16 October 1997 Edition
Principles and Requirements
The following is Sinn Féin's submission to Strand One of the peace talks at Stormont
Sinn Fein proposes the following principles and requirements as necessary elements of a new democratic accommodation and settlement - and the process of achieving them - acceptable to all of the people of Ireland.
The essential principles of a durable peace and political stability are freedom, justice, democracy and equality. By general consensus the status quo has failed. What is required is a national political consensus on these matters which is best expressed in the form of a national representative democracy.
A fundamental criterion of any new structures and processes must be that they will provide lasting peace and stability. A crisis management approach will not produce a durable solution. Partition has failed. The absence of a lasting and satisfactory settlement of relationships between the peoples of both islands has contributed to continuing tragedy and suffering. The first principle must be the right to lasting peace and stability based on justice.
It must be recognised that the new Ireland can come about only through agreement and must have a democratic basis. Agreement means that the political arrangements for a new and sovereign Ireland would have to be freely negotiated and agreed to by the people of Ireland.
Britain's policy of maintaining the union between Britain and the six counties is a direct impediment to and interference with the right of the people of Ireland alone to determine their development. It is a direct barrier to reaching the necessary democratic agreements by the people of Ireland alone.
There exists an inextricable link between Britain's policy of maintaining the union and the division and conflict we are attempting to resolve.
Britain's policy of maintaining the union should be changed to one of ending the union so as to create viable conditions in which the people of Ireland can find agreement on the exercise of national self-determination without external interference or impediment. In the Downing Street Declaration the British Government agree that it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone to exercise their right to self-determination. The British Government, without qualification, should act upon that position and encourage, facilitate and enable the agreements which are for the people of Ireland alone to determine.
A democratic agreement, in effect a national political consensus, is for the people of Ireland alone to determine. This is an issue of national self-determination. National self-determination is universally accepted to mean a nation's right to exercise the freedom to determine its own political, social, economic and cultural development without external interference or impediment and without partial or total disruption of the national unity or territorial integrity. Agreement on how the principle of national self-determination is to be exercised is a matter for the people of Ireland alone to determine.
Britain must help to create the conditions which will allow the negotiations process to flourish. The British Government have a duty to develop the negotiations process so as to give effect to the essential principles of a durable peace and political stability and thus promote reconciliation between Britain and Ireland and between two major traditions in Ireland.
The issue of consent and its application is an important matter in the attempt to secure agreements which are for the Irish people alone to determine. Consent must be universally applied to the people of Ireland. Universal application of consent precludes any sectional approach.
Agreement requires the consent freely given of nationalists and unionists alike. The concept of consent needs to be a positive enabling factor, pro-actively pursued in the search to secure the required agreements.
It must not be abused in an attempt to ward off or prevent agreement. Whether in the form of a veto to a minority section of the people of Ireland, as a camouflage to a British government policy objective to maintain the union, or as a coercive measure used against nationalists to further deny national and democratic rights.
Consent is the product of democratic agreements. It can only be achieved in Ireland through the exercise of the principle of national self-determination.
An essential requirement of an approach based exclusively on dialogue, negotiation and non-coercion will be the building of a true process of trust and reconciliation. In this, equality of treatment is of the essence. While the clear evidence is that political independence is the surest way to guarantee equality, it is nonetheless incumbent upon the British Government, which currently has the direct responsibility, to bring about equality of treatment if trust and reconciliation are to be achieved. Equality - political, social, economic and cultural - is a fundamental right. These issues are issues of rights which do not require any negotiations. The British Government should, independently of the process of negotiation, outline a programatic approach on issues of equality.
The validity of both the nationalist and unionist identities in Ireland and the democratic rights of every citizen on this island must be accepted and upheld.
The building of a true process of trust and reconciliation must take particular account of, and be sensitive to, the position of those who have suffered directly from violence and injustice - from whatever source. In building trust and reconciliation, appropriate and timely action will also be important on the various issues relating to those who have been imprisoned in the context of the conflict. All such prisoners must be released.
A new beginning, if it is to lead to a comprehensive, lasting resolution of the conflict must adequately address the totality of the three central relationships currently involved - within the six counties, within the island of Ireland and between the people of these islands.
