Edward M. Kennedy Oral History Project: Peace and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland

Edward M. Kennedy Oral History Project: Peace and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland


Good evening. Thank you for your patience.
I’m Jean MacCormack and I have the privilege of being the president of the Edward M. Kennedy
Institute for the United States Senate. So we’re very happy to have you all here with
us tonight, and welcome you to the Library of Congress. This is our second Oral History
Project. We call it the first since the launch. This is a tremendous resource, which Vicki
will tell you a little bit more about, but one that is going to be a wonderful historical
reflection on an era. People live through an era and they rarely get the opportunity
to sit down and say, “Let me think back on that.” And many people, in addition to Senator
Kennedy, did this. So we have two programs a year, and we choose
a theme or a topic that many people have talked about. This one, Peace and Reconciliation
in Northern Ireland, was close to the Senator’s heart, and we thought it should be the second
of the series that we did. We only opened the Institute a year ago. And Senator Kennedy
was very clear that he didn’t want a place that was a monument to him, but was about
the 2,000, approximately, men and women who have served in the Senate. It has at its center an exact replica of the
United States Senate chamber. And I tell you, I smile every day when I have eight-year-olds
and 88-year-olds sitting in Senate seats and passing legislation with some very thoughtful
comments that are set by the stage of the young people who play the roles of the senators,
to help them get established. It was the Senator’s hope that people would be reanimated and reenergized
about civic engagement. He thought it was very important that people understand that
the leadership of the future for public service had to come from this generation. It’s my privilege — I retired after 20 years
as a college president and didn’t expect to be doing this, but every day I’m reenergized,
myself, by what the possibilities are. So, when you’re in Boston, do come and visit.
But, tonight, we bring the program here to you. We have an engaging topic. We have a
really wonderful panel who can both talk about their experience and some of the story behind
the story, which we always like to hear. We’ll be looking backwards in a reflective way,
but it’s hard to do that on this topic without looking forward as well and thinking about
what still has to be accomplished. So I’ve already told them that I’m not going
to give elaborate introductions of each of our panelists, because it’s more important
for you to hear them in their own words. So, to start the program, we are really blessed
to welcome to the podium Ireland’s 17th ambassador, and the first woman ambassador, her Excellency
Anne Anderson. Well, thank you very much, Dr. MacCormack,
for that introduction, Senator Mitchell, Mrs. Vicki Kennedy, distinguished panelists, all
of the distinguished guests. I really am genuinely, immensely happy to be here this evening. Now,
it’s not an easy night for me because the Taoiseach, my prime minister comes to town
tomorrow, and usually ambassadors are working very hard the night before their prime minister
comes to town. But I have to say, he’s on a Kennedy-related visit because he comes to
the Kennedy Center tomorrow to open the Ireland 100 Festival, which is the centerpiece of
our celebrations abroad of our 1916 centenary. And it says a lot that in the worldwide celebrations,
when we wanted a centerpiece, we felt it had to be in the Kennedy Center, this living memorial,
of course, to President Kennedy. But there are reasons why I absolutely wanted
to be here this evening, and just let me very quickly share a few of them. Firstly, of course,
it’s our tremendous sense of gratitude to and respect for Senator Edward Kennedy. He
was, of course, as we all know, the lion of the Senate, but he was a lion in terms of
U.S. Irish relationships I think. We all know that as well. He was there always to understand
and to explain and to advocate the Irish interest, and, of course, to work for peace and reconciliation
in Northern Ireland. And I was very, very proud to be there in March of last year at
the opening of the Institute. It was such a moving moment, and I loved seeing the recreation
of the study. It has an Irish flag, an Irish signpost, and many other signs of his affection
for Ireland. The second reason is that we are tremendous
supporters of and believers in the mission of the Institute. In addition, of course,
to the emphasis on the Senate, there is that immensely important emphasis on encouraging
participatory democracy and invigorating civil discourse. Now, that’s important, obviously,
in all our countries, at all times. I’m a diplomat and choose my words carefully, but
in the midst of where we are in this presidential election campaign in this country, with so
many people expressing concerns about the impoverishment of civil discourse and the
risk to civil discourse, never has it seemed more relevant and more important to have an
institute with the mandate that it has. Thirdly, of course, as we know, this event
is situated in the context of the Oral History Project, such a treasure trove of 280 or so
interviews, including interviews with colleagues from my own department. And oral history,
it’s so important. It’s vivid. It’s contemporary. It’s human. It’s multifaceted. And it really
enriches our sense of history and our understanding of history. And the fourth reason, of course, is that
tonight is about Northern Ireland. And we have here Senator Mitchell and the panelists,
all of whom, Senator Mitchell particularly but all of the panelists, played their part
in shaping the history and events in Northern Ireland, and, as Jean said, will help us to
understand not just how we got where we are but help us think about how we go forward.
And just now, in the aftermath of the elections in Northern Ireland, as we think about how
to go forward and how to meet the challenges ahead, it’s so important that we have the
enrichment of their insights and wisdom this evening. So it’s going to be a great evening.
I’m looking forward to it. Thank you for including me. We’re very fortunate to have with us tonight
the first secretary of the Northern Ireland Bureau, Stewart Matthews. Would you join us
and have a few words yourself? Thank you, Dr. MacCormack, for your warm introduction.
Mrs. Kennedy, Senator Mitchell, Ambassador Anderson, and the distinguished panelists
and distinguished guests, it’s a great honor for me to be here this evening to represent
the Northern Ireland Executive, especially in the presence of so many who have done so
much to support the peace process in Northern Ireland over many, many years. And particularly
to these sitting in the front who have done so much, thank you. I have been in Washington just over three
years, and I continue to be humbled by the number of people who take such an interest
in our little corner of the world and have done so much to help us to progress. Tonight,
I want to pay tribute to the late Senator who most definitely was in it for the long
game when it came to Northern Ireland. In our office, we have a wonderful photograph
of the ceremony when devolution was restored at Stormont in May 2007, after a five-year
break. And rightly sitting in pride of place in the front row are Senator Kennedy and Mrs.
Kennedy. If he were still with us today, I hope he
would be pleased that we’ve just completed new elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly
that mark the completion of two full complete mandates of the assembly since that photograph
was taken, without any suspensions or any breaks — a significant achievement. And it
was an election cycle not dominated as they once were totally by the constitutional question
or orange-versus-green politics, but by real politics, by the economy, by education, by
pseudo-welfare, by health care, very similar issues that feature highly in politics here
in the U.S. and, indeed, the world over. This I hope was also welcome news to our keynote
speaker this evening, Senator Mitchell. Senator, I fitly enjoyed the documentary you did in
2012, when you took your son, Andrew, then 14, to see the Assembly working on normal
and everyday, rather prosaic matters. And I believe this trend is normalizing politics
has continued and is, indeed, very welcome. The parties are currently negotiating a new
program for government for the next mandate. At the center of that will be rebuilding and
rebalancing the economy as it has been for the last few years. And, again, as well as
all the political support we’ve enjoyed from the U.S., there’s been so much support on
the economic front. There’s 175 U.S. businesses operating across Northern Ireland, employing
over 24,000 people. The quality of our workforce is world-renowned. But like any good relationship,
the dynamic is now two ways. Cutting edge, indigenous Northern Ireland firms are making
growing inroads here in the U.S. with around one-and-a-half billion dollars’ worth of goods
purchased here in the last year, and that marked a big increase, a staggering increase
of 79% from the previous year. And the relationship between our part of the
world and the U.S. goes back a long way. Next week, on May 27th, the U.S. Consulate in Belfast
will celebrate its 220th anniversary. It was President George Washington that signed the
order that established it in 1796, the second oldest continuous running U.S. consulate in
the world. But as we’ve said tonight, it’s not all about the past. We know it’s about
looking to the future. We know that the U.S. will continue to walk with us as we work through
some of the post-conflict issues that do still need to be addressed. I know I, for one, can
look forward to, with confidence, to my two children born since that devolution day in
2007 growing up in a Northern Ireland that looks a lot different and a lot brighter than
the one that I grew up in in the ’70s and ’80s. So I look forward to a wonderful evening.
