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15 April 1999 Edition

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Adams challenges governments

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has challenged the British and Irish governments to publicly state if they have abandoned the Good Friday Agreement.

Speaking from Parliament buildings at Stormont on Wednesday afternoon, Adams called for a ``clear and unambiguous'' statement from the two governments. He said: ``Sinn Féin is challenging the British and Irish governments to publicly state whether they have abandoned the Good Friday Agreement in favour of the Hillsborough Declaration.''

Adams said the Declaration, while it might have been the ``best guess'' of the two governments, was simply ``not good enough''. With a growing number of parties rejecting the Declaration and the Women's Coalition complaining that they were ``conned'', the Sinn Féin President said: ``It is now widely acknowledged that the Hillsborough Declaration is a move away from the Good Friday Agreement.''

Adams added: ``It is clear that the two governments, under pressure from David Trimble, have moved from the common ground of the Good Friday Agreement, shared by all the pro-agreement parties last April, to the much narrower ground occupied by the Ulster Unionist Party.''

``Whilst this may have been an attempt to break the logjam created by the unionist tactical approach, the reality is that the two governments are in breach of their obligations under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement because they have failed to establish the institutions - one year on.''

Adams concluded: ``Almost 2 million people voted in 1998 for the Good Friday Agreement. They are entitled to know the government's intentions.

 

The Good Friday Agreement - A Contract Between Opponents

By Gerry Kelly

Member of the New Assembly and Sinn Féin Negotiations Team

Since the conclusion of the multi-party negotiations last Good Friday there has been an impasse in the peace process. The Ulster Unionist Party have blocked the establishment of the political institutions agreed last year and have demanded the decommissioning of IRA weapons as a precondition to forward movement. As a result of this, a series of deadlines have been missed over the past 12 months.

The shadow executive was to have been established in July. It is still not in existence. The all-Ireland ministerial council was to have met and completed a work program by October 31. The all-Ireland ministerial council has not yet been established. The d'Hondt procedure was to have been triggered on March 10; it was not. It was then to have been triggered in the week beginning March 29; it was not.

The survival of the entire Good Friday Agreement is now in serious doubt.

This was the context in which the British and Irish governments convened a series of discussions at Hillsborough Castle. By Thursday, April 1, it was clear that the UUP remained wedded to their precondition, which is no part of the Good Friday Agreement and which Sinn Féin simply cannot deliver.

Sinn Féin proposed that the d'Hondt procedure be triggered as promised by the British government. Instead, the two governments produced a draft declaration and adjourned the discussions. The draft declaration was not an agreed position. If adopted, this declaration would represent a significant departure from the terms of the Good Friday Agreement - an agreement that was endorsed democratically in referendums north and south. Rewriting of the Good Friday Agreement is not acceptable. It has the potential to undo all the work of the last number of years.

The Good Friday Agreement


The negotiations leading up to the Good Friday Agreement commenced in September 1997 and took a full eight months to reach their conclusion. The wider peace process in which all of this is situated publicly emerged a full six years ago in April 1993 with the first joint statement by Gerry Adams and John Hume. In cumulative terms, the IRA's two cessations have existed for three years and two months of that time. The IRA's guns remain silent.

The Good Friday Agreement of 10 April, 1998, does not represent Sinn Féin's preferred position. It does not represent the preferred position of republicans throughout Ireland. It is a compromise position, the essential compromise for this phase of the peace process. The Good Friday Agreement is, in effect, a contract between opponents.

The various compromises in the Agreement were hard fought and hard won over a protracted period. It represents all that is possible at this time.

Obligations


The Good Friday Agreement is a contract between opponents; not an agreement between friends. In that context, the critical importance of the application of the letter of the Agreement is obvious. Implementation, according to the letter of the Agreement, is the mutual guarantee in the absence of trust and confidence between opponents.

Moreover, all of the players - governments and parties alike - understand that to be the case. The application of the letter of the Agreement is the contractual obligation entered into by all of the parties to it. These obligations have been given the full force of the democratic imperative resulting from the endorsement by the overwhelming majority of the electorate in referendums; they have been given political imperative in the international agreement between the Dublin and London governments. These

are obligations freely entered into by the parties, the electorate, the two legislatures and the two governments. They are not options. They are imperatives of agreement, democratic mandate, law and international agreement. They are obligations under a contract between opponents. A contract to develop a lasting peace.

Obligations not honoured


The political institutions are not an option. Their establishment is an imperative; an obligation freely entered into. They should have existed in `shadow' form since last year; since last July or at latest, in practical terms of fulfilling their remit, since last September. They have not.

