17 April 2003 Edition
Publish the Declaration
As we go to print, the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle is meeting in Julianstown County Meath. They are engaged in a detailed discussion of the latest developments in the peace process, after being briefed by party chair Mitchel McLaughlin.
Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams, who had been due to brief the party leadership, stayed in Belfast to remain in contact with the two governments in an effort to secure progress.
Over the last ten days, Sinn Féin leaders have been involved in round the clock discussions with the Irish and British governments and the pro-Agreement parties to try and secure the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and advance the peace process.
More than at any other time in the process, we have seen the two governments engage in a deluge of damaging spin and propaganda and people around the country have watched with growing concern as they continue to refuse to produce the Joint Declaration - the product of four and a half months of work.
Speaking as the Ard Chomhairle met, party chair Mitchel McLaughlin said that one of the difficulties is that the unionists have left their negotiation to the British government. "Regrettably, in my view, there are those within unionism and within the British system who are still locked into the old agenda - who want to demolish the peace process, not build it," said McLaughlin. "There is no clarity or certainty around UUP intentions." He was speaking after very negative comments from Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble.
In an exclusive interview with An Phoblacht, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams points out that while there is no certainty of completion in the Joint Declaration - it is full of conditionality within a protracted process - the IRA statement is clear and unambiguous.
"Even the British government has acknowledged that it shows the desire of the IRA to make the peace process work," he says. "That is an unprecedented development. It should be built on. The two governments should publish their Joint Declaration; the British government should lift the suspension of the institutions and move to the election of a new Assembly."
Fifth anniversary of Agreement marks "crucial stage" in process
Speaking in the Dáil debate on the peace process on Tuesday, Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghin ó Caoláin TD said the process was at a "very crucial stage". He said the IRA had taken an "unprecedented initiative" and the two governments and all parties should respond. He urged the publication of the governments' Joint Declaration.
"It is my wish and that of my Sinn Féin colleagues that collectively, all parties and both governments will overcome the difficulties of this phase and move forward together," he said.
"I urge the two governments to publish their Joint Declaration. It should have been published last Thursday when my party colleagues and I, along with the other parties, were in Hillsborough.
"While the Joint Declaration has not yet been published, we have had a quite unprecedented initiative by the IRA in which it has outlined to both governments its position in detail in an effort to move the process forward.
"Sinn Féin has been engaged in intensive efforts to see the current deadlock ended and the Good Friday Agreement implemented in full. The IRA has responded positively to this. The two governments have recognised the positive nature of the IRA response and have acknowledged the desire of the IRA to make the peace process work. So what is the current delay about? The two governments, the UUP, all of us, should seize this opportunity.
"All of the issues in the Good Friday Agreement are issues of entitlements and rights - not subject to precondition by governments, political parties or armed groups. This time five years ago the Good Friday Agreement would have been seen as an impossible achievement. Five years on let us not underestimate the advances that have been made.
"I wish all the negotiators well and look forward to real progress in the coming days."
The following statement from the leadership of the Irish Republican Army was received by An Phoblacht on Sunday 13 April.
"Following approaches from others, the leadership of the IRA undertook to draw up a statement setting out our views on recent developments in the peace process. We did so because of our commitment to this process and our desire to see it succeed.
In this context, we decided to give our attitude on:
∑the current disposition of óglaigh na héireann and the status of our cessation,
∑our future intentions,
∑our attitude to a re-engagement with the IICD and engagement in a process of putting arms beyond use,
∑a third act of putting arms beyond use to be verified under the agreed scheme.
We shared concepts and draft elements on these matters with others and now, following an internal consultation, we have closed on a statement which will be passed to the two governments.
We stand ready to issue it in due course."
Irish Republican Publicity Bureau
Publish the Joint Declaration - Gerry Adams
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams talks exclusively to An Phoblacht about major developments in the peace process this week. We asked him for his views on the discussions to date and where things can go from here.
