28 October 1999 Edition
Crunch time for review
As the Mitchell Review enters what must surely be its final phase, time is fast running for any agreement to be reached. Throughout, the consistent raising of unrealisable preconditions by the Ulster Unionist Party has stymied progress, according to the Sinn Féin negotiators. In its demand for IRA disarmament prior to the establishment of an Executive for the Six Counties, the UUP stands in breach of the letter and spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.
Should the impasse remain and the review fail, the onus will swiftly move onto the two governments, particularly the British government, to take decisive action to secure the implementation of the Agreement and the formation of the institutions agreed on Good Friday and approved by the overwhelming majority of the people of this island. This is indeed a crucial and worrying period for the Irish peace process.
Congressional Representatives back Agreement
In a statement issued as the Mitchell Review appears to be entering its final phase, the chairpersons of the U.S. Congressional Ad Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs, Representatives Benjamin Gilman, Richard Neal, Peter King, and Joseph Crowley, have issued a statement calling for the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
``We understand the difficulties and concerns of all the parties involved,'' they said in a joint statement, ``however, we strongly believe that it would be a huge mistake not to implement the Good Friday Agreement, the best and only deal for peace. We urge the unionists to recognise the imperativeness of the Agreement and further urge them to immediately establish the Executive so that the Good Friday Agreement can work. There is no alternative.''
RUC clash with Sinn Féin talks team
RUC officers gathered outside Sinn Féin's Conway Mill offices in West Belfast were abusive and blatantly pointed out prominent party members to a man in plain clothes, according to Sinn Féin Assembly member for North Belfast, Gerry Kelly.
``As our talks team was assembling at our Belfast offices on Thursday, 21 October,'' said Kelly, ``two RUC Land Rovers arrived and sat at the entrance to the building. When I challenged the RUC personnel involved, they used abusive and insulting language. When I asked for their identification numbers they refused to give them. One RUC man gave particular abuse to a member of our support team who is seriously ill. He asked him had he `not died of cancer yet'.''
Kelly said that when the man dressed in civilian clothes emerged from one of the Land Rovers ``the RUC men began pointing out and naming to him people in the car park.
``This incident is particularly worrying given the history of the RUC with regard to colluding with loyalist death squads,'' Kelly said. ``I have the numbers of the Land Rovers involved and will be raising the actions of the RUC and the British government and will be seeking answers from them regarding the entire operation. The RUC clearly has a political agenda. Why else are they attempting to disrupt and intimidate the Sinn Féin negotiating team? They are unacceptable and must be disbanded''.
Time is running out
BY SEAN BRADY
Sinn Féin have done everything in our power to resolve that crisis and to meet the unionist terms. We have taken a series of initiatives but sadly and unfortunately none of these have succeeded.
Despite what was described as ``improved atmospherics'', talks under the Review of the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement have so far failed to reach any agreement. This has been due to the consistent raising of unrealisable preconditions by the Ulster Unionist Party.
The UUP has remained solid on its demands for IRA disarmament prior to the establishment of an Executive for the Six Counties and the party remains in breach of the letter and spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.
Expressing Sinn Féin's continued willingness to find a way through the political impasse, despite the obvious difficulties, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, speaking at a lunch in New York last Thursday, 21 October said: ``The hope which many placed in the Good Friday Agreement has not been fulfilled because of the failure to implement the Agreement. I left London yesterday at the end of three days of intense discussions, aimed at ending the crisis created by unionism's demands on decommissioning.
``As all of you are aware, this has been a protracted and deep-rooted crisis and it now seems certain to come to a head in the near future.
``Sinn Féin have done everything in our power to resolve that crisis and to meet the unionist terms. We have taken a series of initiatives but sadly and unfortunately none of these have succeeded. The unionists remain implacably wedded to their absolutist demand for IRA decommissioning before they will allow the other elements of the Good Friday Agreement to proceed.
History, and political, economic and demographic developments all spell out the message that now is the time for the Unionist political leadership to use the political strength they now possess to secure their future in agreement with their neighbours. Otherwise the future will be decided without their input
``There is a possibility that this crisis could still be averted and that a solution to this problem will be found. That is why Sinn Féin is so determined and thorough-going in our efforts in this review. We go forward in hope and I return to Ireland tomorrow to be immediately involved once again in the talks.
``But we have to be realistic as well and the reality is that the Mitchell Review could end in failure. What then? What then of our vision of a peaceful Ireland? What then of our hopes for our children?
``Sinn Féin has not been dogmatic on the issue of decommissioning. We have been flexible and imaginative. We have offered the best way forward - the only possible way forward, and no-one has offered an alternative to our approach.
``I believe that I understand the UUP position. I have listened very carefully and respectfully to their views. I believe their position is wrong, that it is outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, that it is not doable and that they have handled this matter badly. I know they have problems and I believe the pace on the decommissioning issue is being set by those in unionism and British Conservatism who are against the Agreement and who, like lemmings, are taking the entire process to the cliff's edge.
``I have said many times that David Trimble is the best bet for the peace process. I appreciate how far he has come and the difficulties he has had to deal with. But he must know that all of this will be as nothing if he does not come the extra mile with us towards the prize of a just and lasting peace.
``Be assured that Sinn Féin will continue to give moral courage, leadership and responsibility.''
As talks under the Mitchell Review resumed at Stormont on Friday, 22 October, Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin dismissed suggestions that the Six County Assembly could continue in the absence of any movement towards implementing the Good Friday Agreement. ``We have the ludicrous position in relation to the Assembly at the moment where it cannot even meet. We do have to move to the obvious and the logical conclusion of what people voted for and that is to put in place an executive, to take devolved authority here and for people to do the work that they were actualy paid to do,'' he said.
McLaughlin said Sinn Féin had ``no particular desire to see an Assembly created in the first place or to see an executive formed in the North. We are the united Ireland party, but we have accepted our responsibility to manage the political transition.''
George Mitchell left Ireland on Saturday last announcing that he would allow a short extension to the Review. Political talks between the various parties continued in his absence.The former U.S. Senator returned on Wednesday, 27, October. Sinn Féin, the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP held a tri-lateral meeting on Wednesday morning and were later joined by the Alliance Party and the Women's Coalition.
But the UUP's dogged insistence on the sterile policy of `no guns no government' is driving the process steadily but surely into the sand. David Trimble has been consistent both before and since the beginning of the Mitchell Review in refusing to honour what he agreed to on Good Friday 1998. He has failed to do real political business, has sat on his hands and resolutely refuses to assume the position of a visionary leader for Unionism who will face down the rejectionist camp and bring his supporters into a new political dispensation.
Both Trimble and his party will have done a great disservice to the Unionist population in Ireland if they refuse to cut a political deal with nationalist Ireland at this historic juncture. David Trimble's key advisers should let him know that unlike the mobile phone advertisement, the future is NOT Orange. There will not be a better time for unionists to reach an accommodation with their fellow countrymen and women. History, and political, economic and demographic developments all spell out the message that now is the time for the Unionist political leadership to use the political strength they now possess to secure their future in agreement with their neighbours. Otherwise the future will be decided without their input.
It is not clear just how long George Mitchell will allow his Review to continue without political agreement. But it must be clear to everyone at this stage that time has all but run out. There is still a small possibility of a breakthrough. If there is none, the governments will have a huge responsibility to ensure that political change in Ireland, as heralded by the Good Friday Agreement, is brought about and that the will of the Irish people is not once more frustrated and hope lost.