8 May 2003 Edition
IRA anger at abuse of trust
Adams calls for June elections
BY JOANNE CORCORAN
"The most important thing to say today is that Mr Blair's decision to stop the elections is a serious mistake and a slap in the face to the Good Friday Agreement."
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams made his point very clear at a press conference in London yesterday. He was speaking a day after the publication of the IRA statement that the British and Dublin governments have tried to use as a reason for the suspension of elections in the Six Counties.
The leadership of the IRA also issued a second statement on Tuesday night, criticising the London and Dublin governments and accusing them of mischievously leaking and misrepresenting "concepts and drafts" associated with its first statement. This statement said that the army had in fact being waiting for agreement and had been prepared to act immediately on putting a quantity of munitions beyond use, with preparations at an advanced stage.
The Sinn Féin leader insisted at the media gathering that Tony Blair should reverse his decision to suspend the elections, saying that there was no reason why they couldn't go ahead in June.
"It's as if the rule book for conflict resolution has been torn up," he said. "Peace requires justice and peace processes are about empowering people, are about a rights-centred disposition and are about making politics work."
Making reference to the current impasse, he said: "So where is the peace process now? We have on the one hand a Joint Declaration from the governments that is not an act of completion but a qualified plan to implement over years the rights and entitlements of citizens. Despite its conditionality, this is progress.
"But the two governments, also stepped outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and introduced in their Joint Declaration, a further concession to Mr Trimble in respect of sanctions. This process of excluding ministers and parties is specifically aimed at Sinn Féin, and is to be used against us in the event of any allegations about IRA activities."
Adams contrasted this approach to the IRA's actions in support of the process.
"On the other hand, we have an IRA leadership that is determined there will be no activities which will undermine in any way the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement; that has clearly stated its willingness to proceed with the implementation of a process to put arms beyond use at the earliest opportunity, and despite the suspension of the institutions authorised a third act of putting arms beyond use to be verified under the agreed scheme by the IICD."
He also said that the IRA has accepted that the if the two governments and all the parties fulfil their commitments, this will provide the basis for the complete and final closure of the conflict and that this too is significant progress.
The Sinn Féin leader said that no one should underestimate the significance of the IRA engaging with the IICD (Independent International Commission on Decommissioning) while the institutions are suspended, or the IRA's willingness to undertake another act of putting arms beyond use.
"This followed a suggestion by me to facilitate David Trimble's stated intention of calling a UUC meeting only after the IRA acted on the arms issue. The sequence of events was to be the Joint Declaration and a statement from me in response to this, pointing up the difficulty caused by David Trimble's refusal to commit to being part of institutions.
"He was then to publicly commit himself to recommending participation in the institutions to the UUC. This public pledge would have triggered the IRA putting more arms beyond use."
Adams also pointed out that the IRA had in fact been waiting for the process to start moving, but had been left waiting.
"When the IRA say their arrangements were at an advanced stage they mean that Volunteers sat for days with a substantial amount of equipment waiting for a yes from the UUP or the British government. That yes never came.
"So with the UUP implacably opposed to progress at this point and a British government willing to exercise a unionist veto, we now face into a period of political uncertainty."
He concluded by saying that Sinn Féin is in the peace process to the end.
"Our objective in the time ahead will be to campaign to have elections held, and to hold the two governments to the commitments which we negotiated with them over many months and which are in the Joint Declaration.
He re-emphasised that the substance of the commitments in the Joint Declaration and of those contained within the Good Friday Agreement is about the rights and entitlements of citizens.
"It is about a new political dispensation on the island of Ireland and a new relationship between Ireland and Britain. It is about change-fundamental and deep-rooted change - including constitutional and institutional change across all aspects of society."
Sinn Féin calls for elections as IRA publishes statements
BY LAURA FRIEL
"Hold the elections now and let the electorate have their say," Sinn Féin's Mitchel McLaughlin told a Belfast press conference on Wednesday.
The Sinn Féin chairperson was speaking after the IRA released two statements. "I think people, given the history of politics and conflict in this region, will study very carefully indeed the statements by the IRA and all the other protagonists and make a judgement," said McLaughlin. Calling for the reversal of the British government's decision to cancel this month's election, McLaughlin asked "who is afraid of politics and peace?"
The publication of the IRA statement of 13 April, "now overtaken by events", put on public record the army's statement to the British and Irish governments, intended as part of an overall initiative towards full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. In a second statement dated 6 May, the IRA commented on subsequent events.
