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18 November 1999 Edition

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Eyes on the Prize

Towards a new Ireland



Commenting on the events of recent days, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has made the following comments:

``This week has seen some very significant developments in the search for a lasting peace settlement.

``I want to thank and commend Senator George Mitchell for the skill and commitment which he brought to this process.

``This week's developments were created by dint of very hard work and tough decisions by all the leaderships involved. I believe that we have now managed to create the potential to consolidate the peace process and to advance the task of implementing the Good Friday Agreement.

``This will present huge challenges for all of us. It will present huge challenges for the two governments. I do not underestimate the difficulties which have to be overcome in the time ahead, especially for the Ulster Unionist Party and its leadership.

``In a statement earlier today, I welcomed this afternoon's IRA statement and I urged the other political parties and the two governments to respond positively to this latest IRA initiative. No one should underestimate the effort which this initiative involved.

``In my view, the success of the next phase of this process is totally dependent on all progressive and forward-looking elements of our people asserting and exerting ourselves in the difficult tasks which leadership involves.

I am confident that these difficulties can be overcome if the momentum created this week is seized upon and utilised for the common good.

``I want to address the bulk of my remarks directly to the British

government Success will also depend on sure-footed and calm management of the situation. Everyone in leadership needs to be mindful that peace-making is more important. It is different from and it is more difficult than conventional politics or what usually passes for politics.

``It means trying to put yourself in the shoes of your opponents. It means resisting the temptation to go for short-term advantage. It involves resisting the urge to misrepresent, to hype or to exaggerate. In other words, as much as anything else, the success of this next phase may depend on everyone taking a measured and accurate approach in the period ahead.

``At every slow, painful point in the search for peace republicans have taken initiatives which have created a momentum to take the process forward. Our commitment has been matched by others, including the Taoiseach, whose efforts I have often acknowledged and commended.

``But for every movement forward there has also been a series of failed efforts. It is the responsibility of the two governments and all our political leaderships to ensure that this does not happen again.

``I want to commend the Sinn Féin negotiating team, the Ard Chomhairle of our party, our Assembly members and the broad leadership and the membership of our party and our supporters. No one out there within the British Government or unionist constituency should underestimate the limits to which Sinn Féin has stretched itself and our constituency in our endeavours to make this review work.

``The reason that Sinn Féin has stretched ourselves and our constituency is because we have always had our eyes fixed firmly on the prize. We want a New Ireland in which all the people of this island will be cherished equally and in which everyone will be politically, socially and economically empowered. We want a just and lasting peace. So do the vast majority of people in these islands, especially the people of Ireland who voted for the Good Friday Agreement.

``Let us ensure that none of us fails the people.''

 

IRA statement


The following is the text of the statement from Oglaigh na hÉireann released on Wednesday, 17 November


``The IRA is committed unequivocally to the search for freedom, justice and peace in Ireland.

In our view the Good Friday Agreement is a significant development and we believe its full implementration will contribute to the achievement of lasting peace.

We acknowledge the leadership given by Sinn Féin throughout this process.

The IRA is willing to further enhance the peace process and consequently, following the establishment of the institutions agreed on Good Friday last year, the IRA leadership will appoint a representative to enter into discussions with General John de Chastelain and the IICD.''

 

Plotting course for future - Adams




In a keynote speech delivered to Sinn Féin's National Women's Conference in Dublin on Saturday, 13 November, in advance of this week's developments in the peace process, Gerry Adams spoke of the efforts of republicans in support of the peace process, the challenges facing unionism and his hopes for the success of the Mitchell Review.


``I know that many republicans have many misgivings about the Good Friday Agreement. I know that the vast majority of us came to examine this Agreement in an adult, mature and comradely way and that we placed it in the objective reality that is Ireland today and within the context of our political objectives and our strategy. I know that Sinn Féin's acceptance of the Good Friday Agreement was a wide Rubicon for us to cross. ``Our opponents and the British government should not underestimate the effort that that took. Nor should they underestimate the huge frustration.and anger within republican activism at the refusal of others to keep totheir commitments under the Good Friday Agreement.

