29 June 2001
In this article the Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams MP MLA , gives his assessment of the current crisis in the peace process; his reaction to Mr Trimble's threatened resignation; his view of how the arms issue can be satisfactorily resolved; and the role of the two governments in defending the rights and entitlements of citizens, in implementing the Good Friday agreement and advancing the peace process
Three weeks have now passed since the recent elections, and many people will have had the opportunity to absorb the meaning of the rise in the Sinn Fein vote in the North and the Nice Treaty result in the South.
There has been much comment on both these issues, and it is now appropriate that I should outline the Sinn Fein view of these developments and the pending resignation of David Trimble as First Minister.
I will deal with the Nice Treaty result first. While the rejection of the Government's position was undoubtedly a disappointment to both Coalition parties and others who called for a Yes vote, the Government's response to the people's decision has been entirely inappropriate.
The Taoiseach should have made it clear that the implementation of Nice cannot go ahead because Irish citizens have refused to ratify it by referendum. Could anyone imagine any other European government being lectured to as the Irish Government and, by extension, as the Irish people were this week by the EU Commission President, Romano Prodi?
What is required is for the Government to accept and to deliver on the mandate it has been given. Anything less is unacceptable. To suggest that there can be reruns of the referendum until the Government gets the result it wants is totally wrong. By rejecting the Nice Treaty the electorate has called a halt to the process aimed at creating a two-tier European Union and a European superstate.
The onus is on the Government to respond to these concerns, particularly in relation to the Rapid Reaction Force, sovereignty and the loss of an EU Commissioner.
The Northern elections
The electoral gains for Sinn Fein have been seized upon as an ultimatum to the IRA to surrender its weapons and for Sinn Fein to be held responsible for David Trimble's self-imposed resignation. These demands ignore the Good Friday agreement, the election results and the Sinn Fein mandate, which was clearly an endorsement of the manner in which we have been handling the peace process including the arms issue.
Furthermore, some of those who are most vociferous and strident on this issue actively worked against Sinn Fein in the elections. Most of the editorial writers supported our opponents. Senior representatives of all the main parties in the South campaigned against us in our constituencies.
This is their entitlement, of course, but they cannot have it both ways.
They have to respect our mandate and our rights and entitlements as citizens and as elected representatives. They have to support the Good Friday agreement as negotiated.
Instead they appear to be making the surrender of IRA weapons a precondition on the rights of citizens. Not only is this a breach of the Good Friday agreement but it is also patently counterproductive.
For both these reasons those who have moved to this position should move back to the Good Friday agreement.
A strategy for dealing with weapons
For my part I believe that the issue of weapons will be successfully resolved. Certainly from the Irish republican perspective I believe that the gun will be taken out of Irish politics. In saying this, unlike others, I am also very mindful of all the other guns which infect our politics and which are in loyalist and British hands and now in daily use.
Sinn Fein, acting upon our obligations under the Good Friday agreement and because we are genuinely committed to a peaceful Ireland, have worked at developing a strategy to create conditions for putting weapons beyond use.
If we had not, or if the IRA had not responded positively, perhaps there would be a legitimate point to the stridency of those who are attacking our party on this issue.
But we do have a strategy, though it is not our responsibility alone to devise one, and we have explained it in some length to both governments, the Ulster Unionist party, the SDLP and others. The development of this strategy and the strength of the recent Sinn Fein vote clearly could encourage others within republicanism to accept the merits of our approach.
But the near-hysteria and the irrational misrepresentation of what our vote means is hardly persuasive. My own view is that there is a party political edge to the irrational demands from within the parties with a nationalist electorate. They are using this issue against Sinn Fein in what I believe to be a futile attempt to arrest the growth of Irish republicanism.
Mr Trimble's mistake
Mr Trimble's position is an entirely different matter. Having fought an election campaign on a platform of what the UUP delivered he is now about to throw away all that. Even in terms of the effect his resignation will have on would-be investors, on tourism, on the economy, on community relations - all issues in which he has proclaimed an interest - his resignation just does not make sense.
It particularly doesn't make sense in terms of achieving his two stated objectives: ``devolution and decommissioning''. His assertion that the IRA only acts under pressure is an obvious invitation for that organisation to prove otherwise; the same as it did with Brian Faulkner, Roy Mason, Margaret Thatcher and others who made the same mistake that Mr Trimble appears to be committed to making.
The UUP can no more pressurise the IRA than the IRA can pressurise the UUP.
Politics must be underpinned, not undermined. So Mr Trimble's threat will not work. But if he insists on resigning, then resign he will, compelled by his own logic and tactics.
