Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Kearney on Opik............

No one who went to the Henley by election can fail to have been thoroughly impressed with Stephen Kearney. His decision to get more involved with the party I believe will contribute enormously to our future success. So I was delighted to have the opportunity to interview him about Lembit's role in the Northern Ireland peace process.

You have been a close friend and colleague of Lembit's including during the time he was NI spokes, can you tell us a little about his role in the peace process?
Lembit has never really got credit for all the work he did in the peace process, simply because, by the very sensitive nature of the talks, it was not the sort of thing you could broadcast without harming the negotiations themselves. He used to discuss these things with me privately, and I was amazed at the level of influence and trust he had at the centre of the events which led to the Good Friday Agreement, and later the establishment of the Northern Ireland Assembly. I know he set up a number of the key meetings about 8 years ago. Also, he spent a huge amount of time just talking, in large part to the organizations that used violence themselves. He could do that because he was under the radar in a way the ministers weren’t, and that helped everyone.

What were the particular qualities and skills Lembit brought to the table?

Lembit has an infinite ability to listen to people holding unreasonable points of view. He has an almost idealistic belief that if you engaged with someone long enough, they've got to see sense. I say idealistic, but in truth it is an approach that works for him. There are people who most of us would have regarded as dangerous and violent but actually he saw the good and worked through that to encourage them to come in from the cold. Mo Mowlam had the same quality, and that's probably why the two of them worked so well together. Lembit's also a good communicator. He chaired meetings brilliantly with a clear process that people were comfortable with. That structure helps to keep the heat down when things get tense. The other thing is his optimism. He ALWAYS said the peace process would work, even when the Tories and others were saying it was lost. He was right, they were wrong. Another of Lembit’s qualities is his compassion, empathy and understanding of people’s needs. These special qualities helped him to deliver effectively in his role as Northern Ireland Spokesperson.

How do you see those qualities and skills being utilised as party president?

There is tension ahead for our Party, especially if there's a hung parliament. I don't know of anyone else in the Party who's better equipped to keep the show on the road if things get sticky in that sort of situation. It is astonishing that some of his opponents can't see that. They are ignoring his achievements and experience in Northern Ireland, that equip him for the role. Some of Lembit’s colleagues choose to ignore this fairly obvious fact. I fear that they believe what they read in newspapers which is worrying and surprising. Lembit's natural ability to reach out and engage isn't a skill you can learn or buy. He's just got it and as President he'd basically have the space to connect us up to people and organisations who should be working with us but aren't. When I was the Henley By-election candidate, I saw him do exactly this in the constituency. It was an impressive to watch and made a difference to my vote.

Nearly everyone I talk to about Lembit's role in Northern Ireland is surprised, he has said so little about it, why do you think this is?

As I say, he never wanted to compromise the peace process itself and he felt if he started blowing his own trumpet instead of focusing on a literally life saving initiative, he'd be acting in bad faith to his brief. It confounds the accusations that he seeks publicity for the sake of it. I do know Lembit has felt somewhat frustrated by his colleague’s apparent refusal to recognise the work he did there, even though it's clear Lembit is held in huge regard at very high levels of the Government. I remember a couple of years ago he tried to highlight his work at Shadow Cabinet, but he felt that there was no willingness to listen. Lembit used to say the portfolio was one of the most "real" and also one of the most "invisible!" All the same, you don't have to look far to see him re-applying those same skills in other areas. The deaths of young recruits at Deepcut Army Barracks is a good example. He is tenaciously pursuing the truth on behalf of his constituents.

I wanted to focus on Northern Ireland because so many of us knew so little of Lembit's role in forging the peace process, what else would you highlight as examples of his unique qualities?

His work in helping to develop a better devolution settlement in Wales. His relationship with Peter Hain when Peter was Cabinet Minister for Wales was strong, and delivered good results. Lembit is also a Trustee of RE:generate. He has been at the forefront of planning the development of the charities work to alleviate poverty and engage people much more actively in volunteering and public life. In the last two years alone the organization has recruited over 125,000 members in Zambia. The trust is supporting people to develop social enterprises that are direct responses to the concerns people have. We have supplied water strategically to villages that are being the most enterprising in terms of tackling their own issues. 40,000 people are now connected to drinking water supply for the first time. This is the first and most important part of the local projects development strategy. The team in Zambia has purchased land to develop a hotel, conference centre and retail units. Profits will go towards developing social enterprises and action all over the country. They have been donated 3500 ha of farm land where they intend to develop a holistic farm of best practice that will link agriculture and food security with our process of capacity building that will lead to the development of a wide range of social enterprises – projects and businesses that are responses to concerns. Lembit is part of the team that that has achieved this. Lembit produces for communities and that is why he is popular.


7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Lembit Opik could have saved the world, but sadly, people wouldn't give a damn. By spreading himself across the tabloids with the twin tarts, getting engaged as a publicity stunt, making a total arse of hiself on the Apprentice, behaving disgracefully towards Sian Lloyd in his role as serial philanderer, boozing for Britain on an almost daily basis, and playing the role of the number one embarrassing MP in parliamnet, he's ensured that his image, at best is one of a saddo going through a mid life crisis, at worse is a dangerous crazed ego monster

Stephen Glenn said...

Linda I'm trusting it is just poor recollection on Stephen's part regarding the time scale.

Setting up keys meetings about 8 years ago would have been two years after the Good Friday agreement. Also would probably have been around the time of the first suspension of the Assembly. Of course such talks at that point were also critical. It was also four years after the promimity talks and all party negotiations had started.

Now I know Lembit was involved in various stages more than eight years ago. So I'd say Stephen may well have had a vague timescale which he misrepresented in the answers above.

jim said...

That is the same Stephen Kearney who replaced an older female councillor as the candidate for Henley and then lost to the Tories. I thought that Linda you cared about getting more feamle LD MPs?

Nicholas Whyte said...

This is a spoof, isn't it???

Linda Jack said...

Stephen, I'll get clarification. Jim, yes OF COURSE I care about getting more women MPs and I wasn't happy about Stephen replacing a woman, that was about the PROCESS and the problem we have in our party about women candidates. It WAS NOT about Stephen as a candidate or a person. When I met him as part of the bloggers delegation I was very impressed, after all, he can no more help being a man than I can help being a woman!!!!!

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