2 December 1999 Edition
Up and running
The first real step towards the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement was taken this Monday with the nomination of Ministers to the Six-County Executive.
It came after 18 months of obstruction and stalling of the political process, which frustrated people North and South and brought many to the brink of despair.
And now for the first time in the history of the North, Irish republicans are at the very centre of the decision-making process. This is a new challenge to republicans but an even greater challenge to those who wish to hold back the tide of history and prevent political change in Ireland.
Sinn Féin's aim in the new Executive is to bring forward real all-Ireland policies to tackle the many issues which face the people in all aspects of their daily lives. Sinn Féin will strive to make a real difference in the quality of life for all the people. The party is prepared to work in a unique partnership with other nationalists and with the representatives of unionism to achieve this.
The UUP's conditional approach to political progress will continue to cause problems in the time ahead in trying to to develop a new political partnership in the North and across the island. Saturday's decision at the UUC meeting introduced new elements never mentioned during the 11-week Mitchell Review. Their continued reluctance to embrace the new politics mapped out in the Good Friday Agreement must be overcome.
The republican goal remains the establishment of a united, free and independent Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement can be a transitional structure which will allow the achievement of that democratic objective.
Sinn Féin will work in the weeks and months ahead to ensure that society in the Six Counties undergoes fundamental and irreversible change.
BY SEAN BRADY
The first real step towards the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement was taken on Monday, 29 November, with the nomination of ministers to the Six County Executive.
The SDLP's Seámus Mallon was restored to the position of Deputy First Minister after hours of filibustering by anti-Agreement Unionist members of the Assembly.
Mallon had resigned last July after the original attempt to form the Excutive was obstructed and the Good Friday Agreement was brought to a halt. On this occasion, despite the protestations of the rejectionist Unionist camp, the Assembly voted 71-28 in favour of Mallon holding office.
The ministers appointed on Monday were: Deputy First Minister - Sámus Mallon (SDLP); Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment - Reg Empey (UUP); Minister for Finance and Personnel - Mark Durkan (SDLP); Minister for Regional Development - Peter Robinson (DUP); Minister for Education - Martin McGuinness (SF); Minister for the Environment - Sam Foster (UUP); Minister for Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment - Seán Farren (SDLP); Minister for Social Development - Nigel Dodds (DUP); Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure - Michael McGimpsey (UUP); Minister for Health, Social Services, and Public Safety - Bairbre de Brún (SF); Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development - Bríd Rogers (SDLP).
The assembly met briefly on Tuesday, 30 November, to ratify members to the ten statutory committees that will liaise with Executive's ten departments.
Formal devolution of power from Westminster to the northern Assembly and Executive and the institutions under the Good Friday Agreement took place at midnight on Wednesday, 1 December.
UUP step outside Review
BY SEAN BRADY
Following the delivery of Senator George Mitchell's final report of his Review last week, and the formula for moving the process forward was agreed, a meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council (UUC) was convened so that the obstacle which has held up implementation of the Good Friday Agreement for 18 months could be removed. That obstacle had been the UUP's policy of refusing to allow the establishment of the Executive and other institutions.
The Ulster Unionist Council met and agreed on a proposal which unfortunately sets up another precondition for political progress. The latest manoeuvre appears to impose a new UUP-dictated deadline for arms decommisioning.
The UUC meeting took place at Belfast's Waterfront Hall on Saturday, 27 November. Those assembled passed a motion proposed by David Trimble, which stated: ``The Ulster Unionist Council authorises the leader and the Ulster Unionist Assembly Party to proceed as outlined in the Leader's Report and instructs the President to reconvene the Council in February 2,000 to take a final decision.'' It was carried by 480 votes to 34 - 58% to 42%.
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams welcomed the UUC decision to establish the institutions but expressed disappointment that David Trimble had stepped outside the Mitchell Review and the Good Friday Agreement by unilaterally introducing a new deadline, which seeks to dictate and totally undermines and contradicts the agreed role of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD).
``I welcome the decision today by the Ulster Unionist Council to clear the way for the establishment next week of the Executive and other institutions. This process was always going to be a difficult one and I am mindful that the setting up of these institutions has been delayed since the summer of last year,'' Gerry Adams said.
