9 August 2001 Edition
Historic IRA initiative
As we go to print, An Phoblacht has received a statement from the leadership of Óglaigh na hÉireann. It confirms that
``the IRA leadership has agreed a scheme with the IICD [Independent International Commission for Decommissioning] which will put IRA arms completely and verifiably beyond use''.
This statement comes just two days after the IICD issued a positive report, revealing that at a recent meeting ``the IRA representative proposed a method for putting IRA arms completely and verifiably beyond use. We are satisfied that this proposal meets the Commission's remit in accordance with the governments' scheme and regulations. Based on our discussions with the IRA representative, we believe that this proposal initiates a process that wiill put IRA arms completely and verifiably beyond use.''
In its statement, the IRA noted ``the ongoing attempts in some quarters to prevent progress. They should not be permitted to succeed.'' The army statement concluded: ``Our representative will continue to meet with the IICD.
The IRA leadership will continue to monitor political developments.''
With this momentous initiative, the IRA has once again demonstrated its complete and absolute commitment to the search for a just and lasting peace. Unfortunately, the response of unionists so far this week has been one of begrudgery. It appears that they will precipitate the collapse of the institutions to collapse later this week, despite the IRA's historic move. But if anyone thinks that there is anything positive in the suspension of the institutions, they are sorely mistaken.
The London and Dublin governments have both warmly welcomed Monday's IICD statement and have agreed that it forms the basis for progress. The onus now falls on the British government in particular to act to save the institutions and defend the Good Friday Agreement.
The demand for IRA decommissioning has been used to block progress on policing, the political institutions, demilitarisation, human rights, the justice system and the equality agenda. The IRA has made what Martin McGuinness has described as the ``greatest breakthrough'' in the peace process.
It is now the responsibility of the two governments to defend and implement the Good Friday Agreement. That is what needs to happen next.
THIS WEEK'S STATEMENTS
Monday 1 August
The Independent International Commission on Decommissioning reported as follows:
``In a recent meeting with the Commission, the IRA representative proposed a method for putting IRA arms completely and verifiably beyond use.
``We are satisfied that this proposal meets the Commission's remit in accordance with the governments' scheme and regulations.
``Based on our discussions with the IRA representative, we beliebve that this proposal initiates a process that wiill put IRA arms completely and verifiably beyond use.''
Wednesday 3 August
Sinn Féin formal response to the London and Dublin government proposals
``Sinn Féin is totally committed to full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement in all its aspects and in the terms agreed.
``The Governments explicitly recognise that the Good Friday Agreement has not been implemented this far. That is a good development. We welcome that.
``At our Ard Chomhairle meeting last Friday Sinn Féin acknowledged that notwithstanding our reservations on a number of key areas, the proposals from the two governments provide a basis for further progress if the governments have the political will to proceed.
``We spelt out plainly where deficiencies continue to exist between the Agreement and the government's position. These include policing, demilitarisation, the justice system and the political institutions.
``Sinn Féin fully supports the section of the Good Friday Agreement on the issue of decommissioning. Indeed our position on the issue of arms is much more advanced. We therefore welcome the report from the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD). This report marks a huge historical breakthrough in its determination that the IRA's representative's proposal `initiates a process that will put IRA arms completely and verifiably beyond use'.
``The two governments, the UUP and other parties, should grasp the new opportunity that this unprecedented statement from the IICD creates. We should all now move speedily towards the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
``Once again the IRA has demonstrated its commitment to the search for a lasting peace. The other parties need to match that commitment and should respond positively and constructively.
``The IICD and the armed groups should be allowed to get on with the job of resolving the issue of arms.
POLICING AND JUSTICE
``Sinn Féin is fully committed to achieving a civic police service, which is accountable, representative of the community it polices and free from partisan political control.
``In the short term the matter for Sinn Féin to decide upon is whether to nominate to the Policing Board.
``Sinn Féin will not nominate representatives to sit on the policing board at this time. Neither will we call upon people to join or support this force. We will only be in a position to decide positively on these issues when the British government have closed the gap between their proposals and the requirements of the Good Friday Agreement.
