Justice for victims is achieved by “giving them a society that works”, says Fergus O'Dowd TD of Fine Gael. He is a member of the Oireachtas Good Friday Implementation Committee and was appointed earlier this year by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to lead a new Fine Gael group to develop links with Northern Ireland. He is interviewed in the latest Forward Together podcast.
Discussing how to deal with events of the past, Fergus stresses that victims and their relatives must be treated fairly, and criticises recent remarks by Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley in the House of Commons about Bloody Sunday. She initially said that killings by security forces were "not crimes", before rowing back on the remarks.
“Some of the commentary wasn't helpful,” Fergus says, adding, “the Secretary of State wasn't helpful.” The risk, he says, is that “you have a society where you get law, but you don't get justice.” The best approach, he suggests, is “you give them justice by giving them a society that works, an administration that respects all sides”.
Fergus urges Sinn Fein to take their seats in the House of Commons in order to help protect the whole of Ireland from the impact of Brexit. “The nationalist voice has not been heard in the UK Parliament. I think it is hugely important that it would be and that would help. But obviously it probably won't happen.... This decision is about all of Ireland.... This is a historic, huge, decision, which will have ramifications probably for hundreds of years for all we know.”
Fergus stresses that he is an Irish nationalist, who believes in achieving a united Ireland by consent. But he believes this should not create a bar to engaging with, and working with, unionists in the north. He makes a plea to the DUP – to engage with politicians in the Republic. “I've met some unionists, not too many of the DUP. I would like to engage more. I need to understand their position better. I've met moderate unionists and I understand their position absolutely and respect it. I've met moderate nationalists. I need to meet with the majority party in the north, which is the DUP.”
He is clear that citizens’ assemblies were of enormous importance in enabling southern politics to deal with the challenging decisions around same sex marriage and abortion. Fergus believes that citizens’ assemblies could do the same with constitutional issues in the north, including, at some point, a possible united Ireland.
Fergus stresses that what has happened in recent years has meant “we've become a completely different society”. He is a TD in County Louth, based in Drogheda, a town which is noticeably more multi-cultural than anywhere in Northern Ireland. He says that at one recent meeting, those present had a mix of 32 different first languages. Yet Drogheda and the Republic seem to be more successful than Northern Ireland at integrating communities.
One means of supporting integration has been by giving parents the choice of the status of new schools. “It's a huge change and it's very welcome because the views of the parents are the ones that count... If you continue to have separate schools for separate religions, I don't think that's a good thing, personally. I think that integration means that you go to the same school, the school that is nearest.”
Holywell Trust receives support for the Forward Together Podcast through the Media Grant Scheme and Core Funding Programme of Community Relations Council and Good Relations Core Funding Programme of Derry City and Strabane District Council.