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1 November 2001 Edition

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Special Dáil debate on peace process

"A time of renewed hope" - Ó Caoláin

A special debate was held in the Dáil last week in the wake of the IRA initiative and the confirmation from the International Decommissioning body that a quantity of IRA arms had been put beyond use. Speaking in that debate, Cavan/Monaghan Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin called for a swift and positive response from the British and Irish governments and the unionists.

The Sinn Féin TD began by commending the IRA for what he called the "momentous step" they had taken. He described it as a "very difficult decision" which would cause concern for many sincere republicans. Ó Caoláin refuted the argument that the decision had come about as a result of the 11 September events, pointing out that long before that date, the IRA had taken other initiatives to save the political process from collapse. The Sinn Féin TD then set out what needs to happen next:

"We now have a new opportunity to fulfil the promise of the Good Friday Agreement. We need to see long overdue progress on all fronts. Moves on demilitarisation announced today by British Secretary of State John Reid must be part of an ongoing process. We must see all British military installations removed so that the people of South Armagh and all other parts of the Six Counties can live in peace on their land. The British Army never had any right in Ireland and it must be removed, bag and baggage, once and for all.

"The current policing legislation falls short of Patten which was itself a compromise. There must be real accountability, the disbandment of the Special Branch - a force within a force - and the Human Rights Oath for all members and not just new recruits. Plastic bullets must be banned. We need to see the repeal of repressive British legislation.

"We need real action to combat economic discrimination against nationalists, and to regenerate all deprived communities, unionist and nationalist alike.

"The Irish Government must fulfill its obligations and commitments.

We need to see the repeal of repressive legislation in this jurisdiction - the odious Offences Against the State Act which is an affront to civil rights.

"There must be progress on representation in the Oireachtas for citizens in the Six Counties, a measure which has been delayed for far too long. The delay has not been since Good Friday 1998 but, as the record of this House will show, since at least 1951 when a motion seeking right of audience for Six-County MPs was tabled by Seán MacBride but rejected by the de Valera government."


"We need to see a real peace dividend for the Border Counties. That has been promised but there has been little sign of it in the communities in Counties Cavan and Monaghan which I represent.

"I urge the leaders of unionism to embrace this new opportunity for progress. They should renew their commitment to the Good Friday Agreement. They should now participate fully in all the institutions established under the Good Friday Agreement, including the All-Ireland Ministerial Council and the All-Ireland bodies.

"It is in all our interests for the leaders of unionism to defend and promote the Agreement among their own supporters and beyond, harnessing the broad support for it in the North of Ireland.

"Unionist leaders need to give real leadership to those loyalist communities where sectarianism is flourishing, stoked by anti-Agreement politicians and loyalist paramilitaries - Glenbryn Estate for example where protesters are daily terrorising young Catholic schoolgirls. Mr Trimble should stand side by side with the parents and their children. He and others need to actively combat the sectarianism which blames the social and economic problems of loyalist communities on their nationalist neighbours. All of us need to encourage the emergence of real leadership from loyalist working-class communities which have been the political cannon fodder of bigots for decades.

"Contrary to much of the commentary around these developments it is important to point out that the Irish republican tradition is not and never has been static and unchanging. It has always developed and adapted to the times and the political conditions. But the commitment to Irish unity and independence, and to social justice for all our people, has not changed and will not change. The republican tradition, which I am proud to represent, did not end in 1921 and draws no distinction between the Mountjoy Ten and the Long Kesh Ten.

"This is a time of renewed hope. I look forward to working with those of every tradition on this island as we create a new Ireland in which all our children can live together as equals."


O'Donnell praises Army's courage

Speaking at the annual commemoration for dead republicans from the Markets and Lower Ormeau areas of South Belfast on Sunday, 28 October, Sinn Féin councillor for East Belfast Joe O'Donnell praised the Army "for its courage and for its decision in the previous week to save the peace process".

Up to 200 people attended a parade that marched from Joy Street to the Republican Garden of Remembrance in the Markets district. The Markets memorial was just opened last year,and it was here that O'Donnell dedicated a memorial stone in memory of three Volunteers - Paul Marlowe, Joey Surgenor and Frankie Fitzsimmons, who died on active service in 1976.

The trio were killed in what become known as the 'Gasyard Explosion'. They were involved in an operation against a British Army lookout post in the Belfast Gasyard on the Lower Ormeau Road when they died in an explosion.