``On Saturday, 4 August, a party delegation met with the British Secretary of State, John Reid. Although some progress has been made the gap between the British government's policing plan and their declared objective of implementing the Patten recommendations and the requirements of the Good Friday Agreement remain significant.
``The British government has committed itself to publishing a revised implementation plan on policing. They have not done this. This needs to happen. This is the people's agreement. They need to see what is being proposed on policing. They need to see that legislative amendments which the British government intends to make to its Police Act.
``Three years on from the signing of the Good Friday Agreement we have yet to see the British government's implementation plan and draft legislation for the reform of the criminal justice system. This is germane to the creation of an acceptable policing service.
``The British government has committed itself to publishing these in the future. The sooner, obviously, the better so that the electorate and their representatives can see what is being proposed.
``There has been considerable controversy over the killing of Pat Finucane, Rosemary Nelson and Robert Hamill and there has been a campaign by their families for a full independent judicial inquiry into each case.
``Sinn Féin has refused to make these high profile cases a matter for bargaining or bartering in negotiations on policing. Our position on this issue mirrors that of the families - there should be a full, independent, judicial inquiry into each case and it should be initiated immediately. These families, and all others in that position, have the right to the truth.
``While the British government's position on demilitarisation falls short of what we believe is required, the British government should move ahead anyway to do what it has said it will do.
``As stated, the government's proposals provide a basis for further progress if the government's have the will to proceed.
``We will therefore call on the UUP to fill the position of First Minister and to end their unlawful veto on the institutions. We call upon the pro-agreement parties to work together to resolve these current difficulties. In particular, we call upon both governments to defend and implement the Good Friday Agreement.''
Wednesday 3 August
In a statement received by An Phoblacht on Wednesday night, 8 August, the leadership of Óglaigh na hÉireann stated:
``On 8 March 2001 the IRA leadership reestablished contact with the IICD.
Since then the IRA representative has met with the IICD eight times. As a result of these discussions we can confirm that the IRA leadership has agreed a scheme with the IICD which will put IRA arms completely and verifiably beyond use.
We note the ongoing attempts in some quarters to prevent progress. They should not be permitted to succeed.
Our representative will continue to meet with the IICD.
The IRA leadership will continue to monitor political developments.''
Irish Republican Publicity Bureau,
Collapse imminent after dramatic week in Irish politics
BY MICHAEL PIERSE
In a dramatic week for Irish politics, the peace process has received what is, potentially, a significant jolt of renewed energy and confidence. First there was the statement from General John De Chastelein and then the IRA, once again, confirmed its commitment to the pursuit of lasting peace. However, rather than embrace this renewed impetus, it seems from their comments thus far that the UUP are determined to collapse the Good FridKilmainham planning battle hots up
``The reality is that the institutions are going to collapse in a very short time, given the management of the process at this point.'' - Gerry Adams
Residents of Kilmainham and Inchicore are taking their battle against property developers Charmside to An Bord Pleanála. An oral hearing was sought when the residents lodged their appeal after a packed meeting in Inchicore on Tuesday 6 March.
After being initially refused planning permission, the developers resubmitted their plans, increasing the size of the proposed buildings. The developers, Charmside (Richard Barrett and John Ronan), are virtually one and the same as T UUP attempts to frustrate and undermine the Good Friday Agreement and the persistent failure of the British government to deliver on its commitments, that step was all the more significant.
``Of all the mistakes made through the course of the last three years in the Good Friday Agreement process, what David Trimble has done in rejecting the determination of the IICD is the greatest mistake of all.'' - Martin McGuinness
Significant too in that the IRA has clearly stretched beyond its previous pledge on the arms issue - made in May 2000 - in order to create maximum public confidence. One year and three months ago the IRA agreed to put its arms beyond use in the context of ``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''. While what the British government then agreed - a new beginning to policing and demilitarisation - has not yet been forthcoming, the ball is now clearly in their court.
Some recognition of this may have been contained in Tony Blair's response to the IRA proposal, in which he welcomed it as ``an important step forward... on which I hope we can build rapidly''. Similarly, British Secretary of State John Reid recognised the proposals as ``an important and a very significant step forward'', and stressed that its significance should not be underestimated. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern echoed Gerry Adams's comments in saying that the move was ``historic''.
