Exploring different routes to peace

The following is the text of a keynote address by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams delivered at a special event on Wednesday night [31st October ] organised in aid of the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace.

Let me begin by thanking Colin and Wendy Parry, and the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace, and Clifford Chance, for the invitation to speak tonight.

14 years ago two IRA bombs exploded in Warrington. Johnathan was killed immediately and Tim died six days later. The Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace is an optimistic example of how people, who have been grievously hurt, are able to meet that challenge head on and to produce something good and constructive, and positive and compassionate, from it.

I therefore want to acknowledge Colin and Wendy Parry’s personal journey and how they have created this positive space from the place of deep trauma and grief they personally experienced.

Irish republicans -- the IRA -- was responsible for what happened that day. It brought huge grief to these two families, as well as to others hurt in that incident. The IRA expressed its regret at what had happened. In 2002 it apologised to all those non combatants it had killed or injured and their families.

I have also expressed my personal and sincere regret, and apologised for the hurt inflicted by republicans. I do so again this evening. This is the right and proper thing to do.

As we seek to move forward there is a requirement that we address the tragic human consequences of our past. Therefore in my remarks this evening I want to talk about the issues of truth, and victims and reconciliation.

But before I do so, let me say a few words on this issue of Peace, and the process of finding and exploring different routes out of conflict and to peace. There are many different forms of conflict in the world today.

Seeking to find ways to end these conflicts requires a hard, honest evaluation of each situation; as well as an understanding of the root causes of the specific conflict; and then the application of broad principles of conflict resolution. Sounds easy, but look around the world today and obviously it isn’t.

This is for many reasons. Governments that go to war are able to exercise enormous influence over the media and how it reports war.

There are non governmental organisations; multi-national companies; liberation movements; political parties; ethnic groups; religious zealots; military systems; armed groups; ideologues; racists and bigots, influential sections of the media and others, who all have their own agenda -- their own goals and objectives -- their own self-interest.

Finding a route through all of these competing forces is enormously difficult.

And it was no less so in the Anglo-Irish conflict. The war in Ireland grew out of centuries of British colonial policy. The imposition almost 90 years ago of partition and the creation of a sectarian, unionist dominated state in the north-east 6 counties significantly added to the problem

On the one side there were nationalists and republicans who were denied basic human and civil rights, including the right to vote, access to housing and work.

The north existed under a permanent state of emergency, with special laws, special courts and a range of state armed paramilitary organisations to implement its will.

The civil rights campaign of the 1960s was an attempt to initiate reform.

The demands were simple -- the right to vote, an end to discrimination in jobs and housing, and the repeal of the special laws.

On the other side was the unionist government, the unionist establishment and the British government.

The failure of unionists and the indifference and refusal of successive British governments to ensure that nationalists were fairly and justly treated, led to a series of repressive measures and attacks on civil right marches.

Ireland was thrown into crisis.

In the north the state police attacked nationalist areas. Unionist paramilitaries and mobs carried out a series of pogroms. People were killed. Hundreds of homes were destroyed and thousands fled as refugees.

The IRA, which up that point barely existed, reorganised and reformed. The British government intervened, primarily in support of the unionist state. New oppressive laws were introduced. The state was heavily militarised. A failure of political leadership saw the situation slide inexorably into war. It was a long, vicious, deadly war.

The IRA fought a wide ranging guerrilla campaign which drew its lessons from previous such periods in Irish history, as well as from contemporary experience around the world.

British tactics were drawn from decades of experience fighting in colonial wars in Kenya, Malaya, Cyprus, Aden and elsewhere.

Their counter-insurgency strategy involved reshaping the judiciary, the law, the police and the media. Listen to what their acknowledged expert on this approach Brigadier General Kitson said -- and then think of the erosion of civil rights in Britain and of Iraq. Kitson said:

‘Everything done by a government and its agents in combating insurgency must be legitimate. But this does not mean that the government must work within exactly the same set of laws during an emergency as existed before hand. The law should be used as just another weapon in the government’s arsenal, in which case it becomes little more than a propaganda cover for the disposal of unwanted members of the public.’

Thousands were killed and injured, tens of thousands imprisoned, many without trial, there was massive destruction, a whole new plethora of repressive laws were introduced, including media censorship, and widespread collusion was institutionalised within the British state between British state forces and unionist death squads. This included the provision of files by British government agencies to unionist paramilitaries on individuals, as well as weapons and weapons training. Hundreds of citizens were killed through this policy.

