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26 November 1998 Edition

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Urgent action needed to stop the drift

BY SEAN BRADY

As we go to press a political initiative by British Prime Minister Tony Blair to break the logjam in the peace process is reportedly imminent.

It is to be hoped that Blair's announcement will not merely be a cosmetic exercise which fails to deal with the fundamental problem blocking progress, namely the political unwillingness of the Unionist leadership to allow the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

Sinn Fein has consistently called for a greater focus by the Irish and British governments on the problem which has beset the process for some considerable time.

Republicans have pointed out that it was such a focus which secured the Good Friday Agreement and which needed to be employed again if unionist obduracy was to be circumvented.

What is central to rescuing the process is the implemetation of the Good Friday Agreement. That means essentially, the establishment of a Six County Executive, an all-Ireland Ministerial Council, and the various implementation bodies. It is clear that the all-Ireland Ministerial Council and policy implementation bodies are interlocking and interdependent on the creation of the Executive.

Following a meeting between all the party leaders in the North and Tony Blair at Stormont on Wednesday Gerry Adams noted that the British government had set itself modest expectations and said there was no reason why this should be the case. He called for a relentless surge in concentration to move the process on and said the Stormont meeting merely did what should have been done some time ago.

Adams went on to point out that although people were reluctant to use the word crisis ``if the current threat was allowed to continue and if the only institution to be established out of the Good Friday Agreement is this shadow assembly and two ministers up at Stormont then clearly the situation becomes untenable for everybody involved in the process.

``There are deadlines, we have missed one deadline already. There is another deadline in February, there are other deadlines after that. Clearly the question of the credibility of the Agreement becomes more and more into question as the slip continues.''

Seamus Mallon was at it again this week attempting to construct for himself the image of a man attempting to hold the middle-ground between unreasonable extremes. But again that lie needs to be nailed. Sinn Fein is, as it has been from the beginning, meeting its responsibilities under the Agreement and is pro-actively seeking to have it implemented. David Trimble and the Ulster Unionist Party on the other hand are engaged in an exericise which seeks to overturn the Agreement.

Tony Blair's visit, signalling as it does a renewed emphasis on getting the peace process moving again, is to be welcomed. But it must be pointed out that a sticking plaster solution will not do and may only postpone the crisis for a date further down the road. Calls by Sinn Fein for direct intervention from both governments may now be bearing fruit but the very modest noises which were made at Stormont are not encouraging.

Unionist ability to frustrate the democratic choice of the people has led to an increasing cynicism and fatalism in regard to the efficacy of political action in pursuit of equality and justice. Only fundamental and radical action can arrest the decline into disillusionment and eventually alienation from the entire process.

Events on the ground recently in nationalist areas of the Six Counties tend to compound the disillusionment. This has included a rampage by the British Army's Royal Marines and the RUC in Silverbridge, South Armagh in which live rounds were fired at local people and a confrontation between the RUC and nationalist residents in Lurgan during which plastic bullets were fired.

At this stage what is clearly required are meaures which can demonstrate that the unionist veto will not succeed again. That British governments have consistently given way to unionist threats over the years has reinforced the sense that the Orange card is being successfully employed once more. It will require radical measures to convince the nationalist people that things have really changed.
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