Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

4 August 1999 Edition

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Blair holds the key


Thirty years on from the loyalist pogroms in the face of the demand for civil rights, the British government is faced with the same choices. It can choose to capitulate in the face of unionist intransigence and aggression or support the widespread demand for democratic rights and political progress
Thirty years on from the burning of Belfast's Bombay Street, when the full sectarian force of the Orange state was unleashed on a defenceless nationalist population, the fundamental issues about the nature of society in the Six Counties have again been cast in stark relief.

The Orange card is once again being played in an effort to block equality and justice for nationalists and to prevent movement towards a new society.

Thirty years on from the loyalist pogroms in the face of the demand for civil rights, the British government is faced with the same choices. Tony Blair's government can choose to capitulate in the face of unionist intransigence and aggression or he can support the widespread demand for democratic rights and political progress.

The former is the path which has been followed by all of his predecessors and which has demonstrably failed to bring peace. The latter is the promise which was held out by the Good Friday Agreement.

It is within this context that the current review of the implementation of Agreement is taking place. The current state of crisis in the peace process should not be underestimated. The success of Unionists in preventing the transfer of power and the establishment of the institutions three weeks ago was a shattering blow to the Good Friday Agreement.

The Unionists, who are clearly resisting any political change, have so far been successful in blocking the Agreement, but the primary responsibility for the failure to implement it lies with the British Prime Minister.

The Peace Process is doomed if it is subject to a Unionist veto and the Good Friday Agreement cannot deliver equality and justice if its implementation is dependant on unionist approval.

Since the Good Friday Agreement was endorsed by referenda North and South, there has been no progress in its implementation and the entire political situation has begun to reverse.
Peace process crisis

There has been no progress on the equality agenda; no progress on demilitarisation; there is no freedom to live free from sectarian harassment; there is no new policing service.

Since the Good Friday Agreement was negotiated, David Trimble has reneged on one commitment after another. He reneged on the North/South institutions on 2 and 18 December, and on the establishment of the Executive in Downing Street on 14 May. He walked through one deadline after another, 31 October, 10 March, 29 March, 22 May, 30 June, 2 July and then collapsed the Agreement three weeks ago.

Despite this, Unionist politicians have has the audacity to attempt to portray republicans as the obstacles to peace and progress. In this, they have effectively been supported by Fine Gael leader John Bruton.

On Monday, Gerry Adams slammed Bruton's approach to the Peace Process: ``Mr Bruton's eagerness to attack Sinn Féin and to deny our electorate their democratic rights and entitlements is at odds with his alleged support for the peace process,'' he said, adding that Bruton's attitude was ``in stark contrast'' to his attitude to unionism. ``The breaking of the Agreement and the breaching of the deadlines by the UUP, as well as the recent farce at Stormont, caused no outburst from Bruton.''

Adams accused Bruton of pandering to unionism while attacking republicanism. He went on: ``It is this inability to see the big picture, to adopt inclusivenss and an acceptance of people's democratic rights, which are the hallmarks of Mr Bruton's approach to the peace process.''

Adams was referring to Bruton's comments over last weekend, attacking Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's comments that Sinn Féin and the IRA are separate organisations. Bruton's remarks came as unionists attacked Sinn Féin in the wake of the killing in Belfast of Charles Bennet. Several unionist spokespresons had blamed republicans for Bennet's death. Following Charles Bennett's funeral and reacting to the claims of republican involvement, Gerry Adams described the killing as a ``terrible tragedy for the Bennett family. My thoughts are with them at this time.''

The Sinn Féin MP for West Belfast added: ``There has been a lot of speculation surrounding Charles Bennett's death. His family deserve to know the truth.

``For our part, Sinn Féin is against all killings.

``Regrettably there are those who are trying to use this tragedy to attack the peace process and subvert the Good Friday Agreement.

``They must not succeed.

``All of our efforts, our political will, must be focused on rescuing a peace process which is in serious trouble. That is Sinn Féin's commitment.''

Responding to claims of republican involvement in the Bennett killing by rejectionist UUP member Jeffrey Donaldson, Sinn Féin Assembly member for North Belfast Gerry Kelly said: Jeffrey Donaldson is no friend of the peace process nor of the Good Friday Agreement.

``He has used every opportunity to undermine the peace process. He is the clear leader inside the UUP of the rejectionists and the wreckers.

``Mr Donaldson's track record is clear. He is not genuinely interested in the victims of conflict. He is not interested in resolving the conflict. He wants peace only on his terms and these are not acceptable to nationalists and republicans.''

Republicans remain deeply sceptical about the forthcoming review and Sinn Féin has stressed that it cannot be a cover for renegotiation of the Agreement by Unionists or another stalling tactic.

At the end of the day, reviews apart, the onus to implement the Agreement lies with the British government. The Agreement is British government policy after all.

The election of a Labour government in Britain in 1997 boosted hopes that there would be a change in British government policy in Ireland. While republicans have been critical of the British government, Sinn Féin has also acknowledged and commended the positive way that Tony Blair approached the peace process.

The ball is now firmly in Tony Blair's court. He holds the key to the success or failure of the peace process. The choices he faces are the same fundamental ones which faced his predecessors at the outbreak of conflict in 1969. The hope is that he has the courage and the will to succeed where they failed.

An Phoblacht
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