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19 October 2006 Edition

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Governments proposals - Detail still being worked out

Republicans must plot the way forward together

In the wake of the recent round of political negotiations in Scotland and proposals from the Irish and British Governments for the full restoration of political institutions of the Good Friday Agreement, An Phoblacht spoke to Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator MARTIN McGUINNESS about the latest developments in the Peace process.

AP: What were Sinn Féin's objectives going into last week's talks?

MMcG: The Sinn Féin negotiations team went into this round of negotiations with two clear objectives - to protect the advances made in our struggle and to secure the restoration of the power-sharing and all-Ireland political institutions set out in the Good Friday Agreement. A key part of this involves moving the anti-Agreement DUP to a position where they are prepared, for the first time ever, to accept power-sharing with Irish republicans and to participate in all-Ireland political arrangements. That's a big challenge for them and for us. Bringing rejectionist unionism into the peace process would be an enormous achievement. Bringing about a situation where myself and Ian Paisley are equal partners at the head of a power-sharing government would be momentous. Following last week's talks there is a lot of hope and expectation among people across the island. People are now speaking about the future in the way they did following the IRA cessation in 1994 and the talks which produced the Good Friday agreement. But there is still a lot of work to do to make all of this happen.

How to you react to the surprise in many quarters at the outcome of these talks?

Over the course of recent times republicans have been attempting to deal with the genuine concerns of the unionist community and trying to create the space for the DUP to come into the peace process. I know that many republicans are uneasy about developments over the last few days. They are concerned about the role of the two governments, concerned about the issue of policing and concerned about the commitment of the DUP to properly participate in a power sharing government with Sinn Féin. I share these concerns but we also have a responsibility to build on the opportunities created by the republican strategies of the last three decades. I have been saying for some time now that I believed that the DUP would do a deal with Sinn Féin. For me there were only two questions - what kind of deal would they be willing to do and when would it happen. Obviously the decision of the DUP to pull out of the Programme for Government meeting on Tuesday in Stormont shows us the challenges that lie ahead if the process is to move forward.

What is on the table from the British and Irish governments - is it a deal?

Last Friday at St. Andrews the two governments set out their proposals, including a timetable, which they believe can lead to the full restoration of the political institutions. So far the only people who have agreed to these proposals are the British Prime Minister and the Taoiseach. And in the coming weeks our talks with the two governments will continue because a lot of detail is still to be worked out. Many issues were not finalised at St. Andrews and their resolution will form part of our deliberations in the coming weeks. I was in London on Monday and will meet with government representatives in Dublin in the coming period. The governments have asked that the parties respond to their proposals by 10 November and have set 24 November as the date for the nomination of Ian Paisley as First Minister and myself as Deputy First Minister.

How will Sinn Féin assess these proposals?

Issues of this importance, with such major implications, have to be studied carefully. They require comradely debate and thorough discussion. But if Sinn Féin is to respond positively to these proposals they must have the potential to deliver equality, accountable civic policing, human rights and the full restoration of the political institutions. They must take the struggle forward.

You have talked about a process of consultation within the party and the wider republican community, how to you think that will happen?

Today (Thursday) the Ard Chomhairle is meeting in Dublin. Gerry Adams, myself and members of the negotiations team will be briefing the party leadership on the talks in St. Andrews and the Ard Chomhairle will be agreeing the process for consultation, which in the first instance will involve the proposals from the two governments and matters which are still being negotiated. As these discussions are still ongoing Gerry Adams will not be in a position at today's Ard Chomhairle to put forward a proposal in relation to holding a special Ard Fheis on the issue of policing. However he is committed to going to the Ard Chomhairle to ask them to call one as soon as these final issues are resolved.

It is important that republicans the length and breadth of the country are part of our efforts to plot a way forward. We are a democratic community of activists and all of us must take ownership of this process. That does not mean that we cannot disagree with each other. Of course we can and we should when appropriate and be secure in our right to dissent.

You raised the issue of policing, of course this is something which is very important to republicans, what is likely to happen next?

The two governments put proposals to all of the parties at St. Andrews. Sinn Féin, like the other parties, will now go away and consult and deliberate upon these proposals. We will make our judgment on the potential of these proposals, and on the basis of further discussion and negotiation with the two governments, on whether or not they will resolve all of the outstanding issues, including the crucial issue of getting policing right.

But the key point is that Sinn Féin is for proper civic, democratic and accountable policing. What we are against is bad policing and bad law and order. What we are against is political policing which has been the norm in the Six Counties for generations. Sinn Féin is about changing all of this and we have made huge progress in recent years. But Sinn Féin's job is not to sell the PSNI to anybody. Our job is to resolve all of the outstanding matters and to create a proper policing service. It will be the PSNI's job to prove themselves to the community. But we want to see rapid progress made in the time ahead. And we believe that this is possible. When this happens and in the right context Gerry Adams will go to the Ard Chomhairle to ask them to call a special Ard Fheis on the matter.

