9 April 1998 Edition
SF to study talks deal
What is in the document
Early on Friday morning Mitchel McLaughlin expressed Sinn Fein's worries about the swings and shifts in the flavour of the document when he noted that he had earlier pointed out that `the Unionists were attempting to take the substance out of this paper in a number of key areas. They succeeded to some degree in Strand Two.' By mid morning however, that had been reversed. McLaughlin also spoke of `some other progress, in particular in Strand One. Sinn Féin continues to be opposed to an assembly, nevertheless many of the checks, balances and safeguards which we argued for during the negotiations, have now been secured.''
Key points in the document include an Assembly of 108 members, elected by PR from the existing 18 Westminster constituencies . It would have a Chair, a First Minister, a Deputy First Minister and up to 10 ministers with responsibility for the existing NIO departments.
These would be elected by the de Hondt system of PR from the 108 members, as an attempt to ensure proportionality. Those holding these executive offices would take a `Pledge of Office' to carry out their duties in accordance with stated principles. In addition to the ministers, it is proposed to have committees with an advisory role and powers of scrutiny of legislation.
Those elected to Ministerial offices would be compelled by legislation to participate in cross border executive structures, a North/South Ministerial Council, `participation ... to be one of the essential responsibilities' of office.
The powers of such an assembly would not be immediate, a shadow period would serve to allow time to identify its work, with this task to be complete by October 1998.
A joint parliamentary forum would also be developed, while the creation of a `Civic Forum' would allow for the participation of Trade Unions, Community groups etc.
Under Constitutional Issues the talks document continues to set the `right' to self determination on the Island as a whole in the context of `accepting that this right must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland.' Polls to test such a position cannot be held more frequently than every seven years.
While The Government of Ireland Act 1920 is being repealed, the Irish Constitution will move from defining the nation in geographic terms to viewing it in terms of its people.
Where in one section of the agreement there is a `recognition of the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both...' Article 2 as amended would state that it is the `entitlement and birthright of every person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, to be part of the Irish nation.'
Article 3 will now affirm the `will of the Irish nation, in harmony and friendship, to unite all the people who share the territory of the island of Ireland' while `recognizing that a united Ireland shall be brought about only by peaceful means with the consent of a majority of the people, democratically expressed, in both jurisdictions in the island.' A second part of Article 3 will allow for the creation of institutions with executive powers and functions which `may exercise powers and functions in respect of all or any part of the island.'
Mechanisms for the introduction of `an accelerated programme for the release of prisoners, including transferred prisoners' would be introduced, with a fixed time review process setting release dates, and with any remaining `qualifying' prisoners (that is, prisoners whose organisations are on ceasefire) to be released at the end of two years.
An independent Commission on policing will be established, with the aim of delivering `a fair and impartial system of justice to the community'. Such an approach would seek `a police service that can enjoy widespread support from' and be seen `as an integral part of the community as a whole.'
Demilitarization including the removal of security installations, the removal of emergency powers and the Offences Against the State Act will occur, while the Agreement seeks the completion of decommissioning within 2 years of an agreement being reached.
The Irish language is to be given recognition, with the British pledged to `take resolute action to promote the language', including such areas as education, consultation with the Irish speaking community and with the improvement of access to TnaG in the 6 Counties.
Proposed areas for North South cooperation and implementation
Education including teacher qualifications and exchanges
Transport - strategic planning
Social Security/ Social Welfare, including entitlements of cross border workers, and fraud
EU Programmes - SPPR, INTERREG, Leader II etc
Health - accident and emergency services and related cross border issues
Urban and Rural development
Not a solution, but the potential for a solution
Brian Campbell assesses the end of an historic phase in the struggle
No one can doubt the historic nature of events this week in Castle Buildings at Stormont. Tough, uncompromising negotiations produced a document which will now become the focus of much debate in the coming weeks. Republicans will scrutinise it and assess it against their objectives.
