Issue 4-2022 small

5 November 1998 Edition

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Terror fills vacuum

Death squads return as Agreement stalls

The political vacuum created by David Trimble's refusal to implement the Good Friday Agreement is now being filled by loyalist terror gangs.

The latest spate of loyalist attacks in north Belfast which resulted in the death of one man has left nationalists fearing a re-run of the loyalist campaign which led to the deaths of eleven Catholics at the beginning of the year.

This week has also witnessed further exposure of the RUC's covert war against nationalists in the Six Counties. In four separate incidents RUC members have attempted to recruit young men as informers.

And the price being paid by nationalist civilians for Britain's war in Ireland was further illustrated this week by the case of Peter McBride, aged 18 when he was shot in the back and killed by the British army in 1992.

McBride's killers, having served just three years in prison, were released on 2 September and told on Tuesday 3 November that they could continue to serve in the British Army.

These ugly remiders of just how far we must go before the transition to peace and a just society must accelerate the demand that the political progress made earlier this year be consolidated.

What was agreed on Good Friday will count for nothing if it cannot deliver real change in the lives of ordinary people.

This week provided ominous evidence of how little things have changed in what remains a failed political entitity in the Six Counties. The Good Friday Agreement provides a context in which the causes of the conflict there can begin to be addressed. But the failure so far to implement that Agreeemnt and the blocking tactics of the Unionist leadership is threatening to condemn us all to further tragedy.


Will Agreement remain ``just a piece of paper''?


The failure to meet the 31 October deadline for the establishment of the shadow Executive and all-Ireland bodies is a clear breach of the Good Friday Agreement. The passing of this deadline is the most serious devlopment yet in the deteriorating political situation.

The key issue to be resolved is the creation of the Six County Executive. It is clear that the all-Ireland Ministerial Council and policy implemetation bodies are interlocking and interdependent on the creation of that Executive.

It is also clear that there is a huge commitment on all those who negotiated the Good Friday Agreement to see its commitments delivered. The Irish and British governments particularly have a duty to ensure that the Agreement is met in full.

Sinn Fein is entitled to positions on the Executive and the all-Ireland Ministerial Council. The question now is whether the two governments will uphold these democratic rights or if David Trimble will have his own way in overriding the express wishes of the Irish people.

Round-table talks involving Bertie Ahern, two Dublin government ministers, and all the pro-Agreement parties in the North took place on Monday. This was welcomed by Sinn Fein as pointing a way to resolve the current crisis. The presence of the Dublin government was also an indication of the urgency of such a task.

Welcoming the Taoiseach's visit Gerry Adams said: ``The business that is being done is basic, these are technical matters that should have been sorted out a long time ago. I'm hopeful that his presence here today will act as a catalyst and that there will be a speedy conclusion and closure of these matters.

``If there is a political will, all of these issues requiring closure can be concluded today. These matters could have been closed last Thursday when they were also discussed.

``There is no point in Mr Trimble making statements about not allowing the process to be derailed on a Sunday and then delaying the process on Monday.

``I think it's worth reminding everyone that the people of this island voted for the Good Friday Agreement but it is only a piece of paper unless it is a reality in their daily lives. While there is no institution from the Good Friday Agreement except this shadow Assembly, there is a go-slow by the Ulster Unionists that is corrosive.''

Adams pointed out that the assassination of nationalist Brian Service in Belfast at the weekend was a direct attempt to wreck the Agreement and that it was an example of ``the Orange Card being played once again''. Such killings he said were perpetrated when there was a political vacuum. It was imperative on political leadership, therefore, to leave no space for that kind of action.

In a telephone conversation with Tony Blair on Saturday Gerry Adams expressed his firm opinion that as a party to the Agreement and as ``British Prime Minister, claiming jurisdiction over this part of our island, he has to make sure that these institutions and other aspects of the Agreeemnt are implemented in full''.

This political failure to implement the Agreement has been coupled on the ground with measures that undermine nationalist confidence in the ability of the Agreement to deliver and in the commitment of the British government to oversee a process of real change. The announcement for example that the two Scottish soldiers responsible for killing nationalist civilian Peter McBride are to remain in the British Army has enraged nationalists.

Belfast Sinn Fein Councillor Alex Maskey said that Mo Mowlam's comments that she accepts this decision was a clear admission that securocrats were the people who ultimately decide political policy for the British government.

Meanwhile British militarisation has escalated in County Tyrone. In particular an operation around the Cappagh area has resulted in the virtual occupation of a small rural community.

Monday's round-table talks, while welcome, dealt mainly with technical issues. This cannot be allowed to detract from the stark reality that faces us. The Agreement has been breached and there is no indication that David Trimble intends to change course. Confidence in the process is being eroded by the day and the vacuum is being filled by loyalist death squads. Those who have responsbilities towards the agreement must now take hold of the reins. Otherwise the Agreemnt will remain, as Gerry Adams has said ``nothing more than a piece of paper''.


Calls for pressure on Trimble

David Trimble has plenty of room to manouevre as First Minister and both the Irish and British governments should be pressing him hard to implement the Good Friday Agreement and set up the shadow Executive. This was the message brought to Leinster House this week by Sinn Féin elected representatives from the Six Counties who joined the party's TD at a press conference to highlight the serious setback to the peace process with the passing of the 31 October deadline for the establishment of the Executive.

Opening the press conference Caoimhghín O Caoláin said: ``Republicans are angry that the unionist tactic of using the decommissioning issue as a delaying mechanism has been allowed to succeed again. Republicans are concerned that if this is allowed to continue then we could be facing more slippage in the implementation of the Agreement in the weeks and months ahead.

``There is a special responsibility on the Taoiseach as a leader of nationalist opinion on this island, and internationally, to press Tony Blair on the vital need not to allow the Agreement to be unravelled.''

Sinn Féin Vice-President and West Tyrone Assembly member Pat Doherty said that ``David Trimble is in default of the Agreement''. This is not a dispute between Sinn Féin and the UUP, he stressed, but was a case of the unionists once again exercising a veto over all the parties and all the people who voted for the Agreement throughout the island. As the government ``which claims to rule part of our country'' the British can bring influence to bear on David Trimble, he said.

West Belfast Assembly member and Sinn Féin whip Alex Maskey highlighted the party's call for representation in the Oireachtas for citizens in the Six Counties. He urged the Dublin government to move the issue on and give attendance rights in the Dáil to Westminster MPs. His constituency colleague in West Belfast , Assembly member Sue Ramsey, reported on the work of the party in that forum and refuted unionist claims that republicans were not taking the work seriously. On the contrary, she said, the efforts of Sinn Féin had been commended by other parties.

Belfast City Councillor Chrissie McAuley pointed out the hypocrisy of the unionists in refusing to sit on the Executive with Sinn Féin when at the same time their members share council committees with Sinn Féin across the Six Counties.

The passing of the 31 October deadline was also marked with protests along the border on that date. Sinn Féin protests were held on the Donegal/Derry, Fermanagh/Cavan, Fermanagh/Monaghan, Monaghan/Armagh border and at Newry. Caoimhghín O Caoláin TD took part in the protest at Aughnacloy. Speaking at the protest he said ``republicans have come a very long distance to accept the Good Friday Agreement. They are in no mood now to facilitate unionist foot-dragging.''


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