November 3, 2003

Former Irish officials to visit Emory

By Deb Hammacher

Former Irish prime minister Albert Reynolds, who served as his country's chief executive from 1992-94, will speak Friday, Nov. 7, at 4 p.m. in the Goizueta Business School's Boynton Auditorium on "Ireland: Gateway to Europe, Bridge to America."

Ireland has experienced extraordinary economic, social and political development during the past 15 years, and many credit Reynolds as one of the key architects of that transformation. He will discuss Ireland's economy--which some call "the Celtic Tiger"--and then participate in a panel discussion featuring Donald Keough, former president of The Coca-Cola Company and current chairman of Allen & Co., and Tom Noonan, chair and CEO of Internet Security Systems.

"If someone had predicted that Ireland, which in 1990 had a 15 percent unemployment rate and the poorest economic record in Europe, would in the year 2003 be expected to have the highest growth rate in the developed world, that individual would have been called a lunatic," said James Flannery, director of the W.B. Yeats Foundation (which is sponsoring the event along with the Atlanta chapter of the Ireland Chamber of Commerce-U.S.A.) and Winship Professor of the Arts and Humanities.

According to Flannery, Ireland's average rate of export growth since 1994 is the highest among the members of the European Union, with two-thirds of those exports in services and high tech areas: computer hardware, software and pharmaceuticals.

Prior to his term as prime minister, Reynolds was minister both for industry and commerce and for finance, and he was involved in setting the policies that led directly to the "Celtic Tiger." A highly successful businessman, Reynolds' promotion of education, particularly in computer literacy, and his development of government-business partnerships with incentives for foreign investment attracted a large number of major international companies to set up branches in Ireland.

"But perhaps Mr. Reynolds' biggest achievement while prime minister was the Northern Irish peace process, where he played a crucial role in securing the direct involvement of John Major, [former] prime minister of Great Britain, and former President Bill Clinton," Flannery said.

Arguing that no progress toward peace could be made through a policy of exclusion, Reynolds persuaded Major and Clinton to invite Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), to join the peace discussion.

Reynolds remains hopeful for a lasting peace in Northern Ireland, but continues to resist pressures from the British government as well as Unionist politicians in Northern Ireland, who are trying to force the IRA to decommission its weapons before the Northern Ireland Assembly is restored.

"There is no historical precedent in Ireland for decommissioning," Reynolds said. "It's symbolic of surrender, and we didn't have a surrender--we had a cease-fire."

He also noted that rebel forces in countries like Bosnia and South Africa were never required to turn in arms before talks began. "Those conditions were to be part of the negotiations," according to Reynolds. "Sinn Fein and the IRA have had issues of historic discrimination that they are trying to address. In every decade of this century there has been some form of rebellion against second-class citizenship and poor treatment of minorities by colonial governments."

The Yeats Foundation also is cosponsoring with the Ancient Order of Hibernians a lecture by Martin McGuinness, chief administrator for Sinn Fein during the peace negotiations leading up to the Good Friday Agreement of March 1998 and former minister of education in the Northern Ireland Assembly. His talk about "Education and Peace in Northern Ireland" will take place on Wednesday, Nov. 12, at 8 p.m. in 208 White Hall.

Both talks are free and open to the public. For further information, call 404-727-6180 or 404-727-6464.