[Sinn Fein]

24th October 2001

``A time of renewed hope'' - Ó Caoláin

Speaking in the Dáil debate on the peace process Sinn Fein TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said it was a time of renewed hope. He urged the British and Irish governments and the unionist leadership to respond positively.

Full text follows:

Molaim Óglaigh na hÉireann as an ghníomh ollmhór atá déanta acu. Gníomh dána a bhí ann. Gníomh doiligh a bhí ann. Gníomh a thugann deis nua dúinn chun an próiséas síochána a chur chun cinn agus Comhaontú Aoine an Chéasta a chur i bhfeidhm.

I commend the Leadership and Volunteers of the Irish Republican Army for the momentous step they have taken. It was an unprecedented development and a very, very difficult decision that required real courage. In their statement the IRA said they had taken the step to save the peace process and to persuade others of their genuine intentions.

I have no doubt about the genuineness of the republicans who have taken this decision. I firmly believe they are sincere in their pursuit of justice and lasting peace in our country. The IRA has demonstrated that commitment at every stage of the peace process from the August 1994 cessation onwards. That fact needs to be recognised by all sides in this House. What also needs to be recognised is the huge difficulty a development such as this causes for very many sincere republicans.

Long before yesterday's events we in Sinn Fein had fulfilled our obligations with regard to decommissioning and to every other aspect of the Good Friday Agreement. Nonetheless repeated efforts were made to deny the rights of our electorate and to exclude us from the institutions established under the Agreement. The Taoiseach acknowledged in this House a fortnight ago that David Trimble's exclusion of Sinn Fein Minister for Education Martin McGuinness and Minister for Health Bairbre de Brún from the All-Ireland Ministerial Council was in breach of the Agreement and was found in the courts to be unlawful.

The IRA was not a party to the Good Friday Agreement. It helped to create the conditions which brought about the Agreement. It helped to sustain it. And now the IRA has taken a course of action which should, if others fulfil their obligations, save the Agreement and save the peace process.

I want to refute utterly the notion that these developments have come about as a result of September 11th or the arrest of three Irishmen in Colombia. Long before September 11th the IRA had taken other unprecedented initiatives including their engagement with the Internationl Independent Commission on Decommissioning and their agreement that two international inspectors, Cyril Ramaphosa and Martti Ahtisaari, should have access to a number of arms dumps. Anyone even remotely familiar with Irish history knows that these were also unprecedented and very difficult initiatives for a militant republican organisation to take.

Look at the background against which yesterday's decision was taken. It followed a summer in which we have seen an escalating loyalist sectarian campaign against Catholics with murders, nightly pipe bomb attacks and the daily terrorisation of the pupils and parents of Holy Cross in Ardoyne. It came after a summer when no progress was made on British demilitarisation. And, as I have already stated, a summer when the institutions were in limbo as a result of the refusal of the Unionist Party to share power with republicans. This is the real background to the courageous republican decision of 23 October 2001.

We now have a new opportunity to fulfil the promise of the Good Friday Agreement. We need to see long overdue progress on all fronts. Moves on demilitarisation announced today by British Secretary of State John Reid must be part of an ongoing process. We must see all British military installations removed so that the people of South Armagh and all other parts of the Six Counties can live in peace on their land. The British Army never had any right in Ireland and it must be removed, bag and baggage, once and for all.

The current policing legislation falls short of Patten which was itself a compromise. There must be real accountability, the disbandment of the Special Branch - a force within a force - and the Human Rights Oath for all members and new recruits. Plastic bullets must be banned. We need to see the repeal of repressive British legislation.

We need real action to combat economic discrimination against nationalists, and to regenerate all deprived communities, unionist and nationalist alike.

The Irish Government must fulfil its obligations and commitments. We need to see the repeal of repressive legislation in this jurisdiction - the odious Offences Against the State Act which is an affront to civil rights. There must be progress on representation in the Oireachtas for citizens in the Six Counties, a measure which has been delayed for far too long. The delay has not been since Good Friday 1998 but, as the record of this House will show, since at least 1951 when a motion seeking right of audience for Six-County MPs was tabled by Seán MacBride but rejected by the De Valera government.

We need to see a real peace dividend for the Border Counties. That has been promised but there has been little sign of it in the communities in Counties Cavan and Monaghan which I represent.

I urge the leaders of unionism to embrace this new opportunity for progress. They should renew their commitment to the Good Friday Agreement. They should now participate fully in all the institutions established under the Good Friday Agreement, including the All-Ireland Ministerial Council and the All-Ireland bodies.

It is in all our interests for the leaders of unionism to defend and promote the Agreement among their own supporters and beyond, harnessing the broad support for it in the North of Ireland.

Unionist leaders need to give real leadership to those loyalist communities where sectarianism is flourishing, stoked by anti-Agreement politicians and loyalist paramilitaries - Glenbryn Estate for example where protesters are daily terrorising young Catholic schoolgirls. Mr Trimble should stand side by side with the parents and their children. He and others need to actively combat the sectarianism which blames the social and economic problems of loyalist communities on their nationalist neighbours. All of us need to encourage the emergence of real leadership from loyalist working-class communities which have been the political cannon fodder of bigots for decades.

Contrary to much of the commentary around these developments it is important to point out that the Irish republican tradition is not and never has been static and unchanging. It has always developed and adapted to the times and the political conditions. But the commitment to Irish unity and independence, and to social justice for all our people, has not changed and will not change. The republican tradition which I am proud to represent did not end in 1921 and draws no distinction between the Mountjoy Ten and the Long Kesh Ten.

This is a time of renewed hope. I look forward to working with those of every tradition on this island as we create a new Ireland in which all our children can live together as equals.

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