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11 March 2004 Edition

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Politics of exclusion will not work

BY JOANNE CORCORAN

"In my view, the Irish government is actively considering the exclusion of Sinn Féin from the political process in the north as an option," said Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams as he addressed a packed community meeting in Ballymun, Dublin, on Wednesday afternoon.

"It is actively considering going back to the old agenda, the failed policies and attitudes of the past," he said. "This, like the current negative politics, the negative campaigning, is wrong. It is destructive and it betrays an absence of real political debate on the part of the establishment. And it is something that Sinn Féin will not engage in.

"We want to see the cynicism, which is rampant in southern politics and which is in danger of taking over Irish politics, come to an end. Irish republicans want to see the peace process work. We want to see an end to conflict on our island. We want to see the political institutions re-instituted. We want to see the Good Friday Agreement implemented."

The Sinn Féin President reminded the Dublin government of the collective responsibility to work together to make the process of building peace and stability a success. "Progress requires as an absolute minimum an Irish government fulfilling its role as a co-guarantor of the Agreement, defending the rights and entitlement of citizens.

"At this time there is little evidence of this and there appears to be no real inclination by the Dublin government to resolve the current difficulties before the elections."

His words came in a week that will be remembered for irrational and unsubstantiated attacks on Sinn Féin by 26-County Justice Minister Michael McDowell and by Fianna Fáil. Their remarks were immediately seized upon by the DUP, who added them to their litany of excuses to try to exclude Sinn Féin from the Good Friday Agreement Review talks.

Adams put the events of the last week into perspective and asked people to step back from all the spin and hysteria. He also reminded people of a few things the government has refused to comment on.

Referring to last weekend's Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis, he said: "They didn't want to talk about hospital closures, the lack of affordable housing, substandard schools or a crumbling peace process. They didn't want to talk about endless lists of broken promises. And they most certainly didn't want to talk about the future of this country. What they were very focused on are the upcoming Local Government and European Union elections. What they are very focused on is the threat posed to their interests and the interests of those they serve by Sinn Féin's agenda for change."

Adams said McDowell was fixated by Sinn Féin's agenda. "Towards the end of last year, after Minister McDowell made serious allegations about Sinn Féin, I spoke to him on the margins of a meeting in Downing Street. He offered to meet with me and I subsequently made arrangements with one of his senior officials. That meeting never happened, despite a number of efforts by me.

"In the meantime, the Minister has continued with his cynical, unsubstantiated attacks on our party. On Sunday, he used particularly offensive language. Watching and listening to all of this I had a very acute sense of déjà vu. It was as if the clock had been turned back ten years - 15 years -and longer. It was the politics of the 1970s, '80s and early '90s resurrected - the old politics of conflict and division. Gone are the concepts of inclusivity, of dialogue, of seeking agreement and of working together."

The Sinn Féin President called on Fianna Fáil members and supporters, nationalists and republicans the length and breadth of this island, to join with the party in reasserting the primacy of the peace process.

"The peace process is more important than any party or any election," he said. "I am confident that the electorate will not be conned or fooled by the negative campaigning of our opponents."

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