Speaking on Friday afternoon, after a gruelling week for his negotiating team, Gerry Adams said:
``For now it is time to draw a breath. It is time to reflect. Republicans and nationalists will come to this document with scepticism but also with hope. They will ask does it offer a chance of a way forward. Is it a new beginning?''
Republicans always saw this engagement as a phase in the struggle. As Adams said:
``These negotiations and the new arrangements which result from them are part of our collective journey from the failures of the past and towards a future of equals. We remain absolutely committed to our Irish republican objectives. We will continue to pursue these objectives in the months and years ahead.''
All these questions should be in republicans' minds as they study the document. Certainly it is not a republican wish list but it has positive elements which must be measured against our short and long term objectives.
Mitchel McLaughlin, on Friday morning before the final document appeared, pointed to the main elements of the document which republicans will study:
``The core issues are British constitutional change, the proposed nature and power of All-Ireland institutions and the need to remove the unionist veto in institutions in all three strands. The issues of policing and prisoners are also critical.
``As we have always stressed and as other successful peace processes prove, a comprehensive package on all issues which removes the causes of conflict is required to secure a lasting peace.''
Gerry Adams made it clear on Friday that the Sinn Féin negotiating team will go back to the party's Ard Comhairle who will assess the document in the context of their peace strategy. ``Does it remove the causes of conflict? Can it be developed and is it transitional? As in the past we will approach this development in a positive manner,'' he said.
Republicans will also be looking back at the negotiations to find what lessons can be learned from the intensive engagement with their opponents. In particular, the final, fraught few days of talks hold many lessons.
These past days the nature of Unionism has been exposed once again, confirming that political philosophy's inherent reactionary nature. Also exposed - in the intense heat of the final negotiations - was the Unionists' friends in high places in the British establishment. These are all people who do not wish to see progressive change in Ireland and who will work very hard to prevent it.
Right to the bitter end the Unionists stuck to the only strategy they know, and a strategy which they have employed since the start of this process. They tried to prevent meaningful change and they tried to block republicans at every turn. They fought for the status quo. And Unionists at the heart of the British establishment backed them.
Unionist tactics on Tuesday were designed to push the Mitchell paper in a Unionist direction. By screaming so publicly about its (secret) contents they hoped to pressurise the governments into movement. They also aimed to create a public impression that it was a nationalist-leaning document, hence making it more difficult for Sinn Féin or the SDLP to push amendments.
The suspicion is that the UUP's speedy rejection was pre-planned. Certainly, Trimble's regular meetings with Tony Blair would have amply prepared him for any shocks and the document could not have been a surprise for him.
What must be emphasised is that Mitchell's paper was ``not a green document''. Several Sinn Féin spokespersons said the party had problems with it.
In a significant development, on Tuesday, when the pressure was on, Alliance came out strongly as Unionists. John Alderdice supported David Trimble in his opposition to the Mitchell paper. He didn't spell out publicly what he objected to but he weighed in on the Unionist side. With the UUP, UDP and Alliance rejecting the document as a basis for negotiation, its ``unpicking'' began.
What took place was the practical application of the Unionist veto, supported by influential Unionists in high places.
Sinn Féin worked absolutely tirelessly in fighting their corner and all republicans owe a debt of gratitude to the Sinn Féin talks team for their hard work and skill over the months. Those who saw it at first hand were always mightily impressed.
Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were absolutely right on Wednesday when, before they met Tony Blair, they said:
``We are mindful of the Unionist perspective, but on the core issues of justice, equality and the right of the people of this island to live together in peace without division, no British government will face us down.
``This particular generation of Irish republicans will not be faced down by any British government on any of the core issues.''
On Friday, Gerry Adams summed up the feelings of republicans when he said:
``Sinn Féin has a vision of the future. Of an Ireland free from division and conflict. A society in which there is equality for all citizens. And where all our people can live together in peace. This can be achieved in our lifetime. It is this republican vision which has guided us throughout the years and in particular through this peace process. Indeed, this weekend republicans will commemorate the 82nd anniversary of the 1916 Rising, an event that inspired and continues to inspire myself and other republicans.
