11 May 2000 Edition
IRA paves way for just peace
Writing in this week's An Phoblacht, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams says that the struggle for freedom and justice has to continue.
Adams was writing in the days after the IRA leadership restated its commitment to a just and lasting peace in Ireland, ``despite the abuse of the peace process by those who persist with the aim of defeating the IRA and Irish republicanism''.
The IRA leadership announced on 6 May that it would re-initiate its contact with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) and that it agreed ``to put in place within weeks a confidence building measure to confirm that our weapons remain secure. The contents of a number of arms dumps will be inspected by agreed third parties who will report that they have done so to the IICD. The dumps will be re-inspected regularly to ensure that the weapons have remained secure''.
That the IRA initiative is historic and courageous is unquestionably true; that it once again demonstrates the Army's commitment to ``a just and lasting peace'' is also true and that the weekend's statement now reopens the door to further developments in the peace process is welcome.
For republicans then, the message to be taken from last weekend's statement should be a positive one.
Admittedly, this groundbreaking initiative will stretch the republican base to the limit. The anger of many republicans in February when Peter Mandelson,the British Direct Ruler, collapsed the institutions of government to save David Trimble's political skin should not be underestimated.
But last weekend's IRA statement is telling republican activists and supporters alike that we need to keep the process moving. To allow it to become bogged down by unionist intransigence will only see it wither.
The hope now is that David Trimble will accept the challenge and, at last, confront the `No people' in the wider unionist hinterland.
What we should remember is that in the South African experience, from which we often draw, there was no movement from the Apartheid regime until political conditions created the space for the Afrikaaners to move towards accommodation.
In other words, there was no De Klerk character in advance of the political conditions created by the ANC, which forced the government to move into real negotiations.
Hopefully the latest IRA initiative will go some way to reassure unionists.
In that context, the unionist leadership might recognise the space opened up in front of them and work to develop it. Sinn Féin knows that within the unionist community as well as the unionist body politic there are more than enough people willing to work for a future for us all. One with justice and peace.
It is also incumbent on the British government to accept the lengths to which republicans are going and work with them, instead of bowing to unionist threats as they did in February. After all, the British are the biggest force, both politically and militarily, in this conflict and should, therefore, drop the pretence of neutrality.
That pretence reached new heights when the British collapsed the Executive to suit an intransigent unionist agenda. Saturday's initiative gives the British an opportunity to move away from being intrinsically unionist to being a willing partner in building a democratic peace process that can lead to a just and lasting settlement.
In short, the British should look at the big picture and take this golden opportunity to build for peace. After all, a just peace will serve both the British and Irish nations.
Saturday, 6 May 2000
The leadership of the IRA is committed to a just and lasting peace. We have sustained that commitment despite the abuse of the Peace Process by those who persist with the aim of defeating the IRA and Irish Republicanism.
Republicans believe that the British Government claim to a part of Ireland, its denial of national self-determination to the people of the island of Ireland, the partition of our country and the maintenance of social and economic inequality in the Six Counties are the root causes of conflict.
The maintenance of our cessation is our contribution to the Peace Process and to the creation of a future in which the causes of conflict are resolved by peaceful means. For our part, the IRA leadership is committed to resolving the issue of arms.
The political responsibility for advancing the current situation rests with the two governments, especially the British government, and the leadership of the political parties.
The full implementation, on a progressive and irreversible basis, by the two governments, especially the British government, of what they have agreed will provide a political context, in an enduring political process, with the potential to remove the causes of conflict and in which Irish republicans, and unionists can, as equals, pursue our respective political objectives peacefully.
In that new context the IRA leadership will initiate a process that will completely and verifiably put IRA arms beyond use. We will do it in such a way as to avoid risk to the public and misappropriation by others and ensure maximum public confidence.
We will resume contact with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning and enter into further discussions with the Commission on the basis of the IRA leadership's commitment to resolving the issue of arms.
We look to the two governments and especially the British government, to fulfil their commitments under the Good Friday Agreement and the Joint Statement. To facilitate the speedy and full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the governments' measures, our arms are silent and secure. There is no threat to the peace process from the IRA.
