The Way We Are: Feelings and Perceptions about the Way Forward

11 August 1999

The Current Situation
If the September review does not lead to movement we will either have to find a new way forward or else live without agreement on the parts of the Agreement which have not been implemented.

Defeating the other side is not an option

In this document we list the feelings of Unionists and Nationalists. We then ask what will happen if there is, and if there is not, agreement in the September review. Finally, we ask how YOU want to move forward.

1. Feelings

A. Nationalists

Nationalists are angry. Here are some of their perceptions and feelings:

  • `Unionists haven’t moved an inch. We’re back to where we were 30 years ago. Decommissioning is only a blind to avoid sharing power with us'.
  • `Sinn Fein changed their Constitution so they could move into a Stormont Assembly. This involved a fundamental change in Republican beliefs and was only achieved with great difficulty. Unionists do not seem to realise this'.
  • `Unionists want the IRA to surrender, not decommission, and there is no way that is going to happen'.
  • `In the Agreement decommissioning is not a requirement for entry into the Executive. If the Unionists were not going to keep the Agreement, why did they sign it?'
  • `The Agreement is quite clear that decommissioning is to be handled by General de Chastelain. John Taylor emphasised that until recently, so why not now?'
  • `Gerry Adams went the extra mile and said he was confident the IRA would decommission by May 2000. That statement cost a lot. Yet Unionists threw it back in his face.'
  • `Unionists want to criminalise the whole Republican struggle. They see us as the bad guys. Never once have they accepted responsibility for the corruption of the old Stormont regime which caused all the trouble.'
  • `It’s nonsense to talk of IRA decommissioning with on-going Loyalist attacks. 15 August 1999 was the 30th anniversary of the Bombay Street attacks. Republican areas need to be defended.'

B. Unionists

Unionists are equally angry. Here are some of their perceptions and feelings.

  • `All we asked is that Sinn Fein make a credible start on decommissioning and they refused. In the recent talks Adams could not get the IRA even to make a statement supporting him.'
  • `Sinn Fein say we are trying to keep them out of the Executive. That is not true. We will sit down with them tomorrow -- if they start decommissioning.'
  • `Republicans murdered over 2000 people and wrecked nearly all the towns in Northern Ireland. How can they now be part of the Government without handing in their guns? No state in the world would tolerate that.'
  • `Republicans agreed to use exclusively peaceful means when they signed the Agreement. They have to choose between the armalite and the ballot box.'
  • `We are not looking for an IRA surrender. All we want is convincing evidence that the violence is over.'
  • `Sinn Fein never expressed remorse for all the murder, destruction and mayhem they carried out against the people of Northern Ireland.'
  • `Unionists have given concession after concession in this process: North-South structures, early release of terrorists, the Patten Commission, the Equality Commission, and re-routing Orange parades. No more.'
  • `Tony Blair gave Unionists a written commitment that Sinn Fein would not be in the Executive in advance of decommissioning. Why is this promise not implemented?'


What happens if there is no agreement in September


Here are some of the possibilities:

  • The Executive, the Assembly and North-South structures will fall. Direct rule will continue. Civil servants will play a major role. The advice of local politicians may or may not be taken. The people of Northern Ireland will still have only 18 out of 640 seats in the Westminster Parliament.
  • Early release of prisoners, and the Patten, Equality and Human Rights Commissions are likely to continue.
  • The British and Irish Governments are likely to work much more closely together -- an Anglo-Irish Agreement Mark II. Northern Ireland politicians will have no power to prevent this.
  • The political vacuum is likely to lead to increased violence.
  • With reduced economic growth there will be less jobs, lower incomes, and less money for community groups.
  • Despite agreement on many issues, for example, North-South structures, the appointment of the First and Deputy First Ministers, and the powers of the Northern Departments, we will fail to agree on the last hurdle.

3. If there is agreement in September:

  • The Executive, the Assembly and the North-South structures will be set up. Politicians directly elected by the people of Northern Ireland will run the 10 new Departments.
  • There will be more chance to influence policy on agriculture, education, and social issues because the new ministers will be from Northern Ireland and will live here.
  • The people of Northern Ireland will see their politicians working together and be encouraged to do the same. The Civic Forum will cement ownership of, and make a public contribution to, the new governmental institutions.
  • Given the power-sharing nature of the Executive, individual parties are likely to hold particular ministries for the foreseeable future.

4. Questions for Nationalists

  • Would you see decommissioning as surrender if it was part of a wider process including:
    • Loyalist decommissioning,
    • progressive disarmament of the police as the threat of paramilitaries decreases,
    • new legislation addressing the wider issue of who should have the right to bear arms?
  • In the long run which would give greater protection to Nationalists: a new agreement or holding on to IRA arms?
  • Should weapons be in the hands of groups with no accountability to a government?
  • Have Nationalists or Republicans said sorry for hurts they imposed on Unionists over the past 30 years? If not is it reasonable to ask Unionists to apologise for state wrongs committed before then?
  • Which is better for Northern Nationalists: Direct Rule with greater Dublin input, or power-sharing?

5. Questions for Unionists

  • Which will cost you more: an Executive without prior decommissioning or the collapse of the Assembly?
  • David Trimble has said the issue is not decommissioning but knowing that the violence is over. Are there other ways than decommissioning to show this?
  • Many Republicans have a problem with decommissioning because they see it either as surrender or as leaving their areas defenceless. Would you surrender?
  • As a matter of principle many believe parties linked to private armies should not be in government. Are there other political areas in which we cannot implement our principles? For example, are we happy that our taxes are used to spread nuclear weapons?


Community Dialogue invite you to ask:

  • When did you last have a serious conversation about political issues with a person from the other tradition?
  • If the Review fails, how long will it be before over 70% of the people of Northern Ireland accept a new Agreement and what will be its terms?



The following quotations from the Agreement are included for reference:

a) “All participants accordingly reaffirm their commitment to the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations. They also confirm their intention to continue to work constructively and in good faith with the Independent Commission, and to use any influence they may have, to achieve the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms within two years following endorsement in referendums North and South of the agreement and in the context of the implementation of the overall settlement” (‘Decommissioning’, para 3).
b) “We reaffirm our total and absolute commitment to exclusively democratic and peaceful means of resolving differences on political issues, and our opposition to any use or threat of force by others for any political purpose, whether in regard to this agreement or otherwise” (‘Declaration of Support’, para 4).


Community Dialogue is made up of community workers from across the divide. As a group we do not take positions on political issues. However, if we want to make peace in Northern Ireland we have to talk. Not just any old talk: rather talk that involves questioning ourselves, listening to others, and trying genuinely to see new angles on things.

We invite you to make your voice heard. Why not discuss the questions in this leaflet with your friends or work colleagues? You could also invite people from backgrounds different from your own to join you in discussion. If you wish, you can send your answers, ideas and other suggestions to us at Community Dialogue and we will send them on to the relevant authorities, or politicians.

Remember: it is up to us to make the future!

Community Dialogue Executive:

David Holloway (Chair), Anne Carr, Noreen Christian, Roy Garland


Bronagh Hinds, Bernie Laverty, John Loughran,P. J. McClean, Billy Mitchell, Roisin McDonough,Mary Lavery, Michaela McCabe, Andrew Park.


: Ernie Carroll (Finance), Brian Lennon (Dialogue).