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2 September 1999 Edition

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Governments must restore confidence in process

BY SEAN BRADY

The past week has been dominated by Mo Mowlam's announcement regarding the IRA cessation and unionist reaction to it. This has tended to obscure deep nationalist disillusionment and lack of confidence in the current political process. But such disillusionment is real and widespread and neither government can afford to ignore it.

Republicans and nationalists are extremely sceptical of the review. The Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle will decide this Saturday whether or not it will participate in it
 
Commenting on Mowlam's announcement last Thursday, Sinn Féin's Mitchel McLaughlin said it was the correct one and that it was patently obvious the IRA cessation was intact. The challenge for political leaderships, he said, was to ``demonstrate that politics can work''. A week later, that challenge remains.

The crisis in the peace process emanates from the fact that 16 months after the Good Friday Agreement was concluded, it has not been implemented. The promise of social and political change generated by the Agreement has not been realised.

Nationalist confidence in the present political process as a means for resolving deep inequalities and for introducing a democratic, all-Ireland dimension to the situation has been deeply undermined in recent months by a number of negative developments.

A succession of broken deadlines resulted in a failure to establish any of the institutions under the Agreement. The most recent was Tony Blair's `final deadline' for the setting up of the Executive, which was met by an Ulster Unionist Party boycott of the Assembly, the collapse of the Executive minutes after its establishment and the subsequent resignation of Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon.

This depressing scenario was coupled with an unseemly scramble by the British Premier to shove ill-advised legislation through the British Houses of Parlaiment in a fruitless effort to appease the Ulster Unionists. Nationalists have been further disillusioned by the fact that Trimble has been allowed to remain as First Minister.

Events on the ground in the nationalist community have done nothing to restore confidence. Not least has been the sight of the residents of the Lower Ormeau Road being beaten off the streets by the RUC to facilitate another coat-trailing loyalist parade through the area and the subsequent waves of politically-inspired raids and arrests in nationalist areas of Belfast.

The British government has allowed unionists to obstruct the implementation of the Agreement at every stage for 16 months. The result is no Executive, no all-Ireland Ministerial Council, and no human rights or equality agenda. The British have also dragged their feet in other areas and have still to publish demilitarisation proposals.

The review process, which begins this month, must be viewed in the context of unionist obstruction and clear evidence that they are not willing to share power with nationalists.

Republicans and nationalists are extremely sceptical of the review. The Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle will decide this Saturday whether or not it will participate in it.

Whatever the Ard Chomhairle decides, there can be no doubt about Sinn Féin's commitment to the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process. It has taken numerous bold initiatives to start and then develop a peace process over the past decade.

Since the collapse of the Executice, the Good Friday Agreement has been in a state of suspended animation. Further delay in its implementation, and taking events on the ground into consideration, could be fatal. However, Sinn Féin has remained in dialogue with both governments and all parties, including the UUP, in an effort to resurrect the process.

At a meeting with British Political Development Minister George Howarth on Wednesday, Sinn Féin voiced concerns about the British government's handling of UUP demands for the Agreement to be rewritten.

Speaking after the meeting, Sinn Féin's Bairbre de Brún said: `'We need to know that the review will be within the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and will not be used to further stall the process. Our party Ard Chomhairle will meet on Saturday and decide on the question of our participation.

``Obviously during our deliberations we will take into account the deep scepticism the nationalist/republican people are expressing about events on the ground and unionist attempts to renegotiate the Agreement at every turn.

``There needs to be evidence of the two governments' intentions in the event of continued unionist refusal to participate in the full implementation of the Agreement.''

Nationalist confidence in the process is at an all-time low, but it still remains the best chance for a lasting peace. If it is to succeed, all participants must recommit themselves to the implementation of the Agreement, and only the British government can create the conditions which will bring this about.
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