Three days of political momentum
BY SEAN BRADY
After 18 months of obstruction and delay in which the patience of many people was stretched to the limit at a lack of progress which almost saw the Good Friday Agreement consigned to history, the past week witnessed significant political momentum towards finally implementing that Agreement.
Senator George Mitchell outlined his assessment of the review process on Monday, 15 November. He said that in the review the parties had engaged with one another in an unprecedented way, understood each other's concerns better and were committed to resolving the impasse. ``I am increasingly confident that a way will be found to do so,'' he said.
Mitchell urged that the assessment on which the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) has been working be made public promptly, that the parties give their views on that report and make those positions public. ``Shortly after these further steps are taken, I hope to be in a position to issue a final report on the review,'' he said.
The IRA has demonstrated courage, discipine and patience despite the many difficulties that have dogged the process, despite the failure thus far to implement the Good Friday Agreement, and the ongoing sectarian attacks by loyalists. I would urge the two governments and the political parties to respond positively to this IRA statement
George Mitchell's statement was welcomed by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and U.S. President Bill Clinton, who said he was ``heartened'' by it.
Gerry Adams said Sinn Féin shared Mitchell's confidence that the review had the potential to achieve a resolution of the impasse. He welcome his assessment that the institutions should be established at the earliest possible date and said the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement was the only context for addressing outstanding issues.
Later on Monday, General de Chastelain addressed reporters at Stormont stating that decommissioning was a voluntary act and asking armed groups to appoint representatives to meet the IICD.
Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinnes welcomed the IICD's assertion that a successful outcome to the review, including the establishment of the political institutions, would mark a major move forward and agreed with the report's recognition that decommissioning is a voluntary act and cannot be imposed, and that there is a collective responsibility on all the participants to create the context in which decommissioning can be achieved.
On Tuesday, 16 November, all parties issued statements outlining their respective positions in relation to the implementation of the Agreement.
In a statement released by Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams said:
The IRA is willing to further enhance the peace process and consequently, following the establishment of the institutions agreed on Good Friday last year, the IRA leadership will appoint a representative to enter into discussions with General John de Chastelain and the IICD
Oglaigh na hÉireann
``Sinn Féin is totally committed to the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement in all its aspects. We believe that the wholehearted implementation of the Agreement has the capacity to transform the existing situation through constructive and dynamic political development.
``It is an unprecedented opportunity to start afresh. An opportunity to put behind us the failures, the tragedy and the suffering of the past. There is no doubt that we are entering into the final stages of the resolution of the conflict.
``The IRA cessation - which has now been in place for a total of almost four years - represents an important and positive contribution by the IRA to the resolution of the conflict. IRA guns are silent and the Sinn Féin leadership is confident that the IRA remains committed to the objective of a permanent peace.
``By providing an effective political alternative, we can remove the potential for conflict. That conflict must be, for all of us now, a thing of the past - over, done with and gone.
``There has been a particular focus on arms. This issue is addressed directly in the Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Féin accepts that decommissioning is an essential part of the peace process. We believe the issue of arms will be finally and satisfactorily settled under the aegis of the de Chastelain Commission as set out in the Agreement. All parties to the Agreement have an obligation to help bring decommissioning about. Sinn Féin is committed to discharging its responsibilities in this regard.
``Decommissioning can only come about on a voluntary basis. The Good Friday Agreement makes clear that the context required for its resolution is the implementation of the overall settlement, including the operation of its institutions and using the mechanism of the de Chastelain Commission. This is a collective responsibility.
``Sinn Féin has a total and absolute commitment to pursue its objectives by exclusively peaceful and democratic means in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement. For this reason, we are totally opposed to any use of force or threat of force by others for any political purpose. We are totally opposed to punishment attacks.
``In the Executive the two Sinn Féin ministers will make and honour the pledge of office which includes a commitment to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means. Under the terms of the Agreement, any member of the Executive can be removed from office for failure to meet his or her responsibilities, including those set out in the Pledge of Office.
``All sections of our people have suffered profoundly in this conflict. That suffering is a matter of deep regret but makes the difficult process of removing conflict all the more imperative. Sinn Féin wishes to work with, not against, the unionists and recognises this as yet another imperative. For Sinn Féin, co-operation and accommodation is the objective of this process.
``We reiterate our total commitment to do everything in our power to maintain the peace process and to removing the gun forever from the politics of our country.''
On Wednesday afternoon, 17 November, Oglaigh na hÉireann issued a statement which made clear its view of the Good Friday Agreement as a significant development and announcing that it would appoint a representative to meet General de Chastelain and the IICD.
The statement read: ``The IRA is committed unequivocally to the search for freedom, justice and peace in Ireland.
``In our view the Good Friday Agreement is a significant development and we believe its full implementation will contribute to the achievement of lasting peace.
``We acknowledge the leadership given by Sinn Féin throughout this process.
``The IRA is willing to further enhance the peace process and consequently, following the establishment of the institutions agreed on Good Friday last year, the IRA leadership will appoint a representative to enter into discussions with General John de Chastelain and the IICD.''
Responding to the IRA statement, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said:
``I welcome and commend the IRA's positive statement.
``The IRA has consistently demonstrated over recent years a willingness to enhance the search for a democratic peace settlement.
``The IRA has demonstrated courage, discipine and patience despite the many difficulties that have dogged the process, despite the failure thus far to implement the Good Friday Agreement, and the ongoing sectarian attacks by loyalists.
``I would urge the two governments and the political parties to respond positively to this IRA statement.''
Also on Wednesday, General de Chastelain and his colleagues in the IICD met with all of the pro-Agreement parties. Following his meeting with the IICD, Martin McGuinness said that Sinn Féin had long argued that the IICD should be allowed to get on with the task of resolving the decommissioning issue and the political parties should ``get on with the job establishing the political institutions and creating the conditions in which real progress on decommissioning can be achieved.
``We support that approach.''