21 June 2001 Edition
Arms issue will not be resolved by unionist ultimatums or on British terms - IRA
In a briefing with An Phoblacht, a spokesperson for Óglaigh na hÉireann has rebuffed claims by senior British and Irish politicians that the IRA is responsible for the present impasse in the peace process.
The IRA representative said it is a matter of public record that the Army has honoured all its commitments made in the seven years since it called its cessation of military operations on 31 August 1994.
The spokesperson said: ``It is now seven years since we called a cessation of military operations and since then we've had a series of meetings with the IICD (Independent International Commission on Decommissioning) and we've put in place a major confidence building measure and allowed a number of inspections of arms dumps by international inspectors.''
The spokesperson said that the IRA has honoured every commitment it entered into but pointed out that ``on the other side, the British government last year entered into an agreement and on two of the major aspects of that agreement the British government has reneged''.
The IRA spokesperson accused those who are now trying to contradict this of being dishonest. ``They are trying to delude themselves and are only misleading their supporters and the public.''
The spokesperson restated the IRA's belief that the issue of arms can be resolved but added that ``it will not be resolved by unionist ultimatums or on British terms''. The briefing concluded with an affirmation that ``the IRA poses no threat to the peace process''.
This comes in the context of attempts by British and Irish politicians to shift the onus of responsibility for the latest crisis facing the peace process onto the IRA and in the context of a 1 July deadline set by UUP leader David Trimble.
Sinn Féin's newly-elected MP, Pat Doherty, told An Phoblacht last night that Trimble's threat was an affront to the Good Friday Agreement and will not deliver. Doherty said that ``false deadlines'' and expectations that anyone will respond to those deadlines were wrong and a deviation from the Good Friday Agreement.
Responding to pressures from within his own party, David Trimble has attempted to deflect those pressures onto the Good Friday Agreement to sustain his party's position, Doherty said.
``We must work within the Agreement. That is Sinn Féin's position,'' he continued.
Asked whether he thought the British government were serious this week, when they said that the Agreement is `not up for negotiation', the West Tyrone MP said he was unsure. ``I think it's good that they said it. I'm not sure that I believe them.''
In any case, if David Trimble is ousted from his leadership of the UUP, Sinn Féin ``will deal with whoever emerges''.
Doherty said that he was disappointed with remarks made by Seamus Mallon and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern seeking to place the onus on republicans. ``No one has done more to advance the peace process than republicans,'' he said. ``They both know this and they know also, when the current crisis was created and its basis.''
Blair must remove apparatus of war - Ferris
Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle member Councillor Martin Ferris, speaking at the party's annual Wolfe Tone Commemoration in Sallins, County Kildare last Sunday, spelt out Sinn Féin's agenda for the negotiations that began in London the following day and he made clear Sinn Féin's determination to secure the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. Ferris said that ``irrespective of who is part of the UUP negotiations team or irrespective of what parties are in attendance, the primary responsibility for saving the peace process and saving the Good Friday Agreement rests with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. PROINSIAS Ó MAOLCHALAIN reports.
Republicans from all over Ireland were in a jubilant mood last Sunday as they gathered in Bodenstown to commemorate Theobald Wolfe Tone. The fortunes of Irish republicanism may have ebbed and flowed since the revolution of 1798, but with spectacular gains for Sinn Féin in the recent Six-County elections and the resounding defeat of the Nice Treaty in the 26 Counties, Irish republicanism has once again captured a demand for change amongst the people of Ireland, North and South.
We must return to the Good Friday Agreement. It is the only template upon which we can move forward.
The parade to the graveside of Wolfe Tone was led by a colour party formed by the Roddy McCorley Society, Belfast. Sinn Féin public representatives including newly elected MP Pat Doherty, Councillors Martin Ferris, Larry O'Toole and Nicky Kehoe followed behind with a banner which seemed to capture the mood: `Sinn Féin the only all-Ireland party - Building an Ireland of equals - 200 Public Representatives North & South.'
The Youghal Volunteers Republican Flute band were the first of no less than eight bands who were present, all anxious to win the coveted Feargal Caragher memorial trophy.
This year it was noticeable that many cumainn had separate Ógra Shinn Féin contingents, highlighting the growth of the organisation nationwide. The presence of more families than ever was noticeable, with even younger republicans in push chairs and buggies seemingly everywhere.
When the marchers reached the cemetery at Bodenstown, Joe Cahill introduced the chairperson of the proceedings saying: ``If there was a wee bit of icing on the cake of success in the recent elections, that icing was the election of Michelle Gildernew as MP for Fermanagh & South Tyrone!''
Michelle Gildernew said she had introduced Pat Doherty as the main speaker in Bodenstown last year as the next MP for West Tyrone. Introducing the Ard Comhairle member from Kerry North, Gildernew said she was looking forward to the next elections to Leinster House, when Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin will be joined by a number of Sinn Féin TDs, including Martin Ferris.
Councillor Ferris told those present that in this, the 20th anniversary year of the 1981 Hunger Strike, it was important that we pay tribute to the sacrifices of those men and their families.
