27 May 2004 Edition
Ahern confirms reactionary position of FF/PDs in talks
The reactionary position being adopted by the FF/PD Government in the current talks on the revival of the Good Friday Agreement was confirmed in the Dáil by the Taoiseach on Tuesday.
While less strident than his Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell, Bertie Ahern was on the same agenda and again attempted to pin all the responsibility for the breakdown in the process on republicans.
Replying to Sinn Féin's Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, the Taoiseach claimed at one point:
"If I had managed to convince the Prime Minister — the Deputy said I did not do so actively enough — to get things up and running just after Christmas, it would have come back down again through the actions of people associated with the Deputy and his party."
The SF Dáil leader challenged Ahern to withdraw the remark but he ploughed on. Earlier, Ahern had described what they were trying to achieve:
"The culture of paramilitarism can be ended, trust and confidence can be restored and a democratic accommodation between unionists and nationalists can be secured and sustained."
This is a very narrow definition of what is needed. What is essential is nothing less than the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the delivery of the all-Ireland agenda. The Taoiseach ceased to even pay lip-service to issues such as demilitarisation, justice and equality issues. On the other hand, he bent over backwards to give credit to Ian Paisley, claiming he could detect in his DUP conference speech "a willingness to try to move forward". An Phoblacht readers will recall that Paisley said at his recent conference:
"It is war to the end. It is a matter of life and death, freedom or bondage, whether we shall be serfs of Dublin or free citizens of Britannia."
Ian Paisley Junior labelled the Catholic Primate Archbishop Seán Brady a "terrorist sympathiser" because he raised the issues of collusion and proper policing.
Ahern claimed that the Castlerea prisoners had lost their High Court and Supreme Court case, whereas in fact they had won on the issue that they are qualifying prisoners under the Good Friday Agreement. He also revealed the thinking of the two governments on the so-called Independent Monitoring Commission. "If people are sincere and genuine we can make progress" he said but, otherwise, "the Independent Monitoring Commission will tell it as they see it in their next reports... People are realising that it might be an uncomfortable position come October...There are people in the Commission and working with it who would be very happy with that."
In other words future reports of the IMC are to be held over the process as threats — and threats aimed only at republicans. So much for the much vaunted 'independence' of the IMC!
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin responded to the Taoiseach:
"Will the Taoiseach revisit his claim that the Castlerea prisoners lost their case in the Supreme Court, given that that is factually false? I invite the Taoiseach to correct the record, since anyone will know that that is not the case, no matter how often it is repeated or how hard the Taoiseach tries to peddle it.
"Is the Taoiseach aware that his utterances, today and previously, are not always helpful, particularly his position regarding the IMC, which is a body not catered to, recognised or established under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement but outside it, and imposed against the will of the party representing the largest body of nationalist opinion in the North of Ireland not to mention the extent of its representation throughout the island. Is the Taoiseach aware, or has he forgotten when he talks about parties elected last November, that the Assembly has been collapsed on a number of occasions, not by the hand of Sinn Féin, but as a unilateral action on the part of the British Government, with which this government is supposed to be an equal partner in overseeing the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
"Clearly, the Irish Government is a junior partner and at that, too often unprepared to properly flex its position as the voice representing the Irish people, not only in this state but recognised and acknowledged by nationalist opinion throughout the island of Ireland."