learning French.(3) The spirit of reform and revolution was met with repression, as William Pitt allied a supposedly progressive Britain with ancien régime Europe, with the enthusiastic encouragement of Edmund Burke. Draconian preemptive disarmament actually sparked off the 1798 Rebellion in Wexford. In Boolavogue, prior to the Rebellion, a plea by the landlord to Fr. John Murphy’s congregation to recognise «the happiness resulting from the constitution», to swear an oath of allegiance, and «to give up all kinds of arms or offensive or defensive weapons in their possession and to inform against any man keeping arms without being registered» was stonily received, and only subscribed to under threat of dire retribution.(4) Once again, the link between accepting the constitution and surrendering arms was made by the authorities. The pike in the thatch is an expression from that period used to this day to refer to the hiding of arms for possible use on some later occasion. After the Fenian Rising of 1867, and after the war of independence and civil war, arms were buried. In the 19th century coercion and reform alternated, till eventually Gladstone had to admit in the 1880s, under pressure from a well-marshalled phalanx of Parnellite MPs holding the balance of power at Westminster, that there was no way of further avoiding the issue of free self-government.

The quest for Home Rule took a constitutional path till 1912, though in speaking of constitutionalism it is important to distinguish that the constitutional framework of reference was more British than Irish. Particularly when, after an interval, Redmond succeeded Parnell, the sense of a nval as opposed to a subordinate lnsh constitutionality largely disappeared, or rather drifted across to small groups like Sinn Féin. Home Rule was denied the consent of the Ulster Unionists, who imported arms to defy it. The lnsh Volunteers followed suit. For Republicans, the 1916 Proclamation and Rising created a new constitutional point of reference, an exclusively Irish one, reaffirmed in 1919, and fought for in the war of Independence while British constitutional measures like the Government of Ireland Act, 1920 were ignored.

In December 1920, the peace initiative of Archbishop Clune of Perth failed, because the British decided to seek a pnor surrender of arms as a precondition of negotiations. The war of independence was prolonged six months as a result.

The best effort to resolve the dispute over the Treaty without recourse to civil war was the draft Constitution, which sought to reconcile the Republic with the Treaty, only to fall foul of a trenchant Churchillian veto. Mediation attempts in the early stages of the civil war in July and August 1922 failed partly because the Free State Government, especially Mulcahy and Collins, insisted on the Republicans giving up their arms, presumably with a view to trying to curb a state of widespread lawlessness. The execution of Erskine Childers later that year for possession of a firearm was heavily criticised in the Dâil at the time.

At the end of the civil war Eamon de Valera offered to lodge arms in a neutrally guarded depot, but the political conditions attached to the offer, relating to the reestablishment of a constitutional order acceptable to Republicans (i.e. waiving obligatory acceptance of the oath of allegiance), were indignantly rejected by the Cosgrave Government. The order to dump arms was then carried out.(5)

The Principle of Consent from 1918 to the present day

From 1916, the Republican side had wrestled with the issues of legitimacy and consent. President Wilson had adopted in 1917-8 the doctrine of national self-determination defined as Governments derived from the consent of the governed.(6) In his correspondence with Lloyd George after the Truce, de Valera sought to advance these principles as justifying maintenance of Ireland’s already chosen form of government, a Republic. At the same time, he recognised that it would be inconsistent to try to apply force or coercion to the Northern situation. The tragic civil war was at one level a clash between the legitimacy of the Republican constitutional order proclaimed, in 1916 and again in 1919 and 1921, and the legitimacy of the Irish Free State derived from the Treaty and a British Act of Parliament.

