12th February 2000
Setting the Record Straight
Speaking at a press conference today Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams MP along with party colleagues Martin McGuinness MP, Bairbre de Brún MLA and Gerry Kelly MLA said:
``I want to be very measured in what I say after yesterday's events. We are all in a very difficult situation as a result of Peter Mandelson's decision last night to collapse the political institutions.
His actions were driven by a unilateral unionist demand and deadline.
Last night's decision by Mr Mandelson has shaken confidence among nationalists and republicans in the approach of the British government and confirmed a perception among unionists that they have a veto.
The British Secretary of State has claimed that he did not know of the IRA position or the contents of the De Chastelain report before he suspended the institutions.
Let me say that both the British and Irish governments knew exactly what Sinn Fein was trying to do. They were part of this. And they knew the detail of each step as the situation progressed.
What was Sinn Fein trying to do?
Sinn Fein was trying to find a resolution to the arms issue and to do that within a time frame that would prevent the collapse of the institutions.
We had made that clear to both governments several weeks ago. We had also made it clear that this task was made more difficult by the British threat to suspend the institutions, by the way unionists had presented the Mitchell review, and by the general and orchestrated campaign by anti-republican elements to gang up on Sinn Fein.
Peter Mandelson was presented with a unionist threat. That David Trimble would resign if the IRA did not meet unionist demands. he was told that he would have to suspend the institutions. Mr Mandelson decided that he would suspend the institutions. This has been his focus for some time now.
For example this morning Reg Empey spoke on BBC of how the UUP had gone ``through the scenarios with Mr Mandelson last November...''
This has been the fraught context in which Sinn Fein has sought to avert last evening's disaster. There are those who will say that we were pressurised into this. I can tell you categorically that our concern, and we have spelt this out to the media over recent days, our concern has been to save the Good Friday Agreement and the institutions and to maintain stability in the peace process.
Our failure to save the institutions is the failure of politics in this part of our country.
I want to deal with the question of what the British government knew and didn't know about developments. We were in contact on a daily and sometimes a few times daily with officials from both governments and with senior Ministers including the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister, with the De Chastelain Commission and with the IRA and others. As the De Chastelain reports make clear the IRA was also on regular contact with it.
In the course of all of this the two governments were kept fully briefed by us on all developments.
For example, in paragraph 5 of the second De Chastelain report it describes an IRA position as ``particularly significant, and ......as valuable progress''. This position was communicated to the Commission in the middle of last week.
Sinn Fein discussed this with the two governments at that time. I give you this as an example of how w conducted this effort to save the institutions. So any suggestion that there was no knowledge of what was going on is a nonsense.
I don't want to take you through every wheel and turn of this so I will compress all of this into the period leading up to yesterday's suspension.
As part of very intense shuttle diplomacy an advanced IRA position was secured. I have since described this as a major breakthrough. We gave this to the Irish government in the early hours of Friday morning. Our meeting with them conclude at 4.30am.
Subsequently this position was passed to the British government.
I spoke to Tony Blair by phone about this around noon yesterday.
In the course of the afternoon I also spoke to the Taoiseach and to Peter Mandelson and Martin McGuinness and I were in contact on a number of occasions with senior British and Irish officials.
It had been my intention to meet with David Trimble. When it was not possible I asked Martin McGuinness to meet with him and to tell him that the IRA had put forward a new position. That took place at 2pm. If you have any questions about this Martin McGuinness will deal with that in due course.
I also asked Martin McGuinness to meet with the IICD. He did yesterday as well.
By this time the Commission had received the IRA's position. Martin McGuinness discussed these matters with the IICD for a short time and then contacted me by telephone and Martin and I formed a clear view that the second report would be positive and was imminent.
I spoke to Mr Mandelson around this time and on the basis of the new initiative I urged him not to collapse the institutions. It was obvious that he was intent on proceeding with suspension.
I also spoke to Mr Trimble by telephone and asked him to withdraw his resignation on the basis of this new initiative. He told me it was not enough.
In this context I decided that the public needed to know that:
- there was an initiative capable of resolving this matter
- that a second and a very positive IICD repot was imminent
- and we hoped to forestall Mr Mandelson's move to suspend the political institutions
And I issued a statement at 5.10 pm outlining the initiative. The rest is history.
It appears to me that if the second De Chastelain report been issued Mr Mandelson could not have suspended the institutions because the conclusion of the report says ``the Commission believes that this commitment, on the basis described above, holds out the real prospect of an agreement which would enable it to fulfil the substance of its mandate. We will make a further report to the two governments as appropriate.'' Mr Mandelson was however working to another imperative and that was that Mr Cunningham the President of the UUP was going to deliver Mr Trimble's resignation yesterday afternoon and that the UUP were warning that this could only be prevented if an announcement of the suspension was on the 6pm news.
So despite being aware of the IRA position, of Sinn Fein's view of it, and of the imminence of a positive De Chastelain report, Mr Mandelson proceeded with the suspension.
Within the nationalist and republican community there is a deep sense of anger and frustration at the way in which the UUP has dictated events and effectively set aside the spirit and the letter of the Good Friday Agreement.
Mr Mandelson is in default of the Agreement. Mr Trimble is in default of the Agreement.''
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