British government in breach of Agreement - Ó Caoláin
INC vows to continue its role
The Irish National Congress held its Annual General Meeting in Dublin last weekend and delegates vowed to continue the role of the organisation in raising nationalist and republican demands and agitating on issues of equality and human rights.
Following a dormant period for the organisation, the AGM represented a revival. Robert Ballagh told delegates that the INC had been rightly critical of the Good Friday Agreement, while fully supporting the peace process. There was a greater need than ever for a body such as the INC, which was established ten years ago.
The guest speaker at the AGM was Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin. Describing the background of ``revisionism, censorship and demonisation of republicans'' against which the INC was founded in 1990, Ó Caoláin said:
``The time was right for the establishment of a body such as the Irish National Congress because people had begun to say ``Enough is enough!'' The INC rallied nationally minded people and provided a non-party political platform for those advocating the unity and independence of Ireland and the resolution of the conflict through inclusive negotiations. In campaigns on human rights issues such as miscarriages of justice, job discrimination, British shoot-to-kill policy and the border roads, the INC highlighted realities which for too long had been hidden from people in the 26 Counties. With others, the INC ensured that the 75th Anniversary of the 1916 Rising in 1991 was marked appropriately, despite the shameful failure of the Dublin government to do so.
``Having made a vital contribution to opening up debate in this state the INC went on to play an important role in the creation of the peace process. When the reactionaries and the revisionists poured scorn on the dialogue between Gerry Adams and John Hume which initiated the peace process, the INC correctly pointed out that this dialogue had the potential to transform the situation and mobilised public support for it.''
Addressing the current crisis, he told delegates:
``The peace process is in deep crisis because of the actions of the British government in suspending the institutions. This is a disastrous development and it represents nothing less than the capitulation of the British government in the face of unionist threats. An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said in the Dáil on Thursday that such a unilateral suspension by the British government `would not be in line with the terms of the Good Friday Agreement'. The institutions have been suspended and the British government is therefore in default of the Agreement.''
``Republicans and nationalists, including the Irish government, have fulfilled our part of the Agreement. The Taoiseach has already given effect to the changes in Articles Two and Three of the 1937 Constitution contained in the Good Friday Agreement. This was done on the basis that the Agreement was in force. This was also the basis on which people in the 26 Counties voted to amend the Constitution. It was made clear to the electorate at the time that the coming into effect of the new Articles was contingent upon the implementation of the Agreement with its All-Ireland institutions.
``The British government has therefore placed the Irish government and Irish nationalists in the intolerable position of having altered the 1937 Constitution on the promise of the establishment of new political structures which have now been suspended.
``I ask: `Would the British have risked the suspension of these institutions and the creation of a political vacuum if they believed there was any threat to the IRA cessation?'
``The suspension has come about not because of any threat from the IRA but because unionism is not yet reconciled to the idea of sharing power with nationalists and republicans. It took from August 1994 to 1998 for the unionists to agree to enter serious negotiations with republicans. Even then, they refused to speak directly to Sinn Féin. Having reached the Good Friday Agreement it took the unionists 18 months to allow the new institutions to be established. Now, after just eight weeks, they have collapsed them.
``At this difficult time we must remain calm and focused. We need now to take stock of the situation and enter a period of assessment during which we consider the way forward. For our part, we in Sinn Féin remain totally committed to the peace process. We believe that the Good Friday Agreement can still be the vehicle for real change and lasting peace. No one party can be a given a veto on progress as the Unionist Party has been given by the British government this week.
``Sinn Féin will have to consider very carefully whether we enter any new review, especially given the clear indications from the Ulster Unionist Council meeting that they want to use a review to rewrite the Agreement.''