``The partition of Ireland institutionalised the exclusion of citizens from national life. Within the Six-County state, the unionist regime denied nationalists our entitlements through the imposition of policies promoting discrimination and inequality, through political gerrymandering and the disenfranchising of citizens. The Good Friday Agreement was to be a bridge out of that.

``Many nationalists and republicans deeply resent the assertion by unionists that they are democrats who have done nothing wrong and that the Good Friday Agreement process is a mechanism to bring gunmen or gunwomen in from the cold. It is, of course, part of a conflict resolution process, and whether it works or not remains to be seen, but from the Sinn Féin and democratic perspective it is about making politics work.

    
In many ways it is good that the Sinn Féin negotiating team is answerable to an impatient activist base. We know that leadership has to lead. Let's hope that when Monday comes that the Unionist Party leadership will do just that
It is about creating the conditions for ending conflict. It is about ending discrimination, disadvantage, inequality and injustice. It is about creating the democratic means to pursue Irish unity and independence where none was permitted to exist before this. It is the beginning of a process of righting wrongs.

The fact that the Agreement is so detailed, that it has to cover so many aspects of life, and that it is all-Ireland in nature shows how much is wrong in the North and how much the British government and unionism has contributed historically to sustaining these wrongs.

``The Good Friday Agreement was to be a bridge out of that. Sinn Féin negotiated the institutional aspects of the Agreement to ensure that there could be no return to unionist domination and to place any new Assembly in the North within all-Ireland structures. It was a huge thing for us to decide to take our seats in the new Assembly. It required a two-thirds majority at a specially convened Ard Fheis. No one should underestimate how much effort that took.

``And so it has been at every slow, winding turn of the process since then. Many republicans feel that it is we who are all the time making the concessions and that the unionists merely pocket them and go on asking for more. Without doubt, some unionists do that but not all unionists are `no men'. Most of them voted for the Good Friday Agreement. Republicans need to be mindful that unionists have had to make changes. ``Unfortunately, unionist leaders appear to approach developments in a reluctant and hesitant way while republicans appear to move in a more decisive and progressive manner. This is hardly surprising. The truth is that we want change, that we are agents of change, that a peace settlement demands change, and that we have to be the engine to bring that about.

``We should not underestimate the challenges facing unionism and how some of them have faced up to these challenges with courage. Unionism is no longer a monolith. There are people there, there are leaders there who want to set aside the old ways. We need to work with them to make this happen.

    
We should not underestimate the challenges facing unionism and how some of them have faced up to these challenges with courage. Unionism is no longer a monolith. There are people there, there are leaders there who want to set aside the old ways. We need to work with them to make this happen
``The biggest problem is that unionists fear change, try to minimise change and see it as being to their disadvantage. This places a huge burden on any unionist leadership that wants to plot a course into the future. First of all, the leadership itself has to be for change. It has to be prepared to give political leadership in a way that is totally different from the leaderships of the past. The leadership of the UUP may resent me for saying this. They may feel that I am patronising them, but I think I have a right to say this because I am not asking them to do anything that the Sinn Féin leadership has not done.

``I am bitterly disappointed at Thursday's rejection by the UUP of efforts to end the crisis in the peace process. The review should have been over. It was to be short, sharp and focused. It wasn't but we stuck with it. We made strenuous efforts. We took initiatives. We planned our way forward. We encouraged others to move. We stretched ourselves and our constituency to the limit in a serious and genuine effort to end the difficulties. But when it came down to it, all of our efforts were rejected in just 20 minutes on Thursday afternoon.

``Maybe the UUP were only negotiating. Maybe they just don't know when to stop saying No. Maybe it's just too big a jump for them to take. Maybe the real and genuine difficulties which they face cannot be overcome. Maybe they aren't up to it. It is hard to know. During this review we did have better discussions. We did listen and they did listen. We did come to understand each other's positions better. So for all these reasons on Thursday when our hearts would have told us enough was enough, our heads told us that rather than knee jerk to the UUP rejection this was now the time to allow unionism the space to reflect.

