The European Union and the Northern Ireland Peace Process

Published

April 19, 2021 23:46

A Review by Hugh Logue Irish News 11 February 2021

EU flags at the European Commission Berlaymont building
-

The European Union and the Northern Ireland Peace Process by Giada Lagana is published by Palgrave Macmillan

THIS book fulfils a unique role in detailing the historic link between the achievement of the Irish peace process and the European Union. Giada Lagana analyses the gradual Europeanisation of the Northern Ireland issue and its positive economic and social impact. Her approach is deliberative, disciplined and sequenced. It is written with a deft hand and a light touch.

The arguments are marshalled, the scenarios explored and through it all there is a golden thread, when pulled, that brings it all together. That golden thread is John Hume.

From the outset, it was Hume’s idea to Europeanise the Northern Ireland issue. The UK government resisted, claiming “Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom and not the business of EU or anyone else”.

Once Hume got to the European Parliament in 1979, he sought a means to bring Northern Ireland to Europe’s attention and to secure action.

The European Treaties were not much help in providing a basis for European intervention but then there was, what Colm Larkin calls “the eureka moment” of discovery – the original Coal and Steel Treaty of 1952 – and language of “substitutes for age old rivalries” and “building a broader and deeper community among peoples long divided by bloody conflict”. The text for Northern Ireland was found.

On this Hume would build a series of requests that the European Parliament and Commission could endorse, much to the chagrin of the British.

And so in 1981 came the Martens report focusing on Northern Ireland social economic needs. The Haagerup report came next in 1984 following a Hume resolution in the European Parliament. It recommended power sharing and the involvement of the Irish and British governments. It had hearings in London, Dublin and Belfast. Prime Minister Thatcher called it “unhelpful”.

The UK door, so firmly shut, was slowly, steadily being prised open. Haagerup’s report, coinciding with the New Ireland Forum and the Anglo Irish Agreement, allowed Europe to make a massive contribution to the newly established International Fund for Ireland.

Carlo Trojan, then EU President Delors’ chief of staff, joined its board as a demonstration of Delors’ commitment to peace in Ireland. Haagerup’s report marked Europe’s first foray into the “Irish dimension”, thereafter an integral part of any solution.

Much is made of Hume’s ability to keep fellow MEP Ian Paisley on board by strategically focusing exclusively on economic benefit and leaving the constitutional issue for other arena.

Europe’s introduction and emphatic support for partnerships – cross community, cross sector, cross border, and the resulting networks of community development to embed peace – is well analysed. What is highlighted by this work is the groundbreaking nature of the initiatives which would provide the future EU with “the EU peacebuilding toolbox”.

Lagana is an Italian-born academic, now based at Cardiff University, who completed her doctoral thesis in 2018 on the Northern Ireland Peace Process at University College Galway. So the book is aimed broadly at academic and public institutions in Europe and beyond.

However, it is written in a manner that will allow those involved in peace building and community development, particularly within Northern Ireland, to journey through the process and identify the key decision points.

n developing her narrative Lagana recognises that immeasurable assistance was provided to her by John Hume’s wife, Pat.

I was privileged to be part of EU President Delors’ team that created the EU Peace and Reconciliation programme, and to engage with communities across Northern Ireland

and the border regions. Lagana identifies the challenges faced and recognises the achievement in preparing a unique grassroots approach.

That ‘bottom up’ community development was hard won against resistance from Westminster and indeed against the Northern Ireland direct rule administration of the time. The spectre of additionality is dealt with comprehensively. Additionality arises where the UK government attempts to substitute EU monies to fund what is a direct UK Exchequer funding obligation.

It was only with the Brexit negotiations that many, including the UK government, realised how deeply the European Union was imbedded in the Good Friday Agreement and the extent Europe would go to protect and defend it.

Serious heavy lifting was done by the Irish government to ensure that the EU Peace Programme would continue despite Brexit, and a new Peace Plus programme (2021-27) will be launched later this year.

The Special EU Programme Body (SEUPB), created out of the Good Friday Agreement as a cross-border body to place it at arm’s length from government, has a good record and is deservedly lauded by Lagana for it’s professionalism.

Nevertheless civil society should be vigilant, and alert to any Stormont attempts to offload its funding obligations on to the EU’s new Peace Plus programme.

Hugh Logue: Co Derry-born Hugh Logue was for 20 years a Brussels-based senior European Commission official. He served as special adviser to then deputy first minister Seamus Mallon following the Good Friday Agreement.