In this context, the IRA leadership has agreed to put in place within weeks a confidence building measure to confirm that our weapons remain secure. The contents of a number of arms dumps will be inspected by agreed third parties who will report that they have done so to the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. The dumps will be re-inspected regularly to ensure that the weapons have remained secure.
Adams praises IRA initiative
Last Saturday, 6 May, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams unveiled a monument erected in memory of dead IRA Volunteers from the Lenadoon area of Belfast who lost their lives in the course of the last 30 years of war against the British. The unveiling was scheduled for Saturday and went ahead within an hour of one of the most significant statements made by the IRA in the course of our recent history.
Here, Adams shares his thoughts on this week's events with An Phoblacht.
On Saturday last I unveiled a monument for IRA Volunteers killed in action from the Lenadoon area of Belfast. It is a very fine monument in the form of a full-sized sculpture of Cú Chulainn. The monument is in the grounds of the Roddy McCorley society club on the lower slopes of the Black Mountain, on an elevated site overlooking Belfast and its lough.
It strikes me that thinking unionism will embrace this offer and the peace process could be saved. The Sinn Féin leadership gets some credit for all of this and that's fair enough. But the real credit goes to the IRA
Saturday was a beautiful day. The unveiling was scheduled for 1.30pm and when we arrived there was a large throng of people assembled. There were the families of the dead Volunteers, their comrades, neighbours, friends and all those who helped to raise the money for the monument and organise the event.
They were, for various reasons, a crowd of people who had one thing in common; they were supporters of the IRA who had suffered much for their commitment over the last three decades.
Unknown to them, a half hour earlier the IRA leadership had issued a statement which is now acclaimed as historic and unprecedented. I decided both to tell the gathering about this development and to explain it to them. As I spoke I watched the faces all around me. That the IRA was going back to meet the de Chastelain Commission was obviously a surprise. Given the way that the positive report from the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) had been treated by the British government in February - this was very much a natural and widespread reaction. By suspending the institutions the British not only binned the report but they undermined the Commission itself.
Little wonder then that my audience was taken aback. But that wasn't all. The IRA were also prepared to set in place a confidence building measure which involves international statespersons Cyril Ramaphosa and Martti Ahtisaari inspecting a number of arms dumps on a regular basis.
I explained the detail of all this, the imperative of the peace process and the need for republicans not to be confused or confounded by the various spins and twists that would be put on this latest IRA initiative.
I asked them to get a copy of the statement and to read it themselves and to calmly and strategically discuss it. I explained and read to them the context in which the Army leadership will put arms beyond use (See IRA statement, Page 8).
The crowd was focused and intent and it struck me that of all those who have a stake in the issues involved, apart from the IRA itself, that my audience was representative of that great sward of republican activism which really has given its all and would do so again if it had to for the cause of freedom and justice on this island. They are the heart of the republican struggle and the heartbeat of the peace process.
I had some sense then of the difficulties facing the IRA leadership and of the magnitude of the IRA's initiative. That leadership, this latest intiative and the way that it is managed will be scrutinied closely by the republican base.
The tolerance threshold amongst republicans for messing by the British government and/or the unionists is very low. In better circumstances inadvertent mistakes, mishaps, could be tolerated but given the amount of messing over the last number of years, I doubt very much that this is part of the curernt mood. That is not to say that most republicans will not give this initiative a fair wind but I cannot exaggerate the internal pressure on the IRA leadership.
So why did they do what they did?
Clearly because they want the peace process to succeed. And also because they want to give some reassurance to those unionists who want to be assured of republican intentions.
Could it all come to nought? Yes.
The British government could yet do some side deal on some other issue, probably around the future of the RUC, in a tactical manoeuvre which will be outside the conditions which led to the IRA initiative. Or the UUP could seek so many concessions around the IRA initiative that they will fritter away the potential for progress that now exists. Or both.
