17 February 2000 Edition
British to blame for crisis - IRA
Exclusive IRA Interview
In an exclusive interview with An Phoblacht, a spokesperson for Oglaigh na hÉireann apportions responsibility for the current deep crisis firmly at the feet of the British Government for giving in to the unionist veto. The IRA calls on the British Government to take immediate steps to rescind the suspension, reestablish the institutions, and repair the damage they have caused.
An Phoblacht (AP): The peace process has moved into a deep crisis in the past week. The IRA have been blamed by some politicians and sections of the media for this. What is your view on this?
Óglaigh na hÉireann (IRA): The peace process is undoubtedly in deep crisis. This has been caused by the suspension of the political institutions by British Secretary of State Peter Mandelson. He has succumbed to the Unionist veto, so responsibility for this crisis rests squarely on his shoulders. We should not forget, however, that the peace process has been in a state of almost continual crisis caused by the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party's refusal to support the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
AP: So, are you saying the crisis is not around or caused by the decommissioning issue?
IRA: The crisis is neither about nor caused by the decommissioning issue. John Major introduced the issue only after the IRA had announced its cessation in 1994. It was not part of the cessation. The British Government knows this.
Major used the issue to undermine and diminish the IRA initiative, prevent forward movement, and in turn used it in a failed attempt to defeat the IRA.
It was first used as a precondition to delay the beginning of negotiations. It has been used again and again by the leadership of the UUP in support of their own narrow agenda to renegotiate the Good Friday Agreement. This is all about preventing change and maintaining the political status quo.
AP: What is the IRA view on the issue of arms?
IRA: We have stated publicly that the issue of arms has to be dealt with in an acceptable way and that this is a necessary objective of a genuine peace process. In fact, it was the IRA who took the first step to remove the guns from Irish politics by calling a cessation.
The issue of arms cannot be resolved on terms dictated by the British government or the unionists.
AP: Why did the IRA send a representative to meet with the IICD?
IRA: The IRA leadership's decision to appoint a representative to enter into discussions with the IICD has to be viewed in the context and outcome of the Mitchell Review. Since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, the peace process had moved from one crisis to the next, all created by unionist obstruction, culminating in the July spectacle of the Ulster Unionists refusing to turn up for the establishment of the Executive. The process had ground to a halt, so, in November we appointed a representative to meet the IICD as part of a series of events, including the establishment of the political institutions, designed to break the logjam.
AP: Unionists and Peter Mandelson have suggested that there was some agreement or understanding at this point that actual decommissioning would take place in January.
IRA: Let me make this crystal clear, and I refer you to our statement of Saturday, 5 February in which we stated that the IRA had never entered into any agreement, undertaking or understanding at any time with anyone on any aspect of decommissioning. Neither the British government, the Irish government or the UUP have contradicted this.
AP: Can you give details of your discussions with the IICD?
IRA: Our representative met with the IICD on four occasions since last November. There were also a number of telephone contacts. The discussions were substantive and constructive. Our representative put forward some propositions and set out a context in which the issue of arms could be dealt with in an acceptable way.
AP: Any detail of the propositions?
IRA: There is no point in outlining the detail of the propositions because as you know they have been withdrawn as a result of Peter Mandelson's unilateral decision in suspending the political institutions.
AP: Will the IRA recommence its engagement with the IICD?
IRA: Well, the IICD was set up by the two governments to deal with the arms issue. It issued a report on 11 February which the British Government binned. What is the point engaging with a body which the British Government has rendered irrelevant?
AP: With the peace process in deep crisis, what are the prospects for progress?
IRA: The potential of the peace process is that it can deliver real and lasting peace. It contains the ability to bring about meaningful change and to remove the causes of conflict. Its potential has been seriously damaged by the suspension of the institutions. Responsibility for this rests with the British Government. The position can only be rectified by a rescinding of the suspension and a reestablishment of the institutions. The British Government must take immediate steps to bring this about and repair the damage they have caused.
Plunged into crisis
BY SEAN BRADY
The political process in the Six Counties was collapsed and the future of the Good Friday Agreement plunged into crisis at midnight on Friday, 11 February, when Peter Mandelson announced to the British House of Commons the suspension of the institutions under the Agreement and re-imposed direct British rule.
There is a widespread belief that Mandelson, in suspending the institutions, was working to the terms of a secret deal done with the UUP at the time of the Mitchell Review in November
The suspension decision was predicated on a threat by Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble to resign as First Minister at a meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council the following day if the British government did not suspend the institutions.
