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27 January 2005 Edition

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Would you trust Michael McDowell with the Peace Process?

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams says "it is a matter of grave concern that the Taoiseach is allowing Justice Minister Michael McDowell to lead for the government in the media" on the Peace Process.

This week has seen a full scale assault on Sinn Féin from the Dublin Government parties. There is deep anger from nationalists and republicans that Bertie Ahern seems to be allowing Michael McDowell and the PDs to dictate government policy on the Peace Process.

Gerry Adams said that the tone of the meeting between himself and Martin McGuinness with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern and Michael McDowell at Government Buildings on Tuesday was "as you would expect under the circumstances".

"The Justice Minister has misrepresented yesterday's meeting," he said. "Martin McGuinness and I did not agree that the Sinn Féin leadership must go away and reflect on the government's insistence that the criminality issue be dealt with.

"On the contrary, we argued that the government should not allow itself to be distracted from the difficult but necessary work needed to tackle all of the outstanding elements of the Good Friday Agreement.

"We asked the Taoiseach to stand up his accusations that the Sinn Féin leadership had prior knowledge of the Northern Bank robbery. He failed to do this either during our meeting or in subsequent media interviews.

"I told McDowell that his party and he himself had made no constructive contribution to the Peace Process. I don't recall the leader of his party attending any of our meetings with the government on the Peace Process in recent years, which is extraordinary.

"It was quite interesting that Minister McDowell requested to attend this meeting. He obviously wanted to grandstand his anti-republican views. The fact that we are celebrating our 100th anniversary this year and had a very successful launch in Dublin seems to have incited him to even more extravagant hyperbole.

"Would anyone trust Michael McDowell with the Peace Process?"

"In the course of our discussions yesterday," Adams continued, "the Taoiseach agreed with us that the process needs to be based on the broad principles of inclusivity, equality and dialogue. The Taoiseach and ourselves agreed that all the outstanding elements of the Good Friday Agreement need to be dealt with. It was also agreed that following on his meeting with the British Prime Minister, we would meet again to continue with this work.

"The Taoiseach said the government was opposed to sanctions. It is not good enough, therefore, for the Minister of Foreign Affairs to say that sanctions are primarily an issue for the British. The Irish Government's stated opposition to sanctions obliges it to ensure that there are no sanctions. No one issue can be made a precondition. All matters are the collective responsibility of all parties.

"We also rejected any suggestion that Sinn Féin was involved in criminality or that we have any special obligation to tackle any issue. We are opposed to criminality of any kind."

Turning to today's meeting with Tony Blair, he said: "We are clearly in a space where there will be an attempt to sideline us. The sensible and more experienced voices in the two governments are bound to look at what has worked so far and what has not worked. Decades of marginalisation and demonisation didn't work. There are elements who want to go back to this. Tony Blair would want to think long and hard before going down that road.

"He made a recent comment about the need to choose between violence and democracy. We want democracy but we haven't got it. He has a responsibility to bring that about. We'll be putting that to him."

The Sinn Féin President, putting recent events in context, said that republicans "need to be mindful in all of this that the root cause of the difficulties in the Peace Process stem from the unwillingness of anti-republican elements in the South and within the British system to accept Sinn Féin's electoral mandate across the island.

"The refusal of the DUP to come on board the effort to create a comprehensive agreement at the end of last year meant that the future of the process was going to be subject to some considerable turbulence.

"We knew that if it came to it, getting the governments to face up to unionist intransigence was going to be a very big challenge.

This is despite the fact that when we started that phase of negotiations early last year, it was on foot of a commitment from the governments that if the DUP was not up for a deal, then they would proceed to implement all the aspects of the Good Friday Agreement that they had direct control over.

"Towards Christmas, as we were working on these matters with the British Government, the Irish Government was very unenthusiastic.

"Then, the Northern Bank robbery happened.

"Then came the torrent of abuse and accusation.

"That was the context in which we were meeting yesterday."

Addressing republicans, Gerry Adams said that they need to be about their work. "We won't be put off our stroke by those fixated on the growth of the Sinn Féin party," he said.

"All of us need to remember that there is a political agenda at work and the usual suspects are lining up to have a go. A compliant media, including disgraceful reportage from the likes of RTÉ, has been trotting out the government line. But then there's public opinion, which is a different matter altogether. We shouldn't become confused or annoyed beyond justifiable outrage.

"This is about building support for the republican position. There is no need to be defensive. We are proud of the role we have played in the Peace Process. There is still work to do and we will face up to all of that, but it is not up to us alone. This is a collective responsibility."

Derry jailing

Turning to the jailing of Derry man Martin Doherty, Gerry Adams said that Martin McGuinness had raised the matter with the Dublin Government as the first item on the agenda. "We asked the government to exert its influence with the British Government to secure this man's release," he said.

"It is disgraceful that the only person imprisoned as a result of the Bloody Sunday massacre is an Irish citizen who, by the way, did not give evidence because he was not on the march that day and was not involved in anything that happened."

Dublin and Monaghan

"We also made the point to the media afterwards that it is reprehensible that the Minster for Justice is leading the charge against Sinn Féin but will not release his department's files on the bombings in this state in 1972, 1973 and 1974."

"We pointed up the fact that the Irish Government has not taken the British Government to account for its non-cooperation with the inquiry or the Joint Oireachtas Committee examining the Barron report. That is very revealing.

"I met with some of the victims' families on Tuesday and made it clear that Sinn Féin will continue to fight to see their demand for a full independent public inquiry brought to fruition.

"We will raise the matter again in our meeting with the British tomorrow."

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