By Gerry Adams
Each negotiation within the peace process presents its own particular and peculiar set of difficulties. It also presents opportunities. The current negotiation is no different and in many ways it is probably the most challenging any of us have had to face so far.
Speaking at Bodenstown in June I outlined Sinn Féin’s objective going into these discussions. It is a ‘comprehensive and holistic package, which deals with all of the outstanding matters in a way that is definitive and conclusive’. Later in August I said that in my view the spine of any agreement would have to be progress on the vexed issue of policing. These are significant goals to be achieved not just for Sinn Féin but also for the other parties, especially the DUP and the two governments.
Sinn Féin has repeatedly said that we are up for a deal; that we want to see the institutions restored and the outstanding issues resolved. There is also a general acceptance that the IRA is prepared to make an unprecedented and historical contribution to the peace process in the context of a comprehensive agreement between the two governments and the political parties.
It must be obvious that the IRA will not be convinced to do so in the context of any dilution of the Good Friday Agreement. Inevitably however there has been some confusion about the positions of the parties in the negotiations. On the one hand the two governments, and the DUP, have been saying that the DUP is not seeking changes to the fundamentals of the Agreement. But then what are the fundamentals? They include power-sharing between nationalists and unionists with legally entrenched checks and balances, protections and safeguards. These are enshrined in the Agreement and were designed to prevent a replay of unionist abuses. They also include the all-Ireland institutions, equality, human rights, and an acceptable and accountable civic police service.
When the Unionist government was collapsed 30 years ago that did not mean an end to unionist rule. That continued within the direct rule system, and particularly within the NIO. In addition, in local councils where unionists still exercise majority political control unionist parties refuse to engage in any power sharing arrangements. On the contrary their approach remains one of excluding Sinn Féin and SDLP councillors from even the most unimportant and inconsequential of council positions. The cost of this has been second class citizenship for nationalists. That has been the nationalist experience in the north since partition, along with institutionalised and structured political discrimination. It is this experience which demands that we defend the checks and balances in the Agreement which are the safeguards against future abuse.
What then are the issues of concern within the current negotiations? Firstly, the DUP are demanding that republicans do everything; and that only then will they talk to Sinn Féin. This refusal to talk to Sinn Féin is an attack on the rights of our electorate and a denial of our democratic mandate. It is unacceptable.
Secondly, the DUP time-frame for the re-establishment of the political institutions - in the context of an agreement - is much too long and is premised on their demand that we be tested! This is undemocratic offensive and unacceptable.
Next the DUP are demanding as a precondition that Sinn Féin endorse the current policing arrangements. Sinn Féin has been absolutely clear on this issue. The transfer of powers on policing and justice are an essential element to any delivery of democratic accountability of policing. So far the DUP position on a target date for transfer that is so vague and aspirational, and so far off, as to be meaningless. Nor has there been any negotiation around the modalities or the departmental model which is necessary for the legislative process to begin.
Finally, the DUP is also demanding changes to the Good Friday Agreement which would provide unionism with a veto over the work of republican and nationalist Ministers. This is not acceptable. All of this is evidence of a party - the DUP - which has not changed its opposition to the core values of the Good Friday Agreement. More worryingly the governments have been less than frank in telling the DUP that these changes to the fundamentals of the Agreement are not up for change.
The reality is that time is fast running out if we are to achieve a comprehensive agreement. In the short term if there is to be a successful outcome to the current negotiations then the governments and the DUP have to match the willingness of republicans to take initiatives and find compromises. For the DUP especially this is a huge challenge. Are they up for it? And are the governments making it clear to the DUP that the process of change will continue anyway?”