Basque process ‘should heed the Irish lesson’

Gerry Adams responds to the announcement by the Basque armed group Eta, confirming that organisations’ commitment to “a permanent and general ceasefire which will be verifiable by the international community”.

Many in the Basque country have taken a close interest in the peace process in Ireland. They hope to learn from the Irish experience in an effort to advance their own peace process.

In my view, a failure to grab opportunities and to build on initiatives led to the Irish peace process taking much longer to make progress than it should have. At times, arguments over words and their interpretation were elevated to pre-conditions which in some instances almost led to the destruction of the process. This should be avoided in the Basque situation.

Yesterday’s statement follows Eta’s announcement on 5 September that it had taken a decision to halt “offensive military action”. On that occasion Eta said that it was time to build a democratic framework for the Basque country.

These developments did not happen by chance. They came at the end of a long process of internal strategising among Basque parties, trade unionists and political activists.

The new strategy commits Basque participants to “exclusively political and democratic means” and seeks to achieve political change “in a complete absence of violence and without interference” and “conducted in accordance with the Mitchell Principles”. This strategy finds its echo in the statements by Eta since September, so the statement should not be judged in isolation. It is a serious effort to make progress through peaceful and democratic means and should be encouraged.

There is also a need for confidence-building measures from the Spanish government to create a better climate for progress. For example, Arnaldo Ortegi should be released. Arnaldo is a key leader of the Basque independence movement. He is a committed supporter of the need to develop a democratic process. His continued imprisonment is unjust. It is also an obstacle to the development of a process for peace-making and positive change.

The government should immediately lift the restrictions imposed upon political activists in the Basque country and in particular the ban on Batasuna. Peace processes are challenging. Especially for governments. But they are better than war. And as the Irish peace process proves, against all the odds, they can succeed.

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