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15 January 2004 Edition

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Governments must build trust and confidence

The following is an edited version of a keynote speech made today, Thursday 15 January, by GERRY ADAMS in St Malachy's College in North Belfast. The Sinn Féin President assesses the state of the peace process in the wake of the Assembly elections, is critical of the lack of action by both governments to meet their commitments, addresses the post-election power balance within unionism, talks of his hopes for a short and focused review and points to the way forward for the process.

There is a dangerous and deeply worrying sense of drift in the political situation since the Assembly elections in November.

Instead of working and stable political institutions with the people's elected representatives making decisions on important issues which affect all our lives; across a range of social and economic issues; instead of a fully operational Assembly and all-Ireland institutions leading the delivery of change, advancing the equality agenda and championing a human rights based society, we have continuing impasse and an ever deepening political crisis.

Some commentators argue that the last election caused all this. That is nonsense.

Yes, there are major difficulties, but it is my view that these can be resolved.

They did not begin when or because the people cast their votes. They are rooted in the British government's tactical approach to the Good Friday Agreement.

For the last five years, rather than fully implementing the Agreement, London has only proceeded at a pace the UUP and its own government agencies were prepared to tolerate.

To understand why it did so it is important to appreciate that the British government is a unionist government - not unionist of the Irish variety but British unionism.

It is prepared to modernise and in fact in terms of the Good Friday Agreement, Mr Blair's government was moved to a range of all-Ireland positions, and British policy has been shifted quite profoundly, including on the status of the Union.

But in a state entirely unionist in its ethos, symbolism and management, any effort to modernise is bound to be very challenging.

And it isn't just about the section of people here who are unionist. I think they know London has little loyalty to them. But the senior policy makers within all the agencies here, and particularly those unaccountable branches of the so-called security agencies, are entirely anti-republican, anti-nationalist and pro-Union.

And these elements have an affinity with local unionism; the NIO, for example, is the main body for propagating unionist policy and still stands outside the equality agenda.

So it is easy to see why a British establishment panders to unionism.

It is also fairly easy to see how a British Prime Minister who wants to bring about change can be challenged at many levels within his own system.

The continuing power and influence of the securocrats is evident in the ongoing attempts by the British system to hide its real role in Ireland over three decades of conflict.

The British government's refusal to cooperate with the Barron Inquiry into the Dublin Monaghan bombings, the obstruction of the Saville Inquiry at all levels of the British system, the refusal to publish the Cory report and establish independent judicial inquiries and the continuing refusal of the PSNI to disclose vital information to inquest hearings are all symptomatic of a culture of concealment that infects the entire British system.

Notionally, it could be argued that British strategic objectives until the Good Friday Agreement were quite limited.

  • To contain the IRA, defeat it or render it ineffective.
  • To bring about a coalition of Ulster Unionism and the SDLP, representing the so-called middle ground.
  • To bring in a limited process of change which would satisfy these political interests and to gain Irish government political support for this.

In other words, the ingredients of a classical and limited pacification programme when what was and is required is a conflict resolution process.

CONFLICT RESOLUTION PROCESS

The Good Friday Agreement changed this. It committed the British government to such an approach. How wedded or united the British political leadership was to this approach is a matter of opinion. What is for certain is that other elements of the British system were wedded to the old agenda.

None of these three political objectives materialised. The IRA was not defeated. And after ten years of cessations the question of beating the IRA or trying to demoralise, split or humiliate it should no longer be an issue. Unless of course no value is placed on the IRA's support for the development of the peace process and its endeavours to facilitate a sustainable process of change to build the peace; or unless Sinn Féin's peace strategy and our contribution to the process, which includes our efforts to bring an end of physical force, is to be set to one side.

The coalition most favoured by the British government did not work, even when it came together in a partial form in the first term of the Assembly.

Instead, the crisis within political unionism dominated Assembly politics.

And finally, the Good Friday Agreement was a charter for very significant change, not least because republicans were part of negotiating it.

So instead of a limited process of change, the British government signed up for a fundamental transformation in which the Irish government is a joint and co-equal partner in the shared responsibility for its implementation.

Mr Blair, on 17 October 2002, acknowledged that this was such a vast undertaking that 'only in the first flush of a new government could we have contemplated it'.

I'm not seeking to exaggerate the radical or progressive nature of the Good Friday Agreement, although there are both radical and progressive elements in it. But it is in essence a compromise that republicans and nationalists have signed up to, even though some may feel it falls short of what they are entitled to or expect.

However, it is a charter for change, which deals with a spectrum of issues. Apart from anything else, it points up the width and depth of the denial of people's rights and is an indicator of what has to be done if these rights are to be restored.

This is necessary as a point of principle and to anchor a peace process through a programme of sustainable change which shows that politics works.

