13 March 2003 Edition
Tough talks ahead
Substantive gaps remain
This week, Sinn Féin leaders are travelling to 20 cities in North America to inform Irish American supporters of the progress made to date and to seek support for the tough talking that remains if a deal is to be secured.
Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, Pat Doherty, Martin Ferris and Gerry Kelly on Wednesday began a six-day coast-to-coast trip to the United States, where they will take part in a wide engagement with Irish America on the current negotiations in the peace process. Mitchel McLaughlin departs for Canada today for a six-day trip. Cities they will visit include New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Seattle, San Francisco, Cleveland, Detroit and Toronto.
Gerry Adams will meet with US President George W Bush, along with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and all the main party leaders.
Speaking as the Sinn Féin team departed, Pat Doherty said: "The message we will be bringing to the US and Canada this St Patrick's Day is that while progress has been made in these talks, substantive gaps remain."
Doherty emphasised that the attempt to make the entire Agreement subject to sanctions demanded by unionism is unacceptable. "We are in favour of holding people accountable for their actions," he said, "but this sanctions proposal is outside the terms of the Agreement and amounts to handing the unionists a veto. It is a matter of considerable frustration that the Irish government has given the proposal credence.
"I will be assuring our supporters and friends that discussions are continuing with the two governments and the other parties in a sustained effort to close these gaps. This is very much work in progress. And we will be seeking the ongoing support of Irish America and Canada."
A reliable source, meanwhile, has indicated to An Phoblacht that there is deep cynicism amongst IRA Volunteers in relation to what they consider to be insatiable unionist demands. "What guarantee has anyone that if a deal is done unionists will simply walk away or pull things down when they don't get their own way?" the source asked.
The IRA has seen nothing at this point, he added. They know, as does everyone else, that engagements have taken place and that more work needs to be done.
The IRA remains committed to the search for a lasting and durable peace and to further enhancing the peace process under the correct circumstances, he emphasised.
But no decisions have been taken about anything by the IRA, he insisted, making absolutely clear that there is no basis whatsoever to media spins about disbandment, quantum leaps, film crews, etc.
The source pointed out that a mechanism exists for dealing with the issue of arms, the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD).
Negotiations a work in progress - Gerry Adams
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP addressing party activists and elected representatives in Dublin City last Saturday, following a special meeting of the party's Ard Chomhairle to discuss the current negotiations, said that "while substantial progress has been made on a range of issues, substantive gaps do remain.
"Discussions are continuing with the two governments and the other parties in a sustained effort to close these gaps. This is very much work in progress.
"I would like to begin by taking you back almost ten years to within days of the IRA cessation in 1994, when Albert Reynolds, John Hume and I met in this city. After years of private contact and negotiations, this was the first public coming together of the various strands of nationalism on this island and its significance reverberated far beyond these shores to London, Washington and further afield. Central to what we were about at that time was the need for a peace process based on the principles of inclusion and democracy. These principles, which we have stood by, have in many ways helped create the progress achieved so far. If the last ten years, or indeed the last 30 years or the entire time since partition has proved anything, it is that exclusion, discrimination and inequality do not work, regardless of whether they are pursued by state, politicians or indeed elements of wider society.
"As we move to conclude this phase of negotiations, these basic principles remain central to our approach. In the tactical thrust of negotiations, it is crucial to actually remember what all of this is about and what we are trying to achieve - ending conflict and division on this island and building a new Ireland which is inclusive of all.
"This is the goal that guided us in the negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement and it is the goal that is guiding us today. Of course, five years ago, we knew that the Agreement would not be implemented overnight. We knew that it would be more difficult to get it implemented than it was to achieve it, especially if the governments did not stand by their obligations.
"It is unacceptable that the British government has unilaterally suspended political institutions at the behest of unionism on four occasions. It is unacceptable that they have now postponed the elections at the behest of unionism. And it is unacceptable that they are now attempting to make the entire Agreement subject to sanctions demanded by unionism.
"This is not just bad for democracy, it is putting in jeopardy much of the work that we have achieved in recent weeks and months. And this should be reflected upon by those parties who have for whatever reason supported the sanctions position or acquiesced to it.
"This current negotiation actually commenced in December, picked up pace in January and became more intensive over the past few weeks, ending up of course in Hillsborough this week.
"I have to say that we did succeed in making substantial progress over all of the range of issues, which we had been pressing the British government on.
New legislation on Policing and Criminal Justice
Irish Language Rights
"However, substantive gaps do remain on important issues. Discussions are continuing with the two governments and the other parties in a sustained effort to close these gaps. This is very much work in progress.
"We have met with and will continue to meet with the UUP to try and resolve issues such as the sustainability of the political institutions and the All-Ireland Parliamentary Forum.
"Next week, many of the Sinn Féin leadership is going to the United States. We will be engaging with the Administration at the highest levels in addition to our ongoing engagement with Irish America, which has played a valuable role in the enhancement of the peace process.
"On our return, we will be facing into the Ard Fheis at the end of the month. I think it is worth noting that this will be the first Ard Fheis to be broadcast live on RTE - ten years after the disgraceful and petty decision of the establishment parties here to ban us from the Mansion House.
"So this is not a time to become spectators. It is a time to build alliances and forge new relationships. Our party is the engine of the process of change on this island. We have a lot of work to do. A lot of people are depending on us. In the weeks ahead we have to secure commitments from the two government for the completion of the Good Friday Agreement."
Sinn Féin brief Diplomatic Corps on ongoing peace talks
Work on outstanding issues to continue
Sinn Féin Dáil spokesperson on International Affairs, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD, and the head of the party's International Department, Joan O'Connor, on Monday briefed 29 members of the Diplomatic Corps on the ongoing negotiations between Sinn Féin and the British and Irish governments and the pro-Agreement parties. They also discussed the pending war in Iraq.
Among those in attendance were representatives from the following embassies - Australia, South Africa, Palestine, France, Italy, Spain, China, Belgium and Mexico.
Speaking following the briefing, Ó Snodaigh said:
"I outlined that while substantial progress had been made over a range of issues, including new legislation on policing and criminal justice, demilitarisation, equality and human rights issues. There are also gaps and our party will continue to negotiate on these matters over the coming weeks.
"We also outlined our concerns in relation to attempts to bring forward sanctions and said that Sinn Féin is not against parties or party members being held to account if they are in breach of commitments or pledges of office. But we cannot accept and will not accept the governments stepping outside of the Agreement to bring in sanctions, which are aimed at our party for something we are not responsible for."
In relation to the pending war in Iraq, Ó Snodaigh said:
"We outlined our belief that there is no justification for the war which would have catastrophic consequences, not only in Iraq itself but throughout the Middle East. We believe that the UN inspectors should be allowed to continue their work. Our experience of the Irish Peace Process has shown us in a very real way that dialogue and negotiation is the best way to achieve the peaceful resolution of conflicts. We also discussed the Bill, which Sinn Féin brought before the Dáil, seeking to enshire neutrality into the Constitution and what this would mean for international relations."
Sinn Féin will remain in contact with the Diplomatic Corps over the coming weeks and there will be a further briefing at the party's Ard Fheis at the end of the month.