19 June 1997 Edition
SF exclusion won't work
In the wake of the killing of two RUC members by the IRA in Lurgan there has been talk of proceeding to negotiations without Sinn Féin. But the reality is that there can be no negotiations and no negotiated settlement without the representatives of nearly 45% of the nationalist people of the Six Counties and of over 6% of people in the 26 Counties.
The two MPs, the TD and the scores of councillors elected by Sinn Féin voters on both sides of the border won their mandate on the basis of a peace strategy which aims at inclusive negotiations. They represent that section of the Irish people which has suffered most from the effects of partition and the conflict which has arisen from British occupation. British Secretary of State Mo Mowlam has said that the status quo is not an option; negotiations without those who most need an end to the status quo are inconceivable.
Speaking to journalists in Belfast on Tuesday Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said:
``Our priority is to bring about a permanant peace on this island. When myself and Martin McGuinness were able along with others to put propositions to the IRA it was the rationale behind those propositions, it was the quid pro quo of talks in the event of an IRA cessation, which persuaded the IRA to call a cessation.
``It wasn't condemnations. It wasn't the vitriol of denunciations which brought that about. And significantly we brought every republican with us. The IRA cessation was a genuine cessation which by any international standards was a very good cessation. We are totally committed to developing those conditions so that a lasting peace can be established. That is our focus. That is my focus today and I won't be deflected from it.''
TD's priority is goal of peace
Newly elected Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghin O Caoláin was the focus of much media attention in the wake of the Lurgan deaths. The Irish Independent in particular used the occassion of his signing the register at Leinster House on Tuesday 17 June to attack him and say he was facing the ``coolest reception ever'' for a newly elected TD.
In response O Caoláin defended his mandate. He said after his first meeting in Leinster House:
``I was returned as a Sinn Féin TD with a huge first preference vote from the electorate of Cavan/Monaghan. I stood on a Sinn Féin platform that clearly spelt out our analysis and policies relating to all the issues that affect the lives of my constituents - political, social and economic. I and my fellow Sinn Féin councillors have supplied an excellent constituency service at local government level for many years. Our record of hard and consistent work was acknowledged in the recent elections.
``I also stood on Sinn Féin's record and role in the peace process. We are commmitted to our peace strategy and have done all in our power to move the situation on to where dialogue and real negotiation replace conflict. We will contiune to pursue a real and lasting peace through a credible peace process.
``The killing of two RUC members yesterday by the IRA has shocked us all. My sincere hope is that rather than it being used as an excuse to walk away from the need to rebuild the peace process it will be an added incentive to us all to seek an end to conflict.
``I personally and my party will continue to focus on the goal of peace, in spite of setbacks. We want to see a situation where there is an irreversible momentum towards that goal.''
Exclusion is old agenda
BY MICHEAL MacDONNCHA
The storm of reaction to the deaths of the two RUC members in Lurgan has been directed primarily at one group of people - Sinn Féin voters. Like everyone else these voters were shocked and disappointed at what happened in Lurgan, but media spins designed to create blame and guilt are aimed at isolating those voters once again, just as repeated attempts are made to isolate their chosen elected representatives.
The tens of thousands of people who voted for Sinn Féin on both sides of the border this year did not vote for fatalities at Lurgan; neither are they nor the Sinn Féin representatives they elected in any way responsible for such deaths. The IRA was responsible and it has neither sought nor obtained an electoral mandate. Sinn Féin sought a mandate and received it on the basis of the party's peace strategy. That peace strategy remains the bedrock of its policy and the entire focus of its activity.
When the political and media establishment hit out at Sinn Féin they are returning to the old agenda of exclusion - the agenda of not treating Sinn Féin voters on the same basis as every other party, the agenda that has helped create the conditions for conflict. This policy of exclusion did not come about after the ending of the IRA cessation at Canary Wharf last year; it dates back to the days when Sinn Féin first obtained a significant electoral mandate in the Six Counties in 1982. It was wrong to exclude Sinn Féin voters and Sinn Féin elected representatives then. It was wrong during the IRA cessation of August 1994 to February 1996. And it is wrong now. Wrong and counter-productive, reinforcing the inequality that is at the root of why a section of Irish people in 1997 still resort to armed force for political objectives.
