Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: John Hume

Reconciliation in Ireland Part 5

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday September 23 2012

Peace comes dropping slow

There were too many twists and turns in the road to the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement to be covered satisfactorily in 800 words. Readers wanting to follow the detail should read Great Hatred, Little Room by Jonathan Powell for an inside view by a British government participant. Deaglán de Bréadún, of the Irish Times, followed the negotiations on a daily basis and interviewed key people. In his book The Far Side of Revenge. My favorite quotation in the book is from a republican asked about the decommissioning of IRA arms. “We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it”.

Why did it end?
The 30-year war had reached a stalemate. Peter Taylor, in his book Brits, provides convincing evidence to show that British intelligence had improved to such an extent that the IRA were well aware that they could not possibly win. On their side, the British were savvy enough to know that they could not achieve a definitive military defeat of the IRA. Behind a facade of British refusal to talk with terrorists and the IRA refusal to contemplate anything short of a united Ireland, both sides were for a long time edging towards compromise.

The actors
De Bréadún provides pithy pen portraits of key participants. Of Bill Clinton, he says: “A needy man met a needy people”. He quotes George Mitchell: “No-one can really have a chance in a society dominated by fear, hatred and violence…a deadly ritual in which most of the victims are innocent”.
PMs Blair and Ahern grew in stature because of their dogged efforts on Northern Ireland before, respectively, Iraq and corruption destroyed their reputations.
Three Catholic Northern Ireland citizens were essential to the peace process. John Hume, of the Social Democratic Liberal Party sacrificed his health throughout his adult life representing the nationalist community’s aspirations for an end to discrimination. Although Hume was a fervent upholder of non-violence, he was courageous enough to maintain dialogue with the men of violence, chiefly through Gerry Adams.
De Bréadún writes of Gerry Adams, “He failed to match the stereotype of the fire-breathing subversive, choosing instead to act as a conduit for the grievances of the grassroots”.

While Adams dealt with the broad strategic sweep, Martin McGuinness proved to be a canny negotiator. According to a senior Dublin civil servant: “The boy revolutionary developed into a mature and skilful politician”. De Bréadún writes: “Mc Guinness got respect in his own right, thanks to his formidable history as an activist and his direct and commanding personality. If Adams was the architect of the republican project, McGuinness was the engineer”.

On the Unionist side David Trimble had been involved with the right-wing, paramilitary-linked Vanguard in the early 1970s before he joined the mainstream Ulster Unionist Party. As the leader of the UUP he could not afford to be too “moderate”. The Reverend Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist party was constantly raising the “No surrender. No popery” ante and Trimble had to be seen to support triumphalist loyalist marches through Catholic areas.

 

Constructive ambiguity
Many regarded the peace process with scepticism concerned that it would bring men of violence into the heart of democracy. Symbolic issues like policing and decommissioning provided obstacles. To carry his party with him, Trimble had to insist that the IRA decommission its arms. McGuinness and Adams had great authority with the rank and file of the IRA but could not sell decommissioning as it would be seen as surrender without achieving the aim of a united Ireland.
To cut a convoluted story short, peace was achieved through a process of constructive ambiguity, which allowed all actors to say they had not surrendered. Talks resumed in 1993 after Clinton listened to Sinn Féin On April 10, 1998, the British and Irish governments formulated the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement. After the St Andrews Agreement in 2006, and 2007 elections, the DUP and Sinn Féin formed a government in May 2007. Paisley became First Minister and McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister.
The nationalists could say that their struggle had entered new non-violent phase in which progress would be made towards a united Ireland by developing cross-border All-Ireland institutions and co-operating within the EU. Loyalists could claim that they had preserved their membership of the UK. The constitution of the Irish Republic was amended to give up its territorial claim to Northern Ireland. Trimble lost the leadership of the UUP and mainstream parties like the UUP and Hume’s SDLP lost influence to Paisley’s DUP and Adams’s Sinn Fein. A bizarre aspect was that the indefatigable nay-sayer Paisley became a jovial buddy of McGuinness, who also learnt to smile a lot. They became known as the Chuckle Brothers.

 

– See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/focus/item/10734-peace#sthash.MLLs7DLt.dpuf

 

Credit Unions – Banking and Social Responsibility

This article appeared in the June 2014 issue of The Abacus.

 

Will the conventional banks ever provide “a New Moral World” of happiness, enlightenment, and prosperity?

 

When I called in at Midleton Credit Union just before Christmas, I was immediately offered a piece of cake and a glass of red wine. This was around 10am and there was already a good deal of red-faced conviviality in the branch. Whenever I stopped by to make a deposit or withdrawal, the manager would call me in for a friendly chat.

