13 January 2000 Edition
Troops must go
The failure of the British government to make any meaningful contribution to the demilitarisation of the situation in the Six Counties is deeply disappointing and raises serious concerns about the direction of the peace process.
This refusal to honour its obligations under the Good Friday Agreement has been compounded this week in remarks by Peter Mandelson. To leave the decision for movement on such a central and crucial issue, as he wants to, in the hands of the RUC and British army, turns the Agreement on its head and is an affront to the nationalist community.
Republicans have stretched themselves again and again to accommodate others in the quest to implement the Good Friday Agreement and achieve real political progress. That flexibility has not been reciprocated to the same degree. It is now time for others to act. The removal of British troops and the dismantling of the intrusive military installations that scar the streets and landscape of the Six Counties must be implemented without delay.
For his part David Trimble must carry his party fully into the process and to dispel doubts about their full commitment to working inclusively in the Executive and the other institutions. The decommissioning issue is now where it belongs - with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD).
In the United States on Wednesday, when asked about threats to collapse the Executive if there was no IRA decommissioning by February, Gerry Adams pointed out that such deadlines had never worked in other conflict resolution situations around the world.
Also on Wednesday, Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin voiced his concern at comments reportedly made by Bertie Ahern and Peter Mandelson. Ahern, when asked what would happen if the IRA did not begin decommissioning by February, reportedly said that ``if there's no decommissioning it is my view, with certainty, that the entire thing will fall apart. Whatever happens after that is another question.''
Mandelson, also speculating on IRA decommissioning, said that the UUP decision to set a new February deadline, which falls outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and the Mitchell Review, was ``understandable''.
Responding, Mitchel McLaughlin said recent speculation and commentary surrounding the issue of decommsioning had been unhelpful. Sinn Féin believed the issue was now where it should always have been, with General de Chastelain and the IICD. This is what had been agreed on Good Friday and during the Mitchell Review.
``Collectively,'' said McLaughlin, ``we all have an obligation to make the new institutions work. This must be the focus of the two governments and all of the political parties. This is, in fact, what people want. This is what people expect.''
British forces gear up in South Armagh
The degree of militarisation in South Armagh is a cause of great anger among nationalists and republicans in thqat area. It appears to many that the British forces are using the peace process to strengthen their presence in an area where, during the war, their movements were severely limited, such was the strength of and support for the IRA in the area. Here, Toni Carragher, secretary and PRO of the South Armagh Farmers and Residents Committee, discusses the current situation.
The South Armagh Farmers and Residents Committee, which was formed in September 1997, has been actively campaigning to have South Armagh demilitarised following the IRA ceasefire on 20 July 1997.
The people of South Armagh firmly believe that the British government, through the device of the Good Friday Agreement, has, purposely, excluded their community further. A total of 98.8% of the people of South Armagh voted ``YES'' in response to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. The British government has clearly said ``NO'' to our community with regards to demilitarisation.
On 22 December 1999, Peter Mandelson issued a document entitled, ``Security-Return to Normality''. (The full text of Mandelson's statement can be obtained on http://www.nio.gov.uk/991222a-nio.htm We would ask the reader to view it in its entirety).
In relation to this document, we take this opportunity to make the following points: Since the ceasefire of 1997, the level of British Army and RUC members deployed in South Armagh has increased by 75%. Helicopter activity, the stopping and searching of the people of our community, both young and old, by the British Army/RUC is now at an all time high.
On 4 November 1999, the RUC disclosed that in mid-October, they had ``discovered'' files containing personal information on over 300 Catholics from South Armagh and Belfast in the Stoneyford Orange Hall in Co. Antrim. These files, which had been compiled by both the RUC and the British Army, were handed over to loyalist death squads. Collusion between the securocrats and loyalists is still prevalent today. It is believed by our community that with the extra heavy deployment of so-called security in the South Armagh area, they used this period to gather more information, hence putting Catholic lives at risk.
Despite Peter Mandelson's assessment, Bessbrook still remains the most heavily fortified military base in Western Europe. The Bessbrook base, which services the five joint British Army/RUC barracks and the 33 look-out posts in South Armagh, still remains. Refurbishment of these barracks and look-out posts, together with the addition of extra surveillance and infra-red cameras is continuous. Property belonging to private home and land owners is still held by the British Army/RUC. All of this and much more is not compatible with the Good Friday Agreement.
The most disturbing part of Peter Mandelson's document is item 9, which clearly states that the British Government does not intend fulfilling its part in the Good Friday Agreement. It is quite clear to us that the securocrats intend to remain steadfast in South Armagh, an area where they have spent £79 million in the last 12 months alone. We as a committee have stated many times that the securocrats are using South Armagh as a military training ground.
Just as important is the existence of the RUC. It must be made clear to all that the RUC have never and will never be acceptable to the nationalist/republican people of the North of Ireland as a whole.
We question if Tony Blair and the British government are controlling the securocrats or rather are the securocrats controlling Tony Blair and the British government?
Mandelson's statement readily refers to a ``threat to peace''. The only threat to the Peace Process is the continued unwarranted presence of the British Army and the RUC in South Armagh.
