Irish Republican News · July 16, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: Making the North a shared place
Making the North a shared place

By Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin President (for the Irish Times)

In a recent discussion with the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, I put it to him that the problem with British policy on Ireland is that it is essentially about upholding the Union. While Mr Blair may think he is modernising unionism, his strategy and policy mean that inevitably it is the UUP and DUP which are allowed to set the pace.

British strategy today is a strategic alliance with unionism. Historically there is no dispute about this. Mr Blair conceded that point to me but he argued that this relationship had changed. The fundamentals have not changed, I told him.

The British state in the North is a unionist state. Its symbols and emblems are unionist. So are its agencies. And its management. These are the elements that Mr Blair is depending on to implement his policy on Ireland.

We are told “the two governments have a common strategy. It is the Good Friday Agreement. The governments are as one on this issue.” But the Good Friday Agreement, in its essence, is about changing the north of Ireland so that it becomes a shared place for the people who live here. As part of this, its agencies, its management, have to stop being exclusively unionist. So, too, do its symbols and emblems.

I put it to Mr Blair that the best way to secure all of our futures is for the British to make a new strategic alliance with Irish nationalism and republicanism. Unionism’s future, and this is at the core of the Good Friday Agreement, is with the rest of the people of Ireland on terms freely entered into by all of us.

If British policy is the Good Friday Agreement and if it is to mean anything, then the two governments have to have a common strategy to bring it about. But have they?

For example, the Irish Government wants an inquiry into Pat Finucane’s killing, as requested by Pat’s family. The British government, despite saying that it would do so, has refused to establish an inquiry. London’s refusal to deal properly with the issue of collusion is of particular significance. The British government’s handling of the Human Rights Commission and equality issues also go to the heart of this issue and in many ways is the clearest example of what the appeasement of unionism has led to.

What have all these issues in common? They are all managed by unionists, and in some cases, securocrats. British unionists, perhaps, but unionists nonetheless. Look no further than last Monday in Ardoyne when another Parades Commission determination was overturned by the PSNI and the Northern Ireland Office.

The Parades Commission’s decision to place restrictions on this parade unleashed a fierce lobby by the UUP, their rivals in the DUP, and threats by the Orange Order. The outcome - the appeasement of these elements - was a sordid little deal facilitated by the British Secretary of State, Paul Murphy. This saw the people of Ardoyne hemmed in while a crowd of coat-trailing loyalists was escorted through this nationalist community.

Despite the efforts of republican and nationalist stewards, the deep-rooted anger, particularly among young people, which had been building for some time within republicanism and nationalism, exploded. This sordid deal sent a very wrong and dangerous signal.

The majority of nationalists and republicans in the North support Sinn Féin and they desire and deserve to see visible signs of a process of change. They will no longer tolerate exhibitions of triumphalism. That is the short fuse which ignited on Monday.

The anger vented in North Belfast has been also fuelled by the focus of the two governments on the IRA, which has been on cessations for a decade next month and is in blatant contrast to the obvious tolerance of unionist paramilitaries who are still killing people.

This anger has been made worse with the rejection of the IRA initiative on arms last October, the report by the so-called Independent Monitoring Commission and the British government’s punishment of the republican electorate on the back of this report.

Another recent decision by the Parades Commission to ban the Orange Order’s march on the Springfield Road - and then, in the wake of unionist paramilitary threats, to reverse this decision, has exacerbated the situation. So too has the PSNI overturning of a Parades Commission determination in Lurgan on Tuesday night.

All of these matters taken together have sent a very bad signal about the prospects of agreement in September. The reality is that the securocrats are back in the ascendancy. And Mr Blair is very dependent on them.

Added to this is the British government’s strategic need to keep unionism in the driving seat, even at the risk of losing republicans and nationalists. And there’s the rub, because the driver at this time is Ian Paisley.

There is a lot of spin that the DUP is ready to do a deal with Sinn Féin. There is little evidence to support such a contention. It isn’t a matter just for Sinn Féin and the DUP. The DUP will, of course, do a deal with Sinn Féin or anyone else for that matter. But the deal they want is on DUP terms. The British government cannot be allowed to settle for DUP terms. The only terms they can settle for are the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

If that is the case, then the two governments and Sinn Féin are as one. But is that the British government’s position? It is certainly not the position of the securocrats or the British unionists within Mr Blair’s system.

So there is a considerable challenge for all of us in coming to terms with Ulster unionism. There is a big responsibility on republicans and despite current difficulties,Sinn Féin will not shy away from the DUP. We want to make peace with unionism. This means agreeing measures within the terms of the Good Friday Agreement to bring all outstanding issues to definitive and conclusive closure.

But there is a parallel challenge for Mr Blair to get his system on board the Good Friday Agreement. So far he has failed to do this.

© 2004 Irish Republican News