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11 March 1999 Edition

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British stalling fuels crisis

By passing over the March 10 deadline and refusing to trigger the d'Hondt mechanism and devolve power to the Northern Executive British Secretary of State Mowlam has again blinked.

Unionists have again proved that when it comes to games of brinkmanship with the British they are favourites to win.

The tragedy, though is that the rest of us loose out.

Says Sinn Fein party chair Mitchel McLaughlin, ``the political will is missing and it begs the question, where will it be found before the end of the month ``?

And the further question arises as we look towards the latest deadline of March 29, ``to what depths of crisis must the peace process sink before the requirements of the Good Friday Agreement are met?

Will the next bomb attack by the Red Hand Defenders be the one that finally succeeds in wiping out a Catholic family leading to the customary wringing of hands and condemnations, but no political movement?

It is the responsibility of the British to resist Unionist efforts to bring down the Agreement. and at the same time recognise that the will of the republican and nationalist people throughout the country is to stand their ground and defend the democratic wishes of those who voted Yes.

 

Peace process in crisis

    
  The Ulster Unionist Party, for the past eleven months, has been allowed to elevate one element of the Good Friday Agreement above all others. I must record disappointment that both governments have indulged that party in its pretense that the entire Agreement hinges upon a decommissioning gesture from the IRA. 
Caoimhghín `` Caoláin TD.

I welcome this Bill as an essential step in the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement which was endorsed by 85% of the people of Ireland last year.

We in Sinn Féin were a party to that Agreement; we recognised it as an historic compromise for which all parties took political risks. Not the least of those risks was taken by Sinn Féin. We accepted key elements of the Good Friday Agreement which challenged political positions that we had held for many years. We altered our party's Constitution to allow attendance at an Assembly in the Six Counties; we urged a Yes vote in the 32 Counties after a painful and heart-searching internal debate and despite our reservations - shared by broad sections of opinion on this island - about changes to Articles Two and Three of the 1937 Constitution.

We see the Agreement as a vehicle for change in which we can all make the journey towards a just and equal society in Ireland, leaving behind the injustices of the past and the conflict which has arisen out of them. This is not a final settlement and there are many aspects of the Agreement, including the institutions which are established in this Bill, which do not go far enough. The extent of All-Ireland bodies is too limited in our view. We are concerned at the minimising of their scope at the insistence of the Ulster Unionist Party.

But like the other aspects of the Agreement these institutions can be built upon as the historical, political and economic imperative moves the divided parts of our island, and the divided sections of our people, ever closer over time. It is up to all of us to create that imperative.

If the Agreement as negotiated was being implemented then the Executive, the All-Ireland Ministerial Council, the All-Ireland Implementation Bodies, the British-Irish Council and the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference would all have been established by now. Power could then have been transferred to those bodies and to the Assembly tomorrow, March 10th. This could and should have been the case.

I must record the disappointment and grave concern of myself and of Sinn Féin that this deadline is being allowed to pass. I believe that the Irish government should have taken a much stronger position, insisting that the Agreement as negotiated be implemented in the agreed timetable.

It is not talking up a crisis to state the plain fact that a crisis now exists in the peace process. This crisis exists because the Ulster Unionist Party, for the past eleven months, has been allowed to elevate one element of the Good Friday Agreement above all others. I say allowed because I must also record disappointment that both governments have indulged that party in its pretense that the entire Agreement hinges upon a decommissioning gesture from the IRA. This false position was given expression in what can only be described as a disgraceful editorial in the Irish Times of yesterday, 8 March, which argued that it would be better that the entire Agreement should founder than that decommissioning should not take place in the way that it is being demanded by the unionists.

The decommissioning issue is being dealt with. It is as complex as any of the other issues addressed in the Agreement. We in Sinn Féin have fulfilled and will continue to fulfil our commitment in that regard. Everyone needs to recognise the duplicity of the simplistic approach which talks of decommissioning gestures. You only have to remember the theatrical and choreographed handover of weapons by the Loyalist Volunteer Force some months ago. Armed members of this same force appeared before RTE cameras last weekend and threatened to end their ceasefire. The so-called decommissioning carried out by the LVF was valueless, a propaganda stunt by an organisation whose ceasefire itself is unstable.

Deputy Quinn referred to opinion polls and the views of republicans. I think I can reflect those views more accurately than any interpretation of a particular opinion poll.

