British tear up Agreement
Gerry Adams says that he has been given no indication that the British government will put back in place the institutions which it unilaterally suspended last Friday. The Sinn Féin President was speaking after he, accompanied by Martin McGuinness, Bairbre de Brún and Seán Crowe, met with British prime minister Tony Blair, Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen and Secretary of State Peter Mandelson, at Downing Street in London on Wednesday, 16 February. Adams said that he had gleaned no sense of the calamity brought to the process by the British government's unilateral decision to bring down the institutions.
The Sinn Féin leaders were in London in another round of intensive efforts to salvage what remains of the Good Friday Agreement. Gerry Adams had been due to visit London anyway to brief members of the Middle East press in London and to address a meeting of Jubilee 2000, which campaigns for an end to third world debt.
Sinn Féin's dismay and frustration at the collapsing by Peter Mandelson of the Assembly in order to secure David Trimble's position was apparent at a press conference given by Adams prior to the Downing Street meeting. The Sinn Féin President told reporters that his party would need to consider very carefully whether, in the light of the collapse, it had any further role to play in resolving the arms question over and above the obligations of the Good Friday Agreement, given the repeated and serious ``body blows'' it had received over the past years in its attempts to move the process forward.
Whilst he was reluctant at that point to comment on the news that Tony Blair had already made a decision not to reinstate the Assembly until the IRA has provided a ``timetable'' of how and when it would decommission, Gerry Adams said:
``Already, Downing Street have moved outside the remit of the Good Friday Agreement when Peter Mandelson collapsed the institutions. There is no legal basis whatsoever for this and it is that which has created this very difficult situation for everyone.
``Our objective is - and the only objective of the two governments should be - the putting back in place of the institutions as soon as possible. We cannot make progress in a political vacuum.''
Asked if the position taken by the IRA had made his own job more difficult, Gerry Adams said:
``No, I don't think it makes my job more difficult. The evidence of the IRA's commitment is five years of cessation. The fact is that it moved in the first place to actually enter into discussions with the de Chastelain Commission. In the last two weeks, it issued two public statements, which were completely ignored by the government, and its representative put forward propositions to the Commission which led the de Chastelain Commission to issue a report in which it said that it had the basis to fulfil its remit. The British government rejected those proposals.''
Regarding the meeting with Blair and Ahern, he commented that ``this meeting comes on the back of the failure of the British Government to take the process forward. There may be some suggestion that by coaxing or cajoling or stonewalling with Sinn Féin that Sinn Féin will be able to move forward again because the whole process has been one of republicans taking initiatives. We have no room at all in this situation, given the failure of our initiatives. The only breakthrough which can make politics work is a return of the institutions.
``The British government has decided that there cannot be a peace process without David Trimble. I accept absolutely that David Trimble is a very important person in this process, but he is only a positive and constructive and useful element in the peace process if he sticks to the agreement which he made on Good Friday. If that agreement is set to one side and there is an attempt to build a peace process on David Trimble's terms, or on the terms of Unionism, then the whole basis of the process has been changed. That is the double vision which led Peter Mandelson into this decision - even though he had received all the IRA propositions and the de Chastelain Commission's report. That needs to be rectified.
``I don't think we can altogether blame Unionism for its refusal to face up to its responsibilities because a British government has wobbled on this issue. The rejectionist Unionists will be encouraged in their tactical approach; the British government has done this once, will they do it again if we ever get the institutions up again and the Unionists aren't satisfied with the Patten Report? Will they go along to Mr Mandelson again and say `bring down the institutions again'. It they weren't satisfied with the review of the judicial system? It is a huge crisis that we are into because a government has moved away from an agreement and because a government has unilaterally and illegally broken a commitment.
``Consider briefly that since the British partitioned Ireland, we have had 60 years of one party rule, domination, discrimination and repression. We then had 30 years of war, and then we had eight weeks of inclusive government, and the British government moved to tear it down. I think that should give you some sense of nationalist concerns and disappointment about how the government is currently handling the situation.
``That is exacerbated by the fact that this government came to this in a good way. It's my view that both Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson in their heart of hearts do want to bring in the changes that are required, but are engaged in this tactical game which means them surrendering their governmental responsibilities to backwoodsmen and women of Unionism''.
The irony, said Adams, lay in the fact that he was ``convinced that David Trimble, Reg Empey and others are convinced of the Sinn Féin argument'' on decommissioning, as are Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson also convinced of the logic of that argument. Given that, he said he ``had to ponder on why they then do things totally outside that logic.
``It has to do not with guns, but with change. Change is within the rights of people who live in Ireland; it not within the gift of a British Secretary of State or of a Unionist leader.''
The issue of decommissioning had, he said, been used throughout the process as a means of putting a brake on change.
Asked about the possibility of Sinn Féin taking part in any new review set up by the British Government, Gerry Adams said:
``There is no question of there being a review, because there is no legal basis for a review. The Good Friday Agreement is very specific; there can be a review when difficulties arise, but there cannot be a review on the basis of a unilateral suspension. So the question doesn't arise.''