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4 March 1999 Edition

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Unionist hypocrisy confronted

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuiness this week confronted the ongoing propaganda campaign around the decomissioning issue which threatens to collapse the entire political process.

McGuinness said: ``The Ulster Unionist leadership need to divest themselves of the notion that you can bring about what essentially is a military objective against the background of comparative peace in the north'', McGuinness said.

He added:''The reality is that to attempt to bring about the military defeat of the IRA, in my view, is not on offer from the IRA.''

Sinn Féin's Chief N\egotiator pointed to the one-sided nature of demands for IRA decomissioning and Unionist refusal to deal on a basis of equality with Sinn Fein: ``Central to any peace process is changing the political conditions that exist on the ground. This is more important to me than decomissioning. What is more important is the decommissioning of the reasons why people feel the need to resort to conflict.

McGuinness added: ``It is not lost on the nationalist community at this time that the Orange Volunteers and the Red Hand Defenders are running around the north trying to kill nationalists with hand grenades, guns and pipe-bombs.

In the context of these attacks McGuinness said: ``The guns and bombs of the IRA are silent. Yet there is more talk about the guns and bombs that are silent than there is about the guns and bombs of the loyalist death squads which are still being used against the nationalist community.''

McGuinness's comments come on the same day that Irish Labour Party leader Ruairi Quinn, in an interview with the Irish Times made comments which can only encourage Unionist inertia. Quinn attempted to lay equal blame on Sinn Fein for the lack of political progress as he did with the Unionist political leadership, this despite the fact that he admitted that Sinn Fein had fulfilled its obligations under the Good Friday Agreement.

The Unionist argument that decomissioning is the only issue to be resolved in the in the current process is entirely bogus. There are a multituide of issues to be resolved and the nationalist community of the Six Counties in particular has yet to see an inch of progress since last Good Friday.

Currently unionists are dictating how the decomissioning issue is to be handled. This is entirely wrong and unjust and flies in the face of the Good Friday Agreement.

John de Chastelain is the Head of the International Body on decommissioning and this issue is rightly part of his remit.

Unionist politicians led by David Trimble have been so far sucessful in frustrating the hopes of the vast majority of people in Ireland who voted for peace and progress.. The initiave must now bee taken from them.

Unionism displays incapacity for change



By Caítlin Doherty

Day after day, unionist political representatives publicly pledge their readiness to build peace on a basis of equality and democracy. However, all it takes is a quick plough through the newspaper headlines for reality to sink in and break any hopes that this alleged readiness for change is genuine.

The past week has been a particular case in point without an inch of political progress. Since the vote on the structures of the Executive, the All-Ireland ministerial council and bodies, the pawns on the political chessboard have not moved. The February 15th call for progress, endorsed by two-thirds of the Assembly members, has been totally ignored.

The British government still refuses to trigger the formation of the Assembly executive and David Trimble and his allies have merely further refined their politics of obstructionism. In a series of political statements, David Trimble has confirmed he will attempt to further pursue his politics of exclusion by denying Sinn Féin it's seats at an Executive level.

On the ground, the consequences of Trimble's attitude are all too clear. While on the Garvaghy Road the siege continues, ordinary nationalist families continue to be targeted by loyalist death squads.

David Trimble is the front man for a unionist bloc that continues to its refusal to be involved in remedying the democratic deficiency in the Six Counties. The No-camp is encouraged not only by the Ulster Unionist Party, but more importantly by the tendency of the British government and elements of the political establishment in the 26 Counties who are directly pandering to the demands of those opposing any form of change.

The democratic deficit has been blatant feature of life in the Six Counties since partition.Over the following decades unionism was allowed to dominate every aspect of public life and used sectarian discrimination against the nationalist population in order to maintain political, economic social and cultural hegemony. Over the years the British government and unionists have acted hand in glove to deny nationalists their basic civil, political and as socio-economic rights. The B-Specials, the British Army and later the RUC were and are still being used as a tool of domination. Every level of power and authority has been seized by unionism from local government gerrymandering to the arbitrary judicial system, to such an extent that democracy has been an empty word in the context of the Six Counties.

Last April, a new framework in which a chance was presented to tackle this denial of democracy was finally presented. It was thought that the Good Friday Agreement would represent a unique opportunity to ensure a smooth transition from a system based on tyranny to a new era of equality and democracy. The Agreement was welcomed as a milestone on the road to ending the conflict.

Yet, the obstructionist and exclusionist politics of the unionist bloc are proving that its main players are not ready to change. Led by David Trimble the unionists, assisted by the poliutical inconsistency of others, are exerting a new Unionist veto. The issue of decommissioning has been cherry-picked out of the Agreement and is now presented as the one and only issue that needs to be addressed. Let there be no misunderstanding. decommissioning is not a precondition to the setting-up of the Executive and has to be seen in the context of the whole Agreement.

By exerting this veto, the unionist political leadership is further denying people in both communities the right to a democratic future. It is refusing to recognise Sinn Féin's democratic mandate and the legitimate demands of the nationalist people. By blocking progress, this front is further upholding the system of domination and discrimination it promised to abandon when signing up to the Good Friday Agreement.