I have a similarly cordial relationship with my local Sampath Bank manager but one could never imagine such a thing with conventional banks in the UK or Ireland. If one tries to phone the Croydon branch of Barclay’s, one finds that all branches have the same telephone number and when one dials that number, one finds oneself speaking to someone in Bangalore rather than Croydon. Barclays plan to cut 12,000 staff this year. The bank’s total bonus pool for 2013 rose by 10% to £2.38bn, from £2.17bn in 2012, with the investment bank’s bonus pool increasing by 13%.The level of personal service is unlikely to improve.

History of Credit Unions

Credit Unions originated in the 19th century, based on the ideas of Robert Owen in the UK, Herman Schulze-Delitzsch in Germany and Alphonse Desjardin in North America. Owen was born in Wales but moved to Manchester, then to Scotland (where he achieved commercial success operating on principles that became the basis for the cooperative movement in Britain). He then bought a town in Indiana which he renamed New Harmony. Unfortunately, the utopia failed. Owen’s vision was of “a New Moral World” of happiness, enlightenment, and prosperity through education, science, technology, and communal living.

A Credit Union is a member-owned financial cooperative, democratically controlled by its members, and operated for the purpose of promoting thrift, providing credit at competitive rates, and providing other financial services to its members. Many Credit Unions also provide services intended to support community development or sustainable international development on a local level.

Credit Unions in Ireland

Credit Unions have played an important role in Irish society since the 1950s. The Irish Credit Union movement has achieved one of the highest membership penetrations of any country, with over 50% of the Irish population now holding membership. Credit Unions in Ireland today vary dramatically in size, membership and in the range of services they offer. However, they all share a basic philosophy and set of principles.

Ireland in the 1950s could have been a third world country. There was high unemployment and poor housing, which led to sickness and malnutrition. State unemployment benefits were low and did not last indefinitely, leaving many families in abject poverty, relying on loan sharks. Banks and other financial institutions did not advance credit without substantial collateral or guarantees; you had to be a homeowner in order to get a loan and very few people owned their own homes in the 1950s.

Nora Herlihy (a teacher of under-privileged children), Sean Forde (a baker) and Séamus P MacEoin (a civil servant) decided to do something about it. They recognised the root of the problem as the scarce availability and poor management of money and resolved to identify a system that would allow people to gain more control over their finances.

In 1956, a government sponsored savings campaign prompted a co-operative in Dun Laoghaire, County Dublin, to set up a thrift society, which was reformed as the Dun Laoghaire Borough Credit Union – the first in Ireland.

Peace pioneer John Hume and five others pooled their combined savings of eight pounds and ten shillings, in October 1960, to set up Derry Credit Union, the first in Northern Ireland.

The movement advanced through the 1960s in a series of spectacular leaps. By the end of the decade, 180,442 people had joined 336 unions spread throughout the 32 counties and their savings amounted to almost £9 million. Most members of Credit Unions are savers rather than borrowers, which can be a problem for their viability.

Personal Experience

I was a member of Midleton Credit Union in County Cork. Their motto is Not for profit. Not for charity. But for service. Midleton has 18,000 members and provides a full range of financial services to members. Midleton Credit Union was formed in 1968 solely to help its members and aims to offer fair and reasonable rates on savings and loans. It provides loans for cars, holidays, Christmas, weddings and just about anything one can persuade the manager to agree to. Payment periods range from one to five years. Loans are insured at no direct cost to the eligible member. Repayment protection insurance is available as an optional extra. There are no hidden fees or transaction charges. A loan of 10,000 repaid monthly over five years would mean monthly payments of €209.82. The typical interest rate of 9.5% is high compared to the 2% on my Bank of Ireland mortgage, but I found the Credit Union’s flexibility helpful in the refurbishment of my derelict cottage and the refurbishment of my very mouth when I had extensive and expensive dental treatment. Repayments are calculated on the reducing balance of the loan. This means smaller interest repayments as you repay your loan. Repayment terms can be adjusted to suit your particular circumstances. You can repay the loan earlier or make larger repayments than agreed with no penalty. Additional lump sum repayments are accepted with no penalty.

Criticism

It is ironic, in the light of what I have written in these pages about the shortcomings of the Central Bank of Ireland as a financial regulator, that it should publish a report critical of Credit Unions. In Credit Union Prism Risk Assessments, Sharon Donnery, Registrar of Credit Unions, wrote: “Regrettably, we found the majority of credit unions we engaged with needed to make significant improvements. …We also noted in a small number of cases certain attitudes and behaviours indicative of an unwillingness to comply with legal and regulatory requirements and associated absence of appropriate risk management systems and compliance programmes.”

