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24 October 2002 Edition

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Urgent inclusive talks needed

Dangerous vacuum must be filled - McGuinness



Speaking after his meeting with US Ambassador Richard Haass at the State Department in Washington on Tuesday, Martin McGuinness expressed the concern among republicans and nationalists at the suspension of the institutions by the British government.

McGuinness thanked Ambassador Haass and the American administration for their strong support for the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and stressed to the US representative that "the dangerous vacuum that has been created by the British government's suspension of the institutions must be filled with positive political developments.

"There is an urgent necessity for the full and faithful implementation of the Agreement. The Irish and British governments have unequivocally stated that the Good Friday Agreement cannot and will not be renegotiated.

"On this basis they must move decisively to bring all the political leaders, pro- and anti-Agreement, together to seek and urgent resolution of the present crisis."

He continued: "The suspension of the institutions by the British government has caused great unease with the Republican/Nationalist constituency.

"For this to happen at the insistence of the Ulster Unionist Party, which opposes the Good Friday Agreement on many different fronts, has deepened concern among supporters of the Agreement and raises a question mark over the British government's commitment to face down those opposed to the changes promised in the Agreement.

"Tony Blair's speech last week in Belfast in which he conceded his own failure to fully implement the Good Friday Agreement amazingly contained no acknowledgement of the obstructionism adopted towards the Agreement by unionist leaders and others within the British establishment.

"This obstructionism has marked the history of the Agreement for the past four years. Across a range of issues, implementation of the Agreement has been slowed down and impeded and attempts to define the present crisis around one issue is both unacceptable and dishonest."

McGuinness also met with the Secretary for Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, who is a senior member of the US President's Cabinet.

 

Trust me, I'm a British Prime Minister


BY LAURA FRIEL


    
Tony Blair did the unionists' dirty work for them. He brought down the power-sharing arrangements and then he adopted another rejectionist precondition - one that, as everyone knows, even the unionists, cannot be delivered
Let's be honest, not many republicans, perhaps none, trust the British Prime Minister. Not particularly because it's Tony Blair but by virtue of his office and the relationship that has blighted British and Irish relations for the past 800 years.

It is a colonial relationship that has overseen Irish people slaughtered, conquered, subjugated and impoverished. And when the British could no longer hold onto the whole of Ireland by force of arms, there was the imposition of partition and the creation of a sectarian anti-Irish state.

That state, in the interests of continued British rule, stamped its authority over the northern nationalist population with jackboot repression by regular state forces and by the pogrom and terror of irregular pro-state forces.

And in the late 1960s, when the gerrymandered unionist controlled state could no longer subdue the natives, the British Army was sent in to do it for them.

Under the direct rule of successive British Prime Ministers, Labour as well as Conservative, nationalists have been interned without trial, tortured in detention and jailed in non-jury courts, their homes have been constantly raided and their families abused.

Those who resisted were ambushed and executed in shoot to kill operations by the RUC and British SAS. Those who protested were killed or maimed with plastic bullets or occasionally, as in the case of Bloody Sunday, shot dead by the British Army.

Under the personal tutelage of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, loyalist death squads were reorganised, rearmed and redirected by British military intelligence and among those targeted for assassination were defence lawyers (Pat Finucane) elected political opponents (Bernard O'Hagan) and election workers (Sheena Campbell).

And when that didn't appear to be enough, pro-British death squads indulged in the targeting of family members of republicans, shooting up family homes and killing elderly spinsters (Roseanne Mallon), or pregnant mothers (Kathleen O'Hagan) or the children of Sinn Féin councillors (Sean Lavery).

Tony, it didn't take September 11 for northern nationalists to develop "a complete hatred of terrorism". We've all been living, literally in a state of terror for the last 90 years - a state so anti-democratic that a civil rights demand of the right to vote and an equal share of unemployment in the '60s brought it to the brink of collapse.

It is a state so untenable that only massive military occupation and the suspension of even the pretence of democratic accountability could hold it together for a further 30 years.

To this day, nationalists and Catholics aren't just second class citizens but non-citizens, unable to sleep peacefully in their beds at night, attend church, work, play or even walk their children to school free from the fear of sectarian attack.

But let's not talk of terrorism. Let's consider the Good Friday Agreement, the historic compromise, the negotiated settlement, a pathway out of the discredited past and into a peaceful and just future in which all the children of this island can be cherished.

Republicans believe that the only way out of the tyranny of British rule and the atrocity of a sectarian state is through Irish reunification. It's a legitimate and rational evaluation. How else can democracy and equality be realised without dismantling the sectarian institutions of the Orange state and locating power with the people rather than with an absentee government? But we were, and are willing to be proven wrong.

The Good Friday Agreement was Tony Blair's "third way" for the north of Ireland. The sectarian institutions of the state would be dismantled but not the state. A united Ireland could be achieved but only through the consent of a six-county majority.

