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24 July 1997 Edition

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New chance must be seized

The new opportunity for peace presented by the IRA's restoration of its cessation on 21 July must be seized and the peace process must be rebuilt on firm foundations. It took much courage for the IRA to declare this cessation and that courage has been widely recognised.

In stark contrast to the hope and expectation of reasonable people everywhere were the antics of the unionist parties at Stormont just three days after the cessation. They are now trying to wreck the framework for negotiations and undo the work which led to the latest cessation. They cannot be allowed to succeed.

Paisley's DUP and McCartney's DUP have walked out and declared the talks process dead. Paisley said the talks had been ``taken over by gunmen''. But the door remains open for these unionists to return. David Trimble's UUP remains in but seems determined to keep in place the decommissioning block to real and substantive negotiations.

These knee-jerk unionist reactions must be put in context. Unionists clearly fear real negotiations. Republicans understand those fears. But unionists leaders are out of step with the mass of tbeir own people if they continue to refuse to sit down with the elected representatives of their nationalist neighbours. In the words of Gerry Adams this week unionists need to ``declare a cessation in their heads''.

For their part nationalists and republicans are going to these talks demanding their rights and determined to see equality enshrined in a new Ireland. Their vision is one of unity and peace. On the second day of the cessation Sinn Féin's chief negotiator Martin McGuinness said:

``Our task is to turn this vision into a reality. We must not lower our expectations or be conditioned into accepting anything less than full freedom, equality and democracy. We must have credible, inclusive and meaningful negotiations.''


IRA creates new opportunity for peace

Historic announcements precede cessation

The series of historic announcements which signalled a renewed IRA cessation began on Friday 18 July at noon with a joint statement from Gerry Adams and John Hume. Following a Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle meeting later that day Gerry Adams revealed that he and Martin McGuinness had met the IRA and urged the restoration of the August 1994 cessation. On Saturday morning 19 July came the IRA announcement of the cessation which began at noon on Sunday 20 July.


Another chance for progress


The most positive factor of all is that the nationalist people of the Six Counties enter this new situation stronger and more confident than ever.
If the restoration of the IRA cessation was greeted with less euphoria than the 31 August1994 announcement it was no less momentous and historic. Another big step has been taken towards the democratic resolution of the conflict. For republicans another phase of struggle has begun.

The cessation of 31 August 1994 came as the culmination of a long period of building a peace process. It created unprecedented hope and the prospect of an end to 25 years of war. To succeed it needed real and substantive negotiations. John Major and the unionists ensured that such negotiations never happened and the peace process collapsed.

The device they used to block real negotiations was the utterly meaningless demand for IRA decommissioning of weapons. For the entire 18 months of the cessation which began in August 1994 the British and the unionists took everyone around the houses again and again on the decommissioning issue. The unique opportunity was frittered away. The momentous nature of the IRA decision at that time was, it seemed on the surface, neither appreciated nor understood. But of course it was understood by the British and the unionists. Former Ulster Unionist Party leader Jim Molyneaux showed his thinking when he described the IRA cessation as the most destabilising factor in the North in 25 years.

The unionists and Major successfully kept Sinn Féin out of talks. But what is not often commented upon is the fact that the unionists were determined to stop even those some-party talks from discussing the substantive issues - the Union with Britain and the need for equality. The unionists want Sinn Féin kept out of talks; their desire to keep the Union off the agenda is even stronger.

Patient work by Sinn Féin and others led to the political situation which Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness described to the IRA last week when they urged a cessation. The key elements in the situation are first, the commitment of the British and Irish governments to inclusive peace talks and the assurance that they would take place; second, the shared commitment to significant and substantial change, to issues of equality and demilitarisation on the part of Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Dublin government, and Irish American opinion. (Statement in more detail on page 10).

Two new governments in London and Dublin were politically obliged to make strenuous renewed efforts to rebuild the peace process. In Dublin the departure of the Bruton administration was a positive development; the commitment of Bertie Ahern to represent the interests of Northern nationalists was another.

The extent of the political transformation now required was demonstrated at Drumcree. If the British government mindset which led to that ordeal for the people of the Garvaghy Road does not change, if issues of equality are not addressed before, during and after the talks, then the process will have failed again.

The most positive factor of all is that the nationalist people of the Six Counties enter this new situation stronger and more confident than ever. Their strength and confidence throughout the past three years has reinvigorated nationalist Ireland at home and abroad. It was demonstrated in the greatly increased vote for Sinn Féin.

