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7 October 1999 Edition

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Agreement in real trouble


US Senator George Mitchell summed up the mood of most observers, when he said of the peace process this week, ``there is a very real threat of it not proceeding.... ``the whole process is under great stress'' and that what would follow if it failed ``would be entirely unpredictable''.The Review Chairperson said there was no credible alternative to the Good Friday Agreement and that if it was not implemented, people in the Six Counties faced a ``highly uncertain future''.

The challenge of this era, when the guns are silent, is to make political progress as quickly as possible and build the structures and the conditions which make a return to conflict an increasingly remote possibility and which make the guns, all guns, redundant
The Good Friday Agreement has been in real trouble for some time now and what lies at the heart of the crisis is unionist determination to frustrate progress towards political change in the North and British government mishandling of the process.

Unionist filibustering and political inertia can only persist to a certain point before the British government, both as the element with de facto jurisdiction and as a party to the Good Friday Agreement, assumes responsibility for forcing political momentum.

Unless the current review results in the establishment of the instititions, the Good Friday Agreement will be well and truly finished. This is a prospect which should send a shudder down the spine of any serious observer of political events here.

There was no progress this week as Sinn Féin met twice in the space of three days with the Ulster Unionist Party in an attempt to break the political deadlock. Speaking after the the first of these meetings on Saturday, 2 October, Sinn Féin's Chief Negotiator Martin McGuiness said: ``We believe we have delivered our constituency for the Good Friday Agreement. Its very simple what has to be done now. David Trimble has to deliver his.

``What the Ulster Unionists have to do is recognise that this big issue they have been using as an obstacle to the implementation of the Agreement can only be resolved in the context of establishing the institutions.''

Speaking after the second meeting on Monday, Gerry Adams said there had been no progress on the substantive issue of implementing the Agreement. ``I suppose there was progress of sorts, if you can call it progress, in that we have agreed to meet again.

``If the Good Friday Agreement is to be salvaged, it is critical that the institutions which are the cornerstone of that Agreement are put in place. That is the criteria against which the success or failure of this review will be judged,'' he said.

Speaking to the annual Ogra Shinn Féin Congress in Dublin on Saturday, Adams warned that the UUP leadership were pursuing a high-risk strategy aimed at preventing the establishment of the Six-County Executive and the interlocking all-Ireland structures.

``Given the UUP position, and given the reality that no armed group is prepared to decommission on terms demanded by the UUP, and given the rejection by the unionists of the decommissioning body, it is hardly surprising that there is not a great expectation that the Mitchell review will succeed.

``I am asked what is the point therefore in being involved in the review. The answer is obvious. Success is only possible through dialogue. There is no other way to work out or to find a way forward out of the protracted difficulties which have bogged down the process from day one. So the Mitchell review presents the best chance of achieving that. Let me also say that there is no sign that the UUP is prepared to accept any alternative to its demand, and at this time it seems likely to continue with this position. So there can be no certainty of success from this review.''

The British government has, by its approach over the last 18 months, done very little if anything to discourage the unionists from their obstructionist strategy. In fact at various crucial points over that period it lent succour to those unionists engaged in that strategy, most pointedly with legislation rushed through the British Houses of Parliament in July.

The issue of decommissioning is not one which the unionists alone have an interest in resolving. There is no monopoly of interest on this issue, but certain realities must be faced. Decommissioning can only be resolved in the context of a changed political landscape - one which is clearly and demonstrably different from that which led guns to be introduced in the first place.

The challenge of this era, when the guns are silent, is to make political progress as quickly as possible and build the structures and the conditions which make a return to conflict an increasingly remote possibility and which make the guns, all guns, redundant. This is what makes the prospect of unionist destruction of the Agreement over this issue a tragedy as well an appalling scenario.

Sinn Féin has said that it will persist in its efforts to find a way through the current impasse and will remain constructively engaged with the Mitchell review.

Meanwhile, a Sinn Féin delegation led by Chief Negotiator Martin McGuiness will meet with Fine Gael leader John Bruton at Leinster House on Thursday, 7 October.

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