It will be essential that the commitment of the Irish and British Governments ``to remove the causes of conflict, to overcome the legacy of history and to heal the divisions which have resulted'' is met and that they will work in close partnership and collaboration. In addition to their shared functions, each Government will have important separate roles in the process also. Above all both governments must fully honour their commitment to foster agreement and reconciliation leading to a new democratic political accommodation encompassing all the relationships involved.
Lasting stability can be found only in the context of new structures in which no tradition will be able to dominate the other, in which there will be equal rights and opportunities for all, and in which there will be provision for formal and effective guarantees for the protection of individual human rights and of the communal and cultural rights of both nationalists and unionists.
Civil and religious liberties and rights must be guaranteed and there can be no discrimination or preference in laws or administrative practices, on grounds of religious belief or affiliation; government and administration must be sensitive to minority beliefs and attitudes and seek consensus.
New arrangements must provide structures and institutions including security structures with which both nationalists and unionists can identify on the basis of political consensus; such arrangements should strengthen stability and security for all the people of Ireland.
New arrangements must ensure the maintenance of economic and social standards and facilitate integrated economic development.
The cultural and linguistic diversity of the people of all traditions north and south, must be preserved and fostered as a source of enrichment and vitality.
It is clear that the building of a new Ireland will require the participation and co-operation of all the people of Ireland. In particular it is essential that the people of the south must wholeheartedly commit themselves and the necessary resources to this objective.
The desire of nationalists is for a united Ireland in the form of a sovereign, independent Irish state to be achieved peacefully and by agreement. Such a form of unity would require a general and an explicit acknowledgement of a broader and more comprehensive Irish identity. Such a unity would, of course be different from both the existing Irish state and the existing arrangements in the six-counties because it would necessarily accommodate both traditions. Such unity would offer the best and most durable basis for peace and stability.
It is essential that any structures for a new Ireland recognise to the extent necessary the diversity as well as the unity of the people of Ireland and ensure constitutional stability.
It is essential to have unionist agreement and participation in devising and determining the structures of Irish unity and in formulating the guarantees they require. The best people to identify the interests of the unionist tradition are the unionist people themselves. It would thus be essential that they should negotiate their role in any arrangements which would embody Irish unity.
The achievement of agreement requires an effective process of negotiations involving the political parties as well as the two governments. Addressing all of the relationships involved, the task of the process will be to secure agreement and the maximum degree of consensus on the nature and form of future constitutional, political and institutional arrangements and structures. Having regard, inter alia, to practical and legal requirements the agreed outcome of this process and the agreed means by which it will have to be ratified are for the people of Ireland alone to determine. The role of the British Government will be to enable agreements.
An internal six-county arrangement cannot work. There has to be fundamental constitutional and political change. The partition of Ireland has failed. The political settlements imposed by the Act of Union 1800 and the Government of Ireland Act 1920, subsequently reinforced by the Northern Ireland Constitution Act, 1973, have failed the people of Ireland and the peoples of these islands. They have failed the fundamental criteria of providing lasting peace and stability.
Participation in the negotiations is a right dependent only on the democratic mandate of the participants. The participation of duly mandated parties is not a privilege to be given or withheld.
The process of negotiations should be as transparent as possible so as to build public confidence in the process itself and to create a sense of public ownership.
The objective of the process of negotiations must be a new political dispensation, representing an honourable, democratic agreement between the two major traditions with which both can live and which is based on an agreement which is for the people of Ireland alone, to determine and for full respect for the concerns, rights and identities of all. There must be a rejection of any concept of victory or defeat.
Agreement on an overall settlement will require, inter alia, a democratic accommodation of the differing views of the two main traditions, which takes full account of the conflict of identities. The objective of such an accommodation is to ultimately resolve the conflict of political allegiances. In terms of specific constitutional legislation the required agreement and the two Governments must ensure that, in regard to the people of the six counties the constitutional changes should be such as not to diminish in any way their existing citizenship rights and their birthright to be accepted as being British or Irish - or both - as appropriate and desired.
