British bowing to unionist threats
BY SEAN BRADY
The suspension Sword of Damocles hangs over the Good Friday Agreement this week. The Ulster Unionist Party has brought the process to the brink of collapse and sadly it now appears, despite many meetings between the various participants thoughout this past week, that the British government is about to acquiesce to a unionist veto with the apparently imminent passing of a bill to suspend the institutions under the Agreement.
That unionists have been allowed to turn the issue of decommissioning into an entirely one-sided process now threatening everything that has been built up is an indictment of elements of the media and of other participants in the political process.
For two years, unionism has been consistently trying to rewrite and renegotiate the Good Friday Agreement. The British and Irish governments have a responsibility to ensure that this does not happen
The Irish peace process has been, in essence, an inclusive process which has sought to address the causes of conflict, not through apportioning all the blame to one side of the conflict but by recognising that the conflict involved several sides; not through seeking the military defeat or surrender of either of the participants but by removing political violence of any kind through addressing its causes and providing a peaceful political alternative.
That process (and the thinking which underpins the peace process) is now being turned on its head through a self-serving unionist desire to rewrite not only the terms of the Good Friday Agreement but the history of the past 30 years of conflict as well. What David Trimble seeks is not a genuine resolution of the arms issue but the public indictment of three decades of republican struggle. Unionists wish to achieve in a time of peace something that the British state could not achieve during 30 years of war. The IRA has made it clear on several occasions, most recently on Saturday, 5 February, that what it will not do is jump to unionist and British dictats on the issue of decommissioning. This issue will not be resolved on British or unionist terms.
It is important to emphasise that Sinn Féin is not in any way in default of the Good Friday Agreement. Mandelson knows this and that there is no basis for the British government to suspend the institutions
On Thursday, 3 February, Britain's Secretary of State in the North, Peter Mandelson, was manoeuvered by unionist threats into announcing that he would publish a bill on Friday enabling him to suspend the institutions under the Good Friday Agreement and to reinstate direct rule within a week. He also accused the IRA of betrayal. Gerry Adams reacted by saying that Mandelson's statement had created great difficulties for the Sinn Féin leadership in discussions with the IRA and that they were a slap in the face to the Sinn Féin leadership, when it was trying to save the institutions.
It is important to emphasise that Sinn Féin is not in any way in default of the Good Friday Agreement. Peter Mandelson knows this and he knows that there is no basis for the British government to suspend the institutions. If they do go ahead with such a course of action they will be in breach of the Good Friday Agreement and Sinn Féin is currently looking at the possibility of a legal challenge in such an event.
On Monday, SDLP leader John Hume added to the political difficulties when he called on the IRA to dispose of an amount of Semtex explosives to ease the logjam. In this most difficult of times, his remarks were disappointing and very unhelpful, adding to the efforts of unionist politicians to present the decommissioning issue in one-sided terms. However, from the position of the Ulster Unionist Party, it is clear they are not interested in gestures, so what John Hume suggests, even if the IRA contemplated it, might not resolve the problem but in fact make it worse.
With each statement issued by the Ulster Unionist Party, including comments this week, their overall gameplan has become clearer. John Taylor has said that the best option for unionism is to opt for a better form of direct rule by pocketing the removal of Articles Two and Three and the end of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
For two years, unionism has been consistently trying to rewrite and renegotiate the Good Friday Agreement. The British and Irish governments have a responsibility to ensure that this does not happen. If the British continue to acquiesce in the unionist veto it will undermine the principles of equality, inclusiveness and justice that are the bedrock of the Good Friday Agreement.
There is a real political argument which can deal with the decommissioning issue. It is the consensus which existed around the issue throughout the peace process, an effort to decommission all of the guns in Irish politics. The guns of the RUC, the British army, the loyalist organisations and republicans are all part of this equation. Decommissioning is an essential part of the peace process and has been recognised as such by republicans. Sinn Féin is trying to find a resolution to the issue, a resolution that will meet the needs of competing demands. But due to the strategy of unionists and the latest actions of the British government in putting the wheels in motion for suspending the institutions, time is fast running out.