Secretary and PRO
The South Armagh Farmers and Residents Committee
Sinn Féin Assembly member for Newry and Armagh, Conor Murphy, will accompany Declan Fearon and Toni Carragher of the South Armagh Farmers and Residents Committee to present submissions from the people of South Armagh to Peter Mandelson on Thursday, 13 January, at Castle Buildings, Stormont.
British drag feet
BY SEAN BRADY
Demilitarisation is a political matter for the British government and not a matter for the securocrats. It must act on demilitarisation immediately
- Gerry Adams
A senior Sinn Féin delegation is in the United States this week. Gerry Adams MP, Six-County Minister for Education Martin McGuinness and Caoimhghín O Caoláin TD are holding a series of political meetings and briefings, media interviews and public and private meetings with Irish American support organisations.
Gerry Adams held a meeting with US President Bill Clinton in the White House on Wednesday.
This is the first trip to the United States by a Sinn Féin minister and on Friday Martin McGuinness will be in Washington to meet his opposite number in the Clinton administration, the Secretary of State for Education Richard Riley, to discuss areas of mutual interest and co-operation.
The members of the delegation will hold a series of private meetings, including briefings with the editorial boards of several major US newspapers.
This latest US visit will provide the Sinn Féin leadership with an opportunity to brief the White House and other key figures as well as support organisations in Irish America on the ongoing peace process.
Speaking at Belfast International Airport before his departure for the US, Gerry Adams urged Six-County First Minister and Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble to remain true to the Good Friday Agreement at next month's meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council and said that republicans had stretched themselves to meet unionist demands on decommissioning. He said: ``We have at considerable risk to ourselves sought to accommodate and to take on board the difficulties of others, especially the Ulster Unionist Party, because that is the imperative of making peace.
``It is now up to David Trimble to lead his party, through the Ulster Unionist Council and other party forums. It is up to him to be truthful and true to the Good Friday Agreement and to what needs to be done.''
Adams also slammed remarks this week by British Secretary of State Peter Mandelson regarding demilitarisation of the Six Counties, which have provoked widespread anger within the nationalist community.
Speaking on UTV's Spotlight programme on Monday evening, 9 January, Mandelson said that any decisions on demilitarisation would be based on advice from the RUC and British army.
Responding to Mandelson's comments, Gerry Adams said: ``If Mr Mandelson's remarks reflect British government thinking at this time, then it is failing to live up to its obligations under the Good Friday Agreement. Demilitarisation is a political matter for the British government and not a matter for the securocrats. It must act on demilitarisation immediately.
``Nationalists are outraged that the British government has effectively surrendered responsibility for its long overdue demilitarisation programme to such a partisan, sectarian and discredited force as the RUC - a force whose very existence hinges on frustrating meaningful moves towards demilitarising the political situation.
``The RUC has a vested interest in maintaining not only its political and security power base but the financial umbrella for the force and its members individual lifestyles. It is simply not in the RUC's interest to see progress on demilitarisation.
``Demilitarisation is a political responsibility that cannot be shirked by the British government. They cannot allow the RUC to dictate political progress.''
The Sinn Féin President said that the issue would be raised by him in the United States: ``This is one of the issues I am going to be raising, the whole slowness, reluctance and refusal to demilitarise, the continued existance of the RUC, the failure thus far to implement the Patten Report and the disgraceful decisions around Rosemary Nelson and the failure to move on Pat Finucane's case or that of Robert Hamill.''
Gerry Adams called on the British government to accommodate an independent, international inquiry into the role of British military intelligence and the RUC in the deaths of Rosemary Nelson, Pat Finucane and Robert Hamill, and said the inquiry should focus on the role of agents such as Brian Nelson.
Meanwhile Conor Murphy, Sinn Féin Assembly member for Newry and Armagh, speaking before accompanying a delegation from the South Armagh Residents' and Farmers' Committee to present submissions to Peter Mandelson on Thursday 13 January, said the wide range of groups and individuals represented showed the malign impact of the British military presence on ordinary people's lives over the past three decades and they are clear in their demand for that presence to be removed.
Murphy said: ``The British government published a paper on demilitarisation just before Christmas. It caused understandable anger in South Armagh and other areas because it came nowhere near meeting the British government's obligations under the Good Friday Agreement to publish a schedule for demilitarisation. These hundreds of submissions are making a very clear demand that the British government begin the immediate demilitarisation of South Armagh. It is the only policy which the British government can implement if they are serious about living up to their responsibilities in the peace process.''
Nationalist anger at the latest indications that the British government is not taking the demilitarisation issue seriously has been compounded by several other factors. First is the concentration by unionist politicians on the issue of silent IRA guns. This is taking place in the context not only of a failure by official British forces to demilitarise but also against the backdrop of continuing loyalist attacks against nationalists and the recent outbreak of violence between the UVF and LVF.
Furthermore, the decision by the North's Director of Public Proescutions not to bring charges against RUC officers accused of threatening human rights lawyer Rosemary Nelson has left republicans and the nationalist community angry at the failure to grasp the nettle of RUC collusion with loyalist death squads. The British state once again stands accused of protecting state agents from rigorous investigation and accountability.