Irish Republican News · August 8, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]

Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams has told republicans they need to be prepared to remove the IRA and the issue of weapons as an excuse for unionists to block political progress.

However, despite heralding a potentially historic concession to their demands, unionists have criticised Mr Adams’s remarks and have insisted on immediate IRA disbandment.

In an interview with the BBC, Mr Adams said the IRA might stand aside as part of an ongoing process of sustainable change, adding that the absence of such circumstances would create problems.

“I personally feel that while there are justifiable fears within unionism about the IRA and while people have concerns about the IRA, I think political unionism uses the IRA and the issue of IRA arms as a excuse,” he said.

“I think that republicans need to be prepared to remove that as an excuse.”

Mr Adams made a similar statement last year, in the context of an abortive deal to implement elements of the troubled 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

But by repeating the statement in very explicit terms in advance of critical negotiations next month, Mr Adams has surprised both his own supporters and his critics.

Unionists, meanwhile, pounced on the remarks and demanded more.

DUP assembly member Ian Paisley junior said “action, not words were needed”.

“Statements of this sort from Gerry Adams have become a regular occurrence,” he said.

“Sadly they are rarely backed up with the necessary action from the IRA.

“Mr Adams and the IRA need to come to terms with the fact that unionism will not accept anything less than serious, substantial and conclusive action from the IRA.”

Mr Adams today expressed “disappointment at the strident and belligerent criticism” of his remarks.

He said it reinforced his concern that political unionism is using the issue of the IRA and of IRA weapons as an excuse to obstruct progress in the peace process.

“I set out a context, involving the two governments and other parties, including Sinn Féin, which could empower the Sinn Féin leadership to persuade republicans to remove that excuse. Is that not also a desirable goal for the unionist parties? Are unionists so afraid of change that they would prefer to see armed groups and political instability continue?

“If the answer to this is no, that they do want to see an end to armed groups, and they do want to see political stability, do they have any sense of their responsibility and role in bringing this about?”

Intensive negotiations are set to take place in September in an attempt to get devolution restored in the North.

Talks have been taking place in advance of the negotiations, while gestures such as the appearance of DUP negotiator Jeffrey Donaldson at a meeting in republican west Belfast have been to be fuelling badly-needed good will into the process.

However, senior Ulster Unionist Reg Empey described Mr Adams’ remarks as only an attempt to raise the stakes ahead of next month’s negotiations.

“They are not going to go away easily or cheaply,” he said.

“They will try to maximise the amount of pressure they can bring to bear because once they lose the paramilitary wing then they are relying exclusively on their electoral mandate.”

Mr Adams said many people, including unionists, would have been left “depressed and despondent” by such a unionist response.

He said his party still wanted see “a holistic, definitive and conclusive closure” to all of the outstanding issues.

“For that goal to be achieved would require the DUP to face up to the challenge of talking to and sharing power with Sinn Féin and resolving matters as diverse as policing, human rights, equality and sectarianism.

“Are they up to it? I don’t know. For our part, 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.

“Many nationalists are justifiably sceptical about the DUP’s willingness or ability to face up to these issues, and today a number of people have said to me that Ian Paisley Jnr’s remarks is proof of that.”

An agreement in the talks next month will require a dramatic shift in the relationsship between Ian Paisley’s DUP and Mr Adams’s party. However, the Sinn Féin President has said there may be too much focus on the parties capacity to reach deal.

“In the first instance however it requires the two governments, as the principle guarantors of the Agreement and as those participants with the greatest power and influence, to exercise that power positively and dynamically and to deliver on their commitments. This is especially true of the British government.”

This could create a new “positive and liberating” political context for republicans and the DUP in which substantial progress could be made.

“However this means Tony Blair facing down the securocrats within the NIO and the British system who have worked diligently to subvert the Agreement. Is the British government up to that challenge?”

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© 2004 Irish Republican News