The mass mobilisation of nationalist people across the Six Counties prevented the repetition of the ordeal of Garvaghy Road on Lower Ormeau. People power forced the Orange Order to act with some sense and to avert the crisis. That lesson of street politics and of people power is very important in the period ahead of nationalists. It must form a central part of the new peace process.

Republicans have never lost sight of what has guided them throughout their long struggle. It is the same ideal that has guided them in the formation of their peace strategy and in all the negotiations and political developments that established the peace process. That ideal is the republican aim of Irish unity and independence. It was repeated in the IRA statement announcing the cessation: ``The IRA is committed to ending British rule in Ireland.''

During the past week some commentators were to the fore in accusing Sinn Féin of lowering its aspirations. It began on Thursday 17 July when an Irish News reporter interpreted an article in the same paper by Gerry Adams as Sinn Féin ``softening its stance'' on Irish unity. But the article was specifically on the subject of equality. The core of it was the demand that the British government take immediate action on a range of issues including equality in employment opportunities, in economic investment in areas of high unemplyment, in Irish language and culture, in education resources, in ending repressive leigislation, in disbanding the RUC, in release of political prisoners.

Adams said these issues and many more were matters for the British government - not for negotiation. ``These are matters of policy - not negotiation. These are rights, civil and political rights which every citizen in every democraitc state should be entitled to.'' He said that ``if a durable settlement is to be reached there must be a constructive context within which to resolve the conflict''.

Some commentators homed in on the phrase that Adams used when he said that Sinn Féin would press for ``renegotiation of the Union''. But as he pointed out the next day the Irish News interpreted this in an ``incorrect and misleading'' way. ``Sinn Féin is a republican party and our primary objective is a united Ireland'' he said.

The point, as mentioned earlier, is that the Union must be on the talks table and the aim of republicans in those negotiations is the ending of the Union.

The key phrase of the week came from Martin McGuinness: ``Negotiations are an area of struggle for Irish republicans.'' He outlined the republican approach to negotiations:

``Sinn Féin will enter any negotiations as an Irish republican party seeking national self-determination for the Irish people and an end to British rule. Partition is wrong. It is a failure of the past which must be put right. In our view the issue of sovereignty - the claim of the British government to sovereignty in Ireland - is the key matter which must be addressed in any negotiation. It is our view that an independent united Ireland achieved by agreement offers the best and most durable basis for peace and stability. An internal Six-County arrangement cannot work.''


Ceasefire must be anchored - O Caoláin

Newly elected Sinn Fein TD Caoimghin O Caolain has welcomed the ``historic decision'' made by the IRA leadership and its members. In a statement this week he said:

``It took both courage and imagination, particularly given the record of British government bad faith and intransigence following the IRA's August 1994 cessation.

``It is important that everyone realises that this decision came about following painstaking work on the part of Sinn Féin, who with others have relentlessly pursued the creation of a new opportunity for peace, following the collapse of the first peace process, squandered by the British government.

``A new opportunity for peace now exists. A new British government has shown it is prepared to listen, to facilitate; a new Dublin government demonstrates an awareness of its primary role in the engagements ahead; Sinn Fein's analysis going into negotiations is strengthened through the free exercise of the people's franchise, both North and South.

``The time ahead will bring more than its share of difficulties. Courage and leadership will be required in facing the challenges of direct negotiations. But face them we must.

``It is important that we all recognise that the new ceasefire is not an end in itself. Peace must now be worked for. We seek a real and lasting peace. As Irish republicans it is our certain view that this objective can best be guaranteed in the context of an all-Ireland solution. ``There is an onus also on all those in positions of influence, in the churches in trade unions, women's organisations and business leaders, indeed everyone must take ownership of this new chance for peace to ensure that this opportunity, reconstructed with such difficulty, is not wasted or taken for granted. The peace process must be anchored and ther peace talks must make urgent progress.''

Troops Out Movement welcomes cessation

The group which campaigns in England Scotland and Wales for British withdrawal from Ireland has welcomed the cessation. In a statement Jill Baker of the Troops Out Movement said:

``The Troops Out Movement welcome the opportunity presented by the restoration of the IRA cessation.

``This opportunity represents the best possibility for moving away from the disastrous failed policy of British occupation and toward a just and lasting peace for all of the people of Britain and Ireland.

``The onus is now on the British government to seize this opportunity for peace and justice.

``We in the Troops Out Movement now have a great responsibility to the majority of British people who support British withdrawal from Ireland. It is up to us to put pressure on our government to ensure that this view is not ignored.''


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