Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Northern Irish Path

Thanks to a press release by the University of Ulster we learned about what Ibarretxe said regarding a certain path to peace, here you have it:

Northern Ireland Points Path to Basque Peace, Says President Ibarretxe

Northern Ireland’s path to peace could be the route to ending conflict in the Basque country, the democratic leader of more than two million Basques said in a major address at the University of Ulster’s Magee campus.

Juan José Ibarretxe Markuartu, the President of the Basque Government, said disavowal of violence and inclusive talks – the basis of the peace process here - must be the first step to resolving the long-running dispute about Spanish sovereignty over its Basque population.

Delivering the Tip O’Neill Peace Lecture, he said inclusive talks and respect for a democratic mandate must replace a failed formula of back-door contacts between the Spanish Government and ETA extremists who have been waging a 40-year war for Basque independence.

“ETA and the Spanish government can not decide the future of the Basque people in secret meetings. This future will only be freely decided by the men and women of our country through peaceful and democratic means,” he asserted.

“I am convinced that we will never achieve peace if we carry on making the same mistakes. We have to learn from Northern Ireland and many conflict zones that have been able to transform positively even more difficult situations.”

President Ibarretxe was the latest international luminary to deliver the lecture, at the invitation of Nobel Peace Laureate Professor John Hume, holder of the Tip O’Neill Chair of Peace Studies at Magee. The Chair, funded by the Ireland Funds, commemorates the Speaker of the US House of Representatives during 1977-1987 who was widely respected for his support of the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Before Monday’s lecture, Professor Hume escorted the President on a tour of Derry’s Walls, accompanied by Professor Tom Fraser, the former Provost of Magee.

In the lecture, President Ibarretxe paid warm tribute to Professor Hume’s dedication to peace-building: “You represent the best of humankind, the power of dialogue against violence, the capacity of political leaders to solve the real problems of their people, the necessity to fight peacefully the most violent battles and the resilience to overcome opposition in the most difficult conditions. Your whole life is a source of inspiration for political leaders all around the world who have to face up to similar circumstances.”

As President of the Basque Autonomous Community since 1999, the President is the chief voice of non-violent Basque nationalism. The historic Basque culture and identity straddles the Spanish-French border in the north-east of the Iberian Peninsula.

The Basque Autonomous Community is one of Spain’s 17 regions, all of which have varying degrees of home-rule under sovereignty of the central government in Madrid. It has 75% of the Basque people, who for generations have demanded self-determination.

The Basque Country is a competitive and balanced community, President Ibarretxe said. “An ancient people among the top countries in the field of sustainable human development…... but we lack peace. Unfortunately, on too many occasions, news about the violence of ETA hides the economic and social reality of a peaceful and hard-working people. Northern Ireland has suffered a similar situation for too long.

“Nobody knows better than you that violence only generates the suffering of innocent people and tarnishes the good name of the Basques. Basque society demands that ETA declares clearly and unequivocally its willingness to put an end to its violent campaign now.”
Following the 2007 collapse of an ETA ceasefire, President Ibarretxe launched a talks’ initiative which he described as “actually a Basque-style Downing Street Declaration”. The political debate in Northern Ireland moved from secret negotiations between the British Government and the IRA, to all-party talks after the signing of the Downing Street Declaration, he recalled.

“The message that your two governments sent out to all parties involved was crystal clear at all times. Talks would be inclusive, all parties simply had to accept a firm commitment to using exclusively peaceful and democratic means to achieve their goals and the people of this country had to be consulted directly about the changes for the future. This is precisely the same route we need to follow in the Basque Country.

“Our main difficulty lies in the reluctance to move from the old paradigm of negotiation between ETA and the Government, to a new paradigm based on all party talks.”

It was unfortunate, he said, that President Zapatero of Spain did not interpret his offer of all-party dialogue as an opportunity for a Basque way to follow the route marked out in the Northern Ireland peace process.

“He never presented an alternative, and neither did the rest of the political parties…..Our problem is that any attempt to conduct a similar effort in the Basque area is still considered as weakness in the face of terrorism.

"This is the old paradigm but a new one can still be created. We need to reinforce the leadership of all political parties. And we have to do it accepting all the consequences, even though the end result of the peace process may be unexpected and on many occasions difficult for those who were the front runners.

“We are at a crucial time that will affect the history of our land. A democratic battle is being waged between those who still carry on trying to transform the Basque conflict implementing old and failed frameworks and those that want to explore new avenues for peace. The outcome of this debate will determine our future for the coming decade.”

Funny thing, Ibarretxe's political party squandered the chance they had a couple of years ago when they decided to abide by the orders coming directly from Juan Carlos Borbon and Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero who did all they could do in order to derail the peace process ushered by ETA's ceasefire going to the extreme of refusing to accept an offer by ETA to lay down their weapons.

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