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John Hume
John Hume
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John Hume Interview (page: 6 / 8)

Nobel Prize for Peace

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  John Hume

Mr. Trimble, you showed tremendous strength of purpose in insisting on the disarmament process at the height of these talks, not backing down. Can you tell us about that?

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David Trimble: We've had some small progress on that issue, but the actual problem itself has not been resolved. The whole object of the agreement is to produce peace and democracy in Northern Ireland. We've got a lot of progress in terms of building democratic institutions and people working together, and yes, we've a much lower level of violence, and people have got a qualitative change in how their lives are conducted. But we haven't got an absence of violence and we haven't got rid of the private armies. You can't say that you've got a society that's operating by purely peaceful and democratic means if you still have various private armies, which have political ambitions, continuing every night again to flex their muscles.

Now, that is the problem. That is the problem and until we can get that problem resolved, then we can't be confident that, for example, with regard to the Irish republican movement, that its movement into politics has been genuine and not tactical. While it's involved in politics, that's fine, but while it still retains a private army, then you cannot be sure that its conversion to peace and democracy is genuine and is permanent. If it retains the option of going back to violence, you can't really regard it as a normal political or power organization. And, the same is true with regard to the other private armies that exist, and the people that operate them and control them, that while they retain the option of resort to violence, then you can't regard them as peace-loving democrats. And, that problem of the continuation of armed gangs with political objectives remains.

It's possible that what you're seeing is part of a process of change, but we want to see the progress demonstrably taking place, and the goal getting closer. That's part of the frustration, when things have been moving so slowly, over four years after the agreement. Some of the issues that the agreement settled on paper, we haven't actually got them settled on the streets. That is quite frustrating, and it tends to drain away support from the process.

One aspect of the situation in Northern Ireland that has been well covered in the United States is the issue of parading and the "siege of Drumcree." Could you tell us about your role in that, your role in that, Mr. Trimble, and why this 1995 incident was so significant?

David Trimble: Yes.

The business of parading is quite common in Northern Ireland, as indeed it is in the United States as well, and there are certain cultural reasons for that. And, for those of the Unionist community, the main parades and organizations that they would look at would be those which are Orange, that relate back to the Glorious Revolution at the end of the 17th Century, and those have been happening in Ireland from the 18th Century onwards. Yes, they represent a particular communal view, but they are essentially -- to people within the Unionist community -- they're more in terms of a festival or a celebration. In the United States, you have the arrangement with regard to popular parades and all the rest of it, that people have the freedom of assembly and the right to process, and you would not allow and you'd not dream of allowing groups by the threat of violence to inhibit the exercise of that right. And indeed, there have been notable incidents in the United States where the authorities have gone to considerable lengths to ensure that even people that you don't like have the right to process.

John Hume Interview Photo

It's in our Constitution.

David Trimble: It's in your Constitution. It's always been in our sense of liberty, as well, but in the United Kingdom we do not have a written constitution in the same way. And in a situation where those things which were popularly regarded as rights are actually dependent on ordinary law and custom and practice, then the situation can evolve differently.

What has happened in Northern Ireland is we've got efforts being made to ghettoize society, for people to carve out ghettos and say, "This is our territory and nobody else is allowed to come into it." And, those ghettos which were carved out haven't remained static. Some places have expanded. And, what then happened with regard to the Drumcree incident is that a traditional parade, which had been following the same route since 1807, became controversial because part of the territory over which the parade was taking place changed color. And what had been an Orange road became a Green road, and then people living adjacent to that road said that they were going to prevent the parade from taking place.

What had been a Protestant area had become Catholic, and that's the adjacent territory. What you were actually dealing with was with the main road. There was no question of people parading through the streets of a housing district, but actually coming down the main road. The adjacent housing projects alongside the road had changed color, and the people there were saying, "We will stop this."

You had that clash between one view of liberty, which was one not very dissimilar from the view that you would take in the United States, and those who were trying to carve out areas which they could then dominate and control. Now, the latter development is actually part of a bigger problem that's happening in Northern Ireland, in that over the years, the Troubles, the areas which have become sort of recognized, "That is a Green area that's controlled entirely by republican paramilitaries." "This is an Orange area; it's controlled by loyalist paramilitaries." This is a thoroughly bad situation because it diminishes the areas where there is any degree of common freedom, and it diminishes the areas where the normal laws of society apply. Because, although the authorities are supposed to govern everywhere, and the police are supposed to move in areas which are recognized as being dominated by loyalist paramilitaries or republican paramilitaries, then the normal rules don't apply and that is a thoroughly bad development, and we've had those problems.

It's the same problems that we're having with the violence that's taken place in Belfast over the last few weeks. Again, it is what we call interfaces. In other words, on the boundary line between a republican ghetto and a loyalist ghetto, and there is fighting going on, and those boundary lines are not necessarily static. People are trying to expand their territory one way or the other, and it has produced in Belfast in the last few weeks some very serious riots.

It is that general problem. Parades are a symptom, but the parade in itself is not a problem. Where there's a problem, it is the ghettoization of society that has taken place. We need to find some way of actually arresting that and changing the context in which it operates. The agreement is supposed to do that.

The agreement tries to set out a set of principles and standards that are applicable to all, to move to a rights-based society, and rights-based approach. But we are a long way from implementing all those matters. Yes, we've got the European Convention on Human Rights embodied in domestic law, and we have other structures that are there, but in terms of what happens on the street, I'm afraid it's the older business of one gang fighting against another gang, one paramilitary group fighting another paramilitary group, the UDF fighting the IRA. That is what is happening on the streets, rather than the rights-based civil society that the agreement envisaged applying throughout society as a whole.

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This page last revised on Sep 27, 2010 14:45 EST
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