Q: How has this crisis in the process arisen?
Gerry Adams: Last September, the Ulster Unionist Council adopted anti-Agreement positions promoted by Jeffrey Donaldson's wing of the party. In part this was driven by the forthcoming electoral challenge posed by the DUP. In effect, anti-Agreement forces have dominated the agenda since then.
Allegations about IRA activities, while a genuine concern for the unionist constituency, were seized upon as an excuse to demand and secure suspension of the political institutions. The British government did this at the behest of the Ulster Unionists and in breach of the Good Friday Agreement, throwing the Peace Process into crisis. It is also worth remembering that as far back as last year, the UUP signalled an intention to bring about a collapse of the political institutions.
However, central to the crisis is the failure, five years on, to implement an Agreement voted for by the majority of people on this island. Among the unresolved issues at this time were: the suspension of the political institutions and the undermining of the democratic rights of all sections of the electorate; as well as inadequate progress on equality and human rights; victims of the conflict; Irish language issues; the use of flags and emblems for public purposes; the issue of arms; demilitarisation; policing and justice, including the transfer of powers on policing and justice; and prisoners and OTRs.
Q: When did the current phase of negotiations begin and what has been achieved to date?
GA: They began in early December and have been intensive in recent days and weeks, involving meetings in Dublin, London, Belfast and the United States. Progress has been achieved by republicans on a range of issues, and indeed significant progress was made in some areas in the negotiations which closed early last week. But there are still issues of concern regarding the suspension of the political institutions, UUP commitment to the stability of the institutions, sanctions and a timeframe for the transfer of powers on policing and criminal justice.
Q: So what happened last Thursday and over the weekend?
GA: The governments were expected to issue their Joint Declaration on Thursday but they did not do so. Instead, there was a huge amount of disinformation as they tried to put their own 'spin' on events, briefing the media that the hold-up was due to a lack of movement on the part of republicans. This is not true. There were intensive contacts between the two governments and Sinn Féin, in the course of which Sinn Fein demanded that the Joint Declaration should be published. We said so publicly. The negotiations on the Joint Declaration had finished several days earlier, and, in our view, people have a right to know how the two governments propose to guarantee the rights and entitlements denied to them so far by the failure to implement the Agreement.
On Saturday, Martin McGuinness and I met with Bertie Ahern. I spoke by phone with Tony Blair. The two governments announced that they hoped to publish the Declaration and specifically recognised the collective responsibility of all parties and the two governments to address the remaining issues.
On Sunday, the IRA closed on a statement that was passed to the two governments and also issued a preliminary statement outlining its position. With the negotiations concluded, there was no rational reason for the governments delaying the publication of the plan setting out how they intend to fully implement the Good Friday Agreement in all its aspects.
On Monday, the governments sought clarification on the finalised IRA statement. While there was some concern about this, it was important that genuine obstacles be dealt with and as you will be aware these matters were speedily dealt with.
Q: We have heard a lot of talk about clarity in recent days. Can you give us your understanding of the IRA's position and its significance?
GA: On Sunday, the leadership of the IRA forwarded a detailed statement setting out its view of the current phase of the peace process to the two governments. Republicans will know that this was accomplished in the most difficult circumstances, compounded by government leaks and misleading briefings to the media on concepts and draft elements that had been shared with the two governments. That said, the two governments have acknowledged that the IRA statement is positive. Speaking in Westminster on Monday, British Secretary of State Paul Murphy said the IRA statement showed the Army was committed to the process and he said the statement showed a clear desire to make the process work.
I have seen and read closely the IRA statement. I can tell you that it is clear and unambiguous. And the importance and enormity of this move should not be lost on the governments. I find it incredible that they have not yet acted on the basis of this unprecedented contribution.
Q: You met the leadership of the UUP this week and have had ongoing discussions with David Trimble. What can you tell us about this contact?
