New side advert

9 September 1999 Edition

Resize: A A A Print

Sinn Féin in as review begins

BY SEAN BRADY

Sinn Féin announced on Saturday, 4 September, that it would participate in the review of the implementatation of the Good Friday Agreement under the auspices of the British and Irish governments and facilitated by U.S. Senator George Mitchell.

Emerging from a meeting of the party's Ard Chomhairle in Dublin, Vice President Pat Doherty said: ``There was a detailed discussion with many of those present expressing deep concern, reservations and cynicism at the proposed review. However, despite these strongly held views, the Ard Chomhairle agreed to accept the recommendations of the party president, Gerry Adams, that in the wider interests of the peace process Sinn Féin will participate positively in the review.

``Sinn Féin is absolutely committed to our peace strategy, to the peace process and to securing the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. That is the context in which our decision was reached.''

Doherty added: ``When we last met on 24 July, the Ard Chomhairle decided to postpone its decision regarding participation in the Mitchell review as there was much scepticism that it would be another exercise in providing unionists with an opportunity to try and renegotiate the Good Friday Agreement.

``There was also deep concern at the breaching of the absolute deadline for the establishment of the institutions and the subsequent introduction of legislation by the British government which would have moved outside the Good Friday Agreement. Events on the ground over the summer, particularly on the Ormeau Road, added to these concerns.

``Over the summer months, we examined all of these issues and remained in dialogue with all of the parties, including the UUP, and the two governments. Sinn Féin believes that it is essential that we work together to find a way forward through our commitment to the good Friday Agreement. It is in this context that we have taken our decision.

``Throughout this process, the Sinn Féin leadership has shown a willingness to take risks in the wider interests of peace. Despite the difficulties for our party, the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle has decided to enter the review on Monday. We are going there positively to do business and to ensure the full implmemtation of the Good Friday Agreement.''

Over the weekend, the Ulster Unionist Party also announced its intention to participate in the review. However, the UUP stated that it would not be treating Sinn Féin on a basis of equality.

David Trimble also warned that the Patten report on policing could affect continued Unionist participation in the Review. He said his party executive would meet following the publication today of the Patten Report. ``It is perfectly obvious that if Patten gets it seriously wrong, that will have serious implications for the whole process.''

The review itself began on Monday. As the Sinn Féin delegation arrived at Castle Buildings, Stormont, Pat Doherty said that the party was ``going into this review with an attitude that it can work''.

Tuesday witnessed a cacophony of anti-Agreement unionist calls for Senator Mitchell's resignation as facilitator of the review. The day also provided the only excitement so far, with a lively spat between George Mitchell and Robert McCartney of the UKUP. Speaking after his meeting with Senator Mitchell, the anti-Agreement McCartney described Mitchell as ``a dispirited man showing no indication of the slightest optimism''.

However, in a witty rebuttal, a spokesperson for George Mitchell replied: ``The Senator was in good form all day, but if there was a moment when he became dispirited, it was probably at the prospect of having to listen to Robert McCartney.''

 

 

Defending the Agreement


By Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP

    
When, in September 1997, David Trimble walked into the negotiations at Castle Buildings, flanked by representatives of the loyalist paramilitaries, he declared that he was not going in to negotiate with Sinn Féin. He was going in to put Sinn Féin out.
SOME OBSERVERS, particularly those who are anti-republican, will by now have declared that last Saturday's decision by the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle was the only decision they could have taken.

Such a trite observation totally underestimates the degree of disillusionment among republican activists at the way the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement has been handled.

David Trimble's strategy has been to assert unionist domination and control of the political process. The objective of that strategy has been to prevent, or reduce, the wide-ranging changes agreed on Good Friday 1998.
 
This week marks the fifth year of the first IRA cessation. Without revisiting every twist and turn of the process prior to and since then, it is clear that Sinn Féin has played a positive, constructive and central role in the effort to achieve a permanent peace. It is equally clear that much more could have been achieved in that time and that the main reasons for the lack of progress have been unionist opposition to change, and the manner in which the essential process of change has been managed, particularly by the British government.

