5 March 1998 Edition

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He came, he spoke, he didn't impress

By Peadar Whelan

MARTIN MANSERGH, special adviser to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, came to the Springvale Centre in West Belfast on Tuesday evening 3 March.

There at the request of the pressure group Cearta, whose charter for change is about ensuring that the rights of northern nationalists aren't bargained away in exchange for some bogus `peace settlement', Dr Mansergh's visit was eagerly awaited.

He had been described as the ``conscience of the Dublin Government'', by a presenter on Triple FM the radio station of Feile an Phobail.

And despite the hasty notification - people only heard of the meeting 48 hours previously - about 100 people attended.

Sadly though, Dr Mansergh's talk didn't match his courteousness in turning up, practically at the drop of a hat.

Whereas Oliver Kearney, representing Cearta, made a clear and unambivalent contribution to the discussion, Mansergh seemed to give the `party line' and attempted to tell his audience that the present talks process had the potential for delivering `peace' despite their experience of unionist intransigence and London prevarication.

Outlining that people living in the North, as part of the Irish nation as defined by Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution, must be treated accordingly, Kearney argued there must be real equality for northern nationalists and dismissed the nefarious notion of `equity' that has reared its ugly head in the aftermath of the Heads of Agreement Proposition Documents.

Kearney warned against any changes to the Constitution, stressing that to sell changes to Articles 2 and 3 as necessary for peace would only ``ensure more conflict''.

During his contribution Mansergh referred on more than one occasion to the need to bring nationalists and unionists together or Catholics and Protestants together, seemingly missing the point that his argument sidelined the British presence.

One speaker, a Protestant republican, pointed out from the floor that unionism is about supremacy and dominating nationalism.

The playing field isn't level and it is the British who give the unionists the veto and ability to say no to change.

The audience, made up of a fair cross section of the West Belfast population, was clearly disappointed with Mansergh's analysis. He didn't seem to accept that the Dublin Government's support for barring Sinn Fein from the talks, agreeing to the Heads of Agreement Propositions and acceptance of the latest changes to the Parades Commission were sending out the wrong messages to a community that is all too aware of the cost of living in the Six Counties; a cost made all the more clear with the killings of two men in Poyntzpass at the very time Dr Mansergh was saying he didn't want a unity that would bring violence.

An Phoblacht
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