And I thank you all for being here. Thank you. At the Institute, we make a point of not saying
“What would Senator Kennedy say,” although we have great imitations of some of his more
roaring speeches by some of the staff. But we would not be there and we do look often
to Vicki Reggie Kennedy to tell us are we on the right track for the spirit and the
values and the things that the Senator cared about. So I’m pleased to introduce the founding
president of our board of trustees, Vicki Reggie Kennedy. Thanks so much, Jean, and thank you for your
leadership at the Institute. Ambassador Anderson, First Secretary Matthews, thank you so much
for joining us. We’re really grateful for your presence and appreciate so much your
words. We are so delighted to have such a stellar panel to participate in our discussion
of peace and reconciliation of Northern Ireland, Senator Mitchell, whom I’ll introduce in just
a few minutes, Ambassador Soderberg, Niall O’Dowd. And we’ll be joined a little later
after votes, which all of us in Washington totally understand, by Congressman Neal and
Congressman King. Our moderator Kelly O’Donnell will be with us. We know we’ll have a very
lively and interesting discussion. As Jean mentioned, this is our second conversation
as part of the Edward M. Kennedy Oral History Project, which is comprised of 280 candid
interviews with elected officials, both from this nation and abroad, family members, friends,
and those who have worked in the trenches on the most important issues facing our nation
and the world. And there were 29 interviews with Teddy himself. The value of this material
to historians and for the education of future generation is really unparalleled. It is truly
Teddy’s gift to the ages. We discuss, this evening, issues surrounding
Northern Ireland, the conflict there, the role the United States played in helping to
resolve the troubles, and, of course, the role that Ted Kennedy himself played. At least
a dozen oral history interviews were specifically focused on Irish issues, and many others touched
on them. Our discussion could not be timelier because we also mark the centenary of the
Easter Rising, as Ambassador Anderson said, the first bloody step in a several year process
that led to the independence of the Republic of Ireland. But as we all know, even after
that independence, the North and South remained divided and there was unrest. And for the
Irish diaspora here in the United States, there remained concern for what was happening
on the Emerald Isle. Shortly after the troubles began in the 1960’s,
my husband began to immerse himself more deeply in the issue and focus in earnest on the possibilities
for peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. Teddy’s sister, Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith,
who was unable to be with us in person this evening, also believed in the possibilities
of peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. As the oral histories make clear, Jean played
a key role in bringing people together. I encourage you, after the program, to read
the transcripts that are on our website at emkinstitute.org. I believe that getting an intimate inside
look at the behind-the-scenes work that led to the peace process is one of the most fascinating
insights gained from the Edward M. Kennedy Oral History Project. And one of the indispensable
figures in that process is our next speaker. To look at his career is to look at the career
of a public servant and a leader, a U.S. attorney, a federal judge, a United States senator,
a majority leader in the United States Senate, selected six years in a row by a bipartisan
group of senators as the most respected senator in that august body. For most people that
would be more than a lifetime of achievement, but not for our speaker. After he retired from the Senate, he answered
the call to serve as Chairman of the International Commission on Disarmament in Northern Ireland,
and later as Chairman of the subsequent peace negotiations that culminated in the historic
Good Friday agreement. He’s been awarded the Philadelphia Liberty Medal, the Truman Institute
Peace Prize, the German Peace Prize, the United Nations UNESCO Peace Prize, and the Presidential
Medal of Freedom. I honestly could keep going, but I think you get the message. He’s shown
by witness of his own life that public service is a noble profession, and that one man can
indeed make a difference. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming him now, my friend,
Teddy’s friend, a true American patriot, Senator George Mitchell. Thank you very much, Vicki, for that really
overly generous introduction. Ambassador Anderson and colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, thank
you all for being here. Thank you for your warm reception. We join in a recollection
of two great events, Northern Ireland and Ted Kennedy. Ted was a force of nature, as
they say, a truly great public servant, and a wonderful, wonderful colleague and friend
to me during my entire time in the Senate. I want to begin with a few stories, because
Ted, while he’s best known for his tremendous legislative record, his contribution to the
advancement of our society in particular to the concepts of equal justice and equal opportunity
for all Americans, Ted was also a great storyteller, joke-teller, a lover of humor — and I can’t
tell some of the jokes he told but I do want to tell a couple. The first is how I met Ted Kennedy. I was
serving as a federal judge in Maine when Senator Muskie was appointed Secretary of State, creating
a vacancy in the Senate. The governor of Maine, a good Irish American man named Joe Brennan,
announced that since it was in the middle of the year, the Senate was in session, he
didn’t want the Senate to be underrepresented, so he was going to quickly make a decision.
He scheduled a press conference just a few days later, on a Monday noon, to announce
his decision. There was a lot of speculation. My name was not included among them because
I had been appointed a federal judge just the year before. On the Sunday evening before the Governor’s
press conference I went to bed early. We go to bed early in Maine, especially on Sunday
nights, wondering, like everyone else in Maine, what the Governor was going to do. About 11
o’clock, the phone rang, it was the Governor. He said, “I’d like you to come down to the
State Capitol tomorrow at noon so I can announce that I’m going to appoint you to the Senate.”
I said, “Governor, this is really a big surprise, a big decision. I’ve been a federal judge
for less than a year. I got to think about it.” He said, “I’ll give you one hour.” When
I protested, he insisted. So when we hung up, I immediately called my
family. I have three older brothers. I grew up in a very small town in Maine. My three
brothers were very famous athletes, very prominent not just in our community but around New England,
then I came along and I was not as good an athlete as my brothers. So, very early in
my life I became known as Johnny Mitchell’s kid brother, the one who isn’t any good. As
you might expect, I developed a massive inferiority complex and a highly competitive attitude
toward my brothers. So, after I hung up from the governor, I called my brothers ostensibly
to seek their advice, but I confess there was a note of triumphalism. I put it to them
this way: “Guys, the Governor has just called. He wants to appoint me to the U.S. Senate.
What do you think about that?” Their reactions were predictably negative.
My brother Johnny said, “You should stay where you are because everybody knows you’re a born
loser. You couldn’t possibly win a statewide election.” My older brother, who fancies himself
an intellectual, likes to use the Socratic method of dialogue by questions. He said,
“Let’s first ask, aren’t the people of Maine entitled to having a qualified person representing
them in the Senate. And secondly, is it obvious that you’re not one of them?” I hung up, I
called the Governor, I said, “Governor, I don’t need an hour. I’ve already received
all the reassurance I need of my ability to serve in this job.” So I went to the State Capitol. The next day,
the Governor announced it. I flew to Washington. The swearing in was scheduled for a Tuesday
morning. But when I landed at National Airport, I had nothing to do, but just, literally on
a whim, I said to the cab driver, “Take me to the Senate side of the Capitol.” I thought
I’d come up, maybe find a majority leader, introduce myself. I get to the Senate. I was
taken in. The Senate was in session, debating a bill. And I was taken down to the well of
the Senate to meet the then majority leader Robert Byrd. He had a vague idea of who I
was. He was very busy. He said, “Okay, young man, we’ll swear you in right now.” I protested
because I had flown down thinking on the plane, “I wonder if all three networks would be covering
it live.” I knew for sure that all the major newspapers were holding a special edition,
and I didn’t want to upset that schedule. But Senator Byrd said to me, he said, “Son,
I said we’re going to swear you in now, so we’re going to swear you in now.” I said,
“Yes, sir.” So I was sworn in. They interrupted a debate, swore me in, and almost immediately
thereafter the Senate resumed session and a vote occurred. For those of you interested in political trivia
— and nobody would be here if they weren’t interested in political trivia — I hold the
all-time record in American history for having cast a vote the shortest time after entering
the Senate, two minutes. That was the first of many informed judgments I made on behalf
of you and all the other American people. And then Senator Byrd said to me, “Well, you
should hang around,” he said, “because there’s going to be a filibuster tonight and you can
see how it works.” So, not knowing any better, of course I knew
nothing about what was happening, I took my seat, number 100, way in the back corner,
and the whole Senate emptied out, and I was there alone, wondering what was going to happen.
And after a while, another senator came in. He got the attention of the presiding officer.
He said, “I’d like to say a few words,” and he spoke for six hours. I was the only other
senator there, so he spoke to me for six hours. After about three or four, I realized I wasn’t
learning anything. I wanted to go about doing the nation’s business. And I had thoughts
of leaving. He must have sensed it because he walked over and stood in front of me and
directed his remarks toward me. After six hours, there was a quorum called,
how they keep it going. Many of you here know about the Senate, you know when a vote occurs,
the lights flash and the bells ring, and that’s what happened. And the other 98 senators poured
in. They cast votes just signifying their presence really. And then the filibuster resumed.