    
The British government signed up to the Good Friday Agreement. It is British government policy. The British government has a responsibility to implement the Agreement as negotiated, not in a manner demanded by the UUP, which is outside the terms of the Agreement.
From the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998, until the collapse on 15 July this year, of the political institutions - a period of some 15 months - the peace process limped from one unionist-induced crisis to another.

This period of time could have been used to build the confidence and trust that was so obviously lacking during the negotiation process. Instead, the last 17 months will be remembered as a time of recrimination, of bitterness. A period of missed deadlines, broken agreements, of unfilled opportunity.

Review


The Good Friday Agreement remains the best chance to bring to an end to the injustices, inequalities, domination and conflict that have troubled Ireland and its people for generations. Sinn Féin is fully committed to the Good Friday Agreement. Our commitment to the search for an overall peace settlement is absolute.
 
A review is now taking place because of the failure to establish the political institutions. The refusal of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) to share power with nationalists and republicans and the consequent collapse of the Executive requires urgent and immediate action by the two governments. It is, in our view, also essential that the two governments expeditiously proceed with the implementation of the other elements of the Agreement.

There are many areas of the Agreement which have not yet been fully implemented. But there is only one area of the Agreement which has totally broken down - the political institutions. This is the area that the review should address.

It is critical that the review itself and its conclusions do not depart from the Agreement reached last year.

That Agreement is specific about the conduct of any review. In the period interim to the British-Irish Agreement becoming operative, it allows for two distinct formats for review: That is:

1) ``Aspects of the implementation of... the Agreement will be reviewed at meetings of those parties relevant in the particular case..., under the chairmanship of the British government or the two governments, as may be appropriate'';

2) ``Representatives of the two governments and all relevant parties may meet under independent chairmanship to review implementation of the Agreement as a whole.''

It is our opinion that this review should examine the specific area of non-implementation and ensure that it is effectively dealt with by indicating how to make progress within the terms of the Agreement.

If it moves beyond this specific issue, then, as prescribed in point (2) above, it must examine the implementation of the Agreement as a whole. It cannot simply focus on issues whose implementation the UUP are dissatisfied with. It cannot become a cover for the renegotiation of the Agreement.

British Government Stewardship


While the two governments initiated this review, if it is to be objective and effective, it must examine also the roles played by the two governments who are themselves, participants and parties to the Agreement itself.

Despite the negative approach of unionism towards the Good Friday Agreement, it is our view that the primary responsibility for the failure to implement it in key areas lies ultimately with the British government.

By indulging UUP leader David Trimble in his delaying strategy, and by pandering to unionist rejectionism, the British government has encouraged that intransigence.

The cumulative effect of British government concessions to unionist demands is that, 18 months after Agreement was reached and endorsed North and South, none of the institutions has been put in place.

Even the Assembly, which has been in a limbo existence since 25 June last year, is not that envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement. It has no powers, no Executive, no statutory committees. Crucially for republicans and nationalists it has no link to any all-Ireland institution. It cannot even meet.

On the ground there has been no progress on the equality agenda in terms of its effect on the day-to-day lives of people. The most recent employment statistics show that Catholic males are almost three times more likely to be unemployed than their Protestant counterparts.

The British government has yet to fulfill even the minimal requirement to publish a meaningful demilitarisation strategy.

The people of the Garvaghy Road, the Ormeau Road, and other isolated nationalist communities have yet to see evidence of their right to live free from sectarian harassment.

Repressive legislation has not been repealed but strengthened.

The RUC remains unchanged, unable and unwilling to root out the culture of collusion between its members and loyalist paramilitaries and unwilling to challenge wrongdoing within the force. This was seen most starkly in the murder of solicitor Rosemary Nelson and the most recent revelations about the murder of Pat Finucane.

On Thursday, 9 September, the Patten Commission will produce its report on the future of policing. This will be a huge test of the British government. Only a new police service and an end to the RUC will be satisfactory.

There is a deep commitment in the republican and nationalist community to the peace process. But there is also deep anger that the Good Friday Agreement - a product of the peace process - has been blocked at every juncture by unionism with the indulgence of the British government.

We have seen a succession of missed deadlines and broken agreements. Time after time the UUP were permitted to buy more time - to sap the momentum of the process - to prevent change.

