26 February 1998 Edition
Governments must rebuild confidence
By Marcas Mac Ruairí
FOLLOWING last week's scandalous expulsion of Sinn Féin from the talks, the party has emphasised to both governments that they must move to rebuild confidence in the process.
The growing crisis which culminated in last week's expulsion, began in December when the unionists refused to agree an agenda for the talks.
This was followed by several weeks of an intense campaign of random murder as loyalist paramilitaries tried to restrain the scope of the agenda which everybody knew was going to be imposed by the governments.
In the resulting Propositions of Heads of Agreement, any reference to all Ireland bodies was watered down beyond recognition.
The plans to put a proposed settlement to a referendum in May remain in place. In order to meet this deadline - with negotiations drawing to a close by the end of March - an intense period of negotiations is now expected, bringing the current talks to an end.
The theory is that if an agreement is not reached among the participants, the governments will impose their own settlement which will be put to the referendum.
When Sinn Féin was expelled last week, it was clear to all that the decision was made at the behest of David Trimble.
It is scandalous therefore, that at such a crucial and intense time in the negotiations, the governments should collaborate to exclude it purely on the word of an RUC man, a representative of the organisation which has been the bulwark against the development of nationalist opposition to the partition of Ireland.
More than anything, this action has destroyed nationalist confidence in the talks as presently constituted.
The peace process grew out the agreed position between Gerry Adams, John Hume and the Dublin government that progress could only be made on an inclusive basis and with a strong all Ireland dimension, involving change to the British constitution. Moreover, they agreed that any settlement must carry the support of both communities.
David Trimble, throughout the duration of the talks process, has failed to acknowledge these core points. He failed to engage in any negotiation or to make any reference to the aspirations of nationalists in the Six Counties. He has shown no realisation that that peace must deliver change.
To supporters of Sinn Féin and the SDLP, the process as constituted appears to be following a unionist agenda and the British government playing an Orange card.
Outrage at Sinn Féin's expulsion has not waned in the course of the past week. But the confidence crisis for the peace process cannot be allowed to drift aimlessly.
The governments must steel themselves and not allow the process to be diverted into the cul-de-sac of marginaliation.
Leading members of Sinn Féin have pointed out that the party remains committed to its peace process. On the strength of its mandate it has a right to be in there.
The ball is now firmly in the court of the British government to try and restore confidence. As the talks move quickly towards a settlement Tony Blair should meet with the leaders of Sinn Féin as quickly as possible.
Out but not down
By Mary Maguire
For once, the news was expected. But as the twenty person Sinn Fein delegation walked through the gates of Castle grounds at Stormont last Friday, the depressed and sometimes furious glares betrayed the general mood of anger and frustration. In a ten minute long meeting with the governments, they had been told that Sinn Fein was barred from re-entering the talks.
Of all the press conferences, including the dozen given at Dublin Castle earlier in the week, this one had the most bitter taste. Sinn Fein representatives stood with straight faces behind their leaders. The determination to continue to stride forward, whatever obstacles arose, could be read in everyone's eyes.
`There is clearly a credibility problem with the talks process. The exclusion of Sinn Fein on the word of an RUC man underlines the serious flaws of the process which the two governments set up,'' Gerry Adams said. ``The events of recent days have highlighted the double standards involved. There is no consistency in its position. Political expediency rules''.
Martin McGuinness summed up the situation in one sentence: ``Sinn Fein is out but not down''. ``We are absolutely committed to our quest for equality, for justice and peace. There is still much work to be done but I see all this as another challenge, another obstacle, and out of this has to come a real peace process''.
Minutes later, Irish minister David Andrews and British secretary Mo Mowlam tried to justify such a decision. But Mowlam's ambiguous comments came as proof that there was and never had been any base to Sinn Fein's expulsion. Questions on her assesment of the IRA ceasefire remained unanswered. As was one addressed by an American journalist on the previous breaches of the Mitchell Principles by loyalist death squads and the murder of John Slane.
Anger and determination in Cavan/Monaghan
BY Mícheál MacDonncha
Anger at the expulsion of Sinn Féin from the multi-party talks and determination to assert the party's mandate were much in evidence in public meetings called in response to the current crisis in the peace process and held in Counties Cavan and Monaghan this week.
