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25 January 2001 Edition

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Exit Mandelson

A Spin Too Far



British government must not be distracted - Adams



Peter Mandelson's resignation should not distract the British government from current talks aimed at creating a new dynamic in the peace process, the Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams warned last night.

     
British Secretaries of State come and go and we would look forward to the day when they don't come any more
Reacting to the shock news of Mandelson's resignation, Adams said it was ``a matter of public record'' that the Secretary of State and Sinn Féin were in disagreement over many issues. ``Notwithstanding that, I wish him well for the future,'' said Adams.

``This is a defining period in the search for a sustainable process towards a democratic peace settlement on this island,'' he said. ``And it requires a strategic approach by London, and in particular a very focused commitment by the British Prime Minister himself.

``I hope that the British government is not distracted by the fallout of the resignation.''

Mandelson resigned following a series of allegations that emerged from a telephone call he held with British Immigration Minister Mike O'Brien.

The Secretary of State had asked his fellow minister whether an Indian national, who had donated £1 million to London's Millennium Dome project, could have his failed application for a British passport reconsidered.

This prompted accusations from the Tories that Mandelson had ``pulled strings'', claims that were strongly denied. He also denied, in the face of questioning from the British Prime Minister's official spokesperson, having ever held the aforementioned conversation with O'Brien.

Yesterday, in his resignation speech, Peter Mandelson admitted that this denial was untrue and accepted responsibility for the dispersal of ``incorrect information''.

Speaking to An Phoblacht on Wednesday evening, 24 January, Sinn Féin South Armagh representative Conor Murphy said Sinn Féin ``will continue to focus on ending the crisis in the peace process, rather than the political career of any one individual.

``British Secretaries of State come and go and we would look forward to the day when they don't come any more,'' he said.

 

Exit Mandelson but crisis remains



BY MICHAEL PIERSE

In February 2000, Sinn Féin produced a poster depicting Peter Mandelson as Pinnochio, the fairy-tale boy whose nose grew whenever he lied. How prophetic that was.

    
Before we rejoice at the demise of this latest Secretary of State, let's remember that the same securocrats will be pulling the strings of the next incarnation
It seems that the man Martin McGuinness described as a ``disaster'' for the peace process has proved himself again to be disaster-prone in other respects too. This time, Mandelson misled the British Prime Minister's official spokesperson in a scandal relating to the issuing of a British passport to a wealthy businessman. For the past year, however, he's made a living misleading everyone else.

But before we rejoice at the demise of this latest Secretary of State, let's remember that the same securocrats will be pulling the strings of the next incarnation. Capitulating to unionism's demands has not been a phenomenon exclusive to Peter Mandelson; it's an established British tradition.

After weeks of talks at Hillsborough and in Downing Street, aimed at moving the peace process beyond yet another crisis - talks that will continue throughout this week and probably the next - there is to date little progress to report.

The core discussion of the talks has centred on the policing issue - the nature, ownership and accountability of any future policing service in the Six Counties. This is an issue on which Peter Mandelson bulldozed republican and nationalist confidence in the peace process. One of his legacies in Ireland is a Police Act that ignored or amended whole chunks of the Patten Report and was little more than a sop to unionism.

Commenting on the talks, Sinn Féin representative for North Belfast, Gerry Kelly, said they have ranged across the policing issue, demilitarisation, the issue of arms and the permanency of the institutions. However, ``policing has formed the bulk of the discussions and we are awaiting the British government's response to proposals put to them by us'', he said.

``I would urge Mr. Blair to consider seriously all that had been said to him on this matter by Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Catholic Church and others, and to do the right thing by ensuring that all citizens of this part of Ireland can soon enjoy the benefits of a civic policing service.

``Overcoming the legacy of 80 years of conflict, division and alienation is a major undertaking, made more difficult by a British government in which significant elements act as if the peace process is simply an extension of their war to defeat republicanism.''

From its first submission to the Good Friday negotiations until now, Sinn Féin has produced countless assessments and detailed positions on policing. The party has made no secret of its view that this is a touchstone issue for nationalists and republicans and that success or failure in producing a new police service, one acceptable to everyone, will have a profound impact on the future of the peace process.

In the current discussions between Sinn Féin and the British there are significant points of difference being considered between the republican position and the British position. For example, republicans are concerned at the provisions in the British Police Act in which a Chief Constable - Ronnie Flanagan at present - can obstruct reports to the Police Board. The Act has also placed hurdles in the way of the Board initiating an inquiry. Similarly, the power of the Ombudsman to investigate complaints has been limited and is less than that recommended by Patten.

``The balance of power between the Policing Board, the British Secretary of State and the Chief Constable, in our view, significantly tilts the balance unacceptably towards the latter two and away from democratic and accountable control,'' Gerry Kelly told An Phoblacht.

``These, and other matters, all need to be properly addressed if we are to have any hope of getting policing right.

``The British government's Police Act still falls short of what is required for a new beginning to policing. Therefore, nationalists must keep up the pressure for changes to the legislation and implementation plan. It is far better to take the time to get this right than to settle for something less. Short-termism will not work.''

The reality is that unless there is democratic accountability, unless a new policing service is acceptable and accountable to the people it polices, there is a grave danger that it will continue the repressive practices of the RUC.

Consequently, there is a heavy responsibility on the British Prime Minister. Tony Blair needs to realise that the Six Counties requires a new, innovative and imaginative approach to policing that takes it beyond what passes for the norm elsewhere. The history of conflict and war in Ireland means that other policing arrangements cannot simply be transposed into our situation.

GUE-NGL-new-Jan-2106

An Phoblacht
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