Even in 1924, following armed defeat, some Republicans continued to lay great stress on the principle of consent as the foundation of democratic government. Thus, the Countess Markievicz said at a reunion of anti-Treaty Sinn Féin deputies in 1924, in a discussion on the limits of action of a de jure Republican Government that did not command majority support,

all properly constituted governments should be based on the consent of the governed … I want to always stand for the democratic principle. We want the people to have confidence in us, and it would give them confidence in us if we reaffirm that principle.(7)

It was a recognition that the withholding of consent applied both ways. They could withhold consent from the Free State Government, but the people could withhold consent from the Republicans. Similarly, in relation to Northern Ireland, while there was no question of according the Government there de jure recognition either, Republican leaders stuck firmly to the principle of non-coercion. A Fianna Fail election advertisement in 1927 stated «What Fianna Fail Does Not Stand For. Attacking the North East. Fianna Fail does not stand for attacking «Ulster» It will accept EXISTING REALITIES, but will work resolutely to bring partition to an end.(8)

In many people’s minds, the principle of consent is an idea of very recent origin, a product of revisionist thinking of the last 25 years. In reality, like so much else relating to the North, it was an idea revived from the debates of the early 1920s, and given a new currency, with the only difference among political parties being as to whether it should apply de jure or merely de facto in advance of a peace settlement. Lemass at the Oxford Union in 1959, while rejecting the right of the people of Northern Ireland to vote themselves out of the Irish State, made it clear «Our goal is the reunification of Ireland by agreement» Jack Lynch m September 1969 stated «It will remain our most earnest aim and hope to win the consent of the majority of the people in the Six Counties to means by which North and South can come together in a re-united and sovereign Ireland.»(9)

The Sunningdale Agreement, and the Joint Communiqué of Mrs. Thatcher and Charles Haughey of May 1980 contained a factual recognition, whether put negatively or positively, that a change in the status of Northern Ireland could or would only come about with consent. This was interpreted by the Supreme Court in 1990 in the McGimpsey case as a legitimate statement of policy in the spirit of Article 29 of the Constitution, which commits the South to the peaceful resolution of international disputes, rather than the renunciation per se of a de jure claim of right.

The principle of consent was reinforced or expressed more strongly by the then Taoiseach Mr. Albert Reynolds in the Downing Street Declaration of 1990s, in which he accepted, on behalf of the Irish Government

that the democratic right of self-determination by the people of Ireland as a whole must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland.

But equally in the same paragraph he expressed a sentiment, which also runs as a common thread through the Irish Government position going back to 1921, to the effect that the principle of consent applies both ways

The Taoiseach, on behalf of the Irish Government, considers that the lessons of Irish history, and especially of Northern Ireland, show that stability and well-being will not be found under any political system which is refused allegiance or rejected on grounds of identity by a significant minority of those governed by it.

The late Paddy McGrory, the courageous Belfast solicitor who successfully challenged the British Government over the shooting of the Gibraltar Three in 1988, argued in 1994, in a paper sent to Gerry Adams analysing the Downing Street Declaration, that Britain’s recognition of Ireland’s national right to self-determination without external should rank as the greatest achievement of the modern Republican movement. He took the view that the principle of consent changes its character, according to whether it was a British imposition and therefore a veto, or whether it came from an Irish source, stating that «the Irish, as they are entitled to do, are by their own wish conferring a concession on a section of the nation.»(10) This was very similar to the view of the Supreme Court in 1990.

In the Framework Document, both Governments «acknowledged that the option of a sovereign united Ireland does not command the consent of the Unionist tradition nor does the existing status of Northern Ireland command the consent of the Nationalist tradition» The draft Report of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, subscribed to by all the member parties North and South, with the exception of Sinn Féin (and with some reservations for quite different reasons by the Greens), states that Nationalist support for the two Governments, «approach to the principle of consent does not imply that the existing status of Northern Ireland commands Nationalist consent» The final stage envisaged would be the formalisation of the principle of consent in constitutional law in both countries, in substitution for absolute claims of sovereignty, as part of an overall political settlement.

The whole thrust of political movement is towards a new constitutional order embracing Northern Ireland, its relations with the rest of Ireland, and the relations of the two islands, which can be legitimated in Irish, not just British, terms. Crucial to this is «rigorous impartiality», parity of esteem and equal treatment promised by the British Government in the Framework Document, structures in Northern Ireland based on cross-community consensus, institutions reflecting North-South interaction and cooperation, as well as East-West or British-Irish structures. Simultaneously, it is accepted by Sinn Féin that success in the peace process involves removing the gun from Irish politics for good.

