Irish Republican News · March 1, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]

Amid ongoing turbulence in the peace process, Sinn Féin held a confident annual conference at the weekend, defiantly attacking the two governments and the unionist parties for their failure to secure the peace in the North.

In his keynote address to his party's ard fheis in Dublin, party president Gerry Adams said that his party intends to make the peace process work, but it would not be bullied.

Mr Adams said there was no alternative way forward other than the full implementation of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. He said the opportunity existed for the IRA to ``definitively set aside arms'' and it should not be wasted.

Mr Adams made his comments as allegations were made by the British and Irish governments about continuing IRA activity. He accused both London and Dublin are engaged in an anti-Sinn Féin agenda.

Mr Adams said that ``efforts to put Sinn Féin under pressure are a waste of time''. Difficulties could only be resolved through dialogue and keeping commitments, he said, adding: ``I state this as a fact, plainly and simply, not through any wish to be macho.''

A political vacuum in the north of Ireland, he said, would only encourage those who wanted to tear down the peace process. He cited the Middle East as an example of the dangers of a ``stalled peace process''.

Mr Adams said that, for their part, his party recognised that building peace was a collective endeavour. ``We who want to see the maximum change are called upon to take the greatest risks,'' he said. ``So there can be no doubt if the British and Irish governments apply themselves to acts of completion of the Good Friday Agreement then others must do likewise.''

He said the IRA leadership clearly put its position on the public record in May last year when it said that the full and irreversible implementation of the agreement and other commitments would provide a context in which it can proceed to definitively set aside arms to further its political objectives.

``Such a commitment would have been unimaginable 10 years ago,'' he said.

``So too would the last decade of IRA cessations. The opportunity provided by these developments should not be wasted. This party is actively working to ensure this. But threats, ultimatums, or the imposing of preconditions can be no part of this.''

Mr Adams said that for the past six years, rather than fully enforcing the Good Friday Agreement, London had proceeded only at a pace which unionism and its own government agencies had been prepared to tolerate.

``This process, any process by its nature cannot be static. It either moves forward or it moves back. We are determined that it moves forward.''

He pointed out that the Human Rights Commission was in chaos; that there was no Bill of Rights; that discrimination remained endemic; and that there the new beginning to policing and justice promised in the Good Friday Agreement had not happened.

``They have obstructed the Saville Inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday, the Barron inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings; they have refused to initiate full and independent inquiries into a number of controversial killings, and vital inquest evidence in respect of numerous state and state-linked killings is being withheld by the PSNI. The British government has also refused to publish the Cory report.''

The British and Irish governments cancelled today's meeting of the review of the Good Friday Agreement and tomorrow's meeting will ``focus on paramilitarism'', according to reports.

The move follows threats by Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble to lead his party out of the review today following the alleged abduction attempt of a republican dissident in Belfast last week.

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble has threatened to walk out of the review if sanctions are not imposed on Sinn Féin.

Meanwhile, the DUP has said it would not boycott the review, but is instead seeking to put together a coalition to exclude Sinn Féin from government. Ian Paisley's party held a lunchtime meeting with the nationalist SDLP and the cross community Alliance Party at Stormont outside Belfast which it described as ``highly significant''.

It is believed that both governments have sent letters to the political parties pointing out that ``the review needs to focus now on paramilitarism and its detrimental impact on collective efforts to find a basis for sustainable devolution''.

The two governments proposed at the end of last week that there should be meetings with the parties tomorrow ``on the question of how paramilitary activity should be handled in the review, with a view to achieving the full and complete ending of paramilitary activity''.

According to the governments, this is about addressing the current deficit of trust and confidence in the process.

On March 8 the British government propose to discuss with the parties the implications of paramilitarism for the operation of the Strand One institutions of the Good Friday Agreement.

Among the questions to be considered tomorrow will be whether a round-table session on this subject would be appropriate for March 9.

Sinn Féin has said they will have no difficulty in addressing the review's focus on paramilitary activity, and intend to raise questions about the declared ``ceasefire'' by the loyalist UDA and continuing British government involvement in loyalist paramilitary activity.

The party has dismissed claims that the IRA was chiefly responsible for the current political logjam, and this was made emphatically clear at the weekend Ard Fheis.


Mr Adams told the conference that republicans had taken risks for peace yet unionists were also walking away from commitments.

He accused UUP leader David Trimble of aborting the sequence of initiatives agreed on October 21 last year, after republicans honoured commitments as part of an agreed sequence of statements and actions. This included the IRA putting its third and largest amount of arms beyond use.

``But Mr Trimble wasn't the only one to dishonour his commitments. He was joined by the British and Irish governments and neither one of them have moved one inch since then on the undertakings they gave.