Another guy came on. The others left. And this guy spoke to me for six hours. So, really,
I stayed up all night sitting in the Senate, serving as an audience. And, finally, I was very tired, hungry, I
went over to a clerk standing by the side door, and I asked him, I said, “Look, I’m
sorry to bother you,” I said, “I’m new here.” He said, “Senator, that’s obvious to everyone.”
I said, “I’m here thinking I’m serving the nation, and I’m wondering, all these other
senators, they’re not here, where are they? What do they do? Where do they go?” He said,
“I’ll do better than tell you, I’ll show you.” So he took me around to a room behind the
Senate chamber. There’s a big, looks like a hallway, it’s called the Reading Room, and
then there’s, like, a library in back. But it’s converted into a place where senators
sleep during the filibusters. They bring in these narrow, folding cots, the type you see
in emergency shelters. And he took me into this room, and there lying there were this
whole bunch of mostly old white guys, snoring away. And he said, “There’s a cot in the middle.
There’s no aisles.” He said, “You better grab that one.” So I had to climb over other senators to get
there. And who was the first person I had to climb over? Ted Kennedy. And, of course,
you know — Vicki, you know he was not a slight fellow. And so getting over him, to me, at
the time, felt like I was climbing Mount Everest without any equipment. I used all the athletic
skill that my brothers said I don’t have. I got over him without disturbing him. And
before I was able to congratulate myself, I looked on the next cot, lying on his back,
really snoring away was Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina. I hadn’t been there long,
but I was well aware of Senator Helms’ reputation as a staunch defender of heterosexual rights.
So I was really worried climbing over him, imagining the controversy if I lost my balance
and fell on top of him right there in the presence of a lot of famous people. So I made it across without disturbing either
of them. I got on this cot and I started to think of what a huge mistake I’d made. I’d
been a federal judge, a distinguished, dignified person with a robe. People stood up when I
came in the room. They sat down when I told them to sit down. They got up when I left
the room. Now, here I was just one more of these guys snoring away overnight, and I wallowed
in self-pity. But then I rolled over on this cot and I looked just inches away into the
face of a senator on the next cot. It was John Warner of Virginia. At that time, he
was married to Elizabeth Taylor. And I thought to myself, “Who am I to feel sorry for myself?
Here’s a guy who could be home legally in bed with Elizabeth Taylor, and he’s spending
the night with me.” I realized then that no matter how bad off you’ve got it, there’s
always some guy that’s got it worse. And I resolved not to feel sorry for myself. So, the next time the bells rang and the lights
flashed, it was by then early morning, I made it a point when I got up to walk around, stand
by the door so that when Teddy got himself up an assembled, I introduced myself to him
right there in the chamber where we all slept, and that was my first meeting with Ted Kennedy.
Unforgettable for me; I’m sure he didn’t remember it for a very long time. I do want to tell
one other story, which is a Teddy favorite. Later, of course, we got to be very good friends,
and I made many appearances in Boston at various political events, often with Ted, often with
John Kerry, and sometimes with the two of them together. And I told this story, which
is partially true, that they got a kick out of — Teddy got a kick out of. So when I would
go — for reasons you’ll understand in a moment, when I would go to Boston, Teddy would say
to me, “You’re going to tell that story about the Big Dig tonight, aren’t you?” And I said,
“Well, I don’t know.” And John Kerry would come over and say, “You’re not going to tell
that damn story about the Big Dig.” He said, “We’ve heard enough of that. We’re sick of
it.” Teddy would say, “No, no, no, you tell the story, I insist.” So here’s the story I would tell about Teddy
and John Kerry and the Big Dig. Teddy in the Senate and Tip O’Neill in the House got included
in the authorization on one of what we called the “Highway Bill,” now the Transportation
Bill, for the Big Dig in Boston, the huge effort to reduce traffic by building an underground
network of roads under the city. Very controversial. Very expensive. Before they started, there
was a change in the administration in Massachusetts and the newly elected governor didn’t want
the project to be retained. So he got in touch with President Reagan and asked him to, in
his budget, withdraw support, authorization for the Big Dig. So Teddy and John and Massachusetts House
members all were upset. And so they were deeply concerned and wanted to fight hard to make
sure the effort to remove the funding authorization did not succeed. Now, it turned out that neither
Ted nor John Kerry were on the authorizing committee, but I was, as was John Chafee,
a Republican senator from Rhode Island, a terrific guy, very good friends of Ted’s and
mine. So when we got to the portion of the authorization bill that included the Big Dig
and the highway stuff, Teddy would call me up at 7:00 in the morning and he’d say, “Now,
you’re going to fight like hell today for the Big Dig; right? Tell me what you’re going
to do.” And I’d say, “Well, you know, we’ll do our best.” And then at 7:15, John Kerry
would call and he’d sort of repeat the thing. So Chafee and I would go in at 9:00 and we’d
start on the bill, and about that time Teddy and John Kerry would put out a press released
of how much they’re doing that day to save the Big Dig and the authorizing bill. And
Chafee and I would work all day trying to beg people to keep it in. And we’d come out
and read the press releases about how much Teddy and John had done that day. And this
went on for several months. We finally were able to keep it in the bill, and the project
stayed, and Teddy and John had many, many press conferences about it. Then they developed a question about what
would the name — what name would go on the tunnel under Boston Harbor. That was a major
part of the Big Dig project. So I went to see Ted, and I said to him, “Teddy, I think
the Harbor Tunnel should be named after me.” He said, “You? But that’s ridiculous.” He
said, “You’re not even from Massachusetts.” He said, “You’re from Maine.” I said, “Yeah,
but I’m the one who did all the work.” He said, “What’s that got to do with it?” I said,
“Well, look, Ted,” I said, “I don’t think you got a choice because here’s the reality,
you can’t take ten steps in Boston without running into something named after a Kennedy.
You can’t drive to any part of Massachusetts without crossing Kennedy bridges and driving
on Kennedy highways. But you search this state and you can’t find a thing named after John
Kerry.” And John Kerry then wasn’t as famous as he is now, he hadn’t been nominated for
President, he hadn’t been Secretary of State. John Kerry’s going to insist that this tunnel
be named after him. “So, really, Teddy, you got two choices,” I said, “it’s either the
Kerry Tunnel or the Mitchell Tunnel.” Teddy looked out the window. He thought, “The Mitchell
Tunnel?” He said, “It sounds okay to me.” So then I went to see John Kerry. And I basically
told the same story. I said, “John,” I said, “the Kennedy’s have got everything named after
them in Massachusetts. You think they’re going to let you get a prize like this?” I said,
“I’ve searched the State of Massachusetts and the only thing I can find named after
you is a car wash in Chicopee. There’s nothing else. They’re never going to give this thing
up.” So I said, “John, you’ve got two choices.” I said, “It’s either going to be the Kennedy
Tunnel or the Mitchell Tunnel.” And he looked out the window and he said, “The Mitchell
Tunnel, that sounds good to me.” So I had the support of both of them. But others didn’t
agree and they came up with some guy named Ted Williams who really did deserve it, but
that’s how the Harbor Tunnel was built and named for Ted Williams, on behalf of Ted Kennedy. So let me — let me now say a few serious
words. Ted was indisputably one of the great legislators in our nation’s entire history.
He served for about 47 years in the Senate. It really was his home. It was the place where
he found himself most comfortable and most effective. And he truly did love the Senate.
And he made major contributions to it. I will speak of Northern Ireland in a moment, but
I have to say that no single person in our history had a greater commitment to the ideal
of equal justice and equal opportunity for all Americans, regardless of their background
or status. And, in particular, he stood for the principle that health care for Americans
is not a privilege, not to be rationed based upon status or wealth, but something that
should be available in good quality to every single person in our society. And he fought
for his entire life for that principle, and was successful in making many steps possible
moving toward that objective. He and I, and Chafee for a time, worked closely
together in 1993 and ’94 trying to advance President Clinton’s health care initiative.
