Boycott

December 01, 2002 ,

MY father who is in Cork, always used to tell me that the one word the Irish had contributed to the English language was ‘boycott.'

In 19th Century Ireland, a campaign was started to have nothing to do with any man who took over a farm after another man had been evicted. The first recipient of this treatment was Captain Boycott, a County Mayo land agent, who was completely shunned by local people until his nerve broke.

Thus the verb to ‘boycott' entered the English language.

I attended a meeting of the British-Irish Inter Parliamentary Body this week, in Manchester; bombed by the IRA in 1996.

I am a Welshman with an Irish name. Sitting next to me was an Irish man with a Welsh name, Arthur Morgan.

Mr. Morgan is a Sinn Fein member of the Dail, the Irish House of Commons. Outside of politics he runs a business, but before that he spent seven and a half years in the H-blocks of the Maze prison in Northern Ireland.

He was there for the hunger strikes and dirty protests, and when the MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Bobby Sands, starved himself to death. Mr. Morgan is no angel; he was in prison because he was an IRA gunman.

It was remarkable to stand next to him as he talked to the British Ambassador to Ireland, another Welshman, Sir Ivor Roberts.

‘If we'd met 20 years ago you probably would have shot me' said Sir Ivor.

‘No', said Mr. Morgan, '10 years ago.'

It is easy to understand why the peace process is difficult, particularly for those people who always followed the path of peace. There is no excuse for the brutality of the terrorist campaign waged over the years by the Provisional IRA.

But politically inspired violence is always born out of a sense of injustice, however misguided. Northern Ireland was a State where discrimination against Catholics had been built into its constitution.

When violence erupted it turned into a cycle of retaliation which continued for nearly 30 years.
Boycotting the peace process because it involves talking to former men of violence is no answer. John Hume worked for civil rights by peaceful means throughout his political career.

He, more than anyone, was instrumental in bringing about the peace process by persuading Gerry Adams to abandon violence. John was with us in Manchester; a massive moral authority and symbol of what politics can achieve.

There were no Ulster Unionists present. Sadly, because of some long forgotten technical objection, the Ulster Unionists continue to boycott these meetings. By doing so they lose the chance to make their case with fellow politicians from Britain and Ireland.

I hope that the suspension of the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland will be short-lived. We now have another Welshman with an Irish name, Paul Murphy, in charge.

The huge respect with which he is regarded in Ireland, on all sides, will be a big factor in getting the peace process back on track.

The alternative is too horrible to contemplate, so all parties must end the tradition of boycotting institutions. Just as there can be no peace while the bomb and bullet remain part of Northern Ireland politics, there can be no true peace until everyone agrees to boycott the Boycott.