After receiving the 13 April statement, in what most republicans see as an act that was both a breach of trust and of protocol, the British Prime Minister Tony Blair publicly called for clarification. According to McLaughlin, Sinn Féin responded to an invitation from the two governments, who said they would accept clarifications by Gerry Adams. "Tony Blair went further and said he did not care what form of words were used," said McLaughlin.
Adams responded with specific reassurances but once again the British government called for further clarification in relation to alleged IRA activities. Adams gave a comprehensive response in which he said that the IRA leadership "is determined that there will be no activities which will undermine in any way the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement".
When Tony Blair rejected the statement and called for further clarification, Adams responded curtly: "What part of 'no activities' doesn't he understand," said Adams as republicans declared the paper chase over. Last week, the British, acting outside the Good Friday Agreement and against the wishes of the Dublin government, cancelled the election and published the two government's joint document.
"The IRA last night, as you are aware, made clear that Gerry Adams' answers to Tony Blair's questions accurately reflected their position and I think public opinion will share the view that there is absolutely no lack of clarity in the IRA position or its intentions," Mitchel McLaughlin told the media.
"The real problem, as disclosed by Jeffery Donaldson's very honest and unambiguous answer, is that the joint document would be rejected by the Ulster Unionist Council and from that flows the rest, the cancellation of the election and the removal of the franchise," said McLaughlin.
Indeed, when announcing his decision to suspend elections, the British Prime Minister acknowledged the real reason behind the decision was a fear of anti-Agreement unionism and a desire to save David Trimble from the ravages of his own party.
"The issue of the full implementation of the GFA goes to the core of how we successfully bring forward conflict resolution processes and embed the primacy of politics as well as the practice of politics," said McLaughlin.
"And those that are retreating from that are quite clearly the Ulster Unionist Party, the Ulster Unionist Council and unfortunately they have been supported in this by the two governments. I think the issue of how we can establish what the electorate make of all of this would begin with the reversal of the decision not to hold the election," he said.
What the IRA said
Clearly, the statement of 13 April represented a major initiative by the IRA, despite the obvious conditionality of the two governments' Joint Document. Paragraph six makes clear the IRA's support for the peace process and the following paragraph expresses their desire to see the complete and final closure of the conflict.
The statement spells out the IRA's view that the full and irreversible implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and other commitments such as addressing the issue of OTRs [on the runs] and representation for Northern nationalists in Leinster House would provide a context in which the IRA can proceed to definitively set aside arms.
According to the 6 May statement, the IRA was in the final stages of carrying out a third act of decommissioning when the British government rejected the initial statement, together with the subsequent clarification.
"In the event of agreement we were prepared to act immediately and our preparations were at an advanced stage," said the IRA.
The 13 April statement repeats IRA reassurances to the unionist community to whom they offer no threat and goes further by recognising that the IRA does not fully understand unionist perceptions and by making a commitment to "listen and learn". The statement also includes an apology to the friends and families of non-combatants killed by the IRA.
Describing the 13 April statement as "overtaken by events" in the May 6 statement, the IRA reiterated the leadership's commitment to making the peace process work.
According to the IRA, after the initial statement was given to the two governments on 13 April, they described it as positive and welcomed the obvious progress and said the statement showed a clear desire to make the peace process work.
But ten days later, the British prime minister, "in a clear breach of protocol", publicly misquoted aspects of the IRA statement and went on to pose three questions.
According to the IRA, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams responded in a clear and unambiguous way and "his answers accurately reflected our own position". The statement rejects the British allegation of a lack of clarity and points out that the subsequent "word game" caused justifiable anger and annoyance amongst republicans.
The Joint Document
Republicans have been further angered by the fact that despite the clear flaws and limitations of the joint document offered by the two governments, they had been prepared to accept it as part of a process to move forward and on that basis had responded positively.
Last weekend's Sunday Business Post outlined many of the failings of the document that are of concern to republicans and nationalists. The SBP described the document as a "shoddy piece of draftmanship, riddled with holes and ambiguities".
The document retrospectively legitimises Britain's four suspensions of the North's institutions, all of which were probably illegal under international law and were definitely outside the Good Friday Agreement.
It makes no provision for removing Britain's power to 'postpone' elections and permits 'Irishness' to continue to be treated as a second-class form of citizenship by the North's institutions.
It provides no protection for Irish citizens, their political representatives or even the Dublin government from British securocrats and their continuing covert war. The document contains no mechanisms to bring the British government to account if it fails to meet its obligations or timetables. And it contains no default procedure for full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement in the event of further unionist intransigence.