In nationalist and republican districts in the Six Counties the decommissioning issue is seen in the context of increasing attacks and threats from loyalists as referred to at Taoiseach's Questions today, and of continuing revelations about decades of collusion between British forces and loyalist paramilitaries. It is seen in the context of over 130,000 licensed weapons in the unionist community. It is seen in the context of the continuing siege of the nationalist community on the Garvaghy Road. It is seen in the context of an unchanged, heavily armed RUC and a British Army which may be less visible in some areas but is still there in large numbers and with all its infrastructure intact. I urge Deputies Quinn and Bruton to come with me to South Armagh and to speak to the people there about decommissioning under the din of helicopters and under the shadow of dozens of hilltop posts, checkpoints and barracks.

People need to look beyond the unionist rhetoric about decommissioning and look at the real motivation. The mask slipped recently when both David Trimble and John Taylor spoke of moving forward without Sinn Féin. Unionists look to the prospect of the expulsion of Sinn Féin from the process, the breakdown of the broad republican consensus in favour of the Agreement, the splitting of the IRA from top to bottom. The sad reality is that many unionists, and significant and powerful sections of the British military establishment would relish such a prospect. They seek a defeat of Irish republicanism, a defeat that could not be achieved through 30 years of conflict.

An International Commission was established to deal with the issue of decommissioning. Its work continues and Sinn Féin has worked with it. The issue is not resolved but the lack of resolution of this issue, like all the other issues in the Agreement which remain unresolved, does not prevent the formation of the Executive now. What is being allowed to prevent it is the lack of political will on the part of the Ulster Unionist Party. I urge the Irish government not to allow this to continue.

In spite of the negative political context in which this Bill comes before us I believe that it represents a tremendously positive development in the history of our country. It points to a new political dispensation for all the people of Ireland. The failures of the past - partition, sectarianism, one-party rule, repression - can be set aside and we can begin a new era of equality. Let us cast aside the obstacles and enter that new era.

 

Break the ``victory or defeat'' mentality



By Caítlin Doherty
One of the most important deadlines of the peace process has been missed. However, what could be perceived as a `traditional' delay by this stage of the ``pace process'' cannot be either misinterpreted, nor underestimated. The failure of some elements of the Ulster Unionists, actively backed by the British governor Majorie Mowlam and her government to set up the Assembly Executive and therefor prevent the transfer of powers from London to Belfast has sent shock-waves across the island.

There are several reasons why missing the March 10th deadline has caused much outrage. Since the last technical obstacles to the establishment of Executive were lifted by the Assembly vote on February 15th, there has not been an iota of progress. The vote paved the way for both, the British government and the Ulster Unionists to recognise Sinn Féin's mandate and implement the Agreement in full. It was time to abide by the letter and the spirit of the Agreement and implement it's provisions without creating preconditions such as decommissioning.

However, the Ulster Unionists decided to pursue their politics of obstructionism. Day after day, the British government turned down calls to sign the legislation that would allow the parties to choose their ministerial posts. By refusing to trigger the mechanism and set up the Assembly Executive immediately after the February 15th vote, the British government signalled it was clearly supporting the Ulster Unionists and their veto. Worse, both the British establishment and Unionists who describe themselves as ``pro-Agreement'' are playing by the same rules as those who have pledged they would collapse the Agreement.

In this context, March 10th was the test of good faith. The nationalist community kept it's eyes focused. By letting the March 10th deadline slip by, the Ulster Unionists have proved their incapacity to change and respect the principle of Sinn Féin's democratic mandate. They have proved that it is their intention to uphold the days of supremacy and continue to exert their veto. By binding any progress to the sole issue of decommissioning, they are proving that their politics are the same as the Old Stormont regime. Majorie Mowlam, by trashing a dead-line set by her own government, is helping negative unionism to reach it's goals of stalling and renegotiating the Agreement.

More importantly, the setting of a new deadline for devolution is seriously undermining the credibility of the entire peace process. Does Majorie Mowlam seriously believe that nationalists can have faith in so-called deadlines when they are constantly missed by those who set them? If a lesson can be learnt from the last months of the peace process, it is that deadlines are set to be missed. So far, not one date of the peace calendar has been respected. Furthermore, by pushing the target date for devolution to the week of March 29th, Majorie Mowlam is bringing the process into the heart of the marching season. In this regard, the consequences of the delay, described as an additional ``breathing space'' may have been underestimated.

