18 February 1999 Edition
SF voters gave the go-ahead for two ministers
On Tuesday the Assembly, sitting in Stormont voted in favour of the report tabled by David Trimble and Seamus Mallon and agreed the future political structures for the Six Counties.
The vote, 77 for and 29 against, marked another significant step on the road to peace, justice and freedom.
The vote opens the door to the establishment of the Executive in Belfast, cross border bodies and triggers the process that will put two Sinn Fein ministers into that Executive.
That the No men of unionism were routed puts David Trimble in the driving seat of unionist politics.
He has the support of the majority in the Assembly while Ian Paisley, exercising his No Surrender mentality, can do nothing other than fight the rearguard battles of the past and watch from the sidelines as the peace process advances.
That the Ulster Unionist Party met with Sinn Fein on Wednesday, in full party delegations, was a second significant step although it was disappointing that David Trimble in post meeting interviews laboured the decommissioning argument.
His attempt to snag the previous day's progress with this old problem, however, raises the point that this process is about the primacy of politics, not of arms.
In the last four major elections Sinn Fein's electoral mandate has grown significantly with two MPs and 18 Assembly members in the North, a TD in the South as well as up to 100 councillors across the 32 counties.
This by any democratic standard, is an important mandate and should be respected and respected all the more because of the heavy cost Sinn Fein representatives paid for that mandate. Almost 20 Sinn Fein members and members of their families, have been killed by loyalists and only last week we commemorated councillor John Davey, who was shot dead by loyalists.
The cost of unionist `majority rule' democracy has cost us all too much, let us now accept the democratic will of the electorate and build on the week's progress.
A week of decisive political activity
When roaming the corridors of Stormont this week, it was impossible to not be hit by the electricity in the air. Yes, once again, something was happening. Cameras lined under the Grand Hall steps and polished shoes kept on rapping the marble. The 15 February date was seen as a landmark of the peace process. And it would receive the appropriate attention.
Even if the vote was inevitably delayed, the latest efforts to clear the ultimate hurdle to the setting-up of the Assembly executive were finally rewarded on Tuesday. After two days of sometimes heated debates, a watershed vote in favour of the structures of the new bodies provided for in the Agreement unfolded.
The overwhelming backing for the Final Document puts pressure on British Secretary of State Mo Mowlam to trigger the establishment of the shadow Executive. It is now expected that Mowlam will move to issue the standing orders which will allocate the Ministries to the various parties under the d'Hondt attribution system.
The vote also paved the way for the first substantial meeting between a Sinn Féin and an Ulster Unionist Party delegation. That meeting was held on Wednesday morning at Stormont. Talking afterwards, Gerry Adams said, ``this is about pro-Agreement and anti-Agreement parties. The majority of the people of the island have voted in support of this Agreement. Irish republicans and Unionists have to get it in our heads that we are on the same side. That's challenging. Today's meeting is just the beginning to scratching the surface of what needs to be done.''
On Tuesday, during the long-awaited vote, a clear majority of the Assembly backed the Final Document that outlined the technical details of the setting-up of the Assembly Executive, the all-Ireland Ministerial Council, all-Ireland implementation bodies and the Civic Forum.
Tuesday's most important motion, on the Final document, was accepted by a total of 77 members of the Assembly and opposed by 29 Unionists. Only one member of the Ulster Unionist Party voted against the motion. It came as no surprise as Peter Weir had already signalled his opposition to the deal. 100% of the nationalist members backed the document and 50% of Unionists.
In other terms, the vote signalled a clear victory to the pro-Agreement parties and totally crushed the anti-Agreement party's potential.
The highly positive vote proved that David Trimble's hand over his party was ``rock solid'', as indicated by Martin McGuinness.
Talking after the vote, Martin McGuinness said: ``this is another good day for the peace process''. He however stressed that the responsibility now lay on the Irish and British governments to set up the shadow executive in time for the transfer of powers from London to Belfast on 10 March.
The vote came after a number of heated debates. Progressive Unionist Party member and UVF political representative Billy Hutchinson opened a heated debate when he accused Sinn Féin of damaging pro-Agreement unionists by presenting the Agreement as the road to a United Ireland.
``I'm quite prepared to accommodate Sinn Féin, DUP or anyone else, but the point is, there is no united Ireland. There was never going to be any united Ireland,'' he said. He also criticised Martin McGuinness for bringing part of a loyalist grenade into the chamber the previous day.
On Monday, the debate was marked by some angry comments from the DUP directed at Sinn Féin. During his speech, Martin McGuinness stressed that, during this time of political vacuum, nationalists are continuing to be targeted by loyalist death squads.
Barry McElduff also intervened to remind the Assembly of the thousands of legally held loyalist and unionist guns. Dara O'Hagan highlighted the ongoing siege of the Portadown nationalist residents.
Mitchel McLaughlin talked about the ``new political dispensation'' that was promised by the Good Friday Agreement and the new partnership that had to be built with unionism.
Sinn Féin meets Presbyterian delegation
A meeting was held between the Church and Government Committee of the Presbyterian Church and Sinn Féin on Wednesday at Stormont.
The Church delegation of eight people was led by the Presbyterian moderator John Dickson and former moderator Rev John Dunlop. The Sinn Féin delegation was composed of Gerry Adams, Baìrbre de Brun, Tom Hartley and Jim Gibney.
Sinn Féin has been involved for a long period of time in private contacts with sections of the Unionist community in religious, economic, political and community fields, but Wednesday was the firsat time that the Church and Government Committee had formally met Sinn Féin.