"The British government is ducking the central issue," said McLaughlin on Wednesday. "The issue is, are we going to embed politics or not, are we going to allow people to vote or not, are we going to get on with the political process or not."
"The evidence of last week, which is indisputable, is that they will put questions, they will be answered and then they will hit you with another range of questions. Because they don't want to knuckle down to the core issue, which is we are entitled to elections, it is time for an election, the electorate are entitled to have their say. We are back to a 1969 scenario of demanding the right to vote. They've taken away the right to vote and republicans are justifiably angry with that," said McLaughlin.
The following statement was issued by the leadership of Óglaigh na héireannn on Tuesday night, 6 May, along with the text of the statement issued by the IRA to the two governments on 13 April
"The IRA leadership is committed to making the peace process work.
That is why we called our cessation.
That is why we have maintained it.
That is why we have taken a series of significant initiatives.
That is why at the beginning of April we shared concepts and drafts with others. While that process was ongoing these concepts and drafts were mischievously leaked and misrepresented by the two governments. This was an abuse of trust.
Despite this, on Sunday 13 April, the IRA leadership closed on a statement setting out our view on recent developments in the peace process and on:
* The current disposition of Oglaigh na héireann and the status of our cessation.
* Our future intentions.
*Our attitude to re-engagement with the IICD and engagement in a process of putting arms beyond use.
*A third act of putting arms beyond use to be verified under the agreed scheme.
* A willingness to address unionist concerns.
*An apology to the families and friends of non-combatants killed as a consequence of our actions.
This statement, which contained significant proposals to move the process forward, was given to the two governments on 13 April. They described it as positive, welcomed the obvious progress and said that the statement showed a clear desire to make the peace process work.
On 23 April the British Prime Minister, in a clear breach of protocol, publicly misquoted aspects of our statement and went on to pose three questions.
This and the subsequent word games have caused justifiable anger and annoyance.
Despite this, the President of Sinn Féin responded in a clear and unambiguous way. His answers accurately reflected our position.
There is no lack of clarity. Our statement and the commitments contained in it was dependent on agreement involving the two governments, the UUP and Sinn Féin.
With regard to putting arms beyond use, our representative met, several times, with the IICD. In order, in particular, to facilitate the UUP and to enhance the process to achieve agreement, we made preparation for a quantity of munitions to be put beyond use.
In the event of agreement, we were prepared to act immediately and our preparations were at an advanced stage.
Regrettably, the two governments and the UUP rejected our statement and our initiatives.
Our 13 April statement has now been overtaken by events. We are placing it on the public record so that people can judge for themselves the significance of our proposed initiatives to advance the peace process."
Irish Republican Publicity Bureau
Statement from the leadership of Óglaigh na héireann passed to the two governments on Sunday 13 April
"The leadership of Oglaigh na héireann takes this opportunity to give our view of the current phase of the peace. In particular we want to address unionist concerns.
The political responsibility for advancing the current situation rests with the two governments, especially the British government, and the leadership of the political parties.
Accordingly, the IRA leadership have assessed commitments from the two governments and the UUP.
The IRA has a genuine interest in building an enduring political process because we want to see the removal of the causes of conflict in our country. Although the Irish Republican Army is not a party to the Good Friday Agreement, we are disappointed that the Agreement has not been implemented.
We are disappointed also that the commitments in the Joint Declaration are conditional and protracted. Despite this, we want to give them a fair wind.
Óglaigh na héireann supports the peace process. We want it to work. We affirm that our cessation is intact.
We are resolved to see the complete and final closure of this conflict. The IRA leadership is determined to ensure that our activities, disciplines and strategies will be consistent with this.
Furthermore, the full and irreversible implementation of the Agreement and other commitments will provide a context in which the IRA can proceed to definitively set aside arms to further our political objectives. When there is such a context this decision can be taken only by a General Army Convention representing all Volunteers.
We want to enhance the climate at all levels of society so that unionists and loyalists, nationalists and republicans, free from threats to their rights and safety, can engage together in community, political and other areas of co-operation and work.
The IRA leadership poses no threat to the unionist people or to the peace process.
The IRA leadership reiterates our commitment to resolving the issue of arms. The commitments from the two governments, including the ending of the suspension of the political institutions, and the firm pledge by the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party that he will actively support the sustained working of the political institutions and other elements of the Good Friday Agreement, enables us to do this.
We have authorised our representative to meet with the IICD with a view to proceeding with the implementation of a process to put arms beyond use at the earliest opportunity.
We have also authorised a third act of putting arms beyond use.
This will be verified under the agreed scheme.
These initiatives are part of our ongoing contribution to the collective endeavour. The commitments made by the two governments and the UUP are a necessary part of this.