We got to August and I cancelled the Senate recess and I kept the Senate in session to
try to move the bill forward over overwhelming opposition. When it became clear, to me at
least, and to President Clinton, that the bill could not succeed, I made the decision,
controversial, difficult for me, to take the bill down and to end debate on it. We had
a caucus of Democratic senators, and many of them expressed their views. Many of them
wanted the bill taken down because it was obvious that it could not be enacted. Ted
resisted to the very end. He so deeply and passionately felt the importance that every
American child have good quality care, and that every American citizen have the same
opportunity for a healthy and long life that he didn’t want to give up, even in the face
of those odds. We did take the bill down. And I’m sure Vicki
will agree to me that it was a tremendous monument to Ted Kennedy when the Affordable
Care Act was finally enacted. Imperfect, as are all human efforts, and certainly all legislation
that gets through the Senate, particularly legislation that is difficult, controversial.
But many compromises have to be made. And it will be decades before it sorts itself
out and reaches the equilibrium that enables it to do the most good at the least cost.
But every time I read a story about the Affordable Care Act, about Obamacare, I think, first
and foremost, about Ted Kennedy, who devoted a great deal of his life, his energy, and
his effort to making that possible. And I believe in a very real way he did make it
possible because the incremental advances for which Ted was responsible helped to inform
the American people of the principles that he represented, of the importance to it in
our society. He won many, many victories in the Senate.
He is rightfully acclaimed for a long roster of achievements. But in my mind, the fact
that we didn’t — we couldn’t get it done when we had it on the Senate floor, and that
it finally did get done with Ted’s effort and insistence, because he didn’t give up.
The day after I took the bill down, Ted started thinking about what can we do next, what smaller
step can we take that will make it possible. To me, that demonstrated — that illustrated,
it represented what Ted Kennedy was as a human being, as a leader, as a legislator. He was also — and I’ll get now briefly to
Northern Ireland — he was crucial to my involvement in the process. My father’s parents were born
in Ireland. They immigrated to the United States in the 1890s. We know little about
them because my father was born in Boston but never knew his parents, and was raised
in a Catholic orphanage there. After several years, his mother had died early, his father
couldn’t care for the children. After several years there, my father was adopted by an elderly
couple who ended up in a small town in Maine. They were not Irish. And so my father, who
was uneducated, who worked as a laborer and as a janitor, and my mother, who was an immigrant
herself, who could not read or write, knew little about history or current affairs, and
knew nothing about Ireland. I never once heard my father say the word. One day, in the Senate, Ted asked if I would
meet with him and Chris Dodd. And I went to Ted’s hideaway in the Capitol, a small office
just off the Senate floor, and spent about an hour with him as he spoke to me, described
to me the circumstances that then existed, the nascent efforts to achieve cease-fires
and to establish a sense of negotiation, and asked if I would join with he and Chris and
Pat Moynihan in taking some steps that would help to move it forward. I did so not out
of any deep knowledge of Northern Ireland, or Ireland — I had, at that time, never been
to either — but out of great respect for Ted, and for the sense that he conveyed that
this was the right thing to do. Later, when President Clinton asked me to
go to Northern Ireland, I accepted, and I spent several years there learning about the
issues, meeting and understanding the motives and platforms of the various political parties
and political figures. And through it all, Ted was, to me, a mentor and someone who I
knew was passionate about moving it forward. In looking back on it, he did make a tremendous
contribution because he influenced members of the Senate, as he did me, and the American
public in two very important respects. He got those who favor the side of nationalism
to understand that the only real way forward was through peaceful negotiation. He was very
much influenced by John Hume, as I was, and other members of Congress who got to meet
and to know John, and by other Northern Ireland nationalist leaders. And Teddy also instinctively understood, he
was so good at grasping the intention and attitudes of the other side that it was equally
critically important to make unionists feel at home in this country, to have them have
the opportunity to come here and see that the United States was not monolithic in its
views on the issue. Indeed, most Americans didn’t have much grasp of it. And Ted made
it a point to personally acquaint himself with some unionist leaders to invite them
here. And I always think of it as a culminating event, although it was not Ted exclusively
who did it, that after we got the agreement, the JFK Center — and Teddy attended the session
— brought over political leaders from Northern Ireland from both communities and awarded
them the JFK Profile in Courage Award, which meant a great deal to them, and which indicated
that after not just decades but truly centuries of hostility and conflict, very little in
the way of communication, understanding or empathy for another position. It was the master legislator, Ted Kennedy,
the man who, although he was widely viewed as a partisan figure, was, in the Senate,
regarded as one of the most effective bipartisan legislators in history, because he could listen,
he had empathy for other positions, he was able to quickly discern and identify potential
areas of common ground. And with his tremendous friendly, vivacious, and irresistible attitude
and sense of humor and force of his personality, to persuade people to come together. He had
done it so often in the legislative process, and he really was hugely instrumental in doing
it in Northern Ireland. While I’ve always said and believe that the
true heroes of Northern Ireland were the political leaders of Northern Ireland on both sides,
who, after centuries of conflict, of lifetimes of their being deeply involved in conflict,
violent and political, rose to the occasion at a critical moment in their society’s history,
at enormous risk to themselves and their careers, and took a step of courage that has made possible
the peace that has now held for 18 years, and we hope will hold for many, many more.
And my fondest wish is that everybody here, and others involved, whenever they hear about
Northern Ireland, whenever they think about Northern Ireland, whenever they go to Northern
Ireland, will keep in mind one of the truly great architects of that process, as well
as so much that he did for this country, and that was Ted Kennedy. I was greatly honored to serve with him in
the Senate, and very proud personally to have been his friend. So I’m really thrilled at
the opportunity to be here today. Thank you, Vicki, so much for making it possible. I look
forward to participating with the panel in the discussion. And I thank all of you for
coming to honor one of the great men in modern America and perhaps all of American history,
our friend and great senator, Ted Kennedy. Thank you very much. Thank you very much, Senator. Could I invite
our other panelists to come up and join the Senator? Nancy Soderberg, who’s the former
U.S. Ambassador at the United Nations, and has had many prestigious positions, but was
a foreign policy advisor to Senator Kennedy. Niall O’Dowd, founder and CEO of Irish Central.
And Niall, you’ll weave into the story on the panel many other roles that you’ve played.
I did see Congressman Neal. And did I also see Congressman King? Yes. Two who continue
to be paying attention to all things Irish in the Congress. And they are joined by NBC
correspondent Kelly O’Donnell, who couldn’t be more Irish — Kelly and O’Donnell — who
is going to facilitate a discussion on the panel. We are enormously grateful for all
of you being able to be here with us today. Well, it’s really my privilege. Not only does
the name sound Irish but I am the granddaughter of Irish immigrants. And whenever anything
associated with Senator Kennedy and Vicki would ask, of course the answer is, “Yes,
how soon and how often can I be there?” So it is a privilege for me to be here. I care
about these issues, as I also have had the privilege of covering the Senate, covering
Senator Kennedy when he was with us, and covering some of these issues in real time. And I also
have the personal experience that my family is from both the Republic of Ireland and Northern
Ireland. And so I have seen it through the family sort of experience as well. And so, since we’ve had an introduction from
Senator Mitchell about his involvement, one thing I would like to do is just get a sense
from each of our panelists of how you think that Senator Kennedy’s personal relationship
made a difference. And let me start with you, Congressman King, because I know that you
have had a close relationship with Gerry Adams and you have known how Senator Kennedy helped
to bring him to the United States at a critical time. Can you take us back to that and talk
a little about it? We’re talking back, it would have been in
1994, January of 1994, and there had been an effort to get the visa for Gerry Adams.
Certainly, the President was leaning in that direction, but he really needed the imprimatur,
if you will, of Ted Kennedy, because that made it official. That showed that it was
respected, that it was not something coming in from left field or right field, and that
it also, I think, impressed upon Gerry Adams, and Sinn F�in from the IRA, that this was
for real, and that if they didn’t break confidence, if they did violate any agreements or any
understandings, that it’s not just someone like me or Richard Eel [ph] saying it, it’s
Ted Kennedy, and that would be a name that would resonate throughout the U.S. and throughout
Ireland. And this was high risk, because he was associated
with the violence and this was a move towards statesmanship for Gerry Adams and the group.
