Seizing the moment in the Basque Country
Seizing the moment in the Basque Country

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams spoke at the International Conference to promote the resolution of the conflict in the Basque Country, in San Sebastian on Monday.

The Nobel Irish poet Seamus Heaney’s ‘The Cure Troy’ catches at once the despair of conflict and the hope of peace and justice.

For many, the conflict in Ireland, rooted in centuries of war and division, and violence seemed intractable.

Every generation had known war - and between the cycles of violence there was the despair of oppression and discrimination, of instability and institutional violence.

The cycle seemed destined to continue into a depressing future.

Seamus Heaney wrote: ‘Human beings suffer They torture one another They get hurt and get hard..’

But there were some who dared to dream and to hope of a different way; to look to Heaney’s ‘far side of revenge’ and to believe it is possible to achieve peace.

And this is where it must begin.

To believe it’s possible to break the cycle to see beyond the conflict, to make hope and history rhyme.

I am here as a guest. Not to be prescriptive, not to pretend I know more than the people who live here, about what caused your conflict.

I am here on behalf of Sinn Fein to help.

Ireland enjoys a long historic relationship with the Spanish, the French and the Basque people.

I am here as a friend.

The participants in the conflict in the Basque country have different views of its origins and of its solution.

The key to making progress, the first step that is needed, is a willingness and a determination from all involved to agree to talk to each other.

This needs leadership.

Violence usually occurs when people believe that there is no alternative.

Transforming a situation from conflict to peace requires therefore that an alternative is created.

A good faith engagement is essential.

Anything less is counter productive and wrong.

Making peace therefore is hugely challenging and enormously difficult.

It demands that we seek to understand what motivates, what inspires, what drives their opponent.

Ultimately, as Madiba - Nelson Mandela - said, we have to make friends with our enemy.

Each conflict is different but in the course of our efforts Irish republicans learned that there are general principles of peace making, methods of conflict resolution, that can be applied elsewhere and which can help end conflict if applied properly.

These elements include:

* The imperative of 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.

* 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 time frames. This will provide a dynamic and a measurement of progress.

* Participants must stay focused and be prepared to take risks and engage in initiatives and confidence building measures.

But if there is a starting point it must be dialogue.

Over and above all other elements this is the foundation upon which any progress will be built.

At this point trust does not exist. That is a reality. But trust will be built as the process succeeds and advances.

Dialogue is the key first step.

And creating the climate in which dialogue can take place is crucial.

In this context confidence building measures are crucial.

In Ireland this meant, among other things improving conditions for prisoners, including moving those who were in England closer to their homes in Ireland.

It meant demilitarizing the environment and ending the use of emergency laws and repression and a new beginning to policing.

It meant respecting and acknowledging the democratic rights of all political parties and treating them as equals.

It means the electorate having the right to vote for candidates and political parties of their choice.

That requires the release of political prisoners so that they can help build a new dispensation.

Peace processes are challenging for every participant but especially for governments.

There will be ups and downs. There could be breakthroughs and breakdowns.

But in Ireland Sinn Fein never gave up. So you must never give up.

I believe there is a real opportunity at this time to achieve a peaceful outcome to decades of conflict.

The onus is on all political leaders and others to grasp this opportunity.

I wish you all well in this historic endeavour.

Tapaidh an deis - seize the moment.

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