Mandelson's decision was made despite the fact that he had been made aware of the positive nature of a second report from the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD), which Sinn Féin believed had the potential to resolve the issue. The British Secretary of State thwarted the IRA proposition by suspending the institutions in an atmosphere of panic surrounding the unionist ultimatum. There is a widespread belief that Mandelson, in suspending the institutions, was working to the terms of a secret deal done with the UUP at the time of the Mitchell Review in November.
The proposition, which resulted from shuttle diplomacy by Sinn Féin representatves moving between the Irish and British governments, the Ulster Unionist Party, the United States administration and the IRA, was a clear context in which the IRA would deal with the arms issue in a way which would enhance public confidence that it was being addressed definitively.
This new development was of enormous significance, particularly when set alongside the IRA's earlier assertion that it posed no threat to the peace process and that its guns were silent. Sinn Féin stated its belief that if there was political will, this development could resolve the weapons issue. The Irish and British governments had, at all times in the past two weeks, been kept abreast of all developments around this issue. Despite all of this, Mandelson stuck rigidly to a path on which he had been clearly set for some time and suspended the institutions.
It has been the Ulster Unionist Party who, from the outset, have played games with the Good Friday Agreement. They have never engaged with it in spirit or in letter
Nationalists reacted to the suspension with deep anger. Over the weekend, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern stated that the Irish Constitution has no provision for suspension of the institutions, while Sinn Féin said it was considering a legal challenge to the suspension order. Ahern also confirmed the ``deep significance for the resolution of the decommissioning issue of the last two paragraphs of the de Chastelain report''.
On the Constitutional aspects of the suspension, Ahern said: ``All parties to the Agreement have particular concerns and responsibilities that they must look to. For the Irish government, these include our position as a state with a written constitution.
``That Constitution has now been amended to include the terms of the British-Irish Agreement, terms which do not expressly include provision for suspension. In that context, suspension raises issues of concern for the government and any significant extension of it could make the situation more difficult.''
On Monday, Sinn Féin met with Dublin Foreign Affairs Minister Brian Cowen in Belfast as nationalist and republican anger continued to grow over the British government's actions.
On Tuesday afternoon, the IRA announced the withdrawal of its representative from engagement with the de Chastelain Commission. The organisation said the British Secretary of State had reintroduced the unionist veto by suspending the political institutions under the Good Friday Agreement. This had changed the context in which it had appointed a representative to meet the IICD and created a deeper crisis.
The IRA said that both the British government and the UUP leadership had rejected the propositions put to the IICD by its representative and added that those who sought military victory needed to understand that this cannot and would not happen.
Its statement finished by announcing that in the light of the changed circumstances the IRA leadership had decided to end its engagement with the IICD and that it was withdrawing all propositions put to the commission by its representative since November.
Critical reaction to the IRA statement from unionists was entirely predictable but reaction from hurlers on the ditch John Bruton, Ruairí Quinn and Seamus Mallon must have been particularly irritating to those who had been attempting might and main to avert the latest crisis.
In a ridiculous outburst worthy only of Bruton at his most melodramatic, the Fine Gael leader accused the IRA of attempting to ``humiliate the Taoiseach'', by the timing of the announcement. Meanwhile, Labour leader Ruairí Quinn accused the organisation of ``betrayal'' - this just days after the hopes of millions had been betrayed by the tearing down of inclusive government and all-Ireland institutions under unionist threats.
But even worse was the pathetic reaction of SDLP deputy leader Seámus Mallon, who has lacked any semblance of consistency in his statements of the past few weeks. Turning the logic of recent events on its head, he accused republicans of ``playing ducks and drakes with two governments, the rest of the political parties on the island of Ireland and people who voted for the Good Friday Agreement'' and wondered aloud as to whether the IRA would ``thwart the wishes of both governments and world opinion''.
The facts are that it has been the Ulster Unionist Party who, from the outset, have played games with the Good Friday Agreement. They have never engaged with it in spirit or in letter. David Trimble chose to ignore recent IRA movement on the decommissioning issue and refused to act as a leader by using the latest intitiave to even attempt to bring his party with him.
The reality is that Unionist obstruction has nothing to do with decommissioning but everything to do with opposition to political change. But neither David Trimble nor any British Secretary of State can change the need and the right of the Irish people to follow a path of political change and progress.
There is no legal or political basis for any review of the Good Friday Agreement in the present circumstances. Having torn down the institutions and torn up the Agreement, the British government has yet to spell out what they propose will come next.
