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Niall O’Dowd: And certainly as an Irish-born person living in America I know that people used to identify people from Ireland with the violence. Now they identify them more with the peace process, which is a very important distinction.
KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, how the Irish-American community is reacting to real peace in Northern Ireland. Plus the results of the latest Human Development report.
Sakiko Fukuda-Parr: The size of the population in poverty is proportionately larger in the United States than any of the other 17 countries that we looked at.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Kristin McHugh.
PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. Northern Ireland’s Good Friday Peace Accord was signed in April of 1998. Though there have been many ups and downs since then, the agreement still holds. Irish-Americans played a significant role in the Northern Ireland peace process. To find out more about this role in the past and in the future, I recently spoke with Niall O’Dowd. He’s publisher of the Irish Voice Newspaper and Irish America magazine, both based in New York City. I asked O’Dowd if the just-completed marching season in Northern Ireland is as important as it used to be.
Niall O’Dowd: Well, it’s important in a very negative way, that it raises the emotions and the atmosphere. And this time of year is always fraught with danger for everybody in the peace process. Because oftentimes in Northern Ireland events are more important than actual, what people are planning. And events can overtake, oftentimes, political arrangements. So people are very, very worried on this occasion that the Drumcree spill over into a lot of violence which would create its own dynamic. So that’s really the fear that people have about the marching season.
PORTER: What’s the outcome? I mean, are things as bad or as worse as you thought they might be?
O’Dowd: It’s a very interesting outcome in the sense that within Unionism there has been a great debate, and it’s a very healthy debate in the sense that up until this point there was very little dissension with the notion that Orangemen had the right to march everywhere they wanted. What’s happened because of the violence associated with the marching, a number of Unionist leaders have drawn back from that position and have said ‘we have to find a better way.’ And I think that’s a very positive sign. So if you were to say what came out of the marching season this year, I would say the beginning of an understanding of how a solution might be reached out on the Unionist side. And the beginning of responsible leadership on the issue of whether or not people can march through neighborhoods where they’re not wanted.
PORTER: Former US Senator George Mitchell, who was the chief negotiator in the Good Friday peace accords, said recently that the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland want peace, political stability, and reconciliation. Do you agree with that?
O’Dowd: Well, I think actually that’s always been the case. The problem is when you have a political juxtaposition, which is two communities which have very different identities and very different ideals, you’re always going to have a significant amount of friction between those communities, irrespective of what the vast majority in either community may want. So it’s not as easy—I know where Senator Mitchell is coming from, but it’s not as easy as saying that everybody wants peace. If that were the case we would have peace a long time ago. This is the situation that has a long history, which in the modern day began in 1921 when the country was partitioned, when the island of Ireland was partitioned. Nobody ever voted for that partition. So you are bound to have problems and that’s what’s happened in the last 80 years.
PORTER: How do we go about containing extremists on both sides who may be bent on violence?
O’Dowd: Well, I think we have begun that process in Northern Ireland. I think it’s a very important process, that you have to create a situation where the extremes are brought to the center. And certainly what’s happened in this peace process has been a worldwide example of how that can be achieved. The IRA has been shown a political way forward. They have grasped it. A number of the Loyalist paramilitary groups have been shown a political way forward. That was what was missing in previous solutions, or attempts at solutions. They were constantly trying to build from the center, which wasn’t really working because they were ignoring people on the extremes. What happened this time was, this initiative really came from Sinn Fein. They brought the IRA along. The Loyalists joined in. So the extremes moved to the center rather than what usually happens—the center doesn’t hold and the extremes get more extreme.
PORTER: Is it possible though, that extremists could still derail the process?
