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16 December 2004 Edition

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Don't lose sight of the progress made

We carry here an edited version of the speech of Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin during this Wednesday's Leinster House debate on the peace process.

In the current fallout from the stalled Peace Process, no-one should lose sight of the tremendous progress made and the potential for further progress. There is a need for renewed efforts by both governments and all parties to reach agreement. I know that my colleagues in the Sinn Féin negotiating team are sparing no effort and this morning have been in further talks in Belfast.

I want to pay tribute to the Sinn Féin negotiators and to all those who played a positive role in negotiations. They have not failed and their work is not over.

Through months of effort, the Sinn Féin negotiators secured a position which defended the fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement, including its power-sharing, all-Ireland and equality provisions. They went further and strengthened key aspects of the Agreement.

The overall political package that was reached had a range of very significant measures and each is important in its own right. They are:

• The re-instatement of the Executive, the Assembly and all-Ireland structures, including the All-Ireland Ministerial Council

• The removal by legislation in Westminster of the British Government's ability to suspend the institutions

• A stronger pledge of office by Ministers to ensure that they participate fully in the Executive

• A requirement of Ministers to engage with the All-Ireland structures

• Devolution of policing and justice powers to the Assembly

• Six-County representation in the Oireachtas

• A programme of demilitarisation

• Measures to address the issue of people 'on the run' in both jurisdictions.

These would be major steps forward by anyone's reckoning. With the Good Friday Agreement strengthened in this way, are we really expected to believe that the DUP walked away from a prospective deal because of the absence of a photograph? Remember the DUP has campaigned in successive elections against the Good Friday Agreement. They still doggedly refuse to meet Sinn Féin, contrary to the falsehood so often heard this past week which claims that the two parties will not speak to each other. That falsehood was repeated by both a prominent RTÉ correspondent and a Government Minister and it must be refuted.

I believe that the DUP last week lacked the courage and the political will to sign up for a deal. That they came so far represents real progress, in spite of last week's setback. I am convinced that time and patient negotiation will bring them further and I believe that can happen sooner rather than later.

Last week in this chamber I was condemned for paying tribute to the IRA for their initiative. Not only do I make no apology for it I repeat it here today. The commitment the IRA was prepared to give on the issue of arms was huge, historic and unprecedented.

Anyone who knows anything about republican history and about the history of the Peace Process itself must acknowledge the huge significance of the IRA initiative. The IRA deserves credit for taking this very difficult and courageous step. While a wide spectrum of opinion will welcome it, many republicans will also have very deep concerns. But I believe that the IRA has once again shown leadership and bravery in its efforts to achieve justice and peace.

Hypocrisy

Those who have been loudest on the issue of silent IRA arms have had little or nothing to say about loyalist weapons and British Army weapons that are still in daily use on the streets of the Six Counties. It is folly to believe that the historic physical force tradition in Irish politics can be ended easily or speedily or outside the context of real political progress. Every side of this House knows that - they need only look at their own histories.

Fianna Fáil won the 1932 election with the active and open assistance of the IRA and their first act was to release IRA prisoners from Arbour Hill. The Fine Gael tradition holds fast to Michael Collins, a former IRA leader, who as Free State leader encouraged the IRA to direct its energies Northward. This is the party that not only had a paramilitary wing in the 1930s but who amalgamated with the Blueshirts and adopted the name Fine Gael.

The Labour Party claims as its founder James Connolly — though I doubt he would recognise them today — who himself co-founded an armed group, the Irish Citizen Army. And what of the party within a party — the remnants of the Workers' Party leadership, now the leadership of Labour. Their former associates were the so-called Official IRA. How many weapons did they put beyond use? When did they cease their extra-curricular activities; and did they ever disband?

Much of the feigned outrage we have heard in this House and outside it has been about the electoral rivalry between Fine Gael and the PDs. Deputy Kenny carefully and deliberately chose Budget Day to put the question to the Taoiseach about the release of the prisoners in Castlerea convicted of the killing of Garda Jerry McCabe. When the political deal stalled last week, the PDs weighed in and raised the bogus issue of criminality.

Let me be very clear. I reject criminality from any source. And I reject any attempt to criminalise republicans. In sections of the media and by some in this House, my party and my colleagues have been falsely accused in a most scurrilous manner. But we will not be distracted by the bleatings of political sheep. We have our eyes on the big picture.

There is a way forward from this most recent impasse. This should include direct dialogue between the DUP and Sinn Féin and the DUP owes it to its own electorate to give leadership by entering that dialogue. There is a comprehensive agreement, a real achievement, on the table and we are determined to make progress on that basis.

For Sinn Féin, and I hope for most in this Dáil, all of this is in the context of the unfinished and ongoing project to unite our country and all its people. Republicans are as determined as ever to reach that goal.

Ó Caoláin praise for IRA leads to Dáil clashes

In the aftermath of the talks impasse, there were brief statements in the Dáil on Thursday 9 December. We carry here the exchange.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I wish to record my disappointment and that of my colleagues at the failure so far to achieve the goal of a full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, a goal to which our party is absolutely committed. I join other voices in the House in commending the efforts of both Governments and of the Taoiseach and British Prime Minister.

I also strongly commend the courageous efforts of the Sinn Féin leadership and negotiating team who have demonstrated an absolute commitment to the address of all the difficulties that have bedevilled this island and the neighbouring island and our relationship for generations. They have shown themselves to be courageous leaders. I wish also to commend the leadership of the Irish Republican Army, which has clearly demonstrated its preparedness to take historic and unprecedented steps.

Joan Burton: There is only one Army in this country. Dáil Éireann recognises only one Army.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: That must be acknowledged.

Brian Lenihan: For shame.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I am proud to stand in this House and so record.

Dick Roche: Shame on Deputy Ó Caoláin.

Liz O'Donnell: Members of this House recognise only one Army.

An Ceann Comhairle: Allow Deputy Ó Caoláin speak without interruption, please.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: It would serve much better the goal to which, I hope, all voices in this House are committed, although at times it is difficult to recognise that commitment, if utterances were measured because this is unfinished business and a work in train that must be pursued to achieve a satisfactory result acceptable to all sides in the conflict. I urge colleague Deputies to be measured.

Tánaiste (Mary Harney): It is important that we are all measured. I would not applaud anyone who killed and maimed in the name of Ireland and carried out dreadful atrocities for far too long.

Deputies: Hear, hear.

Tánaiste: The majority of people in this country and this House only pursued constitutional politics.

Arthur Morgan: Does the Tánaiste extend that sentiment to include Britain?

Liz O'Donnell: Deputy Morgan should get over it.

Tánaiste: As I said yesterday, the difficulties that arose relate to more than just a photograph. There are a number of issues, as the Taoiseach has confirmed. Clearly, what we want to see is an end to paramilitarism and criminality in all its forms.

Deputies: Hear, hear.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh: The Tánaiste speaks of criminality. What of the former Progressive Democrats mayor? [Michael Keating, ex-PD Lord Mayor

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