``Only Sinn Féin and the IRA upheld their parts of the agreed sequence.

``This has caused profound difficulties for the Sinn Féin leadership. Many republicans have raised what they and I consider to be reasonable questions about our handling of that episode,'' he said.

``The irony of it all is that there is no doubt, even among its detractors and opponents, about the significance of the IRA's act,'' Mr Adams said.

He said that despite what happened subsequently, he wanted to make it clear that he stood over the remarks he made then in setting out a peaceful direction for his movement because he believed that to be the ``proper position''.

``I will argue that position with anyone... But the British prime minister and the Taoiseach must deliver also. They must stand up to the rejectionists. They too must take risks for peace.''

Mr Adams said DUP leader Ian Paisley and UUP leader David Trimble were fighting for control of unionism, both trying to prove how tough they were. But he cautioned that while they played their power games, ``the peace process stalls and withers''.

Sooner or later Sinn Féin and the unionists must begin a real, anti-sectarian dialogue, he said. He said the DUP was now the senior unionist party and the logic of its position was that it should be in government with Sinn Féin.

He rejected any attempt to exclude Sinn Féin from power-sharing in the North.

``We recognise and respect the mandate of the DUP - they must recognise and respect our mandate.''

Turning to the 26 Counties, he said parties in the south must also respect the Sinn Féin mandate.

``The battle lines have been drawn for the next contest. Between now and June and the local government and European Union elections we can expect more nonsense from Minister McDowell (the minister for justice in the 26 Counties).

``The Taoiseach and Fianna Fail should not be part of this short-sighted anti-republican agenda.''

Mr Adams criticised the Dublin government for failing to represent Irish national interests and insisted his party had an ``alternative, radical republican'' point of view.

``British government strategy aims first and foremost to serve British national interests. Are Irish national interests the primary focus of Irish government strategy, now or over the past five, or 30, or 80 years? The answer, unfortunately, is no. The Barron report is eloquent, tragic, pathetic testimony to that.

``Conservative and neo-unionist elements in the south serve only their own narrow interests which in some cases are fundamentally anti-republican and pro-partitionist; and at times against the national interest. They are comfortable with the status quo. It has served them well.''


More than 2,000 Sinn Féin members attended the Sinn Féin annual conference over the weekend, as well as visitors and dignitaries from a number of countries.

The Ard Fheis was opened by the party's European election candidate in Dublin, Marylou McDonald, under the theme 'Building an Ireland of Equals'.

In a speech on Sunday, Sinn Féin chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness, said he was pessimistic about the ongoing review of the Good Friday Agreement.

``As to the prospects of the review, well, we can be certain of one thing. It will not lead us out of the current stalemate. It was not designed to deal with a crisis in the agreement,'' he said.

Mr McGuinness described the current stalemate in the peace process as ``a dangerous crisis'', adding that it had not begun a week ago outside a bar in Belfast -- referring to the alleged abduction of a dissident republican in an incident which the mainstream IRA has denied it sanctioned.

``It is not a crisis around the IRA or IRA intentions. The institutions have been suspended now for almost 18 months. This is the fourth suspension.

``In the same period, the IRA have taken a number of initiatives to move the process forward, whereas both governments, and particularly the British government, have failed repeatedly to deliver on their commitments. In the same period, the securocrats have succeeded in stalling the process of change. But that is all they have managed to do. They have not halted this process, nor have they reversed it. Nor will we allow them to.''

He said it would be interesting to see how the review addressed the issue of loyalist violence and DUP links to paramilitarism.

Mr McGuinness said that anti-agreement unionist political forces, with the assistance of sections of the British system, were now setting the political agenda. He added that the British security system, in the form of the PSNI, had stepped in with the bogus raid of Sinn Féin government offices known as 'Stormontgate'

``This was pure street-theatre,'' he said. ``In the past few weeks, it has been exposed as no more than an attempt to provide a spurious validation to David Trimble and provide a pretext for British government suspension of the institutions again.''

He said that instead of holding up its end of the agreement, and in a vain attempt to preserve him as the leader of unionism, the British government had chosen to cosset Mr David Trimble.

Sinn Féin's job, however, was to confront setbacks, deal with them and move on. Mr McGuinness said that it was ``absolute rubbish'' to blame republicans for the breakdown in the peace process.

He added that Sinn Féin and the IRA had delivered their part of the agreement as agreed.

``The IICD presided over a substantial act of putting arms beyond use and reported this. The UUP, however, at the point of delivery on their side, effectively walked away. Only they can explain why. And likewise with the two Governments. They failed to publish their joint statement and, thus far, they have failed to follow through on a range of commitments which formed part of this agreement.''

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