``So, I welcome Reg Empey's statement yesterday that the Ulster Unionist Party's members are going to reflect over the weekend and meet again on Monday. Of course, some of you may suspect that that could be a prelude to more delay. This is fair enough.

``Many republicans who have never spent one minute of one hour in negotiations with the British or the unionists are frustrated at the lack of progress. This is understandable. In many ways it is good that the Sinn Féin negotiating team is answerable to an impatient activist base. We know that leadership has to lead. Let's hope that when Monday comes that the Unionist Party leadership will do just that.

``I know that many republicans fear that our struggle could be `cul-de-saced' if the unionists say Yes. They know that if the institutions are put in place that this will bring about a huge change in how struggle is conducted. They know how big a sacrifice it will be for Bairbre de Brún and Martin McGuinness to take their places as Ministers alongside parties that include members who don't want to see a Fenian about the place - never mind a Fenian woman about the place.

``But we have nothing to fear from being involved in these institutions. Of course, they will bring us and our struggle onto new ground. But we face into that as we have faced into every other challenge that has come our way in over 30 years of struggle. We face into it mindful of the dangers, but confident in our own ability and the correctness of our analysis and strengthened by the justness of our struggle.

 

TD welcomes developments



Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín O Caoláin has welcomed this week's political developments which he said have revived hopes that the Good Friday Agreement can and will be fully implemented. He said:

``The statements from Senator George Mitchell and General de Chastelain have set the scene for the pro-Agreement parties and the two governments to move forward together to put in place the political institutions for which people voted overwhelmingly last year.

``I welcome the statement from David Trimble and fully endorse the statement by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams. Republicans are clearly making strenuous and arduous efforts to ensure that this review is rewarded with success and that the Good Friday Agreement is put into effect. These developments mark significant progress towards a new political dispensation and a new relationship between the diverse communities who share this island.

``All these developments are taking place within the framework of the Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Féin will accept nothing less than its full implementation. The past year-and-a-half has demonstrated that renegotiation of the Agreement is not an option and that implementation cannot occur outside the terms laid down on Good Friday.

``The positive conclusion to the long-drawn-out review process will be greeted with a sigh of relief by people throughout the country.''

 

Three days of political momentum



BY SEAN BRADY

After 18 months of obstruction and delay in which the patience of many people was stretched to the limit at a lack of progress which almost saw the Good Friday Agreement consigned to history, the past week witnessed significant political momentum towards finally implementing that Agreement.

Senator George Mitchell outlined his assessment of the review process on Monday, 15 November. He said that in the review the parties had engaged with one another in an unprecedented way, understood each other's concerns better and were committed to resolving the impasse. ``I am increasingly confident that a way will be found to do so,'' he said.

    
  The IRA has demonstrated courage, discipine and patience despite the many difficulties that have dogged the process, despite the failure thus far to implement the Good Friday Agreement, and the ongoing sectarian attacks by loyalists. I would urge the two governments and the political parties to respond positively to this IRA statement 
Gerry Adams

Mitchell urged that the assessment on which the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) has been working be made public promptly, that the parties give their views on that report and make those positions public. ``Shortly after these further steps are taken, I hope to be in a position to issue a final report on the review,'' he said.

George Mitchell's statement was welcomed by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and U.S. President Bill Clinton, who said he was ``heartened'' by it.

Gerry Adams said Sinn Féin shared Mitchell's confidence that the review had the potential to achieve a resolution of the impasse. He welcome his assessment that the institutions should be established at the earliest possible date and said the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement was the only context for addressing outstanding issues.

Later on Monday, General de Chastelain addressed reporters at Stormont stating that decommissioning was a voluntary act and asking armed groups to appoint representatives to meet the IICD.

Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinnes welcomed the IICD's assertion that a successful outcome to the review, including the establishment of the political institutions, would mark a major move forward and agreed with the report's recognition that decommissioning is a voluntary act and cannot be imposed, and that there is a collective responsibility on all the participants to create the context in which decommissioning can be achieved.

On Tuesday, 16 November, all parties issued statements outlining their respective positions in relation to the implementation of the Agreement.