British tear up Agreement
Gerry Adams says that he has been given no indication that the British government will put back in place the institutions which it unilaterally suspended last Friday. The Sinn Féin President was speaking after he, accompanied by Martin McGuinness, Bairbre de Brún and Seán Crowe, met with British prime minister Tony Blair, Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen and Secretary of State Peter Mandelson, at Downing Street in London on Wednesday, 16 February. Adams said that he had gleaned no sense of the calamity brought to the process by the British government's unilateral decision to bring down the institutions.
The Sinn Féin leaders were in London in another round of intensive efforts to salvage what remains of the Good Friday Agreement. Gerry Adams had been due to visit London anyway to brief members of the Middle East press in London and to address a meeting of Jubilee 2000, which campaigns for an end to third world debt.
Sinn Féin's dismay and frustration at the collapsing by Peter Mandelson of the Assembly in order to secure David Trimble's position was apparent at a press conference given by Adams prior to the Downing Street meeting. The Sinn Féin President told reporters that his party would need to consider very carefully whether, in the light of the collapse, it had any further role to play in resolving the arms question over and above the obligations of the Good Friday Agreement, given the repeated and serious ``body blows'' it had received over the past years in its attempts to move the process forward.
Whilst he was reluctant at that point to comment on the news that Tony Blair had already made a decision not to reinstate the Assembly until the IRA has provided a ``timetable'' of how and when it would decommission, Gerry Adams said:
``Already, Downing Street have moved outside the remit of the Good Friday Agreement when Peter Mandelson collapsed the institutions. There is no legal basis whatsoever for this and it is that which has created this very difficult situation for everyone.
``Our objective is - and the only objective of the two governments should be - the putting back in place of the institutions as soon as possible. We cannot make progress in a political vacuum.''
Asked if the position taken by the IRA had made his own job more difficult, Gerry Adams said:
``No, I don't think it makes my job more difficult. The evidence of the IRA's commitment is five years of cessation. The fact is that it moved in the first place to actually enter into discussions with the de Chastelain Commission. In the last two weeks, it issued two public statements, which were completely ignored by the government, and its representative put forward propositions to the Commission which led the de Chastelain Commission to issue a report in which it said that it had the basis to fulfil its remit. The British government rejected those proposals.''
Regarding the meeting with Blair and Ahern, he commented that ``this meeting comes on the back of the failure of the British Government to take the process forward. There may be some suggestion that by coaxing or cajoling or stonewalling with Sinn Féin that Sinn Féin will be able to move forward again because the whole process has been one of republicans taking initiatives. We have no room at all in this situation, given the failure of our initiatives. The only breakthrough which can make politics work is a return of the institutions.
``The British government has decided that there cannot be a peace process without David Trimble. I accept absolutely that David Trimble is a very important person in this process, but he is only a positive and constructive and useful element in the peace process if he sticks to the agreement which he made on Good Friday. If that agreement is set to one side and there is an attempt to build a peace process on David Trimble's terms, or on the terms of Unionism, then the whole basis of the process has been changed. That is the double vision which led Peter Mandelson into this decision - even though he had received all the IRA propositions and the de Chastelain Commission's report. That needs to be rectified.
``I don't think we can altogether blame Unionism for its refusal to face up to its responsibilities because a British government has wobbled on this issue. The rejectionist Unionists will be encouraged in their tactical approach; the British government has done this once, will they do it again if we ever get the institutions up again and the Unionists aren't satisfied with the Patten Report? Will they go along to Mr Mandelson again and say `bring down the institutions again'. It they weren't satisfied with the review of the judicial system? It is a huge crisis that we are into because a government has moved away from an agreement and because a government has unilaterally and illegally broken a commitment.
``Consider briefly that since the British partitioned Ireland, we have had 60 years of one party rule, domination, discrimination and repression. We then had 30 years of war, and then we had eight weeks of inclusive government, and the British government moved to tear it down. I think that should give you some sense of nationalist concerns and disappointment about how the government is currently handling the situation.
``That is exacerbated by the fact that this government came to this in a good way. It's my view that both Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson in their heart of hearts do want to bring in the changes that are required, but are engaged in this tactical game which means them surrendering their governmental responsibilities to backwoodsmen and women of Unionism''.
The irony, said Adams, lay in the fact that he was ``convinced that David Trimble, Reg Empey and others are convinced of the Sinn Féin argument'' on decommissioning, as are Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson also convinced of the logic of that argument. Given that, he said he ``had to ponder on why they then do things totally outside that logic.
