By Gerry Adams MP (for the Irish Voice)
This week saw a little flurry of media speculation around the talks process. This attention was sparked by remarks from both the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, and the British Secretary of State Paul Murphy. They separately indicated some optimism that the process could see a breakthrough in the short term.
I have to say that such remarks always irritate me and I always wonder why they are made. Perhaps it’s no more than the compulsion of politicians to be positive. Perhaps it is a political instinct to have fingerprints on a process just in case there is a breakthrough. Whatever the reason when you hear such off the cuff comments from either of the two governments, take it with a pinch of salt.
Of course, a breakthrough is possible. That’s what we’re working for and it will happen but better to wait until it is actually achieved before flagging it up. The British Secretary of State also disclosed that there were ongoing intensive discussions. There’s no great deal about that, I suppose. We have all the time been engaged with the two governments in an effort to see the outstanding issues resolved. But no matter how much they may pretend or present themselves to the contrary, not all the parties are involved in this process. That’s not Sinn Féin’s doing or our wish, but I’m sure they are irked to hear public confirmation of such a process because it reduces them to the role of spectators and that can’t be good.
So what is happening?
I won’t commit the sin I have accused the governments of, but by following the logic of their utterances over the last number of months it is possible to form certain conclusions. For example, in June there were all-party discussions hosted by both governments in Lancaster House in London. These, despite Sinn Féin protests were brought to a halt because of the advent of theorange marching season and because senior DUP representatives had to go to Harvard. Obviously on business much more important than the effort to get a breakthrough back home.
In their absence the big task for the rest of us was to try to get a peaceful summer. We succeeded. Only just.
The next summit was at Leeds Castle. There the two governments told the world that they were satisfied that the IRA was going to make an unprecedented contribution to the process. The DUP appeared to hit a wobble. It was obvious to everyone that the IRA would only move in the context of a comprehensive agreement. As I said at the time the IRA was unlikely to move for less than the Good Friday Agreement.
So where stood the DUP? For their part they have been sending positive signals. They said they were for power sharing. Ian Paisley visited Dublin to meet with the Taoiseach as part of a publicly stated desire to build good neighbourliness. All this was positive and welcome but a month after the Leeds Talks the process is no further on. If the governments are satisfied with what they have proclaimed the IRA is going to do then who are they waiting on? Obviously the DUP. And if Ministers Ahern and Murphy have said there is going to be a breakthrough then clearly the logic of their position is that this must be coming from the DUP. I see no evidence of that, though it is possible.
As I understand it the DUP are seeking changes in the Agreement which would alter its fundamentals. Regular Irish Voice readers may know the governments have ruled this out, and I hope they are serious about this. But I have concerns, not least because both governments have tampered with the Agreement already. The suspension of the institutions is one example of this. The power which a British Minister now has, contrary to the Agreement, to take action against Irish political parties is another example.
The DUP are also making their own particular demands of the IRA at a time when their newly proclaimed conversion to power sharing has yet to move beyond the rhetoric. In fact in every local government council where the DUP has majority power in the north of Ireland they refuse to share power.
There is also the issue of policing. The DUP is a devolutionist party and obviously it would like to see the powers of policing and justice transferred from London toBelfast, but thus far it has resisted efforts to do this. Why?
So, from all of the above there is still a mountain to climb for Ian Paisley's party. I hope the two Ministers are right. Sinn Féin is leaving no stone unturned in our effort to bring about a breakthrough. The big question arising from the Ministers remarks is what do they do if there is not a breakthrough?
How long must we wait for the DUP to come into the real world?