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10 September 1998 Edition

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Remember conflict resolution?

MICHEAL MacDONNCHA has a few basic truths for John Bruton

Has everybody forgotten that what this peace process is supposed to be about is conflict resolution? Take it step by step. There has been a political conflict with a violent armed dimension for 30 years. OK. It needs to be resolved. Agreed. If so then it must be accepted that there is more than one armed force in the conflict. Obviously. But the logic of much of the spurious political commentary of recent weeks is that there was only one armed force responsible for conflict and that was the IRA.

In the wake of the Omagh tragedy all kinds of political animals have come out of the woodwork and set off running with the old political agenda which places the blame for conflict on republicans. John Bruton's speech in Leinster House last week was a sustained attack on republicans. He accused the IRA of having an ``each way bet strategy'' with regard to the Good Friday Agreement:

``This each way bet strategy has created the political space in which the Real IRA can claim falsely a spurious sense of republican justification for bombing,'' he said.

Bruton based this assertion on the fact that neither the IRA nor Sinn Féin had said that the referendums on 22 May constituted an act of national self-determination by the Irish people. The Fine Gael leader argued that refusing to do so provided `justification' for violence. He went on:

``By any definition that vote was an act of national self-determination. It is criminally wrong for the IRA to deny that because in denying it it is providing implicit justification for the Real IRA. It is wrong for Sinn Féin to support or condone that continuing IRA position.''

It says much about the thinking of the Fine Gael leader when he can deem it criminally wrong to hold a particular point of view, and this on the day when the Dáil was processing repressive legislation. So much for the Fine Gael concept of democracy and free speech. But Bruton goes further than intolerance. He seeks to ideologically disable republicans. The thrust of his speech was essentially that Sinn Féin had no right to hold the political views it espouses.

It is important that this is refuted. For the record, this is what Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said about the referendums in his Ard Fheis speech on 10 May last:

``It is clear that the referendums do not constitute the exercise of national self-determination. Self-determination is universally accepted to mean a nation's right to exercise the political freedom to determine its own social, economic, and cultural development without external influence and without partial or total disruption of the national unity or territorial integrity. These criteria are not observed in Ireland. British government involvement in our country is in contravention of the established international norms which create and sustain consitions for the establishment of internal peace, democracy, justice, stability and national freedom.''

Of course Sinn Féin recognised that the outcome of the referendums represented the will of the electorate in both partitioned states. It was a positive outcome for an Agreement that has the potential to build peace and political progress. But partition still prevails and the referendums were held on a partitionist basis. National self-determination has yet to be achieved. It is for that very reason that Sinn Féin exists.

It was Bruton who as Taoiseach failed to confront he British government on the decomissioning issue at an early stage. He allowed it to get up and running and it has plagued the peace process ever since. Last week he put decommissioning up as a block to Sinn Féin participation in the new Executive.

The Omagh tragedy has allowed those determined to use decommissioning as a block to progress to up the ante once again. It needs to be remembered that this issue is essentially one of ideology and politics, not guns and bombs. What are the implications of the surrender of IRA arms which is sought by some sections of opinion? It is clearly that the responsibility for conflict in the past and for potential conflict in the future rests with republicans.

All IRA arms could be surrendered tomorrow and it would not alter two facts. One - if political progress, justice and equality are not realised, if the conditions for peace do not become firmly established, the potential for future armed conflict would remain. Two - the IRA could, without too much difficulty, rearm relatively quickly.

Loyalists have shown themselves in the past to be volatile and reactive, there have been numerous breaches of their ceasefires and, without political progress, there is no guarantee that their ceasefires are permanant. They have previously found bountiful arms sources in the British forces and could do so again.

And what of those British forces? The armed RUC and the British Army constitute the largest group of combatants in the conflict. Even if the British Army was totally withdrawn from Ireland they would not be going as far as some are asking the IRA to go. They are asking the IRA, an indigenous guerrilla army, to surrender its weapons and effectively dissolve itself. The IRA has made clear that it is not prepared to do this.

Now is the time to remind people of the responsibility of the British government for armed conflict in Ireland. Attempts to rewrite the history of the past 30 years cannot be allowed to succeed. Recognition of the responsibility of all who have used arms in the past three decades - including governments - is essential in the process of conflict resolution.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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