The Question of Decommissioning in the Peace Process

In the minds of those striving to achieve an IRA ceasefire, the question of decommissioning was an important, but not the immediate, problem. While some Opposition parties m the Dail sought to establish as an issue of principle with the Tanaiste Mr. Dick Spring that some surrender of weapons would have to take place prior to participation in talks, or even participation in the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, the Taoiseach Mr. Albert Reynolds, when he had time to consider the issue, realised and was advised that any such demand would be likely to tip the balance in the IRA decisively against a ceasefire. Accepting that a major unilateral gesture would not be forthcoming, it was made clear on his behalf that the issue would have to be addressed as part of talks, and that a resolution of it would have to form part of any agreement. The quantity and of weapons accumulated over a quarter of a century has no precedents in Irish history. Quite apart from the temptation of a future return to violence, the Government were also concerned that some weapons might be diverted to use for criminal purposes. But equally, it was envisaged that the issue of weapons would form part of a broader demilitarisation agenda, involving a major scaling down of the British military presence, though the British Government were at considerable pains to stress that there was no equivalence between the lawful army of the State and an illegal one.

While there was ongoing discussion of the issue between Irish justice officials and Northern Ireland ones, conscious of the difficulties of bringing Sinn Féin and the Unionists together around the one table, it did not impinge directly on the choice presented to Sinn Féin by both Governments under the terms of the Downing Street Declaration. The quid pro quo for a lasting renunciation of violence was the opportunity to participate in political talks with other parties.

That equation was not complicated by the additional demand of a partial surrender of weapons. When Sinn Féin sought clarification as to what was involved in a renunciation of violence, and what steps did the Bntish envisage as part of a process of dialogue, reconciliation and demilitarisation, which could have been a cue for any specific demand relating to weapons, the British Government responded by sticking to previously expounded political generalities. The nearest it came to referring to decommissioning was a suggestion that a further purpose of exploratory dialogue, apart from preparing Sinn Féin participation in talks, would be «to examine the practical consequences of the ending of violence.»(11)

On the Irish Government side a period of about six months following a ceasefire was envisaged to enable round table talks with Sinn Féin participation to begin. Apart from the three month waiting period which the British insisted upon, sometimes referred to as «a decontamination period», the Framework Document had to be completed before talks could be convened. Implicit m the internal language of the Framework Document was that talks would follow almost immediately after its publication. During the waiting period, it was also envisaged that the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation would try to do some of the groundwork for wider negotiations.

The issue of weapons decommissioning was discussed as a confidence-building measure at the Chequers Summit between the then Taoiseach Albert Reynolds and Prime Minister John Major in October 1994. Progress on addressing the issue was considered very important, but it was not then posed in terms of being a precondition. The Newry post office murder by the IRA on 9 November 1994 made the Secretary of State Sir Patrick Mayhew resolved to tighten the link. While efforts were made by the incoming Irish Government, which took office on 15 December 1994, to prevent that happening, they were ultimately unsuccessful. Following negative reaction to their outright rejection of the Framework Document, the Ulster Unionists skillfully switched the focus to IRA decommissioning, attempting to depict Sinn Féin rather than themselves as the obstacle to inclusive dialogue. In the context of the Anglo-American diplomatic row over the Sinn Fein leader Mr. Gerry Adams being received at the White House, the Secretary of State formulated the famous Washington 3 precondition. This set out «the actual decommissioning of some arms as a tangible confidence-building measure to signal the start of the process.»

The Taoiseach Mr. John Bruton made for about a fortnight a supporting demand that the IRA should make an unspecified material gesture. He claimed that he was putting arms at the top of the agenda of his discussions with President Clinton, implying that he wanted the President to exercise strong pressure. A gesture, however, was something that it was beyond the power of Gerry Adams to deliver, even if he had wanted to, as positions rapidly hardened on both sides, and some months later Mr. Bruton recognised that.

The IRA refusal to accept what some regarded as eminently reasonable but which they and others regarded as a political demand for a symbolic form of surrender led to a political impasse in the peace process that continued for months. From that point on, the British Conservative Government tried to balance the need to preserve itself as long as possible at Westminster, where it was losing its majority, and put off an election, given the unfavourable state of public opinion, while making some limited progress m the peace process of a type that would not fundamentally alienate either Ulster Unionist opinion, or pro-Unionist opinion amongst some of the Tory backbenchers. Thus British Ministers, not just officials, talked to Sinn Féin from the time of the Washington Economic Conference in May 1995 onwards. But they appeared to allow the Unionists, who otherwise threatened to walk out or not participate in the first place, a right of veto on Sinn Fein’s eligibility to take part in all-party talks.

