22 April 1999 Edition
London visit fails to resolve impasse
BY FERN LANE
The latest and probably most serious predicament in the tortured history of the peace process remained unresolved on Monday as the British and Irish governments continued to back David Trimble's insistence on the surrender of IRA weapons before the setting up of the new executive. Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams expressed deep pessimism about the future of the process when he told reporters that it was now in ``freefall'' and explained that if the Ulster Unionists, supported by the two governments, continued to insist on IRA decommissioning as a precondition for the setting up of institutions, then the Good Friday Agreement would be ``dead''.
Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, Mitchel McLaughlin and Seán Crowe travelled to Downing Street to meet British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who also held talks with the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP, but after more than five hours of talks, no progress was made on the issue of decommissioning.
Speaking afterwards to An Phoblacht, Mitchell McLaughlin said:
``We were in there for two hours and, as you can imagine, we had a full and frank exchange of views. We went in there with the view that the Good Friday Agreement is in freefall and we heard nothing at all to contradict that view. We have to say we have no reason to believe that the two governments have any intention of establishing the political institutions.''
He explained that although the party had been pleased to learn that the Hillsborough Declaration, issued on Good Friday this year, was no longer on the table and that there seems to be no intention of ``parking'' the peace process over the summer, the fact that the governments have not fully reverted to the Good Friday Agreement was extremely disappointing.
``They were still supporting the position as marked out by David Trimble. But we argued very forcefully that five of the six parties to the Agreement are in favour of moving towards the setting up of institutions. They [the two governments] have to give encouragement to the fifty percent of unionism which is in favour of the Good Friday Agreement in all its aspects.
``The Unionists have trapped the two governments into their present positions; i.e. that the IRA must move on decommissioning before political institutions can be established. This is unacceptable. it is not in the Agreement and it is not what the people voted for.''
The delegation also raised the matter of continuing loyalist attacks on nationalists, the forthcoming marching season and the murders of Rosemary Nelson and Pat Finucane.
``Imagine if this had happened to Stephen Lawrence's family's lawyer and the Metropolitan Police were implicated,'' commented Mitchel McLaughlin. ``The reaction by the government would probably have been very different.''
Tony Blair, he said, had responded with a number of vague assurances on the investigation, but nothing concrete in respect of the setting up of fully independent inquiries was forthcoming.
A further series of talks are planned for next week, although it is not clear whether these will be held in London or Dublin, and will be preceded by round table talks at Stormont this week.
Peace Process in free fall
BY SEAN BRADY
The current impasse can only be broken by both governments reasserting the primacy of politics within the process. It is within the gift of Tony Blair in particular to get this process moving again.
Several newspaper editors and leader-writers in the 26 Counties, who for years condemned Sinn Féin, have returned to their bunker view of politics of late, drawing succour from the snail's pace of events and seeking to propagate the theory that we are all bored to death by the peace process.
The same elements seek also to lay blame on Sinn Féin in particular for the current situation. They are, however, completely out of touch with the views of the majority of Irish people, most of whom are concerned at the current crisis in the peace process, not bored by it. They are concerned because they know the process is in free-fall.
The remarks of Seamus Mallon this week were particularly disingenuous, considering that he is fully aware of David Trimble's refusal to engage with anyone at any real political level, including Mallon himself as Deputy First Minister.
Seamus Mallon knows as well that the responsibility for the current situation lies in the refusal of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) to abide by the Good Friday Agreement and the fact that the two governments allowed themselves to be cornered by unionist intransigence.
The decision by the governments to offer the Hillsborough Declaration as a way forward was a clear departure from the Good Friday Agreement and a move by them directly onto the narrow ground prepared by David Trimble. Their backing away from this stance since is a tacit admission that they were in error.
Since Good Friday 1998, the UUP has blocked the establishment of political institutions on the basis of a demand for IRA decommissioning.. It was a year in which we could all have made considerable progress towards lasting peace and the removal of all guns from Irish politics. But this opportunity was wasted. By demanding immediate decommissioning, the UUP has closed down a process which represents the only possible prospect of creating the political conditions in which guns can be removed from the politics of this island. The resultant vacuum has been filled by loyalist violence against the nationalist community.
The current impasse can only be broken by both governments reasserting the primacy of politics within the process. It is within the gift of Tony Blair in particular to get this process moving again. Mo Mowlam has refused to trigger the d'Hondt process which would establish the intitutions provided for under the Agreement. The British government is effectively abdicating its responsibilities.This week, following another round of talks without progress, Mowlam failed even to announce a date and time for their recommencement.
Sinn Féin cannot deliver IRA weapons. Such a demand is not part of the Good Friday Agreement. If it had been, Sinn Féin could not have agreed to it because it is something which Sinn Féin cannot deliver.
The only way to remove weapons and prevent any recourse to armed actions is by proving that politics works, by demonstrating the viability of politics and moving towards a lasting peace based on equality, justice and freedom.