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11 February 2010 Edition

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'Agreement is progress for all of Ireland' - Ó Caoláin

There were statements in the Dáil on Tuesday on the Agreement reached on 5 February. Speaking on behalf of Sinn Féin, the party’s Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the Agreement represented progress for all the people of Ireland.
Referring to the impatience expressed at the length of time it took to reach a deal, Ó Caoláin said:
"Republicans more than anyone had a right to be impatient and to express deep frustration at the delay in delivering on policing and justice.  Republicans throughout Ireland have been very patient not only over recent weeks but over recent years with regard to the vital issue of policing.
"Just over three years ago, after a process of intense internal debate and consultation, we in Sinn Féin brought our party members to an Extraordinary Ard Fheis to debate proposed changes to our policy on policing.
"Throughout the debate and consultation which took place prior to that 2007 Ard Fheis, a key point raised by party members was the weakness of the Irish Government in failing to press the British Government on a whole range of issues, but especially on policing itself. The ‘heavy lifting’ in negotiations was done by Sinn Féin. The Irish Government joined with the SDLP in accepting far less than was needed to ensure a new beginning to policing.
"Sinn Féin took these political risks because we wanted to see the process back on track. The Executive was re-established and it worked well across departments but only up to a point and that point was the essential and overdue next step of transfer of policing and justice powers. This was clearly a touchstone issue.
"The Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle motion adopted by the 2007 Extraordinary Ard Fheis on policing also pointed out that elements of the DUP were determined to use policing and other issues to prevent progress, resist power-sharing and equality and oppose any all-Ireland development and that this was unacceptable. They were prophetic words and they were borne out over the past two years.
"I hope and believe that the 5 February 2010 Agreement represents a new beginning for the relationship between the DUP and Sinn Féin, a new beginning for the Executive, the Assembly and the all-Ireland structures, as well as a new beginning to policing.
"There is also a need for a new focus on the Peace Process and the All-Ireland Process from the Irish Government, from all the political parties and from the media in this State. I have already referred to partitionism and I am afraid it is widespread in this jurisdiction. We heard it in the type of commentary which lamented the fact that the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister had to alter their schedules to attend the negotiations in Hillsborough. It was as if these were some parochial issues that shouldn’t be troubling the minds of two international statesmen.
"The issues at stake in the negotiations go to the core of the relationship between Ireland and Britain and between the people who share this island. They are about the survival and future working of the structures established under the Good Friday Agreement. They are about the continuing development of a peace process into a viable political process. Policing and justice, public safety and human rights are not trivial or parochial issues.
"The other myth peddled in recent times is the portrayal of the DUP and Sinn Féin as the two extreme parties. Related to this have been some efforts to disparage the power-sharing structures and the requirements for cross-community support in the Executive and the Assembly. In the Seanad a member claimed that the d’Hondt system “rewards people from the extremes and does not reward people who bring together communities and serve all of the people within their communities”.
"This position was praised by a political commentator in a national newspaper who also painted Sinn Féin as extremists along with the DUP and bracketed the two parties together in their attitude to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. I would remind the commentator in question that while the DUP excluded itself from the talks in 1998, Sinn Féin played a key role in negotiating the Good Friday Agreement, in delivering it and in implementing it.
"The same commentator proposed a return to direct rule. I am glad to say that the patience and persistence of negotiators won out and that an agreement was reached a few days after the article was written. A return to direct rule would do nothing to heal community divisions or foster co-operation and compromise. On the contrary, it would be a step backwards for everyone. What is needed is the full working of the Agreements on the basis of partnership and equality and a determination to deliver for all the people. That is the essence of the pledge taken by each Minister in the Executive.
"A new beginning to policing and justice is not solely a Six-County issue. We need far more robust accountability structures to ensure an end to political policing, corrupt policing and inefficient policing in this jurisdiction. The repeal of the draconian Offences Against the State Acts is long overdue.
"On the issue of collusion the current Taoiseach and the last Taoiseach have been far too accepting of the claims by the British authorities that they can do no more. We have seen the British government’s continuing refusal to establish an independent international inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane, as demanded in a Dáil motion passed unanimously four years ago. We have seen their refusal to respond positively to the Dáil motion seeking complete disclosure and a Parliamanetary debate on collusion, including the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of May 1974. The Taoiseach’s responses to me on collusion have been disappointing and show a lack of appreciation of the importance of these legacy issues for all who have been directly affected by the conflict. That must change.
"The title of these Statements here today is incorrect. What we are addressing is not ‘Northern Ireland’ – it is the Peace Process and the All-Ireland Political Process. It is of vital concern to everyone on this island. I represent a Border constituency and the communities that elect me and my constituency colleagues obviously have a very particular interest in the success of the process. They have seen the very physical barriers of the Border taken down, they have seen many of the benefits of peace and dialogue and new co-operation between the two jurisdictions. But the border remains and it still causes social and economic and political disruption to communities on both sides of the frontier. It distorts the economy of this island and the lives of all who view Ireland as home.
"I welcome especially the commitment in the 5 February Agreement to work on the outstanding issues from the St. Andrew’s Agreement. That must include completion and full working of the all-Ireland structures, including the North-South Parliamentary Forum. Last week in the Good Friday Agreement Implementation Committee in the Oireachtas we discussed the progress being made in all-Ireland co-operation on education and how so much more can yet be done. The same applies in areas like health, transport, employment creation, agriculture and so on.
"The real test of this Agreement will be how it delivers improvements in the daily life condition of ordinary people, not only in the Six Counties but across this island.
"The Sinn Féin Extraordinary Ard Fheis on Policing three years ago reiterated our republican commitment to bringing about Irish reunification and the full integration of political, economic, social and cultural life on the island. We hold that commitment as firmly as ever and we look forward to its fulfilment".
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