8 July 1999 Edition
Republicans want Agreement implemented
Gerry Adams Interviewed
In his first full interview since last week's negiotiations at Castle Buildings, Stormont, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams discusses those talks and the implications of their outcome.
An Phoblacht: Can you document for us in whatever detail is feasible the progress of last week's talks at Castle Buildings?
In my opinion, David Trimble is dragging this out because he is defending as he sees it the interests of the unionists. If this is the case it means that he isn't entirely committed, or wholeheartedly promoting the Good Friday Agreement. That is wrong and he deserves justifiable criticism for not giving his own electorate the leadership they deserve and in my view the leadership they desire at this time.
Gerry Adams: It would be impossible in an interview like this to give a detailed account of the ups and downs, ebbs and flows of talks which lasted a complete week. Suffice to say that these were very tough negotiations. The Sinn Féin objective was very clear. This phase of talks began with the two governments saying that they were returning to the Good Friday Agreement and that the ongoing impasse could only be removed within the terms of the Agreement. They also made it clear that there were no preconditions, that all of the parties have an obligation to help bring about decommissioning and that there was a deadline for the establishment of the political institutions. Our objective was to keep the two governments to this context and to see the Agreement implemented. The UUP resisted this as ferociously inside the talks as they have outside. The DUP were in the talks building - they were absent during the Good Friday Agreement negotiations - and they could be seen trying to influence the UUP.
There were a number of defining points in the negotiations. For example, during our discussions with the Unionists, when Martin McGuinness and I met with the UUP entire negotiating team. Or afterwards when Mr Trimble denied any knowledge of the Sinn Féin initiative. We had explained it to him in detail but then we decided to show him the written position and then when he rejected it for the second time we decided to publish it. It was after this that the two governments concluded the negotiations with their agreed statement.
AP: Are you happy with Sinn Féin's performance at the talks?
GA: Following the April negotiations at Hillsborough Castle our negotiating team worked on an initiative which was taken to the White House by Martin McGuinness on 5 May and to London on 6 May by myself for discussions with the Irish government and British officials. Martin then joined us for discussions with the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister.
A week later our ideas were the basis of an agreement which included David Trimble proposing to establish the Executive in shadow formation with the transfer of power to follow by 1 July. When this deal collapsed we tweaked our ideas and brought them to last week's negotiations. Our initiative consisted of an advanced declaration on the decommissioning issue to be made by me following the establishment of the institutions (Sinn Féin's Breaking the Impasse statement).
Our preparation for the negotiations and our willingness to take an initiative greatly enhanced our performance at the talks. All of our team deserve the highest commendation. They were drawn from all parts of Ireland and everyone was first class. The backroom people, the drafters, the publicity operation, the senior people responsible for communicating with the rest of our party, the panel of spokespersons, as well as the negotiators themselves, deserve our heartfelt thanks. They are a great team.
AP: Do you think republicans have reason to be satisfied with the outcome?
GA: I think we can be only satisfied if the outcome of those negotiations, and this will be clear next week, leads to the establishment of the institutions that have been delayed for over a year now and to the implementation of all the outstanding aspects of the Agreement.
AP: How confident are you that d'Hondt will be triggered and the Executive and institutions will go ahead?
GA: I don't know. I don't think anyone does. Except the British Prime Minister Tony Blair. If Mr Blair does not trigger d'Hondt this will be the abandonment of yet another `absolute deadline' and a victory for the anti-Agreement unionists. I believe Mr Blair understands that this would be an extremely serious setback to the peace process and also, and perhaps from his point of view just as importantly, an undermining by the unionists of his position as British Prime Minister. In other words, the Orange card will have prevailed once again and the unionist veto will have been reinforced.
AP: Did the Garvaghy Road and other contentious Orange parades figure in the negotiations?
GA: The Garvaghy Road parade figured very much in the negotiations but Sinn Féin made it clear that the issue of contentious parades was a stand alone issue and that we supported the residents' groups. I also made it clear that we defended the right of the Orangemen to march but that the issue of contentious marches could only be negotiated by people from the beleaguered communities which are under siege.
The people of Garvaghy Road have to live with the consequences of any negotiation so therefore they are the only people who can conduct that negotiation. During the talks we issued a statement making it clear that there was no absolute right to march and calling upon the Irish and British governments and the Parades Commission to defend the rights of the residents. May I take this opportunity to commend the people of these beleaguered nationalist communities. Can I also commend our local representatives and all of the international observers who travelled to Ireland to highlight these matters.
AP: Did Sinn Féin give commitments on decommissioning beyond the party's previously stated position?
