28 January 1999 Edition
Having to seek equality in grief
Last Sunday, in the annual republican lecture in Sligo in memory of IRA Volunteers Joe McManus and Kevin Coen, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP hit out at those who seek to criminalise the IRA by denying the grief felt by the families of dead IRA Volunteers
There are 355 republican activists on the Roll of Honour. Most of those are IRA volunteers who were killed in action. We grieve for them. And we share that grief and sense of loss with their families and friends. Because they were decent people, selfless people, honourable people. And because what they sought to achieve for the people of Ireland was decent, noble and just
There are those, many of them in this part of Ireland, who like to pigeonhole the conflict in the north as `religious' or `tribal'.
While there is undoubtedly a sectarian element involved it is impossible to understand the events of the past 30 years, or 300 years, or the clashing political allegiance of unionism and nationalism, imperialism and republicanism, unless they are placed in the context of England's invasion and conquest of Ireland.
For much of this time Britain and its unionist allies have dominated Ireland, and for all of this century until now they have dominated the north. It is often said that the victor writes the history, and in this instance not only has that often been true but they have also withheld from nationalists and republicans the legitimacy of our political aspirations, beliefs and goals.
Specifically, in the context of today's lecture at which we remember two courageous young IRA volunteers, the British state denies any equivalence between its military forces and the IRA. One person's freedom fighter will always be another person's terrorist.
It is worth remembering this as we face up to the difficulties ahead. Many of these difficulties are created and sustained by the refusal of the British, until now, and by the pro-union side to accept as legitimate the opinions of those who oppose partition and British or unionist rule, while at the same time insisting that British rule in Ireland is in some way legitimate, or that the unionist one-party state which existed until now, was in any way democratic.
Through this peace process we are trying to face up to these multiple, deep and serious divisions, which British involvement in our country has created. There is no magic wand or simple solution to this. We are seeking through this process to remove the causes of conflict, and the many symptoms of conflict which are all around us; the need for a new policing service; an end to inequality and discrimination; guarantees of justice and human rights; including democratic and national rights; and new laws which are fair and impartial.
But in all of this we have to remember the human consequences of a conflict, which for the most part has been borne by ordinary people.
Republican communities are proud of those IRA Volunteers, and Sinn Féin activists who gave their lives in the struggle for Irish independence. We also remember those family members and friends who were killed. These republican activists gave everything they had to give with no thought or expectation of personal reward. Indeed they received none. Rather they endured all sorts of hardships and privations along the way; poverty, vilification, anxiety for their families, brutality and torture at the hands of their interrogators and jailers.
There are 355 republican activists on the Roll of Honour. Most of those are IRA volunteers who were killed in action. We grieve for them. And we share that grief and sense of loss with their families and friends. Because they were decent people, selfless people, honourable people. And because what they sought to achieve for the people of Ireland was decent, noble and just.
The reactionaries will reject this of course but it is this which they, and until now the British government, has forever sought to deny. It is around these issues of legitimacy and equivalence which the British have fought a constant propaganda battle. Because they understand the importance of popular support and the need to dominate and isolate an enemy.
The events of the 1970s, leading to the hunger strikes of 1980 and 1981, illustrate this point well, but also the strength of character and commitment of IRA volunteers, and of the public support which the IRA enjoys.
Looking back over this century of struggle and the various phases of IRA struggle, it is clear that apart from perhaps the Black and Tan war, this phase of struggle is very different from all others. What has particularly characterised this phase is that the IRA has fought within the occupied area and existed cheek by jowl with the British forces, which have at their disposal a vast array of technological resources, personnel, and money.
Against such odds and against such a formidable opponent the IRA was undefeated when in 1994 it called its complete cessation of hostilities in a genuine effort to advance a democratic peace settlement.
To get to that point the IRA had to survive decades of psychological, as well as real warfare from the British. All aimed at demonising republicanism. For example, the British criminalisation policy introduced under Merlyn Rees was a denial of both legitimacy and equivalence to republican resistance. Its goal was, in the first instance, to persuade nationalists living in the north to reject republicans. It was also very obviously directed at people living in the south, and at the international audience watching events unfolding in that part of Ireland. To achieve success the British spent tens of millions of pounds on propaganda ads, press tours for foreign journalists, pamphlets, videos and much more. At the same time Republican activists and innocents alike were tortured and beaten in interrogation centres as a conveyor belt of legal institutions was created to arrest, interrogate, charge and imprison political opponents quickly.
A new vocabulary was created around `godfathers', `mindless criminals', `pathological killers' and criminality. Even today as we develop a conflict resolution process the media refers to the British crown forces as the `security forces' - the IRA remain `terrorists'.
