1 November 2007 Edition
Exploring routes to peace - Adams addresses London event
Adams thanked Colin and Wendy Parry, and the Tim Parry Jonathan Ball Foundation for Peace, and Clifford Chance, for the invitation to speak and during his speech addressed the two themes of exploring different routes to peace and the issues of truth, and victims and reconciliation.
Fourteen years ago two IRA bombs exploded in Warrington. Jonathan Ball was killed immediately and Tim Parry died six days later.
Adams said that The Tim Parry/Jonathan Ball Foundation for Peace is an optimistic example of how people, who have been grievously hurt, are able to meet that challenge head on and to produce something good and constructive, and positive and compassionate, from it.
“Irish republicans – the IRA – was responsible for what happened that day. It brought huge grief to these two families, as well as to others hurt in that incident. The IRA expressed its regret at what had happened. In 2002 it apologised to all those non combatants it had killed or injured and their families. I have also expressed my personal and sincere regret, and apologised for the hurt inflicted by republicans. I do so again this evening”, Adams told those at the London event.
On the issues of truth, victims and reconciliation Adams said any truth process dealing with the war in Ireland must be victim centred and “inform future generations of the lessons from our conflict”.
Such a process, he said, must embrace all the victims and protagonists. One way of achieving an independent process is to have an international inquiry.
“The United Nations or another reputable agency could be involved”, he said. Many victims groups sought for an Independent International Truth Commission and Adams said he thought there was merit in this.
He said Sinn Féin would wait until the families and groups involved concluded their deliberations before coming to a decision.
“British actions led directly to the deaths of almost 400 people and many hundreds of others who died as a result of collusion. The issue of state killings and collusion must be dealt with”, the Sinn Féin President told his audience.
He also discussed the process of finding different routes out of conflict. He outlined the course of the Irish Peace Process and the principles of conflict resolution which guided republicans.
“Seeking to find ways to end these conflicts requires a hard, honest evaluation of each situation; as well as an understanding of the root causes of the specific conflict; and then the application of broad principles of conflict resolution. Sounds easy, but look around the world today and obviously it isn’t”, he said.
He said war in Ireland grew out of centuries of British colonial policy. The imposition of partition and the creation of a sectarian, unionist dominated state in the Six Counties significantly added to the problem.
The failure of unionists and the indifference and refusal of successive British governments to ensure that nationalists were fairly and justly treated, led to repression and Ireland was thrown into crisis.
“The IRA, which up that point barely existed, reorganised and reformed. The IRA fought a wide-ranging guerrilla campaign which drew its lessons from previous such periods in Irish history, as well as from contemporary experience around the world. British tactics were drawn from decades of experience fighting in colonial wars in Kenya, Malaya, Cyprus, Aden and elsewhere.
By the mid to late 1970s it was obvious that there was a military stalemate.
“Within republicanism, armed struggle was the dominating tendency. There was a belief that only the IRA could move the British government. There may have been misgivings or serious concerns about particular military operations but there was no real dissent from armed struggle. It was taken for granted that that was the way of things. While I was of the view that no military solution was possible I also felt armed struggle was a necessary form of struggle and I defended this position without being dogmatic about it”, Gerry Adams said.
The Sinn Féin leadership concluded that if the impasse was to be broken then republicans needed to go on a political offensive. At its core it would require Sinn Féin constructing a viable political alternative to armed struggle which could deliver republican goals.
“The preoccupation of our political opponents was to defeat republicans. But slowly and very privately we began to reach out to others. John Hume. People from within the protestant churches. And by the early 1990’s we were in contact with the Irish government, and through friends in the US we were reaching out to Irish America and through them eventually to US Presidential hopeful Bill Clinton. And in this way, slowly, and with great difficulty we began to put together a package which held out the possibility of creating an alternative to war”, Adams said.
Serious efforts had been made by some unionist politians, unionist paramilitaries, elements within the British military and political system, to undermine the process. “There are a small number of so-called ‘dissident republicans’ who have similarly opposed it.”, he said.
In April 2005 Adams pointed out that there was now an alternative to armed struggle and appealed to the IRA to ‘fully embrace and accept this alternative.’ Several months later in July the IRA formally ordered an end to the armed campaign.
“Two more torturous years of negotiating continued beyond that but finally this year, in March, Ian Paisley and I struck a deal for the restoration of the political institutions. And in May the power sharing Executive, the Assembly, and the all-Ireland political institutions and cross border bodies, were all fully restored with Ian Paisley as First Minister and Martin McGuinness as Deputy First Minister – equals – running the North’s new institutions. A remarkable transformation from where we all were. Of course, we still have a long way to go to fully bed down the institutions. And in all of this it is important to remember that I am still an Irish republican”, Adams said.
“I want a free, sovereign independent Ireland. I want the British government out of Irish affairs, partition ended and the Irish people independently charting our own future. Unionists are still unionists. But we each, unionists and republicans, now have a peaceful, democratic process in which we can pursue our political goals, while at the same time allowing all of us to tackle the many other hard issues like sectarianism, racism, poverty, inequality and discrimination”, he said.
The Sinn Féin President said that it had taken everyone – governments, political parties, armed groups and people, a long time to get to this point.
“Could it have been achieved earlier? I honestly don’t know”, he said.
“It happened when it did as republicans developed our peace strategy; when others in Ireland, in Britain and in the USA were prepared to engage positively with it. It certainly required some key individuals being prepared to give leadership and take tough decisions – on the republican side as well as people like John Hume; Albert Reynolds; Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. So we have a long way still to go on our journey”, Adams said.