.Tony Blairs Moving Speech To The Irish Palliament,
.The First British Prime Minister To Do So,
.In The 80 Year Existence Of That Parliament
This is the concluding part of the article Non Should Ignore
Injustice Of The Past, first published last Friday October 5, 2012.
It will require vision, but no more than the vision that has
transformed Ireland. It will require imagination, but no more than that shown by
the British people in the last two years. The old ways are changing between
London and Dublin. And this can spur the change and healing in Northern Ireland
too. The old notions of unionist supremacy and of narrow nationalism are
gradually having their fingers prised from their grip on the future.
Different traditions have to understand each other. Just as
we must understand your yearning for a united Ireland, so too must you
understand what the best of unionism is about. They are good and decent people,
just like you. They want to remain part of the UK , and I have made it clear
that I value that wish. They feel threatened. Threatened by the terrorism with
which they have had to live for so long. Threatened, until the Good Friday
Agreement, that they would be forced into a united Ireland against the will of
the people of Northern Ireland.
Yet they realize now that a framework in which consent is
guaranteed is also one in which basic rights of equality and justice are
guaranteed, and that those who wish a united Ireland are free to make that
claim, provided it is democratically expressed, just as those who believe in
the Union can make their claim.
It is all about belonging. The wish of unionists to belong
to the UK. The wish of nationalists to belong to Ireland. Both traditions are
reasonable. There are no absolutes. The beginning of understanding is to
My point is very simple. Those urges to belong, divergent as
they are, can live together more easily if we, Britain and the Irish Republic,
can live closer together too.
Down through the centuries, Ireland and Britain have
inflicted too much pain, each on the other. But now, the UK and Ireland as two
modern countries, we can try to put our histories behind us, try to forgive and
forget those age-old enmities.
We have both grown up now. A new generation is in power in
We now have a real opportunity to put our relations on a
completely new footing, not least through working together in Europe. I know
that is what our peoples want and I believe we can deliver it.
Our ties are already rich and diverse: — the UK is the
largest market for Irish goods. And you are our fifth most important market in
· in trade unions, professional bodies and the voluntary
sector, our people work together to help their communities; in culture, sport
and academic life there is an enormous crossover. Our theatres are full of
Irish plays. Our television is full of Irish actors and presenters. Your
national football team has a few English accents too;
· above all, at the personal level, millions of Irish people
live and work in Britain, and hundreds of thousands of us visit you every year.
As ties strengthen, so the past can be put behind us.
Nowhere was this better illustrated than at the remarkable ceremony at Messines
earlier this month. Representatives of nationalists and unionists travelled
together to Flanders to remember shared suffering. Our army bands played
together. Our heads of state stood together. With our other European neighbors,
such a ceremony would be commonplace. For us it was a first. It shows how far
we have come. But it also shows we still have far to go.
The relationships across these islands are also changing in
a significant way.
The Taoiseach has spoken of the exciting new relationships
that will unfold as the people of Scotland and Wales, as well as Northern
Ireland, express their wishes through their own parliaments and assemblies. The
new British Irish Council must reflect and explore these opportunities. We have
much to gain by co-operating better across these islands in areas like
transport, education, the fight against illegal drugs.
But I want our co-operation to be wider and more fundamental
still, above all in Europe.
It is 25 years since we both joined what was then the EEC.
We have had different approaches to agriculture, to monetary union, to defence.
But increasingly we share a common agenda and common objectives:
Completion of the
Single Market and structural eco nomic reform;
Better conditions for
growth and jobs in Europe;
A united and
coherent foreign policy voice for Eu rope;
A more effective
fight against crime, drugs, illegal im migration and environmental damage;
flexible, open and
accountable European institutions.
We must work to make the single currency a success. Unlike
Ireland, we are not joining in the first wave. But we have made clear that we
are prepared to join later if the economic benefits are clear and unambiguous.
For my government, there is no political or constitutional barrier to joining.
There is no resistance to fullhearted European co-operation wherever this
brings added value to us all.
Enlargement will increasingly test our political and
economic imaginations, as we struggle with policy reform and future financing.
The international financial system must be reformed. We must learn to apply
real political will and harness our skills and resources far more effectively
to solve regional problems, notably in the Balkans and the Middle East. Above
all, Europe must restate its vision for today’s world, so that our people
understand why it is so important. This means defining the priorities where
common European action makes obvious sense and can make a real difference, like
economic co-ordination, foreign and security policy, the environment, crime and
drugs. It also means distinguishing them from areas where countries or regions
can best continue to make policy themselves, to suit local circumstances, while
still learning from each other, for example, tax, education, health, welfare.
That is why I want to forge new bonds with Dublin. Together
we can have a stronger voice in Europe and work to shape its future in a way
which suits all our people. It is said there was a time when Irish diplomats in
Europe spoke French in meetings to ensure they were clearly distinguished from
us. I hope those days are long behind us. We can accomplish much more when our
voices speak in harmony.
Our ministers and officials are increasingly consulting and
coordinating systematically. We can do more. I believe we can transform our
links if both sides are indeed ready to make the effort. For our part, we are.
This must also involve a dramatic new effort in bilateral
relations, above all to bring our young generations together. We need new youth
and school exchanges, contact through the new University for Industry, better
cultural programs in both directions. We need to work much more closely to
fight organised crime and drugs. We can do much more to enrich each other’s experience
in areas like health care and welfare.
None of this threatens our separate identities. Co-operation
does not mean losing distinctiveness.
What the Taoiseach and I seek is a new dimension to our
relationships, a real partnership between governments and peoples, which will
engage our societies at every level.
We have therefore agreed to launch a new intensive process.
The Taoiseach and I will meet again next spring in London, with key ministerial
colleagues, to give this the necessary impetus and agenda, and will thereafter
meet at least once a year to review progress. This will be part of the work of
the new Intergovernmental Conference. The objective is threefold:
. First, revitalised and modernised bilateral relations
where we can finally put the burden of history behind us;
Second, a habit of
close consultation on European issues, marked by a step-change in contacts at
every level, particularly in key areas such as agriculture, justice and home
affairs, employment and foreign and security policy;
together on international issues more widely, for example UN peacekeeping, to
which both our countries have been important contributors, arms proliferation
and the Middle East.
What I welcome above all is that, after keeping us apart for
so long, Northern Ireland is now helping to bring us closer together. But I do
not believe Northern Ireland can or should any longer define the relationship
between us. Our common interests, what we can achieve together, go much, much
wider than that.
Our two countries can look to the future with confidence in
our separate ways. But we will be stronger and more prosperous working
That is my ambition. I know it is shared by the Taoiseach. I
believe it is an ambition shared by both our nations. The 21st century awaits
us. Let us confront its challenge with confidence, and together give our
children the future they deserve.
Tony Blair – November 26, 1998.