This refusal to allow the most tentative moves towards democracy is further highlighted by the recent declarations of loyalist organisations who, armed to the teeth at a recent press conference demanded that Sinn Féin be excluded from the Executive until IRA weapons are handed over. Had the IRA posed for photographers in military garb and used such language, the reaction of the media and parties would have been nothing short of hysterical.

The call by the UUP to delay and halt the work of the Patten Commission tends to further illustrate unionism's unwillingness to give up the reigns of domination. Trimble's complaisant attitude towards the antics of the Orange Order in Portadown and the absence of condemnation of the latest sectarian attacks are symptomatic of this refusal towork towards change.

The days that separate us from March 10 are not only crucial. They represent a unique opportunity, assisted by the dynamics of the peace process, for the British government and the unionist camp to prove their commitment to work for change and to accept the principle of equality. Unionism may be facing difficulties. But the true difficulty is the one of overcoming the psychological barriers which represent a of change. The true test is the one that faces David Trimble and Tony Blair as leaders. Will they stand by their statements and deliver on the commitments made in the Good Friday Agreement to all the people of the island?

Every delay is a weight in the balance of the sceptics. Every day empty of progress proves that unionism is unwilling and incapable of change. Every day is bringing the political process closer to collapse and each day brings the hope generated by peace process closer to the point ultimate dissapointment.

 

 

End the veto - equality now.



by Ned Kelly

Thousands of Republicans from throughout Ireland marched through the streets of Belfast and converged on the City Hall on Sunday to demonstrate their anger at the failure of the London and Dublin governments to challenge Unionism's use of it's veto to block the democratic mandate of Sinn Fein.

Braving the wind and rain they gathered to demand an end to the Unionist veto and for equality to be delivered.

Sinn Fein chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin told the rally: ``The only people who can exclude Sinn Fein from the democratic process are the voters, no-one who claims to believe in democracy can or will prevent us from taking up the positions which those votes entitle us to. There is only one precondition and that is to achieve a democratic mandate.''

Speakers from Ogra Shinn Fein underlined the demands for movement on equality and justice. While Upper Bann Sinn Fein Assembly member Dr Dara O'Hagan highlighted the need for Unionists, Loyalists, Orangemen and more specifically David Trimble to respect the rights of Nationalists from Garvaghy Road to Bellaghy. O'Hagan demanded that Trimble use not only his position as the strongest leader of Unionism but also as First Minister designate to bring about an end to the siege of Garvaghy Road.

In the keynote speech, McLaughlin said, ``Unionist political leadership has deployed the veto, has threatened to walk away [and] is currently employed in delaying or blocking the political institutions envisaged in the Good Friday agreement.''

The Unionist veto must be removed or it will be held as a dagger to the throat of those political institutions. [They] have a natural veto by virtue of their political numbers . . . any additional veto over the institutions will have been gifted by the two governments.''

This, added McLaughlin, ``would quite correctly be interpreted as a treacherous betrayal of the commitment to equality.''

McLaughlin, continued, ``the strength of the Nationalist community has forced the British State into a process of re-negotiating it's relationship with Irish nationalism and unionism, which in turn has destabilised large segments of the Unionist community.''

``The peace process, the Good Friday agreement have emerged because the unionist relationship with the British State has been fractured.

``Since the cessation of 1994 it has become clear that many within political Unionism cannot handle the absence of conflict or the negotiating process. It's political stance on decommissioning, the release of prisoners, the segregation of victims allied to the increasing number of attacks on Catholics, all represent a strategy to undermine the Good Friday agreement and to minimise political advances.''

``But it cannot stop the momentum.''

``[The] tactics are symptomatic of an inability to negotiate change. The past is their only reference point and unable to shape the change they retreat into a form of political and moral fantasy where they insist the Six Counties was a `great wee place' and that political crisis and instability only began with the formation of the civil rights movement.''

``They remain blind,'' continued the Sinn Fein chairperson, ``to their role and refuse to take any responsibility. By denying their role in creating the conflict, they display no sense of responsibility in finding it's resolution. This form of political denial is the anchor that forms the basis of the unionist rearguard strategy and the common purpose of Paisley, McCartney and significant sections of the leadership of the Unionist Party.''

``On the surface it's delaying tactics may appear to be working, yet there is no sense of a confident or victorious unionism emerging. [On] closer inspection of unionist opinions reveal highly volatile undercurrents.''

``The hopeless rant of the anti-agreement lobby, the attitude of the Orange Order at Drumcree, give us some indication of the working out of these undercurrents. Unionism gives the clear impression of being on the retreat, in a state of internal turmoil. It's constituency split.''

``The ability of Unionism's social organisations such as the Orange Order to intimidate Nationalists is constantly being challenged. It's armed wing, the RUC, is a major issue and will have to be replaced. It's links with it's church base and business community continue to weaken and the thrust of the economy is for an all-Ireland infrastructure.''

``Republicans have stated clearly that we see no advantage in consigning the Unionist community to the dismal space that we are seeking to escape from. We seek partnership for a future as equals [and] we have the mandate to bring that into being and create the political condition in which many other outstanding issues can finally be resolved.''

``We have eleven months of Unionist intransigence.''

``We are all sick, sore and tired of blocking, stalling, prevaricating, making deals, then backing out of deals and constantly attempting to rewrite the Good Friday agreement.''

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