12 October 2006 Edition
Peace talks - Sinn Féin determined to make progress
There is no going back to the old days
Below we carry an edited version of the speech delivered by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP to a large party rally in the Europa Hotel Belfast last Tuesday, on the eve of political talks aimed at restoring the political institutions of the Good Friday Agreement.
The last 12 years of the peace process have brought about huge positive change. Republicans have been responsible for much of this. In that time we have been faced with enormous challenges. And we have met these head on. In the coming weeks we will be challenged once again. Are we up for these challenges?
There is only one answer to that question; that answer is yes. Those of us who want to achieve the most have to take the most risks. We have to reach out, especially to opponents.
And that is as true today as at any time in the peace process. So those of us who want the greatest change must be prepared to demonstrate the greatest confidence and take the big risks.
Myself and Martin McGuinness, Mary Lou McDonald, Pat Doherty, Bairbre de Brún, Gerry Kelly, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Michelle Gildernew, Martin Ferris, Caitríona Ruane, Francie Molloy, Conor Murphy, Alex Maskey, Joanne Spain, Dessie Ellis, John Dwyer, Pearse Doherty, David Cullinane, and Pádraig MacLochlainn will travel to Scotland tomorrow. Our job is straightforward. It is to get the political institutions up and running by 24 November and the Good Friday Agreement implemented. And I believe that this is possible.
I was at a republican event on Saturday evening. It was a wonderful event organised by people from the Colin area of West Belfast. In the course of it people raised two issues with me. One was about policing, which I will deal with in a minute. The other was about Ian Paisley.
There is obviously a lot of scepticism about whether Ian Paisley is up for doing a deal next week or indeed at any time. That scepticism is justifiable given his role for over 40 years or so. But it also misses the point.
We republicans are the people who have a vision of a new Ireland - a united and independent Ireland in which orange and green live together as equals. A new Ireland in which orange and green work in partnership, shaping out a new future, a shared future, a prosperous and peaceful future. Have we let Ian Paisley put us off this at any time?
Today Irish republicanism is stronger than at any time since the 1920s. That is a credit to all of you in this room and across this island. Do any of us let the DUP or Ian Paisley stop us from being Irish republicans? Has he stopped us from making our vision a reality? Has he stopped us building our party? Or winning support right across the island of Ireland? Of course not.
So, is Ian Paisley up for doing a deal next week? I don't know. But I do know that the question is no longer about whether the DUP will do a deal; the question is about when the DUP will do a deal. We have to appreciate that this presents huge challenges for them. Not least because of the role of their leader over the last four decades or so.
So we have to put ourselves in their shoes and consider this from their perspective. That doesn't mean that we have to be less assertive or that we have to accept anything less than our full entitlements as citizens. It certainly doesn't mean that we have to shed or dilute our republican beliefs.
On the contrary, we have to find ways of putting those beliefs into practice. That means winning political support, winning political power. We have to think big.
Forty years ago unionism was in control. The Six Counties was a one party state. One unionist Prime Minister famously described it as a Protestant parliament for a Protestant people. The rest of us were on our knees. Forced there by an arsenal of repressive legislation and a brutal state police force and its armed militia. All that has changed. Changed utterly.
Of course partition still remains in place. British rule continues. But huge progress has been made and the trajectory is set for the future. Our responsibility is to keep moving forward in a unified and cohesive way through the current difficulties. We do this by meeting all of the challenges facing us, and by open and comradely debating of all issues, by staying together - and this is crucial - by all the time moving forward.
Our responsibility is to plot a course - to build a bridge out of the current situation into a new and agreed Ireland. Our responsibility therefore is to do a deal with Ian Paisley. If he can be brought to that point. And if he cannot, then the process continues without him.
Over the last twelve months, republicans have taken huge risks for peace. The IRA delivered on an end to their armed campaign and on the issue of arms. They have honoured their word.
The time of reckoning has now come for the DUP. It will soon become clear if they are prepared to work with all the other parties. If they are, then the time for action is now.
The reality is that the DUP is the only party not willing to enter a power-sharing executive at this time. All of the other parties are ready and willing to take responsibility for difficult issues like rates, water charges, rural planning, education and health. All of the other parties want to see an end to unaccountable British Direct Rule Ministers taking bad decisions on issues they know little to nothing about.
In discussions with the Taoiseach yesterday and with the British Prime Minister last Friday, they reasserted their commitment in relation to 24 November. That is Sinn Féin's position also. This is not because of any desire on our part to see the political institutions closed down. It is because the DUP have been desperately playing for time, in the vain hope that a new British Prime Minister might help them, or elections might change things, or circumstances might change.