``Throughout Ireland supporters of Irish freedom everywhere have marked the Hunger Strike with a series of commemorative events. The response has been magnificent but we need to do more. We must all continue to work together to build a fitting legacy for Bobby Sands, Francis Hughes, Patsy O'Hara, Joe McDonnell, Raymond McCreesh, Thomas McElwee, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Mickey Devine, Frank Stagg and Michael Gaughan. Throughout history, Irish republican prisoners have played an important role and here today I want to reiterate our call for the release of all republican POWs.
``This has been a week of celebration and satisfaction for Sinn Féin activists. You have a right to celebrate, to be proud of our achievements in the Westminster and local elections and our involvement in the No campaign on the Treaty of Nice. I want to take this opportunity to salute each and everyone of our candidates and workers and to congratulate all those who were elected, particularly Gerry Adams for West Belfast, Martin McGuinness for mid Ulster, Pat Doherty for West Tyrone and perhaps the most fitting of all, in this the 20th anniversary of the 1981 Hunger Strike, Michelle Gildernew for Fermanagh & South Tyrone.
``During the elections, our pledge to the people was that Sinn Féin would not settle for anything less than equality and justice. That Sinn Féin would stand up to the British government. That Sinn Féin would challenge the unionist veto and the securocrat agenda which has stalled the peace process in recent years. The electorate responded to this message and as a result we are going into the negotiations with a strengthened hand.
``These negotiations will deal with policing, demilitarisation, the stability of the political institutions and the issue of arms.
``On policing we need legislative changes to ensure democratic accountability, freedom from partisan control, a human rights culture and to ensure that it is representative of the community it serves,'' said Councillor Ferris.
``We will demand a phased and timetabled programme of demilitarisation of society. The message is clear - Mr Blair must face down the generals and remove the apparatus of war from our country.
``We need the removal of legislation which allows the British to unilaterally suspend the institutions to ensure that the situation of last year can never be repeated. And finally we need action to ensure that David Trimble's refusal to nominate Martin McGuinness and Bairbre de Brún to the All-Ireland Bodies is challenged and we want to see legislation to remove this veto.
``For any of this to happen we must return to the Good Friday Agreement. It is the only template upon which we can move forward. It is the only context in which the issue of arms can be dealt with to ensure that all guns are taken out of Irish politics.
``Let us be clear we are a pro-Agreement party,'' said Ferris. ``We are an all-Ireland party - we are not, as some within the media like to say, at the extremes, a sort of mirror image of the DUP. We have been the engine driving the Peace Process and are the only party which went to the electorate with a radical agenda for political, social and economic change across this island.
``And just as we talk about the need for democracy on this island, we must also look at democracy within Europe,'' he told those assembled.
``Unlike the vast bulk of the elected representatives on the Yes side, our councillors and activists throughout the 26 Counties took the campaign to the doorsteps and presented the people with the reasoned arguments against the Treaty. It has not gone unnoticed that where Sinn Féin is strong and organised, there was an exceptionally strong
``Sinn Féin has been entirely consistent on this issue. In the referenda on the Single European Act, Maastricht and Amsterdam we cautioned against the drive towards the political integration and centralisation of the EU with more and more sovereignty taken from democratic states and placed in the hands of the unelected EU bureaucracy. By rejecting the Nice Treaty the electorate in this State has now called a halt to this process, to the division of the EU into two tiers and to the creation of a militarised European superstate.
``We are totally opposed to any attempt to go back to the people with the same Treaty,'' he emphasised. Welcoming the Taoiseach's announcement of a Forum on Europe, Ferris said the 26-County Government must take a number of steps to ensure that it is a forum for discussion that will offer a real opportunity for people to voice their concerns and opinions on Europe and will have the power to pursue change on behalf of the Irish people.
The Ard Chomhairle member said these steps must include:
making it clear that the implementation of Nice cannot go ahead as this State has refused to ratify it in a referendum and the approval
of all member states is needed for EU treaties,
withdrawing from the Rapid Reaction Force and NATO's Partnership for Peace.
ensuring that the Forum on Europe should be an All-Ireland Forum, and a people's forum, not confined to political parties and elected representatives but should be open and should broadly reflect Irish society.
``Our vision is for an Ireland that embraces all our people, that represents different political opinions or religious beliefs and that demands equality for all,'' he said.
``We can be rightly proud of our achievements over the last couple of weeks, but we must not become smug or complacent. And under no circumstances must we underestimate our political opponents. We have a tremendous amount of work to do. We need to match our achievements in the Six Counties with further successes in the 26 Counties. We want a team of Sinn Féin TDs joining Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin in Leinster House after the next election.
``Sinn Féin is the most dynamic political force on this island today,'' he said. ``We have already transformed the political landscape forever. We have it within our power to achieve our political objectives of a united 32-County democratic socialist republic. We will achieve those objectives if we continue to move forward with the same determination and energy that brought us this week's successes. We must not let up. Our struggle is not over.''
Following the close of Councilor Ferris's oration, Michelle Gildernew announced the Dan Darragh Flute band from Ballycastle as the winners of the annual Feargal Caragher band competition, much to the joy of the County Antrim contingent.
Peter John Caragher, Feargal's father, presented the trophy to a representative of the band before they marched forward to perform Amhrán na bhFiann, marking the close of the commemoration.