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14 April 2005 Edition

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Leadership involves risk taking


Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness

Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness

Over ten years since the beginning of the public phase of the Peace Process, it is understandable that people may get impatient occasionally, but we must also be realistic. In terms of making peace, our Process is relatively young when you consider other conflict situations around the world and remember that we are attempting to resolve a conflict that is centuries old.

The Sinn Féin leadership takes its responsibility for finding a solution very seriously indeed and we have again and again shown our willingness to take risks to achieve success. But other political leaders must also be willing to take risks for peace.

Some politicians fear peace more than they do war. Eleven years ago, when the IRA leadership ordered a complete cessation of military operations, rather than welcome it as a positive development, the then leader of the Ulster Unionists, James Molyneaux, described it as "the most destabilising event since Partition".

Last December, following the collapse of negotiations when the DUP walked away from the most progressive deal yet and some commentators were suggesting that the IRA should proceed with completing its process of putting arms beyond use anyway, Mr Paisley said "unless there are photographs they (the IRA) shouldn't bother".

In the first instance, James Molyneaux's comments came after the IRA removed what unionists for years claimed was the obstacle to negotiation - IRA military operations - and Ian Paisley's comments came after the IRA offered to remove what became the unionist claim for not negotiating after the cessation - the issue of IRA arms.

On each occasion that there was an impasse in the Peace Process, it has been republicans who stepped up to the plate and took the risks, took the bold initiatives to breath new life into a faltering process. But that is what leadership is all about, taking risks, taking the initiative.

That is why last week, despite all of the negative attacks on Sinn Féin and some very vitriolic personal attacks on our leadership by political opponents, the Sinn Féin leadership once more stepped forward with another serious initiative, which contrastingly, has been widely welcomed by in the US by the leaders of Irish American opinion and in Ireland and Britain.

Gerry Adams called on the IRA to accept his analysis that political and democratic means are now the best way forward in the search for justice, peace and Irish unity. Worried at the prospect that the IRA might accept Gerry Adams' analysis, our political opponents claimed that this was about elections. Meanwhile, some republicans thought the timing was bad because it appeared that Gerry Adams was acting under pressure.

I want to deal with those two issues. There is never a good time but this is about leadership and leadership can sometimes be a lonely post. The thinking behind this initiative has nothing to do with elections or other events. It is about dealing with the fact that the Peace Process is in deep crisis, a crisis that could only get deeper.

The atmosphere of the last few months has been poisonous. In the course of the election there will be a further hardening of positions, particularly within unionism, as the two unionist parties compete with each other. After the election, you would have had the usual optical illusion of talks about talks presided over by whoever would be the British Secretary of State at that time. Then we are into the marching season, with all of the dangers that that holds. And before we know it, it is the autumn again, with the vacuum continuing and all the attendant difficulties that arise with such stagnation.

The initiative that Gerry Adams took was quite deliberate. A lot of thought went into it. It is aimed at clearing the decks and giving those who want to make the Peace Process work the opportunity to have proper engagements. The governments should not waste this opportunity. Some of our political opponents have dismissed Gerry Adams' remarks but I would appeal to them to read what he said, particularly those who purport to represent nationalist parties. If they want to attack Gerry Adams or Sinn Féin, that will come as no surprise to anyone, but responsible political leaders do have a duty to play a full leadership role in making this Peace Process work. I am appealing to everyone to support this initiative. I particularly want republicans to debate all of these issues.

Since the most recent and most progressive offer yet, when the IRA was prepared to support a comprehensive agreement last December which, if implemented, would have allowed everyone, including the IRA, to take its political objectives forward by peaceful and democratic means, Sinn Féin has come under intense and vitriolic attack.

That agreement perished on the rock of unionist intransigence. The shortsightedness of the two governments compounded the difficulties.

Since then, there has been a vicious campaign of vilification against republicans, driven in the main by the Irish government. There are a number of reasons for this.

The growing political influence of Sinn Féin is the primary factor.

The unionists also, for their part, want to minimise the potential for change, not only on the equality agenda but also on the issues of sovereignty and ending the Union.

The IRA is being used as the excuse by all of them not to engage properly in the process of building peace with justice in Ireland. What Sinn Féin is doing is giving leadership in difficult circumstances by attempting to convince the IRA that now there is an alternative. That the way forward is by building political support for republican and democratic objectives across Ireland and by winning support for these goals internationally.

Sinn Féin has demonstrated the ability to play a leadership role as part of a popular movement towards peace, equality and justice.

We are totally committed to ending partition and to creating the conditions for unity and independence. Sinn Féin has the potential and capacity to become the vehicle for the attainment of Irish independence and sovereignty.

The Ireland we live in today is also a very different place from 15 years ago. There is now an all-Ireland agenda with huge potential. Nationalists and republicans have a confidence that will never again allow anyone to be treated as second-class citizens. The catalyst for much of this change is the growing support for Sinn Féin.

Of course, those who oppose change are not going to simply roll over. It will always be a battle a day between those who want maximum change and those who want no change at all. But if the peace process is to be successfully concluded and Irish sovereignty and reunification secured, then we have to set the agenda — no one else is showing the leadership to do it.

After these elections, no matter what our political opponents say, there will be negotiations and a stronger and more determined Sinn Féin will be at those negotiations. And when we have the political institutions re-established, Sinn Féin will take its rightful place in administering them and protect the rights and entitlements of our electorate while working to expand and strengthen the all-Ireland structures.

We are in the countdown to a united, independent, sovereign and peaceful Ireland built on the principle of Equality.

• Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness is in the United States, where he is meeting with Irish American representatives, members of Congress and US Special Envoy Mitchell Reiss to update them on last week's initiative from Gerry Adams to move the peace process forward.


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