O’Dowd: There’s no question that there are a number of issues that are still huge hurdles. But the interesting thing about this peace process—it’s been good and it’s been lucky. At key points major changes have occurred such as the appointment of George Mitchell as the talks chairman, which was a huge accomplishment in terms of creating an independent chairman of the talks, which was very, very important. At other times, documents like the Good Friday Agreement, I think are basically a road map for any country which is going through a situation where there’s ethnic violence or there is powers facing off against each other. And I think the Good Friday Agreement will go down in history as one of the great peacemaking documents of the last century and indeed of this century
PORTER: The head of the Northern Irish Tourism Board said that the just-past marching season, the violence there, may have set back tourism in Northern Ireland for a couple of years. And I’m wondering if you think that’s true, and also if it’s true for foreign investment. That even this sort of, smallest outbreak of violence might keep people from investing.
O’Dowd: Well, there’s no question people still feel very, very wary about investing in Northern Ireland because of the image of violence. And certainly the events of the last month have not helped. The extraordinary thing is that within a month’s time, the status will be like this never happened. There seems to be an annual rush of blood to the head every July and we get these crazy things and then it all fades away again. Which is an interesting indication of the situation is probably improving in that sense. That I agree with the Tourist Board representative that it certainly doesn’t make for good headlines. But overall, Northern Ireland’s been getting a better press in the last three or four years than it ever has. And certainly as an Irish-born person living in America I know that people used to identify people from Ireland with the violence. Now they identify them more with the peace process, which is a very important distinction.
PORTER: The Irish Republican Army recently allowed these outside inspectors to come in and look at their arms dumps as they call them. What needs to happen for the IRA to take the next step and disarm?
O’Dowd: Well, I don’t think they will disarm. I think that the situation that has been reached has been a wonderful accommodation, which the IRA have reached, which is that they will allow their arms to be inspected. I think there are a number of very big issues, the most prominent of which is the reform of policing. This was something that was promised by the British government in their statement which led to IRA move of a few weeks back. It was very, very important at that time that the British government gave an assurance that the Patton Commission report on policing would be implemented in full. This was an international commission brought in to realign policing so that it would reflect the wishes in both communities. Policing in Northern Ireland at the moment is 93% from one community, from the Protestant community. However, Wright having written that to the IRA, and Wright having made that public statement, the British government has gone back very much on the policing issue and they’ve now essentially gutted the Patton Report and they’re creating a whole other problem, which is gonna cause major difficulties down the road. So I would imagine that the IRA would be very wary about any further steps in that direction.
PORTER: Just for our audience, the Patton Report was the, the Commission was chaired by Christopher Patton, the former Governor General of Hong Kong.
O’Dowd: Yeah. This was not a Nationalist commission or a Unionist commission; this was an international commission, headed by, really, a pillar of the Tory right wing in Britain, Christopher Patton, who was governor of Hong Kong, and a former government minister in Margaret Thatcher governments. It was created from people from all over the world: two from the United States, from South Africa, from Europe, and from England. And it got worldwide praise. The New York Times said that the report was a model of what could be done with policing. And yet the British government seems to be making significant efforts to undermine it, which is very, very disturbing to people. Because at the end of the day this isn’t about pleasing both communities; this is about making it reality, that you can have a police force that speaks for both communities, that represents both communities. And if that doesn’t happen, and where we are now is even moderate Nationalists are saying, ‘we could not advise Catholics to join this force under the current legislation.’ That would not have been the case if the Patton Report had been implemented as written.
PORTER: The police force in Northern Ireland is known as the RUC, Royal Ulster Constabulary, and the name alone has generated controversy. I mean, the name alone sort of aligns it with one side, doesn’t it?
O’Dowd: Of course. I mean, the word “Royal” is identified with the Protestant community. And 93% of the police force is from that community. In Northern Ireland symbols are substance. The names of police forces or the names of organizations are absolutely key to how people feel about themselves. Whether or not they fly the Tricolor or the Union Jack is extraordinarily important. It’s someone similar to the Confederate flag over here and the furor that happened in Carolina. Which is really the reality for people, that the symbols are extremely important. So if you have the Royal Ulster Constabulary name kept, as the British government are now threatening to do, the Nationalists just will not join the police force.
PORTER: In the other institutions that are being set up, are you satisfied that minority rights will be safeguarded in the new institutions set up in Northern Ireland?
