Good Friday Agreement marked ‘transition’
Good Friday Agreement marked ‘transition’

Unionists must be persuaded to scrap partition, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has said.

While he said the conflict was “over, finished and gone”, Mr Adams pointed out that the Good Friday Agreement represented an “accommodation” and a “transition”, rather than en end in itself.

Mr Adams was speaking at a high-profile symposium to mark the tenth anniversary of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

US Senator George Mitchell, who chaired the negotiations, warmly praised the key negotiators of the Good Friday Agreement, who he said had shown courage to make a deal “at a critical juncture in their society’s history”.

While many of the key participants have since departed the political scene -- and two, British Direct Ruler Mo Mowlam and PUP leader David Ervine have since died -- there was the celebratory air of a school reunion at the symposium.

The participants but also stressed that more work needed to be done including dealing with sectarianism, divisions, and the decommissioning of loyalist weapons.

Ten years on, General John de Chastelain, who heads the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, said he was continuing to have meetings with representatives of the unionist paramilitary UVF and UDA in an effort to finally deal with the arms issue.

General de Chastelain said the UVF had made a statement a number of months ago that they were putting their arms beyond reach but not with the commission.

“Our work is still to decommission involving the legislation and we are working to that end.

“Our job... is taking a long time, but we are still working at it ... and with the UDA [representatives] too,” he said.

“Weapons, whether they are used for criminal purposes rather than paramilitary, should not be there.

“I think it is important paramilitary groups that are still holding on to arms should let us deal with them in the way that was legislated for.”

General de Chastelain noted that, in the past, the Provisional IRA had been defiant about not giving up any weapons.

“For a long time in this part of the world some paramilitary groups said not one bullet, not one ounce but things did happen,” he said.

“Things will happen as long as the governments keep this commission in position to do that.”

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern emphasised the “courage and determination” of the parties in reaching the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

He was commenting after taking part in a two-hour discussion with key players in the negotiations that led to the accord 10 years ago.

Mr Ahern said there had been difficult times in the efforts to find agreement.

He said former Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble had a hard call to make but he took the risk for peace.

Mr Adams said people wanted the political process to work.

However, he warned of threats from what he called the outer reaches of unionism and from the fringes of nationalism.

There was a huge sea change between the political situation in the north at the beginning of this century and the 1960s, he said.

“Would that it had been accomplished without all of the turmoil in between. But that’s the way it was,” Mr Adams said.

“The last 10 years have been challenging but have also been very rewarding.

“There is a satisfaction that we have, despite all the odds, got to where we are at this point.

“We republicans have always seen the Good Friday Agreement as an accommodation.

“It is very much a transition. We want to see an end to partition, an end to the union.

“We accept that we have to persuade the unionists of the merits of that.

“After all it is incumbent on us who have a republican view of the future in which citizens are sovereign to ensure that those citizens who are currently unionists have a sense of shaping that future, a real involvement in it.”

The Sinn Féin President said the political process was now in a “phase of nation building”.

“A divided island and a divided people - but we are now building on matters of common interest and in the common good,” he said.

“That is a very good position to be in. It is a very optimistic, a very hopeful place that we are in at this time.”

Former British Direct Ruler Paul Murphy and former SDLP leader John Hume were also among those who took part in the symposium.

With Bertie Ahern replaced yesterday as Fianna Fail leader, Mr Adams is now the only party leader who was involved in the Good Friday negotiations to remain in post.

Mr Adams said he thought the next Sinn Féin president should be a southern politician.

“If you go back to when I was elected as party president, in my speech I made it clear that I came to the position very reluctantly, not least because I thought the president of the party should be from the south,” he said.

“That is on the public record.

“While I see myself very much as part of a collective leadership there is still the need to build across the entire island.”

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