``In commending the men and women Volunteers of that era, I want also to commend today's IRA Volunteers for their discipline and commitment.
``While the document produced this morning contains elements which are positive, there are others yet to be resolved. So much more has to be done.''
Rebels in the Castle
Laurence McKeown describes the atmosphere in the SF offices at the Stormont talks in this historic week
At 1.30 on Monday I arrived at the Sinn Fein offices at Conway Mill and was soon on my way, chauffeur driven by Roy. The drivers' social life these days, like the delegates', is non-existent. They're on stand-by 24 hours a day.
We were soon travelling out towards the east, past Victoria Park on our left with its ponds, carefully mown (and rolled) lawns and play areas for kids. Originally set up for the families of top executives of the shipyard it only later became open to the public. ``It's eight miles exactly from the city centre,'' Roy told me when I inquired. Eight miles of previously unfamiliar roads and scenery but which now was commonplace to those who have trekked there from West Belfast, Derry, Tyrone, Dublin and beyond.
Someone had left a plastic bag of 1798 commemorative ``pikes'' in the office. Gerry Adams handed me one. ``Here Laurence, hide that in the thatch''.
We turned off the main road and into the grounds of Stormont. I was surprised with the ease with which we passed through the three security gates but the drivers are now known to the guards and many wave in recognition.
There are three rooms set aside for the Sinn Féin's use and those in Conway Mill would be envious of the space, light and facilities on hand. The largest of the rooms is used for administration, another one is a conference room where all the meetings take place and a smaller one off it there the ``wordsmiths'' peruse each statement or briefing received from other parties, make assessments and provide responses according to Sinn Fein policy and strategy.
My first, and lasting impression was of a very casual but business-like operation. In the administration office (or ``Party Support'' office as it says on the door) I counted a total of five land-line phones and three mobiles on the three large desks. Sue Ramsey, Brid Curran, Geraldine Crawford and Dawn Doyle worked at three large computers while Richard McAuley was hunched over a laptop. The phones buzzed, calls coming in from the media and Sinn Fein offices. All calls were replied to promptly and almost casually. I was impressed and wondered if the very efficient and noiseless air-conditioning system contributed to keeping cool heads.
Gerry Kelly sat off to the side recording a diary interview for BBC Radio 4. All the parties are doing one. I asked Gerry how had he been the one selected to do it. He raised an eyebrow and looked over. ``For my sins,'' he said.
Jim Gibney then showed me around and told me to move about as I pleased. Gerry Adams, Siobhan O'Hanlon, Martin McGuinness, Bairbre de Brun, Alex Maskey, Pat Doherty, Mitchel McLaughlin and Francie Molloy passed in and out of rooms, spoke in small groups, were handed briefing papers to study, inquired if anything needed attending to and moved on again.
Duffs took me downstairs to the canteen. Familiar faces from all the other parties were seated at tables having lunch. I glanced at the menu and regretted having eaten before leaving home. Dodie McGuinness, Joan O'Connor and Joe Cahill sat off to the side with John Little of Australian Aid for Ireland who had just arrived. Later I watched as an official from one of the government delegations was introduced to Joe. He stretched out his hand immediately and said, ``a legend''.
The British government had prepared a briefing for all parties on proposals regarding prisoners. Gerry Adams suggested I go along to the meeting just to get a feel for things. Siobhan suggested that I take notes and type up the minutes. There was no getting out of work.
``Where are we having the meeting?'' Gerry inquired. ``They're coming to us,'' Siobhan replied, ``Is that an omen?'' Pat Doc asked. We set off for the room - Gerry, Martin, Pat, Siobhan and myself. The Brits weren't there. As we waited Siobhan complained of sinus problems, exacerbated, she thought, by the air-conditioning and being confined in the building for so long. Martin said that come the Republic she could claim for injuries suffered while carrying out duties. ``Just like those in the Irish army who are claiming for deafness''.
