Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

15 October 1998 Edition

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Crisis deepens

As the 31 October deadline for the formation of the Executive and All-Ireland bodies under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement gets nearer with no sign of progress, the sense of crisis in the peace process deepens.

This failure to make vital political progress is compounded by the behaviour of the RUC and the British Army on the ground. Stories of RUC harassment continue to grow and in areas like South Armagh the paraphernalia of an occupying army is still in place. Indeed, in South Armagh the peace process has resulted in a worsening of conditions for ordinary people.

The means to overcome this impasse is in the hands of the British Prime Minister Tony Blair. It is vital that the political institutions which will cement the Agreement are put in place immediately. That is what was agreed. Delay and drift will only put in peril all that was so hard won.


Peace process faces major crisis

Six months after Agreement - no institutions set up


Tony Blair cannot allow the Agreement to fail. He must do what his Labour predecessors failed to do at the outbreak of conflict thirty years ago. He must forge ahead with fundamental political change in the Six Counties, tackle the causes of conflict and consign the Unionist veto, once and for all, to history
The Irish Peace Process is now facing what is probably its greatest crisis to date. This has been created by the failure, six months on, to make any progress towards the implementation of the institutions specified in the Good Friday Agreement.

Tony Blair now confronts what is an historic challenge for a British Premier but one which should have particular resonance for a Labour Prime Minister. He can now take the opportunities which were missed by his predecessors or he can follow the alternative and well-worn route back into the past.

It is an unfortunate reality of Irish and British history that each time a British Labour government has had the chance to right the wrongs of the British state in Ireland it buckled under the combined opposition represented by Unionist threats and the opportunism of the conservative British establishment. Labour thus condemned the next generation of Irish people, particularly those in the Six Counties, to bear the consequences of continued conflict.

Now is the time to face down once and for all the threats of those who would subvert the democratic road to accommodation and peace within Ireland and between Ireland and Britain. Tony Blair can now demonstrate decisively and for the whole world to see that the Orange Card will not trump, once again, the efforts of those who seek to move into the future. If not, Blair's promises to the people of both these islands of a new future heralded by his accession to power will seem hollow indeed.

What Blair needs to do is clear. He must ensure that the Good Friday Agreement is implemented and that this is done sooner rather than later. The major responsibility for ensuring that the Agreement is defended is his. There are no excusues for any delay or postponement. It is time now to stand firm and declare that what has been agreed cannot be simply ditched and a different set of rules imposed.

Taoieach Bertie Ahern's responsibilities in the current crisis are clear. He must defend the Good Friday Agreement and defend the interests of northern nationalists against any attempt to turn back the clock and deny them the fruits of the progress and the hope for a better future which is now within their grasp.

The importance of unity amonng Irish nationalists cannot be overstated at this time. It has been the unprecendented unity among Irish nationalist opinion in recent times which has been the impetus for the political progress that has been made. Any division among nationalists and their representatives at this criucial juncture can lead only to political disaster and encourage those who wish to see the cause of justice and peace weakened. No nationalist representative North or South should fall into the trap of playing the unionist game in relation to the decommissioning issue. The time for games is past. The problems which face us are too serious. As has been already stated the peace process itself is in crisis, and the reasons have nothing to do with the IRA or decommissioning but everything to do with the battle within unionism itself.

It is clear that Sinn Fein has absolutely no room to manoeuvre on this issue. It is clear too that the party is playing its part and fulfilling all of its committments in relation to the Agreement and in relation to the decommissioning issue itself. All of the key players know that the demands being made on Sinn Feín over decommissioning are unrealistic. They should therefore be roundly rejected.

Speaking in the United States this week Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams pointed out that: ``The unionist veto in Irish politics has been disastrous from the outset. In the past both recent and distant, British government's gave way to it and we have all had to live with the consequences of such a policy of appeasement''.

He continued: ``The current impasse around the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement has been created by the mentality within unionism which is refusing to change and which wants to impose a veto over political change.

``The British and Irish governments must not allow the unionist veto to prevail over the implementation of the Agreement. To do so would be to fly in the face of the expressed wishes of the people of Ireland who voted for the Agreement in overwhelming numbers.''

Blair and Trimble both know that the demand for decommissioning before the formation of an Executive is not part of the Good Friday Agreement. The choice they have to make is whether they will keep their word and implement what they signed up to or whether they will allow the process to collapse.

For David Trimble, this means leaving behind the No men of unionism. It is of course no easy choice but one he must make, for there can be no turning back the clock.

Tony Blair cannot allow the Agreement to fail. He must do what his Labour predecessors failed to do at the outbreak of conflict thirty years ago. He must forge ahead with fundamental political change in the Six Counties, tackle the causes of conflict and consign the Unionist veto, once and for all, to history.


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