``That will allow us to get on with the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, which brings in all the other issues of policing, demilitarisation and the stability of the institutions as well,'' he said.
``If he thinks he hastens the day that his version of the Good Friday Agreement will be implemented by this strategy, then he is living in cloud-cuckoo-land.'' - Martin McGuinness
Ahern also advised unionists to reflect very carefully on the statement.
``People should see the historic significance rather than trying to see difficulties in it,'' he said. He added that he would question to what agenda those who might reject this proposal were working.
THE UNIONIST AGENDA
The comments had barely passed Ahern's lips when reject-everything unionism was again refusing to acknowledge, let alone partake of, the potential for fresh progress. For people who have argued that unionist intransigence would disappear once the IRA made a move on arms, the snowball growth of negative comments from unionist leaders should have been an eye opener.
Jeffrey Donaldson, as per usual, reacted to the IRA proposal with all the positivity and moderation of a bull in a china shop. ``What we need is actual decommissioning,'' he said. ``We have always made that clear. That is our bottom line.''
Donaldson hasn't always made that so clear. Indeed, on Monday, the day before he made these comments, it seemed that the bottom had fallen out of his `bottom line'. Quoted in the Irish Times, Donaldson said that his acceptance of the joint proposals from the British and Dublin governments was not ``conditional'' on the arms issue, as he would still be objecting to proposals on policing and an amnesty for those `on the run' from British forces. Revealing his real reasons for rejecting the joint proposals - not arms, but the implementation of measures on policing and human rights - Donaldson typified how unionism has continually used the arms issue as a smokescreen to hide their antipathy towards the Agreement and everything it stands for.
A MASSIVE BLUNDER
David Trimble, who has predicated virtually every move he makes in this process on the issue of IRA weapons, responded on Tuesday by saying that he could not respond. The UUP would not respond, he said, unless they ``see decommissioning actually begin''. He rejected the opinion of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning that the IRA has begun a process of putting its arms beyond use, prompting Martin McGuinness to warn that the UUP leader had made a ``massive blunder''.
``Of all the mistakes made through the course of the last three years in the Good Friday Agreement process, what David Trimble has done in rejecting the determination of the IICD is the greatest mistake of all,'' said McGuinness.
The IICD was signed up to by the UUP, when they endorsed the Good Friday Agreement, and it is now time for them to ``butt out'' of its work, he continued.
``If he (David Trimble) thinks he hastens the day that his version of the Good Friday Agreement will be implemented by this strategy, then he is living in cloud-cuckoo-land.
``If he were to join the club, if he were to join in with the rest of us, we could be much more hopeful and optimistic that we could get all of the armed groups in society to recognise they should make their own contribution.''
Noticeably, unionism has been completely silent on the issue of loyalist arms, which have remained completely and verifiable in use, particularly over the summer. In an incredible feat of intellectual gymnastics, Alan Murray, writing in the Irish Independent on Monday, even managed to blame the IRA for that seasonal explosion of loyalist violence. The UDA was ``still on board'' before the summer, he imagined, as he gave uncontested newspaper space to the comments of some unidentified individual who rejected the IRA move, and is apparently one of the ``most powerful UFF figures in the North''. The UDA were unable to stop themselves, with those IRA guns lying silently, but menacingly, in their bunkers, he alleged. Murray's perverted logic not only gives tacit acceptance to the genocidal policies of the UDA, it also allows them to justify their sectarian killings, on the basis that they have no minds of their own and are reacting to silent IRA weapons.
Sadly, though, it is this same perverted logic which gave rise to the arms issue in the first place, as a prism through which unionism could distort and frustrate every other issue in the process.
STOPPING THE ROT
The demand for IRA decommissioning has been used to block progress on policing, the political institutions, demilitarisation, human rights, the justice system and the equality agenda. It has even frustrated efforts to achieve progress on the arms issue itself, as Martin McGuinness pointed out. For anyone who believes this is merely republican propaganda, one needs only take a cursory glance at David Trimble's record in terms of the Good Friday Agreement to see why unionism has been returning to the one issue all the time.