Relations between Dublin and London became privately strained. Community relations in the North deteriorated with the first contested march at Drumcree, which ended in an unfortunate display of triumphalism. Relations between Sinn Féin and the Irish Government came close to breaking point. The impasse finally appeared to be broken, when, with a bad grace, the British Government, on the eve of President Clinton’s triumphal visit to Ireland at the end of November 1995, agreed to the establishment of an International Body headed by former US Senator George Mitchell to examine the decommissioning issue, which carried out its work and reported with unprecedented speed on 22 January 1996. The Body consisted of three members, Senator George Mitchell, General John de Chastelain of Canada and Mr. Harn Holkern, the former Finnish Prime Minister.

The purpose of the Mitchell Report was to break the impasse over decommissioning that was blocking all-party negotiations. The Report, referring to the «vast inventories of historical recrimination», said that «what is really needed, is a decommissioning of mind-sets in Northern Ireland.»

The core of the report was the setting out of six principles, to which parties to negotiations should affirm «their total and absolute commitment»

a. To democratic and exclusively peaceful means of resolving political issues,
b. To the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations,
c. To agree that such disarmament must be verifiable to the satisfaction of an independent commission,
d. To renounce for themselves, and to oppose any effort by others, to use force, or threaten to use force, to influence the course or the outcome of all-party negotiations,
e. To agree to abide by the terms of any agreement reached in all-party negotiations and to resort to democratic and exclusively peaceful methods in trying to alter any aspect of that outcome with which they may disagree, and,
f. To urge that «punishment» killings and beatings stop and to take effective steps to prevent such actions.

There was no seventh principle, as some felt there should have been, requiring acceptance of the principle of consent. Those opposing its inclusion did so on the grounds that it represented an ideological test or concession that had not been a political requirement at the time of the first ceasefire. The Bntish Government, when providing clarification to Sinn Féin, had stated that «Acceptance of the Joint Declaration is not a precondition for entering the talks process», and it accepted that other views could be put forward in future negotiations.(12) On the other hand, it was disquieting, after the IRA ceasefire broke on 9 February, to find the right of national self-determination (carrying with it denial of the principle of consent, which Sir Féin had just rejected m the context of the draft Forum Report) invoked by the IRA as a «mandate» for armed struggle.(13)

All over the world, there is a strong link between ideology and political violence. Yet much of the political ideology now associated with Sinn Féin was espoused for many decades by constitutional nationalist and republican parties (reaching its apogee in the 1949 All-Party Declaration in the Dail, following enunciation of the British «guarantee») It has subsequently been claimed by some Unionist leaders that acceptance of the principle of consent by the Republican Movement could serve to some degree as a substitute for early movement on decommissioning. Both Sinn Féin and Unionists would tend to see such a move by Sinn Féin as an affirmation of partition, though other subscribers to the principle of consent, with a more nuanced understanding of it, would not necessarily see it in that light

The Mitchell Report accepted that there was a clear commitment on the part of those in possession of arms to work constructively to achieve full and verifiable decommissioning, but not prior to negotiations. Effectively, the Report found that «the reality with which all concerned must deal» was that neither set of paramilitaries would decommission any arms prior to all-party negotiations. This was in effect a stinging criticism of demands that the British Government themselves and the Unionist parties had long known to be unrealistic and unattainable.

At the same time the Body recognised that there was a core of reasonable concern on both sides. Decommissioning would be the clearest demonstration that the use of violence had been abandoned for good On the other hand, there was a belief that, the request for prior decommissioning had been employed merely as a tactic to delay or deny negotiations. People needed to be reassured that the commitment to peaceful and democratic means was «genuine and irreversible», but equally those who had abandoned violence needed to be reassured that a meaningful and inclusive process of negotiations was genuinely being offered.

The new approach recommended by the Body was the six principles, which «invoke a comprehensive commitment to democracy and non-violence that is intended to reassure all parties to the negotiations.» The principles remain of critical importance as the basis of inclusive all-party negotiations.