Powers and responsibilities should have been transferred to the political institutions before now. This has not happened. Obligations have not been honoured. The seeds of trust and confidence have not even been sown, let alone nurtured and developed. Only the `shadow' Assembly is in existence. A concession to unionism to which republicans reluctantly and very conditionally agreed.

This has been a year of broken promises and missed deadlines. A year in which the credibility of the Agreement and of politics in general has been significantly eroded.

The Executive is the passport institution to all of the other political institutions. The UUP have erected a barrier to this. This blatant breach of obligations and commitments, a breach of the terms of the Agreement itself, has not been confronted. Other players have begun to acquiesce.

Ministerial Office


Under the terms of the Agreement there is no precondition to membership of the Executive, save sufficient mandate from the electorate and taking the ministerial pledge of office. All parties to the Agreement freely entered into this obligation. Sinn Féin ministers will uphold the ministerial pledge of office. So must all other members of the Executive. No one party needs to take the other parties' word for this. For in the absence of trust and confidence, the terms of the Agreement make specific provision for the exclusion from the Executive of any party which does not honour the ministerial pledge of office.

This, amongst other commitments, binds ministers - all ministers - to a commitment to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means and to serve all the people equally and to act in accordance with the general obligations to promote equality and prevent discrimination and sectarian harassment.

In other words, promote or support discrimination, inequality, violence or undemocratic methods and you are gone.

Decommissioning


Despite all of these safeguards, however, collectively negotiated and agreed last Easter, the UUP have been allowed to reduce the entire Agreement and potentially the entire wider peace process to the single issue of decommissioning. They have made this a precondition to the establishment of the political institutions where no such precondition exists in the Agreement. That is the letter of the Agreement.

Nationalists have real and grave concerns about the issue of weapons. British, Royal Ulster Constabulary, Ulster Defence Regiment/Royal Irish Regiment and loyalist guns, bombs and knives have claimed 1,500 lives. There is a proliferation of licensed weapons, primarily in unionist hands. These weapons need to be dealt with. But nationalists are prepared to see this matter dealt with under the terms of the Agreement and in the context of the wider peace process. For the logic and implicit obligation of the peace process if it is to be successful means and end to violence and the removal of all tools of war.

The terms of the Agreement in relation to the issue of decommissioning are a significant step in that direction. They are also unambiguous.

Commitments have been made by all of the parties. Their obligations in relation to these commitments must be upheld. Those commitments and the obligation to uphold them were collectively agreed and cast in both the reality of the situation and the real-politik of this phase of the peace process.

That is:

None of the parties to the Agreement are in direct control or possession of weapons of any kind or category save for the two governments;
Decommissioning will only result from a voluntary act by those who are in possession of them;
All parties are obliged to use any influence they may have to achieve the stated objective and to work constructively and in good faith with the Independent International Commission to achieve this end in the context of the implementation of the overall agreement.
The Independent International Commission


We must be clear about the role of the Commission under the terms of the Agreement: That is to monitor, review, verify and report. In this regard, General John de Chastelain's integrity is beyond dispute. All of the parties are obliged to work constructively and in good faith with the Commission. Sinn Féin has honoured and will continue to honour this obligation. And I would guess that a record of the number of meetings between the Commission and the parties would show a paucity of meetings with those who shout the loudest on this issue.

The obligations on all parties to the Agreement is to the achievement of an objective over which none of us have any direct control; to an objective which can only be worked for politically and can only be accomplished by the voluntary actions of those in possession of arms. Hence the obligation on all of the parties to use any influence they may have in that context. In essence, decommissioning is a commitment and objective towards which all of the parties are obliged to work towards politically.

Influence


The commitment to the objective under the terms of the Agreement is absolute. All parties to the Agreement have an obligation to work politically for disarmament, to use any influence they may have to achieve this and to work constructively and in good faith with the International Commission. That is to work politically towards this end. And obviously influence is not static. It is subject to and effected by wider considerations.

In the context of the peace process and the Agreement, the overall implementation of what was agreed is one of these considerations. Where are the political institutions? Is this not the same RUC? The same military fortifications? The same repressive legislation? Are we more equal today than Good Friday 1998? And what bearing on Sinn Féin's influence does anyone imagine the whole catalogue of events on the ground since Good Friday 1998 have had? Six people, including three children, killed by loyalists as a result of events surrounding Orange marches! Almost 90 loyalist bombing attacks against nationalists and Catholics! The nationalist population of Garvaghy Road. under daily threat, intimidation and periodic violence! The shadow of collusion on some of this! None of which is to mention the negative influence of the securocrats who steered the process onto the rocks under John Major's government.