The Sinn Féin President went on: ``I have consistently made it very clear that Sinn Féin wants to work within the new political institutions with unionists. We want to work with them to resolve those difficult issues that continue to divide and separate us. It is by working together that we can totally transform the political landscape.
``I am disappointed that today's motion to the UUC contains an entirely new element. The introduction of a probationary period was never mentioned during the 11 weeks of the Mitchell Review. It is clearly outside the terms of the Mitchell Review and the Good Friday Agreement.
``Under the terms of the Mitchell Review and the Good Friday Agreement the decommissioning issue was to be dealt with by the De Chastelain Commission. By seeking to dictate how and when this is done this new UUP position totally undermines and contradicts the agreed role of the IICD.
``Mr. Trimble is the best judge of how to manage his own party and I know that he has difficulties, but unilaterally introducing new elements and setting up new hurdles is not the way to do business. Today's result is progress but it is short-termism and fragmented, instead of strategic and holistic.''
IRA will ``take own counsel''
BY SEAN BRADY
The IRA has said that the new Unionist preconditions to political progress are outside the terms of the Mitchell Review.
Speaking to An Phoblacht this week, a senior IRA source said that on 17 November the IRA leadership announced that it would appoint a representative to enter into discussions with General John De Chastelain and the Independent International Commission Decommisioning (IICD) following the establishment of the institutions created by the Good Friday Agreement.
The source said that the IRA had been persuaded to take such a step on the basis that it would enhance the Peace Process and that the context in which the organisation agreed to the move was the clear understanding that the announcement and appointment would be part of a series of events which would move the political process beyond the impasse in which it has been stuck for the past 18 months.
But in a clear reference to the developments at the Ulster Unionist Council meeting in Belfast on Saturday, the IRA source pointed out that the subsequent setting of preconditions for future progress towards the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement by David Trimble was not part of this context and, in the IRA's view, represents a clear departure from the terms of the Mitchell Review.
The source made it clear that the IRA would ``take its own counsel'' on the implication of this development.
Meanwhile, ``the appointment of a representative to meet with the IICD will go ahead as agreed by the IRA leadership''.
Possibility of change now open
Addressing the Assembly on Monday, 29 November, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said: ``We stand on the threshold of great change. There have been many times in the past six years when the words `historic', `momentous', `a new beginning' and more, have been used to describe pivotal points in the slow development of this peace process. However, the Mitchell Review is truly a watershed moment in our history. Despite the conditional and short term response by the UUP at the weekend, the review's endorsement opens up the possibility of great change. This requires all of us reshaping the political context in which we live.
Sinn Féin is proud to stand in the tradition of the Presbyterians of the1790s, who fought for Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Our goal remains the establishment of a united free and independent Ireland. We believe the Good Friday Agreement is the transitional structure that will allow us to achieve that legitimate objective. Others in this Assembly will hold a different view. That's fair enough. But what we now have is a means by which we can all pursue our political goals in partnership, as equals, in mutual respect and toleration.
This partnership does not require the compromise of principles or the diminution of vision. What it does require is a focus and a harnessing of energy to bring about visible and fundamental change in people's daily lives.
Sinn Féin is a radical republican labour party. It is our commitment, and our determination to bring forward real all-Ireland policies which will overcome the inequalities, the poverty and the injustices which face so many of our people. That will mean empowering people, empowering local communities, trade unions, our farming community, empowering parents, our business community and empowering politicians, to grasp what is good, to build on what is new and innovative, and to drive forward with energy and enthusiasm.
Our common responsibility, our inclusive political culture, can be the dynamic for bold, decisive and positive change. But at its heart, dictating the pace of events and ensuring that our new partnership of equals will work, must be open, transparent and accountable government. A people-centred government. A government owned by and responsible to the people. The historic challenge which will face the Executive in the days and weeks ahead will be to forge policies from our differing attitudes on economic policy, on education, health care, youth training, equality matters and much more. With the setting up of the Executive, the all-Ireland institutions and the All-Ireland Policy and Implementation bodies, comes a responsibility of participation.
