24 April 2003 Edition
Reckless Blair plays Orange Card
Martin McGuinness has reacted angrily to comments made by the British Prime Minister at a media briefing on Wednesday morning. Sinn Féin's Chief Negotiator said he was dismayed by the approach of Tony Blair and by his ability to be "reckless in many ways with what is a very difficult and very sensitive situation". He was critical of Tony Blair's decision to state publicly his interpretation of the IRA statement given to the two governments last week and angry at the accusation that the IRA statement was unclear. "There is a difference between clear and unambiguous and what is unacceptable to David Trimble," he said.
"I am extremely disappointed that the British Prime Minister is prepared to come out on the public airwaves and give his interpretation of what the IRA said. I don't think that that is conducive to a proper, respectful negotiation," said McGuinness.
"I think he needs to ask himself, whether or not the approach that he has adopted is conducive to getting the type of result that, I think, this process needs."
McGuinness was responding to a briefing in Downing Street at which Blair publicly posed three questions about the IRA's statement.
Those questions were:
- What do the IRA mean when they say that their strategies and disciplines will not be inconsistent with the Good Friday Agreement? Does it mean that there would be an end to all activities, including targeting, procurement of weapons and so-called punishment beatings?
- When they say that they are committed to putting arms beyond use through the Decommissioning body, does that mean all arms?
- When they say they support the Good Friday Agreement and want it to work, does that mean that if the two governments and all the other parties fulfil their obligations under the Good Friday Agreement and the Joint Declaration, that means the process is complete and there is final closure to the conflict?
Blair claimed the questions were very clear and that the process needed clarity and not ambiguity. David Trimble responded predictably, saying that he agreed with the Prime Minister and that if an election took place in May without a clear statement from the IRA, then there would be a "crash".
Martin McGuinness rejected the accusation that the IRA statement was unclear, and said he found it interesting that the British Prime Minister would use the terms clarity and ambiguity.
"Myself and others within the Sinn Féin leadership have sought clarity from the British government on a number of issues dealing with the Joint Declaration, and it's clear that the declaration is conditional, qualified, and at best a process towards implementation. We have sought clarity from David Trimble on the sustainability of institutions, we cannot get clarity from him on a date for the transfer of powers on policing, we couldn't get clarity from him on the establishment of a North-South inter-parliamentary forum, on the whole issue of a single Equality bill, and a Human Rights bill.
McGuinness said he believed that the IRA statement had clarity.
"The reality is that the IRA statement is clear and unambiguous, the difficulty is that Tony Blair appears to be saying that it is not acceptable, those are two different concepts.
McGuinness also expressed frustration with David Trimble, saying the UUP leader wanted a personal victory.
"The unionists have been saying for 25 years that there was no war. The real dynamic of this process is divisions that exist in unionism - that is the battle that is being fought out. David Trimble has decided - and unfortunately the two governments have decided to go along with it - that he needs a victory over the IRA, so that he can march in triumphalist fashion to the elections on 29 May. I don't think that that is the way to resolve the conflict in this country and anybody who thinks that needs to re-evaluate their contribution to this process."
He added that he did not think unionists could be pleased.
"Trimble told us in recent months that words from republicans were meaningless, and the attitude within the constituency that I come from, and the rest of the North, is that nothing satisfies these people.
"The issue of decommissioning was a perfect example of this. I broke people's hearts on that issue. We all thought that the unionists would see the decommissioning that took place, embrace it and run with it, and what do they do? They put it in their pocket and started making more demands.
"In my view, no matter what the IRA says over the coming days, it's not going to be enough for Trimble, and I don't think that that's a game that should be played with this process."
When the interviewer pointed out that he appeared angry, McGuinness said: "Yes, I am very angry. I am angry that we have a British Prime Minister going on TV and revealing important aspects and dimensions of very sensitive negotiations.
"At the end of the day, he lives in London and I live in Ireland, and I have a responsibility to real people here who have been denied their rights and entitlements for far too long. Now we have to listen to an approach suggesting that those people will not see the publication of the Joint Declaration.
McGuinness said the implementation of the Agreement should not rest upon the dictat of the unionists.
"I have to say I am fed up to the back teeth of British government ministers and indeed, some Irish ministers, telling us that the Good Friday Agreement cannot be implemented because of opposition coming from unionist political leaders. That is no way to pursue a peace process."
McGuinness said, however, that he remained hopeful about the process as a whole. "I think there is hope because I think we're going to succeed, e said. I think the peace process will contnue, I think republicans will continue to contribute to that and I think, no matter how long it takes, eventually we will succeed. It's a question really of when."
Gerry Kelly also reacted angrily to Blair's statements.
"It has been made clear by Gerry Adams that the IRA statement is clear and unambiguous. As you would expect it does not use British or unionist words but it does set out in clear and unambiguous terms the IRA's position. Both the British and Irish governments have recognised the positive nature of the statement and crucially the clear desire of the IRA to see the peace process work. Of course we have to have clarity and certainty in this process - and in my view the IRA statement is the clearest and most certain element in this current negotiation.
"We have no certainty or clarity from the loyalist paramilitaries, who only last week were involved in orchestrating attacks on Catholic homes in Belfast- and no attention or focus on those groups at all.
"So of course we need certainty - but certainty all round - not just from the IRA."
All statements should be published and all commitments implemented
"We are told that the problem lies in a lack of clarity in the IRA statement which is in possession of the two governments. There is no lack of clarity in this statement." - Gerry Adams
Speaking at an Easter Commemoration in Ardoyne, North Belfast on Tuesday afternoon, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP addressed the current impasse in the peace process:
"Sinn Féin is certainly committed to making this process work. So too, in my opinion, is the IRA. It has demonstrated its support for the process on many occasions. That is why I say that a deal is now do-able if there is the political will and if the dealmakers are prepared to move forward now.