O’Dowd: I’m certainly satisfied with what was in the Good Friday Agreement. There, as I say, I do believe that that is a watershed document. In fact President Clinton recently referred to it as one that he, when he was conducting the talks in Kosovo he brought up the Good Friday Agreement as an example of how communities that were essentially in conflict were able to come together and come up with a reasonable middle ground. The problem is the implementation of all these. The British government have talked some very fine words about the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, but there are still many, many areas of that agreement that have to implemented. And this isn’t something where you can have half measures. This has to be implemented. So that both communities feel ownership of the process. And that’s the danger that we’re in right now, that it won’t be implemented as written.
PORTER: Do you see a day when Northern Ireland has the power to decide for itself whether or not it might want to reunify with the Republic of Ireland?
O’Dowd: Oh, I think that day is coming very fast. In fact there was an internal Ulster Unionist Party document recently which was, from their point of view disturbing, in the sense that it showed that by the year 2010 there may well be a Nationalist majority in Northern Ireland. So that’s undoubtedly on, underlying a lot of the Good Friday Agreement. And the reality for the British government and the Irish government that a Nationalist majority will occur some time in this century—earlier rather than later—and that will obviously have its own impact on developments in Ireland. And I think that’s, that’s probably gonna happen in the next 20 years.
PORTER: I want to ask something about the role of Irish Americans in all of this. And we talked a lot on our radio program about what happened at the end of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, that the anti-apartheid movement sort of found themselves with no organizing principle after apartheid fell. Do you see something like that happening here, with people who have been so involved in this issue that perhaps as it moves into this more normal political phase that it will be harder and harder to organize this; what has been a particularly effective foreign policy lobbying group?
O’Dowd: It’s an interesting question. I mean, there’s two ways to look at it. One, an awful lot of Irish-Americans now feel they can become involved because there is no longer any violence. People are joining a lot of the Irish-American political organizations that never wanted anything to do with the issue before because of violence. On the other hand, you’re correct in saying that once the huge issue is dealt with, which is the issue of Nationalist rights and the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, it’s gonna be more difficult for people to get energized about it. But I do believe that there is an awful lot of work that has to be done in the next five to ten years. Irish America played a huge role in this process. They ended the international isolation of Sinn Fein, they created the conditions for the appointment of people like George Mitchell, for President Clinton becoming involved, for the visa for Gerry Adams, which was enormously important. So from that point of view they’ve played a huge role and it’s been a very positive role. Gerry Adams was just here recently and he stated that it’s probably more important than ever now, that they stay involved. But there will be a certain amount of people who will say, you know, ‘it’s done, it’s over. We don’t need to stay involved.’ On the other hand, as I said, a lot of people, including many businesspeople, are now becoming involved in the economic situation over there, because they feel that there is something to work for. There’s a positive story out of Ireland. So I think it could cut both ways.
PORTER: So what do you hear from Irish Americans here? I mean, you talked about whether or not they can get involved in the issue. I remember, I keep coming back to this analogy with South Africa, that there were white South Africans who at some point became so embarrassed to tell people that they were from South Africa, that you know, they didn’t even tell them that. They would say they were from New Zealand or something just to avoid that embarrassment. I mean, do you find Irish-Americans supportive and excited about what’s happening?
O’Dowd: I think they’re very supportive. I think Irish America has kept the flag flying through very tough times. It’s an issue that they were demonized over for many years. Irish America would have been one of the very few elements of this that always called for inclusive talks, which I think is an American thing. For many years, as you know, the attempts were made by the British, and indeed the Irish governments, to exclude Sinn Fein, to exclude the Loyalists, and I think Irish America pushed very hard for the notion that unless you had inclusive negotiations you could not settle this issue. And that’s eventually what happened. And I think that the role that they played with President Clinton before he was even President Clinton, when he was a candidate, the fact that they reached out to him, made him aware of the Irish issue. And he acted so well on this issue. And the role they created in terms of calling for a special envoy, which later became George Mitchell. I don’t think they have anything to be worried about in terms of how they’re perceived in this. I think they’ve done very, very well. And I think there’s been a huge misunderstanding about how complex Irish America is in relation to this issue. They are actually a lot more thinking about this issue than people give them credit for. And I think that in the end, when the history is finally written, their view, which was inclusive negotiations, are the only forward, was actually the correct one. Now remember, this is one of the few peace processes where America didn’t have to send troops, they didn’t have to spend money. This is to my mind the best example of American foreign policy as it should be, which is bringing to bear the fact that they were friends with both the Republic of Ireland and Britain. Becoming an honest broker, dealing with it in a straightforward way. They didn’t need to land gunships. What they did land was George Mitchell, and he was much more effective than any gunship in terms of bringing people together.