By the mid to late 1970s it was obvious that there was a military stalemate. The British could not defeat the IRA -- the IRA could not militarily defeat the British.

And the violence continued with each side seeking to develop new strategies, new tactics, new and more deadly ways of killing each other.

Within republicanism, armed struggle was the dominating tendency. There was a belief that only the IRA could move the British government. There may have been misgivings or serious concerns about particular military operations but there was no real dissent from armed struggle. It was taken for granted that that was the way of things.

While I was of the view that no military solution was possible I also felt armed struggle was a necessary form of struggle and I defended this position without being dogmatic about it.

But how to break the impasse?

The Sinn Féin leadership carefully considered this and concluded that if the impasse was to be broken then republicans needed to go on a political offensive. And we realised very early on that this would require republicans taking initiatives. At its core it would require Sinn Féin constructing a viable political alternative to armed struggle which could deliver republican goals.

In a letter I wrote in the early 1980s to Catholic Bishop Cahal Daly, who was a vocal opponent of republicans I said: ‘Those republicans who engage in armed struggle, or who defend the legitimacy of armed struggle in pursuance of Irish independence, do so, not through any fixation with physical force, but through a necessity. Those who voice a moral condemnation of this tactic have a responsibility to spell out an alternative course by which Irish independence can be secured. I for one would be pleased to consider such an alternative.’

I have to say it became clear very quickly to me and to others in our leadership that if we were to wait on others providing the alternative it would never happen. They were locked in a mindset.

The preoccupation of our political opponents was to defeat republicans. But slowly and very privately we began to reach out to others. John Hume. People from within the protestant churches. And by the early 1990’s we were in contact with the Irish government, and through friends in the US we were reaching out to Irish America and through them eventually to US Presidential hopeful Bill Clinton.

And in this way, slowly, and with great difficulty we began to put together a package which held out the possibility of creating an alternative to war.

The position of the IRA was to continue the war. The IRA leadership was open to the idea of supporting a peace process but it was also committed to pursuing the armed struggle. Essentially the IRA leadership had to consider whether the package -- the alternative --had the potential to advance republican and democratic goals.

My task and that of Martin McGuinness, was to convince the IRA leadership that ending armed actions didn’t mean giving up republican objectives. It meant creating an unarmed struggle in which republican and democratic objectives could be pursued by peaceful and democratic means.The IRA leadership agreed and the cessation that followed lasted a year and a half. The Major government failed to take up the challenge.The new Blair government in May 1997 did engage and a second cessation in July of that year saw the beginning of a process which led to the Good Friday Agreement less than a year later.

Of course getting the Agreement was one thing. Implementing it has been another. And here too patience and perseverance and a willingness to take risks and take initiatives are crucial.

The process has had its ups and downs. Serious efforts have been made by some unionist political leaders, unionist paramilitaries and elements within the British military and political system, to undermine the process.

There are a small number of so-called ‘dissident republicans’ who have similarly opposed it.

In April 2005 I pointed out that there was now an alternative to armed struggle and I appealed to the IRA to ‘fully embrace and accept this alternative.’ Several months later in July the IRA formally ordered an end to the armed campaign.

In September the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning and the IRA and the two witnesses confirmed that the process to put arms beyond use had been completed.

Two more torturous years of negotiating continued beyond that but finally this year, in March, Ian Paisley and I struck a deal for the restoration of the political institutions.

And in May the power sharing Executive, the Assembly, and the all-Ireland political institutions and cross border bodies, were all fully restored with Ian Paisley as First Minister and Martin McGuinness as Deputy First Minister -- equals -- running the north’s new institutions.

A remarkable transformation from where we all were. Of course, we still have a long way to go to fully bed down the institutions. Last week we all took another important step forward with the publication of an agreed three year Programme for Government, and Budget, and an investment programme aimed at tackling inequality, poverty and discrimination.

And in all of this it is important to remember that I am still an Irish republican.

I want a free, sovereign independent Ireland. I want the British government out of Irish affairs, partition ended and the Irish people independently charting our own future. Unionists are still unionists. But we each, unionists and republicans, now have a peaceful, democratic process in which we can pursue our political goals, while at the same time allowing all of us to tackle the many other hard issues like sectarianism, racism, poverty, inequality and discrimination.

