By Jim Gibney (for the Irish News)
In an unusually sharp and pointed criticism Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams publicly questioned the quality of the advice being given to US president George Bush, which is shaping his administration’s policy in relation to the peace process here.
Gerry Adams chose to make his criticism in Washington shortly before he attended the annual St Patrick’s Day celebrations in the White House.
His comments, widely reported in the media, centred on Mitchell Reiss, the US administration’s special adviser on the north.
The advice from Reiss led to a ban on Gerry Adams fundraising while in the US and the withdrawal last year of his invitation to the White House on St Patrick’s Day.
It has also led to a divisive policy on handling the relatives of people killed in the conflict. The White House is giving preferential treatment to one set of relatives over another.
Invitations to the White House for relatives of people killed by the British crown forces or loyalists are rare while an allegation of republican involvement in a death can open doors for some relatives.
There should be no hierarchy of victims anywhere.
During President Clinton’s term St Patrick’s Day in the White House was an inclusive and welcoming place for all involved in helping to unravel centuries of conflict here.
The occasion is now in danger of becoming an opportunity to ‘beat up’ on Sinn Féin.
Since the IRA’s first ceasefire in August 1994 the Washington administration has played an invaluable role assisting the peace process. This was due to a policy which was even handed and balanced.
The US administration has to be careful not to become a ‘player’ siding with the British or Irish governments or unionists.
They should maintain an independent path. This has served them and the peace process well.
Indeed a George Mitchell-type figure would be very helpful at this time.
The British and Irish government’s handling of the current situation is akin to a captain in charge of a rudderless ship. They appear to be making it up as they go along and doing so in a way which is aimed at currying favour with the DUP.
Over the last number of months this has resulted in questionable appointments by Peter Hain to the post of Victim’s Commissioner, the Parades Commission and the Policing Board.
The appointments to the Parades Commission included one Orangeman while there is no one from a republican background or a representative from a resident’s group on the body.
It also led to the situation where members of the Royal Irish Regiment (RIR), disbanded after an effective lobby by Sinn Féin, received a golden handshake to the tune of #250 million.
The British government’s decision to spend this huge sum of money, to soften the blow of this sectarian regiment’s welcome demise, is an insult to the many relatives of those Catholics killed by the UDR.
The RIR is the renamed UDR who were the renamed B Specials.
Many of those in the RIR at all levels served years in the UDR before embarrassment forced the British government to dissolve the UDR into the RIR.
The decision to handsomely reward the RIR shows where the British government’s priorities lie. They can find large sums of money when it suits but cannot find #6 million for Belfast’s Education and Library Board to educate the city’s children including those with special needs.
The British and Irish governments are presiding over a political vacuum while genuflecting towards the needs of the DUP.
The vacuum is of their making. Like a rabbit caught in the headlights of a car they are transfixed by the DUP whose failure to engage in dialogue is sucking momentum out of the peace process.
The government’s policy is being filtered through the outlook that the DUP are the ‘majority’ and nothing can be done unless they approve it.
While they dance around the DUP other parties are left to conjure up fanciful ideas about ‘shadow’, ‘corporate’, ‘interim’, assembly formations.
The only assembly worthy of forming is one compliant with and proofed against the aims and objectives of the Good Friday Agreement.
That should be everyone’s priority whether in Washington, London or Dublin.