Until then, the tyranny of British rule would be ameliorated by limited but inclusive local democracy, cross-border institutions and involvement of the Dublin government. Peace involved demilitarisation of the conflict by all participants.

The Good Friday Agreement was hammered out by the British and Irish governments, unionists, nationalists and republicans. It has been endorsed by the people north and south. It was heralded by Irish America. And it is an international treaty with legal obligations.

In his speech in Belfast last week, the British Prime Minister talked up his commitment. "I have spent more time on Northern Ireland, made more calls than any prime minister since 1922.

"I have lost count of the number of people who have shaken their heads at me and quoted Churchill's remark about 'the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone'. But let me state this with passion. I have not regretted for one second the effort or the hassle or the compromise."

And no one should take that away from Tony Blair. As a British Prime Minister he is the first in many years to engage in something other than repression. But commitment can't be evaluated simply on time spent. It must also involve an assessment of the British government's willingness to implement the Agreement.

And on that front, not just republicans but also nationalist Ireland has found Tony Blair lacking. "For all the protestations of his impartiality," concludes the Sunday Business Post, "Blair has consistently supported a unionist agenda.

"He watered down the Patten Report on policing until it represented little more than a badge change for the RUC, refused to dismantle the vast British army fortifications dotted along the border, and has already suspended the Assembly three times before this latest move."

At the beginning of this process republicans, aware of unionist intransigence, cautioned the British government to become "persuaders" for the Good Friday Agreement.

The British government is the single most powerful player in this process. It simply would never be enough for them to become champions of unionism and allocate responsibility to the Dublin government to fight the corner for northern nationalists.

The British government is not only the single most powerful player; historically, it has also been the single most powerful barrier to the realisation of democracy, peace and justice in Ireland. In the past, British imperialism denied Irish self-determination.

In the present, will British interference - suspension is not part of the Good Friday Agreement - act as a barrier to unionists developing democratic relations with their nationalist and republican neighbours?

Since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, unionists have adopted a stalling and thwarting strategy dubbed by Robin Livingstone of the Andersonstown News as "a carnival of preconditions".

"First unionists demanded that the ceasefire be declared permanent; then they demanded quarantine, then they asked for decommissioning, next it was verifiable decommissioning; soon we were introduced to the concept of complete and verifiable decommissioning," writes Livingstone.

    
In a briefing statement to RTE, a spokesperson for the IRA leadership said it was concerned at "sustained efforts" by the British to portray republicans as the problem. "The IRA is not a threat to the peace process and will not accept the imposition of unrealisable demands," said the spokesperson
And now, after all these obstacles have been cleared "we arrive at the brick wall at the end of the cul-de-sac called disbandment".

And throughout it all the British Prime Minister has pandered to unionist tomfoolery. Not once has the British government publicly stood up to unionists and said enough is enough, now get on with the business of making peace with your neighbours.

Instead, republicans have been left to bear the brunt of unionist intransigence while northern nationalists have been left to bear the brunt of unionist paramilitary violence. And then, last month, the Ulster Unionist Party endorsed a 'wreckers' charter' and completely and verifiably capitulated to the anti-Agreement agenda of the Democratic Unionist Party.

The UUP threatened to scupper the Assembly unless the British could deliver a return to the old Stormont, with a new inbuilt unionist majority by excluding the largest nationalist party in the north, Sinn Féin.

And what did the British Prime Minister do? He did the unionists' dirty work for them. He brought down the power-sharing arrangements and then he adopted another rejectionist precondition - one that, as everyone knows, even the unionists, cannot be delivered.

"They know that IRA disbandment is synonymous with IRA surrender," writes Danny Morrison. "The double advantage for the unionists is that after all the hurdles the republicans have unexpectedly jumped through, here, at last, is a demand they cannot meet, and an excuse for unionists to halt the political process without being blamed."

An opinion poll commissioned by the BBC confirmed what everyone has long suspected, that the majority of unionists can't stomach power sharing with nationalists, whether Sinn Féin or the SDLP. Trumped up nonsense about alleged republican 'violence' is just a convenient smokescreen.

In a briefing statement to RTE, a spokesperson for the IRA leadership said it was concerned at "sustained efforts" by the British to portray republicans as the problem. "The IRA is not a threat to the peace process and will not accept the imposition of unrealisable demands," said the spokesperson.

As for Sinn Féin, as the Sunday Business Post pointed out, "it has the support of the majority of the North's nationalists, has fulfilled to the letter all of its obligations under the Agreement, and is willing to share power with its former enemies immediately".

At the core of Tony Blair's speech is the notion of 'trust'. Power sharing has to be suspended because unionists cannot 'trust' republicans. Republicans must therefore continue in demonstrating their 'trustworthiness' to the satisfaction of insatiable unionism.

For the record, republicans have no reason to place their 'trust' in either Ulster's unionists or the British government, but that's not the point. As Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly pointed out, people don't have to trust each other to draw up a contract. We have a contract. It's the Good Friday Agreement.