Pat Doc said he could do the briefing in Co Louth as his wife had agreed to lend him the car. In the midst of lofty political negotiations such practical considerations still mattered. We waited some more. ``What did Michael Collins say...?'' Pat Doc began but was cut off by Gerry Adams who leaned back in his seat, put his hand on his chest and said, ``Aaaaagh''. Laughter broke out.
``This aul fellow came up to me in Curleys the other week,'' Gerry continued, ``and asked me if the Brits were going to give us a hard time. Just for a couple of weeks, I told him. `Sure they've been giving all of us a hard time for the past 800 years, so what's a couple of weeks,' he said''. I scribbled furiously to keep up with the wise cracks.
``Right, we can't wait any longer. Give them a ring Siobhan and tell them to make other arrangements''. We left and returned to the offices. A short time later the officials from the Prisons Department arrived there and apologised that their previous meeting had gone on later than expected.
They explained briefly that the Secretary of State wanted to brief the parties prior to a written document being presented later. ``It's very simple, really,'' said one of the officals. ``The words mean what they say''. ``That'll be a first,'' Leo Green piped up in the way only Leo can. We laughed. The officials looked from one to the other, shuffled their feet, then shuffled some more. Some of their faces were known to me. I had last seen them in the wings of the H Blocks. They didn't want to speak to us then. I knew they now squirmed at having to do so. I allowed myself to feel a small degree of smug satisfaction at that.
The paper from George Mitchell had still not arrived. ``Rumour is that it will be at least ten o' clock tonight before we get it'' one of our negotiating team said. No one seemed put out by the news; life went on as before. We watched the news reports. Then an official from George Mitchell's office came in to inform us that the `server' for the computer system in the building had crashed. Later one wit commented that he hadn't realised that the server could drive. Shortly afterwards Gerry Adams called everyone together into the administration office to brief them on developments up to tha point. He finished by asking if everyone was prepared for a late night. Heads nodded, except for mine. I had already booked my lift for 7.30.
On Tuesday I arrived back at Castle Buildings at 2.00pm. There was now more of a sense of things happening. The unionists had just rejected Mitchell's paper. Was this a ploy? And what did it mean for the other parties? Should they continue to formulate a response to a paper that one party had already rejected? We were gathered in the conference room, people offered their opinions, decisions were reached, tasks allocated. There was an energy around. The pace quickened yet remained casual. In between answering frantic phone calls from the media seeking a response from Sinn Fein I listened (well, tried not to) as Gib phoned his mother to check if the workmen had come out to do the repairs to her house and if she was keeping OK.
Someone had left a plastic bag of 1798 commemorative ``pikes'' in the office. Gerry Adams handed me one. ``Here Laurence, hide that in the thatch''.
Word came in that Blair was coming. ``The crash barriers are being erected outside,'' Gerry Kelly said from his position at the window. ``He must be coming today''. In the backround Jeffrey Donaldson was giving an interview on the TV. No one paid much attention to him. I went around and took photos.
I left on Tuesday before seven o' clock. The others didn't know what time they would get home at. It was a lovely sunny evening. I walked past the assembled world media. The Sinn Féin offices are very visible from where they stand and wait. Before getting into the car I looked back at the building. Gib told me that at night what can be seen most clearly from that spot is the large picture of Bobby Sands which hangs on the wall in the Sinn Fein offices.
Seventeen years ago the eyes of the world's press were on Bobby. Now in a sense they are still on him. I wondered how many of the reporters were around in 1981. I knew that all of those up there speaking on our behalf had been around then. And not just around, involved.
I got into the car and Chico drove off. I commented on the grandeur of the vast grounds of Stormont and how the likes of Craig and others must turn in their graves when they see who is now casually strolling about there.