Concerns are also being expressed at the process by which an inclusive, all-party democratic approach to implementing the Agreement is turning into a ``win-loose'' situation once again. There is already much talk about a so-called review of the Agreement. This is totally unacceptable, as the Agreement is clear on all the issues raised by the pan-unionist front.

It is alarming that, by solely focusing on the decommissioning issue, the Unionists are attempting to corner and prevent Sinn Féin from exercising it's democratic mandate. With the help of the British government, negative elements of Unionism have transformed the inclusive and constructive approach to the peace process into a victory and defeat process.

By refusing to implement the Agreement, their efforts are focused on breaking the IRA. By artificially bringing the issue of decommissioning into the centre-stage, the pan-unionist front is failing to stand by the commitments it made to a vast majority of the people of the island during the referendum. The concerted efforts have de facto proved that the Unionist movement is looking for a military victory at a time where the democratic process has the potential to bring long-lasting peace to the island.

The meeting between Sinn Féin's Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and the Ulster Unionist Party's John Taylor and David Trimble may have been constructive. However, it was more of a publicity stunt than a constructive working session. The way in which the tete-à-tete was orchestrated signalled that the Unionists are expecting the whole Agreement to collapse and are already well into the public relations face-saving battle.

It is clear that some elements of Unionism would like to see the IRA back at war. It is this negative unionism that David Trimble has to confront by showing positive leadership. Majorie Mowlam also has the responsibility of blocking the Unionist politics of obstruction and isolation to drive the peace process. She must ensure that the Executive is formed and that politics take their course.

The onus is now on the Irish and British government to ensure that the Agreement is implemented in full. The responsibility lies on their shoulders to ensure that it is not renegotiated. There can be no further delay's and the will of an over-whelming majority of the people of the island has to be recognised as mapped out in the only opinion poll that matters ........ the referendum.

 

A week of broken political promises



By Caítlin Doherty
This week, on Stormont Hill, most of the political activity focused on the now missed March 10 deadline. On Monday, two days before the set date for the transfer of powers from London to Belfast, British governor in Ireland Majorie Mowlam made a surprise announcement: she set the new deadline for the establishment of the Executive to Easter week, the week that will mark the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

Majorie Mowlam promised to then trigger the d'Hondt mechanism that ensures the setting-up of the Assembly executive. Sinn Féin's chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin immediately expressed ``concern and disappointment''. This set-back was, according to him ``a further and unnecessary delay''. He added: ``The setting-up of the executive is clearly a matter of political will. If that will is missing at present, it begs the question where will it be found before the end of the month''.

Mowlam spoke after having announced the signing of four treaties that provide for the establishment of the six all-Ireland bodies, Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council, as well as a so-called Irish-British Intergovernmental Conference. These treaties were signed in Dublin on Monday.

Meanwhile, in the Assembly, members faced an avalanche of standing orders, mainly from the DUP. These are aimed at setting guidelines for the future functioning of the Assembly. There were calls for greater parliamentary scrutiny of the office of David Trimble and Seamus Mallon. Sinn Féin also expressed concern at the fact that there was no established mechanism to supervise the powers of the joint office of David Trimble and Seamus Mallon.

On Tuesday, a meeting between a Sinn Féin delegation and Mowlam in Castle Buildings kick-started the political marathon of meetings.

After this face to face, a Sinn Féin delegation met Ulster Unionist Party leaders John Taylor and David Trimble. Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams met up in the office of the First minister designate for more than an hour and a half.

Speaking after the meeting, Adams said, ``our positions were discussed in detail. There was no breakthrough and we have agreed to meet again. We came to this meeting in a very positive and constructive mood, anxious to manage the situation and to get through this impasse. We are mindful that these difficulties can be only resolved in the terms of the Agreement and mindful of the crisis.''

He went on to say: ``The reality is that the British secretary of state has set a new deadline. We have made it clear that we think it was a mistake. But we have also made it clear that the time that is before us must be used to best advantage and to ensure that this process is not collapsed. The governments need to be focused and need to implement the Agreement within the time-frame that has been set.''

``There is a huge responsibility upon the British government to implement this Agreement and trigger the d'Hondt mechanism as it should have done last June. A vacuum has been created and the only people who are going to be satisfied are the people who want this process to fail''.

Martin McGuinness continued: ``All of us are very conscious that we are entering a very critical phase of this process and probably the most critical of these past 10 years. Our focus is on the responsibilities of all the parties and of course, we are going to meet again''

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