But to advance the process of change, a British government was required to press ahead with all its commitments. By so doing, people's rights and entitlements would have been secured. It would also have changed the political conditions here to encourage pragmatic unionism while thwarting rejectionist unionism.

Instead, the tactical approach of the last five years has encouraged the rejectionists. This cannot continue.

This is not to underestimate the progress made. There is now a profound difference in the political landscape here and everyone involved, including the British Prime Minister, the Taoiseach and the leaders of pragmatic unionism, are to be commended for their contribution.

IRISH GOVERNMENT

The Irish government has played a significant and essential role and occupies a key position as equal partner with the British for implementing agreed change. But the challenges facing it are every bit as daunting as those facing London.

Arguably, an Irish government required different or at least additional and more far-reaching strategic objectives than a British government. Any consideration by Dublin advisors or Ministers of a way forward has to consider whether its objectives for the last five years were devised to promote Irish national and democratic interests and the rights of Irish citizens. Or were its objectives the same as the British?

The Good Friday Agreement is an all-Ireland Agreement. While its cutting edge was to create a changed political landscape in the north, because it is an all-Ireland agreement it affects all parts of the island.

But that too brings difficulties and conservative elements have been uncomfortable with such a prospect, even when it involves necessary change in the southern state, and particularly as this has been accompanied by a repopularisation of republicanism - national and democratic ideals - and a growing support for Sinn Féin.

So at times those in the Dublin political establishment who know better have put party political electoral or narrow self interest above the national interest, and the interests of the peace process.

At other times, the failure of the Irish Government to prevent the British Government from breaching the Agreement has caused difficulties throughout nationalist Ireland.

Maybe with the best will in the world, an Irish government could not have stopped a British government from departing from its commitments, but the effects on national morale cannot be ignored, especially because people from all over Ireland voted for the Agreement and the Irish constitution was changed on the understanding that the Agreement would be implemented.

So any perception that the British are taking the Irish government for granted is a cause of concern.

COMMITMENTS KEPT AND BROKEN

Republicans are not exempt from criticism and on a number of occasions I have acknowledged this in a very public way. But sometimes I have to say that some of this criticism is without foundation and it gives succour to those who claim that no matter what republicans do, it will not be enough.

There is criticism, for example, of what is referred to as a lack of transparency on the IRA's acts of putting arms beyond use. This criticism ignores the enormity of this issue for the IRA and its support base. But more importantly it ignores the Good Friday Agreement position on weapons and the role of the IICD.

It also ignores the issue of other weapons in use in the hands of unionist paramilitaries and British state forces, as against the IRA's silenced arms. And it ignores the lengths to which the British system has gone to protect those who put guns into the hands of unionist paramilitaries and who remain in place today.

All of this was brought very much into stark profile when the sequence of initiatives agreed for last 21 October was aborted by Mr Trimble, after republicans had moved to honour commitments made as part of an agreed sequence of statements and actions.

Mr Trimble's commitments and probably more importantly at this time, the British government and Irish government's commitments, have been put on hold. Neither government has moved one inch on the commitments they made.

Only Sinn Féin and the IRA upheld their parts of the agreed sequence.

This has caused profound difficulties for the Sinn Féin leadership. And the irony of it all is that there is no doubt about the significance of the IRA's act, even among its detractors and opponents. This has been acknowledged by governments and rejectionist unionists alike.

Despite what happened consequently, I want to make it clear that I stand over the remarks I made that day.

I set out a peaceful direction for republicans because I believe that is the proper position. But myself and Martin McGuinness and others had negotiated and received commitments from London, Dublin and the UUP leadership which persuaded the IRA leadership to put beyond use the largest amount of arms to date - and also to set out its view of my remarks.

It was bad enough that Mr. Trimble walked away from this but there is little that can be done about that now. But the two governments can fulfil their commitments and it is intolerable that the British and Irish governments have not done so.

They have also failed to provide any satisfactory explanation for reneging.

ELECTORAL RIGHTS SET ASIDE

This brings us back to the Assembly elections, which saw Sinn Féin make an historic breakthrough, emerging with the second highest vote, an increased number of seats and our status confirmed as the largest nationalist party in the north, and the third largest on the island.

But of course none of this counts. The electoral rights of all citizens who voted for our party and all the pro-Agreement parties are set aside and the Sinn Féin electorate is told we have to pass a series of tests before we are acceptable. It is ironic that those who are loudest on this issue also demand that their mandate has to be respected and British Ministers who have no mandate here whatsoever can change the rules to suit their government.

Most nationalists have no real conviction that the DUP will move speedily to engage with the current process.

Sinn Féin sets no conditions whatsoever on talking to the DUP. Neither are we against sharing power with them, despite the record of some of its most senior members.