``It has to do not with guns, but with change. Change is within the rights of people who live in Ireland; it not within the gift of a British Secretary of State or of a Unionist leader.''
The issue of decommissioning had, he said, been used throughout the process as a means of putting a brake on change.
Asked about the possibility of Sinn Féin taking part in any new review set up by the British Government, Gerry Adams said:
``There is no question of there being a review, because there is no legal basis for a review. The Good Friday Agreement is very specific; there can be a review when difficulties arise, but there cannot be a review on the basis of a unilateral suspension. So the question doesn't arise.''
Setting the Record Straight
Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, 12 February, Gerry Adams, accompanied by Martin McGuinness, Bairbre de Brún and Gerry Kelly, detailed Sinn Féin's efforts to save the peace process in the run up to Peter Mandelson's decision to suspend the institutions under the Good Friday Agreement. The following is the full text of Adams's comments:
``I want to be very measured in what I say after yesterday's events. We are all in a very difficult situation as a result of Peter Mandelson's decision last night to collapse the political institutions. His actions were driven by a unilateral unionist demand and deadline.
Mandelson's decision has shaken confidence among nationalists and republicans in the approach of the British government and confirmed a perception among unionists that they have a veto.
Last night's decision by Mr Mandelson has shaken confidence among nationalists and republicans in the approach of the British government and confirmed a perception among unionists that they have a veto.
The British Secretary of State has claimed that he did not know of the IRA position or of the contents of the de Chastelain report before he suspended the institutions.
Let me say that both the British and Irish governments knew exactly what Sinn Féin was trying to do. They were part of this. And they knew the detail of each step as the situation progressed.
What was Sinn Féin trying to do?
Sinn Féin was trying to find a resolution to the arms issue and to do that within a time frame that would prevent the collapse of the institutions.
We had made that clear to both governments several weeks ago. We had also made it clear that this task was made more difficult by the British threat to suspend the institutions, by the way unionists had presented the Mitchell review, and by the general and orchestrated campaign by anti-republican elements to gang up on Sinn Féin.
Peter Mandelson was presented with a unionist threat that David Trimble would resign if the IRA did not meet unionist demands. He was told that he would have to suspend the institutions. Mr Mandelson decided that he would suspend the institutions. This has been his focus for some time now.
For example this morning, Reg Empey spoke on BBC of how the UUP had gone ``through the scenarios with Mr Mandelson last November...''
This has been the fraught context in which Sinn Féin has sought to avert last evening's disaster. There are those who will say that we were pressurised into this. I can tell you categorically that our concern, and we have spelt this out to the media over recent days, our concern has been to save the Good Friday Agreement and the institutions and to maintain stability in the peace process.
Our failure to save the institutions is the failure of politics in this part of our country.
I want to deal with the question of what the British government knew and didn't know about developments. We were in contact on a daily and sometimes a few times daily with officials from both governments and with senior Ministers including the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister, with the de Chastelain Commission and with the IRA and others.
As the de Chastelain reports make clear, the IRA was also on regular contact with it.
In the course of all of this the two governments were kept fully briefed by us on all developments.
For example, in paragraph 5 of the second de Chastelain report it describes an IRA position as ``particularly significant, and ...as
valuable progress''. This position was communicated to the Commission in the middle of last week.
Sinn Féin discussed this with the two governments at that time. I give you this as an example of how we conducted this effort to save the institutions.
So any suggestion that there was no knowledge of what was going on is a nonsense.
I don't want to take you through every wheel and turn of this so I will compress all of this into the period leading up to yesterday's suspension.
As part of very intense shuttle diplomacy, an advanced IRA position was secured. I have since described this as a major breakthrough. We gave this to the Irish government in the early hours of Friday morning. Our meeting with them concluded at 4.30am.
Subsequently, this position was passed to the British government. I spoke to Tony Blair by phone about this around noon yesterday. In the course of the afternoon I also spoke to the Taoiseach and to Peter Mandelson and Martin McGuinness and I were in contact on a number of occasions with senior British and Irish officials.
It had been my intention to meet with David Trimble. When it was not possible, I asked Martin McGuinness to meet with him and to tell him that the IRA had put forward a new position. That took place at 2pm.
I also asked Martin McGuinness to meet with the IICD. He did yesterday as well. By this time, the Commission had received the IRA's position. Martin McGuinness discussed these matters with the IICD for a short time and then contacted me by telephone and Martin and I formed a clear view that the second report would be positive and was imminent.
I spoke to Mr Mandelson around this time and on the basis of the new initiative I urged him not to collapse the institutions. It was obvious that he was intent on proceeding with suspension.