Tony Blair, "the fork in the road has finally come"; as British Prime Minister will you face down unionist rejectionism and implement the Good Friday Agreement or will you keep on endorsing a unionist veto?



 IRA's contribution to peace indispensable


BY JIM GIBNEY


August 31, 1994 IRA announces cessation of military operations.

July 20, 1997 IRA renews cessation.

July 21 1999 IRA issues statement of commitment to peace and acknowledges the Good Friday Agreement can contribute to lasting peace.

May 6 2000 IRA undertakes to open some of its arms dumps for inspection and says it is prepared to 'initiate a process that will completely and verifiably put arms beyond use'.

June 26 2000 IRA states it has opened some of its arms dumps to weapons inspectors.

October 25 2000 IRA announces it will permit further inspection of some of its arms dumps.

October 23 2001 IRA announces it has put arms beyond use.

April 8 2002 IRA announces it has carried out a second act with a 'varied' and 'substantial' amount of weaponry put beyond use.

July 17 2002 IRA apology to families of non-combatants killed by them and recognises the grief of all those that lost loved ones in the conflict.


Other equally significant events followed on the heels of these developments or alongside them. Loyalists called cessations, all-party talks took place. A new political dispensation called the Good Friday Agreement emerged from negotiations. It was endorsed by the people of Ireland.

Sinn Féin changed its constitution to permit elected representatives to take their seats in a northern parliament. Martin Mc Guinness and Bairbre de Brún became Ministers in an Executive.

The Irish government changed Articles 2 and 3 of its Constitution and the British government changed the Government of Ireland Act, which partitioned Ireland. They transferred their claim to the Six Counties from London to the people of the Six Counties.

All-Ireland institutions dealing with a range of issues were established. In theory, the partitionist arrangements that set up the two states in Ireland in 1920 were overcome.

These were events of huge significance, which transformed politics on this island and between Britain and Ireland - dramatic developments in anyone's book, unthinkable a few years ago. A fresh and bold approach by republicans was central to these new realities taking shape.

The IRA took its life in its hands, took huge risks and gave the necessary space to allow a process of conflict resolution to take shape.

Eight years into trying to establish a credible conflict resolution process which would unravel the issues that bound everyone to armed force of one form or another, the British government now appears set on a course that could stall the political momentum of recent years.

How else can Tony Blair's Belfast speech be interpreted? He declared: "...we cannot carry on with the IRA half in, half out of this process..." and "...the continuing existence of the IRA as an active paramilitary organisation is now the best card those whom republicans call 'rejectionist' unionists, have in their hand".

Are republicans to understand from these remarks that the British government no longer views the IRA as a key player in bringing about the changes we all enjoy today?

Are we to understand from these remarks that the British government thinks that there is some other force out there inside the republican family that they can deal with who will be able to sustain the IRA's contribution to the peace process and will be capable of encouraging the IRA to continue as it has done in the past?

Are we to understand from these remarks that the British government does not appreciate the reality that the IRA are guarantors of the peace process; that they are one of its principal underwriters; that without the current leadership of the IRA and the trust their volunteers have in their judgement, there would not be a peace process.

We all face a number of realities and high office doesn't insulate us from these realities, wherever we reside.

I do not like the fact but I accept it that there are 30,000 British troops roaming around the Six Counties. I do not like the fact but I accept it that armed loyalists are in every working class Protestant area across the Six Counties. I do not like the fact but I accept it that British policy is actively blocking the reunification of Ireland.

I seek to change all of these realities to the one I prefer: Irish independence. Until I arrive at this political outcome a number of things could happen.

The Crown forces could be removed from the streets. They could be confined to barracks. Their military bases could be demolished. They'd be there but I wouldn't see them anymore.

They could cease to be an aid to British government policy, a bargaining chip to be employed against republicans when the British government need them.

The loyalists could decide to follow the IRA's example and begin to put their arms 'verifiably beyond use'. They could stop being pawns in the hands of British intelligence agencies and the PSNI Special Branch. They could stop peddling drugs and destroying the lives of teenagers. The UDA in particular could decide to reinstate its cessation, stop killing Catholics and its former associates.

Following on in this vein, the British government could get real and recognise: The IRA, like it or not, has existed in one form or another in Ireland for most of the last hundred years.

The IRA, like it or not, has played a very big part in shaping the political history of Ireland over the last century. For example without the IRA, the southern state would not exist. Whatever I and most other republicans think about the extent of freedom and independence the Irish government has, they would not have a millimetre of territory to administer were it not for the IRA fighting the British between 1916 and 1921.

The IRA, as I write, continues to make a positive contribution to shaping the political life of this nation.

The IRA is a secret army but its decisions in recent years have had a very public and beneficial affect on the lives of the people of Ireland and Britain.

I would have expected Tony Blair to realise this.

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An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1
Ireland
 

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