[Sinn Fein]

29 March 2000


London Must Face its Responsibilities - Adams

I want to welcome you all here today to the official opening of the office of Victims and Survivors Trust, a trauma centre established to help those in West Belfast who have been bereaved or injured in the course of the past 20 years.

I want to especially commend the Walsh family, Marian and Brendan, and the friends and relatives of Damien Walsh who in the face of great loss and many obstacles developed their own informal trauma group into this formal, funded public organisations.

Damien Walsh was only 17 when he was killed as a consequence of collusion between elements of the RUC and the UFF.

The Walsh family sought to tackle their loss by helping others who have been similarly touched by this conflict. That took enormous courage.

Particularly when the scale of the problem in West Belfast becomes clear. There have been around 500 residents of west Belfast killed over the past 30 years and many thousands injured.

Up to now there has been only one locally based trauma group and that is on the Shankill.

Resources from the state to help the victims of the conflict have been difficult to obtain. Currently the Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust is distributing 3 million over a two-year period to all of the victims groups across the north.

This is a paltry amount for such a huge task.

More money, more resources and more facilities are needed, The victims of the conflict must be encouraged to come forward and seek help.

If we are to have a real healing process then those most in need of healing, the victims, families must have ownership of it. There also has to be recognition that no section of our people has a monopoly on suffering but that every section has a responsibility to provide and to work for a solution.

The refusal by some to accept this is at the core of the current difficulties. For example the British government and the Unionist parties have thus far refused to accept a responsibility for the problems which give rise to a conflict here.

It is little wonder that there is a scarcity of ideas from these quarters about how to resolve problems when they feel no responsibility for causing these problems.

Given these mindsets it is easy to see why we are all in the current crisis.

One of the open wounds within nationalist and republican communities is the real sense that there is a hierarchy of victims. Those at the lowest tier are the victims of state terrorism, or of collusion between the state terrorists and their allies within loyalism.

Not only have the British government refused to accept responsibility for these victims but successive British governments, including this one, have actively engaged in a cover-up of the activities of their forces. There is no other way of describing the refusal of the London government to come to terms with this issue.

For example, I have raised many cases with both Tony Blair, and the present and the former British Secretaries of State. These include the high profile cases of Rosemary Nelson, Pat Finucane, and Robert Hamill. I have also given them files on the case of British intelligence agent Brian Nelson. I have raised the cases of the 400 victims who have died as a direct result of killings by British Crown Forces and I have received no satisfactory answer to any of my representations.

This refusal to deal with these cases has to be challenged. Many people here welcome the recent very public proclamation by the Irish government that there was state collusion in the killing of Pat Finucane and that Pat's killing was only one of many such cases.

It is understandable that victims' families expect the Irish government to go much further than this. The British government has to be faced with its responsibility to address these matters in an honest and forthright fashion.

If we are to have a lasting peace there can be no restrictions imposed on fact, on truth, on grief, or sense of loss. There has to be an acceptance of the equivalence of grief. There can be no grief more worthy than any other.

I want to deal now briefly with the current situation.

People in this part of the world have rights. We have been denied these rights for a very long time indeed and whatever entitlements have been won have been secured by dint of very hard work and through great sacrifices and struggle.

The Good Friday Agreement sets out a raft of issues that need to be dealt with. All of the parties to the Agreement signed up for these measures.

The second anniversary of this Agreement is fast approaching and instead of celebrating or consolidating the implementation of the Agreement we are faced into yet another deepening crisis.

This was never about guns, except in so far as the issue of guns has been manipulated and exploited to subvert the Agreement.

Had the Agreement been implemented as agreed I am quite sure that a way of resolving the weapons issue would have been found by now because politics would have worked.

Instead, the opposite has been the case and the entire process of change and of the rights of citizens has been made conditional on unionist approval. Worse still it has been made conditional on those unionists who have clearly set their face against change and against the Good Friday Agreement.

The responsibility for this rests squarely with the British government. There is no way that a workable solution to the current crisis can be found unless Mr Blair and Mr Mandelson accept this.

The strategy pursued thus far on the weapons issue, insofar as it can be described as a strategy, has failed. It has failed to resolve the issue itself. It has failed to win the confidence of unionism, it has moved outside the Good Friday Agreement, and it has brought the entire process to the current impasse with the British government in breach of the Agreement.

Like all of the other failures of the past this failed strategy has to be set to one side.

There is a great focus at this time on the inner workings of unionism and who will lead the UUP after Saturday's meeting.

The question of who will lead the UUP is of course a matter for that party, but there is another issue it has to deal with and that is whether it will be part of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, warts and all.

One thing is for certain the current tactical approach has to be abandoned in favour of upholding the commitments made by Mr Trimble almost two years ago.

I have a very clear message for the unionists.

Sinn Fein remains prepared and has proven our ability to work within shared structures with your representatives and we remain willing to develop a shared and agreed future for all the people of this island.

We know by its very nature that this historic task cannot be completed unless unionism has ownership of it and I have acknowledged and I appreciate the huge challenge and the difficulties that this presents.

But those who meet on Saturday need to reflect that while change can be delayed it cannot be prevented except in one circumstance, and that is if those of us who want change are prepared to give up. Let me make it absolutely clear that we are not prepared to give up. Let me make it clear we will continue to be relentless in campaigning and working, agitating and struggling for change.

It would be a lot easier for everyone if the unionists would join with us in managing this change and I personally believe that this is the best way forward. But I also believe that the British government cannot pass the buck on this issue or the make this opportunity for peace conditional on the whims of rejectionist unionism.

London has to face up to its responsibilities.


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