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16 December 1999 Edition

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Another step forward as All-Ireland Council meets

British Prime Minister Tony Blair refused to comment over the past week on the fact that a car used by Sinn Féin leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness was bugged by the British Secret Services during the Mitchell Review.

The North's Deputy First Minister Séamus Mallon (SDLP) called for a full inquiry into the affair and described the incident as a gross invasion of personal and political privacy.

The car at the centre of the controversy was displayed in Belfast on Thursday and Gerry Adams said he would seek an urgent meeting with Tony Blair on the issue to determine who sanctioned the operation.

Adams said: ``If this had come to public attention or to Sinn Féin's attention during the review, the review would not have succeeded. We would have a far different dispensation today than the one most people are enjoying.'' Asked about what the IRA reaction would have been Adams said: ``You can rest assured the IRA would not have been very pleased.

``The stupidity of it is that the securocrats, who have been running this show for a very long time, appear to have been allowed to run the show even during the very sensitive part of the Mitchell Review.''

In a statement on Wednesday, the loyalist UDA/UFF, who have long been in league with the same shdowy agencies who planted the device in the Sinn Féin car and one of the main groups responsible for the sectarian assassination campaign against the nationalist population of the Six Counties over three deacades, announced that it was appointing representatives to meet General John De Chastelain's Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD).

On Friday, the IICD published a generally positive report which was welcomed by the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister. The report said that progress had been made and that meetings held under the auspices of the IICD had been ``frank''.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams also welcomed the report. He said: ``The decommissioning issue is now where it always should have been since Good Friday 1998. This is a voluntary process which cannot be imposed and which is clearly the responsibility of the Decommissioning Commission to resolve.

``Sinn Féin has consistently argued that the only way to resolve the decommissioning issue is through the Decommissioning Commission, as agreed in the Good Friday Agreement. We have also argued that the two governments and political parties should get on with our business of making politics work. Let's hope that there will now be a concerted effort to do this.

``Today's statement also puts in place the last element of the Mitchell Review. That we have got this far is to the credit of everyone involved.

``Sinn Féin made a huge effort during the Mitchell Review to make that phase of the process a success. This has been undermined by developments since then, but it is a confirmation of republican integrity that the commitments made have been honoured.''

Adams pointed out that the latest progress should not be taken for granted and that Sinn Féin had delivered ``big time''. He said he wished to reiterate the importance of both governments and all parties accepting that the issue was a collective responsibility.

``If anything has been learned in the last 600 days, it is that no issue should be used to undermine the rights and entitlements of citizens or of the parties they elect,'' Adams said, adding that Sinn Féin would would not allow anyone to re-establish preconditions or obstacles.

Meanwhile political developments of historic dimensions moved apace over the past week leading to the first meeting of the all-Ireland Ministerial Council. Initial meetings of the Six-County Assembly Committees took place on Wenesday, 8 December. Five committees, each including 11 members of the Assembly, reviewed issues facing their departments.

Sinn Féin's Dara O'Hagan, Assembly member for Upper Bann and a committee member of the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Department, said that after 30 years of closed government in the Six Counties, transparency and accountability were to the forefront of Sinn Féin's agenda in the Executive.

But the most significant event of the past week was the inaugural meeting of the all-Ireland Ministerial Council in Armagh on Monday. The Dublin Cabinet and the Six County Executive, bar the two DUP Ministers were in attendance.

Sinn Féin Ministers Martin McGuinness and Bairbre de Brún, in a joint statement following the meeting, said: ``Today is truly an historic day and sets forth a new political reality on the island of Ireland.

``This, the first meeting of the All-Ireland Ministerial Council here in Armagh, truly marks the beginning of a new political reality on the island of Ireland. Republicans are now part of a new political administration, with elected representatives from throughout the island of Ireland. The importance of thinking, planning and acting on an all-Ireland basis cannot be overestimated. We look forward to strengthening and developing this work in a dynamic and energetic fashion.

``For nationalists, today's inaugural meeting of the All-Ireland Ministerial Council signals a real step forward in terms of full recognition of our rights and of real equality for all of us sharing this island. Today is another step on the road to a lasting settlement.

``In entering these new institutions, Sinn Féin will bring a political perspective that is radical, that is republican and that is labour. We will bring forward all-Ireland policies to tackle the many issues which face the people in all aspects of their daily lives. Others will bring their own political perspective. However, this diversity of opinion should be seen as a strength and not as a difficulty. We now have an opportunity to find new ways of working together and of realising that we have many common goals.

``Republicans want to build a future based on inclusiveness, partnership and equality. We want to work in a unique partnership with other nationalists and with the representatives of unionism to achieve this.

``We believe that by working together our common interests will come to the fore and we can embrace the new opportunities which face us. This can be and, we hope is, the beginning of a new era for all of Ireland.''

On Wednesday, Sinn Féin launched its Programme for Government in the new Executive . Speaking at the launch, Gerry Adams said that Sinn Féin would be bringing a radical, all-Ireland voice to the new institutions.

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