GA: Myself and Martin McGuinness did meet the UUP leadership this week. We showed them the IRA statement. They know its content. Sinn Féin has been engaging intensively over the last two to three weeks with the Ulster Unionists, concentrating on the political institutions and the transfer of powers for policing and criminal justice. It is important that the legitimate concerns of the unionist community are addressed but anti-Agreement unionists cannot be allowed to exercise a veto over the institutions, the Agreement and the peace process.
Q: What should happen now?
GA: What is critical now is that all of this is put into the public realm. The Joint Declaration and all other statements should be published. In some ways, it is as simple as that. We need to see the institutions restored, the Agreement implemented and the elections go ahead. We should not lose sight of the fact that five years after the people voted for this Agreement, we are still discussing how it is to be implemented.
Q: Two issues of particular concern this week will be the issue of policing and the upcoming Assembly elections. Can you first of all tell us how the party will deal with the issue of policing?
GA: Policing is a touchstone issue for republicans. We want to see accountable, democratic policing on the island and that is why we have put such energy and resources into this issue and have returned to the negotiations time and time again, long after others had given up, to ensure that this can be achieved.
Over the last four months, substantial progress has been made. The British and the Ulster Unionists have agreed on the principle of the transfer of powers for policing and justice. But the key issue of the timeframe for the transfer of power remains. No decision to support the current policing proposition has been considered by the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle. Such a decision can only be taken by a specially convened Ard Fheis.
Q: On the elections, do you believe that they will now go ahead?
GA: It is imperative that the elections go ahead in the interests of the peace process and democracy. They present a major opportunity to send a clear message to the governments and the unionists. There is no room for complacency. I want to call on all republican activists throughout Ireland to get involved in this campaign. We saw the powerful effect of this all-Ireland effort in the General Elections last May and it can be just as effective next month.
Q: Are you sure they will go ahead?
GA: As Joe Cahill said at the Ard Fheis, we have to be prepared. The entire organisation should be on election footing and in terms of our electoral preparation there should be no contemplation of postponement. A further delay in the elections would erode public confidence in a very significant way. The election must go ahead on 29 May. An Assembly without a mandate is not acceptable to us and we would have to consider our position if the British government was foolish enough to do this.
Q: What is the exact state of the negotiations at this time?
GA: An Phoblacht readers will not be surprised that I cannot spell out the detail of exactly where the negotiations are. As you go to press, the contact with the two governments is continuing. Wednesday night's meeting of the Ard Chomhairle was given an update on the current situation. We all know that the substance of the Good Friday Agreement is about the rights and entitlements of citizens. The purpose of the Joint Declaration should be to ensure that these become a reality. Our focus is on building on the significant progress that we made in recent weeks and on the opportunity presented by the IRA statement that the two governments received on Sunday. One of the difficulties we are having is that the unionists have left key elements of the negotiations to the British.
Incidentally, there is no certainty of completion in the Joint Declaration. It is full of conditionality within a protracted process.
The IRA statement is clear and unambiguous. Even the British government has acknowledged that it shows the desire of the IRA to make the peace process work. That is an unprecedented development. It should be built on. The two governments should publish their Joint Declaration; the British government should lift the suspension of the institutions and move to the election of a new Assembly.
Q: What can republican activists do to help at this time?
GA: It is incumbent on all republican activists to keep their heads at this crucial stage of the process. Whether or not the governments seize the opportunity to finally implement the Agreement in full, republicans must act to protect the integrity of our struggle and our core political project of building a united Ireland of Equals.
Republicans have stretched themselves repeatedly to keep the peace process on track. The people have responded to the leadership shown by republicans. They have made Sinn Fein the third largest party in Ireland. We are unstoppable as long as we keep up the pressure and keep doing the work.
So, in practical terms, a strong turnout at this weekend's Easter commemorations across the country is vital to show the establishment and the media that we are united, confident and will not be deflected. The momentum of change is unstoppable, the only question is the timetable, as long as we keep our heads and keep our eyes on the prize.