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9 October 1997 Edition

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New era can begin

Real talks finally began on Tuesday with all the main parties at the table. For the first time nationalist and unionist parties and both governments are engaged in one process of negotiations on the future of Ireland.

As Martin McGuinness made clear at a rally in Coalisland on Sunday republicans have one definite aim in their engagement in the talks - the ending of the Union with Britian and a new Ireland created by all our people.

The same message was given by Sinn Féin representatives at Stormont on Tuesday and the need for Irish unity and independence and an end to partition will guide them throughout the talks.

In Leinster House the start of talks was overshadowed by the resignation of Foreign Minister Ray Burke. Speaking on the appointment of his successor David Andrews on Wednesday Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghin O Caoláin urged all deputies to set aside the partitionist thinking which has so often dominated that assembly.

The British government's role now is the most vital of all. It is faced with the great challenge to transform its historic relationship with Ireland. When it does so a new era can truly begin.

 

Real talks begin



By Peadar Whelan

AFTER ALMOST 16 MONTHS OF prevarication, stalling and the imposition of preconditions the British government and the Ulster Unionist Party finally sat down in negotiations with Sinn Fein. A process that got under way despite unionist insistence that they wouldn't happen until the decommissioning happened.

Eight political parties and representatives of the British and Dublin goverments were at Castle Buildings, Stormont on Tuesday 7 for the beginning of substantive talks, talks that should have happened within three months of the IRA cessation of military operations announced in August 1994.

Instead we had to wait almost three years for the three stranded talks process to get under way. And despite the large dose of unionist negativity, epitomised by the decision of both Ian Paisley and UK Unionist Robert McCartney to boycott the talks and David Trimble's negative campaigning in the United States the general view of the first day's proceedings was that it was positive.

In the course of the proceedings Strands One and Two, which involves Sinn Fein, got under way with the Sinn Fein input being to submit papers from party President Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, chief negotiator.

Strand One of the process deals with the relationship with the parties within the North and Strand Two focuses on the ``north/south'' relationships.

Strand Three of the talks, concerning as it does, relations between the governments but not the political parties also got under way.

``We are willing to engage in real and meaningful negotiations with those who come to these negotiations with a pro-union agenda'', stated McGuinness. He added, ``dialogue and negotiation can be the bedrock on which together we can build a peaceful settlement to this age old conflict''.

Coupled to the substantive talks is the work of the three working committees, the Business committee, which willset the agenda for the talks, and the Confidence and Decommissioning sub-committees.

According to Bairbre De Brun a Sinn Fein negotiator who sits on the Business Committee, ``Sinn Fein fully intends to highlight and secure progress on a range of issues under the equality banner. We believe that the British government must implement a programme of confidence building measures which will end political, economic, social and cultural discrimination.

``Both the British and Dublin governments need to urgently address a demilitrisation agenda which deals with release of of all political prisoners, removes all repressive legislation and replaces the RUC with a normal, acceptable police service'', De Brun said.

 

Businesslike start to talks



by Laura Friel

    
The unionist representatives may have been there ``in body more than spirit'', as one commentator put it, but at least they were there
``There is no going back to the failed policies of the past.'' That was the message Sinn Fein's chief negotiator Martin McGuinness brought to the first day of substansive negotiations at Stormont this week. ``Partition has failed,'' said McGuinness,''The partition of this small island and the division of our people have created a failed political entity in the North of our country. The inequality and the discrimination against nationalists and the militarisation of this part of our country must end.''

``Businesslike'' was how most people described the first day's meetings. Even the Ulster Unionists were talking of ``getting down to brass tacks''. Posturing about never sitting down with Sinn Fein was put aside, as party representatives in turn presented their submissions to Strand One of the negotiations. Strand One deals with relationships within the Six counties. In the opening session, submissions were presented by all parties, the meeting being chaired by British Minister Paul Murphy.

The unionist representatives may have been there ``in body more than spirit'', as one commentator put it, but at least they were there.