That requires that we work together in co-operation and good faith. The UUP's conditional approach to this will continue to cause problems in trying to to develop a new political partnership. Saturday's decision at the Ulster Unionist Council meeting introduced new elements never mentioned during the 11-week Mitchell Review. Their continued reluctance to embrace fully the new politics mapped out in the Good Friday Agreement is a challenge to be overcome. It requires decisive and forward-looking leadership. Unionists have nothing to fear from sharing power with republicans. Our future is bound up together. Our future is a concern and a responsibility for all of us as individuals, as political leaders, as political parties, as governments, as communities, as organisations and as businesses. A durable, unbreakable, immovable peace requires not just the taking of responsibility but the sharing of responsibility, of power and of decision making.
Success in Life never comes without a struggle. This is our challenge. To hold firm. To do what is right. Standing stronger together. This is how the challenge of change is conquered. Not by failing to make change, but by changing in a way that gives us strength for the future.''
Sinn Féin Ministers
Sinn Féin, entitled under the d'Hondt sysytem, to two ministers in the Executive, nominated the party's Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness as Minister for Education and Bairbre de Brún as Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety.
There was some hissing and heckling from anti-Agreement Unionists when Martin McGuinness was nominated and Cedric Wilson of the Northern Ireland Unionist Party stormed out of the chamber in a one-man token protest, shouting ``I won't sit through this obscenity''.
Asked about the significance of his appointment as a minister and the hostile reactions it had received from some sections, Martin McGuinness attempted to reassure unionists: ``I am fully aware of the responsibilities that I have, and the ability we have to ensure that there is equality and justice in education.
``The reality is that the community I come from has been discriminated against for many years and the last thing we want to do is turn around and treat other sections of our community in the way that we were treated.''
Bairbre de Brún said that as Minister for Health she would prioritise an all-Ireland approach and that she wished to meet with staff and patients to hear first hand their views before tackling the future shape of the health service.
A new era for all of Ireland
Speaking in the special Dáil debate on the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said that Sinn Féin has entered the new Executive ``in a spirit of partnership, extending the hand of friendship to our unionist neighbours. I believe that by working together our common interest as an island people will come to the fore and that we can embrace a new sense of Irishness in a new millennium. This can be and, I hope, is the beginning of a new era for all of Ireland.''
On the Patten Report he said:
``The Patten Report has highlighted the need for a new policing service in the Six Counties. Many of its recommendations are progressive; many do not go nearly far enough. All are dependent upon legislation and implementation by the British government. What will not be accepted by republicans is any shirking from this task on the part of the British government in an effort to mollify the rejectionist wing of unionism.''
O Caoláin took the opportunity to congratulate congratulate the new Minister for Education Martin McGuinness and the new Minister for Health and Public Safety Bairbre de Brún. ``I know that both of them will apply to their ministries the sense of justice and equality which is the bedrock of Irish republicanism,'' he said. ``Their experience in campaigning with communities for social justice over many years will equip them for their onerous new roles. I know also that their diligence and attention to detail make them well qualified to fulfill their tasks.''
He said that as a TD representing a border constituency, ``I look forward to working with the Sinn Féin Ministers, and with the other new Ministers and Committee members of all parties, in ensuring that we fulfill the potential of the Agreement to bring real and tangible benefits to the people of the border counties and of the entire country.
``We have the opportunity to put behind us decades of failed partitionist politics which saw a stunted economy and regions such as the border region marginalised and underdeveloped. For the people of the border counties partition has been a daily reality, thwarting their efforts to progress economically and socially. It has lasted for most of this century. For them, therefore, the All-Ireland nature of the Agreement is vital. It has potential to develop the island economy and to rebuild communities across the artificial boundary. That potential must be fulfilled and the Irish Government has a huge responsibility to ensure that it is fulfilled.
O Caoláin also singled out the RUC for mention: ``That discredited force has been engaged in a charm offensive which has been indulged by certain sections of the media with smiling photographs of RUC Chief Ronnie Flanagan receiving awards from schoolchildren. More seriously there has been a public relations link-up between the Garda Commissioner and the RUC chief. Indulgence by elements in this state in such a rearguard action by an RUC whose future is under threat shows a blindness to the need for fundamental change.''