Privately, the British understand that all of this is a lie. For example, a secret British internal assessment, `Document 37', was produced by British Army Brigadier James Glover. contradicts Britain's public position. It says: `Our evidence of the calibre of rank and file terrorists does not support the view that they are merely mindless hooligans drawn from the unemployed and unemployable'.
Around the same time a study by lawyers of defendants appearing in Diplock Courts on political offences also gave a contrary view of republicans: `We are satisfied that the data establishes beyond reasonable doubt that the bulk of the republican offenders are young men and women without criminal records in the ordinary sense, though some have been involved in public disorders of the kind that frequently took place in the areas in which they lived. Both in this respect and in other records of employment and unemployment, they are reasonable representative of the working class community of which they form a substantial part... They do not fit the stereotype of criminality which the authorities have from time to time attempted to attach to them'.
It is also important that we remember that around 3,500 people have been killed during the past 30 years. The IRA itself has been responsible for 50% of those deaths. Of these almost 70% were British forces, loyalists and British political figures. Another 100 were IRA volunteers killed accidentally. The rest were civilians.
I recognise that the death of a British soldier or an RUC member causes great trauma and grief for their families and friends. No matter about their role in the conflict the loss at a personal level is massive and regrettable. If we are to have a real healing process then anti-republican sentiment in this country will have to recognise that the families of IRA volunteers go through exactly the same pain and grief and all of us have to recognise that the families of non combatants have an extra special burden to bear. No section of our people has a monopoly on suffering.
If we are to have a lasting peace there can be no restrictions imposed on fact, grief, sense of loss or shared responsibilities. There must be no grief more worthy than any others
In war all sides do terrible things. The IRA have done terrible things.
That is the nature of war but it does not excuse the awfulness of some incident. But at least the IRA has acknowledged its actions. The British Army and RUC have not. The securocrats have managed to cover-up British forces' direct involvement in the killings of almost 400 people.
They have also successfully covered up their complicity in the murders of hundreds of others through collusion between loyalist groups and British military intelligence and other intelligence agencies. The Brian Nelson case is probably the most notorious. A British agent, with the crucial role within the UDA, Nelson decided who was targeted for death and he worked from files supplied by his British intelligence handlers. He was also the key player in the importation from apartheid South Africa of hundreds of rifles, guns, hand grenades and rocket launchers, which were used and are still being used, to kill nationalists.
These are the realities of conflict which we must deal with if we are to ensure that our past never again repeats itself. The running sores of this conflict have to be addressed in an honest and forthright fashion.
The Good Friday Agreement covers much of these matters but the truth around Bloody Sunday; the Brian Nelson Affair and collusion; the beating to death of Robert Hamill; the siege of the Garvaghy Road; the Dublin and Monaghan bombs - that truth must be also uncovered.
If we are to have a lasting peace there can be no restrictions imposed on fact, grief, sense of loss or shared responsibilities. There must be no grief more worthy than any others.
This will not be easy. The negotiations were not easy. Getting to this point in our history was not easy. For republicans it meant taking enormous political risks.
Sinn Féin is an Irish republican party. Our primary goals are about the reconquest of Ireland by the people of Ireland.
From our strategic viewpoint the Good Friday Agreement is part of the transitional process toward these goals. It represents what is possible at this time; not the preferred option of any of the participants - certainly not Sinn Féin's. That is the political reality. The Good Friday Agreement is the essential compromise for this phase of the peace process. That is the political reality. An equal political reality is that the potential and all future possibilities rests on the implementation of the letter of the Agreement. The Agreement is not a pig in a poke. What you see is what you get. That applies across the board; to the two governments , to the SDLP, to Mr Trimble and his party, to Sinn Féin, Alliance, PUP and the Women's Coalition. That is what 85% of the electorate of this island cast their votes for last May.
If we are to have a real healing process then anti-republican sentiment in this country will have to recognise that the families of IRA volunteers go through exactly the same pain and grief and all of us have to recognise that the families of non combatants have an extra special burden to bear. No section of our people has a monopoly on suffering
The Agreement represents a bridge out of conflict. Its implementation is an indispensable requirement for the development of a new political culture involving all Ireland policy and co-operation, inclusive and co-operative political institutions, equality, justice, human rights, demilitarisation and a policing service in the north which can enjoy and secure widespread support.
The Agreement is part of a process. Its implementation in all its aspects is part of a process. These are realities which have to be dealt with in this phase of that process.
It is also a reality that the causes of conflict remain intact and the issues of political allegiance and legitimacy remain in contention. The British Army remains in the north at numbers which have remained largely unchanged over the past five years. The RUC is intact. The RIR is intact. The loyalist paramilitaries are intact, and some of them are still trying to kill Catholics. Ulster Resistance, which retains its share of the South African weapons, remains intact, and for the most part ignored by the media and governments. There has been little change in the number and size of military bases and the British government has yet to publicise its strategy for demilitarisation. Scores of thousands of licensed weapons remain in the hands of the unionist population.