The further suggestion was made, as a compromise between prior decommissioning and the position that «no decommissioning can take place, until the end of the process, after an agreed settlement has been reached», that «the parties should consider an approach under which some decommissioning would take place during the process of all-party negotiations, rather than before or after as the parties now urge» The question that is still being urgently explored by both Governments is whether this suggested compromise is a viable one from both a Unionist and Republican point of view as a firm basis for inclusive talks.

Another section of the report reviewed modalities, including mutuality and verifiability, with an openness to a wide variety of approaches. An amnesty for possession of weapons, and providing for freedom from forensic examination, since enacted in both Parliaments, would be required as part of the nuts and bolts of the process. Modalities, however, are not the major obstacle.

The Report, when published, seemed to receive a cautiously favourable initial response from Gerry Adams, when it was brushed aside as a solution to the impasse in the House of Commons by the Prime Minister Mr. John Major. Instead, Forum elections were announced, which introduced a further delay of months into the situation. The anger among Nationalists was palpable. The Forum for Peace and Reconciliation moved to conclude its Report, from which Sinn Féin registered dissent on the point of consent and concurrent self-determination. Shortly afterwards on 9 February 1996, a bomb exploded at Canary Wharf killing two people. The IRA ceasefire had collapsed.

The two Governments, shaken by events, proceeded to agree rapidly a date for all-party talks and to establish Ground Rules. Following the Forum Elections, in which Sinn Féin did well, the way was open for them to enter the talks on 10 June without any interval and sign the Mitchell Principles. What almost certainly discouraged them was the knowledge that such talks would be totally dominated by the decommissioning issue, as they have proved to be, even in Sinn Féin’s absence. For twelve months, the talks were stuck first on procedural issues, and then the issue of how decommissioning would be handled in talks, the Unionists making demands which are more exacting than what is suggested m the Mitchell Report.

Unionists want the talks to move off without Sinn Féin, who would be permanently debarred from them. Nationalists are not willing to let go so easily of the prize of peace. Sinn Féin gained over 40% of the Nationalist vote in the May British and local elections, and was obviously thriving electorally, the more the former British Government and the Unionist parties tried de facto or de jure to exclude them from the political process. It was unreasonable to expect the SDLP to collaborate in their permanent exclusion and move towards a settlement, unless the Republican movement were very obviously to exclude themselves by a full-scale return to IRA violence or a persistent refusal to renounce it.

The question at issue at this stage is whether the two Governments and the parties are prepared to allow the talks process to founder on the issue of decommissioning. It could be argued that Unionist tactics are having the perverse effect from their point of view of radicalising the Nationalist community. Some may have the notion that decommissioning is a useful pretext to disqualify the representatives of close to half of the other community from the political process, if not to torpedo all negotiations. Practically all in the Unionist community see their demands for at least some decommissioning as inherently reasonable in a democratic society. Seamus Mallon, deputy leader of the SDLP, has pointed out, however, that the authorities in both jurisdictions will continue to search for weapons and in that sense to decommission them. There is therefore no question of official tolerance in a law enforcement sense of the paramilitary retention of illegal weapons. Yet most people also want genuine negotiations leading to a settlement. Both sets of paramilitaries are reluctant to give up their power to protect their own communities, as well as the power over them, without the most tangible guarantees of productive political dialogue and future stability. There is the unwelcome prospect for Republican communities that the police and military might slowly come back into areas they had largely vacated.

Irish political parties are mostly pragmatic about the decommissioning issue. While not denying the important contribution such a move could make in terms of confidence building, there may be a certain illogicality in seeking to resolve that issue ahead of all others, in a process where otherwise nothing is agreed till everything is agreed, without any guarantee of a settlement. Senator Edward Kennedy m a trenchant comment in the course of a speech on 4 April 1997, calling on the IRA to restore their ceasefire now, stated

Many, including myself, have noted the phoniness of the so-called «decommissioning» issue as a tactical device to block inclusive negotiations. The handing-m of weapons m advance never happened in other peace processes and it won’t happen in Northern Ireland. Decommissioning is a legitimate issue which the parties must address, but it is one of many issues to be addressed and resolved as part of the overall process of agreement. The public, the majority of the participants, the governments, and the international community will not support a process, artificially held hostage to a single issue.