 

Ms Donnery pontificates: “As with all other financial institutions, they depend on public confidence for their success and members need to be assured that their savings are safe.”

 

Despite the shortcomings of the Central Bank, three executives of Anglo Irish Bank are each facing 16 charges of illegal activity.

 

Customer Satisfaction

Research indicates that Credit Union customers are more satisfied with service quality than bank customers are. A survey showed that Credit Unions rate significantly higher than banks on 11 of the 14 service quality questions: access; courtesy; communication; credibility; security; empathy; tangibles; basic service; fairness; fixing mistakes; and guarantees. People between the ages of 18 and 34 have a high regard for the community-owned lenders. Four out of 10 young adults are members of Credit Unions and half of this group would consider a loan of around €6,300. Young adults see Credit Unions as more understanding than banks.

 

Conclusion

The World Council of Credit Unions is the leading international trade association and development agency for credit unions. Since 1971, World Council has increased access to high quality financial services worldwide by strengthening Credit Unions using a well-defined and thoroughly tested development model. In Sri Lanka, the World Council is strengthening Credit Unions in areas affected by the conflict with the intent of restoring financial stability and a broader sense of security.

It would seem that in Ireland the public, chastened by the antics of the casino banks, have more trust in Credit Unions than banks, whatever Ms Donnery might say. Is there a lesson for the rest of the world? Banking (the service that should protect savings and supply loans for social uses such as productive development) is too important to be left in the hands of a small number of private bankers who, by definition seek only to maximise their profits. Credit Unions bring a measure of democracy, cooperation and mutuality to the ugly world of finance. They are an example of what biologist EO Wilson called “the delicate web of reciprocity”.

 

Dayan Jayatilleka’s Long War: The Irish Dimension

This article was published in Ceylon Today on 24 December 2013.

 

Introduction

The road to hell is paved with false analogies.

Dr Jayatilleka’s book has had good coverage in many places, including this paper. I have been thinking about it again after some dialogue with people in Northern Ireland and in Sri Lanka about the question of justifiable violence.

At one point in the book, Dr Jayatilleka remarked about Prabakharan: “He burnt his boats as well as his bridges”.

This reminded me of Deaglán de Bréadún, of the Irish Times, who on a daily basis followed the negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement. He wrote about the Northern Ireland peace process in his book The Far Side of Revenge. My favourite quotation in the book is from a Sinn Fein spokesman, asked about the decommissioning of IRA arms. “We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it”.

Beware of Irishmen Bearing Advice

Dr Jayatilleka discusses the visit of John Hume to Sri Lanka. By the time Hume received his Nobel Peace Prize (shared with David Trimble) his health had been broken by his long fight for peace, a fight that entailed, in his words “spilling sweat instead of blood”. Hume was horribly wrong about Sri Lanka. I am proud to have coined the phrase: “The road to hell is paved with false analogies”.

Hume’s greatness lay in the fact that stubbornly, over many years, he was prepared to be ostracised for talking to the men of violence. One of those men of violence, Martin McGuinness, also became a man of peace. McGuinness was in the right place at the right time and had the “freedom fighting” credentials to persuade the Provisional IRA to persevere with talks that were frustrating for all concerned and eventually got them to lay down their arms.

Mc Guinness came to Sri Lanka to advise us. My friend, the Reverend Harold Good is not naive about the horrors of terrorism. It was Harold, winner of the Gandhi Peace Award, who announced to the world that the IRA had surrendered their arms to General de Chastelaine. Harold counts McGuinness as his friend, following their partnership in the Northern Ireland peace process. When McGuinness ran for the presidency of the Republic of Ireland, Harold told me: “If elected he would be a circumspect, respectful and statesmanlike president.”

How unlike the LTTE

Can one imagine Prabakharan doing good job as a minister in the Northern province or being a “circumspect, respectful and statesmanlike President” of a united Sri Lanka (or, indeed, chief minister of Tamil Nadu)?

McGuinness made a less than helpful intervention in Sri Lankan affairs when he came here in 2006 and talked with LTTE leaders. McGuinness criticized the EU for banning the Tamil Tigers as a Terrorist Organization. He said, “it was a huge mistake for EU leaders to demonize the LTTE and the political leaders of the Tamil people.” He may have meant well, but he was over-optimistic in seeing parallels with the Irish situation. McGuinness told Sri Lanka: “The reality is that, just as in Ireland, there can be no military victory and that the only alternative to endless conflict is dialogue, negotiations and accommodation”.

Dr Jayatilleka Explains Why McGuinness Was Wrong.