PORTER: That is Niall O’Dowd, publisher of the Irish Voice Newspaper and Irish America magazine.
MCHUGH: Coming up, the 2000 Human Development report.
Sakiko Fukuda-Parr: Do you know that in the last 20 years more than a hundred countries have gone from authoritarian or military rule to electoral democracy? But these electoral democracies are very fragile and I think that pervasive poverty does not help these fragile democracies.
MCHUGH: For the past 11 years the United Nations Development Program has measured the lives of people around the globe using a variety of factors including economic status, healthcare, and access to education. The results are compiled in the Annual Human Development Report. Sakiko Fukuda-Parr is the Director of the Human Development Report Office. She says the results of the 2000 survey shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. But she says the report’s notion that human rights are crucial to overall human development is a breakthrough in understanding basic freedoms.
Sakiko Fukuda-Parr: This report is about human rights and human development. And it’s trying to argue that development and rights are two sides of the same coin because they’re both really about achieving human freedoms. And thinking about development as freedom is the subject of the book by Amartya Sen. This is very much a report that goes along the same lines. Of course, Amartya Sen contributed a chapter to this report. So the whole notion that development is really about achieving human freedoms, that human rights are part of development, is a sort of an idea breakthrough, I think. And it’s particularly an important breakthrough because until now there has been a lot of discussion about the fact that human rights may just be a luxury for poor countries. Or, that we should just pursue economic and social development without worrying about human rights.
MCHUGH: Well, maybe you can help us out by telling us how these reports are compiled? How is the information collected and how is it all gathered together?
Fukuda-Parr: [laughing] First of all there’s a lot of sweat and blood in it, I have to say! And a lot of joint creative thinking. We are a very small group, actually. And the core team is really maybe only like four or five of us. There are four or five other people, but those of us who actually write the report is a small group. And we fight a lot. [laughing] You have to remember that! Basically the statistics that you see at the back of the report are a compilation of the best statistics available from international organizations. So this is sort of like the world’s best collection of the statistics that are available. We are not doing our own data collection, but we are compiling them and they are coming from the World Bank for economic data, from UNESCO for education data, from WHO for health data, and so forth. We, of course, collaborated a great deal with Mary Robinson, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and her staff. We have an advisory panel that includes many people who are some of the leading human rights defenders, researchers, academics.
And then, of course, many research papers are commissioned. This year I think an important input into this report was that we commissioned 18 regional and national papers, and those were done by people in the country. And for an issue like human rights, you know, you have to speak with your feet on the ground about, with full knowledge of what is really going on in that country. And so we have papers from Ecuador, from Jordan, from Cambodia, from you know, 18 countries and regions. And then of course, we have, we commission other research papers. And then we sit down and write the report.
MCHUGH: So it’s the compilation of all of that information that you gather from other sources that helps you determine the rankings?
Fukuda-Parr: No. The Human Development Index is basically based on a statistical calculation.
MCHUGH: And what, what was the calculation for this year? What are the top ten?
Fukuda-Parr: The top country is, in the Human Development Index, is Canada. And I think this is several years in a row that Canada comes out first or second. Second is Norway, third is the United States. The bottom countries are predominantly the West African countries, actually.
MCHUGH: Which countries have shown the most improvement in say, the last five years?