We support genuine efforts to build a just and peaceful future for all the people of this island. This is a collective task for all sections of society. Unionist political leaders have a special contribution to make.
We are Irish republicans. Our objective is a united Ireland. We are not unionists or British and no one should expect us to set aside our political objectives or our republicanism.
We do not claim to fully understand unionist perceptions. But we are prepared to listen and to learn. And we are committed to playing our part in creating the conditions in which unionists, nationalists and republicans can live together peacefully.
Building the collective trust to achieve this is a huge challenge for everyone. Given the experience of nationalists and republicans during decades of conflict and before, this is a particular challenge for us. It is also a challenge for unionists and the British government.
Much hurt has been inflicted by British government policy, by successive British governments and by the old unionist regime. Great pain has been caused by the British Army, the RUC and loyalist paramilitaries. Irish republicans and nationalists have a proud and honourable record of resistance against these forces. We know unionists do not see it like that.
We are also conscious that non-combatants were killed and injured as a consequence of some of our actions. We offer our sincere apologies and condolences to their families and friends.
The IRA is committed to supporting every effort to make conflict a thing of the past. To this end the IRA leadership has previously authorised a series of unprecedented initiatives to enhance the search for a lasting peace.
On occasions these have been undervalued or dismissed. Despite this we are persisting in our endeavours. The initiatives outlined in this statement involve further substantive and additional contributions by the IRA.
Both governments - and unionists and republicans alike - have now an opportunity which cannot and should not be wasted."
Irish Republican Publicity Bureau
Govts charade to shield David Trimble
Speaking in the Dáil debate on the peace process on Wednesday, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said both the British and Irish governments have been engaged in a charade, pretending that the IRA's initiative was not sufficient for them, but in reality shielding David Trimble from the consequences of his actions.
Ó Caoláin accused the government of "a dereliction of its duty and of helping to pave the way for the disgraceful decision by Tony Blair to ban an Irish election".
"We cannot go forward on the basis that the Irish government is an honest broker," he said. "We have heard a lot about clarification but the Taoiseach has yet to clarify that assertion from the Minister for Justice. The Irish government is a co-equal partner in the Agreement with the British government. The British government acts in British interests as it sees them. The Irish government must act in the Irish national interest. For decades while it was carrying on a brutal war in Ireland - a war highlighted most recently by the Stevens Report - the British government pretended to be the referee keeping the so-called 'two warring sides' apart. Are we now to have that tragedy repeated as farce with both governments pretending to be neutral arbiters while the unionist veto is allowed to succeed again?"
Election postponement a violation of democratic principles
A group of prominent Irish-American activists, representing a range of organsations, has issued a statement describing the British government's decision to postpone elections into the indefinite future as "a reprehensible violation of democratic principles".
"Either there is democracy or there is not, and there can be no democracy without fair elections," they said. "Britain's participation in a war to bring democracy to Iraq while at the same time denying democracy in the north of Ireland is the height of hypocrisy.
"The people in the north of Ireland live, work and die there, not Tony Blair and his colleagues in the British Parliament.Ê They should be allowed to cast an honest vote without political manipulation.
"Yesterday, Senator Edward Kennedy expressed his concern that this postponement would seriously affect the peace process. He said, 'The unionists cannot forever have a veto on the peace process. The people of Northern Ireland deserve better.'
"When our organisations expressed similar concerns last year, we were given assurances from the Irish government and the US Administration that these elections would take place in May 2003.ÊDr Richard Haass [the US government's top official for the Irish peace process] pointed out in October 2002, soon after the suspension of the political institutions by the British, that to postpone an election is to change an election's result. He is absolutely right.
"We expect that the Irish and the American governments' responses to this undemocratic action will be severe and helpful in restoring political progress along democratic lines. The British government has unilaterally suspended the political institutions established by this Agreement four times since its signing. It has not implemented promises to demilitarising the Six Counties it still militarily occupies. It has not provided required basic human, judicial, economic and civil rights, nor established an effective, non-sectarian policing service.
"The GFAÊestablished a political process to replace decades of prejudice, repression, militarism and violence. These elections, already postponed twice, cannot be used by the British government or unionist politicians to silence the will of the people."
Those who signed the letter on behalf of the Unity in Action Committee included representatives of the Irish American Unity Conference, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Irish Northern Aid Committee, the Irish-American Labour Coalition, Americans for a New Irish Agenda, the Brehan Law Society, the Irish Parades Emergency Committee, and the Lawyers' Alliance for Justice in Ireland.