I also spoke to Mr Trimble by telephone and asked him to withdraw his resignation on the basis of this new initiative. He told me it was not enough.
In this context I decided that the public needed to know that:
*there was an initiative capable of resolving this matter
*that a second and a very positive IICD repot was imminent
*and we hoped to forestall Mr Mandelson's move to suspend the political institutions
And I issued a statement at 5.10pm outlining the initiative. The rest is history.
It appears to me that if the second de Chastelain report had been issued, Mr Mandelson could not have suspended the institutions because the conclusion of the report says ``the Commission believes that this commitment, on the basis described above, holds out the real prospect of an agreement which would enable it to fulfill the substance of its mandate. We will make a further report to the two governments as appropriate.''
Mr Mandelson was, however, working to another imperative and that was that Mr Cunningham, the President of the UUP, was going to deliver Mr Trimble's resignation yesterday afternoon and that the UUP were warning that this could only be prevented if an announcement of the suspension was on the 6pm news.
So despite being aware of the IRA position, of Sinn Féin's view of it, and of the imminence of a positive de Chastelain report, Mr Mandelson proceeded with the suspension.
Within the nationalist and republican community, there is a deep sense of anger and frustration at the way in which the UUP has dictated events and effectively set aside the spirit and the letter of the Good Friday Agreement.
Mr Mandelson is in default of the Agreement. Mr Trimble is in default of the Agreement.''
IRA ends IICD engagement
On Tuesday, 15 February, the IRA issued ta statement announcing that it was ending its engagement with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning and withdrawing all propositions put to that body by the IRA's representative since November. The following is the full text of the IRA statement:
``On 17 November, the leadership of the IRA agreed to appoint a representative to enter into discussions with the IICD (Independent International Commission on Decommissioning).
This was on the basis that it would be part of a series of events, including, and in particular, the establishment of the political institutions set out in the Good Friday Agreement. This was designed to move the situation out of an 18-month impasse. This impasse was created and maintained by unionist intransigence and a failure by the British government to advance the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
The British Secretary of State has reintroduced the unionist veto by suspending the political institutions. This has changed the context in which we appointed a representative to meet with the IICD and has created a deeper crisis.
Both the British government and the leadership of theUlster Unionist Party have rejected the propositions put to the IICD by our representative. They obviously have no desire to deal with the issue of arms except on their own terms.
Those who seek a military victory in this way need to understand that this cannot and will not happen.
Those who have made the political process conditional on the decommissioning of silenced IRA guns are responsible for the current crisis in the peace process.
In the light of these changed circumstances the leadership of the IRA have decided to end our engagement with the IICD. We are also withdrawing all propositions put to the IICD by our representative since November.''
Ó Caoláin challenges Mandelson in London
British Secretary of State Peter Mandelson was this week challenged in London by Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin over his suspension of the institutions established under the Good Friday Agreement.
Ó Caoláin told Mandelson that he and his government had ``unilaterally suspended the very institutions'' which offered hope for lasting peace. Ó Caoláin said that Mandelson now had to restore ``not only the institutions, but even more importantly public confidence in you and your government's commitment to the cornerstones of the Agreement which are, without question, equality and parity of esteem for the electoral mandates of all participants''.
The exchange took place at the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body, which met in Westminster on Monday and Tuesday. This structure brings together members of the Oireachtas and the British Houses of Parliament.
The British Secretary of State addressed the Body on Monday and was questioned by Ó Caoláin on the failure of the British government to demilitarise in the Six Counties. The Cavan/Monaghan TD said that the British government document `Security - Return to Normality' published before Christmas ``only cursoriliy addresses demilitarisation, a critical focus issue which it neither adequately nor seriously pursued''.
On Tuesday, the Body debated a motion which ``calls on all parties to do everything in their power to secure the earliest re-establishment of the democratic institutions, in accordance with the overwhelmingly expressed decision in referenda in the island of Ireland North and South and the full implementation of all aspects of the Agreement''. A member of the British House of Lords, Lord Glentoran, put down an amendment which added the words ``including the decommissioning of all illegally held arms by all paramilitary groups''.
Ó Caoláin spoke in support of the motion and against the amendment. He told members: ``I want to see the immediate reinstatement of the Executive and the associated implementation bodies promised in the Good Friday Agreement. Let it be noted by the members of this Body that we in Sinn Féin have repeatedly stretched the republican constituency during this period in order to reach accommodation with our political opponents. I have throughout my service on this body sought to demonstrate that commitment. I cannot accept the amendment because it highlights only one aspect of the Good Friday Agreement, tagged onto an original motion which correctly expresses the need for all aspects to be implemented.''