How high risk was it in real time? It was certainly very high risk. I mean, I
was advocating for Adams, but I knew him and I was willing to take that risk, but I didn’t
have as much to lose as Ted Kennedy. I mean, if I lost, you know, who cares? Maybe Susan
Brophy in the back, she’d care about me, but that’s about it. No, I mean, seriously, this
was a real risk for someone like Ted Kennedy, whose whole name and reputation was on the
line. Senator Mitchell, as you remember that sort
of time, when President Clinton was listening to what Senator Kennedy had to say, you were
involved in all of this. And when there was that move to try to see if those who had been
associated with more of the armed struggle would be moving and if there would be a receptive
audience here in the United States, what’s your sense of how critical that time was? That’s the period in which Ted and Chris Dodd
first approached me. That was the specific request at the time. I was then the Senator
majority leader. I really didn’t know a great deal about the subject. I had I think a general
knowledge of it. But Ted spent a lot of time with me, in his words, “educating me about
the issue,” as he did on many others. And after some considerable period of review through
my staff and others, I made the decision to join in the signing of a letter that was sent
to the President by members of Congress. So that really was my baptism into the issue. And it was, as Peter said, it was a risky
thing. Nobody knew for sure what would happen. There was very determined opposition to it
within the U.S. government, within the State Department, the British government, and many
others, so it was not an open and shut case. And I think Peter and Richie probably would
agree, and Niall and Nancy as well, that had not Ted been the principal advocate, it likely
would not have occurred. I think that’s probably the case, although President Clinton had made
an issue of this way back in the campaign two or three years earlier. But, nonetheless,
I think that Ted’s very strong weighing in and getting others, like myself and Chris
and Pat and other congressmen, to do it probably was the decisive factor in it. And Congressman Neal, can you recall for us
what it was like in terms of some of the torn allegiances that some lawmakers and people
in government felt, because Britain is the first among equals who are allies to the United
States, and there was this push to try to recognize what was happening in Ireland and
open a new door. How hard was that at the time? Well, I think that Teddy was very helpful.
The entire Massachusetts Congressional Delegation signed the letter. I defended President Clinton
on Newsnight — that would be the equivalent of a late night talk show here in America.
And we decided to stand shoulder to shoulder on it. But there was also a very important
meeting that I think bears noting, and that was — Tony Lake had ventured some, I think,
effort on our part, and not much had really happened after Bill Clinton got elected. There
was a period for about a year where things languished. And Lake agreed to come up to
meet with about 40 of us on Capitol Hill, and it did not go well. It ended up with recrimination.
You were there. It was a pretty bad meeting. It was ugly. What were the issues? That he had not moved as quickly as he said
he would on the issue, and to the special relationship. And the State Department pushed
back hard on this. And I think one of the things that we can all take some credit for,
that are sitting on the stage here, that we stood up for our own State Department, including
Bill Clinton and Teddy Kennedy. I mean, the State Department was deaf on this issue. They
just thought that — they made the argument, as the British did, that it was a matter that
was “internal to the United Kingdom.” And we [inaudible] petition that they gave us
plenty of advice on international issues through Vietnam and others, and that we should be
able to express the will of many of the constituents we had. So you could see the momentum begin to move.
And I will tell you, and Nancy will confirm this, when Lake left the room that day, he
said — and this is really incredible — he said, “I promise you this, I will elevate
this issue to the status of the Middle East in the White House.” And we were stunned,
but that’s how bad the meeting went. And nobody believed him. And nobody believed him. The next thing I
know, we’re on a speed course. And I think that, you know, for me, it starts with Bobby
Sands. So there was a lot of legacy in my constituency. And I think the other point
that I heard Senator Mitchell say that was very important is we have to continue to nurture
this. It’s not over. I mean, morning headlines and evening newscasts still report periodic
violence. And while we have this great achievement that we can all, I think, take the necessary
bow on, not to miss the point that we decommissioned the guns and now it’s time to decommission
the hearts. And Ambassador Soderberg, you were in the
room so many times when there were long, difficult roadblocks, and you couldn’t necessarily see
around the corner as to how quickly this would all unfold. What are some of your memories
about what was happening that was not known to the public, that you had that insight in
your relationship with Senator Kennedy and this whole process? Well, I had the honor and privilege of being
the Irish person for Senator Kennedy for six years, which meant the entire island took
his [indiscernible] everyone’s welcome on his front door literally. And I’d met every
politician that had come through. And, first and foremost, John Hume, who formed a bond
with Senator Kennedy in the ’70s when the troubles started, and that was a lifelong
friendship. They shared a good joke. Everything you said about the joke-telling back and forth,
they just bonded. And John Hume developed, with Senator Kennedy and others, a counterpart
to the caucus in the House that was more aligned with Sinn F�in and the IRA. And this was
a Friends of Ireland that would put out a statement every year, pushing peace. And so
he had a long history of doing this. So, every year, I wrote that statement and got to know
everyone in the committee. Oh, you’re the one that wrote those statements. We’d look at yours and we’d have another one.
Unbeknownst to me, I found myself, in the White House, considered the Irish expert because
I had worked for Ted Kennedy, and everybody looked at Ted Kennedy as the bellwether on
which way to go. And Bill Clinton did promise Gerry Adams a visa during the campaign; it
was actually before I got on the campaign, or I probably would have tried to throw my
body in front of it. But the request came right away, and we just said no, and nobody
cared about it, and that’s partly why the House was so angry, because they didn’t believe
us. We were accused of lying and it was a very tense meeting. But then what shifted
the ground was John Hume coming to the White House in the fall, saying, “There is something
happening with the IRA. There is serious.” And we were hearing it from Peter King, not
just Congressman Neal but Bruce Morrison and everyone was saying there was a weeklong cease-fire,
and everyone was saying it’s really changing. I have to say, the CIA, the FBI, the British
government, the Justice Department, the State Department said, “No, nothing’s changing.”
I kept asking and the only ones who knew what was going on were the people on the Hill who
had those contacts. And John Hume finally said, “Yes, I think you should do it.” The
joint declaration that was put forward by the British and the Irish government was really
the linchpin because it gave a political way for the IRA to achieve its political goals,
and that was the fundamental change. And really, what altered the White House,
it was Al Gore, George Stephanopoulos — Susan Brophy is here, she can attest to this. The
White House wanted to do this. Clinton was saying, “Find me a way to do it.” But until
Ted Kennedy came over — and he was very much guided by John Hume — it really was a non-starter.
And so I think had he not built that cover for the President to go ahead and reach out,
and ultimately the logic that convinced the President to do it was if he put political
— if he put his political neck on the line, we could either find out whether Gerry Adams
was serious or not. If he were serious, great, we get a cease-fire; if he’s not, then we
could use our political clout to go back to the Irish American community and say, “See,
he’s a fraud and he’s not going to do it.” And that was Ted Kennedy’s logic in the letter
and in doing it. And I remember when that letter showed up,
and it was an enormous, long list. And that is really, I think, what changed it. And it
gave the President, who was a new President, the guts to stand up to his entire government,
which Ted Kennedy had no problem doing. So that was definitely the muse that got everything
moving. And Niall, when you look back on how the public
was coming along during this time, was there a real reluctance to believe that peace was
possible? Was there a sense of fear that the negotiations and the efforts were somehow
going to be undermined? I’d just like to talk briefly about the moment
when Ted Kennedy saved the peace process, and only Ted Kennedy, and that was in 1996
when the IRA cease-fire broke down. Right at that moment, the peace process wavered
like I had never believe it wavered again, because I got very angry because Nancy Soderberg,
from Senator Kennedy, from John Bruton, the Prime Minister of Ireland, saying, “What is
going on? What has happened? Are the IRA back in business? Is this the end of everything?”
And that was it. It was a very profound moment. And I knew, as exactly as Nancy says, that
if we could keep Kennedy, we could keep Clinton. And I remember having a very long discussion
with Gerry Adams that day and saying, “Gerry, you just simply have to tell me the truth,
can you get the cease-fire back?” And the one thing about Gerry Adams, I think Nancy
would agree with this, and certainly Peter would, I think George and Richie, when he
told you something, it was the truth, it was absolutely the truth. And he said, “Yes, I
can get the cease-fire back.” And he explained to me exactly what had happened. And I remember
calling back Nancy and calling back Senator Kennedy and saying, “It’s going to be okay.
They are going to get the cease-fire back.” And, thankfully, I think it was Senator Kennedy
said — you know, because everybody was running for the exit at that stage. People were saying
— Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “We told you so,” and, you know, “Have we been had,”
and all these other people piling on, saying, “See, we told you they’re a bunch of terrorists.