Strand Two deals with the relationships between North and South and involves all parties and the British and Irish government. Strand Three is the relationship between the two governments.

We enter these negotiations as Irish Republicans,'' said McGuinness, ``but in a spirit of openness, flexibility and friendship. We are willing to engage in real and meaningful negotiations with those who come to these negotiations with a pro-Union agenda. Our objective is, through dialogue among all the people of this island, to achieve an agreed Ireland.''

Well, Ken Maginnis and Reg Empey were there, Ulster Unionist Leader David Trimble having opted for a little negative campaigning from across the Atlantic.

Bobby Sands writing on the first day of his hunger strike said ``I am standing on the threshold of another trembling world'', Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams told Strand Two, ``We too stand today on a threshold. A new century, a new millennium beckons to us all, holding out the hope of a new beginning for the people of Ireland and of these islands.''

``Sinn Fein enters these negotiations as an Irish Republican party seeking to promote the broad nationalist objective of an end to British rule in Ireland. British policy at present upholds the union. It enforces the partition of Ireland. Democratic opinion in Ireland and in Britain must seek to change this policy to one of ending the union.''

Adams outlined issues ``which fuel the conflict'', and called for equality of treatment in all sectors of society. ``These issues do not require negotiation. They are issues of basic civil and human rights,''said Adams. The British government should act on these issues immediately by outlining a programmatic approach which delivers real change, which makes equality a reality and which builds confidence in the wider peace process.'' The Irish government and Irish nationalist also have a responsibility to ``ensure that the concerns and fears of the unionist population are addressed and resolved through negotiation,'' said Adams

SDLP depty leader Seamus Mallon also placed the relationship between North and South at the heart of the matter. Strand Two was arguably the most important said Mallon. Refering to the Framework Document, Mallon said in addressing North and South and all-island relationships, a settlement would have to ensure that political structures were put in place which would ``provide the fulcrum and dynamic for a new partnership.'' He said the SDLP saw ``such insitutions with executive powers as being an integral part of any new settlement.''

Earlier John Hume, speaking for Strand One, said the objective should be the creation of a new agreed Ireland which respected ``the rights, cultures and aspirations of our communities.''

Any settlement would have to be endorsed North and South, said Hume. ``That endorsement would amount to the popular expression of the right to self determination on behalf of the people of Ireland.''

Meanwhile the Unionist Party was sticking to an internal settlement and the unionist veto. The Unionist Party would never give up ``Northern Ireland's right to self determination,'' argued Ken Maginnis. Any arrangement arising out of the talks would have to attract the consent of ``the overwhelming majority of the people of Northern Ireland.'' Empey called for the removal of Articles 2&3, rejected the Framework document and called for the replacement of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. ``Northern Ireland could have a special relationship with the Republic,'' Empey allowed. Gary McMichael of the UDP said there would be ``no compromise on the existence of Northern Ireland.'' While David Ervine of the PUP spoke for the Combined Loyalist Military Command. The message from CLMC was that Northern Ireland would remain part of the UK ``as per the will of the people.''

Emerging from talks, the Ulster Unionist Party appeared out of step with the other participants' upbeat message. Ken Maginnis described himself as ``tetchy and testy'' during the negotiations. ``Frosty'' was how Sinn Fein epitomised the unionists approach. ``It is still very early days,'' said Martin McGuinness, ``and we would hope that in the course of the coming weeks they will chill out.''

But there were some lighter moments. In a moment of gentle teasing, Gerry Adams complained that the unionists wouldn't talk to him. The West Belfast MP pointed out that Reg Empey was actually one of his constituents. ``Well Gerry,'' quipped the Ulster Unionist, ``you'll be telling me I voted for you next.''

An interesting footnote is perhaps that when Sinn Fein's delegation arrived at Stormont the following day, delegates scheduled to meet with the decommissioning subcommittee, were pleasently surprised to find no barage of waiting journalists determined to try and put Sinn Fein on the spot. In fact the place was deserted. Perhaps the media are weary of trying to catch that particular red herring.

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