The Agreement has addressed some of these matters. It has not resolved them. But it did lay down a template by which a resolution of all of these matters can be found if the political will exists on the part of the participants.
For our part Sinn Féin is fully committed to the full implementation of the Agreement. The decisions taken at last week's Assembly meeting have cleared the way for the establishment of the Shadow Executive and the all-Ireland Ministerial Council. Only Mr Trimble stands between progress and impasse. He must honour his commitments.
I do not expect him to be enamoured by what I have said today. I do not expect him to agree with me. This is an issue on which we can agree to disagree. If these remarks are publicised perhaps Mr Trimble may be tempted to seize upon them and to knee-jerk in response. That would be to miss the point.
My commitment and the commitment of Sinn Féin is to build a lasting peace - my commitment and the commitment of Sinn Féin is to remove the causes of conflict - our commitment is to do our best to create a future free of conflict and armed organisations - a future of justice and peace for all the people of this island. The process of achieving that has to include an understanding by all political leaders, especially at a human and humanitarian level, of the suffering of all sections involved in this conflict.
And that means facing up to the fact that attempts to criminalise the IRA's armed struggle is even more a waste of time now than it was before the IRA cessations, and that this notion is now mainly pursued by those who have not accepted that we are in a new era with real possibilities to build a new and inclusive future.
It means facing up to the fact that however difficult it may be for those who oppose the IRA or who have suffered because of the IRA, the reality is that the grief and loss of the families of dead IRA volunteers is as real and as worthy of acknowledgement as the loss of any other family.
And finally the veil has got to be lifted on the dirty tricks activity of the British crown Forces, its involvement in assassinations, summary executions, collusion and other covert activities. When that veil is lifted, as surely it will be, then the many decent people within anti-republican sentiment in Ireland and Britain will be ashamed of what the securocrats did in their name in our country.
It is obvious from the controversy created by tomorrow's meeting between the families of those killed at Loughgall and the British Minister Adam Ingram that some of these truths are hard for some people to accept.
They are protesting that a British Minister is meeting these families. The real issue is that the families are meeting the British Minister. That shows a remarkable generosity of spirit by those families who have been bereaved by the actions of the British forces. Their loss is a grievous one but their preparedness to meet a political representative of those who did the killing should be acknowledged. What do the families want? They want the truth.
There are numerous other families in the same situation. Other families of dead IRA volunteers, as well as hundreds of non-combatant victims of British crown forces killings, and hundreds of victims of British collusion with loyalism deserve to know the truth also. That is a necessary part of the peace process, a necessary part of a healing process and of a process of national reconciliation.
I commend the families of the IRA volunteers killed at Loughgall. Their young men were not terrorists. They were good and decent patriotic Irishmen. Not everyone will accept that. Fair enough. But we will have to accept the right of their families to grieve and to know the truth. I express solidarity with the family of Mr Hughes who was an uninvolved civilian caught in the British killing grounds at Loughgall. The Hughes family also deserves to know the truth.
Peace process must be focus - Adams
During a meeting held at Government buildings in Dublin on Tuesday, Gerry Adams discussed the current state of the peace process with the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern.
Before the meeting, Adams indicated that the meeting was part of a regular consultation process. ``Currently, the ongoing siege of the nationalist residents of the Garvaghy Road, the spate of sectarian attacks and the ongoing attempts of the RUC to recruit informers are matters of particular concern,'' he told the press.
Talking of the peace process, Adams said the Irish and British governments must focus on the immediate establishment of an Executive.
``The Taoiseach has a major role to play in keeping the British government steady and focused in moving the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement forward.'' He stressed that the British government must ensure that the vote on the Final document on the assembly departments and the All-Ireland bodies on 15 February will trigger the setting-up of an Executive. ``I appeal to the Irish government to make sure that happens.''
Speaking after the meeting, Gerry Adams indicated that Bertie Ahern seemed very focused. ``He is very well informed of the sense of frustration and anger of nationalists in the north over the ongoing attacks on isolated Catholic families and the siege of the Garvaghy Road.''
Questioned on the consequences of the Gilmartin allegations of corruption that are currently rocking the Dublin government, he said that despite these current difficulties the peace process has to remain the focus of all efforts. ``The peace process is for all the people of the island. The fact that the Agreement was endorsed in such massive numbers indicates that its implementation must stay the main focus.''
In a clear reference to David Trimble's stalling tactics, he added: ``all of us have to keep our commitments. The value of any political leader in this country is whether that leader can deliver on the commitments he has made and therefore on the hopes of the people. The Irish and British governments have to ensure that David Trimble delivers on what he has agreed to.''