They never do anything.” And yet Teddy, in the midst of that, a man with a terrible history
of assassination and killing in his own family, saw around the corner far enough that he said,
“No, I trust these guys. I think they can do it.” So, to me, that was the most profound
moment that I saw Senator Kennedy save the peace process, undoubtedly on his own. Teddy Kennedy actually welcomed Gerry Adams
at Logan Airport, he met him. He met him at the airport. And Adams came to Springfield
that night for a big rally. And Teddy led the rally in Boston, and greeted him with
Bill Bulger. They were waiting for him at the airport. And, by now, the cameras are
really focused on this. And by the time they moved through Central and Western Massachusetts,
the cameras were everywhere. And I thought that by greeting him, we did some symbolic
things that were very important. You can’t just say we’re going to sign a letter, we’re
going to stand up with you in public, and that way you hold people to the agreements. I think there was a view from Kennedy that
this is probably sacrilegious. And Hume had missed some opportunities in the ’80s and
’70s, I certainly think so. I think the Irish government was very remiss in the cases of
the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four, which were huge human rights abuses. For some
reason, the Irish government at the time led by Garret Fitzgerald and John Hume, told the
Friends of Ireland at Congress, “Do not compete on this issue. Do not say that this is a travesty,
a terrible miscarriage.” And the Irish Americans got very, very upset about that. I think people
tell you about that as much as anyone, and Richie, because it was obvious from the community
that issues like the — which would have helped enormously with the community and stopped
the radicalization in the North and in Irish America if we had tackled issues like the
Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, and other abuses by the British, even inquiries into
Bloody Sunday. But there was a certain view at that point that it had to be the Irish
and British government against Irish America. Although Ted Kennedy didn’t listen to that.
He pushed very hard for the Guildford Four. And the Birmingham Six, I can remember — It didn’t come across like that Nancy, it
really didn’t. I hate to tell you that, but it didn’t come across, other than the fact
that, you know, there was an Irish America that was in competition with the Irish government,
John Hume, and the British government. Whereas, in fact, I always believed that Irish America
and the Irish government together, which eventually happened thanks to Albert Reynolds, made a
huge difference. And we got out. Yeah. So, to [indiscernible] Bill Clinton, I was
president with you Niall back in 1992, and I snuck in this Republican in the back door
when Bill Clinton was meeting with the Democrats because — You’ve been doing that your whole career. And that’s when he said that he realized that
with the fall of Berlin Wall, that the old distinctions or the old libraries and alliances
didn’t mean that much. This was a unique opportunity for the U.S. to be an honest broker between
the British and the Irish. And he saw that, and that’s when he said he’d get Adams a visa.
And like all of us, you didn’t know if you really believed him or not, but, on the other
hand, he did show more than just, “Yeah, I’m for the Irish.” He did specifically say with
the change in the international atmosphere that he thought this was a unique opportunity,
and it would give other governments a cover to basically blame it on the U.S. [indiscernible]. I think it would be great to get Nancy’s reaction
about Clinton now himself says — remember that dinner we were at, George, during Christmas.
He said — he was being quite coy, but he said, “Look, it was all fun and games, and
I’m sure I said I’d get them a visa.” And then he said, “I was really serious about
it, despite of myself,” that the first thing was just a political promise in a very busy
campaign, but an ethnic group that he was interested in, but once he actually waded
into it he actually found — Well, I mean, the fact that all these promises
occurred right before the New York Primary was not the issue. But he actually — Purely coincidence. But he actually really did believe it. I’ve
actually watched him — you know, he wanted to do it, and Susan can testify to this — Brophy
— is he wanted to do this, and actually believed that it was the right thing. And he had been
at Oxford when the troubles began, and he really felt that they could play a role. One other comment, I wanted to just give a
shout out to Senator Kennedy’s appointment of his sister Jean as Ambassador to Ireland.
She was the only person in the entire U.S. government who didn’t agree with their government.
She stood up. People would quit over it. She sent these messages back and she was working
the phones, just like he was. She was not an insignificant player in this at all, because
he had appointed her — gotten her appointed that job, that was — And nobody was more abused by the State Department
when she was Ambassador. They checked everything on her expense account, the furniture, everything.
They went out of their way to harass her and drive her crazy. And the more they harassed
her, the more she loved it. So it really — she just got — The other break that we caught in this that
was simultaneous was the point that Nancy made. It’s always underreported. The British
decision to search Bill Clinton’s passport files just before the election was a huge
moment, because all of a sudden he started to think, “Well, maybe there’s another side
to the argument that we were all making.” But you needed people inside of the White
House that had some ability to acquaint him with the fact that this is worth doing. And
Teddy was terrific. And people that are now long gone from Congress, I think Peter and
I are the last two in the House, but — He’s still wearing his green tie. Well, I’ve grown older — I’ll leave that to you, Nancy. You know, Senator Mitchell, one of the outcomes
of the Good Friday Agreement is that both points of view are viewed as legitimate. Those
in Ireland who wanted to remain a part of the United Kingdom and those who wanted a
republic. How important was that, not only at the time but for a more enduring success
of this sort of an agreement? It’s quite clear that there could not have
been an agreement absent a recognition of the validity of both points of view, and the
opportunity and appropriateness of each side continuing to advocate their point of view.
The central issue was the mechanism by which they would do the advocacy. And it was one
of Pat’s half a dozen crucial elements to the agreement. There were several others without
which it couldn’t have been an agreement. I just want to add a comment to what’s been
said about President Clinton’s commitment. I was not there early in the process, as I
said in my remarks. I really didn’t have any great deal of knowledge about the subject.
But when President Clinton asked me to go to Northern Ireland — Nancy was very instrumental
in that, in the White House at the time — he said to me, “I’m really serious about this.”
He said, “The reason I’m asking you to do this is you’re the retiring Senate majority
leader, and if you go at my request and as my representative, it will convey a signal
of how much I’m interested.” And he was deeply interested. Two years later, in the crucial period that
Richie referred to, in September of 1996, during the Presidential campaign, the President
called me and asked me if I would return to the U.S. to play the role of Bob Dole in the
debate preparation in the Presidential campaign, because I served six years with Dole as majority
and minority leader, I knew him very well. He remains, to this day, an extremely close
friend. And I agreed. And the first debate was in Hartford, I think. It was; I was there. Hartford. And the preparation was in Chautauqua,
New York — not where the Clintons live, but up in the famous resort in the northwestern
part of the state. And I flew from Northern Ireland back, got there the first evening,
and the President asked me to have dinner with him and Mrs. Clinton, and there were
a few others at the table. I was there. I had tried to brief myself on the debate. The
entire conversation at dinner was about Northern Ireland. The entire dinner, he spent the whole
night asking questions, wanting to know about it. And I was kind of taken aback. And I remember
saying toward the end of the dinner, “Are you interested in the debate that’s going
to occur in a couple of days, and shouldn’t we talk about that a little bit?” And we did,
and, of course, he did a good job in the debate. And thereafter, he was deeply interested and
involved. And on the final night, he stayed up all night
in the White House. I’ll never forget it. It was three o’clock in the morning. We were
struggling, trying to bring it to a conclusion. I had set a deadline at midnight. It had passed.
And he called me and I said, “What are you doing?” I said, “It must be the middle of
the night there.” And he said, “Yeah, it is, but I can’t sleep.” He said, “I want to help.”
He volunteered calling people. So, however his interest came about, I was not involved
in that, but there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that once he became involved, he
was deeply, personally interested and committed, and this was a very, very high degree of importance
to him and to Mrs. Clinton as well. Did you get the sense that President Clinton
saw that if an agreement was achievable in this part of the world, that that success
might be transferrable by example, if nothing else, to other conflicts around the world,
that peace could be brokered in some way, a political resolution could be found? Did
he see a broader implication or was it really about just what was in front of him? Yeah, he may have felt that, but that was
never conveyed to me. He never cited as a reason to do this that it might be helpful
elsewhere. And, as it turns out, the reality is — having done two tours of duty in the
Middle East — is that while all of these conflicts have some similarities, they are
essentially unique, each one, and each one requires a unique, very highly localized and
specific to that conflict resolution. Principles and approaches can be universal, but actual
solutions cannot be. I just want to say, one aspect of the Northern
Ireland talks, though, and George, I guess, is much more familiar with it, but going into
those talks, Gerry Adams and John Hume had prepared for their whole lives for that opportunity.