Trimble voted against legislation on prisoner releases, rejected the Patten Report, rejected, most recently, the determination of the IICD. He is seeking the removal of the Human Rights Commissioner and has been found guilty of acting illegally in refusing to allow Sinn Féin ministers to fulfil their roles. He has opposed demilitarisation and rejected the political institutions on several occasions. All of these measures, positions and institutions he agreed to in signing the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Yet, he has done nothing but backtrack and renege on these measures since then. `Decommissioning' is the tool that the UUP has used to defend this backtracking, sapping the potential of the Agreement. At this historic point in time, it is up to the British government to say that they are prepared to stop the rot.
In light of their response to the IRA proposals, there is now hope that the British government might be prepared to stop pandering to rejectionist unionists. However, judged in the context of their behaviour over the past year, this may still not be the case.
Following the Weston Park summit, the London and Dublin governments promised to bring forward proposals for the `full and early' implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. It must be remembered that the shadow of David Trimble's 1 July resignation and consequent six-week deadline for progress, was the backdrop to that summit and remains the major threat to this process. That six-week deadline hits this Sunday, 12 August, and poses the likelihood of political meltdown. To avert that meltdown, the course of action taken by the British government needed to address the threat posed by unionism and the urgency of that threat.
In their joint proposals, issued on Wednesday 1 August, the London and Dublin governments delivered a document that they believe fulfils their promise of `full and early' implementation of the Agreement. There have been no measures suggested to stop the brinkmanship of unionism from driving the process into the ground.
Sinn Féin responded to the proposals yesterday, with a mixture of hope and caution. The party's Chief Whip, Alex Maskey, welcomed the two governments' recognition that the Agreement had not been implemented so far. It is only in the event that the two governments show the political will to implement the proposals, however, that they will provide a basis for progress, he said.
Deficiencies continue to exist between the Agreement and the governments' position, he maintained.
``Sinn Féin will not nominate representatives to sit on the Policing Board at this time,'' he elaborated. ``Neither will we call on people to join or support this force. We will only be in a position to decide positively on these issues when the British government have closed the gap between their proposals and the requirements of the Good Friday Agreement.''
While Sinn Féin's response to the government's proposals has been to accept it as a possible basis for progress, David Trimble's assertion on Tuesday that the ``shutters are coming down'' on the institutions paves the way for disaster. No one should underestimate the intensity of the crisis opening up before us with the imminent collapse of the institutions.
INSTITUTIONS WILL COLLAPSE
The question must be asked, in all this confusion, as to why the institutions are being collapsed instead of being maintained as a political centre of gravity that can stabilise the process.
Gerry Adams offered an answer to this question as An Phoblacht went to print. ``The answer is contained in a letter by the Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, to delegates of the Unionist Council last autumn, in which he talked about creating a crisis in the institutions and placing responsibility upon republicans,'' he said.
Commenting on speculation in the media as to where the process will go from here, Adams said that Sinn Féin is against suspension of the institutions as an option. Suspension is ``illegal, outside the Good Friday Agreement and outside the terms of the international treaty signed up to by the two governments'', he said.
However, the Sinn Féin leader added, ``the reality is that the institutions are going to collapse in a very short time, given the management of the process at this point''.
The only option not being discussed involves the Ulster Unionist Party accepting the determination of the IICD, nominating a new First Minister and supporting the stabilisation of the institutions, Adams said.
``The two governments have an obligation to defend the Good Friday Agreement and the Ulster Unionists should join the rest of us in stabilising the institutions and collectively working towards resolving the rest of the issues.''
To date unionists have rejected the Patten Commission, the Parades Commission and the Decommissioning Commission, which begs the question, ``what are they for?'' he said.
``Sinn Féin accepts it has a responsibility towards sorting out all issues, even those that give us difficulties. The problem is that unionism doesn't feel it has any responsibilities. It is always somebody else's responsibility.''
``Unionism has yet to come to a sense of its own responsibility for what happened here in the last 30 years of conflict and before. Until then, we're all reduced to playing a game of tennis, volleying problems back and forth.''