Plotting course for future - Adams
In a keynote speech delivered to Sinn Féin's National Women's Conference in Dublin on Saturday, 13 November, in advance of this week's developments in the peace process, Gerry Adams spoke of the efforts of republicans in support of the peace process, the challenges facing unionism and his hopes for the success of the Mitchell Review.
``I know that many republicans have many misgivings about the Good Friday Agreement. I know that the vast majority of us came to examine this Agreement in an adult, mature and comradely way and that we placed it in the objective reality that is Ireland today and within the context of our political objectives and our strategy. I know that Sinn Féin's acceptance of the Good Friday Agreement was a wide Rubicon for us to cross. ``Our opponents and the British government should not underestimate the effort that that took. Nor should they underestimate the huge frustration.and anger within republican activism at the refusal of others to keep totheir commitments under the Good Friday Agreement.
``The partition of Ireland institutionalised the exclusion of citizens from national life. Within the Six-County state, the unionist regime denied nationalists our entitlements through the imposition of policies promoting discrimination and inequality, through political gerrymandering and the disenfranchising of citizens. The Good Friday Agreement was to be a bridge out of that.
``Many nationalists and republicans deeply resent the assertion by unionists that they are democrats who have done nothing wrong and that the Good Friday Agreement process is a mechanism to bring gunmen or gunwomen in from the cold. It is, of course, part of a conflict resolution process, and whether it works or not remains to be seen, but from the Sinn Féin and democratic perspective it is about making politics work.
It is about creating the conditions for ending conflict. It is about ending discrimination, disadvantage, inequality and injustice. It is about creating the democratic means to pursue Irish unity and independence where none was permitted to exist before this. It is the beginning of a process of righting wrongs.
In many ways it is good that the Sinn Féin negotiating team is answerable to an impatient activist base. We know that leadership has to lead. Let's hope that when Monday comes that the Unionist Party leadership will do just that
The fact that the Agreement is so detailed, that it has to cover so many aspects of life, and that it is all-Ireland in nature shows how much is wrong in the North and how much the British government and unionism has contributed historically to sustaining these wrongs.
``The Good Friday Agreement was to be a bridge out of that. Sinn Féin negotiated the institutional aspects of the Agreement to ensure that there could be no return to unionist domination and to place any new Assembly in the North within all-Ireland structures. It was a huge thing for us to decide to take our seats in the new Assembly. It required a two-thirds majority at a specially convened Ard Fheis. No one should underestimate how much effort that took.
``And so it has been at every slow, winding turn of the process since then. Many republicans feel that it is we who are all the time making the concessions and that the unionists merely pocket them and go on asking for more. Without doubt, some unionists do that but not all unionists are `no men'. Most of them voted for the Good Friday Agreement. Republicans need to be mindful that unionists have had to make changes. ``Unfortunately, unionist leaders appear to approach developments in a reluctant and hesitant way while republicans appear to move in a more decisive and progressive manner. This is hardly surprising. The truth is that we want change, that we are agents of change, that a peace settlement demands change, and that we have to be the engine to bring that about.
``We should not underestimate the challenges facing unionism and how some of them have faced up to these challenges with courage. Unionism is no longer a monolith. There are people there, there are leaders there who want to set aside the old ways. We need to work with them to make this happen.
``The biggest problem is that unionists fear change, try to minimise change and see it as being to their disadvantage. This places a huge burden on any unionist leadership that wants to plot a course into the future. First of all, the leadership itself has to be for change. It has to be prepared to give political leadership in a way that is totally different from the leaderships of the past. The leadership of the UUP may resent me for saying this. They may feel that I am patronising them, but I think I have a right to say this because I am not asking them to do anything that the Sinn Féin leadership has not done.
We should not underestimate the challenges facing unionism and how some of them have faced up to these challenges with courage. Unionism is no longer a monolith. There are people there, there are leaders there who want to set aside the old ways. We need to work with them to make this happen
``I am bitterly disappointed at Thursday's rejection by the UUP of efforts to end the crisis in the peace process. The review should have been over. It was to be short, sharp and focused. It wasn't but we stuck with it. We made strenuous efforts. We took initiatives. We planned our way forward. We encouraged others to move. We stretched ourselves and our constituency to the limit in a serious and genuine effort to end the difficulties. But when it came down to it, all of our efforts were rejected in just 20 minutes on Thursday afternoon.
``Maybe the UUP were only negotiating. Maybe they just don't know when to stop saying No. Maybe it's just too big a jump for them to take. Maybe the real and genuine difficulties which they face cannot be overcome. Maybe they aren't up to it. It is hard to know. During this review we did have better discussions. We did listen and they did listen. We did come to understand each other's positions better. So for all these reasons on Thursday when our hearts would have told us enough was enough, our heads told us that rather than knee jerk to the UUP rejection this was now the time to allow unionism the space to reflect.
``So, I welcome Reg Empey's statement yesterday that the Ulster Unionist Party's members are going to reflect over the weekend and meet again on Monday. Of course, some of you may suspect that that could be a prelude to more delay. This is fair enough.
``Many republicans who have never spent one minute of one hour in negotiations with the British or the unionists are frustrated at the lack of progress. This is understandable. In many ways it is good that the Sinn Féin negotiating team is answerable to an impatient activist base. We know that leadership has to lead. Let's hope that when Monday comes that the Unionist Party leadership will do just that.
``I know that many republicans fear that our struggle could be `cul-de-saced' if the unionists say Yes. They know that if the institutions are put in place that this will bring about a huge change in how struggle is conducted. They know how big a sacrifice it will be for Bairbre de Brún and Martin McGuinness to take their places as Ministers alongside parties that include members who don't want to see a Fenian about the place - never mind a Fenian woman about the place.
``But we have nothing to fear from being involved in these institutions. Of course, they will bring us and our struggle onto new ground. But we face into that as we have faced into every other challenge that has come our way in over 30 years of struggle. We face into it mindful of the dangers, but confident in our own ability and the correctness of our analysis and strengthened by the justness of our struggle.