11 January 2001 Edition

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Non-year for the peace process

An Phoblacht's 1999 Christmas edition may have been a bit premature in its front page headline: `New era of hope'.

The first meeting of the All-Ireland Ministerial Council in December 1999 had held out hopes that elements of unionism and in particular the British Government were willing to fulfil their commitments under the Good Friday Agreement. These hopes proved sadly unfounded and, in a year where stasis and regression were the hallmarks of Irish national politics, there seems little sign of hope whatsoever.


JANUARY

• Peter Mandelson's comments that military rather than political agendas would be shaping any British approach to demilitarisation provoked a strong reaction from Sinn Féin.

Mandelson, speaking on UTV's Spotlight programme, proclaimed that any decisions on demilitarisation would be based on advice from the RUC and British Army. To be fair, he's been true to his word.

As more recent developments, or the lack thereof, have shown, the militarist agenda of the British Government has hardened if anything - partly due to Mandelson's own disastrous approach to the peace process.

• Not to break the mould, Mandelson followed his previous comments by delivering of proposals on policing that seemed almost oblivious to the recommendations of the Patten Commission Report. The Relatives for Justice Campaign responded swiftly to the proposals:

``We are totally appalled at the announcement by Peter Mandelson that the current RUC boss, Ronnie Flanagan, is to have responsibility for overseeing the implementation of human rights within the new policing structures,'' they said. ``Flanagan in charge of human rights is a real contradiction in terms and certainly does not augur well for the future.''

FEBUARY

• Not content with Mandelson's cop-out on the policing issue (pardon the pun), the UUP began February with concerted efforts to bring down the Six-County institutions, using the pretext that the IRA had not surrendered its weapons. Armed with a pre-dated letter of resignation and accompanied by a compliant media barrage, David Trimble said that he would bring down the institutions.

In a statement, Óglaigh na hÉireann said it posed ``no threat to the peace process''.

• David Trimble, however, proved that he and the UUP clearly were a threat to the peace process - supported by a aquiescent British Government.

Peter Mandelson's unilateral suspension of the political institutions came immediately after the production of a second De Chastelain Report. Despite the positive nature of the report, Mandelson decided to proceed with the suspension - proving again that he was dancing to the beat of a UUP drum, to the detriment of the Good Friday Agreement.

MARCH

• March was possibly the month that most typified the political scenario that dogged the year 2000. Non-responses and publicity initiatives were the order of the day, as British Government officials strained to create an illusion of movement while the process stagnated in crisis.

Responding to media speculation that there were plans to hold a crisis summit in Washington on St Patrick's Day, Gerry Adams said that it would be pointless if all that happened was a ``regurgitating of all the circular arguments''.

He continued: ``I don't have any faith in round tables, square tables, rectangular tables, coffee tables or any other variation of meetings, until the British Government realises it caved in to unionist demands and tore down the institutions and tore up the Agreement.''

• The failure of the signposted summit for St Patrick's Day to materialise was a clear indication that the British Government had no gameplan to repair the damage it had caused to the peace process, except that is, to support the increasingly strident demands of unionism without exception.

David Trimble barely shaded Martin Smyth in the UUP leadership challenge and created new room for political progress - albeit limited by a new veto. Now the Ulster Unionist Council had decided to block any resumption of the political institutions if there was to be a change in the RUC's title.

Mandelson, faithfully in toe like a submissive lap dog, said that republicans would have to provide unionists with the ``watertight assurance that the war is over, that violence will never again play a part in Northern Ireland politics''.

APRIL

• Compounding British subversion of the Patten Report was the awarding of the George Cross to the RUC, by British monarch Elizabeth Windsor.

While the bulk of the media here chose to selectively ignore the murky past involvement of the RUC in torture, harassment and murder, they were quite content to waffle on about the `courage of the RUC'.

• At the Sinn Féin Árd Fheis in Dublin, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, the party's Cavan/Monagahan TD, addressed the notion of ta 26-County coalition government involving Sinn Féin. ``We would require decommissioning,'' he said, ``decommissioning of the partitionist mindset which still persists among them (the right wing parties). Decommissioning of the conservative politics which have helped to create our two-tier unequal society. Decommissioning of the consensus between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to abandon Irish neutrality.''

MAY

• In an unprecedented and historic move, the IRA leadership announced on 6 May that it would initiate a process of confidence building measures around the arms issue, to create badly needed space in the political process.

Restating its commitment to a just and lasting peace in Ireland, Óglaigh na hÉireann said that its attempt to end the political stalemate came ``despite the abuse of the peace process by those who persist with the aim of defeating the IRA and Irish republicanism''.

• Not to reciprocate the Army's gesture of goodwill, Peter Mandelson unveiled a Police Bill in the House of Commons which could aptly be described as an insult. Ahead of yet another Ulster Unionist Council meeting, Mandelson had chosen not to break with British political tradition and again accede to the demands of unionists.

JUNE

• Following a tense UUC meeting on the last weekend in May, David Trimble secured 53% of the delegates' vote and the Good Friday Agreement institutions were restored. Sinn Féin welcomed the resumption, but warned that the attitude towards the process conveyed by members of the UUP would cause further difficulties.

• So too would the attitude conveyed by the British Government. On Tuesday 6 June, a second reading of the Police Bill in the British House of Commons left little doubt of Mandelson's determination to subvert the Patten proposals.

Sinn Féin produced a detailed report, citing at least 75 changes that would be required to bring the bill in line with Patten's 175 recommendations.

