Ireland has much to learn from Canada
By James Buchok
WINNIPEG — The man who led Ireland’s effort to bring peace between the Irish Republican Army and the British government says Canada and its accommodation of two distinct groups was an inspiration to Ireland’s constitutional development.
Martin Mansergh, a former special adviser to then Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahearn and the Teachta Dála (MP) for Tipperary South from 2007 to 2011, delivered the 2012 Sol Kanee Lecture at the University of Manitoba, Oct. 10.
He said Ireland could learn other lessons from Canada, noting that day’s newspaper reported the City of Winnipeg will post a modest budget surplus in 2012. “It’s a pity more couldn’t follow that example,” Mansergh said, referring to Ireland’s current economic crisis. “There’s lots to be learned about prudent financial and economic management,” he said.
Mansergh said peace with justice had long been the desired resolution to the Northern Ireland Conflict. He said the 1998 Belfast Agreement, also known as the Good Friday Agreement, was “a synthesis” of many different agreements over the decades.
“We are not at the end of history and there is no living happily ever after,” Mansergh said. “High walls still stand and there is a long way to go. But there is reason for satisfaction that peace with a level of justice has been achieved.”
Mansergh said leaders of the IRA brought the “vast majority” of their community with them into the peace process. “Not many armed groups that haven’t won their struggle have been able to do that. If you want a new agreement maintained, the parties have to keep working at it. There are challenges from dissident groups and there will always be security challenges.”
Mansergh said Sinn Fein (the Irish republican political party) and the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party, the larger of two main unionist political parties in Northern Ireland) “both support the agreement and are in no way weakened by critics on either side.” But, he added, “political support doesn’t solve problems on the ground and none of us can foresee how the future will develop.”
Only four months after the Good Friday agreement a bombing in the town of Armagh in Northern Ireland killed 29 people and injured 220. The car bomb attack was carried out by a group calling itself the Real Irish Republican Army, a splinter group of the former IRA, opposed to the Good Friday Agreement. Mansergh said the attack “pushed the parties together with even more determination.”
In May, 2011, Queen Elizabeth II became the first reigning British monarch to make a state visit to the Republic of Ireland in 100 years. Last June the Queen visited Northern Ireland and shared an historic handshake with Martin McGuinness, a former IRA commander, and at that time deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland.
Mansergh said economic conflicts between Ireland and Britain loom, with The Republic of Ireland being a member of the Eurozone while Britain is not. “If the Eurozone survives its current economic crisis, and I believe it will,” he said, “then Britain and Ireland remain on separate trajectories and the Eurozone could tighten up against non-members with interesting implications for Irish-British relations.”
It was the Ninth Annual Sol Kanee Lecture on Peace and Justice presented by the Arthur V. Mauro Centre for Peace and Justice at St. Paul’s College at the University of Manitoba. There are currently 34 students from 18 countries in the centre’s PhD program in Peace and Conflict Studies.
The lecture series is named for Winnipeg lawyer and businessman Sol Kanee (1909-2007). Originally from Melville, Sask., Kanee was president of the Canadian Jewish Congress and chair of the Board of Governors of the World Jewish Congress. For his long and varied community service locally, nationally and internationally, Kanee received the Order of Canada in 1977.