Issue 3-2023-200dpi

21 August 1997 Edition

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The substance of the negotiations

Martin McGuinness outlines the areas which the upcoming negotiations must deal with

Six weeks ago, and not for the first time, the international media focused on the Garvaghy Road in Portadown. Once again British forces were deployed to underpin the inequality which has been synonymous with British government policy in Ireland, particularly since the country was partitioned in 1921. On the Garvaghy Road, British ministers, civil servants and the security and intelligence establishments combined in a joint effort which has the effect of underpinning inequality. Nationalists and their rights were literally trampled over. Again.

One media correspondent recently remarked of the Six Counties that it is run by unionists and policed by unionists for unionists. This is not a far cry from Lord Brookeborough's ``Protestant state for a Protestant people.'' The more things change the more they stay the same. The Irish unionists of Brookeborough's day no longer unilaterally call the shots. Today the British and Irish unionists in the form of British ministers, the civil service and the military, security and intelligence establishments are in the unionist driving seat. In South Africa the ANC dubbed such people `securo-crats'. That is those who seek to deal with what is essentially a political problem by military and security means.


Decommission the `securo-crats'

Garvaghy Road was a Rubicon for the `securo-crats'. They refused to cross. They failed the test. However, if we are to achieve a peace settlement that Rubicon must first be crossed. The `securo-crat' mindset must be dumped with all the other failures of the past.

Two weeks after Garvaghy Road the leadership of the Irish Republican Army ordered a total cessation of all military operations. I welcomed this as a courageous political decision which represented another opportunity to achieve a democratic peace settlement. People of goodwill and common sense did likewise. Understandably, our welcome is tempered by memories of the subversive approach adopted by the previous British government and the unionists.

The so-called political settlements resulting primarily - in legislative and constitutional terms - from the Act of Union and Government of Ireland Act have failed and failed abysmally. The lesson of those failures must be learnt and acted upon, not repeated
Obviously the IRA cessation is not an end to conflict. In the intervening period a number of Catholics have been killed by loyalist death squads; these included Michael McGoldrick, Dermot McShane, Sean Browne, Robert Hamill, John Slane, Bernadette Martin and James Morgan. And in addition there were scores of other injuries in which pure fortune intervened to prevent multiple fatalities among the nationalist population. In at least one incident a few days ago the South African arms secured by the loyalists almost 10 years ago, with the collusion of British Intelligence, were used.

An upward curve in this sort of loyalist activity is in fact possible at this time. I hope this is not the case.

During the same period thousands of lethal plastic bullets were directed at nationalist civilians by British forces.

These are all pressing arguments for the need to decommission the `securo-crats'.

As stated, the IRA leadership's decision is a major contribution to the ending of the conflict but clearly not an end to the conflict. The IRA is but one of the parties to achieving that. Ending the conflict means that all of the parties to it follow suit. Some do not seem so keen to do that. For instance, since the IRA cessation the increased deployment of British forces in nationalist residential areas would indicate that the `securo-crats' are still in the ascendency.


Equality - Fundamental Rights

An end to conflict is an important contribution to the search for a lasting peace. But its achievement requires political will and creativity. Peace, in its real sense, means freedom, democracy, justice and equality. Equality - political, social, economic and cultural - requires no negotiation whatever. These are fundamental rights, not matters to be bartered for in a negotiations process. The immediate responsibility for equality rests with the British government. And there is an attendant responsibility on all democrats but especially the Irish government to ensure that the British take this up. It is clearly important that American voices in support of the equality agenda are also heard.

Equality is the litmus test of the British government's will to go the full distance to the destination of a lasting peace in Ireland. The latter requires that we arrive, through agreement, at a national political consensus which is best represented in the form of a national representative democracy. It requires that the parties to that consensus arrive at agreement without external impediment or interference. That is, without some external party, the British government for instance, reserving to itself the right to dictate or veto by some legislative measure or arithmetical formula, the substance of a national consensus which is a matter for the Irish people alone to agree. And which moreover the British government has acknowledged as being a matter for the Irish people alone.


The Substance of the negotiations

In approaching all of this there needs to be a clear recognition that the failures of the past cannot be tinkered with and somehow be magically transformed into successes of the future.

The so-called political settlements resulting primarily - in legislative and constitutional terms - from the Act of Union and Government of Ireland Act have failed and failed abysmally. The lesson of those failures must be learnt and acted upon, not repeated. This is where the substance of the negotiations lies.

It is self evident also that peace requires the demilitarisation of our society. In every sense. Repressive legislation must end. The deployment of military and para-military forces must cease. The military fortifications must go and the building programmes of military fortifications across the Six Counties should end. Why are the British actively preparing for more conflict? The release of prisoners incarcerated as a result of the conflict must be part of this. The gun must be taken out of politics in Ireland.

These are the broad brush strokes of where we need to go if we are to achieve a lasting peace. At this point we are a long way from that destination. The journey started by the Irish peace initiative in 1993 was blocked on all fronts. A new opportunity has been created. Popular opinion and history will not be kind to anyone who refuses to grasp that opportunity.

An Phoblacht
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Dublin 1