A good time to be a republican
BY MICK DERRIG
Republicans adapted their tactics, dared to think the unthinkable, and adopted a clear strategy designed to achieve their objectives, in the short and long terms. This is the achievement of a Risen People
People can become disoriented by change. Even when you've spent 25 years in struggle constantly battling to change things that apparently don't move - when it does start to move it can be a bit disorientating.
Admit it - these last five years have been confusing. Far more confusing than the previous five years. But that's winning for you.
Part of you thought you'd never see it. If you're like me and in your forties, then you'll certainly remember comrades who never lived to see this thing to this stage. Things are moving though. That's what you feel at every cumann meeting, from every conversation with a solid comrade of many years.
We are losing the familiar, the struggle is moving into new terrain, but it's still the struggle. Some of us need all of our political furniture in the one place, we need to know that it won't move. Well, bad news comrades, the furniture is about to be whirled round the house like a scene from Poltergeist.
No one is sure where all the items will be exactly when they fall to the floor. However, it is possible, I believe, to see which rooms some of the furniture is going to finally end up in, and it actually looks OK for us, very OK indeed.
We're Irish republicans - our aims are the realisation of the Easter Proclamation - a 32-county Irish Republic where all the children of the nation are cherished equally. We are the only party with that vision on an all-island basis.
For the foreseeable future there will be two jurisdictions on this small island. Crazy I know, but we aren't to blame for that. Partition is not gone, not yet.
Lets look at the positives. Our vote will continue to grow in the Six counties with every use of the ballot box. Both the raw numbers of cultural nationalists are growing and our share of those available votes is also increasing. Bottom line - it's going our way. There will be an administration in Stormont, but it won't be Stormont.
This conflict had its origins in the illegal partition of our country and in how the Six-County statelet subsequently treated nationalists. After all those decades of abused power, the unionists will never be trusted to wield unaccountable power again, ever.
Instead, the Good Friday Agreement has effectively written in a cross-community coalition government in the Six Counties. What does this mean?
It means Sinn Féin in government in the Six-County jurisdiction! This is no longer Sammy's Wee Ulster.
OK. That's Strand One, not a strand that we wanted, but the revolutionary is an improviser - you work with what you've got. In Strand Two, it gets very interesting. We all expect Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin to have company when he enters the Dáil after the next election. That will establish this party as a force in the Dáil. Any of the big players will have to deal with that.
The key to this, in part, is our permanent position on the Strand Two, all-island implementation bodies. To turn the Morrison paradigm of the 1980s on its head, the key to the South is the North. Our position of permanent government in the Northern assembly, for as long at it exists, and our permanent position on cross-border implementation bodies, will cause a paradigm shift in Southern political geography.
Any political dispensation in Leinster House that doesn't include us won't be worth a penny candle. The border won't have disappeared yet, but our presence in both Strand One and Strand Two will compromise the integrity of the Union. Northern Ireland can no longer be claimed to be ``as British as Finchley''. The policy of integrationism, so long the bedrock of the UUP worldview, is gone, done with, finished, over.
This is a far more major dilution of the link with England than the Hillsborough Agreement. I say the link with ``England'', because the link with Scotland offers bucketfuls of potential scenarios that only republicans will be able to respond to imaginatively.
Bobby Sands said that we would have to broaden the battlefield. This process has done this. In 1981, a racist militarist in No.10 protected Sammy's Wee Ulster. During Thatcher's Reign of Error, to even suggest the following as possible would have been locked ward talk:
An international Treaty tying in the Six Counties to all-island structures with Sinn Féin government ministers.
That the Treaty would be brokered from the White House - the same White House that Reagan occupied.
That THE key player in this entire strategy would be a disciplined IRA. An army that had proved for all time that it was totally undefeatable.
Republicans made it happen. The idea that the governance of the Six Counties would be administered by, effectively, a Bill of Rights that enshrined republicanism as an equal of unionism in the Six Counties was crazy, unthinkable. Anyone who conjectured this out loud would have their names etched forever in the pantheon of Super Loopers.
So, how was it done? Republicans adapted their tactics, dared to think the unthinkable, and adopted a clear strategy designed to achieve their objectives, in the short and long terms. This is the achievement of a Risen People. We are now on the threshold of a whole range of new possibilities. All we have to be is be there, be ourselves and be united.
This is a good time to be a republican.