GA: Our position has been consistent on this issue. We have always made it clear that we do not represent any armed group. Sinn Féin is not the IRA and neither do we have a sole responsibility on the issue of decommissioning. This is a matter for all of the parties to the Agreement to work constructively and in good faith and to use any influence they may have to bring about decommissioning within two years and in the context of an overall settlement. Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement all of the participants have a responsibility to deal with the decommissioning issue. This includes the two governments. The British government in particular has been a hugely negative factor in the development of conflict in Ireland. It was the British government which brought the gun into Irish politics. I believe this British government can be different and that Mr Blair has a sense of responsibility and has given more time than any other British Prime Minister to the quest for peace between our two islands and among the people of this island.
He knows that Sinn Féin's position has been consistent and that we too want to play a full and advanced role in this quest. But he knows also, as does the Taoiseach, that we do not represent any other organisation, that we have made it clear that Sinn Féin is not the IRA, and we have made it clear that we cannot and we will not enter into any commitments on behalf of the IRA.
Our public position is our private position. I am totally committed to doing everything in my power to maintain the peace process and to removing the guns forever from the politics of our country. But I do not accept any block whatsoever on the right of all sections of our people to enjoy full rights and entitlements or of anyone to withhold those rights or entitlements.
AP: Tony Blair has now given the impression that there are circumstances in which Sinn Féin could be thrown off the Executive? How do you respond to that?
GA: Already Mr Blair has made a number of comments which may reflect a British government perspective but which are not part of the Good Friday Agreement or of the joint statement released by the two governments on Friday last.
I'm thinking here particularly of Mr Blair's assertion on Monday that ``I can ensure Sinn Féin aren't in the Executive, if they default''. Here the impression is given that Sinn Féin can be expelled if Mr Blair's version of decommissioning does not succeed. But of course this cannot be so. There can be no question of Sinn Féin being expelled or excluded or of Mr Blair ensuring that Sinn Féin aren't in the Executive while our party keeps to the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. And let there be no doubt about this, Sinn Féin strategy is wedded to the Good Friday Agreement and we are working to see this Agreement implemented.
Mr Blair knows this but now he is promising legislation in response to unionist brinkmanship to underpin the fail-safe clause of last week's joint statement by the two governments. The UUP is also demanding that the SDLP provide guarantees that they also will expel Sinn Féin. But under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement this is not possible. Mr Blair knows that the legislation demanded by the Unionists would be a breach of the Good Friday Agreement. The SDLP know that the guarantees being sought by unionists would also be a breach of this Agreement, as well as politically damaging to their party.
If legislation is to be introduced, and there is no requirement for legislation at all beyond that already in place, it has to be based on the review section of the Good Friday Agreement. And this section is crystal clear. So too is the section on prisoner releases. So suggestions by a Downing Street spokesperson that prisoner releases could be looked at is not what his briefing of the press lobby was about. It is about pandering to unionism regardless of how this unsettles republicanism. And of course the prisoners issue has nothing to do with decommissioning. The accelerated programme for the release of prisoners is available to prisoners affiliated to organisations which are on cessation. So while the cessations are maintained nothing can be done by Downing Street to stop the prisoner release program.
AP: Do you believe a majority of the unionist community still supports the Agreement?
GA: Yes. There is clear evidence that the majority of unionists want this process to work. Given the lack of positive political leadership from the main unionist party I think this indicates a very solid and commendable commitment to the Good Friday Agreement from grassroots unionists and certainly from the business community, the churches, community activists, and from civic unionism. That is the message we are getting. Republicans should not underestimate the debate going on within unionism or the difficulties all of this presents to unionism. We are Irish republicans. We make no apologies for that. In fact it emboldens us who want to see unity of Catholic, Protestant and dissenter to reach out to those who disagree with us. We want to work with unionism. It obviously has to be on the basis of equality and I think that positive and thinking unionism knows that the old days are over. For them to allow the refusniks or the bigots to rule the roost once again would be a disaster both for unionism and for the rest of us.
AP: Do you believe that the Ulster Unionists will reject the deal, or have they done so already?
GA: I don't know. Sinn Féin has to prepare contingencies for both scenarios. We need a contingency for the UUP rejecting the deal and one for the UUP accepting the deal. One thing is for certain - unless Mr Blair makes it absolutely clear that he is going to establish the institutions and to transfer power within the timeframe he has given and unless he resolutely proceeds to do this then the UUP will continue to delay and prevaricate. The challenge is at the moment not just for the unionists but for this British government. Within a week we will know whether the unionist veto continues or the Good Friday Agreement is implemented.