On the other hand, it strikes me that thinking unionism will embrace this offer and the peace process could be saved. The Sinn Féin leadership gets some credit for all of this and that's fair enough. But the real credit goes to the IRA.
Sinn Féin put together the package, but it was the IRA leadership which had to take the hard decisions. I think the crowd at the unveiling last Saturday realised that. They also knew that however this latest development works out, that the struggle for freedom and justice has to continue. That's if we are to build the only proper monument to those who died.
``Courageous IRA initiative'' - Ó Caoláin
Sinn Féin Cavan/Monaghan TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has welcomed the progress in the peace process and commended the IRA for what he described as ``a very difficult and courageous initiative''. Ó Caoláin urged all political opinion to work pro-actively to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement is now implemented in full.
Ó Caoláin said: ``The way forward which emerged out of negotiations on 5 May is a new opportunity for lasting peace. The two governments have set out a timetable for implementation of the Agreement. The IRA has come forward with an imaginative initiative to facilitate the peace process. This is one of the most significant contributions by any single group towards the resolution of the conflict during the entire course of the peace process. It ranks with the IRA's original cessation of August 1994.
``I wish to commend the IRA on this very difficult and courageous initiative. Many republicans will have doubts and concerns but I would urge them to read carefully the terms of the IRA statement and to see it in the context of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. The Agreement, if implemented in full and built upon, has the potential to transform the political situation.
``Throughout this process some sections of opinion, not confined indeed to the Six Counties, were all too willing, for their own selfish ends, to cast doubt on the seriousness and sincerity of republicans about addressing each outstanding issue, including the issue of arms. Those cynics have been proved wrong yet again.
``It is vital now that progress is not only continued but accelerated in the weeks and months ahead. We need to see early and comprehensive developments in the area of demilitarisation. The Patten proposals on policing must be implemented in full. The range of measures on human rights and the equality agenda set out in the statement from the two governments need to be advanced on schedule.
``I look forward to the restoration of the institutions and to working with my Sinn Féin colleagues in the Assembly and Executive, and with other political opinion, in making politics work on this island in the best interests of all who share it.''
Ard Chomhairle says Patten must be implemented in full
Meeting in Dublin on Tuesday, 9 May, the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle welcomed last weekend's statements by the two governments and the IRA but said that there is ``considerable unease'' among republicans about attempts to dilute the Patten proposals on policing.
Sinn Féin Vice-President and Assembly member for West Tyrone, Pat Doherty, said: ``Any tampering with Patten is a recipe for disaster. Sinn Féin will oppose, tooth and nail, any attempt to dilute Patten. The Patten proposals on policing must be implemented in full.'' He added:
``There was considerable unease voiced at the Ard Chomhairle about the issue of the RUC and Patten being used to block progress at a time when there is a very positive and upbeat mood among people about the peace process.
``As far Sinn Féin and republicans are concerned, Patten does not go far enough in the first place. We need to establish a non-partisan, non-political police service that nationalists and republicans can recommend young nationalists to join and that will serve the entire community.''
He added that Sinn Féin expects ``early and comprehensive'' developments in the areas of the governments' weekend pledges on equality, human rights, supporting the families of all the victims of the conflict, demilitarisation, the Irish language and a new police service and justice.
Joint statement issued by the Irish and British governments on Friday night, 5 May
In recent weeks, the two governments have taken stock of progress in implementing the Good Friday Agreement.
Much progress has already been made but there has been disagreement over how and when remaining aspects of the agreement should be achieved.
The governments now believe that the remaining steps necessary to secure full implementation of the agreement can be achieved by June 2001, and commit themselves to that goal. They have drawn up, and are communicating to the parties, an account of these steps.
Subject to a positive response to this statement, the British government will bring forward the necessary order to enable the Assembly and Executive to be restored by 22 May 2000.
With confidence that there are clear proposals for implementing all other aspects of the agreement, the governments believe that paramilitary organisations must now, for their part, urgently state that they will put their arms completely and verifiably beyond use. Such statements would constitute a clear reduction in the threat. In response, the British government would, subject to its assessment of the level of threat at the time, on which it will continue to consult regularly with the Irish government, take further substantial normalisation measures by June 2001.
