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23 March 2000 Edition

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No initiatives from British government

Trimble's position unchanged



     
Trimble's comments regarding re-entering the Executive were, despite the hype, a maintenance of the same hardline position, presented in a softer focus for a US audience
BY SEAN BRADY

As Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams predicted last week, the intensive political engagement signposted for St Patrick's Day in Washington never materialised.

It was the clearest indication yet that the British government has no idea of how to repair the damage it has done to the Peace Process and the possible fatal blow it delivered to the Good Friday Agreement by unilaterally collapsing the institutions.

Major hype surrounded remarks made in the US by Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble. His comments regarding re-entering the Executive were widely portrayed as indicating that Trimble was adopting a more realistic approach.

However, his comments were in reality a maintenance of the same hardline position, presented in a softer focus for a US audience. Trimble himself made it clear on his return to Ireland on Monday, that the UUP position had not changed.

Indeed, there has been no real attempt by the unionists to re-engage with the process and Trimble made no attempt to meet with Gerry Adams or Martin McGuinness in Washington.

On his return from the States, Martin McGuinness made clear he was urgently seeking meetings with Peter Mandelson and Brian Cowen and that the two governments needed to rebuild the process, with the starting point being the re-establishment of the political institutions.

A speech made by Peter Mandelson in Dublin on Tuesday was read by some, particularly the Irish Times, as an indication that the British government may have droopped support for unionist demands around decommissioning.

Responding to this speculation, Martin McGuinness said on Wednesday that if Peter Mandelson's speech was about accepting that the process should not have been reduced to a one-item agenda, then it was to be welcomed. However, the Sinn Féin MP made it clear once again that the starting point for rebuilding the process is the re-establishment of the institutions

In unilaterally collapsing those institutions, the British government has re-establsihed a unionist veto in Irish politics, effectively making the democratic rights of the Irish people subject to the dictat of the Ulster Unionist Council.

Despite the hype around St Patrick's Day and the meetings before and since, which amounted to no more than optics, the central reality of the current situation cannot be ignored or fudged.

The British government has once again trampled over the expressed wishes of Irish people. Having destroyed the political process, the British and unionist establishments are still saying they won't re-engage unless the rules are rewritten on their terms.

What the British cabinet and the Ulster Unionist Party fail to realise is that nationalist Ireland will not accept any return to the past. The nationalist population of the Six Counties are determined to forge ahead with the task of changing the face of the North forever and of shaping a new future for the island of Ireland. The momentum for political change is unstoppable.

Try as they might to blame republicans for the suspension, the Unionists and the British government have failed. Sinn Féin, as a party with a significant mandate, has adhered to the commitments given by the party and by all the other parties under the Good Friday Agreement.

Sinn Féin went beyond those commitments to ensure the Agreement would work. In return, it was slapped in the face.

It has never been clearer that what many unionists want and have always wanted is for the IRA, and indeed the nationalist community in general, to surrender. What they want is to reinvent the old Stormont set-up and for the partition of Ireland to be copper-fastened.

But going back to the unionist-dominated past is not an option. There is no going back to the nightmare of the Orange State, to unionist apartheid in Ireland, while British politicians look the other way.

Until the leadership of unionism and the British government understand this, there will be no real political progress.

The British establishment has incessantly called over the years for Irish republicans to become part of the `democratic process', but where was the democracy in Peter Mandelson's suspension of the Good Friday institutions?

At the stroke of a pen, Peter Mandelson denied the rights of all those who voted for the Agreement - one British politician without a single vote in Ireland has overturned the votes of more than two million people in Ireland.

Peter Mandelson has denied the rights of those elected to the Assembly to represent their constituents; has denied the rights of the duly-elected ministers to govern and to play their role, through the all-Ireland Ministerial Council, in shaping the future of the island. But above all, he has dashed the best hope in 30 years of a way out of the conflict.

Mandelson has also destroyed the trust which had been built up among the parties to the Agreement. Continued suspension amounts to the end for the Good Friday Agreement.

Unless there is a radical change of approach by the British and the UUP in favour of implementing the Agreement, it will be dead, consigned by a British government to the dustbin of history.

However, hope should not be abandoned. Before Tony Blair or Peter Mandelson arrived on the scene, Irish republicans had initiated the Irish peace process. Republicans sought a realistic way to end the conflict. While the Agreement has been deeply damaged, the peace process is still with us and millions of Irish people at home and abroad have a deep and personal investment in it.

Sinn Féin has set about the task of building its political strength to give voice to the genuine desires of Irish people north and south for peace with justice.

Republicans are determined that even if others have turned their backs on the Agreement, there will eventually and inevitably be another agreement. Sinn Féin will be there again and will ensure that any new institutions will reflect the aspirations and the will of Irish democracy.

That is why those in the Ulster Unionist Council, who this Saturday will attempt to turn the clock back even further by linking unionist participation in the executive to the abandonment of changes to policing in the North, have got it so wrong.

Whatever short-term advanage or victories they gain, in the long run they are on a hiding to nothing. Nationalists will not countenance any backward steps or any attempts by the forces of reaction to reclaim what has been gained so far and at such cost over so many years.

The initiative to break the current impasse must come from those who have departed from the Agreement. The institutions should be reinstated and the Good Friday Agreement implemented in full. There is still time to do that.
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