Institutions must be reinstated
BY SEAN BRADY
Clear differences between the Irish and British governments over the decision to suspend the institutions under the Good Friday Agreement were very much in evidence when British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern met in London on Wednesday, 16 February.
Ahern made it clear he believed that ``while decommissioning is an essential element of the Agreement, the context in which it can be achieved is the overall implementation of the Agreement'' and that ``all participants have a collective responsibility in this regard''. In line with these principles and the need for the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, Ahern said: ``I believe that the operation of the institutions and the disposal of arms under the mandate of the international commission should proceed.''
A significant IRA proposal was on the table last week before the suspension of the institutions, Peter Mandelson was aware of it, but despite this he decided to collapse the institutions at the behest of the Ulster Unionist Party
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams warned: ``We cannot make progress in a political vacuum. We have no room at all to do anything in this situation given the failure of our initiative last weekend. The British establishment seems to think that Sinn Féin can just absorb all those body blows. We cannot. I can only work within the possibilities of human and political endeavour. It is a two-way street.''
A clear difference between the Irish and British governments in their accounts of the previous week's developments emerged on Thursday,17 February, when Taoiseach Bertie Ahern told Leinster House that the IRA statement was given by him to the British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
We cannot make progress in a political vacuum. We have no room at all to do anything in this situation given the failure of our initiative last weekend.
A Downing Street spokesperson later told RTE News that the British government did not have anything on paper until the second de Chastelain report at about 6.30pm on Friday and claimed that ``we were aware only of various possible forms of words until 90 minutes after Peter Mandelson signed the suspension order''.
Irish government spokesman said on Thusday night, 17 February, that a written statement from the IRA leadership was given by Sinn Féin to Irish government officials early on Friday for transmission to the Taoiseach and British Prime Minister.
The statement was faxed by the Irish government to Downing Street at 10am after a conversation between Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair. This statement was later given by the IRA directly to Genral John de Chastelain.
By the weekend, the British government claimed that this IRA position on decommissioning was sufficient to avert suspension of the political institutions but that it would have needed to be delivered earlier. It has since become evident that Peter Mandelson has been involved in a desperate damage limitation exercise over his decision to suspend the institutions and exactly what he knew about the IRA proposition on decommissioning.
What is clear is that Mandelson's actions in collapsing the institutions were illegal. The belief has been strengthened that a deal was done between Mandelson and David Trimble during the period of the Mitchell Review in November and that Mandelson was going to go ahead regardless of what else happened.
The Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle met on Saturday, 19 February, in a mood of anger over the actions of the British government. The Ard Chomhairle was of the clear view that a significant IRA proposal had been on the table last week before the suspension of the institutions, that Peter Mandelson was aware of it, and that despite this he decided to collapse the institutions at the behest of the Ulster Unionist Party.
The Sinn Féin leadership is adamant that there was absolutely no basis for that suspension, which places the British government in clear breach of an international agreement, and there is a strong mood against any involvement in a review of the Agreement. There are no proposals on the table regarding a review because it is not possible to hold a review if the institutions are not in existence.
There was a strong denial from IRA sources this week that Óglaigh na hÉireann had linked the issue of IRA arms decommissioning to British demilitarisation in the Six Counties. In a briefing to journalists on Tuesday, 22 February, an IRA representative said the organisation had not made any proposals for decommissioning in parallel with demilitarisation, that no timeframe for IRA weapons disposal had been offered to the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) and that no gesture on decommissioning was envisaged.
The spokesperson rejected speculation in Dublin newspapers about IRA proposals to the IICD and said these reports were ``totally wrong'' in linking IRA decommisioning with a British demilitarisation process.
The IRA representative also reiterated that any proposals the organisation made to General de Chastelain were off the table following the withdrawal of its contact with the IICD.
Sinn Féin MP Martin McGuinness travels to the United States this week where he will spend several days meeting and briefing senior US political leaders, Irish/American organisations, as well as White House officials. McGuinness's US visit indicates that the important support and contribution which the US administration has made to the Peace Process is still required.
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams expressed surprise and disappointment this week that only the Women's Coalition and the Alliance Party had responded favourably to a Sinn Féin invitation to all the pro-Agreement parties to attend a round-table meeting on Tuesday to discuss the political impasse.
Adams was also critical of Peter Mandelson, who in an interview with the Boston Herald said that he had offered to post-date the suspension of the institutions for one week to enable the IRA to elaborate on its proposal to the IICD. Gerry Adams responded by saying: ``I was dealing with Peter Mandelson and he never suggested that to me. This is the man who told us he didn't know the IRA position. So if he didn't know the IRA position, how could he then offer to give an extra week for the IRA position to be advanced upon?''
Sinn Féin is holding an internal delegate conference in Dublin this Sunday, 27 February. The conference, which had been scheduled for some considerable time, was originally conceived in a positive political atmosphere and was to discuss how to build on political progeress. Now, however, the political context has changed entirely since Peter Mandelson's decision to collapse the institutions. Sinn Féin delegates will now be discussing a process which is in deep crisis. The conference will provide an opportunity for delegates from around the country to air their views on the latest developments, and the mood is expected to be an angry.
The Good Friday Agreement, built on the foundations of inclusivity, equality, democratic rights and removing all vetos, currently lies in the waste-paper bin. The British government's decision to collapse the institutions has reimposed a unionist veto on political progress and has created the most serious crisis to date within the Peace Process.
In bowing to the UUP's demand, Peter Mandelson has ignored the wishes of the vast majority of people on the island of Ireland who voted for the Good Friday Agreement
The latest crisis is one which all sides have a duty to urgently tackle. The Peace Process can be saved but only if we move beyond the current crisis and achieve the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. The institutions must be reinstated.