AP: Do you believe that David Trimble is genuine or is this entire exercise viewed by unionists as another stalling tactic? Also, how do you rate him as a leader and do you believe his leadership of the UUP is in jeopardy?
GA: As I've said earlier we should not underestimate the difficulties which unionists have with this entire process. If I was David Trimble I would do things differently. But I'm not David Trimble. In my opinion he is dragging this out because he is defending as he sees it the interests of the unionists. If this is the case it means that he isn't entirely committed, or wholeheartedly promoting the Good Friday Agreement. That is wrong and he deserves justifiable criticism for not giving his own electorate the leadership they deserve and in my view the leadership they desire at this time. I said after one of my first meetings with Mr Trimble that I could do business with him. That remains my position. This process is about building equality and justice. It is not about cosseting or saving political leaders, nor is it about making life more difficult for them than it needs to be. Whatever Irish republicans think about me or the Sinn Féin leadership we are only useful to the peace process if we deliver on that process. So too with Mr Trimble.
AP: In terms of advancing the republican position now, what is your message for republican activists?
GA: First of all let me say I appreciate that there were lots of wobbles and there continue to be wobbles within republican activism. That is the nature of this process. But I think that this is a time for republicans to hold our nerve. For the last number of years there has been a wholehearted debate, an informed debate within Sinn Féin and at all levels of our party about how we develop and promote our strategy. This strategy has been democratically adopted by us and all activists have a duty to promote it. They also have the right to be fully informed of all developments and we have endeavoured in a pro-active way to ensure this. The growing strength of Sinn Féin throughout the island puts us in an advantageous position to get out the republican message. The fact that we represent people on councils throughout the island, in Leinster House and in the Assembly, that Section 31 and the British censorship laws have been scrapped means that we have more opportunities to get the republican message across. And it is our responsibility to do that. Interestingly, despite the end of formal censorship, elements of the southern media, particularly in RTE, are still on the old agenda. This must be challenged by articulate, informed spokespersons, particularly at local level.
There is a special job here for people in the south. The referenda north and south gave the people of the island ownership of the Good Friday Agreement. It isn't a northern thing. It isn't something that the unionists or the British can cherrypick over. There is huge goodwill for the peace process and particularly for Sinn Féin stewardship of it. That must be consolidated. An indication of the strength of the republican position outside of Ireland is that both South African President Thabo Mbeki and President Clinton contacted us by telephone. These two world leaders from two different political cultures have shown consistent support for the quest for peace in our country. The South African involvement may have been overshadowed on the world stage by the US endeavours but those who have attended Sinn Féin Ard Fheiseanna and listened to the ANC contribution will know how much they want this to work. Both Nelson Mandela and President Mbeki have made wonderful contributions to this process. So as well as the outreach work that is required in Ireland, the international dimension needs also to be built upon, particularly in Britain.
All in all, Sinn Féin activists need to have ownership of our party strategy. They need to hold their nerve. They need to have confidence in themselves, in our republican analysis and in our ability to bring this struggle to a successful conclusion.
We should never reduce this struggle to a spectator sport. It may be good television but our strategy is not about reducing republican activists to couch potatoes. It's about empowering people. It's about getting things done. It's about engaging with all those layers of society on this island who want this to work. Where we are is where the struggle is. Sinn Féin isn't a talking shop. We cannot be mesmerised by the pace of events or the confusing illusions of the latest spin. This is not a time for navel gazing. This a time for doing. We are a campaigning party wedded to our republican objectives. Let's make these a reality.
Exclusion contradicts Agreement
BY SEAN BRADY
The reason that the peace process has been sustained with such widespread support among the people is that it is based on the principle of inclusion, not exclusion. Any attempt to overturn that situation and exclude parties would undermine the basis of the Agreement and the peace process itself.
During last week's political negotiations at Stormont, the Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble on several occasions rejected proposals from Sinn Féin which contained the potential to break the current impasse.
Trimble is now attempting to drive a horse and carriage through the Good Friday Agreement by pursuing an exclusion clause aimed at Sinn Féin. Any such exclusion clause, if acceeded to, would finally bring down the Agreement.
Trimble's tactics are being aided by media misrepresentation of last week's negotiations and of the Sinn Féin position. A pattern has now been established in which the spin doctors from Downing Street and Merrion Square engage in a gross distortions of the facts and pass it on to pet journalists, creating misleading perceptions among the general public. It is media manipulation at its worst.