The UUP Approach


The UUP approach to the implementation of the Agreement and to the concept of political change generally was entirely predictable. In fact it had been well signalled. When, in September 1997, David Trimble walked into the negotiations at Castle Buildings, flanked by representatives of the loyalist paramilitaries, he declared that he was not going in to negotiate with Sinn Féin. He was going in to put Sinn Féin out.

After agreement was reached on Good Friday 1998, his approach remained unchanged. He made clear his intention to have Sinn Féin excluded from office in any Executive.

Since then his strategy has been to assert unionist domination and control of the political process. The objective of that strategy has been to prevent, or reduce, the wide-ranging changes agreed on Good Friday 1998.

The peace process cannot be successful if it is subject to a unionist veto. The Good Friday Agreement will never deliver on its undoubted potential if its implementation is filtered through unionism.

Sinn Féin has attempted to engage positively with the UUP, despite that party's open political hostility and negativity to Sinn Féin

Over the past six weeks, Sinn Féin has engaged in a substantive round of discussions with the UUP at various levels, both formal and informal, in a concerted attempt to find a way forward. It is, in our view, critical that there is a greater understanding of each other's positions so that every possibility of salvaging the Good Friday Agreement is fully explored. The UUP are blocking the implementation of the Agreement and it is obviously essential that the motivation for this position be fully explored.

In order to facilitate these discussions we conducted these meetings in private and away from the glare of publicity which, at times, adversely affects the conduct of the discussion themselves.

Implementation is Essential


The full implementation of all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement is essential. It remains the best chance to bring to an end to the injustices, inequalities, domination and conflict that have troubled Ireland and its people for generations, and to move the situation forward towards a democratic peace settlement.

Sinn Féin is fully committed to the Good Friday Agreement. Our commitment to the search for an overall peace settlement is absolute.

However, the harsh and unpalatable reality we are facing, almost 18 months after the Good Friday Agreement was concluded, is that it has not been implemented, its potential has not been realised and the change which it promised has not materialised.

At a time when many, including the Sinn Féin leadership, have been arguing that politics can and will deliver change, change has been prevented.

No one should underestimate the depth or seriousness of the crisis we are facing. The future of the Good Friday Agreement is at stake.

If the Good Friday Agreement is to be salvaged, if the peace process is to make progress the British government's approach has to change. It must implement British government policy - the Good Friday Agreement.

The British government signed up to the Good Friday Agreement. It is British government policy. The British government has a responsibility to implement the Agreement as negotiated, not in a manner demanded by the UUP, which is outside the terms of the Agreement.

The people of Ireland are democratically entitled to see established, without further delay, the structures agreed on Good Friday, and endorsed in subsequent referendums. Sinn Féin is democratically entitled under the terms of the Agreement to Executive office and to places on the all-Ireland Ministerial Council. So, too, are all other political parties with a sufficient mandate from the electorate. These are mandatory provisions of the Agreement. They are not subject to the discretion of Mr Trimble. David Trimble holds the position of First Minister only as part of mandatory power-sharing arrangements. If there is no Deputy First Minister then there can be no First Minister. If there is no Executive then there can be no First Minister.

The test for the two governments, for the Agreement itself and for this review, is whether the provisions on democratic entitlement will be defended. The two governments are primarily responsible for ensuring that the provisions of the Agreement are implemented, in the terms and within the time-scales agreed on Good Friday.

While Sinn Féin is justifiably critical of the British government, we have acknowledged and commended the positive way that Mr Blair approached the peace process. We have acknowledged that the question of Ireland is the single biggest challenge facing Mr Blair. He and his government hold the key to progress. When Mr Trimble and his party boycotted the Assembly proceedings on 15 July they angered and annoyed nationalist Ireland and alienated international opinion, but this was incidental for the UUP. Their target was Mr Blair. They were telling him that they are not for moving.

He also was their target after the infamous Glengall Street meeting where they took only 15 minutes to reject the joint initiative of the two governments. So Mr Blair must face up to the reality that unionist loyalty is only to itself and that peace can only be established in the proper political contexts.

The Good Friday Agreement provides the only way forward. It cannot be re-negotiated at the behest of unionism. For Sinn Féin, the Agreement is the absolute bottom-line.

GUE-NGL-new-Jan-2106

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1
Ireland
 

Powered by Phoenix Media Group