He said it was clear from the Ulster Unionist Council meeting at the weekend that their use of the arms issue was ``totally disingenuous''. ``Their real motivation is not decommissioning but opposition to the Agreement itself,'' he said. As it was obvious that the motion would not command the support of a majority of British and Irish members, Glentoran withdrew it.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Ó Caoláin clashed with former Tory Six-County minister Michael Mates, who was summing up on behalf of the British members. Mates launched into a diatribe in which he repeatedly referred to ``Sinn Féin/IRA''. Ó Caoláin called him to order during his speech, an interruption which the chair David Winnick said was ``unprecedented'' but adding that they understood the Sinn Féin member's objection.
British government in breach of Agreement - Ó Caoláin
INC vows to continue its role
The Irish National Congress held its Annual General Meeting in Dublin last weekend and delegates vowed to continue the role of the organisation in raising nationalist and republican demands and agitating on issues of equality and human rights.
Following a dormant period for the organisation, the AGM represented a revival. Robert Ballagh told delegates that the INC had been rightly critical of the Good Friday Agreement, while fully supporting the peace process. There was a greater need than ever for a body such as the INC, which was established ten years ago.
The guest speaker at the AGM was Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin. Describing the background of ``revisionism, censorship and demonisation of republicans'' against which the INC was founded in 1990, Ó Caoláin said:
``The time was right for the establishment of a body such as the Irish National Congress because people had begun to say ``Enough is enough!'' The INC rallied nationally minded people and provided a non-party political platform for those advocating the unity and independence of Ireland and the resolution of the conflict through inclusive negotiations. In campaigns on human rights issues such as miscarriages of justice, job discrimination, British shoot-to-kill policy and the border roads, the INC highlighted realities which for too long had been hidden from people in the 26 Counties. With others, the INC ensured that the 75th Anniversary of the 1916 Rising in 1991 was marked appropriately, despite the shameful failure of the Dublin government to do so.
``Having made a vital contribution to opening up debate in this state the INC went on to play an important role in the creation of the peace process. When the reactionaries and the revisionists poured scorn on the dialogue between Gerry Adams and John Hume which initiated the peace process, the INC correctly pointed out that this dialogue had the potential to transform the situation and mobilised public support for it.''
Addressing the current crisis, he told delegates:
``The peace process is in deep crisis because of the actions of the British government in suspending the institutions. This is a disastrous development and it represents nothing less than the capitulation of the British government in the face of unionist threats. An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said in the Dáil on Thursday that such a unilateral suspension by the British government `would not be in line with the terms of the Good Friday Agreement'. The institutions have been suspended and the British government is therefore in default of the Agreement.''
``Republicans and nationalists, including the Irish government, have fulfilled our part of the Agreement. The Taoiseach has already given effect to the changes in Articles Two and Three of the 1937 Constitution contained in the Good Friday Agreement. This was done on the basis that the Agreement was in force. This was also the basis on which people in the 26 Counties voted to amend the Constitution. It was made clear to the electorate at the time that the coming into effect of the new Articles was contingent upon the implementation of the Agreement with its All-Ireland institutions.
``The British government has therefore placed the Irish government and Irish nationalists in the intolerable position of having altered the 1937 Constitution on the promise of the establishment of new political structures which have now been suspended.
``I ask: `Would the British have risked the suspension of these institutions and the creation of a political vacuum if they believed there was any threat to the IRA cessation?'
``The suspension has come about not because of any threat from the IRA but because unionism is not yet reconciled to the idea of sharing power with nationalists and republicans. It took from August 1994 to 1998 for the unionists to agree to enter serious negotiations with republicans. Even then, they refused to speak directly to Sinn Féin. Having reached the Good Friday Agreement it took the unionists 18 months to allow the new institutions to be established. Now, after just eight weeks, they have collapsed them.
``At this difficult time we must remain calm and focused. We need now to take stock of the situation and enter a period of assessment during which we consider the way forward. For our part, we in Sinn Féin remain totally committed to the peace process. We believe that the Good Friday Agreement can still be the vehicle for real change and lasting peace. No one party can be a given a veto on progress as the Unionist Party has been given by the British government this week.
``Sinn Féin will have to consider very carefully whether we enter any new review, especially given the clear indications from the Ulster Unionist Council meeting that they want to use a review to rewrite the Agreement.''