There has been a lot of talk about a referendum or an election early next year, what is Sinn Féin's view of all of that?

Sinn Féin sees no reason for either a referendum or an election. This is a demand from the DUP. I believe that the governments should be concentrating on implementing the Good Friday Agreement and moving the process forward. In relation to the Irish government I believe their main focus should be on implementing the parts of the Good Friday Agreement which are within their area of responsibility and which people voted for in referendum here eight years ago.

What about the focus on the pledge of office?

Well Sinn Féin has suggested changes to the pledge of office which we think would be helpful. If the DUP want to make other suggestions then the people they should be talking to are Sinn Féin. But we shouldn't move ahead of ourselves on any of this. This is all a work in progress and there is much still to be agreed.

What advances were made in relation to the peace dividend and equality matters?

Substantial progress was made on a range of issues which Sinn Féin has been campaigning and negotiating on for several years now. One of the issues at the top of the agenda was the need for a substantial peace dividend. We have proposed a stand alone £10billion investment package over a ten year period. Discussions on this issue continued in London yesterday. The British government has also made a number of commitments which must now be delivered on issues including: all-Ireland Parliamentary Forum and the all-Ireland Civic Forum, the removal of the British government power to suspend the political institutions, a statutory obligation for relevant Ministers to attend meetings of the All-Ireland Ministerial Council, the establishment of a Bill of Rights Forum by the end of the year, a single Equality Bill, an Irish language Act, tackling discrimination against ex-prisoners and an end to the bar of Irish citizens accessing top Civil Service posts in the Six Counties.

How difficult is the challenge of sharing power with the DUP?

For republicans to share power with the DUP will be a huge challenge. Remember it's not that long ago that unionism treated nationalists as second class citizens. It's not that long ago when Ian Paisley was vowing to smash Sinn Féin, something he completely failed to do. Gerry Adams was speaking at a commemoration in Belfast last weekend to mark the 30th anniversary of the deaths of IRA Volunteers Joey Surgenor, Francie Fitzsimons and Paul Marlow. He recalled that on 6 June 1966 Ian Paisley led a parade through this district. Local residents were attacked and beaten out of Cromac Square by the RUC. The target on that day for Ian Paisley was the Presbyterian General Assembly. Ian Paisley was subsequently imprisoned. There was serious rioting and attacks on Catholic owned property throughout unionist parts of the city. A number of Catholic people were also killed in that month. So it is a big thing for republicans to share power with the DUP. But we are serious about making peace with him and those he represents because we are avowedly anti-sectarian. Our watchword is equality. Equality includes those citizens represented by the DUP.

There has been some controversy regarding the 11+ and a letter which Ian Paisley said he got from the British?

A lot of spin came out of St Andrews on the issue of academic selection. The facts are when I was Education Minister I abolished the 11+. It will not be coming back. Spin to the contrary from the DUP in the wake of St. Andrews won't change this fact one iota. If we have a fully functioning Assembly up and running this would of course be an issue to discuss and debate and that is right and proper. It is also right and proper that Ministers retain Executive authority and Ministerial power. DUP support for the 11+ will give little comfort to unionist working class communities like the Shankill where only 1% of the population move onto grammar schools the rest branded as failures. Sinn Féin will continue to engage in the debate on the future direction of education here with the clear objective of delivering a fair and effective system which delivers for all of our children not just the few."

What would you say to republicans in relation to recent events?

In every successful liberation struggle there is a phase of reconstruction, of securing peace with justice, of national reconciliation, of nation building. This requires negotiation and outreach. It demands patience and generosity. To move from one phase of struggle is not only a matter of political judgment and strategic or tactical planning. It requires political courage.

The IRA cessation in 1994 demonstrated that courage. The IRA took decisions which provided a space in which a peace process could be developed. Again and again and again republicans have demonstrated commitment to that peace process.

The decisions last year by the IRA to end its armed campaign and to deal with the issue of weapons were truly historic and represented a brave and confident initiative. It was a momentous and defining point in the search for a lasting peace with justice. And it opened up the possibility of making significant progress. It also presented a significant challenge to the British and Irish governments and to the Unionists, as well as to republicans.

And Sinn Féin has worked hard to seize the opportunities created by the IRA. Today Irish republicanism is stronger and there are more Irish republicans on this island than at any time since partition. We have to continue to build political strength as we advance our republican goals of independence and freedom. But with political strength comes a responsibility to deliver for the people we represent. Our responsibility is also to see beyond our own support base. And we take these responsibilities very seriously.

An Phoblacht Magazine

AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:

  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
  • It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
  • There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.

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