Assembly member Baìrbre de Brun described the meeting as ``an
important first meeting''. She said they discussed a number of matters, ``including the next stage of the political process which is the setting-up of the Executive and the All-Ireland Council''.
Each side also expressed views on the issue of affording the relatives of those who have died equal respect and legitimacy. Issues related to policing, equality, discrimination and decommissioning were also discussed.
Time to respect Sinn Féin's mandate
By Mary Maguire
It was certainly not the stormy week some had predicted it would be. However, the flurry of meetings, Assembly debates and political statements transformed this week into one of the most decisive of the peace process.
The vote held on Tuesday was a further milestone on the path towards the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. The dynamics born during these past few days have to now be a motor for a long-awaited change.
The events that unfolded between Monday and Wednesday are not only a mere step forward. They may yet prove to be determinant in bringing forward the global process aimed at ending British occupation of the Six Counties.
The first determinant event of the week was the vote held in the Assembly on the Final Document that outlines the structures of the Assembly Executive posts, the All-Ireland Ministerial Council, the All-Ireland bodies and the Civic Forum.
The vote, endorsed by 77 members of the Assembly proved that the support for the Good Friday Agreement is not only secure. The vote further marked the third and most significant defeat of the No-camp.
The vote, by the positive dynamics it has enhanced, also signals the end of the anti and pro-agreement politics. The Assembly members, having voted in favour of one of the most crucial documents of the peace process, must now be focused and act together to ensure that the will of the people, through the mandate of the various parties, be fully respected.
More importantly, the vote lifted the last technical obstacle to the setting-up of the Assembly Executive. It ``cleared the undergrowth'' and proved that David Trimble, whatever difficulties he faces, has the support of two-thirds of the
Assembly to proceed in implementing the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement.
The onus is now on him to show resolute leadership and stand by his commitments. In light of the opinions expressed by an overwhelming majority of the Assembly members, he has no other choice but to recognise Sinn Féin's electoral and democratic mandate by accepting the fact that there is no precondition to the setting-up of an inclusive Executive.
The vote, by lifting the last technical obstacle to the implementation of some of the most substantial chapters of the Good Friday Agreement, also puts the responsibility on the shoulders of the British and Irish governments. Mo Mowlam can no longer cave in to Unionist stalling tactics. The vote is a mirror of the will of a vast majority of the people of the island.
The British Secretary of State must therefore immediately issue the standing orders which will trigger the d'Hondt system. It will then be up to the Presiding officer of the Assembly to call the different parties to choose their departments, of which two will go to Sinn Féin ministers.
Mo Mowlam can no longer stand back and content herself by congratulating the Assembly members for the ``progress reached''. She and the Dublin government have now to stand by the pledges they have made to the people of this island and trigger the setting-up of the Assembly executive.
The second most significant development was the first ever meeting between high-profile Sinn Féin and Ulster Unionist Party delegations. On Wednesday, for over an hour and a half, members of the two parties outlined their different positions.
This historic meeting that Sinn Féin has requested for a long time was a key development and highlighted the new political landscape that has emerged as a result of the Good Friday Agreement.
In the past weeks, republicans have acknowledged the difficulties that Unionism is facing. However, the latest developments have also signalled that David Trimble can no longer apply obstructionist and stalling tactics to a peace process that has been endorsed by a vast majority of the people of the island of Ireland.
At this stage in the process, difficulties and challenges are not relevant to only one tradition of Irish or British politics. They are shared. These difficulties can be overcome with the new positive dynamics that have emerged and the focus of all the parties must be to implement the Agreement in full. Sinn Féin has so far stood by its commitments. It is more vital than ever that the Unionists recognise this and act to implement the Agreement in full.
The meeting between Sinn Féin and the Church and Government Committee of the Presbyterian church was a further important development. This meeting, held at Stormont with the current and previous moderators of the Presbyterian Church, was a result of years of grassroots meetings and mirrored the anti-sectarian philosophy of the republican movement.
After these developments, the plucking-out of one particular issue of the Agreement has to end. David Trimble and the Unionists have so far focused on the issue of decommissioning. Yet, David Trimble has done nothing to prevent the wave of sectarian violence directed at nationalists.
The residents of the Garvaghy Road and the potential victims of the thousands of legally held unionist and loyalist weapons have again been sidelined by Unionists, loyalists, as well as some elements of the SDLP.
As Gerry Adams stated after the meeting with David Trimble, the issue of decommissioning has to be dealt with within the terms of the agreement and the mechanisms of the agreement. The respect of both, the spirit and letter of the historical Agreement depends on this.
Since the late 1960s, the rising expectations of the nationalist community has forced the British government into a process of renegotiating its relationship with nationalism and unionism. At this state of the peace process, Unionism gives a clear impression of being on the retreat.
However, Unionism has signed up to a political agreement where it has finally conceded equality of political power with Six County nationalists and which introduces an all-Ireland dimension to political affairs. David Trimble's delaying tactics are symptomatic of its inability to negotiate change.
The onus is now on the British government and Unionism to face up to commitments made through the Good Friday Agreement. It is time to prove that David Trimble, as a leader of the Unionist tradition, can handle the absence of conflict or the negotiating process.
It is time that the principle of equality is respected. David Trimble, the British and Irish governments must respect the voice of the nationalist community. The can be no more artificial delay of the setting-up of the Assembly Executive, All-Ireland Ministerial Council and the formation of the various All-Ireland bodies. There can be no more exclusion of Sinn Féin.