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20 September 2001 Edition

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We must show there is a better way - Adams

Speaking in the Assembly last Thursday, 13 September, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams addressed the tragic events in the United States just two days before.

``Two years ago I visited the north tower of the World Trade Centre. Some Irish/American friends associated with Friends of Sinn Féin and who work at the World Trade Centre and in the financial district adjacent to it, had organised a lunch in the `Windows on the World' restaurant on top of the tower.

``Sadly, tragically, one of those who organised our visit that day is now missing.

``I'm told by friends in New York that there is little hope of finding him alive. Others we met that day are almost certainly part of the casualty list.

``Among those who died is Fr. Michael Judge, Chaplain of the New York Fire Service. I met Fr. Michael several times. He was a close friend of New York policemen Steven McDonald, a quadriplegic who was shot down in the line of duty and has devoted his life to the cause of peace.

``Another New York friend - an ex-fireman - who has survived this tragedy is trying to come to terms with the fact that all of his friends, all of those he worked with as a fireman every day for many years, his whole station has been wiped out.

``Last night, I spent several hours on the phone for the second day trying to get through to friends in New York, to make sure they were safe, and to hear news of the extent of the tragedy. The enormity of this catastrophe for them is very personal. It is to me too. My telephone conversations will be repeated by many Irish people reaching out to relatives and friends in the United States.

``Many of us in this room have also experienced the grief and hurt of loss during the years of our conflict. We understand the personal trauma that is now touching thousands of American homes, and homes here in Ireland, in Britain and elsewhere in the world.

``Like everyone else in this Assembly today, I unequivocally condemn those who carried out these attacks and I have sent my deepest condolences and sympathies to the people of the United States, to President Bush, Governor Pakati, to Mayor Giuliani and other representatives.

``It is clear that this atrocity will have profound, far reaching and long term consequences, not just personally for the victims or for the USA but for the rest of the world.

``Humanity collectively, including those of us on this small island, should be mindful of this in the time ahead.

``It is right that we do what we are doing here today in expressing solidarity and sympathy with the people in the USA, but we have to go further than these essential and necessary expressions of our sorrow, shock and denunciation.

``The best contribution the parties represented here, along with the Irish and British governments, can make to world peace, to the cause of justice throughout the world, to the memory of those who have died in the USA, in conflicts around the world, including our own country, is to make our peace process work.

``When viewed in the awful context of other conflicts, or in the enormity of human suffering in New York and Washington, it is true to say that great progress has been made here. Is this to be squandered?

``We know the issues. They have been well rehearsed and I am not challenging unionists nor the British government alone by these remarks. There is a collective challenge for all of us.

``Sinn Féin is totally committed to the peace process. I rededicate myself and our party to do our very best to resolve the problems that confront us all.

``The difficulties we share, are real difficulties. I cannot and I do not underestimate that. Neither do I suggest that republicans or nationalists have a monopoly on grievance or problems. But let us realise that our duty is to make peace with each other, to build democracy here and to resist all the sectional or factional urges that serve to divide us.

``We have still a long way to go to settle these problems. If we fail to do so then we will have failed our people. We will have failed ourselves and as we absorb what has happened in the US we will have failed the challenge and spurned the opportunity, amid all the anger, chaos and sorrow to make a difference and show that there is a better way.''

On Saturday, 15 September, the first meeting of the Sin Féin Ard Comhairle since the tragic events in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, the party leadership extended its sincerest condolences to the American people and in particular to the families of friends who have been killed and injured.


Thoughts on an outrage


Those who carried out the attack, whatever the condition of their lives, and the lives of the people on whose behalf they acted, have stepped outside a moral frame for resistance movements
Since the killing of thousands of innocent people by suicide pilots in America last Tuesday week, my mind has been tormented in trying to make sense of it all. I don't think I am alone in that regard. It has been a very depressing week, watching the horrific scenes on television and listening to the heart wrenching tales from the relatives of those who were killed.

It has been the main topic of conversation everywhere I've been. The enormous loss of life is incomprehensible for people. It seems as if the human mind can't absorb the reality that in downtown New York, a fun city for most people, there is a mass grave with 5,000 bodies inside it.

The impact of this outrage is immeasurable in human terms. We lost over 3,000 people in the last 30 years of conflict in this country... 30 years... in less than 60 minutes... 60 minutes... almost twice as many people were killed in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. And although north America has a population of 250 million people and Ireland's population is roughly 5 million, the fact that we witnessed live on TV the deaths of 5,000 people means that each one of us is personally and directly involved and affected.

We didn't personally know most of those who died in the conflict here. We learned of their deaths through the media. We may have seen their funerals on TV but we didn't witness their deaths. That is not the case with those who died in America.

In the comfort of our own homes, we experienced one of our worst nightmares unfolding on the little black box in the corner; control of one's life being brutally taken away by complete strangers, while trapped in an aeroplane travelling at hundreds of miles an hour into a tower block filled with thousands of people, helpless, in the face of imminent and gruesome death.

There is nothing that I have lived through or participated in during the last 30 years of conflict that can be used as a reference point to help me logically and sensibly understand the motivation of those who planned and carried out the attack.

It's not that I am not broadly familiar with the arguments. In simple terms Washington's foreign policy in the Middle East, particularly in Israel/Palestine, is the backdrop against which those who planned and carried out this attack think and act.