    
  The IRA is willing to further enhance the peace process and consequently, following the establishment of the institutions agreed on Good Friday last year, the IRA leadership will appoint a representative to enter into discussions with General John de Chastelain and the IICD 
Oglaigh na hÉireann

In a statement released by Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams said:

``Sinn Féin is totally committed to the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement in all its aspects. We believe that the wholehearted implementation of the Agreement has the capacity to transform the existing situation through constructive and dynamic political development.

``It is an unprecedented opportunity to start afresh. An opportunity to put behind us the failures, the tragedy and the suffering of the past. There is no doubt that we are entering into the final stages of the resolution of the conflict.

``The IRA cessation - which has now been in place for a total of almost four years - represents an important and positive contribution by the IRA to the resolution of the conflict. IRA guns are silent and the Sinn Féin leadership is confident that the IRA remains committed to the objective of a permanent peace.

``By providing an effective political alternative, we can remove the potential for conflict. That conflict must be, for all of us now, a thing of the past - over, done with and gone.

``There has been a particular focus on arms. This issue is addressed directly in the Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Féin accepts that decommissioning is an essential part of the peace process. We believe the issue of arms will be finally and satisfactorily settled under the aegis of the de Chastelain Commission as set out in the Agreement. All parties to the Agreement have an obligation to help bring decommissioning about. Sinn Féin is committed to discharging its responsibilities in this regard.

``Decommissioning can only come about on a voluntary basis. The Good Friday Agreement makes clear that the context required for its resolution is the implementation of the overall settlement, including the operation of its institutions and using the mechanism of the de Chastelain Commission. This is a collective responsibility.

``Sinn Féin has a total and absolute commitment to pursue its objectives by exclusively peaceful and democratic means in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement. For this reason, we are totally opposed to any use of force or threat of force by others for any political purpose. We are totally opposed to punishment attacks.

``In the Executive the two Sinn Féin ministers will make and honour the pledge of office which includes a commitment to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means. Under the terms of the Agreement, any member of the Executive can be removed from office for failure to meet his or her responsibilities, including those set out in the Pledge of Office.

``All sections of our people have suffered profoundly in this conflict. That suffering is a matter of deep regret but makes the difficult process of removing conflict all the more imperative. Sinn Féin wishes to work with, not against, the unionists and recognises this as yet another imperative. For Sinn Féin, co-operation and accommodation is the objective of this process.

``We reiterate our total commitment to do everything in our power to maintain the peace process and to removing the gun forever from the politics of our country.''

On Wednesday afternoon, 17 November, Oglaigh na hÉireann issued a statement which made clear its view of the Good Friday Agreement as a significant development and announcing that it would appoint a representative to meet General de Chastelain and the IICD.

The statement read: ``The IRA is committed unequivocally to the search for freedom, justice and peace in Ireland.

``In our view the Good Friday Agreement is a significant development and we believe its full implementation will contribute to the achievement of lasting peace.

``We acknowledge the leadership given by Sinn Féin throughout this process.

``The IRA is willing to further enhance the peace process and consequently, following the establishment of the institutions agreed on Good Friday last year, the IRA leadership will appoint a representative to enter into discussions with General John de Chastelain and the IICD.''

Responding to the IRA statement, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said:

``I welcome and commend the IRA's positive statement.

``The IRA has consistently demonstrated over recent years a willingness to enhance the search for a democratic peace settlement.

``The IRA has demonstrated courage, discipine and patience despite the many difficulties that have dogged the process, despite the failure thus far to implement the Good Friday Agreement, and the ongoing sectarian attacks by loyalists.

``I would urge the two governments and the political parties to respond positively to this IRA statement.''

Also on Wednesday, General de Chastelain and his colleagues in the IICD met with all of the pro-Agreement parties. Following his meeting with the IICD, Martin McGuinness said that Sinn Féin had long argued that the IICD should be allowed to get on with the task of resolving the decommissioning issue and the political parties should ``get on with the job establishing the political institutions and creating the conditions in which real progress on decommissioning can be achieved.

``We support that approach.''

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