It is our view, and we have stated it often, that all statements should be published and that all commitments contained in them should be implemented.
There has been an understandable public focus on the efforts to restart the political process and the failure so far to achieve this.
In the flurry of words, of claim and counter-claim, one thing has become obscured. That is that the issues which are the core of the Good Friday Agreement are the rights and entitlements of citizens.
Of course, the political institutions cannot function unless the political parties are committed to them. But all the other issues, in particular the issues of equality - equality of opportunity and parity of esteem - are basic and fundamental rights to which there can be no pre-conditions or caveats.
The acknowledgement by the two governments that they have yet fulfil the Good Friday Agreement is at the heart of the current negotiations. Both governments admitted this failure and committed themselves to fully implement outstanding aspects of the Agreement.
As the Taoiseach said on Sunday, 'They impact on all the key areas - policing, criminal justice, security normalisation, (or demilitarisation as we would put it), and the entrenchment of human rights and equality at the heart of the new dispensation.'
The governments were to publish a Joint Declaration. In negotiations with them going back to last autumn Sinn Féin made it clear that we wanted to see time-framed implementation plans which in a transparent way set out a programme for the completion of the Agreement.
In their Joint Declaration the governments also made certain demands of the IRA. Now we are told that the governments will only publish their proposals when they are satisfied with the IRA's response to them.
Our party leadership has worked with a will to bring about mutually satisfactory closure to this phase of negotiations. It is our view, and we have stated it often, that all statements should be published and that all commitments contained in them should be implemented. The governments say No. At least at this time.
But if they refuse to publish their proposals what will be achieved?
Are we being told that people rights and entitlements will be withheld?
Are we being told that the outstanding aspects of the Agreement which impact 'on all the key areas - policing, criminal justice, security normalisation, (or demilitarisation as we would put it), and the entrenchment of human rights and equality at the heart of the new dispensation' are not going to be implemented?
We are told that the problem lies in a lack of clarity in the IRA statement which is in possession of the two governments. There is no lack of clarity in this statement. Maybe the problem is that it does not use the exact words prescribed by the British government. But the statement is very clear about IRA intentions. It has also been welcomed by both governments as being positive and showing a desire to make the peace process work. Such an IRA statement and such a response from the two governments would have been unthinkable a decade ago. It therefore defies logic that the governments appear to be rejecting this development and the potential it contains.
There has to be common sense in these matters.
No one expects that P O'Neill should write the Joint Declaration for the two governments. Alistair Campbell, the British Prime Minister's senior PR person, would not expect or be expected to act as spokesperson for the IRA.
If the problem at the moment is genuinely about the need to restore confidence in the process then in my view there is enough in all of the statements and commitments contained in them to do this. In other words, there is the makings of a deal. What are needed now are dealmakers.
This brings us to the unionists. Do they want a deal at this time? Are there dealmakers in the UUP leadership?
If there is a political will, this process can be brought forward at this time, building on the progress made and creating both stability and confidence as we collectively fulfil our responsibilities.
This needs everyone. The two governments the Ulster Unionist Party and us, and the other parties working together.
I know there is a lot of unease within the republican constituency, especially within the activist constituency. There is also a lot of anger at the way in which the process has been manipulated. But this is a time for steady nerves and cool heads.
Here in the republican heartland of Ardoyne, in the hinterland of north Belfast, you don't need to be told about the rights and wrongs of the situation. You didn't need a Stevens Report to tell you there is collusion. You experienced it at first hand.
In north Belfast there has been what amounts to a continuous pogrom against beleaguered nationalist communities.
No one needs peace more than the people of areas like this.
No one needs equality; no one needs their rights, more than you do. And no one has been more resilient or determined or tenacious in struggling for these rights than people like yourselves. And when we say equality we mean equality for all.
The spirit and the letter of the 1916 Proclamation is about cherishing all the children of the nation equally.
That means change, real change, in the same way that real peace demands justice.
That is why in the time ahead there will be a need for continued discipline within the republican constituency, especially in areas like this, which are on the frontline and which are targeted on an ongoing basis by reactionary elements who are afraid of change.
They may seize upon this impasse in the process. They may be more provocative in the time ahead in their efforts to wreck the vehicle of change. They want to destroy it and their tools are bigotry and sectarianism.
They need to be starved of anything that would feed into their efforts. That means that Irish republicans need a deep well of patience. We have to show by our words and our actions, or non- actions - that we can advance our struggle in the time ahead.
Republicanism is a generous philosophy.
The bigots, securocrats, the unionist paramilitaries and their handlers are about trying to wreck this process.
The unionist leaderships seem to be fixated with slowing down and frustrating change. Who can blame them if the governments are holding back on measures which they admit are needed to fully implement outstanding aspects of the Agreement. The failure to move now encourages those who want to stop all progress.
They will not and they cannot succeed. Of course they can delay progress. But they cannot stop it. But they should not be pandered to. Sinn Féin is certainly committed to making this process work. So to in my opinion is the IRA, it has demonstrated its support for the process on many occasions. That is why I say that a deal is now do-able if there is the political will and if the dealmakers are prepared to move forward now.
Only the two governments have the answer to that question.
For our part, Sinn Féin remains wedded to our objectives. In the short to medium term, that means being part of the process of change. At times indeed we are the engine for change.
The 1916 Proclamation is our core manifesto. We want a new republic on this island."