Agreed arrangements - especially constitutional arrangements - based on a new democratic accommodation must reflect as fully as possible the rights of both major traditions, and promote cooperation between them. They must even-handedly afford both traditions parity of esteem and equality of treatment in all spheres. They must enhance and facilitate the development of a truly pluralist ethos throughout the island of Ireland.
The consent of the governed is essential to the stability of any political arrangements. This is why the essential requirement is for a new democratic accommodation in the form of an agreement which is for the people of Ireland alone to determine. Institutions and structures forming part of new political arrangements must be accepted by both major traditions as essential elements of an overall settlement which is honourable and democratic, and must therefore enjoy widespread public support from within both traditions. In this context, and in the context of the totality of relations, it is widely accepted that there can be no internal six county settlement. The precise structuring of relationships in the context of the totality of relationships, and the securing of the endorsement and consent of both traditions will be a matter for the all-inclusive talks process. In this regard, institutions and structures will be needed which, while respecting both the requirements of identity and the diversity of the people of Ireland, would enable them to work together in all areas of common interest. Such structures would, of course, include institutional recognition of the special links that exist between the peoples of Ireland and Britain as part of the totality of relationships, while taking account of newly forged links with the rest of Europe. Such institutions must be democratically accountable and must in their functions be open and transparent.
The comprehensive, systematic, effective and entrenched protection of human rights - civil, political, economic and social - should underpin the establishment and operation of agreed institutions and structures. Human rights should be guaranteed, including, if necessary, internationally, on a basis of equivalence throughout all of Ireland, for example, by incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the enactment of a comprehensive Bill of Rights into domestic law, irrespective of the constitutional context and of any possible future changes to it. Critical issues in this regard, will be the administration of justice and policing - specifically, the development of changes and reforms which will secure the unequivocal support, participation and confidence of all sections of the community.
Particular attention must be paid to the protection of the rights and identity of any community which finds itself in a minority position. It should be the duty of the state in such a situation vigorously, imaginatively and sensitively to protect and promote the interests of such a community, while also upholding the equal rights of the majority tradition.
The achievement of greater and more equally-shared prosperity, the promotion of equality of opportunity and fair participation in the labour market, the eradication of discrimination, and the empowerment and inclusion of marginalised and deprived communities and groups, are not only vital in themselves, but also have the capacity to create a more stable social environment in which new political arrangements are more likely to take root and command public confidence. These goals should be, and must be, vigorously pursued.
Mutual understanding and contact between individuals, groups, communities, organisations and institutions have an important role in the elimination of barriers of suspicion, in the creation of mutual trust and in the building of confidence and should be further promoted and supported, including financially. Education will have a particularly significant function in this regard. In the matter of schooling, parental choice should be respected and facilitated, including the preferences of those parents who choose integrated and Irish-medium education for their children. There is a need to extend and strengthen programmes that increase contact between pupils and -Iteachers within the six-counties and between schools North and South and in Britain. In addition, greater emphasis must be devoted to exchange and mutual understanding programmes and to making the history and full cultural heritage of the people of the island in all their strands, and its relationship with Britain and with the rest of Europe, available in all schools throughout Ireland.
New arrangements should also incorporate a strong European dimension.
Each of the foregoing principles and requirements would apply and have equal validity in all constitutional situations and under all of the institutional frameworks, which may be envisaged.
A viable opportunity now exists ``to remove the causes of conflict, to overcome the legacy of history and to heal the divisions which have resulted'', to set aside the failures of the past and to build a democratic, just and equal society in Ireland which is fashioned by the people of Ireland alone to meet our needs. Everyone shares a responsibility to bring about a real and lasting peace in Ireland.
Republicans have demonstrated the political will to face up to our responsibility in this. This is evident in the initiatives we have taken, both unilaterally and with others in Ireland to advance the search for peace. The courageous initiative taken by the leadership of the Irish Republican Army on 20 July in restoring its cessation of 31 August 1994 is most significant.
Our long-standing position has been one of willingness to enter into dialogue with a view to removing the causes of conflict. Democratic, political and practical imperatives clearly require the involvement of all political views if a democratic resolution is to be sought and achieved.
Much difficult work lies ahead if the potential that currently exists is to be realised to the full.
Sinn Fein look forward to a constructive dialogue with the other participants in this process.