It has taken all of us, governments and political parties, and armed groups and people, a long time to get to this point. Could it have been achieved earlier? I honestly don’t know.

It happened when it did as republicans developed our peace strategy; when others in Ireland, in Britain and in the USA were prepared to engage positively with it. It certainly required some key individuals being prepared to give leadership and take tough decision -- on the republican side as well as people like John Hume; Albert Reynolds; Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. So we have a long way still to go on our journey.

I have also learned that there are principles of peace making, methods of conflict resolution, that can help end conflict if applied properly.

The basic tenets on which we based our approach were spelt out in our strategy document Towards a Lasting Peace in Ireland which was published in 1992:

To seek to political engage our political opponents and enemies alike

To bring about the exercise of the right to national self-determination by the Irish people as a whole

To establish a peace process to bring this about

To win international support for these positions

At that time most of our political opponents ignored this document while sections of the media derided our efforts. But with hindsight it is possible to see the centrality of this approach to subsequent progress.

While clearly no two conflicts are exactly the same the broad principles to address and resolve differences are very similar and can be adapted to suit specific needs.

These elements are:

There must be dialogue. That means talking to the enemy.

The process must tackle the many causes which lie at the heart of the conflict

There must be a good faith engagement by all sides

The process must be inclusive -- with all parties treated as equals and mandates respected

All issues must be on the agenda, with nothing agreed until everything is agreed

There can be no pre-conditions

There can be no vetoes

There can be no attempt to pre-determine the outcome, or preclude any outcome

And there should be a time frame. This will provide a dynamic.

Participants must stay focussed and be prepared to take risks and engage in initiatives to advance the process

I believe if these elements are honestly applied by participants that they can make a real difference.

Finally, let me address the issue I raised at the beginning of my remarks - the issue of truth, of victims, of processes of acknowledgement and of reconciliation. Those of us charged with political responsibility must agree and deliver a process that is meaningful and substantive. A truth process to deal with the war in Ireland must be victim centred and inform future generations of the lessons from our conflict.

It must be a process that can deliver the truth to bereaved families as a result of independent investigation. And it must analyse the policies and practices that sustained and fuelled the conflict.

Being victim centred means that it must embrace all the victims, of all the protagonists; those who live here in England or in many places in the South of Ireland are often doubly isolated because of geography and because of their experience.

A truth process must reach out to these people.

One way of achieving an independent process is to have an international inquiry. The United Nations or another reputable agency could be involved. In Ireland many of the victims groups are looking at this proposition for an Independent International Truth Commission and I have met them on this. I think there is merit in this idea.

Sinn Féin will wait until the families and groups involved have concluded their deliberations before coming to our own decisions on this matter. It is especially time for the British government to stop procrastinating and stalling.

British actions led directly to the deaths of almost 400 people and many hundreds of others who died as a result of collusion. The issue of state killings and collusion must be dealt with.

Brushing it under the carpet, revising our history to exorcise the role of the British state in fomenting and prolonging conflict in our country, is in no ones interest -- especially the families. So, in seeking to put in place a proposal which deals with the needs of all victims we must all be generous and openhearted. That applies in special measure to those of us with political responsibility for our process of transition.

Acknowledgement and reconciliation are critical to reconciling our past with our hopes for our future. An American President Abraham Lincoln seeking to tackle the legacy of five years of bloody civil war in that country sought to articulate a vision for his battered nation. It is no less appropriate for us in our time.

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

As an Irish republican and as a democrat I remain convinced of the right of the people of the island of Ireland to shape our own future from outside interference.

In my view our future will be best served by ending the union and removing partition. There is now a democratic and peaceful way to achieve these objectives. That means shaping society and politics in Ireland so that all sections of our people are secure and cherished.

That my friends is our task -- Let us make it happen.

Finally may I once again thank Colin and Wendy for the opportunity to speak here today.

And thank you once again for the remarkable grace with which you have borne the awful loss of your son Tim.

Urgent Appeal

Despite increasing support for Irish freedom and unity, we need your help to overcome British and unionist intransigence. We can end the denial of our rights in relation to Brexit, the Irish language, a border poll and legacy issues, with your support.

Please support IRN now to help us continue reporting and campaigning for our national rights. Even one pound a month can make a big difference for us.

Your contribution can be made with a credit or debit card by clicking below. A continuing monthly donation of £2 or more will give you full access to this site. Thank you. Go raibh míle maith agat.

© 2007 Irish Republican News