Whatever he proves to himself or his supporters, many nationalists and republicans who want this process to work will conclude that the current leaders of unionism are not up to the challenge of living on equal terms with their neighbours.
Putting weapons beyond use
So what is Sinn Fein's strategy for putting IRA weapons beyond use? It is about making politics work. It is about implementing the Good Friday agreement, not rewriting it. It is about building real politics so that people feel empowered democratically.
The length of the IRA cessations now in their seventh year is evidence that that organisation is prepared to embrace such a possibility. The continued silence of IRA guns, the various initiatives to underscore this and the IRA's engagement with the IICD are all positive and unprecedented developments which, if properly nurtured, will have a positive outcome.
The UUP leader's claim that the IRA has broken promises is totally untrue. I know as a result of my efforts to resolve this issue that Mr Trimble's oft-repeated and unfounded claim is counterproductive.
The IRA's promise is contained in its statement of May 6th last year. This statement was a huge advance on previous proclamations of ``Not an ounce, not a bullet''. Instead the IRA declared that it was prepared to put arms beyond use and it explained the context in which it would do this. The Sinn Fein strategy aims to create that context. But, of course, we cannot do this on our own. We can only do our best. But peace-making and confidence-building are a collective business.
Great progress has been made in recent years. Not enough and at too slow a pace for many republicans, and too much, too quickly for others.
But we must persevere. Inevitably, as in any process of conflict resolution there are particular issues that for a time are a focus of controversy and difficulty. These must be overcome, and as we tackle these matters we should not forget that, despite everything, things are better; not good enough yet, but better than they have been.
Refusing to nominate Sinn Fein ministers or preventing the all-Ireland aspects of the agreement from functioning could not be described as helpful.
Neither is the British government's refusal to demilitarise, or to establish an accountable, representative civic police service which is free from partisan political control. Moreover, where is the fair and impartial system of justice we agreed? The effective safeguards for human rights? The right to freedom from sectarian harassment? All of these and much more are yet to be delivered.
The Good Friday agreement is about creating a new political dispensation based on equality and parity of esteem. How is this to be achieved by making an objective of a peace process a precondition for the political process? How can the two governments square this with their stated objectives to implement the Good Friday agreement? Has the agreement become the Good Friday agreement as interpreted by unionism, subject to continuous renegotiation, or are the governments genuinely committed to the historic compromise endorsed by citizens in referendums in May 1998?
The process will work
It is make-your-mind-up time for both the Irish and British governments. For our part Sinn Fein will do everything we can to make this process survive and deliver.
But the governments need to consider what real progress is possible if they pander to unionism. Do they do that, or do they continue with the difficult and challenging task of making this process work including the daunting work of taking all of the weapons out of Irish politics? I am convinced that this process is going to work. That has been my conviction in other even more difficult times. Whether it works with or without David Trimble is up to him. I have never made a commitment to Mr Trimble, or indeed to anyone else, that I have not kept. That is why I do not make commitments lightly. Both the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister know that.
For my part an essential objective of the peace process is creating the circumstances in which the IRA and other armed groups become part of our past. Some want to see the IRA defeated: I want to see it in happy retirement. But that goal will be easier to achieve if parties to the agreement work together.
Sinn Fein has a large mandate. We have a moral as well as a political imperative to use that mandate wisely and for the benefit of all sections of our people. Our mandate strengthens the peace process, but only if it is respected and defended by others, not least the two governments.
Rights and entitlements
The governments cannot make the delivery of all outstanding aspects of the Good Friday agreement conditional upon a unionist veto. It would be far better if the institutions were in place and functioning fully, and neither government should countenance the suspension of the institutions.
But if unionists are not prepared to work the institutions then the governments have the responsibility to deliver on all other issues while protecting the institutions until such a time as unionists are prepared to work them.
Citizens' rights, the equality agenda, the issue of policing and demilitarisation, justice matters, are all currently the responsibility of the two governments. They should discharge this responsibility forthwith despite unionist protestations.
Only in this way, by sensitively but resolutely changing the conditions in which people live and guaranteeing everyone's rights can we change the way people, and particularly those who oppose change, respond to that change.
The two governments need to make it clear to everyone that they are going ahead to deliver upon the Good Friday agreement and to create the level playing field that it envisages.
I believe this is best managed by all the parties, collectively facing up to our responsibilities and playing our full part. However, if for whatever reason any party is not prepared to do this then the governments have to move ahead.
Sinn Fein Press Office, 44 Parnell Square, Dublin 1
Tel: +353-1-8726100 and +353-1-8726839 · Fax +353-1-8733074
E-mail: email@example.com · Website: http://www.sinnfein.org
Sinn Fein Home Page · Sinn Fein Documents