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28 May 1998 Edition

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The task ahead

BY SEAN BRADY

     
A myriad of issues which need close and careful attention by nationalist proponents of the Agreement have now been opened up. The reality is that 26-County involvement in the Six Counties must increase. So too must nationalist co-operation on the way ahead
Republicans can be forgiven for feeling a little cynical about the hype surrounding the result of last Friday's referenda. Every Tom, Dick and Harry is now claiming credit for the political changes that have happened and for moving us all towards peace, harmony and enlightment.

What is particularly galling is that these include people who did all in their power to crush the peace process in its embryonic stages and others who, up until very recently, contributed nothing but negativity towards the search for peace and accommodation.

Such elements include powerful and influential sections of the political and media establishments in the 26 Counties who operated a vociferous campiagn against the architects of the peace process. Their negativity is now exceeded only by their utter shamelessness.

The Belfast Agreement must be pushed as far as it can possibly go. We do not have a political settlement and the only way in which we can advance towards that goal is by pursuing maximum political change
 
As if claiming credit for something which they did nothing to build was not enough, they are now attempting to lecture those who did. The greatest illustration of this are the attempts to pressurise Sinn Fein over the arms decommssioning issue.

According to the most recent shallow media analysis, an end to all injustice and lasting peace would be established if the IRA handed up all of their weapons immediately. Nobody seems to be seeking the surrender of weapons held by the loyalist death squads and nobody is drawing attention to the British Army's increased activity in fortifying and rebuilding spy posts, barracks and installations.

The unionists are making no secret about their intention to use the decommissioning issue to keep Sinn Fein out of a Six County Executive. They are being aided and abetted in this by others. Sinn Féin has made its position on the decommissioning issue clear and is no less committed to the removal of weaponry from Irish politics than is anyone else.

What 26 County political and media figures in particular need to understand is that what happened last Friday will not of itself bring a lasting peace. Unfortunately for the two-nationist element in Dublin, the Agreement will not get `the North' finally out of their hair. This would allow them to return to the comfort of the insular, partitionist politics which they have been used to for all their political lives. The nationalist community in the Six Counties will not allow that to happen. A myriad of issues which need close and careful attention by nationalist proponents of the Agreement have now been opened up. The reality is that 26-County involvement in the Six Counties must increase. So too must nationalist co-operation on the way ahead.

Recent comments by Brid Rodgers which characterised an electoral pact between Sinn Fein and the SDLP as `sectarian' were a disgrace. Rodgers is ignoring the reality that it was nationalist unity which brought about political negotiations and created the hope for political progress and peace.

The real sectarianism is the emphasis being put by the British government and the political and media establishments in Britain and Ireland solely on unionist concerns and unionist votes. Tony Blair's campaigning last week sailed dangerously close to rewriting the Agreement in Unionist terms.

What cannot be allowed to falter now is nationalist pressure for political progress and equality. Without nationalist unity of purpose and focused political pressure, any of the gains which were achieved with such monumental effort over a protracted period will be lost. This is definitely not a time for taking the foot off the accelerator.

The Belfast Agreement must be pushed as far as it can possibly go. We do not have a political settlement and the only way in which we can advance towards that goal is by pursuing maximum political change. If things are to stand still, the six county state will remain frozen in time, the momentum which has sustained a relative peace will be absent and the situation may begin to roll backwards.

Tony Blair cannot be allowed now to stand aside. The most heavily armed groups in the Six Counties are still those under his control. The major responsibility for assisting in unionism's coming to terms with political change rests with his government. The British Prime Minister remains the person with jurisdiction over the Six Counties. He must live up to the vision of peace and progress which he claimed was available, by overseeing the transition out of the past and into a future where colonialism and its trappings are steadily but surely dismantled and consigned to the past.

There is a formidable core of unionists who are resistant to any change. Twenty-nine per-cent is a sizeable vote. This is not to say however that all the Unionists who voted Yes are going to happily embrace change. All change and all progress will require the effort and attention of those who support it.

The marching issue is a benchmark one. It will put to the test the RUC, the securocrats in the Northen Ireland Office and the Orange Order itself, the three groups who have been most implacably opposed to change.

Those who are hailing the Agreement as historic must understand that it will only be so if there is fundamental change for people on the ground. This means the removal of the British army, the abolition of the RUC, the end of Orange coat-trailing in nationalist areas, Irish language rights, equality of opportunity in employment, and effective all-Ireland bodies. When these are realised, then we can talk about the historic dimenesions of the latest political changes.

As has been said in this column before, the surest way to ensure that the momentum for change is maintained is to increase the political strength of republicanism. This means an increased Sinn Fein vote in the forthcoming Assembly elections. It must be remembered that it was Sinn Fein, not anyone else, who put all of the above mentioned and unresolved issues onto the political agenda and into the Good Friday document. Voting for Sinn Fein remains the only practical way to guarantee that those issues will be pursued.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1
Ireland
 

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