1 July 1999 Edition
Unionists reject Agreement
Sinn Féin went to Stormont this week to rescue the Good Friday Agreement after a year of unionist obstruction. The deadline set by British Prime Minister Tony Blair for agreement on the way forward was breached but efforts continued over the following 24 hours. Those efforts failed when any scope for agreement was frustrated and eventually blocked by the Ulster Unionists.
In the course of negotiations, Sinn Féin offered to stretch the republican position to the limit within the context of the Good Friday Agreement. The party stretched its position beyond what it was obliged to.
Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness offered to meet the UUP Assembly Party to explain their proposals. They did meet the UUP negotiating team. They met David Trimble and John Taylor and explained their proposals in detail. On all occasions, Sinn Féin's efforts were spurned.
Sinn Féin's position has been consistent that the way forward must be in the context of the Good Friday Agreement. This was what the Irish people in massive numbers North and South endorsed as a peaceful way forward out of armed conflict and by which the causes of that conflict could start to be addressed. It was an Agreement to which the Ulster Unionist Party claimed to be committed.
Over the last six years, the UUP was brought reluctantly into the peace process, reluctantly into negotiations and just as reluctantly to the Good Friday Agreement. In this context, its blocking of the implementation of the Agreement is entirely consistent. Trimble and the UUP's failure to take on the anti-Agreement elements within their own ranks lies behind this week's political failure.
Prior decommissioning was never achievable and was not a provision of the Good Friday Agreement. Neither was it within the gift of Sinn Féin to deliver. Both the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister accepted that this was the case.
With or without the Agreement, human rights, equality, justice, an acceptable policing service and many other issues addressed by the Agreement are the direct responsibility of the British government for as long as it claims jurisdiction over the Six Counties. The Dublin government also has a responsibility to uphold the rights of Irish citizens in the North, particularly the rights of nationalists who are living under daily and violent threat.
The backdrop to this week's failure of political negotiations is one of increasing loyalist violence. It is a backdrop of isolated nationalist communities in the North under siege from Orange sectarianism, including the people of the Garvaghy Road, who face into another Drumcree this weekend. It is a situation which the Good Friday Agreement was designed to put behind us. That Agreement and the hopes of the Irish people North and South have been rejected by the unionists. The British and Irish governments must now seize the initiative to save the process.
Breaking the Impasse -- A Sinn Fein Declaration
As the talks aimed at securing the establishment of political institutions ended in failure on Thursday night, Sinn Fein issued the following statement outlining the party's initiatives to secure the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. It concludes with two statements - ANNEX 1 and ANNEX 2, which are what Sinn Fein would have been prepared to sign up to in the context of the establishment of the political institutions and the implementation in full of the Good Friday Agreement.
(`Following the establishment of Political Institutions by 30th June')
Sinn Fein is totally committed to the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement in all its aspects. We believe that the whole-hearted implementation of the Agreement has the capacity to transform the existing situation through constructive and dynamic political development.
It is a matter of the deepest regret and frustration to Sinn Fein, and indeed to all who voted for the Agreement on 22 May last year, that the process of implementation has been repeatedly stalled.
The Agreement, particularly in terms of the political institutions, has been in default for 12 months as a result of a unionist pre-condition which is no part of the Good Friday Agreement. There are other aspects of the Agreement also outstanding.
Human rights, justice and equlaity on political, economic, social and cultural matters are central requirements. Policing is a key issue. The impact of demilitarisation on the day to day lives of people would be widespread. The promised British government strategy to give effect to this, as required by the Agreement, is yet to be produced.
Despite all of this, in an attempt to save the Agreement, Sinn Fein was prepared to try to create space for David Trimble. Sinn Fein proposed a new and far-reaching approach in discussions with the two governments and the US administration which would allow the UUP to move if it wanted. This approach went beyone anything we are obliged or required to do under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
Gerry Adams alluded to this in the USA in March when he said there was no point in Sinn Fein moving if David Trimble was not in the loop - that we needed to jump together. This would mean stretching the republican constituency but we made clear that if this had the effect of moving the process beyond the impasse we were prepared to do this.