• Masked and brandishing weaponry, the UDA renewed its armed threat against norther nationalists, accusing them of ``ethnic cleansing'' in Belfast. The Six-County Housing Executive immediately refuted this allegation, saying that it was actually nationalists who were being intimidated out of their homes.

The loyalist feud was beginning to rear its ugly head.

JULY

• Orangemen at Drumcree were banned from marching down the nationalist Garvaghy Road on Sunday 2 July, sparking vicious rioting in loyalist areas.

Following inflammatory remarks from Portadown Orangeman Harold Gracey, loyalists both at Drumcree and in Belfast attacked nationalist areas and caused mayhem in their own.

Gracey had commented that if the ``Protestant people ...don't get off their bellies before it's too late this country (sic) will be gone''.

• The Orange disorder continued for the Twelfth `celebrations', at which the UDA took their opportunity to engage in gratuitous shows of strength. Twenty-two-year-old Andy Cairns was beaten and kicked by a group of 12 men before being shot by assailants believed to be connected to the UDA. Cairns was said to have UVF links and this heightened speculation that an outbreak of loyalist feuding was imminent.

• At the end of the month, the vast bulk of Óglaigh na hÉireann POWs were released. Despite having clearly qualified for release under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, Jerry Sheehy, Pearse McCauley, Mick O'Neill, Kevin Walsh and John Quinn remained, and still remain, behind bars in the 26 Counties. Bertie Ahern, in this situation at least, has clearly failed to honour his commitments under the Agreement.

AUGUST

• As loyalist violence intensified in August, nationalists were the first victims of attacks, before the UDA and UVF ended up turning on each other.

Shots were fired at nationalist homes in north and west Belfast as loyalist rivals flexed their sectarian muscles.

The erection of rival murals by the UDA and UVF, in what Gerry Kelly branded the `Battle of the Murals', was a sign that loyalists were gearing up for further internecine violence.

• And so they were. Belfast's Shankill Road erupted as loylist rivalry spiralled into bitter feuding. Tit-for-tat killings between the UDA and UVF were accompanied by the eviction of scores of UVF and PUP supporters.

Leading loyalist Johnny Adair, was arrested by British forces and returned to jail, as hundreds of British troops saturated Belfast.

• As the feuding continued, Charlene Daly, the 11-year-old daughter of a former UDA prisoner, was shot through the window of her Coleraine home. Luckily, she survived the attack.

SEPTEMBER

• Peter Mandelson's claims that his proposed Police Bill represented a faithful implementation of the Patten Report suffered a further blow when the British Government's own appointed Police Authority in the Six Counties publicly slammed the proposed legislation.

In their last annual report, the Authority said that Mandelson's legislation allowed for the ``appearance of oversight without any real power to back it up''.

``The overall result of the legislation as it stands,'' Authority Chairperson Pat Armstrong said, ``is a less powerful policing board and a more powerful secretary of state''.

OCTOBER

• In the run-up to yet another ``poor David, save him from the nasty No camp'' Ulster Unionist Council meeting, Peter Mandelson again restated his intention to stick to the unionist line on the RUC.

As the third reading of the Police Bill passed through the House of Commons, Mandelson also decided to propose legislation to ensure the flying of Union Jack flags from all ministerial offices at Stormont.

Despite these sops to unionism, the IRA, incredibly, decided to announce that a second inspection of its arms dumps by international inspectors would take place - in order to create further space for movement in the political process.

• But, sadly, to no avail. 54 per cent of the Ulster Unionist Council voted, at a meeting in Belfast's Waterfront Hall, for David Trimble's motion to exclude Sinn Féin ministers from North-South Ministerial Council meetings, pending IRA decommissioning. Again, the British Government encouraged Trimble in his efforts to minimise change and make impossible demands.

Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said that the situation amounted to ``the most serious crisis yet in the peace process''. Trimble, he said, had set the process on a ``course for collapse''.

NOVEMBER

• While the Executive's Programme for Government was launched, in somewhat surreal circumstances considering David Trimble's actions, Gerry Adams said that the process had now entered a ``rolling crisis''.

``I don't think that anyone can have any confidence that the new beginning that was required under the Good Friday Agreement is being pursued by the British Government,'' he said.

• The `new beginning' Adams spoke of was not being pursued by David Trimble either. As it soon emerged, the UUP leader had swayed party delegates to his side with a letter in which he set a course for the collapse of the Good Friday Agreement.

Trimble said that his main aims were firstly, to create a crisis, secondly, to suspend the political institutions and finally, to project the blame for all this onto republicans.

• As Mandelson's flawed Police Bill made its final journey through the British House of Commons on Tuesday 21 November, Mitchel McLaughlin said of the beleagured state of the peace process that ``we may well be at the end of this particular journey''.

``The British Government are quite deliberately, quite cynically, in a planned fashion, reneging on the public promise which they made in May this year, and that essential bridge of trust between the IRA and the British Government has been broken.''

DECEMBER

• While the visit of US President Bill Clinton to Ireland did bring renewed attention to the peace process, there was far more media-generated hype than actual political substance.

The illusion of movement that the British Government wanted to create was just that - an illusion - according to Gerry Adams.

``There is a perception, created by the British Government itself, that it is working behind the scenes to achieve movement before President Clinton's visit,'' he said. ``Is the British Government really burning the midnight oil to get movement? Are they making an effort? What is happening? Nothing.''

• As Sinn Féin engaged in intense discussions with both the British and Dublin governments, the year ended with little or no sign that progress was on the cards. On 21 December, Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly reported that intensive discussions bertween Sinn Féin and the two governments had ended without success. ``The militarists continue to dictate the British government's political agenda,'' he said.


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