There was lively discussion in both Monaghan town on Monday evening 23 February and in Cavan town the following night. Speakers from the floor made clear that the integrity of the current negotiations had been undermined by the expulsion and that a reconstructed process was now essential.
Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín O Caoláin addressed both meetings and said it was a ``sad, sad, day for Irish democracy when this deed was done in Dublin Castle and when, in Stormont last Friday, an Irish government joined a British government in expelling from talks the representatives of 172,535 citizens of this nation''.
Tracing the background of the peace process since the publication in 1987 of Sinn Féin's document A Scenario for Peace the TD pointed out that the Ulster Unionist Party, who threatened a walkout from the talks if Sinn Féin was not expelled, had opposed the process at every stage.
Despite the obstruction of the Major government Sinn Féin had persisted and, with others, had rebuilt the process:
``Those efforts won ringing endorsement from the electorate North and South last year, not least in this constituency where the people of Cavan and Monaghan can say with confidence that they have played, and continue to play, a pivotal role in the sometimes painful search for lasting peace. We entered 1998, the 200th anniversary of the 1798 Rising, with the strongest Sinn Féin mandate in decades and with growing support.
``I reiterate here that we will continue to use that mandate in the cause for which it was given - to play our part in the negotiation of a lasting peace settlement, with justice and equality for all our people. That has been our pledge through the most difficult times in this process. And now is perhaps the most diffucult period that we have faced to date.''
O Caoláin said the Sinn Féin expulsion showed that there had been a democratic deficit in the negotiations and that what needs to be established firmly is that Sinn Féin's involvement is ``based on our mandate and on that alone''. He said the expulsion was ``also in accord with the failure of the British government over the last four years to make any progress whatsoever on demilitarisation and equality''.
On the shape of a possible agreement that some commentators were painting O Caoláin said:
``The British government is deceiving itself if it thinks for a moment that nationalists will swallow a half-baked settlement, a Stormont with green paint, with prisoners still in jail, the armed RUC on the streets, the British army on the hillsides and the Orange Order marching down Garvaghy Road. It's not on, Tony. And it's not on, Bertie.''
Turning to the role of the Dublin government the Sinn Féin TD called on it to promote the national interest:
``The Irish government realises that nationalists look to it to secure their interests against any possible Unionist/British government axis which will seek to deliver minimal change with minimal effort. The government needs to realise also the tremendous support and goodwill there would be for a more determined and vigorous approach to the British government. It needs to realise that there is also a political price to pay for failing in its duty.''
The Monaghan meeting was chaired by Sinn Féin County Councillor Brian McKenna and the platform also included Sinn Féin Councillors Pádraigín Uí Mhurchú, Gene Duffy, Jackie Crowe and Owen Smyth. On the platform in Cavan were Paddy McDonald, County Cavan Sinn Féin chairperson who chaired the meeting, and area representatives Tina Tully, Pauline Tully and Peadar Neary.
Derry protesters injured
by Martha McClelland
A protest in Derry last Saturday against the expulsion of Sinn Fein from the talks resulted in near tragedy when a car went out of control next to demonstrators. It ploughed into six or seven protesters, leaving three in hospital, including Councillor Mary Nelis.
One woman was dragged under the car, although fortunately not under the wheels. Another woman suffered facial injuries. Councillor Nelis is still in hospital with leg injuries. The woman driver of the car was extremely upset and required treatment for shock.
The unfortunate accident took place after a week of street protests in Derry, which included white line pickets in Shipquay Street, rallies in Waterloo Square, a protest at the city Courthouse, and one which blocked the Expressway. The protest at the Courthouse coincided with the re-opening of the 180 year old Crown installation following two IRA bombs inside the high-security area seven years ago left it requiring a £7m `facelift'.
Nearly 100 Sinn Fein members staged a protest when top British judicial figure, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, visited the city to re-open the building. Other notorious figures including Lord Carswell and Sir Alistair Frazer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, were in Derry while Councillor Nelis told protesters that ``while the facade of the building may have improved, the corrupt nature of the Six County judicial system remains unaltered, a bedrock of bigotry and injustice for 75 years.''
Derry traders hit out at the `security measures' which resulted in the loss of a full day's trade for the second time in a week due to events surrounding the re-opening of the courthouse.