Unionism clings to the status quo, which the new Secretary of State Dr. Mo Mowlam has said is not an option, by which she means there must be a process of reform. Republicans seek a dynamic that will bring about its early collapse within an identifiable period of time. Unionists still do not seem to see any pressing need to win the consent of the Nationalist community to their preferred constitutional order, which is the Union. The right claimed by the Orange Order to march on «the Queen’s highway» through Nationalist districts is a microcosm of this. Republicans are not always convinced of the need for Unionist consent to a united Ireland or at least British withdrawal. Orangemen and Republicans alike mistrust the principle of consent, when it seems to confer a right of veto on the other community.

There is a certain more traditional Republicanism, by no means confined to Sinn Féin, that is unwilling to recognise the consent principle, which is fundamental to all political initiatives of the past 17 years, and that believes that Unionists should be placed m a position, with British support withdrawn, where they have no real choice but to bow to the wishes of the Nationalist majority on the island as a whole, and where it is supposed that the requirement for their consent cannot feasibly be denied and is reduced to a formality However, it is unable to answer the question as to how, with or without force, that scenario is going to be brought about, given the lack of support for it in either the Dail or Westminster.

There is firm political clarity about the importance of the principle of consent amongst all the mainstream parties in the South. Bertie Ahern, leader of Fianna Fail, stated on 30 May in Cork, dunng the 1997 General Election campaign

We have wanted the Unionist community and the Loyalist organisations to have confidence in our intentions, to see clearly that we m the South, and Fianna Fail in particular, have no interest in a resolution of the Northern Ireland problem by force or political coercion, even supposing it could be achieved. The only united Ireland that we would want is one brought about, when and if the time is ripe, in a spirit of harmony and agreement between the two traditions.

That will set the tone for a new Irish Administration taking office on 26 June 1997.

NOTES
1 Report of the Manuscripts of the Marquis of Ormonde, K. .P., preserved at the Castle, Kilkenny. Vol. II. London Historical Manuscripts Commission, 1899, pp. 337-8, 357-9. Proclamations of 8 November 1673, 2 November and 12 December 1678. Bryan Mansergh of Ballybur, ancestor of the author, was one of those appointed to receive arms in the county and city of Kilkenny.
2 Locke, John. Two Treatises of Government. Ed. Peter Laslett. London Cambridge University Press, 1960, pp. 441-2.
3 Mary-Ann McCracken to Henry McCracken, 26 March 1797, cited in McNeill, Mary. The Life and Times of Mary-Ann McCracken 1770-1866. Belfast the Blackstaff Press, 1988, p. 139.
4 Furlong, Nicholas. Fr. John Murphy of Boolavogue. Dublin Geography 1991, pp. 32-4.
5 McArdle, Dorothy. The Irish Republic. Dublin, Irish Press Ltd., 1951, pp. 849-58.
6 A full analysis of the doctrine of the right of national self-determination and how it applies to Ireland, before and since partition, was given by Albert Reynolds as Taoiseach to the UCD Law Society in Barberstown Castle, 20 January 1994.
7 Cited in Gaughan, J. Anthony. Austin Stack. Portrait of a Separatist. Dublin Kingdom Books, 1977, p. 357.
8 Dunphy, Richard. The Making of Fianna Fail Power in Ireland 1923-1948. Oxford Clarendon Press, 1995, p. 138.
9 Lemass, Sean. «One Nation», Dublin Fianna Fail, 1959, p. 13. Lynch, John. Speeches and Statements. Irish Unity. Northern Ireland. Anglo-Irish Relations. August 1969 – October 1971. The Taoiseach John Lynch T. D. Dublin Government Information Bureau, 1971, p. 12. Speech in Tralee, 20 September 1969.
10 Cited in Mallie, Eamonn & McKittrick, David. The Fight for Peace. Secret Story behind the Irish Peace Process. London Heinemann, 1996, pp. 292-4.
11 Statement by the Northern Ireland Office, 19 May 1994.
12 Ibid.
13 Interview with IRA Spokesperson. An Phoblacht. Republican News. 6 March 1996.

Source: Persée