I don’t think the unionists ever thought they would be forced to negotiate. So, basically,
you were in a position where you had two guys who had been contemplating this, every parameter
of it, for 20 years. And, really, nobody on the unionist side, who was really ready at
that moment to talk about a political solution, because they never thought they’d have to
have one. Yeah, I think that’s correct, Peter. I think
it goes beyond that. I’ve said and written that the subplot to the negotiations themselves
was the intra-unionist conflict. There was intense hostility between the DUP headed by
Dr. Paisley, a smaller party, and UK UP, which was aligned with them, and the LC unionists,
which was, at that time, the larger party headed by — There were six or eight parties involved at
the time. Yeah, well, there were actually ten political
parties, if you can imagine it, and two governments. It’s sort of very hard to thinking back to
get them all. We have trouble, too. Sounds like the Republican Conference. Yeah. Yeah. George, I’d be interested in your comment.
Clinton has commented that if Adams was Arafat, there would have been peace in the Middle
East. Do you think there’s any semblance of truth to that? No, I don’t really. I mean, it’s a great line,
but I don’t — In terms of bringing his people with him. Yeah, I know. They’re so, so different. I
spent even more time Arafat than I did with Adams. But I just want to say that Peter hit
something, that to his enormous credit, John Hume created both the concept of the talks,
the architecture under which the talks would be created. That was his great contribution.
John wasn’t a detailed guy. If you wanted to negotiate a paragraph of agreement, you
wouldn’t ask John to negotiate it, you’d ask Seamus Mallon or one of the other guys in
the SDLP. But John had the conception of how to do it, and he basically, by agreeing to
talk with Adams and involving — Albert Reynolds was then the Taoiseach — to form a general
nationalist union. When they got into the talks, they weren’t
fighting each other all the time, whereas the unionists were in constant combat. And
I wrote in my book on it, that I don’t think we would have gotten an agreement had Paisley
not walked out. Remember, Gerry Adams and Sinn F�in, because of their affiliation
in the IRA, were not in the talks for the first 16 months. And when they came in, all
of the unionists walked out, but Trimble and the loyalist parties came back in. Paisley
did not. And that liberated Trimble and the unionists from a daily terrific assault that
they felt internally because the DUP was very — the struggle for control of unionism was
a dominant part of the talks, whereas on the nationalist side, because of the greatness
of John Hume, that did not occur. Now, SDLP historians may think that they paid a price
for it, and they did. But, nonetheless, they had a generally unified position. I can confirm that, and I’ll tell you how.
Tom Foley, who was not enthusiastic about any of this, and was really harsh with some
of us in the House. We thought had taken more vigorous positions than he thought necessary.
And I said, “I think it’s for real, Mr. Speaker. I’d like to go.” And, begrudgingly, he okayed
the money for me to go. That was the day that the Good Friday agreement — or the cease-fire
of ’94 was announced. Did you know that? I met John Hume — yes. I met John Hume. I
knew it was coming. And I met John Hume, went to his home in Donegal, stayed the night.
And he said, “You’re going to see Adams tomorrow.” He went to the phone and called Adams on the
phone. So, to George’s point, one of the things that Hume did, he used a lot of his own political
capital on this. And in the end, you know, the British government, I think it’s fair
to say, would always say to us, “You need to prop up UUP.” And the Irish government
would say to us, “You need to prop up SDLP.” Yeah. And, in the end, it’s DUP and Sinn F�in.
And one thing I’d like — if I could ask a question of George, because I thought it was
a work of genius. The Irish government gave up articles two and three of their constitution,
which laid claim to the six counties in the North of Ireland. But, at the same time, we
got Strand Two of the Good Friday Agreement, Belfast, Dublin. And I think that therein
lies the genius of the Good Friday Agreement, Strand Two, Belfast, Dublin. Yeah. One of the reasons we were able to get
an agreement was that there were so many issues that it was possible to devise an agreement
in which you could balance off different interests. It’s really very hard to solve when you have
only one issue because somebody has to win or lose. And in Northern Ireland, there’s
no such thing as a magnanimous winner. When you win, you poke the other guy in the eye
with a stick to make sure that everybody knows who won and who lost on both sides. So, you’re
right, Richie, there were a number of tradeoffs. I just want to add the comment that I’ve said
very nice things about John Hume, which I profoundly believe. I also think that there’s
not been enough recognition of the contribution and cost that was paid by David Trimble. What
he did was very courageous under the circumstances. He was subjected to tremendous internal criticism,
both within unionism from Dr. Paisley and the UK UP, but also within his own party,
which suffered greatly as a result, as did the SDLP. But he rose to the occasion and
it ended up costing him his leadership, and largely his career in Northern Ireland. And
I think, really, the Nobel Peace Committee got it right. There would not have been a
process without John Hume, and there would not have been an agreement without David Trimble. If I could add a word on Gerry Adams. I remember
meeting with him in 1987 down on Sevastopol Street in Belfast. And he was then talking
about what he was trying to do to bring the IRA along. That was really seven years before
the visa. I mean, you’re talking about guys who have been fighting for 80 years. I mean,
you go from one to the other. And they felt they had been betrayed time after time by
their political leaders. And Gerry saw himself maybe being the next Michael Collins, I mean,
the guy who would go out there and get shot himself. So it took a lot of guts on his part.
And I would say it really wasn’t until right up to ’93, ’94 that he probably had a solid
majority on his side. There were a lot of guys with guns who disagreed with him and
called him a traitor. Well, he and Martin McGuinness both were outstanding
leaders within their own party and organization, and bringing along many people who did not
share their view that they had gone as far as they could through military means, and
that the only path forward to success was through democratic and peaceful means. Now,
I don’t think any of them have ever or will ever admit it, but it is quite clear in retrospect,
and historians I think are unanimous on this, that they could not have achieved the stated
goal, which was driving the British out of Northern Ireland by force of arms. It simply
was counterproductive. In fact, I mean, I spent a lot of time in the UK and Northern
Ireland. It aroused more interest in England, Scotland, and Wales than would otherwise have
been the case. Sort of, you know, “Well, they’re not going to drive us out of there.” And so
they had gone as far as they could go, and it was Gerry and Martin, and their many colleagues,
who recognized that and said they had to make this shift. And to their credit, they negotiated
very well and skillfully. I asked Adams once whether had Bill Clinton
been in office in the ’80s, could they have gotten this earlier, because Gerry had started
the talks with John Hume earlier. And he says, “No, we weren’t ready.” It took them that
long before they could — his one goal was to keep the IRA from splitting. And that’s
kind of what happened when the cease-fire broke down, but it largely happened. That’s right. I would just add to the questions that we
keep asking Senator Mitchell. I’m very concerned about the lack of progress since the Good
Friday Agreement. You still have the exact same people in the same mindset, fighting
about the same issues, parades, and the government. And I just wonder, and this is where I think
someone like a Ted Kennedy could have gone over there and pushed them a little bit harder
than is being done now, because, in my view, they need a new generation that thinks about
high tech firms and the economy, not some of the issues that are anchoring them in the
past. There are more laws than there were before. The schools are still not segregated.
The police has a couple of Catholics in it. Bu what do you think in the mentality that
— you know, it’s generational, in this case probably two generations, before they’re going
to be able to drop those anchors that are dragging them down. It’s surprising to me
that that mindset is still so — And we are running short on time, so let me
jump in, if I may. If you can give us sort of some summary thoughts about where we are
now. And then I’d like to ask each of you, because your rich recollections really are
speaking to what the value of what the oral history itself is, hearing from people who
are in the room, people who are part of the process, people who have personal recollections
and relationships that shaped history then and will educate us for generations to come.
So if we can close with some of those thoughts. Senator Mitchell, if you could — We’ll let them go ahead first and I’ll finish. Very good. Well, I think that when Tony Blair was leaving,
he invited some of us to the British Embassy to say good-bye. And when he stood up, he
said, “I think it’s fair to say that America and Great Britain have agreed on most issues
through our common histories.” But he said, “It’s also fair to say there was one issue
we did not agree upon, the North of Ireland.” And he said, “I want to thank all of you for
what you did to help bring us into the process.” To have a British prime minister say that
— now, I always felt like we caught another break, and that was because Iraq had gone
so badly, that he was looking for a reset for his own career, and he gets credit for
that. But think of it tonight, if we were sitting
here 25 years ago, there were 30,000 British soldiers in an area the size of the State
of Connecticut in the North of Ireland. The watchtowers were all over the place. And there
are — to Nancy’s point, 30% of the police service in Northern Ireland is now Catholic,
and we’re headed toward 45%. So it’s a huge accomplishment. So there’s been these broad
reforms. There are problems. There’s no question about it. We do see progress. But the progress has been enormous. And there’s
a government that is representative of both traditions in one community that’s up and
functioning, and has been duly elected. Niall, thoughts about where we are today and
what you think the legacy of all of this is? I just wanted to tell one funny story about
Nancy Soderberg, if I can. I don’t think we have time. The night before the Gerry Adams visa was
drafted by President Clinton, Nancy called me in the middle of the night and said, “What
has Gerry Adams got to do with the bombs in San Diego?” I said, “What are you talking
about?” She said, “There have been two bomb scares phoned in to a British store in San
Diego by the IRA.” At this stage, I was extremely tired and I thought maybe she was hallucinating
as well, because the idea of the IRA carrying out an attack in San Diego was so insane.