Our record shows that we are for the peace process, the political process and the wider process of conflict resolution. This is unchallengeable.

NO DUP VETO ON CHANGE

The DUP vote means they succeeded in mopping up all the anti-Agreement sentiment in the last Assembly. And with the transfer of Jeffrey Donaldson and his colleagues from the UUP, there is now a significant unionist majority in the Assembly against the Good Friday Agreement. They now can count on 34 anti-Agreement votes in the Assembly. On the other hand, the pro-Agreement parties can marshal 74 votes.

Those who promote the election results as a 'victory for the extremes' are seeking to serve some other agenda by camouflaging the realities behind the vote. The majority of people want the Agreement to work and are represented by two thirds of the MLAs.

One third, the DUP, have a desire is to destroy the Agreement, ignore the wishes of the Irish and British people, and turn the clock back to the bad old days of domination and supremacy.

But they know, if they reflect at all, that this cannot happen. The process of change can be frustrated or delayed, but it cannot be stopped.

The DUP can be moved. The only question is how long will this take.

Unionism; even of the Paisleyite kind, will have to face in time the same reality that led the UUP to the Good Friday Agreement.

However, the process of change and the rights of citizens cannot wait until a pragmatic element within the DUP emerges and comes into the ascendancy. The two governments have to face up to that reality.

SHORT FOCUSED REVIEW NEEDED

Sinn Féin believes completely in the need to build relationships with unionism. The dialogue between the UUP and us was a central part of our strategy and we are determined, despite all the difficulties, to deepen and initiate this dialogue with all elements of unionism.

This includes an acknowledgement that the DUP should be given an opportunity to demonstrate its good intentions - even though Paisleyism is synonymous with sectarianism and bigotry, even though it has an anti-democratic ethos. But it must not be allowed to use the review to unravel the progress we have made.

The principles, structures and obligations of the Agreement cannot and must not be subverted.

The review as set out in the Agreement is about improving the delivery of the Agreement. It was never envisaged that it would take place during suspension of institutions - indeed the British government had no right to suspend the institutions, and had to step outside the Agreement to unilaterally take that power on themselves.

The review was never meant to deal with a process on hold. So while it may find there are ways of improving the delivery of the Agreement, it cannot resolve the current difficulties.

Sinn Féin will bring a positive attitude to the review, even though the review can only perform a limited function and must therefore be short, sharp and focused, as the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister promised.

And there has to be resistance to any attempt to make it a protracted exercise. Sinn Féin has asked that the review be completed within a month. In reality, it could be conducted in a week.

RESPONSIBILITY ON GOVERNMENTS

The two governments, therefore, have to be energised in how they approach the next phase. With the application of proper strategies and political will, I believe the process can be moved on.

However, if the next five years is to be a continuation of the past five years, then we face continuous stalemate, stagnation and eventual breakdown. No political process could be sustained on such a diet.

This places a heavy responsibility on the two governments - especially on Mr Blair and Mr Ahern. As the leaders of the two sovereign governments and the joint and co-equal guarantors of the Agreement, it falls to them to marshal the pro-Agreement forces and implement a strategy to defeat the wreckers and move the process forward.

This may mean the pro-Agreement, pro-peace parties and governments agreeing and setting out an agenda for progress. Obviously, such a task is outside the remit of the review and may require a different mechanism. But whatever else happens, the British government must lift the suspension of the institutions and allow the process defined in the Agreement to take its course.

It also means that the two governments have to honour their obligations made in the Agreement, made in last year's Joint Declaration and made in subsequent discussions.

We were told this would happen, irrespective of the outcome of the election. It hasn't.

On the contrary, there has been a paralysis affecting the many matters which are the responsibility of the two governments and which are of particular concern to nationalists and republicans.

  • The institutions remain suspended.
  • Important changes on policing and on the transfer of powers on policing and justice are now on hold.
  • The programme of Demilitarisation outlined in the Joint Declaration has not materialised.
  • The deep rooted and serious problems around the Human Rights Commission, and the Equality Commission, have not been resolved. The issues they are meant to address are not resolved.
  • Promises on the Irish language issue have not been delivered.
  • And the anomalous situation of people On The Run continues.

This sends out entirely the wrong message.

The reality is that when the governments decide to do something they do it. The suspension of the institutions and the introduction of the International Monitoring Commission are proof of this.

But it appears to nationalists and republicans that the governments will now let the DUP set the agenda in respect of citizens' rights and entitlements. This is unacceptable.

Mr Blair and Mr Ahern must do what they promised without any further delay.

They also know that a vacuum will encourage those who want to tear down this process.

They have to build trust and confidence back into a process badly damaged, especially at this time, by their failure to keep to commitments.

In the months ahead, we all of us have to refocus on what is needed to make the Agreement viable and successful.

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An Phoblacht
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