Does this mean that Sinn Féin is pursuing a `dual strategy', armed struggle and party politics, that it wants conflict outside the negotiations and talking inside? Emphatically no. All Sinn Féin's efforts have been directed at bringing about real negotiations in a peaceful atmosphere. In rejecting the accusation of a `dual strategy' in the aftermath of Lurgan, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said his party was as committed as ever to its peace strategy. On his responsibility with regard to the IRA, he said:
``If I am measured it is because it is part of my responsibility to persuade the very organisation which carried out these actions that when there is a credible process of negotiations then it should enhance that process, as it said it would and as I believe it will.''
Sinn Féin with others achieved an IRA cessation in 1994, the culmination of years of work. The quid pro quo was a real process of negotiations. That process did not come about, for all the reasons with which we are familiar; the unwillingness of the British government to engage being the primary reason. Once the initial cessation was met with British bad faith and once it came to an end it was always going to be extremely difficult to rebuild the peace process.
Among the difficulties are the double standards which are applied. The numerous breaches of the loyalist ceasefire have not been followed by ritualistic denunciations of the loyalist parties and calls for their exclusion from talks. Who now remembers the name of the young man killed by the British Army in Derry last July? When Dermot McShane was crushed to death by a British military vehicle there were no calls for the cutting off of contact with the government which directs the British Army.
Other salient difficulties have been the lack of real movement on political prisoners, with some having entered their 21st year in jail; the failure to demilitarise; the absence of equality of treatment for nationalists in the Six Counties; all issues which can be addressed immediately without reference to negotiations.
Despite all these difficulties Sinn Féin has continued to face up to its responsiblities, to engage with all those who can help rebuild the peace process. The main purpose of the party's meetings with the British government representatives has been to work through the difficulties and create stable conditions for real negotiations in a peaceful atmosphere. That is why the decision of the British government not to hold a further meeting between its officials and Sinn Féin is so negative. Inevitably that decision will have to be superseded sooner or later. Sinn Féin and the British government will have to meet again.
Gerry Adams pointed out this week that when in the past it has suited the British government to acknowledge that Sinn Féin is not the IRA and is not responsible for the IRA, then the British government has done so; that is, when it has been in talks with Sinn Féin. It cannot have it both ways.
It has been a dark week for hopes of rebuilding the peace process but the work of rebuilding goes on. What was said here last week holds. The political landscape was changed irrevocably from the early 1990s when the republican peace strategy was put in place. There can be no turning back.
Screaming for condemnation
Since the IRA killed two members of the RUC on Monday, there has been a sustained attack on Sinn Féin. It merely proves that the political opponents of republicanism still do not know - or want to know - what peace means or what is involved in constructing a peace process.
They wish to set up a simple scenario in which Sinn Féin leaders can click their fingers and there is peace. They live in a black and white world of all or nothing. They do not wish to acknowledge that reality is much more complex than that.
They want to hear the word `condemn', as if that will solve everything. Condemnation is, for them, nothing but a political virility test. It has become meaningless. During the IRA cessation when republicans took to the streets in peaceful protest, there were still politicians who condemned the protestors ``in the strongest possible terms''.
Nationalists are correct to question the bona fides of those in the media and the political establishment who merely tut tut and register disapproval when loyalists kill innocent nationalists but scream abuse when republicans kill the armed upholders of the Unionist state.
And the Sinn Féin leadership is correct to ask where these commentators have been since Sinn Féin began the slow, difficult work of constructing a peace process. For the most part, these so-called liberals have blocked - and condemned - any moves towards a credible talks process. They are the same people who would have us believe that peace equals an IRA ceasefire. But it has been proved that peace is not merely an IRA ceasefire. Peace can only come through a properly constructed process which addresses the root causes of the conflict. If every member of the IRA was to surrender every IRA weapon and emigrate, there would still be conflict because the very nature of the Six County state gives rise to conflict.
Therein lies the complexity of the task ahead. The cosy media and political establishment can scream all they like but they will not advance the peace which they claim to hold so dear until they start screaming for an inclusive, credible process which will genuinely address the root causes of the conflict in Ireland.