Ó Caoláin challenges Mandelson in London
British Secretary of State Peter Mandelson was this week challenged in London by Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin over his suspension of the institutions established under the Good Friday Agreement.
Ó Caoláin told Mandelson that he and his government had ``unilaterally suspended the very institutions'' which offered hope for lasting peace. Ó Caoláin said that Mandelson now had to restore ``not only the institutions, but even more importantly public confidence in you and your government's commitment to the cornerstones of the Agreement which are, without question, equality and parity of esteem for the electoral mandates of all participants''.
The exchange took place at the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body, which met in Westminster on Monday and Tuesday. This structure brings together members of the Oireachtas and the British Houses of Parliament.
The British Secretary of State addressed the Body on Monday and was questioned by Ó Caoláin on the failure of the British government to demilitarise in the Six Counties. The Cavan/Monaghan TD said that the British government document `Security - Return to Normality' published before Christmas ``only cursoriliy addresses demilitarisation, a critical focus issue which it neither adequately nor seriously pursued''.
On Tuesday, the Body debated a motion which ``calls on all parties to do everything in their power to secure the earliest re-establishment of the democratic institutions, in accordance with the overwhelmingly expressed decision in referenda in the island of Ireland North and South and the full implementation of all aspects of the Agreement''. A member of the British House of Lords, Lord Glentoran, put down an amendment which added the words ``including the decommissioning of all illegally held arms by all paramilitary groups''.
Ó Caoláin spoke in support of the motion and against the amendment. He told members: ``I want to see the immediate reinstatement of the Executive and the associated implementation bodies promised in the Good Friday Agreement. Let it be noted by the members of this Body that we in Sinn Féin have repeatedly stretched the republican constituency during this period in order to reach accommodation with our political opponents. I have throughout my service on this body sought to demonstrate that commitment. I cannot accept the amendment because it highlights only one aspect of the Good Friday Agreement, tagged onto an original motion which correctly expresses the need for all aspects to be implemented.''
He said it was clear from the Ulster Unionist Council meeting at the weekend that their use of the arms issue was ``totally disingenuous''. ``Their real motivation is not decommissioning but opposition to the Agreement itself,'' he said. As it was obvious that the motion would not command the support of a majority of British and Irish members, Glentoran withdrew it.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Ó Caoláin clashed with former Tory Six-County minister Michael Mates, who was summing up on behalf of the British members. Mates launched into a diatribe in which he repeatedly referred to ``Sinn Féin/IRA''. Ó Caoláin called him to order during his speech, an interruption which the chair David Winnick said was ``unprecedented'' but adding that they understood the Sinn Féin member's objection.