``I brought my kids up here one day last year,'' Chico said, ``just to let them see the place''. Funny how the thought of children from nationalist West Belfast playing games in the gardens of Stormont seemed the most natural thing in the world. ``I remember when I first accompanied Alex Maskey into Belfast City Council,'' he continued, ``even the cleaners spat on us, now we stroll about the place and everyone's on first name terms with us.''
We drove out through the gates and off towards the comfort of our homes. Behind us we left friends and comrades prepared to do battle on our behalf. And who better to wage that fight than those who have been imprisoned, tortured and gunned down and who yet can smile, joke and stretch out a hand of friendship. Do na comradaithe sin deirimse arís agus arís, adh mor oraibh uilig a chairde.
Monday was spent awaiting George Mitchell's ``best guess'' agreement document. It finally arrived after midnight.
Tuesday: Following several phone calls between Blair and Trimble the UUP decided to demand a ``radically different'' document.
UUP deputy leader John Taylor said, ``I wouldn't touch this paper with a 40 foot pole.'' The UDP followed suit and rejected the document, as did Alliance leader John Alderdice..
In the early evening Tony Blair arrived at Hillsborough Castle. He held meetings with Trimble, Alderdice and PUP leader David Ervine. He also had telephone conversations with other parties. Later that night Blair held discussions with Senator Mitchell and Mo Mowlam.
Wednesday: Bertie Ahern arrived at Hillsborough for talks with Tony Blair and left within an hour with no comment. He went to Stormont for talks with Sinn Féin and the SDLP before leaving for his mother's funeral in Dublin. At lunchtime talks reconvened and pessimism seemed to prevail in party statements. The UUP said progress could only be achieved if the Dublin government stood back from what it termed their ``pro-republican'' stance.
In the late afternoon Ian Paisley gave a press conference at Stormont Castle and said that an agreement would not lead to peace.
Bertie Ahern later returned and said, ``I have come here to listen, and I think everybody is prepared to move a little bit.''
Thursday: As negotiations and press interviews/conferences continued the public mood of unionists changed to optimism, if not triumphalism. The UUP tabled a proposal which Mitchel McLaughlin described as ``trying to take the guts out of Strand 2''.
It was a day of frantic meetings between parties and the two governments which continued into the early hours of the morning. By 2.00am no agreement had been reached but reports indicated that the Dublin government and the SDLP had moved towards the Unionist position.
IRA Easter Message
On this the 82nd Anniversary of the Easter Rising the leadership of Oglaigh na hEireann extends fraternal greetings to republican activists, supporters and friends both at home and abroad and express gratitude to them for their continued support and invaluable assistance.
In commemorating the Easter Rising we remember with pride all those who have given their lives in the struggle for Irish freedom.
We send solidarity greetings to all our comrades incarcerated in Irish, English and American prisons and pledge to them, their families and friends our continued support. We pay tribute to the men and women of Oglaigh na hEireann. We applaud their continuing commitment and discipline.
We take this opportunity to reaffirm our determination to secure our republican objectives. We remain committed to ending British rule in Ireland and the reunification of our country.
On July 20 last, in announcing a complete cessation of military operations we again demonstrated our preparedness to enhance the search for a democratic peace settlement through real and inclusive negotiations. We commend all those who have lent their energy to build a negotiations process with a view to establishing a just and lasting peace. We applaud, in particular, the efforts of the Sinn Fein leadership and others who have worked tirelessly towards this goal.
We will carefully study the outcome of the talks process against it's potential to move us towards our primary objective, a 32 County democratic, socialist republic. We will judge it against it's potential to deliver a just and durable peace to our country. Conflict in Ireland has been an inevitable consequence of a refusal by successive British governments to pursue a democratic settlement. It remains to be seen if the current British government is prepared to rise to the challenge. The pursuit of a just settlement demands no attempt to enforce an internal settlement as this cannot satisfy republican objectives or deliver a democratic settlement.
We face the future with the determination that republican people have shown over the last 30 years.
Republican Publicity Bureau, Dublin.