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29 January 1998 Edition

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Need for a new and democratic agreement

Fern Lane in London looks at the progress in the talks at Lancaster House

After wasting an entire day on the `moral dilemma' of whether the UDP should be excluded from the peace negotiations on Monday, the British and Irish governments presented a document to the remaining parties at Lancaster House on Tuesday, outlining their position with regard to Strand 2 of the talks - North/South structures - which, in contrast to the entirely pro-unionist Proposition for Heads of Agreement document, restated their commitment to the Joint Declaration and the Framework Document, saying:

``For their part, the two Governments remain firmly committed to the positions in the Joint Declaration, and to those set out in A New Framework for Agreement as being the best assessment of where agreement might be found in negotiations.''

They then set out a number of `Matters for Consideration' for discussion on Wednesday about what form any North/South Ministerial Council should take, although they carefully and very deliberately avoided making direct reference to what, if any, executive powers such a council might have.

Nevertheless, this resulted in an entirely predictable bout of histrionics from Jeffrey Donaldson of the UUP who tore up the Framework Document for the benefit of the media, accompanied by David Trimble performing his latest rendition of the ancient `Ulster Says No' routine, vowing that there would never be any agreement based on that document.

In responding to the paper presented on Tuesday, Gerry Adams told the parties;

``New arrangements - their power, scope and responsibilities, their dynamic and transitional nature - will occupy the minds of many of the participants. Yet we should all remember that this process is not about institutions alone but creating a new and democratic agreement. Demilitarisation and the equality agenda can and should be acted on immediately.''

Speaking later, Adams again stressed the priority of the equality agenda to his party and how he saw it as integral to the whole process;

``The equality agenda is a very important one because the six county state was based on inequality. It is the notion of being top dog which sustains Unionist supremacy. We are dealing here with justice issues, cultural rights, political rights, economic rights and national rights. We are also dealing with the reality of removing the reason from elements within Unionism for their very existence as Unionists. Because if the union does not guarantee their top dog position, then they can have no more loyalty to it than I do.''

On the question of the exclusion of the UDP, one was left wondering what precisely Mo Mowlam's moral dilemma was. The rules were made by the British government and thus any decision about whether or not to exclude the UDP was a straightforward political one, to be taken within the legislative architecture of the talks as created by the British government itself.

It was their responsibility to face up to dealing with the matter. Their unwillingness to take such a political decision was manifest, however, as was their relief when Gary McMichael voluntarily took his party out of the talks in order to avoid being, as he saw it, ignominiously and unjustly dumped out of them, given how ``honourably'' - his word - the UDA had behaved in admitting the sectarian slaughter of innocent Catholics. It was ironic, then, that the rules which were created with the specific objective of keeping Sinn Fein out of the talks process received their first serious test at the hands of loyalists and that in the face of such a test the British immediately began to crumble.

However, as Gerry Adams pointed out, had the IRA been responsible for any deaths there would not have been such a dilemma; Sinn Fein would have been immediately thrown out of the process without any need for agonised debate.

Adams also discussed the matter of when the British government were informed by the RUC that the UDA were responsible for at least three of the recent murders. He said he had told Dr Mowlam before Christmas that the LVF was a convenient cover for the UDA, although she had refused to take any action, citing a lack of evidence. It was only after Sinn Féin had put intense and prolonged pressure on the RUC to release the forensic evidence with respect to the killing of Eddie Treanor on New Year's Eve, which it knew would incontrovertibly implicate the UDA, that Ronnie Flanagan finally relented, formally and publicly naming the UDA as the responsible party last week, realising that any longer delay would further undermine his and the force's credibility. Sinn Féin's contention is that, given that the very next day the UDA issued a statement saying its latest murder campaign had come to an end - for the time being at least - the disturbing possibility was raised that, had the RUC pointed the finger at them earlier, other lives subsequently lost at the hands of the death squads may well have been saved.

London hears Sinn Féin analysis

A PACKED public meeting in London last Sunday heard a strong, committed message from Sinn Féin's negotiators.

And the question and answer session heard Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness explain Sinn Fein's strategy in the current negotiations.

Highlighting the conviction of Sinn Féin that we will bring about an end to British rule in Ireland, Adams reminded the audience that 1998 is the bicentenary of the 1798 uprising and spoke of his regret that the proud and honourable tradition of Irish Protestantism has been hijacked by bigots.

``We have to fight the notion that something in the air makes Protestants and Catholics fight each other. Of course there is a sectarian edge to it. Some of those who go out killing Catholics do so under fundamentalist religious beliefs. But it is more to do with the prop of the British presence in Ireland. They are just part of the broader effort to prevent change.

``Let us tell them, however, that no matter how many nationalists they kill they are going to fail because nationalists in the Six Counties are never, never going to accept second class citizenship again.''

He continued, ``What we are looking at is the maximum possible change we can get out of this process and then we will work out our strategy from there.''

Martin McGuinness said, ``Thirty years ago the people we represent were nobodies. The present generation of republicans changed that. We have struggled for thirty years and if we have to struggle for another thirty years, we will.''

But, he said, ``If we can bring about a process which means no more volunteers are killed or imprisoned, that no more soldiers or RUC men lose their lives, then we have a responsibility to do that. We have not fooled anybody; we have not told anybody that when they wake up in May there will be a united Ireland. We see this as a step on the road to a united Ireland.

``Unionists are afraid of change and loyalists are responding in the way they always have - by murdering Catholics. But we should not rule out the possibility that the hand behind this is the British government's, that the LVF came into existence at the behest of the securocrats within the British establishment.

``If the British government can get away with copper-fastening partition, they will do it. We went in knowing that it and others were trying to destroy us. Two weeks ago it hoped to ambush us with the Proposition for Heads of Agreement in the belief that they could isolate and marginalise us.

``But we told them it was not acceptable, that it is not going to solve the problem and that it is not acceptable to the people we represent. They were not able to sell it because the analysis we have put to the people, that there can be no partitionist settlement, has taken root.''



 

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