The comments of British Prime Minister Tony Blair to the effect that Sinn Féin could be excluded from an Executive, if followed through, would leave him, like David Trimble, in breach of the Agreement. There are no circumstances short of breaching the terms of the Agreement in which Sinn Féin can be expelled from an Executive.
David Trimble is seeking an exclusion clause in British government legislation to underpin the failsafe clause of last week's joint statement by the Irish and British governments and is hoping for Sinn Féin's exclusion, but this is not possible under the Agreement.
As David Trimble and his colleagues hold the political process to ransom, the Orange Order is upping the ante on the streets of the Six Counties.
Tony Blair knows that any legislation aimed at Sinn Féin's expulsion would be a breach of the Good Friday Agreement and there can be no renegotiation of that Agreement or of the propositions put forward last week by both governments.
The reason that the peace process has been sustained with such widespread support among the people is that it is based on the principle of inclusion, not exclusion. Any attempt to overturn that situation and exclude parties would undermine the basis of the Agreement and the peace process itself. It would be a return to the failed politics of the past. If any of the parties to the Agreement do move to exclude Sinn Féin, they will face the wrath of the nationalist people.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern this week emphasised the Irish government's opposition to any proposals which would exclude Sinn Féin if decommissioning does not take place. He also said that Sinn Féin's position on decommissioning ``was a deeply important one and should be acknowledged by all of us as a hugely positive and constructive contribution to the search for a compromise''.
The two governments have a responsibility to secure a satisfactory outcome of the decommissioning issue. As Gerry Adams said this week, the British government, in particular, was responsible for the introduction of the gun into Irish politics and they must now play a central part in creating the conditions where the gun has no role. This is the challenge which faces all of the political representatives.
The Good Friday Agreement was an attempt to end the unionist veto over political change in the Six Counties and to provide a new political dispensation for all the Irish people, North and South. But what David Trimble and the Ulster Unionists have successfully done is to delay the implementation of the Agreement and are in default of that Agreement for the past year. This is not a situation which can continue indefinitely.
There are several other indicators that there are forces trying to steer the governments away from what was agreed on Good Friday 1998. In reference to comments made by the British Prime Minister Tony Blair which indicated that the issue of the release of political prisoners would be subject to political considerations other than those agreed over a year ago, Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly called on Mo Mowlam to categorically state that there will be no unionist-dictated political interference in the prisoner release programme. Any such interference would represent another clear breach of the Good Friday Agreement.
As David Trimble and his colleagues hold the political process to ransom, the Orange Order is upping the ante on the streets of the Six Counties. The Order's decision to switch the 12 July rallying point from the field at Edenderry to Belfast's Ormeau Park in response to the Parades Commission's decision to re-route an Orange march away from the nationalist Lower Ormeau Road, is extremely irresponsible and provocative. It represents another attempt to intimidate the British government into acceding to its demands. It represents also a form of intimdation against the local nationalist community and is an attempt to recreate a Belfast version of Drumcree. The longer the political impasse continues, the more the likelihood is that the initiative will be seized by those on the streets such as the Orangemen at Drumcree and Ormeau Park and their hangers on who will pursue the same objectives with pipe bombs and bullets.
Irish America Supports Agreement
The major Irish American organizations have issued statements of support for the joint proposal from the British and Irish governments. The message is that the time for stalling and game-playing is over and the time for full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement is long overdue.
Paul Doris, national chairperson of the Irish Northern Aid Committee said of the joint proposal: ``This plan establishes inclusive democratic means by which the people in the north of Ireland may advance into the future. Unfortunately, David Trimble still has his heart and mind in the 17th century, and we are aware he could bring this down. David Trimble is a leading member of the Orange Order; a group dedicated to exclusion. Trimble has shown his true Orange colors again by slamming this proposal.
``Noraid remains totally committed to the Good Friday Agreement and we support Sinn Féin's commitment to democratic principles. We eagerly await the implementation of the Agreement in full and look forward to the day when there is freedom, equality and justice in a united Ireland.''
The National President of the Irish American Unity Conference, Andrew Somers said that his organization, ``welcomes the initiative announced today by both the Irish Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister, which will finally permit devolved government to begin again in the north.
``Most Irish-Americans are encouraged by the examples of cooperation of the Irish and British governments and we are confident that if this Agreement is to achieve a new era of peace with justice it will be because of this Anglo-Irish partnership.''
Frank Durkin of Americans For A New Irish Agenda added his voice of support and added: ``The failure to implement the Agreement and set up the Assembly will create a vacuum in Northern Ireland into which the men of violence will be only too glad to enter.''
Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness will be travelling to the United States this weekend for a series of meetings in New York and Washington.