Dr Jayatilleka is correct in saying: “John Hume’s experience and message had absolutely nothing to offer Sri Lanka as concerns the main aspects of its own conflict in 2002: the war, the LTTE and Mr Prabakharan”. He asks, “In Northern Ireland, who played Prabakharan?”  Provisional IRA leaders tended to be shadowy figures, not cult leaders like Prabakharan. In Sri Lanka, it would have been unlikely that Hume, McGuinness or  the good Reverend Good, would have survived. “Amirthalingam and Yogeswaran were in fact talking to the ‘men of violence’ over a nice cuppa when these men of violence turned rather more violent, pulled out their automatics and blew their hosts away”. “Neelan Tiruchelvam was doing a John Hume and would have picked up a Peace Prize of two but he was blasted yards away from his law offices”. “Many Tamil leaders had been murdered, and not a single one of them (arguably except for Kumar Ponnambalam) by a Sinhalese”.

“Mr Hume finally had US Senator George Mitchell. Our equivalent of a big power foreign mediator was Rajiv Gandhi, pulverised to a pulp in Tamil Nadu by a Tiger suicide killer. Sri Lanka’s Tony Blairs, David Trimbles and Bertie Aherns were all dead or half-blind”.

Why Did the Irish Troubles End?

Peter Taylor, in his book Brits,  provides convincing evidence  to show that  British intelligence had improved to such an extent that the IRA were well aware that they could not possibly win. On their side, the British were sensible enough to know that they could not achieve a definitive military defeat of the IRA. Both sides, (even under Thatcher) were for a long time edging towards compromise.

The Actors

De Bréadún provides pithy pen portraits of key participants. Of Bill Clinton, he says: “A needy man met a needy people”. He quotes George Mitchell: “No-one can really have a chance in a society dominated by fear, hatred and violence…a deadly ritual in which most of the victims are innocent”.

Three Catholic Northern Ireland citizens were essential to the peace process. John Hume, of the Social Democratic Liberal Party, sacrificed his health representing the nationalist community’s aspirations for an end to discrimination. Although Hume was a fervent upholder of non-violence, he was courageous enough to maintain dialogue with the men of violence, chiefly through Gerry Adams.

De Bréadún writes of Gerry Adams, “He failed to match the stereotype of the firebreathing subversive, choosing instead to act as a conduit for the grievances of the grass roots”.

While Adams dealt with the broad strategic sweep, Martin McGuinness proved to be a canny negotiator. According to a senior Dublin civil servant: “The boy revolutionary developed into a mature and skilful politician”. De Bréadún writes: “Mc Guinness got respect in his own right, thanks to his formidable history as an activist and his direct and commanding personality. If Adams was the architect of the republican project, McGuinness was the engineer”.

On the Unionist side, David Trimble had been involved with the right-wing, paramilitary-linked Vanguard in the early 1970s before he joined the mainstream Ulster Unionist Party. As leader of the UUP he could not afford to be too “moderate”. The Reverend Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist party was constantly raising the “No surrender. No popery” ante and Trimble had to be seen to support triumphalist loyalist marches through Catholic areas.

Constructive ambiguity

Many in Ireland regarded the peace process with scepticism, concerned that it would bring men of violence into the heart of democracy. Symbolic issues like policing and decommissioning provided obstacles. In order to carry his party with him, Trimble had to insist that the IRA decommission its arms, even though that insistence was an irrelevant and a frustrating hindrance to negotiation. McGuinness and Adams had great authority with the rank and file of the IRA but could not sell decommissioning, as it would be seen as surrender without achieving the aim of a united Ireland.

To cut a convoluted story short, peace was achieved through a process of constructive ambiguity, which allowed all actors to say they had not surrendered. Talks resumed in 1993, after Clinton listened to Sinn Féin. On April 10, 1998, the British and Irish governments formulated the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement. After the St Andrews Agreement in 2006, and 2007 elections, the DUP and Sinn Féin formed a government in May 2007. Paisley became First Minister and McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister,

The nationalists could say that their struggle had entered a new non-violent phase in which progress would be made towards a united Ireland by developing cross-border All-Ireland institutions and co-operating within the EU. Loyalists could claim that they had preserved their membership of the UK. The constitution of the Irish Republic was amended to give up its territorial claim to Northern Ireland. Trimble lost the leadership of the UUP and mainstream parties like the UUP and Hume’s SDLP lost influence to Paisley’s DUP and Adams’s Sinn Fein. A bizarre aspect was that the indefatigable naysayer Paisley became a jovial buddy of McGuinness, who also learnt to smile a lot. They became known as the Chuckle Brothers.

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