Irish Republican News · December 22, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Opportunity for leap forward
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams has responded to accusations by the rival SDLP that his party has allowed the 1998 Good Friday Agreement to be eroded in recent draft proposals for a new agreement involving the Dublin and London governments, Ian Paisley’s DUP and the Provisional IRA.


Sinn Féin engaged in the recent negotiations with two clear objectives. Firstly, to defend the fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement and to ensure its full implementation, and secondly, to get the DUP to sign on for the process of political change.

We secured the first.

Indeed Sinn Féin made significant advances across a range of issues, including the operation of the Agreement, and I deal with these below.

While the comprehensive agreement has not been implemented because of an unachievable DUP demand for humiliation, the fact is that that party signed up to the all-Ireland institutions, the Executive and interlocking bodies, and the equality and human rights agenda.

All of this is beyond question. However, for the most narrow, party political reasons, the SDLP has represented improvements in the operation of the Agree-ment as concessions to the DUP.

The SDLP is wrong.

It is wrong when they claim that the DUP achieved vetoes that did not exist before. The DUP’s starting point was that they did not want to vote for a Sinn Féin deputy first minister.

The DUP now have to vote for all Sinn Féin and indeed all SDLP ministers. Nor can the DUP use this election as a veto over individual ministers because Sinn Féin, anticipating this, ensured that, once nominated, the panel of ministers cannot be changed by the DUP or by anyone else.

The DUP also wanted a veto over decisions made by nationalist ministers. They did not get this veto. There is only one change to the Ministerial code.

This change, proposed by Sinn Féin, allows the First and Deputy First minister, by agreement between them, to review a ministerial decision in the Execut-ive. This is a sensible improvement to prevent the smaller parties pushing through unpopular decisions against the wishes of the majority in both sections of the community.

This is entirely consistent with the principles of power sharing.

Requiring Sinn Féin agreement is very, very far from the veto the DUP had sought.

The SDLP also chooses to ignore the major advances that Sinn Féin achieved in other areas of the Agreement:

  • The removal of the British governments power to suspend the Assembly

  • The removal of the Unionist veto over nationalist ministers attending all Ireland ministerial council meetings

  • The removal of the Unionist block on north south ministerial council meetings.

    In addition as a consequence of our determined efforts:

  • All ministers are required to attend the Executive - which the DUP refused to do in the past

  • All ministers are now required to attend North/South council meetings, which the DUP also refused to do in the past

  • All parties in the Executive are now required to observe the joint nature of the First and Deputy First Ministers, which the DUP had attempted to erode

  • The integrity of the north south institutions have been successfully defended

  • And the equality provisions in the Agreement have also been defended

    Sinn Féin also achieved further progress on a range of issues the SDLP had given up on, including:

  • Policing

  • Demilitarisation

  • Participation by northern MPs and MEPs in the Irish Parliament

  • The transfer of powers on Justice and Policing

  • The repeal of repressive


  • A peace dividend

  • The repair of the electoral register

  • New powers for the Human Rights Commission

  • Plastic bullets

  • Removal of the ban on non-British nationals in the senior civil service

  • The establishment of the North/South Interparliamentary forum

  • The establishment of the North/South civic forum

    By any measure all of this is a substantial piece of good work.

    However, in its increasingly desperate attempts to make itself relevant, the SDLP has made allegations and accusations against Sinn Féin which do not stand up to scrutiny.

    Moreover, Alex Attwood’s endorsement of Ian Paisley’s demand for the humiliation of republicans has shocked even its own supporters.

    The SDLP is the party that said it would not join the policing board without an inquiry into the killing of Pat Finucane and without a ban on plastic bullets.

    The SDLP joined the policing board, which has since purchased tens of thousands of plastic bullets; and there is still not the inquiry into the killing of Pat Finucane demanded by his family. Sinn Féin will not be deflected from central issues.

    The IRA has created a unique opportunity for progress. The comprehensive agreement now on the table is a remarkable achievement.

    But the DUP need to come into the real world. They need to recognise and accept the electoral mandate of Sinn Féin and the rights of Sinn Féin voters.

    The DUP need to learn that dialogue is central to negotiation and agreement and humiliation has no place in resolving differences. If he really wants to be part of this process Ian Paisley needs to meet and talk to me.

    So, let us set to one side the diversions and recriminations of recent days and concentrate on the substance of what has been achieved. The opportunity to make a leap forward exists.

    Let’s not lose it.

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    © 2004 Irish Republican News