A Farther Shore – Ireland’s Long Road to Peace

A Farther Shore  by Gerry Adams is the fascinating story of the negotiations that resulted in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which created a road map for peace in Northern Ireland. Some consider Gerry Adams a terrorist, while for others, he is a great civil rights leader. Since 1983, Gerry Adams was the leader of Sinn Fein, the political group closely associated with the Irish Republican Army (IRA). A Farther Shore was written in 2003 when the details of the negotiations were fresh in mind. A Farther Shore still holds up today, and gives the reader a wonderful historic perspective.

British troops in Northern Ireland

British troops in Northern Ireland

It is difficult for people outside of Ireland and the U.K. to understand just how desperate the Northern Ireland situation was in the 1970s through 1990s.  There were daily shootings and bombing. People could be imprisoned indefinitely without trial and the British Army was a large occupying force. At one point in Norther Ireland, there was 1 British soldier for every 3 Catholic males between the ages of 16 and 60.

Margret Thatcher tried unsuccessfully to beat the IRA using the military

Margret Thatcher tried unsuccessfully to beat the IRA using the military

It seemed impossible that there could ever be a negotiated settlement. In 1979, Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister, and her goal was to militarily destroy the IRA by any means, legal or illegal.  The British have always portrayed themselves to the world as the epitome of “the rule of law”. However, the law did not apply in Northern Ireland.  British SAS forces had orders to “shoot to kill” rather than arrest suspected members of the IRA, even if those people were unarmed.

Gerry Adams in Northern Ireland

Gerry Adams in Northern Ireland

The RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) was in many ways worse than the British Army. The RUC was supposed to be the police force protecting all the citizens of Norther Ireland. In reality, it was the force of the Protestant majority only, and considered all Catholics to be the enemy.

At one point Northern Ireland had 1 British soldier for every 3 Catholic males between 16 and 60

At one point Northern Ireland had 1 British soldier for every 3 Catholic males between 16 and 60

As well as the Catholic IRA, there were many armed Protestant “Unionist” paramilitary groups. The Unionist groups were technically illegal, but in fact were often being given intelligence and weapons by the British and the RUC.

Lord Mountbatten killed by IRA August 27, 1979

Lord Mountbatten killed by IRA August 27, 1979

The brutal methods of the British and the RUC did not destroy the IRA, and instead made it stronger. Once the British began to treat  ALL Catholics in Northern Ireland as the enemy, the Catholics turned to the IRA as the only force which would protect them.  The IRA itself continued bomb and gun attacks.  On August 27, 1979 the IRA killed Lord Mountbatten in Ireland in a bomb attack and killed 18 British soldiers in a separate attack in Northern Ireland on the same day.

Gerry Adams & Bill Clinton 1995

Gerry Adams & Bill Clinton 1995 at Queen’s University. Clinton also met with Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party  Ian Paisely.

A Farther Shore is the story of how the groups battling in Northern Ireland came through those dark days to sign a peace accord in 1998 which came to be known as the Good Friday Agreement. Gerry Adams admits that his is not an unbiased account. He rightfully states that it may be 50 or 75 years before anyone will be able to write a story about Northern Ireland from a neutral, unemotional perspective. A Further Shore is Gerry Adam’s account of the Sinn Fein struggle and its involvement in the peace process.

Gerry Adams and Prince Charles share a friendly moment. Margaret Thatcher must be turning in her grave.

Gerry Adams and Prince Charles share a friendly moment. Margaret Thatcher must be turning in her grave.

The negotiations that lead to the Good Friday Agreement took decades and included a huge number of people, countries and political and paramilitary organizations. Just to name a few these included, Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, U.S. Senator George Mitchell, Ted Kennedy, the IRA, the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland, the Ulster Unionist Party, and more.

Results of the popular vote accepting the Good Friday Agreement

Results of the popular vote accepting the Good Friday Agreement

This was not a simple matter of just having groups sit down and talk to each other for a deal. Many of these groups hated each other and would have no direct conversations with each other, even if they were in the same room. The IRA and the various unionists paramilitary organizations were illegal and could therefore not even show up directly for any talks.

Senator George Mitchell ad Gerry Adams

Senator George Mitchell ad Gerry Adams

Peace would never have been achieved without the involvement of South Africa and The United States.  At one point,  representatives of all the involved Northern Irish  parties (other than the paramilitary groups) traveled to South Africa. There they met with Nelson Mandela and the ex-leaders of the all -white government.  There were long discussions about how it was possible to achieve a lasting agreement even among groups that had fought each other for decades. The Irish peace negotiators were inspired by the South African example.

Nelson Mandela & Gerry Adams

Nelson Mandela & Gerry Adams

United States Senator George Mitchell lead the negotiations that resulted in The Good Friday agreement.  Most Americans, even to this day, are not fully aware of the incredible achievement of Senator Mitchell. The fact that he was able to hold together such a diverse group and get a workable accord would have seemed impossible given the history of the conflict.

A Further Shore is a wonderful read, and Gerry Adams is a terrific writer.  Gerry Adams’ writing style is very personal, which makes this tale of an individual’s journey, rather than a dry historical document.  Gerry Adams sprinkles the book with amusing anecdotes. For example, at one point, he took a break from negotiations which were  taking place in an old castle.  As he walked the grounds of the estate he found himself being followed by a herd of wild cats who lived in the nooks and crannies of the old castle. Throughout his political life Gerry Adams has tried to continue to enjoy the simple pleasures of life and family. Despite having been imprisoned by the British and shot by Unionists, he has kept an amazingly positive outlook on the future and truly believes in the possibility of a better future for future generations throughout the world.

A Further Shore is a very inspirational book since it shows that seemingly “endless” conflicts can be resolved.  It is easy to think of today’s problems in the Middle East and elsewhere as completely insurmountable.  A Further Shore shows that there is always hope and possibility. Of course, the problems of Northern Ireland have not all been solved. The IRA and the Unionist military groups still exist. The political situation is still incredibly complex and fluid.

Just this week an election was held for the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Unionist group the DUP came in first 28 seats. In a stunning success, Sinn Fein came in second with 27 seats. It was a hard-fought election, but the fighting was with words, not guns or bombs.  A Further Shore tells the tale of what made this possible.

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