Many republicans have expressed concerns to me about the stance taken by the two governments. I share those concerns. Part of our responsibility is to keep the British and Irish Governments to their stated public positions that the time for stalling is over. The process is moving on, one way or another.
And let me make it clear here tonight that republicans are up for change. We are up for dialogue with the DUP; we are up for sharing power with them and we are up for dealing with all of the outstanding issues.
Let me also make it clear to the DUP that if they decide to hang about until some later date then they will also have to accept the changes which will be brought about between now and then.
This brings me to the issue of policing. Republicans are for policing. Republicans are for the rule of law. Republicans are law-abiding people who want a fair and equitable policing and justice system that is transparent and accountable.
Our support for policing and law and order is not a response to unionist demands. Neither is it a tradable commodity to be retained or given away as part of a deal.
Sinn Féin wants acceptable civic policing, which is democratically accountable and free from partisan political control. We want fair, impartial and effective delivery of law and order.
The core of democratic governance is vested in the rights of citizens. This is one reason why we put a new beginning to policing at the core of our negotiations.
Sinn Féin is committed to peaceful and democratic means and to a rights-based society in which the rights of citizens are upheld in fact and in law. Citizens have a duty to oppose unjust laws in order to change them. When that was appropriate, we have done that, and in so doing we have brought about many of the positive changes of the last 40 years or so.
We who have experienced directly the worst forms of state policing know exactly what will not work. So, we will not be lectured to on these matters by any British government, or by those who see these concepts as their law or their order. The DUP in particular are in no position to preach to anyone about law and order.
We are totally opposed to the sort of policing and justice system that was the norm in this place for 80 years. We are totally opposed to a counterinsurgency-led, collusion-ridden, sectarian-based paramilitary force which seeks to defend the status quo and the interests of one section of people by oppressing another section. And we make no apologies for this.
When British Secretary of State Peter Mandelson gutted the Patten recommendations Sinn Féin embarked on a concentrated, focused endeavour to repair the damage he and the securocrats did to the efforts to produce a new policing dispensation. We have made significant progress.
Sinn Féin won the argument for amending legislation on policing and again on justice, including broadening the powers of the Police Ombudsman and the Policing Board, and including the power to initiate reports and inquiries, and making community policing a core function of the police service.
In 2003 further changes were won by Sinn Féin, including the requirement on the British Secretary of State to consult with the Police Ombudsman, Human Rights Commission and Equality Commission in key areas, enhancing the powers of the Belfast sub-groups to place them on a par with other DPPs, and removing discrimination against political prisoners from participating as independent members of DPPs.
Overall in the past five years the British Government has been forced by us to bring in amending legislation on two separate occasions to remedy flawed Policing and Justice Acts.
We have won the argument for transfer of powers on policing and justice, the argument for democratic accountability as set out in the Good Friday Agreement. Everyone now agrees that the transfer of power is required for a real new beginning to policing to be achieved. That will require further legislation and the British Government is committed to doing this.
Does anyone here think that the securocrats in Whitehall or the old RUC want anyone in this hall on policing boards or to see a republican in charge of policing and justice? Of course not.
So let it be clear: Sinn Féin's focus on policing is about depoliticising the police force and changing it from an armed wing of the state to a service for the people.
For Sinn Féin policing is an area of struggle. We come to it in the same way as we have come at other issues: strategically, in order to advance our struggle, and because those we represent deserve to have full rights on all matters, including the issue of policing.
I have no doubt about how big an issue this is for many of us. That is why I am setting out these options for you tonight. You have a right to know what our intentions are, to understand and to be part of our rationale.
Sinn Féin is opposed to criminality of all kinds. Those who profit from crime have to be effectively challenged and put out of business. So too must those who target the elderly and vulnerable. Rapists and racists can have no refuge and our communities should not have to put up with the scourge of death drivers, or intimidation and lawlessness by criminal groups.
So, we are determined to make progress in the time ahead.
Things have changed forever. Unionism has been brought once again to a crossroads. The preferred way forward is for all the political parties to work together through the Assembly, the Executive, and the other political institutions to deliver for the people we represent so that they can have their entitlements to decent health and other public services, as well as a stable and prosperous future. If that is not possible at this time, then the process of change will have to be delivered through advanced political arrangements between the Irish and British Governments.
In all of this there is one certainty - let this be crystal clear - regardless of what happens tomorrow or on 24 November, the process of change will continue. Sinn Féin are the guarantors of that. Things have changed forever on this island. There is no going back to the old days....