Conclusion


Sinn Féin has honoured, and will continue to honour, every commitment and fulfill every obligation contained in the Good Friday Agreement. We expect everyone else to do the same. Sinn Fein can go no further than the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and we accept that this is the same for the other parties. The reality is that the Agreement represents the outer limits of what is possible at this point in time. It is a compromise, which was talked out and agreed last year. The implementation of this compromise cannot now become the subject of a renegotiation. Just as the agreement was not a unionist document, nor a republican document, it cannot be implemented in a partisan manner, neither according to unionist nor nationalist dictates.

Sinn Féin accepts this reality. In committing ourselves to the Good Friday Agreement, Sinn Féin made substantial concessions. We have honoured every commitment and promise we made. We have taken the republican constituency to the limit. And we will continue to stretch ourselves politically, for that is the responsibility of all political leaderships. But we can only work within the terms of the Agreement itself.

No party can be allowed to retrospectively rewrite those elements of the Agreement with which they were or are unhappy. The UUP cannot unilaterally decide how the issue of decommissioning is to be dealt with. The Agreement sets out procedures and a mechanism for this. Sinn Féin is prepared to work these procedures and mechanisms constructively. We are prepared to use our influence to secure disarmament. We are prepared to fulfill all obligations and commitments set out in the Good Friday Agreement. We want to see a process of conflict resolution that removes all manifestations of war. We want to see a process of reconciliation and healing.

Despite the difficulties and stalling, Sinn Féin remains totally committed to the Good Friday Agreement. This is what we signed up to. It is what the majority of the Irish people voted for. There is a democratic imperative on all parties, including the two governments to defend the Good Friday Agreement and to resist any attempt to rewrite it.

Much has been achieved over the past six years. We have a peace process, IRA guns are silent. We have an Agreement which many believed was not possible.

There are procedures and mechanisms for addressing any of the issues which led to conflict.

This progress needs to be consolidated and built upon. It certainly cannot be taken for granted.

The Good Friday Agreement needs to be implemented in full. Any proposals to overcome the current impasse must be set firmly within the provisions of the Agreement. This will be Sinn Féin's approach to the resumed discussions next week.

Summary:

The Good Friday Agreement was five years in the making.
It does not represent Sinn Féin's preferred option.
It represents a contract between opponents.
The application of the letter of the Agreement is the substitute for absent trust and confidence, which must be created and developed.
The terms of the Agreement are an obligation on all parties to it.
Sinn Féin has and will continue to honour all obligations in relation to all commitments entered into.
The political institutions should have been established months ago.
Powers and responsibilities should have been transferred before now.
Obligations in relation to these matters have not been met.
There is no precondition under the terms of the Agreement to membership of the Executive - the passport institution - save sufficient mandate, making the Ministerial Pledge of Office and honouring that pledge.
All of the parties to the Agreement - save the UUP - accept this to be the case.
The logic and implicit obligation of the peace process if it is to be successful means and end to violence and the removal of all tools of war.
The terms of the Agreement on the issue of decommissioning are a significant step in that direction.
The IRA's guns remain silent.
All parties to the Agreement have an obligation to work politically for disarmament, to use any influence they may have to achieve this and to work constructively and in good faith with the International Commission.
The decommissioning of arms will only result from a voluntary act by those is possession of them.
The role of the Independent Commission is to monitor, review, verify and report.

 

U.S. and British politicians back Agreement



Sixty three members of the U.S. House of Representatives have joined with 111 members of the English House of Commons and eight members of the English House of Lords in reaffirming their support for the Good Friday Agreement and urging its full implementation.

The US representatives announced on Monday, 12 April, that they supported and endorsed a statement issued by members of the English parliament urging the full implementation of the Agreement.

The statement, issued by the Friends of Ireland group in the English parliament, called for those ``who support the implementation of the Agreement, to come together to make our voices heard, to assist in maintaining the momentum for peace and reconciliation and to help overcome the inevitable difficulties in making the Agreement work''.

Congressman Peter King, Co-Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Irish Affairs, said: ``We are proud to stand with our British colleagues in their support of the Good Friday Agreement.'' King also endorsed Sinn Féin's stance, saying: ``There is a clear consensus in the United States Congress that preconditions such as decommissioning should not be used to delay full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.'' He also said that Sinn Féin is entitled to take up its two seats on the Six-County Executive without delay.

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