Unionist veto still overshadows progress


This has not been an easy week for republicans. Amid continuing, intensifying sectarian attacks from loyalists, minimalist moves from Britain in terms of demilitarisation, further, desperate attempts by rejectionist unionists to bring down the entire peace process, and the uncertainty and pain for republicans that has naturally followed the IRA initiative, it would be incredible to say otherwise.

Gerry Adams addressed republicans directly on Friday, 26 October. He recognised the difficulties that the IRA initiative poses for republicans but asked that those who have supported the Republican Movement up until now remain united and think strategically.

"There is understandable and considerable emotion amongst many republican activists following the IRA's unprecedented move on the arms issue," he said. The move has hit a raw nerve among "many good and genuine republicans".

"Contrary to some reports the republican base was not ready for a move by the IRA," he said. "Even if the backdrop was more advanced, in my view a move by the Army at any time would have aroused great emotions because of the sensitivities involved for people in struggle.

"The hurt within republicanism at this difficult time is because republicans have a sense of ourselves. No one should underestimate any of this."

Adams said it was his view that the IRA's initiative was "a patriotic act. True patriotism requires courage and vision. But it also involves self sacrifice and an ability to endure a lot.

"Most republicans understand this and have experienced deprivations during lifetimes in struggle, but many see little reason for the IRA's move, given the state of the political process at this time."

The failure of unionism, until now, to work the process, the loyalists bombing and shooting campaign, the "disgraceful tolerance by the great and the good" of the blockade of young school girls at Holy Cross, added to republican frustration, said the Sinn Féin president. Added to this was "a wholly lopsided debate on the arms issue". Adams drew particular attention to "the British government's handling of the overall process, which has undermined republican confidence in the process.

"Despite this and despite the problems for all of us during this phase, republicans must remain focused on our objectives and stay united and actively involved in the struggle to achieve our entirely legitimate aims of unity and independence.

"It may take a little while for everyone to absorb and rationalise what has happened, but this is a period in which all republicans have to pull together," he said.

While one might think that the IRA move would act as a dynamic against loyalist violence, the opposite seems to be the case.

The deranged thinking behind the attack of Margaret Hale in North Belfast on Sunday morning was another example of the depths to which the UDA have stooped.

Women and children seem to be the chosen targets of loyalists, while threats from the UDA persist. John Reid's belated recognition that the UDA 'ceasefire' was over has had little or no effect.

Ardoyne Sinn Féin Councillor Margaret McClenaghan hit out at loyalists who escalated the Holy Cross protest by blockading a further three Catholic schools in North Belfast last week.

The British reaction to loyalist violence has been minimal, except when RUC personnel are attacked - which prompted British Secretary of State John Reid to renounce the UDA ceasefire - or when a British soldier was hit by a pipe-bomb - which prompted UDA man Jim Simpson's arrest - there have been little real attempts to bring a halt to the UDA attacks.

Unionism, the British government and, in its obsession with IRA arms, the media, have systematically ignored the UDA onslaught for the last year. Ironically, those who have played a major part in uncovering the institutional child abuse of the 20th Century are ignoring and covering up the child abuse that is going on in Ardoyne today. Clearly, this must end.

It is also of little comfort to republicans that the British government have thus far only produced a minimalist response to the IRA initiative, in dismantling four military installations instead of the 'programme for demilitarisation' that was promised in the Good Friday Agreement. Neither have we seen the revised plan on policing that was announced in the wake of the IRA move. It is clear that this is not the time for prevarication.

However, that has been exactly the tactic adopted by UUP Assembly Members Pauline Armitage and Peter Weir. Again, we are seeing a small minority holding up progress for the majority - a minority who, as one journalist observed this week, most people had not even heard of prior to their negative interjection in the peace process this week.

Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness has said that he would be willing to meet with the UUP members, to impress upon them the magnitude of the IRA initiative.

However, as Friday's vote of confidence (or lack thereof) in David Trimble as First Minister approaches fast, the future of the Assembly hangs in the balance.

Pressure from the British, Irish and American administrations and leadership from David Trimble will be required if all that has happened in the past week is not to be lost to the intransigence of yet another unionist veto.

Gerry Adams, Pat Doherty and Michelle Gildernew travelled to the US and Canada on Wednesday to meet with supporters and lobby those with influence in an attempt to sustain the dynamic that could be tragically lost.



An Phoblacht
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