The IICD will continue its task under the agreement. The governments will now ask the IICD to consider urgently, in consultation with representatives of the paramilitary organisations, whether they are any further proposals for decommissioning schemes which offer the commission greater scope to proceed in more effective and satisfactory ways with the discharge of its basic mandate, and to report. The governments will give early consideration ot any such proposals. The commission will make further reports as necessary. Those reports will be published promptly.
Progress of full implementation of all aspects of the agreement will be periodically assessed by the two governments, in consultation with the Northern Ireland parties.
If difficulties arise in the implementation of the agreement [for example, the IICD reports that it does not believe that arms will be put beyond use, or the institutions are not operating in good faith as envisaged in the agreement], the two governments will, in consultation with the Assembly and the Executive, carry out an immediate formal review under the terms of the agreement.
LETTER BY THE TWO GOVERNMENTS TO PARTY LEADERS, Saturday Morning, 6 May 2000
This sets out the governments' proposals necessary to secure full implementation of the Agreement by June 2001, in addition to those already set out in our statement.
Rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity
As has already been announced, incorporation of the EHCR into British and Irish domestic law will take effect from October 2000. The British government has already invited the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission to advise on the scope for defining rights supplementary to the Convention.
Under the legislation which came into effect in January, all designated public authorities in Northern Ireland will begin to have equality schemes in place from 1 July 2000.
The Irish Commission on Human Rights will be established by the Irish government in July 2000, so that the Joint Committee of both Human Rights Commissions required under the Agreement will therefore be established by the end of July 2000.
Both governments will continue to take measures and develop programmes to support the victims of violence and their families.
The British government will ratify the Council of Europe Charter on Regional or Minority Languages by September 2000 and publish within six months an action plan for implementing the charter. Technical discussions on the steps required further to extend TG4 reception in Northern Ireland will continue. Other measures will also be taken including a two-year Irish language TV and film production pilot scheme which will start by April 2001.
The British government will progressively take all the necessary steps to secure as early return as possible to normal security arrangements in Northern Ireland, consistent with the level of threat. It will report regularly on the steps taken and will consult with the Irish government, and the political parties as appropriate, on measures necessary to respond to any continuing paramilitary activity.
In particular, both governments will continue to oppose with resolute and determined action any group that uses or threatens violence to disrupt the peace process, taking whatever measures within the law are justified by the threat.
Policing and justice
Legislation to implement the Patten report will, subject to Parliament, be enacted by November 2000. The new Policing Board will be appointed in January 2001 and will assume its responsibilities in April 2001. A new independent police recruitment agency will be established, and the first process for recruits to join the Police Service of Northern Ireland will start in April 2001.
The British government has already announced a six-month consultation process on the Criminal Justice Review to end in September, so the government will announce its decisions on implementation in October 2000. Legislation, and a detailed timetable for implementation, will be published by April 2001.
It is intended that, in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement, all remaining prisoners qualifying for early release will be released by 28 July 2000. Measures will continue to be taken to facilitate the reintegration of prisoners into the community, and to address related issues.
We are writing in similar terms to the leaders of other parties represented in the Assembly, and of the UDP.
Joint statement by Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair issued on Saturday afternoon, 6 May
The Prime Minister and the Taoiseach welcome the statement today by the IRA in response to the two governments' statement of 5 May.
In relation to the IRA's confidence-building measure, involving third-party inspection of IRA weapons dumps, the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach are pleased to announce, after consultation with the International Independent Commission on Decommissioning, that Mr Martti Ahtisaari and Mr Cyril Ramaphosa have agreed to head the inspections.
Mr Ahtisaari is the chairman of the International Crisis Group and the former president of Finland.
Mr Ramaphosa is on the board of International Crisis Group, and is the former secretary-general of the African National Congress in South Africa.
Detailed aspects of the inspection process will be worked out in the coming days and Mr Ramaphosa and Mr Ahtisaari will be briefed by the International Independent Commission on Decommissioning.