But I remember saying to her, “What do you need me to do?” And she said, “You have to
get Adams to apologize for the bombs that the IRA put in San Diego.” And I said, “The
IRA didn’t put any bombs in San Diego.” Obviously, it looked like a dirty trick to
stop the visa from going through. But I finally got Ted Kennedy, the first time I ever spoke
directly to him actually, and he said, “You tell Adams to apologize for this and I’ll
guarantee that visa.” And that’s exactly what happened. So it was — so, Gerry, I wake him
up in the middle of the night, I say, “You’ve got to apologize for bombs in San Diego.”
And he said, “Does this mean I have to apologize every time an Irishman hits an Englishman?” As to how things are today, I agree. I mean,
if you told me 25 years ago that Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness would be in power together,
I would have suggested a good psychiatrist. I think we’re all too close to it in many
ways because we’ve all played a role. And I think that the notion that it’s not improving,
if you look at the recent elections, there was an interesting sort of left-wing party
getting support in West Belfast who weren’t political in any way in the old-fashioned
way. That could be the beginning of — and Sinn F�in, I think, are obviously very focused
on the south as well, because they’re the third largest party there. So I think it will
take another generation. I think peace comes dropping slow, as Yeats said. I think it really
does. Very quickly, Niall was our interlocutor with
Adams because he was on the terrorism list still and wasn’t allowed to talk — Not me, Adams. So, and I have to say that, to the point of
honesty, Niall was a journalist, and I was talking through a journalist to Adams, and
never once was there any breach of confidence. And I want to thank you for that. And Adams,
as frustrating as it was to get him to a yes, once you got him to yes and to commit to something,
he, every single time, delivered it, and it’s a very impressive code of honor. And I think
the peace is irreversible, there’s no doubt about that. To think, there were 200 to 300
people dying a year in that conflict, so they don’t know who they are but they’re walking
around alive, and that’s a huge thing. And I think the Good Friday Agreement would never
have happened without your angel-like patience and wit and humor and wisdom and perseverance.
And maybe it’s your — I hadn’t heard the brother story before, but maybe you had to
prove them that you were going to get it. I would just like to close with a shout out
to the oral history and what Vicki is putting together. I have been to the Institute. I
was there for the opening. It is unbelievable. Please go, if you can ever. It’s just a unique
— I’ve read through a lot of the oral histories that are already up online for this. If you’re
here — obviously, if you’re here, you’re interested in this — take a look at them.
One person who should be here is Cary Parker, who’s very ill. But Cary was Senator Kennedy’s
muse through his entire career in the Senate, or I think almost all of it. And his oral
history of this I would recommend to all of you because he was really the muse behind
so much of not just the Irish process but whatever he did. But thank you to Vicki for
pulling the event tonight together, but also for what you’re doing to preserve the legacy
not just of your husband but also of the Senate. And he was there through it all. It’s a better
place for it. So, thank you. Congressman King, do you want to have a closing
thought? Yeah, I would just say there’s really no comparison
between today and 25 years ago. If you went to Belfast in the 1980’s, there’s only certain
streets you could walk down, certain taxicabs you could take. If you wanted to go to a unionist
or partisan section, you would take a certain taxicab, same on the Catholic or nationalist
side. There were no restaurants or bars in Downtown Belfast. People didn’t go shopping
in Downtown Belfast. Today, probably the people who suffered the most are the pub owners in
the nationalist Catholic areas because it used to be people had no other bars to go
to. But the ones that are there, now they can go into town and they can go to restaurants.
I remember Gerry Adams saying once that his dream in life was to be able to sit in a restaurant
with his son in Belfast without worrying about getting shot. So the whole world has changed. And I just take it anecdotally. Every year
since I’ve been in Congress we have college students interning in my office from Northern
Ireland. And the first ten years, from ’92 to, say, 2001, 2002, all these kids knew about
was they could tell you every battle, everyone that was shot, everyone that was killed, everyone
who went to jail. And, again, both sides [indiscernible]. Now, it’s like us talking about the American
Revolution or the Civil War. It’s ancient history. So I think that is a generational
change. They just — this is something their grandparents taught them, that’s the way they
look at it, not realizing it was only 18 years ago that we had the Good Friday Agreement. By the way, one thing also we could take from
what George said tonight, the Good Friday Agreement should have been the Holy Thursday
Agreement, but the Irish didn’t get there on time, they went after midnight. Also, let
me just say that the U.S. was the guarantor of the peace talks, but, really, Ted Kennedy’s
reputation and name was the guarantor in that I can tell you that Gerry Adams and Martin
McGuinness, especially people on the Republican side, they knew if they lost Ted Kennedy that
they’d lost the U.S. So, really, it was having Ted there as the presence really meant so
much. So, Vicki, thank you. And Senator Mitchell, a closing thought from
you, sir. Yeah. Before I went to Northern Ireland, I
spent a good bit of time in the Balkans in connection with a conflict there. And I recall
traveling to a small town along the border of Bosnia and Croatia. It had been about 50/50
Serb and Croat when the actual war began. The Serbs gained the upper advantage, took
control of the town, and burned down every building in the town that was owned by a Croat.
18 months later, the tide of war changed and the reverse occurred. When I went there, literally
every building had been destroyed. And I talked with a young mayor, a very nice and wise man,
and I asked him, “How long do you think it will be before the Serbs and Croats will be
able to live in this town side by side in peace again?” And he said, “We will repair
our buildings long before we repair our souls. That will take generations.” And the reality is, in all human conflict,
the most important and yet most difficult task is to change what’s in people’s minds
and hearts. I think it will take generations and I think it will be when all of those who
lived in, during, or at the time of the conflict have passed, and when for all living in Northern
Ireland it is a matter of history. They take history very seriously there, more than we
do, but, nonetheless, if you suffered through the conflict, if you endured the conflict,
you can’t let go of things as you can when it’s a memory, not a real-life event. So I
don’t think we should be too harsh on them. In fact, I go to Northern Ireland a lot, and,
invariably, the reporters ask me, “Oh, isn’t it terrible the way things are here, all this
fighting and fuming and so forth?” And I say, “Why don’t you travel to the U.S. and turn
on the TV if you want to see real political conflict.” We should not hold the people of
Northern Ireland to a standard higher than we would apply to ourselves or to other societies.
They are tremendously energetic, productive, strong, and effective people. They will build
a truly successful society and overcome all of the difficult heritage of the past. It
will take a long time, but they’ll get there. And I think that the numbers on both sides
who are still disgruntled and want their way 100%, and are willing to use violence to get
there, are decreasing in number, I think they’re vanishingly small, and we can’t let them take
control of the agenda that the vast majority of people there support, peace, progress,
prosperity for all. Well, I’m sure you will join me in thanking
this incredible panel for sharing their insights. History is written in headlines and history
books, but you see that their personal experiences, their personal relationships, and their key
memories of this are part of what makes it so rich. And what a great experience. And,
again, it’s reflected very much in the oral history that is a part of the EMK Institute.
And please take a look at that. You’ll learn so much more. And you brought it to life tonight.
Thank you all so very much. Appreciate it. Thank you, Vicki. Thank you all very much. Kelly, thank you
as well for an excellent job. Now, we promised the congressmen they might have some closing
remarks, but I’m feeling like you’ve just made those remarks. Thank you so much. [Inaudible]. I think that our next topic that we’ve chosen
is related to a comment that Senator Mitchell made. The topic is going to be campaigns past
and present, and that is going to be in Boston in late September, early October. So we should
have a lot that we can talk about then. Thank you all. Please join us for a reception in
the adjoining room. Spark Street Digital
Edward M. Kennedy Oral History Project Peace and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland 19

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