4 March 2004 Edition

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Governments still indulging unionist intransigence


Mitchel McLaughlin

Mitchel McLaughlin

At last year's Ard Fheis the debate on the Peace Process centred on delegates' frustration at the lack of a pro-active approach on the part of the Dublin Government; their outrage at the suspension of the institutions by the British Government and its wilful failure to live up to its obligations under the Agreement; dismay at the demand for sanctions against Sinn Féin being made by unionists; and anger about the lack of demilitarisation.

A year later, and those themes had to be revisited once again as the Review of the Good Friday Agreement — itself a response to the crisis in the Peace Process precipitated by rejectionist unionism —threatened to enter into a, subsequently realised, similarly unionist-precipitated, crisis of its own.

Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin, opening the Peace Process debate on Saturday morning, told delegates that, six years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, the two governments have still failed to implement their key obligations and are still indulging unionist intransigence.

But, he continued, if one listened to the "hypocrisy and trite indignation" of the governments and leading unionists, "one could be forgiven for believing that there was only one problem with the peace process as far as they were concerned.

"Well let me make it clear — and I hope that those sections of the media that run with every comment and allegation make by the likes of Michael McDowell and Hugh Order report these facts as diligently — Sinn Féin has delivered right down to the last comma on every commitment that we have made. Sinn Féin has carried out its obligations at all times in accordance with the terms and conditions of the Agreement. Sinn Féin has never stepped outside of the Agreement."

On the issue of arms, he questioned whether any of the other parties had used their influence, as required by the Agreement, in the positive and responsible manner that Sinn Féin had.

"How have the Ulster Unionists used their undoubted influence with unionist paramilitaries?" he asked. "By appointing a senior member of the party, David McNarry, to the Loyalist Commission. Well, surely the communities of the Holy Cross children and the Garvaghy Road residents deserve more than that.

"How has the DUP used its unquestionable influence on, and its inextricable linkage with, Ulster Resistance? Where are its arms dumps and how many has it put beyond use? What are Peter, Gregory and Ian Paisley doing to influence those with whom they were prepared to don red berets and promise to provide 'whatever political cover was necessary'?"

Both governments clearly have the power to fulfil their obligations, he said, but instead have chosen to use it to introduce elements which are not part of the Agreement — and indeed which undermine it.

Just one example of this willingness to step outside the provisions of the Agreement, he said, was the introduction of the International Monitoring Commission, which "was introduced solely to placate rejectionist unionism".

The British Government in particular had regularly acted outside the Agreement, he added. "It unilaterally suspended the political institutions, postponed and cancelled elections, introduced draconian legislation which discourages and removes electors from the electoral register — all with the obsequious connivance of the Irish Government, which appears to act as a junior partner, subservient to the whims of a British Government."

He told delegates that Sinn Féin reaffirmed its commitment to the full implementation of the Agreement in all its aspects — including arms. "But Sinn Féin cannot implement its obligations in isolation while the two governments continue to renege on their obligations and indulge the insatiable demands of unionism in its attempts to wreck the Agreement. The patience of the republican and nationalist community is being continually dissipated," he said.

Sinn Féin Councillor Thomas Sharkey called on the Dublin Government to "vigorously assert their joint and equal responsibility for the full implementation of an agreement that was endorsed in a referendum. Unfortunately, the will of this government is weak. There is an anti-republican, anti-working class, pro-fat cat and pro-British element in the cabinet. Isn't it a terror that our own Minister for Justice knows that he is Ian Paisley's best imitator?"

Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, one of several delegates who spoke on motions regarding collusion, including the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, told the conference that it was not good enough for the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to "throw up his hands and say that he has to believe the British when they claimed they supplied all relevant information to Judge Barron. They most certainly did not. He needs to challenge Blair, as we in the Sinn Féin delegation did, in his presence, in Downing Street last December."

He said that every death in the conflict since 1969 was a tragedy, including those of combatants from all sides. But, however grievous the actions of republicans in that period, they accepted responsibility for them. "All those actions were pursued and investigated and many republicans were tried and imprisoned. Many were imprisoned for actions for which they were not responsible."

But what of the combatants from the British side? he asked. "The British state has never admitted responsibility for most of its armed actions, resulting in deaths and injuries on a huge scale including in this jurisdiction. Not a single one of them has served a day in prison in this state for their offences here."

He reminded delegates that 17 May this year will be the 30th anniversary of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, when a state, described by the Dublin Government described as a 'neighbouring friendly country', was responsible for an atrocity deliberately carried out against civilians in the 26 Counties. "The only fitting way for that anniversary to be marked is for the truth to be told," he said. "Nothing less than a full, independent judicial inquiry, with cross jurisdictional authority will suffice."

Also speaking in the debate was Caitriona Ruane MLA, who in support of a motion calling on the British Government to publish the Cory Report in full, told the conference that "a system of collusion runs to the heart of the British Government's strategy in the North of Ireland. Yet if we are to move forward to a new Ireland, based on human rights and equality, then the British government must come clean; they must dismantle the collusion machine."

The delay in publishing the Cory Report, she said, "is another stalling tactic by the British Government in their attempt to keep the lid on the collusion scandal. They have been attempting to hide the truth of collusion for decades. The British Government was involved in a policy of systematic murder and violence against whole sections of the nationalist community."

Sinn Féin MLA for South Belfast, Alex Maskey, outlined for the conference the work that the party is doing, through the Unionist Outreach Committee, in building bridges with the unionist and Protestant community throughout the whole 32 Counties. "I believe this area of work is a central and indispensable part of the Peace Process," he said.

However, he said, the unionist community needs to address its own "blind spot" about its role in the conflict.

"They seem not to realise the impact on northern Catholics and nationalists of the years between 1920 and 1969, when a Protestant and unionist state was imposed on us — never mind the role of unionism right up to this very day."

He asked for, and indeed received, the endorsement of the Ard Fheis in saying to the unionist community that "Sinn Féin is committed to building the peace, promoting national reconciliation, and to developing our party's consciousness and structures, which will enable us to genuinely reach out to unionists and the broader Protestant community

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