Martin McGuinness outlined our ideas to US officials on 5 May and these were further developed in discussions with the Taoiseach and British Prime Minister on 6 May.
In Downing Street on 14 May there was an agreement between Sinn Fein, UUP, SDLP and the British and Irish governments that d'Hondt would be triggered on the following Thursday, all the institutions would come into place in shadow formation and that power would be devolved on 1 July.
Despite the subsequent collapse of that deal, Sinn Fein persisted with our initiative but now, and because of the above, we felt that this could only work if it had the immediate effect of the full implementation and operation of the overall Agreement, including in particular, the removal of the preconditions set by the UUP and the immediate establishment of the political institutions agreed on Good Friday 1998.
At the core of this approach was:
- A clear statement from the two governments that they were returning to the Good Friday Agreement;
- That the impasse could be removed only within the terms of the Good Friday Agreement;
- That there were no preconditions in the Good Friday Agreement;
- That a deadline would be set for the transfer of power to the political institutions;
- An acknowledgement that all the parties to the Agreement have an obligation to help bring decommissioning about;
- Our assessment that, in the context of the full implementation of the overall Agreement, all the participants acting in good faith could successfully persuade those with guns that decommissioning should take place within the timeframe set out in the Agreement and Gerry Adams' preparedness to make a declaration in that regard.
This initiative was to be expressed publicly in
a) A Sinn Fein Declaration - Annex 1; and
b) Elements of an IICD Report acceptable to Sinn Fein - Annex 2.
This approach could only succeed following the immediate establishment of the institutions by 30 June as promised by the two governments.
This required, in response to Sinn Fein's substantive initiative, UUP agreement to move into the institutions consistent with the Good Friday Agreement.
At the beginning of the current phase of negotiations Sinn Fein tabled papers on these positions, the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, informed Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness that he showed the Sinn Fein position to the UUP.
In the course of the negotiations Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness explained our proposals directly, and on two occasions, to the Leader and Deputy Leader of the UUP.
They also met with and explained the Sinn Fein proposals in detail to the UUP negotiation team.
Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness requested a meeting with the entire UUP Assembly team. This request was rejected.
The UUP rejected our proposals late last night.
Tonight, in a final attempt to overcome the impasse and see the political institutions put in place, we again met with the UUP leadership and showed them our detailed written proposals. These were again rejected by the UUP.
Sinn Fein Declaration
Sinn Fein has long argued that it is only through the full implementation of the Agreement, in particular the operation of its institutions and the delivering of equality and justice, that the issue of arms will be finally and satisfactorily settled. Sinn Fein has also emphasised the key role to be played by General de Chastelain and his colleagues. We have specifically said in our reply to the Independent Commission on Decommissioning that ``the full implementation of the Agreement would demonstrably facilitate the decommissioning process.''
Sinn Fein acknowledges the UUP statement in response to the Commission's report that they will now proceed, with the SDLP and Sinn Fein to be part of the inclusive Executive. Against that background we believe that all of us, as participants acting in good faith, could succeed in persuading those with arms to decommissoin them in accordance with the Agreement. We agree that this should be in the manner set down by the Independent Commission on Decommissioning within the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
This reflects our conviction that through the overall implementation of the Good Friday Agreement we are working to remove the causes of conflict. Conflict must be finished forever - it must be for all of us a thing of the past.
Elements of an IICD Report Acceptable to Sinn Fein
- Notes that, all the parties are committed to the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations and are obliged to use their influence to bring this about by May 2000.
- Notes that, under the relevant Regulations, different methods of decommissioning are provided for and also that decommissioning can take place in accordance with arrangements made with the Commission.
- Recommends that the decommissioning process be advanced this week through urgent discussions with the parties and a choice from the options available under the Regulations.
- Recommends that these discussions be conducted urgently so that the Commission can report to the governments in October.
- Following this, the Commission will recommend the earliest possible beginning of decommissioning, noting that decommissoining of all paramilitary arms be concluded by May 2000 as set out above.
- Will submit progress reports to the two Governments in October next, in December and in May 2000.