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17 February 2005 Edition

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Focus must be on implementing the Agreement - Taoiseach needs to stop playing dirty politics

BY MARTIN MCGUINNESS

Bertie Ahern

Bertie Ahern

As I said last week, Sinn Féin is opposed to a return to conflict and our attention in the time ahead will be fixed on resolution politics to deal with the present impasse.

That is not to say that we will not defend our party's' integrity and that of our electorate. But our engagements with the two governments and the other parties will be to explore ways in which we can, in the absence of an Assembly, have the rest of the Good Friday Agreement implemented.

As we have said before, it is not only the parties that can share power — the two governments can and must share power in the present circumstances by jointly implementing all of those elements of the Agreement that do not require an Assembly. This would fulfil the obligations of the governments and at the same time send out a clear message to rejectionist unionists that change will continue, whether or not they agree to share power with republicans.

In the aftermath of the DUP's refusal to conclude on an agreement last December, Bertie Ahern and Mark Durkan, who both supported Ian Paisley's demand for a humiliation photograph, are now leading a black propaganda war against Sinn Féin. Why are they doing this, well, put simply — it's the elections.

The Taoiseach said at the weekend: 'What we need to do is put our energy into implementing the Good Friday Agreement for the people. I'm here and ready.' I couldn't agree with him more and if that is the Taoiseach's honest desire, let him demonstrate it through action.

There are many areas of the Agreement that are within the gift of the Taoiseach to make sure that they are implemented and I don't have to tell him what they are because himself and Tony Blair listed them in the Joint Declaration on 'acts of completion'. He cannot blame the Northern Bank robbery for failure by the two governments to fulfil their obligations under the Agreement. And he should stop wasting energy on his dishonest attacks on republicans that he knows he cannot substantiate.

None other than the Chief Constable of the PSNI exposed Mr Ahern's dirty tricks this week - the same Chief Constable, Hugh Orde, whose word the Taoiseach holds above reproach when apportioning blame to republicans. When asked by a reporter did he believe the Sinn Féin leadership knew in advance about or sanctioned the Northern Bank robbery, Mr Orde said: "I have no idea." For Hugh Orde to say this, weeks after the Taoiseach alleged that Gerry Adams and myself had sanctioned the Northern Bank robbery, is immensely significant. That he also said it long after the Downing Street summit meeting attended by the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, the Taoiseach himself, Hugh Orde and the Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy, is truly astounding. It's time the Taoiseach either put up or shut up with regard to his allegations.

If the Taoiseach is serious about implementing the Agreement, he needs to stop playing dirty politics, stop making unfounded allegations against the political representatives of the majority of the nationalist population in the North and get on with it.

It is ironic that, during the time that Bertie Ahern and Mark Durkan were conducting a campaign on behalf of the Conlon and Maguire families to get an apology from Tony Blair, they were simultaneously contributing, through their malicious allegations about the Northern Bank robbery, to recreating the same atmosphere in which the Guildford and Woolwich travesty of justice occurred.

By joining the campaign of demonisation against republicans and endorsing the agenda of special Branch and British Military Intelligence of trial by media, both Mr Durkan and Mr Ahern are helping create the atmosphere wherein innocent people could be imprisoned on exactly the same basis as the Conlons, Maguires, Birmingham Six, Judith Ward and dozens more.

The British authorities never needed evidence to convict Irish people. Just enough of a public vilification campaign in the media, endorsed by irresponsible politicians blinded by power or the pursuit of power, was enough to satisfy the need for a conviction at any cost. It is sad that the Taoiseach and the SDLP are now indulging themselves in felon setting for purely electoral purposes and doing it with as much relish as Maggie Thatcher executed her criminalisation agenda in the '70s and '80s. They will not succeed in criminalising Sinn Féin or the republican struggle, any more than Thatcher did, however hard they try.

Sinn Féin is ready and willing to play its part in moving the process forward. It is important that we get to the point of genuine dialogue conducted in an atmosphere that makes success possible. That is why the present confrontational politics in which the Taoiseach and Mark Durkan are involved is damaging the peace process.

In the meantime, we will be vigorous in defending ourselves from these preposterous allegations.

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