6 November 2000
``The political process can be saved but this will require a huge change of approach by London'' - Adams
In a wide ranging statement today Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams MP, MLA deals with the crisis within unionism and loyalism, the impact of the loyalist feud and his concerns about the approach of the British Prime Minister as this time.
Mr Adams said:
``The crisis within unionism will only be resolved when an element of political unionism emerges to show consistent and positive leadership, and with the political will to face and the strategy to face down, the rejectionists. This has not happened thus far.
The differences between the rival tendencies within unionism are, as Mr. Trimble has admitted, merely `tactical'.
It seems to me that Mr. Trimble views his role as a unionist leader to be one of serving the union and maintaining unionism. This, he believes, can be served best by working within the current dispensation on his own terms and manoeuvring on that basis. That represents his attitude to the Good Friday Agreement. Others have a different tactical view. Unfortunately Mr Trimble has strengthened their position by his proposals to the UUC last week.
If the political institutions are to be saved he must rethink his position. There is little that Sinn Fein can do at this time accept to defend the Good Friday Agreement, and the rights of the electorate, in the face of serial demands on decommissioning, demands to change the remit of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, demands for a moratorium on policing, and the threat of another UUC meeting in a few months.
The British government has the crucial role. Mr. Trimble has developed his approach and painted himself into a corner because the British government gave him the space to do so. From the beginning, by word and deed, the British Prime Minister Mr. Blair should have made clear his intention of speedily implementing the Good Friday Agreement. Instead London saw its role as the management of unionism.
The implementation of the Good Friday Agreement became secondary and totally dependent on that. In the absence of a committed leadership of its own this did nothing to build unionist confidence. At the same time nationalist and republican belief in the Good Friday Agreement as a vehicle for change has been undermined. But of course the Good Friday Agreement, though democratically endorsed by people north and south on this island, will only be a vehicle for change if it is driven properly and the progressive forces are in the driving seat.
In our conversations with the British government Sinn Fein has pointed out the folly of London's position. Thus far our advice has largely been ignored and the process now faces into a series of crises.
While the core reason for this is around resistance to change emanating from within the British system and unionism it is no accident that all the issues involved are the responsibility of the British government. These include, policing, demilitarisation, and criminal justice, and the failure of Mr Mandelson to act as he is empowered to in the face of the First Ministers derogation of the duties of his office.
The political process can be saved but this will require a huge change of approach by London. I am not sure that the British Prime Minister is capable of this change at this time. It is the responsibility of Sinn Fein, the Irish Government and all others committed to the peace process to persuade Mr. Blair that the political process is not sustainable under current circumstances.
Wider influences within unionism must also be alerted to this danger. Civic unionism, the farmers, the business community, the trade unionists, church people cannot blame their politicians if they are not prepared to validate or to help create a progressive leadership committed to the Good Friday Agreement. All of this involves unionism being prepared to reshape itself, to move away from Drumcreeism and into a genuinely pluralist future.
Another issue of concern is the protracted feud between rival loyalist groups. This bloodletting can only serve to further disempower and marginalise working class loyalism. That has to be a matter of concern for republicans and others.
Part of the road yet to be travelled by the peace process includes the development of relationships between people of common social and economic backgrounds who are divided by conflicting political allegiances. This can only be achieved on the basis of equality and would be best advanced from the republican perspective within a healing process of national reconciliation. So, the continuation of the loyalist feud is not only a tragedy for those bereaved by it or to the disadvantage of the areas effected, it is also not in the interests of the rest of us.
The lack of action by the unionist parties to deal with this issue is an indication of their lack of concern. It is also a sign of how divorced they are from the reality of life in these neighbourhoods. But something must be done or else entire communities and a generation of young people will effectively be abandoned.
Those loyalist politicians, particularly, those who hold public office and who describe their role as that of giving a political analysis to the loyalist paramilitaries, must explain the politics of the current feud. To do anything else can only ensure that there will be no sustained or progressive - even on their own terms - development of a wholly political leadership within loyalism.
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