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5 July 2001 Edition

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Wrecking the Agreement

David Trimble's overhyped and overheralded resignation, an increased focus on the arms issue, which included an unforeseen SDLP anti-republican broadside dominated the news this week until the marching season claimed its first sectarian killing, the second Catholic to die in two weeks.

Against the backdrop of loyalist killings and attacks across the Six Counties, the disproportionate focus on republican arms revealed, yet again, something of the agendas of establishment politicians. Despite the sectarian killing of yet another Catholic victim by loyalists, accelerated pipe bomb attacks from the same source, and the disastrous tactic of ultimatum and resignation that has been followed by Trimble, the attention has still remained on silent republican arms.

It is almost seven years after the IRA cessation of 1994, and three years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. The Independent International Commission on Decommissioning said in their report on Tuesday that they believe the IRA to be acting in ``good faith''. Sinn Féin, for its part, has worked harder than any other party to deliver a lasting peace. As Vincent Browne asserted in Wednesday's Irish Times, Sinn Féin has not only contributed to this process, but in a large measure constructed it.

The reality is that this current crisis in the peace process has not been triggered, to use an unfortunate phrase, by the arms issue, but by the internal crisis in the Ulster Unionist Party and the unwillingness of the British government to deliver on its commitments.

It is certain too, that the current onslaught of loyalist attacks, and the impending Orange Order marching season, are not helping matters. On Saturday, the Parades Commission decided to overturn a previous decision not to allow an Orange march through the nationalist Springfield Road, in West Belfast, without divulging any apparent reason for their u-turn. Springfield Road residents' spokesperson Frances McCauley said the decision was ``absolutely sickening''. ``It appears if you break every rule in the book, talk to no-one and threaten violence, you get everything you ask for.'' She maintained that the Parades Commission had made the move to placate loyalist death squads.

However, while loyalist death squads have been orchestrating the attacks, it is the political leaders of unionism that have created the vacuum in which they are operating. Both the British government and the same unionist leaders are silent on these attacks, while simultaneously threatening the political institutions over IRA weapons.

Particularly vociferous in their support of unionist demands this week has been the SDLP, which has used every media opportunity available to criticise republicans. There is no doubt that the aftermath of the Westminster and local government elections in the Six Counties has left a bitter taste in their mouths. It was not strange, for example, to see SDLP representatives Tommy Gallagher and Bríd Rodgers, the two Westminster candidates who lost out most dramatically to Sinn Féin, being wheeled out by their party during the week to castigate republicans.

Writing in Tuesday's Irish Times, SDLP leader Séamus Mallon was particularly scathing. He barely mentioned the horror of sectarian attacks that have accelerated over the past few weeks. He did call for demilitarisation, though this process has begun, he said, pointing too to the `progress' on policing.

The central point he made was that: ``Worst of all, three years after the Assembly first met, weapons have not been put beyond use by republicans or loyalists''. The passing reference to loyalists was dropped as he went on to lambast the IRA and Sinn Féin.

British Secretary of State John Reid was criticised for the same antics by Gerry Kelly, Sinn Féin's North Belfast Assembly member. ``Not for the first time has this Secretary of State, like his predecessor, Peter Mandelson, sought to lay the primary responsibility for dealing with the arms issue at the door of Sinn Féin,'' he said. ``It seems that part of the job description of the British secretaries of state is that they need not read the Good Friday Agreement.''

The Agreement is ``very explicit'' in its reference to the arms issue, he continued. ``It says that it is the collective responsibility of all the parties and the two governments, equally, to create the conditions in which this issue can be dealt with.''

In the inevitable instability that will most likely chracterise the next few weeks, it is important to remember some simple points. The threat to this process does not come from Sinn Féin. It does not come from tha IRA, whose guns have been silent for seven years. The threat comes from the agenda set by the `No' camp. From the unionist leaders and politicians who are trying to wreck the agreement. From the loyalist death squads who have carried out almost 100 bomb attacks on Catholic families, businesses and churches in the past few months. And, most importantly, from those in the British establishment who are actively working to oppose demilitarisation and the creation of an accountable policing service.


An Phoblacht
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