Fukuda-Parr: That’s a very good question. But I can’t really tell you. The problem with the Human Development Index is that it moves very slowly. Life expectancy doesn’t change overnight. Literacy does not change overnight. So this is one of the problems. In terms of a longer-term improvement, not over the last five years, but over the last 20 years, you do find that it is many of the East Asian countries that have shown very fast improvement. Indonesia, for example, over the long term—I mean let’s not forget that something like the financial crisis is a short-term phenomenon. I think the other thing, though, that you notice in the trends in human development, is that over the last four or five years there has been this dramatic decline in a certain number of countries, especially Eastern Europe, and a few in Sub-Saharan African. And that is due to a historically unprecedented decline in life expectancy, due to economic crisis, and social crisis and collapse and, you know, suicides and homicides in Eastern Europe. And then the impact of HIV/AIDS on life expectancy in Sub-Saharan Africa, combined with the fact that enrollment rates have not progressed.
MCHUGH: Were there any major surprises this year?
Fukuda-Parr: No, I would not say that the Human Development Index itself has some, has particularly a new element this year that reveals anything in particular. I think what is more important though is to look at the Human Poverty Index. I always find that to be more relevant, particularly for the industrialized countries. And I think it’s an index that doesn’t receive as much attention as the Human Development Index. Maybe because it’s more depressing to look at poverty as opposed to a human development program. You see that, for example, the countries with the highest incomes do not always do well in poverty reduction. The countries with the highest average level of human development do not do well in terms of eliminating human poverty. So the United States is actually at the bottom of the 18 countries in terms of poverty. That is to say that the size of the population in poverty is proportionately larger in the United States than any of the other 17 countries that we looked at. And our measure of poverty is not based on income, but it’s like the flip side of human development. We are looking at deprivations in life—likelihood of dying before you reach the age of 60, or being functionally illiterate, of being unemployed for over 12 months, and of having low incomes. And Canada, I think is something like number nine in the Human Poverty Index even though they’re number one in the Human Development Index.
MCHUGH: Would you say that the report specifically is having an impact, or making an impact, maybe even more today than when it was first issued?
Fukuda-Parr: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think that in terms of numbers of copies being circulated and being, the use of it as a reference document, I think, has really spread. But also, you know, I think with, if you look at Seattle, if you look at Washington demonstrations, I think economic, international economic issues are now becoming issues of common concern for many people around the world. In France they have this huge mobilization led by Mr. José Bové against globalization. So, people say that Seattle was the first time that American college students, for example, went to protest or to make a statement about international trade issues. And so questions of global poverty, things like that, now, I think are much more relevant for people’s everyday lives. And it’s being used much more as a result.
MCHUGH: What would you say is the biggest global threat to human rights in the next decade?
Fukuda-Parr: First of all, as I mentioned, I think conflict is one. The second is the, is poverty. I mean, poverty is linked to human rights in two very basic ways. Human rights have to do not only with freedom from fear, but also freedom from want, and many other freedoms. And so economic growth, development, lack of it, will actually reduce poverty and help secure freedom from want. But secondly, I think that countries trying to transit from authoritarian rule to democratic rule—and I really should have said, when you asked me about what change since 1990, that one of the biggest changes has been the wave of democratization. Do you know that in the last 20 years more than a hundred countries have gone from authoritarian or military rule to electoral democracy? But these electoral democracies are very fragile and I think that pervasive poverty does not help these fragile democracies.
MCHUGH: Personally, what’s your hope? Do you hold optimism that the world is going to be a better place in 10 years?
Fukuda-Parr: The areas in which I have a lot of hope have to do with human freedom and the impact of globalization on human rights. I have less hope about economic growth in poor countries. But the force of the civil society in helping people mobilize all around the world, and press for their own rights, is a force that I think is new in this era, that you didn’t have before. The international civil society is filling a very important gap in promoting change on causes that are important for improving the lives of the poor and for securing human rights. And I think that is really a new force and a source of great optimism, actually.
MCHUGH: Sakiko Fukuda-Parr is the Director of the Human Development Report Office. For Common Ground, I’m Kristin McHugh.
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