But that is not an acceptable argument to me. The attack last Tuesday was an act of calculated mass terrorism, which principally targeted and deliberately used innocent and unsuspecting people who are not at `war' with those who carried out the attack.

During the war in the Six Counties, people on all sides were on a `war footing', at least in psychological terms. As a society our defence mechanisms were in place and came into play at times when shocking events occurred and there were many. Had those Americans who died and their relatives been at `war', they would have had extreme difficulty dealing with the human consequences of this attack. It will be even more difficult for them given the normality of their society.

I am very firmly of the view that the actions and the results of those actions in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania have no place in the world of resistance to oppression. Those who carried out the attack, whatever their background, have no grounds on which they can justify their actions. Those who carried out the attack, whatever the condition of their lives, and the lives of the people on whose behalf they acted, have stepped outside a moral frame for resistance movements. Those who planned and carried out the attack, whatever their ideology, have done a grave disservice to the cause they believe in and to genuine causes around the world.

They have provided a platform for people who will divide the world up into `baddies and goodies'; those who stand for `democracy', however unworthy it is, and those who stand for `terrorism'.

Never before in my experience and understanding of people struggling for their liberation over the last century, whether it was on the continents of Africa and Latin America, in Asia or closer to home, have the power elite been in such a position as they are today, courtesy of people who claim to be freedom fighters.

I've supported the IRA all my life. Not unconditionally, especially at times when I thought the IRA stepped over what for me is an acceptable moral line. Because I believe there has to be a moral code for those involved in wars of liberation. And as far as I am concerned, those who fight to end injustice and are forced to use arms to end that injustice must ensure that the moral context within which they operate is of a higher standard to the ethos of those they oppose - even if that means the tactics they employ are restricted, thereby delaying the day of liberation for the oppressed. That is a preferable outcome to the one visited upon the world on Tuesday 11 September.

I am opposed to the argument that the `end justifies the means'. And I know that the experience of history teaches us something entirely different. But no one, irrespective of what cause they serve and no matter how noble a cause it is, should debase themselves or others to the point where innocent people are the deliberately chosen targets... where innocent people's lives are used as the primary vehicle through which a cause is advanced.

There were many occasions during the last 30 years of conflict when the IRA unintentionally killed innocent people. Their willingness to accept responsibility for these killings and to apologise to their relatives helped to create the moral context for republican activists and supporters within which the IRA primarily operated. Of course, to the relatives of those killed this matters little. They had lost a loved one at the hands of the IRA. That is all that mattered to them and correctly so.

But for the IRA activists, particularly those who were young, the IRA leadership established an acceptable moral framework within which the IRA conducted itself. There were, of course, times for me when the IRA stepped outside its own framework, and on these occasions the pressure of an angry people, many their own supporters, forced them to abandon such tactics.

There were also occasions over the last 30 years, especially at times of great repression from the British Crown forces in the early years of the conflict, during bouts of intense sectarian attacks from loyalists on Catholics and during the hunger strike of 1981, when republicans were demanding excessive action by the IRA.

But wiser council prevailed. And the IRA displayed the leadership expected of them. That is what the people, on whose behalf liberation movements act, expect and are entitled to.

Liberation struggles will of course continue because, as the famous phrase goes, `all politics is local' and therefore all struggles are local and contain their own dynamic. But in the aftermath of the attacks in New York and Washington, it will be easier for those inclined to bracket those who struggle for freedom, justice and real democracy as `terrorists'.


Fine Gael use US tragedy to attack Sinn Féin

Speaking in Tuesday's special Dáil session on the atrocities in the USA Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the best response from people in Ireland is to make our own peace process work. But the solemn occasion was used by Fine Gael leader Michael Noonan to mount an attack on Sinn Féin.

Ó Caoláin highlighted the fact that families in Ireland have lost loved ones in the attacks. ``Like fellow Deputies, I have been contacted by distraught constituents who have yet to make contact with missing relatives,'' he said. ``Such is the massive scale of the casualties that many more Irish families are likely to be bereaved in the days ahead.

``In this international crisis the Irish government should maintain an independent and principled position based on human rights,'' he said. ``The Irish government will be in a crucial position when it takes over the chair of the United Nations Security Council in October. I urge the government to resist any attempt by any member of the Security Council to use the United Nations as cover for aggression. A war of retaliation by the USA can only multiply the complex problems which gave rise to this disaster and bring death and destitution to thousands more people.

``In the light of reported hostility to them in recent days we must express in a united way our solidarity with the Muslim community and the Arab community here in Ireland and set our faces against any attempts by the ignorant and the bigoted to scapegoat them.''

In his earlier contribution, Fine Gael leader Michael Noonan had introduced a sharp party political note into the proceedings when he attacked Sinn Féin. Repeatedly referring to ``Sinn Féin and the IRA'' he said ``you cannot continue to threaten the Good Friday Agreement'' and ``as long as you hold guns and explosives you cannot become full members of democracy''. He went further and stated: ``As long as you continue to withhold support from policing you cannot be full members of democracy''.

Responding to Noonan, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said: ``I roundly reject the shameful remarks of the Fine Gael leader who has endeavoured to turn this atrocity into a stick to beat Sinn Féin. The bullying of Deputy Noonan will not force Sinn Féin nor the greater number of Northern nationalists into acceptance of a flawed policing package. Rather, my colleagues in Sinn Féin and I have rededicated ourselves to resolving the very difficult outstanding problems. That is what all who genuinely wish to see a real and lasting peace in Ireland should now also address.''


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